Monday, May 30, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE SIX 'Return of The Kane' (2004)

"Yeah, and I bet this is how Jeb Bush did it, too..."
"Arrest records. Evidence Log. Autopsy Report. How many times do I have to look at this stuff? Until it starts to make sense."
1) Even before the credits, alot gets done--we finally get introduced to the Echols parents, played by real life celebrity couple Harry Hamlin and Lisa 'Fish Lips' Rinna; we see the storyline involving Jake Kane's pushing Duncan to be more involved progressed; we establish a little more about Wallace in setting up the central mystery for this episode; we are introduced to Abel Koontz (played by the highly underrated Christian Clemenson), the supposed killer of Lily; and we get Kristen Bell making sundaes. Okay, so that last part is only of interest to me, but's obvious that Thomas--who wrote the story for scripter Phil Klemmer--is getting ready to start kicking things into high gear.

2) Oh, and one more thing...Amanda Seyfried pops up for the first time as a vision/guiding spirit, helping her piece together the mystery of her own murder. Supposedly, Seyfriend was only to appear in a small number of episodes, but Thomas liked the energy she brought to the set so much, he kept adding her to other stories...and boy, does the ghoulish chemistry between Veronica and Lily just supercharges every scene they're in together.

3) I'm still not sure why the whole 'Bum Fights' angle gets dragged into this story; it really doesn't interact much with the actual 'student election/Pirate Points' main spine...yes, it does help define the sort of home life Logan suffers through, but it could just as easily have been dropped into a dozen other stories.

Jane Lynch..torturing kids
since 2004...
4) Wow, Jane Lynch was being a bitch to high schoolers loooooooong before Glee, you Gleeks.

5) You really have to wonder if the whole storyline revolving around the school election was a reaction to the whole 'hanging chad' situation--which still rubbed some people the wrong way four years later.

6) While this may not look like a significant introduction, Madison Sinclair, played to Heather-y perfection by Amanda Noret makes an impression...and becomes a very significant thorn in Veronica's side as this season and next continues...

7) There's a definite parallel between Kyle Secor's Jake Kane who (at least at this point) is a well-rounded character who actively wants what's best for his son, and Hamlin's Aaron Echolls, whose only thoughts are of himself. This will play out as we go deep into Season One.

As we'll learn as we get deeper into season one, all families
are unhappy in their own way...and the Echolls family's
unhappiness is a dark and perverse one...
8) The sequence that begins with Logan picked out a belt from a large closet full of them and ends with Lisa Rinna sitting alone with an enigmatic look on her face, drinking while the sounds of a beating reverberate through the house, is powerful film noir manque. Rinna has never been a great actress, but she does have moments of greatness...this one, where she is a modern Sphinx, her reaction to the violence elsewhere unreadable, is one of those moments of greatness.

9) The whole throughline involving Wanda and Veronica may seem a little deux ex machina...but I do think it serves to shore up the film noir cred of the series--namely, that anybody can betray our heroine, and anybody can prove to be an ally.

10) The stinger, which sort of brings the Abel Koontz situation to the fore for future episode, works here--it's a cliffhanger-without-being-a-cliffhanger, driving us to follow on to next week.

Overall....this is a collection of great moments that maybe shouldn't be hanging out together, but is still a great lil' forty-some-odd minutes thanks to a lot of set-up and advancement of individual story arcs.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ten Statements About....T-BIRD GANG (1959)

"Hey, we drive around in a T-bird...and we're a gang...I guess
that makes us...."
"Look, you're in a position to do a great deal. The only way we can prove anything on this bunch is from the inside. And that's just where you put yourself."

1) Another reason why I love black and white? It can take what would've been an ordinary composition, like an overhead shot of two guys in a white thunderbird, and make it into something cool and striking.

2) I understand that John Brinkley's Frank is made up that way to make him look younger and give him a little punk-y appearance...but damn, he looks disturbingly like some goth kid who's doing this to make enough money to buy amps for his Cure cover band.

3) You know, I'm positive it's an accident of the lighting...but it's hilarious how, in most cases, main villain Alex--played as if he's some sinister comic book mastermind (he even insists on playing classical music for his crew!) by Ed Nelson--is shot so that he seems to have a perpetual Hitler mustache.

Look into the eyes of madness...or at the very least very bad
4) I really, really have to wonder about Pat George's Marla. Okay, she's Alex's moll but she behaves in such a bizarre fashion that you have to wonder what her story is. Of course, it could just be she's an awful actress trying her damndest to make her part stand out....

5) I've said this before about these older genre films--but John Brinkley and Tony Miller's script packs craploads of stuff into this caper's 65 minute running time. Modern day caper films would've taken an hour to cover the first twenty minutes of this story.

6) Hey, look! Vic Tayback is skinny and playing a regulation cop!

7) I know that since Tony Miller co-wrote the script, he gets to play the 'crazy' right-hand man of Alex...but Raymond just looks and acts like a goof. It doesn't help that Miller looks uncannily like a sinister, down on his luck Eric Stoltz; I'm sorry, it's hard to get all freaked out when the guy from Some Kind of Wonderful is waving a switchblade around....

"Do I have to pose like this much longer?  I've got to
learn 'Friday I'm In Love' for Thursday's gig at the Dew
Drop Inn..."
8) Wow...for a film about a gang of car-crazy robber, there's very little in the way of car-craziness, and the actual robberies are sort of brief--especially that climatic record warehouse heist.

9) Yep...there's nothing more satisfying for a confrontation between hero and villain than having one keeping hold of the other's pants leg, allowing himself to be dragged along slowly across a barroom floor.

10) So many films could benefit from their orchestral score being replaced by repetitive jazz bongo riffs.

Overall...yeah, it's a goofy, corny piece of work, but there's something charming-in-a-dorky-way about this movie. It's screwed up in so many places, but it does manage to tell its tale, tell it more or less well and being good for a couple of (more often than not unintentional) laughs.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ten Statements--No Wait, Eleven!--About....DOCTOR WHO SEASON SIX, EPISODE SIX: The Almost People (2011)

Look at me!  No, don't look at me!
"It's the eyes. The eyes are the last to go."
"What are you talking about?"
"When they destroy us, the eyes are the last things to melt, and there's one question in those eyes: Why?"

1) Okay...seeing Matt Smith do every single doctor in between primal screams was cool. And having him essentially playing straight man for himself instead of dull old 'Good Doctor/Evil Doctor works out quite nicely.

2) It's interesting how in this script we see not just the humans Fuck It Up For Themselves--Jenny, with her vision of revolution and revolt in India mucks things up for the Gangers in this episode just as badly as Cleaves gets the human in shit with her regulations and bylaws in the previous episode.

3) I wonder if the little exchange between Amy and the Doctors where she addresses the differences between them is another case of Moffat looking askance at Russell T. Davies, this time for the way he handled Rose's final fate.

4) After this episode, I'm even more impressed with Raquel Cassidy's Cleaves. Much like Smith, she chooses to take the challenge of portraying both the human and Ganger versions of her character and make something more nuanced and complex than most actors would.

5) God, I hope the eyepatch lady plot thread is resolved next episode. I don't think I could stand seeing this carry over into part two of the season.

6) Another interesting thing--even though Rory has been weaponized in the past, becoming an Auton last season, he seems to be the one companion since the new series began who believes what the Doctor claims he believes--i.e. that people, whether human or non-human, are geniunely good. It's that fact that he refuses to become another tool of violence that may be his most intriguing feature.

7) The eye wall is a cute effect...but is it really necessary? All I could think as I saw it was 'how did the Gangers get all the time to place living eyes in all those holes?'

Thankfully Ganger-Jenny is not the crux of this two-parter...
because, quite frankly, she's a crap villian.
8) How did Ganger-Jenny get these special stretchy-girl abilities? None of the other Gangers display them, and it actually detracts from her menace....

9) The way The Doctor gets the Gangers to turn on Ganger-Jenn is much more typical of how I'd expect him to resolve things than the whole kill order from 'The Day of The Moon.' It makes me wonder if this iteration of The Doctor is beginning to come to grips with the boiling rage he's been struggle to contain since last season.

Okay, maybe I shouldn't have gotten so
attached to Pond...
10) Is it just me, or has the Doctor's, ummmm, relationship with the TARDIS changed a bit since 'The Doctor's Wife.' I mean, he's always anthropomorphised her, but still.....

11) Wait a minute, the episode isn't--OH MY LORD!!!!

In short.....much stronger than the first part, this episode raises a lot of questions, gives us new insights...and slams us with an ending no one expected because, you know, we thought we already ruled that possibility out.....

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Arguably Christopher Lee's scariest performance...and he
does it without any fangs, weapons or blood...
"And what of the True God, in whose glory churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now, sir, what of him?"
"Oh, he's dead. Can't complain. Had his chance and, in modern parlance, blew it."

1) The version I watched was the extended version, which restored a slew of scenes cut out after British Lion changed hands--and to be fair, some of those scenes aren't necessary. The five minutes at the beginning establishing Sargent Howie's life on the mainland in particular doesn't help; it establishes what an intolerant jerk he is even more, and thus changes the whole mutability of the film.

2) However, what does work is how the extended version shifts around some scenes for greater impact. In particular, by moving Britt Eklund's dance from the first to the end of the second act gives it far more weight and logical sense.

3) You gotta give director Ron Hardy credit for that 'thanks to the people of Summerisle' card at the very beginning, as it manages to emphasize the feeling that this is some twisted home movie or something.

4) The strength of Lee's performance--a performance he claims to this day he accepted no payment for--is how Lord Summerisle seems perfect reasonable throughout...and yet there's always the sense he finds something very, very funny. You know, like he's playing a game.

If you get the choice between sleeping with her and being
burned alive...CHOOSE HER!!!!
5) If you told me the most disturbing scene in this film would involve a naked Britt Eklund dancing around, I'd laugh in your face. And it is.

6) This film's strength is that it changes from viewing to viewing. The character we identify with in our first viewing becomes something akin to a villain in later viewings.

7) Oh...and there's a brilliance to this being an out-and-out musical, with something like a dozen songs and production number sprinkled throughout--including one sang by Lee himself.

8) I am surprised nothing was made, given the comparative religion angle that infused this film, of the way Eklund, Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt could be seen to represent the three faces of the pagan goddess Hecate (The Maiden, the Matron and The Crone).

9) The most wonderful aspect of Anthony Shaeffer's plot? The people of Summerisle give Sargent Howie multiple ways out of the situation he finds himself in (including screwing Britt Eklund...which, given how good she looks in this film, isn't half bad as an exit)...and the man's pigheadishness, righteousness and religious zealousness keep him from seeing what he is being clearly told.

Forget your Girl School Screamers...Ed Woodward may have
the most gut-wrenching cry of horror in film history.
10) The joy of Edward Woodward's performance is how he is such a total priss--and yet, for a loooooong stretch of time, Woodward is able to keep our sympathies during that initial viewing, this keeping us in his point of view.

If you prefer this suck.
Period.  And Chris Lee will kick your ass. of my favorite films, and definitely one of my favorite horror films, a movie that works because it presumes an intelligence and alertness on the part of its audience, and trusts us to make the proper connections. Plus, it rewards multiple viewings.
(Oh, and Todd Haynes and Nicholas Cage? Fuck you for taking a film that should not have been remade and turning out such a colossal joke that a lot of casual horror fans will never discover how brilliant this film is.)

In Honor of Great, Great Men: Christopher Lee

Today is Christopher Lee's birthday.

People might think this is an odd birthday for me to celebrate. Other people would only celebrate Lee's birthday due to one thing in his career--he was in the Star Wars prequels! He was in Lord of The Rings! He was Dracula!

But this man, who at 89 could probably still kick my ass and still have energy to kick yours as well, is a Great, Great Man not only for what he did on the silver screen, but for how he carried himself as an ambassador for his craft. I only had the pleasure of meeting him once, when he was promoting Gremlins II: The New Batch, but he treated me--some snot nosed kid playing at being a journalist--with respect, dignity and good humor. And that, by all accounts, is how he treated everybody. He is someone who enjoys people, enjoys his craft, and always assumes the best--which is why I suspect so many people he's worked with have become friends.

(Incidentally, two of the men he cites as being his closest friends ever were Peter Cushing and Vincent Price--could you just imagine being at a table with these three men, all of who had amazing lives outside of their acting careers, just talking?)

And while most people only celebrate him for one aspect of his career, I don't think anybody realizes the true width and depth of his talent, or his career. I don't think there isn't a film genre he hasn't worked in--including musicals; one of my favorite moments of his film canon is watching him play the villain in the highly uneven super-hero spoof The Return of Captain Invincible, where sings a musical number written by Richard O'Brien tempting the recovering alcoholic Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) with the Wet Bar From Hell. He has shown many, many, many times his talent for comedy, appearing in such disparate films as 1941, the aforementioned Gremlins II and--God help us--Police Acadamy: Mission To Moscow. And let's not forget the fact that he appeared as Death in the classic Saturday Night Live sketch with Lorraine Newman.

And what is my favorite bizarre moment in his career? At his age, he not only likes Heavy Metal, he records metal album with the likes of Charlemange and Manowar.

There is a good-if-not-great documentary made in 1996 about the man. Named The Many Faces of Christopher Lee, it's an hour of the man sitting in a room in his home where he keeps mementos from his career, displaying key pieces and telling anecdotes related to them. I recommend watching it today if you can find it to honor the man. If not, dig out your favorite Lee movies and revel in the artistry of this Great, Great Man.

Here's that musical number from The Return of Captain Invincible, "Name Your Poison"...enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ten Statements About....CUBE (1997)

"You do one little job--you build a widget in Saskatoon and the next thing you know it's two miles under the desert, the essential component of a death machine."

1) It's nice to know that no matter how elaborate your story is...the shitty part always comes down to how awful humans are to each other.

2) I love how this script by Andre Bijelic, Vincenzo Natali and Graeme Manson sets up a character, gives him some essential advice to dispense to the others, allows one of the other characters to recognize him as a Legitimately Bad-Ass Guy Essential To Getting Them Out...and then kills him off in a graphic and painful way.

Tell me where this character's loyalties lies...just be prepared
to maybe be wrong....
3) Natali must really admire George Romero, as so many of the character arcs reflect those in the Living Dead films (the ass-hat character who should have been listened to all along; the minority lead guy who ends up dooming almost everyone; etc.).

4) Give a man credit for wisely using his budget--there's maybe two sets in this film total that are made to look like a whole slew of them through lighting and sparing use of special effects.

5) I bet there are some people who will watch this and moan about how we never learn the purpose of the titular Cube...but the Cube is not the point of the film (It's one of the reasons we don't see a lot of the traps). The point is more about how this cross-section of humanity is going to self-destruct given time.

6) The film certainly benefits from using little known actors--the biggest name is arguably David Hewlett, and his fame doesn't come until much later when he is a supporting player in the Stargate franchise--as there's no assumptions on who will live or die. Hell, two of the biggest shocks (a major turn in one character's motivations and a character death) come because we have no assumptions except those we've come to from what we've seen in the story proper.

7) The film does get a little soapbox-y in the second act, as some of the characters start talking like political position papers...but that moment is over relatively shortly.

8) I have to wonder if Natali had some sort of religious metaphor in mind regarding the end, when we find out who is in the 'final person' position, emerging into the overtly-bright-kinda-religious-y white light.

Wanna bet on who survives?  Just be prepared to be wrong...
9) It's interesting how four of the five characters we follow through the film are paired, but not in the way we expect--for example, the references Quentin makes about seeing people like an x-ray throws some reflections on the doctor Holloway.

10) I wonder if the film would have been stronger without the score--most of the time it's fairly subtly handled, but the one moment that transitions between the second and third act, complete with wispy female vocals, manages to briefly break us out of the story.

Overall...this is a very clever little film that manages to get the most bang for its buck. I think aspiring filmmakers might want to give this a look as an example of how to tell a big story very economically.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE FIVE 'You Think You Know Somebody' (2004)

Though there is a mystery in this episode, this is one of two
relationships that really drive the story...
"The best way to dull the pain of your best friend's murder is to have your mother abandon you as soon as possible. It's like hitting your thumb with a hammer, then when it's throbbing so badly you don't think you'll cut the damn thing off."
1) This is one of those episodes where the mini-mystery is designed to close out a number of plotlines--mainly Veronica's relationship with Troy, but writer Dayna North manages to use this further darkening of Troy to cast a little reflection on Veronica learning of her father's relationship with Rebecca...and even puts down further hints as to Logan's growing respect for our heroine. It's this sort of multitasking that the show does well.

2) Perhaps the strangest element of this episode is director Nick Gomez. Gomez was something of a hot talent back in 1992, when his microbudgeted, Brooklyn set crime drama The Laws of Gravity generated a lot of critical buzz. Then he followed it up with the ludicrous New Jersey Drive (with my neighborhood of Ridgewood recognizably filling in for New Jersey and--outside of a few more stabs at featuredom--retreated into serialized television. For someone who once had a very distinct, rubbed-raw style, Gomez' directing is very vanilla here save for one or two moments.

3) It's a pity Paula Marshall has this rep as a series-killer. She's hella sexy in a girl-next-door kinda way and has a definite charisma that leaves a lasting impression even in her very brief scenes in this episode.

Sparks fly between these two like an electric chair.....
4) I don't think we've mentioned Jason Dohring for a while--but he continues to prove that he was the absolute right person for this. Even though Thomas' plan is to do a slooooow burn towards the ultimate relationship between Logan and Veronica, Dohring is able to keep planting seeds (the playfulness with which they interact in the first act) while still retaining that vicious hardboiled edge in other moments. Watching these two interact, throwing barbs at each other as if they're sword blows, is one of the joys of these early episodes.

5) We get another revelation about Veronica's mother in what is arguably the few moments where the Gomez of 1992 shines through. And it's a pretty damn scary revelation that will lead to the introduction of another key satellite character whose presence is felt throughout the series' three season run.

6) I didn't realize that Luke, the hapless victim/client of this episode, is played by Sam Huntington, who will go on to play the slightly creepy Jimmy Olsen of Superman Returns and the sidekick to the titular character in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. I guess that speaks pretty highly of his abilities, huh?

7) Boy, that scene where Luke laments about how the value of his Barry Bonds signed baseball will skyrocket once Bonds retires sure sounds hilarious in retrospective, doesn't it?

8) You wanna see proof that Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni are perfect playing a family, even though they don't look at all alike? Check out the scene at roughly the half hour mark. These two actors play it rough, play it raw, play each line as if they've been dragged through broken glass...and never once do you lose sight of the fact that these two people care deeply about each other even though they're out to wound emotionally.

9) Give Aaron Ashmore credit--even though it becomes rather obvious that he's Up To No Good (as opposed to Rebecca, who genuinely made Bad Choices In Her Past but is honestly a good person) very early on, he manages to keep the viewer in doubt as to whether he's a True Bounder or Not...and his ultimate fate is very satisfying. And speaking of satisfying...

Corinne Bohrer proves the old adage about leaving the
public wanting more....
10) Unlike previous episodes, this one's stinger does work. The scene of Corinne Bohrer recording a message for Veronica at a neon-drenched racetrack as The Postal Service's "From Great Hieghts" (a song that Gomez uses as a music cue throughout the episode) swells on the sountrack works perfectly to leave little hooks of curiosity in our brains as to what is going on with Lianne Mars that will build throughout Season One's first half.

Overall...this is another episode that works more for what is going on in the individual storylines than for the main mystery--but the excellent acting from Colantoni, Ashmore and others really elevate it into a great little piece of work.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

BETTER IN THE DARK Gets To Fighting Over Obscure Films!

It's one of our most popular episodes every year...and the 2011 Obscure Movies Episode of Better In The Dark is finally here.  Join Tom and Derrick as they talk about a movie made by a man who became a special effects legend (and may have inspired a legendary genre director), a wordless nightmare that a young David Lynch may have seen, two films featuring unique martial arts, a bromantic thriller, and a great little suspenser by the Great, Great Man Larry Cohen!

Click And Be Obscured!

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO SEASON SIX, EPISODE FIVE: The Rebel Flesh (2011)

Beware our gooey, ill-formed countenances!
"There are people coming. Well, almost."
"Almost coming?"
"Almost people."

1) Nice pre-credit teaser....the demise of the co-worker being treated with such casualness is creepy, setting up the mini-reveal that leads us to understand what's going on here. The lack of dramatics truly sells it.

2) Going back to something I've said in an earlier 10S, I adore how Smith has found certain ways to do shoutbacks to other Doctors--like, in this case, using a snowglobe to check gravitational force similar to how Tom Baker used a yoyo--in a way that's a great deal more subtle than Tennant could.

3) There's a rather cool mix of high-tech equipment and low-tech setting going on here than manages to give the whole episode an extra-level of creep. I can just imagine how this would've taken place in a cookie-cutter white lab in a Nathan-Turner or Letts era episode, which would have made things not as effective. Another clue that Moffatt is very much trying to get his Philip Hinchcliffe on. Plus if gives the Frankenstein simile a lil' more punch.

Find me a corridor, and I'll be compelled to wander down it...
4) It's to Raquel Cassidy's credit that she manages to breathe some life into her Foreman Cleaves, what is essentially a rather drab, unimaginative role. Pity that, after a brief period where we think Cleaves is going to be something other than The Regulation Authority Figure Who Gets Us In Deep, she ends up being exactly that.

5) you know, the way the Doctor susses out Cleaves problem is a lot more effective than Jennifer-Snake.....

6) Sarah Smart really does a good job hitting the emotional beats of the Jennifer Ganger. You really feel for her frustration as she copes with her identity..although the biggest flaw in the episode is how there doesn't seem to be any clear rationale as to why her Ganger is different, why she becomes the main agitator toward the end of this part of the story.

7) And on a related note...that scene contains one of the strongest moments for Arthur Darvill, who is allowed to do all the acting in it with his face and still manages to let us know everything about his own feelings and his overwhelming desire to Set Things Right for this creature.

This prolly should be the standard 'uniforms' for this
present iterations of the TARDIS Crew (the black-jeans and
matching leather jacket  look really works for Amy)..
8) And, of course, just as in Frankenstein, the problem is caused not by the 'Monsters'--in fact, we see in the interactions of Mark Bonner's Jimmy and his Ganger some evidence that the two beings can exist side by side--but by the Narrow Minded Human fucking it up for herself.

9) Once the shit hits the fan, I rather like the 'martial theme' for The Gangers, which seems to incorporate certain musical cues reversed to give the whole thing a weird, off-kilter, disturbing tone.

10) Okay, eyepatch lady is officially bugging the Hell out of me. Moffat's forcing her into each episode is closer to the ham-fisted way RTD would throw references to Torchwood into season two whether they made sense or not.

In's hard to make a clear decision on these first-part-of-a-two-parter things, but I have to admit to having some reservations about this one. There's a definite sense that this might turn out to be Nothing Special--especially after the cliffhanger (as longtime Who Watchers will tell you, there's never Anything Good that comes out of the kind of story hook the cliffhanger reveals...just ask Tom Baker about 'Meglos').

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE FOUR 'The Wrath Of Con' (2004)

You would think this would be right up my alley, but...meh...
"So I was going through my stuff and I found this."
"What is it?"
"It's not a violin recital."

1) Now that the bulk of Thomas' pieces are in place (but not all; we've got Mac just around the corner), he can now start filling them in--starting with Lilly. The teaser features the longest flashback featuring Veronica and Lilly to date, soldifying their friendship prior to the murder and laying the groundwork for The Big Surprise down the road.

While Amanda Seyfried's Lilly is a presence throughout
the season, here is where she is brought ot life.
2) What is impressive overall about this episode--especially in this, the era of 'Just Go With It'--is how the script by Diane Ruggerio manages to effortlessly multitask. While the B Plot ostensively fleshes out Lilly, making her more human and a more vital presence (this show understands one of the tenants of film noir...namely, that more often than not, the victim is a bigger star than the killer), it also maneuvers Logan Ecchols into closer proximity with Veronica so that his character arc can begin its slow burn.

3) I'm not a big fan of the A Plot, which seems to have been built around the idea that Kristen Bell would look hot in Otaku gear (For the record...she's always hot, but she's hotter in a lot of other outfits throughout the season).

4) And the main reason the A Plot just Doesn't. Work? Adam Wylie's Grant and Robert Baker's Liam are terrible villains, and they simply don't give Bell anything to work against. You never feel for a second that these two could outwit a border collie, let alone the talented Ms. Mars.

And THESE Doofuses are supposed to give Veronica
a run for her money?
5) And here in this episode, we start to see the Cool Boyfriend Facade of Troy start to crack--and learn more about how smart Keith Mars is, when he slips in the news that he foiled the boy's plans for the homecoming dance. The fact that Colantoni doesn't miss a beat, doesn't change his tone but still puts a steel shutter on his hotel reservations is masterful.

6) I have to assume that the reason this is reportedly Kristen Bell's favorite episode is because of the B Plot....

7) The whole reason behind the scams that drives the A Plot is revealed off camera...which is a very rare misstep when it comes to these done-in-one mysteries. It's almost as if Ruggerio forgot there needed to be some sort of motivation behind Grant's and Laim's scheming.

8) I haven't brought Kyle Secor's Jake Kane up yet. It's to Secor's credit that he takes what could have been a one-dimensional ogre of a man and made him much more complex. Look at all the different emotions he goes through during the dedication of the Lily Kane Memorial Fountain, and conveys them just through changes in expression. It's pretty powerful stuff.

9) The same cannot be said for Lisa Thornhill's Celeste Kane. This woman is so unimaginative in her evilness she needs a mustache to twirl.

10) I mentioned Keith Mars' misfortune when it comes to romantic storylines; here is the first of Wallace's disastrous romances. A big portion of this lies with Kyla Pratt's Georgia, who literally has no personality save for a propensity for getting into trouble. Granted, her lack of excitment pales next to the horrific disaster of Tessa Thompson's Jackie Cook, but it's still pretty sad. of these episodes which is saved wholely by its B Plot; there is so much done with regards to the supporting cast and their relation to each other that it more than makes up for the lameness that is the main mystery.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO SEASON SIX, EPISODE FOUR: The Doctor's Wife (2011)

When it's Ood...the episode's got to be Good!
"You gave me hope and then you took it away. That's enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what it will do to me. Basically...RUN!"

1) Right from the start, Neil Gaiman starts pulling stuff out of the old toybox--not just the Time Lord EMS, but the idea of the TARDIS doing a little trip outside of space...I almost expected Matt Smith to utter the phrase I have been hoping for for a bit--i.e. 'We're entering E-Space.'

2) I see Gaiman liked Jekyll as well.....

3) I love the fact that Gaiman is willing to show us a Doctor Who, quite frankly, feels like he's out of his depth. I've been so used to the new version of The Doctor as some sort of all-knowing super-hero with all the right answers that having a Doctor who feels like he's beaten, who admits he doesn't know what to do before literally slapping himself, is wonderful.

4) The real gimmick of this show--and the thing from which the episode takes its name from--is a magnificent conceit that I'm surprised no one figured out. It's something that's been obvious ever since Russell T. Davies came up with his way of super-charging his Mary Sue character in "The Parting of The Ways"...and yet it took six seasons to explore it. It opens up a whole new bit of wonder, and it's a credit to Suranne Jones that she's able to embody this mad concept so well. And speaking of Ms. Jones....

"Don't be alarmed..but WE'RE IN YOUR HEAD!"
5) God, I love the way she interacts with Smith. The sparkage just flies between them like some insane emotional arc reactor, and I love how they bicker like the proverbial old married couple. They go through the equivalent of a full relationship without missing a blink....

6) I have said it before--I am a sucker for anything that happens, even partially, in real time.

7) Leave it to Neil Gaiman to find a way to write a Doctor Who script where running through corridors is an integral part of the script..and make it truly scary again.

8) I know you're all prolly tired of hearing me say it...but Arthur Darvill's Rory is the coolest. It's he who weathers House's assault, he who pulls Amy through, and he who continues to be the glue that keeps this show together.

She's cute...but she's gotta stop screaming ever episode...
9) Sadly, as much as I adore Karen Gillan...I'm beginning to worry that she's sliding into that most hated of Doctor Companion archetypes, The Girl School Screamer. This is the second time her primary role has been to be menaced in the last three episodes.

10) I am somewhat saddened that the older TARDIS console wasn't one of the Classic the one from the final Hinchcliffe earlier.

In short....after the disappointment of last week, this is so far the highlight of the season--an example of what Who should be. Namely, mad ideas, crazy characters and lots of running around.  And it's so refreshingly free of the overarc stuff that's been bugging me this season.

Ten Statements About....THOR (2011)

"I am The Hurdy Gurdy Man...and I bring songs of KICKING
"Describe exactly what happened to you last night."
"Your ancestors called it magic...but you call it science.  I come from a land where they are one and the same."

1) Here is why Chris Hemsworth was necessary to play the lead character in this film...he is able to accurately portray both the headstrong, hotheaded braggart and the more mature, capable man he becomes--and, more importantly, is able to transition between the two seamlessly so that Thor's character arc feels organic.

2) That being said--my favorite performance without a doubt is Tom Hiddleston's Loki. Hiddleston manages to create a very subtle God of Mischief, his voice so reasonable when he pushes those around him into doing what he wants. Plus, he manages to sell the very complex motivations behind this version of Loki extremely well.

3) While I recognize that this version of Asgard is the movieverse version and has to have a shade of 'The Realistic,' I generally approve of the design of the place. I also approve of how there are select characters--especially Josh Dallas' Fandral--who look like they were ripped right out of the comic.

4) There's a definitive sense that Kenneth Branaugh's Asgard is a Warrior Culture first and foremost. Hell, even Rene Russo's Frigga's first impulse upon seeing an approaching Frost Giant is to grab a sword and take a swing.

"It's the hammer, isn't it?  Chicks did the hammer..."
5) I do like Natalie Portman's Jane (as well as Kat Dennings' Darcy) a lot--this is the year of Portman having fun, apparantly--even though I wish they hadn't made her an astrophysicist. Yes, it makes keeping her and Stellan Skarsgaard's mentor character Eric around for The Avengers much easier, but it sort of breaks the whole contrast of Thor The Warrior with Jane The Caregiver the comics had.

6) That being said...I dunno, I think I prefer Jaimie Alexander's vital, game-for-whatever (and smoking hot) Sif to Jane, who comes off in this film as a touch neurotic and flighty at times.

I admit...I wanna party with these guys...
7) Those who compained about all the connective tissue in Iron Man 2 should be very pleased with the way it's handled here. It seems Branaugh learned from Favreau's mistakes, as the little throwaway lines about Stark and Banner work without stopping the film. And my favorite bit of connective tissue--the surprise appearance of Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye in a key cameo--was slipped in so logical and unobtrusively that it barely made a dent in the film's running time.

8) The product placement, however...YE GODS is it slathered all over this film. There's so many moments where the eye is drawn to Burger King cups or a 7-11 awning it made me actively not want to patronize any of the companies making the film its advertising bitch.

9) I continue to contend that Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson is the Coolest Character in the Marvel Movieverse. I'm amazed at how, after three films, Gregg has never once broken character, has always been scarily consistent and seems totally unfazed by all that goes on around him that I look forward to seeing him in every one of these films. And the way he doesn't get in Thor's face when the Asgardian does his 'look, I'm on your side, and I promise you I'll always be--just give my wubbie her stuff back', but just gets things done is wonderful.

10) I love how the Marvel Studios overarc between these films has trained the audience to stay put during the one moved through all those tiny little lines, and were treated to a number of little gifts--not only the 'here's the stinger to set up the next movie with Sam Jackson', but the thanks to Walt Simonson, Louise Simonson, John Buscema and so many other great people who contributed to the Thor mythos and a James Bondian 'Thor Will Return' credit...

In short...this is another great Marvel film, which proves that the policy of 'find the right director, then get out of his way' continues to work extremely well.

I went back to the Atlas and used the last of the gift cards my mom gave me for Christmas...which means suffering through the Regal Firstlook. At least it featured the extended ComicCon trailer for Green Lantern, which actually got me a little excited by the film--as opposed to the awful, limp version that's still playing in theaters (I have to say--the ComicCon trailer gives me a much greater sense of what Blake Lively is bringing to the table as Carol Ferris, and I really see why she was cast now). Other trailers included a kick-ass one for Captain America: The First Avenger, one for the next Luc Besson produced cheapo action thrill ride, the Pierre Morrel-less Columbiana (It looks awfully promising, even if it seems to want to continue the trend of forcing Zoe Saldana down our throats), and--my favorite of the lot--the looks-to-be-too-insane-to-be-true return of Tarsem to genre filmmaking, the 300-meets-Clash-of-the-Titans mash up Immortals...which can't come out too soon for my tastes.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE THREE 'Meet John Smith' (2004)

One of the moments that truly define this as A Show That Will
Be Whatever It Wants To Be, Damnit

1) Even though there is a mystery to solve here, the real focus of this episode is Duncan Kane, Veronica's ex and his flirtation with not taking his anti-depressants. Teddy Dunn is usually an average actor--but here he rises to the occasion, peeling away layers of Duncan until we see the boy Veronica used to see. It's a great performance.

2) Another introduction here--namely, Paula Marshall's Rebecca James. Rebecca is the first of a number of attempts to give Keith Mars something of a romantic interest, and Marshall is her usual girl-next-door hot self. Sadly, she's only around for a few she does seem to have a nice chemistry with Enrico Colantoni. Oh...and her presence here should act as proof that she is not an automatic series-killer.

3) Another reason I'm absolutely in love with Kristen Bell, and why it galls me so much that she's stuck in Rom-Com Hell? Her body language. Take a look at this episode, and how she conveys so much with a smile, a tilt of the head, a sudden pull back. She's so in command of how to commicate non-verbally that it makes the moment where director Harry Winer uses some optical tricks to convey a moment of Veronica emo-ness feel forced.

"Wait, this episode I'm playing WHAT, exactly?"
4) I wonder what Melissa Leo feels when she looks back at this episode given how the fact she was cast as Julia Smith reflects on her.

5) You know...every time Veronica shows up in what I like to call her 'work clothes,' it makes me even more convinced that she would be the perfect inheritor of Anne Francis' mantle whenever a reboot of Honey West is proposed.

6) Once more, Rob Thomas shows how much he understands the film noir meme with which he is working. The mystery here is one that is uncovered as the results of another investigation...and manages to shed new light on our heroine and her emotional state.

7) And here, at the 32:39 minute mark, Jed Seidel's script pulls Veronica Mars away from being just another teen mystery series and situates itself firmly in the crossroads between suspense, horror and fantasy. Amanda Seyfried, from this moment on, steps out of the flashbacks to become something that's one part ghost, one part muse...and could very well be just some weird consensual hallucination. But she lives the part, and makes sure we're never quite comfortable when we visit Neptune from now on.

When Bell puts on this outfit....the gloves are coming off...
8) And speaking of Seyfried--the fact that she spends her life on the show with her skull cracked in, blood running down the side of her head once more drives home the point that this is not Safe Television.

9) The choice that Duncan eventually makes is devastating....not because of the why, but because by making this decision, he may be shutting off memories that may be painful, but also make him a more vital person.

10) The biggest sour note of this episode lies in its final sequence. Yes, it's important as it plants the seeds for one of the big plot hooks that will lead us into the second half of this season, but it rings false--especially given how the simple exchange between Veronica and her 'client' concerning what they've learned and their feelings about their missing parents more than makes the point that needs to be made. important episode in the season's development that fleshes out our characters more and finally positions this series as an eclectic mix of the suspense and fantasy unique onto itself.

"Tragedy blows through your life like a tornado, uprooting everything, creating chaos. You wait for the dust to settle, and then you choose. You can live in the wreckage and pretend it's the mansion you remember, or you can crawl from the rubble and slowly rebuild."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ten Statements About....PHANTOMS (1998)

"Boogieboogieboogie...I'sa gon' be a bad guy!"
"It was the devil, don't you think, come up from Hell tonight. I think he wants to dance with us."

1) Has there ever been a horror writer with mainstream success who has been so ill-served by Hollywood as Dean Koontz? I mean, even Anne Rice can point to Interview With A Vampire and say, 'Yes, this is my work accurately adapted.' Here Koontz even writes the screenplay and it still stinks of fifteen shades of suckitude.

2) There's nothing quite so frustrating to me as an actor I know is capable of amazing work, who has elevated crap films with his presence before, giving a half-assed performance not because of the quality of the film....but because it looks like he simply can't be bothered to give a crap. Liev Shrieber should've been ashamed to have accepted a check for this shoddy, stupid, giggling, cookie-cutter performance.

3) On the other hand, this proves my theory about Peter O'Toole giving just enough energy to whatever he is in to make it look least as long as he's in it. And even if it sounds really, really weird to hear him say the word 'fuck' a couple of times.

4) Give credit where credit is due--the casting director who put Joanna Going and Rose McGowan together as sisters was doing his or her job that day.

"Hey...I think I see Sam Raimi down there!"
5) The basic problem with the film is simply that it doesn't have the time or space in its ninety-six minute running time to convey the complex idea that's at the center of its story. When you're writing a novel-length book, you have the space to convince the reader of the veracity of your claims. Here, what you've got is a lot of jumbled one-liners about Roanoke and petrochemicals and spiders and flying saucers....

6) It also doesn't help when your designated romantic leads proceed down their designated romance path...and neither Going of Ben Affleck can generate even the barest whiff of chemistry.

7) Another reason why the menace doesn't work--Koontz stuffs all this speculation in...and yet, we still need to see some ooky stuff, and they never quite mesh. It's as if the dog fulla tentacles is from an entirely different movie as the crazy voice speaking in tongues to our heroes. And when you add in the need for catchphrases....

8) The first ten minutes or so takes full advantage of its Colorado setting...and the remaining 86 minutes looks exactly like it's shot on a series of soundstages. If you can't commit to one or the other look, you end up with a film that squanders the former and emphasizes the latter.

"Thanks for the take out?  What's that mean?"
9) What was the point of the whole Hazmat team that O'Toole's Flyte rides in on...oh, wait, they're cannon fodder. And they feel like nothing but....

10) Still...this film could have been salvaged if a stylish, clever director was behind the camera, someone who would be able to obscure all the loose ends and inconsistencies....and instead we get Joe Chappelle, a very unimaginative meat-and-potatoes director (who, oddly enough, seems to excel in television, where he can give individual episodes a more cinematic feel). So there goes that theory...'s films like these, with their self-conscious in-jokes ("I Fall To Pieces" my ass) and knowing winks and disjointed scripts, that killed the mid-90's horror revival. And for the record, the only reason I watched was because it was on the other side of the DVD I purchased at K-Mart because I felt the price was reasonable for a bare bones copy of The Faculty.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE TWO 'Credit Where Credit's Due' (2004)

Yes, even with the dorky hat, I think Kristen Bell is hot...
and apparently, I'm not the only one.
"Oh, I know her. She's a thrillseeker. Doing you was like doing the dew...and that's all it was."

1) You'll notice with this episode something that became something of a hallmark--very, very long teasers that ran on average seven to ten minutes. It manages to get you deep in the story, and into the series' world, pretty quickly.

2) This is the episode that features Paris Hilton as the guest star/girlfriend of Logan. She's not the worst of these celebrity castings in the series history--that honor goes to Joss Whedon in Season Two--but she doesn't have the chops at this time (she actually got better as an actress in recent years) to pull of the character written for her.

3) This is also the first episode to features Sydney Tamiia Portier, who is given featured character billing...but only appears in four episodes. Her character of Mallory gets kind of, sort of replaced by another character played by Joey Lauren Adams for one episode--at which point the newspaper office gets massively reduced in importance on the show.

4) It needs to be said--man, is Michael Munhey's Sherrif Lamb a total dick. The way he verbally tortured Keith Mars is wince-worthy in the best of all possible ways.

5) On the other hand, this episode goes a loooooong way towards fleshing out Francis Capra's Weevil, giving him some added dimension, a home life and a code of honor until he serves as a teen Hawk to Veronica's Spencer.

6) This is the episode that introduces Aaron Ashmore's Troy...a character who will insinuate himself into Veronica's life for a while, and pop up again in season two. Think of him as a perfectly coiffed male version of the femme fatale...a sort of 'homme fatale,' if you will.

Believe it or not, this guy becomes one of the more
important supporting characters in the series.
7) Another introduction--blink and you miss Ryan Hansen's debut as Dick Casablancas. Dick is one of those characters that was apparently not meant to be a major supporting character, but the performance of Hansen so enthralled Thomas and the others that they kept adding him into more and more scenes. Hansen provides some particularly rude comic relief throughout the series--and the Casablancas family becomes one of the major linchpins of Season Two.

8) Credit is due to Thomas and his writing staff in making Neptune into a real place. There are throwaway lines that solidify major landmarks, caste lines and the political landscape. Granted, this sort of gets disjointed in Season Two where, among other things, this minor city suddenly has a major sports franchise. But for this initial season, Neptune feels like a real small market city and not a stand-in for San Diego.

This episode solidifies the strange friendship between the teen
detective and the juvie motorcycle gang leader...a friendship
that works.
9) There is a subtlety to Bell's acting even here...the wistful, sad smile when she sees Caitlin's ultimate fate speaks volumes of what's going on behind her eyes.

10) Thomas continues to be able to set up everything for his overarcing Season Plot while telling what, to our eyes, is a stand-alone story about credit fraud.

Overall...nowhere near as great as the pilot, this suffers from a substandard performance from Paris Hilton as Caitlin. However, so much is established in regards to the supporting cast and the city itself that it is essential viewing for anyone interested in the series.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (1955)

"The only thing that would make this day better
is if a desperate criminal hijacked my Jag and
tried to drive me to Mexico."
"You and this fancy car are my passport outta this country. I expect to get a few more years to live."

1) This is the type of film that would never work in the modern world of the cell phone and an emphasis on scientific detection. I shudder to think the flip flops the script would have to go through if Dorothy Malone's Connie actually had an iPhone.

2) I really don't think broad character actors like Iris Adrian or Bruno VeSoto would have a career in modern film--but in 1955 Hollywood, where their specific schticks could thrive in small parts, they simply belong.

3) It's obvious that this film wants its feet firmly planted in the world of noir; Ireland's Frank Webster's dialogue with Malone is pure Black Mask cheese. The strength of these early parts is in their banter, and the chemistry between them is strong. However...

4) The second the emphasis shifts from the whole 'wronged man on the lam' angle to this thing about the race, the film's charm starts to leech away. And by the time we get to the third act, where Malone and Ireland are lovey-dovey, all interest is lost.
"Welcome to the Cliche Cafe...whatcha want?"

5) Boy, does 'Snub' Pollard work that damn small part he has....

6) You know what else we don't get? Those weird, inconsequential scenes like the ones with the comedy relief motorcycle cops. I just can't imagine filmmakers wasting two, three minutes of two cops jawing about being lazy nowadays.

7) Biggest shock? Hearing Chet Baker doing the jazz stuff that comes on whenever Mr. Ireland turns on the radio.

8) More actors should have names like Larry Thor, even cookie cutter character actors who play doctors with two lines of dialogue.

"Okay, Snub...just stop hamming things up and let us
get on with our movie, 'kay?"
9) I sorta miss the obvious goofs like the boom mic shadows we see thoughout. It gives the film a more endearing 'let's make a movie' feeling as opposed to that sort of even uniform look most films have thanks to CGI blotting out goofs.

10) I gotta be honest--I couldn't tell the stock footage of the race from the ones shot specially for the film. But then, using black and white footage on a low budget sometimes obscures as much as it reveals.

Overall...if you like this kind of noir stuff, the first half or so is pretty good, especially the back and forth banter between Ireland and Malone. The last half hour, though, slowly falls to pieces.