24 Nov 2013

50 years of Doctor Who; The Day of the Doctor

As a young boy I was an avid watcher of Doctor Who. In New Zealand we were blessed with most of the seasons, so I had the opportunity to see old episodes with Patrick Troughton and the great three doctor’s episode.  For a lot of people Doctor Who is an iconic part of our child hood, part of our culture. You ask most people, and they will have a Doctor Who story from when they were a kid. Most commonly enough it will involve hiding behind a couch. 
This Doctor Who episode has given me a life long disgust of maggots
Doctor Who is the time travelling adventurer who comes out of nowhere and saves us from the terrifying monsters that lurk there.  He is an exciting type of hero because he will save you with cleverness and kindness, and he might even take you with him on his adventures. He might be rude, but never cruel or violent.  He has endured for 50 years and I think we are better off for it. 

The 50th anniversary has been greatly anticipated all year. Especially in my house as my fiancĂ© is a born again Whovian, and proud of it.   

And how was it?

Wee spoilers follow

The 50th anniversary brings David Tennant and Matt Smith together in a confrontation with their darkest secret, played by John Hurt.  Tennant and Smith's chemistry is like Doctor squared. Both actors bringing together their own blend of humour and pathos, different but familiar, funny but sad.  Introducing John Hurt as their younger incarnation, their secret incarnation, who is no Doctor.   

On the whole I enjoyed it. It was fun and very entertaining. In one respect I thought that the story was slightly disappointing.  A certain element that I liked was changed, so I was a little disappointed.  I understand why they made that change, and how it was important, but I was a tiny bit disappointed none the less.
And I was alone in this.

With a lounge full of Whovians, they were entranced and astounded, and a great time was had by all. The story was accepted and revelled in by my friends and family together.  The 50th anniversary brings the Doctors together to pay homage to the past and bring in a new future, and it also reflect what Doctor Who is all about, hope.   

It was a grand eisode and I think Doctor Who fans will love it. 

And I hope you do too.

19 Nov 2013

The Butler

I love a good ensemble movie I really do. The well placed combination of excellent performers can make for a spectacular movie. This film interested me not just because of the ensemble cast; Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Vanessa Redgrave to mention but a few, but because these great actors are only cameo roles. 

That is because this story is, as the name maintains, about the White House Butler, and not so much about the Presidents. But more than that it is a story of the civil rights movement in America as told through a man who lived through most of last century. Born on a plantation and then serving every American President from Eisenhower through to Regan.  

Forest Whitaker plays the central character Cecil Gaines and gives a very  balanced, if quiet, performance of a man devoted to service, even at the expense of his family. It is certainly a good performance of  a man who is exceptionally grateful for his lot in life, and  is completely alienated from his son Louis (David Oyelowo, who I still remember as Danny from Spooks) who is heavily involved in the civil rights movement. 

But I think that it was Oprah Winfrey who gave the strongest performace as the mother and wife who had to cope with both. Yes both Whitaker and Oyelowo gave good performances, but Oprah gave the most memorable. It is easy to forget that after years of being a day time talkshow host that she is an academy award winning actress. 

But of course it is an exceptional cast and wonderful to see. James Marsdon, Alan Rickman and Robin Williams were great as JFK, Regan and Eisonhower respectively. Vanessa Redgrave retains a screen presence even now at 76 that stays with you despite being in the film for less than 2 minutes.
Cuba Gooding Jr and Lenny Kravitz were also very good. And this film is carried by the strength of these performances very well.

 The Butler  has gotten a fair bit of comment for its subject and its depiction of the almost mythologcal heroes of Amercias past, its presidents. It is hard for me as a non American to understand their devotion to their leaders. In my country our prime ministers are hardly the sort of  men and women that inspire that sort of loyalty or affection. 

The most notable is the depiction of Ronald Regan by Alan Rickman.

Michael Regan  the son of the president wrote in an article on Newsmax
"'Portraying Ronald Reagan as a racist because he was in favor of lifting economic sanctions against South Africa is simplistic and dishonest," 

Writer Danny Strong and director Lee Daniels have certianly taken a "creative" approach to this story. The Butler is inspired by the real life White House butler Eugene Allen. His story was captured by Wil Haygood five years ago in an article in the Washington Post.

But it is important to remember that unlike a film like RushThe Butler  is a work of fiction. An artistic vision inspired by Eugene Allen's career in the White House, to depict the struggles of the civil rights movement in America, not so long ago.

But in trying to depict one aspect of American history does it distort another? Was Regan as unsymapthetic to South Africa as he was depicted, or were their wider considerations. Another criticism has been the influence that the Gaines character has on the presidents he served under. But I am not so sure that I agree with that.

I think this year is an interesting year for Hollywood with films like  The Butler, and 12 years as a Slave show casing African American history and talent. These films are important and certainly controversial.

But more  importantly to you my reader, it is a good film to watch, and not just because of the subect.  The Butler  is entertaining, interesting and packed with good performances.

8 Monkeys

9 Nov 2013

About time

I hadn’t heard much about this film, but after a particularly poor choice on my behalf I had given my girl a golden ticket. This ticket is basically an IOU voucher to see any film she wanted, without complaint or wriggling from me. The ticket also included the added value of an apology and possibly a dance.  I cannot remember the particular cinematic breach of human rights that led to the golden ticket, but there you are. 

Richard Curtis is the king of the British romantic comedy.  With his awkward and very sympathetic characters stumbling and bumbling through their stories, Curtis usually manages to draw us in despite ourselves. He is a good writer and director, and while there is a regular familiarity about Curtis’s films, they remain enjoyable and entertaining.  

 His latest film is full of familiar faces like Rachel McAdams and the great Bill Nighy, who is usually reason enough to watch any film.  But it seemed fun, and with her choice confirmed my girl presented me with her  golden ticket and off we went armed with a orange choc chip to see what Mr Curtis had to offer.

Tim Lake  (Domhnall Gleeson) has a pretty reasonable life, he has a good and loving family who are well off, his best friend is a complete dick, and he is utterly socially awkward, especially around girls. After a typically disastrous new years eve party Tim's dad (Bill Nighy) reveals a fantastic secret. The men in the family can time travel.  Only backwards, and only within their own experience.  Tim decides he will use his power to to his best advantage. He is going to get a girl friend! After moving to London he meets Mary (Rachel McAdam) and tries to use his power to win her heart. 

Ensue time travelling hijinx.

Like Curtis' Love Actually, About Time is not a cliched story about an awkward young man eventually finding love. The story progresses far beyond Tim's quest for Marys heart, it is really about how we spend our time with the ones we love. Curtis (that clever bastard) keeps his romantic comedies fresh and funny, because he incorporates the recognisable with the eccentric and ludicrous. 
His characters are charming, interesting, useless but still human. Unlike the sometimes perfect characters we see in Hollywood, Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams (who seems to be addicted to men who can time travel) are convincing as the central characters. Bill Nighy is wonderful as Tim's dad, and easily my favourite character. But I want to mention Richard Cordery who played Uncle D. It is hard to describe his performance, but it was highly memorable. 

If you liked  The Boat that Rocked, Love Actually  or Death at a Funeral  I think you will really enjoy this film. It is a funny entertianing and thoughful film and an excellent choice for a date night. 

Seven and a half Monkeys

P.S. bring tissues.