When film viewing is like having your head baked into a giant loaf of bread

Peter Bradshaw's review of <em>John</em> Carter must be a contender for the harshest criticism of 20

In today's Guardian, Peter Bradshaw offers his impressions of new sci-fi flick John Carter. Might just be me but I don't think he liked it that much:

John Carter is one of those films that is so stultifying, so oppressive and so mysteriously and interminably long that I felt as if someone had dragged me into the kitchen of my local Greggs, and was baking my head into the centre of a colossal cube of white bread. As the film went on, the loaf around my skull grew to the size of a basketball, and then a coffee table, and then an Audi. The boring and badly acted sci-fi mashup continued inexorably, and the bready blandness pressed into my nostrils, eardrums, eye sockets and mouth. I wanted to cry for help, but in bread no one can hear you scream. Finally, I clawed the doughy, gooey, tasteless mass desperately away from my mouth and screeched: "Jesus, I'm watching a pointless film about a 1860s American civil war action hero on Mars, which the inhabitants apparently call Barsoom. I can't breathe."

Last month, my colleague Jonathan Derbyshire attended the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year Awards, set up to award the "author of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months". One must wonder whether this has started a race towards the harshest commentary. In keeping with the trend, this week's NS includes a comphrensive take down of A N Wilson's Hitler: a short biography by Richard J Evans, including the line: "It's hard to think why a publishing house that once had a respected history list agreed to produce this travesty of a biography".

Have you seen a worse review than Bradshaw's take on John Carter? Suggestions in the comment box below.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.