Friday, April 28, 2006

More Marvel, More Superheros

Today, The Hollywood Reporter posted an article about the huge new slate of superhero films that Marvel Films plans to churn out starting in 2008. This panoply includes, a sequel to the 2003 release of Hulk (which I thought Ang Lee turned into a visual stunner, even though everyone else on the planet seemed to hate it), an Iron Man film to be directed by Jon Favreau, an Ant Man film written by Edgar Wright (writer/director of Shaun of the Dead), and a Captain America film, among others.

I’m all for comic book movies, but I’m curious about how this pack of films will do in the near future. Like anything else in pop culture, superheros have waxed and waned over the decades. In ’78 when the original Superman was released, it was a huge hit, and spawned three sequels, which all declined in quality bit by bit after the first entry. Tim Burton’s Batman in ’89 launched the caped crusader craze which was to last through the 90’s before petering out in ’97 with the infamous Batman Forever. In 2000, the first of the nouveau superhero films hit with Bryan Singer’s X-Men, and since then it seems that a superhero cinema craze has hit like never before. This decade, I think in retrospect, will be known as the decade of the superhero. The past six years have seen three X-Men films, two Spiderman films, a Hulk film, a Punisher film, a Daredevil film, an Elektra film, a Fantastic Four film, and the revitalization of the Batman and Superman franchises. Not to mention the various sequels for these films that are already careening down the pipeline to a theatre near you. Soon to be releases include another Spiderman, another Batman, Wonderwoman, and now, the multi-picture barrage of films from Marvel.

It seems to me like it’s only a matter of time before the public gets burnt out on all this. There will be a superhero backlash as people tire of accidents involving radiation and hi-tech gadgets. Or will they? Are the basic components of the superhero genre so universal –so relatable, that they remain invincible? Even when the comic book/superhero movie market dies down, it only seems to do so for a couple of years before it starts up again. It’s true that people never seem to tire of the summer Hollywood blockbuster formula. But there’s also a certain “special” quality that I think is attached to this genre of films, an originality; dare I say magical at the risk of sounding foolishly sentimental. I would hate to see the superhero film become so ordinary and commonplace that it is as predictable and formulaic as your average studio romantic comedy or thriller. I’m sure many would argue it’s already too late for that, that the superhero film has been normalized into the swill of mediocrity that floats through our cineplexes. It’s true there have been some doozies. Fantastic Four and Daredevil, to name a couple, were both pretty dreadful. But the X-Men and Spiderman movies have managed to keep their heads above water, and at times achieve greatness (at least for now, knock on wood).

The films described in The H Reporter article make mention of some promising elements. In particular I like the description of the take on Captain America for the feature film:

"He's a Norman Rockwell character who is faced with today's America and is forced to look at his own past, things in the '40s that weren't necessarily what they were cracked up to be, and also how today's country may be different than it looks,"

I like the fact that they intend to imbue a character whose name implies blind optimism and nostalgic patriotism with some introspection about his own values. It’s things like that which differentiate the best of the superhero films from action films with elaborate costumes

But there are other pieces in the article which make me scratch my head a bit. For instance, when did Jon Favreau become the go-to Superhero/sci-fi director around town? Don’t get me wrong, I think the guy is a funny actor, and I thought Elf was cute, but now all of a sudden he’s directing John Carter of Mars, and Iron Man. Was it all that “buzz” from his last feature directorial effort, Zathura? I find that hard to believe because that movie, though not necessarily Favreau’s fault, was pretty bad. The Nick Fury film, will be adapted by screenwriter Andrew Marlow, who aso wrote Hollow Man and End of Days. Egads. I guess it’s good that Marvel is trying to bring in some fresh blood into the world of superhero films, who may incorporate the sensibilities from their other work into the adaptations. But I will say that after reading the article, it evoked an image of the Marvel films world as being a gigantic boy’s club; not a single female writer, director, or producer seemed to be involed in any of these films. Harumph. I for one think it would be interesting to see a woman's take on some of these iconic characters.

I’m sure I’ll see most if not all of these films when they’re released. That is if the superhero bubble hasn’t burst by ’08…

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Silent Hill: A Quiet Disaster

The film Silent Hill came in at the top spot of the box office this past weekend, grossing just over twenty million, exceding studio expectations. It preformed better than the last two recent horror outings, The Hills Have Eyes remake (which came in at #3 opening weekend with $15 mil) and Slither (which came it at #8 opening weekend with just under $4 mil). I didn’t see Slither, but I did see the Hills Have Eyes, and though no great masterpiece it was about a hundred times better than Silent Hill. I’m pretty baffled at how Silent Hill did so well among audiences. Granted, the film had a bit of a built in fan base, as it was based on the popular video game series. I read up on the original incarnation of Silent Hill, and it seems that it was widely regarded as one of the most disturbing and frightening horror video games on the market. Since the release of the first game in 1999, three sequals have followed, as well as graphic novels and comic books. Reviewers and fans alike have praised the “cinematic” qualities of the SH games and it was apparently only a matter time before it was adapted to a feature film.

It’s difficult to summarize the film, because, more so than other recent horror films, its convoluted mythology not only defies logic and reason, but spits in the face of even the quirkiest non-linear storytelling. In fact, Silent Hill is so inconsistent and bizarre, it lends itself more to the fantasy genre.

The film begins with a young girl, by the name of Sharon, having a sleep walking episode. She has run out into the dangerous wooded canyons behind her house, and her mother, Rose, and father Christopher race frantically to catch her before she hurts herself. They find her, just as she is about to leap off a precipice; in her sleep induced daze Sharon keeps muttering “Silent Hill, Silent Hill, mommy….” I knew from this point, that the film was not going to be particularly strong. The script had just steam rolled right over character development and set up and jumped right into a ridiculous scenario. Little did I know, just how bad things would get. Apparently this was not the first time Sharon had exhibited such strange behavior, and after the latest episode, Rose decides she must sneak off with Sharon, behind her husband’s back. Rose intends to take her daughter to, Silent Hill, an abandoned ghost town, where she hopes to uncover the mystery of the connection between the town and her disturbed daughter. On their way, Rose stops at a gas station, and a female cop becomes suspicious of Rose and Sharon (there is no real reason for this, she just does). The cop decides to follow them and they head towards the deserted road to Silent Hill. When the cop pulls her over for speeding, Rose is afraid she might foil her plan, and guns the accelator. When Rose sees something strange in the road, she swerves to avoid it, and looses control of the car, crashing it and loosing consciousness.

Already, nothing makes sense. If Rose really wanted to investigate an old ghost town because she thought it might hold the answers of her daughter’s fate, she wouldn’t need to bring her daughter with her, and certainly not at the dead of night. There is also no reason why a cop would be suspicious of a mother and daughter travellling together, nor logic behind Rose desperately running away from a cop the way she did. But all of this is just expository claptrap meant to get the pertinet players to the locale of Silent Hill. One would assume that once they get there, things would improve; perhaps there would even be a real story to follow, but this was not to be the case. When Rose wakes up in her car the next morning, the road and town are shrouded in fog. The flurries of snow that drift down to the street reveal themselves to be ashes. As Rose gets her bearings she realizes that Sharon is gone. The rest of the movie involves Rose trying to find her daughter who has disappeared into the deserted town of Silent Hill. The cop that was following Rose shows up a little while later and agrees to help find her daughter.

Silent Hill succeeds at creating a nightmarish landscape with startling visuals and an unsettling atmosphere. A good portion of the first half of the film has little to no dialogue, and just involves Rose running through gruesome locals in the town. The camera work evokes a video game style, and at times also strays into music video territory in that it relies solely on stark images and sound FX to set the mood and tell the story. Perhaps the most terrifying element of the film, are the periods of “darkness” when the town’s demons come out. Every couple of hours in Silent Hill, an air raid horn sounds, and the terrain of the town corrodes and changes. Everything gets dark and horrible monsters begin to roam the streets and buildings of the town. In particular, a demon with a huge black triange for a head, adds to the feeling of a hellish Alice in Wonderland. There were a few moments where I was just completely taken in by the visuals. One bizarre sequence towards the end of the film struck me in particular. Rose is heading to the basement to confront the demon about her daughter and has to pass through an army of faceless, contorted corpses that resembled female nurses. The monsters appeared to be frozen, but would begin to move the moment they were exposed to bright light. As Rose walked past them with her flashlight she had to inch past the wriggling ungodly creatures. It was creepy, but cool at the same time. Though these two minutes did little to justify the price of admission.

The moments of visual artistry, expertly created by director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) remained blips on a radar screen of the boring and incomprehensible. The movie was long, about two hours worth, and with its paltry storyline felt even longer. While nothing of consequence happened in the plot during the first hour and fiften minutes, the last thirty minutes or so were jam packed with flashbacks and “now you’ll know the truth” monologues which drowned out any sort of pacing and atmosphere (albeit slow and uneventful) the movie had achieved.
I felt exhausted after I saw this movie. In part because it was too long, and in part because it was a struggle to make heads or tails of what was going on but mostly because to me Silent Hill is indicative of a larger problem. I would rather see a film devoid of any potential or style, which is just completely abysmal, that watch a potentially interesting concept and unique style be botched into oblivion. To me Silent Hill was just another one of these failed efforts, a film that might have been good, but ended up being really bad. It could be that there were too many cooks in the kitchen, or that the editing was mishandled, or that the script was constantly reworked until it made no sense. It may have hit the goldmine at the box office, but after the money’s raked in, I doubt we will hear from Silent Hill again. That is, until the sequel….

Friday, April 21, 2006

Star Trek is Back!

Oh thou Star Trek feature film, how I have missed thee. For many year thou provided us with solid sci-fi action adventure films that were at best entertaining and exciting, and at worst…., well sort of boring.

After the last ST film outing, Star Trek: Nemesis, I doubted if the film franchise would ever be resurrected. However, this morning, I read that Star Trek films will be making a comeback , this time helmed by J.J. Abrams, of Alias and Lost fame. The new film will apparently take place when the Kirk generation was in Starfleet academy, and will not use any of the cast members from the various TV series. This will be a first for Star Trek, which has always taken the crew members right off the bridges of their shows, and used them as the primary cast for the films. I have seen every Star Trek film, and frighteningly enough, most of them in the theatre. Shall we take a quick stroll down memory lane?

1) Star Trek: The Motion Picture 1979
I was an infant when this was released, but when I finally did see it, I almost fell asleep like a baby. It’s a classic in its own right, but it’s also kind of boring. I feel obliged to like this film more than anything else, simply because it was the first Star Trek film. I only have a vague working knowledge of the plot. Seems Kirk and the crew go on a very long, slow voyage to find some sort of destructive alien force. Doesn’t it turn out to be a satellite or something? Who knows.

2) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn 1982
Considered to be the strongest film in the Star Trek franchise, this film uses a plot line and character from an Original Series episode. Kahn, an evil, crazy warlord who was banished to planet LB4-26 by Kirk years ago, resurfaces and takes revenge on Kirk and the enterprise for the suffering he endured during his exile. This film has many unforgettable moments, including, the worm burrowing it’s way through Chekov’s ear, Kirk yelling “KAHN!” at the top of his lungs, and the somber moment when Spock sacrifices himself for the ship saying “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Wrath of Kahn is probably as good as it will ever get in the world of the ST movies.

3) Star Trek III: The Search for Spock 1984
I remember seeing this in the theatre and being thoroughly confused about how Spock, who I thought had died, was suddenly up and walking around as a teenager. All suspect plotting aside, while this movie is an odd numbered one, I think it is one of the most lambasted without reason. I actually have a huge soft spot for this movie, because I like that Kirk and his crew become outlaws and literally “steal the enterprise” to go find Spock on genesis. I like that McCoy is half in the bag for the whole movie, and Christopher Lloyd is awesome as the Klingon commander. “Get out!!!! Get out of there!!!!”

4) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home 1986
I remember lining up outside the theatre to see this on a Friday night with my Dad. Voyage Home is one of the most random and arbitrary entries in the franchise. It picks up right where the third film left off, where Kirk and crew are stuck in a Kingon Bird of Prey and trying to get back to earth. However, when they do, a giant probe begins to attack the planet. The Enterprise crew discover that the probe is sending signals to earth that are actually akin to those made by Humpback whales which have been extinct for years. The crew goes back in time to San Francisco in the 80’s to take two humpback whales back to the future so they can save the world! It’s absolutely insane, but the filmmakers pull it off because of how silly and lighthearted everything is throughout. It’s a comedy and a pretty enjoyable one at that.

5) Star Trek V: The Final Frontier 1989
I remember the day I saw this, I did a double feature, and saw it back to back with Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. This is probably my least favorite of all the ST films. They tried to retain some of the comedy of the fourth film, but it felt forced. I wasn’t buying into the whole Uhura and Scotty romance, and the general point of the film escaped me. They found God, only to have him die?

6) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country 1991
Yup, I saw this one in the theatre too. This is another one of those ST films which is oft forgetten, but is one of the more solid of the bunch. This film has the feel of a political thriller, which I like. Kirk and company must try to stop a conspiracy that will hinder a treaty between the Klingons and the Federation. I thought Iman was a nice addition to the cast as an alien love interest to Kirk, and the finale at the Federation is well done too.

7) Star Trek VII: Generations 1994
This was one of the hugest releases in Star Trek motion picture history. I remember being incredibly excited about Generations, because I was such a huge fan of The Next Generation, and I was thrilled they were entering the movie franchise. In many ways this was a movie for the ultimate Star Trek nerd. It doesn’t get much bigger than Jean Luc Picard meeting up with James Tiberius Kirk. But as momentous as it was for the two men to chop wood together, and for Kirk to die, I still wasn’t sold on the movie. The concept of the Nexus “energy ribbon” was interesting, but not executed that well, and Malcom McDowell as the villain, chewed the furniture, but not in a good way.

8) Star trek VIII First Contact 1996
I actually missed this one in the theatre, not sure why –possible I was in my teenage nerd denial phase. At any rate, I have since seen it in a theatre, and it is fantastic. Picard and his crew are attacked by the Borg and discover that they intend to go back in time to stop an important historic event. It is the moment that a man named Cochran invents warp drive, and through his accomplishment leads to the first extra terrestrial contact between man and another race, in this case the Vulcans. The story is a clever fusion of a time travel caper, and a Borg take over plot, and the Queen Borg was a terrific villain. It is by far the best Star Trek movie done with the TNG crew.

9) Star Trek IX Insurrection 1998
I was back in the cushy theatre seats for this one, but unfortunately over much ado about nothing. This film marked the final downturn of the Star Trek franchise as far as I’m concerned. While it was fun to see the TNG folks back in uniform and running around again, I wasn’t particularly interested in the plot. Insurrection was about a utopian society under threat by members of the Federation who were on the verge of violating the prime directive by interefering with the society’s culture. Picard is outraged and stages a rebellion to help them with his crew. While I though F. Murray Abraham put in a good performance (one that was slightly reminiscent of Llyod’s Klingon Commander), it was not enough to bouy this feature out of the “extended episode” syndrome that weighed it down.

10) Star Trek X Nemesis 2002
Neutral zones, and Romulans and clones, oh my! I saw this one opening night at the Chinese theatre, which was fun because of the people watching, but this film was the death knell of the Trek movies. It wasn’t that it was so bad, it was more so that it felt uninspired, and no one, particularly Picard and crew seemed excited about being there. If they can’t get excited, how can I?

I don’t think that the Star Trek saying “The odd numbered films are bad, the even numbered films are good” has much validity anymore. So I’m not too concerned about the fact that this next film is #11. I like that JJ Abrams is bringing fresh ideas and thought into the franchise, but like any protective mother, I have my fair share of concerns. Pumping new life into the Star Trek mythology will be a good thing, I just hope he doesn’t try to make it too “cool” or “hip”. I think that part of what has made Star Trek work over the years was that it was not self conscious about the fact that it had goofy looking aliens or pseudo-scientific terminology. The creators knew it was geeky, but embraced that element about itself. I think that when Star Trek has tried to “modernize” and “mainstream” itself, as with the last TV incarnation Enterprise, it looses its originality, and just becomes like any other bland space adventure. But at this point, I don’t think the Star Trek franchise has anything else to loose. Good luck J.J.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Who Watches the Watchmen

I’ve read some comic books in my day. When I was in my teens, I used to sneak into my brother’s room and steal the comics my father had bought for him. I spent many a Saturday afternoon reading about Superman’s death and his four different incarnations and the adventures of the X-Men and Spiderman. I was enthralled when the Marvel characters fought DC characters in the last battle of the Universe, only to be fused together in the Amalgam series, i.e. Darkclaw and the like. But until a couple weeks ago I had never read a graphic novel cover to cover. I had flipped through Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and gone to see various feature film adaptations of Alan Moore’s work, like League of Extraordinary Gentleman, but it had never occurred to me what a startling medium the graphic novel could be.

Yesterday I finished reading Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. An old friend of mine insisted I borrow his copy about six months ago. When I asked him what the book was about, he refused to give any details and only insisted that I read it as soon as possible. “It’s the way the story is told” he said. During the many months that the book sat in my magazine basket, others expressed their adoration for the work, and told me how much they envied that I was getting to read it for the first time. In the end it was V for Vendetta (based on the graphic novel written by Alan Moore) that finally lit the fire under my carriage to read Watchmen. Though I thought the film was flawed, I was so impressed with the ideas and the story, that I was inspired to read some other of Moore’s works.

The book is broken up into twelve chapters, a chapter for each hour around the clock, and each is about thirty or so pages long. At almost 400 pages, the novel is no quick newstand read. It is as dense and as intricate as any literary novel I’ve read in a long time. Watchmen is a brillant work on so many levels and for so many reasons. Moore’s intimate understanding of the “comic” medium and the entrenched mythology of its characters is displayed in the depiction of the hereos of this novel. One of the things I loved most about this book was the organic fashion with which he approached the concept of the Superhero. In the world of Watchmen, superheros started out as vigillantes in the 40’s and 50’s fighting crime for a variety of personal reasons. Some of these men and women had ideals of moral superiority, others felt genuine chagrin at the crime rate, while others gained gratification from donning an anonymous identity and operating above the law. Moore takes the established pop culture phenomenon of the Superhero and deconstructs it; illustrating what it’s like to be behind the mask, as well as the larger societal implications of their existence.

Watchmen asks the questions that I never asked myself as a kid. What does it really mean that Superman flies around Metropolis capturing whomever he pleases whenever he likes. Does he ever make mistakes, and who steps in to correct him if he is wrong? In the historical timeline of Watchmen, the U.S. government eventually enacts legislation to halt Superhero activity because it was getting out of hand. Moore blurs the line between the concepts of vigilante and Superhero. Though each word evokes vastly different sentiments and imagery, Moore forces us to look at their similiarities, give or take a pair of colored tights. By turning the comic book world on its head, and humanizing his Super Hero characters, the standard camps of good and evil are stripped away to reveal moral ambiguity and a dissolution of boundries between the heros and villains. As the story goes, the first generation of heros joined together to form the Minutemen. But this organization was no Superfriends or X-Men and tensions and conflicts eventually split the group apart. Moore questions, realistically, what would really happen in a world where any human could operate above the law, and let their own personal emotions and judgements cloud their behavior.

But as much as he shatters the pristine and sacred image of the superhero, exploring the dangerous fallouts of such a mythology, he does not subvert it to tout the benefits of institutional government either. Looming above all the action in Watchmen, is international nuclear brinksmanship. With Nixon as President, and Russia invading Afghanistan, the U.S. media is constantly bemoaning the threat of WWIII. Though the government ultimately curbed the power of the heroes, it too was a dangerous juggernaut, that could neither quell its own civil unrest nor properly resolve the escalating issues abroad. There are no easy answers here, no final solutions, rather a complicated ethical landscape in which only the reader can attempt to gauge what is the fairest trade. As grandiose and pretentious as it might sound Watchmen tackles philosophical quandaries surrounding humanity and his future.

The other wonderfully unique aspect of this graphic novel, was the different mediums that Moore used to tell the story. While the traditional “comic book” panel style was the dominant mode of the book, at the end of each chapter, Moore would include “found” artifacts. These included pages from books written by characters, magazine articles, newspaper interviews, and letters of correspondance among other items. They added a richness and depth to the story, giving the world of the Watchmen a heightened and painstakingly detailed reality. Not every piece of information divulged in these snippets were logistically vital to the general plot, but they often enhanced either individual characters or thematic elements of the story. Among these pieces of “found” material, there is a running comic book within the comic book of Watchmen. The comic book tells the dark story of a man who is shipwrecked by priates, and desperately tries to make it back to his hometown before the wretched criminals can pillage it and kill his family. This comic book is read by an ancillary character throughout the book, and fragments of the language and imagery of the comic are woven in piecemeal throughout the book. The result is masterful poetic juxtaposition of storylines and themes; the meaning of the comic and the graphic novel resonate within each other magnificently.

Watchmen was written lovingly and with care. It touched upon philosophical issues and moral conundrums in a sophisticated and artistic way. It posed questions about the existence of man in the universe and the justification of sacrifices. But it also provided a suspenseful mystery, and a touching and at times funny look at the secret life of a superhero. After reading this graphic novel, I was left with mouth agape at its beauty and truth.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Little Jurassic Park

I'm not exactly a fan of the David Spade Showbiz Show, though I have it foisted on me from time to time. However, recently, Spade screened an absolutely brillant low budget recreation of the theatrical trailer for the first Jurassic Park, done by the Neistat Brothers . Spade challenged the filmmakers to recreate a the trailer for a film using a few paltry items: little plastic soldier men, a toy dinosaur, and some paper and markers. The Neistat brothers decided to go with Jurassic Park, probably because they figured the plastic dinosaur was a gimme. The remake trailer uses the audio of the original. The description of this little project, probably makes it sound like one of the zillion cheap trailer/movie ripoffs that flood the internet everyday, but this one is really funny. When the video aired on the showbiz show, Spade showed the remake trailer first, and then played it again, side by side to the original trailer. The similarity is remarkable, and I suggest rewatchting the original Jurassic Park trailer .

(The trailer should be on the top row of videos, its title is "Little Jurassic Park")

Friday, April 14, 2006

Scary Movie 4

It's hard to believe that this weekend greets the FOURTH installment of the Scary Movie comedy franchise. Now I’ve never seen any of the films, nor do I inded to see SM4, but I have to confess I laughed out loud a couple times during the trailer . In particular, I found the very last segment of the trailer, involving the overly enthusiastic guest on a faux Oprah talk show to be fantastic. I’m usually not into the whole celebrity bashing thing, and try to steer clear of it on this blog, but I found this too funny not to share with others. If you haven’t see the trailer yet, it’s worth the it just for the last five seconds.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Healing and unexpected apparitions in last night's LOST

…and then in one single bound, Lost broke its streak of promise and momentum to return to the slow and boring. I think that Rose and Bernard are cute as much as the next guy/gal, but come on, an entire episode devoted to them? Too much. While these characters have provided a nice little runner throughout, they are definitely not engaging enough (I don’t think) to merit an entire episode based around them. Last night’s episode was just a product of the problem with the flashback format. Since the flashbacks have generally become framed around doing a big reveal on a piece of a character’s life, there are only so many you can do before:

a) it gets ridiculous, because the person has too many “secrets” and reveals


b) no big reveal is made during the flashback at which point the flashback itself and the episode coast into the doldrums.

I mean isn’t something amiss if two ancillary characters, who’ve probably only had three or four meaty scenes througout the entirety of the show, are now suddenly getting flashbacks? As I said before, Rose and Bernard are endearing characters, and they were a good device for raising the emotional stakes of reuniting the two groups of survivors, but I didn’t think they have the presence to carry an entire episode. B plot sure, but not an A plot. I wasn’t even crazy about the way their relationship evolved through the flashbacks. One minute the two are meeting each other in a snowy alley way. The next Bernard is proposing to Rose. OK, I get it, they didn’t have time to display their entire courtship. I was just curious as to why the writers decided to make their marriage the result of a whilrwind romance. I thought the idea of the faith healer was interesting enough, and I liked the fact that Bernard was so committed to trying alternative methods to medicine to cure Rose. But when you think about it, isn’t Rose’s reveal of having cancer and being healed just a thinly veiled repetition of the Locke paralysis, miraculous recovery instance? I mean the episode addresses head on that Rose and Locke are both aware of the mystical healing powers of the island. Not only that, but that Rose knows what the island has done for Locke, which I did think was a neat twist, since no one else seems to remember Locke in his wheelchair. Still, this isn’t really new information. We already knew the island had strange healing powers, and now we know that it can cure cancer as well as paralysis. We don’t even know yet why exactly Locke was unable to walk, --it could have been the result of an accident, or the side effect of a debilitating illness. Who knows. Also didn’t Rose’s moment with the “faith healer” seem strangely similar to the moment that Claire had with her psyhic? I suppose this was an intentional coincidence but it could be easily mistaken as lazy writing.

I felt totally jilted by the fact that last week’s previews had made it look as if something actually happens this episode regarding the Henry Gale plot. I still think the fake Gale element is a great storyline, but they are dragging it out for far too long. Any survivor who knew what and who he was, would be down there 24/7 trying to pump him for answers and information, and that would be the sole focus of anyone’s time. As for the Jack and Kate spark, I’m a much bigger fan of her with Sawyer, because I think they have better chemistry with one another. Besides, even though Sawyer can be mean, Jack has proven to be pretty devoid of any sense of humor or light heartedness –therefore making him less likeable, at least in my book. Also, while it compelling to create tension between both Kate and Jack and Kate and Sawyer, I think it ultimately diffuses the build up for any one pair to get together, i.e. Scully & Mulder, Riker & Deanna (Imzadi), etc.

I was, however, glad that the rustling in the leaves that interrupted Jack and Kate was not a mere boar or puff of black smoke, but Michael finally returning from the island of temporarily abandoned characters. Once again, next episode looks both fascinating and action filled and I cannot believe that we will have to wait until May 3rd to see it. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, two Lostless weeks coming up in our midst.

Apparently, there are only three new episodes left in the season. Rumors have it that we will find out before all ends the cause and reason for the plane crash. My guess is that the season finale will lead up to this information but then stop short in a cliffhanger, so that we must wait over the long, hot, cruel summer for the truth to be divulged next season.


Thank Goodness it's about time!!

More to come on this later....

Monday, April 10, 2006

The New Doctor Who

I don’t have a very good excuse or reason for my poor working knowledge of the original Doctor Who. The show is about as big a legend as you can get in Sci Fi Television history, having an original run that lasted from 1963 to 1989. I have only vague memories of episodes aired on PBS when I was a kid. I remember the phone booth, and its crazy interior which always looked like the quintessential mad scientist’s laboratory. I remember crazy creatures, including a giant alien head suspended in fluid and encased in humungous cylinders which gave me nightmares for weeks. And of course I remember the famous stripped scarf. Still I don’t think I saw enough episodes in their entirety to get a really good idea of what the show was like.

In 2005, the BBC decided to revive the show, and has since produced two seasons to much critical acclaim. I'm not sure how much this newer version differs in concept from the original, but the idea behind Doctor Who is pretty simple and allows for a variety of plot lines. Doctor Who is an alien, the last of the Time Lords, who can manipulate time. The DR. flits around the galaxy and greater space time continum in his jaunty British telephone booth, encountering all sorts of adventure along the way. The U.S. owned Sci Fi channel started running episodes of the new series a few weeks ago, and I’ve finally had a chance to put a dent in the stash that I have saved on my TiVo.

The pilot episode “Rose” centers on Rose Tyler, a young woman who works in a department store and becomes embroiled in an attempt by plastic compounds to take over the world. Sound bizarre? It is. The introduction to this plot line entails Rose looking for her pal in the basement of the store, and being ambushed by walking mannequins or “plastics.” While creepy in concept, I wasn’t crazy about this sequence because a) the mannequin thing has been done before b) the FX were pretty bad c) aren’t mannequins made out of wood? Rose is rescued just in time by the dashing, leather jacket clad “Doctor” played by Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston gives a pleasantly cocky, constantly amused vibe to the Doctor which makes him quite charming. Rose, played by Billie Piper, a teenage British pop sensation, was sort of Vanilla, and I wish that her character had been defined and expanded a little more. I do realize that it’s only the pilot, but I don’t think they provided a good enough explanation for why Rose got on board with Dr. Who at the end of the episode. Sure she likes adventure, but she doesn’t seem significantly bored or unhappy with her London life, her mother and boyfriend certainly seem to care for her. Her tinge of malaise was not enough to convince me she would join some alien in a time traveling telephone booth. The chemistry between the DR. and Rose was OK, but to be honest, I’m am so OVER the forty two year old men running around with the twenty two year old women. Ew. I wasn’t crazy about this episode. I liked the idea that all things plastic on earth were coming to take their revenge on humans after decades of melting and molding, but the mannequin take felt stale, as did the shoddy attempts to throw in some back story for the DR.

Even though I wasn’t sold on the first episode, I was eager to give the show another chance. I liked the second episode in season one, titled “The End of the World” much better. It was able to spend less time establishing everthing, and could jump right into a more adventurous storyline. This episode picks up right where the first one left off, with Rose running inside the phone booth to join the DR. Once inside, Rose challenges the him to take her someplace really dangerous in time. The DR. decides on five billion years in the future, moments before the earth will be annhialated by the expanding sun. The DR. and Rose arrive at a sleek, futuristic space station where affluent members of the galaxy are gathering together to observe this significant event. I liked the way everything looked in this episode. The interior of the station was stark and white, like an overly sterile museum, and what the show lacks in VFX it makes up for with its creature design. I thought there were some neat looking aliens on board the station, and the designers used a nice mixture of puppets, make-up, and CGI to create a unique blend of folk. From what I hear, Doctor Who was known over the decades for its impressive array of aliens, and this new incarnation of the show seems committed to the same endeavor. There were tree people with bark like skin, blue humanoids with no hair, and the last reamaining human, who had been reduced to a stretched sheet of skin after countless surgeries. The tone of the show blossomed in this episode as it balanced and melded several themes and styles. The DR. and Rose addressed the somber and sobering fact the world does actually come to an end in their understated dialogue. We also learn that the DR. is the last of his kind, and that his planet and people were oblitterated years ago. Yet even with these serious facets the hour glides by because of all the humor and quirkiness that’s inserted throughout. Somehow the show manages to transition from a pensive look at what the future of the universe might bring, to the DR. bopping around to Soft Cell's Tainted Love blaring out of a 50’s jukebox. There’s a cheesiness at work here, but it does in fact…work. It allows for a measured equation of intelligence and humor which has pleasing effects.

I’m curious to see what the rest of the episodes are like. After a troublesome start, I think the show might turn out to hold some sixty minute sci-fi treasures after all.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

My Imaginary LOST Recap (spoilers)

So much to talk about in last night’s episode of LOST, yet so little time. I’ll go with the headlines. I knew Dave was imaginary before he was even on screen. You might want to call my bluff, but from the moment Hurley’s doctor said “Well I’m not Dave’s doctor, but I think he’s a negative influence on you….”, I knew. No doctor would ever speak in such a way about another patient at a hospital. He’d find a more diplomatic way to phrase it, but he was obviously trying to allude to his disapproval of Hurley and his imaginary friend.

Also, Hurley’s issues with his weight and eating, were too on the nose. The writers took a character who is overweight, and linked up his deep personal issues to….food and being overweight. I felt cheated by Hurley’s whole speech about “I eat to punish myself!”, which I’ve heard about a hundred different ways in ABC afterschool specials. I wanted something more about Hurley’s character, something different, but I was disappointed by the “deep, dark” secrets of his past. We already knew he had spent some time in a mental hospital, and yes, it was neat to see him in this environment, but Dave felt like a cop out to me. He was just a bald personification of Hurley’s Id whose conversational repertoire was limited to chicks and food, a variation of a little red devil sitting on his shoulder. See, if they wanted to make it REALLY interesting, I think they could have gone with TWO imaginary figures; one representing his suppressed desires, and the other representing his responsible conscience. That would have thrown us off the scent that Dave was fake, and it would have given more dimension to Hurley’s character. As for the “accident”, and reason that Hurley ended up in the hospital, I was not a fan. He walked onto an over crowded deck and sank it, unintentionally causing the death of two people? Nope. Not buying it. I spoke to an associate who said he liked the fact that Hurley’s accident was connected to his weight, but I didn’t because it made everything too one note. It quickly became an instance of “oh look the fat character is sad that he’s fat, and everything that goes wrong in his life is somehow related to that”. I wanted Hurley’s craziness to come from somewhere else besides his food issues, and his guilt and inner turmoil about his weight.

Dave’s theory that Hurley had made up the entire island, was interesting, but would have flown better if presented earlier in the run of the show, --like last season. At this point, we have pretty much iron clad proof that the events in the island could not all be going on in someone’s mind. There are too many different storylines, and events that have happened that other characters are unaware of. The scene on the cliff was eerie, and I liked it when Dave plummeted off the rocks into the brewing sea, but ultimately they weren’t able to sell it as enough of an alternate theory.

I thought it was cute that they tried to further develop the bond between Libby and Hurley. Libby is a little on the bland side, but a likeable enough character, and it was nice to see Hurley get a real confidant. However shocking the final reveal in the mental hospital was, I’m not so sure I like the implications. First off, it’s more of that “everything’s connected, there are no coincidences” hoo haa, which I can’t help but feel is the story equivalent of quicksand. The deeper and deeper these writers get, the harder and harder it’s going to be to come up with a relevant and solid explanation for why this connectivity exists. Secondly, Libby’s slightly evil look when she walked off frame holding Hurley’s hand (just before they cut to the hospital), made me think that her intentions are false, and she is tricking him somehow. Can’t the poor guy get some genuine affection? Hurley wasn’t in the hospital that long ago, perhaps only a couple years before the show started and Libby has asserted herself on the island as a professional psycho-therapist. Which leaves a few possibilities open to explain her character’s behavior. (1) Libby is lying about her profession and who she is. She is still mentally ill and is plotting some kind of scheme. (2) Libby was in fact in the hospital, but somehow in the relatively short period between her time in the hospital and the moment she boarded the plane, managed to get her stuff together, recuperate from her mental illness and become a certified therapist. (This seems highly unlikely) (3) It was not Libby who we saw in the mental hospital, but her twin sister. The reason she went into the psychology field was because of her sister’s struggles.

As for the scenes with the fake Henry Gale, my eyes were glued to the screen. This plot line has really grown on me and I think it’s leading to some potentially interesting reveals. I like his confession about not typing in the numbers, --though I suspected as much that nothing would happen without constant monitoring of the countdown. I like the actor who plays Gale, and I think the writers have shaped his character nicely. I enjoyed this portion of the episode a great deal.

From the looks of the preview, next week’s episode is more Henry Gale material, which I am excited about. I like the idea that they may try to trade him in for Walt, but would somebody please tell me where the hell Michael went, and why no one even seems to give a damn that he’s vanished?!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Third time's a charm? (Tagline of the week courtesy of Tokyo Drift)

Apparently, this New Yorker, is quite out of the "loop" --she didn't even know that the Fast and the Furious franchise was approaching trilogy status, until about fifteen minutes ago. Yes, you read correctly, TFATF's third installment is being realeased this summer, titled: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The trailer for this unstoppable string of sequals, was just posed on the Apple Trailers site, a few days ago, and I confess after watching it a couple times, I feel a bit flummoxed.

See, I never saw the original TFATF, because, well, it didn't grabbed my interest. By the time the sequal, 2 Fast, 2 Furious rolled around, I refused to see it out of principle. Rarely does a film title come along that invites ridicule upon itself so openly. There was many a joke traded that summer among my circle of friends about who was 2 fast and furious for their own good. Though I never saw the film, I saw the trailer for it many a time, and thankfully the image of Ludacris yelling "FIRE 'EM UP!!" whilst a comb lay resting in his luxurious afro will probably remain in my memory for all of eternity.

But now this? A third one? I can barely believe it myself. And yet...and yet, I can't help but feel that if ever there was a chapter in the TFATF epic that I would actually see, this would be it. There are a variety of reasons for this I'll admit, among them the fact that I'm a huge summer movie enthusiast. There is that slight, slim possiblity that this could be an ejoyable and well done action movie right? Well, I know, most likely, not. But still I'll gladly pretend that I have optimism for the film if it'll cover up the truth that this looks my kind of a guilty pleasure. I like cars, I like Tokyo, and I like Lucas Black. So really, when its framed that way, it's sort of a no brainer for me. And at the very least between the hyper neon urban landscape and the outrageous Tokyo youth fashion, the exotic locale should add a refreshingly stylish element to the film. I'm also immensely amused by the driving anomaly referenced in the film's title, which seems to entail, car's "drifting" or hovering sideways, and lining up with the road horizontally. It's absurd, and I'm hoping it plays a LARGE role in the plot.

Realistically speaking, this film will probably be pretty bad --and not bad in a Basic Instinct 2 kind of way, more like bad in a Tomb Raider 2 sort of way. Still, I'm curious to see what all the fuss over this franchise is about.

Besides, you have to love the tagline....

"Speed needs no translation."


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

You will not believe what the New Yorker saw this weekend

This weekend, the sci-fi horror flick Slither, starring Firefly veteran Nathan Fillion opened at theatres nationwide. This was the movie that for all intents and purposes I should have seen. I wanted to see it, had planned on seeing it. But due in large part to the strong coercion of an associate, I ended up seeing Basic Instinct 2 in a packed theatre on Friday night.

From the moment the movie started, it was clear that us audience members were in for some spectacularly sleazy and ridiculous fun. For the first hour and ten minutes or so I was consistently enthralled by the grotesque, depraved, nonsensical plot that I could barely believe was unfolding before my very eyes. Writer Catherine Tremell has swooshed upon the London scene, bedding every attractive and well to do person in town, and leaving a lasting impression on all that she meets, especially psychoanalyst Dr. Michael Glass. When Tremell becomes a prime suspect in a murder case, Glass must “analyze” her, and he discovers that she has a severe case of “risk addiction.” (By the way, the original title of the film was Basic Instinct 2: Rick Addiction). When Tremell is acquitted of the initial murder charges, Glass takes her on as a patient, but becomes increasingly suspicious as people around them begin to die. He’d turn her in, only he is so seduced by her seductivity (read as brash, abrasive trucker talk), and the two embark on a game of “cat and mouse”.

I’m going to stop summarizing now, because it’s making me turn red in the face. But be assured that there are lots of things to giggle at in this film. Everything from the dialogue, to the costumes (Stone wears some real doozies in this one, especially considering the context of her outfits), to the plot “twists”. BS2 also features what I believe to be the worst looking wig currently in Hollywood circulation. When this certain character walked on screen, and if you see the film I trust you will know who I am talking about immediately, the entire theatre broke out into loud guffaws and chuckes. (And no I’m not even talking about the courtroom scene with the traditional brit wigs, which looks a bit silly as well). However, I must confess that by the second act of the film I was feeling a bit winded. The film runs six minutes shy of two hours, and I think it would have behooved the film makers to shave it down to a neat ninety minutes, especially considering the reception that the film’s been getting.

Ultimately the biggest flaw of the film was that it vacillated between one that was trying to take itself seriously, as a legitimate thriller, and one that knew it was B-movie fodder and was therefore playing things to the max. For the most part, Sharon Stone’s performance was wonderfully ridiculous and over the top, she was playing it big, and she knew she was in something trashy (or at least this is what I’d like to believe). If she did in fact realize she was the vehicle of a scandalous ‘sploitationesque sequal than her heavy handed delivery was done at just about the perfect pitch. The problem was that not every other actor and actress in the film had this attitude. The male lead, David Morrissey, who played Dr. Michael Glass was actually trying to be “good”. It was as if most everyone in the cast knew what they were in on except for him, who was apparently fooled by his agent into thinking Basic Instinct 2 was “for real.” The tone of the film itself also started to loose it’s way towards the end, when it got caught up in things like “logic” and “tying up loose ends.” If only the filmmakers realized what they had on their hands, they would’ve known it was futile to bother those elements since they were already involved in such a goofy effort.

BS2 was bad, but in a very enjoyable way. However, if those who made it could have let go just a little bit more, it could have been even WORSE, and in turn better.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The New Yorker does her LOST recap thing

This week’s episode of LOST, “Lockdown” was, in my esteem, one of the strongest episodes to air all season. There’s something about the character of John Locke, and the back story that they’ve created for him, that is heart wrenchingly tragic, moving and inspiring all at the same time. Locke is imperfect, and he’s makes mistakes. He’s gullible, and at times too protective of others. But he also wants to believe that in the end everything will turn out alright. Time and time again, we’ve seen people try to break Locke’s spirit, by cheating him, or lying to him, abandoning him, or discriminating against him. But despite all of these things, he still seeks the redeeming, and believes that happiness may exist for himself. It is the fountain of hope that springs from within him that makes him akin to a miracle both on the island and the show.

This episode really had it all. The flashback provided a solid lynchpin for the episode and there were actual events of intrigue unfolding on the island. I thought the storyline of Locke’s father faking his own death, and coming back for another con was both unexpected and interesting. It was also a perfect follow up to the previous flashback episode which established Locke’s relationship with Helen. The entire time I kept waiting to find out that his father had lied to him about the money, or that he was setting him up as bait to be killed by the henchmen. It was an interesting twist that in the end, Locke’s father did not technically screw him over, at least not with the scam. It was Locke’s own error in judgment and desire to make things right with his father that backfired everything. The parallel between the flashback and Locke’s present island experience was particularly poignant. As we learned about a moment in the past where Locke had to decide if he should trust his father or not, in the present Locke had to make the decision to trust Henry Gale, a man who was a potentially dangerous. In the past, Locke’s choice to take a leap of faith ended up being the wrong thing for him to do. I was both crushed and mortified when Helen did not accept his marriage proposal and drove away. Though Locke’s father did not cheat him out of the money or purposefully endanger him, he did commit an emotional betrayal by getting in the cab when his son’s life had just fallen into disarray. His father refused to take any personal responsibility for himself. It was heart breaking to watch Locke emotionally shattered in the past, being deserted by two people that he loved. But I liked the way it was mirrored on the island as Locke lay there wounded on the ground of the Hatch bleeding, and calling for Henry Gale. There has always been this paternal link between the island and Locke, and just as his biological father betrayed him time and time again, his “surrogate” father –the island has as well. The first time was when it let Boone die (who was in essence his surrogate son). This was event was set parallel to his father stealing his kidney. This second betrayal was perpetrated by the Hatch, which represents in many ways the heart and mind of the island, and literally came down on Locke when he was most vulnerable. I liked that Henry Gale came back to help Locke, and kept his promise not to leave him. It was also a nice counterpoint to Locke’s memory, because it was an instance where he took a leap of faith, and it ended up working out for him.

The Henry Gale plot took a very interesting turn this episode. I have to confess when I saw Sayid and Ana Lucia discovering the balloon and the grave, I really fell for it. I thought, well, he’s definitely not an “other”, he’s just some crazy guy who’s trying to manipulate the situation down there for his own benefit and enjoyment (which I still think would have been an interesting way to go). When Sayid pulled out the driver’s license belonging to the original Henry Gale I was shocked. Now that’s what I call a cliffhanger! I am absolutely fascinated to see what they end up doing with Henry Gale, now that they have confirmed he is an imposter. Clever move on their part to have Sayid dig up the grave so he could make the discovery. I thought the way they dealt with that whole end of the plot was ingenius.

Two more things. First, the woman whose home John Locke inspects in the flashback. This is the woman that Sayid carried the photograph of, the woman who he held prisoner and fell in love with. Now I know this is one of those “coincidences” that continue to build and build within the construct of the show, but I will honestly be shocked if the writers find a way to wrap all of these connections up in a way that makes sense and has real relevance. As geeks everywhere rack their brains, asking themselves “What does it all mean…?!”, I find myself scratching my head and thinking “I hope it all means something…” Second. The map that revealed itself on the hatch door when the lights go out, and the black lights flickered on. I think it’s nothing more than some scraggly mumbo jumbo meant to illustrate all sorts of connections between the Dharma Collective, Mr. Hanso, and various miscellaneous items, but I don’t think its anything more than a gimmick that they’re throwing our way, which won’t be addressed again for eons.

All in all though, a really great episode. It reminded me of the good old days of LOST. I hope they’re on a roll now till the finale.

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