Doctor Who 5.10 – Vincent and the Doctor

If somebody asked me to make a short list of my favorite writers and/or directors working today, Richard Curtis isn’t the first person who’d leap to mind. He might not even be the fifth. Despite that, I count myself as a big, big fan of his stuff, going all the way back to “Blackadder,” and right up to his most recent work, “Pirate Radio,” a movie which didn’t do well at the box office and got some fairly tepid reviews upon release. Like Curtis’s “Love Actually” before it, I suspect “Pirate Radio” (or “The Boat That Rocked,” for those of you in the U.K.) will go on to become a favorite of many, many people, because it’s an utterly charming, daffy piece of cinema that doesn’t want to do much more than entertain the hell out of you for a couple hours. And that it does. When it was announced that Curtis would be writing an episode for this season of “Doctor Who,” naturally I was interested in the prospect, but if I’m being totally honest, I didn’t expect all that much from it, and even less so once it came out that it would be about Vincent van Gogh.

For starters, Curtis has no track record writing science-fiction or fantasy (at least not the type one thinks of when bandying about such terms), and while it seemed gratifying to have such a high profile writer onboard, nothing in his works indicated that, with only 45 minutes to play, he’d likely create anything more than an amusing romp. Perhaps it was less Curtis himself, and more the new series having a pretty bad track record when it comes to tackling historical figures, regardless of who’s writing them. In fact, they typically seem to end up…amusing romps. Probably the best was the first one, “The Unquiet Dead,” which featured Charles Dickens, and from there they’ve kind of incrementally gone downhill. I didn’t think the formula could get much worse than “The Unicorn and the Wasp” with Agatha Christie, but along came “Victory of the Daleks” with Winston Churchill to prove me wrong. So imagine my surprise upon discovering that Curtis trashed my expectations by creating a deep, lovely, tortured thing of beauty that reduced me to tears. I have really got to start trusting this guy. His name is a stamp of quality no matter what “they” say.

(Editor’s note: I’ll second that, having interviewed Mr. Curtis in connection with the release of “Pirate Radio.” You can check out the conversation by clicking here.)

“Vincent and the Doctor” is the new standard by which these types of stories will, or at least should be measured. I have never quite understood the point of the Doctor meeting up with famous figures from the past only so that we can laugh at them and their quaint, backwards ways, all while cramming in little in-jokes that play off of what we know about these people from today’s perspective. Curtis presents us with a fictitious riff on van Gogh that lays waste to the previous approach. His story demands that we feel for van Gogh and his problems, which in turn gives the episode a gravitas that’s lacking in stuff like “The Shakespeare Code,” in which young Will was little more than a smarmy Casanova. Curtis comes from a place that has a huge amount of respect for this artist, as well as understanding that van Gogh’s troubled history was a big part of what made him the artist he was. Curtis also wisely avoids tackling the infamous ear-cutting incident, which is something a lesser writer would’ve worked into the story by having the alien lob it off or some such nonsense.

From the very first sequence, the reality of van Gogh (Tony Curran) painting “Wheatfield with Crows” is mixed with the fantastical element of the unknown in the field, disturbing the birds, and thus giving a reason for the crows in the painting in the first place. Quickly the action moves to the present at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and before you can say Bill Nighy, there he is, as Dr. Black. At first it seems a somewhat wasted cameo, but lucky for us Nighy returns before the episode is over. The Doctor has taken Amy to see the van Gogh exhibit at the museum. It seems he’s taken her numerous places since their last adventure, and he’s got a guilty conscience about the loss of Rory, who of course Amy no longer even remembers. The painting “The Church at Auvers” catches the Doctor’s eye, as there’s something in one of the church windows that he recognizes as “evil.” And so it’s off to 1890 to get to the bottom of it all.

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2009: A Year’s Worth of Interviews – The Top 100 Quotes

Some people think that the life of a work-at-home entertainment writer is one of the most lax jobs out there, since the perception is generally is that all you do is sit around and watch DVDs, occasionally venture out of the house to see movies or concerts, and then sit in front of the computer and write about them. Okay, it’s a fair cop. But when you throw interviews into the mix, there’s a bit more work involved. First, you’ve got to get the interview (they aren’t always handed to you on a silver platter), then you’ve got to do the research to make sure that you can ask some halfway knowledgeable questions, and after you conduct the interview, let’s not forget that you’ve got to transcribe it, too. In other words, yes, there really is work involved…and when I went back and discovered that I’d done well over 130 interviews during the course of 2009, I suddenly realized why I’m so tired all the time.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve pulled together a list of 100 of my favorite quotes from the various interviews I conducted for Premium Hollywood, Bullz-Eye, Popdose, and The Virginian-Pilot this year, along with the links to the original pieces where available. As you can see, I had some extremely interesting conversations in 2009. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that I’m able to chat with just as many fascinating individuals in 2010…

1. Pamela Adlon: “In the first season (of ‘Californication’), when we had the threesome with the nipple clamps, I was, like, ‘I don’t get this, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.’ And then, all of a sudden, there’s a crane with a camera hanging over our heads, and you’re, like, ‘Okayyyyyyy. But how are you gonna sell this? How are you gonna make it work?’ And they ended up shooting it brilliantly, cutting it together, and it just all ended up working without me having to compromise my own personal morals.”

2. Jonathan Ames: “After my first novel, my mother said to me, ‘Why don’t you make your writing more funny? You’re so funny in person.’ Because my first novel was rather dark. And I don’t know, but something about what she said was true. ‘Yes, why don’t I?’ Maybe I was afraid to be funny in the writing. But since then, seven books later, almost everything I’ve done has a comedic edge to it.”

3. Ed Asner: “I loved journalism until the day my journalism teacher, a man I revered, came by my desk and said, ‘Are you planning on going into journalism?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘You can’t make a living.’”

4. Sean Astin: “When somebody brings up a movie (of mine) that I haven’t heard about in a long time, I feel like a 70-year-old pitcher at a bar somewhere, and somebody walks in and says, ‘Oh, my God, I was in St. Louis and I saw you. You pitched a shutout.’ It’s real. I really did do that, because someone today remembers it.”

5. Darryl Bell: “The legend of ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ has become much more incendiary than the actual show. It’s funny how I usually challenge most people who talk about how much they disliked ‘Homeboys’ to name me five episodes. Most of them can’t, because they just bought into the ‘oh, it’s awful, just the title. Oh, it’s terrible.’ What’s interesting is that I had a great conversation with Chi McBride, who was doing ‘The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,’ which, if you want to talk about in terms of the imagery of what was wrong, that show was much more infamous than ‘Homeboys.’ Yet it’s not remembered in the same way because the title didn’t grab you in the same way. I remember Chi pulled me aside and he was, like, ‘Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. All of them. So all I can tell you is that this is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.’”

6. Adam Campbell: “For some reason, people always pick on the British sensibility, and we always come across as stupid, but remember: we used to run this country!”

7. Nestor Carbonell: “Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not wear make-up, and I do not wear eye-liner. This is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I remember I was in college in Boston, I had a commercial agent, and they sent me out for some print commercial stuff. And they called me into the office and said, ‘Look, we called you in to talk to you because we just want you to know that…well, we don’t think you need to wear eyeliner.’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, it’s okay, you don’t have to wear it for print ads.’ ‘No, I’m not wearing eyeliner!’ And I kept dabbing my eyes and saying, ‘Look! No eyeliner! I’m not wearing any!’”

8. Elaine Cassidy: “The last two days of shooting (‘Harper’s Island’) was probably the most hardcore, the coldest anyone has ever been. It was like your head was freezing, and my motivation for most scenes was, ‘The minute this scene is over, I’m heading straight over to that heater to get warm.’”

9. Chris Cornell: “I started as a drummer, so I sort of took on singing duties by default. I had sung backgrounds and some lead vocals from behind the drums in different bands that I’d been in, and I’d gotten great responses for the songs I would sing. I really started pursuing the possibility of being a lead singer based on the fact that I was working a full-time restaurant job and then playing gigs at night, hauling drums around. One day, it just dawned on me that, ‘Hey, I could be in a band and be the singer, and it would be a lot easier!’”

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Hollywood (and the rest of California) destroyed! Millions to be made!

John Cusack in

Yes, with just one really big new release this week, it’s looking like Sony and Roland Emmerich’s eschatological extravaganza, “2012,” will most definitely take the box office crown this weekend. Prognosticators are, however, offering a pretty broad range of possible results. Pamela McClintock of Variety says that “observers” are guessing the mega-disaster tale will make “north” of $40 million “or even substantially more” on its opening. The ever jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter gets more specific on the “substantially more” and suggests that those mysterious tracking surveys mean that $55-65 million is “doable” for the first would-be blockbuster I’ve ever heard of to be based on the Mayan calendar. Some of this speculation, of course, is based on the large success ($186.7 million domestically) of Emmerich’s other mass destruction based sci-fi flick from 2004, “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Still, there are some issues, including an outsize running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes, forty minutes longer than “Day.” Predictably, most critics are making fun of the film. Let’s face it, Emmerich isn’t exactly known for thoughtful cinema. Still, while the film only scores a meager 32% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, it does seem to generate a certain number of backhanded compliments from those who think it edges into guilty pleasure territory, including from our own David Medsker and a darn funny, three-star review by the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips. In any event, that running time could be an issue in terms of number of shows per day and also simply by annoying impatient filmgoers. However, the teen boys who go to this stuff never seem to mind a long running time if they get their share of thud and blunder and, by all accounts, “2012” provides oodles of some of the best wanton destruction in some time.

Bill Nighy in Being released in some 882 theaters, as compared to 3,404 for “2012,” is Focus Features’ “Pirate Radio.” It’s a shortened version of a fact-inspired comedy that was called “The Boat That Rocked” in the UK. Writer-director Richard Curtis of “Love, Actually,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and cult TV favorite “Blackadder,” is once again splitting critics with this ode to the glory days of sixties pop. However, a running theme in the reviews appears to be that, for a comedy about a bunch of radio rebels forcing their way illegally onto English airwaves during the heyday of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, it’s a bit polite. And so, the RT rating is a mehish 56% as of this writing.

I should add, though, that there’s something about Richard Curtis — I’d guess it’s gratuitous niceness — that tends to make some critics underrate his films. “Love, Actually” was a terrific piece of work in my own opinion, but it only earned an RT rating of 63%, though it also earned roughly a million bucks for each percentage point. Will Harris, who got to travel to our nation’s mother country to participate in the press junket for “Pirate Radio” is of a like mind, but feels this effort is worthy but a bit less wonderful its predecessor. (Will’s interviews from his trip are highly recommended. I suggest you start with Richard Curtis.)

And that’s it for the major/semi-major releases, but there’s some very interesting action amongst the limited flicks. First, as per Box Office Mojo, the critically lauded, sure-to-be Oscar nominated “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” which did amazing limited release business last weekend for Lions Gate with a per-screen average of $100,000 in 18 theaters, is expanding to 174 screens this weekend. Apparition/Sony’s critically derided and sure to be utterly un-awarded “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” is bumping up to 244 screens after showing some cult strength.

Finally, in an interesting strategy for a fairly high profile animated family film with an all-star voice cast, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — from Fox, naturally — is opening in four theaters this weekend. The thinking here is, I’m guessing, that this isn’t just any animated family film based on a popular children’s book by Roald Dahl, but one directed by arthouse fave Wes Anderson. Though there may, or may not, have been significant issues during its making, it wound up with great reviews. In fact, the painstakingly non-CGI puppet animation is collecting the most consistently good notices of Anderson’s entire remarkable career, as reckoned by Rotten Tomatoes, beating even his instant classic “Rushmore” by four points. So, giving “Mr. Fox” a little time to percolate and spread some good word of mouth by opening it more slowly makes a lot of sense. It’s a strategy that should be used a lot more often, with good movies that is.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

  

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Mouse reshuffles, Leo the lion on the block, and other tales

* In the real world Obama appears to be rethinking Afghanistan; in the cable TV world Lou Dobbs is relieving CNN of his xenophobia and is threatening to go into politics while The Onion has the real scoop. Meanwhile in the movie world, Disney’s new chairman, Rich Ross, is reorganizing. It sounds as if technology will be leading the way in the new regime. Also, the structure of the organization will resemble more a television network, we’re told, than a movie studio. Once upon a time that might have worried me, but these days TV is hardly any worse than movies. I’m not sure if that’s good news about TV or bad news about movies. (A little of both?)

* The lion of Hollywood has been a bit mangy for a long time now. Peter Bart reports that MGM is about to be sold and the whole thing, 4,000 titles and all, is worth about $1.5 billion, which would be a lot of money to you and me but to a once mighty film studio sure sounds paltray. One factor, even the older titles in the library ain’t what they used to be, either. The studio’s signature titles: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With the Wind,” and “Singin’ in the Rain” are now available on Warner Brother’s DVD along with a good chunk of their best known classics.  The ghosts of Culver City’s glory days are restless tonight.

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* Apparently being a movie critic these days is such an unstable, lousy position that some of the best known reviewers are jumping ship and becoming film festival programmers. Yesterday, it was Newsweek’s David Ansen. Today, it’s the L.A. Weekly/Village Voice’s Scott Foundas. Anne Thompson has the depressing news that might nevertheless be creating more opportunities for some of the better known online folks.

* The fruits of my compatriot Will Harris’s London sojourn are appearing in the form of some extremely worth-your-time interviews. First with writer/director Richard Curtis of the criticially underrated “Love, Actually” and the soon to be released “Pirate Radio.” Also roly-poly movie superstud and general all around good guy Nick Frost of “Shaun of the Dead,” etc., as well as “Pirate” newcomers Tom Sturridge and Talulah Riley gets the Harris treatment as well. Bob says collect ’em all.

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The Film Formerly Known As “The Boat That Rocked”…

…has been given a new name for its U.S. release: “Pirate Radio.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the motion picture in question (which lets out most of our UK readership, as the film was released across the pond back in April), here’s the official synopsis from Focus Features:

“Pirate Radio” is the high-spirited story of how 8 DJs’ love affair with Rock ‘n’ Roll changed the world forever. In the 1960s, this group of rogue DJs, on a boat in the middle of the Northern Atlantic, played rock records and broke the law, all for the love of music. The songs they played united and defined an entire generation and drove the British government crazy. By playing Rock ‘n’ Roll, they were standing up against the British government who did everything in their power to shut them down. The band of rebels is led by The Count, played by the Academy Award-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman, Quentin (Bill Nighy), the boss of Radio Rock, Gavin (Rhys Ifans), the greatest DJ in Britain, Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom), Doctor Dave (Nick Frost), and Young Carl (Tom Sturridge), who comes of age amidst the chaos of sex, drugs and rock n roll. The film features an unbelievable selection of music including The Beatles, The Stones, Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, David Bowie, Otis Redding, Cat Stevens just to name a few. The film is laugh out loud funny and speaks to the rock n roll rebel in all of us.

A few other bits which might interest you: it also stars Kenneth Branagh, Rhys Darby (“Flight of the Conchords”), Chris O’Dowd (“The I.T. Crowd”), Ralph Brown (“Meadowlands”), January Jones (“Mad Men”), and Jack Davenport (“Coupling,” “Swingtown”), and it was written and directed by the always-enjoyable Richard Curtis, the man behind “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Love, Actually,” and the “Bridget Jones” films.

Here’s the trailer for your viewing enjoyment:

In a turn of events which obviously leaves me pleased as punch, I have been invited to participate in the press junket for the U.S. release of the film, so stay tuned to Bullz-Eye and Premium Hollywood for further coverage, including discussions with Mr. Curtis and some of the stars of “Pirate Radio.” Rest assured, my first question will be, “Who decided that Americans couldn’t appreciate a title like ‘The Boat That Rocked’?” (I’m guessing I’ll learn that some higher-up decided, “Hey, the kids love the pirates, so maybe we can trick ’em into thinking this is actually about pirates!”)

  

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