Friday, January 01, 2021

Review: The Vigil (2019)

It's an interesting sign of a good film, that even a couple of weeks after seeing it (Christmas got in the way of writing this review!) I still have good memories of it ... but saying that, it's hard to recall any specific details of the plot - except the final scene which I appreciated the subtlety of ...

The film's basic concept is simple: a young Jewish man is persuaded by a friend to watch over the body of one of the community who has died. This is a tradition and the 'watcher' is called 'Shomer' ... in this case, there's a very real need for this watch as the dead man was possessed by a mazik - a malevolent entity - and it's next target is Yakov unless he can avoid it.

The film is a standout role for Dave Davis as Yakov, and he brings a vulnerability to the part as he sits and watches and remembers his own life, as the mazik postures and tricks to try and unseat him. There's some good jump scares too, and the overall soundtrack and sound design is excellent. But perhaps the film relies too much on these, rather than developing it's own set of scares.

As mentioned, one of my favourite elements is the very last shot ... and it's hard to discuss it without giving things away ... but when it comes, apart from wondering why we're holding on an out of focus image, concentrate on the doorway to the house ... it's a nicely creepy coda to the preceding film!

There's an element of Grudge-like retribution too as Yakov's girlfriend (Malky Goldman) gets 'taken' by the demon and it seems to infest the lives of the dead Mr Litvak (Ronald Cohen) and his wife (Lynn Cohen).

Certainly one to seek out and watch, and a very promising debut from the director Keith Thomas.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Review: The Blackout: Invasion Earth (2019)

The Blackout: Invasion Earth is a Russian film, dealing with alien invaders attacking the Earth. It's all a little muddled though, and while the military action on display is impressive, after a while you tire of the explosions, shouting and running.

Simplistically, the whole World is 'attacked' by some Alien means and plunged into darkness, all the humans dying instantly. This is, except for an area around Moscow ...

The army based there find themselves under attack from a huge pack of rampaging bears, and manage to escape. Then there's one of the aliens, Id, who 'speaks' telepathically (great make-up!) and is looking for his brother, Ra. Id claims to be on the side of the humans and will help them. Ra brings a load of humans back to life and uses them to attack Id and the army people ... but this fails and Ra is killed.

Then a vast spaceship descends, opens its entry/exit ramp and just sits there ... so the army group head inside to explore.

Reading that the film was originally intended as the start of a series makes sense, as the plot is very open ended and has much which just happens, making little sense, and just washing over you. The effects are pretty decent though, and I found myself wondering what they could have done with a better and tighter script.

The ending especially just hangs - the film seems to just stop - and makes little sense given what has happened before, and also relies on a massive coincidence, which is just not believable.

The characters all seem faceless and somewhat bland to the extent that I have no clue what any of them are called ... it just doesn't seem important!

As something to pass a couple of hours, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is distracting and diverting enough ... just don't expect anything on the par with films like Independence Day!


FILM DETAILS

4th November 2020, London UK -  A top recon team step in when an alien invasion shuts down the planet, in The Blackout: Invasion Earth, released by 4Digital on 28th December on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital platforms.

Imagine Chernobyl crossed with Battle: Los Angeles, with a touch of Predator, in this Russian sci-fi blockbuster that sees a future world teetering on oblivion. Featuring hi-tech effects, heavy-duty military equipment, bloody bear attacks and a suicide mission to end them all, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is a thrilling and chilling, action-packed epic that sees the fate of humanity resting in the hands of a group of heavily armoured, but massively overmatched soldiers (headed by Aleksey Cahdov, star of Nightwatch), and a lone female journalist. This is two hours of doom and destruction, intense firefights and mind-control mayhem - and a strange, leather-clad figure called Id, who holds the key to the blackout.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Review: Doctor Who: 'I Am The Master' & 'The Official Doctor Who Annual 2021'

Good old Auntie Beeb and Ebury have been doing a roaring trade in Doctor Who titles over the last few months, and short story collections seem to be the order of the day ...

I Am The Master is an eclectic collection of six stories about arguably the Doctor's greatest enemy - certainly the one he has known the longest ...

What's less clear is which Master is featured in the tales ... some are obvious while others are seemingly interchangeable.

We kick off with Peter Anghelides' 'Anger Management'. The Master is being held prisoner by a biomechanoid called Loge in a device which traps the prisoner for seemingly years from their point of view, while only minutes pass for Loge. 'Slow Captivity' it's called, and I loved the conceit of it. Loge wants the Master to help with the rescue of three alien warlords ... but can he outwit his captor?

I think the Master here is the first incarnation (Delgado) and all the trappings are included: rubber face disguises, tissue compression eliminator ... It's well written and a good kick off for the book.

Next up is Mark Wright's 'The Dead Travel Fast' which pits a decayed and decrepit Master (so either Pratt or Beevers) against the author Bram Stoker, who is visiting Whitby on holiday ...  There are lots of great allusions here to Stoker's novel Dracula and the whole piece is written through diary entries, again akin to the book. I enjoyed it a lot. Some great writing and description here.

Third is Jacqueline Rayner's 'Missy's Magical Mystery Mission'. Oh dear. I just couldn't get into this one and had to give up on it. The prose is simplistic and the story just not interesting. The characterisation of the Master, here in his/her 'Missy' persona (Gomez), is accurate to her television portrayal, but I found that hard to watch as well, being somewhat too eccentric and crazed for my liking. So if you liked Missy on television, then maybe you will get on with this story too.

'A Master of Disguise' is by Mike Tucker, and here we're introduced to a man, Moses, who makes all the Master's various rubber disguises. I'm not sure which Master this is though ... I'm tended towards the Delgado variant though as this seems to fit best with the story, though it could be the Ainley. It's nicely written and the ideas are good, with the Master even impersonating the Doctor at one point!

The next tale is unfortunately another disappointment. 'The Night Harvest' by Beverly Sanford is hard going. I think it's the Simm Master as the dialogue is wordy and the overall plot seems obtuse and hard to follow - the sort of crazed logic which this incarnation of the Master had in the TV show. I think my main issue, though, is that I don't really care about the other characters. Tala is the viewpoint character, and she's somewhat boring. Add to this lots of dialogue and the whole thing drags. Not top of the pile for me I'm afraid.

The final story, 'The Master and Margarita' is the best in the book. Matthew Sweet takes as his background Tsar-ist Russia and this adds a great backdrop to the story of spawning mushrooms and alien infiltrators. The language is intelligent and authentic, and the Master himself - I think this is the most recent Dhawan version - is nicely characterised.

Overall this is a varied collection with a couple of disappointments, but the remaining stories are certainly worth the price of admission.  

Moving to the latest Doctor Who Annual (for 2021), and this is a curious beast which must have posed enormous challenges for the publishers and the writer.

The Annual of olden days used to be an eclectic collection of original stories and artwork, comic stories and occasional 'factual' pages, all interspersed with quizzes, crosswords and other puzzles. But they were aimed at fans of all ages, so the stories were not 'dumbed down' and the writing was always entertaining, even if the stories were often about somewhat esoteric subjects which wouldn't be seen on the television variant.

Unfortunately Penguin, who now publish the book, decided to move completely away from original fiction, and now present a book each year full of photographs and features pretty much solely from the current or most recent series. Plus it's written for five or six year olds, with text so simple that it's almost painful for an adult to read. Likewise the quizzes and puzzles are hardly taxing ...

For this edition, then, they have decided to present 4 pages on each of the stories from last season, interspersed with 2 pages looking at other elements. There are 'fake' reviews of places the TARDIS has been from Graham, Mary Shelley (strangely with a Twitter handle of GothGirlMary1797) and the Judoon Pol-Kon-Don (the review is just 'Ko Fro Lo Bo' etc). Bits of the book are as though written by the Doctor (and read like some perky over-caffeinated junior school teacher telling her class what she did on her holidays). There's a few pages at the back dedicated to the overarching Time Lord Victorious project which are dull and of course this whole TLV project relies on people seeking out all the variant parts across multiple merchandise lines to get the complete story!

It's tricky to really be able to 'review' the Annual as it's a book which does not stand up to detailed scrutiny. It's purpose is a Christmas-stocking filler gift for kids, and as such it's a light and transient skim through television stories which the children might have seen earlier in the year.

This slightly older (but young at heart) fan, however, wishes there was more to challenge and entertain the younger reader. This year would have been perfect for some original fiction, some great artwork and some more in-depth factual glimpses behind the scenes. But that's unfortunately not where the publishers' or the BBC's head is at with the show. Such a shame.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Review: He Came From the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (2020)

I'm possibly not alone in never actually having heard of William Grefe, which is a little odd as I am something of an aficionado of the sort of ultra-low budget films he made ... but looking at the titles in this new collection and retrospective of his work from Arrow, I suspect that these are a little lower than even I usually go.

Kicking off the four disk set of seven films is Grefe's first feature, a charming little piece called Sting of Death (1966).

To even start to understand these films, you need to understand also that there was a subculture in the sixties of films which involved 'beach parties'. In fact, beach parties seem to have been really popular for a time as there are quite a few films which feature them. Basically a group of pretty young men and woman all strip down to their bikinis and swim trunks and dance on a beach to music, throwing their arms and bodies around in jerky movements, a little like a spider with St Vitus' Dance. The films feature a lot of this ... so be warned.

The plot, if it can be called that, of Sting of Death is that people are being killed by poison which seems to be coming from a Portuguese Man of War jellyfish ... but it's deadly! Cue a deformed handyman at a hip pad owned by some scientist-types. He seems to be turning himself into a jellyfish man (mainly by putting an inflated plastic bag on his head) and killing the hip cats who have descended on the house for numerous beach parties. They are dancing on the boat as it arrives, then they dance on the jetty, then they dance around the pool ... and somehow our jellyfish man gets into the pool unseen, and kills a girl before getting out again, unseen.

Grefe wisely keeps his monster to shots of flippered feet and wet-suited legs for the most part, only revealing the whole horror of the jellyfish man towards the end ...

It's a turgid affair, not even enlivened by the many shots of gyrating bodies and girls bottoms.

The next film is Death Curse of Tartu (1966), and this touches on the obsession with cannibals and curses which seemed to be around at the time. Unfortunately it has even less of a plot than Sting of Death and seems to revolve around people running around in the Everglades, being chased by crocodiles, finding caves with sarcophagi in, and a living mummy which inexplicably changes into a native American of some sort before it ends. 

It's obvious that Grefe had access to one of those swamp-boat things with a big propeller on the back as it's used here as well in the next film, The Hooked Generation (1968). The attention span of watching these things is growing less with each entry. The Hooked Generation looks at drugs: usage and trafficking. We have a group of unsavoury characters who are trying to smuggle drugs, but one of their number is already high and the rest are pretty hopeless too. They evade the Everglades police, killing them in a shootout, and hideout somewhere, taking captive a young couple who saw them.

It's slow and talkie, but does show a slight narrative step up from Death Curse. Again, this is selling into the obsessions of the time, with a girl in a bikini in trouble, bad drug traffickers, and drug taking.

The next film is even worse! The Psychedelic Priest (which is actually called Electric Shades of Grey on the print) had, as explained in a documentary/interview on the disk, no script, and this is painfully obvious in the film which basically follows a priest who is given some acid, and who then trips and wanders through various music festivals which feature the worst music imaginable. He picks up a female hitch-hiker and she falls for him, but he decides to return to the Church. It's a slow, motiveless and boring slice of cinema, and all I can assume is that it went down well with drive-ins where the viewers were similarly indulging either in drugs or in each other - either way paying no attention to the film at all.


I note that it was made in 1971 but not released at the time. It's release came in 2001 on a direct-to-video label ... perhaps it should have remained unreleased and forgotten.

The Naked Zoo (1971) has a little more going for it. For a start it stars Rita Hayworth in the twilight of her career! The plot has had more work done on it this time, and the film follows a writer who seems to have no trouble getting the girls, but he seems to have a preference for the older lady and is having an affair with Hayworth. Her wheelchair-bound husband is killed in an engineered accident, and then the writer kills her too with a combination of drugs and shock treatment!  But who exactly is the young girl he is also dating ...?  The drug use/party culture is still strong here, but it's more focused and better made than the previous films, and the acting is likewise notched up a rung or two.

Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) is a creature feature, but here the sharks are the 'good' guys! The film is set against a backdrop of shark-hunters and exploitation, and follows a chap who has befriended the sharks and has a tooth necklace given to him by some 'shark god' ... he decides to do away with all those who threaten the sharks, which strangely includes an underwater performer at a local bar. The plot again is better here, and the underwater footage is pretty decent. This was apparently the first 'homage' to Jaws which hit cinema screens and in some ways is testament to the success of the Spielberg film.

The final film in the Collection is Whiskey Mountain (1977). This follows two men and their wives who decide to head off to somewhere called Whiskey Mountain. The film seems to be mostly a travelogue showing them riding their bikes and crossing rivers and so on, but eventually it settles down to them finding a shack and being captured by a group of drug smugglers. The men are tied up in a cave while the women are raped. The men escape and try to go after the druggies, but the local sheriff won't believe them ... and the film ends with one of the men and the two women lined up in the sights of the sheriff's gun as he hovers above them in a helicopter.

It's a strange beast, and unfortunately a pretty poor quality print as well, and it looks like it was made in the sixties rather than the seventies.

What is very interesting about this set, and now I've watched all the films, is that, strangely, it's the first, Sting of Death which now seems to have the most appeal. Yes the monster is dreadful, and yes, it's corny and fairly loose in its presentation, but at least it has a plot and is vaguely enjoyable in the sense that you can marvel and smile at the wetsuit-clad jellyfish man ... 

I enjoyed the extras which pepper the disks. The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire  is a fascinating look at a very under-appreciated area of horror entertainment, the various live ghost and horror shows put on by theatres back in the 40s and 50s.

The documentary about Grefe is also interesting and illuminating, showing the lack of budget and issues which beset some of these low budget films, and how passing trends - go-go girls, bikers, sharks, cannibals - can be turned into films seemingly at the drop of a hat!

I also liked the little piece on Crown Distributors on the final disk - which is not mentioned in Arrow's PR.

As usual, Arrow have pushed the proverbial boat out with the visuals, packaging and production of this set, and it all looks stunning. I just hope that buyers coming to these films fresh aren't too disappointed by the no-budget thrills and spills that they contain.

DETAILS OF THE ARROW RELEASE:

Available now on the Arrow Video Channel: https://bit.ly/AVCUK

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Seven William Grefé films, all newly restored from the best surviving film elements: Sting of Death (1966), Death Curse of Tartu (1966), The Hooked Generation (1968), The Psychedelic Priest (1971), The Naked Zoo (1971), Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) and Whiskey Mountain (1977)
  • Brand new, extended version of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures’ definitive documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations on 4 Blu-ray discs
  • Original uncompressed mono audio for all films
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an extensive, never-before-published interview with William Grefé and a new foreword by the filmmaker
  • Reversible poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
  • Reversible sleeves featuring newly commissioned artwork for each of the films by The Twins of Evil

STING OF DEATH (1966) + DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966)

  • Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé
  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Sting of Death: Beyond the Movie – Monsters a-Go Go! – a look into the history of rock 'n' roll monster movies with author/historian C. Courtney Joyner
  • The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire – a ghoulish look into the early spook show days with monster maker Doug Hobart
  • Original Trailers
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968) + THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (1971)

  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with director William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage
  • Hooked Generation Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

THE NAKED ZOO (1971) + MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (1976)

  • William Grefé’s original Director’s Cut of Naked Zoo
  • Alternate Barry Mahon re-release cut of Naked Zoo
  • Original Mako: Jaws of Death Trailer and Promo
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) + THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: EXTENDED CUT (2020)

  • Whiskey Mountain Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery
  • They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé – the definitive documentary presented for the first in High-Definition and in a brand new, extended cut

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Review: Doctor Who: The Monster Vault

2020's large format, full colour tome from BBC Books is called The Monster Vault ... but forgive me for a moment as it all seems very familiar.

It's a big book - 312 pages - with a £25 price tag ... but haven't we seen it all before? The content is an A-Z of the monsters and aliens that the Doctor has faced in the show. It's not complete in that it doesn't include absolutely everything, and it does not cover the 'reality' or 'behind the scenes' element except for a brief section at the back. For each entry there is the creatures' history as explained (mostly) on screen, with a couple of deviations from the facts we know into what the authors are making up and surmising - but unless you knew, you wouldn't know the difference as it's all presented as 'authoritative'.

For example, the first entry, for the Abzorbaloff, claims that the creature's entire body is in a constant state of suction ... I don't recall that from the TV episode ... Next up is Alpha Centaurians and there's talk of their home planet having an abundance of food and no predators, so the creatures developed politeness. This is pure conjecture ... and so the book goes on, mixing fact from the TV show with a large dollop of conjecture and extrapolation on the part of the authors.

But haven't we seen books about the monsters before? Indeed, there was Lesley Standring's Illustrated A-Z (1985); I myself wrote A Book of Monsters (1997) which focussed on the behind the scenes creation and development of them, again copiously illustrated. Then, for the new series, Justin Richards produced Monsters and Villains (2005), Aliens and Enemies (2006), Creatures and Demons (2007), The Ultimate Monster Guide (2009, updated 2010), Monster Miscellany (2011) and The Secret Lives of Monsters (2013). There was also 100 Scariest Monsters (2011). So a fair few books focussing on the monsters, using only the fictional material presented on television, and illustrated with lots of photographs.

The Monster Vault seems to be the latest in a never-ending stream of similar books from BBC Books. Indeed, it is illustrated with photographs, but each creature gets a rather nice full page 'visualisation' courtesy of Lee Johnson which often looks like a photograph or perhaps a collage of pictures - it's hard to tell what is a photograph and what is artwork.

I think if I'd not been aware of the plethora of similar titles over the years, this book would be quite impressive. It's beautifully produced and laid out, and has monsters galore to sate any appetite. It's also obviously aimed at the younger set, with nothing over and above the descriptions and potential background and pictures. There are some 'unanswered questions' dotted throughout. Like for example why the Chameleons kill people when they're 'high-minded'  - they do so using a slow moving laser, unsupervised. Which is a bit daft, a bit of a joke, and totally invented (though the sequence with the laser is decidedly strange in the story) - the text is included solely to 'explain' a rather weak plot point in the story in which they appear. This continues with somewhat strange 'explanations' of why a Draconian state room is coloured green, how Haemovores can shape metal with their hands, and why the Rutans lost interest in Earth as a planet of strategic importance.

The book covers the entirety of Doctor Who with entries for Sensorites and Monoids alongside Chameleons (2nd Doctor), Solonian Mutants (3rd), Ogri (4th), Tractators (5th), Vervoids (6th), Cheetah People (7th), Jagrafess (9th), Weeping Angels (10th), The Flesh (11th), the Teller (12th) and Zellin & Rakaya and Thijarans (13th) and many more besides. And of course the Daleks and Cybermen are here too.

Just as we think it's all over there's a very welcome final chapter looking at the behind the scenes elements. This again includes photos from all eras of monsters being created, worn, fitted ... there are design sketches and shots of them being built ... it's probably for me the best and most interesting ten pages in the book! 

Overall this is a smashing book, well produced and laid out, which will provide hours of interest for fans new to the show in discovering more about all the various creatures that the Doctor has battled over the years. 

Doctor Who: The Monster Vault
Written by Jonathan Morris and Penny CS Andrews
Illustrated by Lee Johnson (interior) and Ben Morris (cover)
Edited by Paul Lang
Published on 22 October 2020 by BBC Books, priced £25 ISBN 978-1-78594-533-5

Monday, October 19, 2020

Review: Color Out Of Space (2019)

I've long been a bit of a fan of H P Lovecraft - it's the ideas, the slow burn and of course the tentacle monsters that do it ... and while there have been some film adaptations of his work in the past (think of titles like Re-Animator, The Haunted Palace, Dagon and From Beyond) none of them have quite managed to capture the creeping horrors described in Lovecraft's fiction.

Color Out Of Space however manages to do just that, and it does it very well indeed. We are introduced to a dysfunctional family. Father Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) lives in the backwoods somewhere in America, miles from civilization or anywhere else for that matter. His wife Theresa (Joley Richardson) tries to cope with their son Benny (Brendan Meyer) and their rebellious daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) as they grow up, not to mention the youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard). Into their lives comes Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), a hydrologist making a survey of the water in the area. He's attracted to Lavinia ...

Then, one night, a meteor crashes onto their land, leaving a crater and a red hot ball of something ... alien. Everyone is mystified, but soon strange red flowers start appearing, the grass turns red, and Jack sees a strange insect hatch from a jelly-like object down the well. 

From this point onwards, life for the Gardners changes. Their herd of alpacas gets frisky, Theresa cuts her fingers off while chopping carrots, and the dog runs off, to be found later on ... changed ...

But things can get worse ...

What I liked about Color Out of Space is the way it starts slowly, drawing you into this family, and then when the meteor arrives, you just know that it's not going to be good. The 'color' of the title seems to be a bright luminous pink/purple, and the idea here is that the meteor contains a creature of some sort which is this colour ... a sentient colour. But more that that, it's a sentient colour which likes to assimilate the humans ... so we have some tremendous Blob-like scenes of melting flesh and physical change, and also moments which are straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing of mutated dogs and a crazy mixed-up alpaca creature ... not to mention what happens to the people!

It's a bleak film in some respects as there seems no respite and no way for a backwoods farmer to even fight this alien menace ... but the film finds an ending, even if it's slightly underplayed and underexplained.

The film is a very enjoyable and entertaining watch, and Richard Stanley has worked wonders with the source material to deliver something which, even if not 100% faithful, feels like Lovecraft.  I particularly liked his use of practical effects throughout, augmented on occasion with some CGI (or perhaps animation). There was only one short shot which I would have preferred to be practical when it didn't appear to be so ... but I'm not telling you which it was as I'm trying to avoid spoilers here!

Well worth seeking out, and it provides something new and interesting for jaded horror fans to appreciate ... cosmic horror which is truly cosmic and horrifying!


Review: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers first came out in 2002, and for 2020, there is a new cinema release coming out, all restored and looking amazing.

For those who have not seen it, it's something of a treat, being director Neil Marshall's first cinematic outing. The film, scripted, directed and edited by Marshall, follows a group of soldiers under the command of Wells (Sean Pertwee) as they take part in a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands. They find the commander of the group they are training against, Ryan (Liam Cunningham) wounded and his troop slaughtered by creatures unknown. They are rescued from the wilds by Megan (Emma Cleasby) who happens to be passing in her jeep, and she takes them to the only house in any range to try and get help. But it's deserted, the occupants missing. So the soldiers take up residence and patch up Wells who has had his guts ripped open by the attacking creatures.

Soon the house is under siege by a pack of ravening werewolves, and worse, the danger is also coming from within as Ryan also turns into one of their number.

The film is something of a masterclass in ratching up tension and excitement as it moves from what at first appears to be a 'soldiers on patrol' piece to a superior werewolf movie. Marshall keeps the action going, and a favourite sequence is when Wells and Cooper (Kevin McKidd) have to escape the werewolves by basically breaking through the walls and floors of the cottage to get away!

One minor disappointment is that there is no actual full transformation sequence, so if you're expecting effects on par with The Howling or An American Werewolf in London, then this is not the place to come. There are some contacts and fangs-type initial transformations though. The film is low budget but Marshall gets every penny on the screen, and it also benefits from some standout performances from Pertwee and McKidd.

The ending might be seen as a little predictable, but it all adds to the charm, and overall the film is a superb slice of horror of the sort we thought filmmakers had forgotten how to do!


RELEASE INFORMATION

Distributor: Vertigo Releasing
In Cinemas: 23rd October, 2020
Release date: 23rd October, 2020
Digital release: 12th October, 2020                                

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Review: Doctor Who Book: Time Lord Victorious: The Knight, the Fool and the Dead

It's been a bit of time since I've been sent some WHO stuff for review, but the last couple of weeks have seen some new items come in.

First up is the novel The Knight, The Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole. This is part of the whole Time Lord Victorious program which James Goss has overseen for the brand, and this is a novel published by Ebury. Well, I say a novel - it's more like a novella, or perhaps a long short story. It has 178 pages, is a small hardback with large text which is widely spaced out.

Indeed, it took me around an hour to read it - and the story is fast moving. There's a planet, Andalia, where some death-dealing creatures called Kotturuh invade and kill everyone. The tenth Doctor gets involved and with the help of an Ood called Brian (who seems to be placed out of time) saves a girl called Estinee who is using something called a Life Shroud ... and they chase off after the Kotturuh, eventually confronting them. There are apparently a lot of references in the book to other elements of the overall 'Victorious' plot and the show, but many of these unfortunately just passed me by. I did like a couple of flashback 'interludes' featuring the first and ninth Doctors, but it's unclear to some extent what they have to do with the rest of the narrative.

It isn't really Doctor Who as I remember watching it, though the tenth Doctor is nicely characterised, as it's all so simplified in terms of the writing level and the plot and ideas. I guess someone a lot younger than me would enjoy it, but I prefer a little more complexity. I would assume/guess there's around 30-33,000 words here which doesn't really give it space for the story to breathe.

The inclusion of a new mega-threat in the Kotturuh is okay, but Brian the Ood just seems silly, especially as he's inexplicably wearing a dinner suit ...  but then he seems to have been included for comic relief!

As this is all part of the bigger Time Lord Victorious project, perhaps it will all make more sense when we see how it all develops and unfolds, but given how hard Doctor Who merchandise is to find these days and how expensive it all is, I wonder if the young people that this seems obviously aimed at would have the patience or money to be able to get all the pieces of the puzzle ... there's a chart available with Doctor Who Magazine which explains all the elements and the timeline for their release and it includes LP records (who under the age of 30 has a record player these days) and even immersive theatre, CDs, action figures and display statues!

I hope it works. I hope it helps to revitalise the Doctor Who merchandise market as it seems fairly stagnant at the moment despite individuals and companies doing their best to produce what they hope might be popular.

I just wonder if this was the best way to start ... 

Review: Orphan Black

Every so often a series comes along which is so compelling, that it just drags you with it. We first caught Orphan Black on telly - I forget which channel. It might have even been on Netflix, though I don't think it was. We watched to the end and were enthralled throughout. So much so that for Christmas last year I got a well-priced Box Set of the series, and we have just finished watching it all again!

So what is Orphan Black? It's a thriller series, but one which takes as it's basis and background the ideas of clones and DNA and genetic manipulation and longevity. So there's Big Science involved, and mysterious organisations (the Dyad Institute and Neolution) and powerful men controlling these structures.

Into this world falls Sarah Manning. In the opening episode, Sarah is standing on a train platform waiting for her train. She's a bit of a rebel, a bit of an outlier of society. Down from her on the platform is another girl. She seems agitated, and when she turns to look at Sarah, she has the same features - she is Sarah's double. She places her bag on the platform and abruptly steps off in front of a train and is killed!

Sarah is shocked, but, ever the opportunist, she steals the girl's bag as she leaves. She discovers that the girl was Beth Childs, a policewoman ... and from this point Sarah's life is turned upside down. She learns that Beth was a clone, and that there are other clones too: blonde Helena is a twisted and insane version of herself; Alison Hendrix is a soccer mom living in a perfect home with a perfect husband, Donnie (Kristian Bruun), and two adopted kids; Cosima Niehaus is a science nerd, studying hard genetics and DNA to try and find a cure for the respiratory disease which threatens to kill her ...

All these characters clash together, along with Sarah's brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) (they were both adopted by the same mother, called Mrs S (Maria Doyle Kennedy)) and discover that they are all part of a global conspiracy to control birth and genetics and sell it to the highest bidder.

So that's the basic set-up, and each season follows and develops the ideas and concepts and keeps opening the show up.

In season One Sarah assumes Beth's identity to try and find out more about her and discovers a hidden world of clones and corporate espionage. Someone is also killing the clones, one by one, and the race is on to find out who ... Sarah's daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler), is also the focus of intense interest of Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) who runs Dyad as Sarah (and Helena) are the only clones who are fertile.

In Season Two we are introduced to clone Rachel Duncan, who is high up in Dyad, and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), a Dyad scientist who works with, and falls in love with Cosima as they try to find a cure for her illness. Meanwhile Sarah is trying to stay alive while Alison is trying to lead a 'normal' life in the suburbs but ends up killing one of her 'perfect mom' rivals.

Season Three brings in the idea that as well as Sarah and her clones (termed Leda) there are also Male soldier clones (called Castor) (Ari Millen) and Sarah must discover what and why they exist. We meet another Leda clone, Krystal Goderich, and Cosima meets and falls for Shay (Ksenia Solo) who may or may not be another spy ...

Season Four fills in backstory with Beth investigating what is going on, and the discovery of Neolution's plan to implant tech worms in humans to harvest and control their DNA. Meanwhile Helena is being held captive, and the Neolution cult, headed by the aged P T Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie), has a base on an island where Cosima is being forced to conduct experiments ...

Season Five brings it all to a close, with Dyad and Neolution being attacked by the Clones ... but will there be a happy ending? Will Sarah and her sistres survive, and how will the world look in the aftermath.

I have deliberately tried to avoid spoilers in this brief rundown, and really the show is far more involved and engaging than it's possible to explain in a review. Furthermore, sharp eyes will have spotted that I have mentioned no actresses for Sarah and the clones. This is because they are all played by the same actress, Tatiana Maslany, who is simply a revelation and utterly the best thing about the show. Every one of her characters is different, from the way they dress, through their speech and even the way they move and react. You always know exactly which you are watching, and even when one clone has to pretend to be another (which happens a fair amount), Maslany manages to imbue her performance with aspects of both. It's a brilliant performance! And her depiction of the feral and unpredictable Helena is simply a joy. 

Furthermore, the direction and technical skill on display is immense as we often see several Clones together in the same shots, same scenes. The effect is flawless and you totally believe that these characters are separate and different and, indeed, are all together partying or talking or whatever. It's actually hard to believe that they are all the same actress, it's that good! There's little wonder she won the Primetime Emmy Award (2016), a TCA Award (2013), two Critics' Choice Awards (2013 and 2014), and five Canadian Screen Awards (2014–18).

Another pitch perfect element of the show is the title sequence and accompanying music. The music especially is so hauntingly memorable and builds beautifully over its short span, but this is enhanced by the visuals which encapsulate perfectly the themes of the show. There's DNA strands and separation of an egg, two 'Sarahs' split away from each other ... it's a magnificent piece of work in its own right. It is no surprise that Technicolor's Design team won an Applied Arts Award for the opening title design.

If you gather that I am a fan of the show, then you'd be right. Supporting Maslany in her multiple personas is a company of simply superb actors. Kudos to Jordan Gavaris as Felix, who manages to be the rock that Sarah clings to, while all the time being big brother to Alison and Cosima, while navigating his own sexuality through painting in the nude! He is a superb character, and very well played. Then there's Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs S, a towering performance of a mother who will do anything to protect her kids, even when she's more involved than she would like to admit. Kevin Hanchard plays Art Bell, Beth's partner in the police. He has a struggle to accept what's happening, but turns out to be a powerful ally. Even minor parts are cast and performed well, making the whole show one of the most watchable and enjoyable that I have ever seen.

If you get a chance to watch it, then do so. If you like spy thrillers, conspiracy shows, and action/adventure then I don't think you'll be disappointed.



For further reading there's a great piece on the show here: But Beware Spoilers!


I just found too this SDCC panel where the cast are challenged to perform against different clones with Maslany playing all of them!