13 June 2016

Doctor Who series 8 (starring Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman)

Although I have enjoyed some of the ‘new’ Doctor Who series in recent years, I wasn’t too certain whether to continue acquiring and watching the DVDs after yet another time lord regeneration. I very much appreciated David Tennant as the tenth doctor, but never quite believed in Matt Smith as the eleventh. The story-lines, too, became more and more complex with a lot of fast action, and although I enjoyed series 7, it was stressful to watch, in places.

We then managed to see the TV specials ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and ‘The Time of the Doctor’ via someone’s i-player system, and although I thought them clever and well done, I was a little dubious about Peter Capaldi becoming the twelfth doctor. He was excellent as a Roman citizen in Season Four, but I couldn’t quite envisage him as The Doctor.

Still, those who watched it in the UK said that Season Eight was excellent, so once the DVDs were available as a boxed set at not too great a price, I put it on my wishlist, and was pleased to be given it for Christmas six months ago. We’ve just finished watching it, an episode or two at a time, with our son. And I’m a convert. Peter Capaldi is excellent as The Doctor.

Clara remains as the assistant in this series, and does so extremely well. There’s an ongoing story arc involving her working as a teacher and falling in love with another teacher, called Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson).  Danny and The Doctor don’t trust or like each other, and the tensions play out in many of the episodes giving a nicely human and ‘real world’ touch.

There’s also a story-arc concerning a mysterious woman called ‘Missy’, who seems to welcome people into an afterlife. This seemed to be an addendum to just a few episodes and I kept forgetting about it, until all was revealed in the finale…

While it’s hard to recall every episode in this series, watched sporadically over six months, I particularly liked the one called ‘Robot of Sherwood’, where The Doctor is determined to prove to Clara that Robin Hood never existed, only to find themselves caught up in the band of ‘Merry Men’ and an archery contest. I liked ‘The Mummy on the Orient Express’ too, a clear nod to Agatha Christie, with quite a spine-chilling storyline. My favourite, though, was the gentler ‘In the forest of the night’, which involves a party of school children, led by Danny Pink, and some huge foliage that starts to spring up all over London, causing chaos.

The finale, in two parts, involves some of the Doctor’s classic arch-enemies, but once again with a new twist and a storyline which was clearer and less rapid than some of the other season finales. I thought it was very well done, with a bittersweet ending as the Doctor and Clara each try to hide something from the other, leading - one presumes - to their not travelling together in future.

There are of course plot holes, inevitable in time travel stories, and some bizarre ideas that seem contradictory to some of what went before (a 'good' dalek? Cybermen with emotions...?) but all in all, we thought it an excellent season, one that I can envisage seeing again in a few years.

I’m looking forward very much to seeing Series Nine at some point!

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

08 June 2016

Liberal Arts (starring Josh Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen)

I don’t think I had come across any of the actors in this film, so I think it must have been one of the many that Amazon recommended to me, based on my previous wishlist and reviewed DVDs. The blurb sounded interesting, so I put it on my list, and was delighted to be given it for my recent birthday. Last night our twenty-something son suggested that the three of us watch it together.

‘Liberal Arts’ is mostly based on a university campus in the United States. We first meet the newly-single Jesse (Josh Radnor) who is in his mid-thirties, and evidently an academic type. He doesn’t do well with practical details, as is amply demonstrated in the first scene. He seems to find books more interesting than people, He’s wondering what to do with the rest of his life, and why everything goes wrong when he gets an unexpected phone call from Peter (Richard Jenkins), one of the professors he particularly admired when he was an undergraduate, asking him if he would say a few words at his retiring banquet.

The story moves quite slowly at first, but that sets the pace nicely for a character-based story which doesn’t have a great deal of plot. That suited us ideally; we wanted something undemanding and light, and this more than adequately served its purpose. Jesse spends time chatting with Peter and some friends of his, including their 19-year-old daughter Zibby (Elizabeth Coleman) who is mature for her years, and finds herself very much attracted to Jesse. She persuades him to start listening to classical music, and then they begin a correspondence using pen and paper…

It could have been a predictable rom-com so we were pleased that in fact it wasn’t; unusually for modern films, moral issues were considered, and the romance as such is quite low-key. It’s a pity there had to be an intimate bedroom scene (nothing overt, though, and with a couple of unexpected great lines) but there are many subplots: Jesse finds himself mentor to a geeky intellectual, and befriended by a red-hatted bohemian, as well as having lengthy discussions with both Zibby and Peter.

Our favourite scene was the one where Jesse tells Zibby exactly what he had thought of the first of the Twilight series of books, after being persuaded that it was unfair to judge without reading it himself. We loved the way that most of the characters, one way or another, were readers and related through books.

Recommended to anyone who likes gentle, mildly intellectual character-based stories with great acting. Much of it felt so real that I sometimes forgot that it was entirely fictional. But if your taste runs towards thrillers or fast action films, then you might find this slow-moving and possibly even a bit dull.

The rating is 12 which seems fair; it wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone under the age of about fifteen or sixteen anyway. There are plenty of suggestive comments but no nudity; minor bad language, but nothing major; no violence at all.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews