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Monday, 29 December 2014

REVIEW - HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994)

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Starring: Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey, Sarah Peirse
Music by: Peter Dasent
Release date: 14 October, 1994 (New Zealand)

I don't even know where to begin with Heavenly Creatures. I'd strongly argue that the quote from Time Magazine on the left is not the right word to describe this movie. There are many that could be adequate: masterful, beautiful, gripping... but "unsettling" is probably near the top.

Directed by future Middle-Earth master Peter Jackson, this is a far cry from the world of orcs and elves. Heavenly Creatures is a dramatisation of a true story that occurred in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on the 22nd of June, 1954.

Said story began when fifteen-year-old Juliet Hulme (portrayed by Kate Winslet here) began attending an all-girls school, and met sixteen-year-old Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey). They quickly became intoxicated by each other, united by a love of opera singer Mario Lanza, a shared sense of being cut off from the rest of the world, and a fascination for the macabre.

Eventually they were inseparable, but their happiness was short-lived. Juliet developed tuberculosis, and they desperately tried to keep in contact with each other, writing long, detailed letters to one another detailing the events of their shared fantasy worlds and how they longed to see each other again. Fears of homosexuality and insanity rose from those around them, and certain people attempted to drive them apart. One of these people was Pauline's mother, Honorah Rieper (Sarah Peirse). A main obstacle in Pauline's mind, she devised a plan with Juliet, and together they led Rieper deep into a wooded area of a park, and bludgeoned her to death with a brick.

In telling this story, Heavenly Creatures smartly utilises a circular narrative, beginning with the two girls running away from the murder scene, shrieking and blood-drenched. This harrowing sequence firmly sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Throughout its entire runtime there is a lingering sense of dread. The girls often dance around, become immersed in their fantasy worlds and laugh and giggle while having fun, but you know it isn't going to end well. As they descend more and more into The Fourth World - their imaginary safe haven which they believe they'll be transported to when they die - you can slowly feel these girls slipping away from reality. It makes for an extremely unusual, almost psychedelic experience, and makes the disastrous outcome of their relationship all the more devastating.

New Zealand director Peter Jackson went on to direct movies like King Kong (2005), The Lovely Bones (2009), and, as you probably know, juggernauts such as the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. His work on Heavenly Creatures is very original, particularly in its visuals. The beginnings of his penchant for creating fantastical, yet realistic worlds can be seen here in the The Fourth World, with its walking talking clay warriors and Mario Lanzas. And when Juliet and Pauline are finished holding each other's hands and looking eerily like something out of The Shining, the terrible deed is shown in full during the movie's final moments, and it's distressing. It's not a standard Hollywood-style death scene either. It's as authentic as it can possibly be, there's no score (although what score we do have here is superb), and Reiper cries out like an animal. It's all expertly filmed, and the brief final shot of the movie is the stuff of nightmares.


Yet, for all its morbidity, there's a beauty to Heavenly Creatures. In a somewhat twisted sort of way, you sympathise with these girls, and their story is admittedly pretty incredible. Sure, some might understandably see them as complete nutters, and their punishment is inevitable and completely justified, but they're living in a world where everything and everyone, it seems, is against them. They're utterly helpless, and you understand their relationship even if you're still wary of it. The outcome is more tragic than it is warranted - although that's not to say it isn't the latter - and Juliet, who's usually the more headstrong of the duo, actually starts to go all Lady Macbeth before the unspeakable deed is done. She tries to justify her actions by telling herself that Pauline's mother probably knows what's coming and wouldn't hold a grudge, and she constantly fiddles with her hands as if she's trying to wash off imaginary blood. The intense connection between the two girls is also sold effortlessly by Melanie Lynskey (who has the ability to glare at someone like some kind of devil spawn) and Kate Winslet in her debut role. Both are extremely talented actresses, and it's peculiar that Lynskey has somewhat flown under the radar over the years.

Pauline and Juliet in Heavenly Creatures are largely believed to be lesbians, by both the characters and often the audience. But it's likely that the suggestions alluding to that idea are red herrings or are meant to be left up to interpretation, as the girls themselves never actually mention it, and the film deliberately pokes fun at the idea that homosexuality was considered a mental illness at the time, particularly through a close-up shot of a doctor's mouth saying the dreaded word (the real-life Juliet also claims that while the relationship was obsessive, it was never romantic). It focuses much more on the dynamic of their friendship and how unusual and complex they are than it does an explicitly romantic relationship. There could have been something more going on there, but who knows? Jackson tastefully walks a tightrope between the two ideas, and it makes for an even richer product.



Heavenly Creatures is pretty extraordinary. With first-rate performances, heavy emotional weight and energetic direction, it's disturbing yet captivating, and one of Jackson's best, if not his best. Fun fact: the real Juliet now lives under the name Anne Perry, and has written almost one-hundred crime novels. Funny how things work out...





Sunday, 28 December 2014

REVIEW - THE AVENGERS (2012)

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Release date: May 4, 2012


I was twelve years old when, to my absolute disbelief, I saw Robert Downey Jr. pop up out of nowhere in the post-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk, and pretty much confirm an Avengers movie. Back then, I didn't know Marvel were attempting to make a shared universe, and I didn't particularly care about most of the characters in the Avengers roster. I still don't, but the sheer idea of a live-action movie featuring a team of superheroes coming together was, at the time, one of those things that many people wanted to happen, but was just too good to be true. It probably doesn't even need to be said that this movie brutally murdered its competiton at the box office, breaking all records and then some, and settling comfortably into its current place as the third highest-grossing movie of all time. After half a decade of filmmaking and five partial set-up movies, in the year of 2012 the Avengers transformed from Marvel's answer to the Justice League into something much bigger. Two years later, and this movie's influence can not only be felt in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, but across the entire medium of cinema. It's simply monumental.

The plot of The Avengers can be summed up in just a few words: superheroes unite, and they kick ass. But for analysis' sake I'll tell you that after Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) inexplicably rises from the dead and steals the plot device Tesseract, an artifact of unimaginable power, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the rest of S.H.I.EL.D. move forward with the Avengers Initiative: a plan to bring together a band of titans - in this case, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans' Steve Rogers/Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Jeremy Renner's Cliff Burton/Hawkeye, and Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow - to fight a battle that cannot be fought by ordinary men, and make nerds cry.


The Avengers is the definition of a popcorn flick, and in the good way. The action scenes are beautifully done: they're colourful, huge in scale, perfectly shot and sprinkled with small crowd-pleasing moments for the audience to lap up. The fact that the Hulk is a frequent scene-stealer should also provide some decent means of catharsis for those disappointed by Marvel's current unwillingness to give the not-so-jolly green giant anymore solo adventures. The Avengers' biggest strength is its sheer fun factor. This movie is accessible, colourful and, surprisingly, even with the perfect fit of Buffy creator/uber-nerd Joss Whedon at the helm, often downright hilarious. This is essentially an action-comedy, and there's crackling dialogue and effervescent witticisms as far as the eye can see. There's one scene in particular that is just gut-bustingly funny, I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it (assuming there's anyone out there who still hasn't seen this movie), but for those of you who have, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The comedy may come off as slightly excessive for some, but it fits. This movie's existence is a fanboy dream come true. There should be cause for celebration.

In this regard, while The Avengers has a greater sense of awe, it's quite similar to Marvel's most recent flick, Guardians of the Galaxy. Or rather, Guardians is similar to The Avengers, as while the former is probably just a tad more endearing as opposed to flat-out funny and it's still a great movie in its own right, it is more-or-less The Avengers in space. This is also probably the definitive Marvel movie, as in addition to being a huge milestone it was the first to make the studio's vibrant and quick-witted approach to comicbook movies abundantly clear.


Between all the Norse Gods and super soldiers it's fairly easy to forget that The Avengers actually has a villain. Yes, the fact that hardly anyone knew who the character was before he appeared in a movie is probably part of it, but Tom Hiddleston owns the role of the devious demigod Loki. He's one of the best things about Thor's solo outings, and as far as Marvel's movie villains go, he's undoubtedly head-and-shoulders above the rest. While that may not be particularly hard as pretty much every other one has been fairly forgettable, Hiddleston clearly relishes the role and, staying true to his title as the God of Mischief, is the cause of some of the conflict between the good guys. He does get whipped pretty bad in the end, though. But this isn't about the villains. It's about the heroes. 

While it's doubtful you're going to be watching The Avengers for the riveting plot and character development, it isn't a completely brainless endeavour. It has an air of self-awareness about it, and while the superhero smackdowns are probably going to be what's on your mind the most by the time the credits roll, this isn't a two-hour-long action scene disguised as a movie (looking at you, Battle of the Five Armies). It's almost relentlessly entertaining, and when the heroes aren't punching things, there are some great character moments and real human interaction between the team members, even if some are more interesting than others. It also succeeds in tying up some loose ends from previous solo outings and making a (somewhat) coherent connected arc between the characters.

Now I'm going to have to break the hearts of fanboys everywhere and say this: The Avengers is not perfect. Sure, it delivers in spades, but the story is very flimsy and predictable, Loki's methods of mind-controlling certain team members are a bit uninspired (Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye really gets the short end of the stick), and the Chitauri - an army of aliens under Loki's command that look like they've come straight out of a modern first-person shooter - are generic, only pose a threat due to their sheer numbers, and conveniently drop dead at the end of the climax. There's also never really a credible reason for the Avengers to come together despite the movie's attempts, and the pace tends to sag at times. But while it's easy to nitpick The Avengers, at the end of the day its shortcomings are overshadowed by the wonder and spectacle of it all.


Ten-plus years ago the best Marvel could come up with was Daredevil. They've certainly come a long way. Forced to make do with their B-listers after selling the movie rights to some of their biggest franchises including Spider-Man and the X-Men, this is their redemption story. The Avengers is a cinematic achievement in the form of nerdvana. Fans will preach on forever about how this is the be-all and end-all of comicbook movies, and while that's debatable, it's certainly an extraordinary accomplishment and captures the true essence of the genre like no other movie has so far. There isn't really much to it when you think about it, but does that really matter? This is one for the fans, but thanks to its sharp wit and pure entertainment factor, those who are a bit more unfamiliar with Marvel's world won't have to sit through any simply adequate timekillers culminating to this movie's release. Anyone can jump in and enjoy it, and if you haven't already, you really should. 





Friday, 26 December 2014

REVIEW - CHRONICLE (2012)

Directed by: Josh Trank
Written by: Max Landis
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
Release date: February 3rd, 2012


There have been countless stories to come out of Hollywood depicting someone having to come to terms with newfound superpowers, but never has it been explored in the way it's been here. Presented in found-footage format, Chronicle - with its relatively low-key marketing - appears out of absolutely nowhere and rocks you to the core. It takes a concept that most modern filmmakers of superhero movies intentionally avoid and tackles it head on, and gives us something very unique and refreshing.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) doesn't have much going for him. He's a lonely and socially awkward teenager with an abusive father. After reluctantly attending a party, Andrew, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular kid Steve (Michael B. Jordan) stumble across an unknown subterranean artifact, which gives them the powers of flight and telekinesis.


As deceptively ordinary as the above summary might sound, it's the way the story progresses and how the relationships between the characters change that makes Chronicle special. It's best if you go into this movie blind, and that includes avoiding certain promotional posters that give you hints through taglines. It won't spoil your enjoyment if you already have a fair idea of what may happen, but stay away from these things if you can, because if you do then the already-stunning climax will be even more effective.

When the boys first gain their powers, they behave like typical teenagers, using their new abilities to play pranks on unsuspecting bystanders, play sky football, and generally just goof around. It's very fun to watch and all three performances are great, but then when you've grown attached to these relatable characters and you care about them, the movie thrusts them right into a situation that they can't control, and for the viewer it's an unexpected and highly emotional experience wracked with tension and harbouring a very clear sense of dread. Chronicle wastes no time taking you right into the story, and the whole thing is paced brilliantly and quickly. There's never a dull moment.


It's no secret that the found-footage genre is far from beloved. It's been driven into the ground recently, spawning a legion of failures, particularly when it comes to horror. Oftentimes it's used as an excuse by the director to take a day off and try to justify sloppiness for authenticity, but here, while Chronicle probably could've worked just as well in a standard format, the found-footage aspect actually benefits the movie in some ways and makes it unlike anything the genre has ever seen. The vast majority of the movie is shown to us through Andrew's camera, after he decides to capture every aspect of his day-to-day life on film (apparently, because he "wants a barrier"). You might start to question the convenience of the camera being around: Andrew is obsessed with the thing and for some reason nobody bothers to move it or turn it off most of the time, but regardless it isn't a big problem. It helps to make the relationship between the audience and Andrew more intimate as almost everything we see is through his eyes, and while it still has the unavoidable raw feel of a found-footage movie, a lot of the camerawork is actually quite stable, so much so that you may occasionally forget that it's found-footage in the first place. Those with a distaste for shaky cam should be fine.

It also helps to make the movie feel as genuine as possible. Even by found-footage standards, everything just feels so real. It's a combination of many things: the found-footage style, the seamlessly integrated CGI and practical effects, the way the story pans out, and the characters who are much more believable and realistic than pretty much any others who've been given supernatural powers in a mainstream movie. It's a big part of what gives Chronicle its emotional weight, and makes it so effective.


Chronicle is not for the faint of heart, but it packs more accomplishment and innovation in its short runtime than most of its "superhero" peers do in two hours or more. The three leads make an easily convincing ensemble, and inexperienced screenwriter Max Landis and first-time director Trank (both 26 years old during Chronicle's release) are ones to watch. This movie takes two overstuffed genres that shouldn't really work together, and manages to blend them together for a riveting final product. This is not another dull Blair Witch wannabe, nor is this really a superhero movie - at least not in the traditional sense - so don't write Chronicle off as just another entry into a bloated genre. There isn't really anything else like it.



Tuesday, 23 December 2014

REVIEW - A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

Directed by: Samuel Bayer
Written by: Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner
Music by: Steve Jablonsky
Release date: April 30, 2010


Personally, I've never had an issue with the idea of a Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Yes, the original is great and all, but after seven instalments plus one crossover, the quality of the series had plummeted and Freddy had become a victim of his own popularity. In almost every new addition the scares were sparse, the comedy had been amped up to 11, and everything had descended into self-parody. As a fan of the series, a darker, less campy and more contemporary reimagining that would wash away the putrid taste of the original series' shortcomings sounded like music to my ears. But needless to say I had my concerns when I discovered that Platinum Dunes were serving as producers. For those of you who don't know, Platinum Dunes is owned by Transformers director Michael Bay, who has a God-given talent of destroying everything he touches, and unfortunately he usually touches beloved franchises. The company has never put out a single well-received movie, and best of all, it specialises in horror remakes. Could A Nightmare on Elm Street possibly be the one to break the chain, or is this the latest in a long uninspired line?

Nightmare's basic plot is that there's a group of teenagers being haunted in their dreams by a man with knives for fingers and a love for hats and green-and-red striped jumpers. You die in the dream, you die in reality. Teenagers have to find a way to stop Freddy before he kills them all. Etc, etc. You've probably heard it before.


In fact, that's the biggest problem here. This movie doesn't even attempt to make something new, and instead of a reimagining, we have a soulless, run-of-the-mill, literal remake. Even if the opening scene is fairly effective, almost everything here has already been done better in the original. Iconic moments have been lazily duplicated and/or ruined (the scene featuring Freddy trying to burst through Nancy's bedroom wall is overdone to extremely weak effect), there are many repeats or rewordings of memorable lines from previous Elm Street outings, and the plot is almost the exact same story. For a supposed horror movie, there's also a severe lack of actual horror. Most of the attempted frights are done through "ooga-booga" jump scares with amped-up audio, and it lacks the tension of Craven's original.

This movie marks director Samuel Bayer's (Michael Bay's cousin, perhaps?) feature-film debut, having previously worked exclusively on music videos. A lot of it looks good visually, and there's a scene in a pharmacy that repeatedly intercuts between dream and reality that's quite effective. However, most of the direction is blunt and scatterbrained, and Bayer's lack of experience when it comes to feature-filmmaking is apparent in many shots that have no regard for characters, pacing or storytelling. Instead of toying with the audience's perceptions of what is and isn't real, here it's usually easy to tell which is which (often thanks to a change in lighting that represents the transition). The characters are constantly confused, but you aren't. 

Of course we have to address the elephant in the room, Freddy Krueger himself. Getting a versatile and talented actor like Jackie Earle Haley who looks just as creepy without makeup as he does under it is an inspired choice. But here, he's just... OK. He's a bit more detestable than before, which is evident as he decides to lick Nancy up the neck and let out a repulsive chuckle, and he's more believable as a serial killer. He even has a little habit of rubbing his finger-knives together, like he's itching to get you. Yet despite Haley's relative malevolence and a couple of choice lines (which are unusual to hear as the majority of the dialogue is stilted), he feels a bit bland and doesn't really have much of a presence. Haley is easily capable of making this role his own, but the material annoyingly refuses to give him the full opportunity. The makeup doesn't help either: the choice to make Freddy look more like an actual burn victim is a good one, but something about the execution is slightly off and makes him look like an alien or something. The picture below is one of the more flattering ones in comparison.


We also get a little bit of an origin story for Freddy this time around, and find out that here he's not only a serial killer, but a physical and sexual abuser of children, as we see when a young Nancy is shown to have claw-shaped scratches on her back. When the parents of the children find out what he's been doing, they hunt him down and burn him alive. As a bit of background for the character it's fine and it does make him just a tad creepier/more hateable, but the fear of the unknown is more powerful than any backstory. Thankfully, his ability to infiltrate people's dreams is never explained. 

Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner play Nancy and Quentin respectively, and are really the only protagonists worth any mention here as the rest either have limited screentime or eventually die gruesome deaths. They're both great actors and Quentin is probably the most likeable character of them all, even if that isn't saying too much. But Nancy spends most of her time screaming, falling asleep and looking bored, and Nightmare's script not only stunts Haley's performance, but Mara's as well.


Some unfamiliar with the original may find some slight enjoyment out of it, but the Nightmare on Elm Street remake is dull and pointless. If you're unfamiliar with the franchise and choose to give it a go, you have two options: 1) a dated but infinitely better movie, or 2) a lackluster but more fashionable imitation. The choice is yours, but if you go with the latter, pray you don't fall asleep.





Monday, 22 December 2014

REVIEW - DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Music by: Christopher Young
Release date: May 29, 2009


Today, horror festers with far too many uninspired duds. Heartless remakes, superfluous torture porn and monotonous found-footage movies have swept the genre like a plague. Occasionally, you might just find a gem amongst all the tedium. Something that proudly displays a giant middle finger to the face of the offenders and aims to do something better. Drag Me to Hell is just that. Favouring old-school and (somewhat) more restrained scare tactics over the blood-splattered no-holds-barred approach of today, this is Sam Raimi's triumphant return to the horror genre.

Enter unappreciated bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). Her already-rocky life takes a turn for the worse when a not-spooky-at-all-looking old lady known as Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) totters into her workplace and begs her to extend the mortgage for the house that she's been living in for thirty years. Christine refuses, and, not particularly fond of being "shamed", Mrs. Ganush places her under a supernatural curse. As evil forces surround her, Christine finds herself in a fight for survival to break the spell of the curse.


Drag Me to Hell is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word. It piles on typical horror cliches with its evil spirits, curses and haunted houses and its mythos are pretty out there, but it's all done with a wink and is laced with elements of comedy and the tongue-in-cheek approach that made Raimi's own Evil Dead series so successful. These elements occasionally become more obvious - a certain instance involving a possessed goat comes to mind - but generally it's all balanced well. If you're wrought with tension at one moment, there's a pretty good chance you'll be laughing out loud at its sheer looniness the next. Or you might be doing both simultaneously, since this movie revels in bombarding its audience with various bizarre and disgusting gags. But it's never done with truly gruesome tactics, still staying within the boundaries of its PG-13 rating (it's amazing what you can get away with nowadays). Drag Me to Hell may not be the most flat-out terrifying horror movie, but it makes up for it with its tension, thrills and virtuosity.

This is essentially a morality tale, with Christine choosing to deny Mrs. Ganush's request so to not hamper her chances of besting a co-worker and getting a promotion (although whether she actually deserves all the trouble she goes through is up for debate, if not particularly important). She spends the majority of the movie being sweet and amiable, but as the end nears and the more primal instincts kick in, she becomes desperate, determined and haughty, as most classic horror movie heroines are. And she would have to be, because between accidentally spurting huge amounts of blood all over her co-workers and making a fool of herself by shrieking at invisible demons in front of her boyfriend's parents, she goes through a lot. Lohman is fantastic in the role, and brings a level of sincerity to a movie that's often intentionally over-the top (assisted by Christopher Young's haunting yet theatrical score). Justin Long is also great as the audience surrogate and the world's most understanding boyfriend Clay, even if he mostly is just there to flesh out Christine's character. Their relationship proves to be a key element of the story, and they make a very likeable and believable duo (especially as far as horror movie protagonists go).


How much you like Drag Me to Hell may depend on how familiar you are with Raimi's works. It relies on the audience's imagination more than it does on gratuitous blood and gore - although that's not to say there isn't any. While not absolutely necessary, it is best to expect some comedic elements and accept the fact that in this world, the catalyst for action is a woman's eviction being enough to drive her to make a largely innocent girl's life a living hell. There isn't really much meat on the bones of the plot, but this movie proves that any plot can be viable as long as it has strong legs to stand on.


Raimi puts his extensive knowledge and experience to great use here. He knows what the audience wants, and he delivers in a sinister yet accessible package with one hell of an ending. Sure there's some dodgy CGI and a bit of hammy dialogue here and there (as is the case with most Raimi movies when it comes to the latter), and there's no particularly deep message, nor is there any social commentary or groundbreaking innovation. But Drag Me to Hell simply aims to entertain, and in that regard it definitely succeeds. For all the horror buffs out there who were waiting for Raimi to move on from his mainstream success and return home to his grisly roots, you can take your Evil Dead DVDs off repeat now. The guy's still got it.



Saturday, 20 December 2014

REVIEW - I AM LEGEND (2007)

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok
Music by: James Newton Howard
Release date: December 14, 2007



Richard Matheson's 1954 horror novel "I Am Legend" is considered a landmark work in the genre, influencing countless novels, movies and other forms of media that preceded it. Sixty years later, it has seen three feature-film adaptations: The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and now 2007's I Am Legend. I can't tell you how much this interpretation does or doesn't deviate from its source material, however. All I can do is judge I Am Legend purely based on its merits as a movie. 

A virus that mutates humans into bloodthirsty beasts dubbed "Darkseekers" has engulfed the planet. As far as he can tell, colonel and scientist Robert Neville is the sole survivor. With his expressive German Shepherd Sam as his only company, he scours New York City daily, desperately trying to find a cure for the disease and reaching out to any possible survivors.


Will Smith comfortably carries this movie almost singlehandedly, which is good because he's the only person in it most of the time. I Am Legend is at its best when it's presented as a relatively character-driven piece that depicts Neville and Sam as they wonder the bleak, desolate streets of Manhattan. During these moments, the movie is unique and captivating with its stunning setpieces and an effortlessly strong performance by Smith (if you had any previous reservations concerning his acting ability, wipe your feet and leave them at the door). Neville is clearly a broken man, desperately trying to stay alive in a beaten and broken world without hope. He repeatedly reassures himself by singing or listening to Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds", has full-on conversations with Sam as if she can answer him and re-arranges and converses with mannequins in abandoned stores to compensate for his state of loneliness. It's seeing Neville's persistent attempts to survive and stay strong in the face of adversity that makes I Am Legend truly soar, and it still manages to provide comic relief during these scenes without sacrificing its emotional weight. Seeing Neville gun down a mannequin apparently named Fred for not replying to him may be amusing, but it's also disheartening.

Some people categorise I Am Legend as an action movie, which is debatable. If it is an action movie, then it's the best kind, as it doesn't beat you over the head with excessive masculinity and one-liners. In fact, despite the flesh-craving mutants/vampires/zombies, it's actually relatively quiet and many action scenes at least partly take place without a score in the background. Whether he's out deer-hunting speeding through the empty streets in his Shelby Mustang or going head-to-head with a Darkseeker, James Newton Howard's simple and poignant compositions are used sparingly and at the right times. You'll also get some backstory through flashbacks shedding some light on Neville's family and an impressive destruction of Brooklyn Bridge (which remains one of the most expensive movie scenes of all time, costing $5 million).


Unfortunately, some events that occur in the third act drag I Am Legend down from being a near-classic to a very good movie. When Neville is eventually found by some rather uninteresting survivors, a few flaws in the plot begin to rear their ugly heads and the movie takes a slight turn to more conventional Hollywood-style storytelling, featuring explosions and armies of CGI Darkseekers among burning cities. That's not to say it isn't still entertaining, however. Smith remains compelling throughout and ensures that there are still some great moments here, but it is a noticeable step down from before and some of the magic is frustratingly lost.

The Darkseekers themselves are also a mixed bag. Despite the movie generally looking great thanks to its aforementioned setpieces, some terrific shots and director Francis Lawrence's ability to convey simple and striking effects, the mutant prosthetics were traded in for computer-generated creations quite late in production, and it shows. They still possess the ability to be pretty spine-chilling at times, and the Darkseeker dogs are a nice touch. But when you see them clearly they look a bit like something out of a videogame cutscene, and aren't quite up to par with the rest of the movie's visuals.


Despite its annoying flaws, when I Am Legend delivers, it really delivers. Lawrence and co probably could've done with a little more time to iron things out, but it's still a heart-wrenching and, for the most part, wonderfully-made exploration of human psychology with a commanding central performance. When it comes to Smith's extensive list of summer blockbusters, this is up there with his best.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

REVIEW - DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION (2009)

Directed by: James Wong
Written by: Ben Ramsey
Starring: Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chun
Music by: Brian Tyler
Release date: April 10th, 2009


Let's get straight to the point here. Dragonball: Evolution is complete and utter irredeemable garbage. It enraged fans of the series who condemned it judging it from set pictures and trailers alone pre-release, and if you're capable of somehow conjuring up the willpower to sit through the entire thing (which probably means you're either a film critic or a masochist), it becomes abundantly clear that they had every right to do so. Think of anything that an adaptation or even basic filmmaking should strive to stay far away from, and there's a pretty good chance that this movie wears it like badge and flaunts it in your face. Lackluster performances, a nonexistent plot stuffed with unexplained elements and concepts, unintentional comedy, bad CGI, horrendous dialogue, and an amount of disrespect for the source material so colossal that even the creator of the franchise has voiced his disdain for the movie, Dragonball: Evolution simply has it all.

The so-called plot here makes little to no sense, so let's just power through the summary. Based on the popular manga/anime series of almost the same name, Dragonball: Evolution follows the story of Justin Chatwin's "Goku" (quotation marks are essential here because this character doesn't actually resemble Goku in the slightest), who embarks on a quest along with a few other forgettable caricatures to find all seven Dragonballs and stop the demon Lord Piccolo (James Marsden) from destroying Earth for some reason. That's pretty much all you need to know.




It's hard to know where to even begin with Dragonball: Evolution, because it fails on pretty much every conceivable level and it's impossible to cover every negative aspect of it in this review. While it's nigh impossible to get through a minute of this thing without finding something to complain about, the characters are an easy place to start. "Goku" is a walking cliche and a parody of the ditzy and endearing manchild from the source material. Here, he has been transformed into an angsty teenager without an ounce of charisma. When he's not giving nonchalant deliveries of the word "cool" in the face of the extraordinary like every other character of his ilk in Hollywood movies, we're supposed to believe that he is socially awkward and gets bullied at school, but as a relatively good-looking guy with no particularly off-putting qualities in his personality, you know there's no way that would ever actually happen. The rest of the characters hardly warrant paragraphs of their own as none of them are interesting or important, and while there are some usually-good actors here, in this case nobody gives a credible performance. But a special mention has to be given to Joon Park as Yamcha, who takes bad acting to the next level.

The high school setting thankfully isn't too prominent, but it nonetheless leads to some of the cheesiest and most cringeworthy scenes in the movie (which is saying a lot, because it's full of them). After a dose of nauseating high school romance, we're treated to a fight scene featuring "Goku" humiliating a couple of bullies - who apparently possess masterful kung fu skills and the power to defy gravity - through one-liners and showing off in front of the girl he's trying to get the attention of (Chi-Chi, played by Jamie Chung, pictured below). You'd think that, in a Dragonball movie, the fights would at least be worth a watch, but every action scene is hampered by lackluster fight choreography, excessive misuse of slow motion and incredibly obvious wirework.




Dragonball: Evolution is a rare case, in that despite its numerous expository voiceovers  - which I've quite frankly had enough of today after also watching Green Lantern - it somehow manages to still be completely nonsensical, running around aimlessly and getting more and more lost along the way. What little plot the movie starts out with quickly dissipates, and so many basic things are left unexplained. How were the Dragonballs created? How can "Goku" fly? Why does Piccolo want to destroy Earth? Who the hell is Piccolo, anyway? Do green demon/alien guys just exist in this universe? And how did he escape his eternal imprisonment? Why is "Goku"'s grandfather Asian? Is he adopted, or is that another thing that we're just supposed to accept? How is "Goku", an inexperienced 18-year-old boy, able to defeat an supposed immensely powerful being with one attack? How does "Goku" have the ability to transform into a giant CGI monkey that looks like it was made on a $20 budget, and how did he not know that he was capable of doing so until it forcibly happened? How does Mai (an associate of Piccolo's, played by Eriko Tamura) have the ability to shapeshift? Why does Mai's costume completely cover her entire body with the exception of a cleavage window? We aren't even scratching the surface here, because this movie bombards you with so many unanswered questions it makes your head spin. If that wasn't bad enough, it does this while simultaneously butchering the source material, as if it's proud of the fact that it fails both as a Dragonball movie and as a movie in general.

The Dragonball franchise is massive, considered by many to be "the grandaddy of all animes", and there are very few things to come out of Japan that are so beloved on a global scale. This movie's sole reason for existing is so Fox can cling to their expiring rights to the Dragonball name, and its lack of originality is evident in a framework that is mostly an Asian-style imitation of 2002's Spider-Man, from the high school setting to "Goku"'s grandfather basically telling him before keeling over that with great power comes great responsibility. But not only did this movie look like it was going to be downright awful pre-release, and then turn out to actually be downright awful, but it's Dragonball in name only, and ended up being a box office bomb. If you're going to put out such a poor product, which people were never on board with in the first place, your only hope left for making any money would be from the loyal fans of the franchise. But how are you going to do that when it looks like you're deliberately trying to push them away?




Whatever the reason, Dragonball: Evolution is empty and a stunningly bad movie. If there's anything positive that can be said about it at all, it's that its short runtime is a mercy, and it will probably stick with you for a while because everything it offers is insulting tedious trash. It isn't even one of those "so bad it's good" movies, it's just woefully bad. Perhaps the most amusing thing about this monstrosity is that it has an after-credits scene. Yup. They thought they were gonna be getting a sequel. Cute.




Wednesday, 17 December 2014

REVIEW - GREEN LANTERN (2011)

Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong
Music by: James Newton Howard
Release date: June 17, 2011


The Green Lantern movie is considered to be one of the biggest disappointments in comicbook film history. In a time where the genre was exploding - one year before the release of The Avengers - it was clear that shared cinematic universes were becoming the next big thing, and Marvel were about to take the world by storm and rake in dollars by the bucketsful. On the other hand, Warner Bros. were like the fat kid wheezing behind in P.E. while the rest of the class sprinted ahead and left him in the dust. They'd made billions off Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, and a sequel was in the works that was set to be released next year. But while The Dark Knight Rises was practically guaranteed to make them obscene amounts of profit, it was also the conclusion to a self-contained trilogy. When it came to thinking bigger, WB were clearly behind. Green Lantern was intended to be their Iron Man - a film that not only introduced the general public to a fairly lesser-known character, but set the stage for bigger things to come, and various individuals in capes and tights to run around in. It's quite safe to say that they failed miserably with that, but is Green Lantern really as bad as its reputation suggests?

An alien by the name of Abin-Sur (Temuera Morrison) is wounded during a battle with a parasitic fear-based entity named Parallax. Abin-Sur is part of the Green Lantern Corps: an intergalactic police force fueled by the manifested power of will. In his final moments, he crashes to Earth and gives his ring - the source of a Lantern’s power - to cocky test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). With his newfound power to fly and create green constructs of anything he can think of, Hal accepts his induction into the Corps and becomes the last hope to defend Earth from the oncoming Parallax.


Let’s get straight to the point here… Green Lantern isn't a terrible movie by any means, but it does far too much with the bad and not enough with the good. Apart from its lackluster script, what it really comes down to is lack of passion.

As you might’ve been able to tell from the brief synopsis, the Green Lantern lore is pretty expansive. It’s a big juicy myriad of concepts and characters, that spans across multiple planets and universes. In this myriad are seven different Corps, all of which use colours to represent different emotions (green = will, red = rage, blue = hope, etc). For a newcomer to the series, this could be considered quite a lot to take in, so what does the movie do? It bombards you with all this exposition - and more - through a voiceover at the very beginning. And then none of the Corps, save for Green and Yellow (fear), are ever brought up again.

Out of every one of DC’s top-tier characters, Green Lantern is arguably the one with the most cinematic potential. There has never been a film that utilizes concepts like these before. There is so much you can do with this world, but this film barely attempts to scratch the surface. Another aspect where it fails is handling the relationship between Hal and his lifelong pink frenemy, Sinestro. This relationship is one of the defining aspects of the Lantern mythos, and something that was built up over a period of time. When they met, Hal and Sinestro were best friends. Buddy cops, more or less. But eventually Sinestro became corrupted by the power of fear, trading in his green ring for a yellow one and becoming the Corps’ mortal enemy. Here, they’re relatively acquainted at best, then the after-credits scene comes along in which Sinestro turns to the dark side. Now watch, Lantern fans, as that genuinely compelling character development you knew is squandered for the advancement of a sequel that never even saw the light of day.


The aforementioned lack of passion is evident in this film’s entire framework. WB treated Green Lantern like any old superhero, instead of Green Lantern. All the lore stuff is put in so WB can get away with calling this a Green Lantern movie, when it reality it follows a very familiar formula, has nothing new to offer and comes off as little more than a machine trying to create a successful franchise. As an attempt to strike back at Marvel, it’s actually quite pathetic. Hopefully these days are behind us now, but this film is a prime example of what was one of Warner Bros.’ most common criticisms: they never had a plan. They clearly wanted to play with the big boys, but instead of putting in any effort to actually do so they resorted to flinging dung at the walls and expecting it to stick. No matter what you may have thought about Man of Steel, at least that was WB trying to actually put their mark on the comicbook movie genre and carve their own niche. So much about Green Lantern - from the tone, to the after-credits scene, to just about anything else, comes off as trying to emulate Marvel.

Surprisingly, Ryan Reynolds - who faced skepticism from fans pre-release, including myself - is the closest thing this film has to a saving grace. He seems like he’s the only one here with genuine passion for the project, and manages to make the film less of a chore to watch with his enthusiasm and charm. At the time of writing, WB are on the search for a new, rebooted Hal Jordan, but it’s a shame that we probably won’t be seeing Reynolds in the role again.


Green Lantern actually has a solid cast overall, but they’re all underused other than Reynolds. Mark Strong is a perfect Sinestro but you know the problems with his character. Blake Lively is fine as Carol Ferris, but her character is one of the most contrived love interests you’ll come across. Peter Sarsgaard gives his all as the deranged Hector Hammond, but his character’s omission would probably improve the movie, being nothing more than an underdeveloped pawn of Parallax. As for Parallax him/itself, our supposed primary antagonist here barely has a presence. Poor guy’s just a big unconvincing CGI entity who has no development and barely appears before he’s thrown into the sun and dealt with. Didn’t we learn from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer that a cloud a supervillain does not make?

Green Lantern’s CGI in general is actually quite rocky. I’ve never been one of those people to complain about too much CGI, but this film uses its poor computer-generated efforts so frequently that it can slightly take you out of the experience. The decision to show the energy constantly surging through Hal’s suit is a great one, but something about it just never looks authentic. And maybe it’s the ice-blue eyes that come with it, but his bright green eyemask looks straight-up goofy most of the time.


For a film starring a hero who can create anything his imagination allows him to, it’s clear that the writers couldn’t do the same. Green Lantern is a huge missed opportunity. It may not be Batman and Robin or Superman IV levels of bad, but it’s just so unremarkable. It trades in its rich concepts for a painfully flat script, and just doesn’t really amount to anything at the end of the day. WB face an uphill battle with this character now, due to this film underperforming at the box office, tainting the character’s reputation in the public eye and shattering fans’ faith in the studio’s abilities all in one go. Hal will most likely return in at least one of WB’s upcoming Justice League movies in 2017 and 2019, but as far as a new solo outing goes, fans will have to hold out until 2020. It’s a fairly long wait, but look on the bright side: surely they can’t make the same mistake twice.




Tuesday, 2 December 2014

REVIEW - THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
Music by: "The Magnificent Six"
Release date: April 10th, 2014


Tired of Spider-Man movies yet? Well, hopefully not because the latest instalment in this bloated franchise is here, and if the various set-ups and dangling threads in this movie mean anything at all, there's going to be quite a few more on the way. If this review turns out to be all over place, it's because The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all over the place. This is hands down, one of the messiest movies I have ever seen.

Events picks up shortly after the first movie, but by the time we see him here the webhead (Andrew Garfield) is loved by all of New York and has honed his skills as Spider-Man. He's cockier and more confident than before and has the girl of his dreams (Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy) to boot. But his skills will be put to the test after the arrival of new villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) and old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who may turn out to have more sinister agendas.


He might be just a bit too "cool" for Peter Parker, but Andrew Garfield absolutely nails Spider-Man. He completely captures the character's essence while in costume, he just about makes a few poorly-written jokes work due to his line delivery, and he has terrific chemistry with Stone, obviously partly due to them being a real-life couple. The relationship between these two characters is possibly the most believable relationship in a comicbook movie to date, and unlike most of the time, it doesn't feel like it's there just because it needs to be.

Max Dillon - as Electro is known before his transformation into a slightly overgrown glow-in-the-dark smurf - is someone who idolises Spider-Man and is trampled on and ignored by everyone around him. But his character feels like a direct rip-off of Edward Nygma from 1995's Batman Forever, and doesn't really make much sense. He looks fairly over-the-top with the nerdy glasses, combover and tooth gap, and is played mainly for laughs while he's - supposedly - meant to be a sympathetic character. All of New York avoids him at all costs and seems to have something against him, yet we're never given a reason why. Things improve slightly when he makes the full conversion to Electro: the character becomes more intimidating, and post-transformation the sympathetic angle is generally easier to grasp, particularly during his showdown with Spider-Man in Times Square. However, his motives as a villain are questionable. He uses his newfound power "to be seen", and seems to just hate Spider-Man for forgetting his name. It never feels plausible, largely because Max Dillon seemed like a pretty harmless, if slightly unbalanced guy at first. We're never shown just how truly unstable or dangerous he could potentially be, and so his descent into darkness feels forced (and even by comicbook standards, the incident that causes him to be come Electro is just silly). Foxx isn't the problem here and Electro does have his moments, but the character is generally just not written well.

Dane DeHaan is turning out to be a real up-and-comer and is one of the best things about this movie. His compelling performance as Harry Osborn manages to be unusually appealing and also slightly sympathetic despite its genuine villainy. His metamorphosis to the Green Goblin is also more credible compared to Electro's, since we get a bit of backstory for him that actually (somewhat) makes sense, and the transformation scene itself is quite unsettling in all its seizure-inducing glory, perhaps alarmingly so for some younger viewers. It's a shame then, that the Goblin's design is bafflingly awful and looks like a Super Saiyan meth head, and he's dealt with in the climax quicker than Venom was in Spider-Man 3. Fans of the comics will also be unhappy to know that the character is Green Goblin in name only (he's barely even green, for starters). 


Since he was plastered over quite a bit of promotional material it's probably necessary to also mention Paul Giamatti as the Rhino, but all he has here are two glorified cameos. He, along with Max Dillon, feels like a cartoon character while Giamatti cranks it up to 11 on the ham-o-meter making himself borderline embarrassing to watch, not to mention largely inaudible.

But we've barely scratched the surface here. The Amazing Spider-Man 2's problems are legion. The entire thing is just a gargantuan mess - a narrative disaster that's shown you too much in the trailers yet it doesn't give you enough, as a few vital scenes have been cut from the final product (again). The multiple villains are not the problem here, it's the sloppy script from its three writers. There are pacing issues, there are too many complicated subplots that never come to fruition, there's some extremely obvious foreshadowing that practically gives away the climax of the movie, some of the dialogue is horrendous, and many of the themes are empty and unexplored (saying the word "time" during a few sentences does not make it a theme). Oh, and if you were expecting a satisfying resolution to the "untold story" involving Peter's parents that was unnecessarily dragged out across two movies - which you probably weren't because it was never interesting in the first place - then know that you're probably going to forget what it was all about by the time the director's name appears at the beginning of the credits, or before. This entire subplot has been completely pointless.

But between all the universe-building and blatant product placement, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also feels much more like Sony's product than director Marc Webb's, who only seems like he was hired because he was inexperienced and easier to control than Sam Raimi was. On one hand you have Webb's story: the relationship between Peter and Gwen, and on the other you have Sony trying to get some of that Avengers moolah, while a bunch of villains bide their time for the upcoming Sinister Six team-up movie. 

It's hard to believe that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is even set in the same universe as its predecessor, as the gritter, more urban tone of the first movie - influenced by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy - is now completely gone. This movie favours the more vibrant and colourful tone that Marvel Studios have adopted. Or at least, it does for most of the first half, then the Green Goblin comes into play during a transformation scene that's practically straight out of a horror movie, and it all escalates from there, making things feel a bit tonally awkward. This franchise has just been running around aimlessly the entire time and emulating any trend that comes along. There's a very clear lack of faith demonstrated here.


The most astonishing thing about all this is that studio interference was what caused this movie's existence in the first place. Spider-Man 3 (2007) became infamous for its excessive number of underdeveloped villains, particularly the mishandling of fan-favourite character Venom, who was shoe-horned into the movie by producer Avi Arad (he also produced this movie, and now 90% of the Spider-Man fanbase wants his head on a stick). But apparently nobody has learnt their lesson, because here these tactless business practices are duplicated and amplified.

Yet, for all it's huge, huge sins, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't all bad. There's still nothing that holds a candle to the train sequence in Raimi's Spider-Man 2 (2004), but there are some great action scenes that provide genuine tension and spectacle and are easily the high points of the movie, such as the aforementioned clash between Spider-Man and Electro in Times Square (although there is one line of dialogue during this scene that awakens severely unwanted memories of a certain franchise-killing mid-nineties superhero film that we definitely could've done without).

For those of you who don't know, this movie adapts one of the most influential and somewhat notorious storylines in the history of comics. Stating the name of it here would be a huge spoiler, but the climactic scene pertaining to this storyline is, for the most part, exceptionally well-done. On a personal note, I'm thoroughly annoyed that the two Spider-Man storylines I've wanted to see adapted for the big screen were done in Spider-Man 3 and this movie, but nevertheless if you're watching this scene and you know what's coming, there's a lingering air of peril throughout the whole thing and it is absolutely nail-biting. Frustratingly, it would have been even more effective if the film's themes and narrative were up to par. But even for those unfamiliar with the source material, by the time everything is over, you are going to be feeling something.

The musical score for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is composed by "The Magnificent Six", a supergroup composed of Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and others. Most of it is primarily Zimmer, but his main theme for the movie is a fairly big departure from most of his work and a far cry from his usual brilliance, being surprisingly dull and sounding like a poor man's Superman. With the exception of that, the score is fantastic. It often contributes to what makes the aforementioned action scenes so great, such as in the Times Square sequence where the characters are silent for a bit and the lyrics serve as an inner monologue for Electro. It's actually quite creative, and I've never seen something like that attempted before. There was some understandable concern regarding the score before release as certain tracks can only be described as "orchestral dubstep", but thankfully it doesn't come off as too trendy and actually works in the movie's favour, fitting with the tone and the youthful aspect of Spider-Man's character and giving the movie a fresh, unique feel at times.


But unfortunately, overall The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the definition of an unfocused mess that takes the franchise in a direction that it should be staying far away from, and is an undeniable representation of the fact that the Hollywood of today is much more focused on building franchises rather than telling stories. Despite its immense amount of problems, its positives are a lot simpler than its negatives and just about save it from being a complete trainwreck - Garfield's performance as Spider-Man, the action scenes and Peter and Gwen's story are the closest things to saving graces that this movie has. But now this movie's reception has made the future of the franchise uncertain, the fanboys are still clamouring for Spider-Man's rights to be given back to Marvel and of course, there were the very public "Guardians of Peace" leaks. Sony have a lot on their plate right now. Whatever they do, here's hoping that when it comes to this franchise, they'll actually pull their fingers out and stop expecting whatever they throw at the wall to stick. The competition is only getting stronger - in 2016 the comicbook movie boom is going to explode into astronomical proportions - and if our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man doesn't want to be sent to the naughty corner while various other superheroes soak up all the glory, the creative minds behind this series need to step up their game.




Wednesday, 12 November 2014

REVIEW - DOCTOR WHO (1996)

Directed by: Geoffrey Sax
Written by: Matthew Jacobs
Starring: Paul McGann, Daphne Ashbrook, Eric Roberts
Music by: John Debney
Release date: 12th May, 1996


Today, the Doctor Who TV movie is generally remembered for two things: one, for the being what turned out to be the bridge between the original series and the revived series, and two, for being of the most divisive segments of the show's 50+ year history. An insight into the hellish future that would've arisen if Doctor Who was given to a creative team that had no understanding of the show, this telemovie was produced by the Fox Broadcasting Company and served as a backdoor pilot for a new British-American-Canadian series that would've been commissioned if this movie proved to be successful. Ratings in Britain were high, but it failed to resonate with those across the pond, and so the series went into hibernation once more until its revival in 2005. And if this movie is any indication of the quality of the stories we would've received from Fox and co, that's probably a good thing.

We're quickly introduced to the Doctor courtesy of every lazy screenwriter's BFF: voiceover, and told that The Master - the Doctor's childhood frenemy - has a dying wish: for the Doctor to take his remains back to their home planet, Gallifrey, after being put on trial and executed for his crimes by the Daleks and the horrible helium voices that they seem to have here in their fleeting cameo. ...Aaaaaand then it's never brought up ever again. The Master's essence escapes (somehow, as it's never actually explained) from the Doctor's TARDIS, which (again, somehow) causes it to crashland in San Francisco on the 30th of December, 1999. As soon as the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS he is shot by an Asian gang member and taken to hospital by the imaginatively-named Chang Lee, and Sylvester McCoy's Doctor dies and regenerates into Paul McGann's, with the help of some face-morphing CGI that's actually a bit more believable and creative that many of the attempts in the classic series. After overcoming a pointless bout of amnesia, the Doctor befriends the surgeon who tried to save his previous incarnation's life, Grace Holloway, and they eventually find themselves having to stop the Master from destroying the planet. There's some other stuff involving the Eye of Harmony, the Master wanting to steal the Doctor's regenerations and an atomic clock or something, but the plot is wafer-thin and incoherent. And while having a send-off for Sylvester McCoy's Doctor is nice for the fans and continues the tradition of showing every Doctor's regeneration process, literally transforming your main character into someone else about fifteen minutes into the movie may prove to be bewildering for newcomers.

There are some great production values, with the TARDIS console being a particular highlight.

Paul McGann is a fantastic Doctor in every sense and by far the best thing on offer here. His gentlemanly and somewhat youthful incarnation of the Time Lord is quite a change from past versions, and most likely served as a basis for certain Doctors in the revived series. He's also one of the very few actors who seems to show some genuine enthusiasm, and is very likeable with his sense of childlike wonder and earnestness. It's a crying shame that McGann never actually got to play this role onscreen more as he showed huge promise, although he has done a very extensive list of audio dramas and briefly returned for a seven-minute minisode detailing his final moments as the Doctor for the 50th anniversary of the show in 2013.

Unfortunately the rest of the cast isn't anywhere near as strong. Eric Roberts seems to be having fun in the role, but his Master's occasional moments of menace are hampered by this incarnation of the character's apparent love for the camp and overly-theatrical. Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso) is a weak and completely useless character who's omission probably would've improved the movie, and Daphne Ashbrook's Grace Holloway is as dull as her surname suggests. Not only does she have very little interesting qualities, but we know almost nothing about her, and her romantic relationship with the Doctor is incredibly forced, as he literally grabs her out of the blue for a snog when there wasn't even a hint of romance between the two beforehand. It assumes that the relationship between the two needs to be romantic because they're two members of the opposite sex, and comes off as lazy, especially when the character of the Doctor has remained largely asexual up until now. There's no point in reinventing the character every few years if you aren't going to take a risk or two, but if they had to take it down this route it could have at least been done in a more believable way. Apart from the contrived romance, it's also stuffed with other clich├ęs such as a generic end-of-the-world-by-midnight plot, car chases and cartoony dialogue.

Slyvester McCoy's Doctor moments before his demise.
It doesn't really seem to know which audience it's for, either. One one hand we have numerous superficial Doctor Who tributes being used in the place of characterisation and storytelling, such as the Doctor offering numerous people jelly babies very much in the vein of Tom Baker, and on the other we have subplots such as the Doctor apparently being half-human. The inclusion of this is puzzling, as it's brought up twice and goes absolutely nowhere (it's also been retconned various times through throwaway lines in various other Doctor Who stories), and this is far from the only spit in the face to canon here, which makes it hard to tell whether writer Matthew Jacobs knows Doctor Who at all, or is deliberately going out of his way to enrage fans.

It tries to appeal to audiences both new and old, and somehow manages to fail at both. All of this comes complete with an Americanisation of the Doctor Who universe that makes it barely feel like Doctor Who at all, and it slaps you in the face with its symbolism: the aforementioned regeneration scene of Sylvester McCoy to Paul McGann is intercut with clips of the creation of life scene in Frankenstein, the song playing on the Doctor's record player in the TARDIS repeatedly becomes stuck on the word "time" (God knows why because it serves no purpose or relevance to the movie other than the fact that the Doctor frequently travels through time), all topped off with some overt visual references to the Doctor as Jesus Christ.

The Doctor, Grace, and the T-800.

You would've thought that, due to the immediate skepticism that an American interpretation of Doctor Who would receive, the creative team behind this would've tried to preserve the sensibilities of the show and avoided any American stereotypes, or at least have given it a decent script. But apparently not, and as a result it's hard to recommend the Doctor Who TV movie to anyone. Fans will still find plenty to complain about and anyone wanting to get into the show is better off looking elsewhere. If it wasn't for McGann it would have very little to no other redeeming qualities. Shame. He deserved better.