Saturday, May 15, 2010

Doctor Who: Series 5, Episode 1 - The Eleventh Hour (8 Pints)

My first TV review will be of one of my all-time favorite shows - Doctor Who. In the future I hope to go back and review all of the new series episodes, but for now I'm just tackling this year's episodes, starting with the series premiere, The Eleventh Hour.

Our adventure begins with a newly regenerated Doctor (Number 11, played by Matt Smith) crash-landing the TARDIS in a little village called Leadworth after nearly blowing it up in the process of regenerating. He's landed it on its side, on top of a shed in the back yard of a house where a young girl named Amelia Pond lives. Amelia assumes he's been sent to help her, answering her prayers that something be done about a rather sinister crack in her bedroom wall, and the Doctor being the Doctor, he obliges and gives it a look. Upon inspection, he discovers that the crack is actually in the universe, in reality, not the wall, and he forces it open to see where it goes. A giant eyeball comes to the now open tear and declares that 'Prisoner Zero has escaped', then the crack closes. Before the Doctor and Amelia can begin to look for Prisoner Zero, the TARDIS alarms go off, warning the Doctor that the engines are going to blow. He rushes back to the TARDIS to fix it, promising Amelia that he'll return in five minutes.

He returns, unwittingly, twelve years later.

Now he must convince the grown up Amy (once Amelia) that he's real, and that the world will end in twenty minutes unless he helps her. Then he actually has to, you know, save the world.

I found this episode to be beautifully shot and very fairytale-like in tone, which fits the story nicely. I think that the aliens in the episode - both Prisoner Zero and his captors - are a bit hit and miss, and really are only there as a device for the writer to introduce us to this new Doctor and his companion. Obviously that was the intent of the episode, I'm just saying that I found it a little too obvious as the actual plot is never really fleshed out much. Who is Prisoner Zero? What did they do? Who are the aliens (Atraxi) that are after it? All we ever get is the basics - Prisoner Zero escaped a prison somewhere, and the Atraxi will destroy the Earth before they let it get away.

The other thing that bothered me was how Prisoner Zero found the coma patients in the hospital. I get that Amy's boyfriend Rory is a nurse there, and that they must have hitched a ride on him, but it's never really explained. And - spoiler! - if Prisoner Zero needs comatose people to imitate, why doesn't it just knock anyone out that it likes, as it can clearly do near the end of the episode? Also, if Prisoner Zero has been using these coma patients as covers to go out in public for twelve years, why the hell can't it figure out which mouth to talk with? Surely it's had to talk at some point by now, even if only with an annoying passerby. Also, in a small village like Leadworth, why is Rory the only one that notices that these people shouldn't be out walking around? Everybody knows everybody, right?

These are just minor complaints, really. On the whole I found the episode to be rather good and it hides a lot of little Easter Eggs on repeated viewings. I'm sure there's even more stuff in there that will become obvious by the end of the series, as well.

I like this new Doctor. Matt Smith is a quirky, eccentric, alien Doctor and a welcome change from David Tennant's moist-eyed, quivering-lipped, fuck anything that moves Doctor. Seriously. The Madame de Pompadour, Queen Elizabeth, two years of Rose wooing... I'm not a Ten hater, and liked his Doctor a lot, but Smith is bringing the Doctor back to his awkward, asexual and alien roots. Ten felt very human at times. Eleven is definitely not.

Amy presents an interesting companion - a girl who grew up with an imaginary friend only to find out that he's real. It's clear, even without Prisoner Zero saying it, that she's still very much a child inside, that she never really grew up in many ways. She acts adult and has a moderately sexy job because she's playing at being an adult. She's doing what adults are supposed to do. We find out at the very end that it's all a show, and she really is still the little girl wanting to run away through time and space with her imaginary friend.

I'm looking forward to it.

Iron Man 2: 7 Pints

My first film review will be for Iron Man 2, directed by Jon Favreau, with Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell.

The movie is basically the story of Ivan Venko (Rourke), a Russian scientist and former spy whose father worked for Stark Industries and helped design the power core of the Iron Man suit many years ago. Dad dies, penniless and alone, and Ivan wants revenge. There to help him is Justin Hammer (Rockwell), a weapons maker and CEO of a Stark Industries rival. Amidst all of this, we discover that Tony Stark is dying because the power core is poisoning his blood. The more he uses the suit, the more sick he gets.

That's the basic premise.

Now, I was honestly surprised when the first Iron Man movie did so well. Let's face it, Iron Man isn't exactly one of the more commonly known superheroes, like Batman, Superman or Spider Man. Iron Man's more B-list, and I've always thought of him as Marvel's answer to Batman - a normal (but wealthy and brilliant) guy in a suit with gadgets. The first movie did so well because it had a solid script, solid direction, and the perfect star playing the perfect role. Robert Downey Jr. as a wild, egocentric but lovable alcoholic?


I like RDJ, and I always have. I was bummed when he got busted again and went to jail, and I'm happy to see him doing so well now, both professionally and personally. Tony Stark is a great role for him. Perfect, really. I also think that Iron Man 2 has more of a plot and a stronger, more interesting villain than the first film, and that it's a more coherent movie. So why did I enjoy it less?

First of all, I think, because it was more of a superhero movie than the first. The first was about a guy who became a hero despite himself. It didn't have a typical hero/villain setup until near the end, and largely was the story of a guy utterly unfit to be a hero becoming just that.

This movie sets up the good guys and bad guys right away and gets to work. I personally would have liked more scenes exploring the divide among the public over Iron Man - hero or danger? All we really get of this is Gary Shandling as a blowhard Senator (an interesting stretch), and Bill O'Reilly as a blowhard pundit (hardly a stretch). Everything else is pro-Iron Man, or ignores it all together. It's too bad, because it misses out on a lot of what I think made the first film work so well - playing with the contradictions that are Tony Stark/Iron Man. Instead we get 'Tony is dying' and some blatant advanced marketing for the upcoming Avengers movie. I've never seen a trailer for a movie actually in another movie, before. Here, it was a full-blown plot.

Scarlett Johansson was good, as were her assets (why Happy acts like her wrapping her thighs around his head is a bad thing is a mystery to me!), but ultimately unnecessary, as was Sam Jackson. The whole Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. thing could have been left out, Tony could have discovered his Dad's message on his own, and more time could have been spent on Tony Stark's struggle to stay heroic. Or they could have given the very good but underused Mickey Rourke more to do than toy with Rockwell's character and play on a computer for half the film.

Rockwell, himself, had too much screen time, and I say that as a fan. In Galaxy Quest the guy basically stole the fucking movie from Tim Allen, Alan Rickman and Tony Shaloub. That takes skill. In Moon, he showed that he can do serious drama, as well. Here, however, the character they gave him is a bit of a one trick wonder, and we get too much of him and not enough of the far more interesting and enigmatic character Rourke plays.

In the end, it's still a pretty good popcorn movie and a good superhero flick. I just think that they went too formula and tried too hard to set up the Avengers franchise instead of building on the first movie. Most casual moviegoers know fuckall about Nick Fury and all of that, so why bog the film down with it? Putting the Avengers stuff as an Easter Egg to fanboys after the credits worked well in the first movie. It should have continued that way.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe!

So I'm reviving this blog, but I'm going to start reviewing pretty much anything and everything that I want to. Movies, TV, comic books, games, novels... You name it, I'll probably review it at some point. I'll entertain requests - if there's something you really think I should review, drop me a note and I might consider it. No promises, though.

As in the past, non-professional ventures like webcomics will only be reviewed at the creator's request - I'm not here to piss on people unless they make a lot of money doing what they do, or they ask for it. If it's a professionally published work, however, it's fair game.

Keep an eye out for things to come. It's about to get messy around here.