Friday, November 22, 2013

Retroactive Review: The 1996 Made for TV Doctor Who Movie (Starring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor)

With the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special fast approaching, (Saturday at 2:50!) Whovian pandemonium and nostalgia is at an all time high, with the BBC and Moffat feeding the flames of fandom with short mini episodes being released online, teasing the two hour long special. Most notable of these thus far has been “The Night of the Doctor,” which was released last week to much acclaim and excitement. “Spoilers,” as River would say: the episode featured the return of the oft neglected Eighth Doctor, portrayed by Paul McGann, and his subsequent death and choice to regenerate as John Hurt’s “War Doctor.” This came as a great surprise to most of the Whovian community, as McGann had stated previously that he was not involved in the Anniversary proceedings, and more importantly, he has not appeared on film as the Doctor since his one-off made for TV movie in 1996 (though he has played the Eighth Doctor in numerous audio recordings and other mediums over the years.) This was due to the much maligned response the film has garnered over the years, and the fact that the movie was not successful enough to jumpstart the series again after its debut, as it was supposed to.

Given the regenerated attention McGann’s Doctor has recently received, with some even demanding more material staring the Eighth incarnation, I thought it would be an appropriate time to revisit his tenure as the Doctor by watching and reviewing, albeit around a decade or two delinquent, the 1996 Doctor Who movie. More spoilers abound, which may be preferable to watching the whole sordid tale.

The film starts off well enough, with a familiar theme and intro, followed by a bit of exposition by McGann, setting the stage for the story, telling us about the death of the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master. He states that Timelords are given 13 regenerations and that the Master had used all of his, with the last one being taken away after a trial for his crimes on Skaro, where subsequently, the Doctor is charged to transport his remains to Gallifrey. We first find the Doctor in his Seventh form, famously portrayed by a surprisingly well aged Sylvester McCoy. He places the Master’s remains in a small chest and locks it with his sonic screwdriver, which marks the only time it’s used in the whole movie. He then turns to relaxing in an easy chair whilst simultaneously listening to a record, reading H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine,” drinking tea, and eating jelly babies. It is from this point on that things begin to go awry, not just for the Doctor, but for the film in general. The Master’s “soul” or “essence,” if you will, breaks out of the seemingly ceramic chest that encases it, slithering out in the form of a slimy, translucent snake. The serpent then attacks the main console of the TARDIS, sending it careening out of control to land on Earth, in a San Franciscan back alley.

It is strongly emphasized throughout the movie that the Doctor lands on earth and has his subsequent adventures on December 31st, 1999; because, despite the insistence of Buzzfeed and other such sites that the 90s were a blissfully perfect time that warrants constant devotion to dreamlike reminiscence and nostalgia for the time, (granted it was pretty fun) the truth remains that 90s plots were often where originality went to die and where established characters became unrecognizable. We were obsessed with the upcoming new Millennium and the potential doom that we assumed came with it, (no wonder this generation thinks the world’s going to end every couple months) and we wanted all our characters to be edgy, futuristic, violent, and cool. Thus, for a time, we ended up with an electric blue Superman, an armored Batman that kills, “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd  Century” complete with cyborg Watson, and everything, including the Blues Brothers, labeled with the prefix or suffix 2000. This mentality seemed strongest in the United States, and shines through clearly throughout the film, beginning with the Doctor’s first steps upon the soil of Earth/America. Apparently, the TARDIS landed in the middle of an Asian gang war, or more appropriately, an attempted execution, (we are never given proper context) as it lands between a group of gang members’ machine gun bullets and young ne’er do well, Chang Lee. Despite the sound of bullets raining down on the door of the TARDIS, the Doctor decides to simply walk out the front and lock the door behind him. At this point, he is riddled with bullets, and drops cartoonishly to the ground to begin a slow, painful death, thus marking an undeservedly ignoble and undignified end for Sylvester McCoy and the Seventh Doctor.

Time appears to be in flux, as the plot moves unnaturally slow over the next couple minutes as we are introduced to Dr. Grace Holloway, the Doctor’s companion/make out buddy for this adventure, and hospital worker Pete, portrayed by a young Will Sasso, who chews the scenery and hams it up bigger than he did in “The Three Stooges.” Dr. Holloway, (who could be considered the first “Doctor’s Doctor” prior to Martha) attempts to save the Doctor from dying in surgery, but fails due to the Doctor having two hearts.

As the Seventh Doctor, (who’s labeled as John Smith, which was a nice little touch) lies on a cold hard slab, he begins to regenerate, which starts with a blue light on Sylvester McCoy’s face as he does his best “funny faces to make babies laugh” bit, and grows into a mild quickening that’s paralleled with footage of the birth of Frankenstein’s Monster in a black and white film Will Sasso’s watching in the other room, culminating with a delirious Doctor, fresh out the regeneration oven, denting and breaking down a steel door (because apparently he has super strength now) before wandering around a stormy hospital looking like an escaped mental patient, until he comes upon a room filled with broken mirrors, where he catches his shattered reflection and shudders at the sight, before screaming to the heavens with pain and conviction “Who am I?”

With the exception of Will Sasso’s inane inclusion in the scene, I found this overall to be the best part of the film. In all incarnations prior to this, when a Doctor regenerated, he would instantly seem to know who he was and what he was like, without any issue. Later, with David Tennant and Matt Smith as Ten and Eleven respectively, we see an inkling of what it’s like to regenerate/be born again into essentially a new person, with Ten pondering, upon his rebirth, about what kind of man he’s regenerated into (he eventually deduces “lucky.”)  Eleven then demonstrates what it’s like to be in a new body by showcasing a sense of childlike whimsy and wonderment, and the joy of everything being fresh and new with his recently acquired body, whether it’s the hair on his head or the way food tastes. In comparison, Eight’s transformation emphasized the “Who?” in Doctor Who, as he personified the experience of being born again; that sense of fear and confusion, of not knowing who or what you were, which paralleled perfectly with the Frankenstein allusions that coincided with the scene. What ultimately made the scene work was how passionate and raw McGann performed it. The way he shouted “Who am I?” although clearly commentary on his character’s current state of amnesia, also seemed to evoke a greater meaning, as if he was asking the universe what his role in it was and why he even existed; questions many can relate to.

Sadly, things generally deteriorate rather quickly from this point on. We have a nice scene directly after the regeneration, as the Doctor acquires his new outfit, and goes through some of his old belongings, such as his old scarf, yo-yo, jelly babies, etc. but that’s pretty much it. Snake spirit Master enters the body of Eric Roberts, and begins dressing like a cross between Dr. Strange and Ming the Merciless as he tries to then take over the Doctor’s body using the TARDIS’s “Eye of Harmony,” whose full use would make Earth implode. It goes on like this in a clichéd action movie manner, with motorcycle racing, sneaking into a fancy gala to steal technology, and the generic doomsday device that’s easily defeated (in this instance, Dr. Grace Holloway hot wire’s the TARDIS to make it start, thus stopping the machine.)

All in all, I must concur with the notion that this movie is overall pretty terrible, (There is little to practically no travel through space and/or time, and did I mention the Doctor is apparently half human, and that his TARDIS interior looks like a gothic castle/church combo?) and I would not recommend people sitting down to watch the whole thing. However, the regeneration scene was pretty great, and although he’s not given much to work with, Paul McGann does a bang up job as the Eighth Doctor, and his work at the very least deserves to be seen in some small capacity, such as watching clips of the movie online. This movie certainly didn’t wow me by any means, however, it did convince me that Paul McGann was given a raw deal with the script for this movie, and certainly deserves another chance to be the fantastic Doctor we know he could be; thus I’m aligning myself with the others who clamor for more filmed content of him as Eight. Whether it be full length episodes or more mini-episodes posted online, I’d now be one of the first in line to see anything with him as the Doctor (with the exception of this movie.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

America, The Election, and Comic Books

There are multitudes of great reasons to vote against the Romney/Ryan campaign today, such as equality for people regardless of their sexual orientation, and the right for women to not have their bodies regulated by the government. However, at the last second, the most minute, inconsequential topic for most people has gotten my blood boiling, and that is Ryan's derision of the comic book genre.
A man who worships at the altar of Ayn Rand and simultaneously speaks disparagingly of the medium that has given us amazing works from such brilliant authors as Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Brian K Vaughan, and Warren Ellis, is a man who I want as far away from running this country as humanly possible. Ryan’s ignorance in regards to the small issue of comic books is indicative of the backwards mentality of the Romney campaign and their constituents. This “old-fashioned” way of thinking, that presumes that comic books are sophomoric drivel devoid of content, created solely for children, is similarly seen in the equally ridiculous mindsets that love should only be celebrated and acknowledged when it is between a man and a woman, and that women cannot become pregnant if they are “legitimately raped.”
Again, there are far greater issues at play than comic books that should dissuade you from electing this nefarious duo to power, and although the Obama campaign is not the figurative knight in shining armor our country so desperately wanted them to be; they are still, at least, the lesser of two evils. This brings up an even greater concern: the unfortunate truth that our great nation has become reduced to this endless tug of war within a two party system, a castration of true democracy; when we originally aspired to much loftier ideals. People’s allegiance to their political parties today is more akin to rooting for their favorite football team than it is making an intelligent decision based on the facts and issues at hand. The ongoing political war has long ceased to be about what is best for the American people, and has instead devolved into childish bickering between two sides that move closer towards opposing polarities of extremism, while denouncing their opponent for mirroring their descent into madness.
If we are to learn anything from this election season, it’s that we need a change. Not the touchy-feely hopeful theoretical change that Obama tried to promise us 4 years ago, but real lasting change; the kind that can’t come from a President with a lame-duck Congress, but instead has to come from the people themselves. It’s not enough that we stop Romney from taking power. The prevention of his election will not guarantee us a prosperous future. In fact, I see Obama, if re-elected, only doing a marginally better job than he has these past 4 years, which is not saying much. Our fight for the future begins at the polls today, but continues and endures as long as our country does. Robert Browning once said that “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” I believe that mirrors and compliments the sentiment set forth in the Preamble of our Constitution, that as a nation, we must strive “To form a more perfect union.” Which is to say, we must always continue to grow as a nation and as a peoples, both intellectually and in our deeds. We must set lofty, seemingly unattainable goals for ourselves, then work hard to see what was once thought of as impossible becoming not only a reality, but something which we look back on.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote “Every generation needs a new Revolution.” And I think the time has come for this generation to declare theirs. It has become clear that our country has become too dependent upon it’s government, and in turn the government has failed us. Jefferson also said “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” It is from this mentality that we must fight. For too long our people have sat idly by and allowed our country to be run by corporations and organizations that do not represent our wants and needs; and when this displeased us, we sat and drank and cried like infants in our “Occupation” movements to no avail. Our sedentary inaction is what has brought us to where we are now as a nation. We allowed this sickness to flourish, and Activism is our only remedy.
If, and hopefully when you go to the polls today, remember first that you are not only picking a president. The propositions that are in play at the polls will have a direct impact on your life, and are equally, if not more important than whether you choose the red or the blue rabbit hole to jump down for the next four years. Second, realize that voting today does not give you amnesty to not get involved until the next presidential election. If anything, your decisions today should motivate you to demand the results you were promised. Lastly, do not forget “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

-        Christopher S. Holden

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Falls Short

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Much like numerous other devoted fans, last night I stayed up late to attend a midnight screening of the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises. Although there were several aspects about this film that made it great, overall it left me shaking my head disapprovingly as I exited the theater.

I’ll first begin with the positive aspects of the film. Without a doubt, the highlight was Anne Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She stole every scene she was in and, in stark contrast to the over the top performances of the last two women to play Selina, (Halle Berry and Michelle Pfeiffer respectively) Hathaway presented the feline femme fatale in a strong, powerful way that was still seductive and sexy in a subtle way. Tom Hardy’s characterization of Bane was also performed well, although his Eastern European Darth Vader voice seemed more appropriate to a proper interpretation of Doctor Doom than Bane. The returning cast from the two previous films performed admirably as per usual, however Cillian Murphy’s reprisal of Jonathan Crane stands out most memorably or at least in regards to his role in the film.

The cinematography was shot beautifully, and made me ache to see the film in Imax as opposed to the traditional theatrical format. Furthermore, for some strange reason, seeing Bane “Break the Bat” made me the happiest I’ve been since I saw The Avengers for the first time, and I could not stop grinning like an idiot for at least ten minutes. However, the follow-up to this infamous scene from Knightfall marked the first significant issue I had with the movie. When Bane broke Batman’s back in Knightfall, although it was a bit of a cop out, it still took almost a year in real time for Bruce to heal and return as Batman. However in Rises, all Bruce needs to fix his displaced vertebrae is for some random prison inmate to kick him in the spine. I understand the suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy most movies, however this blatant deus ex machina seems even more insulting than Barbara Gordon’s recent ‘miraculous’ recovery in the pages of Batgirl.

As the movie progressed, it became very clear that Joseph Gordon Levitz’s character, John Blake, was going to play a significant role both in the film and in the future of the Batman mythos, in regards to the Nolan-verse. The ending was somewhat predictable, in that Blake assumingly takes on the mantle of Batman, after Wayne is presumed dead. However, the execution of this is done very poorly. For starters, the throwaway line that Blake’s real name is “Robin” is incredibly contrived and lazy; and as a friend of mine said “At least make it Dick Grayson.” When it’s revealed that Bruce had survived the nuclear explosion at which he was in the epicenter, it made me wonder if he had perhaps pre-stocked The Bat with same lead lined fridge Indy used to escape nuclear death in Crystal Skull. Furthermore, seeing Bruce and Selina together happily at the end negates everything that makes there cat and mouse relationship interesting, and plays out like a badly written fan fiction. Moreover, the fact that the movie is bookended by Bruce giving up being Batman, it seems that the writers mis-understood a key aspect about Batman, that he never gives up, and that much like the Punisher, his war on crime is never-ending.

Knowing that Christopher Nolan had previously looked to some of the greatest Batman stories for inspiration, I had presumed going in that since the film had a similar title, and identical initials to The Dark Knight Returns, that several aspects would be taken from that story. A few similarities could be found, such as comparable aspects of the lead antagonists, with Bane mirroring a more intelligent version of the mutant leader; seeing him lead an army against Batman, and even having a mask that aesthetically resembles the mutant’s sharpened teeth. In a broader aspect, both stories see Bruce return from a period of not being Batman, ‘faking’ his own death, and becoming a rallying symbol that inspires the next generation; however, whereas Returns shows Bruce leading a revolution behind the scenes at the end, Rises instead sees him abandoning the cape and cowl for selfish reasons, instead embracing a storybook ending unbefitting of Batman.

All and all, despite my issues, The Dark Knight Rises was not a bad movie. However, I feel that it will go down in the annals of cinematic history in a similar vein as The Godfather Part 3. That is to say, it will be regarded as a good movie overall, and a decent end to a franchise, but since it pales in comparison to its predecessors, and left an unpleasant taste in the mouth of diehard fans, it will unfairly be judged as being horrible overall.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Stan Lee Tackles Shakespeare/One question for Stan Lee

Recently, I attended a book signing in Los Angeles hosted by none other than the name among names, the one and only Stan Lee. The living legend was there promoting one of his most recently completed works, Romeo and Juliet: The War, a futuristic adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s arguably most renowned play. Previously available primarily at conventions, this graphic novel was sold in a hard cover coffee table book styled special collector’s edition.

While waiting in line for Stan to arrive, I was given ample time to peruse the book I had just purchased and see how The Man matches up to The Bard. The first thing one notices upon opening the book is the perpetually spectacular artwork by Skan Srisuwan. He fills the pages with stunning splash pages and breathtaking futuristic cityscapes, making the artwork alone worth the price of the book. Once one begins reading the comic, they learn that in this futuristic Verona the Montagues and Capulets are warrior classes; specifically cyborgs and genetically enhanced humans, making their family relations closer in comparison to West Side Story than the original play.
Stan Lee and Terry Dougas‘ writing style works well in tandem with Shakespeare’s original vision. The humor of the original play often missed by modern audiences is brought to the front with witty and biting dialogue in this new iteration. They also make a point to note the ridiculousness of the “eternal love” forged between the star-crossed lovers after only a night’s acquaintance, another aspect often overlooked by readers today.
Romeo and Juliet: The War may not add anything significant or insightful to the original play, however similarly to Baz Luhrmann‘s 1996 cinematic interpretation, it portrays the tale in a fresh new way that brings the classic tale to a new age, and will entice old fans and modern readers alike.
In getting my copy of the book signed, I was unable to get any good pictures with or of Stan, however I did have sufficient opportunity to ask him one question while he and the other creators signed my book. Seeing this as a once and a lifetime chance to ask the godfather of modern comics a single question, I endeavored to make sure it counted and that it would be a hard hitting question. As the line slowly wound closer, the butterflies in my stomach grew larger and larger; and I began to recite the chorus to Mulan‘s I’ll Make a Man Out of You repetitively in my head as a mantra in order to help keep my composure.
Finally my turn arrived, and I shakily walked up to the table, abandoning hopes of getting my copy of Mallrats signed, I instead focused fully on getting my question answered. Standing before him, I was able to spurt out:

“Hello Mr. Lee.”
“Great Shirt!” he responded, noting my blue on black Fantastic Four t-shirt, causing me to grin from ear to ear before choking out a polite “Thank You.”
Leaning in, I asked him “Would you be able to answer a quick question for The Mary”
Without hesitation, he replied “Sure. Just speak up a bit, I canít hear too well anymore.”
With little to no level of cadence, I began the set up to my question, stating:
“Your most renowned female characters have been primarily auxiliary characters to teams or male counterparts — ”
“They’ve been what kind of characters?” he asked.
“Auxillary.” I repeated.
“Angelic?” he inquired, clearly confused.
“Auxillary.” I reiterated again, as did Terry Dougas, who sat next to him.
“Oh, okay.” He said, now comprehending.
With him now caught up, I repeated the set up to my question, and continued,
“Why is it you have created so few strong, female characters who were made to stand on their own? And why are there so few solo titles with female leads?”
In completing my question, I felt as if I had just asked Santa Claus who gave him the right to judge who was naughty and who was nice.
After pausing a second, Stan graciously replied,
“You’re right. There aren’t that many. The thing is that most people who buy comics are guys. The publishers and the companies worry that there isn’t enough interest in female characters, and that because of that not enough people will buy a solo female title.”
At this point I was swept forward by the oncoming line, my time with Stan clearly at an end. Unfortunately, this meant that I was unable to follow up his answer and ask whether his view on the topic represents the comics industry currently, or if he was speaking on the early days of Marvel. Worse, if he was insinuating the former, then I missed an opportunity to enlighten one of the leaders in the comics industry of the large and ever growing female fan base, as well as the clamoring for more titles based on female characters.

See the original article at here:
Stan Lee’s Romeo and Juliet: The War and the Strong Female Characters Question