Tag Archives: jonathan groff

Doctor Who – Rogue

The latest episode of Doctor Who gave this reviewer the ick

It’s Bath time, for Doctor Who, specifically Bath in 1813 as The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) introduces Ruby (Millie Gibson) to Society at a ball thrown by the Duchess of Pemberton (Indira Varma), a lady of minor nobility and major interest in scandal and gossip. But there’s Rogue element at play in all the Regency revelry, and The Doctor is determined to get to the bottom of things.

In classic Doctor Who style, Rogue drops us in media res, straight into an adventure where we get an inkling that things aren’t what they might seem before our heroes do. The discovery that something not-of-this-world is afoot is neatly handled with a delightful conceit that not only explains away Ruby’s improbable grasp of formal dancing but serves to alert The Doctor to some extra-terrestrial shenanigans going on and leading him directly to the eponymous character at the heart of this week’s episode, the enigmatic bounty hunter Rogue (Jonathan Groff – no stranger to the period of the drama thanks to his role as George III in Hamilton).

From the first scene, we are plunged into a world of opulent costumes and intricate societal rules and conventions. The visuals are immediately intoxicating, with the production design capturing every furbelow and folderol of the period. Intrigued by the Bounty Hunter – in more ways than one – The Doctor’s inquisitive nature leaves Ruby to her own devices for much of the episode, allowing her to gleefully indulge in and indict the various social and gender inequities of the period and seemingly carelessly dropping anachronistic linguistics without a thought for the mavity of what she might be doing.

The turning of The Doctor’s head is quite understandable. Jonathan Groff bestrides the scene, effortlessly stealing the limelight and instantly commanding attention, his every grin and quip laden with charm and playful lascivity. The chemistry between Rogue and the Doctor is instantaneous, their interactions crackling with an electric mix of humour and heartfelt moments and it’s a wry reflection on their cognitive blind spots that they both mistake their mutual interest as suspicion for the murders which are occurring rather than for something more amorous. The witty repartee between them is the very epitome of a Regency Quadrille, each step precise and coordinated, the arch formality barely concealing the sensually charged subtext. This is an episode which has zero qualms about unequivocally answering the question of whether The Doctor Dances. Rogue’s characterisation superficially bears comparison with the series’ previous rogue-in-chief Captain Jack Harkness but Groff brings a nobility to the role that’s world’s away from the sleazy predation of John Barrowman’s performance.

Ncuti Gatwa’s portrayal of the Doctor continues to captivate, his performance a masterclass in balancing whimsy with emotional depth and Groff’s Rogue provides a fascinating foil for the character, his presence bringing out a tender side of the Doctor, unearthing layers of vulnerability and past sorrow in a way that recalls River Song more than the unrepentantly horny Captain Jack. This isn’t one-note thirst, it’s played as real romance, which makes complete sense for an alien character for whom gender is explicitly fluid and their sexuality canonically flexible. Davies has never been a subscriber to the more aromantic interpretation of the character which dominated its classic years, with the 10th Doctor notably a serial romantic and even the 9th Doctor not above tipping Captain Jack a knowing wink now and again. For those who found themselves scandalised by The Doctor’s behaviour, the writing is cunning enough that everything that might be found objectionable can easily be interpreted as a clever ruse, a distraction tactic to keep the bad guys off guard long enough for the heroes to save the day of for Rogue to distract the Doctor long enough to steal the trigger mechanism. It’s a wilfully blind interpretation, for sure, but a valid one if needed.

Where Rogue feels a little weaker is in its actual villains, which are classic Davies-era one-shot throwaways. Their menace is fleeting, their impact dulled by a lack of depth and memorability as they serve their purpose within the episode without ever threatening to rise to the challenge of becoming iconic adversaries in the vast rogues’ gallery of Doctor Who. Their escalation from a little local difficulty to potentially world-ending threat feels rushed and unearned in the context of the episode and for all its exquisite period trappings, the moral dilemma that forms the climax of Rogue is rudely mechanical in its obviousness and while its resolution teases a potential future encounter, it’s not the plot but Gatwa’s emotional performance that really sells the Doctor’s apparent brushing-off of the evening’s events while articulating the pain of a timeless being experiencing yet another loss. It’s also perhaps the episode that feels most disconnected from the rest of the series. There’s no snow, no reflection on Ruby’s mysterious origin and only a glimpse of Susan Twist as a portrait on the wall of the ballroom, but maybe that’s for the best given that next week plunges us straight into a two-part season finale which has come around far too soon for my liking.

So where, you might ask, did Rogue give me “the ick”? It’s in its overly eager embrace of the Bridgerton aesthetic as a setting for the episode’s action. The original mission of Doctor Who involved educating and informing its audience through its historical adventures and while it’s been many a year since the series had the courage to do a pure historical (over forty years, in fact) there’s something tawdry and a little bit desperate about a storied television icon like Doctor Who pandering so cravenly to a pop culture footnote like Netflix’s Bridgerton (and I say that as a fan of Shonda Rhimes’ anachronistic romantic fantasy). Episode writers Kate Herron and Briony Redman haven’t just made a few clever nods to the series in the Regency romp, they’ve lifted the setting and tropes wholesale. For a veteran show like Doctor Who it’s got big (and unbecoming) “Hello Fellow Kids” energy, an energy the series has little need of.


Knock At The Cabin (2023) Review

Knock At The Cabin delivers M Night Shyamalan’s most unexpected twist yet.

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Dave…

Dave who?

Dave Bautista in his most beefily earnest role yet as M Night Shyamalan stages a remarkable return to form with KNOCK AT THE CABIN. After the disappointment of OLD, he suddenly feels new again.

When four strangers turn up at the vacation cabin of Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Wen (Kristen Cui) they present a startling ultimatum to the holidaying family: they must choose one of their number to die, or the rest of humanity will perish.

SPOILERS FROM HEREON OUT

KNOCK AT THE CABIN benefits from its oddly eclectic cast pretty much firing on all cylinders. Where Dave Bautista is, in all seriousness, fantastic as Leonard, the defacto leader of the group of visitors, affecting a marvellously nuanced performance full of compassion, menace and ambiguity, Rupert Grint is a revelation in his small but pivotal role as Redmond, delivering a career-to-date best performance. Shyamalan keeps things clipping along at an efficient and effective rate, steering a careful and deliberately non-committal course and keeping the audience guessing as to the true nature of what’s really going on. Are the visitors telling the truth about the unfolding apocalypse or is it all an elaborately planned home invasion complete with slick multimedia support to sustain the story while Leonard, Redmond, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Adriane (Abby Quinn) pursue some delusional cult agenda, as Andrew suspects?

As Keyser Söze once said, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” and in KNOCK AT THE CABIN, Shyamalan plays a very similar trick. He not only embraces his reputation as a filmmaker who’s arguably a little too fond of working in a TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED-style twist at the end of his work, but here he uses it to lure you in, gleefully encouraging you to try and figure out what the twist will be. In the end, though, the subversion, potentially his cleverest since THE SIXTH SENSE, is not a narrative one: it’s a near meta-textual one as the audience learns that there is no twist and everything that’s unfolding is exactly as it’s been described on screen. Every character has been telling the whole truth the whole time. It’s a wonderfully Puckish conceit that adds energy to the effective but stagily static story and inoculates the film against the impact of its somewhat rushed denouement where a reflection on the events we’ve witnessed, their metaphysical implications and their cyclical, possibly timeless, nature is raised and discarded almost as an afterthought.

Despite its failure to explore the wider implications of its central idea, though, KNOCK AT THE CABIN still delivers an effective and thought-provoking horror-tinged morality play that makes a virtue of its lack of unexpected twists and turns.

Once Upon A Snowman (2020) can’t dig its way out of a drift of unnecessariness

If, like me, you’d assumed that everything you might need to know about Olaf the snowman’s origins was relayed quite effectively in 2013’s “Frozen”, you’d be absolutely right. That hasn’t stopped Disney from pulling together “Once Upon A Snowman”, a wholly unoriginal original short which plays out like its made up from deleted and discarded scenes from the first “Frozen” movie.

Absent-mindedly created by Elsa during her show-stopping “Let It Go” number, Olaf is a snowman undergoing an existential crisis brought on by, well, having been abruptly brought into existence. Cue a series of mildly amusing, if somewhat repetitive, close calls with the action of the movie only this time seen from the vantage point of just a few seconds before or after. Searching for meaning, Olaf briefly contemplates the pseudo-Cronenbergian horror of being made of snow and walking around in snow before he’s distracted by Wandering Oaken’s trading post, right after Anna has bought all the carrots and rope. After opting for an alternative nose, he tangles with wolves (yes, the same wolves that chase Anna and Christoph) and gravity before finally finding himself primed to make his entrance to the movie.

But don’t worry, the writers know that there’s no longer any appeal in fictional stories where even the smallest detail of a character’s behaviour or actions isn’t explained by a specific incident so you can bet they cover just why Olaf – who’s existance spans a mere few winter hours – is so excited about the idea of summer.

The animation is as slick and polished as you’d expect and if you’ve got ten or so minutes to kill then you might as well put this on, but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, just not from this angle.

5/10


“Once Upon A Snowman” is available to stream now on Disney+

Frozen II (2019) sets out to answer the biggest mystery of Frozen – where did that choral music from the first film actually come from?

A sequel so long-awaited that one of the characters even breaks the fourth wall to note the audience looks a little bit older, “Frozen II” goes back to beyond the beginning of the first movie to deliver a complex wraparound follow-up to 2013’s breezy take on “The Snow Queen”.

With Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven living happily ever after, Elsa still feels uneasy in the kingdom of Arandelle, an unease made worse by a siren song from the north that only she can hear. But when Elsa accidentally awakens the elemental spirits who dwelt beyond a magical barrier beyond the north mountain and Arandelle is forced to evacuate, Anna and Elsa must use a bedtime story told to them by their mother and father as a guide to unravel the mysteries of the past and save the kingdom.

Not since “Back To The Future II” has a sequel’s plot been so intertwined with the first film, as we flashback to way beyond Elsa and Anna’s childhood, to the time of her grandfather and a diplomatic expedition north into the lands of the Northuldra, and follow a saga of two peoples and two sisters who are destined to right a great wrong. Where the original “Frozen” had a simple story to tell, “Frozen II” has much darker ambition and sets out to tell a much more complex story – although it still keeps itself to a relatively trim 100 minute run time, resulting in some vagueness where certainty might have been more satisfying and sacrificing coherence for brevity.

Where the first movie was content to wax lyrical about the healing power of love, the sequel sets out to explore more esoteric themes such as the evils of colonialism and the damaging effects of walls and segregation on a land, its people and the environment. The animation is, of course, polished to an exquisite shine and while the songs may initially feel like a letdown from the first movie’s conveyer belt of ruthlessly sing-a-longable earworms, there’s no denying the big Broadway energy of the movie’s songs.

There’s plenty here for “Frozen” fans to enjoy and even a few sly metatextual nods to the worldwide cultural legacy overkill of the first movie but you don’t really need to have seen the first one to enjoy this – especially as Olaf helpfully recaps the first movie à la C-3PO in “Return Of The Jedi”. Taken together, both movies provide a surprisingly deep and eminently satisfying epic take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, albeit one with decidedly modern sensibilities.

7/10 

 

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (2017) sets out to kick off the festive season.

In the United States, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” has been released along with “Coco” but, as we have to wait an extra couple of months here in the UK, we at least get the opportunity to watch this latest Disney short for the Kids’ Club ticket price of £3 (or thereabouts) plus the opportunity (should you want to  – plenty of families in our screening didn’t) of watching “Frozen” for the three-thousand, eight-hundred and twenty-seventh time.

On the eve of the conspicuously non-specific holiday season, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) realise that due to their unconventional childhood, they don’t – unlike the rest of the population of Arandelle – have any family traditions of their own. Not willing to see his best friends sad over the holidays, Olaf (Josh Gad) sets out to gather the best family traditions he can find.

The animation is as polished as you’d expect and certainly, the leap to the big screen doesn’t betray this entertaining short’s roots as a proposed TV special. Although ‘Christmas’ is never named (at least as far as I can remember), visually, it’s as Christmassy as it could be (with a healthy side order of Hanukah and a nod to Winter Solstice), finally placing “Frozen” at the heart of the holiday with which is most erroneously associated (the original movie takes place in summer). It’s been four years since we first travelled to Arandelle and with a year and a half already gone by since “Frozen Fever” and with two years still to go before “Frozen 2”, it’s nice to catch up with the gang again. Gad’s overly cutesy Olaf voice again masks a sharp comic timing and a wickedly sly line delivery, meaning the snowman steals the best lines and most of the scenes but it’s great that the entire voice cast return for this short. It’s the four forgettable musical numbers, though, which let the side down. They’re not written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez and while they’re perfectly serviceable, they lack the instant catchability and staying power of the likes of “Let It Go” or even “Making Today a Perfect Day”.

“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” is a perfectly adequate bit of fun in the run-up to Christmas and while it may not reach the heights of the previous adventures for these characters, it’s undoubtedly going to be wearing out DVD players, and parents’ patience, in the months to come before the proper “Frozen” sequel finally lands.

6/10