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Throughout his tenure as showrunner of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat has – for better or worse – been happy to experiment with the show’s format; offering episodes treated as mini-movies like season 7 or bringing in multipart stories as in season 9. Based on the evidence of season 10’s opener, Moffat appears to be at his most daring by giving us stripped back storytelling that (so far) isn’t weighed down by the events of the seasons before it. I know! Who knew?

Like Dan Harmon’s fifth season return to Community, Moffat appears to be applying a soft reboot to Doctor Who that doesn’t ignore his contribution to the show but offers potential new viewers an opportunity to see what the fuss has been for ten seasons. In some ways, this is his version of Rose, the episode that kicked off the show’s relaunch 12 years ago. Yes, really, 12 years ago! To be honest, if there had been a big reveal that this had been written by Russell T Davies in secret, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Tonally, The Pilot is so different from previous seasons.

Through the eyes of audience surrogate Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), veteran fans are reintroduced to The Doctor as a beguiling university lecturer, who enthrals Bill with his idiosyncratic lectures ranging Fromm quantum physics to poetry. Bill, we quickly discover, isn’t a student at the university, instead working at the canteen where she gives her crushes extra portions of chips in order to get them to notice her. Like Davies, Moffat manages to paint the fullest picture of Bill in such a short time. She’s gay, she has a stepmum, she’s intuitive, she’s intelligent, she likes sci-fi. In short, she’s a person! A real breathing person that lives off screen. Let’s be honest, Clara was great and all, but any growth she had was completely dependent on what the story needed from her at the time.

Young and sassy, comparisons to Rose Tyler are to be expected but there’s also a hint of Donna Noble in Bill, as she questions the nature of who the Doctor is. Moffat gets dragged across the coals by certain corners of the internet for a supposed disregard for the show’s 50 year canon, but as The Pilot proves, that’s really not the case. The Sherlock writer has a clear love for the show, one which he uses to dismantle and examine its supposedly sacred cows. In his time we’ve established time lords can change race and gender, that they have a sexuality (you hear that Lungbarrow) and, as Bill points out, they weirdly use English to name their ships. No, there’s always been a cheekiness to Moffat’s writing but it’s never to be mean or disrespectful. Though I think he does enjoy needling some of the more hardcore fans.

This respect for the past can be seen in The Pilot’s numerous nods to the series of yore. Having set himself up as a lecturer, the Doctor’s office is littered with paraphernalia from his past. Most prominently, two large photos on his desk of his out of time wife River Song and, most intriguingly, Susan, his granddaughter. Since being left by her grandfather on earth several eons ago, Susan has been alluded to throughout the show’s later years. However, outside of tripping over constantly in The Five Doctors, we’ve not heard much from her. Whether this is just one of Moffatt’s red herrings it’s yet to be seen, but those watching this season’s opener would fail to have missed that there’s some connection being hinted at between Bill and Susan.

Returning to character growth, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor appears to have softened greatly since the lacklustre Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Still being fussed over by Nardole, played by the always wonderful Matt Lucas, the Doctor might be bristly, but he’s not adverse to moments of charity. To be fair, The Doctor under Moffat is a big fan of the secretive grand gesture towards others, and you’d be lying if you said your heart didn’t glow when we found out he’d gone back in time to take pictures of Bill’s deceased mother as a Christmas present. Under Russell T Davies, this the kind of thing that would have been played out with perhaps too much sugar and syrup. Here, Moffat gets the balance just right, ensuring that we never forget that this is still the Doctor that doesn’t hug. Though it is somewhat odd that Bill, who catches a glimpse of the Doctor in one of these photos, never brings this up with her grumpy lecturer.

What I haven’t mentioned here is the episode’s big bad and, to be fair, that’s for good reason. Whilst the concept of a killer puddle of oil was admittedly fun, The Pilot was never about the creature that stalked Bill and the Doctor in the guise of the former’s crush. It’s about the bond that’s forged between the duo – and Nardole – as they skip through time, country and beyond to escape it. To make it anything more than one long chase sequence would perhaps have done the episode a disservice and overshadowed the sterling work done by Mackie and Moffatt in setting up the character of Bill. We have a whole season to watch her get in over her head, so I’m happy to get to know her first. And what of the Vault that was, until the end, keeping the Doctor on Earth? Obviously, we’ll find out before Capaldi takes his bow but let’s hope it’s not as complicated as McGuffins in the past. Hello, Pandorica!

We can’t hide from the fact that this Capaldi’s last season but, based on the strength of this opening, we can hope that it will give the actor a perfect send off. That said, after you’ve had a previous regenerate after falling off an exercise bike, you can’t get much worse.

So, hello to Bill and welcome back Doctor, I look forward to seeing what awaits you.

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April 20, 2016 — Leave a comment

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Excess Flesh (2016)

March 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

Jill (Bethany Orr) is average in every way from her height, her looks to her weight. There’s a chance that Jill could live a fairly average life, free from drama, if it wasn’t for her flatmate Jennifer (Mary Loveless). Jennifer works in the fashion industry; she’s hot, she’s sexy and she can eat whatever she wants without putting on weight. Jill idolises her and she knows it, calling out Jennifer on the slightest things and immediately apologising and bending the frumpy flatmate to her will. When Jennifer’s putdowns become too much, Jill snaps and holds the model hostage, putting her through a series of humiliating exercises centred around her eating and good looks.

This feature length debut from Patrick Kennelly follows in the same footprints of Jimmy Webber’s Eat; being a body horror that hangs its narrative off eating disorders and the people who develop them through trying to establish some sort of control. Jill gorges on pop tarts and corn chips, much like Jennifer. Both women purge themselves of their ‘sins’ through vomiting, and yet it is Jill who always comes out the worst. Jennifer gets the men she wants, she gets the clothes she wants, she has the friends she wants. Jill’s trophy cabinet includes a nosey neighbour, and a potential lover who scurries off between Jennifer’s legs eventually.

It’s a common complaint that women are bombarded with perfection on a daily/weekly/minute-to-minute basis by images hawking the ‘perfect’ look. Jennifer is a personification of this trend, screaming and spitting in Jill’s face constantly to fornicate off but also be her friend. The metaphor is obvious but Kennelly doesn’t seem to want to hide behind symbolism. He wants you to understand in simple terms where he’s coming from and his eventual destination. At least, he does at the beginning. After a deliberately slow start that allows the viewer to settle down into the world of Jill and Jennifer, with it’s parties, sex and burritos filled with corn chips, Kennelly leads them into a room where food is god and the believer’s flesh is weak.

This is a very angry film that vomits flames at society. Through stylised camerawork and lighting, Kennelly’s paints a world where consumption of all kinds is the key to happiness. Witness Jill vomiting in slow motion before ending in a moment of orgasmic pleasure. Listen as Kennelly ramps up the sound so you hear every bite of red velvet cake. It’s a horrific blend of sight and sound. And yet, at times, the film gets too caught up in its own vitriol and the narrative drag at times. It’s a minor complaint, but Excess Flesh could do with losing the occasional dream sequence to speed things along.

Excess Flesh is a fetid example of body horror; whose message is obvious but it’s intentions are good. It’s squalid and vicious and guaranteed to make you feel nauseous. If you’ve ever watched Girls and prayed there would be an episode when Hannah finally snapped, this is that episode.

This review was originally in earlybirdfilm.wordpress.com.

In what feels like seven decades in the making, two of DC’s mightiest heroes go toe to toe in an all-out no holds barred smack down. This, we’re assured by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor several times, will be the gladiatorial fight of the century. Is it though?

Don’t let the action figures and pint sized pyjamas on sale in Kmart fool you. Batman v Supermanis not a kid’s film. Nor is it even a family film. This cinematic interpretation is aimed squarely at the adults who want, nay demand, that their childhood obsessions grow up with them. This is translated into a cinematic universe where Batman tackles paedophiles and sex traffickers by branding them with a hot bat symbol, where Superman’s deeds in Man of Steel resulted in the deaths of thousands and Lex Luthor waxes lyrical about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and sends jars of urine to his enemies before blowing them up. This is a DC comic filtered through the lens of a bad fan fiction. This not a universe I want to live in.

It may be an old fashioned way of thinking, but superhero movies need to show their heroes being, well, super. In Batman v Superman – a title bout that doesn’t happen till around the two-hour mark – both of our heroes are rarely seen doing anything remotely so.

As Bruce Wayne/Batman, Ben Affleck is in danger of tripping over his brow due to how furrowed it is. He lives in a modern condo down river from a desolate Wayne Manor. He spends his nights with literally faceless women and having violent visions about Henry Cavill’s Superman. Having seen the blue tighted one effectively turn Metropolis to dust two years previously, the playboy millionaire is concerned for the welfare of America at the hands of aliens. In a sense, he’s the Donald Trump of superheroes.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with his work life balance as the media slowly becomes obsessed with Superman and the untold damage his heroics have caused over the years. Would it have hurt the film to have a simple scene of Clark enjoying being a superhero? Evidently so. If you enjoyed moody space Jesus in Man of Steel, you’re going to get a kick out of watching him crying in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the whole murky affair – and director Zack Snyder has really gone out of his way to drain this comic book movie of most hues – is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Though even then, it’s hard not to feel her appearance would have had more effect had it not been spread thinly across every trailer in the last six months.

Later this year, Marvel will throw their own one on one into the cinema with Captain America: Civil War. It’s important to mention this, because with ten films down, Marvel has earned the right to have Captain America and Iron Man square off. This only the second film of the DC Cinematic Universe, and quite frankly everyone needs to be given time to breathe and think about what they really want to do. Sony’s aborted Amazing Spider-Man trilogy shows that trying to capture the same lightening as Marvel is going to be hard. DC can pull it off if they stop trying to rush everything and overstuff the film; spending close to three hours throwing everything at the screen in the hopes that something sticks.

There are several cameos, and (so. many.) dream sequences, that obviously hint at future adventures, which is fine. However, when a certain Justice League member turns up from the future to warn Batman about the past, and who is never referred to again for the rest of the film, its evident that DC comics doesn’t care for the casual viewer. They want the fans. They want the fan’s money. It’s marketing at it’s most cynical.

Overlong, dull and pretentious, Batman v Superman is the superhero movie that dyes its hair black, plays Lana Del Rey songs repeatedly and refuses to call Mum’s new lover Dad no matter how much Steve insists.

 

This review originally appeared at earlybirdfilm.wordpress.com

Having already tackled his work with 2010’s Kick Ass, director Matthew Vaughn returns to the material of l’enfant terrible, Mark Millar with Kingsman: The Secret Service. Loosely based on Millar’s comic book The Secret Service, the film stars Taron Egerton as Eggsy, a London kid from the wrong side of the tracks who is taken under the wing of Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a friend of the yobbo’s father. In reality, Harry is also a gentleman spy for the Kingsman agency who set up shop, literally, on Saville Row. Harry believes that Eggsy is just what the secret sevice needs to bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, much the chagrin of it’s head of operations, Arthur (Michael Caine). Whilst Eggsy tackles his spy training head on, internet tycoon Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L Jackson) is traversing the globe looking for the rich and powerful to join him in his solution for global warming. Spoilers: he’s up to no good. Can Eggsy and Hart stop him before it’s too late? Cue a dramatic sting.

With a script co-written with his usual collaborator Jane Goodman, Vaughn’s Kingsman is an explosive and blackly humorous response to the po-faced spy thrillers such as the Bourne Trilogy (there is no fourth) and Daniel Craig’s Bond. It’s also spectacularly violent, with a large portion of that violence being dolled out at a Westboro Baptist type church scene that is equal parts vulgar and memorable. Anyone raising an eyebrow at Colin Firth being in an action film will be pleasantly surprised as he fights his way through the aforementioned scene that feels like both The Raid movies compressed down to five minutes. Egerton, meanwhile, never plays Eggsy as an over the top chav, ensuring that the audience truly invests in his growth as butt-kicking spy.

Whilst the film never lets up, there are some missteps. Kingsman was clearly filmed in the UK, and its apparent in many a scene that steps foot outside the British Isles. Admittedly not the crime of the century, but it does take you out of the film. Additionally, like much of Millar’s work, Kingsman doesn’t really have time for women. It has nothing on Kick Ass 2’s playing rape for jokes,  but it’s hard not to wince when, for example, Eggsy’s mum (Samantha Janus) goes from being a strong role model for her son, to a coked up layabout as soon as her husband dies, I’m not suggesting that people are affected by grief in different ways, but the contrast is shocking. The film’s light misogyny comes to a head in a final scene joke that attempts to satirise the typical ending of a Bond movie, but instead manages to rewrite Eggsy character unnecessarily.

If you’re willing to over look these missteps, then you’ll find Kingsman to be, for the most part, a blistering, balls to the wall comic book adaptation.

Starry Eyes

January 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

starry-eyes-itunes-trailer

‘Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame,’ a great philosopher once wrote, ‘That burns your change to keep you insane.’ And that slice of 80s new romantic song writing couldn’t be truer than in Starry Eyes, the latest from joint directors, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer.

Alex Essoe (Boy Toy) plays wannabe actress Sarah, who is trying to achieve what any twenty-something wants to when they move to LA: make it big, darling! Her friends, a rag tag bunch of posers, directors and artistes, suffer from desires of stardom. And whilst one or two struggle with their muses, a few more see fame as an extension of simply getting people to flat out notice you. Sarah just wants to pass an audition.

Working at a knock-off Hooters restaurant to pay the bills, she has the determination and the chutzpah, but struggles when she gets on the casting couch. Her annoyance at her fluffed lines and stilted performances manifests itself into Sarah chastising herself by pulling out large chunks of her hair.

After a particularly awkward audition for Astraeus Pictures, a once powerful company having seen better days, Sarah is overheard punishing her in a toilet cubicle by the casting director, leading to her being invited to a second audition where she ends up writhing naked in front a spotlight. A third audition opens up the suggestion of what else she’s willing to do. Or should that really be who? It’s not long before Sarah’s life is prodded and poked as Astraeus begins to groom and coax their next big thing.

Read more: http://horrornews.net/92834/film-review-starry-eyes-2013-review-2/#ixzz3PgeRTGmJ

About The Author
My name is John Noonan. I’m a freelance writer that specialises in arts and entertainment. From genre flicks to chick flicks, I love the stuff. So much so, I started a film review blog at earlybirdfilm.wordpress.com. I also contribute to online and hard copy press, including FilmInk magazine.

If you like what you see, I am available for hire. You can contact me via the social media channels above or the form on my home page.

Taken 3 (2015)

January 13, 2015 — Leave a comment

Liam Neeson is back as Bryan Mills in Taken 3 – infuriatingly written as Tak3n in some quarters – the second sequel to the surprise hit of 2008. The last entry, Taken 2, followed the idiom of it’s not broke, don’t fix it and essentially became a retread of the first albeit with more daughter, more Famke Janssen and added orienteering with grenades.

This time around Taken 3 turns out to actually be a large misnomer, with no one being taken, swiped, pilfered, shanghaied, kidnapped, shoplifted, disappeared or hijacked. Instead, our Irish hero finds himself on the run from the police when he is set up for the murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen in what is fair to say a small cameo). With his ex’s husband from the last two films – now being played by a sleazy Dougray Scott – pointing the finger of blame squarely at him, Bryan must find out who set him up and why. Hot on his heels is Inspector Dozler, played by Forest Whittaker, potentially the slowest detective to hit our screens since Inspector Clouseau.

Read the rest of the review at: https://earlybirdfilm.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/taken-3-2015/

About The Author
My name is John Noonan. I’m a freelance writer that specialises in arts and entertainment. From genre flicks to chick flicks, I love the stuff. So much so, I started a film review blog at earlybirdfilm.wordpress.com. I also contribute to online and hard copy press, including FilmInk magazine.

If you like what you see, I am available for hire. You can contact me via the social media channels above or the form on my home page.