Spectre movie review


I had been looking forward to Daniel Craig’s fourth Bond movie Spectre for some time. So I made a point of going to the first available show on the first night it was on.

For the most part my review below will stay clear of major plot spoilers. However I will reference scenes if they have been shown in the various trailers. And there are probably one or two mild spoilers below.

The movie opens at the Day of the Dead carnival in Mexico City with what must be the most complex opening shot they have done on a Bond movie. In a long single shot the camera pans over crowds of people in costume and then closes in on what turns out to be Bond wearing a macabre skull mask. The camera follows him into a building and then onto the roof where some mayhem will soon follow.

Actually it looks like the shot was done in at least three segments and seamlessly joined together to make one longer shot. But it’s still damn impressive and thrilling to watch.

As seen in the trailer Bond was on an unauthorised mission to Mexico City and when we find out why it’s a nice little bit of business. He then enlists Moneypenny and Q to help him as he continues his off-the-books mission to Rome where he meets the Monica Bellucci character. Much has been made of her being a Bond girl at 50 and also that she’s not actually in the movie that much. But she plays her roll well as someone who fatalistically knows her days are numbered.

This leads us to one of my favourite scenes in the movie: the “Boardroom scene” that has been shown in the trailers. Here rich and powerful men and women are meeting in a dimly lit room to discuss their criminal enterprises in business speak. It is a genuinely creepy and menacing scene. It’d say it’s is one of the best “villain introduction” scenes done in a Bond movie. Ever. It makes the concept of an organisation like Spectre all too horribly plausible.


As well as a glimpse of Christop Waltz’s character Oberhauser we also get a introduced to Dave Bautista’s character Mister Hinx. He will keep popping up to plague Bond through the course of the move. Bautista is great casting as he makes the character feels like a real threat to Bond.

It’s Hinx that chases Bond in the movie’s main set piece car chase through the streets of Rome. Bond of course is in the new Aston Martin DB10. I’m not sure why but the car chase seemed a little bit flat to me and lacking jeopardy.

Also seen in the trailers was the reappearance of Mister White from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. I always enjoyed Jesper Christiansen as one of the best things in those two movies so it’s nice to seem him return and with a different dynamic with Bond.

Around the mid-point of the movie Lea Seydoux appears. She plays Madeleine Swann who is the main “Bond girl” of Spectre and has information that Bond needs to get to the mysterious organisation he has encountered. She is initially distrustful of Bond and wants nothing to do with him. Of course they end up working together. I have to say she’s one of my favourite Bond girls in ages. It’s always going to be hard to top Eva Green as Vesper in Casino Royale but Lea is very good.


Another of my favourite scenes is one featuring a fight on a train. These train fights have been done quite a few times in Bond movies ever since From Russia With Love set the benchmark. However I think it’s been a while since one has been included. This is a brutal fight between Bond and his ongoing foe Mister Hinx. Initially the fight unfolds without music which emphasises the impact of each punch. But the lack of music here is also a nice respite. I’ll have more to say about the music later on.

As glimpsed in the trailers this Spectre has a proper old-school secret base where they are orchestrating their global mayhem. Here Bond finally encounters his nemesis and I’ll say no more about that. However I will mention a torture scene that I think had most members of the audience squirming a bit.

So the first three-quarters of the movie is very strong. There are a good number of global locations visited and lots of efficiently done action. Plus I found the partnership between Bond and Swann very pleasing.


Then we come to the London-based climax. I don’t what to say anything about what the villain’s plot was but I will say it was painfully obvious to me from very early in the movie what it was going to be. It’s almost as if the writers weren’t even trying to hide it. And maybe they weren’t. But in case it was supposed to be a surprise I will say no more.

But in terms of the action in those London-set climatic sequences I do have to admit as it went along it started feeling, well… Perhaps just a little bit… silly. The implausibility factor really started kicking into play. Which is a pity as the Daniel Craig movies have always seemed to err just about on the side of plausibility for the most part.

Having said that I am reminded that a Bond movie called Diamonds Are Forever exists and this movie really can’t out-silly that one.

On an Ian Fleming related note there is a nice little nod to the James Bond short story The Hildebrand Rarity. I wonder if perhaps the makers are setting up the use of that title for a future movie.

Other than the slightly silly ending and the super-obvious villain’s plot my main criticism of the movie regards the music. At best it is serviceable but at worse it’s really quite poor. Thomas Newman doesn’t provide any actual theme for the movie. Plus he lifts whole chunks of his Skyfall soundtrack and drops them in. It’s either the height of laziness or the result of a compressed post-production schedule.

This is disappointing as the trailers had very impressive music. The second trailer in particular had that wonderful arrangement of John Barry’s theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I had high hopes that this movie might adopt that theme for some of the action sequences, but alas we get generic noisy movie music to accompany the action scenes. That’s why I was pleased that the train fight had no music. Because honestly I think no music is actually better than the music in this movie.

There are a number of callbacks to Daniel Craig’s previous entries in the series. For example there are some images used in the opening credits to link Spectre to its predecessors. Also there are nods to the earlier movies peppered through the running time.


Overall Spectre feels like the closest the makers have come to a classic Bond movie since the original Sean Connery films. It actually feels like a 1960s Bond movie updated for the 21st century in the style of Daniel Craig’s Bond. It actually feels a little bit like a Bond movie happening in the real world, if that makes sense. So you have some of the fantastical elements done with a little bit of grit as opposed to feeling like pure film fantasy.

Well, until the final act and some of the silly stuff happens.

So overall I rate Spectre highly. Perhaps 4/5.

Just to round things off I’ll quickly summarise the other Daniel Craig movies so you can see how it compares.

Casino Royale remains the best for me as it had a whole Ian Fleming novel to use as the basis for the story structure. Plus Eva Green as Vesper is one of the best Bond girls ever, if not the best ever. Witness Bond and Vesper with their verbal parrying on the train. And Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre is the best villain featured in a Bond movie for a very long time.

Quantum of Solace is the much unloved ugly duckling of the Daniel Craig movies. The editing is frenetic, it’s shockingly short and there’s almost too much action for the curtailed running time. But there are inspired moments when it tries to do things a Bond movie has never done before. I love the arty intercutting between the gunfight and what is happening onstage at the opera for example. Personally I’ve become very fond of it despite its flaws and it’s a favourite of mine. But I’ll accept that most people will put it at the bottom of their list.

Finally Skyfall was critically and commercially acclaimed. It’s a fine movie but I find it very hard to love. There’s something about it that I can’t connect with. I feel distant from the characters and what is happening on screen. And don’t get me started on the plot holes. For example, let’s have a showdown with Silva in the middle of nowhere. And. Not. Bring. Any. Guns. So personally I think that one is vastly overrated.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived review

I didn’t get around to reviewing last week’s episode The Girl Who Died so I’m going to do both parts of the story now.

Actually I found last week’s instalment, The Girl Who Died, a fairly slight but still agreeable story. Basically some aliens called the Mire are attacking a Viking village. The Doctor has to help save them in a Magnificent Seven kind of way. He gets help from a young girl called Ashildr who is played by Maisie Williams, who of course is well known for playing Arya on Game of Thrones.


Long story short, she dies. The Doctor initially is going to let her die but then there’s An Important Flashback to the Pompeii episode from the Tenth Doctors time. In that episode Capaldi played the father of the Roman family that Donna convinces the Tenth Doctor to save. So apparently that is the reason for the Twelfth Doctor choosing the Capaldi face.

Remembering this he resolves to save Ashildr by using some alien medical technology from a Mire helmet. This saves the girl but later the Doctor confesses to Clara that Ashildr will be pretty much immortal now as the alien technology will keep repairing her.

So overall it was an entertaining episode with the added bonus of seeing why the Doctor chose the face. But it’s pretty much just a set up for the second part of the story, The Woman Who Lived.

Here the Doctor arrives in the seventeenth century and encounters Ashildr again, only now she is a highwayman and goes by the name “Me”. She says she can hardly remember being Ashildr as she has lived so long. Indeed she has a library full of diaries which are her “memories”. Some have pages ripped out and says they are too painful to “remember”. She tries to convince the Doctor to take her with him on his travels but he refuses.


Much of the story deals with Ashildr and the Doctor trying to retrieve an amulet of alien origin but it’s really just a backdrop for them to discuss immortality. Ashildr seems dismissive of ordinary humans as their mayfly lifespans make them little more than smoke to her. The doctor has to try to convince her otherwise. So it’s an interesting dynamic to have with the Doctor talking to someone much like himself for once.

One of my favourite scenes had Rufus Hound as a rival highwayman Sam Swift who is about to be hanged. He’s practicing some (literally) gallows humour to keep the crowd entertained in order to delay the inevitable moment of his execution. The doctor is trying to save Sam’s life as well so there’s an impromptu double-act even down to some doctor-doctor jokes. Capaldi makes the unlikely premise work.


At the climax of the episode there’s some guff about the alien amulet opening a portal to another world to allow some lion aliens to attack. This eventually makes Ashildr realise that she cares for mere mortals after all.

Later she and the Doctor talk some more and he says he can’t take her with him as they both need the company of ordinary people to makes them appreciate life. Ashildr promises to keep an eye on the Doctor throughout history. He’s not quite sure if it’s a threat or not.

Later the Doctor is back in the Tardis and Clara arrives. She shows him a photo of herself with a pupil. The Doctor notices a contemporary Ashildr in the background looking into the camera. Apparently she has been keeping her promise to keep her eye on the Doctor.


So overall I quite enjoyed these two episodes. Some of the Doctor/Ashildr dialog was very good. And Capaldi is on top form.

Plus no Missy.

Back to the Future day DeLorean musings

Today is of course Back to the Future day, the day that Marty McFly traveled to in 2015. And it got me thinking about the DeLorean and how it was in multiple places at the same time in the movies.

Specifically it is in four places at once on the day of the Fish under the Sea dance, 12 November 1955.


1 – The original Delorean from 1985 arrived back in 1955 with Marty McFly making his first visit. Marty initially hid it at the entrance to Lyon Estates which was under construction. Later Doc Brown recovered it and stored it in his workshop for a week until the night of the Fish Under the Sea Dance.

2 – A ‘borrowed’ Delorean from 2015 arrived in the afternoon of 12 November 1955 so Old Biff could give the Almanac to Young Biff on the day of the Fish Under the Sea Dance. The Location where he parked it is unknown.

3 – Doc and Marty traveled back from Bad 1985 to 12 November 1955 in order to stop Biff using the Almanac and changing the future. They hid the car at the entrance to Lyon Estates.

4 – While all this is going on the broken DeLorean that took Doc back to the Old West was stored in a disused mine for 70 years from 1885 to 1955, so it’s still there while the events of BTTF2 are unfolding.

So in summary there’s a DeLorean in Doc’s workshop, one in a disused mine, one at the entrance to Lyon Estates and another one unaccounted for.

The same car in four places, all at the same time.

Great Scott!

At least I’m thinking fourth-dimensionally.

The Martian movie review

Please note there are spoilers contained in the following.

I’ve seen Ridley Scott’s new movie The Martian and here is my review.


I suppose I should preface this review by stating that this is exactly the kind of movie that appeals to me as it’s a very “nuts and bolts” depiction of near-future space travel that for the most part obeys the laws of physics.

This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir which is an entertaining page-turning thriller about how a lone astronaut could survive on Mars by using his knowledge of botany and chemistry and whatever resources were available.

The movie of course stars Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney who gets stranded on Mars after the Ares III mission is aborted. His five colleagues leave him behind believing him dead. When he recovers consciousness he discovers he’s has been abandoned and he has no way to communicate with Earth. As with the book he inventories his food supplies and starts to grow potatoes to have enough food to last the four years it could take to get a rescue mission to him.

Of course as the story progresses various problems are thrown an him, some of which are immediately life-threatening, and he has to deal with each of the problems as he goes.


The movie is largely faithful to the book with most of the main plot developments included. Some sequences were excised to keep the running time to two hours, for example some incidents in Watney’s journey across Mars were dropped from the book.

The movie does not stick with Matt Damon through the whole running time. It splits it’s time between Watney on Mars, the five other Ares crew members on the spacecraft Hermes returning to Earth – initially unaware that their fellow crew-member is still alive – and the NASA people back at Mission Control on Earth.

Obviously of the cast Matt Damon has the largest chunk of screen time. He has to make his video diary entries an engaging way for the audience to see how he is solving the problems. As with the book the character uses his sense of humour to survive. However Damon does get to do what I call “The Acting” at versions points such as when he re-establishes communication with Earth and when he finally makes it to the craft that could get him off Mars.

Out of the Hermes crew I would single out Jessica Chastain’s mission commander Lewis. I’ve been a fan of hers for the last few years and she shines here with a prominent role feeling guilt for leaving one of her crew behind and a determination to rescue him. Incidentally she was in Christopher Nolan’s science fiction movie Interstellar which also featured Matt Damon, although If I recall correctly they didn’t share any screen time.


Out of the NASA staff back on earth I want to mention a rumpled-looking Sean Bean in a supporting role as the Flight Director. It’s always nice to see Sean Bean in big Hollywood movies and sticking with his own northern English accent.

By the way there is a Lord of the Rings joke in the movie and it was only the next day that I realised that Bean, one of the Fellowship, was in that scene.

A recurring joke in the book concerns Watney being forced to use the entertainment files of his fellow astronauts. Lewis it turns out is a fan of the 1970s and has episodes of tv shows like Happy Days and lots of disco-era music. The movie takes this detail a humorous step further by having suitable disco-era music played as the movie’s sound track at suitable moments.

The depiction of Mars is pretty stunning. There a a few moments of Watney alone in the Martian landscape that are memorable. Also some of the aerial shots of his rover trips are glorious. Arguably the landscape of towering cliffs is not accurate to where NASA would send a mission but I guess it makes things more visually interesting than the flat floor of a crater.

I found the final act of the movie to be the most exciting. Much of it deals with the Hermes spacecraft approaching Mars to intercept Watney’s capsule. This section of the movie takes account of how real spacecraft would actually be manoeuvring and the audience gets a glimpse of how orbital mechanics would be used to adjust intercept speeds and distances. It’s done in an exciting way as the clock is ticking and each thing the crew does to get closer to Watney produces another problem that they must solve with their limited fuel. Finally we get a spacewalk sequence (not from the book) that must have been influenced by the movie Gravity but is no less exciting for it.


(The Martian continues the trend of recent science fiction movies that include a large dose of science fact. Gravity arguably isn’t science fiction at all and interstellar has a very fact based look at space travel.)

As much as I like Ridley Scott’s movies across all genres after seeing The Martian I can’t help but wish he had done nothing but science-fiction since Alien and Blade Runner. At least he’s rectifying things with this movie and the upcoming Alien prequel.

For the time being this is probably the best Ridley Scott space-based science-fiction movie since Alien. (Well ok, his only other space-based science-fiction movie between Alien and The Martian is Prometheus so there’s not a lot of competition.)

But it’s also one of Ridley Scott’s best movies of any genre. And it’s one of my favourite movies of the year. I look forward to buying it on Blu Ray.


Doctor Who Before the Flood Review

Normally when I write my reviews I always end up regurgitating what happened in the episode. And actually that’s not really what I want to do. I want to focus more on the stuff I did or didn’t like in an episode. So I’m going to try to do that with this review.

So in summary. This is part two of a two part story. Last time the Doctor traveled back in time without Clara, following which his “ghost” appeared to Clara implying that he had died. In this episode we see the events in the past (the 1980s I believe) and the future (22nd century) unfolding in tandem with the Doctor able to talk to Clara in the other time period. He gets a shock with the discovery that he has a “ghost” and eventually he faces the Fisher King whose technology was responsible.

At the start of the episode before the credits there was a scene with the Doctor talking directly to the audience. He’s describing the Bootstrap Paradox where s time-traveler goes back in time to meet Beethoven only to discover that the composer never existed. The time-traveler then has to copy out Beethoven’s music so it is not missing from history. So the paradox is, who composed the music?

While lots of Internet people were upset with this talking-to-audience development I kind of liked that sequence. At first I actually thought he was talking to the two guest companions who were with him and it was from their point of view. It also reminded me a bit of the start of the episode Listen where he does something similar. So I didn’t mind it at all.

The episode also incorporates a time loop with the Tardis going back in time about thirty minutes or so. I do love time loop stuff. I loved that the Doctor and the two “guests” had rematerialised just around the corner from their first iterations and we can see both sets of people at the same time. Also the second set get to observe the actions of the first set. I actually wish they did more of that kind of thing. I kind of hoped there would be more material with the second group following the events of the first group than there actually was.


Later the Doctor meets and confronts the mysterious Fisher King who had been in the alien spaceship. At one point there was a moment where the Doctor was backing away from the alien towards the opened suspended animation pod thing. And I thought, “hang on a second…” I thought it would be fun if the doctor was in the pod in the future. And that is exactly what happened. So the Doctor ended up in the life pod thing and was under the water for a century and a bit until the crew of the base recover it.

Actually I really enjoyed how the events on the two different time periods linked together. The Doctor being in the pod for over a century sort of reminds me a little of the DeLorean in Back to the Future III, sitting in that abandoned mine from 1885 until 1955 waiting to be dug out.

(I think I once worked out that the DeLorean is in four different places at the same time in 1955 across all three BTTF movies. But that’s a topic for another post. Perhaps one to be written on 21 October 2015 perhaps…)

Some of the sequences set on the underwater base were very tense. I think my favourite bit was when the deaf crew-member Cass was walking down the corridor and we saw her point of view with a silent soundtrack. And behind her one of the ghosts appeared with an axe… And she can’t hear him! That was tense. I figured she might feel the vibrations of the axe dragging on the decking. This is what happened and the makers of the show depicted it with a little Daredevil homage, the outline of the axe appearing in negative. Although some internet people are annoyed with this as it implied that she had “superpowers”. Calm down, Internet people, it’s just a way to portray the vibrations.

And for once I cared a bit about the guest star folk and wanted them to survive. Must be good casting or good acting or both.

At the end of the episode we discover that the Doctor Ghost was not actually a ghost at all. Instead it was a clever hologram he created with the fore-knowledge of what it needed to do in the future.

I don’t think I worked out the Doctor Ghost was a hologram but I was pretty sure it was some alien transmission that the Doctor worked out how to send to Clara, like hacking into the Fisher King’s technology that created the ghosts. I guess hologram is easier to explain.

Anyway, it tied in nicely to the whole Bootstrap Paradox that they had gong on.

Yes, I really enjoyed those two episodes. And the added bonus of absolutely no Missy.

There. I’m not convinced that’s any more successful of describing the events of the episode. We’ll see if I do that again.

The 100 Season 2 on DVD

One of my favourite TV shows of the last few years, the surprisingly enjoyable and dark The 100, is coming out to buy on 12 October 2015. Or as I like to call it, Next Monday.

The season is available by itself in “Mount Weather” packaging.


And there is also a combined season 1 & 2 box with cool artwork of Clarke in the Mount Weather isolation room as inspired by the season 1 cliffhanger.


These are DVD releases, but I was convinced I had also seen listings for Blu Ray releases. Maybe I imagined it but either way I certainly can’t find them now. I’ll keep looking.

Doctor Who Under the Lake Review


After all the Dalek-Davros-Missy shenanigans which probably stretched continuity to breaking point last week it’s nice to have a standalone adventure. And pleasingly this one harks back to the well-established Base Under Siege template that became a staple of the show back in the 1960s mainly during the Patrick Troughton years.

The crew of a twenty-second century underwater base located under a lake on the site of a flooded village have recovered something that looks like an alien spacecraft. As they investigate it a ghostly figure appears. It activates the engines of the ship which kills the base commander. Then the base commander appears as a second ghost.

The Tardis materialises on the base and the Doctor and Clara encounter the ghosts. There’s a nice bit of business with the ghosts attacking the Doctor and Clara with an axe and a harpoon gun that they can just about manage to hold despite being mostly incorporeal.


The Doctor finds the other members of the base crew hiding out in a faraday cage, a room with electromagnetic interference. For some reason it prevents the ghosts from getting inside. Another interesting fact is that the ghosts only come out at night. “Night” being an artificial night from the day-night rhythm the base uses.

And somehow these ghosts are interacting with the technology of the base. They manage to turn “day” to “night” early and make an unexpected appearance which increases their number. Later the stakes are raised by the ghosts summoning a rescue sub to the base using morse code.

The Doctor notices that the ghosts appear to be trying to say something. He wants to catch them and there’s a pretty exciting sequence with the ghosts chasing different members of the crew through the corridors until they are cornered in the faraday cage room.


There the doctor gets the lip-reading member of the crew to work out what the ghosts are saying. That clue leads him to recovering a life support pod that had been in the alien ship.

Towards the end of the episode the power fails and part of the base is flooded. The Doctor and Clara get cut off from each other. The Doctor decides to take the Tardis back in time to before the village was flooded to find out what happened with the alien ship and promises to come back for Clara.


As the Tardifs dematerialises Clara sees a new ghost appears outside the base. It is of course the Doctor. It’s a great cliff-hanger, although it is slightly reminiscent of the one from series 4 in the Library two-parter. You know, “Donna Nobel has been saved.” That one.

Still, this was a very entertaining and gripping episode. Capaldi is on good form as a Doctor that is fascinated that ghosts might actually exist. Clara has to remind him not to say inappropriate things by producing a set of prompt cards so he can read “sorry for your loss” unconvincingly.

As with most of the stories in series 9 this is a two-parter and works well for having the cliff-hanger and the continuing mystery of what happened in the village before the flood.