Thursday Thoughts – How much power do TV audiences have?

Fox has been on something of a killing spree of late. After cancelling 5 shows in as little as 2 days, you have to question whether channel bosses will still have anything to run by the time they’re finished.

Amongst the massacred was Brooklyn Nine Nine. The decision to call time on this much-loved cop show was met with shock and outrage from fans (myself included). Cries of disbelief rang out across social media and soon these turned into campaigns to get the show back. In the space of just 36 hours, the show has died, been buried, and then was resurrected by Fox rival, NBC.

This reinstatement of the Nine Nine raises the question of how much power audiences actually possess, especially when it comes to TV shows. With films, it’s all fairly clear cut – if the film makes enough money, you tend to get a sequel, whether you asked for it or not. With TV, it’s not quite the same kettle of fish, however there is obviously a correlation between audience numbers and show survival rates as one of the most common reasons for cancelling a show is low ratings. Quality doesn’t seem to be a real deciding factor here either, which means this selection process is quite unfair. Shows that are actual works of art are take from us far too soon, while others that are tripe at best go on forever purely because there’s a larger audience watching it.

However, it would seem that there is hope for those good shows that come to an untimely end. Resurrections do happen – they have now saved two shows that I hold very close to my heart (one being B99, the other being Ripper Street). And on both occasions, these decisions have been brought about by the actions their audiences have taken, mainly in the form of kicking up one hell of a fuss about some idiot’s momentary (but HUGE) lapse in judgement.

So, TV audiences have power, but exactly how much do they have? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, but we definitely have a decent say in what makes the cut and what doesn’t. I don’t have the statistics for the Brooklyn Nine Nine revival handy, but I know that in the case of Ripper Street it took only 12,000 signatures on a petition to get Amazon to take the show on. In the grand scheme of things, 12,000 really isn’t a massive number either when you think about the 3.38million people that watched the show on average.

But here’s the thing – we are very spoilt for choice when it comes to what we watch on TV now. More so than ever before. There’s a lot of things to watch, but the actual audience size hasn’t increased as quickly, which in theory means that each new show and channel added stretches that audience thinner. Suddenly, 12,000 is a significant number of viewers for a channel to lose if it displeases them, and it’s also a significant number of viewers for a newer kid on the block to think about winning over. These two things coming together were ultimately what saved Ripper Street’s ass, and they will create similar dynamics in future that will save other shows. Why? Because in this world where everyone’s attention is being fought for constantly by at least 10 different entities, it’ll be the ones that give audiences what they want that come out on top. We as an audience must remember that we are the most important people to these TV stations, and also streaming platforms too. Without us, they have no purpose and therefore would cease to exist. NBC are giving the people what they want by saving Brooklyn Nine Nine, just as Amazon did when they saved Ripper Street. I do not doubt for a second that they will benefit from their decision, but regardless of however it turns out, they will be known to millions as the people who saved B99, and that kind of testimony packs a punch. And the only people who can provide that testimony are the audience, which is why they wield so much power.

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Review – The Last Kingdom (Season 2)

If you’ve been frequenting this blog for a while you may be aware that a little show called The Last Kingdom stole my attention a couple of years ago. The historical drama, which has been liked by some to a budget version of Game Of Thrones, debuted in 2015 and took a lot of people by surprise – myself included. it finally returned for it’s second season in 2017, and despite my best efforts, I’ve only recently got round to watching it.

Was it worth the wait?

Quite possibly.

The show picks up from where it left off at the end of season one with our hero Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), continuing his mission to rescue his sister, but very quickly it becomes apparent that his energy is going to have to be focused elsewhere too. Just like with season one, the writing was superb. I’m not sure there were quite so many surprises this time around, but then i knew more about what to expect from the show, so you could say I was more prepared.

My love for our protagonist here grows with each episode I watch. I was well on-board with the character of Uhtred in season one, but I am surely smitten with him now. Bernard Cornwall, author of the novels that the show is based on, has created a character that you absolutely want to succeed no matter the cost, and Alexander Dreymon has brought those to qualities to life in such a way that I think everyone should be allowed to have an Uhtred-type figure in their lives. It seemed that this time we got to see a more human version of the character. Dreymon showed a side of Uhtred that was ruled more by his heart than by his head. The character also felt like he had matured considerably since the last time we saw him, which was also a nice development to see.

Season two also brought with it the return of a few other characters and fleshed them out more. some got better, others got worse, and my perception of these characters hinged purely on the way they treated our beloved Uhtred, funnily enough. We also got introduced to some newer faces as well, one of which I’m guessing will go on to have a pivotal role as the show progresses through future seasons.

I seemed to me that there might have been a bit more action this time around, although whether that was as violent as the last time I’m not so sure. As I said at the beginning, when the show started in 2015 it had an element of surprise about it. As a new show, I had no idea what to expect, and it pulled absolutely no punches. This time I kind of was more acquainted with the style of the show, so knew it wasn’t going to hold back as much. did this mean it lacked as much impact? In terms of shock factor, perhaps, but as I’ve said, the show felt more mature with this season, which I think made up for it.

So there you have it really, my take on The Last Kingdom season two. Definitely a good extension to what we’d seen previously, and it’s sown the seeds for what’s to come in future. Is it still one of the best British shows you could watch at the minute? Absolutely – give it a spin.

Review – Justice League

So I saw Justice League a while ago around the time it came out. If I’m completely honest, I had never held out a huge amount of hope for it – besides Wonder Woman, none of the films part of the DCEU had amounted to much, and given the nature of this film, I didn’t expect it to be any different.

Justice League centres around Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) as they try to get a few other superheroes together in order to save the world from something or other. However, and I’ll warn you now that this is the first grumble coming up, I think they should’ve been more concerned with saving audiences from that godawful CGI that was literally everywhere. I’ll leave Moustache-gate alone for the moment, though it will get what’s coming to it, don’t worry. My biggest question is, did the outdoors get used at all during filming? Honestly I don’t think there wasn’t a scene where special effects weren’t used in the whole film. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they’d have been good but… they were shite. And as for that feckin’ moustache – let’s just say that it was that bad it resulted in me spending the longest amount of time I ever have in my life staring at other people’s top lips. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

Do you ever feel that a film has been so rushed that you walk away from it struggling to catch your breath? When is DC going to learn not to do this? I think the only film this hasn’t happened with is Wonder Woman. Beyond that, they just don’t take the time to develop stories and characters. As well as that, there seems to be very little congruence between characters in the origin films and when they appear in these ensembles. I thought there was a huge difference between the Wonder Woman here and the one in the origin film, and this was not something that sat right with me.

I think that’s it for the general moan… oh wait, sorry – Ben Affleck as Batman, I really don’t want to sounds as though I’m going out of my way to hate on the man because I’m not. I just feel the need to point out that for me, he ain’t Batman. I’m not saying he does a bad job or anything like that – just that somebody else owns that role in my eyes and there’s very little he can do about it.

Now, believe it or believe it not, i do have some positives that I can share with you. Please bare in mind, however, that one of these isn’t exactly something that is wholly essential to the film for all audiences, but it certainly made the film less insufferable for me. I am of course talking about Jason Mamoa’s part in the film, and I doubt anybody needs much imagination to figure out why I enjoyed his role so much. Now for a serious highlight though – Ezra Miller as The Flash/Barry Allen. This is probably the only part of the film that I couldn’t find any fault with. The character was funny, and it didn’t feel like Miller took himself too seriously in the role. The two of these things married together and meant that he was actually a joy to watch – more than can be said about much of the rest of the film.

So those are my less than brief thoughts on Justice League. All you needed to know really was that it’s probably the most poorly spent $300million of recent times, but I decided to give you all the gory details anyway. You’re welcome.

Review – A Quiet Place

It’s very easy to underestimate the power of sound.

In a lot of good films where it is used well, noises and music can become almost like an extra character. The people behind A Quiet Place knew this, and decided to go one step further by making sound the focus of the entire film.

Let me tell you, it worked. I mean, it really worked, very well indeed.

The film takes place in, presumably, the not-too-distant future, and depicts a world that we quickly find out has been overrun by monsters that hunt their prey via sound (and which we get to see plenty of throughout the film which made a massive change for once). In order to stay alive, all living things have to make as little noise as possible, as once these creatures find you, they generally don’t leave until they’ve killed you.

A Quiet Place sets the scene in a way similar to 28 Days Later. You’re introduced to a world that has been almost entirely abandoned by everyone. Straightaway you know that something major has happened, but exactly what that is only begins to be revealed a few moments later. In one fast, and very early, change of pace, the film shows that it isn’t messing about. I was surprised because I didn’t think it would deliver on what it was dangling in front of me. I was wrong. It was a horrifically intense start to a film, and I loved it.

In terms of intensity, the film starts just as it intends to go on. I don’t think it’s entirely inaccurate to say that I lost the ability to breathe properly for the duration of the film. I’ve seen many a film and TV show that has mastered building tension in numerous scenes, but I honestly cannot say that I have been as on edge for a whole 90 minutes as I was watching this. And this is all because of sound. If we tallied it up, I reckon there was only about five minutes worth of dialogue in the whole film. The rest of it was noise and music, both of which were ALWAYS put to their best use to achieve the effects intended by director John Krasinski, who also starred in the film.

The main performances in the film allow you to really jump onboard with the high stakes that even the moments of less tension point towards. A massive battle for survival is endured by everyone, and after you see the extremes that this family has gone to in order to survive, you are completely behind them in everything they do. Emily Blunt is a talent no matter where you put her, and obviously things are no different here. Her character Evelyn has a few different layers that are added to as the film progresses, and she does a fantastic job of showing a woman who is trying her best to survive, but also a mother who would do whatever it takes in order to protect her children. Krasinski provides us with a performance that portrays similar objectives, but of course we see a more paternal approach from him in terms of this. We know that both these actors are good at what they do as we’ve had the chance to see their work on multiple occasions, however the two younger stars of this film, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, are simply wonderful, and I think both have their moments where they do, in fact, outshine their on-screen parents. There’s an overwhelming sense of maturity displayed in both of their performances, and this whole idea that the circumstances under which they are living has robbed them of their childhood is another reason why you want them to beat the odds. Both are smart and know what they need to do so that they don’t get killed – there’s no whining despite the constant fear that they both inevitably have. They just get on with it, which is more than can be said for a lot of the characters that have appeared in every other horror/thriller type film that I’ve seen.

I think another key thing to point out in relation to the performances is the use of sign language within them. It just brings another dimension to the film where you have to give people credit for what they’ve done. As well as this, it massively boosts the accessibility of the film too. Recently there’s been a lot of talk deafness and cinema following the success of short film, The Silent Child, and this film shows that sign language can be a massive part of film and be successful, and that a film doesn’t necessarily have to be about deafness in order to contain sign language. As film, this has a lot to shout about, but in terms of creating cinematic experiences for all, it has broken down barriers and shown that it is possible to create great films that everybody can watch.

It’s important to point out the all-consuming nature of A Quiet Place. I’ve never known a film like it if I’m completely honest (granted, I’m not that old, so it’s not the most impressive statement, but just go with it for a second). I saw this film with decent sized audience, and because I booked quite late, I had been forced to take a seat in the centre of the auditorium. Now, if I had have had my usual seat (back and centre, widely regarded to be one of the best seats in the house), I wouldn’t have been as aware of the people around me, which would’ve meant that I wouldn’t have experienced the atmosphere that that auditorium held for more or less the entirety of the film. It was almost as if we were all in sync. We’d all jump together. We’d all hold our breath together. Most notably, however, everybody was as silent as they could be for the whole time. The film had us all in such a vice-like grip that none of us felt able to make a sound either, much like the characters in the film. The writing and the ways and means by which it translated onto the screen have produced something that is a phenomenal example of how a film can move mass groups of people, and restores my faith in the fact that people will go out of their way to watch good films that don’t necessarily fit into the mainstream.

A Quiet Place is a fantastic film, and I really do think it’s going to be one of the most talked about this year. It confirms how important sound is in film, and also offers a masterclass in building suspense, keeping you on edge throughout. The characters are the kinds of people that you can actually vouch for, and as a result you are even more invested in a film that has already refused to loosen it’s grip on you. I love the fact that we get to see plenty of the monsters that are the cause of everything (unlike a recent monster movie sequel we’ve had unleashed upon us), but the fact that sign language plays such a key part in the film too is something that I think will create something of a legacy as I can’t think of another film that has featured signing so heavily that hasn’t been Oscar-bait nor has featured deafness as main part of the story.

Review – Tomb Raider

I get excited about some films – who doesn’t? However there are some that I get more excited about than others, even if critical acclaim isn’t guaranteed. Tomb Raider was absolutely one of those films.

Anyone who has been paying attention to my Twitter activities recently will know that I was buzzing for the release of this film. I was also desperately hoping that it would succeed where more or less every other mainstream video game movie had failed before. The odds were stacked against it, but I still kept the faith.

What we have here is a film that rises, I believe, head and shoulders above all others that we’ve seen within the video game genre. I honestly do think that the bar has been raised here. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that Tomb Raider is perfect because it certainly is not. It won’t win Oscars and it won’t be remembered as one of the greats, but it is a damn site better than anything we’ve been offered before.

The film is based on the 2013 reboot of the game franchise that showed us the character of Lara Croft before she really became the Tomb Raider we all know now. Alicia Vikander takes on the role of a 21 year-old Lara who is working as a bike messenger to avoid going broke as she refuses to accept her inheritance following her father’s disappearance seven years before. Just as she is about to bite the bullet and sign his death certificate, she becomes aware of the circumstances under which he disappeared, and decides to pursue the mystery herself. Before long, she’s on a mysterious island, and it is there that she embarks upon the journey that sees her blossom into the character that everyone the world over is aware of.

I’ll do what I always do and talk about the performances first. I really think Alicia Vikander has done a good job as Lara here. I know her casting was met with a lot of criticism, especially when the first looks at the character came out, but she has brought a far more relatable character to the table than we’ve seen with any other version in the past, in both the films and the games. What I liked about Vikander’s performance is the journey she took the character on. You start off with someone who is very naïve and essentially still a child, something that is captured at it’s best in the scene where Lara arrives in Japan and almost falls foul of a group of pick-pocketers when looking for Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who is her companion throughout this film. By the end of the film, you’re presented with someone who has matured immensely because of their experiences, and the character you see in the very final scene of the film is almost a completely different person.

As far as the cast goes, Vikander is definitely the main star of the film. There are a few notable names involved, but they all play roles that sort of make up the scenery around Lara. Dominic West plays Richard Croft and I think it’s a role he was dead suited to to be completely honest. It would have been nicer to have possibly seen slightly more of him because he has a lot of talent to put to use, however, where we did get to see him, he and Vikander really captured the father/daughter dynamic that is so important to this franchise, and that’s the main thing.

Walton Goggins looks like he has fun playing Mathias Vogel. Rather like a James Bond villain, we’re first introduced to him around the halfway point of the film, and straightaway you know that he’s absolutely one of the bad guys. As much as Goggins lavishes playing this character and his form in playing some other unsavoury guys in a couple of other well-known films, I must admit that Vogel is quite forgettable. I’m someone who can name a lot of villains from a lot of the films I’ve, but when pitched against a hero as iconic as Lara Croft, the people creating the bad guy and the person gifted the task of playing that character really has to go above and beyond to stand out and be remembered. Goggins put in a good effort, but it didn’t quite stand up for me.

One of the main reasons this film is better than many others before it is that it has a story that is actually isn’t completely nonsense. The adaptation from video game to big screen has happened a lot more smoothly here than it has in the past, perhaps because the source material, as far as I’m aware, was acknowledged a hell of a lot more with this film. There are scenes that have been lifted straight from the game, and there are a lot of nods to the game – both the 2013 reboot which this is largely based upon, but also the games that came before it – with a number of moments throughout the film. For example, there is a point here where Lara pulls a massive splinter out of her side, and this is something that is clearly inspired by a sequence right at the start of the 2013 game. There are a few plot holes here and there, and definitely some things didn’t quite add up for me, such as the ‘reveal’ at the end of the film, but when it comes to comparing what we have here with what we’ve been given in the past, I really shouldn’t be complaining too much because this really is on another level to what we’ve seen previously.

I also just want to add that I really like the fact that nobody tried to sexualise Lara in any way here. She is purely an action hero in this film. She gets hurt, she gets dirty, she gets scared, and she doesn’t get romantically involved with any of the men in the film, which I think has always been one of the (many) downfalls with the Angelina Jolie films. Dare I say it, she’s been portrayed in a way nobody would think twice about if she was a bloke?

So, while it does have it’s faults, I am honestly so happy to say that they’re finally gone and done it – Tomb Raider is the video game movie that we’ve been waiting for, and is 100% the adaptation that this beloved character deserves. Vikander brings us a realistic Lara Croft and maintains focus on the qualities that made her such treasured character in my eyes. The many tips of the hat to the games are also very welcome here. Yes, there may be some terrible dialogue buried in here, and some of the finer details don’t come together quite as neatly as I’d like, but this has triumphed in many places and we truly should celebrate that.

Review – 50/50

50/50 is another of those films that I’ve heard a lot of people say good things about, and also one that I’ve had recommended to me more than once.

The film is about a guy who gets diagnosed with cancer in his 20s and is given a 50/50 chance of survival. On the surface, it sounds like a somewhat depressing watch, but the story is told in a way that is actually very entertaining, and because of this it feels very authentic too.

I really loved the performances from Joesph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in this. Gordon-Levitt played cancer-fighting Adam brilliantly. He captured a whole range of emotions with his performance. Rogen played his best friend Kyle, who I believe was supposed to represent Rogen himself in the film, which is based on one of his real-life friends. Both actors were really great on their own, but when they were together on screen, whether in their scripted scenes or the more impromptu stuff, together they took it to a whole other level. You were watching best friends going through hard times, not two people pretending to be buddies, and that was a key element in making this film as good as it was.

I’ve already touched upon how realistic this film felt. While it had it’s fair share of down moments, it wasn’t too dark overall. At the same time, it didn’t try to be laugh-a-minute – I think the tone of the film was just right, which is another reason why it felt so real. Every situation in life is made up of many elements no matter what it is, and often when these are portrayed on-screen, especially when showing real-life events, the tendency can be to depend more heavily on one of those elements. I don’t feel like at any given point 50/50 played up too much to the happy or the sad parts of the story. It just took everything as it was, and didn’t make it any more than it needed to be, which was very true to the nature of our protagonist here (does that make as much sense to you as it does to me?). I’m also pleased to say that, for once, I’m glad the film had a happy ending, which I think stands testament to how it portrayed it’s lead character and his situation.

On the whole, I’d definitely say you should give 50/50 a go. It’s a film about so much more than a guy with cancer, and everyone who watches it will be able to relate to it in some way or another, which is why you should see it.

Review – Black Panther

There’s always a huge amount of anticipation surrounding Marvel films. Black Panther was no exception.

It would seem, however, that excitement for this film was on another level entirely. On the film’s opening weekend, people seemed to struggled to get seats unless they were booked well in advance. This begs a massive question.

Did the film truly warrant such high levels of anticipation?

Almost immediately Black Panther sets the tone for what we can expect. The film’s first sequence centres around Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), but he is flanked by two terrific women in the form of Lupita N’yongo as Nakia and Danai Gurira as Okoye. One of the biggest takeaways from the film for me was that the women, although not necessarily the main characters here, all had very prominent roles and not once did any of them feel like a token piece.

I really liked the cast and all of the performances from each member. Obviously Boseman takes centre stage as the Black Panther himself. He was very good, but what I especially like, and I’ve kind of said this already with my point about the women in the film, was that so many of the other performances were allowed to shine just as brightly. Letitia Wright gave us one of those performances and she was simply terrific. She absolutely nailed the little sister role here as Sheri, and is definitely one of the many highlights of the film.

There was, or course, a smattering of very familiar faces that were part of this film, and a couple in particular I thought were cast very well, even if they didn’t feature too heavily. Forest Whittaker and Angela Bassett both got to play two of the most well-respected figures in their community, and given some of the roles and films they’ve been part of, I thought that was a very nice touch, regardless of how intentional it was.

I was slightly disappointed Andy Serkis didn’t stick around for longer. He was a loose cannon and was brilliant because of this fact – it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him.

Another thing I’d have liked to have seen a tiny bit more of was the combat scenes. I thought these were so well choreographed. They looked awesome! I really would have loved to have seen one or two of the bigger action sequences swapped out for some more of these because I really thought they looked great.

There were some very interesting creative choices made about what was featured in the film and how it was portrayed. One thing that comes to mind is the female warriors fighting for T’Challa’s tribe. It made me think of how it’s lionesses that hunt for a pride of lions, and although the film is obviously technically more about panthers (it’s in the name I guess), I still thought it was a subtle nod to the women involved here. I also liked the internet culture references made, but also how there was a real tribal feel to the entire film – it was a fantastic way to marry old and new customs together and is something that hugely contributes to the wider greatness that the film has.

So, you might have worked this out for yourself by now, but Black Panther gets a very strong seal of approval from me. There was so much about this film that I completely fell in love with that I can forgive it for the flaws that it had in a couple of areas. It’s a really well-rounded film that delivers on everything it set out to do, and then does a bit more when you read between the lines. Was I right in anticipating it so much? Absolutely so.