Thursday, December 31, 2009

Personal Reflections on Sherlock Holmes

When I was in middle school, I was into Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I loved mysteries and the Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple stories were some of my favorites. I admit thought that Holmes was my favorite. He was a hero: someone who used reason and logic to uncover great mysteries. 

I did my best to model myself after Holmes. I aimed to be a cold, thinking machine. I played the violin. Mercifully I didn't take Holmes' cocaine or morphine habits, so even I had my limits. Even today, I adopt the adage that if it's of no use to me I don't bother learning something. That I think has led me to make some ridiculous mistakes, but I digress.
In time, my passion for Holmes dissipated, but never my affection for him. I'm too much of a soft touch to be totally impassionate (though I still remain a bit distant emotionally), and I've long since hung up the fiddle & bow.

It was inevitable that I would find and seek out the various television and cinematic interpretations of Sherlock Holmes. There have been several interpreters of Conan Doyle's best-known creation on stage, screen, and television, from the comedic (Without a Clue) to the faithful (the Granada television series). Out of all the actors who've given life to Holmes, three versions now come immediately to mind: Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, and Robert Downey, Jr.

I figure that when people think "Sherlock Holmes", they see Rathbone. He made fourteen pictures as Holmes with Nigel Bruce as Watson. I'll say that he most definitely looks the part. His face shows a keen intelligence with a touch of haughtiness. He also had the costume most associated with Holmes: the deerstalker cap and cloak. 

While I haven't seen many of his films, there was always an element in them that I always disliked: Nigel Bruce's interpretation of Watson. He made him into this fat, fat-headed tottering old imbecile who couldn't think his way out of a paper bag. He never struck me as right for the part of an action-oriented war veteran and respected doctor. Instead, Bruce made Watson a figure of ridicule, and to be frank the good doctor's reputation has only recently recovered. Watson is still seen in the contemporary mind as an idiot, and that's a terrible disservice to the stories themselves.

I look at Nigel Bruce's version of Doctor Watson and I think this is where the idea of "Watson as boob stooge" originated. Just as many future Sherlock Holmes find themselves in Rathbone's shadow, so do future Watsons. 

I also never liked the idea that Holmes lived in the present-day rather than Victorian & early Edwardian Britain. In retrospect I can see why it was done, but somehow to me a bit of magic was lost. Similarly was the decision to create stories for them rather than adapt the original ones. It all boiled down to money, as it was cheaper to make current-day films than period films. Despite that however, I think the Rathbone films serve as a decent introduction to the stories, minus Nigel Bruce.

I came along when Granada Television brought the series to the small screen. Jeremy Brett was not the first to play Holmes on television, but to my mind, Brett is the Sherlock Holmes. It was Granada Television's intention to make all the stories and novels, but tragically, Brett's death prevented this. No one to me, except Rathbone in a close race, can match him. 

His Holmes was obsessed, sometimes uncouth, but always on the side of right. He showed Holmes to be someone of fierce intelligence but also more human than before. The adaptation of The Devil's Foot features as part of the story Holmes fighting, and ultimately quitting, his cocaine habit, and is one of the few times that I can remember Holmes ever referring to his associate by his first name of John. It is a credit to Brett that he asked for Holmes to face his cocaine addiction due to his concern that children who would watch would be influenced to take drugs. 

In The Empty House, we can see the humanity Brett brought Holmes. The Great Detective apologizes for playing a trick on Watson and tells him that while he is as trustworthy as Holmes' brother Mycroft, "you have a kinder heart".

David Burke and Edward Hardwicke also do more justice to Watson. In the series, he's hardly stupid, albeit not as bright as Holmes. They are men with guns and are not afraid of a fight. Again, in The Empty House, it's Watson that comes to Holmes' rescue. Watson even gets his own: in one story (I can't remember which), Watson ends the story by telling him, "Elementary, my dear Holmes". 

If it were not for Brett's death, we could have seen what could have happened once all the stories had been made. There is one caveat to Jeremy Brett: I wonder if his interpretation consumed him emotionally and psychologically.

That bring me to the most recent Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey, Jr. To my mind, he did a wonderful job in making Holmes more action hero than intellectual machine as I think that was the intent. It is a Guy Ritchie film. Still, I can't help think that it all could have been better. 

This is prime example of when you give a good actor a good part but in a lousy movie. You keep thinking he could do more, show why he can solve these mysteries in a rational manner rather than being all rush-rush-rush, quick-quick-quick. He falls short of Brett and Rathbone, but if he continues with better stories and better direction he could reach their level.
Jude Law's Dr. Watson, on the other hand, is a mile high better than Bruce's. Here, he's almost totally action and nobody's stooge. Law makes his Watson a man of intelligence, action, and loyalty, things that he was in the stories. It's hard to believe Nigel Bruce could knock down a door to get in or to tell Holmes to stay out of his private life. I suppose that the best qualities to both Downey, Jr. and Law is that they are younger than the team of Rathbone & Bruce or of Brett and Burke/Hardwicke. At 44 and 37, they show a more youthful duo than either Rathbone or Bruce, even though Rathbone was only three years older than Downey and Bruce was actually Downey's age when they started their films.

Out of the limited number of Sherlock Holmes I've seen Jeremy Brett is the standard I measure all others. I don't think any future Holmes will measure up to his interpretation. I can hope that the new Sherlock Holmes despite my dislike of it as a film will introduce people to the novels & stories, eventually the television series. I fear that is a vain hope, since reading for pleasure seems to be a dying art. Still, I hope.

**February 2021 Update: Since the 2009 Sherlock Holmes premiered there have been more Pretenders to the Throne. The BBC released the television series Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. Likewise, CBS had Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller in the role. I know many who think Cumberbatch is the best Sherlock Holmes of All Time, but I never warmed to him. It does not help I hated Sherlock is in my view downright nonsensical. It's to the point where even the biggest Sherlockian thought Series/Season Four was a total mess.

Elementary lasted seven seasons, building a slow and steady case for being the superior of the two modern-day versions. It's most worrisome aspect, that it gender-swapped Dr. John Watson for Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) has proven to be one of its stronger elements. For all the fears of romance between Holmes and Watson, there's more erotica about Sherlock's John Watson and Sherlock than Elementary's Joan Watson and Sherlock. 

As time has gone on, I've learned and seen more Sherlock Holmes interpretations, which I look forward to reviewing and cataloging. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sherlock Holmes (2009): A Review (Review #29)


Quite Baker Street Irregular...

Guy Ritchie's version of Sherlock Holmes is if someone had read various Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels while drunk and attempted to retell it while still drunk. Sherlock Holmes has a lot of action but hardly any sense. 

Sherlock Holmes appears to take elements from both The Canon and Sir Arthur's life for its story. There's Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) from A Scandal in Bohemia. There's bits from another story, The Sussex Vampire, which has the element of the undead. You could even see bits of how in real life Sir Arthur was very much into spiritualism & the supernatural and a hint of The Lost Symbol: the secret societies, the dark rituals. 

The sinister Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), has been murdering women in some vaguely occult rituals, is caught, and executed. Within hours however, he has apparently returned from the dead. This surprises Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), who not only helped capture him but was the attending physician at Blackwood's execution. Blackwood's ultimate plan is to take over the world (or at least the British Empire) in some plot that involves knocking out any opponents in Parliament with poison gas. 

Into this mix comes Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.), fascinated by this bizarre case. Holmes not only has to fight Lord Blackwood, but American criminal and adventuress Irene Adler. His frenemy with benefits is somehow involved in all the machinations, though on whose side is a mystery. This mystery doubles as we know she is working for the mysterious Professor Moriarty, who might be playing both sides.

I figure that the majority of the audience has never read a Sherlock Holmes story. Instead, they saw it for what it was sold as: an action film with cool fight scenes, story secondary. Perhaps the mind boggles at Guy Ritchie tackling the legendary literary character, but it's really not a shock at all. 

Ritchie has a passion for the criminal underworld, and Victorian London offers him a chance to revel in his frenetic style while "branching out" by having a different time period. Perhaps this is why I cannot warm up to him as a filmmaker: he keeps making the same film over and once more. It's one thing to make films in the same genre: Ford was a master at Westerns, Hitchcock of the suspense thriller. However, they told different stories and by and large tried to keep the story at the core of the film, not their cinematic style.

Ritchie, on the contrary, is all about style. You can tell that straight from the get-go, when Holmes explains how he's going to knock out someone and you get to see it in slow-motion, and then again at regular speed. This he does twice during the course of the film, and oddly he doesn't seem to do it that much when he explains how he reached his correct deductions. It's as if Holmes would be wasting his time explaining how he solved a mystery because it would get in the way of the physical action.

That is only a symptom of the poison coursing through Sherlock Holmes. The real disaster is the story. It's a damn idiotic one.  Four people came up with this (Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg with the screenplay, Johnson and Lionel Wigram with the story), yet it doesn't look as if they actually read the source material.

They didn't have to go through all this patent nonsense of quasi-Satanic rites and Masonic-type shadowy organizations. It's as if they didn't trust the material and felt it needed more fighting, less thinking to make it palatable. Perhaps they wanted to take some of the stuffing out of old material, but went about it the wrong way. It would have been easier to introduce their Holmes with creepy undertones and stay with Canon by adapting The Sign of Four or The Hound of the Baskervilles

I don't blame them for wanting to come up with an original story, but it was needlessly complex and convoluted to the point where it becomes flat-out idiotic. It also violates one of one of my Golden Rules of Film-Making: Never End Your Movie By Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel. Here, they used it without needing it. Why couldn't Professor Moriarty be the villain and escape? There would have had the suggestion of a sequel without having us go through all this nonsense.

The performances were far better than the movie itself. Robert Downey, Jr. is having a renaissance in his career, and his Sherlock, while flawed by relying more on muscle than on brain, still manages to project a quick witted, obsessed consulting detective. Jude Law's take on Watson is first-rate, less the idiot stooge and more an intelligent man who doesn't mind a good fight. I can't recall if he had the flaws of a gambling addiction in the stories, but they did right by having him be an Afghan veteran which he was in the stories. Curious, how some things remain the same more than a century later.

The interplay between Holmes and Watson, which was more in the vein of a buddy comedy, had a quality to it which made it believable that these two had an affection for each other that neither fully acknowledged. Mark Strong rose above the silliness of his Lord Blackwood, delivering a performance that almost makes you believe he truly is some sort of Satanic entity. 

The one name that comes off badly in this is McAdams: pretty to look at, but adding little to nothing to the actual story, what there was of one.

The fight scenes were done in Ritchie's frenetic pace, and if you like that you might enjoy them. One can't help but wonder, however, if there weren't too many fights that went on too long, stretching the movie needlessly. 

Hans Zimmer's score was rare in that it was quite pleasant. He's never been a personal favorite but in Sherlock Holmes he gave it an offbeat, almost playful score that suggested a genuine romp the film didn't deliver. Perhaps there is something wildly wrong when you pay more attention to the score than to the screen.

My sense is that Sherlock Holmes is not a film but a franchise starter, with an inevitable sequel. They'll ignore all the good work Conan Doyle wrote and decide the best thing to do is make Holmes an action hero rather than the cold, logical, thinking machine he's described at.

Of course, this is done not for those who've read and loved the stories, but for those more inclined to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra than The Sign of Four. I have a great deal of affection for Sherlock Holmes, the character. I was tempted to do something the great detective would not do: let his emotions overrun his reason. While Downey, Jr. and Law make Sherlock Holmes well-acted, the movie itself is quite, yes I'll say it, elementary.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

And the Honorees Should Be: Part 1. Kennedy Center Honors Suggestions

*Updated February 2021. Once upon a time, I cared about the Kennedy Center Honors. I've grown disillusioned with the entire system since I originally posted this essay. As I revisit past essays, I will keep as much as I think necessary while correcting any spelling, grammar or factual mistakes. This is the first set of recommendations for the Kennedy Center Honors, one of a series of essays on the subject.

Every year, a group of artists in the fields of film, television, music, theater and dance are trotted out and given a big "Thank You" from the United States, a nation not known for great culture. Some of their choices have been right on the money: Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Bob Dylan. Some I find to be a bit, well, curious: Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend. Here, I present a list of artists, in alphabetical order, who have not been so honored. They may have been approached and declined (Doris Day and pianist Vladimir Horowitz come to mind), but if not, they should be there, at least in my view.

Albert Finney

Finney has had wide acclaim for his performances since his debut in Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, but really entered into the world's mindset as the rakish Tom Jones. Since then, think of his films: Under the Volcano, The Dresser, Murder on the Orient Express, The Browning Version, A Man of No Importance, Miller's Crossing, The Gathering Storm, Erin Brockovich, The Bourne Ultimatum, and even Annie. Five Oscar nominations, a continuing career on the stage, a true actor.

Philip Glass
Born 1937

Few American composers have earned the respect that Glass has. His minimalist music, a term Glass rejects, has also been highly influential in modern classic music. His scores for such films as Kundun, The Hours, and Dracula have exposed him to a wider audience. Finally, his work for the cause of the Tibetan nation should be applauded.

Sophia Loren
Born 1934

It's a rarity to have a great beauty who is also a great actress. Sophia Loren is both. It is her Neapolitan features that lure us in, but her performance in Two Women focuses on the suffering of ordinary people in war, stripping away any loveliness of her face or body. Some of her best work is in Italian: Two Women, A Special Day, and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow but she has had great success in English-language films such as El Cid, The Pride & The Passion, and even Grumpier Old Men. Loren is not just physically gorgeous but she has graduated to one of the truly great actresses.

Bob Newhart
Born 1929

The original "buttoned-up" comic, his deadpan humor has been his hallmark, one that has gotten him not one but two successful television series. The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart have been placed as some of the best and funniest series on television. There is no argument I know that disputes the ending of Newhart being among the greatest of all time.

Betty White:

Betty White is one of the last pioneers of television still working, making her television debut in 1949. Along with Lucille Ball, White is one of the first females to have control of her first series, Life With Elizabeth. Her acting skills are showcased by the two wildly different characters of  man-hungry "Happy Homemaker" Sue Anne Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the perpetually naïve Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. She is still going, and is instantly recognizable. Finally, her work for animals has been at the forefront of humane treatment for God's other creatures.

Of course, these are all suggestions, and there will be more coming. These performers are legends because of their hard work. I therefore submit their names for consideration.

*February 2021 Update: Albert Finney died on February 7, 2019 at age 82. Philip Glass was honored in 2018. The others named, still living as of this update, have not received a Kennedy Center Honor. 

*July 2023 Update: Betty White died on December 21, 2021 at age 99. Loren and Newhart (89 and 94 respectively) have yet to be selected. LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, however, have. 

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Carol (2009): A Review


In The Christmas Spirits...

Director Robert Zemeckis seems determined to use motion capture in his films and get audiences to love it as he does. So far his forays into this technology have not met with great critical or commercial success (The Polar Express, Beowulf) but perhaps this version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol may get him over the hump. A primarily family-geared film that adapts one of the best-known and loved Christmas story could lend itself to a more fantastical take. A Christmas Carol isn't a bad film, and there are some things to admire. However, I can't get into motion capture the way Zemeckis has taken up with it. The film captures both the possibilities of the technology and its limitations. The question is whether they will balance each other out or will one cancel out the other.

A Christmas Carol sticks close to the familiar story. Miser's miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) is visited by three Ghosts on Christmas Eve: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (Carrey in multiple roles). Each shows Scrooge how he came to be, how he is now and how he may end up. We also see Scrooge's beaten-down employee, Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) and his large family. Among them is Bob's youngest child Tiny Tim (Olman again). 

Tiny Tim has some ailment that makes it hard for him to walk, but in spite of this he's a cheerful lad, wishing "God bless us, every one" on all mankind, even Scrooge. After his long night of the soul, Scrooge discovers a new joy for life and the True Christmas Spirit.

There have been endless film versions of A Christmas Carol; it's an irresistible story to filmmakers. Among the myriad of Hollywood versions have been the iconic 1951 version with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, the animated Mickey's Christmas Carol, Scrooged, A Muppet's Christmas Carol and the film musical Scrooge.  It's ubiquitous in the Christmas season and I venture to say it's one of the stories most connected with the season ('Twas the Night Before Christmas and the actual story of Christ's birth being the others). One should not be surprised that the story now has received the motion-capture treatment.

In theory, this version of A Christmas Carol should open up the story to all sorts of visually arresting images. Up to a point, that is the result: the shots of flying over London are beautiful, and if you look at the people from a distance, they do look like actual people. You also have a greater range with characters. This is certainly the first time I've ever seen The Ghost of Christmas Past as a candle. Zemeckis has been able to open up the story to a greater range because he isn't limited by what is physically possible. The resemblance to real people is good at times. 

It's on closer inspection that the resemblance ends, and the people start looking like those animatronic robots on a Disney theme ride.

Take for example Colin Firth as Scrooge's nephew Fred. As seen on screen, he looks like Colin Firth, only inflated to a point you wonder if he is suffering from an illness. Oldman as Cratchit has become almost a midget, and it's speculation whether this was done to show how small he is compared to Scrooge or just because they could make him smaller.

Whatever the reason, A Christmas Carol really is Carrey's show. It gives him the ability to do what he's always wanted to do: play many characters without being hindered by things like make-up. Like a lot of A Christmas Carol, it is hit-and-miss. I found it worked best when he's the Ghost of Christmas Past as I didn't recognize his voice there as I did when he was the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Despite its positives I found there were problems with the film. I know Zemeckis is in a passionate love affair with motion-capture, but as much as he may want to make it work at the moment it still is not at the level to where it looks totally real. I doubt it ever will be. 

The result is that sometimes the believability factor breaks, as when during the past Mr. Fezziwig (Bob Hoskins) leaps and does some somersaults. Also, while it may be marketed as a family film, I think the scene that ends the Present section of the film may be quite terrifying to children. You also have a chase scene in the Future section that was totally gratuitous. 

Finally, I didn't like the ending. I didn't believe Scrooge's conversion. It all felt too fake, too rushed, to forced. Even though it stays within the traditional story it oddly didn't ring true.

Interestingly, while I saw the 3-D version, I took my glasses off from time to time and found I had no problem watching it. Surprisingly I found this as a positive, since unlike other 3-D spectacles (no pun intended), it works on a flat screen. However, I don't even see why they opted for 3-D when it wasn't necessary. Not even that chase scene, which was suppose to be a highlight in the Third Dimension, was impressive. I would advise against paying more for the 3-D experience since you really don't get enough bang for your buck.

As it stands, A Christmas Carol is good but not great. It won't challenge other versions of the story let alone be the definitive version. As in all technology, A Christmas Carol can work quite well on occasion. However, just like all machines, it doesn't have true emotions at its heart. There's enough to admire, but not enough to truly love.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twilight Series: Early Thoughts

For the life of me, I fail to understand the hold the Twilight series has over what I would believe to be reasonably intelligent people. I confess to having gone through only the first part of this behemoth lust story. For better or worse, at many points while listening to the audiobook, I burst out laughing at the overwrought dialogue.

Twilight is a love triangle, but a most curious one: between a girl, a vampire, and a werewolf. I am told by its defenders that it really is more than that. It is suppose to be about this great love, how Edward Cullen (the vampire) has waited for close to a hundred years for this one girl, Bella Swann, how he does not want to turn her into a vampire and condemn her to his kind of existence, and how they must overcome all sorts of obstacles to be together.

My private theory on how Twilight has gotten this hold on readers is simple. It is exclusively about identification: Bella is the Every Girl and by extension, the reader. 

Bella is not beautiful, not super-smart, doesn't like all the girly things her classmates/friends are into and is not cheerleader material. In short, she is like all the girls who aren't "popular".

You then have this perfect man, and he's perfect in every way; he's extremely attractive physically, the muscles are not excessive but fit into his clothes smoothly. He is gentle and kind, thoughtful, and above all he is interested in Her, this "plain Jane" who sparks erotic fascination for him. 

On top of all that, this ideal boyfriend does not want to take advantage of her.

Edward's not interested in purely carnal pleasures or won't use Bella just for sex only to forget her. Instead, not only has he waited for her, but will spend time and eternity with her. Here, we can see Twilight scribe Stephanie Meyer's Mormon faith creeping out. This is not saying that Twilight is Mormon propaganda, merely that Mormonism encourages celibacy until marriage and teaches that married couples can be "sealed" forever, even after death. An undead boyfriend who won't have sex with a girl until marriage? I sense a subconscious Mormon theological lesson.

Take this for example. Whenever Bella says, "I want you to change me, Edward", I translate that into "Screw me. Screw me NOW. Screw me like I've never been screwed before  because I've never been screwed before". It's a subconscious cry for sex.

When Edward responds, "I don't want to", that means "I love you so much I don't want to use you just for your body and then move on. I've waited for you, kept myself sexually pure for you for so long when I finally screw you it has to be our first time, not just yours. I need to know that no one else has had you. I've never had anyone else and I long to know no one else has touched you, the most special person in Creation".

All these elements I imagine can prove very psychologically erotic to female readers who find escape in fantasies about "the perfect man".

I think of it as subconscious narcissism, this idea that this "unappealing" woman (like the reader) can inspire whole wars between two hunky men and whole communities. There's Edward the Vampire, and there's Jacob Black the Native American/werewolf. It may even play into the idea that a heterosexual male friend is really secretly in lust for the reader.

This is Jacob's role. He's obviously very sexually desirable, the films showcasing Taylor Lautner's physical perfection. However, he is also a shoulder to cry on, a friend who yearns for Bella in the same way Bella yearns for Edward. He cares about her, wants to protect her, is willing to fight another man for her...and it doesn't hurt that he's built like a brick house.

Again, subconscious narcissism by the reader, who can place herself squarely in Bella's shoes as these two warring factions and hunky men fight for her. 

If I look at all this, the story is insanely popular because it's so insanely narcissistic. It really is All About Bella.

This is the reason in my opinion that the rabid fan base takes no note or cares how awful the writing is. Stephanie Meyer may have graduated with an English Literature degree from BYU but it looks like she learned nothing. I might be wrong about that given that the writing sounds like a brain-dead fourteen year old, which Meyer may have been writing with that in mind. Certainly this doesn't look like it came from a White Anglo-Saxon Mormon housewife, yet why the erotic musings of a Mormon hausfrau are so insanely popular puzzle me. 

I can only remember a few lines from Twilight, and not because they were well-written, but because they were so funny. "I can't believe someone as beautiful as Edward Cullen would be speaking to me" had me laughing uncontrollably for five miles. "His skin...literally sparkled" is another howler. 

The most amazing thing about the Twilight series is that it has taken Mrs. Meyer four books, the last one well over 500 pages long, to tell a very basic, simplistic, and bad story. What this says about both the educational level of the readers or the state of present-day American literature is frightening.

I note with dismay how popular the books are, how girls read and reread them again and again while not bothering to read anything useful. Granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I have yet to hear the case as to how the Twilight Series is good literature.  For myself, I see the Twilight Series of Twilight/New Moon/Eclipse/Breaking Dawn as one of the signs of The End of Western Civilization.

The films are terrible, and I don't expect them to get better. I just hope that the fixation will pass and we move on to better books and film adaptations.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Blind Side: A Review


Every Black Child Deserves A White Family...

It's a paradox in American society today. Our First Family is black, and by all accounts, Barack & Michelle Obama are a loving couple with a strong marriage and two well-adjusted daughters. Sasha & Malia Obama are by those same accounts pleasant, happy, well-brought up girls, fun-loving and well-mannered. In short, while not a perfect family the Obamas are a strong and loving unit and role model for the nation.

However, if we judge by films such as Precious and The Blind Side, we would believe that all black families are unstable, unhappy, unhealthy and even dangerous. In black homes as painted by Hollywood, the parents are absent or abusive or bizarrely both. In black homes as painted by Hollywood, the children psychologically damaged, sometimes almost beyond repair. These families are heavily involved in drugs and/or alcohol, with despair and hopelessness their only companions in the ghetto. While The Blind Side is meant to be "inspirational", it ends up coming across as almost condescending to insulting.

The Blind Side is based on the life story of Michael Ohre, currently with the Baltimore Ravens. When we first meet Michael, better known as Big Mike (Quinton Aaron), he's the saddest sad sack in history. He has cause: absent father, drug-addicted mother, with no one to love or care for him. From what I understand a typical African-American upbringing if I got all my information on African-American upbringing from Hollywood.

He finds himself in a Christian (read, all-white) high school, where he stands out from all his classmates not for his wit or charm or any other attributes, but because he is the complete opposite of them: poor, large, and black. One night, Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw) notices him picking up uneaten popcorn bags after his daughter's volleyball game. On their way back to their home, Sean, his wife Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock), and their children (Lilly Collins and Jae Head) see Big Mike walking, all alone, and sad. Did I mention he was walking in the rain? Leigh Anne decides there is only one thing to do: bring him to their home.

I digress to point out the Tuohy home looks like a miniature Versailles. I'm not sure my hometown of El Paso, TX has a house anywhere that large as that of the Tuohy mansion. This is an important detail, since Michael (we find out he doesn't like being called Big Mike) sleeps on a sofa for months before the Tuohys offer him his own bedroom...or in his case, his very first bed.

Michael knows nothing about football or a loving family until the Tuohys guide him both on and off the field. Thanks to their love and example, Michael Ohre is able to overcome his disadvantages and go on to a successful college and NFL career.

The Blind Side as I stated is meant to be inspirational, meant to have us cheer Ohre on as he soon creates a new life with the only family he's ever truly known, meant to have us rejoice in his eventual success in college and then the NFL...and yet...and yet...I couldn't bring myself to do so. 

It isn't that I don't applaud what the Tuohys did or Mr. Ohre's triumph over his background. It's just that if it weren't "based on a true story" I wouldn't believe much if any of it. The main problem in The Blind Side is that for a biopic about Michael Ohre, the film really isn't about Michael Ohre. It's rather about the Tuohys, specifically the raging Southern belle Leigh Anne.

We never see or hear from Michael himself about what he thinks or what he feels about everything going on around him. In short, he never really speaks for himself. Sometimes doesn't even speak at all. He might just as well be a stick of furniture given how mute Ohre is, how passive almost docile he is.

Instead, The Blind Side really should be retitled All About Tuohy, or more precisely All About Leigh Anne. As played by Bullock, Leigh Anne is a no-nonsense take charge woman who knows what's best for everyone and goes about fixing things with bluntness and no thought about how it might look. Leigh Anne's husband Sean, on the other hand, is generally quiet and supportive, almost passive, when it comes to anything his wife wants or thinks. I wouldn't blame people if they ended up thinking Bullock and McGraw were doing their version of Sarah and Todd Palin! That would be fitting to how the Tuohys are shown: as good Christian Republicans.

The performances themselves were overall good. Bullock's Southern accent was not believable at the onset, but over time it either diminished or my ear just started adapting to it. Her performance shows that she is more than a talented comic performer but an actress who can bring a touch of comedy to a drama. McGraw is adding an impressive résumé to his film credits and is becoming an actual actor as opposed to a singer who says lines. I also give credit to McGraw's's the best one I've seen on him.

The real scene-stealer is Jae Head as their son S.J. He is delightfully precocious and brightens the screen every time he's on. Kathy Bates in a small role makes her Miss Sue a woman very eager to please, so much so she "outs" herself to the Tuohys as something they apparently have never encountered: a Democrat. I find it amusing when Sean tells Leigh Anne how strange it is that they had a black son before meeting a Democrat because in real life Tim McGraw is one of the few Democrats in country music, at least openly so.

The performances being good, it's unfortunate that writer/director John Lee Hancock's adaptation of Michael Lewis' nonfiction book did the characters all a disservice. People were too busy being inspired to notice little things, like the fact that as seen on film Ohre apparently never managed to make any friends in his Christian school outside the Tuohys. What that says about Christians I leave up to the reader. 

In fact, we never see Michael make any kind of connection with anyone outside the Tuohys, as if all of them lived in a bubble no one can burst. It also made little to no notice of Ohre himself. It's no joke when Bullock says the rather clichéd line, "We didn't change him. He changed us", since the story was told through their eyes, not his. There were more clichés, like the snobbish "ladies who lunch" or their ghetto counterparts, the drug dealers in the projects.

Worse is just how dumb Ohre comes off, a simple, sweet soul akin to Forrest Gump's black cousin. He's big, but he's soft. How else could we have a scene where he's failing to understand the rudiments of football (yes, you can use the word rudiment when talking about football) until Leigh Anne explains it in terms of family? Only then do we have the inner beast being unleashed and he becomes the tackle he will eventually become. This whole scene, I figure, is meant to show how Ohre's new family structure is worth protecting, but it just manages to infantilize him, make him look like he's mentally a child. 

You also have a bizarre scene where Miss Sue is trying to scare Michael off from going to Tennessee which the Tuohys all hate in favor of their alma mater Ole Miss. She tells him that the Tennessee stadium is filled with corpses and body parts and it looks like he believes her. In an eight-year-old, it makes him look innocent. In an eighteen year old, it makes him look stupid. In retrospect, this whole scene is actually cringe-inducing, harkening back to how African-Americans were easily "spooked". 

Near the end, Michael has to write an essay that will give him the GPA necessary to get him into a university (shown by having college coaches who played themselves pitch their programs to Michael and S.J.). He is persuaded by Sean to pick Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade by putting it in a football context.

Somehow, again this seems very condescending to Ohre, as if he is incapable of comprehending anything until put into simple terms (family, football). Far be it for The Blind Side to show Michael Ohre as anywhere near intelligent or able to comprehend things on his own.

I think the other choices offered would have been better: A Tale of Two Cities provides the unofficial Tuohy motto (It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done...) while Shaw's Pygmalion is the Michael Ohre Story: a poor, uneducated person taken into wealthy surroundings and transformed into My Fair Gentleman.

When I think of great fictional inspirational sports stories, I go to the classic Hoosiers or Rocky. If I want "based on a true story", I can revisit Chariots of Fire, Rudy, or read All Things Possible, the autobiography of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner. The Blind Side, while having good performances, lost out its chance to join the ranks of those by relying too much on standard storytelling, weak characters, and most damaging, telling the story from the wrong perspective.

The main difference is that in all the other films/books listed, we saw the story from the protagonist's viewpoint. They knew the odds against them (be it anti-Semitism, height, failure to get drafted) and yet they still pursued their dreams because they wanted to succeed. In The Blind Side, we don't get that, and if we had, it would have been better. 

As I think on The Blind Side, I find that while many people loved it, I now find it slightly distasteful. It is not about Michael Ohre. Instead, somehow, in some way, it seems a throwback to a time where black characters seem to be incapable of finding their way without a white person to guide them. The Blind Side now in retrospect looks like one of the worst examples of a "white savior" narrative, where the Anglo characters come in to rescue the black characters from their miserable lives. 

I don't think The Blind Side is anywhere near overtly racist or that it was done with bad intentions. However, by making Michael Ohre this virtual passive mute it ended up diminishing him and turning him into an overgrown child with no agency, no free will and dependent on the noblesse oblige of the wealthy white people to get ahead. Strange that for a story about Michael Ohre overcoming difficult circumstances to rise to a major pro football career, he is painted as a simple man in need of only the kindness of strangers picking up their white man's burden to get him to his success.

It's not a bad film, just not a great one. This kind of story deserves better, and one needs to remember what happens when you pave the road with good intentions.

Michael Ohre:
Born 1986

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Twilight: New Moon. A Review (Review #26)


I See A Bad New Moon Rising...

From what I understand, New Moon (aka The Twilight Saga: New Moon) has only the hot bodies of its love triangle to offer. However, I also understand that this is all the fans actually want. If that is the criterion for the success of the film & novel, then New Moon has fulfilled its duty. Perhaps never in the field of filmmaking have men, especially minors, been so sexually objectified. Whether this is a step forward or not is entirely up to the viewer, but how any of this is relevant to the plot is unknown.

We continue our story of Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart) and her Sullen Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). They are the Romeo & Juliet of Millennials: she's human, he's vampire. At a surprise birthday party offered by the Cullens, Bella gets a paper cut, and even though she knows they are all blood-suckers, she seems completely oblivious to the fact a bit of human blood will make them go crazy. In order to save her, Edward decides he must leave her forever. 

Without her beloved to pine after, she enters into the deepest depression any teenage girl has ever entered in the history of teenager angst. She, however, discovers that whenever her adrenaline is pumping, Edward appears like a mist, so Bella puts her life in constant danger. Even a shadow version of Edward Cullen is better than no Edward Cullen at all.

I'd call this a might bit obsessive, but I have never been a female teenager in love, so there's that.

It's at this time that she deepens her relationship with Edward's main romantic rival Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) a Native American she befriended in Twilight. When it comes to Jacob, there's also a catch: Jacob Black has a secret of his own; he is a werewolf, and there's a long feud between werewolves and vampires. Now, to protect her from himself, Jacob asks Bella to stay away from him too.

It's at this point that I actually felt a little sorry for her. She gets dumped twice by two hot guys, both times for her own good. It really is a case of "It's Not You, It's Me". 

For plot reasons Edward has decided to make his vampire status known to the world, which will unleash the wrath of the Vulturi, the Lords of the Vampire Universe. They will have no choice but to kill him, thus freeing him from the torture of being undead without the Greatest Love of All Time. Of course, Bella won't let that happen. After a dramatic rescue (and a chance to see Edward shirtless) they go back to Forks, Washington State where Jacob and Edward have one last dramatic confrontation over Bella, culminating with Edward proposing marriage. 

To say that New Moon is an improvement over Twilight (or is it The Twilight Saga: Twilight) is a bit like saying cyanide Kool-Aid tastes better than strychnine Kool-Aid. 

I personally think Billy Burke and Michael Sheen hung out together, even though they share no scenes. Why? It's due to them apparently switching acting styles. While Burke's Chief Swann is a wild improvement over his last turn, Sheen decided it was time to let it all ham out so to speak. Sheen definitely put the "vamp" in vampire. I no longer object to his lack of nominations for The Queen or Frost/Nixon after this laughable performance. We also have former Oscar nominee Graham Greene, who's gone from Dances With Wolves to Dances With Werewolves. While it is unfortunate that Native American actors don't get enough work, I am still thankful we didn't have to see him shirtless.

As for the leads, there hasn't been any improvement, and in fact I think they've gotten worse. Kristen Stewart still show no range beyond morose, Robert Pattinson has no range, period. Taylor Lautner's Jacob has no range either, but he does have a well-built physique that we got treated to over and over again. In fact, there were so many shirtless men one would think we'd wandered into a gay bar.

For example, when we see Jacob shirtless for the first time, it's in the rain, as if to accentuate his body of lust. The word "gratuitous" comes to mind, and not just on how New Moon fixates over a seventeen-year-old boy. 

I kept wondering why all the Native American men had to be shirtless, especially when I remember with amusement how in Twilight Jacob was all bundled up to keep out the cold. Perhaps all that fur on the inside keeps them warm. 

New Moon was sordid, stupid, and beyond insulting. Granted, there is only so much director Chris Weitz and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg could do with Stephanie Meyer's dreadful prose. I have no way of knowing if the dialogue is taken from the book verbatim. However, if it is then the book is laughable. I can vouch for this since the audience was laughing at such lines as Edward saying, "The greatest gift you can give me is just to breathe". Neither is Jacob telling Bella that she likes him "because you think I'm beautiful". 

What man gay or straight thinks such nonsense, let alone says such things out loud? The most unintentionally hilarious line was at the dramatic confrontation between Jacob and Edward. 

"Just stay the hell out of my head!" has so many connotations one can't help but laugh.

On a more serious note, I was disturbed by a scene in the film. The Native men brought Bella to their home, where we see one of their girlfriends. Without giving too much away, we see that the effects of when she got too close to him when he got angry. The message I got was extremely disturbing: Girls, it's OK if a man hurts you physically, because it's his nature. Therefore, let him do whatever he wants to you, so long as he loves you.

I know Twilight fans will disagree wildly with me, but if my love left me scarred, I would not stay. Period. Nor would I justify it by saying "he's a werewolf". That just says to me, the animal inside a man can do what he likes to a woman, and she should not defend herself but rather "understand her man" by taking physical abuse. This is the wrong message, and I could not shake the notion that this is a terrible thing to suggest to people, especially the female Twilight fanbase. 

Ultimately, New Moon is a chance to make men sex objects and dwell in the immature fantasies of immature women (physically and mentally). There is no story, no acting, no point. Someone, bring a stake and some silver bullets. Team Jacob or Team Edward? One thing's sure: it's highly unlikely that anyone on either team will ever be on the Academic Team.

Next Twilight Film: Eclipse

Here are more views on the Twilight Series...Excuse Me, SAGA.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Hangover: A Review (Review #25)


Try To Remember, The Night of Your Bender...

Las Vegas, Nevada has come to be seen as the center of total decadence, where one is freed from all restraints of morality and can indulge in whatever carnal desires one has without having to worry about the end result. There are no rules or boundaries. Whatever inhibitions you may have are gone in Vegas: you can do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, whoever you want.

In reality, this is not true, but people still flock to Sin City in the belief that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas". The Hangover is a chronicle of four men who test out that theory, and find themselves in the wildest, most outrageous, outlandish and funniest bender in film.

Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married in a few days. For his bachelor party, he, his two friends Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Doug's future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis) go to Las Vegas for a night they won't forget.

At least, that's the original plan. 

The next morning, Stu, Phil, and Alan wake up in their suite to find not only the room beyond trashed, but a tiger in the bathroom, a chicken in the hallway, a baby in the closet, and both Stu's tooth and Doug missing. None of them has any idea what happened to get them in the situation. Trying to reconstruct the previous evening in order to find Doug and get him back to the wedding, they find the evening involved not only the above, but a stolen police car, a Vegas wedding to a stripper/escort (Heather Graham), fey Asian crime lord Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) and Mike Tyson.

The situations the self-named "Wolf-Pack" finds itself in are outrageous, but in a curious sense it all makes sense. It reminds me of a line from All About Eve. In the party scene, Marilyn Monroe is reprimanded for calling a waiter "butler". "Well I can't yell, 'Oh Butler', can I? Somebody's name could be Butler". "You have a point," George Sanders concedes. "An idiotic one, but a point". 

In the same way, The Hangover should be on the surface, completely unbelievable: the situations go beyond what could be even remotely plausible. However, there is a logic to everything albeit a very strained one, and one of the positives of the script is that it makes the circumstances these average guys get into at least acceptable enough to go along with it.

Yes, everything in The Hangover veers into almost insanity, but one should remember that the film is meant to be an outrageous, crude enterprise. As such, you roll with the logic presented to you even if it is an absurdist one.

Credit also has to go to the performances. Each of the male characters has their moments. Helms brings a loveable nebbishness to Stu, forever chafing under his girlfriend but who manages to come alive. Cooper gives a star-turning performance with his Phil, a guy looking for a good time but who leads his crew in their efforts to find Doug. He has the looks of a leader while using his teacher logic to find a way to conclusions. 

A clear standout is Galifianakis, who makes Alan both completely crazy and oddly endearing in his lunacy. Few people could ask about if the actual Caesar actually lived at Caesar's Palace and make it sound rational. 

Although Graham and Jeffrey Tambor as Doug's future father-in-law have small roles, they still bring out the laughs. Mike Tyson, playing himself, also adds not just a hint of menace but also a delightful sense of self-parody that makes him both more frightening and endearing.

The reason The Hangover works is because the story has a sense of logic, and the guys are relatable. The audience knows and identifies with them, and wants them to succeed. The laughs don't stop once the mysteries have been solved: both the reception and the closing credit montage of vacation photos are also some of the funniest moments in the film. Granted, I had to have the Candy Shop cover explained to me, but in the setting it makes it all the more hilarious even if you've never heard of 50 Cent. 

My only complaint is that we never got an explanation for the chicken. 

Still, that's a minor point. The Hangover is outlandish and outrageous but oddly rational; the film is just flat-out funny from beginning to end.  It does what it set out to do: make me laugh, hard, at its outrageousness and silliness, and what can one ask out of comedies other than that. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Public Enemies: A Review


G-Man, This Movie's Dull...

Perhaps rather than give a full review for Public Enemies, it would be more instructive to write the thoughts that came to me while I was watching it.

"Here's John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), acting rather slowly while breaking people out...I wonder who the guy who fell out of the car was".

"Oh, I didn't know Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) died by Melvin Purvis' (Christian Bale) hands".

"These Sweet Tarts are good".

"Is that Edith Piaf as Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard)? I don't believe for one moment she has any Native American blood".

"Was that Diana Krall singing in the club? I only have one of her albums. When I Look Into Your Eyes I think it's called. It was OK".

"These Sweet Tarts are really good. I don't think I've had a bad one yet. Normally I can tell when I get a green one, but they are all good tonight".

Blank. Blank. Blank.

"I didn't know Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) worked with Dillinger. FINALLY, some action."

"Is Baby Face Nelson the same guy who was Dane Cook's obnoxious buddy in Good Luck Chuck? Either he's a great actor or I'm still in a state of semi-consciousness".

"I'm running out of Sweet Tarts. Better save one for when Dillinger goes to the Biograph Theater".

"I didn't know The Lady in Red really wore orange. No, I think I heard that on the History Channel, or A & E".

"Manhattan Melodrama...looks like a good movie. I wonder if it's on DVD. William Powell, that's what I call an actor. Pity he never won an Oscar. He & Myrna Loy. Both got robbed. Come to think of it, I haven't seen any of the Thin Man movies. I should check them out. I don't think I've seen them together in any film. How awful. ".

"Clark Gable--a STAR if ever there was one. Pity most people here have NO idea who William Powell or Myrna Loy are. Some haven't even heard of Gable. How can you not have heard of Clark Gable? People can't be THAT dumb, can they?"

"No, I tell a lie. I did see Powell and Loy in The Great Ziegfeld, and he did have a small role in How to Marry A Millionaire. Class all the way".

"Why are going back to this movie? Put Manhattan Melodrama back on".

"OK, Dillinger's been killed. Time to pop in the last Sweet Tart".

"There's MORE?! Fine, fine, fine. Let's find out what happened to the girl."

"Oh, it WAS Diana Krall! I KNEW I was right. I would have thought Channing Tatum would have gotten a bigger role as Pretty Boy Floyd. Yes, he is pretty, but the jury's still out as to his acting skills. I can't tell him apart from the guys on Gossip Girl. Saw only one episode, didn't think there was any actual acting".

"I believe these were the BEST Sweet Tarts I've ever had, bar none".

I was entirely flippant early on in my reviewing career, but in retrospect, I kinda liked how freewheeling I used to be. As I look at it, while Public Enemies tried to be in the style of early Warner Brothers' gangster films, it failed.

In short, Public Enemies is not a gangster movie in the style of a White Heat or The Public Enemy. It isn't even a good character study of Dillinger. He couldn't have been as boring as he's seen in the film. That's no reflection on Depp: he's one of the finest actor of his generation, period. It's the pacing. Public Enemies is so slow that it makes the movie drag. If people think it's a gangster film, forget it.

There are few action scenes to speak of. As for everyone else, I will give Cotillard credit for sounding somewhat like an American, same with Bale. However, Purvis doesn't come across as a diligent officer determined to bring Dillinger to justice. He, like Depp, are more like those animatronics at Disney World. In fact, the Cagney figure in Disney's Hollywood Studios' The Great Movie Ride is more lifelike than the actors on the screen.

Slow, slow, slow. It's unfortunate, since this could have been a great opportunity to remind modern audiences of the great genre gangster films were. Ultimately, by showing clips of Manhattan Melodrama during Public Enemies, we can compare & contrast just how good those movies were...and how bad this was is.

Slow, dull, with lifeless characters, Public Enemies will soon be forgotten, a blip in the careers of Depp, Cotillard, and Bale to where some of their fans won't even remember they were in this movie, let alone the movie itself.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Michael Jackson's This Is It: A Review (Review #23)


Farewell Performance...

You can remember Michael Jackson in many ways, depending on when you saw him first. Some remember him as the wildly talented youngster from the Jackson 5, singing and dancing like nobody's business. Others remember him as the man behind some of the most innovative music and videos of all time: lighting the ground with his feet in Billy Jean, a dancing zombie in Thriller, in the subway, telling the world who's Bad. For those who came after his heyday, he is known as "that crazy man who slept with boys and dangled a baby from a hotel balcony". 

Michael Jackson's This Is It, the documentary film about his never-to-be comeback concert series, doesn't answer questions about Jackson the man. It does remind us of the man's extraordinary and exceptional musical talent and the catalog he left behind. 

The film is a hybrid of documentary and concert film. The documentary part is supplemented by interviews with the dancers, band, and technical crew as they rehearse for the planned This Is It series of spectacular concerts. The concert part comes from Jackson's performances of his songs, where he excelled even when his audience consisted solely of no more than fifty.

It may sound wrong, but I think This Is It looks better here than it would have looked if Jackson had lived to perform the entire show as planned. The concert would have to me been ostentatious and extravagant, but here, we can concentrate on the music and dancing that Jackson could still perform at age 50. We soon forget that this is rehearsal footage, not because of the quality of the footage. Instead, we get a chance to essentially sit in on a dress rehearsal, and as such concentrated on both the intense work of the planned show but more importantly the music.

We can hear how brilliant Jackson's catalog is with few if any distractions. Seeing him perform songs such as The Way You Make Me Feel, I Just Can't Stop Loving You, and Beat It, reminds one of the sheer talent Jackson had. 

I was pleased to hear one of my personal favorites, Smooth Criminal. In this particular number he & director Kenny Ortega had planned, audiences would have had an amazing number that had Jackson be an audience member when Rita Hayworth performed Put the Blame on Mame in Gilda. Perhaps on a stage this would not have translated well. In This Is It, it works wonders.

To be fair, his Earth Song was to my mind both overblown and far too syrupy, but there it is. 

This Is It is probably not the way Michael Jackson would have wanted to be seen as this footage was not intended for public view. However, that ironically ends up being one of its benefits: here we have Jackson, the singer, the dancer, stripped from all the weirdness and lunacy and tragedy that were as much part of his life as his enormous talent. We can judge the man as artist, not his eccentricities, his musical legacy, not his tabloid legacy.

Is it exploitive? I don't think so. The people behind the camera were put in an extremely difficult position after Jackson's death, and they did the best they could under the circumstances. Director Ortega and company should be congratulated for being able to make a great musical experience out of behind-the-scenes footage, and the film is quite respectful of the man. The various interviews show that those working with Jackson thought exceptionally well of him.

This Is It does not dwell into the allegations of child abuse, and it is up to the individual if one wants to spend time watching a man accused of child molestation. Ultimately, This Is It won't change how people perceive Michael Jackson, the man. It might not even change how people perceive Michael Jackson, the artist. It never set out to be about Michael Jackson, person, but Michael Jackson, artist. 

Stripped of the allegations, the bizarre antics and imagery of this person, we can see just how much talent he had, and if we judge him on that, his legacy is secure.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

The First Ten Doctors: An Introduction

And Pretty Doctors All in A Row

**Author's Note: I had planned to review the Doctor Who catalog on this site, but given the sheer number of stories I opted to spin-off those reviews to a separate site: Gallifrey Exile. As such, readers will find reviews may hop from one site to another. Reviews are collected at a link at the end of this essay. Also, this essay was updated on January 2021.

Now we come to the end of this brief sojourn into the First Ten Doctors. 

Who is the Best Who? Who is the best Actor to have played the role? What are the best Doctor Who stories? 

I don't like those questions. Each version, in my view, brought his own interpretation to the role, and each one has one perfect story. William Hartnell, who originated it, to be fair didn't have the burden of comparing his performance with anyone else. As we look back though, we can compare him and his stories to those of his successors. 

Patrick Troughton brought humor. 
Jon Pertwee brought action.
Tom Baker brought alien eccentricity.
Peter Davison brought a greater compassion and innocence.
Colin Baker brought outrageous egocentricity. 
Sylvester McCoy brought righteous anger.
Paul McGann brought a greater romanticism.
Christopher Eccleston brought a manic moodiness.
David Tennant brought a touch of wistfulness.

Since the original posting, we've had three more Doctors.

Matt Smith brought naïveté slipping to stupidity.
Peter Capaldi brought a menace to dark danger.
Jodie Whitaker brought nothing.
Now, each has his detractors and defenders, but all I think did the best their talents allowed them to, with varying degrees of success. Colin Baker and Peter Capaldi were good Doctors stuck with lousy scripts, yet they did their best. 

We can argue about individual stories, but that is another matter. Ultimately, Doctor Who the program will continue, or at least I thought so. Now with the dual damage Whitaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall has done, I think Doctor Who 2.0 is done. Even with a new Doctor on the horizon, the damage has already been done. Even if Whitaker had made the role her own versus coming across as a bad Tennant/Smith cosplayer, I find that Chibnall has given her such a succession of terrible stories that no actress could have rescued the Doctor.

It's all such a shame, all this to placate a group of people who didn't have an interest in the show and didn't bother sticking around once they'd accomplish their great triumph. I gave Her a chance, but even if the Doctor had maintained being a man I would have thought such awful stories.

In the future, I hope to write reviews on the stories themselves, but I can wait. I hope to have more time.  

Looking back twelve years later, I think I have the time. 

What I don't have is the interest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Eleventh Doctor: An Introduction

The Eleventh Doctor:
Matt Smith (Born 1982)

**Author's Note: I had planned to review the Doctor Who catalog on this site, but given the sheer number of stories I opted to spin-off those reviews to a separate site: Gallifrey Exile. As such, readers will find reviews may hop from one site to another. Reviews are collected at a link at the end of this essay. Also, this essay was updated on January 2021.

Ah, to be young and naïve.

At the time I wrote this essay, I had great hopes for the newest Doctor. I wrote: 

"I am looking forward to Matt Smith's tenure as The Doctor even though I've never seen him act or heard his voice. Colin Baker had an excellent point about regeneration. You don't want Your Doctor to go, he said, but you're also excited because you wonder what The Next Doctor will be like (pun intended). 

The change from Hartnell to Troughton brought a different Doctor, as did the change to Pertwee, Tom Baker, Davison, Colin Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston and Tennant. Each made it his own, and I hope Smith will do the same.

Tom Baker also made an interesting point. The Doctor, he said, is actor-proof. You could take an established character and make him your own. Each of the Doctors has done so, so why is Smith any different? It will depend on the scripts and the willingness of the public to accept one in the role.

For my part, I'm hoping for great things, and wishing Matt Smith well".

Now, looking back a good ten years since his debut story, I can see so many things that should have told me this was going to be the beginnings of a disaster. 

One thing I had not counted on was the emotional impact that having Tenth Doctor David Tennant regenerate to Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith would have on NuWho fans. I saw wails of tears from many fans at the transformation. This counters Colin Baker's view that fans usually are generally excited to see what the Next Doctor would do and be like.

Instead, I saw a fandom that could not tolerate change, that was dreading rather than looking forward to another actor in the role. Things only got worse when Smith would eventually regenerate to Capaldi. The regeneration was transformed from a somewhat routine but non-dramatic moment into this epic change requiring explosions and long, dramatic monologues. 

How could fans be so simple? I'd seen many regenerations, and only once did I actually cry. That was the regeneration from Third to Fourth, and it had nothing to do with my unwillingness to see Pertwee become Tom Baker. It had to do with Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen's actual acting. 

Another problem that I did not foresee was in how diminished the character would become. There's eccentric and then there's stupid. Smith's Doctor not only passed that line but smashed it beyond anything imaginable. In a future post, I was pretty positive about Smith but did warn that "he the risk of going too far in the comedic take", and I found that such fears would come to pass. The Eleventh Doctor became stupider and stupider. His fixations with fezes and bow ties, as well as his growing inability to function with a hint of sense, made him an object of ridicule. In short, a joke.

The Doctor could be eccentric, but Smith's version eventually came across as a near-total nitwit. 

Add to that how other characters eclipsed him. At times, The Doctor became a guest star on his own program, the dominant figures being the bossy Amy Pond and the Legendary Legend of Legendness Herself, River Song. First, we see with Amy just how stupid The Eleventh Doctor became. After centuries of dealing with humans, why did this Doctor think that Amy's husband Rory Williams was "Rory Pond", insisting that men took on their wives' names? Some men do, but fandom's insistence on calling the "The Ponds" when Rory was never a Pond was eye-rolling.

In Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Rory's father made it a point to say "I AM NOT A POND!" to an either oblivious or downright imbecilic Doctor. Smith's Doctor went from frantic to dysfunctional. 

Worse, there was River Song. Granted, I had missed her debut story but soon River not only started appearing more and more prominent in other stories but went from a guest character to the almost de facto star. She was built up as this great figure with her catchphrases "Hello, Sweetie" and "Spoilers!", who not only knew how to pilot the TARDIS better but ridiculed the Doctor for "leaving the parking brake on". It was beyond cringe-inducing.

River Song eventually not only became the child of Amy and her husband "Mr. Pond" but managed to regenerate herself because she was conceived by the power of the Holy TARDIS. I don't know what the motivation was to diminish the lead character to celebrate a minor, obnoxious insignificant one, but it was a terrible mistake. This would not stop with Amy or her daughter, but with Clara Oswald, another obnoxious Companion know-it-all who somehow became this most important of figures.

She told the First Doctor which TARDIS to take, despite the TARDIS saying she select him in The Doctor's Wife, a title later reserved for River Song.  A total mess.

Finally, I saw a group of absolutely dreadful stories: the aforementioned DOAS, A Town Called Mercy, Closing Time, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

I left the Matt Smith Era so bitterly disillusioned, and grew disenchanted with Smith's portrayal. 

Oh, but little did I know...