Saturday, 20 April 2013

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Sometimes two films with similar themes will come out at more or less the same time as each other. Antz and A Bug's Life came out within a few months of other. The Matrix and Equilibrium came out within a few months of each other. The Prestige and The Illusionist came out in the same year. In 2012 we had two Snow White films: Mirror Mirror came out first and that was followed by Snow White and the Huntsman a few months later. Of the two Snow White and the Huntsman did far better at the box office, making $396 million worldwide compared to Mirror Mirror's $166 million. However, the critical and audience reactions to both of the films were far more mixed. The majority of the critics felt that Mirror Mirror was visually stunning but they also felt it was silly and lacking in depth and originality. However some dissenting critics out there liked Mirror Mirror and it does have a slightly higher rating on than Snow White and the Huntsman.

I really didn't think I'd like Mirror Mirror. This was mainly because of its rubbish trailer that had the "Snow way!" line (thankfully that line isn't actually in the film). Mirror Mirror isn't slightly better than Snow White and the Huntsman though, I think it's much better! In the end I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this film!

In Mirror Mirror Snow White's mother dies and her father then marries another woman, the Evil Queen (Julia Roberts). Snow White's father than goes off to fight a great evil and mysteriously vanishes. He is never seen or heard of again. The Evil Queen then takes the throne and rules in his absence for 10 years. She also keeps Snow White locked up in the castle during this time but Mirror Mirror's Snow White (Lily Collins) has an easier time of it than Snow White and the Huntsman's Snow White. Mirror Mirror's Snow White still gets to sleep in a beautiful bedroom and still gets to roam around the castle and talk to people. However, Snow White decides to violate her house arrest for one day so she can see her kingdom. She sneaks out of the castle and bumps into the charming, handsome and wealthy Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) in the forest. They go their separate ways but they're instantly smitten. Alcott then shows up at Snow White's castle as he's been robbed by bandit dwarfs and wants to seek shelter. The Queen instantly makes plans to marry Alcott when she finds out that he's from a wealthy kingdom and is filled with jealousy when she sees Snow White and Alcott talking together. She then orders her manservant to take Snow White to the forest and feed her to the Beast that lives there. The manservant spares Snow White though and she ends up meeting the Dwarfs. Snow White befriends the Dwarfs and they soon make plans to defy the Queen. This gives Snow White the chance to remove the Queen from the throne, save her kingdom, and find true love.

Mirror Mirror is the polar opposite of Snow White and the Huntsman. It's much more family-friendly and it never ever tries to be a dark adaptation of the admittedly dark Grimm Brothers fairytale. Instead Mirror Mirror is more of a live-action, modernised update of the classic Disney film. It even has Nathan Lane (Timon from The Lion King) starring in it as the Evil Queen's servant and long-time Disney composer Alan Menken providing the music. Mirror Mirror is much more light-hearted than Snow White and the Huntsman and there's no gritty realism in it whatsoever. Instead the film positively embraces the fact that it's based on a fairytale. It has a beautiful animated opening, a clifftop castle, a mysterious beast that lives in a forest, and extravagant parties with vibrant costumes and lavish production values. The director Tarsem Singh is known for being very visually inventive and the film is bursting with light and colour. The costumes and sets in this film are gorgeous, especially the costumes which bagged the film an Oscar nomination. I loved the visuals in this film and it was such a nice contrast to the dark and dreary-looking Snow White and the Huntsman. I really don't understand why Mirror Mirror has been criticised for being lacking in originality and inventiveness either. In Mirror Mirror the Queen actually goes inside the Mirror and is transported into a different world. She literally becomes consumed by her own appearance. The Dwarfs use stilts to make themselves look like giants. There's a scene where the Evil Queen tries to kill Snow White with some giant, wooden puppets. When we see the Beast it looks like a bizarre hybrid between a dog, a snake and a dragon. There's even a Bollywood-style song and dance number at the end of the film!

The acting is far better in Mirror Mirror than it is in Snow White and the Huntsman as well. In this film Snow White is played by Lily Collins, who's actually the daughter of Phil Collins. Even though I haven't seen her acting in anything else I think Collins is a pretty good actress from watching this film. Her Snow White is certainly far more likeable and appealing than Kristen Stewart's Snow White. Lily Collins' Snow White is adorable, innocent, kind, brave, resourceful, clever and funny. She kicks ass a lot more convincingly than Kristen Stewart's too. They actually bothered to throw in a training montage in this film! Collins is hands down the better Snow White and she even looks the part more than Kristen Stewart. That's not to say that Kristen Stewart isn't attractive but Collins is really beautiful and I think she looks a little bit like Audrey Hepburn.

Snow White's love-interest in this film is Prince Alcott. He's played by Armie Hammer who is probably most famous for playing the Winklevoss Twins in The Social Network. Hammer provides some comic relief, his character is likeable, and he and Collins have great chemistry. Surprisingly even Julia Roberts is good in this film! I've never been a Julia Roberts fan and I've always thought she was a very overrated actress. After seeing her in this film I still don't think she's a great actress but she did give the sort of performance that this film needed and she clearly had a lot of fun. Another great thing about Mirror Mirror is that the Dwarfs get much more screentime in this film than the Dwarfs in Snow White and the Huntsman, and their characters are much better fleshed-out too. OK they're still not massively well-developed characters but you do get much more of a sense of their individual personalities. It's really nice that the Dwarfs are actually played by Dwarfs as well.

Mirror Mirror certainly isn't a masterpiece and I still had some issues with it. Not all of the "funny" bits are actually funny and, yes, the film is a bit silly and cheesy at times. Also, even though Mirror Mirror seems to be set somewhere in Europe almost everyone has an American accent in it. However I still really enjoyed this film. It doesn't take itself too seriously and it's charming, funny and entertaining. It had me laughing out loud at times. Mirror Mirror also features superb visuals and engaging performances. You get the sense that the actors really enjoyed making this film and I actually cared about the characters. Oh, and there's a great cameo at the end as well!

Rating: 4/5

Monday, 15 April 2013

'Frenchman's Creek' by Daphne du Maurier (1941)

Synopsis: Lady Dona makes a sudden visit to her husband's remote estate in Cornwall after becoming bored and weary of her lifestyle in London. Dona then discovers that the estate, unoccupied for years, is being used as a base by a notorious French pirate who is raiding the Cornish coast. Dona then meets this pirate and they embark on an affair.

I had very different reactions to the three Daphne du Maurier novels that I read before this one. I loved Rebecca, really liked My Cousin Rachel and really disliked Jamaica Inn. This book is only marginally better than Jamaica Inn.

Frenchman's Creek is another historical novel from du Maurier only this time it's set during the Restoration rather than the 19th century setting of Jamaica Inn. It also features a heroine who falls for a sexy French pirate. It sounds like a really fun and exciting read, right? Is it a really fun and exciting read? Erm... no. In order for me to enjoy a romance novel - and du Maurier did consider this to be her only romance novel - I really need to care about the characters and their romance. Here, I couldn't. Frankly I couldn't have cared less about Lady Dona and her lover. See I've even forgotten his name so that only goes to show just how little I cared! I felt no real passion or love between these characters and their romance was boring.

Lady Dona is a particularly irritating character as well. She didn't irritate me quite as much as Mary Yellan did in Jamaica Inn but she certainly came close! She's extremely shallow and selfish. She shows no love or even an interest in her children. She's happy to leave her children with her servants for days on end so she can go off and help her lover steal from her neighbours. The only reason why she decides to have an affair and steal from her neighbours in the first place is simply because she's bored. She'd be sent to prison or hanged if she got caught of course but the thought of leaving her children without a mother is obviously no big concern of hers!

This book does have some nice descriptive passages and I didn't hate it as much as Jamaica Inn so that's a bonus at least. And I will keep reading du Maurier's books because she's still one of my favourite writers and I know that she's capable of far, far better than this.

Rating: 2/5

Monday, 8 April 2013

Doctor Who (Series Three)

After series two of Doctor Who there was a special hour-long Christmas episode called The Runaway Bride and then a third series. The Runaway Bride aired on Christmas Day 2006 and the third series of Doctor Who aired in late March 2007. By the time series three came out it was obvious that the revived Doctor Who had been a success because it had been firmly established as being one of the most popular TV shows in Britain. Series two had been hugely popular and had proved that series one had been no fluke. The public also loved David Tennant. Christopher Eccleston's Doctor had been well-received but the public loved Tennant more. After just one series many considered him to be one of the best Doctors ever and possibly the best. Yet there was still some pressure on the show with many wondering if it could still maintain its level of popularity. This was due to the departure of the series one and two companion Rose Tyler. Rose had been a very well-received character and Billie Piper - despite many eyebrows being raised at her casting - had won much praise for her acting. The new companion for series three would be the character Martha Jones, who was played by Freema Agyeman. Martha and Agyeman never really became as popular and well-loved as Rose and Piper but the show continued to be a huge success and the series three ratings were pretty much the same as the series two ratings.

This post is going to be overview of series three and in other posts I'll review the episodes themselves in more depth. In many ways series three is very enjoyable. David Tennant is a fantastic Doctor and is still able to give great performances in even the worst episodes. Had it not been for his brilliance as an actor I think I might very well have given up on Doctor Who. The new companion helps to give the show a fresh feel as well. In my eyes Martha is a far better companion than Rose and a lot more likeable. There are fewer modern-day episodes in series three and we get more episodes that are set in the future and the past - more actual time travel then. There are some awesome episodes in series three too! In fact this series features my favourite stories of the David Tennant/Russell T Davies era: Human Nature/Family of Blood and Blink. Sadly though there's also a lot that's wrong with this series. Although I'll always be grateful to Russell T Davies for reviving Doctor Who the quality of the show was very variable and inconsistent in his time as the showrunner and I don't think he's that much of a writer. The best episodes of the show during his era weren't usually written by him and most of the worst episodes were. Smith and Jones and The Shakespeare Code are the sole highlights of the first half  of series three and the finale of the series is pretty terrible and massively frustrating. The Master is a disappointing villain, the episodes are full of plot holes and the Doctor is turned into a stupid-looking Dobby-like creature and put in a birdcage! I wish I could permanently erase that image from my mind! Helen Raynor's Dalek two-parter episode of this series is also dreadful.

The Doctor
I think made it very clear in my series two review how much I loved David Tennant's Doctor. Tennant's acting is terrific in this series as well but the writing occasionally lets him down. He gets some very bad episodes in this series with the Dalek two-parter and the series' finale being the worst culprits.  Also the Doctor comes across as annoying at times. Even though Rose isn't in this series her presence is certainly felt because the Doctor won't shut up about her! Billie Piper deserved to have her name included in the credits due to the amount of times Rose's name was mentioned. The Doctor's pining and moping for Rose gets very annoying. Why does the Doctor spend so much time pining after Rose anyway? I get that he cared about her a great deal and that he loved her but he didn't spend episode after episode pining after Reinette in series two. I suspect that it's because RTD created Rose and he loves her. The Doctor comes across as downright dismissive towards Martha at times as well. He makes a very insensitive comment towards her in The Shakespeare Code and he insists upon Martha having an unfair one-trip only policy in the early episodes: "You get one trip and one trip only! Actually I'll let you have one more. But don't think you'll be having another!"

However, in the second half of the series, the Doctor's relationship with Martha improves and he begins to treat her better. He acknowledges that she's more than just a passenger in The Lazarus Experiment, he's clearly concerned about her in 42, he trusts her with his life and is completely dependent upon her in Human Nature/Family of Blood, and he trusts her to save the world in The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords. Tennant gets better material in the second half of the series too - until the finale - especially with the episodes Human Nature/Family of Blood and Blink. These are fantastic episodes and are two of the best Doctor Who stories ever. Tennant really gets the chance to shine in these stories and to showcase what a fantastic actor he is. In Human Nature/Family of Blood he gives a magnificent performance as John Smith, the Doctor, and the Doctor-pretending-to-be-John-Smith. Tennant gives a brilliant performance in Blink too even though the Doctor is barely in it. Tennant is a fantastic actor and I loved his portrayal of the Doctor : )

The Companion
I personally never liked Rose Tyler but a lot of people did. Freema Agyeman had some very big shoes to fill coming into Doctor Who then. After having a minor role as Adeola Jones in the series two episode Army of Ghosts, Agyeman came back to play her characters' own cousin Martha Jones in series three. Martha Jones gets a really bad rap as a companion and is a very under-appreciated character. I may be in the minority here but I think Martha was a big improvement on Rose and was very likeable. She was much more intelligent, independent and resourceful than Rose ever was. Also, the fact that she was a medical student and had her own set of skills meant that she didn't need the Doctor to give her a sense of purpose and identity. Martha is at her best in the Human Nature/Family of Blood, 42 and Smith and Jones episodes because these are the ones in which she gets to show her best qualities. Unfortunately, RTD also decided to make Martha have an unrequited love for the Doctor and the fans found it annoying - and it was annoying. I'm sure most women would fall in love with Tennant's Doctor if they were travelling with him but Martha's longing gazes at the Doctor and her "The Doctor is so wonderful. Oh, why doesn't he love me?" attitude does her character no favours. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if RTD had had Martha slowly get over her crush on the Doctor as the series progressed but that didn't happen. Having said that, is Martha's pining for the Doctor any more annoying than Rose's pining for him in series two? Rose acts in exactly the same way as Martha does for most of that series but for some reason the Rose fans find her crush on the Doctor cute and adorable and find Martha's crush on the Doctor annoying - and they dislike Martha for it. That's not fair is it?! Quite frankly I find Martha's crush on the Doctor a lot more bearable than Rose's. At least Martha has other good qualities that make up for it which is more than can be said for Rose in my opinion. I think it's a real shame that many fans don't like Martha much, especially since Martha is the first "major" companion of the Doctor to be black. It makes those complaints from fans about her not being Rose even more sad. I really liked Martha and I think she's more appreciated now than she was when she was actually on the show. Agyeman did a great job on Doctor Who as well. There are a few moments when she's a bit wooden but her acting is still really good on the whole and she's able to make Martha likeable.

Recurring Characters
In series one and two Rose's mother Jackie and her boyfriend Mickey featured in all the modern-day episodes. This is true of Martha's family in series three but Martha's family is even more annoying than Rose's. OK, Martha's brother Leo and her sister Tish are fine. It may also interest some that Leo is played by Radio One DJ and Rastamouse actor Reggie Yates. However Martha's parents are much more irritating even if they're both well-acted. It seems that Martha's dad Clive has had some sort of mid-life crisis and has hooked up with some bimbo who's half his age. Mind you, Martha's mum Francine comes across as such a moany cow that I'm not surprised Clive has had enough! Francine is even more annoying than Jackie! Also Martha's larger family means that no-one gets the character development that Jackie, Mickey and Pete got in their time on the show. If Martha had had another series as a companion then I imagine her family would have probably got more development but this wasn't the case.

Captain Jack Harkness appeared in the final five episodes of series one and was then given his own spin-off show called Torchwood. At the end of that show's first series Jack spots the TARDIS at Cardiff Bay and runs towards it. This then leads to Jack appearing in the final three episodes of this series. I'm surprised they bothered! Jack gets barely anything to do and his character is completely wasted. As I've never really watched Torchwood I still think that Jack's best episode is his introduction story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. 

Throughout series three there are references to a mysterious "Mr Saxon". This later turns out to be the Master, the Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes and the villain of the series' last three episodes. He's played by Derek Jacobi in Utopia before he regenerates and is then played by John Simm in the series' finale. I liked the Master's theme music and Derek Jacobi gives a very impressive performance in Utopia. His Master is believably evil and menacing and I'd have loved him to have played the Master in the remaining episodes. I really didn't like how the Master was portrayed by Simm. His Master is far too over-the-top and zany and because of that he has no real menace whatsoever. Simm is a great actor though and, judging from recent comments he's made, the manic portrayal wasn't his idea. Another problem with the Master's character in these episodes is that he apparently hears a constant dream beat in his head. This stems from his childhood and it turned him mad and evil. This isn't a bad idea but from what I've read it doesn't really fit in with past portrayals of his character. 

My favourite episodes of series three: 
  • Human Nature/Family of Blood (by Paul Cornell)
  • Blink (by Steven Moffat)
  • The Shakespeare Code (by Gareth Roberts)
  • 42 (by Chris Chibnall)
My least favourite episodes of series three: 
  • Daleks of Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks (by Helen Raynor)
  • The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (by Russell T Davies)
  • Gridlock (by Russell T Davies)
My favourite guest stars of series three:
  • Carey Mulligan in Blink
  • Jessica Hynes, Harry Lloyd and Thomas Sangster in Human Nature/Family of Blood
  • Andrew Garfield in Daleks of Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
  • Derek Jacobi in Utopia

The episodes of series three summarised:

0. The Runaway Bride (written by Russell T Davies) 
This episode is the 2006 Christmas special and it introduces Donna Noble, who would eventually become the series four companion. I know a lot of fans really dislike this episode. Well, it's definitely not a great episode and Donna Noble is really obnoxious and grating for the first 20 minutes. However, Donna becomes more bearable after that and I love the motorway scene with the TARDIS weaving in and out of cars. I love the scene where the Doctor drowns the spider babies as well. I love the look on Tenannt's face in that scene.  He just looks so cold and dead behind the eyes. It really shows how dark and dangerous the Doctor can be when he's pushed to his limits and I think it's a bit of a shame we didn't see get to see this side of the Doctor more often in the Tennant run.
1. Smith and Jones (written by Russell T Davies)
I'm not a huge fan of this episode but it's pretty enjoyable and the best series opener of the RTD era. It's fun, the story is good, and it's a brilliant introduction for Martha. She's an immediately more likeable companion than Rose! 
2. The Shakespeare Code (written by Gareth Roberts)
This is a pretty fun episode and one of my favourites from series three. This is despite the fact that I don't really like how Shakespeare is written as a arrogant, womanising loudmouth and I don't like it when the Doctor tells Martha that he wishes Rose was still with him as well - that's really insensitive! But this episode is visually stunning, there's a lot of humour, and this is another great episode for Martha.
3. Gridlock (written by Russell T Davies)
I really dislike this episode. It's full of plot-holes, it has a weak plot, and the final revelation that the Doctor isn't  alone in the universe is underwhelming. It had already been announced that the Master was coming back for series three. I only like the final five minutes of this episode are really good. The Doctor finally opens up to Martha and Tennant's acting is lovely.
4-5. Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks (written by Helen Raynor)
Awful, absolutely awful! The story is an absolute mess. It's badly-written. The Daleks and the Doctor act out-of-character. There's some bad acting from the supporting actors (Miranda Raison, Ryan Carnes, Eric Loren). I could go on and on!
6. The Lazarus Experiment (written by Stephen Greenhorn)
A pretty underrated episode in my opinion. I admit that there's some bad CGI and that Martha's mother is very annoying but Mark Gatiss does a great job as the villain, the final showdown at the cathedral is great. and from this point onwards the Doctor begins to treat Martha better. 
7. 42 (written by Chris Chibnall)
Another underrated episode. Sure it's very similar to The Impossible Planet/The Satan's Pit from series two but it's still a really good episode. David Tennant is terrific, the supporting cast are all really good, it's fast-paced and tense and I even like the pub quiz element. 
8-9. Human Nature/Family of Blood (written by Paul Cornell)
My absolute favourite Doctor Who story of the RTD era and one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who stories in general. It's absolutely amazing. David Tennant is magnificent. Freema Agyeman gives her best performance in the whole show. It has a brilliant story. The supporting cast are excellent. The script is intelligent and thought-provoking. It's flawless!
10. Blink (written by Steven Moffat)
Another one of my favourite Doctor Who stories ever! It's also flawless! It's brilliantly-written, the Weeping Angels are fantastic villains, and Sally Sparrow is a brilliant character. I could go on and on about this episode!
11. Utopia (written by Russell T Davies)
A pretty overrated episode in my opinion. Apart from the final 10 minutes it's really not that great and the story is lacking. Martha gets very little to do as well.
12-13. The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords (written by Russell T Davies)
Terrible. The Master is far too OTT. There are annoying and pointless celebrity cameos. There's bad pop music. Captain Jack is wasted and he gets barely anything to do. The Doctor gets turned into Dobby. The resolution is a massive deus ex machina. It's awful!