Thursday, 9 November 2017


If you haven't heard of 'Stranger Things' by now you must have been in the Upside Down with no wifi signal to tune into Netflix. One year ago the world was plunged into an epic 80's sci-fi thriller world where Dungeons and Dragons, VHS cassettes and BMX bikes were all the rage, and now, with the eruption of Season 2 hitting our tv and mobile screens, it seems fitting to look back on where this journey began...

Since the late 1890's the imaginations of people all around the globe have been fascinated by the possibility of life on other planets and visitors from outer space. Thanks to the great early science-fiction authors such as H.G. Wells and John Wyndham, the books 'War of the Worlds' and 'The Crysalids' taught us that the scientifically impossible could be found perhaps not only amongst the stars, but amongst ourselves.

From then on humanity looked upwards, wondering, researching, hypothesising about things that should be left untouched. In the early 1980's, when the modern science-fiction movement was really coming into its own, audiences were captivated by films that truly embraced these fantastical ideas: 'The Thing', 'E.T.' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' all set the stage for an extra-terrestrial experience. With the likes of Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg at the helm there was no knowing where the cinema screen would take us next.

'Stranger Things' humbly takes into account all of the work of the sci-fi greats. From inserting behind-the-scenes movie info to providing memorable and loving references, the series provides a link to the past and, at the same time, creates something extraordinary. Promising nerve-wrecking suspense and terrifying supernatural occurrences, the Netflix Original series is a fantastic showcase of classic psychological thriller and scientific conspiracy based in a small Indiana Town where nothing ever happens.


Meet Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) - a typical bunch of  12 year-old misfit, nerdy, fantasy and sci-fi enthusiasts. With a bond of friendship between them akin to that of 'Super 8' and 'The Goonies', their comedic bickering and stereotypical geek knowledge is sure to be an instant win with fans of the era. There's talk of comics, Star Wars and  even the Lord of the Rings (or the Hobbit in some cases, but let's not argue on that topic). And yet amidst the games and innocent banter, something sinister lurks in the shadows, waiting for the opportune moment to take both the characters and audience by surprise.

In a slow build-up of dark roads and flickering bicycle lights, the tone is set as Will, the youngest son of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) encounters something terrifying on the path home through Mirkwood, the twilight hour tolling with nervous anticipation. Eerie bicycle wheels circling to a halt and dead phone lines create an exciting tension as the young Hawkins town boy backs into his shed, gun raised as he waits, listening for the predator to finish circling its prey. But as the sound design fades and Will's heavy breathing comes to the forefront, the audience is left hanging on the edge of their sits, already drawn into the story in just under 8 minutes of viewing time.

In a flash Will is gone, and it is immediately apparent that there are far stranger forces at play.

Whilst the plot is shrouded by mysterious government facilities and the creeping threat of an unknown evil increases, it is the character's individual stories that really drives the series on, with their quirkiness and the fabulous flaws that essentially make a character lovable. The kids especially are a joy to watch, and their journey proves just how important acceptance, kindness and friendship really is. If anything, the series provides valuable lessons for today's young viewers: stick with your true friends, don't make promises you can't keep, and don't go out at night alone!

Accompanying the boys is Millie Bobby Brown, and her performance as the enigmatic Eleven is nothing short of astounding. Conveying much of her character through subtle actions and a deep intensity of emotion, Millie brings both mystery and a sweet vulnerability to the table, often through simple glances or words. Whilst the true nature of her character remains unknown, the more she learns about what it is to be a normal kid, the more her personality comes to light. Her interaction with both the kids and the adults is at times hilarious, and other times devastatingly sad. And if you don't know what Eggo's are, you'll certainly never forget them after watching this series.

As the three main leading adults, Joyce Byers, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Dr Brenner (Matthew Modine) all have different roles to play: the hysterical mother that no one believes; the calm Sheriff determined to uncover the truth; the villainous scientist whose creepy silent smile tells the audience all they need to know. The contrast of these characters alone brings such a diverse range of talents, and Ryder, Harbour and Modine all give incredibly moving performances.

Other characters to look out for include Steve Harrington - who you may have heard called 'Dad-Steve' by now (Joe Keery), Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Barbara 'Barb' Holland (Shannon Purser) who all add a brilliant dimension to this twisty-turvy, upside-down story that is wholly unpredictable.

Despite being rated a 15, 'Stranger Things' has been labelled a family-friendly horror - although this does depend on how much language you can stomach and how easily spooked your children are. With a classic 80's title sequence combined with Carpenter-esque synthesised music that resembles Daft Punk's soundtrack for TRON: Legacy, Netflix and the Duffer Brothers have pulled out all the stops to fully immerse their audience in the nostalgic-ridden world of the 1980's. In essence, it pays homage to every sci-fi movie ever made.

Whilst Netflix continues to create new, original series, it would seem that 'Stranger Things' will rise to become one of, if not the best they have made to date. (And that's taking into account everything that has come out of 2017 so far too). It is without a doubt so irresistibly appealing that viewers will find it hard not to indulge themselves and binge-watch the entire series in just one sitting. So, if you're easily startled grab a pillow and watch during daylight hours, if not then grab some popcorn and tuck yourself in for one heck of a rollercoaster ride - though you may want a pillow handy just in case.

View trailer for Series 1 here:
View trailer for Series 2 here:

Friday, 20 October 2017

REVIEW: Far Beyond the Waves

"Our life is like a single drop in the ocean."

Sometimes the combination of beautiful cinematography and the raw flow of an honest narrative is enough to make the most effective, memorable and impactful film. ‘Far Beyond the Waves’ is one such film. It tells the beautifully moving story of a couple who meet with perhaps the most unexpected fear any parent can face.

“We sometimes never fully understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time. Life doesn't always work out the way we thought it would, does it?”

This story, lovingly and sensitively told, is written through metaphors: the waves that are sometimes calm, sometimes unpredictable, as life is. Charlotte Nall reveals her personal trauma in going through a stillbirth with her husband, and in doing so paints the bittersweet portrait of a precious, fleeting life. The charity they set up, Little Fingers, seeks to bring comfort and support to families who go through the same experience, to bring awareness to the world that every life, no matter how short, is important. You can visit their webpage here:

Directed by Simon Reinert (a director and filmmaker from NYC), 'Far Beyond the Waves' is a visual masterpiece. Accompanying the story is an astonishingly array of colours and scenes: a soft focus of sunshine through spring leaves; wide steady shots of long grey beaches and looming cliffs. Every shot is visually pleasing to the eye, combining contrasting complimentary colours like hazy blues, soft oranges and muted grey tones to create an unforgettable aesthetic.

The orange and blue film look, or rather amber and teal, is now one of the most sought after film grading colour palettes out there, and in this film it really does deliver. It isn't harsh in contrast, nor does it isolate the characters from the background. Instead the colour grading is subtle, and gentle enough to entice the audience into an entrancing viewing experience. The angle, framing and focus all enhance the narrative by telling their own small, and yet significant part of the bigger picture. One thing is certain, 'Far Beyond the Waves' encompasses simple, effective storytelling at its best.

You can view the full film here:

Friday, 25 August 2017


It's been nearly 50 years since the Planet of the Apes franchise first started, and although making sequels and prequels appears to be the norm nowadays, the prequel trilogy starring Andy Serkis in the role of Caesar may prove to be one of the most popular and successful reboots to date.

Despite finally coming to the end of a brilliant new trilogy that tells the story of how the Planet of the Apes came to be, the third installment did in no way disappoint. War for the Planet of the Apes delivers an emotionally driven story that is accompanied by stunning cinematography, incredibly technical visual effects and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack composed by the amazing Michael Giacchino.

Directed and co-written by Matt Reeves, the film delivers what everyone has been waiting for: the final battle between Apes and Humans. Having survived a disease that wiped out the majority of humankind in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the remaining survivors are faced with a choice: to spend the remnants of their days in fear of extinction or to stand and fight for their future.

                                                                                  "Apes Together Strong!"

After the meltdown in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes it is no surprise that the humans have been driven to their wits end, many becoming extreme in their hatred against the advanced species they created. The Apes similarly encounter a dilemma: to continually run from the humans and seek a peaceful life, or to confront the war that has been waged against them. War for the Planet of the Apes may appear to be self-explanatory, but if you were simply imagining a huge battle between mankind and ape, think again.

Reprising their roles alongside Andy Serkis are Karin Konoval (Maurice), Terry Notary (Rocket), Devyn Dalton (Cornelius), Michael Adamthwaite (Luca) and Judy Greer (Cornelia). And joining the overwhelmingly fantastic cast most notably are Woody Harrelson (The Colonel), Steve Zahn (Bad Ape) and Amiah Miller (Nova).


Straight away this film apart is set apart by the brilliant re-composing of the 20th Century Fox theme, heavily packed with wooden, earthy war-mongering sounds - the perfect premise for a battle that starts sooner than one expects. The severity of the situation is revealed almost instantly as armed soldiers creep up a woodland bank, 'Monkey Killer' and 'Bedtime for Bonzo' scrawled in white paint on the backs of their helmets. Whist providing a summary of the prior plot-line, the opening sequence avoids being cliche with an extremely long shot that leaves one waiting with both anticipation and apprehension for the events to follow. And as the title is slowly revealed, the highlighting of the text is satisfyingly climactic as all three films are intricately bound together.

From snow-covered mountains to thick forests and military compounds, the audience is invited to join Caesar on an almost suicidal mission of revenge after the war takes a personal toll on his family. No more is he the sweet, innocent young ape we first met in Rise; he is now his own self, a leader, warrior, and thirsty for blood. This darker theme runs throughout the movie, touching on Caesar's guilt and personal struggle with his emotions and what he has fought to stand for. The motto 'Ape not kill Ape' is called into question several times, and an old enemy makes a surprising appearance.

Opposite Caesar is an extraordinarily extremist military leader: a man hell-bent on surviving and ridding the earth of the plague of apes that have infiltrated his world. Whilst there is a methodical madness and unforgiving nature to him on one hand, there is a grieving father on the other. Woody Harrelson plays The Colonel with a subtle brilliancy, his quietly demeanour both disturbing and compelling as the horrific truth is finally revealed.

"Bad guys" are no longer misrepresented as all black and no white; they are grey, multifaceted, multilayered characters that tear at the heartstrings and yet torment the mind with the knowledge that their salvation may never come. The Colonel is without one of those "bad guys", and Harrelson's delivery of him is superb.

Prior films have had their funny moments, but War for the Planet of the Apes goes beyond and presents an almost slapstick comedy sidekick who is far more endearing than one expects. Though having spent much of his life alone after escaping his compound, and having learnt to speak on his own, Bad Ape proves himself to be a valuable asset and trusted friend.

The audience were laughing out loud at his whimsical remarks, the way he dawdled around bumping into things, and fantastic comedy timing. His on-screen presence provides much relief for the characters and the audience as both are left baffled by his bumbling clumsiness and amusing reactions to the worst possible situations. Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn is certainly a breath of fresh air against the backdrop of bloodshed and hardship.

And then there is Nova. A silent role in a modern movie is quite rare these days, but Amiah Miller's character has no speaking lines at all. Pulling the audience in with her enchanting smile, her tears and her bravery, Nova seems to be the only remaining link with the apes and the humans as she discovers the simian world.

She makes a connection with each ape: Maurice, who teaches her to understand a world she cannot communicate with; Luca, who offers friendship in the simple act of picking a sprig of blossom for her; and Caesar, who despite his fixation on revenge, is touched by her kindness to both him and his kind. Miller is without doubt outstanding in her generation, and will hopefully make many appearances in the filmmaking world. It also goes to show that perhaps dialogue isn't everything when it comes to making a movie.

Motion capture has come a long way since it was first developed - having first sprung up in the 1970's, but really becoming prominent in 2002 with Gollum in the second Lord of the Rings film: The Two Towers. Now, after so many years of practice and technological advances, it seems it couldn't possibly get any better. The incredible detail in the animation is powerfully realistic; one forgets that there is an actor behind the digital mask.

In a movie with little dialogue, motion capture is brought directly to the forefront where it allows the audience to indulge in raw emotion: the stolen glances, the simple acts that bring a character to life. Andy Serkis is a true master of the niche technique, and it is delightful to watch others follow in his footsteps and make their own mark on the Motion Capture world.

"All of human history has lead to this moment..."
- The Colonel

As witnessed in Dawn, it was only a matter of time before the coexistence between Human and Ape gave way to an overpowering side. With the threat of humankind's extinction hanging in the balance, the audience is suddenly faced with a major dilemma: Human or Ape? As we've watched the Apes grow and develop, their knowledge and intelligence increasing as they learn more of the world around them, passing that information down to the younger generations, it comes almost as a shock when the humans start travelling in the opposite direction.

On one side the humans are represented as egotistical military maniacs with little to no mercy, and on the other they are an endangered species struggling to pick up the remaining pieces of their lives. In losing their ability to speak, due to the mutated virus that kick-started the entire situation, the humans lose part of their humanity - which brings to mind images of the dumb humans found in the Ape camps by Charlton Heston in the original Planet of the Apes.

"I did not start this war. I offered you peace. I showed you mercy. But now you're here to finish us off... for good"
- Caeser

Given the action-packed trailers and stunning opening sequence, one might expect this film to be a full-out battle for the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes. Instead the audience are thrust into a much more personal war between the two kinds - or so it would appear. Caeser's determination to hunt down the man responsible for his loss blinds him from the bigger picture and unravels the inevitable dangers of acting on emotions in war. This turn of events may be disappointing to some, and perhaps the trailer was a little misleading, but this storyline is in no way predictable nor cliche.

The character of Caeser has grown so much throughout the trilogy. We have watched him grow from a young ape first discovering his place in the world, to teacher, leader, father and warrior. His personal struggle in War for the Planet of the Apes brings to light the dark temptation of giving in to hatred and the choice that all must face in the end: to be consumed by revenge, or to forgive. The film rounds off Caeser's character arc with dignity, providing the perfect ending for the Ape leader.

As we near the story's end, the camera rests of the ape colony and their newfound home and then smoothly tilts up to reveal a clear sky. Going back to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the audience witnesses the launching of the Mars Mission and this shot alone brings their return into question. Could this lead to a remake of Charlton Heston first landing on the Planet of the Apes?

It's the end of an era, the end of Caeser's story, but one cannot help but wonder if there is still more to come...

See here for the trailer

Monday, 17 April 2017


Finally, after what feels like decades of waiting, it is finally here...

After the epicness of The Force Awakens, and then the Episode 4 prequel Rogue One, who knew that it was possible to get even more excited about Star Wars?

Following on from Episode 7, The Last Jedi promises more adventure, more action, and could possibly (just like The Empire Strikes Back) be overshadowed by the dark side of the force - hence the red typeface perhaps?

There were so many unanswered questions left after the last film: Who are Rey's parents? Who is Snoke? Has Luke already turned to the dark side? Will Finn survive? What is Snoke planning next? Will Kylo Ren eventually turn to the light, and be reunited with his mother? Will Leia be reunited with Luke?

Who knows? But the teaser trailer does offer enough sneak peeks to let the entire Star Wars fandom start speculating and anticipating the movie's plot. Besides, we've all watched it a million times now, right?


(Plus some spoilers from the other films...)

Slowly fading from a black starlit sky to something which resembles a smooth, rocky surface, the score mysteriously builds until a hand is suddenly thrust onto the screen. Once again we are introduced to Rey, gasping in shock. Already we know she is on the island where we last left the young scavenger and Luke Skywalker, standing with her arm outstretched, lightsaber in hand.


Mark Hamill's narration guides the audience through this trailer, somehow haunting and yet masterly, both sombre and reflective. The force and Rey's theme mix gorgeously in the first few minutes, foreshadowing her Jedi training to come. Going back to the title: The Last Jedi - this would at first give the impression of a singular Jedi, but what if  the word Jedi was actually plural? The fact that Luke is potentially training Rey would give significant weight to this theory, and the first three words: 'Breathe. Just breathe' suggests that Luke is indeed guiding and instructing Rey in the ways of the Force.

"Just breathe. Reach out"

As the music again builds, we see Rey standing on a precipice overlooking a vast stormy sea, and then a glorious slow motion shot of what is presumably Rey's powers being tested.

"What do you see?"

Rey answers: 'Light'. And what does one think of when thinking of light in Star Wars? The light side of the Force, hope, the rebellion, and of course Princess, or more recently General, Leia: the embodiment of hope and all that is good in the Star Wars universe.

Here fans are treated to a single shot of the back of their favourite space Princess overlooking a console and a holographic map on what looks like a spaceship. But is this the same map as the one that led to Luke or is there something more out there in this plot to discover? Luke went in search of the last Jedi temple, right? But who's to say he actually found it?

Whilst there is some speculation that this figure above is not General Leia, if you take a look at some of the behind the scenes photographs, it most probably is.  Also (Easter Egg!) if you listen super closely, you can hear her whispering: 'Help mObi-Wan'


And here lies a desolate image of the crushed remains of Kylo Ren's mask, his menacing theme seeping into the score. We last left the Knight of Ren on Starkiller base having been defeated in a battle with Rey, and after attempting, and failing, to seduce her to the darkside, the shattered shards of his mask could mean several things. His demise which isn't likely considering he is seen later on in the trailer or that he has broken free of his restraints (his family, particularly Han Solo) and now no longer has any need for a mask to hide behind.

A mother representing the light; her son representing the dark. Again, if you listen very closely, you can hear Obi-wan's voice echoing another sound bite from Episode 4: A New Hope: "Seduced by the dark side of the Force"

"A balance"

Now this is where it gets really interesting. A line of books sit quietly arranged under a seemingly significant beam of sunlight, and then a gloved hand tentatively touches a worn illustration of the symbol of the Jedi Order. Are these the books Luke had been using in his previous trainings, or are there more secrets to unlock between these faded pages? 'A balance' could refer to the balance between the light and the dark, between the Jedi and the Sith. The Star Wars geeks out there will know who keeps the balance between the two, but we'll touch more on this later.

This time it is Yoda's voice faintly whispering: 'it surrounds us... and binds us', referring to the Force in Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. The similarities between the two episodes would appear to be growing. Rey learning with her mentor Luke, who has hidden himself away from the world after witnessing the brutal fall of Ben Solo to the dark side and the consequent massacre of his Jedi in training, and Luke with his mentor Yoda, an experienced Jedi Master who lived in seclusion on the swamp planet Dagobah.

And so as the musical score crescendos into the dramatically epic Star Wars theme tune that we all love so dearly, the audience is presented with a feast for the eyes: strange ships discharging red mist as they hurtle across an icy surface towards AT-AT's (bearing similar resemblance to the battle on Hoth?), and then we are finally given a glimpse of Finn - though he may be asleep in some sort of life support container.

Poe and BB-8 run frantically down a corridor and shield themselves as his X-wing fighter is blown up as well as the surrounding hangar - which looks like it could be on a ship rather than a base? Is this part of the retaliation against the Resistance from the First Order? It'll be interesting to see how Poe's character develops in Episode 8 considering he was initially meant to be killed off in the crash on Jakku. Looks like there's no defeating the best pilot in the Resistance.

The Millennium Falcon swoops effortlessly through the sky mid-battle (flown by who we wonder?) and Kylo Ren sports an Anakin Skywalker-style scar over his right eye courtesy of Rey's lightsaber. Like grandfather, like grandson.

And then this shocking reveal of what looks like a temple burning in the distance as a hooded figure falls to their knees next to an R2 unit. Remember that shot from The Force Awakens trailer? Where a robotic hand reaches out to R2D2 as if both seeking and giving comfort? Well, these two shots look rather similar don't you think?

Is this, fans wonder, Luke Skywalker and R2D2? Unless the parallels between The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi run deeper than we think and, like Luke, Rey also loses her hand. Too far-fetched? Probably.

But taking a look back at The Force Awakens trailer 2, the overvoice is almost certainly that of Luke Skywalker as he says: "The Force is strong in my family. My father had it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power, too."

So, could this be part of the infamous events that took place prior to Luke going into hiding? Is this his temple, the place he was training the next generation of Jedi, burning to the ground after Kylo Ren's betrayal that Rey saw in her vision? Or is this a scene waiting to take its future course?

But juswait a minute.

Is that Captain Phasma? Does that mean she wasn't put in the trash compactor like Finn and Han threatened to do on Starkiller base? And if she was, how in the galaxy far, far away did she escape? Because unless she happened to have two droids on hand to hack into the main computer, we know from Episode 4 that this is no easy feat.

"I know only one truth. It's time for the Jedi to end"

Wait. WHAT???

This has got to be the most shocking and unexpected moment in the entire trailer. What exactly does Luke mean? Is he bringing the whole existence of the Jedi into question? Or that the Jedi should end it, end the War, diminish the battle between the light and the dark? As he stands somewhat forlornly at the entrance to a dimly lit cave, it would seem Luke Skywalker has a much darker, sombre role to play in this movie. Considering he witnessed the massacre of his Jedi-in-Training at the hands of his nephew, and travelled to a distant, isolated island in some hidden part of the galaxy it's not too much of a surprise he'd consider this. Though it may be a little extreme.

Now, going back to the idea of 'balance'...

The term: 'Gray Jedi' has cropped up a few times in the latest theories. Gray Jedi is a name given to a force-user who can harness both the light and dark sides of the Force, without surrendering or being corrupted by the dark side. We know that without the Jedi there can be no balance in the force - as mentioned by Lor San Tekka in The Force Awakens. The question remains is: is there going to be a Gray Jedi in this story, or more than one?

Theory 1) It could be Luke.

Remember how Yoda and Obi-wan warned young Skywalker before he went to Cloud City to save Han and Leia from the hands of Darth Vadar in The Empire Strikes Back? They said he would be tempted by the dark side, that: 'If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, you will become an agent of evil'

Obviously Luke didn't become evil. Right? After facing Darth Vadar (his father) at Cloud City maybe he was tempted to give into his hatred but managed to resist it, and therefore became a Gray Jedi?

But was Luke only meant to defeat Vader and the Emperor or was he meant to bring balance to the galaxy, to the Force? Was he meant to become a Gray Jedi and is this the bigger picture Luke mentions in the trailer?

Theory 2) It's Rey.

Initially we all assumed that the 'last hope' would, and still could be Leia, but with Rey now in the picture could she be the new hope? Looking at the poster for The Last Jedi, Rey's importance in the Star Wars universe appears more significant than ever. She has no parents or siblings (that we know of) to live up to, only the guidance of the beloved original trio and the friendships of some great new characters. With the rise and continued growing power of the First Order, Rey's role in helping save the galaxy, and perhaps the whole existence of the Jedi, should soon come to fruition.

The Last Jedi poster presents the Star Wars fandom with many questions. Rey's lightsaber looks rather coincidentally like the Jedi Order symbol, fading from light blue to red, moving from the light side to the dark side of the Force as it divides the faces of Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Is this colour change a representation of Rey's journey to or fight against the darkness? Is she the divide between the light and the darkness? Or between the Jedi and the Sith? OR... is Rey the one to bring balance and reconciliation between the two?

Theory 3) Could Kylo Ren be a Gray Jedi?

It may not seem likely that this emotionally-charged dark side force-user could potentially be a Gray Jedi. We already know that Snoke took on Ben Solo as a sort of apprentice, having manipulated and seduced him over to the dark side under the nose of his Jedi uncle. Ren thought that killing his father (Han Solo) would rid him of the torment of being torn between the light and the darkness. And yet despite everything, after all he has done he still feels the pull to the light - and Leia believes there's still good in him, just like Luke believed there was still good in Vader.

Theory 4) It's all of them. Because why not?

"First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say,
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight."
- Journal of the Whills

Looks like we'll just have to wait for the film, or more trailers to find out.
Watch the teaser trailer here:

Image sources: Google, Tumblr

Saturday, 1 April 2017


Desirably jam-packed with delightful intrigue and unnerving suspense, Apple Tree Yard combines the best of a psychological thriller, a heartfelt romance and the worst of human nature.


Although many viewers may find steamy encounters in secret closets a little much for their Sunday night viewing, Apple Tree Yard does deliver much more of a plot-line than a couple of raunchy scenes that one would generally expect to hold little narrative. However, this is not the case. Thankfully the series, based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, provides its viewers with a multi-layered plot which digs deeper and deeper until it seems practically impossible to uncover any more dark and troubling secrets. This is no ordinary love affair; bit by bit the plot twists and turns as a one-off encounter in the heat of the moment evolves into a nerve-wrecking scramble to hide the truth, therefore unraveling consequences of a horrifying nature.

Image result for apple tree yardYvonne Carmichael is introduced to us as an intelligent and respected scientist, a married middle-aged woman who is confident in her own high-heeled shoes. Within the first few minutes of Episode 1 Yvonne commits a reckless and risky act with a handsome, alluring stranger in a closet, and in the Houses of Parliament no less. This self-controlled, self-respecting woman we have shortly been introduced to has suddenly stepped off the expectation mark and done something so entirely uncharacteristic it surprises both herself and the audience. This one encounter soon develops into a heated and passionate affair spun with mystery and secrets, and, as real life demands, nothing ever goes to plan.

Emily Watson is always a joy to watch. The subtlety in which she delivers a character's emotions and the extremes that she plays in Yvonne's character is both captivating and distressing. A strong on-screen presence right from the start, the soft lull of her whispering voice as she writes to her mysterious lover is intertwined throughout each episode as she comes to terms with the events that spiral out of control with almost alarming speed. 

Yvonne's sexuality and femininity is a breath of fresh air amidst today's' general speculations of what an older woman should be and how she should act. Although the presence of strong on-screen female characters has risen over the last couple of years, it seems once an actress hits the grand age of 50 she is written-off and left with fewer and fewer opportunities. It could be said that TV dramas most loyal followers are women, and providing them with a story such as Apple Tree Yard is a reminder that older women are and can be attractive, and strong-willed, and that they have not at all been forgotten.

In an interview, Watson stated that she was left feeling a bit traumatised after filming one particular scene which was enforced with real-life testimonies from rape-victims in order to deliver a believable and real performance. In knowing this, Watson's acting is all the more admirable and harrowing as her character develops.

Image result for apple tree yard markOpposite Watson's character is Mark Costley, played by Ben Chaplin: tall, handsome and becomingly flirtatious. The boyish grin and sincerity Chaplin displays leaves the viewers free to like him immediately, captivated by the mystery that shrouds him - or perhaps the mystery he has shrouded himself in? As the plot develops the viewer is tricked, like Yvonne, that we know all about him, when in fact they are only given snippets of information that create a willfully good picture of his secretive, roguish life.

Chaplin performs Mark's character with both tenderness and a sinister undertone, something which comes into play in later episodes as the viewer is left questioning everything they have seen.

In reality Chaplin and Watson are good friends, and revealed that their friendship may have overshadowed the passionate romance that continually broiled just under the surface. Knowing this beforehand may have made viewing a little awkward for some viewers - some have also conceded that their affair was verging on chilled rather than the heated scandal it was made out to be.

Whilst the affair develops into something more dangerous, Yvonne must also deal with her home life: her pregnant daughter, her troubled son and her husband Gary who has (in the apparent past) had an affair of his own with a student. Gary is played by Mark Bonnar - who many might recognise as Duncan Hunter from Shetland, Adam Collingborne in ITV's Home Fires, and Chris in Catastrophe. The relationship between the the Carmichael's is standoffishly tense, the truth verging on a knife's edge as it brings into question the reason for each character's motive for cheating on their other half. Despite his apparent disloyalty, Gary gallantly stays by Yvonne's side and seeks to help her in later episodes.

Whilst riveted to our seats, perhaps with curiosity, perhaps with horror, the audience is innocently thrust into a world of almost unbelievable personally catastrophic events. One thing Apple Tree Yard does deal with exceedingly well is human nature; carnal lust, the instinct to survive no matter the cost, the need to be loved, and our ultimate short-coming in our endeavours to self-destruct.

Betrayal, paranoia, passion, regret, fear and denial are rampant in this beguiling story. In confronting several disturbing and difficult subjects, the series provides an unassailably realistic account of what can happen due to one irrational act.  Truth and lies seem almost limitless in the scandals that unfold, and by the end of the series, with one final gobsmackingly haunting plot twist, the viewer is left with an unsettling and tantalising realisation. But to uncover this truth, you must find it out for yourself.

Apple Tree Yard is available to buy as both a book and DVD online.
View the trailer here

(Photo credits: Google, the Metro, the Guardian)

Monday, 27 March 2017


A few months ago I was presented with the opportunity to create the storyboards for a student project at the University I had graduated from. Having always storyboarded my own projects, and used to drawing what I could see inside my own mind, I jumped at the chance to help visualise someone else's film.

Everybody sees things differently.

We imagine, we visualise in different ways. Maybe because our brains are wired differently, maybe because we all rely on different experiences or the things we've read. A wide shot to one person might be a close to another; or someone might prefer a high-angled birds eye view, whilst another a fish-eye lens effect. There are endless ways to visualise a story and we are all unique when it comes to this.

So being tasked with aiding in the visualisation of someone else's film is by no means an easy feat. One must be able to see inside the director's mind, understand their vision and translate that into something that will reach and interact with their audience. From my little experience there will be times when the director may have difficulty in conveying their thoughts and will seek suggestions and alternatives to the shots they have planned. Or they may know exactly what he/she wants and will be able to describe it to you shot for shot.

Working on 'The Chess Player' I was given the privilege of working with a director who knew exactly what she wanted, and was able to communicate her ideas for the film. It was on an extremely wet and windy day that we decided to meet up to go over the script and visualise the storyboards together. Packing my pens and pencils in my bag I set out on the train into the bustling city of Birmingham, amidst the stalls and lights being put up for the forthcoming infamous German Christmas Market, and headed straight for the library.

Nicoleta (the director) then presented me with a sketchbook with all her storyboard sketches in, explaining how she wanted each shot and what she was trying to portray in each scene. This was like a breath of fresh for me, and I was soon able to set to work on drawing up her ideas.

For the storyboards I used pencil, 0.1 and 0.3 fine line pens and a grey felt-tip pen (having not yet purchased any digital drawing software). Usually I would have drawn up four boards to an A4 page, but decided to draw six for this project. Occasionally, when I was unsure about a certain shot, I would message Nicoleta to confirm how she wanted it framed or what movement the camera was taking, to make sure her idea was being fully communicated. There were about 15 pages with a total of 83 individual boards. Once completed I met up with Nicoleta and handed them over. Job done; all I had to do then was wait to see the finished film.

I very much enjoyed working in this way - being able to draw up a frame from a rough sketch and converse with the Director. With an understanding of what she could see I was able to draw out her idea, not my own, and it was interesting to gain insight into her visualisation process.

You can view the finished film here: The Chess Player

Thursday, 16 March 2017

REVIEW: Doctor Who Series 10 trailer

Andddd the Doctor is back! New places, new companions, new time zones, new characters... what could possibly happen? Quick-cut clips with a good mix of comedic and dramatic glimpses has set the world's Whovian hearts beating once again in anticipation for Series 10, and sadly the last series with Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor.

The new trailer bounded onto our TV screens on Monday night, jam-packed with crazy special effects and a preview of the many adventures that the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his two companions, Nardole (Matt Lucas) and newbie Bill (Pearl Mackie), will encounter in the new series.

So, what have the BBC and Stephen Moffat got up their sleeves for us this time? Let's take a look:

1. There will be pyramids.
Could these large triangular landmarks be the infamous classic Egyptian Pyramids? Perhaps. But with a luscious green forest on its doorstep, chances are this adventure will take place sometime in the future or even on a different planet. Pyramids have popped up in the Doctor's timeline before, notably in The Dalek's Master Plan, and more recently The Rings of Akhaten. Whether it's Pharaohs, Osirians or planet-eating entities it seems that danger will inevitably be lurking nearby. Looking back at Series 4 with Tom Baker, the Doctor also encountered pyramids in Pyramids of Mars. Speaking of which...

2. The Doctor will definitely be going to Mars!
Yes, that's right. We're going to Mars again - only this time lets hope we don't encounter any water... Plus the monster we're going to meet looks suspiciously like an Ice Warrior, except perhaps with a bit of a twist this time. Maybe a female Ice Warrior?  *coughcough* Mark Gatiss. It's time to bring back some old friends.

3. Evil Emojibots?
They look a bit like the Handbots from The Girl Who Waited, except smaller and with cute little faces. But these are no ordinary faces. No, these are emoji-faces, and whilst these little robots look adorable with their little thumbs-up happy faces, it soon becomes apparent that they also have murderous-skull angry faces too. Too many faces...

4. A big spiky door.
A door that leads where, we wonder? If you look closely enough there's some familiar patterns - Gallifreyan text perhaps? Could the Doctor be revisiting the home of the Time Lords once again, or are there even darker forces at play here?

5. Old Sonic?
This sonic Nardole has caught looks rather familiar? Could it be the same model used by Tom Baker in series four? This sonic was actually used throughout the 70s and 80s by Pertwee, Baker and Davidson. It looks like series 10 will be taking a few trips down memory lane. Which leads us to...

6. Mondasian Cybermen!
The Cybermen are back again! We may have encountered them last in Series 8's Death in Heaven, but these aren't the modern reboot. These original, creepy Cybermen with cloth faces were last seen in the 1960s alongside William Hartnell in The Tenth Planet, and have since produced many bizarre and sinister variations. The Cybermen will appear in episodes 11 and 12 of Series 10 directed by Rachel Talalay. As these monsters are his favourite, it would seem the series finale will be a fitting farewell for Peter Capaldi.

7. We've landed in 1814? Get in!
Though we originally thought we might get a bit of Victorian action, it appears the Doctor and Bill have landed in the Georgian era. And there's snow too. Could this be one of the River Thames Frost Fairs? The Frost Fairs were held in London when the river froze over between the 17th and early 19th century, and in 1814 it was said that an elephant traveled across the ice under Blackfriars Bridge! Whatever this episode holds in store we can be certain that the Doctor is going to punch someone. And hasn't the Doctor taken someone else to 1814 before? *coughcough* A Good Man Goes to War...

8. Freaky, wet-Dalek woman?
There seems to be something a bit slippery about this girl? Could be the fact she seems to have materialised completely out of water. But what is most shocking is the one word she speaks, the one word that fills the Whovian soul with excitement and dread: EXTERMINATE! So, are we looking at a race in league with the Daleks, or is she more of a Dalek-hybrid?

9. Bill is awesome.
Pearl Mackie is vibrant and fresh in the two trailers we've seen so far. Her name is Bill Potts, she serves chips, and she thinks the Tardis interior looks like a kitchen. She'll definitely keep us and the Doctor entertained. Bill seems quite a bubbly character who's full of curiosity. Here's hoping she doesn't talk the Doctor to death.

10. Missy is back!
Thank goodness. This eccentric timelady has been missing from our TV screens for far too long. Having last appeared in 'The Witch's Familiar' she's left an awful lot of questions behind that need answering. Like how on earth she managed to escape from Skaro surrounded by Daleks? We'll just have to wait and see.

One thing is for sure, Series 10 will be full of action, a good dose of Earth's history, aliens, monsters, heroes and villains. We're all in for a bit of a bumpy ride...

Doctor Who returns to BBC One on Saturday 15th April 2017.
Photo Credits: Google, BBC One, The Guardian