Her

It’s obvious I have a comfort zone – just look at what I do and don’t talk about. Don’t expect a review of The Wolf of Wall Street (which was great but too long), or American Hustle (a directionless romp) or Dallas Buyers Club (I’ve never liked Jared Leto) here.

But at the center of this comfort zone, probably my favorite single subgenre, is social science fiction. Started in the twenties with stuff like Metropolis and codified by only science fiction writer ever Isaac Asimov, social SF is such a rich genre because it can basically be summed up as “A more mainstream and conventional story, but with robots, or lasers, or aliens, or laser-wielding alien robots”. It makes for all sorts of good stories because it can appeal to both mainstream audiences with exaggerations of basic dramatic situations, and dorks like myself with supremely dorky analysis and extrapolation of classic SF concepts.

Whatever you think of Her, by child-at-heart and friend of the Beastie Boys Spike Jonze, it’s just about the gold standard for modern social SF – if you took out the future stuff it would be a weepy, Oscar-bait-laden romantic drama, but with it the movie becomes an Oscar winner, critically and popularly lauded, and my pick for best picture of the year for whatever it’s worth.

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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…)

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

Those of you who keep up with my Doctor Who reviews are probably rolling your eyes at this point. “Yeah, we know that this guy has serious issues with the direction Steven Moffat is taking the series. We get it.” Well, that’s the thing. Though I only review the key episodes of the show, there were quite a few parts of the 2013 season I really enjoyed.

“The Rings of Akhaten” had some interesting character stuff in it as well as some nice higher sci-fi concepts, and “Nightmare in Silver” shows us that whatever issues I may have with it, Who is probably the closest modern equivalent we have to those groundbreaking ‘60s shows like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone – a show where respected sci-fi writers can just drop in to write episodes every now and again (John Scalzi, you listening? We know you’re a Whovian who has experience with writing dumb TV shows).

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Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John

Well, let’s plunge ourselves back into the unpredictable rip current of Doctor Who. Now, I bashed the previous episode, 2012 christmas special “The Snowmen”, because it had a dumb plot and an inconsistent tone. At the time, though, I was pretty happy with it. The point of the episode was to introduce a new companion, and it did so pretty well: We got to know the compassionate teacher and lady-out-of-time Clara Oswald. Though she seemed a little generic, I was looking forward to future episodes fleshing her out and establishing her as something other than another tiresome “Most important person in the universe, with a love-hate relationship with the Doctor” companion.

Well, here we are at the season premiere (I’m not going to split hairs with Brit vs. American terms, or with the wonky series division the BBC has – the run of episodes from now until “Time of the Doctor” is the 2013 season for me). Let’s see how things pan out, and whether promoted internet weird guy Stephen Moffat can work his customary magic to restore my faith and fandom in the show.

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Doctor Who: The Snowmen

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Things like last year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Snowmen” are the reason this site exists: When I first saw it, I thought it was a decent episode – that its main flaw was that it relied too much on setting up questions to be answered in later episodes, but I was eager to see those questions resolved all the same.

Now, armed with the knowledge given to me by this past year of Doctor Who, I can make a more definite appraisal of this episode, and thus I can safely say that I really don’t like it.

In many ways, it typifies writer and showrunner Steven Moffat’s approach to the show, of late – we get armfuls of banter, grand spectacles filled with raw emotion and theatrical symbolism, goons with creepy faces, recognizable references to the classic series… but it’s all done without any sense or consistency, and so quite a lot of it just doesn’t work for me.

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Doctor Who: The Power of Three

“Invasion of the very bad mystery story…”

Well then, Doctor Who, the venerable British sci-fi television show. I’ll put my All-Star Superman hat on to introduce it…

Powerful aliens. Blue box. Horrible war. Human friends. Doctor Who! (more…)