Doctor Who (2005) s01e05 – World War Three

Digital video in the mid-aughts was still very rough. Around the time World War Three came out, some of the best DV cinematography wasn’t being done in film or television but in art and technical schools, as creatives were figuring out how to best light for the medium.

In other words, I understand why cinematographer Ernest Vincze shoots such an ugly hour of television. I don’t understand Keith Boak’s direction. Like, seriously, an out of focus foreground or background character in crappy DV… But I do get Vincze’s limitations.

The episode is full of them. The aliens go from disquieting giant suits to terrible CGI. You can even see the models reused in different effects shots. Vincze doesn’t even have the budget—or, let’s just say it, ability—to light the composites well. World War Three takes a big swing and a big miss as far as the visuals.

The story’s not much better. Christopher Eccleston resolves the previous episode’s cliffhanger quite perfunctorily and then there’s a lot of chasing—there are aliens chasing Eccleston, aliens chasing Bille Piper and Penelope Wilton (who almost makes the episode worth it), and aliens chasing Piper’s mum, Camille Coduri. Sadly, Coduri teams up with Noel Clarke and they work remotely to help Eccleston save the world.

Coduri’s not great. Her character’s bad but she’s also not great. Clarke’s real bad. So having Coduri around him the whole episode doesn’t help. Though the terrible subplot about Coduri wanting Eccleston to assure her Piper is safe as his companion is all on Coduri. And writer Russell T. Davies. It’s not quite a “Martha” moment but it’s in the same vending machine. Davies’s resolution to the dilemma is an eye roller.

The episode hinges on various deuses ex machina to get to its conclusion, which is sort of an extension of the first episode. It’s kind of a real stinker, thanks primarily to Boak and Clarke; Corduri is collateral damage.

The ending, which resets the stakes to where they were before the two-parter with a little change—oh, also—we find out Piper’s phone accepts incoming calls, which means the entirely twelve months she was missing, neither Corduri or Clarke tried calling her. Like… what.

Anyway. The ending threatens to make things worse, then returns them to the status quo.

I really hope Boak takes next episode off. I can’t handle any more Boak right now.

The Man with Two Brains (1983, Carl Reiner)

The Man with Two Brains does not age well. It’s a case study in not aging well, even more so because when the three writers—director Reiner, star Steve Martin, and George Gipe—can’t figure out how to do an ending so they just do an extended fat joke… well, it’s hard to continuing giving the film a pass. Not after a racial epithets joke, which the film doesn’t even realize is lazy.

Because it does recognize its easy jokes. There are a lot of easy, easy, easy jokes Brains wants to get away with and it usually is able to do it thanks to Martin or co-star Kathleen Turner, but the finale doesn’t use anyone well. In fact, it’s a call back to a completely different section of the film they probably don’t want to be recalling.

The movie’s got a really peculiar structure. The first act is about Martin falling for evil gold digger Turner (not knowing she’s an evil gold digger) and her refusing to consummate the relationship. So boss Peter Hobbs (who’s pleasantly sturdy and game for even the fail jokes) sends Martin off to Europe for a conference; a little continental seduction and so on.

In Europe, Martin meets mad scientist David Warner, who’s—oh, right. Martin’s the world’s premier brain surgeon. Anyway. He meets Warner, who’s a mad scientist who wants to transplant brains he’s been keeping alive thanks to hydroxychloroquine or something. Warner’s oddly disappointing in the film. I was expecting something from him and he never does anything. The film’s got problems with the supporting characters though; Warner’s butler, Paul Benedict, gets more personality than Warner in fewer scenes with less exposition. Reiner’s direction is… not great. He and Martin (and Gipe) are trying a lot of different things, some things are a lot less successful than others.

And even the big successes are often qualified. Like when Martin is prowling the streets to find a woman to murder so his soul mate—a disembodied brain voiced by Sissy Spacek—can find a new home. It’s all very complicated, with the brain stuff being Martin finally getting free of animate costars and getting to do his wild and crazy guy thing in the spotlight. It’s better when he does it opposite other cast, specifically Turner, who frequently can’t hold her femme fatale. Martin so funny she’s laughing. It’s brings Turner almost too much personality.

Back to that successful sequence—Martin lurking the streets of Vienna, looking for a woman to murder. All of a sudden the backlot shooting starts to work—Reiner and cinematographer Michael Chapman(!) shoot Two Brains like they’re trying to figure out how to not make it look like a sitcom but end up making it look more like one because of how they compensate. Like Joel Goldsmith’s ludicrously inappropriate synth score; it ups the zany so you don’t think too much about Martin’s premeditated murder scene and so on, but it’s also terrible. And doesn’t help the scene. Ever. In fact, it’s always actively hurting it.

Overall, Two Brains doesn’t have the pieces to succeed. The story’s not there. The plotting isn’t there. The pacing’s there. The direction’s not there. Martin and Turner do an excellent job doing absurd caricatures (at best, Martin does just mug occasionally), but it’s like no one’s curating the gags or even taking note of their successes. It’s got its ambitions just no idea when they realize.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Reiner; written by Reiner, Steve Martin, and George Gipe; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Bud Molin; music by Joel Goldsmith; production designer, Mark W. Mansbridge and Polly Platt; produced by William E. McEuen and David V. Picker; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steve Martin (Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr), Kathleen Turner (Dolores Benedict), Sissy Spacek (Anne Uumellmahaye), David Warner (Dr. Alfred Necessiter), Peter Hobbs (Dr. Brandon), Randi Brooks (Fran), and Paul Benedict (Butler).


Doctor Who (2005) s01e04 – Aliens of London

Director Keith Boak is back and it’s obvious from go some of the problem with Boak-directed episodes is Boak’s a bad director. Some of the problems are budgetary, but Boak and cinematographer Ernest Vincze even make the non-effects stuff look like bad digital video. There’s an anti-suspense suspense sequence involving sympathetic coroner Naoko Mori, who finds herself trapped in the morgue with an alien. Vincze throws all these goofy lights at her to cover for Boak’s complete inability to direct the sequence.

The episode starts with Christoper Eccleston bringing Billie Piper back to “the present” (meaning Piper’s present) so she can check in with mum Camille Coduri. We immediately discover last episode wasn’t a fluke and Eccleston really can’t control when the TARDIS jumps in time. Later in the episode he does a fairly precise teleportation, so the problem seems to be fourth dimensional, not first through third. It’s kind of obnoxious watching them goof off with the absurdly silly navigation system on the TARDIS—has it been updated since 1963. Is it a series trope? Like the Enterprise crew “spinning” 360 degrees?

Eccleston gets Piper home a year late, after Coduri has given up hope for her safe return and after Piper’s boyfriend, the just-as-charmless-as-last-time Noel Clarke, has been a suspect in her disappearance. Cue drama. Cue more drama once Coduri finds out about Eccleston.

But Piper and Coduri having a showdown isn’t the episode, the episode is an alien spacecraft crash-landing into the Thames. The government response involves a missing Prime Minister, an inquisitive Penelope Wilton (who makes the episode given how bad everything else works), and a flatulent replacement PM, David Verrey. In fact, most of the melodrama hinges on… fart jokes. Lots and lots of fart jokes.

Really bad CG aliens eventually show up and everyone’s in danger. Cue cliffhanger.

It’s occasionally well-acted and Wilton’s a delight, but the bad direction and photography, Clarke being an energy vampire, and so on….

It’s needlessly tiring.

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (2020, Tony Tilse)

At no point does Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears introduce viewer unfamiliar with star Essie Davis’s television show, to which this film’s a sequel, “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” The movie opens with an action sequence setting up Davis as an exquisitely dressed combination of Indiana Jones and James Bond. The action—a title card tells us—starts in 1929 Palestine, where the British are mucking things up for the native people… Crypt of Tears is anti-British Imperialism… but from an Australian bent.

Davis rescues Izabella Yena, who’s in British jail for snooping around the destruction of her village ten years before. During the rescue sequence, Davis evades police in a rooftop chance and has a bunch of costume changes. It’s overindulgent and flamboyant but enthusiastic. It’s fun to watch Davis get to do an exaggerated character schtick thanks to the bigger movie budget.

Until they get to the CGI train sequence and it’s clear while Crypt of Tears might have a “movie budget,” it doesn’t have anywhere near a big enough one. The film tries and tries with the desert visuals, which does showcase Margot Wilson’s costuming, albeit not so much in the digital extreme long shots, but they’re always just there. Production designer Robbie Perkins does well, so at least Tears always looks good.

Until the end, which is more cinematographer Roger Lanser and director Tilse’s fault.

Anyway. After Yena’s rescue, the movie goes through some plot hoops to bring series love interest and Davis sidekick Nathan Page to England. There’s a single scene in Australia with the TV show’s cast, but since the movie’s not really a direct sequel to the series… they’re all just doing forced cameos. The movie’s not going to involve the TV cast (save Page, and him in very supporting role), though it’s fun seeing Miriam Margolyes if you’re a TV fan.

Once Davis and Page are reunited, there’s a laborious setup with the… residents of the house where Davis is staying in England. It’s as exciting as it sounds, as Tears becomes a traditional location-bound mystery, kind of a protracted, but somewhat suspect limited Agatha Christie.

Somehow the movie, with its TV show-experienced director and screenwriter (Deb Cox), manages to avoid all the show’s familiar tropes and go instead with bland mystery movie ones. Page being background would be understandable if they were spotlighting Davis as an action hero, but they don’t. We get a bunch with the suspects, who are extremely flat.

Maybe because they’re shooting Australia for England? Rupert Penry-Jones is the single Brit in the cast. Or is it just the suspects aren’t movie dynamic enough? Yena seems like she’s going to have a very obvious woman’s empowerment arc with Davis as her mentor but then she’s just… around. The movie doesn’t do anything with her. There aren’t any subplots for the suspects, if any questions do get raised outside the main plot, they don’t get answered.

The mystery is… blah.

To someone unfamiliar with the show, Tears is just going to be a confusing and often very charming—it’s not like Davis isn’t great or Page isn’t adorable—not great period mystery with TV movie CGI special effects (think CW, not HBO), but as a “big screen” effort from the show creators… it’s a disappointment. It’s like they targeted a very specific audience and gave them something intended for the general audience they decided to exclude.

Also most frustrating is how the fumble is probably going to kill any sequel possibilities. More Davis and Page isn’t going to ever be a bad thing, you just wish it had been a good thing in Tears.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Tilse; screenplay by Deb Cox, based on characters created by Kerry Greenwood; director of photography, Roger Lanser; edited by Stephen Evans; music by Greg Walker; production designer, Robbie Perkins; costume designer, Margot Wilson; produced by Fiona Eagger and Lucy Maclaren; released by Roadshow Films.

Starring Essie Davis (Phryne Fisher), Nathan Page (Detective Inspector Jack Robinson), Rupert Penry-Jones (First Lieutenant Jonathon Lofthouse), Izabella Yena (Shirin Abbas), Ian Bliss (Professor Linnaeus), Daniel Lapaine (Lord Lofthouse), Jacqueline McKenzie (Lady Eleanor Lofthouse), Kal Naga (Sheikh Kahlil Abbas), John Waters (Vincent Montague), John Stanton (Crippins), and Miriam Margolyes (Prudence Stanley).


Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e08 – Death Do Us Part

I didn’t realize until five episodes into Season Three there were only eight episodes this season. I knew it was the final season, but I didn’t realize it was a short final season. Director Daina Reid handles the series finale with aplomb; there’s a list of things the show seems like it’s going to get done in the last episode and then the list of things we hope it’ll get done. Writer Kris Wyld creates a lot of tension between the two, with Ashleigh Cummings and Hugo Johnstone-Burt’s nuptials seemingly the only positive guaranteed element. Not because it’s really part of the plot, just because… well, just because.

But the other inevitability is villain Colin Moody. His vendetta against Essie Davis’s no account, albeit royalty and wealthy father, Pip Miller, is drawing a lot of blood and quite viciously. Moody’s physically imposing, but he has this standing energy about him. Moody’s dangerous in every frame in every scene, even when he’s hanging out with an old friend. Like, sincere friend. It’s incredible what the show’s able to get away with as far as performance sincerity when the viewer’s got more of the facts to Moody’s violence.

There’s also a regular mystery—with Moody somehow involved—with a noted scientist (David James), who plays a character named Tode but it’s pronounced toad so the whole episode is the cast talking about Professor Toad. It’s very Wind in the Willows. Anyway. He gets killed off in some strange way by someone, possibly even local Catholic priest, Dennis Coard, which would be one hell of a twist, wouldn’t it?

Cummings is beside herself—even with everyone in danger, including herself—at the idea of now revealed to be un-Christian to scientists Coard being the one to marry her. It’s very cute. There’s only so much time for Cummings this episode and she does get a very nice finish to her series arc, so the cute little moments are nice to have.

The episode’s so full there’s no time for Miriam Margoyles and Tammy Macintosh didn’t get her episode this season. Having her around more was okay but not a substitute. Ruby Rees never made it back, leaving Jane the either.

As for Essie Davis and Nathan Page… how do the Honorable Phryne Fisher and Inspector Jack Robinson leave things? As successfully as they can. Wyld finds a certain way of framing things to get it done. Maybe not the hoped for, but better than the good enough. I’m sitting here with a smile thinking about it.

It’d be preferable to have more “Miss Fisher’s,” but as is… it’s just right. Enough.

Legends of Tomorrow (2016) s05e14 – The One Where We’re Trapped on TV

I’m not going back to count, but I feel like at least half this season of “Legends” is them getting knocked off track for an episode then getting back on track by the end. It’s fine, there have been some great episodes, but there’s no momentum on the main plot.

So while this episode is amusing—the Legends are trapped in TV shows with Caity Lotz doing a bad William Shatner impression for a while (with Jes Macallan doing a Spock), Nick Zano doing a riff on Joey from “Friends,” and Matt Ryan playing Mr. Carson from “Downton”—it’s definitely just a gimmick. It’s well-produced though maybe not well-executed. But it’s also hard to say for sure because the trip through reruns isn’t even the biggest deal in the episode—real Zari (Tala Ashe) comes back. So does Ramona Young.

The episode opens in a dystopia where the Fates have retaken control and turned it into a “1984”-type thing where all you do is work, make mush, watch TV. Young is the protagonist for this section, figuring out things are wrong on her favorite shows as Ashe pops out of the totem and possesses new Zari who’s living in the “Friends” show. Sounds complicated, but plays out real simple. The show almost immediately works itself into a pickle with old Zari, because Ashe is so good. So good. Even when she reunites with Zano, who is still in his “Friends” mode. Also, is “Legends” correct, is “Friends” responsible for the growth of “Bro” culture?

Anyway.

In the real world, Young hooks up with Adam Tsekhman, who also knows something’s wrong, and they go to the TV studio to try to confront the TV actors (not knowing what the Legends are yet). There, they discover a complicated, almost steampunk setup plugging life threads into a computer and auto-generating the TV shows. Turns out Maisie Richardson-Sellers had to get creative to keep her teammates alive.

So will the team get back together and save the world? Going to be a pretty dreary season finale next episode if they don’t….

There are some good jokes, there are some eh jokes; there’s a lot of good acting from Ashe, Ryan, and Olivia Swann in particular.

The show moves a bunch of pieces around to setup the characters who’ve returned and those who haven’t, but there’s no sense what the final battle is going to look like… instead, I’m just hoping some of the developments are permanent for next season because there’s a lot of potential.

Also—amazing makeup and costumes this episode. It’s a great idea, just awkwardly executed.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e03 – The Unquiet Dead

So the time and space machine is imprecise? Is that a “Doctor Who” thing? They bumble through the time? Because this episode is supposed to be Billie Piper getting to see nineteenth century Christmas in Naples or someplace but instead they end up in Cardiff (Cardiff gets a lot of deriding this episode); so can Christopher Eccleston just not fly the TARDIS?

Because the viewer already knows they’re not going to Naples because the zombies are in Cardiff. This episode’s about Charles Dickens (a wonderful Simon Callow) getting his proverbial groove back thanks to Eccleston trying to stop a bunch of zombies from doing their thing, as they reincarnate in a funeral parlor run by Alan David and Eve Myles.

There’s a forced twisty plot—writer Mark Gatiss does a low fine job but it’s all about the actors so it doesn’t matter—and nice direction from Euros Lyn. Piper bonds with nineteenth century Myles, who can’t imagine being a lady of the future and whatnot. Myles is great. She can’t help but be overshadowed by Callow, who’s so good as Charles Dickens, Zombie Hunter, they should’ve given him a spin-off.

The problem with the episode’s the finish, when Eccleston and company don’t seem to realize they’re at fault for all the tragedy. Their bad advice. Though it seems much more like Gatiss’s fault.

We get to hear some more about both Piper and Eccleston’s past—she’s got a “big bad wolf” in her personal history (Myles is psychic, which the episode uses well as it builds to a plot point) and Ecclestone’s alien race, The Time Lords, apparently hurt some noncombatants in the Time War, or something.

Piper gets to show some agency but it’s not well-written agency, so it’s a false step.

The first half is much better than the second, though Callow makes it more than worthwhile. Myles is still good, just not good enough—given the material—to hold the thing up. Callow does, however. Overall, it’s fine, if a little pat.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e02 – The End of the World

This episode is so much better than the previous one. So much better. And the only difference, besides setting and it not introducing a new lead character (Billie Piper), is a different director (Euros Lyn). Or maybe writer Russell T. Davies just had much better ideas for this one? Though the special effects are also “better,” quotation marks because it’s a bunch of exterior space shots, which don’t involve the main characters. It’s just pragmatic exposition shots of the sun about to Krypton Earth.

The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) has brought Piper to the end of the time, at least as far as time goes for planet Earth; they’re going to watch its destruction some five billion years in the future. It’s a seemingly budgetary choice, with Eccleston teasing Piper with possible stops in the future—but she never gets to get out of the TARDIS (okay, weird thing about “Doctor Who,” the absurd jargon is catchy). Instead, they go way way into the future so they don’t need to do exteriors and instead the action takes place on this spaceship—viewing platform—where a bunch of rich future people (people meaning aliens) have paid to watch the Earth get zapped by an adjusting sun. There’s a lot of exposition about how the future works, but it’s mostly just blather, some of it amusing, some of it diverting, all of it usually amiably delivered by Eccleston.

Eccleston’s a lot better this episode—Piper’s the main improvement, acting-wise, as she goes from a very low middling to fantastic as the weight of the reality she’s experiencing hits her. She’s five billion years in the future. She’s meeting all these alien races—Eccleston calls her a racist in response to her pointing out he had the TARDIS change her brain chemistry to allow her to understand alien languages, so it’s good to see the Doctor’s a man—and the Earth is about to die. Even though everyone she knows is five billion years dead. Though Eccleston does outfit her phone with a new SIM card (taking her off AT&T?), allowing her to call through time and space and talk to mum Camille Coduri.

The main plot, involving sabotage, is rather nicely executed and quite winding. Eccleston gets a love interest—an excellent Yasmin Bannerman—and Piper makes her first alien friend, Beccy Armory, and her first future human enemy, Zoë Wanamaker.

It’s really quite good. If they were all like this episode, I’d be closer to understanding the “Who” enthusiasm.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e07 – Game, Set & Murder

Given it’s the penultimate episode, I don’t feel too bad about generally picking the murder from the opening scenes. There are just certain “Miss Fisher’s” tropes in play—it’s episode thirty-three overall—and there are certain things the show’s never done and if it’s going to do them, now’s the time.

And I didn’t have any predictions on motive or whatnot. It was just… a sense of how things were going to go.

Essie Davis is throwing a tennis tournament at (away) Aunt Prudence’s estate, hosting old friend Jeremy Lindsay Taylor and his new wife, Lauren Williams. Williams is one of the best tennis players in the country, second only to American Ella Scott Lynch (who’s not American but better than usual with the Aussies playing Americans on the show). Ashleigh Cummings is a big fan of Williams, which leads to some fun awkward scenes.

But another thing the show finally gets around to addressing is whether or not Davis has an actual fears. It finds one for her in the murder method, leading to some more fantastic scenes for Nathan Page and Davis. Speaking of Page and Davis, there’s a really nice subplot about his support of her professionally when they get in trouble thanks to a lurking paparazzi (Fletcher Humphrys). Page also goes out in support for finally back Hugo Johnstone-Burt—was he busy during filming this season or something—as Johnstone-Burt and Cummings get to prepare for their impending nuptials with a little more security.

It’s a complicated plot involving mistaken victim targeting, some women’s rights issues—Australia doesn’t pay for women’s international sports travel but does pay for the men’s—old romances, and so on. There’s also Scott Lynch coming on to Page with an intensity to do rival Davis.

Elizabeth Coleman’s script is thorough and careful—the mystery and red herrings all get unpacked with just the right amount of detail—and the finish is sufficiently complicated for the characters involved. Really good supporting performance from Williams.

And Davis and Page finale is quite cute.

Dead to Me (2019) s02e10 – Where Do We Go From Here

How’s “Dead to Me” going to finish up its second season? How’s it going to resolve all the dangerous situations its characters have put themselves in? With one deus ex machina after another. One could say it’s lazy, but given how hard the show tried to be more than an easy black comedy the first season, it’s kind of nice for it to acknowledge it’s not going to clear any high bars.

And this episode does give cop Diana Maria Riva some good material. It really does. Does it make up for her basically being a lazy Latinx the first season? No. And the second season also just has Brandon Scott around to get racist shit from Jere Burns so its inclusivity is… well, it’s actually not suspect because you wouldn’t expect anything different. So Riva getting good material is a surprise.

She’s helping Christina Applegate tie up her arc, which is one or two of the deuses ex; there’s no point in counting them. Much like the earlier Tell-Tale Heart, you get the feeling “Dead to Me” would be lucky if had heard of deus ex machina from anything but a video game.

Everything gets wrapped up in a nice bow, even after things should get more complicated—including the finale, which sets up another season but also doesn’t have a cliffhanger. It could wrap up in a dark but accurate bow, but doesn’t—though based on the shot and the audio… it’s possible they were at least thinking about it. Maybe “Dead to Me” got saved in post, who knows.

There’s a shot or two of Telma Hopkins, who’s back for one of the strands in the bow wrap-up, and Valerie Mahaffey puts in an appearance for one of the deus ex machinas. Sadly Suzy Nakamura has a cameo too. And gets mocked. Because “Dead to Me” goes for cheap laughs.

The show ends as a full-on comedy, so if there is another season and they keep with it… it’ll probably be better? Like, Applegate and Cardellini are great as wine mom Kate & Allie or whatever. The dramatics… not so much.

Hopefully annoying teenage son Sam McCarthy will be off to college by then.

But until then… there are probably better James Marsden and Natalie Morales performances out there to watch. Ones in much better productions.

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