Doctor Who returns in: The Bells of St John | Review | TV

You have to love the film style posters.Jarring series naming conventions aside (Series 7 part 2 hardly rolls off the tongue), the resurgence of Matt Smith as Doctor Who on the box is always a time of excitement, but will this short injection of episodes prove its worth.

The ball began rolling with ‘The Bells of Saint John’, one of Steven Moffat’s more quirkily-named episodes. The story itself begins back in the 1200s as the Doctor ponders the meaning of Clara Oswin Oswald, “the woman twice dead”.

Oswald, played by young newcomer and guaranteed ‘tween’ pin-up Jenna-Louise Coleman, is the latest conundrum the Doctor can’t quite work out. Like River Song before her, the Doctor is left with more questions after every meeting, having run into her first in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ and then again in last year’s Christmas special, but as two different people from two different time periods and locations – and yet they have a lot of common similarities.

The phrase ‘Run you clever boy’ seems to be the recurring theme for this half of the series, along with discovering Oswald’s identity. Luckily this is an exciting prospect as Coleman creates such a likeable character instantly.

The story uses another clever reflection on modern society in focusing on wi-fi, on of the most prolific technologies across the globe.The most ironic way to watch the episode is through BBC iPlayer at a particularly busy time of day, forcing the video to buffer now and again when you least expect it, somehow it really adds to the unnerving side of the experience.

This plus using The Shard as a setting gives the story a really topical feel. In an attempt to remain spoiler-free we won’t go into the details, but needless to say when the Doctor is around it means trouble.

Tearing it up on The ShardThe episode has the right ingredients but doesn’t quite match the drama of previous opener, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, not least because of the strength of the villain. The point Moffat is trying to make with this particular yarn is a strong one, but it is unfortunate that the visual style of the ‘monster’ of the episode borrows heavily from another Moffat story, ‘Silence in the Library’.

That said, there is plenty of fun to be had, with some excellent one-liners from the Doctor and bags of character from Coleman at every turn. As usual the sense of foreboding is there, with the audience constantly wondering what tiny detail will carry through this series, and equally one eye on the show’s past with self-references to make even relatively new fans smile. Also the Doctor has a new coat, its purple, and despite the look of the Shard poster (see above) it doesn’t really give him the Willy Wonka look some feared.

In all a strong start, and a memorable one, but not the strongest opener the series has seen. Certainly a step up from Christmas though (which ironically had the better monster but the worse story), and a solid base to grow the series from. Just a shame there’s so few episodes to look forward to.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Oz, The Great and Powerful | Review | Film

Oz, the Great and Powerful"Everyone knows the story of The Wizard of Oz. Whether it’s fond childhood memories from watching it at Christmas time with family on TV or recently discovering the classic tale, there’s no denying its status as a pillar of cinema.

A film with heart

From these nostalgic beginnings comes a prequel story about the man who shares his name with the wonderful world of Oz. Far from a great and powerful wizard, Oz’s story begins in the circus as we are introduced to the man behind the legend. In this case, that man is James Franco.

This black and white introductory sequence (in the now almost unheard of not widescreen format) is the strongest hark back to its predecessor…which is actually a sequel…and the tone fits alongside it neatly. The film feels like it belongs in that world, rather than just being a shameless cash-grab or spin-off.

Zach Braff of Scrubs fame stars as a (not evil) flying monkey
Zach Braff of Scrubs fame stars as a (not evil) flying monkey

A film with brains

Following a formula can often spell disaster for a film, but in this case, it’s where Oz is aware of its own shortcomings that it earns the most respect.

In one scene where townspeople are ripe to burst into song, Franco shuts them down with a word and his cheesiest grin, perhaps reflecting the attitude to characters bursting into song on celluloid. Elsewhere the parallels between the characters of Oz and their real-world counterparts are sometimes subtle, using imagery as well as choice words or phrases to make connections.

The cast tick all the boxes, no one personality dominates and they all fit together to cover the spectrum of good, evil and something inbetween. Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff are the big names other than Franco himself, and do themselves justice here.

There’s the odd moment where you have to suspend disbelief, but with the film being set in a magical land (which may or may not all be in Oz’s head) these moments don’t always come where you might expect them.

A film with courage?

Going up against a legacy is bold, but the film shys away from really making the story its own. There isn’t a lot going on here, aside from the age-old struggle of good vs evil and right vs wrong, and at times this can cause the plot to drag.

Not that the film itself seems too bloated. At over two hours it just about gets away with its run time without grinding to a halt at any point, which is a testament to both the group of writers who wove the narrative together and veteran director Sam Raimi who made the magic happen.

The visual effects look incredibly vivid and saturated, in a fairly trademark Disney way, but the excess of CGI (albeit well done) gives the film a somewhat cartoony feel at times, which is a shame after the simple, bare bones realism of the opening – or as real as you can get when you are dealing with a magician.

Raimi’s history with Franco (in the original Spider-Man trilogy) must have helped bring the film together, and Franco brings more depth to Oz than you might expect at first glance.

Really though, the credit can be shared equally around the cast and crew for their collaborative effort on a film which might not be great and powerful, but has moments of wonder which are more than enough for a family day out.

Rating: 3/5

James Michael Parry

Reading Festival 2013: The headliners | Feature | Music

Reading 2013After months of teasing, Festival Republic have now revealed all three headliners for Reading and Leeds 2013, along with a handful of other names. Green Day, Eminem and Biffy Clyro are confirmed as the three big-hitters for what is, for many, the festival highlight of the year.

The question is, will they be any good?

The struggling pop punk heroes

TréGreen Day have not had an easy time of it. The band were forced to pull out of a recent US tour after leading man Billy Joe Armstrong was taken into rehab for drug dependency. This forced a swift and apologetic release of Tré – the third album released by the trio in the past year, with the first in the trilogy being imaginatively titled Uno and Dos.

After the height of success in 2004 and 2005 with American Idiot, the last time they headlined the main stage (even before the multi-million selling album was released), the band have been fighting hard to remain relevant.

Young up-starts like All Time Low and heavier alternatives like The Blackout have got the attention of the pop crowd. On the hardcore punk side, the sort of bands who dominate well-known punk institutions such as The Warped Tour, bands like The Wonder Years, Such Gold and Man Overboard keep the momentum of the genre without the highly polished production.

What is undeniable though is that the band did make a massive impression at their secret performance at Reading last year, and Billy Joe’s reputation for strong showmanship is well-founded. It remains to be seen whether the band have any new ideas to bring to the table as a headliner.

The wildcard act

EminemRappers have not had a great time at Reading in past years. 50 Cent famously got bottled off after 20 minutes, and Jay-Z didn’t even arrive, cancelling shortly before the event began.

Marshall Mathers III, has been quiet in recent years, with only ‘Crack a Bottle’, ‘Beautiful’ and ‘We Made You’ reaching the UK singles chart (and that was in 2009, four years ago). The days of ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Stan’ are behind him, making this a comeback gig.

Eminem has a lot stacked against him to get a rock audience on side, perhaps we can expect a rapped up rock cover or two? To win this audience, which will have its collective eyebrow firmly raised, Mathers will need all the excitement and atmosphere a live show can bring.

Despite the seemingly bleak setting, it’s worth remembering that Eminem is reportedly the biggest selling artist of the 2000s, and it’s likely everyone at the festival weekend will have heard at least one of his songs, if not three or four.

The more restrained image Eminem gives off these days may make him appear a bit more grown up, but this isn’t necessarily good for Reading. Clearly a big star in the pop world, Eminem has little foothold in ‘rock’ as a genre, with the fun tracks released as his alter ego Slim Shady being the most rock-friendly of the lot.

The man is absolutely there to promote his new album, rumoured to be coming out after Memorial Day in the US (the final Monday of May), but is he there for much else? You can’t expect a love poem to Reading like nice-guy Dave Grohl gave with Foo Fighters‘ set last year. Although he has had one previous headline performance, in 2001.

The Scotch alternative rockers

Biffy ClyroThese are the guys you should be definitely excited about. Biffy have played Reading on and off for the past 12 years, debuting on the smallest stage you could come across and working their way to the top through seven performances.

Latest album Opposites has gone down well with critics, and the band’s tour this year sold out in minutes. Things have never looked stronger for the band which began with Blackened Sky back in 2002.

To be trending up is a good thing, and immediately makes the group worthy of the highly sought-after Sunday night slot, which historically runs for another 20 minutes longer than the other nights.

Hits like ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Mountain’ scream for a further festival outing, and new tracks like ‘Black Chandelier’ are ripe to be picked by an eager and hungry audience.

The stage presence from the band has slowly risen over the years, to a level which is fit to explode and potentially blow the roof off the festival. As great as last year was, you can’t help but think that it was all a bit predictable. Hopefully with this mix of styles between the three nights there should at least be a nice breadth and variety to proceedings.

And still many more yet to come

Another one to watch for the weekend, and one which really shows that this is a festival with its finger on the pulse, is Skrillex, but expect more on him and the rest of the line up once more bands have been announced. For now, plenty of time to acquaint (or re-acquaint) yourself with the titular trios’ back catalogues.

Here’s what we have to look forward to:

James Michael Parry

Franchises and remakes: Same old story or a fresh perspective? | Feature | Entertainment

ScarfaceRolling out a re-tread of a tried and tested idea is (ironically) far from a new concept – in fact it has delivered some of the best films, games and even songs out there – but it also has a lot to answer for.

Tried and tested?

Look, a shiny new suit! What do you mean it looks exactly the same as the old one? Quiet I say!
Look, a shiny new suit! What do you mean it looks exactly the same as the old one? Quiet I say!

At present, only one or two films in IMDB’s top 250 are full remakes (though many are adapted from other sources such as books), so what is that makes Hollywood in particular so fond of taking a story for another spin?

The box office tells a different story however, with far more remakes getting a look in. Most recent of these is Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield, which controversially re-introduced the character last year, just 10 years after Tobey Maguire became the web-slinger in 2002. Of course, this case is technically a ‘re-boot’, which the viewing public seem to be more receptive to and forgiving of.

Sometimes, the remake is more successful than the original, such as Scarface (above) or The Man Who Knew Too Much, and can even go own to spawn a franchise of its own. With such inconsistency, it can be difficult to pick out whether the film has been judged on its own merits, or compared to its predecessor, something which often happens with a franchise.

The power of the franchise

Look into my eyes, boy
“What do you mean there isn’t another book?!”

In film in particular, there is a big emphasis on the strength of franchises. For the studio big-wigs, the box office numbers are king, so films can carry on for near-countless iterations before dying out, just because viewers are bought into the franchise. Often the subsequent films don’t even have the same characters, or actors, such as in later instalments of Home Alone or The Bourne Legacy.

In numbers terms, film series like Harry Potter or Twilight make great sense to studios, and so they continue to be churned out year after year, but will their massive commercial success mean they will never fall victim to being remade? (Well, it would give someone else a chance to play a slightly more emotive Bella).

It’s in the game

Dead stare-y heroin Jill Valentine wished she'd brought that HD grenade launcher
Dead stare-y heroin Jill Valentine wished she’d brought that HD grenade launcher

For games there are a variety of different types of remake. Popular with publishers at the moment is the ‘HD re-release’ (see Metal Gear Solid HD Collection). Not a remake per se, this allows games-makers to slap some hi-def polish on a game from 10 years ago and release it as a collection, which often serves to bring the younger gaming audience up to date in time for a new release in the franchise.

Another option, which is more costly and time-consuming, is the full remake, which often takes the game back to basics and gives it a full visual re-working, even adding in new content, such as Halo Anniversary or the Resident Evil Gamecube edition.

Play it again, Sam

When will it end?
When will it end?

The music industry re-releases songs like they are going out of fashion (in fact, a lot of the time, because they are going out of fashion), with a new Rolling Stones or Beatles ‘definitive’ Greatest Hits collection out every few years.

Music gets away with it somehow, perhaps due to it’s ‘timeless’ nature, but where it does drop the ball is the cover song. The lowest of all remakes, this takes a song we know and love and often minces it into a slurry which is poison to our ears. Case in point is anything uttered by hyperactive hair enthusiasts Jedward in the past few years.

On the other hand, a re-imagining can offer a new perspective to a song, such as Gary Jules’ more sombre and more thoughtful rendition of ‘Mad World’, or Gabrielle Aplin’s thoughtful and more sombre rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’. It just goes to show that the whole concept of recycling isn’t a massive waste of time as many have speculated.

So, what’s the point?

Classics like this would never exist if it weren't for remakes, just don't mention Ocean's Twelve. Did. Not. Happen.
Classics like this would never exist if it weren’t for remakes, just don’t mention Ocean’s Twelve. Did. Not. Happen.

As consumers we have a duty to demand the best. If we settle for less, that’s what we will end up with.

That said, there is value in the remake. Ocean’s Eleven and The Departed (to name just two) are way up our all-time top film lists, and the recent Devil May Cry reboot – DmC: Devil May Cry – proved to be far more engaging, stylish and entertaining than at least its immediate predecessor, but there is a danger in not taking a risk once in a while with a new IP.

The lesson is that just because a film, game or single might be from an established name, a long-running franchise, or based on a well-loved and well-used concept doesn’t guarantee its quality – good or bad.

So next time you splash your cash, think carefully whether you are investing because you like what you’ve already heard about it or just because you think you know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it can be a foregone conclusion of course, if you don’t like superheroes then probably the next Thor or X-Men isn’t for you, but sometimes if you take a risk and go in with no preconceptions, you might surprise yourself.

James Michael Parry