Doctor Who 3.11 – Utopia

I knew this one wasn’t going to go over too well with our kid. He doesn’t like surprise cliffhangers, and he doesn’t like the Master. Tonight, he clarified that the only villain he dislikes more than the Master are the Cybermen. Making things worse, he was really enjoying this story. It’s written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Graeme Harper, and it’s one of those unfortunate stories where nobody remembers the details because they’re all overshadowed by the last six minutes. Kind of like “The War Games” if you think about it.

But for a putting-things-in-place tale, it’s not bad. I was kind of ambivalent about watching this because, with the exception of a couple of moments, I really don’t care for the next two episodes. But “Utopia” is pretty good. I like Derek Jacobi, and I love his adorable assistant Chantho. John Barrowman’s back as Captain Jack Harkness, and I love the idea that he had to live through the 20th Century waiting for the correct Doctor to come along.

I don’t like John Simm’s Master. I don’t like him at all, until he gets some really good material in “The Doctor Falls” several years later. Well, there is one moment in the next episode that I enjoy. We’ll see what that might be Wednesday evening.

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 2.4 – Painkillers

I have to admit that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this one very much. Two civil servants hire Jeff and Jeannie to infiltrate a top secret research base run by villain-of-the-week Derek Jacobi, with Dervla Kirwan as a femme fatale in charge of human resources, despite Jeff’s complete unsuitability in pretending he’s a top research chemist. There’s only so much talking-yer-way-outta-trouble that I can stand before the cringing takes over.

However, it ends beautifully. Gareth Roberts’ script is about the villain’s attempt to synthesize a very rare jungle plant that will hold back pain and even death, just so long as you keep dosing yourself with the drug. Otherwise the pain, or the death you’ve been cheating for a quarter century, is going to snap at you like a rubber band. So with that in mind, there’s a completely hilarious final fight where the dosed heroes and villains just clobber each other in an absurdly over-the-top brawl, and like that fellow in The World is Not Enough, nobody’s able to feel any pain…

…yet.

My son and I were howling and were already sore from laughing and then, a night or two later, Jeff and Jeannie try to have a serious conversation about their relationship in a nice restaurant, forgetting that they’re going to feel all those punches when the drug wears off. And it wears off. And we about died. I wasn’t expecting a lot, but wow. I’m still chuckling.

Good Omens 1.4 – Saturday Morning Funtime

Episode four of Good Omens answers the nigh-impossible question, Who could you possibly cast as the Metatron after Alan Rickman’s hilarious and perfect performance as the voice of God in Dogma? The answer is, of course, Derek Jacobi, which strikes me as just right. The scene where Aziraphale calls upon the Almighty and can’t get past the Metatron climaxes with what might just be the most perfectly timed and delivered use of the f-word that I’ve ever seen. Round of applause to Michael Sheen there.

It’s worth noting that the novel of Good Omens predates the film Dogma by about nine years, and it’s ever so possible that Kevin Smith might have read the book once or twice.

Our son’s favorite scene came when Crowley gets to use some holy water that he’s been saving as insurance for the last several decades, and explains why this flashy showoff still uses an analog answering machine with cassette tapes. It really is hilarious. The whole story is wildly entertaining, although honesty commands me to point out that this is a little less child-friendly than I thought it might be. I think that we’re pretty open-minded parents and there’s nothing egregiously “adult” in the show, but in episodes two and three, Jon Hamm did have some fun loudly talking about pornography in Aziraphale’s bookshop, and one of the supporting characters lives across the hall from a sex worker who frequently and discreetly mentions her customers.

Things are shot and filmed tastefully, but even with nothing shown, Anathema’s comedy sex scene tonight still had us wincing. Our son, mercifully, was so embarrassed by the smooching that he looked away and waited for Crowley to do something wild or for the action to return to Adam, his dog, and his kid gang in Tadfield, especially now that Adam has figured out that somehow, he has incredible powers and can alter reality. Still, odds are pretty good that nine or ten years from now, our son will check this show out again and note that he just can’t believe we let him watch this when he was eight.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

I realized this morning that Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is intertwined with Flowers for Algernon in my head. I guess that we read both novels – or, more likely, condensed versions of them – in the sixth grade or so. Except, because I’m a dingbat, I couldn’t remember the name of Algernon, and as we watched Don Bluth’s masterful, albeit very loose, animated adaptation of NIMH this morning, I spent all 82 minutes completely distracted and wondering what the heck that book was. Marie instantly identified it when I asked whether she knew what I was remembering, because she’s usually less of a dingbat than me. Now I’m left to wonder why I thought the protagonist was called Jeremy instead of Charlie. That must have been a third book.

The Secret of NIMH was Don Bluth’s first feature film after leaving Disney, and it’s by some distance my favorite of his after-Disney movies. The only other one I like is Anastasia. This one’s mostly great, with a strong story and engaging characters. There is, however, a completely unnecessary use of magic that distracted me almost as much as half-remembering old books. The climax, during which a magical amulet levitates a concrete block out of a mud pit, even led our favorite seven year-old critic to interject “Oh, come on, that’s not real!” When the rules of the finale jar against the reality of the world presented in a movie’s previous 75 minutes so badly that even a kid makes a comment, you can’t call your ending a complete success.

But NIMH gets it mostly right with its interesting animation choices and some fine voice work by a strong cast of character actors from the period, most notably Hermione Baddeley, John Carradine, Derek Jacobi, and Arthur Malet. Dom DeLuise tried his darnedest to steal the show as a crow called Jeremy, though I’m afraid he mostly sounded like Bluth told him “You know Zero Mostel in Watership Down? We’re doing that.”

Marie was pretty certain that Jeremy would be our son’s favorite character, but he liked Mrs. Brisby best. She’s resourceful and determined and a great protagonist. The movie’s punctuated with some seat-of-your-pants action scenes with just a hint of comedy in their outlandishness, and a truly fine villain in the form of Jenner, a hyper-intelligent rat who schemes to control their colony.

Jenner meets his end in a way that surprised me. You get so used to American animation from the eighties being comparatively tame, thanks in no small part to Bluth’s later, more family-friendly pictures, so the blood and violence of NIMH is a standout for the time. Even though we’re dealing with talking mice, rats, and shrews, it cements that reality that I mentioned above. This farm is a mean, unsafe place, and even though we’ve toughened our kid up with some really frightening monsters and horrors, I could certainly imagine John Carradine’s Great Owl scaring the pants off younger viewers.

On a small tech note, our DVD is a 2003 release and the picture is 4:3. According to a poster in the DVD Talk forum, there used to be a Don Bluth website that was for more than his current projects, and there, Bluth had once mentioned that 4:3 was the originally preferred ratio and it was matted for its theatrical release. That surprised me! Some of the sequences in this film are so visually interesting that I can’t help but wish to see more of them on the sides of the frame.