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Although I am gradually watching Doctor Who from the start, I am no
great fan and there is an element of OCD in my decision to watch it all
in order. So, in the case of this serial, although I had been aware of
Davros as a character, I certainly had not seen this serial before. In
addition to this, the previous Dalek stories, and their use in the
modern seasons, had taught me that they were almost a novelty, brought
in as a series favorite to help boost ratings whenever a brand-name
villain was needed. So, when I saw the next serial in season 12 was one
relating to the Daleks, I really did not expect anything particularly
special which is why I think it caught me off guard about just how
strong it was.
The plot provides a very strong bed, with a plot which has plenty of drama (as opposed to manufactured cliff-hangers), and yet also plenty of thoughtful material around morality, fascism, and other elements. The Daleks are really supporting players next to the character of Davros who is essentially Hitler. His is such a strong presence that it is hard not to be taken by every scene he is in. Baker's Doctor matches this approach with a quite serious performance throughout; and the whole thing is played straight and means that the Daleks are genuinely more menacing due to the context. Of course it helps that the serial has a particularly mean streak in its specifics and in its general delivery.
Specifically we see cruel deaths, Nazi-style characters, scenes that are genuinely unsettling in their tone and content, and a delivery that never plays it for laughs or comedic japes. This is continued by the design of the sets, characters, and general 'feel' of the serial; it is futuristic but yet industrial and a type of industry build on the suffering of many for the benefit of the few. It feels grimy, cruel and dark and it combines this very well with the material. I had never seen this serial before even if I was aware of Davros et al from later seasons; nor had I heard the hype for this as one of the best of the show. I was glad I had not because I came in without any knowledge or preconceptions, and it grabbed me from the start to the end by how well done it was. I'm not sure how long it can keep this up, but at the minute this season is shaping up to be one of the strongest of the lot thus far.
I am no great Whostorian to remember all the details of the seasons I
have watched already, but I think this is one of the shortest of the
serials thus far, weighing in at only two episodes. This serial leads
reasonably neatly on from the previous on, where the Doctor and
partners teleport down to Earth to find it fairly deserted, but with
some remnants of humanity hanging on. While these "remnants" take an
instant distrust to the Doctor, another, much greater danger lurks in
the background with nefarious goals for the planet.
Interesting to come to this serial off the back of Ark in Space, because in terms of shooting it seems to be the total opposite of that serial. While Ark was wholly inside a few sets with no externals, The Sontaran Experiment appears to be entirely filmed outdoors on the moors somewhere. I am not entirely sure that the location does sell the idea of an Earth bereft of most of its human life, but it is effective for the space it offers (and maybe I am used to such scenarios just being crumbling cities which I guess would be long since crumbled in this scenario). Much like Ark though, the serial benefits from a limited number of characters and a short number of episodes, so there is really no padded here at all. I am not sure if this is deliberate or not, but certainly in season 12 so far it does seem different from other seasons where you could easily imagine the three serials being padded out to more episodes. Anyway, the brevity of this serial does actually help, because it throws us into a scene and moves us through it quite quickly. I guess it could have been spread out a bit, but it works pretty well with the time it has, and has a good pace. There is not a huge amount of detail, but it does have some nice moments; again, similar to Ark, there are some unsettling moments here the terror- visions of Sarah Jane are quite creepy; as indeed is the whole idea of torture and experiments. It is another solid serial in this new season.
The special effects and sets are limited and have dated but wisely there is not too much of them. I am not sure what the costume department were thinking by putting Sarah Jane into some hideous garish creation perhaps it was a mix of costume and also hi-vis outfit to highlight where she is in case she got lost? In terms of performances Baker is solid again, judging his Doctor just right between too serious and too comedic. Sladen is good despite her costume and mostly being in peril here. Marter is starting to grow on me a little; although still not a big fan of his very 1970's 'old girl' character, although this is not his fault. The supporting cast are good, although I thought the Sontaran in Time Warrior had a bit more space to have a character and presence than Lindsay did here.
Overall, a tight and engaging little serial that is not strong enough to be a classic, but it does its job in the time it needs, and it does it pretty well which after too many 3-part serials delivered as 6-part serials, that is no bad thing at all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After finishing this serial, and before writing this comment, I quickly
just Googled to check what year the original Alien film came out versus
the date this serial was released. The reason for this will be clear to
anyone who has seen both Alien and Ark in Space; an intelligent and
deadly alien, an enclosed spaceship with humans in suspended animation,
humans navigating tight tunnels while trying to keep an increasingly
hostile an numerous alien force at bay; indeed even the scene where
aliens go over and around to get into the shuttle at the end was
reminiscent of the scene in Aliens where they do the same in the roof
space. It was interesting to note that of course this serial came many
years before Alien, and I do not know if this is an influence, but for
sure there does seem to a certain connection (although having said
that, the serial itself seems to borrow from other sci-fi such as
Quatermass, and the use of silence in the space sequences as a
juxtaposition with the sound of the internal shots.
This aside, The Ark in Space is a solidly good serial. It is only 4 parts long (which I usually find keeps it tighter), and has a good tight control of its own narrative. It is pretty impressive that mostly it all plays out in a few different sets, and yet it is engaging throughout. The crux of the plot is the alien threat to the humans sent out in the ark to protect the species from extinction; this features some surprisingly effective images and ideas. Okay the special effects are dated, but it was still impacting to see Noah partially transformed, and interesting to see him fighting the transformation to keep an element of humanity alive or at least to make the sacrifice to take out the threat himself. Such aspects are nicely played and given the space to be ideas with the room to exist in the serial. There were elements of the serial that moved a little slower, and a few scenes here and there that we probably could have done without, but nothing really too padded and certainly not compared to some of those 6-part serials where clearly there were only 4-parts to be had.
The cast are good and benefit from the low number of characters and limited sets. Baker seems much better already as the Doctor; in Robot he was far too silly and flamboyant but here he is much more balanced. Not dull or dry or overly serious, but able to provide a certain amount of wonder in his character's view on life, as well as an appreciation for the seriousness of a situation when need be. Sladen is solid and has more to do than just scream (indeed a key plot point sees her goaded into action by accusations of such). Marter's "come one ol' girl", and "feisty bird" routine bothered me as much as it did in Robot. I did like that the other characters teased him a bit, and perhaps he will relax to be a decent companion in the mould of Ian Chesterton from the Hartnell era. The supporting cast play well, particularly Moore.
A positive step then. I liked Robot for what it did well, but Ark in Space is much better in allowing ideas room to breathe, producing some genuine creepy moments and threads, and also having better control of the tone and the characters. The performances match this, and with hindsight it makes the serial more interesting to ponder on the similarities between this and Alien.
It seemed to me that few people did not totally love this film, and I
cannot think of any time on social media or reviews that I saw many
negative words about it. So I was keen to see it once it came to being
released for the home viewing. Undeniably the film is committed to what
it is doing and it seems determined to make this world real simply by
the force of its own will. As a result there does not seem any excess
that is out of place, even if for me personally this also worked
against the film. The simple plot allows the action to be the all, and
in some ways it is enjoyably metallic with impacts, grinding of
parts, the smell of grease. However on the other side the sense of
vaudeville that it has detracts from the actual feeling of tension and
violence it should have. That it didn't manage to draw me into its
creation meant that the constant action felt like a show rather than
something with real consequence and risk.
That is not to say that it isn't enjoyable, because as a show it is often quite the show. I am not sure why this content-light blockbuster got so much praise versus any other blockbuster heavy on action but light on plot, but it did. Visually it is endlessly interesting; the crazy nonsense of the vehicles and the action sequences combine with some great cinematography over-saturating everything and adding to that sense of otherworldly extremes. The cast do the same and have that 'committed' approach that the film has whether their performances make sense or not. Theron is the most engaging of the piece, with a very strong and yet emotive character. Hardy is a good presence but surprisingly not particularly interesting as a title character. Hoult is better, and the female support characters see good turns from Huntington- Whiteley (I know surprising), Kravitz, Eaton, and others.
It is a film that simply does what it sets out to do and doesn't seem to worry about whether it will work or not. In this way it does have strong forward motion, and never lack confidence. However the sense of performance and show to it does rob it of a hook to draw the viewer in, and as such it is always a blockbuster, even if the grimy metallic aspects suggest it is more 'proper' than other films doing much the same for a wider audience. Good for what it is, but certainly not worthy of the endless waves of praise hitting it this summer.
I'm pretty keen to avoid spoilers so I didn't watch this feature until
after I had already finished season 5. As a result, the news of the
scale of the show was not really news, even if it is something that
this film keeps hitting home throughout. Capturing work in Spain,
Croatia, and Norn Iron, the day itself is not particularly fascinating
in terms of events in that working period, but rather just as a taste
of the norm. As such we see the specific challenges of any one shoot,
the logistics of the wider project, and the sheer scale of two units
shooting material that all has to match across three different
countries (on this occasion more on others).
It is interesting to see the faces behind the cameras, and take this time to appreciate their work. The film doesn't spend too long with the actual cast (we only see a couple of them) but rather the behind the scenes people not so much your jobbing crew, but producers and some other specific roles. As such it is quite interesting but never really more than a superficial featurette. We hear about stresses but never really see them, although the organizational challenge of schedules and logistics is clear just from this brief look. Not the most fascinating of pieces as a result, but interesting for what it is.
I do enjoy talking head style documentaries, but at the same time they
are not as easy to make as they look; contributors may not say anything
good, might stumble, and generally you might be left with a lot of
headshots talking about something in a manner any of us could have got
down the pub. In the case of this short film, I was a little put off by
the title and the subject matter I don't know why I felt this way at
first, but being honest I was. The quality of the film won me over
though mainly because it uses its contributors very well, getting good
conversations going, and drawing it all together in a satisfying and
engaging way. In some aspects, the film is telling us something we
already know that we live in an image conscious culture and that in
particular it affects women the hardest.
One of the things I liked about the film though, was that, although it would have been perfectly understandable to deliver this news, the film doesn't just rally against make-up, but allows it to be discussed for better or worse, and the women are neither presented as victims or as part of the problem they are presented as people. The colourful make-up used throughout the film, and the dashes of powder thrown around did feel like a bit of a gimmick at first, but not for long. I felt it added a visual element that fitted with the discussion, but also made the film more creative than just talking heads against a black background; it is hard to say but it also seemed that this device helped the contributors to relax, feel confident and enjoy the process.
At its core, this is a talking-heads documentary about a topic that we are already aware of; but it is well presented with interesting and engaging contributions throughout.
Betty Sue is on the verge of joining all female gang 'The Bumblebees'
but a close-call the night before is giving her doubts. She relates the
story of her and Kitty's night out, unsure of what happened to Kitty in
Aesthetically this is quite an arresting film in terms of the design of the Bumblebees themselves; it is not the most original perhaps, but I liked the 1950's style fashion, hair, and make-up and that, at least occasionally, the characters spoke in Noo Yark style accents. This gave it a trashy tone which mostly suits the tone of the film. There is an element of exploitation cinema in this short, mixed with revenge-thriller, and it does have the feel of those 1970's films so beloved by Tarantino. This is a problem for the short in two ways; the first is that it doesn't really have the resources/ability to pull off this style, and for example modern touches like the heavy bass of the soundtrack seem out of place. The bigger issue is that it seems to be focused so much on being like other things, so much that it isn't its own film or voice.
In the end it manages to do reasonably well on most things, while also falling short of target. This is the same in the style good ideas in location, great job with make-up, but yet the soundtrack and other elements of the delivery don't fit. Similarly the plot has trashy b-movie elements, but yet it doesn't totally embrace that sense of fantasy, and so the involvement of a threatened sexual assault seems a bit too "real" in the film to be taken as part of this colourful exploitation film. The casting is mostly good and the background members of the gang has good style and presence. Paterno is good in the lead role; very commanding on screen and captures her part well vulnerable and inexperienced, but yet clearly at the start of something. By contrast, while ShaVaughn gives what is asked, I did feel that the gang-mother character was too obvious and too big of a thing to fit into such a small film.
The Bumblebees has some good ideas and elements, with good roots in exploitation b-movie cinema, however it doesn't totally sell itself into this as much as it needed to.
A writer checks into a hotel room but yet can find no relief from his
writers block. In his distraction he becomes aware of marks from
previous residents, some of which are impossibly recent surely?
Checking out a noise from the cupboard, he finds that he has an active
connection to those that had been here before.
There is a nice idea at the core of this short film, and in particular the idea of previous residents leaving their mark/ghosts resonated with me since I only moved house a few months ago and am still finding the "marks" of the previous owner (buyer beware). At the start the film is perhaps a bit too functional in its shot selection and delivery, with there not really being a particularly good flow to the shots. Very functional, very "this then that" about the delivery. This feeling of it being a little basic continues into some technical aspects, and while the limited location offers a chance to create a strong atmosphere to the film, it doesn't really manage to do this.
The narrative itself offers some small scenes, but nothing particularly gripping, and nothing that builds in a good way. The conclusion is also a bit unsatisfying when it comes. Performances match the technical delivery, and while mostly silent, they are not natural and they again feel very function in what they are doing. It is a shame because there are a few good ideas at the core of this short film, but they do not get expanded by the material, and they are not well served by the delivery either.
In south-east Turkey, a small community of Syriac Christians struggle
to protect what is left of their culture in their own homeland, as
troubles drive the younger generation away, and violence and
persecution down the generations continues to rest a heavy cultural
weight on the people. The film talks to 5 people about their culture
and the future.
Even the least informed of people know now to raise a thoughtful eyebrow when someone mentions a Christian community based in the south-eastern corner of Turkey; if nothing else they are not short of others who would do them harm, but more generally their individual culture is under pressures caused by such thing namely migration to Europe. The film looks at this community and does so with very good access to the people and the place; it was a very good looking film throughout and technically I do not have much to say against it. The problems I had with it were more based on the content. Some may say that a good documentary maker does not force an agenda or point into their subject, but lets the subject speak for itself personally I think a good documentary maker is one that makes it look like that is what they are doing, while they do it. This film is not so clear on the message, mainly because I think it doesn't have one so much as just showing us a picture. Mostly this is fine, because it speaks for itself, but I was not sure of the issue to hear about the community leaving the homeland to seek safer lives for the individual it seems perfectly sane, and a "community" has no value if all the people who stay in it are suffering or killed (or both). This is reinforced by the end credits telling us of ISIS' mass abduction of people which makes me feel more on the side of the people leaving (who we do not hear from) as opposed to those who stay.
This mixed message is not overcome by the film helping the viewer over that, and showing how the community is more valuable than that, and a loss that goes beyond the opinions of those people we hear speaking, and it does limit the engagement. I said technically the film is strong and mostly it is, but the narration is not part of that. I was in two minds on it. At the start the hushed, respectful tones sounded almost like a spoof of David Attenborough, and it made me chuckle to listen to it. Then I thought that it was so much like a wildlife documentary narration that it must be deliberate, and that the suggestion was that the subjects are endangered species a clever approach if it were true (not to say it works though) but nothing in the film supports this view.
A worthy film for the subject, and technically well made, but one without a real aim for the heart of the matter, nor one that really helps the subjects lay out their stall in the clear and engaging way it should have.
James is working in his flat, but oppressed by the heat of the city.
Subjected to an impact noise he cannot pin down but cannot shake, he
heads out on his bike and finds himself at the house of a stonemason,
practicing his craft by carving out a random grave stone on a defective
piece. It may have been the noise that drew James' attention, but what
keeps it there is that the random headstone has his name and date of
birth inscribed on it just above the inscription of today's date.
Based on a short story that is over 100 years old, this film has a nicely creepy sense about it for the most part. Although it does not totally capture the heat and oppression as I would have liked, both of these things come across reasonably well to create an atmosphere which the sound design adds to with some good impact noises. The camera moves well; mostly static shots but use of overhead shots when appropriate adds a feeling of quality to it. The second half of the film holds out the build on this, and it does it pretty well, with a sense of things folding in on themselves. Being honest, I would have liked to have seen it be tighter, and have stronger and more gripping dialogue (words with things between the words) but it does still work, and the conclusion is nicely creepy and understated.
Technically well made, and with good delivery from Sullivan and Conroy, it is worth a look as it engages pretty well, has a creepy edge to it, and is solidly told throughout.
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