The Dark Tower (2017) Review (as written by a Tower junkie)

Finally, after years of waiting, we have the first adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus. But how well does it succeed for this Tower junkie?

Let me make one thing clear about the new Dark Tower movie: it’s not the books. It’s certainly not the first volume, The Gunslinger. And if I’m honest, I never really thought it was going to be.

Compared to so many other fantasy epics out there, The Dark Tower was always going to be harder to adapt than most. It’s not just because of the larger scale, or the fact that the author himself shows up once or twice in the story. There’s also the way it’s told.

With The Gunslinger, we’re introduced to Mid-World directly through the gunslinger’s own eyes. It’s a bit of a strange world already, but that perspective adds some distance between that world and us as the audience. Mid-World is almost abstract in that first volume.

It’s not really that surprising that The Gunslinger is seen by some fans as one of the weaker volumes of the series. It’s not terrible, far from it. There’s a great spaghetti western feel to that opening volume. But things definitely picked up in a major way with The Drawing of the Three. As I’ve written before, that was the volume that actually changed my life.

What’s interesting about the new movie is that it avoids telling either of those stories, at least directly. The Dark Tower uses particularly strong elements from The Gunslinger, it has to be said. But it also uses a lot of characters and places from later volumes, too.

This film essentially lets you know right from the very beginning of how different it is compared to the first volume by presenting Jake Chambers as the key perspective. This isn’t that surprising, really. Since he’s actually from our world, Jake makes a natural choice for giving the audience a key point of view on this strange universe. So it’s a change that makes sense.

Mythology: how much is too much?

In fact, the whole film is like that. There are a lot of changes from the original source material in terms of the story, but there’s a lot of key mythology that still feels the same.

Actually, that brings me to one key criticism I have for this movie. It isn’t that it changes the mythology of the original novels, but rather, that it arguably uses far, far too much of it for a ninety-minute movie. This movie features portals, the Breakers, “Low Men”, and a lot more. At the very start, it explains exactly what the Dark Tower is via a very unsubtle caption. By comparison, the novels didn’t fully explain what the Dark Tower was – or even why Roland was trying to get to it – until the third volume!

I’m not saying we should’ve had to wait for the third film to get the full explanation, but there were a lot of moments where the exposition got a bit heavy handed. I really wish this film had been given just another half hour, just to flesh things out a little better.

The ideas that King had in the novels, they weren’t original ones. Psychic kids, fantasy worlds, monsters from beyond, these had definitely been done before. However, along with a rather interesting mix of these ideas, King was also able to flesh them out and give them so much depth. That’s what made both the world and the story so appealing. Which is easy to do in a novel, but not in a movie, especially in a relatively short movie. So a lot of these concepts that I’ve adored in the novels have the risk of coming across as generic in the film adaptation as a result.

Trying to cram in too much mythology in one go were problems that were shared by the Stallone Judge Dredd movie and the Paul McGann Doctor Who movie, which were also both adaptations and fresh introductions to stories that were important to me. Once again, I’m given another example of how “less is more”.

However, that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy The Dark Tower at all. Far from it, really. In fact, now that I’ve got my key criticism out of the way, I’ll go into what I did enjoy about the film.

Great performances

First, there are the main characters. For the Gunslinger and the Man in Black, this movie gets them exactly right.

Roland is absolutely spot-on. He’s not given too much dialogue, which is what you expect from his character. But even better, he’s given moments of humour. I don’t mean that he’s suddenly joking and pulling witty one-liners before shooting up some bastards. That would definitely be the wrong way to do it.

But there are nice moments with Roland in our world where he really clashes, and the humour comes from those scenes. This was something that worked with the character in the novels, particularly when he was in New York with Eddie Dean. (One of my favourite smartasses of all time.) So it’s nice that the film at least doesn’t take him too seriously, even while Roland takes himself seriously, at least.

Elba’s performance is also great. When I was reading the novels again a few months back, I was picturing what his version of Roland would be like. I could actually see Elba saying these lines I was reading and how he would say them. And he didn’t disappoint. Seeing him in the film was exactly what I had imagined.

If there’s one performance that overshadows even Elba’s, however, it’s definitely Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. In the original volume, he’s less interested in killing Roland than he is pushing him to breaking point, and comes across as more of a force of nature or a mystery than a man. In later volumes, he’s much more clearly out to kill him by any means necessary.

What I really liked about the film’s interpretation is that there’s a really nice balance between the two. McConaughey comes across as pure evil as Walter, and he has fun with it without taking away how sinister or deadly his character is. Again, how the character is written for the film also helps. One of my favourite moments includes the words, “Hello, there!” It’s a perfectly evil scene that gets this sheer force of evil exactly right.

I’m not gonna lie: I really enjoyed the climax of the film. It’s really cool to watch, and storywise, it’s pretty satisfying. I’m wondering if it will divide the fans though. To be honest, I’m wondering that about the whole of the film.

The Dark Tower is far from the worst possible adaptation of its source material, but its frankly far from the best, too. It gets a lot right, and it gets a lot wrong. Overall, I liked it and took it for what it was.

I do think it could’ve been made more accessible for a general audience, however. I can’t help but think that this is going to be a film that will appeal more to the fans of the existing source material than for newcomers, and for a blockbuster film, you definitely need to be able to appeal to a wide audience.

It hasn’t been very receptive to critics so far, but time will tell whether it makes enough to earn a sequel, at least. If a sequel is made, let’s hope that it builds on the strengths and drastically irons out the weaknesses of this opening installment.

Toronto #25

Wow, I am really getting slow at writing these! Once again, things have been fairly quiet overall, although there has been some exciting stuff happening.

Last weekend, I went to a Marlies game, which was pretty good. Especially as the score was 4-0. Quite impressive. Once again, there were quite a few fights that randomly broke out during the game. Yes, hockey is undoubtedly quite the violent sport.

Outside of that, along with work, which is still progressing quite nicely, I’ve still been writing. Not much fictionally, but I’ve been using the journal, at least, which has helped me to work a few things out, on top of writing down a few ideas. I’m also back to writing a few articles for Doctor Who Watch, which I kind of took a break from for a while while I tried to concentrate on other things. The creative writing I’m still continuing with, even in small doses, at least.

Outside of the writing, I’ve also been reading a fair bit. Currently, I’m focusing on Doctor Who: ‘The Witch Hunters’. This was a book that I first read almost twenty years ago, but it’s still one I have a soft spot for. Purely historical (other than the time travellers themselves, of course), and focusing on the Salem Witch Trials, it really is an absorbing read. It’s also a story that, despite its clear period setting, still feels quite present.

DW-Witch-Hunters_Large

This weekend has been interesting. I’ve been able to enjoy a lot on not much money, for one thing. I’ve watched three films, and I’ve only needed to pay for one of them.

The first was the 1983 remake of Breathless starring Richard Gere. It was very, very eighties and not perfect, but it wasn’t without its charm, either. I especially appreciated the use of Jerry Lee Lewis in the soundtrack. It probably says a lot about Quentin Tarantino that he considers it to be one of the “coolest movies” of all time. To be honest, I can’t say I blame him too much. It’s got quite a few faults, but I certainly appreciate any film that takes comic books as seriously as this film does. Best quote:

The Silver Surfer sucks!

I also accidentally checked out the Toronto premiere of the amazing horror movie, The Void. Now, when I say “accidentally”, don’t get me wrong, I had definitely planned on seeing it. Especially since it was Saturday, I had nothing to do, and after seeing a few movies at the Royal, I was able to see a movie of my choosing for free.

So I checked it out, but I didn’t know that it was the first showing in Toronto. So, to my surprise, the writers and directors were there, plus some of the cast and crew. (To those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis, you’d know that this isn’t the first time that this has happened.) It was definitely awesome to see the people who had made this movie actually answering questions from the audience, I must admit.

As for the movie itself? It was pure old-school brilliance. It was very dark, very twisted, and incredibly shocking. It was very reminiscent of movies like HellraiserThe Evil Dead, plus it had a very strong Lovecraft influence, but it was still able to spin these into completely its own thing. It was also very, very refreshing to watch a horror with a ton of practical effects, particularly the monsters. There was some clear use of CGI in it, but it was for more surreal moments and for glimpses of other worlds than for the monsters. I’ve gotta admit, this is definitely one of my favourite horror movies in recent years, and I’m really impressed by just how daring and refreshing it really is.

The final film that I watched this weekend – this one on a cinema pass, so once again, I didn’t have to worry about paying for it – was Get Out. I’ve gotta admit – it really lives up to the hype. It’s not quite a full blown horror (well, not compared to The Void, but there’s few films quite as openly horrific as that one is), but it’s definitely a great suspense movie. I’ll be honest, I was initially surprised to find out that one half of comedy duo Key & Peele had directed a film like this…until I actually saw it.

Keep in mind, while there’s definitely some moments of awkward humour in it, I’m not saying that this film is a comedy. But it definitely has clear elements of satire, and particularly vicious satire it is, too. These are the kind of stories that I love. It’s why I love Judge Dredd, why I love Black Mirror (which lead actor Daniel Kaluuya had previously starred in an episode of), and why I really loved this film.

What I was really impressed by was how easily it shifted from uncomfortably awkward to suspense, very subtly but very easily, too. “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” This quote from Charlie Chaplin got me thinking about the storytelling of this film in relationship to how uncomfortable it gets. There are some moments that seem strange, almost ridiculous, and that you can’t help but laugh at. Then there’s other moments when there are extreme close ups that make even a simple conversation difficult to watch. That’s just really good filmmaking, and I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele will direct next.

(I was going to include a trailer, but then, after watching it again, I have to say: it reveals way too much. So here’s a song from the film’s soundtrack that really creeped me out.)

So that’s my life the past couple of weeks. Hockey, writing, reading, and movies. A pretty nice and geeky couple of weeks. I’ll be honest, I think the next month or so is going to be pretty quiet, for my part. With my birthday coming up in May, I’m going to be avoiding going out and getting drunk to good music too much. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write about more exciting stuff next month. Until next time!

Red Riding: 1977 Review

Unlike my review for ‘1974’, which I wrote up pretty much as soon as I had finished it, it’s been over a week since I finished reading ‘1977’. There are, of course, a few obvious reasons for this. The holiday season meant focusing on other things, like the Bleak Midwinter (which I will admit, I didn’t write as many reviews as I had aimed for); spending time with friends and family, and of course, re-playing L.A. Noire and getting back into The Sopranos after signing up with on-demand service Crave. (Seriously, a service that has a ton of HBO and Showtime series to watch, as well as Doctor Who? I can’t tell you how happy I am right now.)

But I think a key reason why it’s taken me longer to write a review for the next volume of the Red Riding Quartet is that, in some ways, ‘1977’ is a harder book to review. ‘1974’ was dark, brutal, horrific, challenging and with many layers. But its plot and “murder mystery” were relatively straightforward.

‘1977’ aimed for a rather different approach. There is a new murder mystery to solve in some ways, but it’s also one we know won’t be resolved by the end, at least not if you know your British history. For the killer the protagonists are chasing in this story is the Yorkshire Ripper, and he’s only just started his long killing spree. Of course, both leading characters start to find out a very real possibility that there’s more than one killer, but even that isn’t the focus of the story.

Essentially, it’s the characters who are the focus here: Detective Sergeant Bob Fraser and crime reporter Jack Whitehead. Both share first person narrative equally, with the perspective between the two switching with every new chapter.

There’s a lot that I enjoyed about this approach. For one thing, it allowed the case they investigated to be seen from two very different points of view, at least in terms of their job. One official, one not. Surprisingly, these two perspectives rarely intertwined, with them working almost entirely separately for most of the novel. Even when they do meet, it’s very brief. Essentially, they’re in their own separate worlds, with the only links the crimes that they’re investigating, and the legacy of Eddie Dunford, the protagonist in the first novel.

That’s something else I love about the dual narrative in this book. In ‘1974’, Fraser and Whitehead were characters, but they had relatively small roles. Heck, Whitehead, (or as he was called by Dunford, “Jack Fucking Whitehead”,) was regularly seen as something of an antagonist to Eddie. Not in a villainous sense, just as a more experienced reporter who kept stealing Eddie’s chances of glory (or so Eddie liked to believe).

So it’s interesting exploring these characters from a completely fresh perspective. Especially Whitehead, who’s suffered a major tragedy of his own since the first volume. He’s not just a man grieving, but a man who’s haunted by his past, and continually seeing twisted, horrific visions of his dead wife. He’s clearly a man who has suffered and is continuing to suffer a great deal, and it’s a key reason that he comes across as a great deal more sympathetic than he did in the previous volume.

Certainly, he’s more sympathetic than Bob Fraser. Initially seeming to be one of a few genuinely honest coppers in the Yorkshire police, it soon becomes clear that he’s far from the decent family man that he tries to be. The novel begins with him already in the middle of an affair with a prostitute, and it gets worse for him from there, as it grows from just seeing someone that he fucks on the side, to a dangerous obsession that leads him to making terrible and horrific choices.

I’m not sure I’ve read a protagonist as fucked up as Fraser. He’s not a hero, an anti-hero, or even a villain. Just someone making a ton of bad decisions and continuing to destroy his life and his very soul in the process. It’s a bitter irony that he’s one of two people who genuinely care about the fact that there is more than one killer out there.

If there’s one thing that connects Fraser and Whitehead other than the case itself, it’s Hell. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s no supernatural or occult angle to the story here. But there is the theme of Hell and damnation with both leads. With Fraser, he’s someone making his own way there through his own choices. With Whitehead, he’s a good man who finds himself in the middle of it through no fault of his own, with no escape.

‘1977’ is undoubtedly a more confidant novel than David Peace’s debut. While still dark, gritty and horrific, there’s a greater sense of poetry to it too, and a great deal less importance on a straightforward plot. It’s a risky move, especially as I’ve just finished watching season 2 of True Detective, and one thing that made it a far weaker story to season 1’s was the choice of including a plot that was far more convoluted than it needed to be.

That’s not the problem in ‘1977”s case, though. Particularly as it went in the opposite direction – the mystery’s there, it’s just not the focus of it, and it’s a mystery that’s far from neatly wrapped up by the end. Instead, the key focus in ‘1977’ are the two leads, and the very different worlds that they inhabit. And it’s a very strong novel as a result of that focus.

Dark, violent and yet strangely poetic, ‘1977’ is a worthy sequel to ‘1974’, and another great reason why I’ll more than likely be revisiting the Red Riding Quartet after I’m finished with the series.

Red Riding: 1974 Review

I don’t usually do book reviews. Not because I don’t love books, but because I’m an awfully slow reader, I don’t always absorb everything, and I tend to get distracted all too easily, even by other books. In fact, I was still in the middle of a couple of others when I decided to make a start on “Nineteen Seventy-four” by David Peace.

I had picked it up at BMV, a very cheap bookstore here in Toronto. I had been looking for something closer to horror to read, but the book somehow caught my eye. I had heard of The Red Riding Quartet, and I had been curious to read the series after Channel 4 made an adaptation of 3 of the books several years ago. I didn’t watch it, but I heard many great things. I’m not a big follower of crime fiction, but everything I had heard about the story implied that these books were more than just “whodunnit” mysteries.

So, after finishing the book earlier today, what did I think of it, overall?

Oh.

My.

God.

Like I said, I had expected something more than just your basic mystery. What I didn’t expect was how much I would get completely sucked into it. This book is nothing short of pure, hardcore noir. It portrays a relentlessly grim and vicious world, reeking of paranoia and corruption. It’s a world ruled by villains, without hope and without mercy. This is the world of Yorkshire, 1974.

Any story that begins with the gruesome murder of a child pretty much lets you know from the start that this is far from a happy tale. The protagonist, crime reporter Eddie Dunford, is initially looking for a good story. He thinks he’s found one when he discovers a possible link between the murder and the disappearances of other children.

However, as he digs deeper, he soon learns that there’s far more depth to the horror than he initially realized, and that there are many dangerous people out there who’d want the secrets he uncovers to remain buried. Especially the police…

From the very beginning, it became clear that Eddie Dunford is far from a likeable protagonist. He’s very self-centred, wanting to get a good story even when he has other important things to focus on, like his father’s funeral. He has a girlfriend that he doesn’t really care about, and the idea of a child murder to report is something that he’s actually hoping for, at least when the novel begins.

As the story goes on, however, he finds himself going on a journey. This isn’t the kind of spiritual journey that improves him, however. Instead, he finds himself heading deeper and deeper into his own personal hell. And the reader is dragged along with him. The fact that the narration is done in first-person means that we’re always inside his head, we always know what he’s thinking, even when he’s thinking or doing terrible things himself, and as he pisses off the wrong kind of people, we share his torment with him. Seriously, it’s shocking how much suffering this guy goes through.

And that’s a thing that stands out about the novel: its aim to really, really shock and repulse the reader. Whether it’s brutal torture that go beyond physical and into deeply psychological; shockingly graphic and violent murder, or even just seriously detailed sex scenes, reading the novel genuinely feels like a tough experience to go through. I mean this in the best way possible. You’ll be shocked, disturbed and deeply appalled by everything Eddie goes through – or even just by the actions he makes – but you won’t want to stop reading.

And that’s the sign of a remarkably strong writer. Anyone can write something that’s aimed to repulse, if they really put their mind to it. Anyone can shock. Anyone can use the word “cunt” in a sentence. (See? But seriously, he uses this word a lot in the novel.) But it takes a truly gifted writer like David Peace to take you by the hand and pull you deeper and deeper into this world of darkness and horror. Especially when it’s a world that’s feels just beneath the surface of your own.

“Nineteen Seventy-four” has been like nothing else I’ve read. It’s noir fiction of the blackest and best kind. Perhaps due to my limited experience of this genre of fiction, the only thing I can compare it to is season 1 of True Detective. Finishing it left me emotionally drained while leaving a dark mark on my soul, and yet I’m incredibly eager to read the next volume, “Nineteen Seventy-seven”.

Doctor Who: The Secret History review

Big Finish Production have just reached a landmark this month with the release of their 200th monthly Doctor Who story. To celebrate, they decided to do something special: a “season” of 3 linked stories of 80s Doctors swapping places with their earliest incarnations. So you’ve had McCoy turning up in a Pertwee era story, C. Baker in Troughton’s and Davison in Hartnell’s. The result? A trilogy of stories that’s proved to be a rather intriguing listen – not just a great excuse to hear Doctors meet companions from other eras, but also a great look at how much the Doctor has changed over the years and the contrast of what happens when one incarnation ends up in a story that doesn’t suit ‘him’. I’ve enjoyed all 3 of these stories, but The Secret History has definitely proven to be my favourite one of the trilogy, for several reasons.

One is how well writer Eddie Robson gets the First Doctor’s era spot on. It begins with all the right ingredients for a Hartnell classic: the Doctor and his companions land sometime in ancient history, at least one companion gets separated/kidnapped from the rest, with a good strong focus on both the historical characters and the setting. There’s even a villain who appeared in a couple of Hartnell TV stories, but we’ll get to that later. In short, almost everything about the story fits Hartnell’s Doctor spot on.

Except, of course, for the Doctor himself, and this was my favourite thing about The Secret History. Because the story really helps to highlight two things about the Fifth Doctor: first, that he is, despite his outward appearance, much older in personality than his first self, and second, that he’s a lot less sure of his actions. This is a man who has lost a companion and seen too much death, and while he still knows that history can’t be re-written, the cost of maintaining history is a great deal harder for him to bear than it once was. I love how the difference in personality to his earlier self is a central point to the story, and indeed the entire trilogy, and how one moment’s hesitation causes utter disaster.

I also enjoy the return of a particular villain with Graeme Garden back as the Monk, for the first time in 4 years. I love how this character that’s been sadly ignored by the new series (and to be fair, most of the classic series after Hartnell) has been given a wonderful new lease of life by the excellent team at Big Finish – less of an ‘evil’ character like the Master and more of an amoral, overgrown child whose complete lack of responsibility causes more danger than some of the Doctor’s more traditionally ‘evil’ foes. In fact, the last time he showed up, his actions caused more pain and suffering to the Doctor in his Eighth life than the Master could even begin to hope for, and the worst thing was that they were the actions of someone as reckless and naive as a child instead of someone who actually wants to be destructive, something that probably made the Doctor angrier than ever before (seriously, if you haven’t listened to it yet, check out the excellent 2 part story Lucie Miller/To The Death, one of my favourite finales/Dalek stories ever. If you want to get a good idea of what it’s like, imagine Journey’s End as written by George R.R. Martin. Yep. That dark/shocking/depressing/bloody brilliant).

But the Doctor here hasn’t lived through any of that – while he’s still more than aware of how dangerous and reckless the Monk can be, he hasn’t reached the point of completely hating him, either. A point I can certainly never reach: Graeme Garden is delightfully charming in the role. As I’ve mentioned, childlike but intelligent, both the writers and the actor have continued to avoid the trap of making the character just another copy of the Master, and instead continued the legacy that writer Dennis Spooner and actor Peter Butterworth created fifty years ago.

The Secret History is a fantastic way for Big Finish to celebrate it’s 200th main range release. It not only shows just how far Big Finish have come since releasing The Sirens of Time back in 1999, with a mix of an 80s Doctor, 60s companions and their own fresh take of a brilliant villain, but in it’s own right, it’s both a great science fiction story and a great drama, too. 9/10

Doctor Who: Damaged Goods & The Well-Mannered War Review

In the 1990s, Virgin published two series of novels that told brand new stories of Doctor Who – one range for the Seventh Doctor, the ‘current’ Doctor at the time (the New Adventures), and the other for the first six (the Missing Adventures). These stories were designed to be darker, more adult and have more depth than the original TV series. How well this worked is debatable, as for some writers, this meant more violence plus added swearing and even sex scenes, things that a family TV show would have never allowed, but its undeniable that the books have their own very devoted fanbases. I’ve been reading the New Adventures in order very, very gradually (I’m only about 5 books in so far), but I’m appreciating their take on the 7th Doctor and how much darker and slightly more morally-ambiguous his Doctor started to become.

Within the past couple of years, Big Finish productions have been adapting a number of these novels as full-cast audio drama, and so far, I’ve greatly enjoyed them all. The two stories that have been released this month – both individually in standard releases and together in a limited edition – are both very significant. The Well-Mannered War was the final story published in the Missing Adventures range as well as originally written by the excellent Gareth Roberts, while Damaged Goods (which I’ll be reviewing first) was the first ever Doctor Who story written by Russell T. Davies.

Damaged Goods

I have never read the original novel, but, even while it’s been adapted by someone else (the ever excellent and reliable Jonathan Morris), still has that clear Russell T. Davies feel to it, not just as a Doctor Who story but in general. There’s a rather urban feel to it, with a focus on a family living on a council estate (and even having the surname of Tyler, although no relation to THAT Tyler), there’s a heap of more down-to-Earth human drama mixed in with all the sci-fi shenanigans, and all the characters are well-written with very human problems. It’s also incredibly dark, in fact possibly one of the darkest Russell T. Davies stories I’ve experienced yet, almost making the story feel like a cross between Doctor Who and Torchwood. More than that – it feels like a combination of both shows at their very, very best.

There were a number of stories that Russell T. Davies wrote for TV Who that I wasn’t too keen on, (especially Love & Monsters,) and some of his stories and villains weren’t really up to scratch, but when he was good, he was damn fucking good. Usually, this was because ironically he limited the sci-fi to a very small idea that allowed a lot of drama to flow – Midnight is one of my favourite episodes because how much it focuses on human paranoia, and how it turns a bunch of really likeable characters into complete monsters within 45 minutes, and The Waters of Mars is more about the dilemma one man faces over whether he can change history or let it take its course. (Like the excellent Star Trek episode The City at the Edge of Forever, but with zombies.) I do wonder if the faster-pace of the new era sometimes meant that other stories of his suffered because of how rushed they were, especially after listening to something as excellent as Damaged Goods, a story nicely spread over 2 hours, only includes just the right amount of science-fiction, and allows the human drama and horror to flow throughout.

The story flows beautifully, giving you very clear visuals and really drawing you in, and there are so many great performances. Sylvester McCoy is brilliant as ever, playing a Seventh Doctor that is still more concerned about the larger picture than with human problems. Michelle Collins, a casting choice I was initially surprised by, is fantastic as the mother of the family, as she plays someone who’s made a very difficult choice that is haunted by the consequences of that choice, but I think my favourite character of the story is the horrifying Eva Jericho. Another mother, but one who’s rapidly losing her sanity, she becomes the worst kind of monster. I’m not going to spoil anything, but when I found out what the title “Damaged Goods” actually referred to, I was completely and utterly horrified. And, as I’ve said in an earlier blog, that’s one of my favourite things about watching, reading or, in this case, listening to Doctor Who – to be scared or horrified as much as possible. 5/5

The Well-Mannered War

This Fourth Doctor and Romana story is, in some ways, a much lighter story, but still incredibly enjoyable.

It begins with our two key heroes arriving in the far future in the middle of a war, although a rather unusual one – while the two sides in this conflict claim to be ‘at war’, no lives have yet to be taken, and in fact the two opposing forces seem to get on rather well with each other. And then of course, as soon as the Doctor and Romana arrive, the words “escalated” and “quickly” immediately spring to mind.

This is clearly a Gareth Roberts story, as its got a huge Douglas Adams influence, full of colourful characters and aliens and wonderful dialogue. It’s also very grand science-fiction that’s also fun, in some ways the equal and opposite of Damaged Goods.

This would be the fourth adaptation of a Gareth Roberts story that Big Finish have done. It’s also my favourite. There’s a rich amount of complexity in this story that makes you wonder how all the strands come together. It’s very gradual, but it really draws you in. There’s also a fantastic mix of comedy and horror within the story, and the number of characters that are hilarious, funny and yet feel distinctly true to life (especially Stokes as brilliantly performed by Michael Troughton) are wonderful to hear. It also has a fantastic ending that’s incredibly memorable – in fact, the ending was the only thing I knew about the story before going in to listen to it. Even when I knew it was coming though, it sent shivers down my spine and I adored it. It’s the kind of ending that’s bold and built up incredibly well and really shows just how flexible Doctor Who storytelling can be.

I really enjoyed The Well-Mannered War. It’s complex, full of colourful characters, and a really fun story to listen to. 5/5

Overall, these two very different stories work really well together. They’re two very different but equally great examples of exactly the kind of storytelling that Doctor Who is capable of: stories full of humour, horror, tragedy, darkness and even pure joy. They’re also two further examples of exactly why Big Finish are so great, translating two stories originally written in novel form for the very tricky medium of audio. Once again, through the excellent production team, including adapters Johnathan Morris and John Dorney, director Ken Bentley, and of course, the brilliant cast for both stories, these stories find a brand new way to come alive for listeners both old and new. One of my favourite releases of the year so far.

(One more thing – anyone who’s a fan of Russell T. Davies, get the special edition of this set directly through bigfinish.com. There’s a bonus disc included with the Limited Edition CD set already that includes behind the scenes stuff for both stories, but you can also download an extended version that’s two hours long, and it’s more than worth it to hear Russell T. Davies himself interviewed, both for his experience when he originally wrote his first ever Doctor Who story and how enthusiastic he clearly is for Big Finish. Absolutely beautiful listen and worth every penny for that little extra feature alone.)

Film Review – It Follows

It Follows is a wonderfully refreshing horror. It’s not a slasher, it’s not a ‘found footage’ movie and, bar one or two very nasty scenes, it doesn’t rely on an abundance of gore, either. It’s just a very well made film with a very neat little idea that provides plenty of suspense and does it very, very well.

I’m reluctant to go into too much detail of the plot – half of the reason  of why I wanted to watch this film was the teaser trailer, which told me almost nothing, and that worked beautifully at capturing the film’s essence because, like so many great horror films like Halloween and Alien (the original films, at least), it’s more about the unknown and the fear of that that makes this film terrifying.

What I will say is that the plot focuses on teenager Jay who, after having sex with someone, finds herself stalked by something. I won’t say what that something is (and to be honest, by the end of the film, it’s still not exactly made clear what it is, and that was something I really liked about it,) only that it doesn’t run, it doesn’t walk through solid walls or any of the usual cheap horror tricks you’d expect, and that was something I really appreciated. But it doesn’t stop either.

Some of my favourite horror stories are really great at taking something ordinary – the dark; shadows; statues; dreams – and make them absolutely terrifying. This is the first horror film I’ve seen since the original Halloween that has made fucking walking absolutely fucking scary. Just walking. And that’s the real beauty of this film. You’ll be watching scenes as closely as possible to see if there’s anyone or anything in the background that’s walking at all, coming closer and closer. And then, when the film’s over, you’ll be paranoid of anyone who’s walking towards ya. I haven’t felt that paranoid after watching a horror for a good long while, and that’s something I was really impressed with over this film.

Lead actress Maika Monroe is great in this. The character of Jay needed to be played convincingly with a lot of vulnerability to really draw us in, someone who gets pushed to their absolute limit and beyond, and she portrayed that beautifully. After appearing in last year’s excellent action/horror The Guest, she could very well end up as a ‘scream queen’ for modern horror if she keeps this up.

I mentioned earlier about how closely you’ll be watching this film, and I’d just like to mention that the film in general is shot really well. There’s plenty of really great wide shots that build up the suspense really nicely (is that person walking towards us actually a person, or is it…?), and some nice close-ups, too. In fact, the whole cinematography of this film is just fantastic, and really adds a lot, especially in the climax – there are plenty of horror movies where the suspense is gone towards the end, but this isn’t one of them, and, while I won’t explain why, there were quite a few points when I was ducking at times, something that I just don’t ever do.

I’d also like to mention the soundtrack. It’s fucking gorgeous. Reminiscent of 80s horror soundtracks while avoiding being derivative, it’s the kind of electronic, synthesized music that you just don’t hear anymore in horror films these days, something else that reminded me of last year’s The Guest.

The only niggles I have are ones that this film could’ve avoided – namely, a couple of moments that I just thought were really, really dumb, done to provide more suspense at the cost of potentially ruining the suspension of disbelief. One such example gave me the following reaction: “HOLYSHITHOLYSHITHOLYSHIT, THIS IS GETTING REALLY- wait, why are you running up the stairs? This thing will FOLLOW you, no matter where you go, but it only walks and you can run away easily with enough space, and instead of being near an easy exit, you run UP THE FUCKING STAIRS?!” (Not that I said any of this out loud, obviously.) It’s something that’s bad enough to see in an average horror film, but this film has such a great concept and is so well made that it makes it even more of a shame that it includes very old horror cliches like this from time to time. However, these moments are thankfully rare and fail to ruin the overall enjoyment of the film.

If you’re looking for something that’s reminiscent of classic 70s and 80s horror while also providing something fresh, then this is definitely a must-see. 9/10