Guitarist Rudolf Schenker of the band the Scorpions is 62 years old today. I’m not the kind of music fan who can tell you whether Schenker is a great guitarist or not. I’m really only marking the occasion because their 1991 hit “Wind of Change” mentions Gorky Park in Moscow, Russia. The park is named for the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. I don’t know anything about him, either. But Gorky is a great name. It’s such a great name that I convinced my friend Jessica to name her cat Gorky. Gorky died a while back. She misses him a lot and sees his face in other cats at the shelter. None of this really has anything to do with this song, which is about the end of the Cold War. But I am the kind of music fan who makes bizarre connections to songs. And this is a nice ballad, too. So for whatever reason you like a song, enjoy it.
The Daleks are headline bad guys in the fiction of “Doctor Who,” but there hasn’t been a good Dalek story since “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” the two-part capper to Series 4. There they were scary and deadly, nearly indestructible.
But in the era of show runner Steven Moffat, the Daleks blow up like Christmas crackers. Sometimes they serve tea to Winston Churchill during World War II (“Victory of the Daleks“) and often they’re getting run over by a flying TARDIS (“Day of the Doctor.”)
This time, a Dalek has gotten sick. And now it’s a good guy. It sees its own race as a terrible, destructive force that must be stopped. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) arrives. He’s miniaturized with a couple soldiers and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and they journey inside the Dalek, a direct rip off of “Fantastic Voyage,” which the Doctor references either in homage or apology.
Capaldi is still a master craftsman. He renders his Doctor as harsh, detached and rude. He delivers sharp, staccato and sometimes ruthlessly funny dialogue as if the episode were written by Aaron Sorkin.
But the Doctor is the hero of this piece. Much of the time, though, he’s an ass. He’s so much of an ass that Clara properly slaps him.
The Doctor and crew repair the Dalek, which promptly turns evil and starts killing all the regular-sized people in the spaceship. Clara convinces the Doctor to try and get the Dalek to be good. He tries, but the Dalek, whom the Doctor calls “Rusty,” looks into the Doctor’s soul and sees beauty, divinity and hatred — especially for the Daleks.
Rusty murders his Dalek compatriots and pledges to return to the Dalek ship to do more murdering. The Doctor is sullen, realizing his own hatred has fueled more killing.
One character whom we scarcely meet, sacrifices herself to aid Clara and the Doctor inside the Dalek. The woman, Gretchen, reappears in the mysterious “heaven” — the same spot where the Two-Headed Man popped up at the end of the season opener — in time for tea with the equally baffling, Missy, a plot thread to be picked up later, one supposes.
Another character, Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), asks to join the Doctor in his travels. He says no, because she’s a soldier and apparently he doesn’t like soldiers anymore. He spent years working with the Brigadier, but he’s dead now. So it is a mystery for another episode, too.
We also meet Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). He teaches at the school with Clara. He was a soldier and the experience has made him very sad. He and Clara decide to go out for drinks.
The special effects, which have generally been very strong in the revived series, were dodgy in this. When the Doctor confronts the one-eyed biological mass at the heart of Rusty, it looks like the kind of rubbish green screen work one would expect from “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and not one of the most successful programs on BBC.
I’m still enjoying Capaldi’s Doctor, even if he is cruel and distant. And even a below-average episode of “Doctor Who” is still better than most of the dreck on my idiot box.
But it was disappointing. For having a new Doctor in only his second full episode, it felt very much like I had seen most of this before.
I hated “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Oh, it’s not all bad. It’s a well-made movie. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as mentally challenged Arnie Grape, the kid brother to Johnny Depp’s Gilbert. But I hated it nonetheless.
Depp plays Gilbert, a small-town kid forced to look after his family after his father hanged himself, with warmth and depth.
But I found the film mercilessly depressing. The small-town grocery where Gilbert works is being run into the ground by the bigger, more impressive Foodland on the edge of town — a clear metaphor for the encroachment of Wal-Mart on smalltown America.
Gilbert’s mother, Bonnie, is morbidly obese and housebound since her husband’s suicide. Her family dotes on her, but Gilbert also mocks her. He uses all the classics. “Beached whale” is used a couple of times, I think. He lets the neighborhood kids, curious to see the fat woman like she was a freakshow display, look through the windows of their rundown farmhouse.
I’m morbidly obese and I guess I’m more sensitive about it than I thought. I found it all rather cruel, though Darlene Cates, who played Bonnie, is very strong in her performance.
My big gripe is the ending. Bonnie climbs the stairs to go to bed for the first time in years. She has a heart attack and dies. Mentally challenged Arnie discovers her. At first he thinks his mom is playing possum. But then he slowly realizes she is dead.
That’s some good acting by DiCaprio, who would go on to be a master of his trade.
But what happens next is an absurdity. Bonnie is fat. They say she’s 500 pounds. The local sheriff says he’ll have to get some extra men to get her out of the upstairs of the house. That seems reasonable.
Somehow Gilbert decides they’ll need a crane. And then all the town will show up to laugh at her. This is, of course, something he actively participated in earlier in the film. But now his mother is dead and his morality is resurrected. Or something.
The logical solution, of course, is to burn the house down. Which they do.
It’s a metaphor for starting over, getting rid of past baggage. I get it.
It’s also painfully stupid.
Nobody thought about a tarp, maybe some pulleys and rope to slide Mom’s body down the stairs. No. The only way was to turn the house into a Viking funeral pyre. Why not?
What the hell.
This film brings to end a long running joke between myself and my friend Andrew. While we were both unemployed back in 2008, we would often walk down to a neighborhood video store to pick out films to watch.
One of us would always say to the other, “Hey, I hear ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ is good?” This struck as very funny. We may have been drinking beforehand.
Every visit to the store, which is long closed, one of us loudly ask this question about “Gilbert Grape” and suggest we’d heard it was good. Neither of us had seen the film until now.
Sadly, Andrew, I am here to report that, no, it actually isn’t good.
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is one of those oft-quoted, seemingly beloved movies that I never bothered to see.
The film debut in January 1982, when I was 6. I was more interested in “Star Wars” than the bare breasts of Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I didn’t understand stoner comedy and suffer talk.
An edited version of the movie, with profanity overdubbed and nudity chopped out, was on basic cable and Saturday afternoon UHF movies nearly all my life. I never bothered to watch it for more than few minutes before I changed the channel.
But while it was a series of accidents or oversights rather than a direct slight, I can see now I was absolutely correct to snub this very stupid picture for 32 years.
“Fast Times” doesn’t have much plot. It’s story structure feels like randomly thumbing through the diary of sex and stoner fantasies written by a smartass in English class instead of the day’s assignment.
The fact that the film was written by Cameron Crowe, who would go on to do excellent work with “Say Anything” and “Almost Famous.” All great writers produce bombs once in a while. This was his.
Leigh plays a high school sophomore curious about sex. Cates is her more experienced pal, a senior who is engaged to some guy who lives in Chicago. Cates gives Leigh graphic details on how to perform oral sex while using carrots in the school lunchroom. This scene could have been sexy or funny, perhaps both, but managed to be embarrassing.
I wasn’t embarrassed for me. I was embarrassed for what appeared to be two fine, young actresses having to muddle through this terrible material. Everybody starts somewhere, but I feel for those women. That was some real garbage.
Leigh’s character, who is supposed to be 15, loses her virginity to a 26-year-old man. Leigh lied and said she was 19. They have sex on what appears to be a dugout bench in a rundown park. It’s the first of Leigh’s several gratuitous shots of her breasts. I’m all for gratuitous breast shots, but it’s a joyless love scene, as they all are in this film.
This scene, though, begs other questions. If the guy is 26, doesn’t he have an apartment or house? Why are they having sex in a park like a couple of teenagers? Spring for a room at the Super 8 for crying out loud.
There’s a shy movie usher played by Brian Backer. He has eyes for Leigh, but he’s busy receiving terrible advice from his friend Mike Damone, played by Robert Romanus. Damone is a cartoonish high school hood. He scalps tickets to concerts and wears clothes that make him look like a kid hawking newspaper on a street corner in 1937.
Backer chases Leigh, who likes him and wants to go to bed with him. But he’s shy and runs away. So Damone has comically short intercourse with her a poolhouse. This results in pregnancy. Damone agrees to pay for half, but can’t come up with the money so Leigh has to go it on her own.
Her brother, played by the affable Judge Reinhold, sees her at the clinic and offers something akin to sibling support by promising not to tell their parents about the abortion. I’m not sure what any of this means or why it is awkwardly jammed into a teen sex comedy, but at this point I really don’t care what happens to anybody.
Reinhold has some good moments. He wears a silly pirate hat at one point. He also stops a convenience store robber by throwing scalding hot coffee in his face. This doesn’t sound very funny. It isn’t. But that follows the central theme of the film.
The most-beloved scene in the movie involves the curvey Cates getting out of the pool in a red bikini and walking over to Reinhold, opening the top of her bikini and making out with him. This doesn’t even happen in the reality of the film. It’s just a masterbational fantasy of Reinhold’s character.
Even this is ruined when Cates, who got water in her ear from actually diving into the pool, goes into the house to look for some ear drops to clear the blockage. Instead, she finds Reinhold having at himself, who is suitably shamed for his sexual desires.
The most-quoted character is surfer and stoner Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn in likely one of his most cheerful screen appearances ever. Spicoli is a clown who shows up to class late, doesn’t like to wear a shirt and frustrates Mr. Hand, played by the great character actor Ray Walston.
Frankly, I don’t see the appeal. He calls his teacher a “dick” at one point. He has pizza delivered to class one day. It’s cute, I suppose, maybe even amusing. But it doesn’t make me laugh.
Perhaps I’m too old to appreciate this movie. The appeal of sex in cars or stoner surfers was never that great for me and non-existent today. But I think this is simply a very bad movie and I doubt I would have enjoyed it regardless of when I saw it.
I always cringed when I heard those Spicoli quotes. Now, at least, I’m cringing with context.