So, Star Trek Discovery’s second season has started! Captain Pike comes aboard the Discovery and promptly commandeers it. His own ship (The Enterprise, of course) has been damaged and Pike needs a ship to complete a secret mission from Starfleet, to find out why seven red energy bursts have occurred across the solar system.
Pike brings his Science Officer with him… but it isn’t Spock! Where’s Spock, Michael Burnham (Spock’s estranged half brother) wonders. Indeed, the episode is entitled ‘Brother’, so we’re all wondering where Spock is. We get some tantalising flashback memories of the young Spock from Burnham, but they don’t tell us much.
Yet the episode pursues the red energy bursts instead of the Spock question. Fair enough, especially as Pike brings some welcome ‘old Star Trek’ style and vibe with him. Indeed, the away-mission down onto the crazy asteroid at the centre of one of the red bursts feels like an episode from the classic series. Hurrah!
Sort of. Because of the debris field around the asteroid, Pike and co. have to take individual pods to the asteroid surface and it feels like nothing more than a Star WARS pod-race. The tech and reference is all wrong. Down on the asteroid is a wrecked medical vessel, where Engineer Denise Reno has been keeping brains in jars alive using weird necrogothic technology. It’s like something out of Alien or The Chronicles of Riddick. Again, it’s all wrong.
Anyway, the asteroid is made of some material promising to get the ol’ Stamets-super-jump tech working again, but safely this time, without any cute Tardigrades being hurt. Whatever. The main question, though, is where the hell is Spock?!
It’s not a bad opener at all. Lots of promise. It’s gonna struggle to deliver on soooo much promise… but you’ve gotta keep the faith, eh?
Queen Anne (ruled 1702-1714), sympathetically played by Olivia Colman, is one of the loneliest of people. She has lost 17 children and her long-time husband. She suffers from gout and other illnesses. She has low self-esteem and lacks confidence. Fortunately, she has the loving companionship of Lady Marlborough (a vampish Rachel Weisz), albeit that Marlborough then effectively uses her position as favourite to run the country in a way that directly benefits herself and her husband’s political ambitions. It’s not an entirely cynical relationship between Anne and her favourite, however, as there is a genuine tenderness there and Lord Marlborough leads the fight against the French.
Enter Lady’s Marlborough’s down-at-heel cousin, Abigail (the ever so pretty Emma Stone). Abigail quickly starts to vie for the Queen’s attention, while also securing a rich husband for herself. There is plenty of comedy and chicanery here, and this is where the movie is at its romping best. There are intrigue, double-dealing and political dalliances aplenty.
We feel sorry for the Queen – ruling is a lonely business. No one is truly your friend. You end up being used. But there are certain compensations, let’s say. And that pretty much sums it up. Ho hum.
It’s difficult to know how to end this review. Similarly, The Favourite doesn’t quite know how to end. In fact, it doesn’t really have much of an ending. It just stops. Odd. Not thought-provoking. Definitely anti-climactic. Weird. Oh well. It scores a respectable 8 out of 10 from me.
Vice is a thought-provoking film, but you might not like the thoughts it provokes. Vice is a cynical film about an apparently cynical man: Dick Cheney, Vice President to George W. Bush.
Vice is far from being non-judgemental as a biopic. According to this movie, Dick Cheney was responsible for creating Donald Trump’s playbook, for instituting the vain and foolish George W. Bush as a puppet President (so Cheney could then run everything unobserved behind the scenes), for instigating the Iraq War (so US companies could financially benefit), for instituting ‘extraordinary rendition’ and Guantanamo Bay, for creating ISIS, and the list goes on. No wonder the right-wing press in the US is up in arms about Vice.
Vice is a fun movie, full of humour and directorial tricks – as we might expect from the team who brought us The Big Short. There are visual metaphors interpolated during scenes to create satire, there is an ‘alternate ending’ happy-ever-after sequence about 30mins in, there is a playful and mischievous narrator, etc. All good.
The cast is impressive as well. Christian Bale brings gravitas and a certain authenticity to the Cheney role (even mastering Cheney’s particular style of breathing), Amy Adams is his ballsy driven wife, Sam Rockwell is convincing as the vain and dim-witted George W. Bush, and Steve Carell is the rapier-like and witty Donald Rumsfeld.
For all that’s charming and high-powered about Vice, however, there’s something that doesn’t quite sit right. The main problem is with the character of Dick Cheney himself. All too often, even when he’s central to a scene, he seems absent or so at odds to how he appeared in a previous scene that things aren’t quite cohesive/coherent. Sometimes Cheney is weak and ineffectual, sometimes he is a Machiavellian genius. Sometimes he seems to care about people, sometimes he doesn’t care about human life. Sometimes he is an ideologue, sometimes he only calls himself a Republican as a matter of convenience. All these contradictions mean that we never quite feel that the film knows as much as it pretends.
This fundamental issue with the film isn’t down to Christian Bale’s performance: it’s more about the ‘forced’ nature of the plotting, the political stance of the film, the directorial stance or the fact that nobody really knows what motivated and defined this most ‘secretive’ of politicians. And the movie admits this right at the start, during the title sequence, as there is a written message to the audience about how difficult it is to know what really went on. The message concludes with this actual statement: ‘But we did our fucking best!’ And that sums up the cavalier, whimsical and subversive tone of the entire movie, actually.
For all that, it’s an enjoyable film, even though it runs to 2hr11mins (you’ll need a toilet break). We do root for the young Dick Cheney character at the start, and we do hate the elderly Dick Cheney by the end. We’re left wondering how this bright young man ended up being twisted and corrupted by Washington. We’re left aghast – and there are vampiric horror movie aspects about it all in truth. Vice is not a movie you will quickly forget, which for my money makes it a worthwhile watch. It scores 8 out of 10 from me.
A thousand years ago, the Daleks sent a special Reconnaissance Dalek to Earth, to prepare the way for their invasion. The Reconnaissance Dalek was far more advanced than a normal Dalek, but the tribes of humanity came together to defeat it, disassemble it and spread its components to the four corners of the planet. Jump forward to today (literally, New Year’s Day 2019): two archaeologists unwittingly disinter and reanimate the Dalek, at which point it promptly sets about its former mission.
Fortunately for us, the Doctor’s Earth-alarm is triggered and she comes rushing to the rescue. But she hasn’t anticipated having to deal with a superior Reconnaissance Dalek, and is outwitted time and again by her old enemy. In desperation, the Doctor calls for UNIT (the Earth defence force set up in previous series), only to discover that because of Brexit the force has lost its international funding and been disbanded!
Because of Brexit, the human race is about to be conquered by the Daleks. The Doctor isn’t sure what to do, and fails to prevent the Dalek breaching GCHQ, where it sets about sending an invasion signal to the Dalek home world…
This episode is great fun. It has tempo, genuine jeopardy, humour and some proper scary bits. The Reconnaissance Dalek is a horrific thing indeed. I hesitate to give many more details, because I don’t want to introduce major spoilers. There is some sort of New Year’s message in there too – about sticking together and being big enough to forgive each other – and it’s never too shmaltzy or forced. Highly recommended. Well done, all.
With 2019 fast approaching, a quick review of 2018 is duly due.
There was a whole host of good tv series that I enjoyed, including Killing Eve, Star Trek Discovery, The Americans, Manhunter: Unabomber, The Alienist, Frankenstein Chronicles, and Sabrina, to name but a few. But top prize must to the alternate reality series Counterpart! It’s just a shame that people have to pay an extra subscription through Amazon Prime Stars to access it – as that means its exposure to a large audience isn’t really gonna happen.
We should then ponder the various Marvel series on Netflix – some real turkeys there, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones 2, and The Defenders (mainly because of the Mighty Cheese Fist again) included. Luke Cage 2 was okayish, and there are good reports of Daredevil 3, but I’m not surprised there are rumours of the Marvel franchise leaving Netflix in the near future.
When it comes to the movies of 2018, I really can’t think of many standout efforts really. It’s been a thin year. On balance, I’ll have to give the top prize to Avengers: Infinity War. Looking forward to the next part as well.
Writing-wise, it’s not been a bad year. I wrote an essay for a Luna Press publication entitled ‘Gender Identity and Sexuality in Science Fiction and Fantasy’ and that won the BFS award for non-fiction! Hurrah. Also, I published my PhD with Luna at the start of the year (‘The Sub-genres of British Fantasy Literature’). But I spent most the year writing ‘The Satanic in Science Fiction and Fantasy’ – and I have now finished and submitted that. Luna reckons it might be out as soon as 2019, various things depending.
Yes, the ol’ scribbling has been far more academic of late, cos I’ve been trying to build my CV to get a proper university post teaching Creative Writing. And (breaking news), I’ve finally secured a senior lectureship to start in Jan. I’ll be relocating to Cornwall! At last I will be free of teaching Efl!
But I’ll be doing more creative scribbling come 2019. I’ve been asked to write a short fantasy movie for a Manchester-based film-maker. It looks like my science fiction novel ‘Lifer’ is finally being picked up. And Gollancz are currently pondering deeply over my ‘Detective Beyond’ book. So, that’ll keep me busy.
In more sober news, my cat Cleopatra got a spindle cancer on her leg and had to have an operation. It’s very rare in cats and dogs usually end up with a leg amputated. But the vet removed the growth (not the limb) and reckoned he got the lot. Cleo is now back to her full-on naughty self, dumping a live mouse on my bed on a near nightly basis. I guess that’s good then.
PS ‘The Book of Dragons’ was short-listed by the BFS for best short story of 2018. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, then you’re barmy.
Jodie Whittaker plays the first female Doctor… and she played it superbly well. Her character and acting are earnest, innocent, zany-cute and intelligent. Her performance was also consistent, unlike some previous Doctors who seemed to have a different personality every episode, meaning they were all but schizophrenic (if you’ll excuse the term). With such consistency, it was possible to understand, engage with and empathise with the character of the Doctor. There was an ingénue sense to her performance that was extremely endearing.
It’s in large part because of Ms Whittaker’s convincing performance that season 11 of Doctor Who has done so well in terms of size of audience. The average audience across the whole series was 7.7m viewers per episode, and that’s the largest average audience for Doctor Who since 2010.
As for the writing involved in the series, that was a very mixed bag indeed. A very mixed bag.
There were two episodes that ‘revised’ real episodes from history: an episode about Rosa Parks (the woman of colour who sparked race protests in the US) and an episode about Partition (entitled The Demons of the Punjab). The Rosa episode was retold through a White Saviour trope, which was extremely problematic, whereas the Demons episode was done with extreme sensitivity, nuance, poise and poignancy.
Then there were two satirical episodes, one spoofing Trump and one spoofing Amazon. Both episodes were reductive (inevitably so, given the shortness of the episode format), clumsy, politically partial and ultimately lacking in coherence.
Then there were a couple of ‘episodes of the week’ that required the Doctor and her companions to solve a problem in space. They were against the clock, with loud music, frantic running about, insufficient material for all the characters to do much that was meaningful and, in the end, sadly, silly to the point of frustrating and a complete waste of the viewers time. Of course the Doctor is going to use her sonic screwdriver at the end to jury-rig a macguffin and save the cosmos. The solution to the problem is mummery. It’s made up nonsense. And we know it will arrive like some inexplicable deus ex machina. Utter rot.
And then there were a few better episodes which involved the murder of Graham’s (the magnificent Bradley Walsh’s) wife. Indeed, it was this murder that effectively served as the over-arching storyline of the series. Fascinatingly, the murder brought the usually affable Graham into direct conflict with the Doctor, because Graham had an overwhelming desire for violent revenge against the evil alien responsible. And the Doctor could not condone such violence. The stand-off between them is really affecting, since the viewer can see both sides of the moral dilemma and can’t see how it can be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.
So, the positives were the acting of Jodie Whittaker and Bradley Walsh. The main negative was the inconsistent quality of the scripts. If you are going to watch some of the series and want my advice, to save yourself some time all you need to watch are the opening episode, the Demons episode and the final episode. Those are all you need. That said, the New Year’s Day special (entitled Resolution) looks like being decent! Onwards!
Episode 10 (The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos) is very good indeed. It brings closure to the tragedy of Grace’s death in episode 1. The companions Ryan and Graham finally sort out their man-nonsense. There’s a nice religious element (with a false God) and plenty of scifi spaceships too – a proper dark science or gothic episode, this one.
The Doctor and companions answer a distress call and materialise amidst the wreckage of a recent battle. Broken spaceships lie all around. The psychotropic waves emanating from the planet play tricks on the mind and make people forget their own names. They find a survivor who has retrieved a powerful device, but knows not from where. Neither can the survivor remember what he needed the device for… nor where his crew have gone.
Turns out, a baddie has the crew hostage and will kill them one by one if the Doctor doesn’t return the device. Also turns out the baddie is an adversary from the start of the series too. Graham has murder in his eye and swears he will have revenge for his wife’s death in episode 1. This sets Graham at odds with the Doctor (who will never sanction killing) – and there is a fascinating stand off between them. The viewer genuinely has divided sympathies, especially as the baddie is proper bad (definitely channelling Darth Vader) and intent on destroying the universe with his sick superweapon.
There are moral dilemmas and genuine jeopardy in this episode. It looks like the Doctor is properly out-gunned this time… and it’s all of her own making too. There’s a lot of dark and cosmic irony going on. The Doctor’s also not the biggest noise in the universe either, cos we meet a couple of beings more powerful than her!
Suffice it to say, this episode redeems the series somewhat (cos there were some definite duff filler episodes along the way). It makes me proper look forward to the New Year’s Day Special too! Hurrah! Onwards!