Sunday, June 15, 2008

moving on

this blog is retiring and being replaced by

come join me there!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weekend of DEATH!

Ok, so I’m relaxing on Saturday night, catching up with some episodes of my favorites shows (That would be Torchwood and Battlestar Galactica for those of you who haven’t been paying attention) when I realize that someone appointed this the weekend of mass slaughter in American Sci-fi television. Yes, I know Torchwood is British but it was on BBC America, so I’m still counting it.
So, first Torchwood. Ihave to say, after the flashback episode, I saw this one coming. I knew people were going to die, and at the moment Jack’s lost brother Grey showed up I knew he would be evil. Not that they teased that much. The who reunion went hug-stabby-stabby. So, you know, evil from the start.

But why did it have to be Tosh? Watching her pull herself down into the medlab and administer a painkiller even though she knew she was a goner, just so she’d be cogent enough to talk Owen through shutting down the reactor, in hopes of saving his life … way to go, Tosh. Owen was not worthy of you. Owen’s own death … well, he’d died already and I’ve never really liked the character, but I did get a little lump in my throat during that last conversation, when he’s raging against death and Tosh asks him to stop because he was breaking her heart. Made more poignant by the fact that Tosh never told him she was dying too. And they did find the one way of killing Owen that would actually work, being dissolved in radioactive goo. (side note: would this work on Jack too, or would he still be alive even though he was in molecular-dispersal form). Can’t say I’m not really sorry to see Owen go (sorry, Burn Gorman, but you just never rang true for me in a rare case of me liking the writing but not the performance. See also: Tracy Scoggins in Babylon 5), but Tosh’s exit really hurt. It was made even more bittersweet by the attempted palliative of her last message, found by the surviving members of the team as they cleaned up her station. “It’s all right.”

And so from there I went to Battlestar Galactica. Now, this is not a show you go to when you want to feel good about life. This episode, though … Oh my holy frakking god.

We knew it was going to go bad when Cally found out her husband, chief Tyrol, was a cylon. This is the girl who shot Boomer, remember. And her conflicted, victim-abuser relationship with the chief would come into play in some sickening ways. So, when she found out and went totally bugshit crazy, it made sense, especially since we’d spent a lot of the episode dealing with her already burgeoning stress-induced breakdown. This quite rightfully tipped her over the edge.
Now, Cally’s been one of those important characters that haven’t necessarily had starring roles on the series. She bit the ear off a revolutionairy on the prison ship when he tried to rape her. She got trapped on Kobol with Hotshot, where she was the first to use the term “Motherfrakker,” which was since become a show staple. She was beaten by Tyrol when he was going crazy after finding out his last girlfriend was a cylon. She later married Tyrol and moved with him to New Caprica, whereupon it was her arrest and planned execution that drove a lot of the plot.

And now this. She knocks Tyrol unconscious, takes her baby, and goes to the airlock. At this point I was prepared for that. The direction of these scenes really showed us how Cally’s world had shrunk to encompass only that which she could experience inside her own head. Her husband is a cyclon. That means her baby is a cylon. Her world is over.

She sets the airlock so that it will space both her and little Nicky, who is of course, crying his little curly head off.

This was going to be brutal. And usually I would turn off a show that did something like this and never watch again (I have a thing about little kids dying because of my own family’s history. It’s why I can’t watch a lot of horror. Yes, I know about the Mist and will never forgive Stephen King) but this show earned it. It was supposed to be brutal.

And then Tory shows up, talks Cally down, takes the baby.

Throws Cally across the airlock and spaces her, while the confused child watches. We see Cally’s astounded, frozen face, as she floats away in the dark.

It could have been so much worse, but … whoa.

This is the first time that we have seen one of the final five cylons, those who are fundamentally different than the rest, do something despicable. But even so … Cally had just tried to murder her own child. And Tory is afraid of being exposed. So, there’s the argument that this was a strange kind of self-defense. Well, I could make that argument if Tory had not done it so coolly, so dispassionately. So, probably not self defense.

And since I brought up the women if refrigerators concept in the post about Bonnie Richmond, I should mention it here. Yes, we have two dead women. But for it to be a true fridging, two factors must be in evidence. The characters cannot die heroically. And they must be killed as part of someone else’s storyline, not in a culmination of their own. It helps if they’re killed by men, but that’s not necessary.

Tosh dies a hero. No question. She saves the world. She tries to save the man she loves (but does not deserve her!). So, no fridging here.

Cally … she’s not a hero, she is definitely a victim. But while she is reacting to events in her husband’s story, this is very much a part of her own. Cally has always struggled with living in this new world. This … this is Cally’s story, this is Cally’s end, not just an adjunct to Tyrol’s. So … no fridging here either.

But this was definitely the weekend of death. I have not watched the new Doctor Who yet, so please … no one tell me Martha got blasted into the sun or something (I know it’s impossible, since she was on Torchwood already). Still, at this rate, I’m expecting the Coen brothers to guest-direct a very special episode of 30 Rock where Kenneth the page is put through a wood chipper. Actually, if any show could pull that off, it would probably be 30 Rock. And Kenneth would probably survive it by the force of his sheer, plucky optimism.

Carry on ….

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mere Mortals

I've been working on a new fiction project. I guess you'd call it a ficblog (I probably didn't make up that word, but I like it anyway). It combines my love of super-heroes, sci-fi, weird science, romance, adventure serials and, of course, the Apocalypse. And zombies.

Here's a snippet:

I decided that no matter what happened, I wasn’t going to close my eyes. There was a theory that at the moment of death, the retinas recorded the last image that slammed against the back of the eyeballs, and I wasn’t going to have that image be the dark insides of my eyelids. I mean, I know that whole theory is just debunked bullshit, but I liked the thought. And I was sure that if it did turn out to be actually true, one of Dan’s friends would be able to find some way to develop the film.
So I looked at Dr. Dillard, I stared at her face as she snarled and spit, animated by that green fire inside her eyes, the fire, I knew, that had burned out her soul.
I couple of low, shattering crunches exploded in from the side—gunshots?—and the hands that had held me released their pressure on my shoulders even as I felt a burst of heat at the back of my head.
I took the opportunity to fall back, but as I had been kicking out anyway, I ended up doing some awkward back-roll that was only barely more survivable than it was dignified, and the zombie doctor was on top of me.
I heard the shot again as the top of her head came off and erupted, a green supernova consuming her head. The rest of her body fell on top of me, splattering me with blood and other, pulpier, fluids.
What. The. Hell.

So, there it is. That's the opening of ep 2. I hope you'll check it out. Its updated twice a month, by the 1st and the 15th, but I've worked a little bit ahead. You can check it out by going to

Saturday, April 05, 2008

C.S.A. : The Confederate States of America

The North loses the battle of Antietam, which denies Lincoln the victory he needs to make the abolition of slavery a central goal of the war between the states. This allows the south to keep the moral authority enough to swing Britain and France in on the confederate side. Gettysberg is lost. The South wins the war, destroys the north, and the United States of America ceases to exist, transforming into The Confederate States of America.

This is the plotline of the film C.S.A: The Confederate States of America. The film is a fictional documentary, purported to be a British film at first not allowed to be shown in the C.S.A. The film is presented as if it is being shown on CSA television, complete with fake advertisements aimed at a Confederate, slave-owning, audience. Products (some of which actually existed at one time) like “Sambo Oil,” “Darkie Toothpaste”, a COPS-like show about Runaway slaves called, appropriately enough, Runaway.

In this disturbing alternate history, Harriet Tubman attempted to sneak Abraham Lincoln into Canada and was hung for her trouble, as Lincoln was at first imprisoned, and then eventually exiled. Dying in 1905. Jefferson Davis ignores Robert E. Lee’s pleas for emancipation, and returns the practice of slavery to the north (at the supposed suggestion of his own slave), Frederick Douglass flees to Canada and leads the “Red Canadian” protest against slavery in the former U.S. Chinese immigrants are wrapped into the slavery program as they come to mine gold and build railroads. The CSA becomes involved in a decades-long war as they try to subjugate south America, instituting Jim Crow laws against Hispanics even if they do not enslave them. The CSA even enters WW2 on the side of Nazi Germany, though they do try to persuade Hitler just to make slaves of the Jews instead of exterminating them.

In short, this is a ghastly vision of a history in which U.S. Cultural development is stunted and Canada takes the US’s place in world popular culture. Slavery still exists in the modern day. It is all presented as if it’s a Ken Burns documentary. Some of this works really well, especially the parts that are interviews with history scholars and archived footage. The parts that are reproductions of supposed cultural works, such as plays and 1940’s movies, are the real weaknesses, so poorly written and performed as to breakbelievability a little. This is a forgivable sin, however, as it may be part of the point.

This film is fascinating, revealing a world that might have been. I’m not sure if all parts of the history hold up, but it certainly seems plausible. It’s also a helpful reminder of how some attitudes can become ingrained in a culture. Any history buff, anyone interested in how diversity issues can play out in a culture, should see this film, and shudder at a world that could have existed.

CSA is available on DVD, and often replays on IFC. It was produced by Spike Lee and directed by Kevin Wilmott.

The Return of Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is back.

Life is worth living again (at least for 10 weeks).

Ok, no, that’s over-stating it, but watching the show last night, it did seem like something vital to our cultural landscape had been returned. Over the past 3 seasons, this show has just hit on so many levels. It’s probably one of the first successful revamps to overcome fanboy handwringing by saying “fuck-all” to expectations, establishing its own voice, and becoming a work superior not only to its earlier incarnation, but to almost everything else out there right now. It’s navigating a tricky, heartbreaking storyline, running full-on into narrative land-mines and somehow surviving them. The End of the World! Everything you know is wrong! Reboot character gender/ethnicity switch! Plucky band of rebels vs. an overwhelming superior force! Character returns from the dead! We are not the people we thought we were! Bob Dylan songs in space (ok, this one may not be a common trope, but it was definitely a mine in the field)! It was all there, and all handled with maturity, brutal honesty, and grace.

Season four finds our “ragtag fleet” of apocalypse survivors facing not only a fleet of enemy battleships but more dangerously, a fatal confusion as to what to do next. It begins moments after Starbuck’s return. She’s been to Earth, and wants to lead the rest of them there. By leaving Starbuck, ultimately, just as confused about how she’s returned as the rest of the cast, the writers expand this story, adding a new layer to Starbuck. They make her an oracle. She knows the way to go (she thinks) but only because she can somehow feel where they’re going wrong. But because she can’t explain what happened to her, no one trusts her. She becomes Cassandra, the prophetess of Troy, cursed to see the future but not to be believed. Of course, Starbuck is a classic screw-up character, so she’s going to take everything to the extreme, and she does go to extremes to make the leadership listen to her at the end of this ep, which leaves her face to face (well, gun to face) with a major character whom, early in the series, she saw as a mentor.

And while Starbuck becomes an unlikely Cassandra, Gauis Baltar, fresh off of his acquittal, is trying to turn himself into a false prophet. The problem is, he may actually have a connection to the one true God. And as he falls into despair, and literally offers up his life in exchange for another (the degree of his sincerity is probably up for interpretation), he may actually be transforming, Siddhartha-like, into something he has never been. An honest man. Purely by accident, of course.

And the newly revealed final four cylons? No one had more importance to the New Caprica resistance that these four. Where do they go from here? Those are the questions they are asking themselves. But for now, Tigh provides the answer. They are who they have always been. New revelations change nothing. There’s a comforting philosophy there: we are who we choose to be. Genetics, race, even experiences, are nothing compared to personal choices. And yes, we’ve seen this storyline before in Caprica-Sharon who became fell in love wit Helo, betrayed her people, and became Galactica’s Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. Who these four become is still unclear. There is a possibility for betrayal.
We’ve been promised an honest, clear-eyed, brutal end to this series. Ten episodes this spring, ten next spring, and that’s it. It’s clear the writers and producers have the end in sight, and the freedom to tell story they need to tell. Not many shows get this chance. And no matter what happens, Battlestar Galactica has earned the right to go where it’s going to go. .

Friday, March 28, 2008

When good shows go bad: Beauty and the Geek!

All right, show. I won't un-season pass you yet, but it was this close.

If they hadn't done away with Beauty vs. the Geek and paired the girls and guys up, this would have been my last episode. It was just so bad. We get the vs dynamic in real life, why did we need it on this show, who's strength is taking two people from very different worlds, pairing them up, and helping them grow together. That's the show I think we all signed up for.

Watching the girls rub up against the guys in a hot tub so they could "weaken their enemies?" Ugh. The school-yard pick they used to form the teams (the girls picking, of course, because they won the challenge.) Also, ugh.

There certainly have been some mean-spirited contestants on this show before, but the show itself has never been mean. This season, it was.

But maybe that part is over now. Of course, Jillian, my favorite Beauty is gone, because of the really dumb third-challenge twist. But so is Amber, the nastiest Beauty since Season Three's Cece (still the worst reality show contestant of all time. When your partner throws the entire competition just so you don't win? It's a sign, kiddo).

But last night did have that adorable scene of Leticia waiting for Matt to return from the hospital alone on the stairs. And Amber feeling really, genuinely guilty for having accidentally breaking his shoulder during a game of flag football.

Maybe it'll return to form from here.

But it's still on probation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our Long National Nightmare is Over: Monica Seles off Dancing with the Stars

I kid, I kid. Kind of. I really felt bad about it, but watching poor Monica Seles lurch across the stage, dragged, propped up, kept in position by her unfortunate partner, Jonathan, was just not fun. I'm sorry, Monica. I know this was your chance to be a princess, but you really, really just ... and she seemed so nice, and was trying to hard, I couldn't even enjoy making fun of her.

Now that I've said that, I have to admit that if I were on Dancing with the Stars, my own experience would be much the same. I'm sure my partner, Kym (because that's my partner in the Dancing with the Stars show in my head) would have to put me on roller skates and drag me around the floor and pretend that roller disco was a ballroom category no matter what Len said about it. So I can relate. And really, I don't want to relate when I watch this show. I want celebrities to be either 1) good, or 2) a mockable train wreck. Monica certainly was a train wreck. But I felt bad mocking her.

So, hopefully, she can throw herself some princess parties and move on with her life. Penn, now, I was actually surprised to see go because he has a sizable fan base. And he was mockable. He seemed to be inviting it, so ... I guess I'm not too sad, but I was hoping it would be Cristian, fo whom I must ask the question, does anyone else think this guy is an asshole? Just me? Ok.

In our house, we're rooting for Kristi (of course), Marlbe, and Jason. Everyone else I'm meh on. Except for Marissa, who I think may be our next Monica. Right now her pep makes her entertaining (and yes, a little bit mockable) but she's showing signs of becoming pathetic in the classic sense of inviting pathos and that MUST. NOT. BE.

Priscilla scares me. She's like the botoxed bride of frankensteing, and there's something weird about her affect, like she's drugged up or something. I can't quite put my finger on it. But I am afraid.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Different Rules: Is Big Love the most moral series on television?

We don’t have HBO at our house, so I didn’t discover this series when it originally aired. I’d heard about it. At first the concept seemed like something that would appeal to me only slightly more than the cake decorating shows our local religious broadcaster would show in the early afternoons while I was growing up. Like most people, I found the whole idea of polygamy distasteful. I couldn’t imagine an entire TV series around the concept. Or, well, I could imagine it, and it was in my head like some mutant hybrid of Desperate Housewives and Last Man Standing. Not for me.

But then I started hearing about how good it was, how seriously it took the concept, how well-written and well-acted the characters. And then there was the presence of Amanda Seyfried, the late, lamented Lily Cane from late, lamented Veronica Mars. I was intrigued. So one weekend when I was home alone and looking for something to kill the boredom, I rented the first season DVD set. And then I knew exactly what they meant by the phrase Big Love.

The genius of this series is that it takes a concept most people are immediately repulsed by, and shows you the human and emotional layers underpinning it. You come to understand exactly how people can come to live this way, and in this story you find a connection with people who are in the middle of society, but are not part of that society. In its own way, and despite the immediate reaction most people have to its subject matter, Big Love may be the most moral series on television.

The concept of personal and sexual morality is not one given much real examination these days. A lot of series pay lip service to it, but that’s usually just so characters can feel bad as they’re breaking their own rules, followed usually by a bender where they feel so, so bad about what they’ve done before they go back to the way things were before. Rarely do we see a cast of characters who are so interesting because they stand up and resist, because they fight for what they believe, and fight as well to live up to it.

And that’s where the concept of polygamy becomes vital, because for that to really be examined, you have to take the story out of the realm of the familiar. These are people who live my different rules, but they are rules, and they are consistent, and seeing how they struggle can shed light on our own moral struggles. This might also be one of the best depictions of a family of faith I’ve ever seen. How many times have you seen the main characters in a modern series, when conflicted, or lost, or scared, or feeling gulty, literally getting down on their knees to pray for guidance? And receiving it. Most of the time this kind of thing is treated as a joke.

Yeah, there’s sex on this show. But it’s not casual and indiscriminate, It has consequences. And a context. And we may see our main family “living the principle” in a way that is moral, but we see the dark side of this practice as well. We see the compounds and cult leaders where young girls are made to marry 80-year-old men. We see the dichotomy that exists in this world. We see just how weird and twisted it can get. And in the second season, we feel for Bill, our main character, as he tries to have things both ways. He tries to “live the principle” but also walk in the mainstream world. And though he comes to some sort of stalemate with the forces against him, it is obviously something very temporary, and likely to have horrific consequences down the road.
I really do think this is the more moral show on TV right now. And I can’t wait to see how things work out for everyone next season, but I’m almost afraid of it too, because there’s some real badness on the horizon, I have a feeling, and I don’t want to see any of these people go down hard.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Go not gently into that good fridge: R.I.P. Bonnie Richmond

OK, I take back everything bad I said about Jericho. The last to episodes have been fantastic, as a truly evil enemy has reared its head, and the citizens of our plucky, home-spun little town has started to make the beginnings of a … dare I saw it … an insurgency. So, good job Jericho (and thanks for giving Heather a bigger role after distressingly leaving her out of the 2nd episode.

The real reason for this post though was to comment on the murder of Jericho’s resident little sister, Bonnie Richmond. My first reaction was … yikes…why her. But it made perfect sense, and the way it was done was first class. While the women in refrigerators charge is often invoked when a female character meets her death, I do not believe this is a case of a fridging.

Fridging occurs when a (usually)female character is offed to have some sort of effect on a male character, usually the protagonist. It is usually brutal, as this was, and is often presented in a sexualized way (though not always). Though they may have killed off Bonnie Richmond in a spectacular and ugly manner, she was not shoved in the fridge. In fact, Bonnie was given an exit befitting most male protagonists. Girls, usually young girls, don’t usually go out this way in things that aren’t written by Joss Whedon or Gail Simone. Her gender does give us added pathos, but as much of that comes from the fact that she was deaf. And I had a feeling she was a goner when they started leaning heavily on the “I’m going to Cheyenne to become a relief worker” plotline.

Bonnie died in a hail of bullets, wielding a shotgun in defense of her new big sis Mimi, who’d uncovered some “discrepancies” in the books of the military contractors given control of the town in post-wasteland America. She was fierce and brave and protective and became a serious threat to the Blackwater contracters storming her house. Yes, I mean “Ravenwood.”

And Jericho becomes the show it could be, its metaphor perhaps a little too on the nose, but intact and important. Bonnie’s death affects everyone, not just her big brother. (I had a feeling she was a goner when they started leaning heavily on the “I’m going to Cheyenne to become a relief worker” plotline.

Jericho has three episodes left. Watch them. They’re probably won’t be more, but now I know the creators can handle this.
And goodbye Bonnie. Your friends and family are going to nail someone’s ass to the wall.

5 things I'm obsessed with right now.

Chips ahoy candy bites (chocolate chip cookie variety) We’re doing the weight watchers points thing at my house, so chocolate is mostly off the menu. As are starbucks mochas and dark chocolate m&m’s. I am dying. I never realized how much candy I was popping or how much I was addicted to it until I had to write down the points of it and not go over freaking 25 (fortunately, exercise allows me to eat more). But these little 100-calorie snack packs are saving my life, keeping me from stopping at whatever convenience store I’m passing and diving into a full-on cherry coke and candy bar snack binge. Well, usually.

The Wait, Wait! Don’t tell me! Podcast. This NPR news quiz is a riot, sparing no one (not even Barack Obama!), taking no prisoners, and making passers-by look at me funny while I break-out laughing while I’m on my hikes through Sundial Bridge park. Listening to newsman Cark Cassell channel celebutards Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears during the “who’s Carl this time?” segment has been the only thing getting me through some really, really bad days. It’s available on their web site or you can get it through itunes as well. That’s what I do, since I’m lazy.

SpongeBob SquarePants Edition of Life. This game plays quickly, and has a plot. I can pay attention to it. Yes, you actually play Spongebob’s life, and who wouldn’t want that?
You choose between going to college (which allows you to become a fry cook) and going straight to work (which allows you to become an ince cream vendor for less money). You don’t get married, but you do adopt a pet. And watch out for the expense card. You don’t want to get stuck with the bill for Plankton’s latest plot.

Sheryl Crow’s Detours album. Yeah, she got sunny and treakly there for a while but a bout with cancer and a break-up with Lance Armstrong has brought her back to us. Her adoption of son Wyatt has preserved her wit as she writes and sings again about politics, love, loss, and above all else, hope. God Bless this Mess takes a listless look at modern American life and Out of Our Heads gives a prescription for the problems of the world. The music is intricate and stripped down to its acoustic roots at the same time, the lyrics harsh and loving, her voice raw and weathered, the way it was on her first three albums. It’s a great album. If only Melissa Etheridge’s post-cancer album had been as successful.

Barack Obama. Yes, I’m on board. I did not drink any kool-aid. I know he’s not the second coming, but he’s the first politician who’s come along in a long time that makes me think the system could still be changed from the inside. I know he’s inexperienced, but look where experience has gotten us. Obama 08!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hey, Random's in the name: The Dancing with the Stars Season 6 cast.

OK, the only thing I will say about this show in general is that I didn’t really want to start watching it, but my wife did, and I at first refused but over the course of Season 4 got sucked in. I was a big Apolo-Julianne Fan (thought Joey and Laila were awesome as well). I also thought that Scary Spice was robbed last season. ROBBED!

That said, I watch it because it is often on the level of an interesting train wreck. And I love, looove, love it when the judges are mean to them. And Tom Bergeron is often worth the time all by himself. I’ve been a big TB fan ever since he was on that weird Fox morning news show in the early 90’s. I can’t remember the name, but I think it involved puppets in some form or another. I may be delusional. Aside: is there a more worthless TV personality than Samatha Harris? Why is she even there?

I am sad to admit that we did watch that horrible Dance War show with Bruno and Carrie Ann. Seriously, it was almost as bad as Crowned. The only highlight was during the finale, when Kenny Mayne returned with Dance Center to name the next cast. (Kenny Mayne is teh awesome.!)

My reaction? I was underwhelmed. But that may be because I was really, really hoping that Donny Osmond was going to follow in the footsteps of his sister. Have you SEEN the White and Nerdy video? That would have been spectacular. But no.

Most of the people actually on the show? Meh. There could be something interesting happen, but the cast itself is actually kind of blah. I do have a few thoughts on the teams, however.

They are obviously paring Julianne Hough with Adam Carolla in an attempt to break her streak. Either that, or they have so much confidence in her skills that they think she cand pull out another win. Maybe it’s a final level boss scenario? This will be her greatest challenge. Whatever. She’s still off-the-scale hot and nothing Adam can do will take that away from us. Actually, that's not true, is it? f he screws up and gets her eliminated, she'll be off the show. Someone replace Adam Carolla with a dancing robot right now!

Can I be forgiven for the fact that when I saw the name Monica Seles I immediately thought about how her stab wound was going to affect things? And then I wondered if she was going to grunt every time she completed an intricate move. That could mess up the timing. I was also really hoping they were going to pair her with Maks, but he isn’t even on the show this year, which is a shame. I liked his attitude.

Shannon Elizabeth and Derek Hough? It’s just going to be a pretty-off, isn’t it? Maybe she was the only one who’d make him look like a real, grown-up boy, since Jennie Garth certainly couldn’t do it.

After the Wayne Newton Fiasco, producers make it up to Cheryl Burke by giving her a hottie latin actor. This could backfire. See also : Albert Reed.

They’ve paired Karina with another Mario. Someone has a sense of humor.

Penn Gillette gets Kym, who’s always solid but never makes it all the way. I don’t think it’s been her. I mean, she took Joey to the finale. For some reason, however, I think Penn is going to be this year’s so-awful-it’s-entertaining contestant and will, thus, make it pretty far. He’s also got a fan base. See also: Billy Ray Cyrus.

Then we have Mrs. Elvis, herself. I don’t even know how to react to this one. She’s been off the radar for so long that I don’t know if there’s a fan base to vote for her. The upshot is that the fan base is likely to be old, and a lot of the people who watch this show are old (yes, all right, case in point) so that may work in her favor. It’s probably what kept Jane Seymour in the competition way, waay, waaay past the time she should gave gone (to be fair, a dead mom and food poisoning played a role here as well). So, Priscilla probably needs to off one of her relatives or have a stroke halfway through the competition just to play it safe.

Marlee Matlin might be a spoiler. She may be deaf, but has danced before. Remember her as The Dancing Bandit on Picket Fences? I know deaf people can feel music even if they can't hear it (thanks, very special episode of Quantum Leap!) so she'll be better than people assume. Her partner is new to the show, I think, so who knows what will happen there. Maks would have been awesome.

I don’t even have opinions on the rest of the cast, really. Jason Taylor could be a contender, as could Broadway’s Tracy Turnblad, who may be a sentimental favorite in our house depending on the personality. My wife is geeking out over Kristi Yamaguchi (don’t ask) but really …. I really wish Donny Osmond would have signed on.

And Steve Fucking Guttenberg? Yikes. I haven’t even been able to look at pictures of him since he played the child-molesting mayor on Veronica Mars. Derek Hough better watch out backstage.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Jericho Season 2

Jericho Season 2
Tuesday, 10:00 p.m. EST
starring: Skeet Ulrich, Ashley Scott, Kenneth
Mitchell, Brad Beyer, Alicia Coppola, Michael Gaston, Sprague Grayden, Esai Morales

You know, I’m always behind a fan-led rebellion against the corporate America that cancels a TV show. And when that campaign actually works? Awesome. Fans saved Jericho by sending tons and tons of nuts to CBS corporate offices, leading them to renew the show for seven episodes to, at least, wrap up the story. Go fans! However, sometimes when this happens, the show you’ve saved is Jericho. And that’s not always a good thing.

Jericho started off weakly last season. I mean, for a show about a nuclear attack that destroys the U.S., leaving a small Kansas town to fend for itself against enemies internal and external, it was astonishingly meh. The set up was fantastic. I loves me a good apocalypse story, and by focusing on the little people just trying to survive and make their way in a brand new world … what could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, they cast Skeet Ulrich as the lead character. Now, it's not that he’s spectacularly bad, he’s just … kind of there. No personality. Charisma-free, if you will. But not so charisma free that, Keanu-like, it actually goes out the other side and becomes actual charisma. Then, they saddled this prodigal-son character type with a ridiculous back-story involving the middle-east, an obvious Blackwater stand-in, and a sad-sack partner he helped get killed. Yawn. And let’s not even get into Lennie James as Robert “I was a cop in St. Louis” Hawkins.

The single worst move they made, however, was framing the main character’s romantic prospects around so-charisma-free-she-comes-keanu-like-out-the-other-side-and-then-dives-back-in-to-sucking again Ashley Scott character. Instant hate by almost everyone. It was so bad that when Ulrich had more obvious chemistry with Sprague Grayden’s Heather they made a ridiculous move to take her off-screen as if we would be so desparate for romance we would accept Ulrich and Scott together at the end of the season. It’s basically Smallville’s Lana problem.

But anyway, toward the end of the season actual plot developed, and the show allowed some characters with actual personality to assume center stage (Hi, Stanley and Mimi) and killed off some of the more annoying (you are not missed, April). Unfortunately, Ashley Scott’s Emily is still alive. They all but redeemed themselves when, as one of the final images of Season One, they showed us Heather looking at a new flag of the Country, promising intrigue to come.

So, Season Two is finally here, and I still have a burning question: shouldn’t the apocalypse be more exciting than this?

What works: There are nuggets here of the potential the series has always shown. The plot is moving along as we’re getting more information about the new nation forming out of the west. The series seems to be taking on more of an epic feel. This could be both good and bad.

The addition of Esai Morales as the military leader is promising, as is the attention paid to Stanley and Mimi. And the first episode feature Heather in a prominent role which seems like it will be important later. There are a lot of pieces here that could really work.

What doesn’t: We still have Emily around. And Ulrich is still our lead. Heather is absent from the second episode, which is not promising at all. I can’t even be intrigued anymore when Hawkins talks about the bomb he has in his basement. We’re supposed to take as fact that this new government is eeeevil when we’re shown no eamples of them being, actually, evil. Misguided and heavy-handed? Sure? Shifty? You bet? They have apparently commisioned some evile tetbooks, and they are getting ready to re-write the constitution. These things are defenitely not good, but if they’re the big bad, they’re not there yet. So, once again… the apocalypse = boring. That shit is not right.

Bottom line: I’ll watch this season, and post here if it gets better, but for now … yes, the apocalypse really should be more exciting than this.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles
Paramount Pictures, PG

written by: Holly Black, Tony Diterlizzi, Karey Kirkpatrick
directed by: Mark Waters

When you’re the parent of a third-grader with ADHD you come to appreciate books like The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony Diterlizzi and Holly Black. Because of the attention issues, she has to read a lot just to maintain herself at grade level. And at the third grade level (especially when you have to read book that have special “AR tests,” the selection can be a little disappointing. And since we end up reading a lot of them together, I love it when we find a series of books that doesn’t bore me as well as her. She’s not ready for Harry Potter yet, so The Spiderwick Chronicles was a godsend (Thanks, Mrs. Evans for suggesting them!). They’re well-written, the characters are interesting and conflicted, and the adults, while clueless for part of the plot, do NOT act like idiots just so the kids heroes can be … well, kid heroes. Plus, as the father of a daughter, I appreciate it when we run across girl heroes that exhibit brains and brawn, and you’d have a hard time finding a better girl hero than Mallory Grace (but more on that later). Actually, you’d have a hard time finding a better hero than Mallory Grace, regardless of gender. That’s refreshing.

My son, also, fell in love with story. He can’t read yet, but he loved the pictures, and would sit while we read aloud. When he first started seeing commercials for this movies, he was probably the most excited of all of us. I was a little afraid, actually. Most of the time movies get these things wrong. I know things need to change. For a five-book series, plot must be compressed to fit into a two-hour movie. The Bridge to Terabithia and the Harry Potter movies mostly got these things right. The Seeker (from the Dark is Rising Books) pissed all over the concept and made a lot of fans really mad. Where would Spiderwick fall on this line?

What works: Nearly everything. This is a great film, not just a great kids movie. If you like kids adventure films (by that I mean adventure films with kids as the main characters. Think Goonies) you’ll love this movie. It’s genuinely scary in places, the danger is real, and the kids come to life almost directly from the pages of the book. I was a little worried when I saw that Freddy Highmore had been cast as the Grace twins. The kid is very British and these kids are very American and, frankly, Highmore seems almost like a lazy casting choice since he’s played a lot of major kid roles lately. What I forgot was that he gets these parts because he’s good. With one exception, his performance was flawless. The two characters he plays seem like two separate people. I found myself believing they’d discovered a heretofore unknown Highmore twin. The best performance, though, was by Irish actress Sarah Bolger as Mallory. She was perfect. Sarcastic, smart, and gutsy. The greatest moment in the movie was when she was whacking at invisible (to her, anyway) goblins and her brother throws her the stone ring that will allow her to see. The cinematography there was gorgeous, the moment perfect. I would even say that I liked Bolger’s Mallory even more than Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger. Yes, I said it. It’s probably the sword.

The CGI is pretty good. There are just a very few moments when you are really aware of the fact that it is, indeed CGI. Most of there involve the Griffin. What is does well is make what is essentially a collection of dandelion fluff seem actually scary. The characters that are mostly CGI, like the villain, Mulgarath, and Hogsqueal, interact well with the human players.

This was a series of books with a lot of heart, about a family in crisis trying to find a way to stick together as they put together a new life for themselves. That remains the core of this movie.

What doesn’t: I am someone who appreciates movies who have great, iconic scores. This could have been one of them, but the score, by the usually excellent James Horner, just seems kind of bland. It provides atmosphere, but there is no real memorable moment here. And my one complaint about Highmore … he does affect an American accent pretty well, but there are times that it seems like just that. An affected accent. I got used to it. Bolger has no such problems.

Bottom line: This is a wonderful film I’m sure we’ll be getting on DVD the day it comes out. Much, much better than recent films like The Golden Compass and The Seeker. Plus, it’s got the trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie at the beginning, so you really can’t lose.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

newuniversal: Everything went White

newuniversal: Everything went White

by Warren Ellis and Salvador Larocca

Marvel Comics $19.99

I was thirteen years old in 1986, when Marvel Comics decided to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary by creating an entire new Universe. Seriously, that’s what they called it, The New Universe, and it was designed to be the world outside you window. But a world that suddenly, had people developing super-powers (not necessarily outside your window, but you get the point). Sound like a familiar concept? It’s almost the exact concept of the tv series heroes, done twenty years (and, some would say, more creatively successfully) earlier. The New Universe was not destined for long-termed success. The first batch of titles was cancelled a year in. The rest made it another year and a half, but most people agreed there were some damn good stories in their, told by creators at the top of their game. And it was a world, refreshingly, with no reset button. When the most actual “super-heroic” of the characters accidentally blew up his home town of Pittsburg (not to mention himself), no one came along and fixed it. Instead, the event propelled the New Univers into a war between governments using civilian, super-powered, pawns. It really did see the situation to a believable (if not a very satisfying) conclusion.
So, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this event, in 2006 Marvel assigned brilliant, gonzo writer of conceptual and super-heroic science fiction, Warren Ellis, to reboot the property. To assist, they gave him the services of fan favorite artist Salvador LaRocca. Instead of an entire line of inter-related titles, the New Universe was reborn as one book, newuniversal, and the entire story will be told in one title. The first story arc has been collected as the hardcover Everything Went White.

Story: As he usually does, Warren Ellis has delivered in rethinking the concept of the New Universe. In the original version, there was an explosion in the sky of white light, which gave a couple of hundred people world-wide super-powers. In this new version, Ellis has re-thought what that “white event” was and come up with an explanation that has real implications for the future of the planet, tying it in with quantum mechanics and multiple-worlds theories. Ellis loves his gonzo science (as do I) and this provides a layer to the story that was absent in the original. He also culls the cast down a bit too. There are four super-humans the white event has awakened, and each has his or her own specific purpose.

As usual, Ellis creates interesting, believable characters and writes dialogue that accomplishes expositional tasks but also sounds like something that people would actually say, peppered with humor and pathos throughout. He avoids using some of his stock characters (no chain-smoking, sarcastic, bitter Brit investigator here. yet.) This first volume doesn’t delve as deeply into character as some would like, but this is clearly a story working off of the EVENT structure, and that takes precedence. There are some nice bits, though.

This is but the first volume, and as such, the ending is a little weak. It does not so much end as it does stop. This would not be so alarming except that Ellis and Marvel been coy about when and where the story will continue. It has been announced that the series will return early in 2008, but so far it has not yet appeared. I am invested enough in the story at this point that I almost want to seek out the actual issues as they come out. (Don’t worry honey, I know that’s how it all starts …)

Art: Salvador Larroca’s work is gorgeous here. In some places it is almost photo-realistic. It succeeds in being both a fantastic place and “the world outside your window.” His character work is particularly strong. But there is one thing about the piece that some people will find distracting, at that’s his obvious modeling of certain characters on famous people, at least in their appearance. Basically, we have Josh Hollaway (Sawyer from Lost) as Oklahoma football player Ken Connell; A red-haired, green-eyed Angelina Jolie as robotics expert Jenny Swann; Johnyy Depp (circa his Ninth Gate days) as historian Len Carson; James Cromwell as government agent Phillip Voight; and, bizarrely, some weird hybrid of Hillary Clinton and Dr. Laura as the president. This practice of “spot the reference” can distract a little from the story. Some people like it, others don’t. I’m on the fence.

Bottom line: A promising start to a great story. I just hope it continues. It certainly does more with the concept than Heroes ever thought of doing.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Torchwood Season 2

BBC America Saturdays 9:00 e.s.t.
starring: John Barrowman, Eve Miles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd
Whenever I saw the name Torchwood on my DVR’s now playing list last fall, it would be an immediate watch now. You know how it is, there are some shows you are excited about, but might save until a few episodes pile up to enjoy in one sitting. Lost is like that for me. Others, you give a little “ugh” and watch because you’ve already gotten involved in a series, but at a certain point it becomes a chore before you man up and just delete the damn thing for your season pass list. Others, you sit and watch immediately because you just can’t wait. Sometimes, these are the very shows you’re embarrassed to admit you watch. Such was the case with me and Torchwood.

Let me be clear, I loved this show. It’s basically a british version of the X-files, centering around a team assembled and led by a Doctor Who supporting character, the immortal time agent Captain Jack Harkness. They investigate the weird and the secret, the occult and the just plain wrong, and they think they do it with panache and style (your mileage may vary). In its first season, Torchwood worked better as an idea of a tv show that it did as an actual tv show. The episodes were wildly uneven in quality with some of them, like Small Worlds, which reimagined a fairly malevolent fairy mythology and They Keep killing Suzie, which played with the unfortunate consequences of a resurrection on the higher end of the quality spectrum and others, like Cyberwoman and Combat taking genre tropes and stringing them in Christmas lights. The season ended on a mixed note, with the team fighting a breakdown of the time/space vortex in Cardiff and a abysmally literal interpretation of the devil coming to town to make trouble.

The main problem the show had was that it thought it was groundbreaking, and kept reminding of us how groundbreaking it was, especially in the area of sexuality. It’s creators nonchalantly threw out comments like “Oh, everyone’s bi on Torchwood” and every single character had a same-sex encounter, even if it was only hinted at. All this is fine, and it would be a progressive approach to the issue is some of it didn’t come across so gimmicky, so “oh, look what we’re getting away with now,” that it actually cheapened the issue.

Still, I loved every minute of it. What can I say, some shows just push the right buttons.

Season two just started on BBC America. The first two episodes added Buffy alum James Marsters to the supporting cast as a rogue time agent who once had a relationship with Captain Jack. The second started what looked to be a season-long arc about a secret alien invasion, which could have ended up like the worst of the obtuse X-Files mysteries but actually developed the plot while leaving it open for more.

What works: These first two episodes are on par with the strongest episodes of Season one. Of the two, I preferred the second, in its paranoia-inducing concept of finding out that you are not who you think you are. The first, with Marsters, would have been a disaster if not for Marsters’ performace, as it’s basically a macguffin hunt that turns out, predictably, to have been an exercise in misdirection. The actors seem to have settled in, the writing is more assured. The show seems to have found its tone, combining camp and suspense, in a way that it rarely did in season one. The characters seem more natural too. When Captain Jack and Captain Jon hart make out while busting apart a Cardiff bar, it actually seems character driven, and not just a stunt.

What doesn’t: I’m still not a great fan of Burn Gorman’s Dr. Owen Harper, and Eve Miles’ Gwen grates at times, as does her boyfriend, who I’d really hoped was dead during the finale. The villains are stronger as well, but this is still Torchwod’s weakest aspect.

Bottom line: Better than it was, but still by no means perfect. Still, I probably love it more because of its imperfections.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Big Boned by Meg Cabot

Big Boned by Meg Cabot
Avooks. $13.95

I don’t know how to put this, really, but I sort of accidentally fell in love with a chick-lit book series. Seriously, I didn’t mean for it to happen. I picked up the first book Size 12 is not Fat for my wife for Christmas last year (we have a longstanding habit of making books a significant part of our Christmas purchases for each other. What?) because she loves mysteries, had just come off a Patricia Cornwell binge and was looking for something a little lighter to read. I saw this, read the back cover description, which entailed a plus size former teen pop star solving mysteries at a dorm in New York and thought “hey, this might work for her.” I didn’t even mention her Spice Girls obsession.
So, she read it a loved it and couldn’t stop cackling while she read it. It was intrigued. She said I’d probably enjoy it but understood if I wasn’t secure enough to be seen reading it. That was a challenge, so I read it too. And fell in love.

The premise is this: Heather Wells was a teen pop sensation who lost her recording contract because she insisted she be allowed to write her own songs. She also gained a bit of weight after her stage days, and her fiancée, another teen pop sensation and son of the record company’s owner, broke up with her. She entered a spiral of depression but got her life back together, decided to go back to school, took a job as an assistant residence director of a dorm, and moved in with her former fiancee’s hunky private eye brother, purely as his roommate. Yes, of course, she’s secretly in love with him.

Along the way, she starts solving mysteries, because the dorm she works at is nicknamed “death dorm” because of the number of people who tend to die in unfortunate ways. Big Boned is the third, and for now final, book in the series. In it, Heather has to solve the murder of her boss (the position of Heather’s boss is a little like this series version of Harry Potter’s defense against the dark arts teacher), a man no one liked, finds herself on the list of suspects, and has to navigate her way through a student labor strike. Also, decide how she wants to respond to the question her new boyfriend, a vegan, fitness-obsessed math processor, wants to ask her.

What works: As in the other book in the series, its strongest aspect is character and dialogue. That’s what makes these books so enjoyable. Heather is snarky, funny, and very relatable, even to someone like me who could only be more outside the target audience if I was a marine or a lumberjack (I’m neither, by the way). And anyone who’s ever worked in an organization that’s gone over to a management fad will find a lot to laugh at here. Some earlier characters come back here and become more important, and several relationships change and/or are deepened in some way. The ending is a great payoff for some of the “shippers” in the audience, but I don’t want to be any less cryptic than that.

What doesn’t: Well, it’s not the kind of book that either elevates or transcends it genre. It’s a light chick-lit mystery and it’s not trying to be anything but. The mystery plots of these books also tend to be sort of afterthoughts, so hard-core mystery lovers are not going to be satisfied.

Bottom line: Like I said, it’s a lot of fun, especially if you need a break between heavier books. And if you can dislike Heather Wells as a character, I probably don’t want to know you (see also: Ugly Betty).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ghost Hunters International

Ghost Hunters International
Sci Fi Channel Wednesdays 9:00 EST
starring: Robb Demarest, Andy Andrews, Brian Harnois, Donna LaCroix, Barry Fitzgerald, Shannon Sylvia.

I’m starting this one off with another confession. I kind of believe in ghosts. There. I said it. It should come as no surprise. I grew up in the buckle of the bible belt, where every misfortune and unexplained event was regarded as evidence of demonic activity, especially after the Frank Peretti books became popular (that man has a lot to answer for). We all said we didn’t believe in ghosts, per se, but … we really did, at least a little. These days I can admit it. I don’t believe in them as much as some people do. I like to think of it as keeping an open mind, but yeah … I believe, at least a little. But it’s probably only because I really, really hope it’s all true.

So, recently my wife and I have become addicted to Sci Fi’s paranormal reality series, Ghost Hunters. Yeah, I know. It’s just always been a bit of goofy fun. We particularly enjoy figuring out the real-world causes for the “hauntings” before the investigators do. And on those rare occasions when they do find actual paranormal activity? Awesome! Yes, I kno it could all easily be faked. But if you’re going to enjoy a show like this, you just have to go along with the fantasy. Otherwise, what’s the point? Please know that I in no way see this is a serious documentary show. It’s just for fun.

Apparently getting a good response from those episodes of Ghost Hunters that went to Europe, Sci Fi commissioned this spin-off series, wherein a team of investigators made up of some veterans, some friends, and at least one newbie go to Europe to investigate ancient haunted places.

What works: The European setting brings a new epic, mythic feel to the proceedings that just is not possible in the U.S. The teams walks through castles and plazas and monasteries haunted by history, let alone by ghosts. That’s this spin-off’s strongest advantage over its parent show. Here, we’re looking for victims of the plague, of bloody torture, or religious persecutions and actual dead kings, not just 70’s suicide victims, civil war soldiers, and cowboys (not that those aren’t cool too). From a story perspective, this is gold. Looking for a ghost in an actual medieval torture chamber (with most of the equipment still intact)? Classic.

What doesn’t work: This show lacks the primary strength of Ghost Hunters, and that’s the presence of lead investigators Jason and Grant, as well as Tech Manager Steve. In their place, we have Robb, apparently a veteran who’s worked in the Paranormal Society’s Florida branch; Andy, a veteran of the US team; and Brian, Steve’s right-hand man in the tech department. Grant and Jason bring a friendly, skeptical, jokey vibe to the proceedings and have a parental chemistry with their team that is the result of a long bond. That atmosphere is completely absent here. Robb and Andy are all right as investigators, but clearly do not have that bond, and the gentle humor is almost completel absent. Brian continues his role as lovable doofus of the group. Everyone needs one of those, but without his mentors, its hard to take him seriously as an investigator or as any kind of authority figure.

Donna, US case manager, is here too, and she is fine, I guess, but fails to impress as she’s always been one of the more gullible team members and without Jason and Grant to hold her back, just gets more shrill here. Then we have new members Barry and Shannon. Barry actually appeared in the Ireland episodes of the original show, and there seemed just a little too invested in finding evidence of the paranormal, having a tendency toward the overly dramatic. This is even worse here. At any moment he may stroke his beard (not a euphemism!) and whisper “there’s an evil presence in this room.” And Shannon … sigh. Her storyline seems to be that she’s the inexperienced one who is getting stronger over time. That can’t come fast enough for me, as she’s usually the first to scream, to be shrill, to sit stooped in a corner with the night-vision camera turning her eyes into wide silver disks, raccoon-like. I honestly don’t know why she’s there.

Bottom line: It’s a lot of fun, still and the locations are wonderful. The team needs a lot to be desired. It would have been better to do an International Season of Ghost Hunters with the original team intact (yes, I know Steve won’t fly so we would have been relying on Brian anyway). So it’s good enough for what it is but I can’t wait for Jason and Grant to be back with new episodes of the original in March.

Anyone want to join me in forming PAPS: Pacific Alliance for Paranormal Studies? Seriously, email me. I’ll bring my digital video recorder and laptop, you bring the EMF detector and the motion-activated camera. There’s a spooky barn on the road back to my house that I think needs to be checked out.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Matt Reeved
Written by Drew Goddard
starring: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller

First, a confession. I was geeked out to see this movie in a way I have not been about any movie since Joss Whedon’s Firefly follow-up, Serenity. It’s important that you know that so you know how many grains of salt with which you’ll need to take the rest of this review. This is actually the first movie I’ve ever gone to see in the theaters by myself, since my wife refuses to see horror movies and everyone else I know was busy during the time I had to go (I decided that taking my daughter out of school or subjecting my five-year-old to this was just not a good idea. I’m devoted to the idea of passing the geekery down to the next generation but even I have my limits). So, there I was, opening day, noon showing. There were a lot of people in line at the box office, including a field trip from some sort of group home, but most of them turned out to be in line to see 27 Dresses (I know!) It was just me and some older couple in theater 9 to see Cloverfield. I was in front of them, so it was almost like a private showing.

So, was it worth it? After all the online build-up, the viral marketing campaign, the title-less trailer in front of Transformers (I know!) featuring the decapitated head of the statue of liberty … did it live up to all of it in a way that other recent internet phenomena have not (looking at you … Snakes on a Plane)? For me? Absolutely. In fact, I loved this movie in a way I have not loved a movie since Serenity. It’s not perfect, by any means. In fact, its almost imperfect enough to be perfect, for the experience it provides. But I’ll get to the flaws later.

What Works: This film is shot, and presented to the audience, as if it is footage found by the military at the sight of a disaster. And it really does look like a videotape you’ve popped into your VCR. There are snippets of old footage interspersed with the new, a couple newly in love sharing one perfect day, but the bulk of the movie starts at a party being thrown for the guy in the couple who’s going away to take a job in Japan. He’s also blown it, big-time, with the girl of his dreams. This just happens to be going on the same night what can only be described as a GIANT FUCKING MONSTER attacks New York City. We follow these characters as they try to survive the attack, first attempting to get out of the city, then heading back to the disaster to save someone. It does not turn out well. Do not get attached to any of these characters.

What I really liked about this film was how it presented the events from the perspective of the normal people caught up in them. Another movie would have given us, Independence Day style, the broad picture, characters ranging from Scientists to soldiers, probably the nuke-ordering president, a couple of civilians in New York (most likely family or love interests of the other main characters) telling this story from beginning to end, finding out what the monster was as how it could be defeated, eventually someone coming in at the last minute, finding an ingenious device to kill the monster before the entire northeastern seaboard has to be destroyed. And that movie would have been fine, I guess. Depending on the writing and the performances, it could have been fantastic. It would also have been tired. If there is one that this movie isn’t, is tired.

The device, some would say conceit, of the camcorder puts the viewer right there in the middle of the action, living, dying, running, screaming. I felt like I had survived the monster attack myself (actually, survive is too strong a word). Another thing that works is the monster itself. We do eventually get a very good look at it, but for most of the movie is it glimpsed through dust, around corners, it is felt more than it is seen, which makes it scarier. It gets no less scarier when you do actually see it. And yes, as you make have heard, the camera work is a little sick-making at first. But unless you are especially prone to motion sickness, you will get used to it.

What doesn’t work: Horror movies aren’t really great at creating really compelling characters, and this one is no different. These people are fodder, and there are attempts at depth that fall flat somehow. Still, there is enough there that you do end up caring about these people and what happens to them. It’s saved by some of the performances, especially Lizzy Caplan as Marlena and Michael Stahl-David as “main character” Rob. There also some logical problems. We’re never shown that the Monster is that incredibly fast-moving, but it goes from decapitating the statue of liberty to stomping mid-town Manhattan is about twelve seconds. (I guess you could say it was just kicking it around, but still…) And whoever manufactures this video camera should use this film as an advertisement because this thing provides a great picture and extremely loooong battery life despite being kicked, dropped, rolled over, monster-stomped, and crashed in a helicopter. This product is highly recommended.

Bottom Line: People are either going to love or hate this movie. I loved it. The older couple behind me hated it. The ending is somewhat ambiguous and that’s going to make a lot of people leave the theater unsatisfied. But the ending is not the point. The experience was the point. And I had a great experience watching this movie.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles

Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles
starring: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Richard T. Jones
Fox Mondays 9:00 est.
I wasn’t expecting to like Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles as much as I did. In fact, when I first started hearing about this project, months ago, I had almost zero interest. It felt like a step backward for the series, and in many ways it still is, but it’s a step backward that makes sense. For once.

This series takes place between the movies Terminator 2 and Terminator 3, and its events effectively wipe Terminator 3 from the record, either ignoring it completely or making it so those events never take place. This suits me just fine, as I’d never seen T3, so it significantly flattened my learning curve. It is, in short, the story of Sarah and John Conner running from killer robots, protected by a defender sent back from John’s future as the leader of humanity against the machine race. Sounds a lot like T2, and it is, but there’s a key difference. Now that the T-101 is governing California, the future needs a new defender, and here the producers make a really interesting choice.

Knowing any “buff-guy” type is going to live forever in Schwarzenegger’s shadow, they replaced him with former Ballerina and Firefly psychic commando Summer Glau. Glau’s casting is inspired. She’d already proven her action-hero chops in Joss Whedon’s Serenity, so whether or not she could handle the action sequences was never in doubt. But while her River Tam was a wreck of brilliant tics and undulations, she could summon a stiff coldness and directness of purpose that Glau brings back here in her Cameron. It works really well, and not just because “hey, it’s a pretty little girl who can kick ass” because I would hope, as a culture, that we are past that now, but because no one questions it.

With Glau and Lena Headey, as Sarah Conner, as the characters protecting a teenage boy acting as the “damsel in distress” in most situations, it could easily be a self-conscious “girl power” statement, which would be just fine. But the fact that its not presented that way, that it’s just that these two characters happen to be women and no one, absolutely no one, in at least the first two episodes, questions their credentials to do so, is completely refreshing.

I also love Headey’s Sarah Conner. She’s significantly less buffed-out than Linda Hamilton in T2, but that doesn’t make her less tough. It’s a quieter strength she brings to bear hear, born of hope and passion, a passion to make the world a better place than she knows it is otherwise going to be. The fact that she knows she’s coming off as a paranoid schizophrenic, and that any ping they make on the system of the world can bring down Armageddon, makes her more than a little bit guarded. But she’s not cold.

Thomas Dekker, center of the gay-not gay Heroes’ Zack controversy steps in for Edward Furlongas fifteen-year-old John Conner, the future savior of humanity. He and Headey have great chemistry together, and he walks a fine line between petulant teenager and heroic young man in a way that completely fits that part. There’s not much else to say about him, as Headey bears most of the first two episodes’ emotional weight.

Bottom Line: Much better than it should be, and a welcome addition to the schedule especially in the Strike Era. I have a few logistics/plot hole problems (no i.d.'s, but they have cel phones already?), but for right now, I’m in. I’ve always a sucker for a band of plucky rebels.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
by Michael Chabon
Harper Collins
There’s a certain moment in some books, a moment when you’re reading along, perfectly content with the story, interested in what happens next, enjoying the language, and then … something happens. A moment, a scene that lets you know that you’re not reading the book you thought you were reading, there is more going on here, not just in the plot, but in the atmosphere, there are metaphysical gears clicking into place around the space the reader occupies in the story and you know the author is definitely up to something.

And it’s glorious.

In Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union that moment comes in chapter 14, about 120 pages in. Up until this point the book is totally fine, brilliant in places, beautiful in the rest, but in chapter fourteen as an elderly Yiddish boundary maven narrates the story of his child chess prodigy and the way he helped a certain woman in his life, the author brings in such larger things that you definitely know Michael Chabon is up to something. And the book transcends.

It’s not like there’s not already a lot going on. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is, on the surface, a murder mystery set in an alternate history venue. Branching off from history during the middle of World War 2, a certain congressman is run over by a car and killed. This congressman is notable in our history for being the primary legislator responsible for killing a bill that would have allowed Jewish settlers fleeing the holocaust to settle in the panhandle region around the city of Sitka, Alaska. In our world, of course, this did not happen. But in this one, it did, and a great many things have changed.

Chabon is not, however, out to give us a review of the intervening sixty years of History. This story is set in the modern day, a day in which the Jewish region is set to revert back to Alaskan hands. There is notstate of Israel, and the Jewish people are once again about to be set free into the world, with no place to go, and not many prospects. A lucky few will be allowed to remain, but for our main characters, their fate is far from certain.

And in this world a man is murdered. The simplest of tragedies weighed against the rest. But like all meaningful things in life, it is connected to the others in ways no one can imagine. Because living in his building is a certain detective, a broken man, weary from the many mistakes he’s made in his life, the people he’s pushed away, the lost loves and lost chances, and this case may – just may -- be his last shot at redemption.

I will say no more about the plot because the reader should have their own chapter fourteen moment, as I did. Let’s just say Chabon, already a Pulitzer prize winner (and one of my favorite novelists of all time) for his 2001 book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, is up to something. He’s using the tropes of the 40’s detective novels to do it. The language is more spare than his earlier works, written is present tense, the sentences clipped and sometimes terse, but buried within them are metaphor and wonder and the choppier rhythm begins to mimic the waves outside Sitka, the waves the lost jews will soon have to ride in order to find new lives.

I will give one warning. This is a murder mystery and in the end we know the truth about that crime. But the ending may not provide the proper sense of closure some readers may demand. Most of the key issued are resolved, but for many of the characters we have come to love, things have not been tied up with a bright, shiny bow. The future remains an open, uncertain thing, even if some have learned how they might begin to get through whatever is coming next.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

DC Comics/Wildstorm/America's Best Comics

$29.99 Hardcover

I was a big fan of Alan Moore’s first two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. The idea of taking various 1890’s British adventure heroes (Alan Quatermain from the H. Ryder Haggard novels, Mina Murray from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man) and putting them together into what amounts to a turn of the century Justice League had obvious appeal. And like the Harry Potter series, its obstinate British-ness was a large part of the appeal. When, at the end of the second series, the team split up (well, two of them died, Hyde heroically and the Invisble Man … less heroically, is all I’ll say) it seemed like Moore might be done with the concept.

Except he said that he wasn’t. What followed in the real world was an acrimonious split with the publisher DC Comics over the Wachowskie’s V for Vendetta movie. That really seemed like the nail in the coffin. Work had already begun on this current volume and it was under contract, so it continued and was released as the last of Moore’s DC/America’s Best Comics works. Unlike the previous volumes, this one is not the collection of a mini-series. This is a stand-alone graphic novel

Art: I can’t say enough about Kevin O’Neill’s meticulous artwork for this volume. Moore has said he would continue this series with no other artist and it’s easy to see why. Its first impression is one of sketchiness, messiness, which fits with the incredibly outsize, bizarre, glorious but undeniably messy world these characters inhabit. But when you really look you can see how clean the artwork is, not a line wasted. It’s the only way O’Neill can fit the vast level of detail, the little throwaway artistic asides that Moore calls for. And he calls for a lot. Every page, nearly every panel, has some little intricacy that can reward the alert, or well-educated reader. I am not always alert and lack the study in British esoterica that is demanded to understand everything here. But O’Neill is the only reason it works at all. Without O’Neill, this thing would be a complete mess.

Story: And a complete mess it is. That’s not fair, actually, there is a pretty clear throughline. The plot, to summarize, is this. Mina Murray and Alan Quatermain Jr. (I’m just going with what’s claimed. It’s pretty obvious who is really is) return to 1950’s Britain to claim the titular Black Dossier that contains all the information British intelligence has of the various Extraordinary teams Murray and Quatermain have belonged to, as well other counterparts assembled by the French, German, and British governments (but not the Americans, which actually surprised me). Along the way, the are pursued by just vague enough to avoid copyright laws versions of James Bond and Emma Peel. These two do not come off well. We are given a much different view of the history of the 20th century, culminating in a version of Orwell’s 1984 coming to pass in the 40’s and Rockets launching people and robots into space in the 50’s. The worldbuilding is brilliant, and the story really just serves as a way to show all of that off. On that level, it worked.

Interspersed with the graphic novel story, are sections of the Black Dossier itself, which includes intelligence reports, an 18th century pornographic novel, a comic strip history of Orlando, and other bizarre jewels. One of my favorites was the beat novel written by Sal Paradise, hero of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road battling (I think) the Triffids. Just go with it.

And that’s actually my advice to enjoy this story. Just go with it. It’s not actually supposed to make sense, actually. In many ways it is Alan Moore at his most obtuse and self-indulgent. If you understand that going you, you’ll enjoy it just fine. I did. I’m not sure it’s the work of staggering genius Moore and his defenders seem to think it is. There’s a lot of sex, and while I’m not offended it becomes tiresome after a while, especially when the Golliwag and his “friends” show up (just go with it).

Bottom line: I liked it. But it would have been elevated by an actual story to go along with all the histrionics and asides. You’ll probably not understand much of it unless you are a Brit of Moore’s generation or have done some serious study. I had to consult Jess Nevin’s comic book annotations to understand most of it. But it’s rewarding for those willing to do the work. I’m just not sure it’s rewarding enough to pay off the man hours involved.

Meet the new Random Avenger

After a long absence, I've decided to start taking this site much more seriously. That means, in possible defiance of its title and purported purpose for being, this site is about to get a lot less random. I will soon be posting actual reviews and critical commentary, not just my random reactions and geeky freak outs (don't worry, I'm sure there'll be plenty of those too). I will also be posting occasional essays about current events in pop culture and maybe even (gack!) politics.

What it will not be is my personal life blog anymore. I have myspace for that (yes, I know everyone says Facebook is cooler, and that's probably true. But all my friends are on myspace. See also: reasons we are also still with ATT wireless).

Coming soon: A reviews of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and even Ghost Hunters International.

Yes, really. I didn't say it would be totally non-random.