Archive for December, 2018

indexAbridged by James Goss from his original novelisation of the 1979 episode by Douglas Adams and David Fisher.

The Doctor and Romana arrive in Paris 1979 in hopes of a relaxing, cultured holiday, but all too soon they’re drawn into a plot to steal the Mona Lisa concocted by the mysterious Count Scarlioni. Throw a gritty British detective with a tendency to punch first and ask questions later, and a captive scientist working on time travel into the mix, and if the last of the Jagaroth have their way life on Earth won’t just be wiped out, it’ll have never existed in the first place!

Back in the day there was no Netflix, no iPlayer, no DVD boxsets and episodes of Dr Who were rarely replayed, so unless you were fortunate enough to have an early video recorder you had two options, the first was to make a sound recording of the episode, the other was to get hold of the novelisation, and from 1973 to 1991 Target books published practically every classic era story.

In recent years the BBC have resurrected the Target brand to release novelisations of modern Who episodes, including Russell T Davies writing an adaptation of Rose, and Steven Moffat with a novelisation of The Day of the Doctor. One of the few classic stories never to get the Target treatment (until now!) was City of Death.

It’s a lean novel, but no less fun for this. Of course Goss had great subject matter to work from, because the original script is a fun and frothy adventure (which depending on your view may be a good or a bad thing—some people don’t like the silliness inherent in this story, whilst others see it as a very early forerunner of how the modern show was able to marry the serious and the silly at the same time).

The dialogue sparkles, and because I’m so used to the serial it’s easy to hear the voices of Tom Baker, Lallla Ward, Julian Glover et al. So classic lines such as: “I say, what a wonderful butler! He’s so violent!” are as much a joy to read as they are to watch. Goss doesn’t just rely on the script however, and he fills in a lot of gaps, for example it’s made clearer here that Scaroth is only vaguely aware of his other splinters, in fact it seems Scarlioni doesn’t even realise he is a Jagaroth until the reveal at the end of part one which isn’t how it comes across on screen.

It isn’t perfect, but in the main what failings there are come from the source material, and to be honest the trope of aliens being responsible for human development is something that annoys me in far more Who stories than just this one.

I don’t know how this would read if you were unfamiliar with the source material, but as a fan I found this a fun read. Now I really must dig my DVD out!

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Widows

Posted: December 1, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Steve McQueen. Starring Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

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Harry Rawlings (Neeson) is a career criminal, a renowned robber known for his meticulous planning. By contrast his wife, Veronica (Davis) is a straight arrow, she works for a teacher’s union and keeps her nose out of Harry’s business. When Harry and his team are blown up after a botched robbery, Veronica no longer has the option of looking the other way. The money Harry stole in that last job belonged to Jamal Manning (Tyree Henry) a crime boss who wants to go straight and who planned to use the money to fund his political campaign against Jack Mulligan (Farrell) the son of former alderman Tom (Duvall). Manning wants his money back and he doesn’t care that Veronica wasn’t involved in Harry’s dealings.

With her life on the line, and with the realisation that she owns nothing because everything was Harry’s, Veronica’s only option is to rely on Harry’s notebook, which contains plans for his next job. She needs help however, and so turns to the widows of the rest of Harry’s crew, including Alice (Debicki) who’s had to become an escort following her husband’s death, and Linda (Rodriguez) whose store was repossessed following her husband’s death. The only widow no interested is Amanda (Coon) who has a young son to look after, and so the women recruit Linda’s babysitter, Belle (Erivo).

Not only do they have to become a well-oiled team in a matter of days, but they also need to worry about Jamal’s psycho brother Jatemme (Kaluuya). Can they follow in their husbands’ footsteps and become master criminals, or are they doomed to fail?

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I heard a lot of good things about Widows, the cast is impressive, I love a good heist movie, was a fan of the original UK TV show, and the only other McQueen film I’d seen, 12 Years a Slave, was powerful stuff, so I was eager to catch this. Sad then to report that I came out feeling somewhat disappointed.

I can see why this has turned some critics’ heads, it’s well acted and covers more ground than the average heist movie ever will, but therein lies it’s problem, because I don’t think it really knows what kind of film it wants to be, and whilst it tackles some weighty ideas (domestic violence, inter racial marriage, political corruption, gangland violence, and police brutality amongst others) it never seems to have enough time to devote to each and every element, and as a result winds up being something of a curates egg rather than the complex socio-political crime epic it so clearly wants to be, and late on it features a contrivance so jarring it felt like a scene was missing, as characters are stranded by the road one minute, yet have a car in the very next scene. For a second I thought I was watching The Predator again, and you really have to expect better from a filmmaker as accomplished as McQueen.

Worst of all, as a thriller it commits the cardinal sin of just not being very thrilling, and even the twists and betrayals are predictable.

Where it scores points is in the casting, and McQueen has pulled an enviable group together. Davis is the centre that holds the film together, and she gets some powerful scenes as she transitions from sedate union worker to hardened criminal, and if the transformation isn’t completely sold this is more down to compacting a mini-series worth of growth into a film than Davis’ performance.

DoQ7ZCBUYAAtCJgAs Alice Debicki runs Davis a close second, and although her character suffers from the same shift in skillset, Debicki does manage to make it feel more organic, possibly because Alice had left less of a sheltered life than Veronica, and there’s a nice understated chemistry between the two characters. Debicki is an actress who’s impressed me in everything I’ve seen her in since I first watched The Man from Uncle (she’s definitely on my best Bond girls we never had list) and despite the character initially coming across as a willowy airhead, she quickly emerges in many ways as the most naturally competent member of the team.

imagesRodriguez is less well served with her part. There’s a nice subversion of her usual casting, in that she isn’t in Fast and Furious mode here, and she shows some nice vulnerability early on, but this is quickly shunted to one side because McQueen has too many other characters to focus on. Still she fares way better than Erivo who’s basically just there to make up the numbers.

Special mention has to go to Kaluuya, another actor I’ve had my eye on for a long time and, much like Debicki, an actor who constantly impresses, and here’s he’s genuinely terrifying as Jatemme, even if the character is little more than an obstacle to overcome, just a plot point. Farrell is also good, with a nuanced performance that doesn’t allow his character to fit neatly into a box. He’s a corrupt politician, yet clearly isn’t happy in the role. That leaves Neeson, who’s obviously doesn’t get much time to shine but is reassuringly Liam Neeson about it, and Duvall who, even in his late eighties, can still dominate a scene. His presence does raise memories of The Godfather though, and one can’t help but feel this was intentional, and if it was it sadly only underscores how far from The Godfather this is.

The action scenes are solid enough, but in going for gritty realism McQueen jettisons much potential for drama, and at times this is a heist movie that almost feels embarrassed at being a heist movie.

I didn’t hate it, and it’s possible that a repeat viewing would allow me to appreciate it more because there is a lot to like about it, but for now at least these widows haven’t managed to steal my affection.

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