DOCTOR WHO 8.02 (Reboot Era) 34.02 (Classic Era): “Into the Dalek”

into01Only two episodes into his run, Peter Capaldi already has a classic episode under his belt with “Into the Dalek,” a truly ripping yarn! Yes, that may sound like too much praise, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I really think this story stands among the best Dalek tales ever.

Viewers also saw more of this new 12th Doctor – and the view is not entirely reassuring. This is a much (much) more gruff and short-tempered Doctor. He’s very (very) funny. And, most surprisingly, I really do not know if this incarnation likes Clara (Jenna Coleman). He acts like he can barely stand her one second, but relies on her the next. The Doctor/assistant relationship has been deftly and completely reimagined, and that has introduced a palpable sense of uncertainty.

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DOCTOR WHO 8.01 (Reboot Era) 34.01 (Classic): “Deep Breath”

deepbreath1Post-regeneration stories are notoriously iffy for DOCTOR WHO – for every winner (like Matt Smith’s “The Eleventh Hour”) there seems to be a stinker (like Colin Baker’s “The Twin Dilemma”). Well, this story was a solid winner – though it played a lot like Tom Baker’s debut, “Robot,” because it introduced a very alien Doctor who was replacing a warm, familiar face.

The newly regenerated 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) arrive in Victorian London to confront a dinosaur in the Thames and a spate of suspicious spontaneous human combustions. Meanwhile, both the Doctor and Clara are getting to know the new incarnation of the Time Lord, with help from the Paternoster Gang: the Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and the Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey). The story is structured as a murder investigation: Who burned a dinosaur alive in the Thames?
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DOCTOR WHO 7.6: “The Bells of Saint John”

DW7bellsdocclaraCould DOCTOR WHO show-runner Steven Moffat be out of ideas already? At first blush, this story looks like a reworking of the 10th Doctor story “The Idiot’s Lantern,” in which a malevolent alien intelligence sucks human faces (and energy) into the then-new technology known as television. In this story, a malevolent alien intelligence sucks human minds into the new technology known as wi-fi. But despite appearances, that impression could not be more wrong.

In fact, Moffat and his partner-in-crime, Matt Smith, are at the height of their powers. Moffat has a firm grasp on the creative direction of not only this season but his entire era as the guiding force of DOCTOR WHO, and Smith has made role so completely his own that it is almost hard to imagine anyone else playing the Doctor. Smith inhabits the role so completely that it’s hard to tell where he ends and the Doctor begins. The result is a perfect storm of creativity, with Moffat serving up big, inspiring stories that Smith knocks out of the park. They are not all perfect, but working together, Moffat and Smith are crafting some of the best DOCTOR WHO stories ever and forging one of the great eras in the programs history. They are the Lennon-McCarthy of DOCTOR WHO.
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DOCTOR WHO 2012 Christmas Special: “The Snowmen”

snowman1This is not our Doctor. Not our Matt Smith.

This sullen, withdrawn, fatigued Doctor is not the same man who cheerfully battled Daleks and rode a triceratops like a pony. This Doctor is grieving. This Doctor is pain, and he cannot heal himself. He is a man in crisis. He is a man in hiding. Since when does the Doctor hide?

The morose shift in personality is due to the loss of Amy — and Rory, but… Amy — in the last story, when the Weeping Angels sent them into the past to live themselves to death. Now the Doctor has given in to his pain and doesn’t want to want watch any more companions die — by violence or by simply outliving them. He hates endings. He’s literally hiding from his past in London’s past while nursing two broken hearts.
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The Cabin in the Woods (2012) — No Spoilers

The best — and smartest — horror movie in a dozen years, The Cabin in the Woods, is released on Blu-ray and DVD today, and if you missed your chance to see it during its truncated theatrical run earlier this year, rectify that mistake and watch it now.

The brainchild of co-writers Joss Whedon (who also wrote and directed this summer’s megablockbuster, The Avengers) and Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard (who also directed this masterpiece), Cabin has all the cultural savvy, whip-smart dialogue and razor-sharp meta references one expects from veterans of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s scary, funny and thought-provoking — all while being wildly entertaining.
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Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

It’s not hard to figure out why Snow White and the Huntsman — released on DVD and Blu-ray today — disappointed at the box office earlier this year: It’s a disappointing movie, because it could have been so much more. Whatever it was, it was not the feminist reimagining of the fairy tale that the studio marketing promised.

You should realize your grrrl power movie is in trouble when the biggest change to the well-trod Brothers Grimm story is elevating the male huntsman from a bit player to a leading role. Snow White’s importance still stems from her beauty more than her ability to lug around a sword and her handy knowledge of the castle sewer system. True, she is not as passive as character in the Disney version (no housework for this riot grrrl!), but she still needs rescuing by a strong man — and she’s not exactly a compelling, sympathetic heroine one can easily root for, preferring a sneer to a smile.
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Ted (2012)

Ted is definitely a movie about a living, foul-mouthed teddy bear, but it’s also something else: A shockingly conventional romantic comedy: a Hollywood-standard boy-must-grow-up-to-be-with-the-girl-he-loves story. The gimmick here is that the guy’s immaturity is externalized in the form of a stuffed animal who walks and talks and cusses like a 10-year-old who just learned some new bad words while riding the back of the bus with the older kids.

The advertising campaign makes Ted look like The Hangover with plushies, and you can easily imagine frat-boys dragging unwilling dates to a raunch-fest, only to be confronted by a chick flick in wolf’s clothing. Don’t get me wrong: This movie packs in all the vulgar language it possibly can, up to and including the C-word — which is used by a female character — and there’s plenty of drinking and bong-hits and crude humor, but there’s no nudity. Unless you count bare… emotions.
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Prometheus (2012) (Non-spoiler)

For a long time now, director Ridley Scott and co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof have been preaching that Prometheus has “Alien DNA,” but little did moviegoers suspect just how literal that description would be. I thought it meant the movie would have background elements that related to the 1979 classic’s universe that were not in-your-face; but, like the crew of the vessel Prometheus, I was wrong, so wrong.

The story begins in 2089 with a pair of scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discovering ancient cave paintings that confirm their belief that an alien species (dubbed the Engineers) seeded human life on Earth and left a star map as an invitation to come visit the parent species when we became sufficiently advanced. Enter dying wealthy eccentric Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who funds Shaw and Holloway’s voyage 35 lightyears (about 205 trillion miles) into deep space because he wants to meet his maker before he dies. When the Prometheus crew arrive at their destination, what they find is nothing they expected.
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Battleship (2012)

It’s easy to imagine the pitch that sold Battleship: “It’s the Transformers – at sea!” Clearly, Universal was blinded by the dollar signs in its eyes when this flick was greenlighted, because Battleship sinks under the weight of its own pyrotechnics.

Set in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii, Battleship follows an alien invasion launched in response to a peaceful signal sent into deep space from Earth. (Damn those scientists!) An alien battle “fleet” of five ships lands (mostly) in the Pacific and sets up an impenetrable dome around Hawaii. Luckily, two U.S. Navy vessels and a Japanese ship are trapped within the exclusion zone, giving Earth a chance to fight back. Unluckily, our ships are massively outgunned by the aliens. The fate of the entire world is left in the hands of a few sailors led by Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), inveterate screw-up who is in the process of being court-martialed out of the Navy, a resentful Japanese captain, and… Rihanna.
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The Hunger Games (2012)

Katniss and Peeta

The Hunger Games is an intense, engaging action movie, but to understand anything deeper than a lot of kids running around in the woods trying to kill each other, you need to have read the book. The plot moves along at a lightning pace without pausing to explain anything we see except for the premise for the Hunger Games themselves – just don’t expect any explanation for why they’re called the “Hunger Games,” and not something more…exalted.

This is a violent – but not especially bloody – movie, in which the most shocking element is the premise of children fighting to the death. Virtually the entire movie is shot with an annoying shaky camera, and the action sequences are all quick-cutting blurs that make it difficult to keep track of what’s happening, which may mean (perhaps as a relief to some parents) younger members of the audience might not fully grasp that kids are beating kids to death onscreen.
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