Monthly Archives: October 2016

Red Dwarf: Season 11 Review

Starring Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn and Danny John-Jules

Since it’s revival in 2009’s somewhat dreadful but still welcome ‘Back to Earth’ special, Red Dwarf hasn’t quite hit the heights of it’s classic run. Series X was an improvement, and was better than Series 1 and 4 (my personal least favourites) but wasn’t close to the highs of series 2-3 and 5-6. Series XI, happily, is another step closer to the show’s glory days.

The jokes are better and the laughs more frequent than last series, and the plotlines more original and imaginative than we’ve got since the original run back in the 90’s. Red Dwarf has always had a feel of a knock-about, comedy version of star trek and that’s never been more true than this series.The visuals are for the most part amazing, even if they’re predictably well short of the budget other British sci-fi shows like Doctor Who get. There are a few problems – some jokes are so obvious or heavy-handed you can see them coming a mile off – and the episodes have a tendency to end rather abruptly (again, very star trek) rather than with a killer final joke. It’s still not Red Dwarf at it’s best – but it was a better run (or at least a more consistent one) than the often maligned Season 8 and about on par with season 7, so it’s about mid-table on my list. It gives me a lot of hope for the future, with season XII due on Dave next year.

The cast could play their roles in their sleep by now, and for once Series XI gives every cast member a chance to shine. The Cat (John-Jules) gets his own episode for the first time in the series’ history in season finale Can of Worms, Officer Rimmer is an episode you feel Chris Barrie has been eagerly anticipating for years, Krysis is a decent Kryten (Llewellyn) focused episode and Lister (Charles) as usual is the primary focus for much of the series, with his interactions with the Cat in Samsara, Can of Worms and Give and Take his highlights. The direction and soundtrack are both up to scratch, and overall it seems a far more polished product than Dave’s previous efforts on the show.

With spoilers, here’s a quick overview of the actual episodes:

Twentica: Twentica is a classic sci-fi time-travel flick as the Dwarfers get transported back to a version of 1920’s America run by rogue droids (who are such a blatant parody of the Borg that Star Trek fans will piss themselves laughing) who have banned all technology. The highlight is probably when the dwarfers stumble across an illicit bar for scientists where attractive women are illegally discussing the nature of the universe with underground professors (in a cutting satire on both alcohol prohibition and prostitution).

Samsara: This is unique as far as Red Dwarf goes: an episode you need to watch twice to fully appreciate: it plays out like one of Doctor Who or Sherlock’s most complex entries as the crew encounter a spaceship using a Karmic drive – which has been reprogrammed to reward bad behaviour and punish do-gooders by a pair of amorous crewmen having an affair (in another first for the series, there are a lot of flashbacks to these two which don’t feature the main cast). You’ll have to watch this to appreciate the best jokes, describing them here wouldn’t do them justice.

Give and Take: A divisive episode, some reviewers loved it, some hated it, I personally think it’s the weakest episode of the series, but there’s still a lot of good moments here – Rimmer being an unexpected badass with a Bazooka (while of course using Kryten as a human shield) and the crew mistaking a snack dispenser for a top of the line medical droid being two of the most memorable.

Officer Rimmer: An act of supreme cowardice which by chance saves a high ranking officer ends up getting Rimmer promoted. The power immediately goes to his head, as he installs Officer-only corridors, lifts and clubs throughout the ship, then bio-prints (using 3D printers) dozens of copies of himself to act as his subordinates. The bio-printing of actual humans is a classic sci-fi idea (and leads to a lot of great jokes about printer jams and misprinted humans with smudged faces). Some of it is familiar ground and the abrupt ending suggests they ran out of time, but its a fun 30 mins nevertheless.

Krysis: Kryten has a mid-life crisis and loses his love of housework, then turns up in a new, Ferrari red suit, prompting the rest of the crew to hold an intervention. The hilarity of Kryten’s new appearance aside, high points of the episode include another droid teaching Kryten and the crew to speak GELF properly (which sounds like a solid two minutes of bizarre choking noises) and the incredibly surreal, Douglas Adams esque sequence where the crew actually have a conversation with the universe itself… only to give it a mid life crisis. Not the best Kryten episode, but still a good one.

Can of Worms: The cat gets his own episode as the series pokes fun at the coolest character on the show’s deep insecurity (because he’s still a virgin) as he at long last meets another member of his species and prepares to finally get his end away. The good natured teasing from Rimmer and Lister is very amusing, while the second half of the episode, where the situation is complicated by the arrival of 9 polymorphs (shapeshifters who drain emotions who previously menaced the crew in seasons 3 and 6) which lead to 3 sets of Listers, Rimmers and Krytens getting into a stand off, is classic dwarf silliness. Somewhat out of place as a season finale compared to last series’ ‘The Beginning’, it’s still a fine end to the series and a decent enough Cat episode.

I’ve not bothered with ratings because they’re all pretty consistent (and it’s hard to rate 30 min shows/comedies anyway) but they’d all get either 3, 3.5 or 4 stars. So a consistent run, if not an amazing one – no episode would get on a top 10 list (which I may do later this week depending on how much interest this review gets).

Overall, not Red Dwarf’s best, but an improvement over the last series and a very consistent run make it well worth your time.

Series Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next up: Marvel Week kicks off with my review of Luke Cage, hopefully soon followed by Doctor Strange.

 

 

Inferno Review

Inferno starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster and Irfan Khan

Warning: Minor Spoilers (but nothing big – I’m only going to comment in detail on stuff shown in the trailers)

I’m a long time fan of the Langdon series (books and films). They’re not necessarily great literature or cinema, but they are captivating mystery-thrillers which pull the great trick of grounding outlandish (yet somehow believable) plotlines in historical settings by clever use of real locations, institutions and artwork.

To recap, in the series so far we’ve had the Da Vinci Code (a temperate but clever film) following Langdon’s effort to expose a centuries old Church conspiracy, and Angels and Demons (a more pulsating thrill-ride) as he races to stop an illuminati plot to destroy Vatican city. Inferno is much closer to the latter in terms of style and plotline, except the stakes are even higher in this one as Langdon races to prevent a potential viral outbreak designed to kill 50% of the world’s population. This rests on his ability to decipher clues hidden in various pieces of artwork relating to Dante’s Inferno (the poem from which we get our modern view of Hell) while dealing with hallucinations and retro-grade amnesia that prevent him from remembering who he can trust.

First off, the good bits. Director Ron Howard shows he still knows his stuff (his experience on the thrilling film Rush shines through here), most notably in Langdon’s hallucinations at the beginning and the thrilling final set-piece. Hans Zimmer, the composer for the first two films, delivers arguably his most inventive score for the third film, which is continually sublime throughout even when the film itself falters. Felicity Jones is simply amazing as Langdon’s ally and Dante obsessive Sienna Brooks – whose performance is arguably the high point of the film (and makes me even more excited for Rogue One where she plays the lead). Irfan Khan is also very good value as ‘The Provost’ the head of a shadowy organisation who has been hiding the man who (unbeknownst to them) created the Inferno virus. The man in question is billionaire Bertrand Zobrist, who makes for an unusual/interesting villain in that 1. he believes his terrorist act is for the greater good as it will save humanity from destroying itself due to overpopulation and 2. he commits suicide within the first 5 minutes of the film (can you imagine the villain in a bond film doing that?), leaving it unclear till the mid-point of the film who is acting on Zobrist’s behalf.

Unfortunately the film has its weak points. While Tom Hanks’ performance is as good as you’d expect third time around, Langdon is largely sidelined for much of the film (especially in the first half) in favour of Sienna and the supporting cast. He is carried along by the narrative rather than contributing to it – there’s no ‘solving the cryptex’ or ‘saving a drowning cardinal’ equivalent where Langdon ultimately saves the day. In the first half especially things are a bit too easy for him to solve. The main reason for this is how much of the book gets cut in the film adaptation – the film tries to include all the major bits but rushes through the various locations so quickly you don’t see the point of some of them.

While The Da Vinci Code kept 90% true to the book and Angels and Demons masterfully re-organised the plot to edit the lacklustre opening third of the book out, Inferno changes too much and thus will probably confuse and infuriate any fans of the novel. I won’t mention specifics, but character motivations and fates get altered, sub-plots that weren’t in the book are added for no clear reason and the break-neck pace of the film loses a lot of the tension that made the book so memorable (Inferno is my personal favourite of the four novels, just edging out Angels and Demons). The book was genuinely unsettling in places with it’s Dante inspired imagery of hell and some seriously worrying messages about human overpopulation – the film tones down the former (presumably to get an unecessary 12a rating) and the latter is drowned out by the film’s focus on other parts of the narrative.

Overall Inferno has some great performances, a fantastic score from Hans Zimmer and a thrilling second half. But changes from the book and a curiously short run-time cause the first half to be a very weak endeavour. Once Zobrist’s villainous associate is revealed, the film gets a shot in the arm that makes it still worth watching. But it is probably the weakest film in the series – or at least the same level as Da Vinci Code.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Coming soon: My reviews of Luke Cage, Red Dwarf Season 11 and the incoming Doctor Strange film…

To put in context how well the series as a whole matches up to the books, here are my ratings for Inferno, Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Da Vinci Code: Film (3/5), Book (3.5/5)

Angels and Demons: Film (4/5), Book (4/5)

Inferno: Film (3/5), Book (4.5/5)

As you can see, Inferno is the first film to fall seriously short of the book it was based on. I’d recommend you all read the book – its bloody brilliant.