29 April 2009

Fighting

Fighting
starring Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard
, Zulay Henao
written by Dito Montiel & Robert Munic
directed by
Dito Montiel
original release date: 24 April 2009

Rogue Pictures, 105 mins.


What the Frak?


This year's
Never Back Down is a jumbled mess of bad performances, a even weaker and lazy script, and crappy editing leaving every scene rather awkward. The only redeeming quality of this poor production is one fight sequence and an attractive female co-star, although her beauty barely makes up for her lacking the ability to do a little thing called "acting." Fighting is officially the first really bad movie of 2009 in my book.

But how did that happen? The trailers made it look right up my ally. Never Back Down may not have been the best bloody thing since The Karate Kid, but it at lest had a fairly well-about script with some likable cast members with actual chemistry; Fighting is its opposite.


Shawn McArhur (Tatum) is living a rather meaningless life, selling relative junk on street corners for $20 a item, but a brawal with a customer catches the eye of businessman Harvey Boarden (Howard), who propositions Shawn with this idea: give people a fight, and you get some damn fine mullah money. There's also two subplots that rip through the film: a romantic story between Shawn and a waitress he meets by chance named Zulay (Henao); and a old acquaintance of Shawn's who is connected to a shady part of his past that Shawn would rather stay hidden.

As the official synopsis reads, Shawn "sets out to win the prize money at stake and the respect of those around him." Well, the first part is true. Shawn's in it all for the money, pretty much because he has none of his own. But respect? The way he's written and portrayed, respect has nothing to do with it - in fact, he doesn't even seem to give a damn about respect. What happens in the film is wish fulfillment for Shawn - he want hot waitress girl: check; he want money: check; he want to fight: check. There's no real motivation for the character other than the paycheck, and no genuine motivation for the audience to give a damn about what he does. Win or lose, I didn't care. Frankly, I wouldn't of minded if a fight ended Resevoir Dogs-style, with everybody shooting each other out of greed for money.

My friend who accompanied me to the screening didn't like the flick, but forgave it because of - wait for it - Channing Tatum. It's an unfortunate acting choice for Tatum, who earned my respect in 2008's Stop-Loss; but his performance here is nothing more than a complete rehash of his Step Up character, complete with his ghetto clothing and his constant stuttering and usage of "man" and "y'know" in a sentence. Sure, it's probably a deliberate choice of the actor and script writers to ground everything in some sort of reality, but it just becomes annoying. For further evidence of what I mean, consult that corrupt cop drama bust Pride and Glory (2008). The blow to one's performance is lessened by Terrence Howard (Iron Man), but just barely. He does something to his voice that made me think about Zorba the Hutt in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), who had an uncanny vocal resemblance to a one Truman Capote. Hands down, Terrence was distracting. However, the worst performance offender of them all is Zulay Henao (who goes by Zulay in the film, too; how fortuitous), who has no acting range and absolutely zero chemistry with her co-stars. When I said that there was awkward editing, I example this claim with every scene involving these two; their first half-date was about the most awkward date I've ever seen on film, and this counts the Cook/Hudson paring in My Best Friend's Girlfriend. Zulay didn't even seem remotely interested in Shawn, and really, why should she? Nothing worthwhile other than his supposed "charm" (which comes across more as a 20-year old with intelligence developmental problems) and hot bod. Was Jenna Dewan too expensive to hire now that she's a famous actress? Wait...

Montiel's directing style seems to want to invoke a realistic tone to this overly hyper-realistic title, where impossible plot developments occur in a relatively short period of time, by emulating the ever-popular shaky camera style most publicized by Paul Greengrass with his Bourne titles. It's possible he's trying to cover up the fact that he doesn't have a good movie on his hands by attempting to "bring you" into the drama and action. However, he fails in this regard. It's just...boring. And for a movie that's sole purpose is fighting, as explained by a title unmatched in obviousness since Snakes on a Plane (2006), that's quite the achievement. Except, y'know, a negative achievement, but here's looking at the bright side.

The script - ugh, save me. For a movie that should be so simple ("Me want fight"), I was confused here and there about what the hell was happening, and why were certain things happening. Example A, and one that I know I've used but it bugs me that much: the romance between Zulay and Shawn. There simply was no romance, no chemistry. The way it's written, Shawn rubs off as a stalker, not too far from "dream boy" Edward in Twilight. Their first half-date is entirely awkward, and Zulay invites him to her apartment on the second, er, 'date'. No wonder he likes the girl: she's easy. Example B, the entirety of the Harvey/Shawn relationship - I don't buy it for a second. Perhaps the best thing to be said about Tatum and Howard is that they come across as genuine friends, but by all means, the script doesn't sell it. Initially, Shawn doesn't like Harvey, but once Harvey offers the dollars, all is well in this friendship. Riiiigggghhtt. Example C, the dyanmic between Harvey and his ex-friends is poorly portrayed and explained. I wish that subplot was scrapped entirely.

The final and worst offender - the fighting. It blows. If there's one aspect this movie's supposed to kick ass in, it's the fighting. There are four fights if memory serves me right, and two of the fights are hardly watchable due to Montiel's incompetent handheld direction which randomly zooms around and loses a good chunk of the action and makes it indistinguishable. The best fight is between Tatum and martial arts star Cung Le: that was some awesome, intense stuff. The final battle, predictable on all accounts (I was even able to predict how much the match would be worth), between the two frenemies is decent and kinda cool, but suffers from the same dodgy camerawork and editing.

Perhaps the best part of the Fighting experience was watching trailers for Quentin Tarantino's fourth motion picture Inglourious Basterds, the new Sam Raimi horror flick Drag Me To Hell (I'm totally there for the midnight showing), Judd Apatow's third film Funny People (I'm 50/50 about this title), and a relatively un-hyped heist/corrupt cop flick called Armored with Laurence Fishburne as the most recognizable actor.

In the end, do I recommend Fighting? No. There's far better titles involving people kicking other people's asses. If you must absolutely see this title, or are coerced by a girlfriend who has a unhealthy obsession towards Mr. Tatum, I implore you wait for a DVD rental, it's not worth the hard-earned dough and trying to piece together lazy plot points. Piss-poor presentation is nearly all areas of the creative development of this movie puts Fighting the first most deserving title to recieve the newly-instated rating of What the Frak? Honor it well, director Montiel.

27 April 2009

17 Again

17 Again
starring Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Thomas Lennon, Leslie Mann
written by Jason Filardi
directed by Burr Steers
original release date: 17 April 2009
New Line Cinema, 102 mins.

A Frakkin' Guilty Pleasure

I just witnessed one of the most spectacular lightsaber battles of all time, and it was between Zac Efron and Thomas Lennon in 17 Again. That alone gives it brownie points. In fact, this film has more wet dream geek moments than the entirety of Fanboys. Unfortunately, my uber-macho cool exterior came crumbling down to my friend who accompanied me as I squirmed when some teenagers carelessly messed around with one of those hundred dollar Master Replica lightsabers (specifically some Episode IV Darth Vader and Episode III Obi-Wan Kenobi). Perhaps a little bit in the realm of slightly sad, but I was wanting me a lot of the merchandise Lennon's character owned - wow, they were beautiful.

And now, in an attempt to veer away from some more Star Wars gushing, I'm going to summarize this entire review by saying that 17 Again was a wholeheartedly enjoyable experience that literally had me laughing maybe 10 minutes after a particular joke ended, and my thinking of that joke once again made me erupt in even more laughter, much to the annoyance of my friend. The flick was just great - a perfect family friendly movie that audience members of all ages will dig. And concerning whether or not the world-renown High School Musical star can be a leading man, all I gotta say is that it's pretty sad that he outshines Matthew Perry's performance tremendously, which makes me a little ticked because Chandler was my favorite character in Friends. Fictional character, I know - but I dug the actor.

As a teenager, Mike O'Donnell left his basketball career behind to support his pregnant girlfriend Scarlet. Dreams shattered, potential never realized, for 20 years Mike resents his life and how it turned out. With a soon-to-be finalized divorce from Scar (Mann) and being skipped of a better job at his place of employment, Mike (Perry) gives up, but with the help of a mysterious janitor, Mike is transformed back into his 17-year old persona (Efron), who takes full advantage of this strange series of events. With the help of his Uncle Ned (Lennon), Mike tries to accomplish whatever task he was sent back to accomplish, but also have some fun while he's at it.

17 Again is AWESOME! Far and beyond better than I expected to be (albeit my expectations weren't exactly reaching Dark Knight levels), the film was a laugh-fest from start to finish. Sure, it adds in the dramatic elements as per the necessary screenwriting rules, but it never overshadows the characters or the laughs (here's me looking at Knocked Up).

So, Zac Efron. 17 Again is essentially the movie that would make or break him, since this would be the first time (outside of a musical) that audiences would be able to see what Efron had to offer as an actor. Sadly, I think we'll be waiting awhile for Me and Orson Wells, his first fully dramatic role, but if this is any indication, I think it's proven that Efron has what it takes to be a full-fledged, serious actor. Efron owns in this role. Once you get past his freaky 1980's appearance in the flashbacks and he gets back to looking Efron-y, you can't help but love this guy and everything he tries to do for his teenage kids.

And I want to now admit my undying love for Leslie Mann (Knocked Up, Funny People), who absolutely radiates awesomeness in her performance as the estranged wife of Perry's. She's plays an awesome wife, at least as per the script dictates, and sometimes I wanted to hit Perry in the head for even contemplating ruining the marriage. Speaking of Perry, his performance here neither makes or breaks the flick, as he's hardly in it, and whatever presence he does have isn't nearly powerful enough to remember that he was even in the bloody movie a week later thinking back on it. Thomas Lennon's Uncle Ned, in case I didn't mention this before, is truly the highlight of the movie.

It's great to have a teen comedy that embraces and at times makes fun of the changing trends of the time. For instance, as exampled in the film, the huge difference of the way high school was from a '80's standpoint to today. Sure, there's plenty that stays the same, like cliques and social statuses and the popularity of sports, but it's a whole new different ball-field with the teens and how they dress and speak. 17 Again notes those differences and also remarks on the similarities.

Within the first 10 minutes of the comedy, I had a grin on my face that didn't fade until after the movie ended, and even so, I burst out in laughter thinking about some of the jokes (though, I confess, they were mainly geek-related), and that's a sign of a comedy that was successfully funny and wholly enjoyable. If for no other reason - be it Zac Efron, be it for your teenage daughters, or to locate a laugh-out-loud comedy - 17 Again is fun. And in a period where most movies, even comedies, have a rather bleak nature to them (or are just completely stupid, such as anything with Dane Cook in the mix), this is most welcomed.

26 April 2009

Knowing

Knowing
starring Nicolas Cage,
Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne
written by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
directed by Alex Proyas
original release date: 20 March 2009
Summit Entertainment, 121 mins.

There's Frakking Worse Things


Nic Cage; musings about aliens; negative word-of-mouth; the crappy aftertaste of NEXT lingering - I wasn't all that gun-ho about seeing KNOWING. But hey, my World Religions professor said we'd get 10 extra credit points if we write a little something about it because it discusses different viewpoints of the creation of earth. Plus, $30 Marcus theater gift card equals
sold.

And wouldn't you know it, KNOWING's actually pretty good. It's a gazillion times better than NEXT (though that's not hard to accomplish), and I actually enjoyed myself the entire time. Go figure. In fact, I might actually recommend you check out KNOWING at some point, though I'd caution you wait for DVD (although there is one sequence which I think is profoundly impactful on the big-screen). Actually, in retrospect, I think the only thing wrong with KNOWING would be Nic Cage himself. More on that later...


In 1959, a strange girl at an elementary school goes bonkers and writes a zillion numbers in seemingly random orders on the front and back sides of a piece of paper. This paper is then put into a time capsule to be opened in 50 years time. Fast forward to 2009, when John Koestler (Cage)'s son Caleb (Canterbury) goes to the same school and witness the opening of said capsule. Caleb, through some twist of 'fate', gets a hold of this paper with all the numbers, and John grows a particular interest in it. In fact, he becomes obsessed; and by morning, he's related the numbers to catastrophes in the past; but the bad news is, there's still two dates that have yet to come to pass, and judging by the paper, they're happening soon. John resides himself to do anything in his power to stop the events from happening, but perhaps he can't change what is written, perhaps destiny can't be prevented...
KNOWING actually boasts a cool, engrossing story. Watching Cage putting the pieces together, and subsequently trying to avert the ones he can control is quite fun. Although, granted, I couldn't help but groan as one of the events from the piece of paper becomes connected to 9/11/01; but luckily the concept is intriguing enough to play along with the script. Additionally, there's another element added to the film which is perhaps more creepy than any horror or thriller films of the year yet - these strange, tall, pale men in trench-coats that have grown a particular liking to Caleb. It's freaky, and coupled with the haunting, eerie music from Tyler Bates (WATCHMEN) which is damn good enough that I'm thinking about picking it up, KNOWING works both as a thriller and horror film. Sorta.
For anyone who has a problem with Keanu Reeves' "acting" ability (as evident by nearly 90% of all DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and MATRIX reviews), I present to you Nic Cage. Compared to our anchoring actor, Reeves can invoke emotion and inflection into his lines like nobodies business. Cage, to his credit, goes bye-bye with the ridiculous DA VINCI CODE-inspired hairdo of NEXT in favor of a more GHOST RIDER look [I can't believe I'm discussing hair styles in a bloody movie review]. Maybe I'm the only one, but I think it's time to say goodbye to the Cage. His character, for the most part, is interesting enough for us to give a damn about his predicament, but hell, I was far more interested in his son and Diana, a strange woman with a connection to the little girl who jotted down the numbers. Everyone's given equal screentime, so I guess it's all fair game.

[Spoiler follows]And yes, the rumors are true - KNOWING takes the INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL route and introduces aliens into the mix [
ahem, excuse me Mr. Lucas, they were "inter-dimensional beings", not aliens]. And somehow they managed to come outta left field more so than INDY 4 did. Anyhow, it's a interesting plot twist, I'll give 'em that. I was curious as to what purpose these tall, trench-coat wearing scary guys were to serve to the story, and I guess this is about as satisfying an answer as any. Plus, when they take off their human skin to reveal their actual physical appearance - that was sorta cool. And one of the final shots of several spaceships leaving earth's orbit [reminded me of the "Arks" in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL re-imagining] is just beautiful to look at. In fact, that sorta leads me to my next point...

If for no other reason, give KNOWING a try for its visual effects, which are spectacular. It may have a messy plot that will leave you scratching your head in bewilderment, and 'oh-my-god-are-they-serious?' performances, but the effects are wonderful. One such example I wish to point out is the much talked about airplane sequence, in which our protagonist just happens to be at the exact location of a major catastrophe in the making: an airplane rips into a highway and crashes into the ground in an giant explosion, and in a supposedly single shot, Nic Cage runs to the wreckage to...help or something. It's quite impressive, and this entire segment alone is worth the price of admission.

In a nutshell, KNOWING is actually worth your time. It's a fun thriller with some pretty nifty action sequences, a strange and slightly daring finale, and successfully grabs your interest as John runs against time to stop whatever's coming. When you're not smirking at the absurdity of some of the situations and plot points and you just roll with it, it's friggin' awesome. As the newly appointed rating system says, there's a lot frakking worse things out there.

13 April 2009

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead
special #002
starring David Tennant, Michelle Ryan, Lee Evans (Malcolm), Noma Dumezweni
written by Russel T. Davies & Gareth Roberts
directed by James Strong

It's been nearly a year since Series Four concluded, and four months since the last Doctor Who Special (which I didn't see) aired. So, I was quite looking forward to my Doctor Fix. Although it was a good episode with some pretty fun parts, it was mostly underwhelming with a lot to be desired. But, hey, it was still enjoyable - and that's what Doctor Who's best at: witty dialog, brilliant actors (this episode being no exception to that rule), plenty of sci-fi to appease the hardcore fans, and a damn good time!

Since I'm feeling especially lazy at the moment, I'm just going to copy and paste the BBC's official description of the episode: "When a London bus takes a detour to an alien world, the Doctor must join forces with the extraordinary Lady Christina, in this one-off seasonal special. But the mysterious planet holds terrifying secrets, hidden in the sand. And time is running out, as the deadly Swarm gets closer."

Co-written by reboot executive producer Russel T. Davies, "Planet of the Dead" comes off as more of a normal mid-season episode than a actual 60-minute, y'know, special. There's nothing uber-super cool about the particular episode, aside from the obvious stunt casting, but DW's been doing that for years, so it's no real biggie. From a writing stand-point, the episode is solid Who; the witty banter is intact, there's some great dialog (""I'll just step inside this police box and arrest myself."), but the sci-fi elements sorta falters. The way the episode was set up, this could have been a spooky Pitch Black-like episode, with some real danger and threat for the Doctor. I mean, with a title like "Planet of the Dead", you're sorta expecting that, no? A planet filled with dead people; hell, I wouldn't have minded zombies, and I'm not a fan of 'em.

Michelle Ryan (TV: Bionic Woman, Jekyll) plays what my ideal Companion would be - strong, assertive, intelligent, and absolutely able to hold her own. Series Three's Martha Jones seems to be the only other Companion within the last four series' to hit such qualities. But anyway, Ryan was a bloody joy. I only saw one episode of her Bionic Woman series in the States, but her performance in Steve Moffatt's Jekyll was frakking spectacular. I would have LOVED if Ryan stayed on as Companion to the Doctor in Series Five, but considering how they left things (which I liked), it's open enough for Ryan to guest star anytime her schedule allows. Concerning why The Doctor doesn't bring her along, I liked that scene - he's officially given up on company, especially after what happened to Donna in "Journey's End" (413); too many people have been irrevocably damaged by their experience with him, and he's not going to allow it to happen again.

The other notable guest star is Lee Evans as science/techno-terd Malcolm, who works for UNIT and really, truly loves The Doctor. He's the perfect comic relief. This bloke is FANTASTIC at the role, and I hope he pops up here and there. Hehe, just thinking about his performance makes me grin.

Special-effects wise, again - another solid. However, I really gotta question the Flying Bus thing; I can't think of any program or movie that utilized this idea well enough, and this is no better. The alien suits for the man-sized bugs, however, were quite unimpressive. I haven't been this iffy with a design since those strange fish-like creatures in "The Doctor's Daughter" (406").

The episode concluded with some nice foreshadowing of what's to come for Tennant's last episodes as The Doctor, and I'm excited. I haven't got a single clue as to what these "four knocks" are, but I LOVED how Carmen (I think that was her name - the psychic woman) reiterated "the song" from "Planet of the Ood" (403). Spooky. "It is returning through the dark." Interesting. Hopefully Davies can deliver on all of these hints and jazz, as he's renowned for his ability to make a outstanding, brilliant cliffhanging type penultimate episode, but crap all over the finale. Here's hoping Tennat's last hurrah will be a fantastic one.

In conclusion, "Planet of the Dead" was sorta mehh...It coulda been a lot better, and it coulda been a lot worse (sorry, but I'm thinking of "Love & Monsters" in season 2, which I was not a fan of). For the most part, it was entertaining, and it's great to see Tennant again. Hopefully the next three specials will kick some major ass. I just think "Planet of the Dead" was wasted potential - it could have been dark and thrilling, but I guess that's best reserved for a Halloween special than a Easter one. Oh well, with three left to go, and some foreboding words from Carmen, I'm sure this episode will be redeemed.

Post-credits, shots for another special airing "later this year" was included, and all I could really tell is that there's humanoid individuals who can manipulate water and are bringing down this giant dome structure - with The Doctor thrust right into the middle of it, 'course. Yep, I'm sold. It's Tennant, man! I can't back away..

10 April 2009

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In
starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
written by John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on his book)
directed by Tomas Alfredson
EFTI, 2008, 114 mins.,

*** (out of ****)

I have never been freaked out by a vampire before Let the Right One In played on my TV screen, let alone a vampire that looks like a 12-year old. This is just one example of the power this dark Swedish film has.

For those who have been hiding under a rock for a few months, while Twilight was making its rounds at cineplexes giving teenage girls heart-attacks of the "hotness" that is Robert Pattison, this little picture made its way through, I believe, 200 screens domestically. But little screenings that there were, the film still made an impression, and ended up on plenty of "Best of 2008" lists.

After finally seeing it, I would agree with that.

12-year old Oskar lives a lonely existence - he wakes up, goes to school, has zero friends and gets bullied on near constantly, goes on, and the day repeats. The only comfort he has is going outside at night to play around with his nifty knife. However, a recent spree of blood-letting killings is making the community tense and weary of people, so that also puts a damper on life. But there's a upside: out of nowhere, a strange girl named Eli, apparently also 12, becomes acquaintances with Oskar, and the two strike up a deep bond. The thing is, Eli isn't exactly what she seems - in fact, she's sort of a vampire. Basically, the entire movie is about their friendship and the implications and the danger that brings. But, y'know, it's riveting.

So, basically, what makes Let the Right One In so good? For me, it's the characters, specifically Eli. Sure, Oskar is alright, but he comes off as a bit irritating here and there, and sort of a jackass in a few scenes. But it's Eli that is the most captivating. Lina Leandersson blows Kirsten Dunst's role in Interview with a Vampire out of the ballpark; I can honestly say I can't think of any other child actor being able to pull off a better vampire. She's a scene-stealer, and she freaks you out even during the more intimate moments between the two; there's always that sense of danger, that she might just loose control and then it'd be bon voyage Oskar. That's not exactly a easy task to accomplish, but Lina makes it seem effortless.

But there's also the Oskar/Eli moments that make this film so profoundly interesting and worthwhile to rewatch many times over. Their friendship begins by late night excursions of Oskar finding some sort of solace in his messed up life, and Eli shows up out of nowhere for conversation. One review I read said that they were basically made for each other, and that is pretty much echoed in the movie, where Eli compares her to him, saying that he wishes to draw blood, whereas she has no choice - she kills to live. It's the writing and the acting that make this film, no doubt.

My only real problem with the movie is that there's no real backstory to Eli; she's such a interesting character, so one sorta wants to know how her vampire lifestyle came about. She's clearly comfortable with her own body and her structure of life now, but I wouldn't have minded perhaps two sentences saying that she was - say, was walking around in 1909 and got bit by some strange woman? The book the movie's based on apparently includes such a backstory, and that alone might make it worth a read. It's a minor grievance, but hardly wrecks the viewing enjoyment.

A big part of the hype surrounding the film is its ending, which was heralded as a masterpiece. Um, not exactly. It's a damn fine conclusion, and a logical finale to a storyline that pervades throughout the film, but it's nothing that's going to blow one's socks off. (Spoilers) Perhaps it's the murder of children characters that gives it its unique and special status, but otherwise, it's not jaw-dropping. If you approach it from a story-point level, there was truly no other way that storyline was going to end. Although the outside skating sequence when Oskar whips one of the bullies is a nice strengthening moment for the character, I thought it was rather obvious the kid didn't have enough backbone to finish anything himself. It seemed quite clear that Eli was going to intervene from the get-go. (End spoilers) But I still dug the ending - I've re-watched it multiple times already.

This being a good movie, an American remake is on the way, evidently already planned for a 2010 release. Who woulda thunk it? Surely not I! Suffice it to say, I'm not happy about it. There's simply no way they could Americanize or improve this movie. It's pretty much perfect the way it is; they could only bastardize some of the more awesome moments. Story aside, this film works because of those memorable moments that probably wouldn't make it pass the American MPAA (e.g., the finale). I would only be able to back this production up if director Alfredson took the reins and filmed it here, like Hideo Nakata did for The Ring Two (although that didn't turn out exactly any better). However, I do like the title change to Let Me In - it makes a little bit more sense than Let the Right One In. The use of "Right One" made me think that there was perhaps a army of sadistic, ruthless vampires and amongst this group there was a Angel-like figure. Whether it's any good, I'll be there to see it; I like the idea enough to see how we handle it.

Let the Right One In is a interesting movie about a relationship between a boy and a girl, with the added complication of the girl being a vampire and potentially killing him - but all relationships have their little quips, yeah? The film comes highly recommended, so add it to your Netflix Que pretty much now.

06 April 2009

Point Pleasant: The Complete Series

Point Pleasant: The Complete Series
created by & Marti Noxon
starring Elizabeth Harnois, Aubrey Dollar, Grant Show
FOX, 2005, 13 episodes, 43 mins.

**1/5 (out of ****)

Bikinis and Devils. That's how I was pretty much going to disregard this entire show after sitting through the first two episodes. They were your standard fare of girls clad in bikinis, walking around aimlessly on a beach talking about super hunky role-modely boys who just happen to reside in the town, with a supernatural aspect thrown in every once and a while when Christina suddenly becomes discontent or narrows her eyes a little more scarier than usual. The O.C. with a mix of Buffy, as it's compared to.

But luckily, by the time episode seven rolled around, Point Pleasant was on a roll, and it hooked me.
Perhaps I'm juist suseptable to shows that are actually really, really bad and I just don't know it, because the overwhelming majority of reviews for the program ain't pretty, but I find myself nearly in love with it. Hell, I'm actually negotiating with myself whether or not I purchase a copy if I ever find it around [I believe it's since gone OOP], and if not - well, I'll just keep my Netflix copies...I kid, I kid...
Point Pleasant won't be winning any awards, nor will it be placed up on such a high mantle like Lost and (gasp) Grey's Anatomy, but for the most part, it was extremely entertaining and very well written, with some really interesting story ideas explored sufficently enough to keep one satisfied but simultaneously a little dissapointed that it wouldn't be expounded upon in another season.
A shiny day at Point Pleasant, New Jersey turns stormy when a mysterious girl is saved from the water by hunky lifeguard Jesse. Her name is Christina, who supposedly fell off a boat from a tourist trip. Unable to contact family, Christina moves into the Kramer house, a family still reeling from a tragic death of a daughter a year before. Everything’s fine and dandy until Christina realizes there are certain oddities that happen around her, oddities that seem to sprout from her. The arrival of a mysterious, blunt, suave man named Mr. Boyd, who intends to buy all of Point Pleasant, causes tension amongst all the families of the town. All these strange occurrences bring Christina closer to the truth – she is, in fact, the daughter of Satan! Can Christina keep her diabolical evil ways in check to become an instrument of good instead of evil? Or will the whole world burn at her feet?
Point Pleasent debuted in early 2005, but by the time episode eight rolled around, FOX – and its viewers – were done with the show. Thus, FOX axed it, and never aired the remaining episodes. [Of course, this was a time where Fox was cancelation-heavy with Reunion and Tru Calling axed quite quickly - though Tru through some twist of fate had a short second season] Luckily, the DVD release a few months later in October included the final four episodes (stellar as they are). Although the show concludes on a semi-cliffhanger, by its end, it feels as though a full story has been told, with this story not having a conclusive, definitive ending, but deliberately ambiguous. It mixes religion, fate, choice, hate, humanity, good and evil in a program that you’d probably expect to be kiddy fare. It asks us to question why on earth, if such a situation like this would be possible, that we deserve to live? What makes us worthwhile? Why should the daughter of Satan not destroy us? It’s fascinating enough that once the first bridge of so & so episodes are over, the rest are about as awesome of storytelling you’ve seen since the Joss Whedon Buffy & Angel days.
The series kicks off with a decent, although not-so-stellar premiere (101 “Pilot”), written by show creators Marti Noxon & John J. McLaughlin and directed by Tucker Gates (Alias). It, of course, introduces us to all the particular families that will play major roles in the story to come, as well as all the romantic entanglements between the teenagers and the possible on/off again storylines they could produce. You have the clich├ęd adult characters – the slutty woman who tramps around town with a equally slutty teenage daughter whose frustrated her mom never truly pays attention to her; the goodie-two-shoes Christian family with their underwear-modeling son who has a religious destiny but also a bit of intrigue as to his own mysterious past; the Kramers, some still in agony over the death of Isabelle a year ago; and the family that’s broken, with the son taking care of the father. Overall, it’s a satisfactory but not extraordinary series premiere that doesn’t exactly hook or entice viewers to tune in the following week. There are some really great moments, such as the sequence in which Christina’s waking re-lights all the electricity in town.
We’re also introduced to the shows long, dreary opening credits boasting a composition credit to a one Danny Elfman (nearly every Tim Burton movie in existence). Honestly, the opening credits do nothing for me, and after the first time watching them, I skipped them every time since. This is the type of show that would have benefited from a simple title card with some eerie music, like a cross between Supernatural (The CW) and Lost (ABC).
The premiere ranked in 11.68 million viewers when it aired January 19, 2005, which isn’t too shabby. No doubt plenty of Buffy devotees tuned in just to see what post-Buffy projects then executive producer Noxon was developing. Unfortunately, the majority of them must have scrammed, as the following week, the show dropped 49% in ratings with 5.6 million viewers.
Unfortunately, the following onslaught of episodes weren’t all that memorable, and it’s quite understandable why viewership fell. The program delved knee-deep into the world of teenage romance and hook-ups, as well as the adults’ own little problems. It did, in nearly all sense of the word, become The O.C. Beach parties, dances, adult affairs, boy-falling-for-wrong-girl scenarios – all been done before and to a much better degree. However, it is sometimes difficult to argue about it all since it works quite well in the grand scheme of things. Sure, there were undertones of supernatural menace, and Christina still pursued any lead that would tell her about her past or what the deal was with her always-gone father, but it seemed to take a back seat for the teen drama, which wasn’t nearly as intriguing as the supernatural aspects.
With Christina newly instated into the Kramer family, Judy is ecstatic she has a new sister, Meg is happy she has another daughter to care for, and Ben is just glad Meg is lighting up a little. However, he has a few problems of his own: the town woman-who-gets-around, Amber, has set her eyes on hooking up with Ben, and enlists Mr. Boyd’s help to do so, thus creating a sort of bond between these two manipulative demons. Jesse finds himself increasingly attracted to Christina, regardless of his relationship with Paula, who finds comfort in the arms of Terry, the unfortunate boy with a comatose father in bed. Terry wishes his father better, and to improve what little life that he has, so when a offer from Mr. Boyd presents itself, Terry snatches it up.
During this period of time, Christina seeks counsel with Father Tomas, a young, recently appointed minister of the nearby church. Tomas is wearisome of Christina as some surely freak accidents follow her around, including the death (er, “disappearance” is the terminology the church uses) of Father David. But during a sequence when Christina urges Father Tomas to pray with her and help her, Tomas is overcome with such a powerful feeling of love that his assumptions of her evilness is brought into question, and vows to help her battle the demon within. The dynamic between Christina and Father Tomas is interesting, although they share far too few scenes together. His storyline is brought to a abrupt, but strangely satisfying (although the method it’s done through is rather ridiculous) end.
Meanwhile, Judy’s beginning to have doubts about Christina – questioning who she is, and why all these freak occurrences happen around her. Jesse joins the paranoia wagon and discovers something about himself that is pivotal to the rest of his arc. Judy, feeling betrayed by Christina’s lies, kicks her out.
And it’s here that the show finally picks up and becomes absolutely exciting. It leaves the rather bad soap opera elements behind in favor of what its main storyline is – Good vs. Evil, and what side will Christina choose? 107 “Unraveling” has Christina and Jesse trying their damnest to leave Point Pleasant, but as Boyd says, none of the major players can leave town. Tension rises as everyone begins to understand who they are, and what particular destinies are associated with them. No one’s life is as simple as it once was before Christian showed up – they now find themselves as part of this big chess game that’s about to hit its crescendo.
(Spoilers about the series finale follow!!!)
111 “Missing” begins the three-part finale that would have been an awesome starting point for season two. Throughout Point Pleasant, people are missing (hence the intricately complex title) and all signs lead to the church (bringing up Left Behind vibes for a while – perhaps the Rapture has commenced?). Jesse is recruited by a group of religious warriors saying that it’s his destiny to destroy The Beast – kill Christina. That when he died for seven hours and was brought back to life, it was for a purpose; it was only he that would attract Christina, only he that she could let her guard down, only he who for some reason grows stronger around her, and only he that has any chance to kill her and stop the Apocalypse before all Hell breaks loose.
112 “Mother’s Day” is the one that truly sets everything up, and definitely has one of the most awesome endings to a episode I’ve seen in a while (be mindful that it’s more of a dramatic conclusion than a twisty, shocking cliffhanger). Ben, feeling as though he’s doing the right thing, institutionizes Meg, which pretty much rips the family apart; Judy tells Christina off, bitter at her for all the problems she’s caused since her arrival and essentially saying, “You’re not part of this family.” Christina, heartbroken, leaves – all alone (her emotional state visualized by the death of all the plants in the surrounding area); but the sudden arrival of Ann, her mom, sparks hope.
Jesse, meanwhile, prepares himself mentally for the task at hand, ready to do what must be done to his lover. Boyd, rascal that he is, finds out the truth about Ann’s presence, and by using his persuasive abilities, Ann spills the beans which breaks Christina down more than anything: Ann’s not here to help her, but to kill her. As she venomously says to her daughter, “I begged to hold you, not to care for you, but to snap your neck.” Ouch, harsh.
This is the breaking point. Christina enters the Kramers home, mentally lost and honed in on what appears to be nothing but anger and vengeance, and using her telekinetic powers, shuts and seals every door and window in the house, barricading everyone inside. “It’s a family matter,” she spats, echoing Judy’s last words to Christina when she told her to get lost.
The series concludes with “Let the War Commence” (113), which delivers and yet disappoints ever so slightly. The only disappointment comes from the big ending of the previous episode is followed up with some rather uneventful stuff. Christina, in the midst of rage and betrayal, takes the Kramers hostage, and forces them to have a nice, family meal. It’s a interesting idea – one I didn’t think would happen (I thought all hell would break loose) – and is perfectly in-tuned with Christina’s character. My only problem is that this is the opportunity for Christina to say everything that needs to be said, the obvious stuff that Judy, Ben and Jesse had been too ignorant enough to see or stupid enough to ignore. Instead, she blinds Ben so he can finally listen to his family (smart move), but I would have liked more. Bring a little bit of venom into the mix, like Willow in her awesome season six finale when she went all dark and veiny.
But let’s examine the whole three-part series finale for a moment, and it’s probably for this reason why I love the show as much as I do. Christina’s turn is a result of circumstance and the choices of the people around her; it’s based on an emotional rollercoaster; everything and everyone that she clinged onto to keep her in balance either abandoned her or tried to kill her. Boyd’s constant monologues about humanities worthlessness is completely validated to Christina. When her own mother – her last hope – admits to wanting to kill her since the day she was born, all ties to this world was severed, and she was fueled by pain.
I don't blame Christina at all. Actually, I'd probably support her. The people around her have shown her zero reason whatsoever that they should keep on living, that humanity's worth saving. No one. Zero. Zilch-o.

The real kicker of irony is that the residents of Point Pleasant basically made it happen; it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they hadn’t done a thing to stop it, if none of Christina’s secrets made it out in the open (or at the very least were respected by the Kramers), then quite frankly nothing would have happened. Boyd couldn’t have forced Christina to turn bad, so that argument is null; it could be said that Christina would turn no matter what because it’s her nature, but I disagree: although I think she would occasionally slip and a bit of her demony side would rear its ugly head, I wager she’d be battling her demons ‘till the very end. This religious group’s so-called proactive extermination of the Antichrist (which might piss off a few folks, because isn’t the Antichrist supposed to not only be male but from a foreign country?) resulted in the thing they tried their damnest to stop.

And what exactly happened with the knife? At one point, Meg said “God had nothing to do with them,” (referring to the people who recruited Jesse) and I thought for a fleeting moment perhaps these religious zealots were worshipers of another flock of demons who want to overthrow Satan. That would have been a nifty idea, but in the end, not so much. But this actually refers to another nice touch on the writer's part: a Oracle of sorts reveals himself to Jesse before he goes out to do the Terrible Deed, and reminds him of a worldly known virtue from the Holy Bible. It creates some nice dramatic tension, and what Jesse decides to do with this, er, 'revelation' sorta sucks and it's really his fault that the show ends the way it does.
As I might have mentioned before, the series concludes in such a way that it's a sorta cliffhanger but final enough to be satisfactory. I would have enjoyed a second season, no doubt (especially reading Noxon's short remark on Scifi411), but with what we're given here (a glimpse of the awesomeness that could have been), I'm pleased. The main overall story arc of season one wrapped up nicely. It leaves you with questions, it leaves you with answers, and it leaves you with adrenaline (you can't help it - it's the battle for humanity, man!) Though, I wouldn't have minded if Christina killed Judy after her final remark.. I mean, Judy had no right to say that; a large portion of fault concerning Christina's turn rests on her shoulders, but her being the self-centered bitch she is, she probably doesn't realize.

(End series finale spoilers)
Obviously, the show has its problems. One such problem story-wise that I had was the Kramers’ willingness to adopt Christina almost within 48 hours of knowing the girl. Granted, it can be argued that Christina had a powerful influence on her decision, as unaware of it as she was; or that it was Ben’s wish to make his family right again after Isabelle’s death that he was so receptive to the notion. I understand for story purposes that it was necessary, but the fact that everything was put together within a single episode is a little far-fetched, and I would have appreciated a tad more depth to accompany the situation. It’s a little distracting, but not enough to ruin overall enjoyment. I also despised the use of the number “666”; I’ve never been more ticked off of its involvement in a show since Digimon used the number as the time when Myotisman turned into a hulking Godzilla beast. Of course, the number applies more here to Point Pleasant than Digimon, and it’s etched in Satanic mythology, but I feel that’s one element that could have been excluded. Again, these are all simple nitpicks, and can easily be overlooked because the good outweighs the bad.
As the lead character and daughter of Satan, Elisabeth Harnois (One Tree Hill) has a lot resting on her shoulders. Luckily, for the most part, she’s able to pull it off effectively. Harnois can balance the darkness inside her as well as her sweet, innocent, sometimes clueless side well enough to adequately depict Christina’s transformation throughout the series. The first batch of episodes is perfect for Harnois to show off her beauty and innocence, as she’s pretty much bikini-clad and has fallen deeply in love with her savior of a man. But once strange accidents happen around her whenever she’s feeling a tad, er, angry – she easily slips into dazed & confusedville. Though, sometimes it’s simply laughable when she squints her eyes to give the audience the cue that something bad’s going to happen; it reminds me of the early days of Charmed. As she turns from the sweet child of blissful ignorance and begins to understand who she is and what she can do, what that means, and the danger that surrounds her – it’s quite awesome and convincingly pulled off by this relatively unknown actress.
To say that Grant Show steals the…uhum, show is an understatement. There’s such a diabolical glee to his performance that one can’t help but fall in love with this guy. I’ve never seen Show in any other program, but I will quite actively pursue his other works, now – ‘cuz, the guy is simply that damn good. He plays evil mastermind perfectly, and on top of that, he has one helluva warped sense of humor that appeals to you. Grant’s Mr. Boyd tells you how it is, no bullshit, and it’s admirable. Plus he has that whole charismatic presence thing about him. The first few episodes, Show is given free rein to be as bastardy as possible – maybe even out bastarding John Glover’s Lionel Luthor on Smallville. But then, as the plot thickens, we get to see his darker, calculating side, his eviler half – cold and careless as ice. And boy does he scare the shit out of me; I wouldn’t want to cross this guy, let alone make him pissed. The great thing about this character is that he is also given a sorta back story of his own, as a little bit about his past and the woman he loved is revealed, which equals in importance to the current situation at the present. Simply put, if for no other reason, Grant Show is the reason to watch Point Pleasant. There’s just something so…delightful about his earnest, fun performance that makes working for Hell seem nifty.
The remainder of the cast do their jobs just fine. Aubrey Dollar as Judy is beautiful and a rather fine actress, and it's unfortuante she's given such dodgy material to work with. By that I mean crappy dialog and illogical choices. Adam Bush (Warren from Buffy seasons 5 & 6) guest stars in four or five episodes as Mr. Boyd's assistant, and for the most part, he's doesn't have much to do other than stand around and give Boyd puppy-eyes. Homoerotic innuendos, anyone? Dina Meyer (SAW IV) doesn't bring anything new to the table as the Julie Cooper character of Point Pleasant, while her daughter Paula played by Cameron Richardson (Open Water 2) reminds me of Anna Faris in that I can't stop concentrating on her lips instead of what she's saying. Richard Burgi (24) plays Ben Kramer, but looks more like a guy recovering from steroid abuse. I would compare his acting ability to John Cena. Samuel Page (Jesse) is little more than the hunky lifeguard, every once and a while infusing his character with a sufficent amount of emotion to make us care. Luckily for Page, his character has a interesting enough story that we'll stick through watching this guy.
The show has its moments of fantastic writing and 'Holy crap, I can't believe sentences like this made it past FOX out of the cringe-worthy factor of 'em all'. It's apparent that Noxon has her hand in the scripts, since there's some brilliant Whedon-like humor. Such examples are Holly's (Mr. Boyd's dead/not dead girlfriend from some good decades ago) reaction to see the Antichrist: "Fluffy!", as well as Christina's reaction to getting stabbed: "I had such a crush on you" and subsequent response to a particular character's death: "I guess he lost his 'get out of death free' card." Really, it's funnier when you watch it. In another way the show's similar to The O.C. is that it has some pretty witty cultural references (not to the like of Adam Brody's awesome Seth Cohen, but a good amount nonetheless). Something that drags the show down a few pecks is how stereotypical the characters come across in the early episodes; a 10-year old with a two-month experience to television could anticipate the next sentence these overly-dramatic teenagers would say. But hey, it's a minor scribble when compared to the overall scheme of things, which is...
Good vs. Evil – a classic, resonating theme that’s been explored for centuries. What better way to pursue this timeless battle than through the choice of a single person? And how much sweet could it be that that person who makes the choice is none other than the daughter of Satan? We're constantly battling our demons within ourselves, and if anything, this show is a nice form of therapy.
As you can tell, I dug the show. I enjoyed what it was trying to accomplish and what type of story it told. Obviously, this holding religious implications and concepts that might offend some uber-devoted mates, this show isn't for anyone. If you love supernatural phenomenon or followed any of Marti Noxon's work, give the show a try. At the very least, you'll be entertained by the second disc. As far as the first disc is concerned, call up a few of your buddies, make some popcorn, and have a nice MS3K type riff on the soapy elements - it'll make everything more bearable. Check out Point Pleasant. Rent it before you buy it, though.

01 April 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

voiced by Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Keifer Sutherland, Stephen Colbert
written by Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
directed by Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon
Dreamworks, 2009, 94 mins., Rated PG

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

I love, love, love, love, LOVED this film! MONSTERS VS. ALIENS was virtually made for me. With all the geeky shout-out references to '50's sci-fi & giant monster movies to all the hilarious jokes that made me laugh a good sixty seconds after that jokes had ended and I missed the following two because of that - well, it's safe to say MONSTERS VS. ALIENS is currently my #1 favorite movie right now. And before we get into the deep, thorough review I know you're all looking for, I just gotta mention I wasn't able to dish out the big bucks for the 3-D experience, so it's strictly 2-D for me - but the great thing is, the film is still oh-so-beautiful to look at regardless, the 3-D, I imagine, is just nice frosting on the cake. If you want to know more about the flick, then read on, but my verdict I'll decree right now: go bloody see it!

The main jist of the flick is that Susan Murphy's (Witherspoon) near perfect life (just about to get married to a seemingly awesome weather anchor) obliterates when a asteroid lands ontop of her, and instead of squashing her to nothingness, she grows to gigantic proportions. The US military quickly seizes Susan and confines her to HQ, where she meets up with The Missing Link (Arnett), a underwater monster; B.O.B. (Rogen), a monster that looks like blue jello; and Dr. Cockroach Ph.D (Laurie), a mad scientist-turned-cockroach via bad experiment. However, once a giant robot alien thingy attacks San Francisco, the government asks for the monsters help, and in return, they can have their freedom. This is all fine and dandy, but there's also this whole big alien invasion thing they gotta defeat before they can do that...

Just offhand, these are some of the sci-fi references I caught and remembered from MONSTERS VS. ALIENS either by monster/alien design, dialogue, or situations: MOTHRA (1961), THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), REPTILICUS (1961), THE FLY (1986), GODZILLA AGAINST MOTHRA (1964), JAWS (1975), ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN (1958), CLOSE ENCOUTNERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), GOJIRA (1954), and THE BLOB (1958). Hell, they were even able to get the classic "Welheim" scream from STAR WARS (1977) in [and yes, I know that sound didn't originate in STAR WARS, it's just that's the most recognizably known flick it was used in]. I think half of my enjoyment of this movie was catching as many references as I could. Seriously, I could have a field-day just matching one reference to some old '50's sci-fi thing. Oh, the fun!

I haven't laughed this hard in a while. Not even the frakking brilliant I LOVE YOU, MAN had me trying to regain my composure. Unfortunately, my friend didn't find the flick as funny as me, but that seems to be a overwhelmingly held opinion from online reviewers. Oh well, I dug it; I also dug 2006's Pink Panther, and it seems no one else did, so I'm a oddity. There's sooo many things that had me cracking up for a long bloody time: B.O.B getting ahold of a gun, looking at it in awe, "Hey, check this out!" and shoots a alien; B.O.B laughing hysterically whilst thrown into the air; the INCONVEINENT TRUTH joke; hell, there's even some adult-oriented jokes that are subvert enough that kid's won't get it, but the teen/adult demograph are gonna blow up laughing.

Sure, perhaps MVA could have benefited from a better script, but it's only real downfall for me is that it didn't fully deliver on its title: I wanted to see some monsters fighting some aliens and wrecking some ginormous destruction! But instead, we're limited to one sequence which, although not entirely fulfilling, is sufficient enough to tide me over. As far as 'getting' the characters, I had no problamos. So, in a nutshell, the script's fine enough. Not perfect, which is surprising considering that it seems like a gazillion people worked on it, but it works.

Voice-wise, this ensemble cast was perfect. Witherspoon was just fine as Susan, though I wouldn't have minded if she put a bit more emotion into her character; Keifer Sutherland owned the movie as General W. R. Monger, spitting orders and taking names; and then there's The Revelation: Seth Rogen was finally not a obnoxious dick who ruined the movie-going enjoyment factor. In fact, Rogen is the second best thing about this movie (the first, of course, being the fact that's it's about freakin' monsters fighting aliens!!!!!! On a grand-scale level!!!! My childhood dreams coming true...but sorta not....didn't imagine it being a kiddy DreamWorks movie...) Rainn Wilson (TV: THE OFFICE) and Stephen Colbert (TV: THE COLBERT REPORT) always stole the screen as the manipulative evil alien dude Gallaxhar and The President, respectively. This President was 'da bomb, and Gallaxhar is perhaps the best alien villain ever put to screen.

Visually speaking, the flick's a spectacle. The cityscape of San Francisco is beautiful, as is its subsequent destruction by Giant Robot and Susan. Aside from amazing and highly entertaining to watch, the entire scene is awe-inspiringly rendered with the mass amount of debris flying all over the place, and the havoc wrecked on the streets and cars. The level of detail - and at times, realism - is staggering. If a viewer is consumed with negative comments towards this film, one irrefutable aspect that they can't touch is that MVA is as visually stunning as you can get. Yes, I'm even counting the earth scenes from WALL-E. As another example of the level of detail, I present to you Insectosaurus, whose furry skin is so richly rendered in detail and motion; hell, I felt this beast was more three-dimensional and alive than Yoda in EPISODEs II & III. I could very well go on and on praising the movie on how perfect and beautiful it looks. Granted, I'm not about to give this film a trophy just yet for its technical skills, but it's some pretty damn tough competition.

Simply put, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS was awesome, and seriously one hell of a enjoyable experience. Take your kids to see it, see it yourself (there's plenty of things to make adult audience members get into it on their own), but I urge you not to wait for DVD; this flick was made for the big screen. It's better than KUNG FU PANDA and nearly as perfect as WALL-E, and I can't think of any other recent animated films as good as those to compare this gem to. Suffice it to say, I'll be in line opening day for MONSTERS VS. ALIENS 2!