Doctor Who S10E03 “Thin Ice” Review

Doctor Who S10It’s been a long while since Doctor Who has done a historical. The last historical (an episode set in Earth’s past) was 2015’s The Woman Who Lived which took us to 1651 England. And now two years later, the historicals are back (and according to reports this will be the only one in Series 10). Sitting in the writer’s chair is Sarah Dollard; writer of the critically acclaimed and universally loved Face the Raven (Series 9 Episode 10) which is remembered most for ending in the apparent “death” of former companion Clara Oswald. So to say the bar was high for Dollard’s second entry is saying something.

Thin Ice takes the Doctor and Bill to 1814 London, to the last of the great frost fairs only to find there’s something under the ice eating people. Unlike most historicals, where the setting takes a backseat to the story, Thin Ice took the time to indulge in the Frost Fairs showing the Doctor and Bill having some fun while exploring. This is something I hope the show continues, it’s nice to see the Doctor and his companion having fun in the past before taking on the threat of the week. In fact, it was probably the episode’s plot that was its weakest aspect; it was overly familiar and a story Doctor Who has done before. A giant monster deep below, kept prisoner in a barbaric way and fed a regular diet of humans before the Doctor and his companion free the creature in an act of compassion. Thin Ice or 2010’s The Beast Below? But tackling a familiar story allowed the episode to focus on other aspects such as character development and the racial tensions found in our past.

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As the Doctor says early in the episode; “history is a whitewash”. This perhaps speaks true of the show’s treatment of the past has always strayed away from dealing with the social and racial tensions of the time. Apart from a jab made from a snobby schoolboy to Martha in 2007’s Human Nature, the show hasn’t really touched it at all. So it comes as a great surprise to see it dealt with here. As we see in the episode, Bill fears how the people of the past will treat her. But, as the Doctor points out, history is a bit more colourful than you’d think. The Doctor points to Jesus as an example; commonly portrayed as white but was almost certainly not. But there are a few people who don’t look at Bill the same way as everyone else. And, tying into the strong character work of the episode, the Doctor is not quite as ready to let it slide as he says. For instance, despite saying he is more handled to talking to Sutcliffe than Bill due to him having a cooler temper, the Doctor at once punches Sutcliffe without warning as soon as Sutcliffe refers to Bill as a “creature” due to her skin colour. This tackling of racial issues would have been the episode’s highlight had there not been some excellent character work as well.

The episode really delved into the Doctor and Bill’s relationship, providing us a quite different look at the 12th Doctor. The Doctor, at first, doesn’t seem to care about the lives of those at the Frost Fair. Indeed, in one of the darker moments of the episode, the Doctor dives for the hand of Spider as he is sucked into the ice only for us to see the Doctor is only attempting to retrieve his Sonic Screwdriver and not save the life of the young boy; the Doctor having already dismissed him as beyond saving. At first this seems like an incredibly callous act (expect the BBC to receive complaints) but, once thrown into context, makes a lot more sense. As the Doctor explains to Bill, he’s seen countless death and moves on quickly but yet, in his speech to Sutcliffe, he places great pride on the value of a single life and angrily uses Spider’s death as a way to appeal to Sutcliffe’s humanity. It throws the Doctor’s earlier actions into a new light. While to us and Bill, it appeared the Doctor could have saved the boy but perhaps to the Doctor, who has more experience in these matters, it’s probable Spider was already dead. Considering how frozen the boy’s hand was it’s likely this was the case. The Doctor’s later attempts to improve the lives of Spider’s friends also indicates the death was weighing heavily on his mind; from giving them food to reading them a bedtime story to finally altering Sutcliffe’s will to allow the children to inherit his house, title and money. These same thoughts were also clearly running through Bill’s mind in the episode. At first she reacts with horror at the Doctor’s apparently callous attitude, she later comes to understand why the Doctor acts like he does and, while she may not always agree with it, she can come to accept it. This begins to rub off on Bill as, when the Doctor asks her what is to be done with the creature, Bill asks him to set it free regardless of what may happen. Indeed, this episode felt like the Doctor was testing Bill’s morality. It’s likely, if she had wanted the creature to die or be left to rot, her travelling with the Doctor would have ended then and there. But Bill’s decision seemed to spark some pride from the Doctor, perhaps implying he has a great plan for her in mind.

All of this was done brilliantly with some wonderful performances from Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie. The two show real spark and work together brilliantly. The show continually makes me want to spend more time with them, with the two having the same kind of chemistry that made previous TARDIS teams so engaging. The 12th Doctor, Bill and Nardole could be well on their way to rivalling the 11th Doctor, Amy, Rory and River Song as the quintessential TARDIS team. Special mention must also go to guest star Nicholas Burns as Sutcliffe who, despite limited screen time, managed to make a truly despicable Doctor Who villain.

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Despite all this however, the episode had its issues. The pacing was a little off at times leading the episode to feel slightly rushed when the story had to come into focus. It was when the episode slowed down and focused on the characters that it truly shined. Thin Ice isn’t the first Doctor Who episode to suffer from this issue. Perhaps BBC should consider bumping up the length of the average Doctor Who episode from 45 to 50 minutes? An extra 5 minutes spread throughout episodes such as Thin Ice could greatly improve the pacing.

So was Thin Ice perfect? No. It has issues. It’s a little rushed and could have done with a little less dashing about and a little more focus on the excellent character work. But that said, it was also a lot of fun. Sarah Dollard has proven herself to be an excellent asset to Doctor Who, having delivered two quality episodes featuring some of the best character work in the show. BBC would be mad to not secure her ASAP for the next series. Thin Ice may not have surpassed Face the Raven, but it provides more of what made it such a modern classic in the first place.

8.5/10

Trivia: With Spider’s death, this episode is the first Doctor Who episode to feature the death of a child since 2008’s The Stolen Earth – not counting any off-screen deaths during invasions.

Being set in 1814, the episode is a little too early for the Paternoster Gang (Vastra, Jenny and Strax) explaining their absence.

Lingering questions: So, it’s not less a what than a who that is trapped in the vault. Is it the Master? Or is that perhaps too obvious? Whoever it is, they seem to terrify Nardole perhaps implying they may not be a friendly face.

Quote of the week: “Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age, that’s… what defines a species.” – The Doctor

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Doctor Who S10E02 “Smile” Review

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Frank Cottrell-Boyce has a troubled history with Doctor Who. Despite being a beloved author, his previous Doctor Who episode In The Forest of the Night (Series 8 Episode 10) received a very mixed response. So the decision to bring Boyce back was met with a lot of scepticism. However, on his second outing, Boyce has delivered an excellent Doctor Who adventure which, if not a classic, was certainly a lot of fun.

Smile, following the trend of most companion’s early outings in the TARDIS, took us to the far future with the companion confronting that the future isn’t as bright as they thought. Just like how Rose had to confront the destruction of Earth with rich aliens treating the planet’s death as a distraction rather than something sad in The End of the World (Series 1 Episode 1), Martha saw most of humanity trapped in an eternal traffic jam in Gridlock (Series 3 Episode 2), Donna and Amy had to confront humanity subjecting benevolent creatures to torture and slavery in Planet of the Ood (Series 4 Epsiode 3) and The Beast Below (Series 5 Episode 2) and Clara witnessing a civilisation worshipping a sun like being who demanded to be fed with stories or the sacrifice of a young girl in The Rings of Akhaten (Series 7 Episode 7), Bill had to confront the dark fate that awaits us, eventually leading humanity to evacuate Earth. Bill witnessing humanity’s future in the book, bringing tears to her eyes as she begs the Doctor for answers, was easily one of the strongest scenes in the episode. Pearl Mackie’s acting really hammered the emotional effect of the scene.

But perhaps the episode’s best aspect was the introduction of the show’s newest merchandise seller: the Emojibots. They were adorable, funny and brilliantly designed. Much like the Adipose, the Emojibots will likely be popular long after people have forgotten the episode they originally appeared in. They definitely provided the episodes biggest laughs; especially in the scene where the Doctor proclaims “Look! I’m happy! Happy happy happy!” and an Emojibot responds with a less than convinced expression.

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The concept for the bots was also fascinating; robots that will kill you if you aren’t happy. The idea is a great one and one of the most unique concepts I’ve seen from Doctor Who in a while. The opening scene managed to prove how difficult this is. Can anyone be happy as their loved ones die all around them?

The episode also had some rather clever ideas introduced; such as the amount of lies the Doctor tells his companions to keep them safe. For example, when Bill figures out that the Doctor doesn’t need her to read the map to him as he’s already memorised it, it raises the question on if the Doctor was lying when he’s done this sort of thing before.

The guest cast didn’t get much chance to impress however. This was more likely due to their limited screen time than anything, but they didn’t get much chance to feel like fully dimensional characters; mostly existing to fill out the story than anything else.

The directing in this episode was also pretty great, making good use of the exotic Spanish locations. Apart from an odd moment where the Doctor and an Emojibot fall off a balcony, all the action was very well directed and the director even managed to add an air of creepiness to the episode’s early scenes as hordes of Emojibots watch the Doctor and Bill from countless windows. The episode was also really well paced, not once did I feel the episode was dragging nor did it feel too short; it hit the right pace a Doctor Who episode needed to.

Boyce’s script also kept me guessing which is always a plus. The episode never took the direction I expected it to; for one I expected Bill to save the day so for the episode to subvert this was a great idea.

The episode however suffered from perhaps tackling too many ideas at once; quite a few of the ideas were left underdeveloped especially the Emojibots and how to escape them. I never thought I’d say this but I wanted more scenes of the Doctor and Bill running down corridors trying to escape them. The music also wasn’t up to scratch. Despite Murray Gold being a musical genius when he wants to be, he phoned it in a little this episode. Especially with a bizarre use of the Dalek theme during the episode’s conclusion. Perhaps Gold phoned it in here due to being more focused on other episodes?

While the episode wasn’t perfect, I can’t really fault it. As a filler episode it did its job and wasn’t bad at all. Could it have been better? Yes. But it could have been a lot worse. And for what it’s worth, the episode introduced a lot of great ideas and was a lot of fun to watch. And of course it introduced what is likely to be the most memorable new monster of Series 10, bar any terrifying new creations Moffat cooks up in his next standalone episode.

7.5/10

Lingering questions

The Doctor mentions he came to be guarding the vault because of something that happened and an oath he took because of it. Something truly terrible must have occurred.

Fun facts

Mina Anwar plays Goodthing in the episode’s opening. This is not Anwar’s first foray into the Whoniverse. She previously played Gita Chandra, the mother of main character Rani Chandra, in the Doctor Who Spin-Off The Sarah Jane Adventures. Perhaps Goodthing is a distant descendant of Gita, being another case of spatial genetic multiplicity in the show where someone shares the same physical appearance of a distant relative or ancestor; previous cases are Gwen Cooper from modern day Cardiff looking like her very distant relative Gwyneth from 1800s Cardiff and John Frobisher in modern day London looking like his distant ancestor Caecilius (and a certain Time Lord). This idea was introduced into the show by Russell T Davies to provide a story excuse allowing actors to portray multiple characters.

The Doctor mentions other ships that evacuated Earth. He mentions he has encountered some of them; most recently Starship UK in 2010’s The Beast Below.

 

 

 

Doctor Who: S10E01 “The Pilot” review

p04zzlnrDoctor Who is back! And if you’re not using a TARDIS to read this review and are experiencing time linearly like the rest of us, it’ll have been officially 16 months since the end of Doctor Who Series 9 back in 2015. With only two Christmas Specials and Spin-Off Series Class to tide fans over since then, the wait has been a long one. But it’s finally over and Doctor Who is ready to kick off another series of time travelling adventures. With its title The Pilot indicating this episode is intended to be a fresh jumping on point for new viewers, did this episode do enough to satisfy the fans who had waited long for its arrival and the new viewers who checked in out of curiosity?

Oh and needless to say, beware of:

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Taking a similar approach to Rose and Smith and Jones, The Pilot is told entirely from the viewpoint of our new companion; in this case Bill. At once Bill feels like a complete breath of fresh air into the show; a completely different type of character compared to Clara. Whereas Clara was more self-assured and liked being in charge, Bill on the other hand is more than happy to let the Doctor lead. Now this isn’t a bad thing, Bill seems to show an innate sense to let someone who knows what they’re talking about take charge (which is a very valuable skill by the way). She also shows a willingness to learn, a quality the Doctor quickly took a shine to. Thanks to a wonderful performance by Pearl Mackie, you couldn’t help but like Bill. She was the sort of person you’d quickly become good friends with. Her delayed reaction to the TARDIS being bigger on the inside was also a welcome mix up to the standard formula – by the way, it’s been four years since we’ve seen a companion’s first reaction to the TARDIS (way back in 2013, we saw Clara remark the famous phrase “It’s bigger on the inside!” in The Bells of Saint John). In fact, everything about Bill felt like a shake up to the standard companion formula. Not to mention her sexuality, it was a nice touch for the episode to not beat viewers round the head with “BILL’S GAY!” Instead, the episode took a more subtle approach that might fly over the head of some viewers.

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I must appreciate BBC’s “bait and switch” with this episode. Most the pre-release material led many, including myself, to believe everyone’s favourite screechy voiced tins from hell, the Daleks, would be the villains in this episode. Instead, the Daleks were relegated to a mere cameo and played second fiddle to the episode’s true monster; the unnamed fuel that leaked from an alien spaceship (although let’s hope the genocidal pepper pots make a return later in the series). The fuel, taking the form of Bill’s crush Heather, was a rather inspired monster and will certainly leave children terrified of puddles for months to come. With some rather chilling sequences, the episode played with ideas that Russell T Davies and Phil Ford established back in 2009’s The Waters of Mars; how do you fight water? It was an inspired creation, however I felt the episode didn’t push the idea far enough. Perhaps a few more sequences of the fuel being inventive in chasing the Doctor and Bill through space and time would have benefitted it? With the episode ending with the tease that we may not have seen the last of the fuel, along with the mystery of what spaceship left it, who did it belong to and why was it near the university still to be answered perhaps we could be seeing a lot more of the fuel in episodes to come.

Peter Capaldi, entering his final series as the Doctor, is clearly still having a blast in the role. But it was the smaller moments that won out. As the Doctor prepared to wipe Bill’s memory, she asked him how he would feel if someone did the same to him. Capaldi’s face showed perfectly that the Doctor wears his heart(s) on his sleeve. The Doctor is still hurting over his memories of Clara being erased. Perhaps this is what inspires him to take Bill on-board, to help him heal the Clara shaped hole in his life? Regardless, Capaldi’s performance was magnificent with this wonderful moment.

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Matt Lucas also impressed again as Nardole, who will clearly go on to become a fan favourite. Clearly Nardole is here to take the role Clara and River Song had; someone who knows the Doctor well enough to tell him off. Lucas however is incredibly funny in the role, even with the simplest of jokes – Nardole taking the wrong turn for instance.

The episode also had some incredibly inspired direction by Lawrence Gough, with the episode having some of my favourite editing and directing techniques I’ve seen in the show in quite a long while. With Gough directing the next episode of the series, I’m interested to see how he does with more typical Sci-Fi fare. Steven Moffat’s script meanwhile was as zany, wild, hilarious and unexpectedly touching as his scripts usually are. Moffat continues to show his mastery at making us laugh one second and cry the next. It’s a shame the show is losing his talent, as he is without a doubt one of the best writers to have graced the show.

As an opener, The Pilot did its job. It satisfied long-time fans, yet it felt fresh enough that it didn’t lock out new viewers. While it’s nowhere near the best Series Opener (The Eleventh Hour, The Impossible Astronaut and The Magician’s Apprentice all compete for that crown), The Pilot did a fantastic job of launching Series 10 and promising new and exciting adventures that, much like the show should be, feel familiar and brand new all at the same time. Is it next Saturday yet?

8/10

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Fun details:

The androids seen fighting the Daleks are the Movellans, first introduced in Destiny of the Daleks way back in 1979 and have been waging a war against the Daleks ever since

The Doctor keeps his family close; on his desk are photos of not just his wife River Song (last seen in 2015’s The Husbands of River Song), but also his Granddaughter Susan (last seen in 1983’s The Five Doctors). However, photos of his in-laws Amy Pond and Rory Williams (last seen in 2012’s The Angels Take Manhattan) are nowhere to be seen.

Lingering questions:

What’s in the Vault? My most likely solutions are:

The Master: Perhaps the John Simm incarnation of the villain is kept prisoner here? Or perhaps Missy?

The Moment: A Vault seems like the perfect place for the Doctor to lock away the weapon he almost used to destroy Gallifrey (back in 2013’s The Day of the Doctor). A weapon capable of terrible destruction seems like the one thing the Doctor would lock away and be afraid of being discovered.

The Doctor: How? Why? A future or past Doctor? Maybe. Perhaps an earlier Doctor is locked away? Perhaps a future Doctor is locked away? Maybe the 13th Doctor’s regeneration goes wrong and so relies on the previous Doctor to protect them while they recover? Or maybe… the Doctor’s prophesised future evil incarnation, the Valeyard?

“Ghost in the Shell” – Review

Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano
Plot: In the far future where the lines between human and machine are blurred, a terrorist attack leaves “Major” (Johansson) near death. With her brain transplanted into an advanced robotic body and no memory of her life before the attack, she joins an anti-terror unit known as Section 9. When a feared cyber-terrorist known as Kuze (Pitt) emerges leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, Major and her closest ally Batou (Asbæk) attempt to track him down. But the search will lead Major to question her past and her very existence.

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Perhaps the best way to start this review is by addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, the casting of a white actress as a traditionally Japanese character is a problematic situation. Yes, it doesn’t help already struggling Asian actresses in Hollywood. But Mamoru Oshii, director of the original Anime Ghost in the Shell (which this film is a remake/reboot of) was very vocally supportive of the casting. For this reason, I’m not going to let it impact my thoughts on the film. That over with, let’s carry on.

If there’s a prize for most beautiful film of 2017, Ghost in the Shell might walk away with it. While it has stiff competition from Beauty and the Beast, the film is visually striking. The world Rupert Sanders has created on screen looks amazing. Like Blade Runner, this isn’t a shiny and clean version of the future. This is a dark, grimy, neon filled version of the future. This feels like a world where humans have enhanced themselves so much that the lines between human and machine are blurred. This grimy feel extends across the entire film and its characters, with Major being the only character who’s “clean and perfect” making Major’s feeling of isolation all the more apparent.

The beautiful visuals extend to the cinematography. The film is beautifully shot using slow motion to great effect. An opening scene with Major busting an attempted terrorist attack might just be the year’s best shot action sequence, and it’s only April. Similar to Sander’s previous film Snow White and the Huntsman, the film is gorgeous.

The film’s storytelling meanwhile is not as strong. While the story it tells is a decent one, the twists and turns are telegraphed and obvious. By the midway point you’ll have guessed how the rest of the movie will go. While this isn’t a major issue and the film is still enjoyable, it’s just a shame that it’s incredibly predictable. Now this may be an issue of many other films ripping off the original Ghost in the Shell over the years, but there’s no reason why this reboot couldn’t have tried to tell a slightly different story that we don’t expect; isn’t that the point of this wave of reboots and remakes? To give us whole new stories with familiar characters and settings? Regardless, the film tells it’s story well which is all it needs to do I suppose.

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The film’s cast does pretty well. Johansson impresses by giving an emotionally detached performance to mirror Major’s detachment from the world. While this is a performance that can easily be read as Johansson giving a poor performance, it is in fact one that’s perfect for the character. Johansson opens the character up in more intimate moments showing this was a choice of her performance rather than her “not caring” or “being bored”. The rest of the cast does a great job too. Takeshi Kitano stands out as one of the film’s best aspects, delivering a great performance despite his lines being entirely in Japanese while the rest of the cast speak English (it must be difficult to get the emotional beats of a performance right when everyone else is speaking a different language to you).

But despite its amazing visuals and great cast, there’s the overwhelming feeling of familiarity about the film. Like you’ve seen it before. It’s just a shame that a film like this which is so beautiful visually is so utterly pedestrian in almost every other aspect. Which isn’t to say Ghost is a bad film, it’s a pretty enjoyable one, it’s just that the film feels too familiar for it to truly stand out. It’s oddly ironic that Ghost in the Shell’s biggest failing is the “ghost” of every other major Sci-Fi/Action-Adventure movie from the past few decades. The film doesn’t deserve to be the Box Office flop it’s become; but likewise it doesn’t deserve to be a billion dollar grossing epic. The film isn’t perfect, but it isn’t awful. Perhaps one lesson to be learned here is that there’s no space for mediocrity; which is ironic for a film about humanity trying to continually perfect itself.

Despite all this, Ghost in the Shell is a good way to pass two hours. It’s ultimately a fun, enjoyable film. It’s very much a typical Hollywood Sci-Fi Action film. A very “paint by numbers” experience that’s worth experiencing for its incredible visuals and decently told, if overly familiar, story rather than anything of substance. It’s ironic then that a movie about a robotic character questioning their humanity should only have its perfection be only skin deep; beautiful to look act but only cold pre-programmed machinery on the inside.

6.5/10

“Resident Evil VII: Biohazard” Review

RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD REVIEW

Released: 24/01/17

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform reviewed on: PS4

I’m low on health. There’s no healing items in my inventory. I’m low on ammo. I hesitantly make my way down a hallway. Suddenly Jack Baker (one of the game’s four main antagonists) rounds the corner in front of me, his weapon in hand and a wicked smile on his face as he says “How’re you doing, boy? It’s been a while.” And it certainly has. Not only have I been playing a prolonged but deadlier game of hide and seek with Jack for much of the last hour, it’s also been a long while since Resident Evil felt this scary; succeeding in making me feel completely powerless in a way that hasn’t been done since the earliest entries in the series.

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Because there’s no denying the Resident Evil series had lost its way. In 2004, the series attempted a new direction away from pure horror with Resident Evil 4 which favoured a more action and gunplay oriented approach from the start. This worked as it created a whole new sense of fear – the opening village battle in that game is one of the tensest and pulse racing moments in the entire series. After the success of this approach, Capcom kept it for the next two entries; Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6. However these games began to sacrifice the horror in favour of the action. In 6, the monstrous Ustanak, who was hyped up as the new Nemesis (a monster always chasing after the player) was simply the source of highly scripted explosive set pieces. This was just one of 5 and 6’s many shortcomings including muddled plots, repetitive gameplay, incredibly campy dialogue and scenes and ultimately just not feeling like Resident Evil anymore. Thankfully, Capcom decided to return to the series roots for this new instalment, but with a fresh twist; Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is the first game in the main series (not counting spin-off titles) to have a first person perspective, putting players in the literal shoes of new protagonist Ethan Winters who is just an average guy, a far cry away from the Hollywood action hero types of Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy.

Picking up four years after the events of Resident Evil 6 (which are thankfully not brought up), Resident Evil 7: Biohazard sees Ethan arrive at the seemingly abandoned Baker plantation in Dulvey Louisiana in search of Mia, his wife who’s been missing and presumed dead for three years. A mysterious email has led Ethan and his search for Mia here, but not all is as it seems. This large and complex house has secrets. Soon Ethan finds himself trapped in the Baker mansion as the Baker family themselves; father Jack, mother Marguerite and son Lucas patrol its halls ready to make Ethan their next victim. Guided over the phone by a mysterious woman named Zoe, Ethan must find a way to escape from the Baker estate and find Mia before it’s too late. But is it love waiting in the darkness? Or something else?

The plot of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is one of its strongest points. So much is kept vague and hidden from the player until the final parts of the game that it makes you want to keep playing just to determine what the hell is going on. Ethan is an easy to root for protagonist and his search for Mia is a fairly easy one for us to get invested in. However, the story does take some surprising twists and turns which I will not spoil here and ends with something that is bound to shock fans and leave them ravenous for the next instalment.

But the true appeal of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard lies in its antagonists; the Bakers. All three members of the family have distinct personalities and each one favours a different approach. Jack, for example, patrols the halls of the mansion and is easily the quickest of the Bakers. If he sees you, your best bet is to run and put as much distance between you and him as possible. Marguerite must be either sneaked past or tricked and led to another part of the house giving you time to head back to where she was patrolling to do what you need to do. Lucas must be outsmarted, as he favours complex death traps and games over physical confrontation. Fighting is an option but is only recommended when you’re cornered and have nowhere to run, because even if you do manage to kill them, none of the Bakers will stay down for long. It’s amazing how distinct the three Bakers are and each one comes with their own challenges and approaches and each of the Bakers has enough great moments that could see them become iconic villains for the series; be it a chainsaw duel with Jack (which is every bit as awesome as it sounds), to Marguerite appearing out of nowhere and sending hordes of insects after you to the complexity of Lucas’s games and traps, with the “Happy Birthday” trap being a particular stand out due to its creepiness.

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But don’t worry, the Bakers are not the only problem you have to deal with; for the Baker mansion is also home to creatures known only as the Moulded. These monstrous creatures are more typical Resident Evil enemies and are who you’ll most of your time fighting. Conserving ammo and going for headshots is a must here as, like classic Resident Evil games, ammo is in short supply so you don’t want to be wasting all your bullets taking down a few Moulded only to be short for a boss fight later. In fact, the trick is knowing when to fight and when to run. The Moulded will often only stick to specific areas and will not venture beyond them (at least at the start of the game) so it’s wise to know when to pick a fight. The Moulded come in several varieties and each one requires a slightly different tactic, especially since later in the game the Moulded will come to infest previously safe areas and will begin to swarm you in cramped areas so you’ll have to think quick to survive. However, while the Moulded are scary the first few times you fight them towards the end they become a bit of an annoyance and you can’t help but wish for a bit more enemy variety. There’s only so many times you can fight a different type of Moulded before it becomes old.

Speaking of combat, it’s fluid, quick and easy to pick up. While your aim may be terrible at first, very soon you’ll be scoring headshots in no time. And most importantly, the combat is fun. It’s not difficult or tiring. The bonus “Nightmare” game mode (available in the Banned Footage, Vol.1 DLC pack) is an excellent place to hone your skills against increasingly difficult waves of Moulded and with the variety of weapons available in the game, combat is at the best it’s ever been in Resident Evil.

But perhaps where the game truly excels is in its call-backs to classic Resident Evil. The Baker mansion seems to have been built by the same architects behind the Spencer Estate from the original game because the mansion is filled with complex locks and puzzles that would be right at home in the original games. Doors require obscure items to unlock, strange keys must be found to open doors and more. Capcom promised this game would be a return to the series roots and they were telling the truth. And most importantly, the game is actually scary. Nothing comes close to the sense of fear created in this game, be it avoiding the Bakers, being swarmed by Moulded or just being terrified of what might happen around the next corner. It may be a different perspective, but this is the first time Resident Evil has felt like Resident Evil in a long, long time.

Perhaps the game’s only major flaw is its length. Skilled players can beat the game in 6 hours or less (there’s even a trophy for beating it in less than four) and with only two endings available, replay value is slim. This is where the Madhouse mode comes in. Madhouse amps up the difficulty of the game, adds more enemies, makes them tougher, mixes up locations of items and removes checkpoints, requiring manual saves (but only if you have a cassette tape in your inventory). Madhouse is an extreme challenge and can easily add several more hours onto the game. After this however there is very little. At the moment. The DLC, Banned Footage (out now) adds more gameplay in the form of six extra modes (Bedroom, Nightmare, Ethan Must Die, Daughters, 21, Jack’s 55th Birthday) that add a lot of replayability. Nightmare and Jack’s 55th Birthday in particular are reminiscent of the Mercenaries mode from 4, 5 and 6. With two story add-ons on the way, it seems Capcom is trying to keep players coming back to the game with a steady drip feed of content that really should have been in the game to begin with.

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But overall, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a massive return to form for the once floundering Horror series. Excellent gameplay, excellent scares, a great story, great antagonists and more make Resident Evil 7: Biohazard one of 2017’s must play games already. My only problem is that I wish my stay with the Bakers was just a bit longer. But ultimately, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a triumph for both the series and the survival horror genre as well. Hopefully this will send a message to other publishers with popular horror franchises languishing (Silent Hill and Alien: Isolation in particular). Welcome home, Resident Evil. We’ve missed you.

8.5/10

  • Great gameplay
  • Great story
  • Frightening antagonists
  • Series is back on form
  • Lack of replayability without DLC
  • Poor enemy variety.

“Power Rangers” – Review

 Directed by: Dean Israelite
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
Plot: Five teenagers, all outcasts and misfits, find five mysterious coins blessing them with superhuman powers. Drawn to a crashed alien ship, they are told by the mysterious Zordon (Cranston) that they are the next generation of Power Rangers; mighty warriors destined to protect the universe. The unlikely heroes must master their new powers and abilities fast however as evil sorceress Rita Repulsa (Banks) has awakened from a 65 million years long slumber seeking a mystical artefact of ultimate destruction and the Power Rangers are the only ones who can stop her.

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If you’re of a certain age, you’ve likely heard of the Power Rangers. You’ve possibly even been of the generation who would wake up religiously every Saturday morning to catch their latest exploits. The franchise has been a constant series of changes ever since with the license changing hands from studio to studio, the show undergoing various retools and reboots (24 seasons covering 20 different themes) and being a constant of children’s entertainment ever since. With the franchise fast approaching its 25th Anniversary, it seems only fitting that the series should try and make the leap to the big screen. While this wouldn’t be the super powered team’s first foray into big budget blockbuster territory, it is the first attempt to make the franchise appeal to a wider and more conventional blockbuster audience.  This latest incarnation of the Rangers then attempts  a “back to basics” approach by returning to the basic set-up and characters of the original series. The result is an above average experience.

Which isn’t to say Power Rangers is inherently a bad film, quite the opposite; the film knows what it wants to achieve and does it well. However the film just sticks a little too close to formula for it to truly standout. The film plays incredibly close to the “superhero origin movie” textbook, making the film feel incredibly familiar to most audiences; hitting all the same beats we expect such movies to take including a CGI filled prologue complete with expository dialogue of Sci-Fi nonsense. Like I Am Number Four before it, the film suffers due to its story being done before (and better) by many films before it.

The film does attempt to differentiate itself by focusing on developing each of the Rangers as characters and them bonding as a team rather than super heroics. And this works. Mostly. The characters do grow and become closer as a result, yet other characters are sacrificed in favour of more focus on specific members of the team. Zack and Trini for example receive less development than the other three Rangers making them feel very underdeveloped as a result.

But that said, the character work on the other three Rangers works quite well. Kimberly for instance works as a nice subversion of the typical “mean cheerleader” stereotype; she does something mean without thinking and upon seeing the damage it did regrets it bitterly. It makes a nice change to typical morals when the moral of Kimberly’s story is “You did a bad thing, but that doesn’t make you a bad person”.

The casting for the movie works pretty well, the five leads play their parts with enthusiasm (even if one or two of them look a bit too old to be playing teenagers). The real star of the film however is Elizabeth Banks as villain Rita Repulsa. Banks is clearly having the time of her life playing the villain and hams it up with every opportunity. Her character is incredibly entertaining every time she’s on screen, enough so that you kind of start rooting for Rita to win instead of the Rangers, who feel a little bland in comparison.

Bryan Cranston is decent as giant floating head Zordon, but really doesn’t have much to do apart from being an exposition device. Bill Hader meanwhile gets a few good laughs in as the Ranger’s robotic ally Alpha 5.

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There’s been a definite attempt to “Transformersify” the franchise (given a shout out within the movie with a certain yellow Camaro making an appearance). This is a definite shame as, well, we already have Transformers (with four more movies planned at least in that franchise) so we don’t need another. This attempt not only extends to explosions galore and, at times, unintelligible action; but to the comedy as well. In the sense that the crude humour that pervades the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (another franchise that tried to be like Transformers) films is present here. One of the first jokes in the film involves a character saying he milked a cow, only to be told to his horror that it was a male cow. Another joke later in the film sees Zordon ask the Rangers if they have morphed before, Zack jokes that he has but “only in the shower”. While these jokes are funny in the moment, it’s only afterwards that you wonder if they actually have a place in a Power Rangers movie of all places. That said however, some of the film’s comedy is brilliant; in the most ludicrous way of product placement I’ve ever seen, the mystical artefact Rita desires is buried under a “Krispy Kreme” restaurant which leads to all forms of hilarity, circling from funny to ridiculous right back to funny again.

Despite its issues however, the film is ultimately quite fun. With Lionsgate planning five sequels, here’s hoping the issues in the first film can be fixed in the sequels.

Power Rangers is not quite the disaster many anticipated. But neither is it the perfect throwback to childhood many may want it to be. Instead it’s a perfectly above average superhero flick, struggling to stand out from the crowd and sticking too close to established formula to be anything more than a very entertaining, if ultimately lacking experience ending in a climax that my inner child couldn’t help but love.

7/10

“The Lost City Of Z” – Review

Directed by: James Gray
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland
Plot: After finding evidence of what he believes to be a lost city deep in the Amazon, explorer Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) embarks on multiple expeditions to find it risking his marriage and family because of it. The film chronicles Fawcett’s life, his expeditions, his experiences in the First World War and more all the way up to his fateful final expedition during which he and his son vanished without a trace, their remains never recovered.

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Chances are, you’ve heard the story of Percy Fawcett; a British explorer who, along with his son, went missing in the Amazon searching for a lost civilisation they believed existed, known only as “Z”. Fawcett’s story has fascinated many over the years, with many researchers offering their own theories and conclusions as to what became of him.

The film adaptation of Fawcett’s story does not attempt to give a definitive answer; because one does not exist. Instead it focuses on Fawcett as a man, not a legend. A man struggling to find the balance between his family, his thirst for glory, his desire to make the world a better place and his own desire for a sense of personal fulfilment. It makes Fawcett a protagonist that’s easy for us to root for as his journey into “hell” (both literal and metaphorical) begins.

Its thankful then, that star Charlie Hunnam is more than up to the task of bringing Fawcett to the screen; delivering a wonderful performance capturing the many layers of Fawcett and his obsession with the lost city. Hunnam’s performance is the shoulders the film rests on, and Hunnam excels. Robert Pattinson also shines as Fawcett’s close friend Henry Costin and the two share great chemistry on screen. Sienna Miller also impresses as Fawcett’s wife Nina; delivering a tender and passionate performance of a woman torn between wanting to keep her family together or letting her husband peruse his dreams.

Tom Holland, as Fawcett’s son Jack, does not shine as much however. More likely the fault of the film’s edit, Holland does not get enough time to make an impact as the character. Likewise we don’t get enough time of father and son bonding, meaning most of Holland’s character arc is rushed; with the character going from hating his father to idolising him over the course of one scene.

The real star of the film however is its visuals. Expertly directed by James Gray, the film transplants audiences into Fawcett’s world. The deep jungles are beautiful and inviting, yet secrete a deep menace that pervades most of the film. This aura of wonder mixed with danger is ultimately the soul of the film and Gray captures it perfectly. The film is engrossing and draws you in. It makes you feel like you’re there in the mud and trees with Fawcett. The film looks fantastic and I can only hope Gray pushes for an Ultra HD master down the line, the film’s gorgeous pallet can only be enhanced by the deeper blacks and brighter colours of the HDR/Dolby Vision format.

The film is an enthralling piece of beauty, furthered along by its enigmatic ending that will leave audiences puzzled, yet oddly satisfied. The film doesn’t dare to give a definitive answer to the Fawcett mystery but instead presents a magical piece of beauty that focuses on bringing the man to life, not his legend. It’s a shame then, the film comes this early in the year as it will almost certainly be overlooked come awards season. At nearly two and a half hours in length, the film may leave the unprepared shifting in their seats towards the end, but if you let it, The Lost City Of Z will sweep you away on an unforgettable journey that will stay with you long after it’s over.

9.5/10