30 December 2013

Doctor Who, the complete series 6 (starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill)

It has taken us four months to watch the sixth season of the 21st century Doctor Who. Matt Smith is well established as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor, and Karen Gillan returns as his companion, Amy, now married to Rory (Arthur Darvill) who has a brilliantly comic touch at times, adding some welcome lightness, but who also shows amazing depth and loyalty.

The opening episode, ‘A Christmas Carol’, was shown in December 2010. It features a Scrooge-like character, who refuses to let Amy and Rory’s honeymoon spaceship arrive. The Doctor works some Dickens-like magic, and there’s a bittersweet ending; it’s nicely done, if a little twee.

Then the sixth season began properly in April 2011, with a very dramatic episode where the Doctor is shot by a lakeside, watched by Amy, Rory, and the mysterious River Song. Then they meet a younger version of the Doctor, who has no idea what’s going to happen…

It’s a confusing series in some ways, and I almost feel as if I should start watching it over again with the benefit of hindsight. While most episodes are complete in themselves, the idea of a ‘crack in the universe’ continues, as do the mysterious ‘Silence’ aliens, who disappear from memory as soon as someone stops looking at them. Amy announces that she is pregnant, then insists that she is not.. and the Doctor runs scans which are oddly inconclusive.

Other than the Silence, here are not so many evil aliens in this series; the Daleks and Weeping Angels make only brief appearances, as do the Cybermen. On the other hand, there’s a pirate ship complete with singing Sirens, an episode where Hitler appears, and some doppelgangers who impersonate their human counterparts. It was difficult trying to work out what parts of each episode were significant, and I often found my head buzzing… there’s a lot of fast action and tension, neither of which really appeal to me.

Yet Doctor Who is very engaging. Matt Smith has a lot of energy and projects a kind of alien feel to the show. The human - and human-alien - interactions are often revealing, sometimes moving. The heavier, darker episodes are interspersed with lighter ones; I particularly enjoyed the penultimate ‘Closing Time’, where the Doctor pops in to see his friend ‘Craig’, who featured in Season Five, and gets caught up with some very strange things going on in his neighbourhood.

The last episode sees time and eternity bizarrely mixed up, with the clocks and calendars stuck, all history happening at the same time. A paradox has been created, which the Doctor wants to break out of… we see flashbacks to the first episode of the season, and a dramatic finale.

There are plenty of short extras in this season, with prequels and mini-episodes as supplements, although it’s not necessary to watch them.

All in all, a season well worth owning and watching for anyone who is a fan of this long-running series. In the US it may be cheaper to buy in two parts, but note that the much less expensive UK release will only work with region two (or region-free) DVD players.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

28 December 2013

Quartet (starring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins)

Amazon probably recommended this to me because I have enjoyed so many films with Maggie Smith in them. Or, perhaps, because I liked 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'. Not that the two films have anything at all in common, other than featuring mainly older, retired people.

I found 'Quartet' mesmerising. I wasn't entirely sure what was happening in the first few minutes, but it didn't matter. The whole thing takes place in a retirement home for musicians, so inevitably there's a lot of music, mostly classical - and, indeed, several of the cast members are in fact retired musicians rather than actors. The story itself is quite slow-moving; Maggie Smith does not even appear until about half an hour into the film, but she's brilliant as ever, playing a former diva who causes huge upheaval in the life of another resident, to whom she was (briefly) married many years earlier.

There's some humour, some sadness, and a little romance, interwoven and beautifully done. Dustin Hoffman, apparently, was the director. There are a few instances of bad language although in context they are not unreasonable or excessive. There's innuendo too, mostly from Wilf (Billy Connolly) and bittersweet incidents involving Sissy (Pauline Collins) whose memory is becoming decidedly faulty. The rating is 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the US, and that seems very reasonable. I doubt if this film would be of any interest to a child, or indeed a young teenager.

To be honest, it would not appeal to everyone, whatever their age. There really is a LOT of music, including opera, and the main plot line revolves around plans for a fund-raising concert. There's no fast action, no real excitement, and only cameo roles for young people. However I like the trend for films featuring over-50s, and enjoyed the music; overall I thought it excellent.

Extras include the typical director's commentary, behind the scenes features, interviews, outtakes and so on. The only available subtitles are English for the hard of hearing. In DVD and Blu-ray format.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

17 December 2013

Cutting Edge (starring Moira Kelly and DB Sweeney)

Doug is an ice hockey champion, skating in the winter Olympics, when a nasty accident leaves him unable to see well enough to play seriously again. His brother owns a bar, and expects Doug to work with him.

Kate is a rather spoiled figure skating champion, also skating in the winter Olympics, who has an unexpected fall which she blames on her partner. She is very demanding and has a hot temper, and it becomes increasingly difficult for her trainer to find anyone willing to skate with her. Yet her father wants her to win a medal at the next Olympics.

Anton, Kate's coach, is almost in despair when he thinks of suggesting that Doug re-train as a figure skater. Sparks fly when they meet, and Kate is very disparaging of this working class ice hockey player. However he takes her disdain as a challenge, and gradually becomes very proficient indeed...

It's all rather predictable, rom-com style, with the amusing moments being the spars between the two main protagonists, and the romantic element quite low-key. Naturally Kate and Doug are going to fall for each other in the end - the chemistry between them on ice is incredible! - but neither wants to admit it, as they spar like siblings.

The rating is PG on both sides of the Atlantic, which accurately reflects that there is minimal violence, no bad language, and no nudity. However there are undoubtedly innuendoes and a couple of bedroom scenes (albeit covered up with nothing happening on screen) and the storyline is unlikely to appeal to anyone under the age of about 12 anyway.

There's some great skating and some mild tension as they head towards the competitions, and I thought it was an enjoyable film, in a low-key kind of way. I'm not entirely sure why Amazon recommended this to me, but am glad it did. My husband and our twenty-something son enjoyed it too.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews