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bob the moo

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The Power of the Daleks: Strong serial which carries the weaker aspects of the animation, 23 May 2017

I'd not heard of this animated serial until I was browsing the user comments of Theo Robertson and saw he had seen it. It attracted my attention because I recognized the title as being one of the wholly lost serials, and that it had annoyed me when I was watching through that stage of Dr Who, because of it being a change in Doctors, and of course because of the Daleks returning. Despite their name being in the title the Daleks do not show up much at first. The focus of a lot of the first episode is mostly on the change to the Doctor, and what happened with him. This material works, but perhaps goes on a bit long for viewers now, for whom the regeneration process is quite normal.

This establishment of the new situation within the TARDIS is followed by the establishment of the human colony outside of it. The murder of the Examiner is sudden and lacks a base, and is a bit convenient in terms of kicking off the narrative, but it is dramatic and does gt things going. The introduction of the Daleks is very well done, as they are threatening but yet seemingly neutered – but not in a way the viewer accepts. This neutered state gives way to a very enjoyable aspect of the Daleks – which is their manipulative scheming evil. I'm so used to them just storming round the place yelling, that it is nice to see them playing a longer game around the edges. The human cast react well to this, as some of them convince with a gut feeling of being watched by these machines – but it is the despair of Lesterson that is the most convincing and impacting. The serial runs to 6 parts but unlike many that do, this uses the time very well. It doesn't feel artificial and it produces a nice slow burn tension and drama across the various threads it has running.

The recreation here is mostly very good; I cannot comment on how close it is to the fragments remaining of the original, but the use of recorded audio does add a lot. The animation is a mixed bag. When characters are in motion then it looks clunky and a bit cheap, but when they are more static images then it looks fine. The animators also take some liberties which add value – for instance I doubt the original show did an overhead shot of the three Daleks, or did as good a job of selling the army being created. It isn't amazing animation perhaps, but again this is testament to the narrative because I was held by it sufficiently not to be too bothered.

A very strong serial which strong characters, performances, and writing. A reminder that one of the things that made the Daleks stick as characters is that they were in some very good serials.

S7: Noticeably different in approach from season 6, but the high quality continues, 23 May 2017

I remembered when I finished season 6, that I read that the showrunner (Adam Muto) had said that season 7 would be less heady, and I was pleased here to find that this is mostly a very good decision. I had enjoyed the previous seasons expanding worlds and characters, and pushing darker ideas within the frame of this colorful kid's cartoon, however some of the stand-alone episodes reminded me that the show could also do great things in 11 minutes without this huge connection. Season 7 doesn't totally lose connection with everything that it has done before and the direction it has gone, but at the same time there is a definite step into standalone episodes which are contained, fun, interesting, and smart.

Although the background of the show is important to watch it, it is not as necessary as seasons going deeper – here there is usually something you'll not get if you are just jumping in, but those episodes will still work for you in that moment. I liked the approach to have more character-driven episodes too – in particular the vampire series early in the season, acting as a sort of mini- series within the season. There are other episodes which standalone in terms of that episode, but that continues to touch on the wider world, draw in other characters, and generally do enough to satisfy fans of the approach of season 6, without doing that type of thing in that way.

It gets this balance right throughout, but at the same time doesn't forget to make the episodes fresh, engaging, and entertaining. I can think of very few this season that did not keep the quality high, and delivers plenty of value in many different ways. The previous six seasons have set a very high bar, but season 7 continues it.

S1: Engaging and chilling in its construct, despite running a little long, and leaning the viewer one way more than t'other (TOTAL SPOILERS), 23 May 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'll spoil the detail of this show for the handful of people who have not seen it, so, if like me you are late to seeing this, just skip this little comment from me. For me, I could hardly wait till I had finished watching to be able to jump online and read around the subjects and other material to do with this show, because I had found it compelling throughout. Reading the many online commentaries of the show, at lot get split into the camps of "he did it" or "he didn't do it", but many are closer to where I ended up – which is to say that I am not sure he didn't commit this terrible murder, but at the same time I don't think he should have been found guilty. In the same way, one wonders why he couldn't have done it, and the police could still have been involved in shady or downright wrong practices to help the case along in the direction they 'knew' it should go.

It is this murky messiness that engaged me so deeply in the series. The presentation certainly tends to lean towards one 'side' more than the other – although this is partly down to one side being more active to engage with the filmmakers, not just their agenda in the presentation. There is certainly a lot of twists and turns with various testimony and evidence presented as it goes, and it is very well edited together to keep the viewer informed as to what is going on, the significance of it, and also making it work in a way that has a dramatic narrative flow. While this certainly involves sacrifice in terms of the complete picture, it makes for a compelling watch, and I do not think it costs the reality too much.

Everyone can have their opinion, but outside of this it is hard to imagine many people coming away thinking that justice was done and the system worked precisely as it should have done. There is a lot of dubious stuff on both sides (well, one more than the other), and mostly the show does use this well so that the viewer has lots of doubts all pulling in different directions at different times. At 10 episodes it does run a little long – but I only really felt this toward the end, and not too often. Otherwise it is an impressive piece of editing and story-telling, to take such a complex and long- running series of cases, with a lot of moving parts and characters, and make it reasonably easy to follow and engaging.

There is a lot to debate, read about, argue over, or dispute about what is shown (and not shown) in these ten episodes, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of viewers will not be gripped and chilled by this depiction of the process of 'justice', and this is the strength of the show.

S2: Continues to be a solid show that is not brilliant but plays to its strengths, 23 May 2017

It is a shame that there isn't more buzz around this show, because it is certainly good enough to be worthy of more chatter. I do not think I know anyone who watches this show, and a post-watch search on Reddit for threads talking about it only produced posts with a handful of comments and only marginally more upvotes. Not to say the show is brilliant, but it is certainly solid and benefits from being pitched to its own strengths in terms of running time. This season is a bit of a change from the first, as the narrative has a different framing and is more of a mystery rather than thriller. It also has less in the way of flamboyant violence, and instead is a bit darker in terms of its subject matter and what it has to balance.

It is not wholly successful in doing this, and I think the buddy- humor and banter does not totally gel with child murder and spiritual matters. The narrative itself is equally "solid" which is to say that it engages and is satisfying, but at the same time it has a lot of convenience and simplification in there too. I've never read the source material, so I'm not sure where that comes from, but there is a lot that just slots together quickly and neatly – and a lot of it stands out by virtue of it doing so. The show has enough rough charm and character to allow the viewer to stay with it and not be put off by this, but it is still a tad off putting the way it comes together some times.

The production values are high throughout, and the leads are probably the biggest selling point. Together and individually both Purefoy and Williams are really good. Of course as a fan of The Wire, I take a lot of pleasure in seeing Williams burst into a room with a shotgun, but his character is more than this, and he works well. Beyond them the cast do well in support, but not too many make a mark regardless of the size of their character – as with the title, the show is best focused on the lead two, simply because they feed that rough charm aspect.

As with season 1, I wasn't blown away by this but at the same time enjoyed it for what it does well. It is well paced, of good length, and delivers a solid narrative with a tangible sense of heat and charm.

S2: Rewarding but at times it is almost deliberately glacial, 23 May 2017

I almost wish that Rectify was not as well considered and highly rated as it is, because in some ways the hype make it a harder show to be patient with. I try to put such things out of my mind while watching, but I confess during the first half of this season, that I did struggle with the thoughts of the 99% ratings on Metacritic etc and connecting them to what I was watching. I do not mean to suggest that the show is not good (it is very good), but in this season it seemed to be almost deliberate in seeing how slowly it could move and how little it could get away with showing in any given episode. This glacial pace makes it hard to stay patient, because it is so consistent in asking you to stay with the small looks, the minor affectations of characters, and other things that hint at unspoken motivations and feelings. I am surprised more people do not say this, because even liking the show, there were moments where the pace was too slow.

Part of this is the season running longer than the first, at ten episodes. I'm not suggested it is related, but I do note that the third season is back on six episodes again. The second half of this season does pick up a bit, as things come to the surface, and the crime element starts to have movement. To a point a lot of the various threads engaging does come down to how much time it put into the small things, so there is that – and it is this that makes me continue to trust the show that it is right to ask me to go with it. I doubt it will ever erupt into major action and revelations, but in the meantime it is subtle in its content – mostly in a rewarding way, but certainly not in a wholly accessible way.

Putting the gushing critics out of my mind for the minute, this season does produce a good bed of characterization, and has a strong second half. It asks a lot of patience but mostly rewards it with interesting characters and interactions, even if parts of this season feel like they are stretching it as slow as possible. I hope the next season can be much more in the vein of the latter episodes here – they do not give up this base of character, but they also have more to engage with on the surface as well as in the bed.

S16: The Armageddon Factor: Some good aspects but stretched out and lacking oomph, 23 May 2017

This sixteenth season has not been consistently that strong, and as a result I did not approach this extended serial with high hopes. It starts well enough though, and there are plenty of nice ideas in the basic construct – a fabricated war, a 'Strangelove' computer, manipulation of characters by dark forces, and an interesting twist to the form taken by the Key of Time. All of these things are pretty good on the face of it, but the problem is that they do not come together into a satisfying whole. The serial builds quite well at first, but as it adds it becomes messy in the narrative, and it starts to lose impact at a point where it should have been building to a good finish. It has enough movement to keep things going, but when I wanted it to sharpen and get tighter, it instead became baggy and lost sight of interesting elements as it got into the mix.

The extension to 6 episodes doesn't help – as is often the case with these serials, it feels like elements are added or drawn-out just to pad out the time to fill this, rather than the story needing that time. The production values also add to the feeling of the serial being a bit 'meh'; it is mostly an ugly serial with locations that are very basic and don't have atmosphere or drama to cover for it. The performances vary; Baker, Tamm, K-9, Woodvine's Marshall, - these are all good performances, however outside of these too many are pretty basic. Perhaps this is not their fault, as the writing doesn't always gave them the best shots.

In the end, while it is a solid serial in some aspects, it has too much working against it. The set design, the messy narrative, the weaker writing at points – all of this occurs at a point where this serial should really be the 'big finish' that the whole season has built up to. I think this is why it felt weaker than it probably was, because I had wanted more from it on this basis.

Saturday (2015/I)
Quality piece of work, with some great moments, but the majority of the film doesn't engage in the same way (SPOILERS), 23 May 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This short film came online recently, although it is a proper 'festival' film in the same way as in cinemas you can tell when awards season is coming up and plenty of more worthy pieces start getting released. This is not a criticism of either kind of film, but Saturday very much feels like a film to be appreciated at a festival rather than something that has a natural home on your phone as you wait for a bus.

And 'appreciate' is the word here, because the film has a really strong sense of quality in the production, and a very worthy feel to the content and approach. The connection to Hillsborough is a remote one, as our focus family are more hearing about it than experiencing it. However, the film sets up the characters and then has small moments where the experience of the disaster is played out on them. It sounds simple just to say it, but we see a young boy crushed in a 'pile- on', supporters behind a fence in a bar while we look over the shoulder of a distant policeman. Things like this are both smarter and more emotionally impacting than I just made them sound – when they came I was surprised by how effective and well delivered they were.

Problem is that the rest of the film is not as effective. The hook into the family is not as good as the way the film hooks you into the experience of the disaster – but the latter is only a few moments whereas the former is the majority of the running time. This is not helped by the feeling of worthy quality, which means the film does come over like it is whispering in a church, again limiting its engagement even if it is worthy for it. The end result is a film of class that is worth seeing for its best moments, but not one that is good enough as a whole to really stand out, which is a shame. In the end I respected and appreciated the film more than I thought it was a good film.

Klementhro (2015)
Didn't get it, but still liked it as a curio, 23 May 2017

I'd like to explain the plot of this 'cautionary tale' to you – or at least relate some of it by way of introduction, but I'm not sure I can. A man is drifting along on a small raft with his paddle helping him. When he loses the paddle, that is the end of that. 60+ years later he arrives on some land with a ghost and a rock. That's pretty much it.

I will confess I didn't get it. I didn't get the jokes or the content; if I tried to assign some great truth to it, I'd be making it up. There is something there I guess, but for me it was more the rhythm and oddity of the animation that drew me in. I liked the character of Klementhro too – he has simple needs and seems happy with them being met, but without them he has nothing and in the end is lost. Still, the film is a curio for me, not more than that.

In the Mix (2015)
Charm but far too broad and overlong, 23 May 2017

An aspiring actor tries to balance auditions with a newborn baby and the resulting sleep-depravation. There is a certain charm to this short film which does rather carry it across the (too-long) running time. The lead actor is a nice guy and plays that well, and generally the film produces enough odd laughs to make it work. On the other hand though, it is too long and too much of it is overly broad in its construction. There isn't a totally honest base to the film, and I never bought the situation – the baby felt like a prop, and the lack of sleep felt like a device, rather than being something that felt real (I have a toddler, so this stage of life is fresh enough to me to know when it seems superficially presented).

The lead actor is good, the overall production has a light touch, and there is plenty that engages on some level (albeit helped by that light touch and charm) but it doesn't have the sharpness, honesty, or strong humor that it needed to hit home more effectively. It is still 'nice', but almost 20 minutes is a lot of time for something that is only 'nice'.

Intimacy and insight, 23 May 2017

LA -based filmmaker Ellie Wen is in a car accident, and is on a call with her mother some time afterwards; Ellie is in a bit of a creative block, so decides to 'interview' her mum on tape over the phone in an attempt to get something going. The result is this surprisingly affecting documentary which is mostly old home-movie footage playing out under the telephone conversation. In it they discuss the changing nature of their relationship, and how it was affected by specific actions of the mother. It is a very specific discussion, but it engages, moves, and also speaks to wider mother/daughter relationships and their change over time.

The approach here is nothing earth-shattering; lots of short filmmakers do this self-reflection thing, or do something focused on their own family, and mostly they use old footage as their base. So on that level the film doesn't really stand out, but the heart of it does. It is very personal, and seems very natural in the emotion and interaction of the mother and daughter. I'm sure there was a consciousness of being recorded, but it can't have lasted long – in particular Ellie's end of the call (also on camera) doesn't strike me as anything other than genuine.

It may not break molds or stand out as something exciting and new, but the intimacy and insight within the film make it one that will engage and stick with the viewer.

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