Author: Ross Ruediger (Page 2 of 16)

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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Nip/Tuck: The Sixth and Final Season

Only on “Nip/Tuck” can a character utter a line like “Dildo sales are down. It’s the goddamn economy,” and make it sound a perfectly reasonable thing to say. There are aspects I will miss about “Nip/Tuck,” and one of them is its ability to take the most outlandishly offensive situation and make it seem relatively normal, at least within the context of the show. But all good and bad things must come to an end, and “Nip/Tuck,” from Season Three onwards, was equal parts of both. The Sixth Season aired in two parts (with a month break in the middle), which at the time were marketed as Seasons Six and Seven. There is no Season Seven, but there is a 19-episode sixth season, and all those episodes are collected in this set. Through watching this block, however, it certainly seems like two different seasons. Confused? Annoyed? Allow me to elaborate and pontificate.

The first ten episodes are all but unwatchable in their awfulness. Not merely content to disturb viewers, these episodes largely depress as well, although it seems unlikely that was the goal. The flaccid economy, and its effect on the plastic surgery business, is stressed in the first episode, but what does it say about a show when such a topic is one of the bright spots? Sean (Dylan Walsh) is still dating anesthesiologist Teddy Rowe, who used to be played by Katee Sackhoff, but now resides in the body of Rose McGowan, which is a true “what the fuck?” soap opera switch, given that it’s hard to think of two actresses that are any less alike in both their method and appearance. Teddy slowly begins revealing her true, black widow colors as the narrative progresses, and on the camping trip from hell, Teddy’s shit hits the fan and splatters all over the place.

Meanwhile, Christian (Julian McMahon), who is not dying of cancer after all, must contend with a seriously pissed off Liz (Roma Maffia), since now that he’s not dying he doesn’t want to stay married to her. Liz’s reaction is understandable, but that doesn’t make her character arc any more palatable, since Liz is the only person on the show we’ve come to believe is truly decent. Kimber (Kelly Carlson) begins dating Dr. Mike Hamoui (Mario Lopez), a development nobody was asking to see, and if ever you wanted to see Lopez dressed in a corset, garter belt, and stockings, well, now’s your chance. Stills from the episode in which Christian talks him into this get-up are bound to haunt Lopez for the rest of his life, which amuses me to no end. Maybe he can put the scene on his reel should the “Rocky Horror” remake ever get off the ground?

Matt (John Hensley) has taken up miming, only to discover there’s more money to be found in robbing convenience stores in whiteface. As per usual with Matt, things go south with his plans, but never as far as here, where he ends up going to prison, and the episode “Alexis Stone II” is surely one of the most self-loathing episodes of any TV series, ever. And Julia (Joely Richardson)? Well, I think she’s in there somewhere, but as has been par for the course in recent times, Richardson’s mind is obviously anywhere but on her character. The patient storylines, too, are revolting. Characters like The Enigma, Jenny Juggs, and Lola Wlodkowski are amongst the most tasteless the show has ever showcased (which is saying something), and the aforementioned Alexis Stone, who manages a two-episode arc, simply gives transgendered people a bad name. It’s a credit to the series that they didn’t have her whip out a knife and slit Christian’s throat at the end of her tale. These ten episodes are some of the worst the show has ever unleashed, and as tough as it was watching them on broadcast, it was twice as tough sitting through them a second time on DVD. Even the most die-hard fans of the show surely knew that it was time to close up shop when these aired last year.

And one must wonder how many viewers the show lost in that block. How many people failed to come back to the show in January for the final nine episodes? I’m willing to bet plenty, which is a shame because, believe it or not, after years of excess, “Nip/Tuck” managed to deliver a nicely restrained, oftentimes poignant batch of episodes to close out the series. The story picks up a few months after the first ten in the set, and Sean and Christian are going to pick up a lifetime achievement award. Only after they receive the award does Sean discover that Christian bought it via a hefty donation, at which point Sean goes ballistic. And from there, the season peels one layer of the onion away after the next, dissecting McNamara and Troy’s friendship and partnership, all while providing endings for every other character on the show as well (most are surprisingly happy, some a little warped, and in one case we lose a character altogether).

One excellent episode, “Dr. Griffin,” is set almost entirely in a psychiatrist’s office, with Sean and Christian unloading their grievances on one another. Even the patient stories have a great deal of heft to them, and take viewers back to a time when the show was as much about the surgeries as it was the main characters. And then there’s fan favorite villainess Ava Moore (Famke Janssen), who returns to wreak some havoc one last time, for the final two episodes of the series.

I once wrote that when “Nip/Tuck” ended, I wanted to have to “scrape my jaw up off the floor and make an appointment for some reconstructive surgery.” I can’t honestly say that happens here, but I wrote that way back when this show and I were still doing a lovely little dance together week in and out. That dance ended some time ago, and yet I was pretty bowled over by the mature series of notes the show went out on. I think that’s how it needed to be, given that it’s been mercilessly and vacuously titillating viewers for far too long now. Given how controversial many series finales are these days, perhaps the biggest surprise “Nip/Tuck” could’ve given us is a finale that wasn’t controversial at all. Well, mostly not. There is that one last thing with Ava and Matt that might just make your blood boil, but I thought it was just right.

The three stars given to this set are merely an average: Two stars for the first ten episodes, and four stars for the last nine. I don’t know exactly how to tell people to avoid one half of a season box set, whilst highly recommending its second half. You’ll have to figure the rest out on your own.

Special Features: There’s just one measly featurette entitled “Tell Me What You Don’t Like About Yourself: The Psychology Behind Plastic Surgery,” which is just as throwaway as it sounds. No celebration for the end of the show, no commentaries, no deleted scenes, no nothing.

Doctor Who: 5.8 – The Hungry Earth / 5.9 – Cold Blood

Last week I posted a quick update saying that I would wait until this week to write about both of these episodes, but that “The Hungry Earth” was a “very good setup.” Having had a week to reflect on that, I’m not so sure that’s the case, and yet I still think “The Hungry Earth” is a very or at least reasonably good episode, but perhaps not an effective setup for “Cold Blood,” unless you enjoy bait and switch. The tone and feel of “The Hungry Earth” is vastly different than “Cold Blood” (how about from here on out I refer to the episodes as THE and CB respectively?), and a fairly inconsequential amount of the information the episode delivers has much of anything to do with the second half. Probably the single most important bit that carries over from one episode to the next is the Doctor, Amy, and Rory seeing future versions of Amy and Rory off in the distance at the very start, but we’ll get to that in due course.

THE plays like one part spooky horror story and one part scientific fiasco. It’s a clear homage not so much to the classic series Silurians tales, but other stories from the Jon Pertwee era like “Inferno” and “The Daemons.” Heck, even the earth swallowing people up takes me back to Peter Davison’s “Frontios.” One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about this season is the conscious decision to go for more rural settings, as opposed to the urban backdrops which so dominated the Davies era. It’s given the season a much different texture, and one that’s a welcome change, and you can’t get much more rural than the countryside, an old church and graveyard, and a tiny cast. In so many ways both THE and CB are perhaps the closest to classic “Doctor Who” the new series has yet produced, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing, because trying to hammer an old formula into a new box is an often dicey proposition, and I quite honestly am not sure if it works all that well here. The best episodes of the new series have been the ones that did something with “Doctor Who” that we’ve never seen before, and if the new series has proven anything, it’s that it’s best to keep moving forward.

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The “Doctor Who” blog is taking the week off

Why, you ask?

Well, if you tuned in to tonight’s episode, then you no doubt noticed that “The Hungry Earth” was Part One of a two-parter, and it’s nearly all set-up for the second half, which is titled “Cold Blood.”

Mind you, it’s a very good setup, but not one that’s really worth writing about on its own. Next week I’ll cover both parts of this story that sees the return of the Silurians or the Eocenes or Homo reptilia or “those lizard chicks with the long tongues” (which is no doubt what some people will eventually refer to them as). In the meantime, if you care to discuss Part One (and Part One only), feel free to carry on as you normally would in the comments section below.

Doctor Who 5.7 – Amy’s Choice

Here we are, more or less mid-season, and as someone who’s recapping this block of episodes week in and out, as well as someone who’s been deconstructing this series for years now, I’m frankly a bit flummoxed by Steven Moffat’s inaugural year. It’s starting to feel as if the season is only going to make total sense once it’s over and done with. Some time ago, long before the season began, Moffat was saying that he wanted the season to be referred to as Season One, rather than Season Five, and that’s starting to make a whole lot more sense. Aside from the occasional references to the past, everything about this year feels as if some kind of reset button has been hit, and yet it remains difficult to watch without bringing the baggage of the last five years into the equation, even though I’m fairly certain Moffat would prefer that we didn’t. I mean, it’s hard to picture a character like Mickey Smith, for instance, fitting into any part of this narrative in any kind of believable manner, and yet you almost want somebody like him to turn up in a scene just to remind you that you’re still watching the same show.

I continue to want to compare this material to stuff from seasons’ past, and yet this nagging feeling keeps telling me that’s just an unfair thing to do. I wonder if Moffat’s even got some kind of grand master plan that extends beyond this block of 13 episodes? None of this means I’m not enjoying the season, just that it’s a much different kind of enjoyment than what I’ve become accustomed to during the Davies years, which began feeling predictable about three years in. Say what you will about this season, but, at least at this stage, it is most certainly not predictable. In some ways watching this season is as disorienting as the predicament in which our heroes find themselves in this week’s episode. As viewers, we’re experiencing a new reality of the series, while we keep thinking back on what we came to know prior to this season’s start. Which is the real “Doctor Who?” The Davies or the Moffat era? Both, or maybe neither? I’ll likely elaborate on all of this further during the final recap of the season.

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