31 January 2009


Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkley, Katie Cassidy
Pierre Morel
Luc Besson & Mark Kamen
PG-13, 93 mins.,

**** (out of ****)

TAKEN is like if a older Jason Bourne had a teenager daughter, and some idiot group abducted her (though, in their defense, they didn't know who they were gonna steal from). You'd expect all the antics and kick-assery from the first three films to be displayed on these idiots as he whoops some serious tooshies. Well, thank God TAKEN takes that approach. The entire film I had a abnormally giant grin on my face as I watched Liam Neeson (who will always be Qui-Gon Jinn to me; in fact, I sorta hoped he would pop his lightsaber out from his belt and start slicin' and dicin'!...but it didn't happen...) beat the living snott out of everyone connected to his daughter's dissaperance. He fights without mercy or compassion. The entire movie is one adrenaline rush, and right from the begining, your attention never deviates.

Bryan Mills (Neeson) has retired from the CIA, acting as a Jason Bourne-like "preventer" [deal with it; the Jason Bourne references will continue], to make up for lost time with his seventeen-year old daughter Kim (Grace), who, frankly, he doesn't know all that well anymore. His ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) has remarried with big-shot businessman Stuart (Berkley) who acts as more of a father than Bryan will ever be. So, the relationship between the four is pretty much strained, to say the least. To keep him company, Bryan still hangs out with some buds from his preventer days. As a present of sorts for his birthday girl, Bryan allows her to go to Paris with her friend Amanda (Cassidy) to "check out museums." As you can tell from the trailer, shit hits the fan when agents of the sex-trafficking world take Kim and Amanda, and Bryan vows to find them - using his CIA contacts and his ex's new hubby Stuart's connections - and make everyone involved in the abduction pay dearly. As the tagline says, "the time for revenge has come."

You want action? TAKEN delivers. You want a thin plot but yet simultaneously interesting? TAKEN delivers. You want to watch some damn good revenge getting their groove on the bad guys? TAKEN delivers. It knows what it is, and sticks to it. The film doesn't get political on you, and it doesn't try to shove morals down our throats - right and wrong. Nor does it go the 24: SEASON 7 route by questioning Bryan's tactics (alright, Bryan's Paris contact Jean Claude does, slightly, I admit). It is a completely and utterly joyus action movie, and I can't recommend it enough.

If anyone had any doubt that Liam Neeson would be unconvincing as an action hero, I implore you to see this film, because he erases any doubts pretty much right away. If I was in the same room with the bloke, I would be more intimidated with him around than, say, three Presidents sitting in my living room asking to talk to me because I am The One with supernatural powers and can save the day. Anyway, back on topic - Neeson owns this film. In fact - although this may be more attributed to the script - the whole reason I wanted to see this film was because of Neeson's calm, calculating voice in the trailer as he delivers a short, sweetly delicious monologue:

"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If
you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

Does that not just own? Isn't that one of the most beautifulest things you ever heard? I'm about ready to compare it to the brilliance of the V FOR VENDETTA "V" monologue. So, in summation [if it isn't clear enough], Liam Neeson rocks as a man with lethal abilties, and is quite imposing without beating the shit out of people, and that's no easy talent. I eagerly look forward to his other action works.

The supporting cast shows up and do their roles, and I got no problems with them. It's a little sad to see Katie Cassidy, who I fell for in SUPERNATURAL's third season as the good/bad demon Ruby, have very little screentime, and even less lines. Oh well, the positive side is that she's still getting jobs. And the great George Mason - aka Xander Berkley - doesn't have much to do either. It's sort of like his wife's job in TWILIGHT (who, by the way, also was on 24), to say a few lines and make their presence known, but not be all that integral to the storyline. But his character does help out Bryan, so I can't give the bloke any shit.

Jean Gray shows up - er, scratch that, Famke Janssen - as Neeson's estranged wife who treats him like a bag of poopey (couldn't she be a little less harsh on the dude? would that be too much to ask?), and of course, by the end of the movie, she's thanking him. I think it would have been nice if both characters were established a little better, with more scenes than to explore who they are instead of the cliched material they were given.

Concerning Maggie Grace, I don't have anything negative or positive to say. Similarly to the actors above, she came in, did her part, and left. This movie is all about Neeson - it lives or dies by his ability to be a convincing ex-CIA kick asser, everyone else is sorta just extra servings of an already good meal. [wow, that was a terrible analogy]. But as far as her playing a seventeen year old when she, in fact, is 30, I'd say she did a convincing job. I definitely wouldn't have pegged her as 30 unless I looked it up.

With the director of DISTRICT B13 at the helm, I should have anticipated the thrilling action sequences beforehand, but I didn't, and it ended up being a nice surprise. Everything is lightning fast, but filmed well enough to comprehend all the going-ons. I recognize that many audience members didn't dig Paul Greengrass' quick-cutting, handheld-everything shooting for BOURNE SUPREMACY and ULTIMATUM, and although the same tactics are utilized here, I never once lost my surroundings nor was I confused as to who was hitting who.

Penned by Luc Besson of TRANSPORTER fame and Robert Mark Kamen of KARATE KID fame, the script is solid, if unremarkable. It's not dumb, and doesn't attempt to dumb the audience. I merely wish more time was taken for particular aspects - most specifically the characters. I understand the limited use of Kim as she served her purposes where and when, but her mother and step-father deserved, I believe, a few more scenes prior to the crisis to establish them better. Thankfully, the screenplay doesn't turn corny (I'm thinking of the bomb-on-car sequence in TRANSPORTER 2), but attempts to maintain a heightened realism (like the BOURNE movies), and it is successful for the most part. There are moments where you question the probability of certain stuff (the more logic-based people will have a field day with this; for me, I just questioned the probability of certain fight sequences, such as 'there's no way that dude's gonna make it out of there in one piece!' But yet he did).

My only giant grievance with the entire movie is its conclusion. (Spoilers follow) Considering that Jean Claude and the Paris police force was on Bryan's tail, I would have expected coming back to Los Angeles would have been a bit more complicated. But, it seems I was wrong. After saving his daughter from being handled by the chubby man in charge, we cut to the airport in LA where Lenore and Stuart are waiting for them. Of course, we can assume Stuart used his contacts to get Bryan back to the states all in one peace, but just to up the ante a bit, it woulda been cool to have the police force try to snab him but miss by a hair. Keeping the suspense going.

Overall, TAKEN is a near-perfect action/revenge movie, and at this moment in time, the best film 0f 2009 thus far. I can honestly say that I intend on seeing this theatrically at least three more times, because I don't think I can get tired of this flick. It's definitely worth a watch, if just to enjoy the beautiful kick-assery on screen. There are a few gaps of logic here and there, but it's easy to gloss over when you have a product as good as this. I want more. Too bad the story was a bit too stand aloney.

28 January 2009


Starring Drake Bell, Andrew Caldwell, Kevin Covais, Haley Bennett, Ryan Pinkston, Gary Owens
Written by Dan Callahan & Adam Ellison
Directed by Deb Hagan
Rated R, 94 mins.,

* (out of ****)

With ownership of plenty of teen comedies (despite never seeing Revenge of the Nerds, sadly), I find myself constantly defending the films from others who find them to be complete garbage. And perhaps they are crap, but I like ‘em. But, I have never felt guilty – or insulated, for that matter – for liking them. College, however, made me feel embarrassed not only for myself, but all parties involved; this was just…bad. And considering how October brought us the actually decent Sex Drive, I had not-so-high hopes (but hopes nonetheless!) that College would be worthwhile. It is, in a sense, to show future teen comedy directors and writers what not to do.
I have no doubt that plenty of teens ate every second of this walking cliché up as if it was the freshest and most original comedy they’ve ever seen; for me, however, this was just a total disaster (get it? Disaster Movie? get it? I'm referencing my reference; just like those movies!!!). There simply is no reason to see College when what this film is has been done a thousand times better by a thousand other movies.

But, good news is, there is one redeeming quality for the movie. Nope, it's not the gratuitous nudity (and there's plenty, but oddly, all those girls are quite unattractive), but the "payback" moment that saves the day. This might be a huge potential spoiler for anyone who can't figure out the film's finale from the plot synopsis below, but the trio take revenge on the fraternity that have been a major pain in their ass, and the revenge is sweet.

The basic premise for this Best Original Screenplay nominee is high-school boy gets dumped (Kevin - Drake Bell) by party-a-lot girlfriend Gina (Tal) for being a predictable bore, and so to show that he can be Mr. Party-A-Lot, too, Kevin and his friends Carter (Caldwell; aka Jonah Hill) and Morris (Covais; aka McLovin) spend the weekend at Fieldmont University to party and get laid as much as possible. But once there, all three find "love" in unexpected places, and experience life in ways they can't possibly imagine (I'm sorta embellishing here). However, to complicate matters (considering that they are posing as college students and not the high schoolers they actually are), the rowdy fraternity house they're staying at begins to not-so-much like them anymore, and threaten the trio's newfound relationships!

When the movie concluded, I was suddenly struck with negative thoughts that I wager everyone else around me think as I watch these films:

- Enough with the fat-kid-making-wise-cracks-but-actually-has-a-sweet-heart character. Only one person did that well enough (Clarke Duke, Sex Drive), and the other dude (Jonah Hill of everything Judd Apatow) is an obnoxious force of epic proportions. It’s time to retire this bumbling, jackass of a cliché. Concerning Andrew Caldwall as Carter Scott, aka the fat-kid this time around, that boy has no acting ability whatsoever (not like that's a prerequisite anymore these days). He spends the entirety of the movie making the mandatory dick & fart jokes, and constantly yells the word "fuck" around like he's been restrained from saying it by his over-protective parents his entire life, and has now used this movie to seize ever opportunity he possibly can to say this "big boy" word. I honestly have no clue why Kevin and Morris are his friends - I personally wouldn't give this asshole the time of day.

- This is not college life. Admittedly, I’m not enrolled in some big-time college with the Greek system and all that jazz - as I’m comfortably attending the local community college, but from my experiences alone here - the life depicted in this film and many others like it is far and wide away from reality. Of course, there are colleges that have insane parties with heavy drinking and promiscuity, but nonetheless, I still don't think it's anywhere near the party center as depicted in films. I would very much like for this uber cliched representation to eviscerate and have a bit of reality to it.

- How immature do you have to be to think a guy drinking beer from another dude's butt crack is funny instead of completely revolting? Sadly, this is only one of many strange pranks that occur that are meant to elicit a laugh, but just resulted in me covering my eyes in shame that I paid $1.07 to rent this pile of shit. I just don't understand why teenagers think piss and shit are friggin' hilarious - am I missing something? Oh well, could be worse.

- College is directed by a woman (Deb Hagan), and normally I don’t give a damn, but the ironic thing is that even I felt this film was demeaning to women, and the fact it’s directed by a woman and not a perverse guy puzzles me. Why would Deb Hagan want anything to do with this? Sure, it’s better than being involved with an Aaron Seltzer & Jason Friedberg production, but not by much. If it wasn’t for that one saving grace at the film’s conclusion, I wouldn’t find any difference in badness between the two projects. But seriously Deb, why did you agree to film this?

- And can we spice up the script, please? We all know the film will end with our main character having an epiphany ("I just need to be me! That's all I really need! Make me strong! Get ready, game on!" - er, sorry, sorta trailing off into High School Musical 3 territory now; excuse me) and that the new girlfriend will find out he lied about being a college student and that will put a rift in the relationship where she can trust him, yada, yada, yada. At least Superbad (which this movie is more than modeled over; it's like they took the general concept and translated it into a college setting) had some brains - not to mention actual comedy - to help it along to be considered a modern classic.

And finally, the DVD comes with both the theatrical and unrated versions. I, of course, chose the unrated version, and thus can’t comment on any differences between the two. I expect, though, that more gratuitous nudity and “fowl” language was reinserted into the picture, with Caldwell saying a few more “fucks!” Special features wise (they even call the unrated version a special feature!), it’s very, very bare bones. I was expecting a commentary, at the least, with the cast making even more dick and fart jokes. Oh well, I’ll try to live with disappointment. The only bonus material is a 5-minute “Gag Reel”, and I regret to inform you hopefuls that there is still nothing remotely funny featured. Pity.

Now I’m not about to stop watching teenage comedies with mass amounts of swearing and partying, but College really opened my eyes to how stupid the genre is, and how I’ve been lucky thus far to have seen a majority that are actually good. I implore everyone to skip College, and to – at the very least – save yourself the brain cells. Go rent the direct-to-DVD American Pie presents Beta House (2007) from Universal - it does everything this movie did but better, with likable characters and at the very least, you'll enjoy your time.

26 January 2009

2008 Awards Season Films

Truthfully, I've never dug the Oscars. I nearly always disagreed with their choices for nominated flicks (though they admittedly sometimes have it right, such as Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood), and thus had very little interest in the actual telecast. Nominations and who won, that's all I cared about. Sod the speeches and honorary awards (unless Kurosawa rose from the dead and was presented another such award, then I'd tune in), I just wanna know who won.

Well, this year I'm going to try and actually watch as many of the nominated titles as possible. Last year, I didn't bother with many of them, mainly because my interest level in the plot was pretty much zero (like Atonement - Keira Knightely in yet another period piece, with an added ingredient of romance? Bah), but now I think I'm interested enough in these batch of titles to give it a go. I must confess that at least this year, there's an interesting selection to choose from. Curious Case of Benjamin Button was actually really good, and the near-three hour running time went by rather smoothly; Slumdog Millionaire is about as perfect as they come; The Wrestler is worth the hype; Gran Torino is not worth the hype, but still is a very entertaining movie. There's still plenty to see (Milk and Frost/Nixon aren't hitting my local theaters anytime soon), so this will be continually updated.

But really, what makes an Oscar worthy picture? Do they have to be all artsy with unique camera tricks and riveting performances? Must they all be historical epics of some sort? Must they all carry some giant, grandiose theme that's apparently relevant to today? I prefer the flicks I'm going to watch repeatedly (which is where the Academy got it right with Slumdog Millionaire), not the ones where when the movie ends, you think, "Well, it was well done. Great acting", and when the DVD comes you contemplate buying it, but choose instead to pick up Horton Hears a Who in lieu of, say, Frost/Nixon. That's how I felt with last year's No Country for Old Men and most definitely There Will Be Blood - not worth a second viewing. Of course, many already disagree, but that's to be expected. Anyway, onward we go!

I actually got inspired by another movie blog,
The Long Take, with that bloke reviewing all the Oscar-nominated flicks, as well. So, I recommend taking a gander over at his work, too.

2008 Awards Season - Reviewed Movie List:

22 January 2009

The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Season 1

STARRING Molly Ringwald, Shailene Woodley, Kenny Baumann, Daren Kagasoff, Francia Raisa, Megan Park, India Eisley, Greg Finley II, Renee Olstead, Camille Winbush, Jorge Pallo, Mark Derwin
CREATED BY Brenda Hamptom
11 episodes, 43 mins., 3 Discs

*1/2 (out of ****)

When I added this show to my Netflix Queue, all I knew was that it had quite the following and a plethora of positive reviews. Hardly a single negative thing about it, and if there was, it usually was related to the dialogue being Juno-esque (which I don't see, but I digress). Premiering on the ABC Family summer 2008, The Secret Life of the American Teenager was a ratings extravaganza (not like Lost numbers, but it beat its own Kyle XY as the channel’s highest ratings yet; in fact, it even defeated The CW’S premiere of their “re-imagined” 90210!), and that, in part, is due to the show’s ability to appeal to pretty much an all-age audience. Created by the ‘mastermind’ behind 7th Heaven [the WB’s landmark series that lasted eleven seasons too long], Secret Life attempts to address and tackle teen topics – mostly in the realm of sexuality – in a dramatic, corny, yet educational and lesson-learning way.

I actually may not be the best person to watch, much less review this show. I’m the type of bloke who enjoys their show to be dark, gritty and realistic. Now, obviously the topic of teen pregnancy is far more real than a genetically engineered superhuman or a young adult becoming the Devil’s bounty hunter, but they were grounded and written in a form of realism that created the illusion that this was all possible. Secret Life exists in a heightened reality where students and adults alike speak in a novel-like fashion with perfect sentence structure and the occasional word that I’m sure not even the actors know what the frak it means. If people thought there was one false note in Juno, then Secret Life must take place in some alternate reality.

Ultimately, Secret Life is a good show. Its family friendly, it raises questions that ignorant teens can contemplate, and attempts to tell a real story – just not realistically-ish. I just wish the show was created by someone else than Hamptom who wanted to make this into a Hallmark/Lifetime series, and that virtually every ‘actor’ was recast; that’s not too harsh, is it? If you don’t mind the corniness factor, and how they completely blew a potentially great show, then Secret Life of the American Teenager is right up your ally.

Amy Juergens (Woodley) is the quiet, reserved fifteen-year old band geek who you wouldn’t even think would entertain the idea of sex, much less have yet. And yet that she did, with the resident school sleezbag Ricky Underwood (Kagasoff), having a one-night stand at band camp. [attempting to withhold American Pie jokes] Returning home, she tries out a store bought pregnancy test, and her worst fears are confirmed – her eggo is preggo. She confides to her friends about her predicament, which they in turn violate the whole friendship-equals-trust rule and end up telling a bunch of people. In between hitting on girls and sleeping with them, Ricky catches word that Amy’s pregnant with his child, and after some contemplation, he wants some part of the decision-making process. After a while, the parents find out and after a lot of ‘You can’t be serious!’, they help her with this ordeal. Meanwhile, Amy has also started this relationship with the good-spirited Ben, who after one date realizes that he loves her, and upon finding out that she’s pregnant, proposes to her. Talk about going fast.

Other students of the school pretty much have the same problems. Grace, the kind-hearted Christian virgin, is being manipulated by Ricky, of whom she is developing a crush on. Adrian seeks to find her real father. And speaking about fathers, Amy’s parents take a break to re-evaluate their marriage. Madison is also finding out that she has feelings of Ricky [that boy’s pretty much got all the girls whipped], but wants to stay loyal to Amy. And finally, Henry and Alice, who have been dating practically since the beginning of their friendship, wonder if there’s still any sparkage left in the relationship. It feels like there’s more, but I guess not. Essentially, it’s a big web of sex, cheating, complications, secrets, and a overabundance of religion and moral questions.

There are a few passable actors in the cast, thank God. The most convincing performer would be Jorge Pallo as Marc Molina, the school guidance counselor. He’s one of the few who can deliver his lines whilst sounding convincing, and puts a bit of emotion into his performance. In fact, Marc Molina is, in retrospect, probably my favorite character from the show, as he’s very straight-to-earth, very real, and very relatable; I woulda been one happy dude if my high school’s guidance counselor was anywhere near that cool. As Amy’s father George, Mark Derwin (currently playing advisor to President Taylor in 24’s seventh season) does a respectable job, but occasionally is too over-the-top with his performance, emulating a Jim Carrey-esque cartoon character. And lastly is Francia Raisa as Adrian Lee. Francia has created a real character; whereas pretty much everyone else feels directed by script, minus any sort of personality, Francia makes Adrian – who could easily have been a one-dimensional hated character – vulnerable and relatable; or at the very least, you give a damn about her. Without question, she is the best actor in the cast, capable of experiencing a variety of emotions and getting out sympathy out of it, despite the fact that she is, at times, a manipulative evil biatch.

As Amy, Shailene Woodley (who was evidently on The O.C., but I can’t recall what character) does an admirable job, but I find her sorta of annoying. Now as a character, I find Amy overall to be weak. She seems almost forced into certain things without making her own decisions or evaluations. And despite the pregnancy, which I reckon would make her grow up a bit; she remains rather immature and sorta whiney. But of course, that’s just my view of things. Her boyfriend, Ben, played by Kenny Bauman, has this freaky Edward Cullen-Twilight vibe; if the script didn’t have our main female lead think Ben’s act was “cute” and/or “sweet”, she would – if she’s retained any form of sanity – get a restraining order because Ben’s too clingy and a borderline stalker-in-training. I’m serious, his behavior is strange, and not in a “cute supportive boyfriend” way.

One thing Daren Kagasoff does well is use his voice to manipulate the girls into doing what he wants. Overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with the bloke, but I did find his ability to sway these characters – and make it believable – surprising. But that doesn't mean the guy can deliver the majority of his dialogue remotely well; there are some truly cringe-worthy moments. But he was successful in making me not give two hand shakes of a crap about his character; his subplot involving his father is supposed to elicit sympathy from the viewer, and I just found myself not giving a shit. Worst performance without debate is India Eisley as Amy's sister Ashley; that girl is dreadful, her voice akin to nails on a chalkboard. She sounds sad and depressed at all times, even when she's supposed to deliver comedic lines (which, admittably, there are a few). In summation, she's annoying. The Hannah Montana-wannabe Grace (Park) is actually quite good, once you can get past the obvious Disney inspiration.

Concerning the Grace character, there's something that's more related to the mediocre writing I feel compelled to bring up: in one of the early episodes (S01E04, "Caught"), Grace defends herself against two jackasses who are quite ready to threaten her life and her virginity, and her parents response to this action is dissapointment! For most of the episode, I'm thinking to myself, Alright, so you want your daughter to get beat up and raped? That's the Christian way? By episodes end, they reveal that they were really not happy that Grace was rescued by Ricky, who she said she'd stay away from. Now, perhaps they deleted the scene, but wouldn't any normal set of parents in the entire universe say kudos to their child for saving their knecks? She threatened them, she didn't blasted kill 'em! And additionally, they were threatning her, and she gets scolded for that? Alright, my little rant's over with.

The critics, the cast – well, pretty much everybody – find this to be a realistic depiction of high school life, even going so far as to say the dialogue is about as real as you’re gonna get on TV. Hate to say it [actually, nah, I don’t], but, like I said above, Diablo Cody’s wise-cracking Juno script is far more real with teen speak than this program will ever hope to be. No one talks like this – zilch. And I know I may be nit-picking far too much, but there are two things that bug the hell out of me: why does everyone have to refer to people they already know with their full names? “Hey, Amy Juergens is having a baby,” or “That Adrian Lee is gonna have her ass kicked!” It’s a similar ridiculous trait that still survives around Smallville: everyone knows who Lionel Luthor is, but instead of simplifying it to Lionel, they say the whole name. Why? I don’t get it. Also, whenever someone references Amy’s “condition”, it’s almost always “having a baby.” Is saying “she’s pregnant” too difficult? They say the word “pregnant” only a few times throughout the eleven episodes, but I’m quite sure you could fill an entire 43-minute episode with a character saying the line “…is having a baby.” It’s stupid and annoying, and I feel stupid for bringing it up, but it annoys the hell out of me. There’s no more hell in me left to complain about that. Ugh.

As a wonderful bonus feature, ABC Family was kind enough to include a 6-minute, fullframe “On the Set”-type feature with all the cast and crew congratulating each other and talking about how wonderful of a show this is; the normal hype stuff. I may not like the show all that much, but for a program that gets high ratings and (mostly) critical praise, you would think they’d try to put a little effort into the release. A few commentaries would have been appreciated, especially on the pilot (that’s nearly mandatory). Hell, there’s not even a promotional sneak peak of Season 2 (well, technically season 1.2 or something). Dissapointing, to say the least.

Well, there's my glowing opinion about the show. Not everyone feels this way, of course (some do - with an even better review!), but that's the beauty of blogs, no? Despite everything I've said about the show, I still recommend people give it a check. I've heard girls at my school say how Juno changed their life in some ways, so perhaps this show - no matter its many, many, many, many flaws - can do the same. I guess, when it comes right down to it, this just isn't how I woulda done it, and I'm still waiting for that show that comes along which deals with this topic truthfully and realistically (and not to mention characters to bloody relate to).

21 January 2009

Defiance, Doubt, Gran Torino

Directed by Edward Zwick
Screenplay by Clayton Frohman & Edward Zwick
Starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos
137 mins., R

** (out of ****)

After the sorta ishy-but-still-good Valkyrie, I was hoping Edward Zwick, the director of The Last Samurai (one of my all-time favorite movies, and I seem to be the only person in the galaxy who holds this opinion), would bring us a damn good World War II movie that would leave me exiting the theater thinking about it then and even a few days from then. Aside from writing this review, I have not thought about Defiance, and for a movie that I've been anticipating for quite a while (it feels like a year and a half since publicity starting coming out), that's a bit of a disappointment. Overall, the movie is good - it just falls into the same trap that befell Valkyrie: not enough of an emotional pull and inability to truly connect and/or understand the characters without them blatantly telling us, the audience, what's on their minds.

Based on real events (and the book Defiance: the Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec), Defiance tells of the harrowing journey of three Jewish brothers (Craig, Schreiber, Bell) who hide in the Belorussian forests to evade death by the Germans. The brothers gradually house more and more wanderers, sheltering them and feeding them, creating a community where all help and participate in its continued preservation. As the amount of people grows, the ability to stay hidden becomes more difficult. And since this story is being made into a big budget motion picture, you can safely bet that everything doesn't ride all that smoothly.

To get right down to it, the first 20 minutes lacked the transition point, the point when Tuvia (Craig) decides what he needs to do, and we understand why he needs to do it. It felt more like a plot contrivance than a character making a choice, and these type of movies live or die by that moment. And secondly, the Belski characters aren't drawn out enough; I can't relate to them on a human level (crazy situations aside) and that's a big error. Responsibility for these grievances lie solely on Zwick, who also worked on the screenplay. And with this flick being delayed a gazillion times over, he had more then sufficient time to edit in a few more character scenes to develop them a little bit more before delving into the plot immediately. Actually, even over two plus hours, I would like a bit more meat put on the movie.

Performances-wise, I got no problems, not even with the accents which everyone else seems to be so obsessed about. They may not be perfect, but I sorta kinda didn't expect 'em to be anyhow. Craig oozes his awesomness just by standing around and looking "Grr"; Jamie Bell (King Kong) is immediately likable and surprisingly given much more to do then expected; Alexa Davalos (also from a movie I love and everyone hates: The Chronicles of Riddick) is given plenty of screentime once she shows up, which is strange because she really doesn't offer anything to the story other than being a lustful object of Craig's desire. Though, she does handle well. The best performance comes from Cotton Weary - er, Liev Scheriber (he'll always be Cotton Weary to me, even after his gig in X-Men Origins: Wolverine no doubt), but I think that's due because I was most invested in his conflicted, torn character arc. But dude, you gotta shave. Oh, and concerning the brothers, I recall during the first hour there was a 13-year old or around that age kid, and then he sorta vanished. Maybe he died or something when I got a refill of popcorn, but I'm confused about his arc.

Defiance isn't bad, not by a bloody long shot. It is surprising, however, that with all the delays, Zwick didn't spend more time in the editing room, nor get the group together to do a small unit of reshoots (though I imagine after the company moved the date from pre-Christmastime to post-New Year's, they wouldn't give a damn anymore). But as it is, Defiance pales in comparison to his masterpieces Last Samurai or Glory, but it also shouldn't be overlooked. At the very least, you're going to experience a movie about hope, resistance and persistence.

Written & Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis

*1/2 (out of ****)

I couldn't stop glancing at my watch as Doubt continued on and on and on. It's actually rather funny, in my opinion, that the film with the shortest running time on this list felt the bloody longest. Now, I'm not saying it's a bad movie; on the contrary, it's very well made, and - if you had any doubts - expertly acted. The sad part of it is that I was simply bored. Yes, I said it: bored. A rather teenagery response, is it not? Well, a movie likes this thrives on a single direction - tension. The entire thing is pretty much a "Did he or didn't he?" Unfortunately, it's quite tension less, and the only thing left is watching Streep and Hoffman go at each other, and that really only happens at the film's conclusion.

Normally, I'd be all over something like this - aside from the cliched plotline - the story is very engaging: one member of the church going after one of the Big Kahoonas with some serious allegations, and it becomes a 'Who can out-wit who?' game. For those unfamiliar with Shanley's play (which he took it upon himself to adapt to the big screen): Sister Beauvier (Streep) is the menacing principal of St. Nicholas School - she's the one woman you don't want to cross paths with, 'cuz with a single glance, let alone a word, she will turn your heart ice cold and kil you. Her old fashioned ways are challenged by Father Flynn (Hoffman), a caring, idealistic man who wants to bring the school from its traditions and incorporate a bit more modern elements into the mix. Sister Beauvier doesn't much like Father Flynn, so when the innocent and quite naive Sister James (Adams) confides in her that Father Flynn might have acted inappropriately to the school's first black student, Donald Miller, she takes this opportunity to get him to vacate house by utilizing her seemingly unyielding certainty

Me, hoping that they wouldn't go the cliched route of a priest molesting his 'flock', optimistically hoping that wasn't the case. Of course, I ended up being wrong. Oh well. However, I did enjoy the very last scene with Streep and Adams that takes some time after the events transpired, and Streep has a breakdown of faith. It was a very real, very human moment - almost a completely different character from the stern, I-know-all-I-see-all person she was during most of the flick.

Acting wise, it's about what you'd expect: awesomeness. However, in the same way as the trailer for The Soloist screams "Gimmie Oscar!", they're performances here pretty much does that. As I mentioned above, the tension is void, so all we're left with is these guys; and luckily, they're captivating, if there was any doubt (get it? doubt? I made a funny!). Whereas it's obvious Streep is on her A game, Hoffman doesn't really seem to be trying all that much; in fact, I'd rather nominate his performance in Mission: Impossible III over this. But the bestest, jaw-dropping and gut-wrenching (not to mention surprising) performance here was Viola Davis. She has only one scene in the entire movie, and I felt and understood her character more than anyone else. It was riveting and touching, and I can honestly say her one scene is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Looking at the technical side of things, Doubt is amazingly acted, lazily shot, and tightly scripted, but overall, it was just boring. It could have been riveting, hands-on-your-seat 'What the hell is going to happen next?', but it just fell flat - but just barely. But don't underestimate the star power of Streep and Hoffman; they are 'da bomb in the flick.

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Nick Schenk & Dave Johannson
Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her
116 mins., R,

*** (out of ****)

Walking into Gran Torino, I had no idea I'd like the movie as much as I do, much less see it again a week later. I'm going to be up-front with yah: I had very little interest - er, scratch that, I had zero interest in seeing a Eastwood movie; I think the dude's over-rated, and the idea of watching a near two-hour movie about a racist prick who had a unhealthy love for his car didn't so much sound appealing. I mostly went because I was dragged, and I'm pretty glad I was, 'cuz I woulda missed out on a good, overly enjoyable flick.

Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) has just lost his wife. His two sons, who he doesn't really connect with, try to help him but he doesn't want anything from them to leave him alone. In fact, that applies to everyone. Refusing to move from his property, Walt resides on a street primarily occupied by the Hmong population, who he wants nothing to do with and couldn't give less of a shit about. His next door neighbors kid Thao (Vang) is coerced into stealing Walt's car by his cousin's gang to prove himself worthy, but his attempt is thwarted by Walt and his giant-friggin' gun. Thao's mother forces her sons services on Walt as payment for the dishonor he's caused the family; Walt begrudgingly complies. Over a while, Walt begins to develop a relationship between Thao and his sister Sue (Her). But the local gang sets their sight on Thao again, and despite Walt's warnings, Thao wants to handle things on his own and learn how to fight back, and this leaves Walt with limited options.

It's an average movie done right. Seriously, it's quite the average plot, and if it wasn't for the screenplay being lively with great but bad dialogue (if you get my drift), it probably wouldn't be as good as it is. My only grudge with the script is that the relationship between Walt, Sue and Thao happens a bit too quickly. For the majority of the first portion of the movie, he wants zilch to do with anyone, even threatening to open fire if Thao ever steps on his lawn again. And after a car ride with Sue - after stopping an attempted assault - they become buddies? (though, the conversation between Sue and Walt in the truck is truly the highlight of this movie; Walt attempting to pronounce Hmong was very funny, as was Sue not taking his crap - definitely awesomeness there) On the bright side, the interactions between Walt and his barber (two scenes in all) were brilliant, terrific fun; watching and listening to these guys have "guy talk", as defined by Walt, and then having Thao attempt it to disastrous and hilarious results - priceless.

Additionally, the flick works as a study of characters, of society, of revenge and guilt. The most prominent and obvious being its commentary on society, specifically the younger generation. Completely devoid of respect for their superiors, the movie depicts teens with little patience of older people and with no interest in them unless there's a reward involved (e.g., Walt's grandchild eagerly hoping his Gran Torino will go to her). Essentially, this is one messed up generation of youngsters, and to quote Giles from Buffy, "the earth is doomed." Revenge and guilt represent Thao and Walt; Thao is overcome with the lust for revenge after certain incidents drive him off the deep end, but Walt, filled with guilt and remorse for what he did back in Korea - killing people who didn't wan't to be there just like him - attempts to reason with him. It brings up justification of revenge, whether it's right or wrong; it showcases the differences of the old and new worlds. Or else I'm just looking too far into this.

And one final comment: I implore Clint to never, ever sig again. The final credits song, apparently titled "Gran Torino" and was apparently nominated by the Golden Globes (perhaps they were on some pineapple express when they nominated it?), was horrible. Pain and agony. Wanna tell Jack Bauer a new way of breaking terrorists without physical coercion? Put this 'song' on his phone, and play it for the terrorists a few times over - they'll spill everything.

Gran Torino, I think, is getting it's major Oscar buzz not because of the movie itself, but because this is rumored (?) to be Eastwood's final acting gig. Overall, it's not nomination-worhty, but if this were to be Eastwood's goodbye film, it's a damn good one. If you don't mind vulgarities, you'll enjoy this film even more. But if you're easily offended, stay away, 'cuz you most likely will be asking for your money back and writing a heartfelt, cuss-filled letter to the company concerning emotional distress. Anyhow, like I said: I initially didn't want to see it, and now I can safely say it will be sitting on my DVD shelf when it hits stores. Check it out, it's worth a watch.

15 January 2009

Reaper: Season One

STARRING Bret Harrison, Tyler Labine, Rick Gonzalez, Missy Peregrym, Ray Wise
Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters
42 mins., 18 episodes, 5 discs

*** (out of ****)

Reaper is probably one of the best shows on regular broadcasting that no one watches. Maybe the reason is because it airs on the CW, and thus avoid it like a plague (really, I wouldn’t blame ‘em), but this show is so damn good it’s a pity it doesn’t receive the recognition is rightfully deserves. Premiering during the 2007-2008 season, it wasn't exactly a rating success with a Grey's Anatomy-type viewership, but it did achieve a small fanbase (in fact, check out ReaperSite.com for further information on the show).

For anyone who loved or remotely liked the seven-season long Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, this show will be an instant love for them. This show pretty much has the same things that show had: a fantastic cast that has great chemistry, and a writing team second to none. It has the same energy and funness Buffy had; there are moments of complete enjoyable absurdity and then some really dramatic material follows, etc., etc. Great stuff, really. Reaper approaches quite the serious subject – a adult-in-training becoming the Devil’s bounty hunter – and embraces the wacky and occasionally cartoony side of things, focusing on the unprofessionalism and childishness of Sam and his friends, although the show can also become dead serious in the same episode. You just got to respect shows that are capable of being one thing and something else entirely the next. And on the bright side, Reaper is the perfect show to sit back on ones couch and chow on some yummy popcorn.

Happy birthday to Sam Oliver! Despite the turning 21 thing, the only real perk is legally purchasing drinks. Life is pretty much the same old thing: hang out with friends (Labine, Gonzalez) and do the complete opposite of work at their place of employment, the Work Bench (a Sam’s Club/Home Depot hybrid), and maintain friendship with Andi (Peregrym), the girl Sam secretly harbors tingly feelings for but doesn’t tell her in fear of jeopardizing said friendship. But things turn to the more out-of-whack nature when a man appears in Sam’s backseat telling him he’s the Devil (Wise). Well-dressed in a suit, Lucifer explains to Sam that his parents sold his soul to Him before his birth, and upon Sam’s 21st birthday, he’s pretty much Satan’s toy. But instead of doing that Hell thing right away, the Devil has a different idea: become His Reaper, and send escaped souls back to Hell utilizing a “Vessel”, “forged in the heat of perdition by the inequities of the vile.” This Vessel takes the shape of everyday appliances but when used correctly, grabs a soul and encapsulates it. These escaped souls are demons who, with nothing better to do on their agenda – like go to a strip bar or watch a beautiful HD TV – seek to cause havoc and mass destruction. Not seeing much in the way of choice, Sam agrees to the Reaper job, and employs the help of Sock and Ben to kick some demon ass. And to the ass-kicking they shall! That’s pretty much the general premise: Sam = Reaper, bringing escaped souls to Hell.

Written by the show’s creators and directed by filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks II), the pilot is very strong; it sets up the relationship between all the characters, is full of witty banter, and hints at the show’s mythology. The following ten episodes unfortunately fall under the “Freak of the Week” syndrome that Smallville has suffered from since its inception (as does many supernatural shows). However, with this expected, how do these episodes hold up? Surprisingly well. Each episode – no matter the Freak of the Week – also builds on the characters and shows their how tight their bond is, the friendly relationship between Sam and the Devil, and the continuing will they?/won’t they? question with Sam and Andi. One constant with the show is after each soul is grabbed (I wouldn’t call that a spoiler), the Scooby Gang go to the DMV, “Hell on Earth” – as christened by the Devil, and see Gladys, a demon working as your everyday employee. Not at all amused by the boys banter, she is stunned week after week to see them still alive. The exchanges between Sock and Gladys are always fun to watch.

And, with this being
a CW show, romantic entanglements are a prerequisite to being green lit, thus Reaper features its fair share of romance. Giving up on Andi, Sam goes out with Cady, a feisty, adventurous girl; Andi, meanwhile, goes out with a guy from college. However, everything pales in utter insignificance as Cady displays some strange characteristics, and it’s not long before the Scooby Gang question her parentage (her mom being the sexy Melinda Clarke). And the Devil won’t say a damn thing about it.

Finally, before it seemed like the Sam/Andi relationship was going to turn into a Clark Kent/Lana Lang territory (some of you will understand my meaning), a near-death experience prompts Andi to reconsider her stance on the "don't ask Sam out and change our friendship" montra. While the continuing saga of the Andi and Sam romance unfolds, the Scooby Gang move out of their respective houses and into an apartment, where they meet a gay couple (Ken Marino and Michael Ian Black) who actually turn out to be demons. Taking an instant liking to Sam, they reveal their true plot: they seek to overthrow the Devil and kill him, and they want Sam’s help to do it.

Leading the cast as Sam is Bret Harrison, who is pretty much perfect as the shit-out-of-luck twenty-one year old who found out he has no free will. Well, with his life at least. Harrison plays Sam as pathetic for the first batch of episodes, as Sam is wallowing in his grief of this new life-long duty; but as Sam begins to regain confidence and a renewed faith in himself, Harrison delivers that onscreen as well. As Sam’s employer, the Devil, Ray Wise is the best Lucifer I’ve ever seen. Channeling the suave, coolness factor of a cunning mob boss, Wise can be jokey and playful one moment, and the next, be a stone-cold, ruthless, sadistic bastard the next. Plus, listening to Lucifer’s pep talks to Sam on how to deal with his troubles are priceless. Brilliant, fantastic casting. Even more, Harrison and Wise have astounding chemistry together, and their scenes where they banter are literally captivating. I want to know what they’re saying, because any sentence Sam says could potentially alter the Devil’s mood, and thus their friendship. Seriously, the Devil has some strange mood disorder where you never know how he’ll act next.

Labine, who plenty will recognize as the drunken hockey fan from Kevin Smith’s Zack & Miri Make a Porno (2008), is perhaps the real reason people will remember this show. As a comedic actor, I can’t think of another who rivals Tyler Labine; the dude has perfect comic timing, and obviously will do anything to get a laugh. Next up in the Scooby Gang is Rick Gonzalez as Ben. Ben seems to get the short end of the stick; he isn’t given all that much to do at times (he ends up being the dude forced to perform ‘look-out’ duties or something lame), but then there’s times when he gets a real juicy storyline. But then there’s the storyline where the writer’s apparently tried too hard – by season’s end, Ben engaged in a marriage to grant an English woman a green card; it doesn’t end well for him. His character is very much like the impath demon Lorne from Angel: a character that has its moments to shine, but overall is simply the sidekick who doesn't have anything to do, which is a pity, because Gonzalez is also exceedingly funny as well.

Missy Peregrym, who most will remember as Candice from the first season of Heroes, takes what could have been a rather flat, one-dimensional damsel in distress and turned her into an independent, free-spirited and all-around likable friend to Sam. You know she’s a good actress when you actually side with her and not the hero when he misses dates (or maybe that’s just me); most of the time, we feel for the hero, because he had a duty he had to accomplish without endangering the ones he loves, thus he couldn’t make it to said date and is alone. Here, Peregrym makes us side with her character, and that doesn’t happen very often. By the season’s end, Andi is given plenty to do and more time to interact with the Scooby Gang and be her own person. So, kudos to Peregrym! Rounding out the cast for its last eight episodes are Ken Marino and Michael Ian Black as a gay couple masquerading as human, but actually being demons. These two guys are hilarious, and it helps that they’re given some good material to use. They aren’t just some one-note guest stars, they’re quite integral to the plot and help shape what happens to Sam for the rest of the season and potentially the next. I honestly can’t give Marino and Black enough praise; I would love to have a show dedicated simply to these two guys, and I would tune in every week because they’re so damn fun to watch ‘em play off each other.

Filled with pop-culture references and gut-bursting one-liners, Reaper is brilliantly written (in case I didn't mention that). Ultimately, it does
n’t reach the heights of Godlyness as the work of Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson and so on and so forth, but it’s pretty damn close as anyone will get to emulating their greatness. So, in case you can’t tell, I’m giving this show some major props right here. Aside from being really smart, it also feels very real, and that’s a difficult thing to accomplish with ‘buddy shows’. Their conversations (sans the demon-related ones) feel naturalistic and unscripted, which is in turn delivered splendidly by its talented cast.

The show also has plenty of similarities to NBC's Chuck if anyone noticed: both have our main character(s) working at a store similar in nature to big conglomerate places like Best Buy and Sam's Club; they both live dual lives; they both are uber geeky, and both were forced into the job they must perform. I'm sure there's more, but my brain is currently fried from Anthropology class. Speaking about Chuck, I also highly recommend you all give that a look at; it's terrific.

Despite the stand alone nature of the show (whereas I prefer the more over-arching, connecting storylines), there are some really blasted favorites. 104 – “Magic” is a fun, if somewhat unmemorable episode with plenty of laughs (In fact, I’m chuckling right now thinking about Sam running for his life from the Demon Magician with a swo
rd). 113 – “Acid Queen” is a game changer, where several relationships change and some crazy things out of Sam’s control could potentially affect such a relationship with a lovebird. 116 – “Greg, Schemg” brings back Andi’s ex-boyfriend Greg, intent on winning her back. Meanwhile, there’s a Leatherface-like baddie who seriously wants Sam dead. It’s a fun throwback to 1980’s horror flicks. Really, everything from “Acid Queen” to the finale (118 – “Cancun”) is really, really good. That’s when the show switches from the purely stand-alone format and continuous storylines are brought in and characters explore themselves a bit more.

Creature-wise, the baddies are normally human bodies with abilities – such as one who masters fire, one who controls electricity, one who has a machine gun as an arm, one who spits venom from their fingernails, etc. Oh, and there’s also a green blob monster. That was fun. But the coolest design goes to the two demons that the Scooby Gang befriend; appearing very much like the mythological concept of Satan, their dark, dark blue design is beautiful and simultaneously frightening as hell. I wouldn’t want to be around the bloke in the outfit during shooting breaks is all I’m saying.

Reaper: Season One makes its way on DVD in a 5-disc set, released by Lionsgate, with each episode presented in its original 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. It's nice to watch the episodes in widescreen since my tele broadcasted them in fullframe. The first disc features an audio commentary with show creators Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, and Deborah Spera. As far as commentaries go, it's decent; there's plenty of shout-outs to various people ("Pilot" episode director Kevin Smith gets a few nods), discussion on the weather during filming, but nothing substantially 'Woah'-ish. The only other features are located on Disc 5: there is a short, and not-too-humorous "Gag Reel" which has pretty much everyone frakking up on their lines; and a series of "Deleted Scenes" (lasting under ten minutes) which ultimately adds nothing to their specific episodes. The paper insert gives the episode title and a summary, but fails in acknowledging writers, directors, or transmission dates (is that so much to ask?).

Reaper is a fun show, and is worth a viewer's time. The chemistry shared by Harrison, Wise, Tyler, and Gonzalez easily propelled this show above its already excellent writing into a weekly "Must Watch" program. It's not Lost, and it's not Heroes (for those who still are devoted to it). At the very least, you're going to get a few giggles out of each episode - that much is guaranteed. Reaper's second season transmits on March 17th on The CW for an un-interrupted 13-episode run. I'm not entirely sure what to think of the short episode order - if the CW execs want to see how they perform before ordering more episodes or a third season - but I hope nothing but the best befalls the show. Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed (I know, big claim; but with this program, I’m confident you’ll find something you like about it).

10 January 2009

Kyle XY: The Complete Second Season - Revelations

STARRING Matt Dallas, Marguerite MacIntyre, Bruce Thomas, April Matson, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Chris Olivero, Kirsten Prout, Jaimie Alexander
CREATED BY Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber

23 episodes, 43 mins., 6 Discs

**** (out of ****)

Premiering on the ABC Family channel summer 2006, I was one of those people who made the mistake of not watching the freshman season of Kyle XY. Beside the not-having-cable factor, the show itself looked dumb (this was judging from the cover, nearly always depicting Kyle lifting up his shirt mid-way to reveal his lack of a bellybutton), and being on ABC Family – a channel I’m not a fan of being they do nothing but air the Devil’s program 7th Heaven repeatedly – sort of made me iffy. However, I was nonetheless intrigued enough to add the first season to my Netflix Que. And then, on a sunny mid-August morning, I received two of three discs, and by day’s end, I had watched all the episodes available to me. Turns out, Kyle XY is a freakin’ fantastic show! A perfect blend of family/teen drama and science fiction/superhero elements, only helped with some seriously grand dialogue (mind you, it’s not Joss Whedon, but no one can do Whedon except Whedon).

With only 10 episodes, the show took full advantage of what they had and crafted such rich, three-dimensional, relatable characters that everything that happens to them you genuinely give a damn about. And best of all, this isn’t some Brenda Hamptom-esque program with long, loving monologues or supposed “hip” teen dialogue. Nay, this is its own, breathing entity, corniness-free.

Season one began with Kyle waking up in the forest in his birthday suit, not a clue as to who he is. He’s brought to a detention center where he’s treated by psychologist Nicole Traiger. Nicole takes a liking to him, and brings work home with her until they can find a proper place to put him. There, Kyle interacts with the family: Nicole’s husband Steven, her teens Lori and Josh. He also makes an impression with the girl-next-door Amanda. To the amazement of everyone, Kyle displays intellect far beyond normal capacity: insane ability to memorize everything; learns misc. languages, etc., etc. Oh, and he also is lacking a bellybutton. The Traigers end up growing quite the liking to Kyle, and adopt him as part of the family. However, they might be over their heads as the disappearance of a renowned scientist is connected to Kyle, as well as a student from the 1980’s named Adam Baylin who has a striking resemblance to our title star. The freshman season was all about “Who am I?”, and by the finales end, Kyle comes face to face with someone who can answer these questions.

This season answers the who? and what? about Kyle immediately, and then a whole bunch of new questions and storylines are introduced – and to the show’s credit, most are answered satisfyingly! Similar to Lost, this show is serialized, with each episode holding a clue or some new nugget of information relating to Kyle and, this season, a new character by the name of Jessi. Picking up a while after season’s one finale – with Kyle leaving the Traigers under the pretense of finding his biological parents, he meets up with the mysterious Adam Baylin (the individual who looks exactly like him) –Kyle’s Obi-Wan to his Luke, providing the answers to his questions when possible. Additionally, Tom Foss, an ex-CIA agent-turned-Zzyzx-employee-turned-traitor-to-Zzyzx-by-saving-Kyle, assists Baylin and Kyle. Turns out that Kyle isn’t your typical human boy: he was gestated in a tube for 16 years based off Baylin’s genes in a underground facility called Zzyzx, his mind ever expanding and capable of abilities that seem superhuman (enhanced vision & sound, movement of polarities in objects, amazing cognitive aptitude, heightened reflexes, amazing exact drawing skills, etc.).

Home sick, Kyle returns to the Traigers where he keeps his origins and abilities as secret as possible, under the supervision of the lurking Foss. This creates tension amongst the Traiger house as Kyle’s deception of the truth and constant leavings (due to training sessions with Foss) not only unnerve them, but make them suspicious. Unfortunately, a company by the name of Madacorp has other plans for Kyle. Situations really heat up with the arrival of Jessi (Alexander), another experiment of Zzyzx taken by Madacorp to aid in their master plan against Kyle. So, Kyle has to do quite the balancing act – keep his stories straight with the Traigers, make sure no one gets hurt in the process, stop Madacorp, find out who exactly this strange girl Jessi is, find some equilibrium with him and his crush Amanda, and most importantly, continue to hone in on his abilities. As you can see, it’s a rather filled season, and mix in the teen and family drama, its episode-to-episode awesomeness!

With 23 episodes and plenty of
stories to tell, all them are truly phenomenal and with the exception of one episode (2-08: “What’s the Frequency, Kyle?”), none of them feel like filler. Maybe if I was forced to watch and wait week after week, some would seem subpar (remind me to also thank the Lords of Kobol for season box sets), but as it stands, I find each episode contributes to the over-arching storyline, and if not that, at least with the development of our principle leads.

There are undoubtedly some faults, such as poor acting or dropped storylines or something of that nature, but I’ve become too engrossed in the program to really give a damn, honestly. It’s nearly infallible in my eyes. Except, maybe, when Kyle performs a stunt that’s just too impossible for my narrow-minded brain, or occasionally how Jessi behaves. With the character of Amanda, however, who is about as innocent of a teen as you’ll get without being a full-blown God-loving person, you’re forced to suspend disbelief because there’s times where she acts completely out of nature with how a everyday girl would act. For example, when Kyle and Jessi are on their own in the woods looking for answers, Kyle phones Amanda, and instead of Amanda being overcome with the urge to bitch-slap her boyfriend when he returns, helps him. In a world of Jerry Springer, I’m pretty sure there would be a bit of cussing going on over the phone. However, looking at the season as a whole, it’s pretty much perfect, and easily allows me to gloss over any errors.

To spice up the situation in Kyle’s life is Jessi, played by the wonderful Jaime Alexander. Escaping from the Zzyzx lab, Jessi enters the world alone, curious, and, similar to Kyle, naked. Unfortunately, Madacorp got to her first, and programmed her (again, relating the two subjects as computers) to believe she was the sister of Emily, a Madacorp employee. Under this identity of “Jessi”, she attends Kyle’s school and is carefully integrated into Kyle’s life. Jessi, of course, is more than meets the eye, and has quite the history with a one Adam Baylin.

It’s difficult to choose favorites amongst the array of fantastic episodes, but there are particular ones that do deserve nods. First and foremost is actually a series of episodes, 2-10 to 2-14. Combined, they’re some of the most gripping television I’ve watched lately. I honestly stayed up the entire night to watch how this storyline reached its resolution. There is some true expertly written dialogue, character interaction, and some fantastic action sequences and heart-stopping climaxes. Several times, I had no friggin’ idea how Kyle was going to get out of a particular mess, and the Apocalypse was the only thing that could deter me from finding out. So, in summation, those were some bloody brilliant episodes.

Another one that I liked was 2-20: “Primary Colors”, in which Kyle
’s brain is out of whack due to too much stress placed on his smarty-pants brain. Everyone needs his help, and Kyle being Kyle, he tries to assist, but it comes at a toll. I’m not so sure why it’s a topper on my list, but it was interesting watching Kyle sort of going all haywire. Jessi taking up the mantle of helping people was rather amusing, specifically her way of “teaching” Biology to Josh. The second-to-the-last episode, 2-22: “…Hello”, hits my top spot mainly due to its final minutes, with Kyle performing an amazing act, and a little bit of history surrounding Jessi is revealed. I know some prefer this to be the season finale over 2-23: “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”, but I enjoyed that one more. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for prom episodes)

The scripts are full of self-referential dialogue and geeky references that would make Josh Schwartz (creator of The O.C.) and Whedon (you know who he is) proud. Something that the writers can pat themselves on the back for is their ability to craft credible, realistic and naturalistic dialogue that doesn't in any way feel forced (or perhaps this is more due to the actor's ability to deliver them that way?). Without somehow contradicting myself through my bad writing skills, I'm just gonna say this show's writing department all deserve huge, fat paychecks for their incredible work here.

Aside from the writi
ng, something that surprised the hell out of me when I first watched season one was the performances from these actors. Cartoony, Hallmark Channel actors these are not! I first want to touch on the parents, Nicole and Steven. Sure, they do hand out the obligatory Words of Wisdom, but it’s in a realistic fashion instead of the sweet, music-swells heart-to-heart that’s prevalent on basically any and all parent/child based programs. They’re written and acted in such a way that I don’t mind these sequences all that much (though they are plentiful, which becomes only mildly obnoxious occasionally). I could spend quite a bit of time discussing the parents, but it all boils down to the fact that they are portrayed as intelligent figures, and actually become integral to the plot and our characters.

Matt Dallas is excellent, as always; maintaining his wide eyed expressions, his innocent smile and constant interest in the world around him. Simply put, Dallas inhabits Kyle XY completely. As Jessi, Jaime Alexander is awesome. I may not exactly like how she chose to deliver certain lines and play a scene, but I can’t deny that however she does something, she does it well and when necessary, a bit kick-assishly (new word, I invented; if used, must pay me royalties). I do like how her storyline progressed through the episodes, and how Kyle and Jessi felt their connection but had no idea how to proceed. Not weakly written or acted, I just sorta don’t care for her character, honestly. However, Jessi does have a bit to do during its final episodes, but her storyline is also sort of redundant enough to roll one’s eyes.

The actors have also grown up since the freshman season. Most notable is Jean-Luc as teenager Josh. His character is put through the ringer this season, and was thus forced to grow up and mature at a quicker rate than if he didn’t meet a certain someone (not Kyle). Not only does his character mature, but Jean-Luc has really grown as a actor – he can deliver the funny, no doubt, but he also has the ability to convincingly convey sadness, anger, and fear, amongst other emotions. April Matson as Lori also gets more to do, and that’s fantastic as she really is a fine actress who can play pretty much anything. All around, I have nothing negative to say about the acting. I loved ‘em all.

Another great thing about this DVD release – it’s loaded with bonus material! Five of the six discs include two commentary tracks, and thank the Lords of Kobol they aren’t a world of suckyness. Actually, the commentaries are quite informative and extremely interesting to listen to. The writers even bring up dropped storylines, and that’s always fun to hear of. The only drawback: the episodes on the first two and a half discs with commentaries reference the remainder of the season as “Season 3”, so it’s a small annoyance, but no real biggie. However, there is an annoyance in the form of a 7-minute previous feature titled “Facing the Future”, which is a promotional tool for the remaining episodes; in a complete season box set, it’s sort of useless. Next up is “Livin’ with the X’s”, a 10-minute “day-in-the-life” of Matt Dallas and Jaime Alexander. Not entirely thrilling, but I sure as hell would love to live in Dallas’ house – that place was gargantuan. Last but not least, there’s 27 deleted scenes spread throughout five of the six discs, and they range from ‘Ooo, nifty’ to ‘eh, whatev.’ However, there is an Alternate Ending to the mid-season finale, “Leap of Faith”, which would change the dynamic of the Jessi/Kyle relationship – and not for the better, in my opinion.

In conclusion, I’m sure Kyle XY doesn’t float many people’s boat – after all, there’s plenty of not-so-appealing teen angst – but it’s so well crafted that it’s a shame it doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Working on not only a teen level, but as a sci-fi show and/or a superhero origin story, it creates a nice equilibrium that all parties who watch the program will find something to enjoy. It’s smarter than plenty of shows (i.e., Smallville), and with an extremely talented cast and a brilliant crew of writers, Kyle XY is definitely worth your time.

09 January 2009

Shots I Wish Were in Dark Knight

This falls into the unhealthy obsession category, but as I watched The Dark Knight for the first time during the midnight screening on 18 July 2008, I noticed a few shots that I truly fell in love with from the trailers not being included in the finished product. I get that tweaking shots from the trailer to the final product is commonplace, but with the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD release including all three trailers, I figured I would take this opportunity to show the shots I love and explain their awesomeness. Funnily enough, they're all of the Joker (Heath Ledger, A Knight's Tale). Since my words will no doubt suck because of fanboyism, I hope the shots speak louder.

From: Trailer 2. V.O. of the Joker as he tells the Batman, "You're just a freak. Like me." Perfect, beautiful shot that compliments the dialogue. I understand how this might not have worked all the well with the finished product - with Nolan no doubt wanting to tighten up the already lengthy action sequence - but this truly reeks of a Jack Nicholson-Shinning-esque quality. For further proof of that, pay close attention to the Joker's facial expression: it screams of homicidal maniac! And there's sort of a King Kong vs. Godzilla thing going on here: the madman standing in the middle of the vacant street, waiting for his nemesis to arrive and engage in battle. And finally, this shot is a good advocate for widescreen - it adds such scope and power that the fullscreen aficionados wouldn't be able to see.

From: Trailer 2 & 3. Perhaps the shot I'm most disappointed with it's lack of inclusion in the final product, this is so awesome to watch as he tosses his knife between his hands in a playful manner. This shot gives the Joker a "I mean business, and I'm going to kick your ass" look. There's also a sense of carelessness; or perhaps it's more just a sense of glee/fun (similar to the joy he was experiencing driving the vehicle towards the Batman). He's like a mob boss having a field day. (this is becoming more like a metaphor blog) When the second trailer premiered, I re-watched it several times over, and this particular shot was the one that made me excited the most, and I hope you can see why.

From: Trailer 3. There's evidently three different versions of the Joker's delivery of "Kill the Batman": the film version (in which he flicks his hair back with a delivery of "Oh, right, yeah - kill the dude."), there's this trailer 3 version (where he says it seriously), and the Dominoes trailer (which I haven't seen, but there's apparently another delivery of the famous line. As for what version I like best, I think I like this one. Honestly, I'm at a loss with this entire sequence. It's not exactly easy to pinpoint what the Joker's thinking or his mood here; I'm not sure if he's intimidated, or if he's controlling the party, or if he's over-his-head, etc. At least with this version, the Joker is definitely in charge, and quite freakishly frightning as well.

From: Trailer 3. C'mon, now that is just friggin' menacing, is it not? The Joker making his way to the Batman, gun in one hand and a blade in the other. This is truly another beautiful example of the widescreen format. It sort of makes me want to sing The Joker's coming to town, ooooh the Joker's coming to town, tooodaay. Get it? Sorta Christmasy with "the Joker" instead of "Santa"? I know, the funniness of me just doesn't stop. It's akin to a lumbering giant advancing to his prey, walking at a steady pace, savoring every moment before the confrontation. Honestly, it's just simply cool.

Well, The Dark Knight hits theaters and IMAX screens again January 23rd, and I will most definitely be attending an IMAX screening. Three times on a normal screen, a IMAX experience is necessary. And yes, I do know I need some sort of life if I keep doing posts such as these.

03 January 2009

Kyle XY Season Three Episode Guide

Kyle XY returns to the ABC Family channel Mondays at 8 PM with 10 all new episodes! Starring Matt Dallas, Marguerite MacIntyre, Bruce Thomas, April Matson, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Chris Olivero, Kirsten Prout, Jaimie Alexander, the show promises thrills, plenty of action, and a truckload of teen angst!

Picking up directly after the events of season two, season three delves into the mythology of Latnok while Kyle continues to explore the limits of his abilities. Plus, there's the whole Amanda relationship that is destined to be doomed, and Jessi being a potential love interest for Kyle (despite the producers going against the notion back in season two). This season is sure to please newcomers and fans alike!

It Happened One Night 12 January 2009
Amanda is missing and Kyle has not a clue whereas to find her. Lori and Declan are reeling from splitsville, Andy and Josh attend the after prom party for some good-time gamming, and Jessi helps a friend in need find a person she isn't all that much friends with - but at a cost. And Kyle meets people he didn't expect.

Psychic Friend 19 January 2009
Following the events of prom night, Kyle is ever more watchful over Amanda. A psychic's warning that his soul mate will be in danger worries Kyle and becomes even more over-protective of Amanda, causing her to distance herself from him in the process. The consequences of Jessi helping Kyle leave her depressed and unbalanced. Lori and Haley are in an argument over a particular boy.

Electric Kiss 26 January 2009

The effects of the device Latnok put into Amanda is beginning to take its toll - she's losing concentration and unable to play the piano effectively. Kyle refuses help from Cassidy, the ring leader of the college-version of Latnok, and thus turns to Jessi. After a whole bunch of electric mumbo-jumbo that will destroy the device inside Amanda, Kyle tests it on Jessi - but of course, he needs to plant a kiss on her to ensure the correct electrical charge. Bad side - Amanda catches him. Bloody hell.

In the Company of Men
Kyle's trying to survive the post break-up world by going out with Josh and Declan and having a few bears. Of course, this being his first time drinking, things go out of hand, and by the end of the night, some disturbing news could irrevocably change Kyle's life forever.

Life Support
Reeling from the news Foss gave him the night before, Kyle loses concentration on the road and ends up riding off and crashing into a tree after narrowing missing a woman on the road. Kyle and Josh go to help her, finding that not only does she have a attitude, but she's preggers. While they tend to her, Nicole is in a predicament of her own - she's bleeding pretty bad, and she can't get out of the vehicle.

Welcome to Latnok 16 February 2009

In order to help the Traigers pay for Nicole's whopping hospital bill, Kyle does good on his promise to Cassidy and goes to Latnok, and what he finds there is rather surprising. Instead of a bunch of suits, he's treated to a group of talented college students seeking technological advancement. Meanwhile, some upsetting news disturbs the Andy and Josh loveboat, while Mark reveals a little something about himself to Lori.

Chemistry 101 23 February 2009
Amanda starts a new relationship with Nate, which makes Kyle quite jealous. But things are even more complicated after Jessi confesses her true feelings to Kyle. With that revelation and Amanda's new boy, Kyle's also not-so-trusting with Cassidy. Oh, and Andy's moving to Seattle.

Tell-Tale Heart 02 March 2009
The discovery of Sarah's Latnok ring makes Jessi anxious to learn the truth, and once she does - well, it quite shatters her spirits. Meanwhile, Declan tries to get Lori and Hailey to speak to eachother after the post-prom incident, and as revenge, they plot to kill him...in a nice way. Also, Josh and Andy's relationship becomes strained as Josh is depression about Andy's departure is making him no-fun guy any longer.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner 09 March 2009
Kyle invites Cassidy to dinner at the Traigers, officially speaking as a guest, but un-officially, he's dishing out some information from the dude. Jessi, meanwhile, is losing her mind over the recent revelation concerning Sarah. Josh and Andy spend one last day together as she's to leave in the morning.

Bringing Down the House 16 March 2009
Kyle needs to stop Latnok - like, right now, 'cuz they're re-starting the experiments that created him and Jessi...on a grand scale. Like, Attack of the Clones huge.