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Non-Review Review: Shoulder the Lion

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

Shoulder the Lion is a visual sumptuous documentary from the creative team of Erinnisse and Patryk Rebisz.

The duo have a long history behind the scenes. Patryk is an accomplished cinematographer and Erinnisse is a veteran editor. However, barring a short film written and produced by Patryk a decade ago, Shoulder the Lion is the first time that the duo have taken complete charge of a film. The result is visually stunning. Shoulder the Lion is a documentary that divides its focus among three subjects – each dealing with a debilitating condition. However, the key is in how Shoulder the Lion attempts to relate to its subjects.

shoulderthelion2

Shoulder the Lion attempts to convey to the audience – visually and aurally – what it must be like to see the world through the perspective of its three subjects. There are any number of striking compositions and sequences in the film, as the Rebiszes invite the audience to experience even some small segment of what day-to-day life must be like for its three central individuals. As Alice Wingwall describes her deteriorating vision, the camera filters out the colours. As Fergal Sharpe describes the agony of tinnitus, a painful electronic buzz builds.

There are structural problems with Shoulder the Lion. Most obviously, the fact that it divides its attention between three subjects while devoting so much energy towards its visuals means that not all of the three central figures emerge fully-formed. Indeed, it could be argued that the film expends more time trying to replicate their disabilities than exploring their experiences beyond that. However, the result is a thought-provoking and well-constructed piece of film. It is a beautiful piece of work, if not quite as deep as it might have been.

shoulderthelion

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Non-Review Review: Whiplash

The joy of Whiplash is in how the film subverts so many of the conventions of the “unconventional teacher pushes promising young student” subgenre. A one-sentence plot summary for the film suggest an inspirational and life-affirming tale. Andrew heads to a prestigious music school to hone his skills on the drums, and encounters an obnoxious and confrontational teacher who pushed him to his limits. One can already hear the applause, see the inevitable hug, feel the radiating mutual respect.

Whiplash carefully and meticulously subverts these expectations, avoiding many of the familiar plot beats that one might expect from a story like this. There’s a raw, gruelling honesty to the story – Whiplash is not a story calibrated or tailored to make the audience feel particularly comfortable or happy. Indeed, it addresses its central themes with a refreshing candidness. It asks some very tough questions about honing talent and the responsibilities of a teacher. It doesn’t offer any easy answers.

Anchored in two compelling central performances and a beautiful soundtrack, Whiplash builds to a beautifully cathartic climax, one that refuses to wrap too tight a bow around an intriguing little film.

Stick around...

Stick around…

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Non-Review Review: Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner is a stunningly beautiful naturalistic period piece. It is a little messy and unfocused, indulgent and uneven, but such is life itself. Covering the life of J.M.W. Turner, Leigh takes an expansive look at the life of one of Britain’s most distinctive and influential painters. Mr. Turner is perhaps a little over-long and meandering, and occasionally just a little bit too sly for its own good, but it does feature a charmingly larger-than-life performance from Timothy Spall and fantastic cinematography from Dick Pope.

Portrait of the artist as Timothy Spall...

Portrait of the artist as Timothy Spall…

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Rick Remender’s Venom (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Venom demonstrates Rick Remender’s talent with nineties comic concepts. Like Remender’s work on Uncanny X-Force, there’s a sense that the author is taking a dysfunctional and somewhat outdated comic book concept and finding a way to make it work. Uncanny X-Force is the best use of the “X-Force” concept ever put on paper, and Remender’s Venom stands out as the best work to feature the Spider-Man baddie as a protagonist.

Venom doesn’t work quite as well as Uncanny X-Force. The run is a bit shorter and less well developed, and gets caught in a couple of crossovers that split focus a little. Still, the twenty-odd-issue run is a fascinating piece of work from Remender, who was one of Marvel’s most promising emerging talents at the time. Like Uncanny X-Force, it is fundamentally a story about fathers and sons. However Venom also feels like an examination of also-rans, a look at those characters who tend to get a little lost in the crossfire.

Can he swing from a web?

Can he swing from a web?

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Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe originally aired in 2011.

I don’t understand. Is this place real, or is it fairyland?

Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily.

Fairyland looks completely different.

– Lilly and the Doctor get their geography straightened out

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is, like A Christmas Carol before it, a rather wonderful idea. A Christmas Carol mashed up Doctor Who with one of the best-loved Christmas narratives of all time. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe does something similar, substituting CS Lewis for Charles Dickens. It’s a fantastic idea, given that Doctor Who is the spiritual successor of that peculiarly British thread of childhood fantasy.

The only real problem with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe is that it can’t quite stretch that good idea across an hour of television.

On the run again...

On the run again…

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Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Christmas Invasion originally aired in 2005.

Oh, that’s rude. That’s the sort of man I am now, am I? Rude. Rude and not ginger.

– the Doctor

Part of what’s remarkable about The Christmas Invasion is that it’s a great big important episode. Not only is it the first Doctor Who Christmas Special, the beginning of a BBC institution, it’s also the first full-length adventure to feature David Tennant in the title role, and so it comes with a lot of expectations. Whereas most of Davies’ Christmas Specials tended to be relatively light fare – enjoyable run-arounds aimed rather squarely at the kind of people who didn’t tune into the show week-in and week-out – The Christmas Invasion is a pretty big deal.

It’s a vitally important part of Davies’ Doctor Who, and one that really lays out a general blue print for where he wants to take the series over the next few years. The fact that so much of this winds up tying back into the final story of the Davies era – The End of Time – is quite striking on re-watch.

Song for Ten(nant)...

Song for Ten(nant)…

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Doctor Who: Survival (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Survival originally aired in 1989.

Where to now, Ace?

Home.

Home?

The TARDIS.

Yes, the TARDIS. There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do!

– the Doctor and Ace turn off the lights on their way out

There was a long gap between Survival and Rose. It was filled with stuff. It was filled with lost of interesting and different Doctor Who stuff. There were books and audio plays and even a television movie to help fill the decade and a half when Doctor Who was not a regular feature of British television. A lot of that stuff was important, and a lot of it helped determine and shape what Doctor Who would become when it did return. It’s telling that the many members of the writing staff on the revived Doctor Who cut their teeth on novels and short stories and audio plays and specials in the wilderness years, while no writers returned from the classic show.

At the same time, however, the gap between Survival and Rose doesn’t feel as profound as it might. It’s misleading to suggest that Survival was a clear bridge towards the Russell T. Davies era, or even to hint that the revival could have emerged fully formed from this three-part closing serial. At the same time, Survival is really the closest that the classic series ever came to the spirit of the Davies era, hitting on quite a few familiar themes and ideas and settings, as if Cartmel’s vision of the future of Doctor Who was not too far from the version proposed by Davies.

Survival was the end of an era, but it also motioned towards the start of another.

Riding into the sunset...

Riding into the sunset…

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Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Happiness Patrol originally aired in 1988.

Think I’ll hang out here for a while, Doc. See if I can teach this planet the blues again.

Yes, thank you for giving them back to us, Doctor.

– Earl and Susan shouldn’t be so surprised that the Doctor is fond of blue

The Happiness Patrol is an absolutely fascinating piece of Doctor Who. On the surface, it’s another example of the series’ rapidly falling budget and the production values point towards the show’s impending cancellation. While nowhere near as dodgy as Warriors of the Deep, The Happiness Patrol looks like a very cheap piece of television, struggling to realise a futuristic colony on a tiny budget. On a purely superficial level, The Happiness Patrol is really the kind of show that Michael Grade could point to and argue that Doctor Who was a show that desperately needed to be put out of its misery.

However, if the viewer is willing to pull back the layers a bit, and to peer beneath the somewhat rough trappings of The Happiness Patrol, the adventure is really everything that eighties Doctor Who could ever want to be. There is a reason that the serial has, somewhat improbably, endured. In 2010, The Happiness Patrol became headline news in Great Britain, with national newspapers astounded by the audacity of Andrew Cartmel’s vision for the show. The following year, the Archbishop of Canterbury casually name-dropped it in an Easter Sermon.

These references aren’t derogatory. These are proof that The Happiness Patrol, despite its dodgy special effects and the limitations of its production design, is one of the most important Doctor Who adventures of the eighties.

He's perfectly sweet!

He’s perfectly sweet!

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Doctor Who: The Sun Makers (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Sun Makers originally aired in 1977.

Why did you come here, then?

Because my new little chum here seemed unhappy about something.

Mandrell discovers all he needs to know about the Doctor

The Sun Makers was reportedly written as a result of a disagreement between writer Robert Holmes and the British Revenue and Customs. That’s the oft-cited background to the story, so well known that it’s even included on the notes included in the DVD release. With that summary, you’d expect The Sun Makers to be a condemnation of the tax system, and a protest at the government’s funnelling off of money from the individual to pay like pesky things like roads or schools or hospitals.

Instead, Holmes has crafted The Sun Makers as something altogether more compelling and instructive. Rather pointedly, while The Sun Maker is a story about excessive taxation, the episode casts a large interstellar corporation as the villain of the piece. The episode’s primary antagonist isn’t a state official, it’s a single-minded number-crunching accountant who operates a large corporation that has managed to turn light itself into a financial commodity. This isn’t the story about individuals fighting for the right not to pay tax, it’s people fighting for decent working and living conditions.

Indeed, it’s quite easy to read The Sun Makers as a rather socialist piece of Doctor Who, ending with the massive organisation of the working class to resist their greedy capitalist overlords. That’s quite a radical shift from the story you’d expect given the background. In that respect, it seems almost like a call-forward to the pointed subversive social commentary of the Cartmel and even Davies eras.

I see the future...

I see the future…

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Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Three Doctors originally aired in 1973.

Well, Sergeant, aren’t you going to say it that it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Everybody else does.

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

– the Doctor and Benton

The Three Doctors never seems entirely sure what it’s supposed to be. It knows what it has to accomplish. This was the first serial of the tenth season of Doctor Who, so it has to feature the three versions of the character to date. It also wants to radically shake-up the status quo of the series and to allow Jon Pertwee’s Doctor to take to the cosmos. Those are really the two primary objectives of The Three Doctors, and writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin accomplish them quite well.

The problem is that the story itself isn’t sure what it wants to be. Pertwee-era script editor Terrance Dicks would be a lot more confident when juggling The Five Doctors, conceding that the whole thing was a gigantic nonsensical spectacle. The Three Doctors seems almost like a regular story with the tenth anniversary grafted on to it – it’s easy enough to imagine a rough outline of this story that could work with only Jon Pertwee and without the end of his exile.

As a result, the two strongest beats in The Three Doctors feel almost like afterthoughts, grafted on to the outline of a generic and somewhat bland Doctor Who adventure.

Why does the Doctor hate himself...?

Why does the Doctor hate himself…?

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