Jodie Whittaker Provides A Refreshing Regeneration To Doctor Who

Dr Who S11 poster

The world premier of the new season of Doctor Who just aired earlier today to much fanfare. The reason for the hoopla is not just because a new actor debuted as the new Doctor, but for the first time, a woman is playing the iconic time-traveling alien.

Jodie Whittaker had large shoes to fill with the role of the Doctor being that so many memorable actors left their mark in the role. But she pulls it off splendidly and provides a refreshing take on the character now that the Doctor is a woman. This does not mean that Doctor Who turned into a show with a feminist agenda. Rather, Whittaker and the first episode “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” have given the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall (who also wrote this episode), an invigorating chance to reboot the series.

While the new version of Doctor Who that premiered in 2005 has been terrific, for some time the show felt formulaic and needed a shot of creativity. The regeneration episodes of Doctor Who are seen as a way of reintroducing the character and the show’s premise. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” follows the same beats as other regeneration episodes-the Doctor is confused as the regeneration cycle completes, new Companions are introduced, and some kind of alien menace threatens the Earth. In the end, the Doctor gathers his/her wits to foil the extra-terrestrial menace and concludes with the Companions being invited into the TARDIS to join the Doctor in new adventures.

woman who fell to earth

“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” actually felt different because it took an alternate route. The Companions that are introduced are diversely different, made up of dissimilar races, ages and backgrounds. The plot felt more grounded and far less outlandish than previous Doctor Who episodes. It was refreshingly simple without any convolutions or the Doctor gabbing away nonsensically. In fact, the Doctor has never seemed this gathered, resourceful and centered since the Ninth Doctor’s introduction. Basically, an alien warrior shows up to gather human trophies as a rite of passage to become a leader. The alien threat was not buffoonish and was rather creepy and menacing. The enemy alien looked appropriately gross with all his victim’s teeth embedded onto his face.

Since the episode was more grounded, it felt more real and the moments of suspense and danger were much more engaging. The pseudo-magical science that was prevalent in past seasons is downplayed. The Doctor is without the safety net of the TARDIS and the usual trappings. In this manner, Doctor Who seemed like it is no longer aimed at young viewers. This may upset some fans, but the show needed a change of pace and gearing it to slightly older audiences is the right thing to do. This does not mean that Doctor Who lost its sense of wonder and passion. Those elements are still there, best expressed by Whittaker and the new Companion, Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole). Needless to say that Jodie Whittaker has a stunning, electric debut as the 13th Doctor. Keep in mind that the episode was not perfect. There are some pacing issues and the behavior of some characters was not natural at certain moments.

Still, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is a refreshing way to regenerate Doctor Who and leaves you curious as to what happens next to the Doctor and her Companions.

Lewis T. Grove

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The First Is Last As A Space Drama

The First, which started streaming on Hulu, could have been a great space drama about humanity facing the dangers of space travel head on. In this case, the story of the first manned mission of Mars. Unfortunately, The First never gets off the ground (pun intended) and should have been aborted before a single frame of film was shot.

Sean Penn stars as Captain Tom Hagerty, a veteran astronaut who was bumped from the first manned mission to the red planet, only to be later drafted to be its commander. The entire eight-episode series is about the preparation for the mission itself and it is a slow, tepid journey to get to the launch. Unlike other space dramas like the classic From the Earth to the Moon, very little time is spent on how humanity prepares for the next, great space adventure. Some lip service is paid on who gets chosen to be on the mission, assorted malfunctions and the political machinations undertaken by Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone), the CEO of the private enterprise fronting the mission. Instead, The First bogs itself down with boring family drama.

What takes front and center in this series is the tedious relationship between Hagerty and his young adult daughter, Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron), who is a recovering drug addict. Hagerty’s attention is wasted on keeping tabs on his daughter, which threatens his capability of leading the mission. This is baffling. If this astronaut has so much emotional baggage why did Ingram pick him to lead a high-profile mission? We never get a sense that Hagerty is uniquely qualified. Sure, he was the first man to return to the moon since the ’70s, but it appears that Hagerty is himself a problem. Half the time, Penn looks like he just woke up from an all-night binge and after the early episodes, it is clear his heart and mind is not on the mission.

Not only is The First dull, but it is pretentious with lofty dialogue that no human being would actually say. There are numerous film-school-reject shots that don’t make sense such as scenes of cicadas emerging from the ground mixed in between overlong shots of characters looking off in the distance and ugly art images.

This is truly a shame because the pilot episode was interesting and followed the mode of what one would expect from a space drama. The production values are suitably realistic for a show taking place in the 2030s and the main theme score is truly inspiring. Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, especially when more and more time is wasted on Denise and her angst that belongs on another show.

If The First makes it to second season, it would be for the best if it focused on the drama of the mission itself and jettison all the junk family drama. Only then will it soar off the ground and captivate its viewers. Until then, watch the fictional Mars-missions series shown on Discovery and National Geographic. They’re more informative and entertaining.

 

Ant-Man And The Wasp Is A Lighthearted MCU Entry With Big Laughs, Adventure And Sight Gags

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the sequel to the better-than-it-should-have-been Ant-Man and the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film after Avengers: Infinity War. Following the somber feeling from that epic MCU film, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a welcome lighthearted film.

Paul Rudd reprises his likeable role of Scott Lang/Ant-Man, a former thief and fledgling superhero who dons a special suit that lets him control his size. Due to his actions in Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang is under house arrest, which explains why he didn’t appear in Avengers: Infinity War.

He is contacted by his former lover, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), and her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), for help in rescuing Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). As seen in the first Ant-Man during a flashback and this sequel, Janet used a similar suit like Scott’s to shrink down to subatomic levels and was lost. In Ant-Man, Scott shrunk down to this level but was able to return to our realm and it turns out he has a some kind of link with Janet.

What’s impeding his efforts to help out the Pyms are his complications from his house arrest, dealing with criminals who want to steal the shrinking tech and a mysterious figure called the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). The last character was affected from exposure to the quantum realm and now phases in and out of reality like her namesake. So, now the Ghost wants to steal the tech herself to cure her affliction, and is the primary antagonist.

Honestly, the villains are the main problem with this film. They come off as more like annoyances or obstacles than genuine threats. The film tries to make the Ghost somewhat sympathetic, but it’s hard to feel anything for her. As for the thugs (led by Walton Goggins), they are just one-note villains who do not seem very imposing. This is quite disheartening considering that the MCU films have lately featured interesting foes. It seemed like Marvel Studios was taking to heart the criticisms about the MCU villains being weak, but now this film is a setback in that regard.

It’s a shame because the sequel did not need these villains. At its heart, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fast-paced rescue film with lots of laughs. Much of that humor comes from Paul Rudd’s comedic timing and the scene-stealing Michael Peña, who returns to his role of Luis, Scott’s friend and ex-con. Peña is a breath of fresh air and livens up most of the scenes he appears in. Many scenes with him and Rudd are hysterical and frankly, an entire film could be made with just the two characters interacting with each other.

The other actors also do well with their roles like Paul Rudd, who is a natural choice for playing the slightly silly everyman type. Lily’s Hope Van Dyne more than proves that she is a powerhouse of a hero and we’re left wondering why did it take so long for her to appear as the Wasp in the MCU. A lot of gravitas is added by Douglas, and in smaller roles Pfeiffer and Lawrence Fishburne as Pym’s former colleague.

There are many enjoyable features in this sequel. It moves briskly, exudes adventure, wild sight gags, and as noted before, is quite funny. It’s just too bad that the filmmakers felt the need to shoehorn in the weak villains. They took time away from the narrative flow and the rescue efforts. Also, we don’t see as much of the quantum realm as we would have liked. This mysterious and fascinating reality was teased in Ant-Man and it deserved to be explored more given that it may factor in the next Avengers film.

Perhaps if a third Ant-Man film is produced more time could be spent in the realm. One thing that is worth pointing out is that the stature of Ant-Man has certainly increased since his first outing. He has now become an established hero in his own right within the MCU.

Other than that Ant-Man and the Wasp is a refreshing and goofy pallet-cleanser for the MCU. Some may consider this film to be an inconsequential filler, but it’s a big-hearted change of pace for fans looking for some escape this summer.

Lewis T. Grove

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Delivers Dino-Sized Thrills & Scares

jurassic world fallen kingdom poster

The latest film in the Jurassic Park films, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has finally been released here in North America. Many of the reviews have been downright negative and nasty, and honestly, for the most part, it’s undeserved. The fifth Jurassic Park film is an exciting and suspenseful film that adds to the film series.

Taking place three years after Jurassic World, the latest sequel follows up on the disaster that befell the live-dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World. Now abandoned, the park and the island it is on has been overtaken by dinosaurs. However, the island has an active volcano that threatens the lives of the dinosaurs. A worldwide debate opens up over whether or not to save the endangered animals. Some believe nature should take its course and drive the dinosaurs to extinction again while others have taken up the cause of the dinosaurs.

own and claire and indoraptor

An obvious homage to Jurassic Park

One of that movement’s leaders is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former operations manager of Jurassic World. She is approached by a Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who represents Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former partner of Jurassic Park’s creator John Hammond. Lockwood wants to evacuate the dinosaurs to an island sanctuary and enlists Claire’s help. She in turn recruits her ex-boyfriend, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former raptor wrangler. Once they get to the island, the volcano erupts and as shown in trailers that revealed too much of the film’s plot, they are betrayed by Mills. He only wants to evacuate the dinosaurs to sell them on the black market and has also spearheaded the creation of a new hybrid dinosaur, the indoraptor. Now it’s up to Owen, Claire, and a couple of colleagues to stop Mills’ plans.

jurassic world fallen kingdom

All hell breaks loose in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom

For the fifth film in a film franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is surprisingly fresh and exciting. It has plenty of thrilling and suspenseful scenes, as well as some unexpected heart-breaking moments. One thing that sets it apart from the other films is that it brings up the notion of whether or not these prehistoric animals have rights. They were artificially created so are they entitled to be protected as an endangered species? The film presents both sides of the argument fairly and it leaves you conflicted. You see the majesty of these creatures, but know that they should not be alive now. Is it right to share our current world with them? Why defy nature again? Some of these messages get lost in the action and dinosaur action, but they stay with you nonetheless. Then an unusual twist comes up with Lockwood’s young granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), that adds a new wrinkle to the film series.

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Season Two Of Westworld Journeys Beyond Its Borders

Westworld season 2 poster

The second season of the HBO sci-fi series, Westworld, will conclude this coming Sunday and what a ride it has been. Based on the old Michael Crichton film that starred Yul Brynner, Westworld was a thought-provoking surprise for viewers when it premiered in 2016. Fans had to wait over a year for its second season and frankly it was worth the wait.

Maeve and company

Westworld takes place in a futuristic theme resort where visitors can act out their violent and sexual fantasies within recreated historical places. Most of the series takes place in a land that is a perfect recreation of the Old West but other locales have been introduced this season, notably one based on feudal Japan complete with shogun warriors and ninjas. Guests interact with lifelike automatons called hosts that were once androids but are now printed biologically by the resort’s engineers and programmed to cater to the guests’ desires. What happened over the course of the story is that the hosts have gained sentience and no longer want to play along.

Dolores Abernathy

Season one of Westworld ended with a literal bloody bang as the hosts rose up in unison and started their violent revolution. Season two starts with the rebellion underway as the resort’s security tries to take back the property and there are many intertwining subplots featuring returning and new characters. These storylines jump back and forth in time and you have to pay attention to what is going on but you’ll be rewarded with captivating stories and character development. Many of them are well fleshed out and nuanced. We see the growth and descent of many like the host Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), who was once a sympathetic farm girl that is now the bloodthirsty head of the uprising. Her goal is to wipe out humanity for the continued pain humans have inflicted on her. It has gotten to the point that she is on the border of becoming the show’s villain thanks to her merciless demeanor. Meanwhile, Westworld’s main human villain, the Man in Black (Ed Harris), is seen in a not quite sympathetic light but his behavior is more understandable. We see that his obsession with Westworld and desire to revel in his violent fantasy has completely warped him and is shattering his grip on reality.

Two hosts who have risen above their programming and are the show’s hearts and souls are Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) and Maeve (Thandie Newton). The reveal that he was a host in the previous season was quite a shock and this season just went full out to explore the impact of that revelation as he struggles with his identity. He was always someone we could relate to and a very decent person. In this season we continue to root for him as he grapples with his memories and his choices. Meanwhile, Maeve has a compelling arc where she evolves to control other hosts mentally as she searches the vast landscape for her daughter. Along the way she inspires other hosts and humans with her humanity and intellect.

Thankfully this season took time to explore many concepts and dramas about the hosts and their inner struggle. Questions and explorations about the nature of reality, reincarnation and free choice are there for us to consider in between violent clashes between hosts and humans and even among hosts themselves. A couple of episodes were genuinely heart touching such as episode eight “Kiksuya” which is about a Ghost Nation warrior (Zahn MacClarnon) who becomes self aware and strives to spread the word about the truth of the hosts’ existence. Another one was “Akane no Mai” and “Phase Space”, which feature some terrific performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Hiroyuki Sanada as a geisha and ronin who love each other.

The second season of Westworld succeeds because of the other above reasons and the way it keeps you guessing. Plus, it lets you see both sides of the conflict and divides your loyalties. As we rejoice in all the bloody confrontations we can’t help wondering if we are cheering for the right side. Or if we should be pleading for both species to find a way to co-exist, if it is even possible. As the season concludes with “The Passenger” we’ll find out how these stories conclude and set up the third season.