It's only been one year (well, in our time) since the last, uplifting Doctor Who Christmas special — "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe" — and with the tragic death of the Ponds still weighing heavy on the Doctor's soul, we knew we were in for much different outing than the one that ended in human tears of joy. It was a great episode — filled with comedy, heart, fun familiar faces, much-welcome Doctor-isms, and a kick-ass twist — but of course, the biggest news this Christmas was the introduction of the new companion, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman).
Kudos to Steven Moffat for bringing Coleman onboard for "Asylum of the Daleks," as her performance in that episode was so scene-stealing that it probably softened the brutal impact of Amy and Rory's unfairly cruel fate. I loved the Ponds, but I'm ready to usher in the Age of Clara — though it was pretty sweet that a major focal point of this episode was a pond, eh?
Clara's first adventure has me immediately drawn to the character. She's already displayed the bravery of Amy and Rose without the cynicism of the former and the occasional helplessness of the later (Aside: Rose Tyler is my favorite companion, ever. Don't bite me.), as well as the heartwarming empathy of Donna Noble. She's plucky, bright, and undeniably bombshell — I mean, Karen Gillan was gorgeous too, but it will be interesting to see how Matt Smith does with a companion-slash-sort-of-romantic-interest. I mean, she checked out his ass!
A lot of people lambasted the Tennant/Tyler romance, but I personally loved it. Smith certainly doesn't have Tennant's classicly handsome looks, and he's always seemed a bit more "alien" (in a good way!) than his predecessor, so I'm ready to see him stretch his Who-chops by taking on a human sort-of-romance. But I digress. On to the (very funny!) show!
There were three other major introductions tonight — we saw a revamped opening credits sequence (complete with the Doctor's face, channeling the old series), met the newly renovated TARDIS, and (begrudgingly) faced the new and not at all improved Doctor, who had been in a state of grumpy mourning for some time. "He prefers isolation to the possibility of pain's return," the Silurian Madame Vastra explained to Clara.
Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and the Sontaran Commander Strax (who should just be in every episode, ever, because he's goddamn hilarious) had gathered to do the Doctor's job for him while he watched the world from above, refusing to interfere in its affairs. That is, of course, until Clara uttered the magic word: pond.
What is the pond, you ask? Why, of course it's a frozen one, that contains the soul of the former caretaker for the children of Captain Latmier. It couldn't be a Christmas special without some typical holiday fare, so this year's villain, naturally, was snow. Not just any snow — evil, intelligent snow voiced by Sir Ian McKellan.
This snow was fostered by the sinister Dr. Simeon, the proprietor of "The Great Intelligence Company," and it was being investigated by the Doctor's cohorts while he moped in the TARDIS. He went out for an evening stroll one night, and voilà — out popped barmaid Clara and an evil snowman, both at the same time. Their future as Doctor and companion was seemingly written in the stars, as after he dodged her and her questions, Vastra made it clear that this wasn't the first time that they had met.
The Doctor had been using creepy worm-things to erase her memory after each meeting, but it wasn't going to work this time — she managed to stay hot on his trail, and when they met again, a bunch of snowmen (who really channeled the titular villain from the 1996 horror classic Jack Frost, which should never be confused for the Michael Keaton movie of the same name) popped up. The Doctor realized that they were doing so because Clara's imagination willed it, so when she imagined them turning to water, to water they turned. The Doctor was a grump, but he wasn't cruel — he wouldn't delete her memory if it meant rendering her helpless to the snowmen's attacks.
Of course, this meant that Clara would secretly follow him to his new-and-improved invisible TARDIS in the sky. (Aside: WOW did they change things up in there.
And I love how her first words were "it's smaller on the outside.") She didn't get past the front door, but it was certainly enough to keep the lady interested. And when she woke up the next morning and went off to her day job — new caretaker for the children of Captain Latmier — we learned that Latmier's daughter, Francesca, had been having nightmares about the dead lady in the pond. Sir Ian McKellan had earlier said that the drowned woman and the dreaming child would bring about the snow-tack, and Clara already knew that imagination could make things real (she had seen Nightmare on Elm Street), so she wisely set off in search of the Doctor.
Which leads us to the aforementioned magic word: Vastra and Jenny administered their alien version of a lie-detector test, which consisted of asking Clara a bunch of questions and demanding a one-word answer. When she summed up her current problem with the word "pond" the Silurian's face lit up — she knew that that would be enough to snap the Doctor out of his funk.
He jumped out of the TARDIS and into Simeon's lair, where he discovered the giant snow globe housing Sir Ian McKellan's "The Intelligence." He then ran over to Latmier's house, where the old, cranky caretaker had risen from the pond, made completely out of ice. If the snow blowing in the air via Dr. Simeon's machine melded with the ice-lady, then an intelligent ice-army would be born, signaling the end of humanity as we know it. Dun dun dun.
Here's where things got really cool: It was fun, but a bit confusing, when Coleman was introduced as Oswin Oswald — a completely different person from the future — in "Asylum."
And throughout the episode, it was clear that their personalities were similar. When she accompanied the Doctor to the TARDIS to regroup, and asked if it had a kitchen for soufflés (the dish that Oswin kept dream-making throughout her episode), it became clear — we were dealing with a version of the same lady, here. So it wasn't a huge deal (for us, not the Doctor or her adopted family) when the ice lady showed up and pushed Clara to her imminent death. Clara/Oswin — she's our new Rory! But more on that later.
So, the Doctor saved the world. He realized that snow doesn't talk, dummy, so "The Intelligence" was just the sad child that Dr. Simeon once was. As a child Simeon spoke hateful, lonely words to his snowman, and this somehow resulted in a parasitic snow that fed off of this deranged man's ideas. So when Simeon was bit by the gross worm and lost decades of ideas, the snow was defeated.
...OR SO HE THOUGHT. Ian McKellan's voice came back and — like a mad scientist — was all, "Muahaha, you were wrong, now I control him," etc. etc. Then Dr. Simeon rose from the ground like Frankenstein's monster, now filled with the spirit of Ian McKellan. "Winter is coming!" he proclaimed, in what has to be a shout-out to Coleman's real-life-boyfriend's show, Game of Thrones. (Yup, Clara is dating Robb Stark. Let that one sink in, ladies.)
But winter didn't come, this time — instead, the snow turned to rain. Well, not rain — tears. "The only force on Earth that could drown the snow — a whole family crying on Christmas Eve," the Doctor proclaimed. This meant, of course, that Clara was officially dying. Before she left this Earth, she uttered one phrase into the Doctor's ear: "Run, you clever boy. And remember." We've heard that one before. So a relatively happy Christmas for the Doctor, but a tragic one for the Latmiers.
The family mourned at the grave of Clara — or, more specifically, at the grave of Clara Oswin Oswald. A "ding" went off in the Doctor's head — kind of like the "ding" that sounds when a soufflé is finished cooking. It was the same girl! The Doctor joyfully departed the sad funeral to find his new companion — who, as we learned, lives in the present day. Clara 3.0 appeared by her past self's gravesite, as the TARDIS left to find her...
To be continued. Wow. I personally felt that this was the best Doctor Who Christmas special, ever. Your thoughts, human scum? (Can't help it, love that Strax.)
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: Adrian Rogers/BBC America]
Merry Christmas, 'Doctor Who' Fans: Steven Moffat Says Movie 'Will Happen Someday'
Holiday TV Marathon Guide: What to Watch When Hanging Out With Family Becomes Unbearable
The Best and Worst TV Episodes of 2012—Staff Picks
You Might Also Like:
20 Hot (and Horrifying) Movie Sex Scenes
See 10 Celebs With Creepy Gollum Eyes
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The film begins with an unsatisfactory rendezvous between a prostitute (Vera Farmiga) and a brutish carpenter named Eddie (Domenick Lombardozzi) who is unable to perform. It then follows Eddie to the Manhattan apartment of Ellen (Jill Hennessy) a wealthy but neglected client who wants to sleep with him because she thinks her husband is cheating on her. Later that night Ellen tells her husband Robert (Malcolm Gets) "I want to sleep with other men." He answers "So do I." The story then switches its focus to Robert and the object of his desire an artist named Martin (Steve Buscemi). Martin rebukes Robert's advances at first but ultimately gives in. Then Martin becomes the pursuer when he makes advances on a beautiful art gallery receptionist Anna (Rosario Dawson) who eventually sleeps with him. She confesses the infidelity to her boyfriend (Adrian Grenier) who then turns to an older woman Joey (Carol Kane) for comfort until she frightens him off with her desperation. Alone Joey finds herself giving comfort in the form of phone sex to a suicidal Wall Street embezzler named Will (Michael Imperioli). Will then ends the night with the prostitute from the opening scene.
A film like this must be a dream scenario for actors--an ensemble piece that allows each player to be the main character for a short amount of screen time. With the possible exception of the unfortunately miscast Steve Buscemi who seems overly awkward in his love scenes with both sexes the diverse ensemble of actors assembled here are clearly up to the challenge. The nine principals are meant to represent a mixed bag of races ages classes and disciplines ranging from stage to television to independent film and the anecdotal structure gives each of them a chance to shine. Some shine a little brighter than others however. Dawson Grenier Kane and Imperioli in particular stand out in their respective roles during the latter half of the film. This is not to say that the rest are lacking. It's just that there is only so much that can be done with the material which is sluggish at times and laden with heavy dialogue that can be difficult to deliver believably. As a whole the talented cast does the best they can with what they are given.
When writer/director Peter Mattei set out to depict the vapid and money-obsessed world of the 1990's he looked to Arthur Schnitzler's classic stage play Reigen for stylistic inspiration. The play follows one character after another in a series of overlapping vignettes in which each character seeks out some sort of sexual conquest. Mattei emulates that structure in Love in the Time of Money but never manages to escape the play's theatrical roots. The film relies heavily on dialogue with little intriguing visual imagery that couldn't be done on stage. Although the digital video format is well suited to the material Mattei fails to take full advantage of the rich New York background favoring nondescript streets anonymous alleyways and common restaurants that could exist in any city. Another limitation of the multiplot design is the inability to get more than a cursory glance at any one of the nine characters. There is scarcely enough time in each story to introduce them let alone fully explore what makes them tick before the film moves on to the next person. All that is presented are the broad strokes of their desires and actions without any depth or background to give them context. It's a noble experiment but one that ultimately fails to be compelling.