Posts Tagged ‘doctor who’

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Well, here it is, folks — the wait is over. After nearly a year-long absence from our television screens, Doctor Who has returned, and right off the bat we’re plunged headlong into “newness” — there’s a new (and frankly pretty lousy) version of the theme tune, new (and frankly pretty cool) opening credits — and, of course, a new Doctor in the form of Peter Capaldi. But just how “new” are things really?

For good or ill, depending on your point of view (and in fairness I should state that I tend toward the latter opinion), Steven Moffat is still at the helm, Jenna Coleman is back as companion Clara, and the on-again/off-again supporting cast of Neve McIntosh’s Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart’s Jenny, and Dan Starkey’s Commander Strax is all still in place. Director Ben Wheatley delivers the goods in the faux-cinematic “house style” that was a staple of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor era, and to be honest, title character aside, any “changes” in the show seem cosmetic at best (new TARDIS interior, new hairstyles for some the female characters, etc.). Heck, even the two major period tropes of the first story of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, Deep Breath (penned, as you’d expect, by Moffat himself) — namely Victoriana and dinosaurs — have been done to death on the show lately.So is it really all just a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”?

Well, possibly — but here’s the damn thing : flat-out fatigued as I am by Moffat’s stewardship, this episode actually worked  on a number of levels and left me feeling reasonably optimistic about things, at least in the short term — and that’s something I haven’t felt in regards to Who in quite some time (especially after the one-two punch of disasters that was Day Of The Doctor and Time Of The Doctor). I’m hedging my expectations a bit, to be sure — I thought Moffat got off to a flying start with The Eleventh Hour, but by the end of Matt Smith’s run, that was still probably his best story — so yeah, in a very real sense, at least in this armchair critic’s opinion, it really was all downhill from there. The same could easily happen again. But Jon Pertwee  (yes, I really have been watching the show that long) taught me that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” so for now, I choose to remain foolishly positive in terms of my expectations for things going forward — at least until next week, at any rate.

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I’ll freely admit that my own personal predilections in terms of the “classic” series probably  contributed more than their fair share to how warmly I received Deep Breath — there’s a strong Ghost Light vibe to the proceedings here (right down to the setting most of the story takes place in really being a space ship), and there’s a Robot-like sense that the old characters are just here to help smooth the transition to a new era and will quickly depart to allow the Doctor and his companion to start free-wheeling their way through time and space again, and since those are two old school adventures that I love dearly,  invoking them, even if by accident or coincidence, is bound to go some way toward putting me at ease here. Sure, the main baddie of the story is of the heavily-overused “steam punk” ilk, but at least he manages to impart a certain amount of genuine menace in his flat, mechanical, deadpan, clockwork non-persona. Not a classic villain by any stretch, but definitely as passable one.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though — it all rides on Capaldi’s shoulders here, and he’s more than up to the task of carrying the load. We knew he would be, of course — in a very real sense this is the Doctor us “classic” series fans have been waiting for, and not just because he’s a bit older. The best Doctors of days gone by imbued the role with a moral gravitas that the likes of Smith and David Tennant never achieved, either because they were too busy being cool (in Smith’s case) or feeling sorry for themselves (in Tennant’s). Of the new series leads, on Christopher Eccleston seemed to ever grasp the fact that the Doctor should always strive to do what’s right not just for himself, but for everyone and everything. Sure, you could still count on Ten and Eleven to come through and save the day, but not unless and until you were so sick to death of their self-absorbed, egocentric antics that you were actually hoping that they would fail and please just fucking die already. I’m pleased to say Capaldi has no time for that sort of portrayal and seems eager to make the Doctor a genuine hero again. A flawed hero, to be sure — all the best were, from William Hartnell on down — but a hero. Not a lonely god. Not a sophomoric dandy who likes to break the rules just because he can. A hero. We’ve needed that for a long time, and it looks like we’ve finally got it.

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The one great failing of Deep Breath is, then, that the story really does drag when he’s not on screen. The episode is just plain too goddamn long anyway, mind you, but his numerous absences really gum up the works. One gets the sense that Moffat is trying to set up Vastra and her crew for a spin-off show or something, but if the interminable sequences where they’re asked to do the heavy lifting here are any indication, don’t bank on it being one that’ll be worth watching if it ever comes to pass. Capaldi is all energy and excitement combined with a sense of genuine, rather than forced (as it was with Smith), world-weariness that makes for an immediately addictive and compelling screen presence. It feels like he’s seen and done and it all before, but still doesn’t know what he’ll do next. When he’s absent, shit — we really have seen it all before and we do know what’s going to happen next. There’s a certain amount of charming like-ability in all of these secondary personalities, particularly Strax, but at this point they either need to go away and do their own thing, or just go away, period.  I know they have their fans and all, but so did Captain Jack and River Song, and the show survived their departures just fine. My gut feeling, as mentioned before, is that Moffat  elected to keep them around for this story in order to to ease  both the fans and the characters themselves into whatever new direction it is that we’re headed, but if we end up seeing them again by season’s end, I’ll be more than a bit disappointed by the fact that he didn’t choose to go for the “clean break” that he’s been  presented with here.

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Let’s get back to that earlier optimism I was expressing, though, shall we? Deep Breath takes awhile to get going, sure, but once it does, it proves to be the type of slow-burn, character-driven, “period horror” piece that “the Moff” excelled at back when he was just part of Russel T. Davies’ writer’s pool. The dinosaur, fortunately, doesn’t hang around too long,  we only have one instance of the type of painfully-overly-forced “squee” moment that the show has saddled us with all too often lately (“gee, something’s lodged in that T-Rex’s throat — he looks like he’s about to cough it out — damn, I think it’s the TARDIS — holy shit, the T-Rex is gonna cough the TARDIS out and I bet it’s gonna be coated with dino-slime!”), the plot (again, once it gets underway) is reasonably solid, and Wheatley does a nice job of layering on the atmosphere along with the lighting technicians, set designers, costume designers, and production managers in his employ. It’s not revolutionary stuff by any means, but the execution is uniformly solid, and that’s good enough for an introductory story by my estimation.

Still, in the end, it all comes back to Capaldi, doesn’t it? This guy is the real deal. He’ll be enough to get me to tune in week in and week out, even if subsequent episodes turn out to be pure crap (as some, no doubt, will be).  He’s shown that he’s more than ready to bring his “A -game” right from the outset, and who knows? If Moffat and his writers show a willingness to come up with material  that’s (at least) nearly equal to their star’s abilities, we might be in for a very memorable run here. Time will tell — it always does.

I suppose it was inevitable, really. With the vampire craze in full swing thanks to TV shows like True Blood  and The Vampire Diaries, and with the damn-near-ubiquitous-at-this-point Twilight franchise ruling at the box office and still sitting somewhere near the top of the fiction bestseller lists, it was probably only a matter of time before the creatively-stagnant-powers-that-be in Hollywood turned their attention to a remake of one of the quirkiest, most downright fun vampire movies ever made, namely writer-director (and eventual Child’s Play creator) Todd Holland’s 1985 mini-masterpiece Fright Night.

Here’s the thing, though — any “reimagining” of Holland’s film was doomed to be subpar in comparison to its progenitor almost from the word go because a big part of the original Fright Night‘s charm is that it’s such a product of its time. It’s unpretentiously, unapologetically 80s all the way, not because it was trying to be or anything, but just because, hell, that’s when it was made and they didn’t have much budget to reach for anything greater than they were capable of. It’s from that brief-but-glorious time when Hollywood decided to try to blend equal parts teen horror and teen comedy and see what it could come up with — if there was money to be made halfway between Friday The 13th  and Porky’s, if you will.

The answer, ultimately, was “some, but not enough to keep it going,” but in both the sort and the long runs the fusion-formula gamble paid off , and continues to pay off, for us genre fans with classics like Holland’s film and Fred Decker’s superb Night Of The Creeps.

That, however, was then, and this, needless to say,  is now. And what has the now brought us?

Well, something of a “close-but-no-cigar,” I’m afraid.

Director Craig Gillespie (best known for the indie-hit Lars And The Real Girl) really does seem to have his heart in the right place here, and some of the “modernizing” touches, such as setting the story in a typically barren suburban Las Vegas cul-de-sac, work quite well (Vegas has a transient population and it’s not entirely out of place to see a house with blacked-out windows because so many people work night and need to sleep when it’s light out) — and some of the casting choices are damn-near brilliant, to be honest. Colin Farrell as vampire-next-door Jerry is out-of-this-world menacingly cool and oozes dangerous charisma throughout. When he’s hanging out just on the other side of the doorway of our ertswhile teen hero Charley (Anton Yelchin)’s house because he hasn’t been invited in, the tension’s palpable as he quite clearly is trying to ingratiate himself to the point where Charley tells him “hey, man, come on in” but is also trying to suss out whether our intrepid adolescent has figured out who and what he really is. It’s a highlight-reel moment in a (no shit here people) Oscar-worthy performance from Farrell.

And on the supporting actor front — recasting Roddy MacDowall’s legendary Peter Vincent character as a Criss Angel Mindfreak-type Vegas performer rather than a washed-up TV horror host is another stroke of pure genius, as was casting Doctor Who  alum David Tennant in the role. Essentially he’s just playing the Tenth Doctor with a substance abuse problem (and, it’s strongly hinted, the sexual dysfunction issues that often go along with that), but it works and it’s a hell of a lot fun.

It’s in the rest of the casting, though, that the big cracks in this flick begin to show. First off, Anton Yelchin is just a straight-up bore as Charley, and nowhere near as interesting, or even mildly sympathetic, as a lead needs to be. He just never gives you much of any reason to give a shit whether or not he, and by extension through him everyone he loves, gets killed. So that’s a bit of a bummer. He’s not even so much actively bad as he is just crushingly bland. And the same can be aid for his supposedly too-hot-for-him, entirely-out-of-his-league girlfriend, Amy, played by Imogen Poots (today’s winner of the “celebrity-names-that-are-too-fucking-clever-by-half award, runner-up being Miranda July), who (sorry to be superficial, but) isn’t all that outrageously hot and more importantly isn’t all that good an actress. And finally, we’ve got Toni Collette slumming is as Charley’s mom (quite an international cast here, by the way — Collette’s Australian, Yelchin’s Russian, Tennant and Poots are British, and Farrell’s Irish), who’s serviceable enough, but this role is too blase for an actress of consequence like her to be messing with.

And lastly on the poor casting and performances front, and this one really hurts — Christopher Mintz-Plasee, McLovin himself, absolutely sucks as the 2001 version of Evil Ed. Granted, the script absolutely wrecks the character from the outset, turning a likable geek from the original into an asshole geek in this one, but even still, Mintz-Plasse is so unconvincing as a prick-ish nerd, and even more unconvincing one’s he’s “turned” by Jerry, that even a better-written character wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The other big flaw with this film is the script itself. the pacing just seems off from the start and when the film’s earlier attempts at blending some comedy into the mix, as the original did so effortlessly, are abandoned, we end up with a flick that takes itself way too seriously when at the outset it seemed like it wanted to plant its tongue firmly in its cheek. The massive, cop-out, deus ex machina-type plot device that resolves everything at the conclusion is impossibly lame, too, and probably made David Tennant feel right at home because it’s just the sort of mega-big, but mega-cheap-and-obvious ending that Russell T. Davies used to wrap up every season of Doctor Who with.

All that being said, there’s slightly more good than bad here on the whole, especially if you see it in 3-D (and yes, this was actually shot in 3-D rather than having it added in post-production, so there are some really cool, old-school 3-D style moments), and hey, you even get a cameo by the original Jerry himself, Chris Sarandon, so all is not lost by any means. But it sure comes close. Gillespie and crew seem to either lose sight of, or change their minds about, exactly what type of film they’re making here at right about the halfway mark, and make the rather perplexing choice to bury the fun under the grim way past the point where they ever had much chance of actually scaring us very much,  and the result is a movie that tries to be more than it has any business being, and consequently, and ironically, ends up being so much less. in short, it’s tough to go for pure thrills, chills, and gore when you start off letting us know we needn’t take anything here too seriously. Either stick with trying to blend horror and comedy from start to finish, as the original did so successfully, or just go with one or the other. And hey, if you ‘re absolutely determined to convince us that suddenly,out of nowhere, this now-dark-and-humorless world has consequences, don’t insult our intelligence by telegraphing an obviously consequence-free ending  (remember that deus ex machina I mentioned a second ago?) while there’s still a good half hour left to go.

Don’t get me wrong — as remakes go, this could have been a lot worse (most are), but to see a movie that really does seem to get where it’s coming and have an equally solid idea of where it’s going suddenly become so thoroughly and completely lost thanks to some ill-advised, and out-of-the-blue, tonal shifts just when it seemed to be in a position to really hit its stride is a real head-scratcher. Gillespie just about had a film here that you could happily compare to its predecessor, as with Let Me In/Let the Right One In (just for the sake of a recent comparison in the vampire genre), but the whole thing really loses it focus, and its heart, when it decides to ditch the fun and start taking itself seriously for no discernible reason whatsoever.  Some of the actors, most notably Farrell, who’s just plain dynamite here, really deserve better than to have their self-assured, supremely confident work lost inside a movie that  can’t quite decide what it wants to be.