30 April 2010

The Descent: Part 2

The Descent: Part 2
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Douglas Hodge, Krysten Cummings, Gavan O'Herliby, Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellern
Written by James Watkins, J. Blakeson, James McCarthy
Directed by Jon Harris
Release: 2 December 2009, 27 April 2010 (U.S. DVD)

Pathe, 94 mins., Rated R

Plot: Sarah is forced down into the caves once again to meet her deadly enemy.

It was just a few short months ago when I first took a viewing with The Descent, after years and years of people giving it nothing but major kudos. Heck, even my local newspaper movie critic liked the flick, and he hardly likes anything that isn't some cheap, artistic independent production. So, saw the movie, and ended up buying it the next day. Obviously, much love from me as well, though it mostly has to do with the final 20 minutes, which absolutely is one of the most ballsy, awesome last 20 minutes put to film in a while. Thank the Lords, a local Redbox decided to grace the community with the newly-released in American Descent: Part 2, and I quickly snatched that beauty up.

Well, now that I saw it, what's the verdict? The good news: it's not utter crap, as I was expecting. On the contrary, it's a worthy follow-up to a rather brilliant film, complete with a decent cast, a alright story, and (most importantly) plenty of tense, freaky sequences to keep you 'on the edge of your seat.' Oh, and it also features another controversial ending, which I'll get to a few paragraphs down.

Part 2 is directed by Jon Harris, the editor of the original (and Kick-Ass!), and he is remarkably faithful to the visual style established by Marshall. Harris has a knack for framing, although sometimes the camera's placed in such a way, a jump or scare is painfully obvious (but nevertheless still effective). He makes good use of wide shots, close-ups, and using the darkness of the cave to his advantage, something Marshall excelled at. The cinematography is perhaps one of the key things I just a film by, and I can safely say that Harris did a exceedingly awesome job.

The script is a little less than brilliant, but is nevertheless fine enough. I myself was a fan of the Director's Cut of the original, and I really wanted to see how Sarah breaks out of the cave, although I wager fans only having seen the theatrical would be scratching their heads in confusion ('didn't she get out already?'). I also wanted a little bit more characterization, not just for the newbies onboard, but also for Sarah. A large amount of information on Sarah's psychology during the sequel I got from the behind-the-scenes feature, which discusses how the original was her 'descent' and the sequel more or less her 'ascent' (overcoming her inner turmoils and demons), as well as it being a redemptive piece for her. Perhaps it was Macdonald or her lack of dialogue, but I don't really feel that goal of the writers was effectively conveyed.

However, with this small shortcoming, there is nevertheless some awesome stuff. Notably, there's a beautiful scene halfway through where the search party comes across the videotape that was filming during the original, and it nicely adds a huge amount of chill-factor during the entire sequence. It's a nice way to callback to the original without going to a flashback or having Sarah give a long monologue (although she does comment about her and Juno's friendship a bit much). There's plenty of other great material, but I don't really want to spoil anything.

Oh, and one last little nitpik: the rescue party, the Sheriff and his deputy all seemed very one-dimensional, at least not intricate or real enough to invest any emotion into a character's death scene. I understand the movie is strictly Sarah's tale, but a little more emphasis on these blokes would have been appreciated. As it stands, it was more or less like this: 'that's the guy that fancies her but she doesn't fancy him', 'that's the hot chick in blue', 'that's the Sylvester Stallone character', and 'that's the grumpy arrogant Sheriff.'

I hope I don't sound like I'm bitching - I quite like the movie, it's just there are some noticeable errors. But let's put that aside for now: David Julyan's awesome music returns, complete with established themes and brand spankin' new ones! Julyan's work was highly instrumental in the power of the original's closing minutes, and it's quite nice to have David onboard again. Oh, and the Crawlers were just as cool as the first. They weren't as menacing and threatening as before, however, but they were nevertheless imposing. And for all those blood and gore junkies out there - Part 2 packs more than a fair share, so you'll be quite satisfied; especially with a hand-chomping-off sequence near the end.

Alright, spoiler alert concerning the finale, and I implore all to stop reading after the following sentence: in a nutshell, the finale is a fitting resolution of the storyline from the first, and nicely parallels the first film's ending shots, so in that regard I like it. The part I don't like (here comes the spoilers) follows about 20 seconds after Rios escapes: she is hit in the head by the old man in the beginning with a shovel, and is dragged back to the cave opening to become a hungry snack. This is seriously one of the few endings to any movie where I literally scratched my head, wondering WTF? It's almost as left-handed as Detective Hoffman's revelation in Saw IV. This old man knows about the Crawlers and helps them? Is he their baby dady? Their Secret Keeper? A out-of-left-field twist that was entirely unnecessary, and I quite dislike with a passion. What I don't mind, though, is everything that came before it. Although it's unfortunate and a little sad that Sarah didn't make it out alive (although her self-sacrificing moment was pretty cool, with the exception of the freaky possessed eyes she had when she started her Xena-esque scream), I nevertheless appreciate the ending and how it parallels the first movie. So, it's a 50/50 thing. Just coulda done without those final 20 seconds.

All in all, The Descent: Part 2 is quite good, and I definitely recommend. The characters aren't as rich as the previous installment, but in all honesty, I rented Part 2 to see Sarah and watch her story unfold - the side characters are exactly that: side characters. The directing, the score, the scares - they do justice to the original, and I commend them for that. Now with news on a Descent: Part 3, though, that one's gonna be a little harder to swallow. Anywho, rent it, watch it, The Descent: Part 2 is recommended. And the flick has officially veered me clear from any cave exploring and befriending old men who (obviously) have ulterior motives.

28 April 2010

Doctor Who - The Beast Below

Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Andrew Gunn

(S05E02) After such a strong, strong opening to the new series, "The Beast Below" is sort of a disappointment. Although the performances, the writing, the score, the pacing was all top notch as expected, I wasn't all too invested in the story. The Smilers, the sad children, the question of what the 'beast below' exactly was, none of it was all around interesting. Even though the episode itself wasn't all-together exciting, it was a very nice vehicle for Matt Smith to continue to delight and show off his utter awesomeness in the role.

Picking up a short while after the opening, The Doctor whisks Amy away to space, basically showing off the coolness of being a intergalactic time traveler. But lo and behold, he's stationed his TARDIS right ontop of Starship UK, and they decide to fancy a visit. Quickly, The Doctor becomes concerned, noticing something not quite right. A bunch of stuff happens. The Doctor saves the day.

You can tell my enthusiasm with the storyline. I've watched the episode about three times now, and it's definitely not the story that had me during its normal running time (2009's Specials and the previous episode's running times were longer than normal), but the fantastic performances by everyone around.

First, Karen Gillan is simply beautiful. Not only is she really, extremely gorgeous as a person, but Amy's personality is fantastic. She reminds me of a more playful, intelligent Martha Jones. And I'm not saying that as a diss to Martha - she was, by far, my favorite of the new series Companions due to her intelligence and ability to basically be on the same level as The Doctor. Now we have Amy, who has 100% gained her place as favorite Companion. Her awesomeness only doubles and tripples with following episodes. And can I say just how awesome of a moment it was for Amy when she stood up to The Doctor and made her choice near the end? She basically pulled off a Doctor move - not entirely 100% sure on something, but made a educated guess that payed off. And I love her for sticking to her guns and sorta debating him on the issue when he got aggravated. Karen, I love you.

Smith is still owning as The Doctor. I love his little eccentric ticks, such as his randomly taking a glass and examining the water ("escaped fish"), his weird hand movements which seem to be mirroring Jack Sparrow at points, and even his walking style displays a aura of oddness but also power. And, for some reason, I always enjoy when The Doctor gets pissed (which David Tennant was a master of), so it was quite nice to watch The Doctor disgusted with humans and go on a rant about 'em. I enjoy the darker side of characters, and to have this powerful individual have a dark side (perfectly shown in "The Family of Blood") creates even more beautiful complexities that are highly interesting. So what do we got with this Doctor? A bloke with some great one-liners, plenty of little oddities, enthusiasm and constant wonder, and still looks, acts, and feels like the most powerful, brilliant man in the room. Damn good Doctor.

The highlight of Moffat's script are the many, many brilliant lines given to basically every character. The Doctor has more than his fair share of bloody hilarious oners, such as "Alright, this isn't going to be big on dignity" right before he's coughed up by the Starwhale. There's plenty of others I haven't committed to memory, but it's quite nice to have a episode-by-episode basis of brilliant lines that are easily quotable. Writing-wise, Series 5 is definitely very, very good. Not yet sold on the storyline yet. The main over-arching villain seems to be whatever creature that is causing these cracks in time and space, and something about "Silence is coming", as indicated by the Atraxi.

So, all in all, "The Beast Below" is a serviceable episode and excels in regards to being a nice platform for Karen and Matt to show off their utter awesomeness together. Next up, the Daleks!

Little Notes:
  • When Amy asks The Doctor if he ever ran away from something, and he responds "Once." She continues: "What happened?" The Doctor simply says, "Hello." Is Moffat referring to The Doctor's storyline beginning with The Waters of Mars, with him abandoning the rules of a Time Lord and just having bonkers fun? Perhaps he means the Time War? Or is he referring to something from the older mythology? I'm gonna feel dumb if the answer is right-in-my-face-duh.
  • It's really cool to have a end of a episode lead into the following episode ("Victory of the Daleks"). I wish that could happen more often, although I know that would make Doctor Who fiction writers none too happy (so they can't mess with timelines).
  • Is the Starwhale the same creature from the season 2 episode of Torchwood, "Meat"?
  • Liz 10 references The Doctor's many encounters with England royalty - being Knighted and exiled on the same day ("Tooth and Claw"), as well as his problem with Elizabeth I ("The Shakespeare Code"), where she alludes in better detail to what Doctor 10 did to piss her off so royally (as dialogued in "The End of Time, Part One").

24 April 2010

EDITORIAL - Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery Haul

Movie Gallery's and Hollywood Video's are closing up shop all around me, it seems. The Movie Gallery right next to my college just sold its last DVD a month ago, and now the Hollywood Video right across from Har Mar Mall in Roseville has only four weeks left. Suffice it to say, I've been picking up DVDs left and right. It's absolutely fantastic to be able to pick up some OOP (Out-of-Print) flicks for a affordable price, as well as picking up titles you weren't exactly willing to splurge on, but for $3.99, one kinda can't say no to it.

[Well, in one particular case: when I definitely, 100% want 2-Disc editions of some titles, like Green Lantern: First Flight and Hulk vs., which they had, but I decided against picking them up in favor for 2-Discers or a Blu-Ray purchase later on; cheap price, be damned]

Anyway, I'm sure this harrowing commentary is undoubtedly enticing, but you probably want to get to the haul. Sadly, with my major small paychecks as of late, I wasn't able to go all out. Perhaps as Hollywood Video begins their major, major price reductions, I'll do any post with new acquisitions. So, without further ado, here's the list:

Pyrokenesis -- Directed by Shusuke Kaneko (Death Note, Gamera 3: Revenge of Irys), Pyrokenesis (aka Crossfire) has been in my possession for years VHS-wise. Crummy video quality, even worse audio distortions, and rather unreadable subtitles made this OOP DVD a immediate pick-up. Haven't thrown it in yet, but having been released by the always-accommodating Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters, I have faith this will be quite a nice presentation.

Clerks: The Animated Series -- Have yet to hear a bad thing about it, but finally by picking this up I now have all Kevin Smith DVDs available. At least, as far as I know. Gotta admit, kinda excited to watch it. If the episodes suck, there is, at least, audio commentaries for all of 'em, and Smith is always the best voice around for those bonuses.

Loch Ness Terror -- This is a pure guilty pleasure. One of the first Netflix titles I ever Netflixed, not only does it hold a special place in my heart in that regard, but also 'cuz I love films about the Loch Ness monster. This little beastie flick boasts some pretty decent SPFX, and just the right amount of bad acting. The real beauty of it is that it embraces its own campiness, and ends up with a highly entertaining movie that's a lot of fun.

Fay Grim -- Parker Posey is hot. This looked good. $1.00 purchase. Why not?

The Brother's Bloom -- Rachel Weiz is hot. This looked alright. $1.00 purchase. Why not? Could always sell it at my store and get a couple bucks off it.

24: Redemption -- A very nice precursor to Day 7, Redemption sees Jack Bauer (Sutherland) in Africa where he kicks some bad guy ass after they threaten a day care village thingy. Er, it's been awhile since I saw it, so the details are sketchy. Point is: 2 hour movie (in real time) with Jack beating up bad guys. And for $3.99 instead of the grossly outrageous $34.99 price tag Best Buy's offering for the same product, it was a must-buy.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance -- Not my favorite of the Vengeance Trilogy, I nonetheless thought the last 50 minutes was worth the $2.98 spent.

Mercury Man -- Don't have a single clue as to what this little gem is, but the cover had been keeping my gaze at work whenever I walk around the Action/Adventure section, so for a buck, what's the worse that could happen? I become oh-so-much-dumber, that's a possibility; but it could also be a little known flick that definitely should get some recognition. Now I just need the drive to put it on.

Lost: Season 3, Discs 1-7 -- A entire season for less than $10 (it was the final weekend at Movie Gallery; 10 for $10 was the sale), I had watched the entire first season with much interest, so why not? I could always sell back at Half Price Books - they take nearly anything.

Lost: Season 2, Discs 1 & 2 --Like I said above, watched the first season, became quite invested, and decided to pick up these two (basically the only discs there). And the other episodes I could just watch on Netflix Watch It Now! So all is right in the world.

Bang Bang, You're Dead -- Based on Nick's recommendation, watched it, loved it, owned it. All for a dollar. And the beautiful thing is I paid that much for a OOP title. Yay was me.

Sleepaway Camp -- $1.00 horror. There's gotta be something to like about it, right? I mean, it DID spawn three sequels!

Children of Dune -- Much loved the original Dune mini-series, hopefully Children will be just as good if not better.

KVC: Komodo vs. Cobra -- I swear I don't expect anything from it. Just thought it might be fun.

Night Watch -- This was a cool movie.

Sukiyaki Western Django -- This was a weird movie.

The Forsaken -- Good memories, horrible flick upon revising it. Almost begs inspiring writers/directors to crap out a better movie.

Primeval -- Awesome Creature Feature with Dominic Purcell!!!

Although the prospect of picking up all these flicks for cheap, cheap prices, it's nonetheless rather sad to think that these rather major parts of my childhood are closing shop, probably to be replaced by some bloody coffee or jewelry store. The Movie Gallery was the place I'd always roam around when mom took two freakin' hours at the grocery store, and the Roseville Hollywood Video was constantly the to-go store when I lived in that area a few years back.

The other big sad aspect of this whole thing is that I don't particularly like Blockbuster, and after these guys go, they're gonna be the only people left (well, for now). It's not just their company that I heavily dislike, it's their casing for the DVDs; they just feel and look wrong. Movie Gallery's and Hollywood Video's maintained the typical keepcase without their own little signature zing-za to it.

Anyway, check out your nearest video rental store - you just might get lucky!

21 April 2010

EDITORIAL - 10 Movie Facts About Me

10 Movie Facts About Mesa

I wasn't tagged as far as I know, but a meme is a meme, and I'm a sucker for (most of) 'em, so what the heck, here's my results:

01. My first theatrical experience was at the age of 3 seeing and subsequently falling in love with Aladdin. The musical numbers were fun, but it was the near-death by drowning sequence around the middle when Aladdin is thrown over the castle into the water and any exterior shots of the sand creature's mouth (which leads to treasure) that got me giddy.

02. As a wee lad, I was obsessed with The Jazz Singer - the Neil Diamond edition.

03. There's plenty of "classics" that I just don't care for, such as The Godfather and Scarface. 2001: A Space Odyssey just looks boring and unless I'm forced to sit through it in class, the probability of me watching it out of my own free will is extremely, extremely slim. To this point, only Seven Samurai and The Godfather Part II (bits and pieces) really live up to all the classical hype and accolades people attribute to them. At a critical level, it's almost like folks are trying to find deep, philosophical, brilliant meaning in some flicks that, in all probability, there wasn't one to begin with. In regards to Seven Samurai, I will concede that a phenomenal amount of planning and detail went into every shot, but the entertainment re-watch value is rather lacking. Er, crap, this has turned into a opinion piece instead of a fact meme. Moving on...

04. Back in '97, at the age of 7, when the Star Wars Special Editions were released in theaters, I absolutely hated them. I was bored to death, especially with The Empire Strikes Back. I confess I don't recall my displeasure vividly, but I do remember seeing the Yoda/Luke Dagobah stuff on the big screen. Even at 7 that stuff made a impression.

05. My favorite movies of all time: Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Bourne Supremacy, Batman Begins, Hot Fuzz, The Dark Knight, The Chronicles of Riddick, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Serenity, and Digimon: The Movie...

06. My all-time record for repeated theatrical viewings: Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith with 7 screenings. 3 times at the Marcus Oakdale UltraScreen, once at the Plaza Maplewood, some other random times, and the final time being a nice coincidental screening when my mum and grandma were gonna roam around Slumberland for a few hours. Good times, good times.

07. Dr. Pepper, popcorn (no butter), and a King Size Kit Kat or Crunch bar are my normal treats for a flick.

08. I absolutely hate having to use to the bathroom during a movie, so I'll do my damnest to hold it until the very last second. Unless it's a really crappy movie, or I'm not particularly interested in it (although I nonetheless feel a tad guilty).

09. The first DVD I ever owned was Jurrassic Park III, which I still own. I can't seem to part with something so important to my movie history (although I have yet to still buy Aladdin).

10. When there's a flick coming out that I've been eagerly anticipating - take The Dark Knight, for instance - the first viewing is looking at the film from a critical standpoint: editing, score, cinematography, storyline, performances. The second viewing is the pleasure one, where I can just sit back and enjoy the ride, and anything I had problems with (or really liked) can be re-evalued to see if my opinion changes. Critical first, pleasure second.

17 April 2010

Red Cliff: Part One

Red Cliff, Part One
Cast: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi
Writer(s): John Woo, Chen Han, Shang Heyu
Director: John Woo
Release: 10 July 2008
China Film Group, 146 mins., Not Rated
Distributed by Magnola Pictures (U.S.), 2010 DVD release

Plot: Prime Minister Cao Cao rebels against the Empire; war ensues.

The discs for Red Cliff parts one and two arrived in my mailbox about three weeks ago, and it was only yesterday where I finally sat down to bite the pullet and give it a go. Honestly, I wasn't much looking forward to a Asian historical motion picture with a bunch of characters with bizarrely-sounding names. The primary reason for renting the discs in the first place was genuine curiosity and positive word-of-mouth. Despite the two and a half-hour running time for both parts, I figured by the time I finished the first bit, I would be hitting my head against my bookshelf in disbelief why I hadn't watched it sooner. Turns out I was right - Red Cliff exceeded my expectations, and was actually enthralling basically every minute of its long-ish running time. Even the political aspects of the film I didn't mind.

The first 10 minutes are dedicated to set-up, and the rest of the movie is all action. Well, not all, but a large chunk. I'd say overall there's a good 50 minutes of simply action, y'know, combined. But the film isn't all action. Gawd, no. It's a beautiful film following a cast of characters that never fail to intrigue. Amongst the very, very large cast of characters, I think particularly to the odd relationship between Grand Viceroy Zhou Yu and Chief Strategist Zhuge Liang. Enemies in any other situation, these two men are cunning, intelligent, and exude a aurora of power whenever they speak, or simply direct their eyes. Any sequence with these two characters/actors in is truly spectacular. A year or so from now when I look back on Red Cliff, it won't be the friggin' awesomely choreographed action scenes that I'll fondly remember - it'll be their relationship and the charismatic performances by the lead actors.

This reminds me of two sequences I wish to point out due to their splendidness: Zhuge Liang arrives to persuade Zhou Yu to go to war with him, and at night, Zhuge is invited to play musical with Zhou. What follows is a interesting three minute scene where Zhuge and Zhou size each other up, essentially, without a single word. Their musical rhythm reveals their inner soul, their inner desire. It's here that Zhou reveals his allegiance to fight; and Zhou mastery's of, well, it seems everything. The second sequence I'd like to point out is near the conclusion, where Zhou and Zhuge deliberate their plan of attack against a seemingly indestructible foe. Seriously, it makes Helm's Deep look easy by comparison. The wonderful camerawork as Zhou and Zhuge discuss, and by God, it's one of the most captivating strategy-discussing scenes I've ever saw, and it's just these two men talking outside, looking on yonder at their enemy.

Speaking of cinematography: directorially speaking, John Woo proves himself a master with the camera. The screen caps alone do not do the picture justice. There's a 120 second shot that I'm sure has made its rounds in discussion, but I again find it noteworthy: in the last 20 minutes, a gorgeous, seamless tracking shot of a pigeon flying from Red Cliff to across the water to the enemies camp is breath taking. The transfer of live action to digital and back to live photography is the most accomplished I have ever seen - even in the likes of Avatar and ILM productions. Beautiful aerial shots are in abundance throughout the picture, and never have I more yearned to go to China then after watching this. Even simple talking scenes have some sort of cinematic spark, whether it be a quick zoom or slowly panning from one character to another. The camera is the #1 star of Red Cliff, for sure, and I would recommend it to any professors of cinematography to use to their students to convey what one should aspire to.

Another aspect of Red Cliff that definitely deserves some praise - awesome fight/war sequences. Now be mindful, this isn't a Jackie Chan or Jet Li production where our actors fly off some commonplace objects and wows up with their agility; this is a truly fight to the death, every-punch-is-a-deadly-punch war. But that doesn't mean they don't get to show off some fancy moves. Indeed, there's some awesome fighting skills on display here. The simple awesomeness of watching a general engage in combat with his bare hands against a battalion of men with spears and swords - and end up victorious is nothing short of spectacular. Plus, the movie is quite bloody. And I don't mean horror film blood spraying all over the place, Kill Bill-y. There's buckets of blood, yes, but done in a more realistic-ish manner. So what do we got? A historical epic with war, awesome combat skills, a good chunk of blood, and some truly intriguing characters to pull this mega epic forward? Yeah, we got a winner!

Overall, Red Cliff: Part One is a masterful art of filmmaking. I myself would compare it to something like Akira Kurosawa's fantastic works, but I'm sure that would be somewhat close to blasphemous to some readers. Basically, it's a epic story that maintains its level of epicness, but is so personal, so character-bound, that the whole overall arc becomes secondary until a giant bloody war scene comes about, then you remember it again. (Wow, that was a bad sentence) Oh, and also, one aspect I forgot to mention was the score. Simply remarkable, ladies and gents, simply remarkable. If anyone's familiar with Bear McCreary's work, the bloke behind the gorgeous melodies of Battlestar Galactica (2004), there's a lot of similarities to the two pieces, and I quite think you'd enjoy it. Basically, I can't recommend Red Cliff: Part One enough. Now, please excuse me while I go pop in Part Two...

15 April 2010

Franchise Collection: Harry Potter

The true franchise of this generation, the Harry Potter films starts off its whopping two part conclusion this November with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.And since I've feeling a bit Harry Potter-y the last few days - revisiting Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire as such - I figured I might as well post a few thoughts about the franchise here, and that way, by the time the final two films come along, all eight of the movies will have been discussed (!!!). So, yippie in that regard. The biggest surprise that one of the movies I quite disliked actually ended up better than I remembered it, and another was just...bad.

Anyhow, the Potter franchise is nevertheless phenomenal. Although it's a tad sad to see the light at the end of the tunnel only to be replaced by glowing "vampires", I can't wait to see how it ends. To watch Harry and Voldemort circle each other, for the final moment when ---

Harry Potter and the Sorce
rer's Stone
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma
Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Ian Hart
screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves

directed by Chris Columbus
Release: 16 November 2001
Warner Brothers, 152 mins., Rated PG

Plot: 11-year old Harry is a wizard, finds himself famous for somehow being the cause of a Dark Lord's defeat, befriends some nerds, and confronts some baddies.

As a introduction to a world full of wonder and spectacle, Sorcerer's Stone is a crowning achievement. Kids will love it. Well, obviously. Written and directed to target the young crowd, the movie is a utter cheese fest of happiness and good will with a dose of darkness thrown into a mix. The cheese I speak, of course, is basically any moment with Harry victorious and his classmates falling in love with him. And I absolutely cringe during Ron's "he's gonna sacrifice himself!" moment. Oh, the overdone drama. And for its time, the digital effects were probably the top-of-the-line, but in retrospect, there's really some not-good work done (e.g., the giant troll, the Centaur).

Even with the cheese, I quite like it, nevertheless. A very faithful screenplay with great amounts of humor, a decent enough score by John Williams (Jaws), Hagrid, Qudditich, and the first inklings of Voldemort and a really cool finale - Sorcerer's Stone is good. But not great, definitely compared to the rest of the franchise.

Though even as a wee lad, I noticed a particular shortcoming - poor pacing. And rather poor, unenthusiastic directing by Chris Columbus (Home Alone), who nicely redeemed himself with Percy Jackson & the Olympians nine years later.

Harry Potter and t
he Chamber of Secrets
starring Daniel Radc
liffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Jason Isaacs, Kenneth Branagh
screenplay adapt
ation by Steve Kloves
directed by Chris Columbus
Release: 15 November 2002
Warner Bros., 161 mins., Rated PG

Plot: More baddies, more mysteries.

I think that if it wasn't for the uber-cool Basilisk and the Harry versus Malfoy duel sequence halfway through the film, I probably wouldn't dig
Chamber of Secrets all that much, either. Darker, in some areas, compared to the first film [note: me like darkness], it nonetheless has so many Disney lovey dovey feel-good moments, it's somewhat of a chore to sit through. However, this flick really begins to show the rising talent of its stars - well, with the exception of Rupert Grint, who isn't given anything other than comedy to work with until Goblet. But Radcliffe quite shines as Harry, and Emma Watson continues to perfectly embody the nerdy Hermione to a T.

But once again, the script is quite devout to the source material (to its detriment), there are scenes that felt tacked on and sorta ruined the momentum of the film (i.e., the Whomping Willow, Harry and Ron against Aragog), and then the disastrous digital work on the ever-annoying Dobby (I might be in the minority, but I was quite pleased with Dobby's fate in Deathly Hallows).

For a movie that features a angry willow tree, a flying car, a legion of giant spiders, a chamber located underneath a bathroom, foreshadowing to Half-Blood Prince & Deathly Hallows, a book that reveals secrets, and a freakin' giant Basilisk, Chamber of Secrets also suffers the same editing flaw of Sorcerer's Stone. By all rights, Chamber should be quite exciting, and the mystery absolutely engaging - but it is not. Oh well; at least there's some nice bits to keep one interested.

And finally, Richard Harris - we'll miss you. Honestly. Dumbeldore will never be the same again.

Harry Pot
ter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma
Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman
screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves
directed by Alfonso Cuarion
release: 04 June 2004

Warner Bros., 141 mins., Rated PG

Plot: Prisoner Sirius Black is no longer a prisoner and has his eyes set on Harry Potter.

The one installment of the franchise I watch more than any other, I guess I find myself absolutely floored by the absolutely beautiful cinematography gracing every shot. Azkaban is, without a doubt, the best looking of the franchise, with Cuarion's amazing eye of detail, placement, and childlike wonder infusing every second with pure and utter awesomeness. There's so many parts that I love: the sequence where Harry flies Buckbeak, and it's as if the audience is experiencing the same elated freedom Harry is, complimented by John Williams' gorgeous composition. Another fine part is during Qudditch when Harry is confronted by the Dementors, and the utter chills that overcome my body when the black object that whizzes past Harry reappears behind him and follows him in the clouds, revealing itself to be a Dementor. And I quite liked the scene with a angry Harry in Hogsmeade (spelling?), where he is enraged with the information he just heard about Sirius Black.

I also love the casting of David Thewlis (Dragonheart) as Remus Lupin, as he's a actor that I've enjoyed watching for years and years, and it's absolutely fantastic to have him in my favorite franchise. Ditto with Gary Oldman (Batman Begins) as the pivotal character of Sirius Black. Here, Oldman's allowed to ramp up the crazy, but the beauty of his performance is more profound in Order of the Phoenix, which is truly a majestic performance.

However, with everything I've read over at Nick's Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob (who is a really big Potter fan), I just might have to re-read Rowling's novel so I can properly put Azkaban the movie into perspective. As it stands, though, the movie is a pleasure to watch, and it's here that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint begin to shine as true actors. If I feel like popping into a Harry Potter flick, it's either Order of Prisoner for me.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson
screenplay adaptation by Steve Kloves

directed by Mike Newell
18 November 2005
Warner Bros., 157 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Harry gets selected as Champion in the Triwizard Tournament - much to the bitterness of Ron - and fights to stay alive, only it's one puzzle piece of a much larger picture.

I think a nice way to sum up
Goblet of Fire is distraction. I was distracted by everybody's terrible hairdos, and I mean everyone. I was distracted by Michael Gambon's disastrous portrayal of Dumbeldore, turning this gentle but powerful wizard into a aggressive, frustrated git. I became distracted, for the first time, with all the alterations made from book to screen. Distracted by David Tennant, who didn't destroy Voldemort with his sonic screwdriver or set the Daleks after him. Distracted by senseless, illogical things in the movie - namely the First and Final tasks. There are some great things in Goblet of Fire, but I can't help but feel they become overshadowed by its downfalls.

Now, about the First Task and Final Task. It's been a long time since I sat down to really read the book, but as far as I know, all the action between Harry and the Horntail happened in a particular area so the audience can see the entire event transpire. Don't get me wrong, it's super cool to watch Harry fly around on his Firebolt throughout Hogwarts and narrowly missing becoming dragon food, but that whole thing didn't flow for me. A worse offender was the Final Task, where, if I recall correctly, the maze was set-up in the Qudditch arena, where Professor and spectators can keep an eye on what's happening and give aid if necessary. In the film, the giant-ass field in so, er, giant that it would be impossible for anyone but Gwarp to see their sent up signals. It just doesn't make
sense, and it doesn't even look cool.

But Goblet is nonetheless a enjoyable movie, and boasts the utter awesomeness of Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody and Ralph Fiennes giving a freakin' WOW performance as Lord Voldemort. I've never really been able to "see" what Voldemort looks like, judging by Rowling's descriptions, so having Fiennes' as Voldemort is quite, quite helpful. Whereas there's some great actors in this flick, Emma Watson, however, wasn't at the top of her game (same thing, I fear, happened in Half-Blood Prince). Rupert Grint, meanwhile, gets the perfect balance of seriousness (jealousy) and jokes.

A expanded running time and a few more scenes dedicated to characters and more logical choices would help the movie quite a lot. I'm holding on hope that these new "Ultimate Editions" of the franchise include a good 20 or 30 minutes of extra footage to help pad out Goblet of Fire, and hopefully improve it. One final note: In regards to the Yule Ball, Harry, my pal, I feel your sufferings...

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter
screenplay adaptation by
Michael Goldenberg
directed by David Yates
Release: 11 July 2007
Warner Bros., 138 mins., Rated PG-13

: Voldemort has returned, and Harry finds out his scar has a special mental connection to the Dark Lord that ends up being quite detrimental.

The best and most cohesive of the series to date,
Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book and favorite of the movie franchise. There's no particular one person to attribute this great compliment to, as it seems basically everyone involved in this production did a absolutely superb job: the direction by newcomer David Yates, the spectacularly tight but yet energetic screenplay by Goldenberg, the riveting score by Hooper, bloody brilliant performances from every single cast member, and finely crafted editing that makes repeated watchings 100% endurable without checking ones watch. And keep in mind, that's saying a lot - Phoenix is one mammoth undertaking of a book, and to have it so effortlessly translated to screen - and splendidly, I might add - well, it's a shocker.

Director Yates shows off his spectacular talent - beautiful imagery abounds, particularly the climatic battle at the Ministry between Dumbeldore and Voldemort, the framing picking up the intensity of the combat splendidly (also attributed to excellent sound mixing). Editing is top notch, the best of any of the films. The movie flows with ease, never feeling sliced together from miscellaneous shot scenes (which some of the films suffer, regrettably). Composer Nicholas Hooper creates some fantastic cues, such as "Professor Umbrige" and "Fireworks", some of which make a return in
Half-Blood Prince. Daniel Radcliffe emotes some of the most powerful stuff he's ever done. There's a reason why I took a screencap of the sequence above. And of course, Michael Goldenberg (who is currently writing the screenplay for the Green Lantern live action film) did a exceptional job cramming a mammoth book into a two hour movie that fulfills many necessary key sequences and simultaneously has enough breathing room to just let Harry & Co. be themselves.

Basically, it's a strong movie where everything worked together to create something fabulous. Plus,
Order of the Phoenix boasts the best scenes and best performances to date. Sorry, Half-Blood Prince.

Potter Rankings:

Order of the Pheonix

Prisoner of Azkaban

Half-Blood Prince
Goblet of Fire

Chamber of Secrets

Sorcerer's Stone

13 April 2010

FD - The Land Unknown

Directed by Virgil W. Vogel
Screenplay by Laszlo Gorog
Based on a story by Charles Palmer

Special effects by Fred Knoth, Orien Ernest, Clifford Stine, Jack Kevan, Roswell Hoffman
Music by Hans Salter

Starring Jock Mahoney, Shirley Patterson, William Reynolds, Phil Harvey
Release August 1957
Universal Pictures, 78 mins.

The trailer's a perfect representation of a 'Andy Movie.' Cheesy glances of affection between the male protagonist and the female love interest who must be a reporter or scientist of some sort; a full on rubber suit Tyrannosaurus Rex with some of the most restricted movements in a suit I have ever seen; and a plesiosaur getting a mouthful of fire. All this against the backdrop of exciting taglines, like 'Beyond Anything You Have Ever Imagined!!!' and 'all the excitement of the ages!' Suffice it to say, The Land Unknown had a lot to live up to. I mean, I hold suitmation effects to a high standard, and if they didn't meet my requirements...

In 2006/2007y, Universal Home Video released a awesome two-volume set (which later became one big box set that contained both volumes) called The Classic
Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection. Plenty of lost 'gems' of the B/Z-grade sci-fi era were released, such as The Deadly Mantis, Tarantula, The Mole People, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Monolith Monsters, and more. The Land Unknown was lucky enough to be featured in this collection. It's also lucky that not only did it get a legitimate DVD release, it also looks fine...even after all these years. And by fine, I mean the video presentation looks superb. More on this down the line...

The movie opens innocently enough - a press conference in Washing
ton, D.C. is underway: a expedition to Antarctica is being mapped out. The goal is to explore information passed by previous expeditions - a hot area in the arctic. In attendance is Margaret 'Maggie' Hathaway (Patterson), who is also going to be a part of the mission. She meets Alan Roberts (Mahoney), and they immediately grow a liking to each other (sorta; they have one weird courtship, and their 'romantic' dialogue is truly awful. Bad to the extent I can't figure out if the dialogue from Episode III is better than this). Anyway, old newsreel is being shown to the audience; the men express their unease with a woman on board, and Hathaway makes some side comment about liking to travel with 800 men...

Thus the expedition commences. Everything goes smoothly until (of course) some big bad storm begins to brew, and the group - who are currently in a helicopter - a
re called back, but they get clipped by a pterodactyl and are forced to make an emergency landing. Well, the luck of the Irish must've been on their side, because not only do they land safely, but they land in a below-sea level warm, volcanic crater with inhabitants of the Mesozoic era. As in, dinosaurs such as that lovely pterodactyl that caused the whole mess. Roberts, Maggie, Jack, and Miller spend the time running away from really badly designed dinosaurs and arguing with each other where to go and what to do.

The blossoming romance between Al and Maggie is put on hold when Maggie is abducted by a strange, primitive man. Our team investigates, only to find that the abductor is Hunter, the legendary man whose previous exploration of the area inspired this expedition. Hunter is mad - he's spent years living amongst the dinosaurs, doing anything and everything he needs to in order to survive. Naturally, some sort of conflict arises between the two parties.

But luckily the they unite in the end to fight the forces of Evil and sav
e the day. Not really, but I was less interested in writing 'dinosaurs attack, there's running, then fighting, Hunter gets into the picture, helicopter works again, the day is saved.' Suffice it to say, all the characters get a undeserved happy ending, even the mucho wild Hunter. Although, I was sorta hoping their plane would just randomly start on fire and fall back down into the crater of dinosaurs - 'cuz that would be a great ending.

The special effects range from 'pretty neat' to 'really? ugh.' But on the bright side, the positives far outweigh the negatives. First let's get the complaints out of the way: although it may have to do with the limited budget, optical effects were disastrous. There were perhaps two really well done composites (primarily two shots with the T-Rex and our heroes running for their lives), but the rest was extremely dodgy. The worst offense is the ridiculous composition of the fixed helicopter against a moving backdrop; not a ounce of realism to be had. Another that stands out in my mind is when Maggie was face to face with one of those lizards masquerading as a dinosaur. She does her obligatory hands-raised-up-in-a-scream performance, and we cut to a wide shot with her glued into the bottom right corner, with every ounce of badness in the shot glaringly obvious.

But like I said, the composites were, in the majority, well d
one. They may not match the level of seamless meshing that Toho and SPFX supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya (Ultraman) were able to capture with their special effects films (e.g., Godzilla, Battle in Outer Space), but it gets the job done and sells the scenario without the god-awfulness of the composite taking you out of the experience. I am also a fan of the dinosaur designs, as well as the finished suit products. Before I go any further, I do concede that the T-Rex design is awful; and furthermore, the suit is so bad that it not only doesn't resemble any sort of idea of what the T-Rex is (let alone resemble the poster art), but is nearly impossible to maneuver for the suit actor (credited to Tim Smyth).

I am especially a fan of the (presumably) mechanical plesiosaur; its design is utterly menacing (further complimented by the equally menacing growl sound it's given; the T-Rex has a roar that reminded me of the underwater shot of a blown up Bruce the Shark in the original Jaws, which sorta makes a growling sound), and the way it glides through the water is quite
eerie. Unfortunately the pterodactyl only makes brief (as in mere seconds) appearances.

Set design is also something the filmmakers should be proud of. The ob
viously painted background is quite gorgeous, and the miniature environment compliments the painting splendidly. Although if this flick was shot in color, I'm not quite as sure it would hold up. Frankly, I find that a lot of The Land Unknown's charm comes from the beautiful CinemaScope presentation in black & white - it helps set up a eerie 'mood' of sorts.

Speaking of CinemaScope, Universal has done wonders with the print. Released in their 'Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Volume' pack, the movie looks beautiful. By no means am I comparing the presentation to a full-force Criterion restoration of, say, a Kurosawa movie, but for a meager 1950's sci-fi/dinosaur film....yeah, looks pretty phenomenal. So thank you Universal, and thank you Mr. Cinematographer or whoever chose to film this baby in beautiful TRUE widescreen.

One disappointing aspect I guess I should start preparing myself to experience is the use of lizards to play the part of ginormous dinosaurs locked in combat. From the looks of it, this technique has been replicated in multiple dinosaur movies (including a update on the Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth) as a cheap avenue to get thrilling monster sequences without paying for stop-motion animation (or dynamation).

In regards to the performances, they're about what you'd expect. Actually, I take that back - I went in with low, low expectations, but instead what I got was a group of actors who did their best with what they've been given. Now of course, the character with the most material to work with - and does so splendidly - is Henry Brandon (The Searchers) as the wild and enigmatic Hunter. A man frazzled by his experiences, and his need to learn how to adapt to his really sucky situation with dinosaurs and other beasties - Brandon brings the right amount of off-kilterness on
e would expect from a character like this, but also is human enough that his character is recognizable to the audience, and even invokes some sympathy. The other players don't have anywhere near exciting stuff to do, nor is there anything resembling character development; by the film's climax, the whole ordeal could have been glossed over and nothing would have changed in respect to these characters and the country's awareness to living freakin' dinosaurs.

I mean, c'mon, Toei's Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds put forth more effort than this...

All in all, glad I saw it. I'm a tad disappointed by the lack of anything 'amazing' in the film, but I admire the film for its cinematography and set design. Those were pretty damn nifty. The dinosaur designs were humorous enough to strike up a smile, and somehow...well, they work. It's unfortunate lizards were used as dinosaur stand ins, but with limited time and budget productions like these, I can forgive. Nothing noteworthy by any means, nor a cinematic abomination, The Land Unknown isn't exactly worth a recommendation, but for dinosaur movie aficionados, there's really no harm in checking it out.

12 April 2010

EDITORIAL - 24: Day 8, Part 2

"24": Day 8, Part 2

By the time the season's ended, there will probably be a Part 3. Back in February, I wrote about how much I disliked this season. I think it's been sloppy, boring, borderline ridiculous, and there are just so many elements that don't work this time. The biggest storyline I hated the most was, and I believe myself fair in assuming a large amount of audience members concur with me, the whole Dana Walsh/Jenny ordeal from the first half of episodes. Dumb. I also wrote that I didn't think the threat was big enough, that there was too much vagueness in the show and didn't really use its real-time set-up to the best of its abilities.

Since then, there's been some developments. And the bright side, is that they're mostly all good. Episode 17, "8:00 AM - 9:00 AM" just finished up a little over a hour ago, and I'm pleased to say I liked the episode quite a lot. The final moments really hit me in the gut, and I was pissed. I didn't want this character to die. I feared it. I sorta expected it (because there is no character in the 24-verse to have a happy ending. Period.), but I kept hoping it wouldn't happen. As we now know, the writer's went there, after delivering us the happiest Jack since, well, I think the first hour of Day 4.

Last week, with back-to-back episodes, "7:00 AM - 8:00 AM" ended with another death, and another shocker of an ending, and the look on Jack's face when he realized he failed his mission was beautiful. As a audience member caring for Jack all these years, my heart breaks, and I feel horrible for him. But I can't help but be stunned by Kiefer's amazing abilities as a actor. Same thing goes for tonight's final shots of a completely broken down Jack Bauer looking at the body of his deceased lover.

Before I go further, I'd like to comment on (SPOILERS)death of Renee Walker. As it's been said many, many times, to be a friend of Jack Bauer is akin to bringing death at your doorstep. Nearly everyone he has ever befriended, loved, or even walked around end up dead. This was just another casualty. It further shows Jack's really, really, really bad luck with women post-Teri: everything was going good with Audrey until he had to fake his death in Day 4, and Day 5 looked like a new beginning, but all that got blasted to bits thanks to the Chinese. And now this with Renee. Jack just can't catch a break, and I'm actually quite worried what this will do to Jack psychologically.

But, on the bright side, it brings for some intense, personal following episodes. The preview for next weeks (and perhaps the rest of the season?) shows Jack being a total badass, clearly revenge-driven (although he argues to President Taylor he seeks "justice") a la Day 5, and becoming a threat of sorts to disgraced ex-President Charles Logan (again). Perhaps the writers are concocting a story that ties up many of Bauer's bad days? Maybe Logan's up to something and Jack, on his mission to avenge Renee, uncovers the conspiracy that was hinted at in Day 7 with Logan involved and basically brings the house down. Or something gargantuan. At least this is my hope. If it's just Jack kicking ass and taking names, and the series has some sort of closure (which Howard Gordon has promised), than I'd be a happy camper.

Oh, right, about the closure comment. As of 26 March 2010, 24 has been officially canceled. I'm not quite sure what to feel about that at the moment. On one end of the spectrum, I'm OK with it. The writers had a little bit of time to craft the finale as a series finale, so maybe it will nicely serve as a series finale as well as opening the doors for the hopefully-soon-to-be-filmed movie. But on the other end, I'm sad. It's a series that I've loved for a long, long time. Years, man, years! I've endured every emotional turmoil right with Jack, watched him pulverize, kill, and torture bad guys, and I saw his character grow with each season. To have the May 24th episode(s) be his goodbye, it'll be difficult, but perhaps the time is right. After all, the season has been rather lackluster, but it's unfortunate coincidence this announcement comes right as the story begins to progress.

OK, moving on. Before ending this post, I just want to say a big thank-you to the showrunners and episode 17 writer David Fury for crafting a very fine 60 minutes. The plot brought intrigue and growth to the story, but at the same time allowed this sweet story between two lovers to blossom. Of course, that would be the big indicator that something bad was going to happen, but the opportunity for this episode to be moved all by characters and not ginormous life-dangering threats - well, it was just awesome. I like those episodes where you don't need the terrorist, all you need are the characters and their choices and emotions.

Day 8 is shaping to be something good, but it's inexcusable to make us endure the tired plots and subplots of the previous 15 hours (hour 16 was good) for us to get to the good stuff. But whatever, I'll still be watching until the end, and now I'm going to make it must-watch TV. For the first time in a long ass while, 24 was degraded to Fancast viewings...when I had time. Now, the show is heating up, the characters are becoming more interesting as is the plot, and it's the shows final episodes, support will be given. Plus, Chloe as the provisional head of CTU New York? How can that not be awesome?

10 April 2010

V - The First 6 Episodes

Developed by Scott Peters
Based on the 1983 series "V" created by Kenneth Johnson

Starring Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Logan Huffman, Laura Vandervoot, Morena Baccarin, Scott Wolf

ABC Studios, 42 mins., 12 episode first season

The very idea of a alien invasion story is immediately very enticing. Basically, you announce it, I'm gonna watch it. I love them, and I can't wait to see how the Powers That Be execute the concept. However, with the inception of an alien invasion story, you really gotta have a lot of plot. Your main plot, subplots, subplots under those subplots, and some truly rich and three-dimensional characters. In order to survive cancellation and boast some sort of longevity, a series about aliens really, super-duper need those two big things: 1) lots and lots of stories, and 2) really, really interesting characters. Otherwise, the show is screwed right from the get-go.

I'm not quite sure where the newly re-imagined V series fits yet.

There's definitely room for plenty to develop, and there are hints of strong characters, but I'm not sure if it's enough, and I'm quite worried that with the remaining six episodes they might not be able to pull off the extraordinary. By that, I mean present us with something so amazing, so intriguing I have no choice but to return the next week, or at least mourn its (probable) cancellation like I did for Invasion several years back. (Threshold, not so much; though, I do need to give it another try) As it stands, V boasts some impressive performances, and just enough hints of something pretty damn good to keep me channeling it.

"Pilot" (original airdate: 11/03/09) starts the show off with the goods: the arrival of the 29 Visitor ships at different locations around the world - New York, Egypt, China, Japan, France, etc., etc. And the beautiful face of Anna (Baccarin) announcing herself to the entire world, and their declarations of 'peace'. The big characters of the show are introduced: the blond FBI Agent (Erica), the doubting pastor (Jack), the suit man with mysterious phone calls (Ryan), the rebellious teenager (Tyler), and the ambitious newscaster (Chad). Immediately, the show hits the ground running, and for that, it's a very strong, very plot-driven pilot that nicely sets up the characters and conflicts. My only real disagreement with the episode was it's normal 40 minute running time - a pilot with this grand of scale quite required a longer episode.

With the arrival of the Visitors, the plot fast-forwards three weeks as the outer spaceians are becoming a integrated part of our culture. The citizens have formed two groups - those against the V's and those for the V's. The government and religious centers are trying to come to terms with what this means, politically and spiritually. Chad is given the opportunity to interview Anna, basically the head of all Visitor operations; Tyler becomes aroused by Visitor Lisa who equally is aroused by him; Erica doesn't know what to think about them yet, but remains nonetheless reserved; Father Jack doesn't know what to make of the situation, as far as a alien race existing in God's universe; and Ryan has a secret past that seems to be knocking at his door again.

Right off the bat, within this first episode, lines are being made: there's a Resistance forming - small, but getting organized; and there's a V Peace Ambassador Program created for humans to help the V's. I'm not entirely sure if introducing these elements immediately was the best course of action - if I was the showrunner, there would be more ambiguity in the first few episodes, with no clear right and wrongs. Instead, by episodes end, a twist with a major character is revealed, one of the mains know somethings up and begins a journey to bring the V's down, and a rather prolific guest star receives the short end of the stick. That's a lot of stuff crammed into a 42 minute episode.

The good news is that it works quite well. To its detriment, though, I think the writers brought up too many elements of the overall story too soon. If the entire series run is going to be about the Visitors and their ulterior motives, the show cannot last. I can see this storyline - the Resistance versus Anna - lasting through the season, but a full-blown series? It needs more. But, again, the positives: pretty good casting - I love Scott Wolf as Chad, Baccarin is amazing as Anna, Alan Tudyk kicked major ass, and Laura Vandervoot is beautiful; tight writing, epic score, and ripe with potential. A great pilot.

The following episodes, "There Is No Normal Anymore" (original airdate: 11/10/09), "A Bright New Day" (original airdate: 11/17/09), and "It's Only the Beginning" (original airdate: 11/24/09) aren't amazing by any means, and don't match the "Pilot" in execution, but are still fine additions to a overall mythology. Now that the introduction is over, it's necessary to dedicate episodes to building up intrigue, to be all set-up for the big stuff. The Half-Blood Prince of TV land to the finale's Deathly Hallows, if you will. "There Is No Normal Anymore" doesn't really progress the plot, doesn't really feature a lot of momentum. There's Tyler and his ever increased desire to become the best V Peace Ambassador he can be so Lisa (Vandervoot) can fall in love with him and make little alien spawns of their own....OK, maybe not the spawn part, but the part that makes the spawn part happen. Chad begins to grow a little bit of a backbone, and it's here that he starts to become a interesting and favorable character.

Ryan's storyline doesn't seem to go anywhere. After the revelation of his true species, Ryan spends the second and third episode trying to locate other on-earth Visitors who have left their race behind them. He seeks new recruits for the Fifth Column, the Resistance fighters who oppose the Visitors and know all their dirty little secrets. Erica continues her distrust, Father Jack continues his doubtiness, and Ryan's friend Georgie still hangs around trying to be central to the plot, but really isn't.

"A Bright New Day" shows potential, though. The Visitors are given passports, becoming citizens of the world; Lisa continues her affair with Tyler, but seems to have ulterior motives and her own little cool revelation near the end; and a assassination threat on the Visitors concludes in a semi-predictable but nonetheless enjoyable manner. Oh, and there's a subplot about a grieving widow blaming the Visitors for her husbands death, which leads to a really cool short scene where Anna tries multiple consoling lines.

What the episode achieves is a intriguing plot that nicely meshes the Vs and humans together, the creation of a new also intriguing element to the Lisa/Tyler relationship, and the further advancement of the Visitors in our everyday lives that does create a new sort of jeopardy to the situation. So, not a bad episode overall, just could do with stronger writing and a faster pace.

Due to weird scheduling, ABC placed V on a four month hiatus after "It's Only the Beginning" for the Winter Olympics. So, there was a lot riding on its fourth episode, which could possibly had been its last if ABC just wanted to cancel it right then and there and be done with it. The conclusion is that it falls into "Brand New Day" territory - good, but not living up to its fullest potential. Erica, Ryan, and Father Jake - who've banded together to form their own little Resistance - take out a central property of the Visitors, which just might have some repercussions down the line (if there's any sort of continuity). Tyler is the right candidate for something that Anna and Lisa have brewing, but they remain irritably ambiguous as to what his function is. Chad gets some bad news from the Visitors while doing a story for the station, and that raises some questions for not only Chad, but also the audience.

The episode ends with a twist: unexpectedly - because Visitors can't procreate with humans (supposedly) - Ryan finds out his fiance is pregnant. And yes, with his child; not some random dude from a bar. Even if there was doubt, it's confirmed in the next episode. I can't say I'm exceptionally psyched for this new development, but I'll watch it evolve with interest. I'm sorta getting a Connor/Jasmine vibe from the fourth season of Angel. If you don't get my meaning, shame on you. Remedy this immediately.

V returned two weeks ago with "Welcome to the War" (original airdate: 03/30/10), which really was a episode of set-up. Anna's getting increasingly agitated by the Fifth Column and the Resistance, and her right hand man, Marcus, pleads for more soldiers. Anna concurs, and by episodes end, she assists with that (in one of the creepiest sex scenes I've seen on TV; however, her reptilian teeth were pretty cool). Fifth Column member Joshua gets a lot to work with in this episode, as Anna's crack down on the Resistance nearly costs him his life, but instead her wrath falls on one of his most trusted friends, concluding in quite the sad scene as Joshua must kill him (per Anna's orders). In regards to Erica, Ryan, Jake, Georgie, Tyler, and Lisa - yeah, nothing new, nothing interesting.

Er, scratch that. They do enlist the aid of a mercenary, Kyle Hobbs (Charles Mesure), in "Pound of Flesh" (original airdate: 04/06/10) to bring down the Visitors. Apparently Hobbs is on the FBI's most wanted list, like one of the top names, and the Visitors planted something on him and Erica uses that as leverage to entice Hobbs into joining the team. Reluctantly, he sorta signs on. I don't quite understand the sudden "Holy shit! We need to take this guy out, like, yesterday fast!" attitude the Vs have about this guy, thinking he'll reign hell-fire upon them, but whatever - I'll go with it. Alright, so we got a terrorist dude who wants to kick some V ass - finally, maybe this Resistance we've had forming and forming and forming the last five episodes will start to do some real damage!

Meanwhile, Ryan's fiance is getting really, really hungry, and not in your typical 'I need Burger King, stat!' type of way. So, naturally, Ryan's concerned, and has concluded the only way to save her without killing her is retrieving a very special something something that is only located on V ships. That so fortuitously coincides with the Resistance's need to promote a message that will interrupt Anna's global-wide video feed, a message to call all Resistance fighter to arms. Ryan boards the New York Visitor ship, and displays a bit too much humanistic qualities to get himself caught. Luck is on his side, though, and meets up with Joshua and another Fifth Column member onboard the ship - hope is starting to emerge.

Erica brings Tyler to his father's (?) house (Nicholas Lea, Kyle XY) to stay away from the Vs, but Lisa will have none of that. Georgie boards the Visitor ship to 'save' Ryan, and ends up getting captured and tortured. At night, after Valerie (Ryan's fiance) drinks that super special stuff Ryan stole, we get a rather freaky shot of her stomach as the alien hybrid swiggles around with its tail quite visibly outlined.

So, six episodes in, what's the verdict? Will V survive as a series? If it gets canceled, would it have worked? Is it strong enough? Overall, the answer I'd give is no. Sorry if I seem like I'm repeating myself, but as it stands, there's not enough elements in the plot to keep this baby going. If the intent was the entire time to be a singular season show, akin to the original '83 miniseries, than fine, continue ahead. But if they're thinking up to a season three or even five, I'd be intrigued what they would cook up, but as of right now, there's nothing to hint at a ongoing storyline other than 'we need to fight the Vs.' The best thing this show has going for it are the actors.

Sci-fi TV vet Morena Baccarin of Firefly and Stargate: SG-1 fame is truly chilling and amazing as Visitor Head Honcho Anna. It's her cold, calculating performance and personality that truly keeps me coming back week after week. Another Visitor, Joshua, played by voice actor Mark Hildreth, is mesmerizing onscreen. His character is quite rich with possibilities - a traitor working amongst the Visitors, needing to keep his facade until the battle commences - and his performance mirrors those interesting facets perfectly. When I write this, I'm thinking about his awesome moments in episodes five and six, where he's confronted with a truly emotionally driven sequence, but needs to withhold any and all personal attachments as to not give himself away - including skinning a best friend (if 'friend' is the right word to use in context of the Vs).

Alan Tudyk (also from Firefly) is featured in three episodes, and he was phenomenal in every frame. I just wish and hope he returns to grace V with his typical charming menace. And finally, Scott Wolf (Everwood), who begins the series as a jackass news reporter but ends up with quite the dimension to his character. As in, he's just not a one-note trash-head. He's morally torn, and it's interesting to watch his character make his decisions, and see the results of them. His arc seems to be catching up steam in the next episodes, so I'm quite excited.

As for the other actors, including Lost love Elizabeth Mitchell - less crazy about, although Laura Vandervoot (Smallville) gives a serviceable and childlike performance to her Lisa character.

One final thing - I was surfing the net looking for some good V posters, and came across one with Anna and Erica's faces with a the word 'us' on the left, a big V in the middle, and 'them' on the right. Actually, this poster nicely epitomizes what the storyline is right now, at least in the grander sense. Erica and Tyler seem to be two important people to the Visitors, and Anna and Lisa are two important people to Erica and Tyler, respectively. What the poster illustrates, is that the show is about, first and foremost, family. The Visitors in their emotionless lives who function for maximum efficiency; Erica and Tyler, a broken family who will possibly become united or separated by Anna and Lisa - at least, that's how it's being set up. I could be looking way too much into it, but I thought the poster works. Anyhow...

If the writers can regain the momentum and tight writing of "Pilot", and cultivate a story with multiple avenues to pursue in future seasons, than V just might have a shot at being something special, something that becomes 'can't miss TV'. The trouble is that, according to the ratings, people aren't tuning in, and this very well might be as inevitably canceled as Dollhouse. I will say that I'm intrigued - the show is pretty, there's some great actors, interesting enough storylines, and I didn't watch six episodes to not see the conclusion of this Fifth Column storyline, so I'm sticking with V. I recommend you Fancast the episodes, give it awhile to warm up to you. Just make a small effort to get into it, and if you find yourself not digging the program, fine - not harm, no foul. But I'm personally tired of sci-fi shows getting canceled, and V looks like it just might turn into something grand, so let's show some support. At the very least, boys, you got Morena Baccarin to look at. And an alien invasion story to boot! I'd say those are some pretty strong persuading factors, myself...

Images from VisitorSite.net. And it was simply coincidence two of the three photos has Morena Baccarin in them.