Trash TV Guru : “The Time Of The Doctor” — The 2013 “Doctor Who” Christmas Special


doctor-who-time-of-the-doctor-poster-3

I highly recommend that you remember this moment , not just because it’s Christmas (for a few more hours, at any rate) and that’s always (hopefully) nice — oh, and Happy Holidays to you all, by the way ( just out of curiosity, does me saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” mean I’ve picked a side in the imaginary “War on Christmas” cooked up by Fox “news”?) — but because, for once, yours truly is genuinely at a loss for words.

I know, I know — me not having an opinion (or keeping it to myself if I do have one) is something a lot of people have been waiting a long time for. Consider it my Christmas gift to all of you, then. I just wish I knew  why I didn’t have much to say. It’s not that the finale of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, the just-concluded (here in the US, at any rate) “The Time Of The Doctor” was so awesome that it left me speechless. Nor is it the case that it was so lousy that I have no idea where to begin cataloging its list of atrocities. It’s just — shit, I dunno.  And like I said, that’s the problem.

Look, in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I was more than ready for the Eleventh (or should that be Twelfth? Or even Thirteenth?) Doctor to be done. I thought Smith and series head honcho Steven Moffat got off to an interesting, if wildly uneven, start back in 2009 with the fifth season of Who 2.0, but that the show itself, and Smith’s character, have been pretty stagnant and predictable ever since. Change, my dear, as the Sixth Doctor might say, is coming not a moment too soon — I just hope it’s not too late, ya know? Because I could seriously use something to shake me out of my full-time state of disinterested ambivalence in regards to my favorite show ever, and I’m sincerely hoping that Peter Capaldi is it. He makes a nice first (okay, second) appearance at the tail end here and my optimism got a shot in the arm just seeing the guy but, as with all things, time will tell.

Beyond that,  though, well — I guess this episode was okay enough for what it was, but considering that three-plus years have been leading up to this one story, it all seemed a bit flat to me. And the pacing was a fucking mess. And the direction by Jamie Payne seemed listless and uninspired. And Moffat’s script was all over the map. And — well, let’s not kid ourselves, it may not have been an un-watchable disaster, but it wasn’t exactly good, either, was it?

Time-of-the-Doctor-11

I’m well aware that the very nature of these “big event” specials makes them something of a bitch to write, and that Moff’s bound to feel obligated to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the works here, so to that end we’ve got Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the Silence (though, curiously, no River Song, guess once she and the Doctor got married Moffat had no further use for her) — even that crack in the wall comes back out of nowhere and hangs around for over 300 years in the town of Christmas, on planet Trenzalore.

Yup, after saying he was headed home at the end of The Day Of The Doctor, it ends up that the Doctor, Clara in tow, is headed for Trenzalore after all. Where he generally stands around doing nothing for centuries while the people in the village around him are blown to smithereens. They all, apparently, love him to pieces even though he’s responsible for bringing all this trouble down on their heads in the first place, but maybe they’re just all stupid or something. I’m not gonna hold that against them.  After all, it’s Christmas.

Anyway, there’s a transmission from Gallifrey coming through the other side of the crack, apparently the Time Lords are itching to break back into our universe from whatever other one they’re in, and all they need is for the supposedly-age-old question of “Doctor — who?” to finally be answered, and they’re in. Don’t ask me how that works. Or why this is the place where it has to happen. Or why they’re not all trapped in a painting as appeared to be the case last time around. I. Just. Don’t. Know.

time-of-the-doctor-batch-d-1

do know that the Doctor’s best friend in his three-century exile on Trenzalore is a disembodied Cyber-head, and that there’s a wooden Cyberman he fights that looks pretty cool, and that Clara pops up a couple more times as the Doctor ages, and that very little of the Eleventh Doctor’s “life” has been seen on screen which means Big Finish and BBC Books and the like can have all kinds of fun filling in the gaps over the next x-number of years, and that the “big battle” that promised “silence will fall” ends up being a big stalemate and that this story doesn’t make much sense from word “go” to word “stop.”

But I don’t know that I disliked the proceedings here, either, and that’s because even though it was undoubtedly a mess, it’s at least a mess that’s trying to do something a little different, and “a little different” is something Doctor Who has been sorely lacking lately.

Think about it : the Eleventh Doctor dies not from radiation poisoning, or Spectrox Toxemia, or falling from a telescope, or mind-fighting a giant spider — he dies the way, hopefully,  we all will : of old age. Whereupon the Time Lords, from the other side of the crack, promptly grant him a new regeneration cycle because, as it turns out, the Eleventh Doctor was the Thirteenth all along.

time-of-the-doctor-wooden-cyberman

To their credit, Moffat and Smith don’t throw an extended pity party for “their” Doctor on the way out the door the way Russell T. Davies and David Tennant did, and Jenna Coleman, who’s fast become the best thing about the show, handles her “companion present for a  regeneration” duties admirably, but things do go a bit barmy when said regeneration is so powerful that it kills off all the Daleks, Silence, etc. battling on Trenzalore in one go. Or actually, the pre-regeneration cosmic energy surge (or whatever) does that, the actual regeneration itself being a rather “bang! And it’s done!” sort of affair occurring within the confines for the TARDIS.

And ,just like that, it’s over. And I’m left with the feeling that we really didn’t see much of the Eleventh Doctor. Sure, we saw him age — not terribly convincingly — here, but we didn’t see much of his life in Trenzalore/Christmas at all. We didn’t see the century he spent wandering alone after the Ponds flew the coop. We didn’t see any of his married life with River Song, or even find out what the hell really happened to her. We didn’t see him scouring the universe for her as a child. We didn’t see many of the major events that we’re told played such an enormous part in making him who he was. It’s enough to make a person say “Sayonara, Eleven — we hardly knew ye!”

Sure, I guess that’s frustrating in a way — but it’s also kind of mildly intriguing, is it not? And it’s apparently got a lot of people howling, which is a good thing. The fans wanted drama, anguish, and pathos — a huge, epic send-off for Matt Smith’s iteration of the Doctor. Instead, they got 300 years in 30 minutes, a “New Time War” that never happens, and a Doctor who dies because he gets old.  And besides, given how clumsy and formulaic Who has become in Steven Moffat’s hands, it’s probably doing the character a big favor to give him plenty of unseen “life” free from his show-runner’s heavy hand.

So maybe it’s the hand-wringing and controversy and downright caterwauling of so many on the internet that I’m enjoying more than The Time Of The Doctor itself. Maybe I appreciate the effect it’s having off-screen more than I did anything it presented on-screen. Maybe I like what it’s doing more than I like what it actually did.

Or maybe I’m just glad this era of the show is over and we can turn the page. I’ve long maintained that a “back to basics” approach free of excess baggage in terms of continuity, backstory, etc. is precisely what Doctor Who  has needed for a long time. Give us a mysterious traveler in a rickety old police box that’s bigger on the inside and can go anywhere in time and space, and leave it at that. I don’t know if Moffat will be able to resist the temptation to layer the mythology on thick all over again when Capaldi takes the reigns, but given that three-plus seasons of his purportedly meticulous and careful and calculated planning led to a quick, go-nowhere, non-resolution haphazardly cap-stoned by one of the least dramatic regenerations the series has ever seen will finally be enough to convince him that writing himself into a corner with all that “timey-wimey” nonsense just doesn’t work.

When the Ponds left, it felt more like a relief than anything else, and the same applies here — doubly so, in fact. All that shit’s out the window now. The deck has been cleared off. Steven Moffat has never had a better chance to strip the show back down to its core elements and start afresh than he has right now.

And with that, I’m out. For a guy who promised at the outset that he didn’t have much to say, I’ve just spent over 1,500 words blathering on about an episode I still don’t quite now what to make of. So I guess I was wrong.

I’ve also been saying for some time that I don’t think Steven Moffat is the right guy to be running Doctor Who anymore. My sincere hope is that he uses this clean slate he’s given himself to prove me wrong again.

Ghosts of Christmas Past #25: The Twilight Zone 3.37 “The Changing of the Guard”


Seeing as how one of the first ghosts of Christmas Past was an episode of the Twilight Zone, it seems only appropriate that the same should be true of the 2013’s final Christmas ghost.

It’s debatable whether “The Changing of the Guard” is truly a Christmas episode.  However, it does take place during the holiday season and it’s such a wonderful and sweet 23 minutes of television that it simply has to be shared and enjoyed.

The Changing of the Guard, which features a poignant lead performance from Donald Pleasance, originally aired on June 1st, 1962.

All of us here at the Shattered Lens hope that you have had and will continue to have a wonderful holiday season!  Please enjoy The Changing of the Guard.

6 Reviews of 6 More Films That Were Released in 2013: The Company You Keep, Dracula 3D, Getaway, Identity Thief, Pawn, Welcome to the Punch


In part of my continuing effort to get caught up on my 2013 film reviews, here are 6 more reviews of 6 more films.

The Company You Keep (dir by Robert Redford)

Shia LeBeouf is a journalist who discovers that attorney Bill Grant (Robert Redford) is actually a former 60s radical who is still wanted by the FBI for taking part in a bank robbery in which a security guard was killed.  In one of those coincidences that can be filed directly under “Because it was convenient for the plot,” LeBeouf’s girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) works for the FBI.  Anyway, all of this leads to Grant going on the run and meeting up with a lot of his former radical colleagues (all of whom are played by familiar character actors like Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, and Julie Christie).  Ben pursues him and discovers that Grant could very well be innocent and … oh, who cares?  The Company You Keep is a big smug mess of a film.   It’s full of talented actors — like Stanley Tucci, Brendan Gleeson, and Brit Marling (who, talented as she may be, is actually kinda terrible in this film) — but so what?  I lost interest in the film after the first 20 minutes, which was a problem since I still had 101 more minutes left to go.

Has there ever been a movie that’s actually been improved by the presence of Shia LeBeouf?

Dracula 3D (dir by Dario Argento)

Dario Argento’s version of the classic Dracula tale got terrible reviews when it was briefly released here in the States but I happen to think that it was rather underrated.  No, the film can not compares to classic Argento films like Deep Red, Suspiria, and Tenebre.  However, the film itself is so shamelessly excessive that it’s impossible not to enjoy on some level.  The film’s moody sets harken back to the classic gothic villages of the old Hammer films, Thomas Kretschman turns Dracula into the type of decadent European aristocrat who you would expect to find doing cocaine in 1970s New York, and Rutger Hauer is wonderfully over-the-top as Van Helsing.  Yes, Dracula does turn into a giant preying mantis at one point but if you can’t enjoy that then you’re obviously taking life (and movies) too seriously.

Getaway (dir by Courtney Solomon)

I saw Getaway during my summer vacation and the main thing I remember about the experience is that I saw it in Charleston, West Virginia.  Have I mentioned how in love I am with Charleston?  Seriously, I love that city!

As for the movie, it was 90 minutes of nonstop car chases and crashes and yet it somehow still managed to be one of the dullest films that I’ve ever seen.  Ethan Hawke’s wife is kidnapped by Jon Voight and Hawke is forced to steal a car and drive around the city, doing random things.  Along the way, he picks up a sidekick played by Selena Gomez.  Hawke and Voight are two of my favorite actors and, on the basis of Spring Breakers, I think that Gomez is a lot more talented than she’s given credit for.  But all of that talent didn’t stop Getaway from being forgettable.  It’s often asked how much action is too much action and it appears that Getaway was specifically made to answer that question.

Identity Thief (dir by Seth Gordon)

My best friend Evelyn and I attempted to watch this “comedy” on Saturday night and we could only get through the first hour before we turned it off.  Jason Bateman’s a great actor but, between Identity Thief and Disconnect, this just wasn’t his year.  In this film, Bateman is a guy named Sandy (Are you laughing yet?  Because the movie really thinks this is hilarious) whose identity is stolen by Melissa McCarthy.  In order to restore both his credit and his good name, Bateman goes down to Florida and attempts to convince McCarthy to return to Colorado with him.  The film’s “humor” comes from the fact that McCarthy is sociopath while Bateman is … not.

It’s just as funny as it sounds.

Pawn (dir by David Armstrong)

An all-night diner is robbed by three thieves led by Michael Chiklis and, perhaps not surprisingly, things do not go as expected.  It turns out that not only does Chilklis have a secret agenda of his own but so does nearly everyone else in the diner.  Pawn is a gritty little action thriller that’s full of twists and turns.  Chiklis gives a great performance and Ray Liotta has a surprisingly effective cameo.

Welcome to the Punch (dir by Eran Creevy)

In this British crime drama, gangster Jacob (Mark Strong) comes out of hiding and returns to London in order to get his son out of prison.  Waiting for Jacob is an obsessive police detective (James McAvoy) who is determined to finally capture Jacob.

In many ways, Welcome To The Punch reminded me a lot of Trance and n0t just because both films feature James McAvoy playing a morally ambiguous hero.  Like Trance, Welcome to the Punch is something of a shallow film but Eran Creevy’s direction is so stylish and Mark Strong and James McAvoy both give such effective performances that you find yourself entertained even if the film itself leaves you feeling somewhat detached.

Film Review: Drinking Buddies (dir by Joe Swanberg)


Drinking Buddies is one of the best films of 2013.

It’s important to state that from the beginning because it can be difficult to explain the appeal of Drinking Buddies.  In fact, it can be argued that nothing really happens in the film.  For 90 minutes, we follow four likable and familiar characters as they drink, talk, flirt, and occasionally fight.  In many ways, this is a very funny film but it’s definitely not a comedy.  It’s a serious movie that’s notable for lacking any real drama.  Instead, it’s a warm and sympathetic portrait of life as it’s lived.

Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) both work at a Chicago brewery.  Luke is an almost stereotypical nice guy while Kate is good at her job but totally neurotic with almost every other aspect of her life.  When we first see them on-screen together, it’s easy to assume that Kate and Luke are in a relationship.  However, despite being perfect for each other, Luke and Kate are both involved with others.  Kate is involved with Chris (Ron Livingston) while Luke is trying to get over his nervousness over the prospect of getting married to Jill (Anna Kendrick).  After the four of them go on a camping trip with each other, Kate and Chris break up and Luke is forced to deal with his feelings for both Kate and Jill.

Now, I knew that sounds like the set-up for a romantic comedy, the type where Chris would turn out to be a complete cad and Jill would be so obviously wrong for Luke that the audience would be openly rooting for Luke to dump her so he could get together with Kate.  However, and this is what makes this film brilliant, Joe Swanberg isn’t interested in making a film full of romcom stereotypes.  If anything, Chris and Jill are both portrayed as being far more sympathetic than either Luke or Kate.  (Livingston and Kendrick have an extended picnic scene that should be remembered as one of the best cinematic moments of 2013.)

In the end, Drinking Buddies doesn’t do anything that you expect it to do.  Swanberg is less interested in romance and more interested in observing and celebrating the friendship of these four characters.  This is one of those unexpected films where every single detail rings true and you end up feeling as if you could hop a plane to Chicago and find any of these four characters living their own lives beyond what the audience has been lucky enough to observe.

How good is Drinking Buddies?

I don’t even drink and I still loved this movie.

Film Review: All Is Lost (dir by JC Chandor)


I have to admit that when I first heard the plot of All Is Lost, I was skeptical.

Essentially, the film is 100 minutes of Robert Redford (playing a nameless sailor) floating out in the middle of the ocean and trying not to die.  Beyond delivering some deliberately ambiguous narration at the beginning of the film and then shouting at some profanity about halfway through the film, Redford’s performance is almost entirely silent.  We’re never really sure why Redford was out in the ocean in the first place, though there are hints to be found by those who are willing to take the time to track down the small details.  Myself, I know nothing about sailing and, considering how utterly terrified I am of drowning, I doubt that I ever will.  As such, I spent most of the film not having the slightest idea what Redford was doing or why he was doing it.

(To just give one example of my lack of nautical knowledge, I was stunned to discover, while watching All Is Lost, that a boat can be flooded with water without automatically sinking to the bottom of the ocean.)

So, I really should have hated All Is Lost.

But I didn’t.

I have to admit that it took me a while to get into the film.  There were a few times when I thought the movie was going to lose me.  But every time that I thought I was going to zone out on the film, Robert Redford snapped me back.  Redford brings such a sense of immediacy to his role that you can’t help but watch him even if, like me, you’re not always sure what he’s doing.

If not for the all of the Oscar talk being generated by Redford’s performance, I probably would not have seen All Is Lost.

But I’m glad that I did.

Film Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler (dir by Lee Daniels)


Dare I admit it?

When I saw Lee Daniels’ The Butler, I was not impressed.

Yes, the audience applauded as the end credits rolled.  And yes, I know that almost all of the mainstream critics have given it a good review.  I know that Sasha Stone has been hyping it as a surefire Oscar contender.  I know that, up until 12 Years A Slave introduced us all to an actress named Lupita Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey was considered to be the front-runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

But it doesn’t matter.  The Butler did little for me.

I also realize that the film ended with a title card that announced that what I had just watched was dedicated to the American civil rights movement.  In many ways, that title card felt like emotional blackmail, implying that if you criticized The Butler than that meant you were also criticizing the brave, real life men and women who risked their lives to fight for equal rights.

However, when you put emotions and good intentions to the side, the fact of the matter is that Lee Daniels’ The Butler is not that good of a movie.  One need only compare The Butler to some of the other films that were released this year that dealt with the African-American experience — films like 12 Years A Slave and Fruitvale Station — to see just how safe and uninspiring The Butler truly is.

The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whitaker), the son sharecroppers (played by David Banner and Mariah Carey) in the deep south.  After Cecil’s father is murdered by plantation owner Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer), Cecil is raised and educated by the wealthy Annabeth Westdall (Vanessa Redgrave).  Eventually, the teenaged Cecil leaves the plantation and ends up working in a hotel where he’s educated in how to be a master servant by the elderly Maynard (Clarence Williams III, who brings a quiet dignity to his role).  Cecil eventually gets promoted to a hotel in Washington, D.C.  It’s there that he meets and marries Gloria (Oprah Winfrey).

In 1957, Cecil is hired to work at the White House.  Along with befriending two others butlers (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Lenny Kravitz), Cecil also gets the chance to observe history play out first hand.  Starting with Dwight Eisenhower (played by Robin Williams) and ending with Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman, giving a performance that is incredibly bad), Cecil watches as President after President deals with the civil rights movement.  Some presidents, like John F. Kennedy (James Marsden) are portrayed as being heroes while others, like Richard Nixon (John Cusack), are portrayed as being villains but all of them have the watchful eye of Cecil Gaines in common.

Meanwhile, at home, Gloria has a brief affair with Howard (played by Terrence Howard and really, you have to wonder what Cecil was thinking leaving his wife alone with anyone played by Terrence Howard) and Cecil’s oldest son, Louis (David Oyelowo), gets involved with the civil rights movement and grow increasingly estranged from his father.

The Butler actually starts out pretty well.  There’s a lengthy sequence where Louis and a group of students are trained on how to conduct a sit-in that’s extremely compelling to watch.  However, then John Cusack shows up wearing a big fake nose and the entire film starts to fall apart.

From a cinematic point of view, the film fails because it ultimately seems to be more dedicated to trotting out a parade of celebrity cameos to actually telling a compelling story.  As is his usual style, Lee Daniels directs with a heavy hand and, as a result, the film is full of emotionally-charged scenes that fail to resonate for longer than a handful of minutes.

My main issue with The Butler is that the film literally contains no surprises.  Nothing out of the ordinary happens and, at no point, is the audience actually challenged to consider the way they view history or race relations.  Whereas films like Fruitvale Station and 12 Years A Slave truly challenge our assumptions, The Butler encourages us to pat ourselves on the back for being so enlightened.  Every single frame of The Butler is specifically designed to fool us into thinking that we’re watching an important and challenging movie.

Because of a silly copyright lawsuit, the official title of The Butler is Lee Daniels’ The Butler.  However, that title is very appropriate because The Butler is definitely a Lee Daniels film.  Even if you didn’t know it beforehand, it would be easy to guess that the  same man who directed Precious and The Paperboy also directed The Butler.  As a director, Daniels specializes in making simplistic points in the most bombastic way possible.  The results are films, like The Butler, that are more concerned with manipulating an audience than challenging an audience.  When audiences applaud at the end of The Butler, they aren’t so much applauding the film as much as they are applauding themselves for having seen it.

Film Review: The Canyons (dir by Paul Schrader)


Do you remember that YouTube video of Chris Crocker screaming, “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!” while tears and eye liner ran down his face?

That’s often the way that I feel about Lindsay Lohan, a talented actress and a fellow redhead whose career has been destroyed not so much by her own mistakes but by the fact that the tabloids refuse to allow her to move on from those mistakes.  It seems that, regardless of what Lindsay Lohan does, not a single story will be written about her that doesn’t mention that she’s spent time in rehab and jail or that doesn’t offer up some sort of tawdry speculation about her private life.

And that’s unfortunate because, regardless of what the tabloids may say, Lindsay Lohan remains an excellent actress who is capable of doing a lot more than parodying her own image in Scary Movie 5.

Consider, for instance, her performance in The Canyons.

In The Canyons, Lohan plays Tara, the world-weary girlfriend of a wealthy sociopath named Christian (James Deen, who may not be a great actor but still projects a proper mix of charm and menace).  Christian is a film producer whose need to control and dominate is demonstrated in both the way he manipulates actor Ryan (Nolan Funk) and the way he arranges for Tara to have sex with strangers while he films the action.

Tara and Christian live a life that epitomizes empty luxury, an existence defined of ennui where casual cruelty is the norm.  However, when he discovers that Tara is secretly having an affair with Ryan, Christian’s carefully constructed facade of control starts to fade away.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Christian’s obsessiveness and manipulative mind games eventually lead to a brutal act of violence…

When it was released earlier this year, The Canyons got terrible reviews and the film is definitely uneven.  Bret Easton Ellis’s script is predictable and, while director Paul Schrader captures some haunting images of Los Angeles at its most languid, the film also is a bit too slow for its own good.  Schrader takes Ellis’s pulpy script and attempts to use it to craft an existential portrait of American culture and he doesn’t quite succeed.

However, to a large extent, The Canyons is redeemed by Lohan’s excellent performance.  In Lohan’s hands, Tara becomes a survivor who has sacrificed her innocence but still has yet to develop the hardness that one needs to survive in Ellis and Schrader’s Los Angeles.  As cynical and decadent a character as Tara may be, Lohan plays her with just enough hints of optimism that it’s impossible not to regret the loss of who she was before she met Christian.

It’s a performance that manages to redeem a film that, without Lohan, would have been one of the worst films of 2013.

For that reason alone, perhaps it’s time to leave Lindsay alone and she what she’s capable of doing when she’s simply allowed to act.