TV Round-Up: The Simpsons, Family Guy

2013-07-19-family_guy_simpsons-e1374238709146The long-anticipated animated crossover of Family Guy and The Simpsons finally happened last night and coming away from the hour-long extravaganza, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by the whole thing.

Part of that could that it wasn’t necessarily a true hybrid of both animated series so much as it was an episode of Family Guy that featured characters from The Simpsons as guest stars.   Apparently the writers for The Simpsons gave their blessing to the Family Guy creative team to write the episode, but didn’t necessarily have much more input into the final product.

I have a feeling whether or not you enjoyed the episode depends a lot on how you feel about Family Guy and the Seth MacFarlane animated empire.  I’ll admit I lost interest in Family Guy right after it was resurrected from cancellation and haven’t dropped back in much since (the Star Wars parody episodes being the exception and even those didn’t really click for me).   I felt like the ratio of hits to misses in the joke department was growing too far into the misses side and that even jokes that hit their target tended to overstay their welcome.

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Doctor Who: The Caretaker

caretakerWhen I saw the preview for “The Caretaker,” my first thought was, “That looks an awful lot like ‘School Reunion.  Watching the episode, that feeling didn’t necessarily go away.  And that may be part of the point.

Each episode this season has seemed echoed a previous installment from the first seven or so seasons of modern Doctor Who.  It’s almost as if Steven Moffat want to show us what the new Doctor is like (and attempt to answer the question of whether or not he’s a good man) by putting the character into situations similar to those we’ve previously seen.  Yes, this time around he’s masquerading as the caretaker of a school instead of a teacher, but the premise of battling an alien menace in the familiar surroundings of a school is similar enough.

But where “School Reunion” was about the conflict between the current companion and the previous companion, this story centered on the tug of war taking place in Clara’s life as she tries to keep the two men in her life unaware of each’s other presence.   The interesting thing is that no matter how hard Clara tries to lead this double life (eating two dinners,  arriving in the cab soaking wet with seaweed in her hair), she isn’t necessarily hiding anything from either party involved.   In both cases, she’s making Danny and the Doctor more suspicious about what’s going on and that much more eager to solve the mystery.  (more…)

Movie Thoughts: Without Reservations, The Shop Around the Corner

withoutreservationsOdds are that 1946’s Without Reservations isn’t on many cinema-philes list as a must see movie.

But any movie that features two of my favorite personalities of the “golden age of Hollywood” in Jack Benny and John Wayne is going to be put onto this cinema fan’s “must see” list.    Sure, Benny’s role is really nothing more than an uncredited cameo (Cary Grant gets one as well), but it’s still Benny and Wayne in a movie together (even though they don’t share any time on screen together!)

Without Reservations is not your typical John Wayne film.  Wayne has a firmly established on-screen persona and a lot of his roles are different shadings of the rugged, all-American alpha male figure.   And while I think Wayne is a better actor than others give him credit for,  Without Reservations isn’t exactly a showcase that is going to convince anyone to change their assessment of him.

Without Reservations is a romantic comedy with Wayne in the lead role, fully playing off his screen persona.  In many ways, it’s similar to what Arnold Schwartzenegger did in his roles in Twins and Kindergarten Cop.

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Doctor Who: Time Heist

timeheistWith “Listen,” I theorized that series eight was deconstructing the character of the Doctor and there’s nothing in “Time Heist” that makes me doubt that theory.   But watching the episode and how things unfolded, I couldn’t help but ponder that the episodes this season are about more than just deconstructing the Doctor as the hero of the show, but attempting to answer the question he posed to Clara in “Into the Dalek” (and we saw in the promotional material leading up to the season), “Am I a good man?”

With “Time Heist,” the question seems to be “Does the end justify the means?”

The Doctor and Clara are forced to help two others rob a seemingly impregnable bank.  Because the bank employs a life-form known as the Teller that can sense guilt and then consume the mind of the guilty party, their memories are wiped of their motivation and knowledge of the mastermind behind this plot.

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Doctor Who: Listen

lisenIf there’s a linking theme to series eight, it appears to be a deconstruction of the Doctor as a hero.

After renewing its title character in “Deep Breath,” the last three episodes have all been about examining aspects of the Doctor as a hero.  “Into the Dalek” was about how he’s defined by his mortal enemies and his hatred of them.  “Robots of Sherwood” looked at the Doctor in  comparison to the mythological hero of Robin Hood.   And now we’ve got “Listen,” a story that asks the question of what is the Doctor afraid of and where did that fear come from?

As an hour of television (or 45 or so minutes anyway), “Listen” is dark, creepy, off-putting and, for the most part, effective.  The pervading sense of discomfort and of everything not being quite right worked very well and the idea of examining the Doctor’s fear as a young boy is an interesting one.    I’m sure that fandom will be fairly polarized on the final ten or so minutes of the story, but I found that it tied in fairly well with the mythology we’ve seen established in the modern series (and the hints the Doctor has dropped about what happened when he looked into the vortex).   Of course, the assumption that the young boy in the bed was the Doctor is probably the one Steven Moffat wants us to jump to and there may be a twist or revelation set to come later this season that undoes those assumptions.

From the opening shot of the Doctor sitting on top of the TARDIS (which I figured was only created for the promotion leading up to the season and wouldn’t necessarily be used in an episode) to the final frame, the story was replete with visual style.   It also played with the mechanics of time travel when it came to Clara and Danny’s first date.  I will admit I found it interesting that Danny is objects to Clara’s kn0wledge she can’t or shouldn’t have but is later willing to set this aside when she shows up at his apartment at the end of the episode.   As the story progressed, I found myself wondering if Danny isn’t meant to be some kind of mirror for the Doctor and that could be part of the reason that Clara feels such a strong attraction to him — one that’s strong enough for her to go back twice to Danny after having some time to think about and ponder her actions.   So far, it appears Danny isn’t in on the secret that Clara travels through time (unless I missed something in the final conversation between the two) and it should be interesting to see if and how long this particular secret can or will be kept.

I know I’m a bit behind on my viewing but I’ve tried to stay away from heavy fan-based discussion of the episode so I can avoid SPOILERS.   However, watching “Listen” I can’t help but hear the vocal group who is dissatisfied with the season so far (I’m not one of them) being even more dissatisfied with this installment and how it all ties into the War Doctor.   I’ll admit that I really liked the tie in to the War Doctor and the fiftieth anniversary story and that I have faith in Moffat to execute whatever long term story he’s trying to tell here.

The thought of the Doctor being scared of something under the bed and driven by the fear to confront monsters across the universe and through space and time works for me.   Once again, Peter Capaldi nails his performance as the Doctor and he’s becoming more assured with each installment.   Again, I may not be the right fan to ask about this since I’m also a huge fan of another actor who played the Doctor with a Scottish accent.  (In fact, Sylvester McCoy is my favorite Doctor).

And yet as strong as the first thirty-five or so minutes were, there was something about the last ten or so minutes that felt a bit off.  I can’t quite put my finger on it,  but hopefully repeated viewings will help it become clearer.

Movie Thoughts: The Horn Blows At Midnight

The Horn Blows at Midnight 

the-horn-blows-at-midnight-movie-poster-1945-1020197451Jack Benny got a lot of mileage out of this perceived cinematic failure on his radio and television series.  Listen to just about any episode after this movie was released and you’ll likely hear Benny or one of his ensemble quip about its failure (or perceived failure).  It’s referenced enough in the shows to make me curious to want to seek it out and see if it’s really as bad as everyone says it is.    I have vague memories of seeing it on VHS years ago and thinking it wasn’t nearly as terrible as Benny and his cast made it out to be.   But I couldn’t be sure so when it recently came in TCM’s rotation of films, I decided to give The Horn Blows at Midnight a second look.

And while it’s certainly no cinematic masterpiece, I think it’s a movie that isn’t nearly as terrible as it was made out to be on Benny’s programs.  But it’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece either.  I feel like it’s in a similar vein as It’s A Wonderful Life — a movie that audiences weren’t quite ready to embrace in its initial release.

Like The Wizard of Oz, it’s a frame story with Benny’s character dreaming most of the movie’s main story.  The framing device is that Benny is a trumpet player in a late night orchestra who is lulled to sleep by the announcer’s soothing voice and text about how a certain brand of coffee can lull you off to sleep.  In the framing device, we see all the players who will come into the story during Benny’s dream sequence.    In his dream, Benny is a junior grade angel named Athanael who plays a trumpet in the heavenly orchestra.   His girlfriend pulls a few strings to get Benny the assignment to come to Earth and blow his horn at midnight, signaling the end of the world.   Benny has to meet the deadline or else risk becoming a fallen angel and spending all of eternity somewhere less pleasant.

At odds with Benny a duo of fallen angels who are enjoying life on Earth and are willing to do just about anything to keep Benny from blowing the horn and ushering in the end of the world as we know it.

Hilarity ensues with Benny’s character losing the horn and going to great lengths to get it back.  He’s also given a second chance to blow the horn and not face eternity in somewhere less desirable than heaven.

The Horn Blows at Midnight has some amusing moments and set-piece, but the biggest failing of the film is that Benny’s casting doesn’t add much to the overall film.  You could just about any leading man in his role and it would probably still work.  Benny worked hard to cultivate a certain comedic persona and there’s little or none of it in evidence here.    Even his best screen work in To Be Or Not To Be at least makes hay by playing to many of the strengths of the character Benny created for himself on the radio and television.    It’s hard to fathom why there wasn’t something similar done here — whether it be having Athanael being convinced that his trumpet playing is great when it maybe isn’t necessarily so (ala Benny and his violin) or having his character have a bit of the short temper that Benny’s persona does.  (You’ll notice I didn’t go to the miserly part because I don’t think that would necessarily work within the context of the film).

And yet despite it’s shortcomings, I’d still recommend seeing The Horn Blows at Midnight the next time it rotates through on TCM’s line-up — and not just because it was such a great punchline for so many years.  Running just under ninety minutes, the film has a solid pace and never lags.  It fairly flies by, going from set-up to set-up with ease and grace.   Well, that is until the final set-piece involving a giant cup of coffee and the horn which feels a bit too stretched out for its own good.  But I’ll admit I had a smile on my face for much of the film and found myself chuckling at the film and even enjoying it at times.  It’s certainly not Benny’s best on-screen work, but it isn’t quite as terrible as all those punchlines would have you believe.

the-horn-blows-at-midnight-1945-jack-benny-alexis-smith

Big Finish Reviews: Destroy the Infinite, The Abandoned, Zygon Hunt

Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.06)Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite by Nicholas Briggs

While I don’t begrudge Big Finish creating their own little pocket of continuity within the Doctor Who universe, I still find it a bit frustrating when the script assumed you’ve listened to not only every release from one particular range, but also every release from the entire range of stories. Or that you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of that range of stories that you can easily call upon in order to understand the current story.

I’m doing well enough to keep my encyclopedia knowledge of televised stories up to date, much less that based on audio and literary adventures.

And so it is that I probably didn’t enjoy Destroy the Infinite as much as others who are more familiar with the range probably did. I came to find out from the extras on the disc that this story is a prequel to a previously released sixth Doctor story, Spaceport Fear. It seems that the alien race known as the Eminence made their first appearance there and that events in this story help set up that one. On the one hand, I’ll give Nicholas Briggs and Big Finish props for using the nature of time travel in a similar way to what the television series has tried to do. But on other hand, when I got to the end of this story, I was expecting it to be touched upon in the next several fourth Doctor stories and it never was.

It all led to my being more frustrated than entertained by this story — and curious to see out Spaceport Fear and see what happens there.

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