Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

This, folks, is the big moment. The reckoning.

“The Day of the Doctor”, the film-length 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, written by the deeply passionate and idiosyncratic showrunner Steven Moffat, who had really lost his golden touch when it came to his mixture of horror, comedy, and emotional drama since the beginning of the season.

This had the potential to be horrible. Not only did the big hook of the episode – introducing a “Forgotten regeneration” of the Doctor played by the legendary John Hurt – irrevocably retcon the last decade of the show, but the episode would be about the Last Great Time War, the mind-bending universal holocaust which Moffat’s predecessor adamantly stated they “could never show on screen”, because how do you show a war fought with time as a weapon, in boring old causal 3-dimensional space?

And yet, I thought it was good. No, I absolutely loved it. And initially, I wasn’t quite sure why, but after some thought I think I’ve figured it out:

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Thor: The Dark World

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Thor was bad because so much of it was what Douglas Adams termed “a beautiful void” (speaking of Adams, the movie is also one of the better adaptations of his works); very good looking, but with almost nothing in the way of character development or plot. Sure, people are talking and moving around with haste, but for long stretches of the movie it’s never clear what they plan to accomplish.

Thor: The Dark World recognizes this problem in its predecessor, and addresses it by giving it an even thinner, less interesting plot that only serves as an excuse for a veritable toy box of a film – a combination of loosely connected performances, set pieces, scenes, locales and pithy lines that exist mostly for their own sake rather than to combine into any kind of story.

As such, this review will be on its terms, not mine, presenting a binary judgement of each of these items in chronological order, with minimal connective explanation from yours truly.

Rest assured, the fact that I’ve got my hands so full this month with Catching Fire, Frozen and Day of the Doctor all in five days has nothing at all to do with this.

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THUMBS UP: It’s correct – Thor is the main character in the movie, and the Dark World is a crucial location

THUMBS DOWN: Even worse than Star Trek Into Darkness when it comes to the endless parade of “dark” titles – Knight, Shadows, Of the Moon…uh, City, Crystal, Star…Souls… (more…)

Gravity

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I’m sorta in two minds about popular sci-fi filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (full name ‘Alfonso Ka…koo…how do you say it?’). One the one hand, his two American-released movies, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, were among my favorites as a child and adult respectively.

But on the other hand, no one likes admitting that he’s a sci-fi filmmaker. I mean, quite aside from the movie about time-traveling teenage wizards, or the feature-length Twilight Zone episode, there’s his latest movie, the space-action blockbuster Gravity. Critics up to and including the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, who has the unparalleled honor of having his reviews at the top of every Rotten Tomatoes page he’s on, try to avoid the guy’s genre-movie roots.

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Pacific Rim

Whatever I have to say to praise or criticize it, I have to admit that Guillermo del Toro’s Sino-American nerd-pleaser Pacific Rim is no Star Wars. Star Wars was just the biggest thing on the planet for months, whereas Pacific Rim never even cracked the #1 spot in the box-office rankings. [Yes, I’m still sour, whyever do you ask?]

And anyway, Star Wars’ gigantic success was due to a dozen unrepeatable factors, not the least of which was that there was jack-all else in theaters at the time – the #2 spot at the box office in 1977 went Smokey and the Bandit. A decent movie, I guess, and one which definitely had some cultural impact, but definitely not anything close to George Lucas’ genre-defying and genre-defining space opera.

But in many respects, Pacific Rim is cut from the same cloth as the third-most popular film of all time (numbers one and two should be obvious). Both are very personal and childlike pieces, almost autobiographical in their obvious inspiration from the writer-director’s childhood favorites from Japanese and American entertainment. They both have a simple and direct narrative arc, with a minimum of plot or character development, and an emphasis on relationships between the characters driving the action.

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Oz the Great and Powerful

This is not embellishment – that is literally what the Wicked Witch of the West looks like in this movie.

here are movies that were popular in their time, there are movies that defined and affected their genres for years afterwards. Then there are movies that have passed into the public consciousness – dozens of movies, to which everyone knows the setup, or a certain scene, or a few lines. There are too many of these to list.

And then there are a few movies that have been all but canonized. No matter who you are, where you come from, or even whether or not you’ve seen the movie, everyone in the Anglophone world knows the characters from Star Wars, the songs from The Sound of Music, the lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the scenes from Titanic

…But even beyond that, there’s a single film that absolutely everyone is had expected to have seen in its entirety. Maybe not the best, maybe not the most well-loved, but almost certainly the most popular movie of all time. I’m speaking of course, of The Wizard of Oz.

If you tried, you could probably recite several of the songs from memory right this second – go on, right now. If you’re in public, you’ll probably start a sing-along.

And so, you’ll definitely get the reference when I say that Disney’s latest follow-up attempt, Oz the Great and Powerful, “really was no miracle”.

I’ll say that adaptations of the original novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ are nothing new. A cursory Wikipedia search reveals that in the world of film alone, there are a ridiculously large number of prequels and sequels, ripoffs and reimaginings, disco versions and gothic versions of L. Frank Baum’s classic – including half a dozen before the one everyone remembers!

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a deeply unnecessary film, but unlike some other unnecessary films  (cough, cough), I was perfectly willing to see it, and meet it on its own terms. Say what you will about the Lord of the Rings movies, but you can’t deny that they built one of the most rock-solid and epic worlds in modern cinema – and I didn’t mind the chance to see another story in that world.

And speaking of saying what you will about LOTR, I’d like to do just that. So permit me to blaspheme for a moment: I think that J.R.R. Tolkien was an amazing writer, but a horrible storyteller. I really don’t like how exhaustive and minutely detailed his writing style can get, and I much prefer the movies to the books because of how they remove the restrictive filter of the narration between the story and my perception of it.

The Hobbit’s main problem is that Peter Jackson and company try to make it another Lord of the Rings, but the original children’s book can’t really bear the weight of a sprawling, three-hour epic, much less three in a row. It’s fun to watch, but it’s a bit less brainy than the original trilogy – though that’s not saying much, and the wonderfully dedicated team behind the first trilogy really brings their A-game in every way they can.

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