A Christmas Carol (DVD Review)

Image result for a christmas carol 1999

PG – 95mins – 1999


 

MAKE IT S(N)O(W)

Perhaps the most famous Christmas story ever written, authored by perhaps the most famous novelist who ever lived, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has had more adaptations and reimaginings than you can shake a sprig of holly at. While some will always cherish the olde worlde charm of the Alastair Sim classic (1951), Albert Finney’s beloved musical (1970), the Muppets’ frantic, family-friendly retelling (1992), Bill Murray’s modernised comedy, Scrooged (1988), or Disney’s Jim Carrey-heavy performance capture animation (2009), for me this 1999 TV movie starring the man who is Jean Luc Picard is the quintessential version. My dad and I habitually return to it in the lead up to every Christmas and I must have seen it in excess of fifteen times.

… Keep Scuttling!

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DOCTOR WHO, 10.9 – “Empress of Mars” (TV Review)

BBC One – 7:35pm – Saturday 10th June 2017

Written by: Mark Gatiss

Directed by: Wayne Yip


 

THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR

“Sod this for a game of soldiers!”

My overdue run of current series Doctor Who reviews rattles on with this historical military altercation – set in the caverns beneath the surface of the Red Planet! “Empress of Mars” is the first episode in a month not to feature the audience-dividing alien Monks (my opinions on which can be read by clicking 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8), and it sees a sharp step backwards in assimilating gormless assistant Nardole (Matt Lucas) into the main body of the story.

… Keep Scuttling!

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.6 (TV Review)

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BBC One – 2nd August 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Simon Tyrrell

Series Created by: Ashley Pharaoh

Directed by: Sam Donovan


 

A GHOST OF HIS FORMER SELF

This is it. Six weeks later than fans who binge-watched it all on iPlayer, BBC One has completed its weekly Tuesday night transmissions of Ashley Pharaoh’s haunting historical drama, The Living And The Dead. By tying together the glimpses and clues which have peppered the six hour run, explaining the escalating mysteries and hinting at more, episode 1.6 was a perfect conclusion to a superior series.

“Stay with me, Daddy.”

Haunted by his “insoluble guilt” following the death of his first child, Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) has lost himself in a spiral of depression which has mired him in an unhinged purgatory where the past, present – and future! – intertwine in a sanity-testing fug. Can his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) warm his “cold eyes” and save her husband’s “lost soul”, or will the ghost of young Gabriel (Arthur Bateman) get his way and lead his father to the afterlife…?

After weeks of the briefest hints and teases (headlights, iPads, red coats), we finally spend some sustained time in the present day, with the “book of light” carrying “guardian angel” who Nathan suspected was attempting to steal Gabriel away at last revealed to be his great-great-granddaughter, Lara (Chloe Pirrie). Self-admitted herself to a psychiatric ward, Lara has likewise been haunted by Gabriel’s ghost since giving birth to her daughter, Lottie.

When her visiting grandmother (Diana Quick) reveals Lara is not the first in her family to see Gabriel’s ghost, the suspected postpartum psychosis-sufferer escapes hospital and heads to the abandoned and dilapidated Shepzoy estate for answers…

“I know I’m somehow part of this…”

With her iPad chock full of photographed mementos of Nathan’s bygone era, Lara offers viewers a whistle-stop recap of the series so far, with pictorial reminders of the ghost miners storyline from 1.2, Nathan’s evermore frantic scribblings and the tragic love affair from 1.4. I love the wicked irony that a series so ingrained with a theme of progress has its dual leads (Nathan in 1894 and Lara in 2016) stalled in their attempts to move on from the past.

“The essential thing is timing…”

“… and the amount of light.”

Paying heed to its own advise, I must give credit to the series’ lighting directors. I watched this final episode during the day with the curtains open and still its evocative tone, use of both natural and artificial light and shadow and creepy concessions to the supernatural genre (faces in windows, lullabies chanted through walkie-talkies, glimpses of blood-stained victims through shaky-cam perspective) elicited goosebumps on innumerable occasions!

With a horse-drawn reveal which shatters the temporal line more than it already had been, The Living and the Dead 1.6 manages to leave viewers simultaneously satisfied and still with plenty to ponder. I could nit-pick why Gabriel still required parental company when Lara’s grandmother had already revealed that Lara’s mother committed suicide shortly after giving birth, but this is a minor quibble in an otherwise exemplary timey-wimey narrative jigsaw plot.

The closing scene, posing a question still unanswered, gives me high hopes that this isn’t the last we have seen of the “notorious” Nathan Appleby. Hopefully the BBC listen to their guardian angels and commission a second series of this progressive and perplexing drama – please don’t leave us hanging over that juicy cliff!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.4 (TV Review)

BBC One – 19th July 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Robert Murphy

Series created by: Ashley Pharoah

Directed by: Sam Donovan


 

SECRET FLOWER OF THE FOREST

“The past is dead, and the dead are dead.”

Never a less convincing word is spoken by Victorian psychologist and spiritual-dabbler Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan), who is attempting to reassure his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) after witnessing the roaming spirit of a murdered villager at the close of this fourth episode in BBC One’s progressive supernatural period drama.

Despite being written and directed by different crew, tonight’s latest instalment is better than any previous episode at effortlessly continuing the series narrative without making the connection to previous parts feel laboured and forcefully inserted for continuity purposes. This felt like the conclusion of a two-parter.

Having been banished for his violent attempt to cleanse Shepzoy of its “witch” last week week, former farmhand Jack Langtree (Joel Gilman) is this week accused of attacking traumatised school teacher Martha Enderley (Nina Forever‘s Fiona O’Shaughnessy) while living rough in Elmwood Forest. But can Martha’s wide-eyed ramblings be believed, or is she more connected to the disappearance of her friend Alice Wharton (Gina Bramhill) than she is letting on?

“Your mind is denying us access to your memories…”

Donning a Rick Grimes-esque Stetson and attempting to put his personal malaise to one side, all-round go-to-guy Nathan adds lawman, detective and autopsy-deliverer to his growing repertoire of skills, returning to the mist-shrouded scene of the crime in an attempt to save Alice and apprehend Jack.

Behind the lens, Sam Donovan incorporates a wealth of dizzying aerial tracking shots of the gorgeous natural woodland, paralleling the scale and warmth of red autumnal foliage with the stark and claustrophobic greys of the cold Shepzoy dwellings. Pronounced angles and focus pulls also help immerse the viewer and increase the ominous and ethereal atmosphere which has been so strong throughout The Living and the Dead.

Once more Nathan’s haunting bereavement is kept to the outskirts – teased deliciously in a Ouija board prologue but then essentially back-benched once again. I sense this frustrating drawn out approach will be a common occurrence until his dead son is brought front and centre in an episode all his own at the tail-end of the six-part series.

Modernity again rears its head into the traditional Somerset community, with Llama’s proclaimed as the “future of farming” and an eventual innate confession capping-off what would have been a rather predictable and average murder mystery with a passionate explosion of pent-up alienation which the twenty-first century can relate to with more open-minded understanding than ever before.

“All my life I’ve felt different…”

Had the episode finished there, it would have been a passably adept hour of eerie entertainment, three CR@B’s out of five. However, the final shot pans to a truly jaw-dropping rug-pull reveal which corroborated an earlier question lingering in the back of my mind concerning a potential anachronism. Frankly, it blew my mind. Suspicions and curiosity well and truly running rampant, I am thankful for the innovative Beeb’s iPlayer boxset approach which means I don’t have to wait seven excruciating days to have my theories laid to rest. “That way madness lies…”

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

The Legend of Tarzan (Cinema Review)

12A – 108mins – 2016 – 3D


 

THE SPIRIT OF THE TREES

Before his imminent return to the wizarding world with November’s Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, director David Yates looks to older literary inspiration in bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Victorian ape-man back to the big screen for his umpteenth reimagining.

What makes The Legend of Tarzan unique, however, is that rather than again retelling John Clayton III’s (Alexander Skarsgård) oft-told origin story, we instead join up with Lord Greystroke eight years after he has returned to England with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), with crucial flashbacks to his formative years in the jungle integrated into this sort-of sequel.

Christoph Waltz, who I must confess I have never warmed to as an actor, returns to his moustache-twirling devious antagonist comfort zone as Captain Léon Rom, the corrupt envoy for Belgium’s debt-ridden King Leopold II. Rom devises a sinister scheme to lure the renowned Tarzan back to Boma in the Congo jungle, capture him and delivery him to an old enemy for a bounty of diamonds to save his dire government from bankruptcy.

Waltz’s Hateful Eight co-star Samuel L. Jackson plays second fiddle to the titular shirt-shy star as sharp-shooting American envoy George Washington Williams, who accompanies Tarzan and Jane on their overseas expedition, and aids in the rescue of Jane when Rom sees the sinister opportunity to lure his prey out of hiding with some wife-shaped bait.

Sumptuously imagined in a similar CG-heavy approach to Disney’s recent The Jungle Book reboot, this vine-swinging wild ride seems to have been somewhat lost in the wilderness of blockbuster season, receiving a trough of middling reviews where John Favreau’s uncanny Mowgli remake was lauded for its technical wizardry. Sure, the occasional shot is noticeably green screened, but there is far more to make you go “ooo!” than “ergh!” here.

The pacing isn’t perfect, with the grand riverboat finale reached prematurely, despite the action bobbing along nicely up to that point, but the film’s only major misstep is in expecting us to invest in little-seen African tribal leader Chief Mbonga’s (Djimon Air Hounsou) passion for revenge against the film’s hero – despite Tarzan’s earlier murder of his son only being briefly alluded to and never visualised.

Otherwise, I see no reason to lambast screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer for their vision, which is as bestial, exotic and adventurous as a Tarzan story can be. Sadly, I fear this Legend going the same way as Disney’s doomed adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other shaggy-haired literary property, John Carter, which flopped for no discernible reason in 2012.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.2 (TV Review)

BBC 1 – 5th July 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Ashley Pharoah

Directed by: Alice Troughton


 

MINOR MINERS

Shifting central story after exorcising Harriet Denning’s (Tallulah Haddon) demons at the death of episode one, recently relocated psychologist Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) this week questions and comforts a young lad in his Somerset village who is being tempted to leave his bed and play with a handful of ghost children in the middle of the night. Is Charlie’s (Isaac Andrews) wild imagination concocting imaginary friends, or are these phantom playmates the result of more sinister buried secrets?

With names being chanted from the dark and striking visuals of the ragged, coal-coated dead kids resolutely holding hands under the moonlight, BBC miniseries The Living and the Dead’s sophomore supernatural case is as chillingly atmosphere as its first, however the plot felt more derivative (there is an early Chloe Grace Moretz zombie horror called Wicked Little Things with an identical story), meaning the supposedly gasp-worthy resolution was far easier to predict.

With Nathan’s preoccupation with the past leading him to hear the troubled testimony of an elderly workhouse orphan (Michael Burn) with a tale to tell and some skeletons to unearth (literally), the Victorian ghost hunter’s second wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer), makes a modern step towards gender equality by taking over as manager of Shepzoy Farm. Maid Gwen (Kerrie Hayes), meanwhile, has a far more traditional cure to the young couples’ childless predicament.

While young Charlie’s nightmarish visions are neatly paralleled to Nathan’s own hallucinations of his tragic domestic disquietude, the resurrection of this running strand felt too obvious and more forced into the narrative than I anticipated, lending the episode a less dynamic and more contrived air. There’s still promise here, even if this hour of eerie drama stalled somewhat on the premiere’s propulsive force.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars