TV Review: Dr Who (The Bells of Saint John) Series 7, Part 2, Episode 1, Aired BBC1 Saturday 30th March

This was a lot better than I expected. This is the first episode of part two in the ‘let’s split the series evenly across the year into two very short bursts’ scheme, and we see the Doctor fighting something in the wi-fi. This is also a new chance to get to see Clara Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman, seen in Captain America).

My expectations for the new companion Clara were at a low after the Christmas episode. Not that she was bad exactly, but I feel they didn’t set the character up too well. I was worried the bad set up would lead to a bad series ‘half’. My worries were amplified when I considered the first ‘half’ of series seven, most of which have been below par (seriously why did they split it into halves?!). However, I was pleased to see a good solid episode, with a likable Clara! It’s like they saw my worries and avoided them. Kind of like they’re watching me! I’m kidding. Though that was the general hidden message about the internet and wi-fi: ‘don’t use it, or they will find you and you’ll die’. While the message was a little annoying, at least it had a good story behind it. I guess kids need to learn about internet safety somehow, why not subtly on their favourite TV show?

It was nice they didn’t go too flashy on the first episode too. It had a good monster/person/thing (I’m hoping it’s explained later in the series as we got no information about it) that wasn’t over-the-top. The doctor seemed himself: not confused, or running over his old problems out of the blue (note: the Christmas episode). There were a few stretched scenes that the episode could have done without (the ‘getting changed from a monks habit scene’, for example), but these often led onto some sneaky-smile visual jokes that were infrequent enough to not be in bad taste (the bow tie).

All in all, a nice episode. Bring on more of these and the series might turn out quite well.

Rating: 7/10

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Film Review: The Room, Directed by Tommy Wiseau

I first heard of The Room watching the Nostalgia Critic Review and have since heard my friends chatting about it. Now finally came the time when we decided to watch it just to see how bad it was. We weren’t disappointed. Tommy Wiseau made the film in 2003, being the flick’s director, writer, producer and actor. While this might sound… stupid or impressive depending on how you view it, it’s not really showing off his talents.  Shots were re-used blatantly and he was the worst actor in it. It’s laughable. In fact as the film gained popularity for being one of ‘the worst movies ever made, Wiseau even re-pitched it to be a comedy rather than the original intention for a serious drama.

The plot follows Wiseau’s character Johnny and his fiancée Lisa. Lisa decides she’s had enough of old Johnny and starts seeing his best friend mark. Around all this, there’s various… I guess what you could call ‘sub-plots’. These include the quickest dealing with a drug dealer imaginable, involving the young Denny who “just likes to watch” Johnny and Lisa in their day to day lives. That’s not the only odd line. There are some odd and very poorly acted lines. From Wiseau shouting “I did not hit her, I did not” to Lisa’s mother boldly declaring she “definitely has breast cancer”. There’s simply no sub-text and many pointless scenes. There’s one scene where a couple just walks in to Johnny and Lisa’s house, then Lisa’s mother walks in. She says “What are these two characters doing here?”… well you tell us, cause we sure don’t know.

No matter how you ‘pitch it’; there is nothing good about The Room. It’s a story that’s way too big for itself, has an awful script, just as bad acting and is directed, acted in and written by a guy who should have never had his own company.

Just so you can experience its terrible ‘highlghts’, here’s a fan-made soundboard:

http://theroomsoundboard.com/

Rating: 0/10

Film Review: Silent Hill: Revelation, directed by Michael J. Bassett

In my housemate rushes to tell me how they’ve just bought Silent Hill Revelation for ten pounds and want to watch it. “Okay!” I agree, not knowing what I’ve let myself in for. “Ok, so usually sequels aren’t great, right? But hey, this one has Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones in it”, is what I thought.  I regret it. This movie is awful. It was released back in 2012, directed by Michael J. Bassett (who also had a hand in Soloman Kane). Shall I say, he should never have bothered? The original Silent Hill (2006, directed by Christophe Gans),  was based on a popular console game of the same name and was commended for its atmosphere. Unfortunately, what it lacked was film-savy plot. Its sequal, therefore, was never going to be great.

In this film, Heather Mason (the kid from the first film) is now considerably older and living with her father. Her father disappears and the people of silent hill want her, and her newly introduced love-interest, to return to Silent Hill. Why? I don’t even know. But for some reason they want her back, so we can see the extended footage of what we saw in the first movie, but in less of a creepy setting. Oh, but before we get there, we just have to see our heroine in some sort of kid playground which for some reason has a load of psycho clowns in it. This links, of course, to the finale which takes place in an old fashioned theme park.

The script and acting are awful, we get no character development and the exposition is given so clumsily because this film has no plot of its own. It was probably only made because someone thought the triangle-head guy would look funky in 3D.

Go home and try again, Bassett.

Rating: 1/10

Game Review: Tomb Raider – Directed by Noah Hughes and Published by Square Enix

Wow. Tomb Raider got gritty. The new re-vamp of the Tomb Raider series sees a new origin story published by Square Enix (who brought us Hitman:Absolution, Final Fantasy III and VII, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Sleeping Dogs back in 2012). This version began with heroine Lara Croft’s first job out of university. At age 21, Lara is inexperienced and lacks confidence in her abilities and we see her gradually build up her survival and fighting skills throughout gameplay. In this adventure, Lara and her team crash on a mysterious island in the Dragon Triangle, looking for a lost religious civilisation. They find a cult following and must try both to explore their findings and find routes of escape from their island prison.

The gameplay follows that of previous Tomb Raider games. It’s a third person, part free-world but mainly set-route action-puzzler with additional shooting aspects. The ‘puzzles’ are generally easy to do, especially if you use the games ‘left bumper-reveal’ that highlights any item in the game that’s needed. The puzzles, in this sense, become more ‘working out which action to use’ than ‘working out from scratch’. A couple need timing, though… which can be a pain in the arse. What’s an even bigger pain in the arse, however, are the cinematic-dodge sequences. For example at one point you’re falling down a fast-paced river trying to dodge pieces of wood and the next you’re parachuting through some trees avoiding tree branches. I saw Lara die so many times in those two sequences, I feel I’ve been de-sensitised to the image of someone being stabbed through the neck/stomach by wooden spears.

The fighting is all about long-distance and sneak attacks. You find various ranged weapons along the way and generally spend your time trying to get head-shots so you go largely un-noticed. There’s usually plenty of ammo around, but there was still one mini-boss with a shield that left me running around in circles because I’d ran out of bullets and arrows. There is no visible health bar for Lara. This can be a little problematic as you have to rely on how bloody the screen is as to whether you should run away or fight. I presume that the play is based on how quickly you get hurt, rather than a ‘bar’. Fighting is made slightly easier by a lock-on feature; those that want more of a challenge can ignore this but it sure helps anyone that’s less prone to shooters.  The game does feel a little like a shooter at times, as you’re unsure why exactly you’re firing at some enemies. Eventually, the story is revealed and you get some backstory.

Any big negatives would be small things. The menus are a little flashy; especially the campfire menu where if you flick through it too fast seems like it could give you a seizure. It’s a little annoying that Lara has no health bar. The writing is horribly small that even on a 42” TV you can’t read it. It’s also not that clear when you gain XP, so you just have to keep checking at camp fires to see if you have any skill points to use. These general little annoyances don’t affect gameplay too much, though. The main positive is the grittiness. I’d not played the other Tomb Raider games, but this one sure is dark. And I love it! I was surprised to see it was an eighteen rating at first, but it was when I was swimming through a river of blood and skulls I came to appreciate it. Some parts (to a gamer that hasn’t really played any horror genres) were genuinely scary!

I may have focused on the negatives here, but Tomb Raider is a truly satisfying game to play. It covers a wide range of genre types and its visuals are stunning. There are lots of cinematic sequences that shake things up a little and the dark atmosphere really helps build the story. Overall, I love the game… despite the small things. I’d say it was worth the price (always an issue for Xbox games nowadays) and I hope some sequels are offered in the same gritty tone.

Rating: 8/10

Attraction Review: Chester Zoo

A good old English spring day in the North West and what to do? Why Chester Zoo, of course! Chester Zoo is located a couple miles outside the city of Chester, which you can get to by a handy bus service from the train station if you’ve not got a car. It’s a well-maintained, fun zoo and a great day out. This review is based on the ‘Low season’ (Jan-Feb, Feb-March, Nov-Dec) which is the slowest and cheapest time to visit. This meant a lot of the restaurants and additional activities (such as crazy golf) aren’t open, but it also means there are less people around! Not that I can see the zoo getting too crowded in high season, as the park is massive.

And when I say massive, I mean massive. Importantly, the enclosures have plenty of space for the animals. Each is well suited to its inhabitant and the animals looked happy and healthy. It’s always an issue in zoos as to whether the animals are having a good quality of life, and generally it’s difficult to tell. However, the animals at Chester zoo seemed unaffected by the guests. One or two species, such as the African Wild Dogs stayed in areas of their enclosure where they couldn’t be seen, but perhaps this was down to other factors such as common feeding points. The zoo made sure to point out if any of the animals were injured (such as the elephant with arthritis) and noted their treatments.

The customer areas of the zoo were extensive. There were many walkways and connecting paths between enclosures. I’d expect that anyone with walking difficulties might struggle with the amount of walking involved to view the whole park. However, there is a monorail (£2 per adult) that takes you from one end of the park to the other and there is a mobility support building that rents wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The zoo has thought about their various exhibits and thought about accessibility for the disabled. If you visit the park, expect to have sore feet by the end of your visit. Another struggle is managing to visit all of the exhibits. I would suggest giving around four and a half hours if you want to see every animal, have time at the gift shop, time for lunch and have a good walking speed.

As far as animal attractions goes, the zoos range of animals is excellent. There are eleven thousand individual animals from four hundred different species including: elephants, mangoose, warthogs, rhinos, meerkats, hyrax, various bird species, African wild dogs, Antelope species, aardvarks, zebra, spectacled bears, a wonderful free-flying bat experience, Okapi, monkey species, cheetah, camels, parrots, owls, lions, tigers, giant otters, penguins, komodo dragons, snakes, tortoise, orangutangs, jaguars, giraffes, a butterfly house and an aquarium. The highlights were the elephant paddock, which at the moment has not one, but two new-borns and one teenager. The free-flying bats were amazing, as you felt them fly right over your head. The giant otters have a viewing domed window under the water, so you can get up close and personal with the animals.

There are other customer activities around the park, including a play area, various confectionary areas (though these smaller food-sellers weren’t open in the low season) and two gift shops. There are also various talks happening around the park, especially nearing the end of the day during feeding hours. The park has a good travel deal with the local train station, where you can get your train ticket, bus ticket and entrance price at the train station for a slightly reduced fee. This was very useful and convenient, making potential queues flow more smoothly.

Overall, Chester zoo was a fun day out with many wonderful and interesting experiences. The zoo, while having perhaps too much walking between exhibits, was well presented and maintained efficiently. I would suggest a visit, especially in these low seasons where you’re not caught up in crowds and can take your time.

For more information, visit: http://www.chesterzoo.org/
To have the chance to adopt an animal of the zoo, see: http://www.chesterzoo.org/support-us/adoptions

See below, a picture of one of the elephants at Chester Zoo:

DSCN0274

 

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Mama

Ever since the popular Woman in black came to our cinemas, there’s been a renewed interest in jump scare horrors. This brought Andrés Muschietti’s Mama to crawl onto the big screen today. I’m at a stage in life where jump-scares just aren’t enough for me anymore. The cinema was filled with teenagers that would squeal at every classic trick. I want a bit more from my horrors now, perhaps having some actual horror rather than opting for a jump-scare so often it becomes predictable.

Thats not to say Mama was a bad film exactly, just that it could have done with being a little bit more inventive with its scare-techniques. I’ve grown up on horrors such as The Orphanage by Juan Antonio Bayona, Saw (The first only) by James Wan and Mikael Håfström’s 1408, that create a category of ‘intellectual’ horror/thriller, with a good story. One thing Mama has in common with these is it has a promising story. It follows two children Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) who are abandoned in the woods and looked after by a ghostly guardian until their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) take them in and try to adapt them back to society. With such a good potential, it’s a shame that the film reveals itself too quickly. In the first 15 minutes of the film, you’ve already had a fair good look at the ghostly Mama which robs her image of some ‘scare’. It makes the horror dull and the director should have stopped relying on jumps and more on the slow reveal and suspense of the character.

The actors were generally good. The kids were wonderful: as is rare for child-actors and Megan Charpentier worked well with them. Their character relations could have done with a little bit more development, but you got the gist. In fact, the hints that Annabel wasn’t a born mother were thrown quite evidently into the audiences’ faces when she celebrates a negative pregnancy test. I guess it’s a clever angle, but perhaps a little more subtlety wouldn’t go amiss, so the audience could work out the characters. Lucas wasn’t as convincing, especially nearing the end when I thought his character had been possessed because he delivered a line so badly. But ah well, you can’t get everything right when it comes to popular cinema.

Generally, Mama was a decent film. Its shocks may have been predictable, but it still gets you off-guard occasionally. Its plot was good, but they showed it all too quickly leaving nothing to work out. So, I guess it’s good for anyone who just wants a jump with no real hard work.

Rating: 5/10

Theatre Review: The Misanthrope by Roger McGough

The Misanthrope is an adaptation of Molière’s classic. The adaptation was formed by popular poet Roger McGough, who brings flair to this piece. Currently showing at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, The Misanthrope shows the story of poet Alceste and his views on 17th French aristocracy. Although it sounds quite dull, McGough pulls this potentially drab story into a pleasant ride with his elegant wit. The use of rhyming couplets, combined with some interesting world-aware humour brings out the life of the play and makes it more accessible to the non-historical audience. The wordplay is surely a sight to behold.

What displeased me about this play was not the play itself, but the audience. I looked around and saw no people of my own age. It dawned on me that young people were missing out on the beauty of wordplay due to strict-mindedness. I could see how the sound of the play might put people off, but I think that people should turn their attentions to the movement of the English language. We should appreciate our language and hear how beautiful it is. It saddens me that we aren’t open to performances we think we might not like. If we thought ‘why not’ every once in a while and opened our minds to theatre, we might just gain some appreciation.

The play itself sounded beautiful. The visuals however could have been better. The majority of the play took place in one set, which meant you had to force yourself to concentrate, at times. The only time they did change set, it was for such a small amount of time. Nothing really happened in the second setting, and then we reverted back to the previous after the break. Although there was a lack of change in setting, the characters were wonderful. Colin Tierney (Nowhere Boy, Splintered and Cracker) was amazing and played the role tremendously. All actors should be appreciated for remembering the vast amount of lines and for bringing their characters to life.

I’d definitely recommend this play, especially so if it sounds like it’s ‘not your thing’. We should open ourselves to experience this type of theatre and I could watch it over and over, hearing new brilliant words every time.

Edit Additional:

On a similar topic, a fellow blogger wrote about the use of words such as ‘shipping’, ‘yolo’ and other words in a place other than the internet. I think this fits in quite nicely with how people, mainly young people, aren’t listening to language. They’re using cut-off words as thats what they’re seeing used. Keep lol-language to the internets and take your kids to see Misanthrope!

Link to the fellow blogger’s post: http://jadedapothecary.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/welcome-to-hell-english-fans-mankind-has-conjured-up-yet-another-way-to-take-our-beautiful-language-and-shoot-it-out-of-the-cannon-of-stupidity-shipping-is-now-part-of-our-vernacu/

Rating: 7/10

Theatre Review – The Rocky Horror Picture Show by Richard O’Brien

I had heard many good things about the stage performance of the cult classic Rocky Horror. I’d seen the film and found it entertaining and so when my friend offered to go see it live, I agreed readily. If only I was a bit more of a fan. My only issue was its very ‘clicky’. As in, you get the best experience out of the show if you’ve been several times. There’s a whole world of the ‘Rocky Horror Fan’, with shouting out certain phrases, in-jokes and audience participation than can leave a newbie clueless. As with any clicky group, this means you can get a little bewildered by viewing the group’s antics.

The show was less of a show and more of an activity centre for sex-indulging teenage adults, which was neither bad nor refreshing. Many people yelled out various phrases throughout the show. Phrases that were largely incomprehensible from the theatre tiered layout. It would have been better, being so interactive, in a more suitable setting. The security team of the theatre were running around with panicked faces, hoping no-one toppled from the circle seats. Even though the shouting out was strange, the occasional dancing was fun. It was nice to be able to join in with the fun and not just sit and watch. However, it changed the essence of the theatre. Theatre, to me, is best when you can forget you’re in a theatre and can get involved in the story. It was impossible to forget the thousands of screaming, shouting people around you when they wouldn’t be quiet. Then again, saying that, the interactivity is what makes Rocky Horror what it is. Let’s be frank, the story isn’t that prominent. You couldn’t really sit and watch it like a normal theatre piece.

While I’m dwelling on the negatives, I did actually enjoy myself. The environment of excitement was infectious and it was generally a good night. A lot of people dressed up and everyone was fairly smiley and welcoming. It was only later when I considered the price I paid and compared the actual performance with other musicals I’ve seen that I realised just how many gripes I’d have with it. The tickets were around about £35, which could get you a cheap seat at other classic musicals…and you’d get a lot more to look at. Compared to others, the costumes were much less elaborate, the stage wasn’t used as well and the stage was very minimal. I think they could have had a climbable tower for the floor show fairly easily, for example.

However, despite its difference to other shows, I appreciate and endorse its message. It allows people to be who they want to be and not be afraid of expressing themselves. I just think they could do it a lot better. Though the actors were excellent and the singing was great. I guess, what more do you want from a theatre piece?

For the 2013 tour dates, see:
http://www.rockyhorror.co.uk/tour_dates

This review was based on the Liverpool Empire Theatre performance. For more information about the Empire Theatre:
http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/liverpool-empire/

Rating: 5/10

Fiction Review – Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

On the lookout for different and interesting authors, I was suggested Haruki Murakami. “He’s one of the biggest sellers in the world”, my suggestee said to me. At first I was unsure… I’m always wary of overly-popular things. But, in the end, I thought “why not” and firstly bought The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I adored it completely and was pleased to find a second of Murakami’s novels was on my university reading list. So I went to find that; Norwegian Wood.

The differences between the two books are quite clear. Reading the translators notes from Norwegian Wood, I find that Murakami’s usual style is to dip into the supernatural, alike in The Wind-Up bird Chronicle. They said that Murakami saw it as a challenge to his writing, whereas his readers saw it as a step down. It is true that Norwegian Wood is more ‘tame’ in comparison. However, that still doesn’t depreciate from the charm. If it’s one thing that this book does have, its charm. Murakami has a strong talent in creating bold characters that, love them or hate them, create deep impressions. In this novel, the main character is probably the least alive, but surrounded by all of these oddballs, he becomes more interesting. I personally hated many of the characters because I felt their personalities clashed with mine. I feel that’s such a beautiful thing, to be able to understand and connect with a character so much you can feel your “personalities clash”. The characters are the drivers of the novel and definitely make it worth-while.

The plot runs as a slowly-paced romance novel, shown from the view of a 19/20 year old Toru Watanabe. It raises interesting topics, such as love, death and purity and Murakami shows no remorse for details. He is a writer I’m coming to see as unafraid. Expect some truly blunt dialogue and events along with many sex scenes when reading this one. With such open-ness, the book is full of surprises. Each theme explored is done so with such upfront force, it can’t help but make the book breathe.

My two issues would be the pacing and the ending. The pacing for me was a little slow. While the events were colourful, you were guided through them softly. Guided a little too softly at times. However, if you stick to it, it’s worth the effort. The ending, perhaps is a personal dislike. The last few pages hold something I think is too surprising and out of character. I can see how it possibly shows development of the character, but I’d be interested to hear others views on it. However, I’d definitely suggest one of  Murakami’s novels, as he is a beautiful writer.  Saying that, I’m more likely to suggest reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as an introduction to his work, before seeing the contrast with Norwegian Wood.

Rating: 8/10