Archive for September, 2014

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor Thus Far

Now that we are halfway through Peter Capaldi’s first series as the 12th Doctor, let’s take a quick look at the six episodes that have aired.

Deep Breath – Deep sigh.  Deep wince.  Deep groan.  This was an overly bloated and amazingly boring series opener.  Easily the worst new Doctor episode since Time And The Rani.  Actually let me think about that for a moment … the TV movie, Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Eleventh Hour … yep, I’d much rather watch any of those than have to watch this again.  It felt like this was 42 minutes of piss-poor story stretched like Cassandra into a 75 minute time slot.  And these Paternoster idiots have long outlived their entertainment value.  Much like The Walking Dead – when I start rooting for the robots to kill the protagonists, there’s a very fundamental problem in the production of the programme.  And this whole “Promised Land” bullshit is already tiring, just one episode into its so-called arc.

Into The Dalek – When I read the synopsis for this episode, I literally groaned.  Out loud.  It sounded horrible.  “Fantastic idea for a movie, terrible idea for a proctologist.”  Imagine how surprised I was by how much I enjoyed it.  Except for the moment when the one chickadee sacrifices herself and pops into the wince-inducing Promised Land.  That one small piece of garbage totally screwed over the pacing of that part of the episode, very much like any of BBC America’s commercial breaks do.  Capaldi’s dialog in this episode, especially in the precredits sequence, sold me on his interpretation of the Doctor.  But why couldn’t he have taken Journey Blue with him?  I think she would’ve been a great companion.

Robot Of Sherwood – Another one whose synopsis made me groan at first.  I’m tired of the ship-fell-backwards-through-time-and-is-stuck-in-the-past-trying-desperately-to-repair-itself plot (didn’t we just do that two weeks ago?).  The actors playing Robin and the Sheriff were spot on, and this ended up entertaining me far more than I wanted it to.  My only complaint is with the BBC’s stoopid decision to edit the climactic confrontation between Robin and the Sheriff.  There was absolutely no need to trim that bit, and to tell you the truth, I thought cutting it seriously harmed the episode.  (Yes, I’ve seen the original complete sequence and that moment plus the corresponding dialog added a few additional levels to the story that are now missing from the broadcast version.)  Hopefully BBC Worldwide will have the sense to restore that full sequence when they release it on disc.

Listen – This is an odd one, because I downright hated it when I first saw it, to the extent that I was actively trying to figure out various ways of suppressing my forthcoming groaning as I sat down to watch it with my family.  But it turned out – watching it with an audience – I ended up liking it after all.  I think that it helped for all of us to watch it immediately after Robot Of Sherwood, because it’s a nice contrast to the Robin Hood episode.  Capaldi’s pre-credits monologue is wonderful, and the controversial barn sequence wasn’t anywhere nearly as cringeworthy as I first thought it was.  This episode does play to me more like several linked stories rather than one complete story.  In other words, it comes across to me as rather disjointed.  Perhaps one more pass back through the script polisher would’ve cleaned it up a bit?

Time Heist – What a fun episode.  Fun, fun, fun.  This is the first episode of the new series that I had absolutely no problems with.  None whatsoever.  And it still seemed to hold up well on a second viewing.

The Caretaker – I enjoyed this one far far more than I expected to … except for the last few minutes.  I honestly do not give a damn about this Promised Land/Afterlife/Nethersphere arc.  At least they learned their lesson from Into The Dalek and moved this bit to the end of the episode instead of immediately after that character’s death.  That was one of the few problems I had with Into The Dalek and I think it’s the only problem I have with The Caretaker.  The Doctor’s confrontational interactions with Danny Pink were particularly well done, and whistling Pink Floyd was a very nice touch.

Do I like Capaldi’s Doctor?  Yes.  I like the fact that he’s playing the character as more reserved/removed/callous than the previous new Who stars.  I like his snarkiness.  I like his Scottishness.  I’m glad that in The Caretaker we finally get to see him balls out angry; that’s the aspect of the 12th Doctor that I’ve been waiting to see.  “You … are a Time Lord?”  “YES!  And at the moment a RATHER ANGRY ONE!”

Do I like where this series is going?  I’m not sure.  I’ve been pretty impressed with four of the six episodes, but I don’t think I can fully answer this question until I see how the stoopid arc plays out.  So I’m liking most of the footsteps but I don’t know if I like the path they’re walking down.  Which brings me to the next question:

Why do we even NEED a series-long arc in modern Doctor Who?  I don’t believe we do.  The original series only did it twice; once as a lark since they had never done it before and once as commentary on how the BBC was treating the show.

At least Russell T. Davies knew how to do series-long arcs.  Look at “Bad Wolf” in the first series and “Torchwood” in the second – they worked because they were subtle enough to not interfere in the storytelling process for individual episodes.  “Mr Saxon” didn’t quite work out as well (I blame how they wrote John Simm’s characterization of the Master for that – he was panto when he should have been petrifying), but the disappearing planets did.  Three out of four ain’t bad.

What sort of arc did Moffat present us with when he took over?  Cracks and “Silence will fall,” neither of which are satisfactorily resolved by the end of the fifth series.  So the sixth series uses Mrs. Eyepatch to try to clean things up a bit, but they’re still left somewhat hanging until the mad expositionary scramble to tie up loose ends in Matt Smith’s final story.  The seventh series gives us “Impossible Girl.”  Meh.  The only good thing that came out of that was the Zelig-like shoehorning of Jenna-Louise Coleman into scenes of prior Doctors.  Now we’re being slapped in the face with this stoopid Nethersphere bullshit, which almost guarantees that I will end up despising this series’ two-part finale.

When the arc starts to interfere with the process of telling the individual episode stories, it’s time to shitcan the arc.

So, what is my personal order of preference for these six episodes?  Rating them based upon which ones entertained me the most:

1) Time Heist
2) The Caretaker
3) Robot Of Sherwood
4) Into The Dalek
5) Listen
12) Deep Breath

It will be interesting to look back on this post six weeks from now, after the finale airs.

 

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Buddha

Finally worked my way through all eight books of Osamu Tezuka’s manga Buddha.  Wow.  A story so beautifully told that it made me cry.

 

Madam Secretary

Can we retitle this show My Damn Secretary?  Because it sure looked like Keith Carradine was thinking that more than once during the opening episode.

This show snuck up on me.  I had no idea it was in production for the new season.  I never heard of it until two or three days before it premiered.  And then I missed the premiere, so I had to catch it afterwards.

Madam Secretary would probably be a lot more compelling if we hadn’t already had several women serve as Secretary of State.

I like Téa Leoni enough to watch her in almost anything.  I like Keith Carradine.  I liked Tim Daly in Wings.  And I absolutely adore Željko Ivanek (although he will always be Danvers to me).  William Sadler, sadly, was totally wasted here.

Since we know Leoni is going to end up in office, I was hoping the show would start by showing us her first day in office.  Nope.  Let’s back up even further than that and show us how she gets the job.  Okay, that could be intriguing, we can see how she and her family cope with the sudden uprooting and massive changes in their lives.  We could have some nice family drama that plays out over several weeks worth of episodes, as she winds up her university work, works her way through confirmation hearings and then starts her position.

Nope.  “Two months later.”  WTF?!?  I feel cheated.

Instead we get thrown into a stoopid hostage crisis with one side dish of clichéd marital drama issues and a second side of conspiratorial stoopidity.  Sigh.  And did they deliberately make one of her staff members look suspiciously similar to Ollie from The Thick Of It?

The political drama feels way too clichéd — it’s the Maruchan ramen of political drama.  Another international hostage situation.  Yawn.  At least we had characters inside the show itself calling the situation stoopid.  Riddle me this: why is it that the BBC felt compelled to edit a non-hostage-situation beheading (that was fundamentally played for a laugh) out of Doctor Who because of current international hostage situations, but CBS does not feel compelled to delay broadcasting this?  I remember back in the day when the BBC had bigger balls than any American network.  Just take a look at the fourth series finale of Blake’s 7.  Or sit down and compare ABC’s The Day After to the BBC’s Threads.

The family drama is even worse.  Leoni and Daly have a smidgen of believable chemistry, but the two kids are annoying enough that I want THEM to run off to Syria and get captured by an Islamic hostage-taking group.  Honestly, when Daly turned up in Leoni’s office at the end, I was hoping beyond hope that he was there to tell her he wanted a divorce and was going to take the kids back to live their old lives on their old farm.  Nope.  Instead, it’s the writers letting the other shoe drop on a completely unnecessary and really stoopid sounding conspiracy aspect that WE DO NOT NEED here in order to tell good realistic stories about these characters.

Like I said, I like Téa Leoni enough to watch her in almost anything.  But not this.

 

Godzilla (2014)

Now THIS is how you make a Godzilla movie.  After the previous horrible gaijin attempt to make one, I am flabbergasted by how much they got RIGHT this time.

Make the movie about the characters, not about Godzilla.

Sprinkle li’l bits of teaser fights throughout the film.  Leave the big ol’ all out kaiju slapdown ’til the end.  “Let them fight.”

Put a heavy emphasis on sound design and sound editing.

The pacing is immaculate – let the tension build and build and build on a slow burn over time.

Make.  It.  Scary.

I think the last time a Godzilla movie came close to scaring me was Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster back in 1972.  But I was only six at the time, so that’s understandable.

And that HALO jump … oooooooooh … what a beautiful sequence.

My only complaint is it seemed like they misunderstood how EMPs work.  They show EMPs knocking out all electrical systems, then the systems all seem to magically come back on afterwards.  Nope, my understanding is that the EMPs would fry the circuits, damaging them enough that they would no longer be functional.  Period.  And they made a comment about the EMPs interfering with tracking the things by satellite.  Um, nope.  I can’t imagine a ground-based EMP affecting anything in orbit.  Unless they threw in a bit of technobabble dialog that I missed.

Aside from that, this long-time Godzilla fan was very seriously impressed.

 

Thor: The Dark World

I just realized I never posted my thoughts about Thor: The Dark World.  Or Prometheus.  I really need to catch up on these things.  I wrote up a good-sized rant about Prometheus way back when I first saw it, but for the life of me I cannot find the file.  The last thing I want to do is sit through that fetid pile of bitter disappointment again, so let’s start with Thor 2, only let’s retitle it Thor: The Meh World.  Or better yet, Thor: Meh Meh Meh.

This has got to be the worst film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.  And I’m saying that because I only have vague wisps of memories of The Incredible Hulk.

Okay, where to begin?  Natalie Portman: boring.  Kat Dennings, the #1 scene stealer of the first Thor film: had all of her scenes stolen from her.  Stellan Skarsgard: totally wasted, in more ways than one.

I was excited about seeing this film because the first film was such a blast and I was stoked that they signed Christopher Eccelston as the baddie.  But nope, he was utterly wasted too.  WTF?!?

I’m holding onto hope there is some sort of director’s cut lurking out there that will eventually work its way onto disc.  It feels like there were huge chunks of the story that were missing.  I heard rumors that a significant portion of Malekith’s backstory was left on the cutting room floor.  That’s a damned shame, because I think it would’ve seriously improved the film.

Honestly, I really would’ve rather watched a two hour farting contest between Thor and the Warriors Three than have to sit through this so-called Marvel Cinematic extravaganza.  That would’ve been a lot more enjoyable.  Imagine the campfire sequence from Blazing Saddles redone with Asgardians.

At least Idris Elba still kicks ass as Heimdall.

 

The Dead 2

Continuing on with the “I’m a sucker for a zombie apocalypse” theme, I was pretty impressed by the Ford brothers’ The Dead and very disappointed that I missed the sequel on the big screen.  This film is billed as The Dead 2: India, but the actual onscreen title is just The Dead 2.

First thought in the opening three minutes: I bleedin’ LOVE the soundtrack.  Imran Ahmad, do you have any CDs available?  Yes you do!  Yay!

Like the original, this film is extremely well done.  Tense, believable (about as believable as a zombie film could be), and I appreciate that the Ford brothers have the requisite intelligence and courage to show us the necessary exposition instead of telling us.  Too often bad writers will cram gobs of exposition into unnecessary dialog when they could take the time to show it to us through the characters’ actions.

When I see a particular zombie apocalypse survival scenario, and I say half-sarcastically to the main character, “Why don’t you just do such-and-such?”  And then, one minute later, they actually DO it … it sends shivers up and down my spine.  I see a lot of online complaints that this sequel is not different enough from The Dead, that it is just more of the same.  This one particular moment (I can’t spoil it by telling you what it is) sets this film on a pedestal a level above its predecessor.

 

World War Z, Revisited

After being less than impressed with the first episode of Z Nation, I felt I should follow through with taking a peek at the 2D unrated cut of World War Z.  I figured it couldn’t give me much more of a headache than the 3D theatrical cut did.

Surprise #1: storywise, the unrated cut is not significantly different than the theatrical cut.  There are no major subplots added.  Somewhat disappointing, but some subtle scene extensions helped the story make a little more sense.  A litte.

Surprise #2: although the unrated cut is more violent and bloodier than the theatrical cut, it’s not a total all-out gorefest.  Some horror releases will use the “unrated cut” excuse to amp up splattering to the Nth degree.  That didn’t happen here.  Somewhat disappointing, in that I was expecting a LOT more gore, but on the other hand it was also somewhat of a relief.

Surprise #3: the film actually held my attention and my interest, in spite of the fact that I knew what was going to happen.  Part of that was because I was watching to see what was different between the two cuts, but even so it ended up engaging me more than I expected.

It’s still a crap film overall.  It’s even worse when you consider it an adaptation of its source material.  But in spite of my geeky love for 3D, if I ever had to sit someone down and force them to watch this, I would force them to watch the 2D unrated cut.

Is that an endorsement?  No.  As I said, it’s still a crap film.  And I am still hoping that the original pre-reshoot cut will surface someday.