Sunday, April 12, 2015

7 Days in May: Harry Potter and the Furious 7

Doctor Who

We've been watching classic Doctor Who for a while in our house, but recently David expressed an interest in the new stuff, so we skipped ahead. Diane and I had already seen the Eccleston episodes and David was enjoying them for the most part (he's not a big fan of the Slitheen and who can blame him?), but our New Who marathon ground to a halt with "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances." That's the two-part story where the Doctor and Rose go to London during the Blitz of WWII, meet Jack Harkness, and have to solve the mystery of a gas-masked boy who goes around very creepily asking people, "Are you my mummy?"

Diane was freaked out about these episodes back in 2005 when they first aired. David was about the same age as the gas-masked boy at the time, so the story resonated in an especially disturbing way with her. Ten years later, we hoped it wasn't quite as scary as we remembered, but no, it totally is and David was freaked right out. He has a very active imagination and three days later he's still struggling with some of those images. There's no way he's going to be able to handle the Weeping Angels, so as a family we're going back to the Pertwee era and I'll forge on alone with the New Who catch-up.

My personal opinion about these two episodes though is that they're the best in the Eccleston season up to that point and are a great reminder of why Stephen Moffat (who wrote them) eventually got the gig as show-runner. There are some other very strong episodes in that season ("Dalek" and "Father's Day" being two), but "The Doctor Dances" is my favorite so far.

Eccleston gets a lot of crap from Doctor Who fans and I understand it to an extent. When these episodes first aired, I was just so happy to have the Doctor back that I wasn't the least bit critical of Eccleston's portrayal. Especially since I didn't have Tennant's to compare it to, yet. Watching it again, I can see why it doesn't sit well with some people. Eccleston's Doctor is manic, but in a dark way. He's very angry and sometimes outright mean and cruel. But that makes complete sense to me considering what he's recently been through and I still find him a compelling and likable - if extremely tragic - character.

Star Wars: Clone Wars

Another marathon we're working through is trying to get through all the Star Wars movies and TV shows, in chronological order, by the time The Force Awakens comes out. We're in Season 3 of Clone Wars right now and it's rough going.

We like the adventures and the way the series jumps between groups of characters. That keeps it exciting and fresh. But the show really dumbs down the Jedi in order to make other threats more dangerous. All the Jedi forget to use the Force at key moments and apparently anyone in the galaxy can pick up a lightsaber and use it with Jedi-like skill against an actual Jedi. Right now, my enjoyment of the show is about equal with my frustration at it. If we weren't doing this as part of a project, I'd consider dropping it to free up time for something else.

The One I Love

Another project I'm working on is catching up on all the 2014 movies that I missed seeing. If you check out that post, I'm banging them out in pretty much the order that I listed them.

The One I Love isn't exactly what I expected. It explores the theme of changes in relationships; just not in the way I thought it would. It starts off as a drama with comedic (and perhaps supernatural) elements, but ends up being sort of a light thriller. It would make an interesting double-feature with Gone Girl since both movies compare their leads' relationships at different stages and ask which stage is preferable. Do we like the beginning stage when everyone's on their best behavior? Or do we prefer the later stages when we're getting real with each other, but everything's so much messier? Gone Girl explores those questions in a heavy, obvious way, while The One I Love is light and subtle. I prefer The One I Love.

The F Word (aka What If)

The F Word is an Irish-Canadian movie that was retitled What If for release in the US and UK. The original is the better title, not only because it's way more clever, but also because it actually has something to do with the movie. The F Word of the film is "friend" and the movie explores the relationship between an emotionally damaged man (Daniel Radcliffe) and a woman (Zoe Kazan) who's currently in a serious, long-term relationship.

I love this movie. Its leads are absolutely charming, but what I like most is how complicated the emotions and relationships are. Wallace and Chantry agree to be just friends because she has a boyfriend. Wallace claims to be okay with that because a) he's recently been hurt badly by a cheating ex-girlfriend, and b) he's vowed never to do that to anyone else. He doesn't want to be the guy who breaks up Chantry and Ben. But Wallace obviously has feelings for Chantry and a lot of the movie is about his struggle to keep those in check. He doesn't want fall into Nice Guy Syndrome and it's fascinating to see him navigate the relationship imperfectly, but as honorably as he can.

What is so refreshing about the movie though is that Chantry is an equal player in the relationship. She's not just the object of Wallace's desire, she's a complete character with her own faults and mixed emotions about both Wallace and Ben. She's just as compelling to watch as she tries to figure out what's going on, how she feels about it, and what she should do. Put all that together with funny dialogue, a wonderful supporting cast, and a great soundtrack and you've got the best romantic comedy of last year, if not the last several years.

Furious 7

I was nervous going into this. Partly that's because I attributed everything I love about the Fast and Furious series to Justin Lin. James Wan was untested as an action director and that was before all the troubles during production, starting with the death of Paul Walker. I wanted Furious 7 to be as good as the last few movies in the series, but I despaired.

And truthfully, it's not as good as Fast Five or Furious 6. Those are enormously fun movies with huge casts and over-the-top plots that still manage to hold together somehow. Furious 7 is dealing with a smaller cast thanks to the deaths of some characters and its plot doesn't hold together nearly as well. Really, the thing that's supposed to be driving the plot doesn't make sense at all. None of this makes it any less fun than the previous movies though.

The plot is super thin and I expect that will bother people who aren't already all in on the series, but I found plenty to enjoy. The story is only there to get us from one action set piece to the next and it does that adequately. As important as story is to me, this is a movie about huge action and characters I've come to care a lot about. It handles those elements perfectly while also including awesome performances by Jason Statham and Kurt Russell. The Furious series is everything I want The Expendables series to be.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I've only seen one or two episodes of The Clone Wars and I'm not sold yet. I think it may be the same problem I'm having with Star Wars Rebels were the real star of the show is the action and the characters are just cyphers.

I did love the 2D animated Clone Wars shorts they did back in 2003, that was a master class is visual storytelling!

Michael May said...

I really enjoyed the first season and there are still some great episodes in the second and third, but it's becoming clear that there was no specific plan for the show to bridge the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Feels like they're spinning their wheels.


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