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Doctor Who: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (Review)

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos ends the eleventh season on something of a damp squib.

To be fair, there were a lot of hurdles facing The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos from the outset. Most obviously, the expectations of a season finale. Unlike when Doctor Who was first broadcast, season finales are a big deal. They are part of the structure and rhythm of a season of television in a highly competitive market place. Indeed, one of the big innovations of the Davies era was understanding this, with Russell T. Davies building all of his season to bombastic blockbuster season finales.

Hunting their quarry.

There are a lot of expectations heading into a season finale. The episode has to at once exist in the context of what came before and gesture towards the future, satisfy the audience who watched every episode leading into it and offer a compelling reason to stick with the show through a long hiatus. That reason to stick around does not have to be a hook or a plot point, it can simply be, “this show does stuff that nothing else on television is doing.”

However, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos faces a number of problems in this regard. Most obviously, it is only a single episode long, which means it is formally indistinct from the nine episodes before it. More than that, it has to cram a host of plot and character work into that space, which needs to be “bigger” (or even just “more”) than the rest of the season. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos has to be a blockbuster episode despite being indistinguishable from Kerblam! or The Witchfinders or It Takes You Away.

Actually, more like Paltraking down their quarry…

There is a reason that Moffat’s two single-episode season finales are among his most divisive, and those were consciously designed to defy the formal expectations of the season finale. Although The Wedding of River Song did not quite work, it was structured more as a fun run-around season opener than an epic season finale, most of its questions long answered. The Name of the Doctor was less of a season finale and more a springboard to The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Even then, Moffat returned to two-part finales in the Capaldi era.

To be fair, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos might be able to get away with this if the show had been seeding momentum leading into the finale in earlier episodes so that story begins with a sense of stakes. Think about the way that The Long Game set up Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways, or the way that Tooth and Claw or Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel built to Army of Ghosts and Doomsday. More applicable to The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, consider the repeated references to missing planets in the lead-in to The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End.

“Orange-a glad it isn’t the stinkin’ Daleks?”

There are undoubtedly aspects of The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos that were seeded earlier in the season. Tim Shaw from The Woman Who Fell to Earth, the Stenza weapons testing in The Ghost Monument, the lost world in The Demons of the Punjab. However, none of these were developed with any sense of urgency, nor maintained across the length the season. None of them make any lasting impression. It is a minor miracle that any of the characters remember Tim Shaw, as he was never a compelling villain in the first place.

The result is a season finale that aspires towards a sense of scale that never feels earned, that never pays off, that never engages. It is a good thing that Resolutions will arrive in a little over three weeks, as it’s very hard to imagine The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos sustaining audience interest until the series returns in 2020.

“Battlefield: Ranskoor Av Kolos.”

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Non-Review Review: Bumblebee

In some respects, Bumblebee feels like the Transformers movie that the franchise has been trying and failing to produce for over a decade.

Bumblebee has its share of problems. Some of those are inherited from a franchise working from a template established by Michael Bay, which means that the style of action direction carries over in certain cases. Some of those are inherited from the fact that the film is “based upon the toys produced by Hasbro Entertainment”, which means that the film occasionally feels obliged to cram in various characters and elements for reasons more toyetic than narrative.

“You really don’t get this ‘robots in disguise’ thing, do you?”

That said, Bumblebee largely works due to a combination of factors. Hailee Steinfeld is the most likable protagonist in the series to date, if not the most likable character in general. The direction from Travis Knight largely steers clear of the cluttered excesses that define the other films in the franchise. The script from Christina Hodson cleverly pushes the film down both in scale and spectacle, meaning that Bumblebee is the first Transformers film not to loose sight of its humanity (let alone its human characters) in its storytelling.

Bumblebee is perhaps not the best film that it could be, but is very easily the best Transformers film to date.

A girl and her robot.

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108. Slender Man – This Just In (-#57)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best(and the 100 worst) movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Sylvain White’s Slender Man.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #46!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching, Grace Duffy and Jay Coyle to discuss the week in film news. It is a fun film discussion; Alex, Jay and I have all seen The Favourite, while Grace, Jay and I have seen A Christmas Prince. Along the way, Alex discusses a seasonal viewing of Batman Returns, Grace contemplates Free Solo, and Jay discusses Vertical Limit and Love, Simon.

In film news, the podcast was recorded hot on the heels of the announcement of the nominees at Golden Globes, also discussing the international distribution of The Hole in the Ground and the success of The Favourite at the British Independent Film Awards.

The top ten:

  1. Nativity Rocks!
  2. 2.0
  3. Widows
  4. Robin Hood
  5. A Star is Born
  6. Bohemian Rhapsody
  7. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
  8. The Grinch
  9. Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet
  10. Creed II

New releases:

You can download the episode here, or listen to it below.

Non-Review Review: Bird Box

Bird Box is a fascinating contemporary horror movie.

The stock comparison will be to something like A Quiet Place, another contemporary horror movie that plays a fairly standard set-up with a high-concept twist. In A Quiet Place, the characters were stalked by monsters that could not hear them, and so they had to move without generating any sound. In Bird Box, the characters find themselves confronted by supernatural monsters that drive any person who looks at them completely insane, often to the point of self-destructive suicide.

Carry on regardless.

However, Bird Box feels decidedly more abstract than A Quiet Place, more lyrical and more metaphorical in its construction. It was often difficult to read a strong central allegory into A Quiet Place, to see it as anything more than a very effective old-fashioned horror film that very effectively literalised one of the central tensions for horror movie audiences; the desire to scream with the need to keep quiet. Bird Box does something similar, effectively creating a horror movie where even the characters themselves must close their eyes when the scary parts happen.

However, there is much more going on in Bird Box, perhaps even too much. The central premise of the horror movie lends itself to any number of varied (and possibly contradictory) readings about the insanity of the modern world and the need to protect the family from chaos that might at any moment encompass them. Bird Box is an ambitious and effective horror, one that applies a variety of tried-and-tested horror formulas to bracing social commentary.

Life is anything but a dream.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #45!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast! Apologies this time, as I have a bit of a throaty cough on it. I try to keep it under control.

This week, I join Jay Coyle, Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin, Grace Duffy and Scannain editor-in-chief Niall Murphy to discuss the week in film news. As usual, we talk about the top ten, the new releases, and what we watched this week. Jay made one last effort to get his mileage out of Filmstruck, and proved himself “down with the kids” by watching Cam and Searching. Luke delved into gay and exploitation cinema, with a healthy helping of Suspiria. Grace watched a pair of surfing documentaries on Netflix. Niall reopens old wounds with Batman vs. Superman and introduced his son to the original Wreck-It Ralph.

In film news, this week marked the passing of a number of industry legends, including Nicholas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci. We also discuss the five Irish films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, along with the new Arc Cinema opening in Navan. Because Niall is here, we also have some interesting facts about the composition of the top ten.

The top ten:

  1. Planeta Singli 2
  2. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  3. The Girl in the Spider’s Web
  4. Nativity Rocks!
  5. Widows
  6. Robin Hood
  7. A Star is Born
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody
  9. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
  10. The Grinch

New releases:

  • Three Identical Strangers
  • The Possession of Hannah Grace
  • Disobedience
  • Anna And The Apocalypse
  • Wreck-It Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Creed II

You can download the episode here, or listen to it below.

Non-Review Review: The Favourite

If the stock comparison to The Killing of a Sacred Deer is The Shining, then the obvious comparison to The Favourite is Barry Lyndon.

It is a stock comparison, bordering on facile. After all, there is a world of difference between Yorgos Lanthimos’ story of two women competing for the attention of Queen Anne and Stanley Kubrick’s story of the rise and fall of a roguish Irish gentleman. However, the similarities are striking. Both are eighteenth century period pieces that boldly eschew the conventions of period dramas. Both The Favourite and Barry Lyndon rely heavily on natural light and repeatedly draw the audience’s attention to the nature of the narrative of constructed.

You Only Live Weisz.

However, the most striking point of comparison might be thematic and philosophical rather than simply literal or textual. Just as The Killing of a Sacred Deer explored the collapse of a family unit through the prism of decaying masculinity in a manner that recalled The Shining, the world of The Favourite is defined by its study of power, pettiness and pomposity. As in Barry Lyndon, the fickleness of comfort and the arbitrary nature of security are a recurring fascination for The Favourite, which meditates repeatedly on how precarious such positions can be.

The Favourite is a story of cruelty, both human and natural.

A Stone-Cold Schemer.

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