Author: Steven Riley

My name is Steven Riley (it says that above so you’ve probably guessed as much). At the time of writing, I’m 24-years-young and live in London, having done a degree in English Language and Journalism at De Montfort University in my home city of Leicester. After university I worked for a few years at a local school. While I enjoyed my time there though, I found less and less time to write and decided to pursue new horizons, like a really cheesy film. I tried to think of a witty name for the blog but nothing came to mind (probably not a great sign). I was going to go with just ‘Working Title’ but this seemed more apt somehow. So that’s what this is; a work barely in progress. I can’t (and certainly won’t) promise it’ll be hard-hitting, or funny or even remotely interesting, but I can promise there will be words. And some of them might even be in the right order. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/barelyworkingtitle/ Twitter: @SpeltWithAV
Rick and Morty: Season 3, Episode 1 review!

Rick and Morty: Season 3, Episode 1 review!

April Fool’s day is normally a time for trying to get one over on the general public or cruelly tricking your friends and family before mocking the shell of a person cowering before you.

So imagine the world’s shock (and scepticism) when Adult Swim dropped the first episode of the long-awaited of Rick and Morty season three without any prior announcement.

The 22-minute episode, titled ‘The Richshank Redemption,’ had a lot to live up to after the season two cliffhanger – and it did not disappoint.

Header image created by Joe Bramley. See more awesome designs at @BoredOnPShop!

***

This review contains SPOILERS for Rick and Morty season three, episode one. So if you haven’t watched it go and do so. GO NOW.

Rick and Morty: Season 3, Episode 1 Review

Rick and Morty season three is one of the eagerly awaited shows of 2017 after the ending of season two left things a bit up in the air. For those who missed ‘The Wedding Squanchers’ (which aired nearly 18 months ago!) Rick, Morty and the rest of the family narrowly escape a massacre at Bird Person’s wedding as it is revealed that is fiancée, Tammy – actually an agent of the Galactic Federation posing as a high-school senior – is on the hunt for Rick and his accomplices for crimes of galactic terrorism.

Rick, Morty, Summer, Gerry and Beth end up as fugitives from the government but are struggling to adapt to life on the run; especially when their choices of new home planets are only a few hundred square metres in size, feature a screaming sun for the 42-hour days or have the interesting caveat of everything resembling a corn-on-the-cob.

After overhearing the family arguing over what to do with Rick, the hyper-intelligent scientist decides to turn himself in to allow his family safe passage back to Earth, which is now being treated as a tourist destination for the galaxy’s aliens to ogle at their leisure.

How does Rick and Morty season three kick off?

We start off the episode with Rick and the family sitting in a Shoney’s diner, with Rick boasting about how he skilfully disposed of jail guards and escaped from his galactic prison. This is soon to be revealed to be a trick, as the galactic government are now desperate to gain intelligence from Rick by tricking him into think he is speaking to his family via a simulation as in the ‘M. Night Shaym-Aliens’ episode in season two.

Rick recognises this ploy but agrees to give over the information, and we are treated to what we believe to be an origin story (featuring Beth and Beth’s mother). We soon find out however that Rick has fabricated the story in order to upload a virus and aid his escape. It’s both touching and amusing at the same time and also allows the writer’s to create a tragic back story while subtly mocking the idea, allowing them to have their cake and eat it (most likely topped with the McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan dipping sauce Rick now seems obsessed with).

The show is now about more than just Rick and Morty

Back on Earth, we get to see how the Smith’s are faring under the galactic government. They all seem jaded (apart from Gerry who, in a typically ‘Gerry’ way, is loving his new employment while remaining oblivious to what is happening around him). Beth is understandably heartbroken after being left by her father once more and with Morty seemingly fed up of being caught in the middle of his simultaneous worship and distrust of his grandfather, it is left to Summer to champion his cause.

It is in fact Morty’s older sister – a character who continues to grow from strength-to-strength after being fairly one-dimensional in season one – who hatches a plan to rescue Rick by digging up the corpse from an early episode in a clever (if very dark) callback. Using Rick’s portal gun, both Summer and Morty travel through dimensions to rescue their grandfather and set the real events for season three in motion.

While Rick’s crazy adventures and questionable motives will probably be the centrepiece of the new season, it appears as if characters like Summer and Beth will be taking a greater role in upcoming episodes. Based on this offering, that can only be a good thing.

So how is Rick and Morty season three shaping up?

On the evidence of this episode – very well.

There were questions on how Rick and Morty season three would deal with the cliffhanger ending and kick the series on, with more than a few worries that this is what was causing delays in its production.

Thankfully show creator Dan Harmon and the writers haven’t gone for the easy cop-out and played the ‘it was an alternate dimension’ card as other shows may have done, and have instead provided the best season premiere of the show to date.

Episode one has everything you need from classic Rick and Morty – Rick’s brutal one-liners, clever sci-fi ideas and even a superbly animated cosmic space battle (which could have taken a year to put together alone) – while addressing the season two ending and almost putting things back into place for season three without feeling forced.

There were a few more clever call backs to previous episodes (the last scene before the credits echoes season one but with a darker twist) and has the show feeling familiar while at the same time throwing a major curve ball which is sure to affect each character’s story arc and keep the show feeling fresh.

There aren’t many shows that are able to reset the pieces at the end of each episode and still manage to give their characters depth and development on an almost episode-by-episode basis, yet Rick and Morty seemed to have nailed it.

The only downside is we’ve now had the taste of season three we were waiting for but have to wait until the summer to see what happens. Someone should be thrown into galactic prison for that!

***

If you enjoyed this and don’t want to wait until the summer for more, click here for more recaps, blogs and other silly things, follow Barely Working Title on Facebook and my humble self on Twitter for updates (and because I need followers for my self-esteem).

Draft Punks – Why Draft FPL Is The Best FPL

Draft Punks – Why Draft FPL Is The Best FPL

Have you hit a rut with Fantasy Premier League? Already tired of your average performance while your mate has tripled captained a Harry Kane hat-trick? You ain’t seen nothing yet – welcome to your new hell…

Why You NEED to play Draft Fantasy Premier League

As we finish Gameweek 28 and head into the final ten games of the season, most Fantasy Premier League players are in similar boats. The mini-league has gone to Johnny ‘I don’t even watch football’ from work, you’ve used your wildcard and almost everyone is sporting a template team with Chelsea’s defence and Alexis Sanchez or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

A number of Fantasy Premier League players (known as ‘casuals’ among the die-hard community who inexplicably know that Tom Carroll is worth £4.3m or that John Stones is somehow owned by 16% of players) have usually given up by now after forgetting to set their lineup or drunkenly transferring in Nathan Redmond thinking he was going to be anything other than a useless turd who will only score during the gameweek you benched him.

What you need is something that will keep you invested for the whole year and have fun with your mates on the way, while also making their life a misery. Welcome to draft Fantasy Premier League – your new hell…

How draft Fantasy Premier League works

Nearly four years ago to the day, my friend and I had an epiphany. We were tired of playing Fantasy Premier League against old friends from college who didn’t have any interest in football – or the random acquaintance we didn’t even know who had joined our league and turned out to be the FPL equivalent of Rain Man – and seeing the same old teams with Gareth Bale, Robin Van Persie and Clint Dempsey (Clint Dempsey once scored 200 points in a season! I shit you not).

After binge-watching The League while we should have been finishing our university work and looking for jobs like functioning members of society, we decided we needed to shake up Fantasy Premier League and get our mates in on the act.

For those who have never seen The League and are wondering just what the hell I’m talking about, draft FPL is simple – instead of being able to select any player like in the normal Fantasy Premier League game, only one person is allowed to own each player. You can then choose whether to play for total points or have a head-to-head league.

But how do you decide who gets which players and ensure everybody doesn’t jump for Alexis Sanchez or Sergio Aguero I hear you ask? Well, read on…

Draft day

The simplest and fairest way to do this is to have a draft day. As anybody who has ever seen NFL probably knows, this is when each person picks, in order, a player for their team from the Fantasy Premier League roster.

Deciding the order can be done in a number of ways: picked out of a hat, through who finishes where in an intellectual or physical challenge or chosen at random by the surly Wetherspoon’s waitress wondering why you’ve torn up a beer mat and scrawled your names on it. This year we did by writing the numbers on the bottom of cups in beer pong. It took bloody ages.

Draft day itself is one of the highlights of the draft Fantasy Premier League year, and the summer if you’re as sad as I am. We’ve done it prior to a barbecue, at friends’ birthdays and once at a house party while a group of girls were waiting to go to a club. League priorities meant they were sent on their way while we decided which West Bromwich Albion to choose.

Every decision counts in draft FPL

Unlike in Fantasy Premier League where you can pick anyone, you have a finite number of options in draft FPL. Players get snapped up in the thick and fast and before you know it, you’ll be scraping around the promoted sides looking for any striker who might play 60 minutes or a defender who once scored five goals in the Belgian league.

Often the bold are rewarded – when a bandwagon player starts to hit form like Riyad Mahrez and Dele Alli did last season, you have to act fast to snap them up before someone else does. Wait until the deadline and you risk someone else grabbing a player about to hit form.

Similarly a new dimension is added when it comes to hanging onto players. Is your star player out of form or injured? Let them go and they may well bag all the points for someone else, or worse, come back to bite you…

Trading players

Another thing you’ll experience with draft Fantasy Premier League that you wouldn’t see otherwise is the option to trade players. There’s nothing better than getting one over on your mate as that player who had hit a purple patch for you suddenly gets dropped, and nothing worse than letting a player go who goes on to hit double-figures against you a few weeks later.

One of my crowning glories in draft FPL is when I convinced a friend to take Enner Valencia for Harry Kane when he had just broken into the Spurs side. Kane went on to bag 21 goals that season, while the Ecuadorian got injured after losing a battle with a tea cup.

You’ll become a Fantasy Premier League expert

 

With less choice you’ll be forced to get creative with your picks. Finding that next player who will unexpectedly hit it big becomes all the more important and can potentially win you a gameweek on its own.

A by-product of this is that you will start to do your own research. A lot of it. I’ve spent more than one evening scouring the weekend fixtures and finding out who’s had the most shots in the box when looking for a new midfielder and which defence is looking shaky when choosing a captain.

As a result, you’ll become a much better Fantasy League player – the season after I started playing, my other team made for fun finished 13,000th after finishing outside the top 250k the season before, while one of our group was once in the top 1k for half a season.

It’s a great way to get into Fantasy Premier League

For those who don’t follow football religiously, getting into Fantasy Premier League can be a bit daunting. Most would only go as far as joining a work league, playing for two weeks before forgetting to set their lineup and giving up for the season.

In our current ten-man league, we have at least four members who didn’t take a blind bit of interest in football or Fantasy Premier League and thought Per Mertesacker was a name for waxing your testicles. The saps.

Now they are fully-fledged FPL gurus who could give you Bournemouth’s starting lineup from the weekend without breaking a sweat. In draft Fantasy Premier League, everyone generally starts on a level-playing field. Even if they don’t finish on one…

Make forfeits for your draft Fantasy Premier League loser

As anybody who has seen The League knows, the person who finishes last suffers the indignity of being labelled the ‘Sacko’ and given a series of degrading forfeits over the season.

Being the creative, punny and witty human beings we are, my group decided to dub the bottom player in our league, the ‘Sakho’ after Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho (currently at Crystal Palace).

Currently we’ve been rather lenient with our punishments, although we never did see the reaction of the last Sakho’s new wife when we left a message at their wedding…

You’ll never look at Fantasy Premier League the same way

Each member of our group agrees that changing to a draft Fantasy Premier League format has been one of the best – and most stressful – decisions we ever made. There are highs, there are lows, there are disgustingly crude photoshopped pictures of other participants in crude sexual positions. There are even times when Jonathan Walters will only play 58 minutes meaning you lose your place in the final after a 63-63 draw (I will never forgive you Mark Hughes).

And you’ll love every minute of it.

*

If you enjoyed this and want to see more, click here for more silly blogs, like my Facebook page and follow @FPLSteve for more FPL content and @SpeltWithAV for generally weirder content.

Through the Glory Hole – My Spareroom Adventures in London

Through the Glory Hole – My Spareroom Adventures in London

“The landlord likes to put some pretty quirky rules in the agreement. One of them is ‘No immoral use of the internet.'”

“That means no porn.”

My Spareroom Adventures in London

As anybody who has moved to London knows, finding a place to live can be a difficult task.

I experienced this for myself, having recently taken the plunge and moved to the capital for a new job. I was more fortunate than most London newbies as I already knew some very kind people (with even kinder sofas), but knew I would eventually have to undertake the unenviable task of finding my own place.

From the off, I decided I wanted to move into a shared house – partly because I didn’t fancy auctioning off my kidneys outside the tube to pay the bills, but also because hangovers are much more bearable with company rather than repeats of First Dates and a tube of Pringles.

For that reason I decided to check out Spareroom, having been given generally good reviews from those who have used it and deciding there was only a small chance of moving in with a neo-Nazi.

Spareroom #1 – No porn allowed

One of my first viewings will no doubt live long in the memory. Initially the signs were good – friendly housemates (a guy and two girls), running water and a room that I was able to fit in without having to learn to be a contortionist – and it seemed like I was passing the interview process of being an acceptable housemate (FYI: Just say you watch The Walking Dead and lie about making them tea).

It was at this point they sat me down and told me that the landlord has some pretty strict guidelines he likes them to adhere to…

“The landlord likes to put some pretty quirky rules into the agreement,” the guy told me, barely concealing a smirk that made me wonder if there was going to be a forced hazing ritual before putting pen to paper. “One of them is ‘No immoral use of the internet.'”

“That means no porn.” One of the girls piped up, staring so intently at me I felt like I had my Google history tattooed on my eyeballs.

It’s pretty difficult to work out what to do in that situation; if I acted indignant I’d look like a furious porn-addict, whereas if I went along with it I risked getting evicted when the child-lock picked up any episode of Game of Thrones.

“We have found ways around it though.” The final housemate tried to reassure me in the least reassuring way possible. Petrified I had gone from Through the Keyhole to Through the Gloryhole, I told them I’d be in touch and bolted it.

Spareroom #2 – Six-legged roommates

The next day I met the landlord of another house. This one was even nicer than the first and again seemed to have some cool housemates with similar interests. One of them was making pizza. It was the dream.

Once the landlord had given me the tour, he decided to leave us alone so we could have a chat and they could vet me properly. Again, warning signs began to emerge as one of the housemates darted to the door to check he had actually gone.

“Has he told you about the bedbugs?” she asked intently.

“Bedbugs? No…” I replied, wondering which weird fetish was going to make it into this tenancy agreement this time.

“Eugh, he never tells anybody about the bedbugs,” the other one housemate growled. “Well, don’t move in here unless you fancy waking up with insect bites every morning. We’ve had them for about three months and he won’t call an exterminator. Also he takes rent in cash.”

I downed my tea, thanked them for their time, went home and burned my clothes.

Spareroom: The best of the rest

The next fortnight or so was an interesting mixed bag of viewings around London. I got to do a nice bit of travelling having viewed houses in Hackney, Walthamstow and Oval and lived off enough meal deals to last a lifetime (I’m sure my stomach is still lined with Tesco’s southern-fried chicken and chipotle sandwiches).

Along the way I had a few more interesting run-ins – the police bust next door to the open-house (“Oh, you must be looking for 28! This is 28A. Now move along.”) and the illegal sublet where I’d be sharing the basement room with the washing machine stick out. I began to wonder if my friends actually lived in London or were just lying and commuting from Bedford or Luton.

Thankfully there was light at the end of the tunnel as I managed to find a place in Brixton where the housemates don’t seem like complete nut-jobs, the bed was insect-free and I didn’t have to sleep next to something that dined on liquitabs.

I’m just waiting for the no-porn rule.

 

 

 

Planet Earth 2: Episode 6 ‘Cities’ Review – Catfished

Planet Earth 2: Episode 6 ‘Cities’ Review – Catfished

Planet Earth 2: Episode Six recap

The final episode of Planet Earth 2, ‘Cities’, featured incredible starling displays, a bird who didn’t know what he was letting himself in for and kleptomaniac monkeys.

As we zoomed out from the huge globe before the screen was emblazoned by the familiar opening credits for the final time, I felt a pang of sadness.

Not just because it meant I’d likely be stuck recapping something like the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas special, but also because it signalled the end of one of the best series on television this year.

We have already been treated to the sublime (iguana chases and eagle flights) to the hilarious (dancing bears and flying lizards), but the last episode had a few more tricks up its sleeve.

The visual highlight is undoubtedly the dazzling formations of the starling birds, which gracefully moved across the sky like an aerial lava lamp. The spectacle was breathtaking as millions of flying creatures cascaded around each other over Rome in a sight that must rival the Northern Lights in person.

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 12.09.40.png
Image taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0861m8b/planet-earth-ii-6-cities

The crew’s determination to get the best shots continued with a night-time scene of a leopard hunting pigs. The audience was treated to a night-vision view as the big cat stalked the porky families and made off with their babies in a scene sure to emotionally scar some viewers.

There was even a little excitement as the pigs incredibly gave chase – if a leopard came at me late at night you can be sure I’d flee the scene and use loved ones nearby as a human shield to aid my escape.

As mentioned above, no episode of this series would be complete without a little comic relief, and we certainly got that with the bowerbird. Animals attracting mates has been a staple of the series so far, and it looked as though Jack Bower had finally cracked it as he decorated his ‘lad-pad’ with shiny objects and attracted what he thought was a mate – until he realised it was another chap who hadn’t yet developed his plumage. Catfished.

We move from figurative to literal catfish as we saw pigeons being dragged under by the water-dwelling beasts (any of those around the Midlands and our ‘chicken’ places may go out go business). There was plenty more entertainment on show, from a raccoon playing crystal maze to get some dinner to crafty Rhesus Macaque monkeys terrorising a local market.

There was another tense struggle of baby animals facing a deadly world for the first time. I watched from between my hands as a turtle hatchling navigated a horror-journey into a city after mistaking the lights for the city. It tugged the heartstrings to see it travel to what it thought was the sea, and the show came full-circle as we saw crabs – the creatures I felt most sorry for in episode one – ruthlessly hunt the baby turtles before they had even arrived at a road full of deadly obstacles.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-11-54-25

The final word from David Attenborough himself was sobering. We’d seen incredible clips of animals and humans living side-by-side, with the latter even feeding monkeys and coyotes in scenes that would seem alien in a number of UK cities. We were shown the way forward in cooperating with out furry, winged or insect friends in some natural-urban cities in Singapore. His message was clear – we need to follow suit and furnish our planet carefully so as not to destroy their homes so we can continue to live together.

It was a sombre but important message to end a superb series on for which the crew deserve full credit. If things carry on as they are however, we will end up losing the stars of the show who have really made Planet Earth 2 so great – the animals themselves.

Feature image taken from Planet Earth II –  Cities available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0861m8b/planet-earth-ii-6-cities.

***

If you enjoyed this, you can find all my Planet Earth recaps and more here. Like the Facebook page and follow me on Twitter for more in the future!

 

Ticket For One – Is going to the cinema alone still a taboo?

Ticket For One – Is going to the cinema alone still a taboo?

Is Going to the Cinema Alone Weird?

Is going to the cinema alone weird, or an accepted hobby in 2016?

Before I even start, allow me to offer a piece of advice. If you’re going to the cinema alone, do not sit in the middle.

I made that mistake about a week ago. I had a relatively free day and decided I wanted to watch Arrival (which I also reviewed here; thanks for asking!), but it was the afternoon and all of my friends were at work. I’d been in this situation before; you wait for an evening you and your friends are free and, before you know it, the film is out of the cinema and you refuse to buy the DVD full price – it’d be Mad Max all over again.

Not being someone to download films (just to clarify incase Theresa May is reading) and also being a fan of the cinema experience, I decided to go into town to watch it – forgetting that it’s ridiculously expensive since I lost student privileges and Orange Wednesdays bit the dust years ago.

Before doing so I did text a couple of friends to ask – is going to the cinema alone still considered weird? Are you seen as a big screen enthusiast, or held with the same contempt as someone who dines alone in restaurants on Valentines Day, passing themselves presents and taking selfies with their steak.

The general consensus was that nobody knew. One friend called it “bold” another said it “might look a bit sad.” Neither, however, had ever done it – it was unchartered territory.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-14-18-20
Even the aliens in Arrival didn’t come alone – Image taken from ‘Arrival Trailer (2016) – Paramount Pictures’ available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFM03UJ4B4g

Weirdly when I got to the desk, I had a little trepidation about asking for the dreaded ‘Ticket for One’. Would the receptionist look at me with pity? Disgust? Admiration? Would she call for security in her earpiece and put me in a padded room with the bloke who came to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop on his lonesome years ago?

Of course, none of that happened. She printed my ticket and told me which screen it was with the indifference of someone who didn’t care for my internal plight. Perhaps going to the cinema alone was less of a big deal than I thought?

Once I’d entered the theatre I was in dreamland. The screen was completely free; no smooching couples or rabbles of kids throwing popcorn (it was daytime so you’d hope not). I decided to sit in the middle and dump my jacket like I owned the place. It looked as though I was having my own private viewing – like a billionaire or anybody that watched the new Ghostbusters.

At least it did to start with.

Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 16.26.55.png
Who you gonna call? Literally anyone else. Image taken from ‘GHOSTBUSTERS – OFFICIAL TRAILER (HD) available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3ugHP-yZXw

After the trailers started they started coming in. First a happy couple who, like me, clearly thought it was going to be empty and stopped in their tracks when they saw my lone figure. Sat in the middle. Looking back at them. They kept their heads down at moved to the end, not daring to make eye contact.

Then two mates with way too much food to eat between them. Then another couple. Then a group of three students. And I was on my own, proudly in the centre. I was the weirdo.

By the time the trailers were finishing there was around a dozen people and I was wondering what they must think of me sat on my own. My jacket was on the seat next to me – perhaps they thought it was for a friend? They would eventually find out that was not the case.

I wasn’t sure what to do, and I’d be lying if I said leaving didn’t cross my mind. People would think I needed a different screen or had the wrong time. Not being able to read single digit numbers would be less embarrassing than this.

Once the trailers finished, however, I eased up and within 20 minutes of the film starting I’d forgotten all my worries. There were no sniggers and nobody was texting or tweeting about ‘the sad loner’ in the cinema. If truth be told, nobody seemed to care as much as me.  Perhaps if I was laughing alone to a comedy I’d look strange, but in a film where everyone was focused on the screen and not talking I didn’t feel out of place at all.

So is going to the pictures alone still a taboo? Possibly not. If you say you’re going, will people frown at you like you’ve told them you like toe nail clippings on top of your porridge? Possibly. Did I write this so if anyone I asked I could justify my solo cinema trip as a social experiment? Absolutely.

But if you’re someone who loves the movies and there’s a film you really want to see, you’ll barely notice once the curtains open.

Just don’t sit in the middle.

Movie Review: Arrival

Movie Review: Arrival

Arrival: Movie Review

With a title like Arrival and a trailer full of interior spaceship views, men in camoflauge and unusual floating objects, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be another alien invasion film.

Even the opening sets it up that way as linguistic professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked to work alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to work out what the aliens want and if Earth is in danger.

As the film unfolds however, you realise this is anything but your standard alien sci-fi flick. For the most part of the 116 minute run-time, you are focused on Banks’ efforts to find out the alien motivation within their spacecraft or the political struggles behind the scenes rather than seeing how the planet is affected – indeed, a couple of phone calls and news reports are all you see from the outside world.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-14-18-20
Image taken from ‘Arrival Trailer (2016) – Paramount Picture’ available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFM03UJ4B4g

On paper this sounds like something which could turn people off, but you need not fear. Watching Banks wrestle sleep deprivation, visions of her daughter and pressure from the likeable but stern Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and the slimy Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) keeps you invested in her character, while the mystery of why the seemingly placid “heptapods” have visited are planet keep you hooked until the film’s mind-blowing finish.

Indeed the strength of the film is that in a number of ways it feels so grounded. Adams’ performance is entirely relatable – ranging from understated at times when the main character is unfamiliar with her surroundings to forceful and strong as events transpire. Her plausible reactions to the strange things happening around her and frustrating bureaucracy often hooks the audience in more than the special effects or set-pieces – like the look of wonderment when she first sees the aliens.

The bickering between nations on how to deal with a potential threat also means tensions are always simmering below the surface rather than thrust in our face, meaning that we are constantly in-tune with the pressure Banks and Donnelly are under rather than it feeling forced. Again, the differing approaches and mentalities of the nations involved feel like they could happen in real life, and leave you wondering whether it is how a scenario like this would unfold were it to happen today.

Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 14.19.16.png
Image taken from  ‘Arrival Trailer (2016) – Paramount Pictures’ available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFM03UJ4B4g

The film, which is based on Ted Chiang’s short Story of Your Life, is well-paced and manages to tie the themes of Bank’s troubles, political conflict and the aliens’ aims together in a superb final act that lives up to a slow (although never plodding) burn in the opening hour or so.

In summary, Arrival can almost be seen not only as the alien story for a modern age, but an interesting commentary on how the modern age would deal with an alien story, and it delivers on both scores brilliantly.

Heading image taken from ‘Arrival Trailer (2016) – Paramount Pictures’ available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g
Planet Earth 2: Episode 5 Review – Grassed Up

Planet Earth 2: Episode 5 Review – Grassed Up

Planet Earth 2: Episode Five recap

This week’s Planet Earth 2 review focuses on the habitats as much as the animals and features an incredible ‘Making of’ section.

Like episode three’s Jungles a couple of weeks ago, the penultimate segment of Planet Earth 2 strays away from focusing on one or two animals battling it out.

Instead it seems more interested in the varied grassland areas found in the far reaches of our planet. From the off we are introduced to animals navigating what appears at first to be almost a giant maze of grass in Northern India with an incredibly varied cast of animals from elephants to tigers.

It is soon clear that this isn’t the case all year round as we are treated to an incredible time lapse showing a storm flooding thousands of miles of grassland in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

In mere seconds of screen time the once jovial and bright vista is transformed into a soggy swampland, where animals plod through in scenes that reminded me of Glastonbury fields. If you listen faintly you can even hear what sounds like Coldplay – no wonder they all looked miserable.

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 19.09.23.png
Image taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b084xk6m/planet-earth-ii-5-grasslands

Throughout the show we are moved around the world – from Brazil to a frozen landscape in North America – we even make a stop in the UK at one point. It really highlights the time and effort that must go into producing the show, but more on that later.

For those more concerned with the critters themselves there is still a lot to enjoy – whether it is a day in the life of a hurrying harvest mouse hopping around Norfolk and evading a barn owl in a manner befitting You’ve Been Framed, or a caribou only weeks old being chased by an arctic wolf, there are plenty of tense moments on show.

The highlight of the animals may just be a ten-tonne buffalo fearlessly facing off against five hungry lionesses in an incredible scene that resembled a rodeo, although a fox diving headfirst into snow half a dozen times will probably amuse people the most.

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 19.23.16.png
Image taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b084xk6m/planet-earth-ii-5-grasslands

Arguably the best is saved for last however. In an ending featurette that may even top the incredible wind-suit flight of the first episode we see the lengths the film crew will go to for the perfect shot – and the lengths the animals will go to keep them out.

One of the photographers, Sandesh Kadur (I really hope I got that right) might just be one of the bravest men I have seen on a nature documentary as he waits days in tiger territory protected by about three vines and a dozen leaves for only a few seconds of footage. He might just be my star of the show and he didn’t even need to face-plant the snow (not on camera at least).

In summary, another success where the execution was, incredibly, even more impressive than the cast of animals that have made the series memorable so far.

All images taken from BBC iPlayer – Planer Earth II – 5. Grasslands available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b084xk6m/planet-earth-ii-5-grasslands
Planet Earth 2: Episode 4 Review – Just Deserts

Planet Earth 2: Episode 4 Review – Just Deserts

Planet Earth 2: Episode 4 Recap

This week’s review of Planet Earth II features stallion warfare, an adorable golden mole and ‘Giraffe vs Lion: The Reckoning.’

This week’s edition of Planet Earth II seemed desperate to raise the stakes when it comes to cinematic openings as a barren landscape was engulfed by a giant killer candy floss.

Wait a minute, it was a sandstorm? Oh deserts, not desserts. There goes my other pitch to Syfy.

Unlike my intro however, Deserts got straight to the point. After last week’s episode failed to deliver the standout moment everyone would use for memes on Facebook, Attenborough and co provided us with the perfect GIF for someone to post ‘Me on Black Friday’ as we witnessed a galloping giraffe trample a lion primed for attack.

Screen Shot 2016-11-29 at 20.10.18.png
Image taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b084ftll/planet-earth-ii-4-deserts

The reason this segment was so interesting wasn’t just in the pursuit (and the surprising speed giraffes apparently reach when it hits the fan), but in the way it subverted the side the viewer usually cheers on.

Prior to this episode I was fully prepared to cheer on a giraffe as it undertook a lion-slaying spree through the desert, but when it was explained the lions had to cover roughly the area of SWITZERLAND to find a meal and had been starving for three days already, I kind of backed them instead. Especially as the kind of guy who gets annoyed at walking half a mile for a 3am McDonalds.

This seemed to be the theme for much of the episode. I found myself backing the bat taking on a deadly scorpion that could have one-shotted him with his stinger and fawning over a fluffy golden mole committing termite genocide. Attenborough was turning me into a serial-killer sympathiser.

Thankfully – for my own sanity – there were some bits I didn’t get on board with. No chance was I on the side of the murderous bird impaling it’s victims on spikes like something out of Game of Thrones (no matter how much chirpy music they put on to make it sound like The Good Life).

Of course, we did have some usual fanfare villains. The horde of locusts was a little unnerving, and there were so many at one point I was on the phone to Currys complaining about my TV’s picture and nearly missed the next part.

There was also the usual incredible scenery and impressive shots we’ve now come to expect from Planet Earth II. My personal highlight was when thousands of different animals filed considerately to drink from a water hole (unlike if it was a London tube), before chaos descended as a hawk attacked dozens of sandgrouse, while the other animals looked on nonchalantly (THAT’S more like a London tube).

In summary, another strong episode with more than one anecdote to talk about at the at work over the week. I haven’t even mentioned the stallion fight, which was the icing on the cake. Oh wait, Deserts. DAMN!

Walking Dead Suffers Lowest Ratings Since Season 3 – and Here’s Why

Walking Dead Suffers Lowest Ratings Since Season 3 – and Here’s Why

Walking Dead Suffers Lowest Ratings Since Season 3

Spoilers for The Walking Dead season 7 below, as well as key plot elements from the first six seasons.

When hit drama The Walking Dead batted it’s way back onto our television screens with its season 7 premiere, it looked as though it was here to stay.

An astounding 17.03 million people in the US tuned in to see whose brains Negan decorated the ground with – the second highest behind the season five premiere (17.23).

Since the premiere however, the viewing figures have plummeted week-by-week and now sit at just under 11m, the lowest since season three.

In each season, TWD has seen it’s ratings dropped steadily from episode one before rising at the season premiere. It had however enjoyed consistent figures between seasons four and six, with the number only once dropping below 12m in that period.

So why are people tuning out?

NEGAN FACTOR NOT ENOUGH

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 18.03.03.png

Perhaps ironically judging by the above figures, I’m someone who stopped watching after season 3.

The early seasons of TWD came at the perfect time for me as I was at university and willing to fill my time with anything that didn’t involve me doing work or changing out of my pyjamas.

I was pulled back in however by reading about the season six finale and once I’d watched a YouTube video of the charismatic Negan’s introduction (played brilliantly by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) I went back and binge-watched all of seasons four, five and six. After the premiere, I couldn’t wait to see more of him.

Although he still has the same blend of menace and charm, the leather-clad dictator hasn’t been given any depth as of yet. It seems just having a sharp smile isn’t enough to keep people on board.

FOCUS ON SINGLE STORYLINES DOESN’T WORK

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-18-10-03

One thing that seems to be the bugbear of many fans is the insistence on focusing on one plot line per episode.

It has been a common tactic since season three – following one character or a small group for a full 45 minutes – and is vastly different to shows like Game of Thrones, which checks in at different places.

This was fine when the group was mainly together, such as in Alexandria, but becomes incredibly frustrating when the protagonists are split up as they are now.

I enjoyed the episode with Daryl and the Saviors as it made you empathise with how isolated he must feel, but there’s no need to imprison the viewers as well.

MORE PEOPLE ARE BINGE-WATCHING

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 18.14.57.png

There is a chance that people have wised up to TWD’s template of a huge premiere, big mid-season action episode and exciting finale.

With more and more options of television due to the advent of Netflix, Amazon and also just generally better writing, people may just decide they don’t have the time to set aside each week and would rather watch a few episodes at a time.

When the audience twigs that they won’t miss anything for a few weeks, they’re more likely to take a break and tune in when something starts happening.

***

Header image taken from ‘The Walking Dead Season 7 Trailer’ on FOX UK YouTube channel available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eklTw0iuMaE
Other images taken from ‘The Walking Dead Season 7 Trailer’ on FOX UK’s YouTube channel available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eklTw0iuMaE and ‘Season 7 ‘Negan’ Trailer’ on FOX UK’s channel available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuOtNfceSeg
Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Harry Potter fanatics will have been incredibly excited to see J.K Rowling’s works brought to life on the big screen again, but ironically this is a film that shines when it distances itself from the boy wizard’s adventures.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set approximately 70 years before Harry, Hermione and Ron’s adventures in Hogwarts and instead follows the story of Newt Scamander – an eccentric, introverted and zoologist for magical creatures.

Most of the movie’s strengths lie exactly where one would expect – the special effects. There are scores of magical creatures who have been superbly realised and look great – particularly in the scenes where we see them in their “natural” habitats – and the American ministry building (MACUSA) is brought to life with its own unique aesthetic.

The acting is as solid as you’d expect. Love him or hate him, Eddie Redmayne makes the role of Scamander his own with some great physical acting. He plays the animal expert in a typically awkward and shuffling manner and would no doubt win another Oscar for ‘Actor who spends most time in hunched position.’

Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler)  is refreshing as a non-magical character who feels natural and contributes to the film from a muggle point of view (or nomaj for Americans), rather than being restricted to some shoehorned physical gags, while Ezra Miller is also brilliantly unnerving as Credence Barebone – an adopted child who seems to be wrestling with his role as a witch hunter of sorts, leading to some of the darker moments in the film.

For me the best acting comes from Colin Farrell as no-nonsense auror Percival Graves. Farrell brings some steel to a type of character we rarely saw in the original films – a powerful ministry wizard, but one who is grey in terms of his morals and motives.

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 08.45.15.png
Farrell is superb – Image taken from ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Final Trailer (HD)’ available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs05011LuGU

As I said in the intro however, Beasts is at its best when it isn’t trying to be anything like the original films. For fans of the books, the hint of Grindelwald at the start is enough to spark excitement while setting the film in muggle New York rather than a magical school leads to interesting themes of anti-wizardry feeling and propaganda that was missing in the originals and, in a lot of ways, mirrors our world today.

My only real gripe was that is sometimes felt this story was unfolding in the background when it should have been at the forefront. Anything with the ‘Second Salem’ witch hunters feels creepy and darker then anything and Graves was in nearly all of the strongest scenes. It would have been nice to have more about them, rather one or two of the animal chase segments.

It’s easy to forget that this is the first of five instalments however and it hopefully hints at a more adult story in later films. Beasts has laid the foundations for a darker wizarding adventure – I just hope it follows it through.

Header image taken from ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Final Trailer (HD)’ available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vso5o11LuGU

***

If you liked this, you can find more film and TV reviews here.