Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hammer To Fall: Arturo vs. Thor!

It's going to be tough to really judge Thor until Marvel completes the franchise it's been building over the past few years - and that won't happen until we get through both Captain America: The First Avenger and, of course, the whole Avengers enchilada, mostly because this is as much a set-up piece as its' own story, something made very clear by the scenes both right before and right after the credits roll.

What we do get prior to that, though, isn't too shabby, and Thor succeeds in carving out its' own story. It's not as flashy as Iron Man and, thank goodness, not as self-indulgent as Iron Man 2, but most of the time, director Kenneth Branagh and the trio of writers behind the screenplay give just enough time to the title character, a man stuck between two worlds by his own forceful hand.


One key similarity, though, between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the aforementioned Tony Stark, is that they're both Alpha Males at heart who are forced to learn how to dial that back - more bluntly, they have to stop being jackasses long enough to fully realize their potential.

But whereas Stark learns his lesson (sorta) trapped in the relative isolation of a cave, Thor has his power and rank stripped by a mournful father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, getting his Jor-El on) and is banished not just out of Asgard, but to ... New Mexico.

Like many an overconfident jock before him, Hemsworth's Thor goes from being the Golden Boy in his small community to literally being a man with no (accepted) name, a very small fish in a bigger "realm." The early scenes of Thor getting knocked unconscious drive Odin's point home as much as his ill-advised raid on the Frost Giants: without his privilege or his otherworldly gift, Thor is ill-equipped to handle life on its' own terms. At least, not without help.

Luckily for Thor, such help does arrive, in the form of Jane Foster, a scientist who stumbles onto - well, more like runs into him during his arrival. As Foster, Natalie Portman seems to do nothing but be stressing out most of the time. She's not bad at it, but it's never quite made clear why she's interested in the big blond, besides his pecs.

Oddly enough, the viewer gets to see more of Thor's gradual smartening-up than does the love interest. Give Hemsworth credit for conveying the appropriate importance to Thor's crucial encounters with both Jane's protective co-worker Erik ("I've seen how she looks at you") and his sibling Loki. When Thor is called upon to really become a hero, the moment is authentic. But most of his actual interaction with Jane involves vaguely-cheesy flirtations. Here's to hoping their relationship is really fleshed out over the course of future films.

Speaking of Loki, give the writers and Branagh credit for letting Tom Hiddleston ride this role across the Rainbow Bridge and beyond. The character's growth is just as steady as Thor's, but Hiddleston accomplishes his in an appropriately subtle fashion for the Trickster of Asgard. His Loki is all knowing looks and proper things to say, and, we come to find out, a set of motives more plausible than your average villain's.

So even if the whole isn't quite as much as the sum of its' parts, Thor manages to create interest for an eventual sequel. That is, unless it's rendered anti-climactic after the Avengers assemble.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ghost Of 'Fan Entitlement': Arturo vs. Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol!

The prevailing trend so far in Steven Moffat's stewardship of Doctor Who has been to write the Big Episodes - Matt Smith's debut, the Season Five finale - at a break-neck pace, with Smith's Eleventh Doctor racing around until he stumbles into a solution. This year's Christmas special doesn't change that, as Smith at times threatens to out-hyper even the somewhat manic David Tennant. It's not a bad episode, but even Smith's charm and some game performances can't quite cover up some flaws - some character-driven, some pointing to a bigger problem.


But let's start with the positive. The genius of the episode was Eleven's decision to use "A Christmas Carol" as the basis for what amounts to a con - literally, convincing the miserly Kazran Sardick to re-rig his atmospheric control device so as to allow Rory and Amy's honeymoon cruise ship to land safely on the surface of ... whatever Sardick's planet is called.

(Come to think of it, why a planet presumably beyond our solar system would not only have inhabitants who dress and act like Victorian-era Londoners but airborne fish and sharks that look just like the ones you find on ours is never even hinted at. But we're trying to stay positive here.)

As the elder Sardick - both of them, in fact, as he also plays Kazran's domineering father - Michael Gambon delivers the kind of oomph you'd want of a Serious Actor moonlighting on this kind of show. As it turns out, The Doctor's scheme goes awry; his feel-good machinations lead the teenage Sardick (Danny Horn, an unsung standout as the pivot-point of this subplot) to fall for the terminally-ill Abigail (opera singer Katherine Jenkins). (What's wrong with Abigail? Why doesn't The Doctor even attempt to cure her? Wait, no, Positive!)

Abigail, you see, is cryogenically held as a lien on an undisclosed debt her family owes Sardick's father. How much do they owe? It must be somewhere in Wesley Snipes territory, as, rather than help the family raise up the funds to free her, The Doctor opts to chaperone Teen Kazran on a yearly series of Date Nights with Abi. When she 'fesses up that her time is running out, Kaz's heart shrinks all over again, forcing Eleven into a singularly troubling last-ditch effort. And here's where my good cheer toward the episode gets tempered.

As the older Kazran, Gambon perfectly sells the aftermath of that heartache, even if the fact that it numbs his character to the potential deaths of hundreds of people (and Amy and Rory!) steers him well south of "regretful old man" into "vengeful bastard" territory. To finally sway him, The Doctor plays the Christmas Future card - but against his childhood self, bringing Kiddie Kaz into the here and now to face the old man he will grow up to be. The shock for both Kazrans is palpable, and again, all credit is due to both Gambon and Laurence Belcher as his youngest self for capturing the moment.

But for fans, even New Whovians, there's also this to consider: in arranging the meeting, The Doctor willingly breaks one of his own rules; not only has he inserted himself into a timeline after becoming a part of events, but the meeting of the two Kazrans violates the Blinovich Limitation Effect - in effect, creating a paradox.

It must be said that the BLE isn't just some old device from the original series; it's been referenced repeatedly since Russell T. Davies revived Who five years ago. One of the first centerpiece episodes in the series' renaissance, "Father's Day," dealt with what can happen when you mess with your own timeline, best of intentions be damned. As recently as this past season in "The Hungry Earth," Eleven tells Amy and Rory not to get too close to their future selves.

At this point I want to say, again: I enjoyed "A Christmas Carol." But that doesn't mean the Kazran encounter doesn't bug me just a little. Nor should it mean that it can't. But even a little bit of a hand-wave - for example, Eleven saying something like, "I really shouldn't do this, but ..." - would've been it for me. After all, in last season's finale, Amy's younger and present-day selves met, but because the timelines around Earth had deteriorated by that point, it made "sense." (Although I also can't blame the inimitable Matt Bremner for dubbing "The Big Bang" CIRCULAR LOGIC - WE HAS IT!)

What's more disappointing than that plot point, though, is the response to bringing it up: "It's Christmas" or some variant of, "OMFG YOU'RE WRONG AND BAD FOR TALKING ABOUT IT." At some point in fandom, paying attention to things like continuity became something to be penalized for.

It'd be one thing for Steven Moffat to say, "It's just a show" (more on that in a bit) but when fans start demonizing each other as Comic Book Store Guys for things that even hint at critical analysis, that's a more-slippery slope. What's often derided as "entitlement" is really closer to investment: we watch or download shows like Doctor Who because we enjoy them, but asking that they play fair by their universe's own rules, or acknowledge when they don't, isn't automatically a fit of capriciousness. It's a recognition that attention to details of the past - like, say, Eleven hamming it up in a long scarf - can help elevate a series, and the lack thereof is often a symptom of bigger problems. Anybody who watched Heroes spiral into self-parody can tell you about that.

So it's perfectly possible that the Kazran Effect won't be reflected upon Doctor Who's upcoming sixth season. But it's not unreasonable to feel just a tingle of wearyness. "Time Can Be Rewritten" was meant as a threat during the Davies era, but it seems to have become a mantra for Moffat. If he's not too careful, that shark The Doctor and friends tamed Christmas Day might be the one they jump over later.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Blonde: One Year Later


What happens next, I'm proud of: I walk up to them and say, calmly, "Excuse me." She's got the balls to be surprised to see me. I hand her back her mixtape, and the cheap-ass vodka, and say, "Goodbye." And I walk away - first to settle our tab and say goodbye to @Soulcamp at the bar, and then up the 25+ blocks to my brothers Jason and Kev-Fu's apartment, where I'd have two Whiskey & Cokes to settle me down. As I'm leaving the parking lot, she texts me: "meant no harm." I take 10 seconds for my reply: Sure you didn't.

There was actually an epilogue to this: for a month or two after this, she'd send me text messages, maybe not daily, but every other day: the tone would vary from vaguely annoyed ("Come on, Art") to vaguely friendly ("Hey, how's it goin'?"). Finally, she decided to call me one afternoon. After another few seconds of vagueness, I just let her have it.

"I thought I said goodbye," I told her. Several awkward seconds later - on her part - she hung up. The weird thing about the moment was the feeling of something leaving me. I felt ... lighter. That feeling hasn't entirely gone away since.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, outside a favorite coffee haunt of mine, when I hear a slight "Oh my God" from my left. I can't tell you if I actually heard it or I just felt like somebody was or should have been saying it, but there she was. I excused myself from my friends and walked up to her.

"I thought I sensed a disturbance in The Force," I said. We walked around the corner and finally, she let me have it.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I acted like a cad." And I thanked her, sincerely.

In the days since, she's gone back to sending vague texts ("How's yr day?") but we haven't met up again. In a perverse way, I wonder if the psychology of modern "dating" is actually protecting me: if I express interest in grabbing coffee or something, she'll back off, and not contact me for a few days. Then the cycle, such as it is, begins again.

But it's more likely she doesn't really care. And maybe I shouldn't, either.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ask Art Anything #1

In an effort to keep things lively around here, I signed up for Formspring, which will pass questions along to be answered both here and on my twitter account. Here goes nothing ...

What music are you listening to today?

As usual, it's a hodge-podge of stuff, but if you look on my page, "The Metro," by Berlin, is the most recent track.

Ask me anything

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 A.D.: Arturo vs. Doctor Who: The End Of Time!


Everybody knew The End Of Time was all about one thing: the final moments of David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor - a perfect 10, for this new (re)generation of Whovians. Much like Ten, it's hard to imagine many of us thought about a season where he wouldn't be guiding some well-meaning sap, and us, through time and space. Life After David? Even Inigo Montoya would have called it Inconceivable even a year ago.

But, again, much like this Doctor, we've had a teeth-gnashing few months to prepare for the inevitable. The end of his Song had been signed and sealed. All we could hope for was a fittingly grand delivery. And Tennant was more than up to the task. The problem was, show-runner Russell T. Davies - penning his own swansong as well as Tennant's - came up way too short in swinging for the fences one last time.

Most of the two hours preceding Tennant's final moments in the TARDIS revolved around The Doctor seemingly facing three different threats, but the sum of his three adversaries was decidedly less than each of the parts: The creepy neo-futurist Naismith family stuck out like Week 6 baddies in over their depth, solely introduced so they could introduce the latest thingaMacguffin. And for all the bluster and gravitas Timothy Dalton provided as Chancellor PalpatineLord President Rassilon, the emergence of a war-crazed, nihilistic batch of Time Lords was good for nothing more than a two-minute scare. After the events of The Stolen Earth, it was more surprising the average Londoner didn't see Gallifrey hovering above, shrug and huff off complaining about why it's always Saturday when the nutters come out.

In reality, the Doctor's last dance partner was, fittingly, John Simm's Master, resurrected by a horribly disposable set of worshippers as a binge-eating, energy-blasting cross between Goku and Agent Smith, particularly when he uses the Macguffin Ray to go John Malkovich across the whole planet.

"What would I be without you?" Ten asks the Master at one point, in one of the little moments they share just before each shuffles off. And it's in those moments where the story, such as it is, stops to breathe and feels more natural as a result. Those bits of humanity also resurface in the conversations between The Doctor and good old Wilfred Mott, where the Doc finally releases the guilt that's been building at least since The Waters Of Mars. He also tells Wilf, and us, why the thought of this death rattles him so, when it would likely lead to another Regeneration, anyway.

"Even if I change, it feels like dying," Ten sniffs, fighting his sadness and anger at once. "Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I'm dead." When the mysterious Four Knocks signalling his death finally come, at the hands of a trapped Wilf, the Doctor actually hesitates before coming to the rescue, complaining, "I can do SO MUCH MORE!"

And it's those moments which finally set up the end of his road, making the rest of the story's misfires and unanswered questions - who was the woman coming to Wilfred? Where did the Master and the Time Lords end up? How could Donna's mental block survive this whole thing? etc. - tolerable, if nothing else.

Because for all that went wrong with this story, and with this Doctor, the heart just kept shining through. This Doctor loved life seemingly more than all his other incarnations, making his final few words truly heart-breaking. But time must move on, even if Time Lords don't, and here comes a new era, bounding in with big hair, a burning TARDIS and a "GERONIMO!" ...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Turn Wrong: Arturo vs. Doctor Who: The Waters Of Mars!


There's a moment in "The Waters Of Mars" where we see The Tenth Doctor doing his ... well, his Thing: working another last-ditch plan that he knows is going to save everyone, and you know it's going to save everyone, and so does the person he's rescuing.

But what makes this episode work is that, even as we see the Doc at his most life-affirming, his most ambitious moment yet, both you and the rescuee - in this case, the formidable Capt. Adelaide Brooke - know that he is absolutely wrong.

As we learn nearly immediately upon Ten's arrival on the Red Planet, the case of Capt. Brooke and her crew represents, like Pompeii did, a "fixed point" in time, which has come to be short-hand for an awful thing that Must Happen. Brooke's death, he confesses, is the impetus for all tomorrow's star treks: "Your death creates history," he tells Adelaide, who must realize she spent her whole life building up to its' end.

Once again, The Doctor isn't there to save anyone, merely to bear witness. And this time, the Doctor - a truly Lonely God, without a Companion to buoy him or his fellow Time Lords to rein him in - cracks. Seemingly on the side of good, initially, as he gets Adelaide and some of her staff out of harm's way, but the slope is already slippery; as she chides him for breaking his own rules, his only response is a raised eyebrow and one word: "Tough."

If all this sounds like it's ignoring the baddie of the week or the rest of Adelaide's crook, well, it kinda is. They're not bad, as "mid-season" episode groups of characters go - the unnamed lifeform that picks off the crew is clever enough to up the ante as need be - but the episode turns on the final 10 minutes, when Ten goes off the rails and realizes it too late. The Cloister Bell is tolling for him. And this time, both he and you know the end is coming.

Top image courtesy of oneGemini Studios