Here Are The Nominees of the 2020 Indiana Film Journalists Assosciation!


Bad Education

The Indiana Film Journalists Association (IJA) has announced their nominees for the best of 2020!  They’ll be announcing the winners on December 21st!

What I like about these nominations is that there’s a lot of them.  2020 may have been a difficult year for many but there were a lot of good films released and it does seem kind of silly (as it does every year) to limit things to some sort of arbitrary number.  Why only nominate 10 films when you could nominate 20 or 30?  Many of the nominees below will appear on my own personal best lists in January.

The other thing that I like about these nominees is that the include films like Bad Education and Mangrove.  There’s some debate as to whether or not these films should be considered Oscar eligible.  I feel that they should be so it’s nice to see that the folks in Indiana agree with me!

Here are the nominees:

BEST FILM
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Assistant
Athlete A
Bad Education
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Dick Johnson is Dead
Emma.
The Father
First Cow
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
The Nest
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Palm Springs
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
Small Axe: Mangrove
Song Without a Name
Soul
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Onward
Soul
Wolfwalkers

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
76 Days
Another Round
Bacurau
Beanpole
La Dosis
Song Without a Name

BEST DOCUMENTARY
76 Days
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Athlete A
Boys State
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Desert One
Dick Johnson is Dead
Disclosure
John Lewis: Good Trouble
The Last Out
Miss Americana
MLK/FBI
Time
Totally Under Control
Welcome to Chechnya

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
James Montague and Craig W. Sanger – The Vast of Night
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Alice Wu – The Half of It

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller – The Father
Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Mike Makowsky – Bad Education
Kemp Powers – One Night in Miami
Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST DIRECTOR
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Kirsten Johnson – Dick Johnson is Dead
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Regina King – One Night in Miami
Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods
Melina Léon – Song Without a Name
Steve McQueen – Small Axe: Mangrove
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
George C. Wolfe – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Alice Wu – The Half of It
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST ACTRESS
Haley Bennett – Swallow
Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Carrie Coon – The Nest
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigin – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner – The Assistant
Han Ye-ri – Minari
Leah Lewis – The Half of It
Rachel McAdams – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Pamela Mendoza – Song Without a Name
Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Aubrey Plaza – Black Bear
Margot Robbie – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jane Adams – She Dies Tomorrow
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Toni Collette – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Olivia Colman – The Father
Olivia Cooke – Sound of Metal
Allison Janney – Bad Education
Margo Martindale – Blow the Man Down
Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

BEST ACTOR
Christopher Abbott – Possessor
Ben Affleck – The Way Back
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami
Paul Bettany – Uncle Frank
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Eli Goree – One Night in Miami
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Hugh Jackman – Bad Education
Jude Law – The Nest
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Mads Mikkelsen – Another Round
Jesse Plemons – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Eddie Redmayne – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods
Bo Burnham – Promising Young Woman
Bill Burr – The King of Staten Island
Peter Capaldi – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Aldis Hodge – One Night in Miami
Caleb Landry Jones – The Outpost
Alan Kim – Minari
Frank Langella – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Orion Lee – First Cow
Ewan McGregor – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Leslie Odom, Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs
Dan Stevens – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
David Strathairn – Nomadland
David Thewlis – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

BEST VOCAL / MOTION CAPTURE PERFORMANCE
Sean Bean – Wolfwalkers
Tina Fey – Soul
Jamie Foxx – Soul
Oliver Platt – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Donald Ray Pollock – The Devil All the Time
Ben Schwartz – Sonic the Hedgehog

BEST ENSEMBLE ACTING
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Devil All the Time
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The King of Staten Island
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
One Night in Miami
The Personal History of David Copperfield
She Dies Tomorrow
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Uncle Frank

BEST MUSICAL SCORE
Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer – The Vast of Night
Terence Blanchard – One Night in Miami
Ludovico Einaudi – Nomadland
Ludwig Göransson – Tenet
Emile Mosseri – Minari
Richard Reed Parry – The Nest
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Soul
William Tyler – First Cow
Jay Wadley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer – Emma.
Benjamin Wallfisch – The Invisible Man
Jim Williams – Possessor

BREAKOUT OF THE YEAR
Maria Bakalova (actress) – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Max Barbakow (director) – Palm Springs
Emerald Fennell (writer / director) – Promising Young Woman
Sidney Flanigin (actress) – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Alan Kim (actor) – Minari
Orion Lee (actor) – First Cow
Leah Lewis (actress) – The Half of It
Darius Marder (writer / director) – Sound of Metal
Andrew Patterson (director) – The Vast of Night
Tayarisha Poe (writer / director) – Selah and the Spades
Kemp Powers – co-writer / co-director for Soul and writer for One Night in Miami
Matthew Rankin (writer / director) – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara (writer) – Palm Springs
Autumn de Wilde (director) – Emma.

HOOSIER AWARD
Athlete A
Eliza Hittman, writer / director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always and graduate of Indiana University

ORIGINAL VISION AWARD
After Midnight
Assassin 33 A.D.
Dick Johnson is Dead
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
She Dies Tomorrow
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night
Vivarium

Mangrove

A Movie A Day #45: Captives (1994, directed by Angela Pope)


captives

Rachel Clifford (Julia Ormond) is a dentist who has just divorced her unfaithful husband, Simon (Peter Capaldi).  Feeling directionless, Rachel shocks her posh friends by getting a part-time job as the dentist at Wadsworth Prison, the toughest and most notorious prison in Britain.  While most of the inmates in the all-male prison harass and proposition the attractive Rachel, she forms an unlikely friendship with Phil (Tim Roth), a sensitive inmate who is doing time for killing his previous girlfriend.  Phil and Rachel are both captives, Phil of the legal system and Rachel of her upper class existence.  With Phil getting weekly day releases so that he can take computer classes, he and Rachel become lovers outside of the prison walls.  When prison kingpin Tower (Colin Salmon) finds out about their affair, he attempts to blackmail both of them.

A British film which I don’t think ever got much attention in the U.S., Captives is a romantic drama that works because Julia Ormond and Tim Roth both give good performances and share a spark of passion.  Captives is one of the few films that could actually make a hookup in a public restroom seem romantic.  It’s just too bad that, after such a strong start, the movie gets bogged down in melodrama during the final twenty minutes.

Shattered Politics #85: In the Loop (dir by Armando Iannucci)


In_the_Loop_poster

First released in 2009, In The Loop is one of the most brilliant political satires ever made.

The film opens in London, as a slightly ridiculous man named Toby (Chris Addison) starts his first day as the special assistant to the Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander).  And what a day to start!  Both the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister are eager to invade the Middle East and, during an interview the previous night, Simon accidentally announced that war was “unforseeable.”  This has led to people accidentally assuming that Simon is anti-war (Simon really doesn’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other) but it also means that the Prime Minister’s compulsively profane assistant, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), is now running around the office and threatening people.

(I doubt that there’s any way that I can do justice to Capaldi’s performance here.  You simply have to see him.  He is a force of nature, a tornado of nonstop profanity and aggression.)

Not every government official in the U.S. is enthusiastic about going to war.  Both Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and her former lover, Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini) are opposed to the war.  Karen’s assistant, Liza (Anna Chlumsky), has even written a paper that explains why a war in the Middle East could not be won.  Karen hopes to use Simon as a spokesman to keep the British out of the war and, therefore, America as well.

(Toby, meanwhile, just wants to have sex with Liza.)

However, there are a few factors that complicate things.  First off, Malcolm is determined to make sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants and if that means bullying and scaring everyone into supporting an unwinnable war, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.  Secondly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State For Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche) is eager enough to start a war that he’s actually started a secret committee to find a way to get into the war.  (The committee, of course, has been called the Committee For Future Planning.)  Third, and perhaps most importantly, Simon is an idiot.

Along with being both a satire of American-British relations (my favorite moment comes when a random American tourist tells Malcolm to stop cursing in public) and the lead-up to the Iraq War, In The Loop is also a devastating look at how government works.  In the Loop makes a good case that, for all the titles and the committee and the talk about doing what’s right, most government policy is the result of a combination of stupidity and needless aggression.  As played by Capaldi, Malcolm has no ideology or core beliefs.  He simply makes sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants.

And if that means going to war, then Malcolm will do whatever it takes to push Britain into war.

Director Armando Iannucci is probably best known for creating two political comedies, the Thick of It and Veep.  And while I’ve never seen The Thick Of It, I absolutely love Veep.  From what I’ve read, all three projects share the same fictional universe.  (Capaldi’s Malcolm was the main character on The Thick Of It.)

Though, actually, I think it’s debatable just how fictional that universe is.  Ultimately, In The Loop is probably one of the most plausible satires that I’ve ever seen.

Quick Review: Paddington (dir. by Paul King)


paddington_character-poster-4Hello there, and Happy New Year!

When I was little, I owned a stuffed Paddington Bear. When I found out Heyday Films was working on a movie for the character, I immediately added it to my watch list. From the audience’s reaction, made up mostly of families and a few dates, it seemed to be well received. American audiences may not be familiar with Paddington, even though the Orange Marmalade eating bear has had tons of books, toys and cartoons in the UK over the last 50 years. He even has his own float in the Holiday parades we have here in New York City.

The movie, directed by Paul King, finds young Paddington (Ben Wishaw – Layer Cake, Skyfall) traveling to London after an Earthquake destroys his home in Darkest Peru. His Aunt and Uncle (played by Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon, respectively) have told him of how wonderful London is, but he finds it’s not exactly as kind as he was led to believe. While Wishaw wouldn’t be my first through to voice Paddington, he fits the role quite well, giving the character a sense of polite innocence that’s spot on to how I recalled him.

The Brown family discovers Paddington and takes him in, in the hopes that they can locate the individual who discovered Paddington’s Aunt and Uncle during an expedition many years ago. When an evil taxidermist (played by Nicole Kidman in a turn that feels eerily similar to what she did in The Golden Compass) discovers Paddington, she makes it her goal to have him added to her collection.

Paddington’s supporting cast seems to either have former Harry Potter or Layer Cake stars. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville plays the overprotective Brown father. Sally Hawkins (Layer Cake, Godzilla) plays Mary, who helps Paddington along his trip. Weasley mom Julie Walters has a fun role as the house nanny, and finally, Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi is the nosy next door neighbor that doesn’t take too kindly to having furry neighbors around town. It looks like everyone enjoyed themselves on the production, and seeing Capaldi play someone so odd was a little weird.

For young viewers, Paddington is a treat, with a focus on acceptance, family and the notion that sometimes one can hold on too tight to children in an effort to keep them safe. It might a gross out in some ways, depending on some of the scenes that include earwax licking and passing gas. Some may find the notion of a taxidermist a little scary, but my audience seemed to be okay with it. There are very few elements of violence – most of it the playful type found in films like Home Alone. Nicole Kidman may appear scary to some, but at it’s heart, Paddington tries to keep everything as accessible as it can for everyone.

Musically, Sigur Ros provides some great music that flows with the scenes, and the production itself moves almost in the same fashion as Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, via the use of screen wipes and subtle season changes. The CGI for the film is done well, though I can’t say it’s very subtle. A casual view could probably spot what’s CGI and what isn’t, but since it’s for kids, they won’t really care.

Overall, it was fun to revisit Paddington. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations, but was a little amazed at how well it actually held up. I found myself smiling more often than I thought I would, honestly.

Embracing the Melodrama #37: Dangerous Liaisons (dir by Stephen Frears)


When watching a film like the 1988 best picture nominee Dangerous Liaisons, it helps to know something about history.  The film takes place in 18th century France and, even though it’s never specifically stated in the film, I watched it very much aware that the story was taking place just a few years before the French Revolution.  Even the aristocratic libertines who survive until the end of the film are probably destined to end up losing their lives at the guillotine.  Even though you don’t see anyone losing their head during Dangerous Liaisons (nor do you hear anyone say, “Let them eat cake.”), the film offers up such an atmosphere of decadence and manipulation that it leaves the viewer with little doubt as to why the people occasionally feel the need to rise up and destroy their social betters.

Dangerous Liaisons tells the story of the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) and the Marquise de Mertuil (Glenn Close), two amoral members of the aristocracy who deal with their boredom by playing games with the emotions of others.  Valmont is a notorious womanizer while Mertuil is obsessed with “dominating” the male sex and “avenging my own.”  At the start of the film, Mertuil has discovered that a former lover is planning on marrying the innocent Cecile (18 year-old Uma Thurman, stealing every scene that she appears in), who has basically spent her entire life in a convent.  Mertuil asks Valmont to seduce and take Cecile’s virginity before the wedding.  At first, Valmont says that Cecile is to easy of a challenge and declines.  Instead, Valmont has decided that he wants to seduce Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Phieffer), a married woman who is renowned for both her strong religious feelings and her virtuous character.  Mertuil agrees that she will sleep with Valmont if he can provide her with written proof that he’s managed to seduce Tourvel.

Tourvel is staying with Valmont’s aunt (Mildred Natwick), which gives Valmont — with the help of his servant, Azolan (Peter Capaldi) — several chances to try to trick Tourvel into believing that he’s a better man than everyone assumes him to be.  (With Azolan’s help, Valmont finds a poor family and donates money to them.  Of course, he makes sure that word of this gets back to Tourvel.)  However, Valmont then discovers that Cecile’s mother (Swoosie Kurtz) has been writing letters to Tourvel, warning her about Valmont’s lack of character.  To get revenge, Valmont agrees to seduce Cecile.

Dangerous Liaisons, which is based on a play that was based on a novel, is sumptuous costume drama.  If you’re like me and you love seeing how the rich and famous lived in past centuries, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Dangerous Liaisons.  With the elaborate costumes and the ornate sets, the film is a real visual feast.

The film is also a feast for those of us who enjoy good acting as well.  With the exception of a very young Keanu Reeves (who is oddly miscast as the poor music teacher who falls in love with Cecile), the entire film is perfectly cast, right down to the most minor of characters.  (I particularly enjoyed listening to Peter Capaldi, even if his Scottish accent occasionally did seem rather out-of-place in a film about the pre-Revolution France.)  For me, the biggest shock was John Malkovich.  Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always felt that Malkovich was a good character actor but he’s never been someone that I would think of as being sexy.  However, he gives close to a perfect performance as Valmont and, oddly enough, the fact that he’s not really conventionally handsome only serves to make Valmont all the more seductive.  Purring out his cynical dialogue and openly leering at every single woman in Paris, Malkovich turns Valmont into a familiar but all too appealing devil.

Dangerous Liaisons was later remade as Cruel Intentions, which is a film that I’ll be taking a look at very soon.

liaisons

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.

Trash TV Guru : “The Day Of The Doctor” — The “Doctor Who” 50th Anniversary Special


4753398-high-doctor-who

 

First off, a couple of disclaimers : this is one of those reviews that’s going to pre-suppose a fair amount of knowledge about the BBC’s Doctor Who  from the outset, so if you’re not at the very least a casual viewer of the show, you’re going to feel pretty lost right from the word go. So, ya know — newbies beware. Secondly, it’s well-nigh impossible, at this point, to discuss The Day Of The Doctor without indulging in some pretty serious “spoiler talk,” so if you’re part of the legion of “spoiler police” that apparently have nothing better to do than troll around the internet looking to play seagull (fly in, make a lot of noise, shit all over everything, and fly back out) with any review that gives away any plot points whatsoever, now would be a good time fuck directly off. Major “spoilers” do, in fact,  abound here, so — you’ve been warned.

Now, with all that out of the way —

For those of us who have been “Whovians” for a long time, the 50th anniversary really has been something of a “pinch me, I gotta be dreaming” type of year, hasn’t it? Especially for us sad souls who stuck with fandom during the so-called “wilderness years” between 1989 and 2005, when the 30th anniversary gave us the debacle that was Dimensions In Time, the 35th anniversary gave us — well, nothing, I guess — and the 40th anniversary essentially went unnoticed, even by us, because we were all too busy speculating about what the  just-announced-at-the-time new series would end up looking, feeling, and being like.

Our only frames of reference, then, for how the BBC would celebrate a major anniversary with the show as a going concern were the 10th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries. For the tenth, there wasn’t much by way of hoopla and tie-in merchandising and the like, but we did get The Three Doctors (why I’m saying “we” here I have no idea, as I was barely two years old at the time and had never, to my knowledge at least, seen the show — but whatever), which was not only the first big “reunion story,”  but a pretty cracking good adventure, as well, that introduced the now-legendary figure of Omega into the Who mythos.

For the 20th, it has to be said that the Beeb pulled out all the stops. For one splendid year there they seemed to be willing to acknowledge that this creaky little cheap show that they tried their best to keep out of the public eye really was a genuine global phenomenon despite their best efforts to make it anything but, and we got a slew of anniversary-themed books, toys, magazines, posters — you name it.

And there was Longleat. Ah, yes, Longleat. Fandom’s own Woodstock. The biggest single Doctor Who-related event ever, tales of it still abound — and, like fish stories, grow with each re-telling — to this day. I wasn’t there. I was a 12-year-old kid in the US. But  we heard about it,  even without the benefit of instantaneous online communication. It sounded great then. It sounds even better now. Memories, real or imagined, of Longleat frankly eclipse anything else as far as the 20th anniversary is concerned, especially since the special 90-minute “reunion story” we all got to see, The Five Doctors, was a rather tepid affair at best.

I’ll tell you what, though — warts and all, The Five Doctors was a key moment for American fans for one simple reason : we got to see it first. That’s’ right, us poor yanks, who had yet to see William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, or, in most cases, even Jon Pertwee reruns — we sad former colonists who had been subsisting on a diet of the same Tom Baker and Peter Davison stories over and over again ad infinitum — we got the anniversary special a matter of hours before it was shown on its own native soil. There was a quiet message being sent here — try as the suits at the BBC might to present an image on the home front as a broadcasting organization that specialized in period costume dramas and in-depth news (remember when there was such a thing?), internationally, they knew which side their bread was buttered on. Doctor Who was their number one worldwide property, and the booming American fan market was where the action was. Let’s just not tell the folks back in the UK, shall we?

Following on from that, though, something curious happened — more or less immediately after admitting that an international breakthrough was taking place, with a Doctor Who  convention going on, quite literally, every weekend in one major American city or other, Auntie Beeb suddenly remembered that the show was an embarrassment. At the very same moment that an ever-hungrier North American fan base was clamoring for more Who, the powers that be decided to give us less. In these days before mass-released DVD or even VHS, a famished fan can only subsist on the same set of re-runs over and over again for so long, and the BBC effectively killed its own golden goose by putting the show “on hiatus” for 18 months — then giving us drastically shortened seasons when it did, in fact, quietly return.

As a result, the 25th anniversary was a complete disaster, both at home and abroad. Very little recognition was given to the occasion from official quarters, and the “special story” broadcast to commemorate what should have been a proud milestone instead was a limp little Cybermen three-parter called Silver Nemesis that essentially followed the exact same plotline as the recently-concluded (and far superior) Remembrance Of The Daleks, only with different villains.

All in all, it was an anniversary well worth forgetting.

Fast forward a quarter century and things couldn’t be more different. Doctor Who is the shit, as far as the BBC is concerned. This is is a new iteration of Who, of course, broadcast by a new BBC that, for good or ill,  has its eye more on its balance sheets than its purported reputation.  Fans around the world are lapping it up, Who-themed merchandise is ubiquitous, and the money machine is rolling. Of course the 50th anniversary is going to be the biggest multi-media juggernaut the BBC has ever undertaken, what do you think they are — stupid?

Full disclosure — I’m something of a curmudgeon when it comes to Doctor Who. I miss the days when the cracks showed and the creaks could be heard. I loved the inventiveness that the Philip Hinchcliffes and Robert Holmeses and Barry Lettses and Malcolm Hulkes (among too many others to mention) were forced to either find or fall back on to make silk purses out of sow’s ears. I loved the first season of the new series, to be sure, but it’s been leaving me feeling increasingly unimpressed ever since. Under Russell T. Davies’ stewardship, I felt it became bland and formulaic. Under Steven Moffat’s.  it’s become bland, formulaic, and overly impressed with itself.

But never once did I consider throwing in the towel and walking away. No sir (or madam). You always keep hope alive for the home team.

And so here we all are — November 23rd, 2013, exactly 50 years to the day from the broadcast of An Unearthly Child, and all of us, everywhere around the world, get to see The Day Of The Doctor, the culmination of an entire year of set-to-overdrive mass-marketing, at exactly the same time.

But was it any good?  And, furthermore, are we all still a bit too giddy to even care?

Well, having watched it twice now, I feel the time has come to give it at least something  of a fair-minded analysis, even if the glow of the occasion hasn’t faded entirely just yet.

day-of-the-doctor-batch-b-6

 

Indications were that we would probably very well be in for a monumental-type story that would shake the foundations of everything we knew and shake up the Etch-A-Sketch all over again. After intense months of speculation, the Night Of The Doctor mini-“webisode” (and thank you thank you for bringing  back Paul McGann !) confirmed that John Hurt was, indeed, a “missing Doctor” that none of us had known about before — furthermore, he was no ordinary Doctor, he was “The War Doctor,” whatever that means. We figured there would be Daleks. We knew David Tennant and Billie Piper were returning. We assumed we’d be plunged back into the Time War — and, once it was announced that Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith would be departing come the Christmas special, we guessed that we might finally get some inkling as to what his (far too heavy-handedly) forthcoming demise at a place called Trenzalore was all about.

We got some of that. And something else that we probably weren’t expecting, as well — an accessible, “stand-alone” story featuring the return of fan- favorite monsters the Zygons. For a time, at any rate.

There’s some rather bland set-up material (that once again bastardizes the memory of U.N.I.T., this time doubling the insult by throwing The Brigadier’s daughter into the mix) with Smith and current companion Clara (played by Jenna Coleman) at the outset, then we do, in fact, go back into the Time War with John Hurt’s War Doctor, then we get re-introduced to Billie Piper (not, mind you, as Rose Tyler — in fact, she seems to still think she’s working on The Secret Diary Of A Call Girl here), and then, after cribbing much of the basic multi-Doctor story set-up idea from both The Thee Doctors and The Five Doctors, writer/head honcho Steven Moffat takes a turn and gives us a somewhat nifty standard-issue Zygon -invasion story that pretty much works, even if he did rip the core idea straight from Grant Morrison’s old Doom Patrol story “The Painting That Ate Paris.” No real harm in that, mind you — Doctor Who has often been at its best when liberally “borrowing” from other works.

Then, though, things do go a bit pear-shaped (again). After lots of fairly successful three-Doctor banter, some good, old-fashioned breaking out of jail cells (that were never locked, but that’s another story), some running around in corridors (yes!), and some nifty little doppleganging that should adequately thrill n’ chill the kiddies in the audience (and ,okay, some of us grown-ups, as well), Moffat does something — I dunno. Curious, I guess, if you’re being generous, and stupid and/or lazy if you’re not.

After spending over 40 minutes bringing the human/Zygon confrontation to a head, getting them all in a room, and employing a very nifty conceit to flat-out force them to negotiate, he drops the whole story. We never find out how it ends. And we’re back in Time War territory again. Only this time with a bigger Deus Ex Machina at the center of it than even anything RTD ever gave us — a big Hellraiser-box-on-steroids with a gleaming red button that the Doctor can push to just end everything.

And he does. Or did. But he doesn’t anymore.

Doctor Who – 50th Anniversary Special - The Day of the Doctor

 

Look, we all know that this show has strayed pretty far from its roots. “You can’t change history, Barbara! Not one line!” has given way to a new “philosophy” of “time can be re-written.” But this, well — let’s just say that the very events that gave birth to the Ninth (or I guess that should now be Tenth) Doctor, Christopher Eccelston, and in turn his successors in the role — well, they’re just no more. The past seven seasons of the show? Well, I guess they still happened — but now, apparently, not the way we saw them. At least not anymore. And the Doctor is most certainly no longer the “Last Of The Time Lords.”

So — what does it all mean? Shit, I dunno. Gallifrey still exists. In a painting.  It never stopped existing (except, ya know, when it did). And whereas the entire history of Doctor Who is based on the concept of a Time Lord running away from home (even though that mythology was developed nearly a decade after the show first aired) — a point that was re-emphasized in The Five Doctors with Fifth Doctor Peter Davison”s famous “Why not? That’s how it all started!” line — now we’re told that the Doctor is going “where I’ve always been going — back home.”

So, ya know, all that Trenzalore stuff we’ve been building up to? Forget all that. It’s Gallifrey or bust now, folks!

I guess all this should be exciting — and maybe, on paper, it is. I like being thrust into unknown waters as far as Doctor Who goes. Even though I’m a bit of a self-admitted sad old traditionalist, as stated earlier. In the days when all we had going were the Eighth Doctor BBC novels, Lawrence Miles’ much-maligned Interference, which basically set all of Who continuity on its ear (for a time, at any rate) excited me. And all this could well do the same — if I had more confidence in the current show-running regime to get things right. Which I don’t. Buuuuuuttttt —

They did get some things here right, unquestionably. The “old school” opening shots in  black and white, complete with vintage theme music, were marvelous. The direction by Nick Hurran was energetic, pacy, and cinematic (in a good way) throughout. The Three Doctors redux portion of the story, with John Hurt functioning as a William Hartnell stand-in, was a joy to watch. Clara seems to be coming along nicely as a companion and was essential to the proceedings here without overshadowing them — as Davies had a tendency to do with Rose, in particular.  And as for that ending —

doctor-who-day-of-the-doctor-nov-17-13

 

Okay, it was about as subtle as a neo-Nazi march through downtown Tel Aviv in broad daylight, I’ll grant you — Clara : The curator wants to see you. The Doctor (sitting, as Clara exits) : Okay. A curator. I’d like to be a curator. I’d be a good curator. Curators are cool. I should retire one day. Maybe I’ll be a curator when I retire. Yes, that’s it, I’ll retire and be a curator. In fact, I bet in some “timey-wimey” way I’ve already done that. And this curator guy who’s about to talk to me, shit, who are we kidding? It’s me. Or another of me, at any rate. It’s Tom Baker. He’s here. In the building.  That’s Tom Baker standing right behind me — but still : it was. Tom Baker. Standing right behind him. And yes,  the dialogue was trying too hard to be mysterious and momentous and came off instead as clumsy, but cone on, people. There he was. The Doctor. My Doctor. And I deserve to smile for the rest of the day for that reason alone. And so do you.

So who knows? Maybe a partial changing of the guard is all that’s in order here. Maybe Moffat just needs to scrap all the baggage that’s hanging on Matt Smith — baggage that, okay, “The Moff” himself put there, but let’s not nitpick here — and start fresh with Thirteenth (did I get that right?) Doctor Peter Capaldi, who actually makes his brief debut in this story in another very cool (if, yeah, very gimmicky) moment. Maybe a re-write of the last seven-plus seasons is just what — sorry! — the Doctor ordered. Maybe it’ll be good for him to go home again. If — and only if — once that’s all over,  he follows the best advice his Ninth (excuse me, I guess that’s Tenth) persona ever gave : “run for your life!”

I’ve been waiting a good few years now for Doctor Who to relieve itself of the burden of its own excesses and get back to the strength — and dare I say beauty — of its core premise, as so splendidly told in Mark Gatiss’ awe-inspring TV movie (and the real highlight of the 50th anniversary so far) An Adventure In Time And Space — a mysterious traveler making his way through the the past, the present, and the future of the whole,  entire universe in a rickety old blue police box that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. That, right there, is all we’ve ever needed.

The Day Of The Doctor did enough , glaring flaws notwithstanding, to make most any fan — including this one — feel more than just a little bit giddy throughout, and I’m reasonably thankful for that,  but it came up short in terms of re-setting the table in the kind of fundamental fashion I’m still hoping to see. It rattled the cupboards, and that’s a good first step, but we’ll have to see where and how the pieces fall after the Christmas special, which has rather stolen its thunder as the big “event” piece of Doctor Who for the year. We seem to be heading straight into the heart of Who mythology and continuity for one last (I hope, at any rate) big blow-out. So, yeah — let him go home again. If that’s what he needs to do to run away.

After all, that’s how it all started.

 

Review: World War Z (dir. by Marc Forster)


WorldWarZ

I’ll get this out of the way and just say it: World War Z the film pretty much has nothing in common with the acclaimed novel of the same name by author Max Brooks (reviewed almost at the very beginning of the site). Ok, now that we have that out of the way it’s time to get to the important part and that’s how did the film version turn out on it’s own merits.

World War Z was a film that took the long, winding and rough road to finally get to the big-screen. Whether it was the five different writers brought in to work on the script (J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame came onboard first with Christopher McQuarrie coming unofficially to help tighten a few scenes in the end) to the massive changes made to the original source material that was bound to anger the fans of the novel, the film by Marc Forster had an uphill climb to accomplish even before the final product even came to market.

I was as surprised as man others were that the finished product was better than I had anticipated. Some had very low expectations about World War Z coming in due to the rumors and news reports coming in about the problems during production, but it doesn’t change the fact that the unmitigated disaster predicted by every film blogger and critic beforehand never came to fruition.

World War Z might not have been what fans of the novel had wanted it to be, but when seen on it’s own merit the film was both exciting and tension-filled despite some flaws in the final script and use of well-worn horror tropes.

The film begins with a visual montage interspersing scenes of nature (particularly the swarming, hive-like behavior of certain animals like birds, fish, and insects), alarmist news media reporting and the mindless celebrity-driven entertainment media that’s so big around the world. From there we’re introduced to the main protagonist of the film in one Gerry Lane (played by Brad Pitt) and his family. We see that the Lane family definitely love and care for each other with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos in the supportive wife role) and their two young daughters, Rachel and Constance. The film could easily have spent a lot of time establishing this family and their relationship towards each other, but we move towards the film’s first major sequence pretty much right after the opening. It’s this choice to not linger on the characters too long that becomes both a strength and a weakness to the film’s narrative throughout.

WorldWarZPhilly

World War Z finally shows why it’s not your typical zombie film with it’s first major sequence in the center of downtown Philadelphia as Gerry and his family sees themselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As they wait there are some subtle hints that something might just be somewhat awry ahead of them as we see more and more police racing towards some sort of emergency ahead of the family and more and more helicopters flying overhead. There’s a brief lull in the scene before all hell breaks loose and the film’s zombie apocalypse aspect goes from 0 straight to 11 in a split second.

It’s this sequence of all-encompassing chaos overtaking a major metropolitan city seen both on the ground through the eyes of Gerry Lane and then on flying overhead wide shots of the city that gives World War Z it’s epic scope that other zombie films (both great and awful) could never truly capture. It’s also in this opening action sequence that we find the film’s unique take on the tried-and-true zombie. While not the slow, shambling kind that was described in the novel, these fast-movers (owes a lot more on the Rage-infected from 28 Days Later) bring something new to the zomgie genre table by acting like a cross between a swarm of birds or insects with the rapidly infectious nature of a virus.

These zombies do not stop to have a meal of it’s victims once they’ve bitten one but instead rapidly moves onto the next healthy human in order to spread the contagion it carries. We even get an idea of how quickly a bitten victim dies and then turns into one of “Zekes” as a soldier has ended up nicknaming them. It’s this new wrinkle in the zombie canon that adds to the film’s apocalyptic nature as we can see just how the speed of the infection and the swarm-like behavior of the zombies could easily take down the emergency services of not just a city and state but of entire nations.

WorldWarZJerusalem

World War Z works best when it doesn’t linger too long between action sequences. Trying to inject some of the themes and ideas that made the novel such a joy to read only comes off as an uncomfortable attempt to try and placate fans of the novel. When we get scenes like Philadelphia in settings like Jerusalem and, in smaller scales but no less tense, like in South Korea and on a plane, the film works as a nice piece of summer action fare. This works in the first two thirds of the film but a sudden shift in the final third in Cardiff, Wales could be too jarring of a tonal shift in storytelling for some.

While the change from epic and apocalyptic to intimate and contained in the final third was such a sudden change this sequence works, but also shows just how bad the original final third of the film was to make this sudden change. It proves to be somewhat anticlimactic when compared to the epic nature of the first two-thirds of the film. We get a final third that’s more your traditional horror film. In fact, one could easily see World War Z as two different films vying for control and, in the end, the two halves having to try to co-exist and make sense.

World War Z doesn’t bring much of the sort of societal commentaries and themes that we get from the very best of zombie stories, but it does bring the sort of action that we rarely get from zombie films. The film actually doesn’t come off as your traditional zombie film, but more like a disaster story that just happened to have zombies as the root cause instead of solar flares, sudden ice age or alien invasion.

So, while World War Z only shares the title with the source novel it was adapting and pretty much not much else, the film wasn’t the unmitigated disaster that had been predicted for months leading up to it’s release. It’s a fun, rollercoaster ride of film that actually manages to leave an audience wanting to know more instead of being bombarded with so much action that one becomes desensitized and bored by it. There’s no question that a better film, probably even a great one, lurks behind the fun mess that’s the World War Z we’ve received, but on it’s own the film more than delivers on the promise that most films during the summer fails to achieve and that’s to entertain.