30 May 2012



Directed by Peter Berg
Written by Jon & Erich Hoeber
Featuring Taylor Kistch, Liam Neeson, Rhianna, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Gregory D. Gadson. 131 mins., PG-13

Plot: When an alien invasion force threatens all of planet earth, only one battleship float betweens the salvation of mankind and its extermination – until the sequel, when it gets re-threatened.


The trailers, those wonderful trailers. There’s circumstances where a well-cut together trailer can make even the most boring of movies sound utterly engaging, like you have to see it this blood second. Right off the bat, I’m thinking off the Doubt. And then there are trailers of flicks that look so ridiculously bad and unappealing, that a project you were once marginally intrigued by has suddenly become one of those Avoid At All cost releases. That’s pretty much Battleship. Now, the premise of military versus aliens ain’t something new, but I liked this take of it – the war at sea, the Navy being the first and only line of defense before shit gets really real. Sounded interesting, but the trailers made it look freakishly bland (freakish, because it’s an action movie, and action flicks at least should come across a tad ‘woah’) and I was slowly beginning to have a aversion to star Taylor Kitsch, who sadly didn’t wow me all that much with John Carter months earlier. Long sad story short, I was wrong. Battleship is all kinds of fun. It’s not clever and surprising like Mr. Whedon’s Avengers, but damn if it isn’t entertaining as hell, and shoots through the screen as a confidant action flick fully giddy at its premise and explosions.

Making Something Out of Nothing

There’s character development in Battleship. Go figure. That, my friends, is something I was not expecting. Alex Hopper (Kitsch) is a troublemaker, a dude who likes to spring into action without a thought of the consequences or much less a plan. That makes him irresistible to the ladies, but a huge pain in the ass for his brother Stone (Skarsgard) who tries his best to clean up Alex’s messes. Finally, enough is enough, and Stone forces Alex to enlist in the Navy, and even that level of orders and ‘yes, sir’’s don’t seem to make a dent in his skull. Enter the alien war. Nearly no one else is bothered with much work on character, but that’s all fine and dandy, because the writers have their hands full with Alex. One thing leads to another, and he’s thrown into the chair of command, and it’s growing up time. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one of the reasons why I was quite impressed by this action film – because they bothered. Does the progression of Alex’s arc feel completely organic from start to finish? Not entirely, but they do a marvelous job at providing points for Alex to grow and mature, and for his new-found maturity and sense of purpose to shine, and that makes the scenes when horribly-rendered CG aliens aren’t crashing about watchable and, perhaps, much more interesting.

Another fun aspect of the Alex character and his arc is his continued rivalry with a Japanese captain, Nagata. The interaction between these two men are truly some of the film's highlights; they work off each other very well, both snarky and stubborn and pushed to their limits - if the flick was just Alex and Nagata firing off insults at each other and trying to run a ship, that'd possibly be one of the most entertaining movies of the summer. 

As far as the other characters, they are hardly worth mentioning. We have Rhianna of all people playing a strong but scared shipmate, and Brroklyn Decker as Alex’s girlfriend Samantha, who is forced into the narrative in a rather embarrassingly convoluted manner. Sam spends her time with a Army veteran Mick (Gadson), who involve themselves in the race to stop the aliens before they can screw the earth over even harder. Their scenes together – sigh – not the best, but they do rub in the tone of Battleship: the movie knows precisely what it is and what it’s aiming for, and doesn’t cater to anything else but that. Battleship is fun, and furthermore, Battleship is a movie. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and it doesn’t want the audience to, either. Take this humorous exchange: “We can still buy the earth one more day”, says Mick, ready to drive into a kamakazie mission to, well, give the earth one more day, while Mr. Stuttering Scientist Dude rightly comments, “Who talks like that?” The Transformers movies take themselves seriously while having a good time – Battleship is the less straight-faced version of that franchise.

Sunk Your Battleship, Motherfrakker!

For this type of movie, what matters most to the general audience is one thing: being blown away by the action scenes. And holy frak, director Peter Berg delivers. When the aliens first pop their mechanical hides out of the water and engage the ships, that is some real devastation they bring (the aliens, not the Navy), and the loss of life is (surprisingly) felt and very real and emotional. At night, a game of cat-and-mouse is tense in that edge-of-your-seat kind of way, and a sunrise kill-or-be-killed is gorgeous to watch. This action delivers, and if the presence of Liam Neeson ain’t enough to persuade you to seek out Battleship (although, really, he ought to, that man is amazing), hopefully your interest in pretty damn thrilling action scenes will be enticing enough.

If there’s one overbearing negative that prevents a person from really falling in love with the insane action beats and briskful narrative, it’s the presentation of the aliens. One word: lame. Eh, second word: disappointing. In regards to J. J. Abrams, a lot of his creatures are designed a bit too similar to make each one unique enough, and thus hinders that jaw-dropping ‘woah’ moment. Here, the alien designs are just lazy. When the masks do come off and the aliens can be seen in their full glory, I get what they’re trying to go with – the physical similarities between us and them, and the differences – but their armor makes me feel like this is a ‘Don’t Sue Us!’ iteration of Halo and the aliens’ actual appearance gives me Bad Aquaman Villain vibes. So the aliens and Rhianna – those I could do a mecha-change-up to a otherwise fun film.

Bite the Bullet

Yes, worth seeing. A greater understanding of the human race will not be revealed to you during the running time of Battleship, but you get to see some beautiful alien and naval destruction as the earth is on the brink of annihilation. And Liam Neeson. And there’s actual character work in the movie, making it a tiny step above the typical summer blockbuster. Point is, if you’re willing to suspend every ounce of disbelief and just sit back and dig the tone Battleship is going for, this will be two hours very well spent. 8.0/10

25 May 2012

The Watcher: Closing the 2011-2012 TV Season (Part 1)

Hello! And welcome to the first fresh post on the blog in over a month! Before I venture into the land of cinema and tackle them with a fresh perspective [more on this at a later time], let's take a gander at a few of the shows I followed during the 2011-2012 television season. In case anyone hasn't been following the blog, I've been a tad overcome with TV shows - alright, ya got me, it's more like an addiction. So for this edition of The Watcher, which won't have too much to talk about in the coming weeks with the exception of True Blood and the return of Awkward., let's review some full season shows!

The Big Bang Theory

Sheldon (left) and Kripke (right) play basketball to win the office of a retired coworker in 517 "The Rothman Disintegration"

I want to love The Big Bang Theory. More specifically, I want to love each and every one of its jokes, and each and every one of its episodes. But the unfortunate, sad truth is - it manages to make me laugh not that often. In its early years (seasons 1-3), nearly each episode had some sort of gut-busting joke of sheer brilliance, where each episode was something splendid and hilarious. Season 4, things started to waver - which is entirely understandable. Plenty of shows sort of lose their way in their fourth season, it seems to be the 'do-or-die' year for many a series. So that season was rather rubbish, with very few laughs or interesting plots. And this brings us to season 5, boasting 24 episodes where only, say, four or five are truly worth watching. 

Interestingly, my favorite episodes of season 5 seem to deal primarily with Leonard, and the episodes I detest usually focus on the really-needs-to-grow-up Howard Walowitz and his sexually ambiguous friend Raj, two roles that function more as easy objects to make fun of instead of appearing as real, dimensional characters; they're the butt of jokes, not the thing stories are made of. And the once brilliantly comical Jim Parsons can't even seem to breathe life into Sheldon anymore, a character that is more and more losing his touch. That said, Sheldon's interactions with newly christened official 'girlfriend' Amy usually are seasonal highlights. When Sheldon and Amy are together, that's comedy gold - Amy's willingness to experience life and its many physical offerings, and by contrast, Sheldon who has no desire from the relationship outside of the meeting of two genius minds. But it's Leonard and his horrible luck with women and decision to forgo all premeditation and just take a chance with an old flame that make his character the more engaging of the year.

In regards to Howard and his relationship with Bernadette, here's hoping that the two of them together will help propel Howard into the neighborhood of becoming a character instead of comic fodder. Still, Howard is leaps and bounds a superior role in every way to Raj, who has less of a presence this year than ever before. I understand that the writers can't allow the characters to change too much or do something too extreme for the sake of plot generating and the necessity of jokes, but Raj being Raj has overstayed his welcome - time to evolve, dude, or get off the show.

The series has already been renewed through the ends of its seventh season (must be nice to have that sense of comfortability few shows seldom know), so I sincerely hope the writers can craft some funnier episodes with loads more character development. Amongst the season's highlights, "The Russian Rocket Reaction" [505], "The Good Guy Fluctuation" [507], "The Ornithophobia Diffusion" [509], "The Recombination Hypothesis" [513], and "The Rothman Disintegration" [517]. If the show can find it's groove again, The Big Bang Theory will be marvelous in its sixth season. Until then, I'm cautiously optimistic. Also, surprisingly, the series works best when watched in quick succession, with no week hiatus - makes the bad episodes less bad and the good episodes really shine. Overall Season 5 Grade: C


Jeff and Britta infiltrate Greendale to bring an end to Chang's imperialism in 321 "The First Chang Dynasty"
When I discovered Community, I devoured it (season two review here). The series was witty in its dialogue, smart in its story and structure, hilarious in its quick jokes, jabs, and characters, geeky fun in all its cultural references and homages [e.g., Inspector Spacetime], and complex in every single one of its characters. Frankly, there's nothing quite like Community, and that holds especially true in its third season. Sure, in the last two years each of the characters were put in weird situations and soap opera storylines here and there, but this year pushes everyone in diverse, dark directions - Abed's personality goes into some dark places, going so far as to form his very own Dark Timeline; Chang establishes an evil empire at Greendale, holding the dean captive for over a month (!); Annie must come to a realization of her actions and feelings; Troy and Abed's friendship is tested by animosity; while Troy is being pushed towards a destiny he's refused since the first season finale. All the characters - save probably Pierce, although he does have a arc-friendly story near the season end - experience some kind of change, including Jeff. And all of this is happening, surrounded by "event" conceits. A mega blanket/pillow fort, a Law & Order homage, a Ocean's Eleven super heist, a Doctor Who homage, a anime rendition of Community and a 8-bit iteration of the gang battling the evil Gus Frig [look it up], and a Good Will Hunting storybeat turned upside down. Creator Dan Harmon and the rest of the writers are maniacal, hilarious geniuses.

Not every episode is a rousing success, unfortunately, but every episode honors character, and that's something rare in this breed of comedy television. And the most important thing of all, each episode is absolutely worth watching. There's not one atrocious, mind-numbingly bad bit in this batch. There's not a lot to say that extends beyond "OMG! OMG! Love love love brilliant funny love love haha!" But here I go: as a Doctor Who fan, every instance of Inspector Spacetime was a warm welcome. Analyzing Abed's personality dominates quite a few episodes in the backhalf of the season, which were very enlightening and entertaining - and helped Annie come to a realization of her own concerning Jeff. There seemed to be a heavy emphasis on real life vs. movies/television this year - Abed's part in documenting crazy Greendale shenanigans, or Abed's escapism in the Dreamatorium affecting how he perceives the world and acts in it. Reality is further tested in 319 "Curriculum Unavailable", where the study group is presented with the notion that all their experiences in the last two years have been a result of their psychosis. Community continues to be funny, dark, complex, and daring, and I love it for that. Season highlights include "Remedial Chaos Theory" [304], "Foosball and Nocturnal Vandalism" [309], "Virtual Systems Analysis" [316], "Basic Lupine Urology" [317], and "The First Chang Dynasty" [321]. But really, every episode is great fun. Overall Season 3 Grade: B+


Peter learns more about the mysterious Observers from September in 414 "The End of All Things"
CAUTION: I'm writing this with the assumption you've seen all of season 4. Continue. Unlike many others I know, I was quite in love with Fringe's third year. I was all for the Peter/Olivia relationship, and more than that, I absolutely love the switching back between worlds, the whole Olivia switch-a-roo, and the fallout of the first eight episodes affecting where the rest of the year went. And with the cliffhanger finale last year ended with, season four had a lot to live up to. Ultimately, Fringe didn't live up to those expectations, and it all boils down to this - those 22 episodes were not spent wisely, and there was a frustrating lack of explanations for things that deserved good explanations. First, Peter's reappearance in this new timeline demanded a better explanation than what was lazily given, as is where he was during the period of time between season 3 and 4, and how he was able to crossover. Secondly, the resurrection of a certain villain from season 1 is riveting and intense, but a indestructibility is visualized halfway across the season, making him a frightening endeavor to face, yet in the penultimate episode, the villain is dispensed with rather easily. Perhaps I missed some important plot-point, but how did getting tossed into some electrical thingy have the desired dying effect that getting shot through the throat did not achieve? Third, Olivia and her arc - now I'm happy things went the way they did with Peter and Olivia, but how the writers got there, that's where I have a problem. It's her Cortexiphan abilities that enabled her to channel the Other Olivia's memories? And, speaking of the other timeline, that whole subplot of last year with Fauxlivia and Peter's son Henry is now null and void with the evisceration of that timeline?

In the end, I feel, with 22 episodes, much more could have been done than what was presented to us. There felt like an alarming amount of filler, so much so that when we arrived to the two-parter finale, I was freaked out a little - there was still so much unexplained that how could two hours possibly do it justice? Amazingly, prophecies were fulfilled and the endgame reached, leaving the tale open for the fifth and final season. Having Lincoln included in the mix in this new timeline was refreshing, it added a new dynamic to the team that was greatly needed. It's a shame that around the halfway mark, Lincoln's importance in events began to dwiddle exponentially. And this brings us to the ultimate flaw of season 4: there just is not enough. Not enough Lincoln, not enough explanations, not enough smart usage of episodes, and not enough difference [this is a brand spankin' new timeline, yet by episode 15, it felt like a simple amalgamation of the prior two].

But there was a lot done right. John Noble continues to impress over and over as Walter Bishop, a man tormented by the atrocities he's committed in the past, and a desire to remedy that in the here and now, and a man with absolutely no social skills, providing some of the best comedy bits of the year. Lincoln is, as mentioned, a season highpoint as well. Learning a tiny bit more about the Observers than previously was also very interesting. Above all, even though the year was advertised as Peter's year, I was most impressed with Olivia Dunham and her arc - at least, hers was the most engaging. With Peter, they had this tremendous opportunity to explore new things - after all, this is a man in a whole new world - but he quickly fell back into the mix of things. Olivia was a brand new person for a dozen episodes, with a different emotional state, different memories and trajectories and relationships, and the Olivia that emerged after her memories began to resurface was a stronger, more confidant Olivia than we have ever seen on Fringe. Actually, here's another nice way to summarize the fourth year of Fringe: tremendously successful on the character front, sadly lacking on the plot and forward momentum.

Season highlights include "Neither Here Nor There" [401], "Enemy of My Enemy" [409], "Welcome to Westfield" [412], "The End of All Things" [414], "Letters of Transit" [419], "Brave New World" [421/422]. As it has been confirmed that next year's fifth season will be its last, the Fringe team appear to be facing off against the enigmatic Observers (as referenced in the superb future episode 419), and I can't think of a better way to send the series off in the sunset. The series will be greatly missed, but I will always be thankful with how exceptionally brilliant Fringe has been year after year. Overall Season 4 Grade: B


Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) refuses to lend a hand in 313 "Slaughterhouse"
Coming out of a critically acclaimed second season, Justified had a lot to live up to. Being one of the few who weren't nearly as consumed by the Bennett storyline of season two, I was eagerly looking forward to where the characters were heading for year three. Boyd seemed to not know what the fuck he was doing but gave the impression that he did to anyone who would listen, Raylan talked a lot about getting out of Harlem but really didn't want to, and one chilling baddie was introduced to stir things up in Harlem while a businessman stands at the sidelines to see how things turn out and when to butt in. Well, by the end of season three, Boyd still doesn't seem to know what the hell he's doing. He has succeeded in having a fantastic relationship with Ava Crowder, murdered a friend who betrayed him, and has a crew of wacky, off-kilter folk who have their own agendas. By 313 "Slaughterhouse", Boyd doesn't really seem any better or worse off than where we left him in the season two premiere. Raylan gets a lot of shit thrown at him - Winona leaves him (which is mighty sad, taking me crush for Natalie Zea into consideration), and the Big Bad in Town once again targets him for termination.

Here's some random, general thoughts on season three: Dickie Bennett can leave the series at any time, he has overstayed his welcome for me. Every scene with Wynn Duffy is golden. Need a example? Look at the season finale, and tell me if there's ever been a better yelling of "Jesus Christ!" ever filmed. In the category of bad guys, Quarles (Neal McDonough) is magnificent, and that's saying something huge, because I initially was not looking forward to this character. But his brilliant introduction in the premiere set the tone - Quarles is a threat, a maniac, a crazy dude with a pistol in his sleeve and one hell of a rage issue. Every second with that man was intense, and how it culminates in the finale is surprisingly completely satisfying. In fact, how this year plays out is very much satisfying. McDonough, though, just creeped me out. Reminded me of Heath Ledger's The Joker, honestly. It's there. Overall, the season was firing on all cylinders. The only huge problem I have with the series is how each episode barely scratches the 40 minute mark. I'm used to shows on FX lasting in the (minimum) 44 minute range, and with a lot more content thrown in. Thing is, I love Justified, but at only 13 episodes, 40 minutes a piece, it's simply not hugely fulfilling. I want more, damnit. So if they can increase the runtime by just two more minutes, that would make me a happy camper. So, in conclusion, Quarles was amazing. Frightening to the core, magnificently played by McDonough. Raylan's situations were constantly interesting and humorous [e.g., "You shot me. I can't believe you shot me." "Neither can I."]. Storylines more often than not were engaging and unique. Characters weren't used the best they could be, but were fine overall. And Boyd - my god, give that character some direction, and give Walton Goggins something juicy to work with. And give me season four, like, nowish. Overall Season 3 Grade: B

New Girl

Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and the gang celebrate their last day as a group in 124 'See Ya"
A huge surprise, frankly. It's difficult for me to really get into a comedy show [see: my harsh words concerning Big Bang Theory], but somehow, as if through magic, FOX's freshman show New Girl seemed to hit all the right notes. Even during that period of time nearly all new shows undergo - the finding of its 'voice' and understanding its characters - the series featured a multitude of laughs. In fact, there hasn't been one outrageously bad, facepalm-worthy episode of New Girl to date. The strength is in the diverse characters, and the tremendously talented cast - and, of course let's not forget to give kudos to these guys, the writers. Jake Johnson has shot up the list of Favorite Comedy Actors with this series; this man is never not funny. His real talent is yelling unrelated words in succession and yet finding meaning in them. Max Greenfield has proven himself a master of taking unrelated things and forming a new word, or combining words, or just saying jibberish. Johnson and Greenfield are masters of improv, and although each actor brings their A-game to the series, I can honestly say that I tune in each week with a emphasis on seeing those two be ridiculous more than any of the other core characters. Out of all the actors, the one I was the least keen on was its star, Zooey Deschanel. Sure, she's pretty and occasionally funny, but that dork element to engrained in her character style could sustain my interest for so long. Luckily, the writers know when best to use it, and how to make Jess something more than just, well, a dork.

The first eight episodes is the obvious period of adjustment and creative understanding of the show, and by around episode thirteen, the series hit comedy gold. Near perfect runs all around, leading to a fun (albeit rushed) season finale. New Girl also has the distinction of being one of my few Destination Programming that I refuse to miss. That's a testament to how damn well the show is. I'm not going to spend a lot of time regaling you all with my affection towards New Girl, so I'll summarize: one of the finest first seasons of a show I have ever seen, with each episode offering the laughs without fail, and a diverse, hilarious cast that works tremendously well. It's a series with heart and intelligence and yet also boasts the balls to be super crazy. Season highlights: every episode. Overall Season 1 Grade: A

Tune in next week, as I review two freshman shows Once Upon a Time and Revenge, and give my thoughts on returning favorites Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, and The Walking Dead.