Tag Archives: craft

Ripper Street (series finale)

Somewhere around series 3, Ripper Street lost its way and never found it again. It retained its beautiful language, a Western version of Shakespeare for lack of a better description, but it lost the drive of the characters and the inciting conceit of Edmund Reid’s policing.

In series 4 and 5 it all comes back around and, with contortions that PT Barnum would have hired, they manage to close the story. Sadly it isn’t with great skill, but with a wedge and shim. Series 4 leaped ahead in time, and the final episode in series 5 attempts, clumsily, to put a shape around the whole through a collection of vignettes to wrap up the present stories, and flashbacks to provide a mirror and meaning to them.

Does it work? Sort of, but it all feels so very forced. The show was provided more than enough advance notice to plan a better arc through its final 2 series. Instead we got the White Chapel Golem, which wasn’t uninteresting, but with a meandering plot and too much going on (and a load of death). We are left, at the end, with an idea and melancholy that has carried through the series as a whole. It is, to its credit, unwilling to go for the easy and pleasant solutions to all the issues, but in other ways it gave in exactly to expectations.

Ripper Street, as a series, was ambitious and richly textured. The first series is still the best focused, and the rest of the run certainly has moments and merits, if not stellar choices. I would have been happy with the conclusion at the end of series 3, but the 2-series wrap up did keep my attention, even if I was less than thrilled with the direction of that resolution.

On the up side, it was relatively self-contained so if you want to stop at 3, you don’t lose much by doing so. But, if you want to go forward and see the wrap-up for all the various characters, you have that option.

Ripper Street

Sylvia Scarlett

Way back in 1935 Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant (An Affair to Remember) were to meet for the first time on screen. The results were not what you’d expect given their better remembered history. In fact, there is no romance between the two.

The object of Hepburn’s attention is not Grant but rather Brian Aherne. She and Grant are really more intended as comedy duo along the lines of Abbot and Costello or William Powell and Myrna Loy. But the movie really doesn’t work very well. Even Edmund Gwenn, who plays Hepburn’s father, is wasted in this film as he flails about and attains no sympathy from us, starting with the first scene. 

So, why watch this film at all? Well, it has three interesting aspects to it. Primarily, Hepburn is dressed as a boy for a good part of the film. It is intended to lead to hijinx and hilarity of mistaken intentions and confused sexuality (all with a laugh, of course). It didn’t work then. It works a little better now as gender roles and societal norms have relaxed. A little better. Hepburn is, mostly, a strong character in this story. But there are no guts to the script and barely a good joke, though Hepburn does a game job of jumping back and forth in her makeup and movement. And with Mel Berns make-up, Hepburn almost passes, looking like a young David Bowie in her drag.

The second bit of trivia for this film is Grant. It was, essentially, his breakout. Not with the film itself, but it was the first time his trademark personality on screen was exhibited and noticed. It led to his subsequent stardom.

The final interesting aspect of this film, especially given this summer’s misfires at the box office, was that Sylvia Scarlett was a massive bomb (losing about 350,000 or over 6M in 2017 dollars) when it released. It almost cost Hepburn her career. 3 years later she would return triumphantly, and with Grant again, in Bringing Up Baby (followed in quick succession by Holiday, Philadelphia Story), and then Woman of the Year.

You don’t often get to see what didn’t work from years past. For good reason they tend to fade and be forgotten. In this case, the star power kept it alive until it found an audience, however tenuously. You’d never expect that George Cukor, who would go on to direct My Fair Lady, Philadelphia Story, and Adam’s Rib, just to name a few, was at the helm of this damaged ship. But he did see the spark in the pairing of Grant and Hepburn and got to use it later on.

Sylvia Scarlett is not a great film, even in retrospect. But it is a fascinating piece of film history, with some moments to recommend it. I have to admit, I had to skip a small chunk of the film near the beginning because it was just so uncomfortably bad. But curiosity had me finish it. I also wonder if, in title and nod to theme, they weren’t playing on the previous year’s Marlene Dietrich success: The Scarlet Empress, but I don’t think anyone is left to ask that one anymore.

 

 

A Cure for Wellness

A Cure for Wellness has many layers and is definitely not for everyone. It isn’t a great movie, but it is worth seeing.

It is, at its core, a suspense/horror film very much in the vein of Frankenstein and Dracula, even a dash of Phantom of the Opera. But it isn’t a B-grade flick nor is it histrionic or intended to get you with cheap scares.

Balancing the classic influences, there are also nods to Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch and Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut. For the former, it is the thin veneer of reality and matter-of-fact absurdity of what is going on, as well as some of the sense of the imagery. From the latter, it is the use of a simple, repeating musical theme and, particularly near the end, a sequence that echos Eyes and a load of Argento and other films from the 70s including Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, and others.

Visually, the film is full of gorgeous cinematography by Bazelli. The composition and clarity of the shots will make you want to pause every few moments to really examine the detail and relationship of the various objects. It is painterly in its execution, but always in support of the story.

The story itself is somewhat obvious, but what is reality is somewhat not. There are clues, but it is ultimately contradictory, and the ending is nebulous at best. And yet, somehow this gorgeous, Gothic, mental trip to the Swiss Alps is mesmerizing, even with a 2.5 hour run. The whole is, somehow, more than its parts.

There are several nice, small performances, but are only three main roles that form the framework of the movie. Dean DeHaan (Valerian) as the lead isn’t any more likable than he is in other roles, but he has a bit more energy. Generally, I’m finding DeHaan to always have a cool distance; an odd disconnect between his voice and his physical movement that removes you from caring about him. It can be very effective when you aren’t intended to like him, but it makes it hard to even care about what happens to him.

On the other hand, Jason Isaacs (The OA) is wonderfully creepy. He rides the line between care and conspiring beautifully. And Mia Goth (Everest) is practically ephemeral, going through her inevitable changes in a controlled and believable progression. You can see why DeHaan is drawn to her, why anyone would be. And yet she also manages to have a layer of both innocence and poisonousness lurking beneath her surface, like a toxic flower.

As I suggested, the end feels like it could be read in many ways. It is a strong choice, but not a clear one. And I say this despite one of the characters providing an explicit meaning to the title and their philosophy…I just don’t think it covered all that was going on nor the last image. Honestly, I’m still not sure what I think the entire intent was, and that’s somewhat OK because I’ve plenty to chew on.

Director Gore Verbinski and writer Justin Haythe reteamed for this production after their somewhat confused and misfire of The Lone Ranger. Bazelli returned behind the camera again as well. Seeing their efforts in an unfettered venue, absent any expectations, gives me a much better sense of their creative scope. While the end-result is a little baffling, it is a ride I willingly took and continue to think about. Make time for this when you’re in a mood for something darkly beautiful but very different.

A Cure for Wellness

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

It is going to kill me to write this review. Of all the movies this summer, this is the one I was really waiting for; the first big Luc Besson (Léon: The Professional) film in years. I still think you should go see it, but I’ll get to why later. First the painful part.

The source material for Valerian predates and influenced a good part of the ‘classic’ scifi movie cannon, but it is coming to market long after they got to establish themselves. So what we see appears to be part Fifth Element and part Avatar, with healthy doses of Star Wars and Babylon 5 thrown in for good measure. It is visually stunning, no question. It also has some of the best depictions of AR done yet on film. But for all its inventiveness it feels a bit like a pastiche of what you already know even if the comic influenced them first. But that isn’t where the move is weakest.

The main weakness isn’t even in the plot. The plot is relatively obvious by design. There is no pretense about who is good and who is evil in this tale. Clive Owen (Words and Pictures) is about as subtle as a nuke in his role. And are you really unclear that the species experiencing genocide is probably on the side of right? The story, at its bones, is interesting and has captivated audiences for years in comic form as a classic good and evil struggle. Besson could have softened that a bit, grayed out Owen’s role, in particular, to help raise the emotion and tension of the decisions, but it could have worked either way.

No, the weakness of the film is squarely on the acting of the two main characters.

Because there are few character surprises, the strength of the film has to rely on the chemistry between Dean DeHaan’s (Life After Beth) and Cara Delevingne‘s (Suicide Squad) characters. Much like the Bruce Willis/Mila Jovovich interchanges in Fifth Element, it isn’t so much what is happening around the main characters as much as what is happening between them. And, sadly, there is bloody nothing happening in that space for DeHaan and Delevingne. Zip. A gallon jug of liquid nitrogen couldn’t cool their romance any more than it already is. They don’t even seem to react at the carnage they leave in their path during their normal day-to-day assignments. It may be, in part, the directing, but, frankly, neither of these actors has impressed me much in their previous roles. So let’s say it is as much a casting as an acting problem, which still is at Besson’s feet.

All that said, you do have to see this film for a couple reasons. First, it is a big screen experience, no question. The level of detail and artistry on the screen has rarely, if ever, been matched. Second, it is one of the few original ideas out there in the tentpole space. Everything we’re being fed this year is spin-off, sequel, prequel, or remake. Besson is giving us something new. That is a gift in these days of recycling properties and studios too scared to try something new. They need a reason to gamble and that means showing them “new” can sell. Go in knowing you’re there for a visual ride and you’re fine.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Speech & Debate

If you ever spent time in a fringe club in High School or, in particular, worked for the school paper, in drama, or on the forensics team, this movie will ring many bells for you. Even if you haven’t, it captures the frustration and sense of awakening that everyone goes through at around that age, and, for some, the need to act. It is on that point where the reality of this tale gets delightfully stretched…but only a little.

The three young leads that carry the film are an unlikely crew thrown together by need. Their surety and fearlessness tested at every turn, they simply move forward until they can’t.

Sarah Steele (Adult Beginners), reprises her role from the original stage production while Liam James (The Way Way Back) and Austin P. McKenzie (When We Rise) join her to complete the group. They are all endearing and frustrating in their ways, and each has their own challenges outside the main plot to overcome. Together they find a sense of strength and belonging, as you’d hope.

This film began life as a well-received Stephen Karam play before he adapted it for this film version. As a credit to his writing, you’d never know it started in a different medium.

The adults in this story are definitely secondary characters with small, implied storylines of their own. Kal Penn (Designated Survivor), Janeane Garofalo (Wet Hot American Summer: First Days of Camp), Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect 2), suggest rich, unseen interactions in particular.

This is a funny and painful romp through old memories and the new ways of the world (and how they haven’t really changed). Or, if you’re contemporary to the characters, a reminder that everyone is struggling through the same junk and can do so in quiet or with style. Regardless, watch through the end of the credits for an amusing coda.

Speech & Debate

Song to Song

Calling this a movie is a bit of a stretch. It is more of a tone poem than a traditional story, which is somewhat appropriate given the title and Rooney Mara’s (The Discovery) comments in her voice over. There is a tale to be gleaned from the visuals, dialogue, and brief scenes, but it isn’t straight forward. The result feels like an extrapolation of Eyes Wide Shut, but with a more complete result.  At 2+ hours, that is both an impressive achievement by writer/director Terrance Malick (Knight of Cups) and a lot of effort for the audience. I’m not sure it is effort that is well reimbursed.

Whether or not you like Terrance Malick’s style, he can surely put a cast together: Michael Fassbender (Assassin’s Creed), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Holly Hunter (Top of the Lake), Bérénice Marlohe (Skyfall), Val Kilmer (Twixt), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), Linda Emond (3 Generations), Tom Sturridge (Far From the Madding Crowd). Then there are music icons like Iggy Pop (Gimme Danger), Florence Welch, Patti Smith, and others.

In other words, a whole heck of a lot of talent went into the creation of this piece. It is also down to Malick’s editing of the moments that the story becomes at all apparent. But as a movie it is middling and as an entertainment it is lacking. Basically, you have to love these actors or Malick to want to spend over two hours to get to the point and resolution. So this one is up to you…I had to respect the film making, but I can’t say I really enjoyed the experience enough to recommend it unreservedly or even with enthusiasm for anyone who isn’t more interested in craft than they are experience.

Song to Song

Doctor Who (Series 10)

I have to say, despite how much I liked Sherlock, I’m glad to see Moffat quit of it so he could concentrate on Who and his final season of show-running here. While series 9 acquitted itself reasonably, and Doctor Mysterio was amusing, series 8 has still left a bad taste in my brain. Mind you, he is still not a great show-runner, but 8 suffered so badly from his distraction that having him focused was a better option.

Generally, there were a lot of echos from the first season of the reboot through the first half or more of this series. In some cases, clear steals and references, which was an interesting choice. There was also a clear purpose building through the season… though some of it was spread out rather frustratingly and sparingly. Given that The Doctor and Nardole are supposed to have been in their current positions for decades at the top of the season (which has some odd implications) the slow burn of the bigger arc is understandable.

The addition of our latest companion, Bill, was a nice choice on a lot of levels. She has attitude and smarts and, most interestingly, a life outside the Doctor in a way we’ve not seen before. But it isn’t a series that feels very complete, by the end. Despite some nice structures and some fabulous moments, as a whole it is middling. Peter Capaldi (World War Z) seriously attempts to elevate it all with his talents, which are considerable. But he was handed some very weak scripts, so he could only do so much. He and the, basically unknown, Pearl Mackie make a nice duet, with the returning and redoubtable Matt Lucas (Alice Through the Looking Glass) at their side. But there is an unfocused energy between them all that never quite finds its target.

Overall, it is an enjoyable season, but not brilliant. It tries very hard to be so, but falls short do to its ultimate trajectory. What follows are my reactions as the series ran, rather than as retrospective. As noted, they are spoiler rich, so watch the season first if you don’t want to know anything.

By the Episode (with spoilers)

The Pilot
A strong and interesting opening with a lot of potential. The introduction of relative newcomer, Pearl Mackie, to join Peter Capaldi is not a bad one. She comes in whole cloth, but with enough mystery to drive stories and interest. She is energetic and intelligent. Interestingly, it also unabashedly echos a lot of Rose, the first of the series reboot from 12 years ago.  Perhaps the title is a subtle wink to that as well? Pearl Mackie as Bill has a lot in common with Piper’s Rose; primarily class, sass, drive. The use of the alarm clock sequence, in particular, evokes that launch explicitly. Adding some diversity to the new story was good, even if it feels a little forced (not just female, but black and lesbian). I think the most fun of the episode is the nods all the way back to the show’s roots with Susan’s photo making a prominent appearance (and doesn’t that raise possibilities).

The tale of the episode itself is minimal and, typical of Moffat, thin on reason, but it is clearly all about setting up the series arc. I can live with that if they pay it off. I’m certainly interested to see where it goes and what the heck is in that vault and why. Eventually, it would be good to know why the Doctor singles her out as well (wild guess is that she is Susan’s descendant). For the moment it has been dismissed, but I suspect it has a more pivotal aspect to it. And, one hopes, we’ll understand the reason for the retention of Matt Lucas’s Nardole as having a continued role in the Doctor’s life as the series continues.

Smile
Continuing with allusions to the original Rose arc, we are now in the far-future of humanity after starting with near term. However, with this episode, something new becomes clear. Where previous seasons were episodic, this series appears to be a single, long, unending story. Each, at least for now, tale picks up from the last moment of the previous. The original series did this often, and even some of the reboot, but usually as bridges into the new tale, not like they’ve just moved to the next line in the script. It will be interesting to see if this continues and how it develops. It certainly will affect the pacing.

The story of Smile is intriguing and fun. But another aspect of this series is exposed in how the tale is told. We aren’t really meeting the affected parties and getting to know them much. We are just focused on Bill and The Doctor. Sure they are trying help others, but in the first two episodes, no secondary characters really become important or take shape. It makes the stories feel thin and the pace feel rushed. It may still even out, but it is an interesting change from the recent past (classic often did this). Those secondary characters fill out each new world for us. We also seem to be back to the TARDIS is lost in space in time again, but that may be a short feint.

Thin Ice
With this episode, the series seems to be hitting its stride. We get a nice balance of secondary characters to invest in, and a bit more of the overall mystery of the vault, or at least a tease about it. Bill also gets to fast-forward through a lot of the Doctor’s reality regarding his past and the spectre of death that does seem to dog him thanks to the situations he puts himself in.  This aspect has been a main plot driver for several of the companions, stretched over a season.

The episode is still oddly locked to the Rose season, however. Rather than Dickens (in person) and ghosts for its third episode, we end up with Oliver Twist and monsters. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this quite yet, but I’ll keep tracking it. But there are certainly resonances with previous seasons, down to the last moment with the knocking (think The Sound of Drums and the final Tenant episodes).

Knock Knock
Wow, really? The only thing of value in this episode, other than getting to see David Suchet (Poirot), was the final tag back at the vault. But to the episode first. It is a bit of a stretch to claim the parallels with Rose’s first season continue. While they are tracking to time period (we’re back in modern London with Bill bringing the Doctor into her life as Rose did in Aliens in London), the tale is somewhat different, though the personal fallout might not be. The episode itself was a weird cross between The LodgerThe God Complex, with a bit of Ghost Light (from the Classic series). Really didn’t much care for the whole haunted-house-but-really-aliens thing. Far too overdone at this point and they brought little new to it. More importantly, this episode didn’t much advance Bill and the Doctor’s relationship, though he dropped some hints on regeneration and such for her sake. Not an unwatchable episode, but not a memorable one either. It makes me wonder why they bothered with the enhanced sound release of it… though interesting and well done, I can’t say it made it particularly better.

Back to the vault…So, guessing at this point at Missy or Susan in the vault (both for reasons unknown). We shall see.

Oxygen
There is some solid stuff in this episode, though it really all about working toward a rather hard to earn a solid (if cringe-worthy) pun: working for the suits. It is another, literally, breathless episode with the terror and danger starting near the top and driving through… mostly so you won’t think too much about the facts. In the midst of all that, we get some good moments, particularly with the blue alien, but we don’t really get to know any of the secondary characters (again) and the faked death of Bill was cheap, even if it was obvious. The episode is really more about Nardole and The Doctor debating about and sparring over the vault and his “duty.” Honestly, I’d prefer little end tags to pull this along as the embedded bits are feeling rather forced and tacked on to stories pitched in a vacuum to the larger arc.

We are drifting more from the direct season one framework, which is good. The essential of this episode is for Bill to realize just how dangerous it all is (about on par with when Rose comes to the same discovery). Of course, if you realize that this season will have only 12 episodes rather than 13, we are in direct sync (as this would map to Dalek). Perhaps I’m stuck too much on this idea, but it was such a strong parallel at the top, I’m not quite ready to give it up. Sound continues to be a challenge for me… between the speed of the dialogue and the timbre of their voices, a lot of what the Doctor and Bill say is getting lost. BBC sound mixing has always been a challenge for my ears, it is just more so with this series.

Extremis
Well, first: Yippee, yes it was Missy! Not that I’m overly thrilled to have the Mastress back in the game (though I do like Missy quite a bit) but I do like being right even if I prefer to be happily surprised. As to this set-up/reset episode, I guess I can’t blame Moffat for doing exactly what Davies did on his last run: put everything at stake. As we’ve drifted off the Season 1 structure fairly completely now (unless Bill is somehow a Bad Wolf surrogate and this new enemy is stands in for the Daleks which hit series one at this point) we are seeing more the compression of Davies first 4 seasons forced into a single series.

I do have to say that I object to the ongoing blinding of the Doctor. Feels like Moffat is trying to do a Death of Superman thing, but suspect it is more about redeeming Missy unequivocally through some form of major sacrifice or merging of the last two time lords (though they aren’t any more, are they?). In any event, it is a good and creepy sort of premise. Nothing new, but interestingly laid out even if the baddy allowed the Doctor to monologue and send his email (sloppy writing).  And I have to admit the opening teaser was a beautiful misdirect, though ultimately a cheat (it was just a dream… sort of). We’re halfway through and now we have what appears to be the major arc. We’ll see what comes next.

Pyramid at the End of the World
We’re finally into something new in this series. The vampiric Monks (or that’s how I think of them at present) are intriguing and creepy. The rules around them aren’t well known yet and this episode is very much incomplete, leaving Nardole dying, infected, on the Tardis floor and, of course, Bill having made a deal with the devil. And to that latter bit…it didn’t feel very real to me. One of the disadvantages of the pace of this season is that we aren’t getting the relationship building time and appreciation between the Doctor and Bill. She’s been very much on the outside of things due to the vault, etc. So for her to sacrifice not just herself, but the entire world on the assumption that the Doctor will get them back out of it? Nope, not buying into it right now. At least the Doctor can see again (somehow) but guessing Missy is gong to be necessary to free the Earth. All that said, there are some clever bits to the story, we’ll just have to see how it plays out and for how long… are they really going to stretch this to the finale? Or is Moffat saving Missy for something bigger down the road?

The Lie of the Land
This episode gets a huge pass for many of its faults for the climactic “Welcome to Fake News Central,” nailing home unequivocally its political agenda and commentary. Absent that, it is the few, spare moments with Missy that sell this tale (and the small tipoff to the series finale in the teaser), because the rest is rushed and so hand-wavy as to frustrate the heck out of me, though I did like the setup of Bill’s mum being paid off.  There is no real logic or good explanation of how the Monk’s machine works or how it is defeated. There is no explanation as to why or what the Monk’s get from conquering a world. There is no reason given why, after investing so much time watching the “threads” of possibility that they would stop doing that and be so easily defeated. I was expecting this thread to carry forward a bit longer, so now I’ve no clue what comes next, other than more Missy and the possible redemption of the Mastress. Clearly Moffat is going big for his final series…  With only four to go, I’m looking forward to seeing if he can pay it all off.

The Empress of Mars
I never really felt the need to revisit The Tomb of the Cybermen, but this Mark Gatiss (Denial) take on the idea with the Ice Warriors has its moments. Few, admittedly, but a few. One of the nicest aspects is the guest spot of Anthony Calf (The Man Who Knew Infinity). With very little screen time, he provides you a complete character and story. Frustratingly, no one else really does, including the Doctor and Bill. The final moment, and the return of Alpha Centauri (including the original voice of Ysanne Churchman), was a nice nod to the Peladon sequence, though I do wonder if this didn’t break that bit of history in some way. However, really the whole excuse of this episode is to get Missy out of the vault… and perhaps next week we’ll know why the Tardis went nutty when Nardole went into it. This is the breath before what I expect to be the final run to the series and Moffat finale. We’ll see if they can redeem Missy and give the Doc a good send-off (cause, even if you didn’t know it, it has become obvious he’s about to regenerate — nicely tipped at the top of the previous episode).

Eaters of Light
Easily the best episode of the season so far. It had characters, scope, depth, humor, and sure the crow thing was wonderful, surprising, and silly all at once, but it worked. And, yes, the time sense of in the portal and out got a bit mucked, but loved the idea and resolution. They even got the full regeneration statement in this time; so even if you didn’t know what was coming, you know what is coming now. This is the Doctor I miss. Great stories and characters. And even though the Missy bit was a little squeezed in, it was a wonderful scene. With only two left to go, I’m really hoping this is indicative.

World Enough and Time
Seriously, did you need any more hint than the title? OK, then the opening moments should have sealed it. How those moments relate to the story that followed…I’ve no idea yet. In fact, I was somewhat annoyed that we started there and then looped back. Again. OK, annoyance aside, the setup of the tale with the time dilation is fabulous. Great idea and it starts off wonderfully. Wasn’t crazy about Missy’s dialogue, funny as it was, because she just didn’t feel ready, so why would the Doctor have sent her out there with his companions? But conceptually it was great.

John Simm’s (Doctor Who 6) as, initially, the Zathras-like character is a hoot. Also, pulling off the reveal like the old Classic Master (the ripping away of the disguise) was also a nice touch. I do have to admit I was waaaaay ahead on where it was generally going having recognized the face coverings from the first incarnation of the Cybermen. I feel like this rewrites the history of Mondas, but I honestly don’t recall what the genesis story of them was. I’m sure some geek will dig it out and call Moffat out on it if it exists.

Of course, the top-line story here now is the 2 Masters. Not sure how I feel about that yet. Probably necessary to get Missy redeemed. She literally has to battle herself. And the fate of Bill is very much in the air as we know of no way to reverse the process she’s been through (based on 50+ years of the show).

So, we know what’s coming now, without question, in the next episode. These new elements raise the stakes and muddy the waters all at once. We are no longer just worried about Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor…the focus is primarily about the Doctor and the Master.  Certainly there were enough speeches about who Time Lords could be friends with over the last season (even if that is a feint). Hoping Moffat doesn’t pay for his surprise by blowing his final season by losing track of the heart of the Doctor. We shall see…

The Doctor Falls
And if the last titled show wasn’t enough, this makes it clear from the outset what is coming. And yet it wasn’t. I’ll come back to that. First I do want to say it was nice to see The Pilot come back, even if making her a Deus Ex Machina to save Bill was cheap and not provided enough foundation…and they’ve set up the Doctor to have a similar possibility. The rest of the episode, however, was so rushed.

We start again with a tease (different to the previous episode), loop back, and ultimately find ourselves unsatisfied and without an ending. There is no basis for Capaldi’s wonderful speech of “not wanting to change anymore.” The Masters, though they have a fun confrontation, don’t resolve Missy’s plot-line nor her redemption. The final moments of the Hartnell look-alike are just painful. And I’m pretty damned sure that the evolution of the Cybermen and the storyline violate galactic history as we know it.

Basically, it was a confused mess, even if it had some nice moments. You can’t keep teasing an audience with a regeneration and then not deliver. It is bad entertainment and breaks the contract. Now it seems we have to wait for the Holiday episode to see what and (W)ho happens next, which is a change as well. The holiday was usually used to bridge the series and, when needed, the new Doctors. I can’t say I felt fulfilled by this finale, but I will be glad to be quit of Moffat next year. He has never understood how to run an uber-arc in a story, even if his individual scripts can be quite good. And now he has really ticked me off and lost the last of my trust.

Doctor Who

Get Out

Wow. Just, wow.

Probably the best horror film I’ve seen in ages. It has only one open question (resolved about 2/3 through) and one surprise; it derives its horror from how real it all feels. It is honest and rarely keeps you waiting when you’ve gotten ahead of it. That allows you to feel the tension of Daniel Kaluuya’s (Sicario) character to the fullest. He never comes off as dumb. He unpuzzles the plot as fast as the audience and acts. Part of what makes it so scary is the feeling that he really can’t avoid the inevitable. It is a powerful and compelling performance.

Helping that along are some equally solid performances by Bradley Whitford (Saving Mr. Banks) and Allison Williams (Girls). The rest of the family is a bit less believable with Catherine Keener (Begin Again) being marginal, but intriguing, and Caleb Landry Jones (Stonewall) just feeling out of control. I think that was writer and first-time director Jordan Peele’s intent, but I wish he had reined it in more to keep it just a bit less obvious.

However, as the horror of the situation unfolds, we are swept along. It is uncomfortable and frustrating, embarrassing and angering. And, yes, pretty terrifying, but not in a monster-going-to-eat-your-face way, but more in a this-feels-almost-like-it-could-happen way. It makes Peele a great choice for the upcoming series adaptation of Lovecraft Country, which also has to walk that line. (Also a book I highly recommend.)

But Get Out goes beyond just the typical horror movie/teen angst level. There is a sociological aspect to this movie. It will be taught in years to come in universities and high schools by those brave enough to do so. The resonance of the tale, both as personal nightmare and social commentary is loud and disturbingly clear.

If this had released even 8 years ago (maybe less), it would have felt like propaganda or blaxploitation. In today’s times of stress and fear it comes across more as object lesson and metaphor. What is white privilege? What is it to abandon your own culture or have it co-opted? We get a complete spectrum of the latter with LilRel Howery (Carmichael Show) at one extreme end, Kaluuya as a middle ground, and Lakeith Stanfield (War Machine) at the far extreme end, with two painful touch-points by Marcus Henderson (Pete’s Dragon) and Betty Gabriel (Good Girls Revolt) as the family help. It isn’t, of course, that straight forward, but from an academic standpoint it is ripe for debate and examination. Add to it the realities of the plot itself, once revealed, and it is even more powerful.

This film had a huge reception in theaters, earning $250M worldwide. And while $$s aren’t always the best way to judge a film, in this case it is a great measure of the chord it struck. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is well done, well conceived. Like Hell or High Water, it is a movie of its time, though with frankly much more meat to the bone. If you somehow missed Get Out, make time for it. It is a great ride that also happens to comes with a message. If nothing else, it is guaranteed to start a conversation.

Get Out

3 Generations

This is best thought of as a film about family rather than a story about a young trans man played by Elle Fanning (20th Century Women). It is primarily a tale about how this unique family inter-relates. And, in the end, this movie is really more Naomi Watts (Sea of Trees) story than it is Fanning’s.

But, truth be told, it is Susan Sarandon (The Meddler) and Linda Emond (The Family Fang) who steal this movie. Their characters and interactions are beautifully understated and comfortable. They throw away their lines like the old, partnered couple they are supposed to be but also manage to stay in the background. They take focus because of their quality, not because they are scene stealing.

There was so much controversy over this film as it came to screens. The MPAA tried to saddle it with an R rating due to its subject matter (learn more about the MPAA) and because Fanning was playing the role rather than a trans actor. Fanning (20th Century Women) does try to do her best, but I honestly never really bought her in the role both because the on-screen and script choices didn’t really fully jibe with my own experiences with people in transition.

The movie is simply, fundamentally flawed. Director and co-writer Gaby Dellal worked with Nikole Beckwith, but didn’t quite nail the story either in balance or action. Added to that, there is a forced layer of auteur visuals in the videos created by Fanning’s character that don’t feel at all on point or by him. And there is also a more metaphorical aspect of resampling and recreating music into something by that character. In neither case does the film pursue the threads, leaving them dangling, unfulfilled, and even distracting in some ways. And the men in this film, Tate Donovan (Argo) and Sam Trammell (The Fault in Our Stars), are somewhat pointless, but that is by design, though an odd message given the core focus.

Ultimately, there is entertainment and warm fuzzies to be had here, and a couple of the performances really are worth seeing. But as a movie it is middling in its success.

3 Generations

Wonder Woman: Female empowerment or just a brass bikini?

***SPOILERS ABOUND***SPOILERS ABOUND***

When I discussed this movie yesterday, I alluded to some frustration and disagreement about whether and how this film succeeded on a purely female empowerment level. To really discuss that meant massive spoilers, so I avoided it. However, after many more conversations IRL, it seems like I should dive into it all, best I can, but with the proviso that you should see the film first in order to make up your own mind and to not have anything revealed.

I will try to avoid all discussions of acting ability and dialogue in this conversation and concentrate solely on the plot points of the script and the scenes that made the cut. Because, truth be told, I think the root of my issues lay there not just in the unbalanced acting ability onscreen.

Let’s acknowledge that, yes, there is a strong woman pounding the tar out of bad guys. Let’s also acknowledge that a very gifted female director is behind the scenes and that she has cemented her legacy with this film alone, even if she hadn’t already with her previous efforts.

That said, there are two main issues that I think throw this film out of pure female empowerment and both grow out of a single root cause. They also both occur in the final act of the movie and are interrelated, but separate issues.

The root cause is the well-indicated, without crossing the PG line, of Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman’s night together. We should all have known at the moment that if they had sex, he needed to die. Honestly, I didn’t put it together at that point, but I did wonder at why the heck they did. Not because I’m a prude. And we know Wonder Woman knows the pleasures of the flesh from their conversation in the boat, so it wasn’t out of the question. However, crossing that line between these characters fundamentally changes many things that have implications later that weaken Wonder Woman’s decisions to my mind.  At the very least, it muddies the waters. Also, the way it is filmed, it appears to be his decision, even if he seems to acknowledge some unspoken nod off camera. Had the shot been from her POV it may have mitigated the issue, but it didn’t appear to be a POV shot to me. And, beyond that, I still think the scene shouldn’t have happened. But, if it had to happen, it should have been 100% with her in control on screen, not even in the implied control of a man. This moment ultimately colors two other major decision points.

First, Trevor sacrifices himself. The question here is why? There is an argument I’ve been involved with that claims Trevor is only at the front because of Wonder Woman and, therefore, all of his actions are in support of her. I disagree. We know Trevor never just follows orders from Etta’s comments to are Ares-in-disguise. He would have gone anyway in order to hunt down Dr. Poison/Maru, even if he hadn’t ever considered gods in his midst. But he also chooses to sacrifice himself both as a humanitarian and because he thinks he’s saving the girl he’s fallen for, not really fully believing she was a goddess and invulnerable (despite the earlier moment at the village). More importantly, Trevor taking the initiative diminishes Diana’s ownership of the resolution of the fight. Sure, there is a bigger fight going on, but that still isn’t his focus or what he really quite believes at that moment, by my and other’s estimation and even by the flashback/fill-in (cheap, BTW) of their conversation. And keep in mind that Ares, a decidedly male entity, is arranging all of this through his nudges, so who is in control?

Second, the final motivation for Diana’s ability to beat Ares is driven by…. and here is where the Fifth Element comments from my earlier post come in… love. But is that universal love, the capability to love humankind and go beyond the Amazons-first mentality, or is is the love of Steve Trevor, specifically, that drives her? And this is where their night together matters. Had they not been together, the moment of epiphany for Diana would have been chaste and unencumbered by the personal and physical love of a man. It would have been a realization about herself and, more generally, about all those around her. Instead, it comes off as a grief-stricken response about a relationship because there was a relationship. Legit? Sure, but it diminishes her into emotional woman, not a super hero defending the human race. In fact, it makes her no better than the petty Olympians to whom she is related in this tale who kill each other for personal sleights, damage and death to Earth below be damned.

Still not with me on this. OK, consider the final scene before the brief coda. Diana thanks Bruce for “bringing him back to her.” She doesn’t say, “thanks for reminding me why I do this,” nor “I miss all of these great heroes.” Nope, this is all about Trevor in the script, no one else and nothing else mattered in this reverie.

I don’t want to overburden a popcorn film with too much analysis, but Wonder Woman has been long anticipated for so many reasons and the reaction has been so strong, that I wanted to at least put on some critical goggles and consider the implications before we christen it a guide for all girls. It has some great aspects as reference, but I think the end was weakened in ways that could have been easily avoided.