TV Review: “Harvey Dent” Brings “Gotham” Closer to War

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

We’ve known for a while that there’s a war brewing in “Gotham,” which introduced some new players into the mix. The first is Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto), who makes use of a two-headed coin in his bets with juvenile delinquents, offering them second chances. He’s also assisting Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) in moving the Wayne murder case along. There’s a new baddie as well, Dick Lovecraft (a reference to author H.P. Lovecraft, one might say); the millionaire (Al Sapienza) may have been behind the Wayne murders, as he had a feud with Thomas Wayne.

As with previous chapters, “Gotham” suffers at times from actors who tend to overdo their scenes. It happens a bit with D’Agosto as Dent. It’s far better when there are more nuances and subtleties in the performances, as with someone as seasoned as Sean Pertwee (Alfred) or even the electrifying Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin). This chapter fairly well balanced, as it didn’t try to take on too many characters and too many plot points at once.

Meanwhile, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and Jim investigate the breakout of Ian Hargrove (Leslie Odom, Jr.), a bomb maker who was taken Fish Mooney’s crew (Jada Pinkett Smith). It’s a rather straightforward procedural segment with the expected purpose: Fish is targeting Falcone’s (John Doman) financial assets at the Gotham Armory as her revenge for Nikolai’s death. The very short exchanges between Fish and Penguin are so superb, especially with this new layer of Penguin having more power at his disposal.

Jim is distracted and in low spirits (he always looks serious though) because Barbara (Erin Richards) is gone. I’d speculated in an earlier post that Barbara would probably be the one to bail on the relationship. Interestingly enough, she appears to have gone back to Montoya. It’s sort of annoying as it just seems like a tactic to score some more points.

Perhaps the most enjoyable thread in this installment is Selina Kyle’s (Camren Bicondova) arrival at Wayne Manor. Alfred thinks that Jim’s idea is not good, as it might hurt Bruce (David Mazouz). It’s always great to see the Bruce and Alfred moments because of the interplay of Alfred’s protective instincts with his duty to follow Bruce’s wishes. Alfred generally is portrayed with a warm and at times sarcastic politeness in other versions of Batman, so it’s a relief to see a spin on things with the butler’s gruffness and underlying dangerous side.

Here Bruce wrestles with two problems: learning how to act around another kid and the stark reality that his weird training exercises won’t cut it in the rough streets of Gotham. Selina has also been a loner among children her age, so just as equally a learning experience for her. Ultimately, Selina and Bruce are able to connect in the innocent play of a food fight, a ruckus that Alfred can’t bring himself to interrupt. For now, Selina gets to reside at Wayne Manor.

That brings us to the mid-season finale, which appears to promise more fast-paced developments. In “Lovecraft,” Batkid and Catkid (sorry, I couldn’t resist) are on the run from the bad guys. Of course, that means we’ll probably get to see more of why Alfred is the perfect bodyguard for Bruce. Tune in tomorrow to find out!

“Gotham” airs Monday evenings at 8|7c on FOX.

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TV Review: “Gracepoint” is “Broadchurch” Again, Too Late with Sparks?

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

I have yet to see the “Broadchurch” series, but last week really felt like a breath of fresh air as “Gracepoint” ventured off the beaten path with an original storyline. Tom Miller (Jack Irvine) went missing on the way to school, pulling the community together as a search party went out. The police (led by Ellie) and community team (led by Mark Solano) came across the boy’s bike in the woods nearing the property of Lars Pierson (Brendan Fletcher), a person of interest in the Danny Solano case.

This week, the story resumed with the search parties. Ellie (Anna Gunn) insists on staying out, but Emmett (David Tennant) calls her “Ellie” and tells her to go home. It’s yet another glimmer of progress in the working relationship of the two, which Emmett breaks later by telling her not to call him “Emmett.” Soon after Ellie departs, Paul Coates (Kevin Rankin) finds Tom. Paul comes off as especially creepy, singing hymns as he waves his flashlight about.

Tom reveals to his parents and Emmett that he wanted to find Lars Pierson and hopefully end the case so that he could have his mom back. The hero story doesn’t seem to tie everything together, as viewers know that Tom deleted a lot of data from Danny on his phone and computer; later, Paul finds him smashing the laptop.

The focus of the investigation takes two tracks, as Emmett and Ellie can no longer hold Lars the backpacker. It seems unlikely that the culprit is Lars. Mark (Michael Peña) draws Emmett’s attention to some facts about Paul: finding both Tom’s bike and then Tom, looking for opportunities to be on the news, and being in love with Beth Solano (Virginia Kull). Also, Paul was seen at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The ensuing interviews tease out more of the tension between Emmett and Paul, who believes Emmett brings only “suspicion” and damage when the community needs comfort from the church.

There’s finally a bit of life injected into the Solano household as they attempt to return to normal activities like work and school. Beth enlists of the help of reporter Renee Clemons (Jessica Lucas) to get a meeting with a mother from the Rosemont fiasco, to see how she can move past Danny’s death. She’s quite horrified to find that this mother has still not recovered, spending the days watching television, drinking, and taking sleeping pills. The POV shots of Beth as she watches the woman leave dejectedly are powerful in showing what her future could easily be. It’s a good wake up call that launches her into action, to help her family find a way to start moving in a positive direction.

Mark and Chloe (Madalyn Horcher) have also been having a difficult first day back at their routine. The Solanos end up at the bowling alley, with the symbolic moment of breaking Danny’s record score. It’s also the first time Beth positively entertains the option of keeping the new baby. It’s a nice spark in this installment, when the performances of these actors have generally been flat. However, I’m surprised the production team used 5-pin bowling, a strictly Canadian form of the sport, when this series is supposed to take place in a coastal town in California. (Yes, the series is filmed in Vancouver.) It probably left a lot of viewers scratching their heads or even detracted from the family moment.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two persons of interest this week. The second is Susan Wright (Jacki Weaver), the scary lady from the trailer park who threatened Kathy Eaton (Alisen Down), the editor of Gracepoint Journal. Susan pays a visit to Tom’s house, giving him Danny’s skateboard (which we saw in her closet in episode one). She refuses to say anything to detectives until she gets her dog back.

Ellie and Emmett go to back to the cabin, as someone is trespassing at the crime scene. It’s amazing that they don’t take an extra officer or two to help with the arrest. The rainy and windy weather mimics the same conditions that befell Emmett during his dream earlier in the episode. It’s not a surprise that Emmett collapses while they’re in pursuit of the hooded figure. Is this collapse the one to do him in, as he suspects? Probably not, but it could lead to restrictions of his activity on the case.

The eighth episode seems to have been a mixed bag. It offered a compelling performance by Virginia Kull as Beth. David Tennant and Anna Gunn continue to build on their chemistry (which had an inkling with the burrito conversation weeks ago). The two are good choices to be the leads, but the production needs to better utilize them. We’ve known them to be strong actors in their previous roles (“Doctor Who” and “Breaking Bad,” respectively).

Earlier this year, FOX said that “Gracepoint” will take a different route than “Broadchurch.” Producers have emphasized that they didn’t “need to change something that was perfect.” However, as critics have noted, the carryover has been far from perfect. The final outcome of the case is strongly hinted to be another character as well. Making original material for “Gracepoint” really shows how great the program could be, so it’s shame they didn’t bring more into the first episodes. These tactics may ultimately be the undoing of the series, which regularly loses in its time slot to ABC’s hit “Scandal.” It’s such a far cry from the the popularity carried by ITV’s “Broadchurch,” which just released new promos in anticipation of the January 2015 premiere of its second season.

“Gracepoint” airs Thursday evenings at 9|8c on FOX.

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TV Review: Red, Berlin, and “The Decembrist” Square Off in “The Blacklist” Mid-Season Finale

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

In the mid-season finale of “The Blacklist,” Reddington (James Spader) and Berlin (Peter Stomare) team up (temporarily) to go out after “the Decembrist.” It opens up with the family reunion between Berlin and his daughter, Zoe D’Antonio (Scottie Thompson). Unfortunately, it’s just as heartwarming as the one earlier in this season between Red and Naomi Hyland (Mary Louise-Parker).

Meanwhile, there’s a montage of how Tom (Ryan Eggold) came to be in that locked room, his recovery, and subsequent interrogations. Agent Keen’s (Megan Boone) questions to him go off in various directions, even so far as asking about the guests at their wedding. Liz seems to think herself in position of power over the situation; however, eventually Tom’s imprisonment would come to light and cause things to spiral out of control. Even if Agent Keen is a darker character and has started employing some of Red’s methods (such calling Mr. Kaplan) this season, she is certainly not in the same class as Raymond Reddington.

Back at work, Liz and her team uncover that the Decembrist is likely to be the Finance Minister in Russia, Kiryl Morzov (Alon Aboutboul). They’re forbidden to pursue the lead, as he is a high-ranking official, but it doesn’t stop Liz from giving the name to Reddington. Red and Berlin corner Morzov in Moscow, but they discover that he was just a puppet before Berlin pulls the trigger. The real Decembrist is none other than Alan Fitch (Alan Alda), who generally kept at bay the government entities out for Red’s blood.

The tenuous alliance breaks as Berlin launches an attack on Fitch. His weapon of choice is a neck bomb. When the scene cuts to Fitch’s location, the glass-eyed look was a big tip-off that Fitch knows it’s the end for him. The bomb squad makes an honest attempt to disarm the bomb, but not before they escort him to the glass box where Red was held in the first season. It’s an ironic turn of events, in that Fitch, a high-ranking government official to boot and scheming mastermind, ends up in Red’s box.

Red arrives and speaks with Fitch, who asks him about a “fulcrum.” Fitch also gives Red the combination to his safe, but dies in the middle of disclosing the location. It’s a downright suspenseful moment, because there’s no timer on the bomb to let us know when it’ll go off. The camera cuts away quickly to Red, but the ensuing large splash of blood and the empty chair is gross.

Captured earlier by Red, Berlin also knows that his time is up. He shares a bottle of vodka before the former shoots him point-blank in the chest. I have mixed feelings about Berlin. He was pretty creepy when he initially emerged as an adversary for Red, particularly in those moments at which he was holding Naomi as a prisoner. Like Red, he has a wide net of henchmen and assets. However, neither he nor Alan Fitch can match the sort of aura that Red carries, which can easily make you comfortable and then shake your core with fear within seconds. I imagine many viewers may be curious about the next archenemy to come into the mix when the series continues again in February. Let’s hope that the new baddie lives up to the hype.

“Reddington is the bane of my existence,” Liz Keen stated earlier in the series, a point to continue wrestling with in upcoming episodes. In their conversation at the end of the episode, Red defines love as “being powerless.” He gives her what looks to be a comforting hug. Yet one might wonder if he’s just obsessed with Liz or if he actually has genuine affection for her. He appears to be in control of everything, when apparently love makes you lose control.

Is Liz just a means to an end in the grand scheme of things for Red? What is the connection between Red and Liz? Is this really the last we’ve seen of Tom Keen? Is the “fulcrum” some sort of weapon? Check in with NBC in February to find out!

“The Blacklist” airs on Monday evenings at 10|9c on NBC.

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TV Review: “Doctor Who” Brings the Gold in “Time Heist”

Caution: This review contains spoilers on “Time Heist,” the fifth episode in series 8.

In the fifth installment of “Doctor Who,” the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) tackle the challenge of robbing the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the universe. The twist is that they’ve wiped their memories, at the direction of the mysterious and hooded “Architect” (anyone get a “Star Wars” vibe there?). At first, Clara isn’t in the mood to go on an adventure with the Doctor because she’s getting ready for a second date with Danny (Samuel Anderson). The Doctor is perplexed about her use of makeup and the high heels. “What, do you have to reach a high shelf?” he asks her.

However, his phone box rings, a rare event as “Nobody in the universe has that number.” (The Doctor briefly mentions the mysterious woman in the shop who gave the number to Clara, but that’s a mystery to solve later in the series.) Answering the phone lands the two in a strange room at Karabraxos with their mission of robbing the bank with hacker Psi (Jonathan Bailey) and shapeshifter Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner). Be sure to check out “Doctor Who Extra,” which has an amusing segment on the memory worms. The team embarks on their mission, tailed relentlessly by head of security, Ms. Delphox (Keeley Hawes). Wiping their memories turned out to be vital in avoiding initial detection by Delphox’s ultimate weapon, a telepathic creature called “The Teller.” The alien operates by detecting your guilt and can wipe your mind clean, turning your brain into “a soup.”

As the Doctor and the others venture further into the bank, they find more cases from the Architect, with clues on how to proceed. Karabraxos is in the path of a solar storm, which leads the Doctor to realize that it’s a time heist, as the storm is the only moment that the bank is vulnerable. Unfortunately, the Teller causes problems for the team, picking off Saibra and Psi first. The two use some tubes, which they suppose are devices for committing suicide, rather than succumb to a mental death. Through the Doctor, we learn that you can avoid the soupy mess and block the Teller by keeping your mind clear, something Clara has a hard time doing. Ms. Delphox captures the Doctor and Clara, whose guards turn out to be Saibra and Psi. The tubes turned out to be teleportation devices.

Why rob Karabraxos? The vaults house materials that will help Psi regain the memories he deleted and block Saibra’s shapeshifting ability. For the Doctor and Clara, the answer is in the private vault, in which Ms. Karabraxos herself resides. She’s the head of the bank, with her dispensable clone Ms. Delphox running security. Keeley Hawes does a good job at playing both roles and conveying the icier Karabraxos. The Doctor gives her his phone number, understanding that she will call him in the future. To uncover the complete answer, he lets the Teller probe his memories, bringing us back to the phone call to the TARDIS at the beginning of the episode. An old Ms. Karabraxos is full of regrets and charges the Doctor with saving the Teller and his imprisoned mate; it’s a search and rescue mission of sorts. We also find out that the Doctor is the Architect.

The Verdict?

It’s an episode that also offers much in the visual department with the cinematography. The cuts and transitions are rather seamless, a wonderful artistic tour de force from director Douglas MacKinnon. It pops up from the opening scene, where the spinning waves and circles of the “Doctor Who” title sequence appear (without the music and credits) accompanied by a gentle whooshing noise. One feels a sense of astonishment as it transitions to a turning gear of sorts and finally shows the Doctor’s spinning face as he peers into Clara’s dryer. Those few seconds serve in a way to color this chapter with playful tones and a lightness that is a marked difference from darker episodes, an atmosphere that is accompanied by the jauntiness and cool sort of Sixties feel of the soundtrack by Murray Gold. It’s such a nice little touch.

Brilliant use of shapes in "Time Heist." All rights and credit go to the BBC.

Brilliant use of shapes in “Time Heist.” All rights and credit go to the BBC.

I’ll just mention a couple of the Doctor’s brilliant lines:

  • “Calories consumed on the TARDIS have no lasting effect.” Regrettably, this statement is false! There’s always the swimming pool for a workout after finishing those take-away meals.
  • “What do you think of the new look? I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I came out with magician.” The “no frills” and “100% Rebel Time Lord” look (as Capaldi characterizes it) is the creation of costume designer Howard Burden, with some input from Peter Capaldi himself. It’s difficult not to wonder if the “magician” quip stems from an interview Capaldi did with Craig Ferguson back in 2009, five years before he donned the now iconic suit of the Twelfth Doctor. Skip to 1:44 in the Youtube video below to see that the similarities in the outfits are rather striking, differing mostly with the red and pink lining.

Overall, “Time Heist” is a great episode, operating mostly as a one-off storyline. It does leave open the possibility that Saibra and Psi may return to team up with the Doctor. Bailey and Bennett-Warner were pretty decent in their performances, so it’d be interesting to see how they come back. In spite of his serious and detached demeanor, it’s ironic that the Doctor tells Clara not to be so pessimistic. His underlying positivity and playfulness (already noted in the opening sequence) also colors his elaborate orchestration of the bank robbery, from the little memory worms to his hoodie for his recordings as the Architect. It’s all wrapped up with his ingenuity and ego, as summed up at the very end in his own words, “Robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date!” What a relief to get little gems like these, where the script and the visuals are in top form.

“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings at 9|8c on BBC America.

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TV Review: Doctor Meets Rusty as He Goes “Into the Dalek”

Caution: This review contains spoilers on the second episode of series 8 of “Doctor Who.”

I’m finally able to get more reviews up this week. Today we’re going to revisit “Into the Dalek,” which finds the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) acting as a physician of sorts on the spaceship Aristotle after saving Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) from a fiery death. Unfortunately, he couldn’t save the female soldier’s brother, but he seems unaffected by the woman’s grief as he’s holding a pair of coffees in hand. To his astonishment, he finds that his patient on the warship is none other than a Dalek (voiced admirably as always by Nicholas Briggs).

It’s fairly early in his regeneration, which means viewers and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are still getting used to him. We find that he’s wrestling with the question of whether or not he’s a good man, an inquiry that Clara doesn’t know how to answer. He swings back to pick her up to assist him on the case, which involves shrinking down to go inside the Dalek. We get a fantastic one-liner here as he sums up Clara to the crew on Aristotle: “She’s my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.” Anyway, the Daleks have long been an enemy of the Time Lords, given the time wars that the Doctor has fought in. It seems like writers always want to throw in a Dalek episode, which can certainly inject a bit of fun into any season.

Our Dalek here doesn’t seem to recall the Doctor as an enemy because of the problems in his core system. He’s aptly named “Rusty” by the Doctor and has a sort of lighter tone in his voice (as much as a lighter quality can be added to a Dalek’s voice – admittedly, the Daleks all sound the same). The Doctor is incredulous at the idea of a good Dalek, let alone a Dalek that can appreciate beauty in the universe. (Recall “Asylum of the Daleks,” where the Parliament of the Daleks still revered hatred as a form of beauty, in spite of the sickness of the Daleks in the asylum.) Unfortunately, Rusty’s antibodies are activated and attack the Doctor, Clara, and their military escorts, leading to more deaths. Clara slaps the Doctor, furious at his refusal to help those who are basically dead.

Dalek Battles!

The Doctor fixes a crack in Rusty, stopping the “malfunction” that was caused by leaking radiation. However, Rusty reverts to being a regular Dalek and begins to wreak havoc on the warship on the (life-size) human soldiers. Clara and Journey venture further in to reactivate Rusty’s experience of beauty in the universe and the Doctor forms a telepathic link. It gives us a neat look into how the Doctor views the universe, but it also causes Rusty to feel what the Doctor feels: “I see your hatred of the Daleks and it is good. Death to the Daleks!” Even if he hates the Daleks, perhaps nothing could be more horrifying to the Doctor than turning on one’s own race, something he thought he’d done with the destruction of Gallifrey.

Yes, viewers are treated to a scene with a Dalek blowing up a bunch of other Daleks! It’s a sequence that Peter Capaldi himself watched on the set, even though he wasn’t scheduled to film until later in the day. The “Doctor Who Extra” segments are new this season, with some neat behind-the-scenes interviews and reveals about each episode. I think they’re rather fun for the most part (the in-depth interview on Foxes’ segment in “Mummy on the Orient Express” was useless for such a brief appearance) and seem to answer the call by fans for a “Doctor Who Confidential” type of series.

The Doctor turns down Journey’s request to join him on the TARDIS, as he dislikes soldiers. Clara answers his original question, that she doesn’t know if he’s a good man, but that he tries to be one. Finally, there’s another scene with the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez), who has brought over yet another casualty into the Promised Land.

The Verdict: Fun Episode, Good Doctor, But …

In spite of being a joint venture by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat, you’re left wanting a lot more with “Into the Dalek.” There’s a bit of creative cutting back and forth from two scenes between Clara and the new maths (or math, for us Americans) teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). Danny is saying lines he should have said to Clara, but we also see that what he actually told her resulted in nothing less than an epic fail. While it comes off as funny at times, the pairing off of the two teachers feels extremely rushed. Getting to feel Danny’s awkwardness backfires for viewers, a trend that carries on for the rest of the season. Just because the Doctor is no longer Clara’s “boyfriend,” it doesn’t mean writers need to thrust Clara into a relationship so soon. It’s a lot of wasted time that could have been used to tease out more about the mystery of Missy and her connection to the Doctor.

Secondly, the caliber of writing here is perplexing when one revisits an episode such as “Asylum of the Daleks,” which like “Into the Dalek” a) was written by Steven Moffat and b) ended up as an exploration of the question of human qualities in a Dalek (human turned into a Dalek). Ironically, that Dalek turned out to be an echo of Clara Oswald, a human that turned into a Dalek. Thus one might say that “Into the Dalek” shows the situation in reverse in showing what the Doctor would be like as a Dalek (a Dalek going human or Time Lord here) with the telepathic link they were able to make. However, “Into the Dalek” fails to arouse the same sense of intrigue and horror, even though both make use of the Dalek POV shots and escape scenes. Still, it was great to have the Dalek explosions here and Rusty was a cute nickname for our heroic Dalek.

Much of the weight of the episode is thus carried by Peter Capaldi’s performance as the brooding twelfth Doctor, an aspect that could have also been explored further. He’s shown that he does quite well in trying to arrest the viewer’s attention with the close-up shots as he gazes at unfamiliar territory, such the membrane to enter the Dalek. It’s a fairly well done slow motion sequence. Much has been made of the eyebrows, even by the Doctor himself as in “Deep Breath,” but it’s certainly more than that. It has more to do with the penetrating approach that his countenance takes on, as well as the way he carries himself. The combination in tandem does a lot in convincing one that Peter Capaldi is the Doctor and isn’t just acting like the Doctor, as sometimes happened with Matt Smith in the role. It’s important to utilize both Capaldi and better scripts, which could be the makings of some really great episodes.

“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings at 9|8c on BBC America.

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The Doctor and Robin Hood Delight in “Robot of Sherwood”

Caution: This review contains spoilers on “Robot of Sherwood.”

We’re backtracking a little in my reviews for the eighth season of “Doctor Who” by going to the third installment. In “Robot of Sherwood,” the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) lets Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) pick their destination, which turns out to be Sherwood Forest. He scoffs at her choice, insisting that Robin Hood (Tom Riley) is not real. He’s interrupted by an arrow from the thief himself, who wants the TARDIS. Clara, clad in a resplendent red dress, is quite excited to meet one of her favorite people in history.

There is, of course, only room enough for one egoistic male figure in the spotlight, as the Doctor hardly warms up to this “fake” Robin Hood. They have a bit of a duel: Robin’s sword against the Doctor’s spoon. The scene immediately made me think of Capaldi’s role in “The Musketeers” as Cardinal Richelieu, a part he left to take on that of the iconic Time Lord. (Incidentally, Richelieu didn’t seem to be much for actual sword duels, but instead stuck to formulating his machinations.) Anyway, the Doctor seems to win the duel at first, teaching the overly cheerful thief a couple of useful tricks.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller) harasses the populace with his strange knights, which unleash powerful lasers. He later draws Robin Hood in for an archery contest. Robin appears to be the victor for the prize of the golden arrow until the Doctor interrupts with his own bow and arrow. They keep splitting each others’ arrows on the target until the Doctor has had enough and blows it up with his sonic screwdriver! (Are we dealing with Robin Hood or “Arrow” here?) The Sheriff releases his knights, who capture Clara, Robin, and the Doctor. A dungeon guard mistakes Clara for the ringleader of the trio and brings her to the Sheriff.

The Doctor escapes with Robin to find Clara and the Sheriff, when they uncover that the castle is really the spaceship of the knights, who are looking for “the Promised Land.” Robin and Clara jump, leaving the Doctor behind with the Sheriff for the time being. Predictably, they return to save him, during which Robin uses one of the Doctor’s moves on the Sheriff in a duel. The Doctor finally realizes that Robin Hood is real and not a robot working for the Sheriff. The spaceship takes off and remains a danger to Earth until the Doctor and Clara help Robin fire the golden arrow at it. Upon their departure, the Doctor and Clara bring Maid Marian back to Robin.

This episode, written by Mark Gatiss, seems to be all over the place, never quite deciding its approach. Nevertheless, there are quite a few noteworthy and hilarious moments. Capaldi is very sharp in his performance as the Doctor, which is key to carrying an episode like this one. Aside from the brooding, there’s a bit of cheekiness as he momentarily gives Robin Hood the middle finger when he slips on his black glove. It’s fun to see him as he expresses his annoyance with Robin each and every time: “It’s not even that funny. Stop, you’ll give yourself a hernia.” One of my favorite lines is when he insists, “I am totally against bantering.”

It’s a fun one-off episode if you don’t prod too hard at the plot. The archery scene is pretty brilliant as the Doctor interferes and loses his patience with the contest. Tying in the castle-spaceship and the fake Robin Hood could have been a lot smoother. With this type of writing, one wonders just how much writers thought about what Capaldi would contribute to his portrayal of the Doctor. It’s something that seems to permeate through other scripts as well. Take for instance “Mummy on the Orient Express.” The Doctor Who Magazine quotes writer Jamie Mathieson as picturing the Doctor like “Gregory House in the TARDIS.” (I thought “Orient Express” was a great, refreshing episode for the eighth season.) Undoubtedly, those types of starting points stem from having a new Doctor and being able to try new ideas, but one hopes the scripts will improve markedly in season (or series) 9 next year.

“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings on BBC America at 9|8c.

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Victor Levin Brings Heartwarming and Unexpected “5 to 7″ to the Virginia Film Festival

Victor Levin says he is “allergic” to the overused term “romantic comedy.” Steering away from the former label is probably a good choice, as romantic comedies seem to follow the reused fairy tale formula in Hollywood: guy meets girl, some sort of break up, and then guy gets girl. Rather, writer and director Levin prefers to characterize his directorial debut “5 to 7″ as a “romance for grownups with a couple of laughs.”

The new film was screened on the penultimate day of the Virginia Film Festival (VFF) in Charlottesville, Va. Before the opening credits rolled, producer Julie Lynn amused the crowd by saying, “I want to let you know that no one dies in this film.” (Apparently, that has been an issue at previous VFFs.) After the feature, NYU film historian Harry Chotiner delved deeper by putting questions to the panel: Frank Langella, Julian Bond, Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis, and Victor Levin. Chotiner says “5 to 7″ is a film that is full of “uncommercial choices.” (I suppose Chotiner is referring to the appeal of those choices in terms of marketability and being unconventional.) For now, let’s discount Frank Langella’s quip, “I was one of them.” Novel approaches to genres are not new for Levin, the former co-executive producer of “Mad Men.” However, “5 to 7″ really puts a new spin on romance, capturing its essence with respect to physicality, companionship, and intellectual discourse in the context of exploring American and French culture.

Critic Harry Chotiner discusses "5 to 7" with Frank Langella, Julian Bond, Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis, and Victor Levin. Photo by Pat Cuadros.

Critic Harry Chotiner discusses “5 to 7″ with Frank Langella, Julian Bond, Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis, and Victor Levin. Photo by Pat Cuadros.

The concept is also tied markedly to the experience of living in New York, as well as being a writer: bringing in some iconic elements of the artistic circle of NY with the Guggenheim, Central Park, and the New Yorker. “5 to 7″ follows the story of writer Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin), a young American writer in NYC. He dreams of being published, despite the many rejection letters that decorate his room like a fantastic wall paper. He has a chance encounter with Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe), the French wife of a diplomat.

They engage in an affair, which is bound by the rules of meeting only between the evening hours of 5:00 to 7:00. Arielle’s husband, Valery (Lambert Wilson), is known to have a mistress, Jane (Olivia Thirby). These type of boundaries for open affairs are rather strange, a situation that Levin actually witnessed himself when he stayed with a married couple during his days as a student. “This was not in the syllabus … they were happy,” he said. Indeed, one might expect to be repelled initially by the proposition Arielle gives to Brian. However, the heart and emotion which Yelchin and Marlohe inject into their portrayals really serves to draw you into the human element of story and suspend your belief long enough to accept the terms. When you do accept the terms, your expectations continue to remain fluid, as events never seem to play out the way you’d hoped. Thus, it’s transformed into a film for a smart audience, rather than something in the vein of the traditional and cookie cutter approach.

One major point of the film is that romance follows different paths for different people. The conventional courtship-marriage concept repeatedly intrudes, as it is foreign to the very nature of an affair. The serious tones are also balanced wonderfully with other humorous episodes: Arielle’s children express their joy that Brian is their mother’s boyfriend and better yet, Brian’s decision to introduce his traditional parents (Frank Langella and Glenn Close) to Arielle. One of the most heartwarming elements of the film is the cut to plaques on Central Park benches, which are engraved with cute, humorous, and touching dedications. Levin credits producer Bonnie Curtis with this touch, as she challenged him to set the film apart from other New York productions. It’s a brilliant use of found materials and as Levin states, all part of “public domain.” I think they also provide a nice reflection of and juxtaposition to the plot, easing you along on a journey that is real, warm, and surprisingly satisfactory (if not wholly desired) in its conclusion. I’d rather not provide spoilers at this point, so we can analyze all of these elements and more when the film is released.

As alluded to earlier, Yelchin and Marlohe deliver extraordinary performances. Yelchin exudes a maturity in his attitudes as Brian; Marlohe lights up the screen with a smile that never fails to come across as fresh and lively, worthy of the black and white or classic cinema. Frank Langella and Glenn Close are hilarious as Brian’s parents, as they question practices in NYC such as uncomfortable chairs and the injustice of paying for parking. “5 to 7″ is set to hit theaters next year. It’s really a stroke of brilliance by Victor Levin that deserves a wide release and awards. The Virginia Film Festival hit the mark successfully in showcasing the film this year. Virginia is not New York, but it’s certainly for lovers, too.

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