The Best of Doctor Who: No. 5, “The God Complex” (06.11, 2011)

Written by Toby Whithouse

Directed by Nick Hurran

“I stole your childhood and now I’ve lead you by the hand to your death. But the worst thing is, I knew. I knew this would happen. This is what always happens. Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain, because I wanted to be adored. Look at you, glorious Pond. The girl who waited for me. I’m not a hero. I really am just a mad man in a box. And it’s time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams. It’s time to stop waiting.”

I was very disappointed in season six of Doctor Who. After how great season five was, the messy season that came unraveled at the end seemed pretty poor by comparison. However, it still had some wonderful moments, especially including this little disconnected one-off episode tucked away in the middle of the unraveling.

The Doctor, like any truly complex character (or actual person), contains numerous contradictions, one of which is his combination of guilt-ridden self-loathing and arrogant self-love. While the self-love is more apparent and pretty clearly a mask for his guilt–“I am so impressive!”–the self-loathing is an important part of his character and extraordinarily powerful, and his speech to Amy is one of the two strongest examples. (The other will come up later in the countdown. In fact, it will be tomorrow’s episode.)

The episode begins with a terrifying setting: a dumpy ’80s hotel, complete with cheesy music and garish decor. Slowly, the Doctor and the Ponds discover that the rooms in the hotel are filled with everyone’s greatest fears, ranging from a giant gorilla to insulting teenaged girls. A Minotaur travels the halls, somehow taking away those who finally crack from the fear (though what it does with them is completely unknown).

Eventually, the Doctor figures out that the Minotaur is feeding on people’s faith, using fear to make people cling to that faith. Amy and Rory have been safe, he says, because they don’t believe in anything. The college student believes in conspiracies, the Muslim believes in God, but Amy and Rory don’t have a faith to feed off of. And then, it finds one in Amy–her faith in the Doctor. The Doctor decides that the only way to save her from the Minotaur is to convince her to forget her faith in him, giving her the speech above. He attacks her faith, using his self-loathing, and it works. It’s a turning point in their relationship, as he for the first time loses his power over her, as she is left wondering about the accuracy of his description and perhaps for the first time recognizing how little the Doctor thinks of himself.

It’s also noteworthy how well Karen Gillan and Matt Smith play the scene. If there is one scene that makes the perfect example of how much Gillan improved over the course of her run on the show, it’s her reaction to the Doctor’s speech. And the earnestness with which Smith delivers it, countering his usual goofiness, is a significant part of why it works.

It’s an episode that gives us a fantastic horror setting and then uses it to play out an important aspect of the Doctor’s personality as well as of his relationship with Amy Pond. And it has its own sense of humor, even if it’s much more serious than most episodes. Horror with a sense of humor and an understanding of the Doctor and his relationships–what more can you expect from Doctor Who?

Movie Review: “Magic in the Moonlight” (Woody Allen, USA 2014)

Woody Allen is an atheist. He is a melancholic. And Magic in the Moonlight wonders if these things are related. It says that magic and escapism make us happy but are an empty happiness but that logical reality is a truthfully sad existence, one where the world doesn’t give us joys.

But then it says, “Well, even in cold, logical reality, there is one piece of inexplicable magic: love.”

Allen has always been obsessed with the idea that love is mysterious and remarkably varied–his execrable Whatever Works (USA/France 2009) was, after all, saying, “You can’t question another person’s relationship, because whatever makes them happy is fine.” He’s always viewed “love” as some sort of ineffable force, one that brings together people who have little in common and at one point didn’t like each other in Hannah and Her Sisters (USA 1986), an un-artistic intellectual with a musician in Annie Hall (USA 1977), and a “debunker” with a psychic in Magic in the Moonlight.

What’s frustrating about Magic in the Moonlight is that it spends so much time setting up its punchline and focusing on its plot that it completely forgets to make its point. The supporting characters only matter for the story, not for the point. There aren’t other examples there to make the point (In fact, the couples are weirdly happy for a Woody Allen film.). There’s just the basic main plot, and the film seems very pleased with its own cleverness.

The film tells the story of a magician/”debunker” named Stanley who is clearly based on James Randi with a dash of Chung Ling Soo as he works to expose a pretty young psychic named Sophie Baker. He first starts falling for her act, then falls for her. Then, when he finds out that the act was a trick perpetrated by both Sophie and Stanley’s fellow magician friend Howard Burkan, the feelings do not go away. So, he predictably breaks up with his age-appropriate, entirely logical fiancee in order to be with her.

Unfortunately, as clever as that may sound and as fun as much of it is, the film just isn’t as smart as it needs to be. The con is really obvious and any half-decent magician should have spotted it, and the idea that a hardened skeptic could be that easily turned just because it happens to be a pretty girl is frankly insulting.

Allen and cinematographer Darius Khondji gives us a brightly-lit film with saturated colors, but they don’t do a lot to enhance the film’s point. Instead, the film just looks old-fashioned, befitting its time setting and Allen’s general sensibilities. It’s at least something different from what else is out there, but it’s not particularly interesting.

The acting is typically uneven for a Woody Allen film. Colin Firth’s performance as Stanley is rather a mess–he’s all stagey bravado with no depth or even basic human emotion until after his aunt’s accident. After the accident, he suddenly becomes a deeper, more emotional character, and Firth plays that part better. Emma Stone, meanwhile, is surprisingly excellent as the psychic. When Firth says, “She’s not even a good actress,” it’s easy to nod, because Sophie really isn’t good, and playing a bad actor is something that requires great skill. Jeremy Shamos has a small part, but he’s awful. He’s grinning inappropriately throughout the entire film. Simon McBurney is also pretty poor as Howard Burkan, obviously mugging for laughs even though his character doesn’t have the lines that will get the laughs.

Overall, Woody Allen is far from his best on Magic in the Moonlight. That’s not to say it’s awful–it’s a fun watch and it still has some great humor, but it’s nowhere near as smart or deep as it needs to be to be a great film. It’s a film someone else could have made, and if there is one sin Woody Allen should never commit, it’s to appear ordinary. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it’s far from memorable.

Notes

  • “Did you know he started out as an escape artist?” Gee, I wonder where he got that idea.
  • Stanley’s act that we see at the opening is not really that special, but it is fun that it is just so time-appropriate. Of course Allen, a student of magic, knows that.
  • The observatory opening with the telescope was Freudian imagery Hitchcock would have been proud of. It was also quite overdone.

Thoughts on the Previews: August 20, 2014

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, USA 2014)

  • J.K. Simmons in a serious movie? Interesting. It looks like he’s essentially playing a serious version of B.R. from Thank You for Smoking (Jason Reitman, USA 2005), so he’s probably more than capable.
  • So this is the jazz music version of Gordon Ramsay? Is that the idea?

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, USA/France 2014)

  • I cannot tell what this movie is. Is it a comedy about a has-been actor trying one last hurrah? Is it about a former comic book superhero actor who has actual powers? Is it about a deluded old actor losing himself in his own past?
  • It feels like I haven’t seen Michael Keaton in my adult life.
  • Looked it up. Last time I saw Michael Keaton was in Jack Frost (Troy Miller, USA 1998), when I was 13.
  • Is Emma Stone going to be in every movie now?

The Theory of Everything (James Marsh, UK 2014)

  • I don’t know if this is a terrible idea for a film or a great one, but I really hope it’s great, because Hawking deserves it.
  • I do like the title.

If I Stay (R.J. Cutler, USA 2014)

  • Chloë Grace Moretz was so, so very good in (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, USA 2009) and Hugo (Martin Scorsese, USA 2011). I just hope she grows up to be as special as she seemed early on.
  • It seems that we have a new ghost love story every six months, doesn’t it?
  • This was in my head the entire time:

  • And, seriously, I thought he made that song up completely because it’s just so simplistic that I would never have thought actual paid musicians did it.

Unbroken (Angelina Jolie, USA 2014)

  • This just so does not look like a film the Coens helped write.
  • This is such clear Oscar bait.
  • I wondered if Jolie was trying to combat the constant claim that she is “anti-America” by making a super-jingoistic film, but people are now claiming that it’s further evidence because the lead actor is Australian instead of American. (Well, most of them are saying “British,” because they don’t bother to look things up first, but he is Australian.)
  • Angelina Jolie has actually had a very quiet directorial career to date. This is her third film and I don’t remember ever even hearing about the first two until I looked that up. It’s interesting how quiet that has been considering the amount of press she otherwise gets.