Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Hot and Fresh and Pissed Off!

For no other reason than it’s a Monday, here is another Fuck You, Alien! (inspired by the Tony Award-winning play).


This edition of FUA is particularly difficult for me as it brings back old childhood scars I thought long healed.

What you are looking at is a horta, a strange last-of-its-kind creature that secrets acid to enable it to tunnel through solid rock like dolphins swimming through water. It also lays eggs to reproduce.

Well, it’s either a horta or a hunk of my old elementary school cafeteria meatloaf (DNA analysis was inconclusive). It’s all there, the overdone, still sizzling from the blast furnace “ground meat-by products” and the Bomb Shelter brand tomato sauce oozing down the sides. Proof that it is the goddamn meatloaf would be the standard issue glob of mashed potatoes with “No Eat I” seared into the top by the undulating loafling, but apparently that was cropped out of the photo.

OMG. It just occurred to me. What if it is a HORTA-MEATLOAF? DNA splicing gone horribly, horribly wrong (a Worst of Both Worlds scenario). I wouldn’t put it past those hair-netted cafeteria bastards.

Image from Trekcore.com.

Star Trek is Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No Infringement of those rights is implied.

Cafeteria Meatloaf with Tomato Sauce is copyright and a trademark of my old elementary school. Served weekly since 1972. Heaven help us if that thing gets loose (again).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reviewer Vs. Stupid Movie

Monsters Vs. Aliens (2009)

There’s a fun idea at work here in a very stupid and useless movie. When space aliens come calling and our conventional weapons prove useless, who ya gonna call? Why, the monsters you’ve had locked up at a secret facility for the last 50 years, that’s who.

Taking a page from 1950s sci-fi B-movies, our monster “A-Team”consists of a blob named B.O.B., an irradiated insect man, Dr. Cockroach, a missing link named The Missing Link, and a skyscraper sized bug named Insectasaurus. Added to the roster is the near 50 foot Ginormica, who until recently was just plain Susan, a girl about to be married to a motor-mouthed local TV newsman until a meteor hit her right in the face.

That meteor held the valuable quantonium and the evil quatro-eyed alien Galaxhar will stop at nothing, nothing I say, to get that power back. So he threatens to kidnap Susan/Ginormica, suck the energy out of her and blow up the earth, though not necessarily all in that order.

This is a Dreamworks production, as are the Shrek movies, and their stock in trade with CGI animated fare seems to be to load them up with pop culture references, unlike the Pixar films which are far superior in story and execution and have a timeless quality about them. So we get a riff on Close Encounters' "music as language" sequence by using the theme from Beverly Hills Cop. There's also nods to Spaceballs, An Inconvenient Truth and the "hang in there, kitty" poster.

There are no real characters here, just manic ciphers. Dr. Cockroach talks too much. The Missing Link talks too much. B.O.B. is kind of dumb; he also talks too much. Gen. Monger talks too much. EVERYONE TALKS TOO MUCH! They’re all like strange, and poor, copies of Donkey from Shrek. (They wanted to ensure that not a single three year old child's attention would wander away from the screen.) Hey, Dreamworks, you hired not just "name" actors, but actors who are currently hot or in the news, like Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen and Rainn Wilson. How about giving them real, distinct characters to bring to life and not these plastic-eyed mannequins?

The action scenes are loud and frenetic which is the rule now with CGI animation. I would love it if someone, a university perhaps, did a test to see who if anyone can follow the chaotic action in sequences such as in this movie. M vs A is aimed at a young audience but can a 5 year old or a 9 year old tell me what happens in the big, shit’s-exploding-everywhere-in-the-ship-while-Ginormica-has-to- rescue-everybody-outwit-the-clone-army-while-the-camera-is-strapped-to-a-bungee-cord-finale? I would bet Donald Trump’s gold hair piece they couldn’t.

Kids, here’s a better idea: have your parents rent The Creature from the Black Lagoon, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, the original The Fly, and Destroy All Monsters some of the inspirations for this movie. They’re fun, a bit creepy and scary, but not so much that you’d have nightmares. How good are they? Well, they inspired Monsters vs. Aliens, but Monsters vs. Aliens won’t inspire anyone. Got it?

Assignment: FUN

Star Trek - "Assignment: Earth"

Kirk and his Starfleet posse have come back to the swingin' 60s, baby, to witness Mankind on the verge of, like, blowing itself up with nukes or something. Man, that would be, like, a bummer, I'm sure. They cross paths with Gary Seven, a man who really knows how to make an entrance by beaming onto the Enterprise from BFE (which is apparently 1,000 light years in THAT direction). Neither side really trusts the other. Will they save the Earth, or blow it up? Tune in and find out!

Trivial Pursuit fans take note as this episode also served as the pilot for a proposed spin-off series, to be called Assignment: Earth, that would have followed Supervisor Gary Seven and Miss Lincoln as they fought evil. Think of it as James Bond vs. The Outer Limits. Surely this was a better idea than Lancelot Link.



Star Trek Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied.
Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

I get knocked down, but I get up again

TCM airs the horror/blaxploitation film:

Sugar Hill (1974)

Never cross a black woman in the 1970s. Why? Because they will put the VOODOO on you!

That’s the message contained in Sugar Hill, an American International Pictures release. If you tear up when you see the AIP logo or see the name of Executive Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff you are not alone. AIP’s special brand of low budget often grindhouse fare stretches back to the mind-1950s with It Conquered the World and The Amazing Colossal Man (also 1957’s Voodoo Woman!) and runs all the way up to C.H.O.M.P.S. and Q: The Winged Serpent. Mr. Arkoff was overseeing remakes of some of AIP’s classic films when he passed away in 2001.

Sugar Hill is an odd mishmash of things. It does have some competent actors, including the lead Marki Bey as Diana “Sugar” Hill and Robert Quarry, a character actor who has appeared in everything from The Lone Ranger and Sea Hunt, to Perry Mason, Ironside, and Quincy, M.E. But I’ll always remember Quarry as Zarlam in The Far Out Space Nuts.

It’s your standard voodoo movie plot where Sugar’s husband is murdered by Quarry’s goons (all wearing really bad, loud suits) after he refuses to sell his successful nightclub, Club Haiti, to the gangster. Sugar goes to da bayou, actually Houston locales with moss draped on the all the trees and snakes and fog everywhere. And I mean everywhere. While in Dagobah, Sugar meets with Yoda, or in this case Mama Maitresse, a tiny wizened old woman who walks with a cane and knows the old ways (see, Yoda). She’s also apparently very hard of hearing because when Sugar tries to find her in her creepy bayou home, she has to call out “Mama?” roughly 230 times.

Mama Maitresse, whose hair looks like spun sugar, agrees to help Sugar get her revenge and she works her voodoo magic to summon Baron Samedi, basically the Beetlejuice of Haitian folklore. The Baron is played by Don Pedro Colley (the hologram in THX-1138). Colley isn’t as big a personality as Geoffrey Holder was as Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die but he tries his darnedest here and he does okay, though he sweats constantly in this movie.

To show you how times have changed the zombie resurrection scenes goes on FOREVER. Not the actual incantation stuff, which Baron Samedi runs through pretty quickly (and with a lot of laughing). No, I’m talking about the zombies coming out of their graves. The earth moves slowly here and there. Then a finger pokes out. Then a hand. Then we all sit around while the phony thunder and lightning keep doing their thing, and the simple soundtrack voodoo theme plays over and over. And let’s not forget that fog rolling in. We paid for the fog machine dammit, and we are going to get our money’s worth out of it even if we all choke to death! Meanwhile, the zombies are STILL slowly rising from their graves. Maybe it’s because all the zombies have crazy back-of-spoons eyes and they couldn’t see the director motioning them to RISE THE HELL UP.

Anyway, the zombie army finally rises up from their graves and Sugar Hill sets about offing all the thugs who killed hubbie. One by one they fall to her living dead A-Team. Director Paul Maslansky, later of Police Academy fame, tries to make things spooky, and he succeeds to a point, but the actual killings are pretty dull, with no real gore or any make-up effects to speak of, just blood trickling from dude’s necks. If this was an episode of Night Gallery I could see doing it that way, but for a horror/blaxploitation feature film, I think they should have increased the gore a bit. Though the scene with the mobile killer severed chicken foot had us laughing pretty hard.

One fun recurring bit was Baron Samedi popping up to lead the victims to Sugar and her zombie ninjas. He’s a chatty cabbie for one guy, Sam the bartender for another victim, and so on. He’s even Sugar’s sweaty gardener when her cop friend, played by Richard Lawson, comes snooping around. Lucky for him that Sugar keeps her Baron in check.

The film is only 91 minutes and is extremely slow paced. It would have made a much better one hour episode of Night Gallery. There really is nothing in this movie to recommend it to anyone. Marki Bey was good but she has the personality of a Charlie’s Angels guest star. She’s not terrible, but the lead in a feature needs to be more than adequate. Pam Grier really had that something extra which made her the Queen of Blaxploitation. The funniest thing about the movie is the outrageous fashions, particularly the suits the men wear. It’s not just the necktie knots that are as big as a weightlifter’s thigh, but the patterns and shades of the suits are so crazy they can actually send you to the optometrist. Dr. Samedi, perhaps?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The pitter patter of tunneling feet

Fringe – 2nd season – “Night of Desirable Objects”

SPOILERS

After a great first episode, the new season stumbles a bit with its second show, a middling X-Files also-ran about a series of disappearances and He Who Walks Beneath, or Actually Burrows Under, The Rows.

It’s nice to see X-Files vet Charles Martin Smith as a Pennsylvania sheriff, but he’s not given much to do. The beats in this ep are just so familiar to Mulder and Scully’s old adventures from the opening abduction scene, down to the exhumation of remains to find - horror of horrors - things are NOT what they seem. John Savage, a water pump operator whose wife and kid died years ago, is taken into custody for questioning. It turns out Savage’s dead kid isn’t dead, and he’s more than he seems. Savage was a doctor skilled enough to splice scorpion DNA into his baby while he was still in his wife’s womb; she had lupus, which usually terminates a pregnancy, so this was the only way he could think for her to successfully carry a child to term. But seriously, scorpion DNA? What, was there no cockroach DNA handy? Do NONE of these mad scientists/doctors EVER watch mad scientist movies. I mean there have been only 17,029 Frankenstein movie made, he must have seen at least one of them.
As the team investigates these disappearances, Olivia is still recovering from her visit to the alternate universe. She has to walk with a cane after her auto accident, but more intriguing, her hearing has become super-acute, so she gets to play Daredevil or Superman and hear the neighbors talking next door, the beating of a flys wings and the popping of each bubble in her bubble bath.

The A story ends with Olivia and Peter looking for Mr. Creepy T. Burrower in John Savage’s basement. When Olivia turns away from peering into a bricked up cave, guess who pops up to bite her on the shoulder and drag her into his lair. It was more funny than scary to be honest.

The continuing “mythology” story involving the alternate reality and Charlie is of course more interesting, but it was hardly touched on this time, with just a pair of scenes of Charlie typing on the old Selectric typewriter set in front of the magic mirror. Olivia is also sent by Nina Sharp to a Mr. Miyagi type at a bowling alley who will help her cope with her trip through the looking glass.
The main story involving splicing animal DNA into a human was so unoriginal, I am shocked they went that direction. That's like the oldest "fringe science" idea in the books - H.G. Wells used it in his novel The Island of Dr. Moreau published in 1896! I don't know why they didn't give it some new twist, like they did with Mr. Jones' teleportation last season. Also the design of Scorpy-boy looked just like a mean gray alien. (The writers apparently chose a scopion because they wanted their victims paralyzed and a scopion sting fight that bill.)

It’s episodes like this that make me wish the networks would grow some serious balls and put a finite date on more series. Fringe is not a show that should run for seven seasons, which seems to be the magic network number (most actors TV contracts are for seven years). Ideally I’d like to see it run three or four years, really concentrating on the whole alternate universe and the tech war to come, and less on flat, uninspired episodes like this one.
Star Trek image copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended. Screencap from Trekcore.com.

Law & Order: Sloppy Writing Unit

Last night, on a lark, I checked out the season premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, now starting its 11th season.

I think it should also be its LAST season, based on the seriously sloppy writing in evidence, your honor.

A woman is raped and our heroes Benson and Hedges (because Stabler is always so angry he's smokin') think the rapist may have scoped out the victim while she was shopping at a local grocery store. They go there and find the store only has a fake camera mounted on the wall, but the store owner suggests the detectives go over to the guy across the street who's "into" surveillance. They go over there and it looks like CTU headquarters with the footage of multiple cameras thrown up on a bunch of screens. And that's not all: the guy who's doing the surveillance is an autistic savant, so he's not only able to remember after seeing a photo if you stepped in front of one of his cameras, as Benson did one morning 5 years ago, but he can recall the exact day and time.

That's when I jumped out of my seat and screamed BULLSHIT!

How fucking lazy is that writing? SVU or one of it's 247 L&O cousins has already done the bit where if one building's camera didn't record something, the camera across the street or on the traffic signal did. So now not only do they have CTU Boy playing spy satellite, but he's fucking RAINMAN with instant recall. Way to just invent shit up so you can quickly go on to the next scene.

Hey, NBC, here's your next Law & Order spin-off: Law & Order: Autistic Detection Squad where we follow a cranky, autistic savant "special detective" (think Hugh Laurie's House mixed with Dustin Hoffman's uber-genius) as he solves crimes and freaks out when his laces aren't tied four times, that's four times. Four times. Yeah, four times.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Yangie Doodle Dandy

Star Trek. "The Omega Glory"

Dr. Van Gelder (played by Morgan Woodward - yeah the badass in the shades in Cool Hand Luke) gets rid of the shakes and puts in a smart appearance as Capt. Ron Tracey, skipper of the USS Exeter.

But the Exeter is now a ghost ship littered with empty uniforms. Well, not exactly empty: they are filled with what looks like sea salt crystals.

I know what you're thinking, What the huh?

Well, join Kirk and the landing party as they get down with the Yangs and the Comms. You'll be glad you did.







Star Trek is Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended.
Screencaps obtained from Trekcore.com.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Keep your ticket stub for a Midnight refund

Midnight Movie (2008)

Never believe the blurbs on a DVD cover. This little low budget number had several “thumbs up”-type recommendations from a couple of online sites, like Fangoria.com. So expecting a little gory fun, I popped it in.

Midnight Movie is about deranged movie director Ted Radford who shot a notorious Texas Chainsaw sort of movie in the 1960s, went bananas, killed a bunch of folks and was sent to an insane asylum. He escapes one night after an attempt at therapy by showing him his own gore film goes horribly wrong. I would seriously consider changing HMOs if that’s their idea of rehabilitation treatment.

Cut to six years later and a little local theater is showing a midnight movie screening of Radford’s masterpiece, Springtime for Himmler. Just kidding. No, it’s really - and strangely - titled The Dark Beneath, about a doofus in a weird mask (part skull, part hockey, part leather, all goofy) and overalls that kills a bunch of hippie kids driving a Mystery Machine. The mask looks seriously whack, as in cobbled together, and the overalls, well, they worked for the portly, slovenly, mucho-crazy Leatherface, not so much for our guy here.

For a midnight showing of such an infamous movie, only a handful of people show up: a biker dude and his chick and three friends of the three teens who are running the joint that night. Add to that the doctor who was treating Radford and the cop who investigated the killings. They both hope Radford will show his twitchy mug for this screening of his opus. He does, but not in the way they anticipated.

The killer doesn’t just stalk the theater, he pops out of the movie, a la Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (and The Last Action Hero) and kills his victims with a “corkscrew knife” which looks like the offspring of a giant spinning top and a drillbit. Not only does our masked/overalled killer Radford pop out of his movie, he puts the current theater killings up on the screen in real time, like a reality show. Then like a good little editor once the killing is done he cuts to a hallway back in the film where he dragged his old victims, and now his new ones, into some chamber of horrors.

Once the people realize what is going on, they rush for the front door, made of glass mind you, only to find it’s locked! THEY'RE TRAPPED! Their cell phones don’t work! The back exit is also locked! THEY’RE TRAPPED! A policeman stops by and peers through the locked door into an empty lobby, but on the lobby side we can see and hear our frantic heroes but the cop cannot. Hey, I told you, THEY’RE TRAPPED!

At this point you’ve seriously gotta call What The Fuck on the movie. Let’s sum up the bullshit, shall we:

1. The killer can step OUT of the movie.
2. The killer can simulcast his current killings and splice them into the movie showing on the screen.
3. Then the killer can pop not only himself but his new victims back INTO the movie.
4. The killer can pull an Anthony from The Twilight Zone and seal the theater off AND make the people frantically yelling in the lobby invisible to a cop who’s stopped by to check on the place.
5. The killer can stop cell phone calls AND calls from the land line (by magic apparently).
6. I'm betting the killer can also scoop popcorn with his drillbit-top knife AND dispense Junior Mints at the same time.

Yes, there are a couple of cute ideas here, but they are so sloppily handled that they are neutered. And all the shit the killer can do is just ridiculous. I mean come on, he can pop off and on the screen AND scramble cell phone transmissions AND pull a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility number on the lobby so the cop doesn’t see or hear the kids (plus he does this when he’s not even around). It’s like Superman in the comics of the 1950s and 1960s when they invented a new power for him every fucking month: Need to talk in the airless vacuum of space? No problem, here’s super-ventriloquism! Need to alter your face to catch a crook? Presto chango, chum! Need to shoot a miniature version of yourself from your fingertips to handle a deadly kryptonite meteor? You got it bubba! (All super-true; I did NOT make any of that up.)

The Friday the 13th and Halloween movies are unfair enough when they give the killers a supernatural advantage – that they CANNOT be killed – over everyone else. But when you pull magic powers out of your overall-covered ass as the killer in Midnight Movie does, that’s just not fair. It’s also very poor writing.

The acting is fair to middling. It starts off pretty bad with a pair of doctors at the asylum; these guys were really terrible, like they stepped out of a Three’s Company episode. Seriously I expected Chrissy to be a nurse. The cop is also pretty terrible, and you could tell he’s never held a gun in his life before, which is a bad sign for a supposedly veteran police detective. The kids are the better actors, especially the lead, Rebekah Brandes.

The killing scenes, which is why you rent one of these stupid things to begin with, are mostly boring. Early on they cut away and don’t show anything. Yes, it’s low budget but that’s not an excuse. Watch Psycho to see how to do an effective killing scene without elaborate makeup effects. Later they do use prosthetics, but they are so ham-handedly done, they’re silly and sloppy not scary or cool.

When you find a really good low budget movie – see El Mariachi, Pi, Clerks, Evil Dead, Primer – which uses creativity and not a wad of cash to get its point across, it’s a wonderful thing. Don't be fooled by the accolades on the cover, though; Midnight Movie isn't one of them.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I wish I had the mutant power to erase this movie from my mind

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

At long last, the origin of the most popular mutant, the X-Man Wolverine, is revealed.

The result: mostly a big yawn.

Hugh Jackman is back as the Canadian superhero, but he doesn’t have a real focus here, like he did in X-Men 1 and 2. In those movies he had a great relationship as a sort of older brother/father figure to the young Rogue who was discovering her powers and her way in the world. In this film the center is the goofy love/hate relationship between Logan (Jackman) and Victor (Liev Schreiber), so that means the boys gnash their teeth and fight a lot.

The story comes across as very choppy, starting with a sloppy introduction to a young bedridden boy named James. The setting appears to be the 1800s but it’s very vague, not a good start to your movie. It turns out James is our Wolverine and he pops his bone claws for the first time when he sees his father killed by a man named Logan, who with his dying breath reveals that HE is actually James’ true father. Huh-wha? No time for answers as James takes off with his new half-brother Victor and the lads grow to become Jackman and Schreiber and they fight as bloodthirsty soliders in all our major wars - Civil, both WWs, ending in Vietnam.

They are soon recruited by Stryker (Danny Huston) who is running a secret military program using mutants such as the Logan Brothers to do dirty ops. This super SEAL team includes such crazy characters as John Wraith (played by will.i.am, so should that be Wra.i.th?) who’s a teleporter, and a wisecracking ninja - surely a contradiction - Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds).

Wolverine also gets a limp love interest named Kayla Silverfox (one of the sillier-sounding comic book names), played by a seemingly comatose Lynn Collins. Seriously Donny and Marie had a steamier chemistry between them than these two people. After she is killed by Victor, Wolverine spends the rest of the movie in a revenge-fueled fog, even agreeing to undergo a dangerous procedure devised by Stryker to bond the indestructible uber-metal adamantium to his bones (and his claws).

Playing almost like a very bland American, or I guess Canadian, James Bond movie, Wolverine traipses all over the place, his last op with Mutant Team Destructo ends in a massacre in Africa, after which he moves to Canada, then travels to New Orleans (he had a hankerin’ for Cajun food) and ends up in New York. But you really don’t get a sense of place, like the Bond and Jason Bourne movies do when they move from country to country. Wolverine could have been shot entirely in a soundstage and had the same bland effect.

The movie is pretty short, clocking in a 107 minutes. Jackman, who was the center of the X-Men movies, doesn’t hold much interest here, perhaps because the story is not very compelling. Aside from the opening credits bit where Logan and Victor fight wars as brothers and brothers-in-arms/claws, we get absolutely NO sense of what binds these two together. Victor has ALWAYS been a bloodthirsty monster; he even tries to rape a local woman during their time in the Vietman War (and that can't be the first time he's tried to do that). The only thing that they share is a bit of blood and the fact they both have claws, and that's not enough on which to hang a 175 year relationship. The same goes with Logan and Kayla, whom we first meet a few years into their relationship. We have no idea how they met or what attracted one to the other. Add to that the fact the two actors have no spark between them (I've seen more compelling chemistry on Flavor of Love).

The rest of the cast comes across as merely serviceable. No one stands out; they just read their lines and make their lame insults to each other. Where’s Bryan Singer when you really need him? The movie is just way too crowded with extraneous mutant characters. The movie is called Wolverine, and instead of truly focusing on him and his relationship with his girl and, more importantly with Victor, the story is chock full of John Wraith, the Blob, Agent Zero, Gambit/Remy LeBeau, Emma Frost, Deadpool/Wade Wilson, Cyclops, and on and on. (Fox Studios, if you want to sell action figures, you have to make a better movie!) And where's the fun of having a mutant, John Wraith, with the SAME teleporting power as X2's more popular Nightcrawler. He even does the SAME "teleporting while punching" routine that is Nightcrawler's trademark! How lame is that?

Are we a better audience for having seen this sloppy origin story? I’d say, No. The James Bond movies do just fine without us seeing that character’s complete origins. We don’t know what kind of family he came from, whether rich or poor. We don’t know what kind of childhood Bond had. We do know he was in the British Navy before becoming a spy, but we don’t need those intimate details – who trained him, what was his first spy mission (we do see his first “00” assignment in Casino Royale, but that wasn’t his first day in spy school). I have to mention the 1800s intro scene, which rather than clarifying things, muddles them something fierce. Wolverine starts out as James. (We get his last name Howlett from the end credits for the other actors in that scene.) A man named Logan claims to be his true father. Victor, who calls Wolverine "Jimmy" all through the film, is James' half brother. But his last name is Creed? Now I am a comic book fan and am familiar with much of the histories of the X-Men and Wolverine, but this information was presented in such a confusing fashion that I don't know what's what anymore, so I pity the poor audience member who isn't steeped in comic book lore as they are totally flummoxed by it.

The action scenes are loud and surprisingly dull, including the big motorcycle vs. helicopter set piece. They also almost uniformly screamed of green screen work. One sequence had me laughing out loud: at the end the captured mutants are led to the safety of a helicopter and we see the kids run across a leaf-strewn field WITHOUT disturbing so much as a leaf. The actors were obviously shot green screen and composited atop a background plate. It’s like they were walking on top of a photo. On top of that there are many shots of Wolverine's metal claws that look fake; they looked like plastic instead of gleaming metal. The CGI lighting must be off. They looked fine in the X-Movies, but they must have hired a different visual effects company to execute them for this movie.
To cap off all the lameness, the movie just ENDS. After the big edifice-crumbling finale at “the island” Wolverine just runs off and the scene fades out after a silly camera crane-up to the clouds move. A weak ending to an eXtremely weak movie.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Man from the Mirror Comes Calling

Fringe: Season Two – Season Premiere

“They’ve closed us down, Scully. They’ve closed the X-Files.” Whoops, wrong show! But it’s easy to make the mistake when the Fringe Division, a sort of next gen The X-Files, is shut down in this episode, the second season opener.

They’re all back: Agent Olivia Dunham (fresh from her trip to the alternate universe), the Bishop Boys (Mad Scientist Walter and son Peter), Charlie, Astrid and Agent Broyles. They even manage to squeeze Gene the cow into two scenes (he’s even wearing a party hat in one)!

The show starts with a bang and one of the coolest/freakiest entrances I’ve seen in a while, when Dunham’s (Anna Torv) SUV is found in New York City, the front smashed in, apparently the result of a massive head on collision (but there’s no other car). And the funny thing is the vehicle is locked up and the air bags have been deployed, but there’s no Olivia. Exactly HOW she makes her entrance on the scene I won’t reveal, but it was totally cool. And it really hurts, so Olivia winds up in a hospital bed for this episode.

There’s a crazy alternate universe super-soldier-type on the loose in our ‘verse. He has a device (an iFace?) that allows him to become a doppelganger for any other person. And this “shapeshifter” is after Olivia.

Meanwhile, it’s Peter’s birthday and Walter wants to make homemade custard for his son. John Noble as the mad Dr. Bishop proves once again that he desperately needs to be nominated for an Emmy, a Golden Globe and any other TV-related awards you could think of. The birthday boy has to deal with a new “partner” in Agent Amy Jessup (former Deal or No Deal model, Meghan Markle), who is new to the whole Fringe thing, but may know more than she lets on; plus she may have an agenda all her own.

In a nice nod to The X-Files by co-writers J.J. Abrams and Akiva Goldsman, boss Agent Broyles appears before the bean-counting suits in Congress who are tired of pouring money into “the old X designation and your Fringe investigations…for over half a century” and not getting any tangible results from these explorations of the bizarre. Broyles reveals to the senators and the audience that he is actually a Colonel and has been at his post for three presidential administrations and six wars. Also that we are NOT safe, so they should be glad he and the Fringe Division are there when the strange comes knocking at the door.

Charlie (Kirk Acevedo) has always been a good friend and strong arm for Olivia. After this episode, that will likely change. I won’t say what goes down, but you gotta see it!

Fringe is back, and I’m a happy camper (in this universe at least).

Panic! At the Disco Room

Panic Room (2002)

I’ve finally watched all of director David Fincher’s movies with the viewing of Panic Room. I’m glad this was the last one to watch and not, say, Alien 3, which they often use to torture confessions out of criminal suspects.

Jodie Foster and a cute as a button, pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart as her daughter move into the largest, most awesome New York City brownstone. Foster as Meg Altman, buys the place because she wants to piss off her rich ex-husband. Stewart as Sarah likes it because she can ride her razor scooter on all the hardwood floors (they must have killed an entire forest just for those floors). Aside from all the acreage, the brownstone, once the home of a wealthy recluse, contains the titular panic room, basically a large steel box encased in concrete where a family can ride out a home invasion, or flee from unbearable holiday guests. There’s food, water, a toilet (yay!), a separate phone line and cameras that cover most of the house's rooms. The only thing missing is a comfy cough and HBO.

After a long day of unpacking and a couple slices of New York pizza, the Altman Girls call it an evening. And soon after, out of the dark and stormy night, come the biggest New York roaches you’ve ever seen, in the form of Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakum as burglars intent on getting rich without really trying. They break into the house, and Jodie and Kristen high tail it into the panic room. The problem is, what the roaches want is IN the panic room.

In the hands of a lesser director than Fincher this material might really have come off really dull, like a play spread across two sets. A good chunk of the movie is Jodie and Kristen in the one little room, while Forest and company have the run of the house. Fincher had the genius, and probably expensive, idea to use digital effects to aid in the sweeping camera movements through the large brownstone set. For example the camera starts on a sleeping Jodie, pulls back through her third floor bedroom, out the door and BETWEEN the stair posts, craning down to the first floor, moving to another room’s windows. A bit later the camera tracks across the kitchen, over the island, THROUGH the handle of a coffee pot, under the cabinets and over to a window where Jared Leto is peeking in. Fincher’s roving camera moves between and through floors, and snakes past partially open doors to access rooms. It’s cool without stopping and drawing attention to itself, which is what good special effects do.

The story by David Koepp is another variation of the Die Hard or Alien formulas (which weren’t new with either of those movies) where a small group of people is trapped in a confined space against greater odds, and the hero has to outwit them. And Jodie is the perfect actress for the part. She always comes across as smart and resourceful in her roles, and now with an onscreen daughter to protect, you really do not want to mess with her. One similarity to Die Hard really stuck out. Bruce Willis' John McClane was in an office bathroom freshening up when the terrorists seized the building; not only is he wearing just a "wife beater" t-shirt, but he's barefoot. Jodie and Kristen are sleeping when their house is broken into, so they are caught in a similar state of dress, pajamas and bare feet versus Forest and his men's multiple layers of clothing and heavy boots. It's a nice contrast that makes the bad men look even larger compared to the petite women.

I kept having this thought about teaming Jodie together with another hot mama you don’t mess with: Sigourney Weaver. Jodie Foster and Sigourney Weaver kicking all kinds of ass (human or alien, or both, it don’t matter) a la Thelma and Louise. Are you listening Hollywood?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Affirmative action

From the library shelves to my DVD player to my blog to your eyes.

Yes Man (2009)

Jim Carrey. The most polarizing name in entertainment! Most people either love him or hate him (for his movies, or his wife Jenny McCarthy’s wack-ass beliefs on child vaccination). Me, I’m more in the middle: I liked his early, hyper-energy roles in Ace Ventura (uno, not the terrible sequel), The Mask, and Liar, Liar. I even enjoyed his Method performance in Man on the Moon. The less said about How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the better. But he’s become a victim of his own success/excess.

Carrey’s pliable, rubber-like face is always in motion, and that can work against him, as it sometimes does in Yes Man. The movie was inspired by the memoir by Danny Wallace in which the stuck-in-a-rut in his work and personal life British humorist decided that for a year he would say “yes” to any request or opportunity that came his way, whether it was signing up for new credit cards he didn't need, going for a middle of the work week late night round of pints at the pub, learning more about male enhancement from unsolicited emails, attending a UFO devotees meeting, or getting a punch in the face (see pints at the pub).

The movie takes the general idea from Wallace’s book and some of the details and mixes it into a fictionalized story. Carrey plays Carl a put upon bank loan employee who is still smarting from his divorce, has an extremely needy and juvenile boss (Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby), and never goes out with his few friends (Bradley Cooper and Danny Masterson playing a little older non-70s Hyde). He attends one of those self-help seminars, where they yell at you all the time, like Tony Robbins. He agrees to making a "covenant” with the oddly cast Terrance Stamp as the guru and begins saying “yes” to any request made of him. Carl is soon taking flying lessons, learning to speak Korean, no longer avoiding his needy senior neighbor (Fionnula Flanagan), and taking up the guitar.

By opening himself up to new experiences, not all of them pleasant (see the scene with his elderly neighbor where she “thanks” him for putting up shelves), he quickly meets and falls for The Most Quirky Girl in the Universe, Allison (played by Zooey Deschanel, The Most Quirky Girl – and one of the Cutest - in Show Biz). Zooey was much more enjoyable in this movie than the last one I saw her in, the craptacular The Happening. Her quirkiness here, as a photo-jogger (you read that right, a jogger who takes photos) who also plays in a very strange all-girl L.A. band/performance art group, is totally believable. She also rides a cool scooter.

The concept is a winner (I read the book and loved it) but I don’t believe they needed a Movie Star to sell it, especially Mr. $25 Million Dollars a Movie. So of course the studio created a tangential pseudo-sequel/remake of Liar, Liar, this time about a man who can’t say no to anything.

To be fair Carrey restrains himself through much of the movie, but there are times when the old Carrey shows up, especially in scenes of physical humor, like when he throws himself on a car hood and springboards up off the ground in a half second (closer to 50 than he is to 30 and he can still do that physical stuff, it's amazing). I felt the concept was strong enough that it didn’t need, well to put it mildly, Carrey’s Plastic Man face and antics, toned down though they may have been. (Just off the top of my head, I think Jason Bateman might have been a better choice as Carl. Or perhaps Jason Segal.)

Being a Jim Carrey Big Hollywood Movie, the story soon loses its edge and becomes a standard rom com (will the perfect for each other couple overcome this obstacle and get back together? What do you think?), but it still has enough to recommend it in its theme of seizing new opportunities and challenges to enrich your life.

And maybe you’ll get to meet a loveably quirky Zooey Deschanel too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2,4,6,8, who do we nominate? 9!

District: NIN9

A story about tiny stitched together burlap sacks that are forced to live in a little slum by oppressive forces, namely the Gorton’s Fishermen. And when we say “little slum” we mean little, like 12 feet by 15 feet (your average living room dimensions) with walls 3 feet tall. It’s basically a big crib.

These little burlap sacks, nicknamed Shrimps, all smell like, well, wet burlap and are festooned with found objects like zippers, buttons and fishhooks.

One shrimp, Prawny P. Prawnly, leads the others in rebellion on a quest to find a mythical, mystical, magical haven called Red Lobster.

--------------------------------------------------------

Let’s see in the last 5 years we’ve had District B-13/District 13, District 9, 9, The Nine, The Nines. All totally different productions and genres but with maddeningly similar titles.

"Hey, District 9's coming out do you want to see it?"
"Didn't we see that last week along with The Nine?"
"We saw District 13."
"What's the difference? And you Netflixed The Nines."
"Not The Nine?"
"No, The Nines?"
"What's the difference?"
"..."
"...I'm gonna go play Madden now."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dear Vampire Diary, I bought a whole bunch of vanilla...

Some people will never learn.

It seems The Vampire Diaries debut the other night was a toothy success as 4.8 million viewers tuned in.

Now, I'm man enough to admit I was wrong about Dollhouse (well, sorta - too much typical goofy-ass Fox network interference seriously hobbled Joss Whedon's storytelling abilities early on [and it SHOWED], but when Whedon was able to work the series the way he always INTENDED it got noticeably better). But I will stand firm on the major suckage that is The Vampire Diaries. It's entirely unoriginal. It's boring. It's bland. It's not just "plain old vanilla," it's plain old vanilla made with entirely artificial ingredients. Cheap, bought in bulk from Third World countries, not inspected by the USDA artificial ingredients.

If you really want to fill your nights with this kind of claptrap, well, it's your funeral. Just make sure it's closed casket.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Seek a better lead

So have you checked out that syndicated show, Legend of the Seeker? It's another sword and sorcery-type production from Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert's Renaissance Pictures, the outfit behind Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.

I've never watched an episode, and I now know why: the lead actor (Craig Horner as Richard Cypher) looks like a total wuss. He may be a decent actor and a nice guy, but good grief he looks like a dude who just blends into the background. He doesn't stand out and command your attention like Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless did on, and as, Herc and Xena. You knew they were the center of their shows. He doesn't scream leader like Jack on Lost, which is a large ensemble show, or, another leader named Jack, Captain Jack Harkness on Torchwood. Horner is just blah, and very serious.

And Legend of the Seeker looks like it takes itself VERY seriously, with the "My lord this, and my lord that" and "the wizard fortells the coming of the one who..." Give it a rest Seeky and lighten up a tad. It's funny but one thing I didn't like about Hercules and later Xena, especially Xena, was the often silly/campy tone they took. I am all for humor in dramatic shows, but wacky comedy not so much (unless you start out as a wacky comedy).

Now the blog will get hate mail from Legend of the Seeker fans.

Take a mugshot picture, it will last longer

Once upon a time...getting arrested was a bad thing. Now, it's simply another way to publicize yourself and/or your current project. Based on this article on the fun scifi website IO9, four actresses from the latest stupid CW series The Vampire Diaries were arrested for flashing their luscious "headlights" at motorists.

If you check out the mug shots you can see two things: one, that lead actress Nina Dobrev was one of the alleged flasherettes and two, they all look really, really pleased with themselves (and hawt). We're talking Mel Gibson-mug shot pleased (seriously, he had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye). This isn't for the high school yearbook, dimwits, these are police photos! Police photos that are now easily seen around the world.

I love how the ladies claim they were dangling off a Georgia overpass and flashing motorists as part of a scene for their series, being filmed by one lone cameraman (who was also arrested). Unless it was Robert Rodriguez and his one-man-mariachi-film-crew, and the series was called Vampire Flashers, I call Oscar Meyer on this. As in baloney. (If you've ever seen a Hollywood production, there is literally a small army involved.) You have your lead actress and three supporting actresses doing a scene involving the public and, more importantly the public in fast moving autos, and there are NO assistant directors, producers, production assistants/gofers, set security/local police, the director of photography and/or their various camera support personnel (camera loaders, focus pullers, etc, as per UNION rules) and lastly NO director or second unit director/stunts director. Just four girls and ONE cameraman.

Yeah, this just reeks of professionalism and being all above board. And like an episode of The X-Files where someone releases LYING GAS into the air.

The absolute WORST part is that all this hoohah is just going to help publicize their extremely crappy show, and possibly keep it on the air longer. Now THAT is truly a crime.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yeah, that's the ticket!

Not to get political, but that Californian Republican senator who is stepping down because he opened his big mouth while waiting around with a hot microphone and boasting to a collegue about a pair of affairs he was having claims he was just spinning a big yarn. He was just "storytelling."

This reminds me of Jon Lovitz' classic SNL character Tommy Flanagan, the Pathological Liar. "And there I was with my wife...MORGAN FAIRCHILD, whom I've slept with. Yeah, that's the ticket!"

The only time you can really trust what a senator of either political party is saying is when they don't know the microphone is on.

And that's no lie.

This Sucks

The Vampire Diaries (2009)

Talk about an empty soulless show. The Vampire Diaries (TVD), a new series on The CW, is the epitome of a corporate cookie cutter product. Everything about it reeks of unoriginality.

First, it’s obviously a Twilight rip-off, with the brooding hunky vampire boy and the damaged human girl (it's ironic that the book it is based on was published in 1991 before Twilight saw the light of day, but this dreck is only on TV because of Twilight). Even the setting is the same at Twentysomething High School Adjacent to the Deep Old Woods (the state of Virginia here versus Twilight's Pacific Northwest) with actors who are obviously in their mid-20s playing teens. Kevin Williamson of Scream and Dawson’s Creek fame is slumming as one of the executive producers and the co-writer of this pilot episode. It appears he’s forgotten everything he learned while doing Dawson because these kids' personalities are extremely flat when they aren't annoying.

Why don't they just bump the setting up from high school to college? Yes, you'd lose the typical high school crap of cliques and parties and rules, but if you can't do anything new with them, what's to lose? Everything else can remain the same, plus we all know college has its own set of cliques and parties and rules, and it might make the cast a bit more believable. Plus the kids NEVER act like true high school kids anyway despite the lockers and school spirit signs in the cafeteria.

Our vampire hero Stefan (Paul Wesley) is such a copy of a copy of a copy he's hardly discernable on screen. He's dressed in the ridiculously overused black jacket and dark clothes that he appears to have raided Angel's Goodwill donation pile from the late 90s. He's well read and well versed in history (all vampire's are students of history merely from living so long). And he does that blink and he's there, blink again and he's gone thing that has been done to death. Seriously, The Flash called and he wants his gimmick back.

All the supporting characters are from Stereotypes R Us: the overly enthusiastic bff, the kinda slutty girl who is with an obvious creep but can’t see the guy who truly loves her (and is the brother of the vamp’s girlfriend), the hyper-chatty cute blonde who knows everyone but can’t get a date (only in TV’s Stupidville can a cute blonde NOT get a date). Let’s not forget the vampire’s nemesis (at least for the first story arc) who is basically his mirror image, but while our hero vamp Stefan has given up his evil ways as far as using humans for keggers, the dark vamp, who happens to be the hero’s bro, is all ‘bout drinking the human vintage.

I mentioned cookie cutter earlier and here’s another big reason why: the overuse of pop songs in series TV has officially become old and passé. You get the exact same kinds of songs used in the exact same ways as in every other show aimed at 18 to 35 year olds. Every show has about six pop songs sprinked throughout the acts and then ends with a song by a male singer accompanied by a piano or an acoustic guitar, usually over a montage of scenes. THEY’RE USING A GODDAMN TEMPLATE TO MAKE TV!

The story is old hat. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had similar elements to TVD, including a cast that was out of their teens and the high school setting but it was so much smarter, funnier and better acted than this show. The performances in TVD are uninspired across the board - Paul Wesley is no David Boreanaz or Robert Pattinson; Nina Dobrev's Elena is cute, but can't hold a stake to Sarah Michelle Gellar's toughness or Kristen Stewart's vulnerability.

I gotta get a copy of the Buffy pilot, or even Twilight, to get the taste of this undead shit out of my mouth.

Some Really Stinky Cheese

Mulberry Street (2006)

Last night I watched Mulberry Street, one of those ultra low budget movies that are picked up for distribution by Lionsgate and After Dark Films for the "Horrorfest/8 Films to Die For" brand. Perhaps watched is too strong a word; tolerated is more like it.

Movie budgets are a funny thing. No one is ever satisfied; everyone always wants more money. But truly creative people blossom with restricted budgets. Kevin Smith did it with Clerks ($27,000), Darren Aronofsky on Pi ($60,000), Shane Carruth succeeded with Primer ($7,000) and just this summer Neill Blomkamp scored a huge hit with District 9 ($30 million). (Yes, to you and me $30 million is A LOT of money, but when when your summer competition's film budgets average from $150 to $200 million per film, you have to bring something extra, something special, to the table or the movie screen with your $30 milion film.)

Which brings me to Mulberry Street, which is a film on the OTHER end of the creative spectrum from those movies listed above. I really did not like this movie.

It starts out innocently enough. We meet a cast of colorful New York characters who live on the legendary street of the title. There's Clutch, the ex-boxer and our nominal hero, who is awaiting the return of his daughter Casey, a scarred Army vet who is coming home from the hospital. Clutch's pretty neighbor Kay the bartender has a sweet spot for the boxer, but works too hard to share this kind of info with her teen son Otto. The old apartment building where they all live has an even more colorful cast of characters: the harried superintendent (sort of a Schneider 2.0), the crotchety WWII vet who everyone looks after, and Clutch's flamboyant gay friend.

Because the movie didn't have a big budget they end up dragging out the set up scenes for far too long before the horror kicks in. In the hands of a better writer/director than Jim Mickle, a grip and scenic artist in his day job,this might have worked but he and co-writer Nick Damici, who plays Clutch don't pull it off. I'm reminded of From Dusk til Dawn where the first third, if not the entire first half, of that movie played as one thing - a gangster pic - before switching gears to become a vampire splatfest. The thing about From Dusk's gangster pic beginnings is that they were INTERESTING. Lurid, funny, creepy, dramatic and surprising. And THEN the vampires show up. But they had a Quentin Tarantino script, a charismatic George Clooney as the lead, and director Robert Rodriguez still cared about movies as a whole instead of just being amazed he could crank shit out from his home studio.

Mulberry Street just plods along with its interpersonal stories, which really aren't that interesting to begin with. Its chief plotline though, updated by constant local TV newscasts, is absolutely stupid: strange rats are biting people turning them into WERE-RATS. Make that WERE-RATS with silly make up. WERE-RATS IN NEW YORK! There's panic in the streets and on the subways! Watch out New Jersey! Look out Broadway, here come the WERE-RATS.

The movie also plays fast and loose with its style. It starts as a typical low budget effort, with decent enough photography, looking like they used a lot of available light, in the tiny cramped old New York apartments and a few locations including a bar, but then it throws in a little of J-horror style, funky compositions and crazy digitial editing tricks. It tries to be all horror things to all horror people. (Also the night scenes look terrible, really shouting "shot on video" with lots of splotchy black areas.)

The first real were-attack in the apartment building is extremely disingenuous. The filmmakers do the thing where the victim's attention is focused on something in front of him, when all of a sudden the were-rat chick is BEHIND the victim, just standing there (did she just teleport behind him) all quiet and stealthy, then she attacks the guy. But all the OTHER were-rats in the movie are constantly snarling and shrieking and raising a ruckus. So why was that first were-chick all ninja-like? The only reason was because the filmmakers thought the scene would be cool, and not that it made any sense in their story or the way they were telling it the rest of the time. They also do the 1,000,000th version of the J-horror chick with the chick's head bent over and the hair covering her face. BO-RING.

The make up effects are really bad, with stupid rat teeth and hair on the tips of people's ears. One "hero make up" looked a lot like either Nosferatu (who is very rat-like) or the Nightcrawlers from The Descent.

The trailers for the other films in the 8 Films to Die For series looked interesting. They always look interesting when they're whizzing by you at autobahn speeds. I might give one of them a chance, but heed my warning, and keep away from rats, stay out of the subway, and keep off the streets. Especially Mulberry Street.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Deceptive Trekking

"The Enterprise rendezvous with a scientist who claims to have developed a new synthetic food source, only to discover they were being lured there to apprehend a man believed to be..."

That's the onscreen program info for station KDOC's airing of tonight's Star Trek episode. I thought, WTF? For the life of me, I could NOT figure out which episode it was, and I've watched these puppies a bazillion times (yeah, I've counted).

It turns out that the episode is "The Conscience of the King." The last part of the onscreen description is perhaps "...believed to be a mass murderer."

Egads, who writes these things? Could they not have just stated the general outlines of the story: the Enterprise may have taken onboard a mass murderer and the only people who could identify him, including Capt. Kirk, are being killed. Is Kirk next?

Why the hell do we need to know a scientist claims to have discovered a new synthetic food source (genuine imitation tofu, anyone?), and this is used to lure Kirk and company there?. How is that germane to this particular story? He could have discovered a new cold remedy, a nifty form of energy, or a herd of pretty unicorns galloping in a valley. The specific details of the ruse shouldn't figure into the log line for Gorn's sake. Is there someone going, "You know I just tweeted the other day that there aren't any good new synthetic food source shows out there and lo and behold I find one on tonight."

KDOC is showing the Remastered versions of the episodes, so maybe these funky onscreen descriptions are their way of making something old fresh and new again.

Or maybe someone at KDOC's onscreen programming department is hitting the Saurian brandy a bit too early in the day.

Boom, boom, boom, boom

Jericho – Season One (2006)

I picked up the late, lamented TV show Jericho for this past holiday weekend and watched the first four episodes of season one. Set in the fictional town of Jericho, Kansas, the show follows its residents after a nuclear war devastates the United States. It has a large sprawling cast with faces familiar and new: Skeet Ulrich is Jake Green, the estranged son of the town mayor Johnston (Gerald McRaney) and his wife Gail (Pamela Reed). Several of the characters grew up together with Jake: his old flame Emily (Ashley Scott), Jake’s brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), struggling farmer Stanley (Brad Beyer) and his younger sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern).

The pilot was directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, Phenomenon, the National Treasure soon-to-be-trilogy) and is the best of this group of episodes. Perhaps that’s inevitable whenever you have the responsibility of showing a nuclear bomb going off, especially the way it’s done here, with no “camera dramatics” or big showy visual effects. The fear and panic, disbelief and dread, and all the other emotions that must go through your mind after witnessing a nuclear detonation on American soil (in this case, they see a mushroom cloud form in the direction of Denver, Colorado) are on display here.

The residents grasp for information regarding the attack, information which comes at a near trickle when the TV stations stop broadcasting, and then the power goes out. People you’ve known all your life start going Neanderthal on each other over gasoline and cans of beef stew and candles. On top of all that, a storm is literally brewing on the horizon. Is the coming rain going to be radioactive?

I liked that Jericho kept it real. Well, at least as real as network TV allows. Ruggedly handsome Skeet Ulrich is mighty handy with just about everything: he can drive a school bus, fix a 1950s era generator, and handle dynamite. Apparently so can his new love interest, the almost too cute to be legal Sprague Grayden as Heather the new school teacher in town. Gerald McRaney gives some nice speeches that help quell the rowdy townsfolk and inspire and motivate them. They bordered on the corny side, but I went with it.

Fringe watchers (like me) will recognize actor Michael Gaston as slimy local politician and would-be mayor Gray Anderson who constantly harasses Mayor Green. Gaston played slimy FBI supervisor Harris who constantly harassed Agent Dunham. The guy gives great asshole (and that is a compliment). British actor Lennie James plays the mysterious Mr. Hawkins, newly arrived to Jericho BTB (Before The Bomb). Hawkins claims to be a former big city cop, so that’s why he’s up to speed on what nukes can do. But he’s got a very tightly wound family (seriously, pins and needles) and he’s hiding something in his basement. Also, James is the one millionth UK actor who can do a great American accent. Is this some new training they give all UK actors now?

There are some soap opera elements at play here: a married man is fooling around on his wife with a local hottie, a prison bus is found empty, and the local grocer wants everyone to pay for what they’ve taken (come on, didn’t you SEE the mushroom cloud?). Then, there is the time worn chestnut of Jake being estranged from his dad. We don’t know what he did to have left Jericho five years earlier; he tells his old friends each a different story as to where he’s been.

Jericho is not "appointment television" like the first few seasons of ER or The West Wing. And honestly it doesn’t stand up to groundbreaking shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost (the first seasons of both shows are incredible). But it’s a good solid drama with an interesting story to tell and a good cast of actors.

I am eager to find out what happens to the residents of Jericho as they fight to survive and build a new life.

Jump, jump for my love

Teleporting off the L.A. Library shelves.

Jumper (2008)

Superhero as self absorbed slacker.

What a goofy ass movie. Fun in a way, yet still goofy ass. Hayden Christensen, he of "Mannikin Skywalker" infamy, plays David, a callow young man with the ability to "jump" or teleport to any place in the world in the blink of an eye, sort of a better looking, less blue version of the X-Men's Nightcrawler.

After David discovers his jumping ability at fifteen, he takes to robbing banks and living the high life for the next eight years, "bamfing" all over the globe, eating takeout on top of the Sphinx's head, surfing where ever the best waves are, and banging hot chicks the world over. Let's face it, he's a bit of a dick, and Hayden plays it well enough. Come to think of it, this is the level of general dickheadedness that he should have displayed in the Star Wars prequels, but alas and alack George Lucas CANNOT DIRECT ACTORS TO SAVE HIS LIFE. (Sorry, about that---this year is the 10 year anniversary of the first prequel, so, you know, on pins and needles here.)

Into this sweet life comes Mr. Bad Ass, Samuel L. Jackson, sporting a really stupid white wig. He is Roland the Paladin, a member of a group of folks who hunt and kill Jumpers. Why? "Because only God should have this much power." This is really a very stupid reason, and is the movie's weakest story point. What makes it worse is that the Paladins have a machine that can create an artificial wormhole allowing them to jump to the jumper's location. THE PALADINS CAN DO THE EXACT THING THE JUMPER'S CAN. So WHY are they hunting them again, other than so they can use their lightsaber stick props with Daredevil billy club tasers?

Hayden's love interest is played by Rachel Bilson, who gets my vote as Cutest Girl in the World. I loved her in a two-part Chuck episode last season (as the girl who makes sandwiches), but I must admit here she is terrible. She has no chemistry with Hayden, which is ironic since the two actors became an item after making this movie and are engaged to be married, and truthfully delivers a horrendous performance in this film. Her reactions to finding out her lover can TELEPORT are ridiculously low key. No shock and awe there.

Jamie Bell plays Griffen, a fellow Jumper. I thought he was fine, but he really didn't rock my world (especially after watching three Torchwood episodes over the weekend - Jumper could have used a young Burn Gorman in this role). Samuel L. Jackson is playing the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson role, something he could do now in his sleep (hey, Sam, there's your next role: a sleepwalking bad ass!). Hopefully he'll be wide awake when he plays Nick Fury in upcoming Marvel films.

The jumping effects are cool and I liked the action sequences. Thumbs up to the stunt and visual effects teams. The DVD featurettes showed a lot of thinking went into conceiving the jumping process. They show the early video tests, staring with filming someone in a chair, stopping the camera and having the person step off camera, and restarting the camera. They analyze that, with the specifics of why it doesn't work and get more sophisticated from there. They think about light warping in a jump scar, and things like how the air quality of different climates would be reflected in a jump (i.e., jumping from damp London to dry Egypt). If only they thought this deeply about the storyline. (In the commentary track, director Doug Limon and co-writer Simon Kinberg wax on about the philosophical, ethical and other dilemmas of jumping - too bad more of that didn't find its way into the screenplay and the performances.)

One thing bugged the crap out of me while watching this thing. Once David realized who and what the Paladins are, all he needs to do to fight them is get a gun. A jumping David with a gun would be no match for a Paladin with an electro-whip billy club thing. End of story. And if the Paladins just want to eliminate jumpers anyway, why don't THEY carry guns in addition to their billy club whips? It would certainly make their jobs easier.

But everyone acts as if guns don't exist. Maybe all firearms jumped away, along with common sense.

The making of Jumper is apparently more interesting than the actual film. The original Jumper script was to have featured the two leads as eighteen year olds, but shortly before they went into production it was decided to make them in their mid-twenties and Christensen, Bilson and others were hurriedly cast, showing the door to original leads Tom Sturridge and Teresa Palmer. Also Jamie Bell is quoted as calling director Limon a "nutcase" in one interview.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

TV in YOUR Future

Here are some mid-season shows for the upcoming television season.

America’s Got Hasselhoff
A talent show featuring David Hasselhoff singing, dancing, acting, and eating hamburgers while lying on the floor. He will also act as judge and jury for himself. (Already pre-sold to German television markets.)

Ready, Set, Squid
The American adaptation of the hit water-based Japanese game show, What Is Your Cow Happening?

Mayhem and the Monkey
Max Mayhem is a down on his luck private eye in Las Vegas. He works the casino circuit for chips with his sidekick Mona, a monkey that he won in a bet. Mona is the brains in this modern day take on BJ & the Bear.

The Viagra Monologues
A new reality series, sponsored by Viagra and set in a special old folks home festooned with hidden cameras, where frat guys pretending to be old dudes finally “get some.”

Text and the City
Three hot chicks and one questionably hot chick in New York City bitch about men, buy a shitload of clothes, and text each other constantly about both those things.

Flash Rogers: Man Out of Time
A new spin on the classic space opera genre, Flash Rogers is our muscular, blonde haired hero who was cryogenically frozen in the year 2010 and revived 50 minutes later. He is now a man out of his time - his space-watch was busted in the freezing process, making him constantly late for meetings and appointments. He is our Everyman and we see the far-flung future through his “man out of time” eyes. (Sponsored by Casio and Timex, and Longines in certain European markets.)

R (e)x
A new medical drama that follows the lives of the dedicated doctors of Holy Sacred Virgin Miracle Sacrament Cross Hospital and their gold-digging ex-wives.

Badge & Gunn
A new police drama in the tradition of Starsky and Hutch that follows the exploits of a pair of unconventional detectives, John Badge and Thomas Gunn, who cruise the streets of a nameless urban city in their souped up Ford Fiesta (see, unconventional). The two bicker a lot, like The Honeymooners. At the end of each episode, fed up with politics and bureaucracy, they pledge to turn in their “badge and gun” confusing everyone who then just ignore them. (Factoid: the series was pitched as The Honeymooners with badges.)

Blast Furnace
A scifi action adventure show, featuring an ironic take on classic space opera filtered through a post-post-modern Charlie Kaufman-like sensibility. A sample of Blast's: “We hear explosions in the vacuum of space, yet we shouldn’t. This must mean we are but pawns in not only a writer’s mind, but those of a sound designer as well. Therefore we not only reflect on our place in the universe, but our place in the writer’s universe and the sound designer’s universe, and the universes of everyone else who worked on this magnificent piece of mind theater.” (Sponsored by Sominex, Ipecac and Excedrin.)

Aging Rocker Roulette
The Dating Game meets Rock of Love. A new reality show where a vacant-eyed, big-boobed chick who thinks she’s “hawt” gets to choose between one of three aging rockers each of whom hasn’t had a hit since before she was born. Promises to be even creepier than it sounds.

Waves of Love
A new comedy that follows the wacky hijinks of the doctors and nurses of a cruise ship that is perpetually under attack from Somali pirates. “There’s disco aerobics on the Lido Deck, the afternoon Binge & Purge Buffet has been laid out, and —LOOK OUT! PIRATES WITH MACHINE GUNS!”

Meteroid and Me
A scifi comedy about a man who is hit by a meteor that lodges in his brain. The meteor is actually an intelligent female alien who constantly squabbles with the man about his life and “male habits.” It's like Dharma & Greg if Dharma were a meteor.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dim the lights at The Hub

Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD

Torchwood – Season Two

So I finally watched (don’t ask) the last three episodes of Torchwood’s second season on DVD.

“Adrift” – After Jonah, a teenage boy, goes missing, Police Constable Andy Davidson, aka PC Andy, asks his former partner and current Torchwood operative Gwen Cooper for help. What Gwen uncovers rocks her to her core.

“Fragments” – The Torchwood team, minus Gwen, is ambushed and subsequently trapped under the debris of an old building. Separated, they each recall how they were recruited into Torchwood.

“Exit Wounds” – In the second season finale, Captain John Hart comes back to haunt Captain Jack Harkness and using the power of the space/time rift located in Cardiff, begins to lay waste to the city. But is he acting alone? And more so, will the team all make it out of this alive. The answer: No.


“Adrift” was a great Gwen episode and actress Eve Myles really delivered. We’ve all seen the cop shows and movies where the parents plead with the authorities to find their lost or abducted loved one. We’ve seen the anguish that not knowing what happened can have on a parent. But what if not knowing is truly the best thing? That’s what Gwen finds out the hard way here, after discovering that Jonah and others have been “abducted” by the space/time rift centered on Cardiff. Imagine being taken to another time and place and spending decades there, only to return home. Jonah was not only physically disfigured by his experiences (watching a solar system burn while being stranded on one of its planets, before being rescued at the last second) but mentally scarred as well (he looked into the face of a dark star and was driven insane).

As terrible as all this is, Gwen truly believes that Jonah’s mother should know the truth. That her son is alive and that he is back home (in the care of a hospital overseen by Captain Jack). Gwen does take the mother to see her son, but it is all too much too bear; the 17 year old fresh faced boy is gone and in his place is a 40 year old horribly scarred man. And just when mother and son make a tentative re-connection Jonah looses his all too brief hold on lucidity and madness overtakes him (his insanity manifests as he shrieks an ungodly ear piercing scream for 20 hours every day). This is too much for even a mother to bear and she asks Gwen to never do this to any of the other parents and family who might have someone returned from the rift.

If you’ve never cried while watching a TV show before, you WILL cry when watching this episode.

“Fragments” was a decent episode, but I think I was expecting much more. We see how the current Torchwood line up was formed, including Jack’s crazy stint in Victorian England, which was the most fun of the “origin stories.” Tosh’s story was rather bland in that she was being blackmailed into stealing government secrets, but after she was caught she spent a good deal of time in a solitary cell in the British version of Guantanamo Bay (no rights of any kind). Yanto’s tale was pretty boring in that he was already a Torchwood-London vet when he tries to get Jack to hire him (although the pterodactyl bit was fun). Owen’s introduction to Torchwood was full of heartbreak in that his girl was killed by an alien brain-eater. Again, this episode wasn’t terrible, but I think my favorite origin story with a similar flavor was Firefly’s episode “Out of Gas” where we see how that crew joined up with another captain.

“Exit Wounds” is the second season finale that really upends the apple cart. We find out John is being manipulated by none other than Jack’s missing younger brother, Gray, who blames Jack for the lifetime of cruelty and torture he had to endure when he was taken captive by alien invaders. Gray believes none of that would have happened if Jack had never let go of his hand when they were fleeing the invasion as children.

Torchwood splits up and tries to keep Cardiff from falling apart. Gwen takes the lead at the police station after its senior members are butchered according to Gray’s plans. Owen lends a hand at the hospital, and Toshiko and Yanto work at the city’s IT center. Then Owen and Tosh have to work together to prevent the city’s nuclear power plant from having a meltdown. And Jack is really put through the wringer in one of the most audacious plotlines I’ve seen in a while. It’s pretty complex – it involves a trip to 27 AD, so maybe convoluted is a better word - so just read all about it here in the Wikipedia entry.

Cardiff is saved in the end. But Gray still has a murderous hate for Jack, so Jack has him frozen and put in cold storage. Maybe, someday, someone can help him. In a shocking ending, Tosh is shot by Gray and as she’s slowly dying she works over the comm with Owen at the nuclear plant to stop the meltdown. They succeed, but Owen ends up sacrificing his life as well.

Torchwood has been cut down, losing two of its most valuable agents in Tosh and Owen. But they weren’t just agents, they were family. And their losses hit the surviving members of the team hard. Those tears on their faces were real, just like the ones rolling down your cheeks when you watch this episode.

Gwen questions whether she can continue after such terrible losses. But Captain Jack Harkness knows they still have a job to do. “You can. We all can. The end is where we start from” he says. And so it is.

Postscript: It seems like I mention the viewer crying a lot when watching Torchwood. Well, it is a three hankey show. The team has a crazy hard job to do and it affects their personal lives in ways they never expected. And they ARE affected by what they see and do. Unlike a good number of American television shows, Torchwood doesn't just hit the reset button at the end, with everybody returning to their posts ready for the next adventure. They question whether they can keep doing this job, whether they can move forward.

But for the viewer there is no question: grab your tissues and tune in next time.

PPS: Even after reading this review and seeing its spoilers, if you haven't watched Torchwood, well, what the hell are you waiting for? Rent it, buy the disks, check it out from your local library, borrow it from a friend. This is top-quality television. WATCH. IT.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What's coming on the Tee Vee?

The new fall television season is right around the corner. In the spirit of that forthcoming digital bliss, here are some suggestions for new TV shows.

Sasquatch and Me
A recent college graduate from a small Oregon town moves to New York City to find his place in the world. Bigfoot is his know it all roommate.

Beverly Hills 11001001
In the near future, the beautiful people of Beverly Hills, who all look to be in their 20s but are supposed to be teenagers, must work through life, love and slutting around all while wearing jet packs, riding hoverboards, and dealing with their cloned parents.

Going to the Dogs
Imagine a future where dogs are intelligent and people are pets. We follow the day to day trials of one such family, the Labradors, and their pet human, Mitch Johnson.

Tourniquet
A medical drama where a brilliant, handsome doctor uses his unconventional approach to medicine, and his ever-present tourniquet, to deal with his patients. (Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers performs the theme song, "Tie It Off (Twist & Turn).")

Mirror/Mirror
A new reality show where the viewer logs onto their computer and, via webcam, watches other viewers watching them watch other viewers watching them watch other viewers.

“Doc” Surgeon, M.D.
A different kind of medical dramady where a handsome, brilliant surgeon uses his unconventional approach to medicine to deal with his patients.

Thrown Away
A cranky but brilliant garbage man sifts through the detritus of society and using his amazing deductive skills finds out who discarded the items, what was wrong in their lives, and helps them fix it. Then he robs them blind at the end of each episode. (Originally pitched to the network as "House Meets Sanford and Son.")

Laugh Tracks
A harried young woman spends her days working a dead end job, all the while trying to figure out from where the “laugh track” that follows her every move is emanating. Bigfoot is her know it all next door neighbor.

Raggedy Android
That loveable rag doll, Raggedy Ann, gets a hi-tech update as the android best friend of a little girl and her busy family.

LUNAR Blue
The moon has been colonized by NASA scientists. Overseeing that unruly bunch are the men, women and talking monkey in blue of Police Precinct: Moon.

Sasquatch & Yeti
A Starsky & Hutch for the 21st century, follows the pair of mismatched detectives Sasquatch and Yeti as they tool around the city in their Bigfoot monster truck and solve crimes. "Grizzly" Bear is their street-smart informant.

Who's up for a game of Fizzbin?

Star Trek. "A Piece of the Action"

Don your fedora, grab your Tommy gun, and kiss a dame, the Enterprise gang goes back to the Roaring Twenties (sort of).

But beware of the "concrete galoshes."




Star Trek is a Registered Trademark and Copyright 2009 by CBS Studios, Inc. Men in Black image copyright 2009 by Columbia Pictures. No infringement of these rights is intended.
Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Never leave home without him

Taken (2008)

Writer/producer Luc Besson loves him some unconventional action heroes. He's created Nikita, Leon, Corbin Dallas, Frank Martin and Danny the Dog in the movies La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, the Transporter trilogy and Unleashed. (Whew. And on the seventh day, he rested.) Now Besson, with his frequent co-writer Robert Mark Kamen, has given us Bryan Mills in Taken.

Mills, played by Liam Neeson, is a retired government agent (he never reveals what agency); he tells his daughter, Kim, that he was a "preventer." Against his better judgment - and whose judgment is better than a former Jedi Master's, I ask you - he lets 17 year old Kim (Maggie Grace, formerly of Lost) jet off to Paris with her bff, Amanda.

If you think losing your passport or credit cards, or not being able to dine at that one restaurant that your old friend from college won't stop raving about makes for a bad trip, TRY BEING KIDNAPPED. Yup, Kimmy and Amanda are kidnapped in Paris and daddy. is. pissed.

This is basically the same plot as Commando, that 80's action gem where the Governator played Col. John Matrix (LOVE that name) whose daughter, that little Alyssa Milano chick from TV's Who's the Boss, grew up HOT and did that movie, Embrace of the Vampire that played on Skinemax forever.

But, true to form, Besson and Kamen have created a new action hero in Neeson's Bryan Mills. In other, lesser action movies the "retired" hero always looks like he's in mid-30s. Neeson is in his mid-50s, so his retirement from government "preventing" is entirely plausible. He's also old enough to have a kid who is almost eighteen. Casting Neeson is a stroke of genius. In every role he takes, he brings his intelligence, sense of duty and honor, and gravitas. And, taking a page from the John McClane handbook, he makes Mills vulnerable; he's not Superman, but he's very, very good at what he does. (Plus, you know, FORMER JEDI MASTER.)

Similar to the Bourne movies and Besson's Transporter series, there are car chases, fisticuffs and martial arts (croissant fu?) and shady underworld characters galore. Liam Neeson navigates through all of them like a great white shark on the prowl for its next target. I found Taken much more enjoyable than the meant-to-be cartoonish Transporter movies (though the former could have just a smidgen of a sense of humor).

I hear they are already planning Taken 2. I'll make sure my passport is up to date.

ps: It just occured to me that Luc Besson looks like a cross between Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and Sasquatch. What does that mean with regard to his filmic sense? What, indeed....

Horsing around underwater

THiS, a local over-the-air channel, shows some funky stuff late, late at night. Of course I'm talking about Sea Hunt and Mr. Ed.

Sea Hunt starred the young and intrepid Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson, former Navy frog man and now ace civilian deep sea diver. If you lost it in the ocean, whether it was your car keys or an Air Force fighter jet, Mike Nelson could find it for you. (Bridges is most famous to Jeff and Beau Bridges for playing the roll of "dad," sometimes known as "pop" when they wanted to borrow the car.)

Mr. Ed is the titular loquacious equine. The pretty palomino horse only talked to his owner, Wilbur Post, (Alan Young, Jr., aka the guy from The Time Machine, and the voices of Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tales and 7 Zark 7 in Battle of the Planets).

The reason I bring this up is you could not have two more mismatched series to run back to back, or scuba tank to saddle in this particular case. The heart pounding suspense of one, running right up and into the surreal horse hijinks of the other.

Here are some log lines for actual episodes of both series:

Mike Nelson searches for an underwater thief. Ed refuses to write another hit song for Kay's brother.

Rising tides trap two children in an undersea cave. Ed will not admit he caused the newsboy to lose his job.

A diplomat and his family are kidnapped. Wilbur falls into a lion's cage while retrieving a kite.

If you watch enough of these shows, however, they all start to run together:

Mike refuses to record a song (Tiny Bubbles) underwater for Kay's brother because Ed is a thief.

A newsboy is trapped underwater (who the hell was he delivering to?) and Ed comes to the rescue after Mike loses his job to some kids.

A diplomat and his family are threatened by sea lions and Mike rides Ed to the rescue while Wilbur flies a kit.

Bet you're confused as crap now. Well, the line forms behind me. All I'm saying THiS Channel programmers is be more careful of what series you pair together; you never know what kind of night terrors they could induce in viewers.

I'm looking at you Outer Limits and The Patty Duke Show.