Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: The Rite

Non Spoiler Review:
The Rite is the newest entry into the exorcism sub-genre of horror. The film begins with mortician Michael Kovak opting to go into the seminary in order to get his education, and perhaps drop out afterwards given his lack of faith. When his doubting attitude catches the attention of his superior at graduation, it's suggested he would be perfect to attend an exorcism course in the Vatican in lieu of dropping out (which would mean reimbursing the costs of his education to the church). So Michael heads off to Italy where he's introduced to the Catholic rite, and ultimately Anthony Hopkins, who shows him how it's done.

The movie is not lacking a great cast, with the master himself, Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas. Colin O'Donoghue plays the young faithless priest, Michael Kovak, and does well bringing a psychology major's skeptical perspective of what could clearly be mental disorders among the possessed. Rutger Hauer makes an appearance as Michael's creepy father. Alice Braga (from I am Legend) is the reliable sidekick she usually plays in these films. Mikael Håfström is director.

The Rite is beautifully shot, playing up the grand vistas of Rome as its background, as well as the more claustrophobic and run down tenements where Lucas and his patients live. Some elements worked. Ciaràn Hinds (from Rome) plays likable Father Xavier, the exorcism instructor, and two of the rites Michael witnesses with Lucas—a pregnant girl and a young boy—were perhaps the most interesting parts of the film. When Lucas is eventually possessed (no spoiler, as we see that in the trailer) we get Anthony Hopkins turned loose for the climax. There's no doubt that he can deliver these roles in spades. He's done so with regularity, so there's nothing surprising from his performance we haven't seen before starting from Silence of the Lambs

Ultimately, this felt like The Karate Kid for exorcisms. A faithless, novice priest gets trained by the master for the final big fight with the Devil (or Baal). While the cast were all fine in their roles, if not underused, the plot just did not support anything new and exciting for this particular horror genre. The audience is even reminded of the classic when Father Lucas references The Exorcist, and really, no film has yet to succeed in conveying the disturbing and ominous power of the Devil aside from it and The Omen. The movie is also not rated R, which these days is pretty much essential for something like this. You can't really convey the terror of the Devil when he's being censored on screen. Watching the girl Rosario's possession kept taking me back to Regan in The Exorcist and how much more powerful a performance that was.

We get the familiar possession signs—knowledge of the future and of the various characters' histories, contorted bodies and otherworldly voices, as well as dream sequences—including one demon-eyed mule, which I kind of liked, but it seemed to stick out from the rest of the film a bit.

The scares fall flat. If you're a horror fan, jumping cats and slamming doors aren't going to do it for you anymore. As far as disturbing images, these are also unmemorable (aforementioned demon horse). I found myself more creeped out by that one single footprint in Paranormal Activity than this entire movie.

Despite looking and sounding good, the film is uninspired and wasted potential. Michael's entire noncommittal entrance into the priesthood and even his relationship with Lucas never felt natural beyond plot points. I'm interested to know what the audience is supposed to take away from the ending. While the whole possession theme was played loosely enough to explain away as a serious psychological problem, all the flashbacks to Michael's youth seemed to be building to some kind of revelation, but eventually felt hollow. What we're left with is the if you only have faith, everything will be all right, as long as you're vigilante attitude that permeates a lot of these films.

The Rite also runs into the same wall many of these horror stories do—presenting a near omniscient power that seemingly can manipulate characters like players on a chessboard—but somehow these super-intelligent fallen angels are forced into giving up their names and being cast out purely on the basis of faith. For a large part of the audience, that sort of thing just doesn't cut it anymore. If the writer is offering the audience the choice between a supernatural or psychological explanation, it robs the film of any message. The religious in the audience may sigh happily when Michael accepts God into his life to defeat the Devil, but the atheists in the group are just as likely to be rolling their eyes. 

I would like to see this genre explore deeper issues beyond just Catholic exorcism—provide a new explanation why a creature so powerful and intelligent as a demon would bother itself possessing mere human insects. Just to piss off God? We don't see any true atheists getting possessed. They're all very devout or once devoutly religious. How about demons that aren't Christian? Why not explore otherworldly entities that just masquerade for our religions, something that a small film like Paranormal Activity did very well, and with much less budget. In this film, as well as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, once an entity latched on to someone it was implied they were pretty much screwed. It's more effective when mundane non-religious suburbanites can be terrorized by something nasty rather than devout Catholics.

Catch The Rite when it hits the movie channels, but it's not worth the coin to see it in the theatre if you're looking for something new and exciting to add to the genre. However, if you happen to be a sincere Catholic, it would be a very nice feel good flick, promoting the power of faith.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Being Human (USA) "There Goes the Neighborhood Pt 2"

Non Spoiler Review:
Last episode's cliffhanger is dealt with right away, and the action focuses primarily on Aidan's messy handling of the Rebecca situation—particularly Bishop's messy fixing of the Rebecca situation. The whole thing creates a big batch of trust issues for everyone, makes Josh even more depressed, and sets a new threat on the loose. Sally, meanwhile, continues her travails stuck within the confines of the house.

While I groaned at how quickly the cliffhanger was resolved—it was a cop-out, to be sure, and hopefully isn't setting up Aidan's vampire powers to be the deus ex machina of the week—the rest of the episode really came together around new vampire Rebecca and the damage she manages to inflict on pretty much everyone who crosses paths with her. The theme was monsters—Aidan's attitude that they can overcome their curse, while Josh is determined to wallow in despair at being an outcast. Somewhere in between is Sally, who is still coming to terms with what she is exactly.

After two strong weeks, I'm definitely sticking with the series, anxious to see the relationship between Aidan, Josh and Sally continue to evolve, coupled with the wild cards of Bishop and Rebecca.

Spoilers Now!
A compelling montage narrated by Sally begins with a brief vignette of each of the main characters' origins. Sally is dead on the floor of her house and we see her later as a ghost at her memorial; Aidan first encounters Bishop as a soldier in the Revolutionary War; Josh is wounded on a camping trip, finding himself later turning into a werewolf. Then we end with a horrified Rebecca waking up in the morgue, and Bishop at her side. All she needs is a bite to eat, he suggests.

Josh is changing in the vault but Aidan finally checks his voicemail and is off at vampire speed. He gets there really quick and rescues Emily, shutting the door. He takes Emily to the cafeteria, filling her in that Josh has a condition and she should talk to him. She seems to accept it all quite well, with Aidan's assurances that he has friends who are looking out for him. Alrighty.

The next morning Josh heads home and Sally is waiting anxiously for news of what happened. He says it's all okay, despite that she couldn't leave the house to help. Sally is excited with her own news, and tells him that Danny is coming over—Aidan called him. But Josh thinks it's a bad idea. If Danny sees her it would ruin everything with their new life. 

Aidan takes charge as Danny shows up to look at the clogged sink. As Sally watches on the stairs the light bulbs suddenly burst. Josh heads upstairs to discourage Sally from coming down to see him. It's a humorous scene with some nice crazy camaraderie between the three of them. But Danny's not very proficient with the plumbing. He does ask if there's been any weirdness there—things that people have said after he moved out. Josh and Aidan dismiss it. 

Not one for delicacy, Josh asks how Sally died. Danny recounts how one night on her way to the bathroom she turned the wrong way in the dark hallway and fell down the stairs. He found her at the bottom. Sally stares at the spot at the foot of the stairs where she died. On that mellow note, he leaves.

At the hospital, Kara awkwardly hits on Aidan. Aidan's interested, but only in her blood, and tries to curb his urges, while Kara keeps trying to ask him out to the bar after work. He manages to avoid the question and runs off.

Josh, meanwhile, is astonished to see Rebecca standing by her memorial. When he heads off in search, she corners him, ready to chow down on him. But she suddenly realizes he's a werewolf and is disgusted she almost drank from him. What she does do is spill the beans on Aidan for drinking from her and killing her. Watch yourself, she tells him.

Josh confronts Aidan about turning Rebecca, which comes as a bit of a shock. Aidan swears he didn't turn her. Josh is furious with him for succumbing to his instincts and destroying their normalcy and storms off. Aidan heads off to have a showdown with Marcus, demanding answers. Bishop breaks up the scuffle and explains he solved the problem after Aidan asked for their help. And by the way, she just loves being a vampire, and usually she hangs out at the park. So Aidan heads off there.

Sally's by herself when Danny arrives to fix the pipes. He can't sense her at all, of course. The pipes burst after Sally gets agitated but Josh shows up and Danny leaves to shut off the water, pausing for just a moment in front of Sally. She's getting increasingly depressed at what she's supposed to do to move on.

Aidan finds Rebecca, and she's a little miffed about the whole killing thing, but now that she has Bishop as her mentor she's quite happy just to feed and know that nothing can kill her, free of her human self, and perhaps even exact some vengeance on her no-good family. Aidan sees Rebecca has plenty of I-S-S-U-E-S, but she had those even when she was human. Having no luck dealing with anyone, Aidan leaves her, too.

Josh and Sally have a heart to heart and while he does feel sorry for her, he's not the best at giving comfort. He admits he was engaged but his ex doesn't know about his wolfy ways either. Sally just wants to talk to Danny while Josh is happy to just avoid his family. They're monsters, he says, and Danny's never going to accept that.

Aidan is drowning his sorrows at the bar, the same one Kara is at, so he invites her to join him. His blood lust is getting the better of him though, so he phones Josh to come to the bar. Josh isn't in a socializing mood, but Aidan implies he really needs him to come, as if Josh is his AA sponsor. So Josh rushes over, fearing Aidan is about to feed on her. But it's Rebecca who shows up to intimidate Aidan and Kara first. Kara slowly realizes this is Rebecca and goes back to her friends, leaving Rebecca to try to get Aidan to come with her. When he doesn't, she picks up another guy, but Aidan nixes that pretty quickly.

Josh shows up outside, just in time to be grabbed by Rebecca yet again for a "See what I did?" moment—she's managed to feed on Kara in the alley. Aidan comes outside, and Rebecca tells him to turn her or she's a goner. Josh pleads for Aidan to save her, but he does nothing, and so poor Kara dies! Having created a horrible mess, Rebecca is pretty much satisfied and leaves.

Josh and Aidan wait at the hospital as the police investigate the murder. Josh is pretty sure this is the end of their brief life at being human, but Aidan looks at Bishop playing cop across the room and tells him it's going to be fine.

We get another musical bit, this time with Sally re-enacting her fall, slowly drifting down to lie at the foot of the stairs where her head struck the floor. Josh confronts his sister one last time as she's leaving the hospital, telling her to not contact him again. Aidan goes to Bishop and says that despite what he's done in the past, for now he's on the side of the humans.

Later at the house, Josh watches Aidan on the front step, commenting to Sally that he realizes now he must be struggling every minute of every day to control his vampirism. He joins him outside with a coffee, while Sally stands in the doorway.

What Worked:
With two episodes under the belt, the character relationships have been set up quite nicely, especially between Josh and Aidan with this interesting addict/sponsor dynamic. Can either of them be there for each other when it's necessary? How long before Josh rebels against Aidan's fatherly manner with everyone in the household. He's two hundred years older and seems to have the answers to everything on matters of supernatural. I'm excited to see where it all goes with Sally slowly learning about herself and participating more in the action.

What Didn't Work:
My problems with this episode both have to do with credibility. The cliffhanger was handled badly and a total psyche-out for the viewer. If Aidan's powers are that great that he can travel at super speed and get to the vault in no time at all, then there was no real danger to start with. Being Human runs the risk of making Aidan too powerful. Add to that, Josh was conveniently turned away from his sister the whole time so she couldn't see any change in him. Emily accepts that he has some unnamed condition from a friend she doesn't know, and that's it? That's too much of a stretch given the obvious pain Josh was in right there in front of her.

How did Rebecca learn pretty much everything about being a vampire so quickly, including that werewolves exist and what they smell like? Did she attend a full day seminar? I can see she might love the idea of being a vampire, but she accepts everything and seems to know everything. When we first see her after the morgue, it looks like she's been vamping around for years. The show has to be grounded in some sense of reality—that the existence of the supernatural is going to come as a big shock to normal humans, otherwise it could quickly cross over into cheesy territory.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena "Past Transgressions"

Non Spoiler Review:
Spartacus has had nearly as much drama off screen as on. Given Andy Whitfield's need to withdraw from the series for a period to recover from cancer, a prequel was greenlit in order to fill in the long gap until season two. Unfortunately, Whitfield's cancer returned, and he had to withdraw permanently from the character he made his own. While the role of Spartacus has finally been recast, with season two set to begin filming in a few months, we at last get the six episode Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which focuses on the early days of the doomed House of Batiatus.

While there is legitimate concern that the absence of Spartacus himself might diminish this story, or that this prequel is simply thrown together to satiate the audience, I can safely say this is not the case at all. One of the strengths of season one was the ensemble cast and the depth built into even the minor characters, and it appears all of them are going to have a chance to shine—Doctore (now Oenomaus), Crixus, Barca and Ashur, Solonius, and innocent Naevia (Crixus' ill-fated girlfriend). We received brief suggestions and hints of some of their pasts through occasional comments and references last season. All are present here in more youthful incarnations, along with a host of other new and interesting characters.

The first installment begins with a younger, ambitious Batiatus and Lucretia in Capua, about five years prior to season one. The big arena is only now under construction and Batiatus is struggling to get ahead and escape the shadow of his still living, but retired, father. He has yet to gain enough respect to get his gladiators in the opening games, and seems to be at the mercy of his rival, Vettius, an impudent youngster who has influence with wealthy merchant Tullius and magistrate Sextus. 

At the moment, Batiatus' star gladiator is hulky showboater Gannicus (Dustin Clare), who loves wine and women and the crowd's adoration. Enter Gaia, Lucretia's old friend and Roman party girl, who's elderly husband has just died, ready to show Lucretia how the other half lives. We also get introduced to Oenomaus' wife and familiar slaves from last season.

With this mixture of new and old, the story deals out the customary sex, blood and action in spades, against the highly stylized backdrop we've grown accustomed to. In all respects, this felt like Spartacus from the first moments. I was invested in everyone's story pretty quickly, but particularly Lucretia and Batiatus'—despite their schemes and villainy in season one, they were truly in love with one another so it was hard not to cheer them on as their status rose under the banners of Crixus and Spartacus. This sort of moral ambiguity is one of the show's great strengths, watching both hero and villain alike blend together as their agendas come into conflict.

While it's not entirely necessary to have seen season one of Spartacus to watch this, it will certainly be fulfilling if you do. And considering that the opening sequence of Gods of the Arena spoils the entire first season, it would be well worth sitting through that to build up the emotional connections to these characters which will certainly pay off in this six-parter.

If the rest of this miniseries matches this week's calibre, it will easily stand alongside season one for quality. There are so many storylines only spoken of in passing that we'll get to see unfold. A fantastic start. 

Spoilers Now!
The call to "Kill them all" brings us back to the massacre of House Batiatus, leaving Spartacus and his rebels to confront their master as Lucretia stumbles out, dying. What follows is a montage of Batiatus' season one crimes (deaths of Barca, Spartacus' wife, and so on) as he dies at his slave's hand, and we zero in to his wide eyes to flash back many years...

It's a younger and more innocent Batiatus and Lucretia looking very much in love and striving to gain status in Roman society. Capua is in the process of building the grand stadium we see in the first season, and for now, we see the games in a cramped and wooden arena. It's very bloody, complete with bare-breasted women and severed heads.

Batiatus' men are proving hopeless against young upstart lanista, Vettius, until he brings out his champion, Gannicus. The arrogant and crowd-loving muscleboy Celt easily dispatches Vettius' champion, but he does so before the arrival of the guests of honor, the magistrate and Tullius. Batiatus has been striving to impress them in order to secure his gladiators for the opening games of the new arena.

He commiserates with his BFF, Solonius (!), both men longing to climb the social ladder. Nice to see these two hated enemies such obviously close friends at this point, free of all the animosity that will tarnish their future associations—and I'm sure it won't last long at all.

Lucretia is surprised to see her friend Gaia in town, free from her recently deceased husband, bringing her wild and crazy Roman lifestyle along with her—I love this actress from Dexter, and she's perfect here. She stays with the household until she can find some more permanent lodgings, and it's obvious she has an eye for Lucretia.

Our first glimpse of the gladiator school provides a very interesting contrast to what we're used to. A new Doctore (a man of Batiatus' father) is schooling the old and new recruits (one of whom is Ashur). Oenomaus (future Doctore) is still recovering from his wounds inflicted by his battle with the infamous Theokoles (the story recounted in season one). As former champion, he graciously yields to Gannicus' prowess and stardom at the moment. In fact Oenomaus is extraordinarily gracious, it's hard not to sympathize with the poor guy. His wife, Melitta, is also a slave in Lucretia's company, as well as younger slaves Naevia and Mira, and new character Diona.

While walking through the market with Solonius, scheming of ways to gain entry to the games, Batiatus' comes upon several of Tullius' new slaves, one of whom is a familiar long-haired Gaul. He buys Crixus for an exorbitant amount, determined to groom him into a champion. For that he asks an eager to please Oenomaus to train him. 

Gaia enjoys the atmosphere of the gladiator school, chiding Lucretia that she has not slept with any of the gladiators. Lucretia is horrified at the thought, and is happy with just Batiatus. Gaia's impressed at the drive of her husband, as it's common knowledge that his father had no mind for the business, and even now has retired to Sicilia for his health, though his influence appears to weigh heavy over Batiatus.

Eager Crixus is thrown in with the new recruits, including Ashur, and a few others who all think Crixus will be quickly dispatched in the tests, as they must face the seasoned men in order to earn their mark of brotherhood. Oenomaus sets about teaching him the ways of the gladiator, while secretly resenting that Batiatus is not allowing him to return to form as his prime fighter. For his part, Crixus is wowed by the adoration presented upon Gannicus, and vows to one day be the champion.

Much like her older self, Lucretia feeds Batiatus' ambition, suggesting he have a chance meeting with Tullius in the market in order to discuss the games. He heads off with Solonius, finding Vettius is there, as well. Tullius notes that Batiatus bought Crixus well above his price and offers to buy him back. Vetttius goads Batiatus' ego and soon he is boasting that Gannicus can beat his best man blindfolded (Nooooo!). Tullius also likes that idea, and suggests they meet the next day for a fight in the market.

Batiatus is disappointed that the venue is so low brow, but asks Oenomaus if Gannicus is worthy of the fight (he refuses to take the counsel of Doctore, his father's man). Disappointed he won't be fighting himself, Oenomaus vouches for Gannicus, and in gratitude for his loyalty and unprejudiced advice, Battiatus sends Melitta to his bed.

Lots of foreboding here, as we know something is going to happen to destroy Oenomaus' marriage. Whether her death will be a part of it is unclear, but they're definitely happy here. 

Later, Oenomaus finds Gannicus drunk and perilously close to the cliff face, urging him to go to bed and get sleep before his battle. Even Gannicus says it should be Oenomaus who fights. The two men obviously have great respect for one another, reminding one of Spartacus and Varro.

The market gathers for the spectacle the next day. Vettius and Batiatus hurl insults at one another. Tullius, meanwhile, notices Gaia from courting her years before and still has an interest in her. The magistrate attends and starts the battle, but Vettius brings up Batiatus' boast about the blindfold, and Tullius holds him to it.

Gannicus complies, and a heated battle ensues until Gannicus finally gains the upper hand and kills Vettius' man. It's an intense scene (Lucy Lawless' cringing facial expressions during these battles are gold). The magistrate and Tullius are both impressed, and he invites Batiatus to discuss the upcoming games. Gannicus celebrates with his brothers, but not the new recruits—namely Ashur and Crixus, who have yet to receive their mark.

Batiatus is buoyed by the victory and the meeting, and he wants to bring reward to Solonius' house, as well. So he sets off that evening while Gaia and Lucretia share some opium.

Things don't work out as planned. Tullius wants to purchase Gannicus for the games rather than let Batiatus in on them. He offers 200 dinarii, but Batiatus refuses to part with him. Given he allowed him to purchase Crixus, Tullius says it's only fair. Everyone has a price. When he refuses, Batiatus' bodyguard is killed and he is beaten to a pulp between Vettius and Tullius—all the while Gaia and Lucretia are enjoying an opium-induced sexcapade. To further the indignity, Tullius urinates on him, and urges him to reconsider or be excluded from the games forever. Battered Batiatus watches the sun rise over the arena site.

This was a prequel done right, building on backstories hinted at in the regular season while introducing another batch of interesting supporting roles. The strength of Spartacus is the characters. Most are so developed and compelling on their own, that if you stripped away all the action and sex, you would still be left with a great story.

Gannicus remains the mystery man. His is the major new story to be told, with the reasons behind all his bravado and reckless action to come. His character does not yet inspire the empathy of a Spartacus, Oenaumaus, or even Crixus, but knowing the likely outcome adds to the tension (he certainly isn't around, or mentioned, in season one).

We continue to get cultural insights into the everyday life of the nobility and slave classes. What is Spartacus without the over-the-top polytheistic cursing and cock being bandied about every other sentence—you could construct a drinking game around that alone. Much like HBO's Rome, it's these background elements that are just as fascinating (including this week's particularly interesting scene with a public toilet).

I have nothing but praise for this episode. It kept the momentum to the very end, and after so much story we're left with lots of blanks to fill in for what's to come—Oenaumaus will never become champion again, with a marriage fated for heartbreak, as his wife "lives only in memory". Scheming Ashur awaits his crippling injury in battle. Barca's lover Auctus is likely not long for this world either. And the fatal enmity between Solonius and Batiatus is ready to be sparked. Add to that the likely appearance of Batiatus' maligned father at some point. The only thing for certain is that these next five episodes will fly by just as fast—and there will be plenty of sex and blood.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: V "Laid Bare"

"Um...maybe a good moisturizer...little less exfoliation?"
Non Spoiler Review:
What we sacrificed in craziness this week we made up for in cramming as many scenes as possible in one hour. It seemed like they squeezed in an impossible amount of events in a day's worth of story time.

Anna sets her sights on Father Jack and his suicide-bomber-inspiring videos on Earth's Internet (yes, she calls it that), so recruits some help in going after him. The Fifth Column debates what to do with Malik (that's not really a spoiler, given she's caught in the first two minutes). Lisa starts going through the change...which in Visitor lexicon means weird and wonderful scaly things are going on with her body. Meanwhile, evil Joshua tests out a theory on the human soul. Oh, and Marcus simply walks around relaying new to Anna that we've already witnessed in the previous scene.

I wanted to like it, and there were some good moments with Lisa and Erica, but the potential of Malik (providing intelligence to the Fifth Column) seemed wasted in the usual endless circles of debate among the resistance. The plot development that arose from the information they did get was pretty ridiculous in the grand scheme of things, which highlights the big problem with the resistance...their lack of any grand schemes.

Spoilers Now!
Erica regains consciousness, sees she's upside-down and crawls out of the car just as Malik tackles her and lays the smack down. Erica is a goner, except Malik takes a fatal moment to stretch her ginormous jaw as if to chow down on her, and Erica pushes her into a tree and knocks her out. Luckily Hobbes and Jack show up and Erica informs them Malik is a V and they can use her—so no killing, Hobbes! They head out after blowing up the car as a cover story.

Lisa wakes up in bed with her reptile skin going c-r-a-z-y. It's her breeding skin, her mother informs her, as she's coming into her fertility. Lisa's primal mating instincts will soon emerge and Anna will mold her into a great leader, in her own image. Cue Lisa's worried face.

As is the new normal for V, we get Anna trotting down to see her mother to gloat. But Diana knows she's suspicious Lisa will betray her, just like Anna did when her own mother's breeding skin grew. Anna vows she'll teach Lisa to lead, unlike her own mother—there's still some bitterness there.

Erica is interviewed by the FBI after saying the Fifth Column blew up their car and took Malik. She's told to go home while they investigate the case. And home for her is the secret hideout where they have their new prisoner, and Sydney has set up shop to start studying things.

Marcus advises Anna that Malik was abducted. She wants trackers to retrieve any evidence Malik may have left behind about her mission. As for the Fifth Column, she rings up Ryan again—Hey, there's Anna and the baby! But Ryan knows she made the child sick to get his help. She wants him to look for Malik and find those responsible by nightfall (when her Bliss wears off on the baby).

Sydney reports to Erica his findings on Tyler's blood sample. Tyler's DNA has been stripped of a lot of components, leaving much of the helix bare—allowing the V's to put something in it's place. A personality, perhaps?

Later, it's torture time for Malik, and Erica's all pissy about her pregnancy being interfered with so it is officially on. Ryan shows up to provide some convenient information—advising them to watch out for her fangs and tail. Visitors have a high threshold of pain, so the only way to really torture her is to skin her—that'll kill her in about half an hour. 

In a scene that comes completely out of left field, Tyler is suddenly commiserating with Lisa and Anna about how concerned he is for his mother who's been associating with this radical priest, Jack, who may be Fifth Column. Jack has all these anti-V videos on the Internet! Anna assures him she can help.

Back at the crash site, Hobbes had left a camera in a tree to see who shows up, allowing Ryan to identify the trackers,  until they notice the camera and punch it out. Ryan then cuts off Malik's finger and takes off with Erica to foil the trackers before they get to Malik's place. At her apartment they look for a safe box, which every sleeper agent apparently has. He uses the finger to open up a hidden panel to find cash, law enforcement ID and some V tech, which Ryan reviews. It shows dossiers on a lot of people going back several years. Visitors show up, so he blows up the place and they escape easily via the balcony. This all happened in like three minutes.

Anna meets with Chad, who admonishes her for acting like a god by using the Red Sky without asking. She pish-poshes that and asks him about Father Jack. He doesn't know anything about the priest except that the terrorist was one of his parishioners. She decides she wants Chad to interview him, as she believes every point of view should be presented—cut right to Chad telling Jack not to do it, but his mind's made up. Jack thinks if his profile is raised, the harder target he'll become.

Anna stands before a bizarre spiky contraption that Joshua says is engineered to locate and extract the soul. The test subjects will not survive, though, so he'll need hundreds of thousands. Despite Malik's

Erica can't identify any of the people in Malik's files from the FBI database. They're all missing persons. Hobbes wants to get torturin' as they're just waiting around for plot developments. But Ryan finds a clue—a girl has been reported missing. She's Sofie, the girl they just picked up in the previous scene! They go off in pursuit.

We cut back to Jack giving a sermon to condemn the suicide bombings, with Chad in attendance. Chad must have arranged this in, like, five minutes. A guy in the crowd confronts him about losing his wife in the bombing. The church is apparently full of people who lost loved ones, and a confrontation ensues with the anti-V crowd. Chad sees the one guy is a V because his eyes shift to lizard eyes (Chad doesn't know they're lizards yet, but he find this out of the ordinary). Jack intervenes and says their blood is on his hands, and he should fight him if he wants. The V guy storms out. But someone else has been filming this on their iPhone.

Next, we learn Anna is pleased with the interview, as she's taken a bunch of it out of context to look like Jack challenged the guy and is promoting violence. She thanks Chad for helping to expose him, as she's putting it on the Earthly Internets to go viral. 

Erica interviews Sophie's mother, who hasn't seen her daughter in months. Erica gives her her card to call if she finds out anything, but they mostly talk about being mothers and stuff like that. Erica knows what she's going through (hmm, not really given she purposely sends her only son to have sex with a lizard princess to keep her close to Anna). Ryan says he has a daughter, but he's not a mother, so it's not the same thing. They go back to the hideout.

Hobbes decide they've waited long enough and starts to carve up Malik's back. Sydney gets to work analyzing the results. After having her finger and tail cut off, and her back torn up, Malik at last gives up the V driver who is picking up the runaways in New Jersey. Sophie was picked up that very night. And Tyler? Malik doesn't know Anna's plans for him. Erica decides to believe her, so opts to be merciful. Hobbes gives her the sedative that will put her out of her misery. A tear rolls down Malik's face as she dies.

They head off and find the van (very easily), but it's empty. Luckily a scream points them in the right direction. They chase the V guy and his captive through the woods, and he drops her as he flees into a clearing and Erica shoots him. But he pops his pill before they can get to him and disintegrates. Sophie's been drugged so she won't remember a thing, Ryan says. They see a Visitor shuttle loading up the other captives, and they watch it fly off.

Lisa is being instructed by Joshua as he does his soul work under Anna's observation. They will remove all the physical components of the human body, and what remains in its dying breath should be his soul (Umm...). But Anna notices Lisa's reaction to the poor guy in the machine and admonishes her. She tells Lisa to continue the experiment. The young man in the machine begs her for mercy, but Lisa goes ahead and activates it. 

On a happier note, Erica and Ryan take Sophie back to her mother. Erica tells her she's safe now and that's all she needs to know (Well, safe until the Visitors use all the humans on the planet to gestate their reptile eggs). So they have a happy reunion. Ryan can't savour the moment though, but Erica assures him they'll get his daughter back. They can't lose hope. That's what this fight is all about. Yes, Erica, this fight is about saving one person rather than dozens.

"This is what they look like? *yawn*. Sorry. What were we saying?"
Meanwhile, on the Internet, Chad shows Jack the video that's gone viral. Another great decision, Jack. Jack says he'll weather the storm. He chooses to have faith. Chad must remain close to Anna. That's his role in the fight. And he decides its time Chad meets the others.

So Chad is introduced to them all. Erica thanks him for the Malik tip. They show him the dead Visitor with her back stripped off. Chad's a bit shocked to find out what they really look like, but like everyone else, is over it in twenty seconds.

Meanwhile, it was Tyler who took the cell phone footage at the church, and Anna thanks him for all his work. Together they have somehow made Father Jack's video achieve virality on the Internets. She muses that he's like a son to her. It's surprisingly not creepy at all.

Lisa then shows up at Erica's. She's in shock after all the stuff Anna's been putting her through and feels she can't continue on like this. Lisa has no one to talk to. Erica says she has her. They hug. This isn't creepy either.

Anna heads down for her post-episode Diana sneer. Her mother advises her to watch Lisa carefully. Diana tried to make Anna like her too, but they were too different. Caution has never been Anna's nature. But foresight is, her daughter points out. Good, Diana says. She'll need it.

Ryan's back on the mothership and meets with Anna. He looks at his baby and tells her he's found the Fifth Column.

What Worked:
As contrived and unsurprising as it may be, I like Tyler being in leagues with Anna and Erica taking over mothering Lisa. And maybe they're implying Tyler's going to get a whole dose of Anna's DNA to fill up all those missing segments so he can help father the next batch of eggs?

The writers remembered that Chad used to hang out with Anna a lot. We finally get a meeting with her. And they also realized it's about time someone caught up to Father Jack's preaching, as well as his associations. Funny it took Tyler, and not Visitor surveillance to do the job.

What Didn't Work:
Why does Ryan only give up new information in the context of the moment? He's had ample opportunity to sit down with everyone and say "Listen...this is where it's at with the V's." Instead, it's always "Oh, yeah, by the way...". He's their greatest source of intel—why can't Sydney just ask him about Visitor physiology rather than relying on samples from Malik?

And speaking of information, Chad is the latest in a string of people who learn the truth about the Visitors with just a "So that's what they look like," and a shrug. Where's the horror and absolute despair that a superior power is going to enslave all humanity?

Anna's been abducting people. Wow, that's big news. And the whole focus of the last half of the episode is Erica and Ryan trying to save this one runaway girl because Erica's a mother, and, well, you know what it's like then...Seriously, this is the state of the dialogue? Erica tells Ryan this is what it's all about—saving one person when a whole shuttle load got hauled off to the mother ship to be tortured. Actually, Erica, that's not what it's about. If you're going to win this war for humanity—not just one girl—you're going to have to think big and play the numbers game in order to save humanity!

So did we get an explanation on the human skin? Do they need it to survive on Earth? Could it even be permanent? And what's the deal with queens giving birth? Do they initially have their successor, then a whole batch of eggs afterwards? That sounds like what happened with Diana and Anna both (unless Anna has had a nest of eggs prior to all this). But it sounds like Lisa's going to have a whole bunch soon.

This week's continuity question: What happened to all those mother ships who arrived in the season finale? In addition to the twenty-nine already on Earth, there were dozens and dozens of them en route. They were initially cloaked prior to Red Sky, but are they still hanging around in orbit? Has anyone noticed? Like the writers?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Being Human (USA) "There Goes the Neighborhood Pt 1"

Non Spoiler Review:
A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost rent a house, it's not the beginning of a joke, but actually quite a successful British television series that has undergone an American remake. The original is quite a dark and compelling supernatural drama, so this one has big shoes to fill. 

Being Human stars Sam Witner (Crashdown from Battlestar Galactica), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olson from Superman Returns), and Meaghan Rath as the three nonhuman characters who just want to create a life as human as possible for themselves. Vampire Aidan (Witner) and werewolf Josh (Huntington) work at a hospital together and decide to share a house in order to create a haven from their otherwise chaotic lives of blood drinking and general wolfy mayhem. 

Enter Mark Pelligrino (Jacob from Lost), as Aidan's former maker, to try to draw him back into the fold, and Rath's sudden appearance as the newly dead Sally bound to their new house, and you have the makings of an intriguing premise. Character and plot started out interesting enough to keep one watching, and the stakes slowly ramped up to a great finale of part one. The actors all seem to have a good handle on their characters, as each has their own unique cross to bear when it comes to being a supernatural creature living in a world of humans. Aidan's blood lust is pretty much a drug addiction, and Josh has that thing that happens to him once a month. Sally can't do anything, except observe. She can't even remember how she died.

If you've seen the British version you're likely already in love with that, but this one is still worth a look and promises to have its own dark aspects, despite being an Americanized remake. I'll definitely be sticking with it if it continues to improve on its already great premiere.

Spoilers Now!
The pilot episode opens with Aidan out on a date with coworker, Rebecca, juxtaposed with his friend Josh as he goes off into the woods—and turns into a werewolf. In the heat of passion, Aidan starts biting into Rebecca and drains her of blood. Waking up in the morning, he calls a friend who works at the morgue to handle clean up.

Aidan later picks up Josh from his forest excursion (waking up naked next to a disemboweled deer). While both of them don't discuss their previous night's revelries, they head to work at a hospital, and on break, Aidan brings up his idea that they move in together. Aidan is trying to convince Josh it's for the best, but Josh has doubts. Then they meet Kara, who is filling in for Rebecca (who hasn't shown up for work, oddly enough). She's kind of awkward and nervous, like Josh. 

Aidan runs into vampire Marcus at the hospital who is looking for new recruits among the patients. He's pleased to see Aidan is getting back into the fold. Aidan tells him to get out, but Marcus says their leader, Bishop, wants more vampires. A nurse walks in on their conversation and ends it for the moment.

Josh finally agrees to moving in, wanting a shot at normal and a place they can look out for one another, so he and Aidan house hunt, finding a funky place with lots of character. The landlord Danny confesses that it used to be owned by an engaged couple (and the girl died)...then says it was his fiance. He seems anxious to rent it out, and Josh and Aidan seem the perfect couple.

We get a moving in montage, complete with soundtrack, but it's not long before Josh sees someone else in the house. They can both see her, and she's shocked and ecstatic that they can. Aidan knows right away she's a ghost. She's Sally. And for six months she's been hanging out alone unable to interact with anyone or anything. She doesn't remember how she died...she went to bed and woke up dead. Sally's been listening to them talk about their own conditions, so is aware they're vampire and werewolf. Josh doesn't appreciate the haunting aspect or the fact that there is now zero privacy in the house, so suggests she haunt Danny. But Sally can't leave, unable to pass across the door outside.

Aidan explains supernatural beings can see one another. But he knows a ghost isn't a ghost without a reason and wants Josh to give her a chance to find her way. Meanwhile, he's had another idea to help his friend and brings Josh to a secure vault below the hospital, locked from the outside, where he can transform without fear, to be let out by Aidan in the morning.

As Josh mulls this over, he runs into a face from his past at the hospital—Emily is his sister, and she's looking after her girlfriend. He's happy to see her but won't explain why he broke off communication with his family a couple of years before.

Aidan is interviewed by the police given it was common knowledge that he was dating Rebecca. But one of the cops is Bishop and assures his partner (using his vampire mind tricks) that Aidan didn't do this and sends him off to wait in the car.

Bishop is pleased to welcome Aidan back to his blood drinking ways (given Aidan had taken to using the blood bank to satiate his hunger). Aidan says he's not back, but Bishop disagrees, given this latest killing. Aidan does ask him to make the problem disappear, but it's difficult given everyone knows Rebecca had a thing for him.

Bishop has known his protege over two hundred years. Now he's worried the younger vampire is lost. Aidan used to be a bad ass, and we get a flashback to the good old days when he and Bishop would attack weddings and kill the entire party.

Feeling guilty about getting Bishop to help him, Aidan decides to tell Rebecca's parents (anonymously) that she's dead, to ease his conscience. He comes home to comfort a crying Sally who'd taken his advice and has been trying to leave the house, but can't. She suggests that she needs to see Danny, so wants them to call him to come over to fix the pipes so she can try to appear to him.

With everyone upset about something in their life, Josh is pursued by Emily despite telling her it's for their own good that his family just leaves him alone. She secretly follows him at the hospital down to the vault, where she confronts him just as he's about ready to change. She demands an explanation and won't let him leave without one...and shuts the door, which can't be opened from the inside. A horrified Josh realizes they're locked in together.

Bishop took care of Rebecca, but he gets Aidan to come for a ride with him. Things are about to change, he says, but he tells him life doesn't have to be so hard for their kind. They go into a club which is kind of a blood brothel for vampires where they can drink at leisure.

Josh is desperately trying to call Aidan but he's not answering. So he tries calling Sally to see if there's anything she can do to find him. The best she can do is listen to the voicemail, and goes to the door, but her hands still pass through the wall. Aidan savors his taste of human blood, and sees Bishop smiling at him. And Josh begins to change as his sister watches.

What Worked:
The characters are all pretty likable, though I do find myself loyal to Sally's British counterpart, Annie, given how well she plays that part. I was pleased to see the darkness in the main characters has been maintained for this version. Aidan can't shake his blood lust and is easily drawn back into the shadow of Bishop like a drug addict. He also has quite the past, given his flashback to the wedding massacre. We'll see next week how much control (or not) Josh is able to exert when he's in wolf form. And Sally's lack of memory regarding her cause of death promises to bring some more surprises.

Sam Witner rocks as Aidan. Despite appearances, Josh is just a novice werewolf, and Sally newly dead, but Aidan is two hundred years old with lifetimes of history and experience. It's easy to forget this when the three of them are together.

I'm pleased with Pelligrino's more subdued take on Bishop. He's rather likable at the moment, but he's certainly going to be one of the bad asses on the show. There will be a lot of grey areas when it comes to how these characters deal with the world, but that's why it's called Being Human.

The series is filmed in Montreal, which was a surprise to see some familiar landmarks and an added European flavor to the background. The house has a suitably funky and dark atmosphere befitting its supernatural inhabitants. The writers and producers are off to a great start.

What Didn't Work:
It's an ongoing quibble—I'm a traditionalist and can never get used to these daylight vampires. I realize it would put a lot of pressure on the writers to deal with Aidan only appearing at night, but I didn't really catch any explanation as to how he and other vampires are walking around in the middle of the day. Nor did we see him catch any sleep either. Given it's only the first episode, I'm sure more mythological explanations are forthcoming.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Black Swan

Non Spoiler Review:
Darren Aronofsky's latest film sets Natalie Portman on a dark, personal odyssey to perfect her role as the white swan/black swan in a production of Swan Lake. Neurotic, obsessed, perfectionist, Portman's character, Nina, can master all the technical aspects of her dance, but unable to truly feel the darkness of the black swan to bring the role to life. Saddled with an outrageously jealous and smothering mother, backstabbing peers and a seductive director playing head games, the film charts her descent into the well of her personal demons.

Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, Mila Kunis as the new, free-spirited dancer Lila, Vincent Cassel as director Thomas, and Barbara Hershey as Nina's horrific mother.  If you're a fan of Aronofsky's other films, Black Swan will not disappoint and delivers the same stunning visuals and complex, exhaustive characters from previous films. The Swan Lake production that unfolds in the final moments is well worth the wait and provides a satisfying conclusion.

For all it's intricacies, the plot is a very simple one—a dancer struggling with the role of a lifetime. The harsh environment of the ballet school shows both the mental and physical trials of the dancers. Portman has really grown as an actress (my palette is finally cleansed of Padme when I watch her) and has a chance to show her stuff as her obsessive character struggles to cast off her inhibitions. Winona Ryder has a small but memorable role as the older has been star, who has been cast aside by the director in favor of the more youthful dancers.

I found the film very compelling from start to finish, just watching these fully dimensional characters unfold on screen. The sets, costumes and makeup deliver memorable and beautiful imagery. As a performance driven piece it moves quite briskly and does not feel long at all. Black Swan easily sits among Aronofsky's best work.

My only real critique comes from the over-hyping of the film in media, which did ramp up my expectations. If you're a fan of Aronofsky's other works like Requiem for a Dream, Pi, or The Fountain, you'll not be too surprised by what you see. For someone unfamiliar with the director, it might come across as something wildly different than what they're used to. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: V "Serpent's Tooth"

Non Spoiler Review:
Oh boy, this one was a doozy. I credit Jane Badler and Morena Baccarin for playing their scenes with a straight face, and not doubling over with laughter (as I did). The theme of this episode is the human soul, and we know that because it's stated often.

Fifth Column suicide bombers keep blowing themselves up in Visitor cities, vexing Anna to no end, who pesters her mother for the secret of human emotion. Apparently Visitor science hasn't bothered to research stuff like brain chemistry, hormones, and nuisance things like that. She's also decided, after just one episode, that she'll use Ryan to compromise the Fifth Column and carts out the hybrid baby ever five minutes (who she's also outfitted in human skin, much to the relief of the special effects team).

On one positive note, this week's shocker delivers us the archetypal V moment, done with a bit of a twist. We also get some more exposition about Visitor intentions, information which seems to be coming fast and furious given this shorter season.

Cylon Tori—er—Malik, comes back to be handled even worse than in passed episodes. Malik, Hobbes and Erica are running around, literally running into one another from crime scene to crime scene. Easily, this is one of the worst episodes, and leaves me feeling fatalistic about any hope for this series beyond season two. It's firmly in camp territory now, but perhaps it will become an enjoyable train wreck to watch.

"Dear Lord, please grant me the strength to recite this dialogue with a straight face."
Spoilers Now!
Diana has been imprisoned by Anna in the bowels of the mother ship for fifteen years, but she is wise to Anna's reappearance (surely someone must have looked in on her at some point, to at least feed her!)—that her daughter is now experiencing emotions and wants to know how to deal with them.

Diana is certain Anna will fail, given living in human flesh for so long has awakened these feelings. She recounts how the Visitors detected Earth's first nuclear test and saw it as a beacon of hope to interbreed and spread their species. Diana walked among them and began to experience emotion, which led to Anna usurping her power and leading everyone to believe she was dead. But if Anna uses Earth as their breeding ground, she'll give birth to a generation of Visitors with emotion and will ultimately fail. Unfortunately Earth is the only viable planet, with similar worlds too far away for them to reach. Anna is now infertile (shouldn't have put all her eggs in one basket—oh snap!), so that leaves Lisa as the only hope for laying eggs. It's Earth or nothing, Diana gloats.

Lisa comes to see Tyler, who is back home, and uses it as an excuse to chat with Erica. She lets her know Joshua has been resurrected, which puts them all in danger. Erica asks if she can also press Joshua about any experimentation on pregnant women eighteen years before (Sure, Erica, Lisa will be happy to do that while desperately trying to maintain her cover). Erica later gives Sydney Tyler's blood sample (she scored from a convenient shaving mishap). This is scientist Syd's one and only cameo this episode. It's nice to see Erica and Lisa working so closely together these days in manipulating Tyler.

Ryan goes to Val's funeral (whose death has been explained as heart problems related to her pregnancy). Her parents are pretty upset with him, especially given how aloof he is about the whole thing. Ryan can't seem to cry or even do anything remotely empathetic. His mother-in-law tells him he's cold. "Don't you have a soul?" she yells. One of Anna's men gives Ryan a card to allow him to keep in contact with his daughter. Ryan takes it, not realizing that it means Anna will be calling him every five minutes with a screaming baby.

Chad is broadcasting from the reopened healing centres and Marcus introduces him to a woman who will be the first to give birth entirely with V technology. Chad interviews her, but is pretty negative about the whole idea and puts a lot of doubts in her head. There seems to be little point to this particular scene aside from showing Chad's passive aggressive nature.

Jack (who apparently is still working at his church despite being forbidden by his boss in the finale) hears a confession from a man who's been inspired by his YouTube sermons about fighting back at against the Visitors—way to keep things on the down low, Jack—and needs to be assured that he's doing the right thing. The right thing, as we see in his flashback, is becoming a suicide bomber and blowing up the peace center. Jack blindly assures him it is a war for their souls, so that gives the guy his seal of approval. Later, Citizen Terrorist appears in front of the embassy and blows himself up. Chad is there, but, sadly, survives.

Terrorists have bombed sites in all 29 Visitor cities, so it's a coordinated attack. Being the only FBI agents in the city, Erica and Tori/Cylon/Malik show up to investigate. Malik takes a fragment from the evidence bin, literally walks five feet and hands it to Marcus, who says Anna will be pleased. Marcus gives it to Anna where they plan to lift a print and find the bomber's allies.

Meanwhile, Anna's hair-brained idea for this week is to use Ryan to pursue the Fifth Column (which isn't too outrageous, except that she only set him free last episode). She thinks Ryan can be controlled with the baby. She's putting human skin on the child to prey on Ryan's loss—he'll think of Val when he sees her. It's hungry, though, so Anna takes a big white rat, distends her jaw and swallows it, then regurgitates it into the baby! She's also pretty good at it, too, as when she's finished there's not even a hint of rat bits or vomit on her or the baby.

Anna's special card is a holographic communication device she uses to taunt Ryan with the baby. Apparently he has no way to turn it off as her holographic image just pops up whenever she likes. She appears just to say hi and tells him to help protect humankind by finding the Fifth Column and he'll get everything he wants. Thanks, bye.

Erica and Hobbes debate the morality of humans killing humans to get the Visitors. Ryan and Hobbes wants to recruit them to create a global network. But Erica won't let them kill more people. Erica has gotten the name of the New York bomber, a librarian, and Jack recognizes him from taking his confession in the morning. Whoops. Jack gives them the address as the clock counts down to a new round of bombings.

Anna has Joshua in the memory chamber, planning to view his last memories, which should reveal the traitors. As she and a nervous Lisa watch, Anna sees Erica shooting him, which is good, because the rest of his recent memory has been wiped out by the trauma. He thinks he's a devoted V. Eventually they'll be able to recover them, though. Possibly. Storyline dictating, of course.

Hobbes and Erica go through the bomber's apartment. He has components that come from more savvy radicals, as well as a map of other targets in New York, including a building downtown. Erica wants to call it in, but Hobbes want to go and find the radicals before the Visitors swarm them. Erica calls it in, the building is evacuated and they sweep the area but find nothing. Erica makes an intuitive leap and realizes Chad is the target as he survived the first explosion. Right now he's just down the street and she watches a guilty-looking woman walk up to him. Erica takes her down before she can blow her up.

Anna returns to demand her mother tell her everything about human emotion and gives her a slap. Diana agrees, but she wants something—queue commercial cliffhanger—her iPod... yes, it's a fancy V necklace iPod thingie and maybe only plays one song, but Diana wants it. She puts it on and listens to the classical music. Classical music sparked her emotion—heartache, pain, sorrow—she felt it all in the music. This is where she advises Anna to find emotion...she must look for the light in the soul. What makes human human.

Anna always dismissed the existence of a soul. No, Diana says, and she takes her hand and puts it on her heart. The soul is the greatest threat to the V's. Anna vows to find it and destroy it. She decides she will isolate it in the medical bay.

Speaking of souls, Ryan and Jack are talking about the same thing. Ryan is copping an attitude about all this emotion everyone is feeling over the bombing. He just wants to act and do something and wonders why everyone has to feel things (he's apparently forgotten his season one character). Does Ryan have a soul, he asks? Of course, Jack says, who's really confident at giving advice because it worked out so well that morning.

The bomb reconstruction yielded no fingerprints, but do reveal some fibres that come from a company called Five Brothers, who is owned by an Israeli (ex-Mossad, of course), Eli Cohen. Tori/Cylon/Malik is put on the case by Marcus, so leaves Erica to go do her V stuff.

Erica interrogates the wimpy, most unlikely suicide bomber ever, Melanie. She shows the girl the cut on the back of her head (the V-test) to show they're on the same side. Melanie admits she never met anyone in person, and the whole thing was negotiated in chat rooms (kind of like V-Harmony). When she was ready she was picked up and blindfolded and given the explosives. 

Erica gets Hobbes on the case, looking for ex-Mossad guys in Manhattan. Surprise—he's already found Eli Cohen's name in reference to a textile factory, so everyone rushes to find him. Tori is there already, creeping around, but Hobbe's sees her and punches her. He seems to recognize her, as well, but he takes off, leaving her to get up shortly after.

He scored a good hit as she pulls out a loose tooth that's REALLY long and must really hurt—a serpent's tooth (the name of the episode!). But then Erica shows up too, so Tori sees her and beats it. Erica finds the blood on the floor. Hobbes sneaks up behind her for shits and giggles, and lets her know her partner Malik is also there and that means she's a V.

The FBI then shows up officially and find a hidden room full of suicide vests and such, as well as  shipment records for various cities worldwide. Hobbes found the first bomber's car had been to Ossining, the same town where they find one of the vests was shipped. Erica says she'll check it out, but Malik is to accompany her. 

Anna is growing pissy with Ryan's lack of cooperation, so she wants the baby made sick—something only her Bliss can alleviate. Jack takes Ryan to Val's grave to teach Ryan about the soul and God and praying and stuff. But Anna interferes with her Bliss and Ryan tries to shake it off. Anna tells him the baby is in pain, just let her in. It's unclear how him taking Anna's Bliss will also help the baby. But Ryan will have none of it—the more he feels, the more he will get hurt, he says, and walks off.

After all this, Jack is praying, looking for direction. Who walks in but Chad, who's bitchy about being a target of the Fifth Column. Chad has been reviewing the tapes of the bombing, and saw Marcus and Malik together (apparently everyone recognizes her). He thinks Erica's in danger (as he also saw her in the church during Jack's sermon)—Can we see a pattern here of how bad everyone is at maintaining any semblance of secrecy?

Ryan's been sitting in his hotel room, doing nothing. Anna rings him AGAIN, with the screaming baby. She tells Ryan he has no soul, but can have her Bliss and his daughter. All he has to do is join them again. Ryan says okay finally. It's that easy. Just to get her to stop calling.

Malik and Erica are driving to Ossining, both of them playing with each other given they know the other's secret. Malik neglected to clean her shirt of a very obvious blood stain, so she pulls a gun on Erica and tells her to pull over. Erica decides to roll the car, but that leaves Erica  unconscious and Malik awake with her crazy V eyes.

Joshua is back to work and ready to return to his research (given his amnesia has made him a loyal V). Anna sets him searching for human emotion and he vows to find the soul and destroy it with SCIENCE!

Anna goes back to see her mother a third time, and Diana taunts her that she'll lose control and will feel the sting of her daughter's betrayal as she has felt hers. Anna rips off Diana's musical necklace and storms out. Diana says "Tick-tock, tick-tock." Because the Visitors also have analog clocks.

What Didn't Work:
The motivations of the characters are going off in all sorts of directions. What is Diana's goal, aside from having Anna fail, which means the end of her species from all counts. Or does she want Anna to achieve emotion? Ryan had fully accepted a life on Earth with Val, but the moment he loses her he's abandoned (and forgotten) the emotions he's developed, and acts like he never had them. Erica is now willingly using Tyler to get to Anna, and doesn't seem to mind what might be happening to him when she leaves him on the mother ship.

The weak dialogue doesn't hep. Elizabeth Mitchell was great on Lost, but the writers fill the script with so much exposition and state-the-obvious stuff the actors are talking at each other rather than interacting. This is especially hard on the V actors who can't even emote very much at all. Poor Marcus spends most of the episodes just watching other characters do things without being able to react aside from stale commentary. Even Rekha Sharma is a decent actress but she was absolutely horrible with what she had to work with here.

This episode was such a mess I could go on and on. Coincidences abound—The Visitors, the FBI, and the Fifth Column all manage to find out the relevant information within a few minutes of one another. The Fifth Column should be commended, because if they're able to recruit two of the most uninspired people off the street and turned them into suicide bombers, then they'll surely win against the Visitors. How does a terrorist/resistance group manage to recruit reliable suicide bombers in chat rooms with no face-to-face meetings until they deliver the suicide vest? And let's just forget Visitor surveillance capabilities for a moment.

On to the big WTF this week—what is the purpose of bringing in the notion of a soul? Is this the best the writers could do to reconcile the emotion problem? Jack and Anna's take on it sounded like a Sunday School conversation. Are they trying (miserably) to tie Anna's Bliss in with the already poorly handled religious themes? I thought Diana just said last episode that wearing human skin had sparked her to develop motions—it appears to have been retconned already.

I don't think the writers intended Diana and Anna's chat about the soul to be funny. But I laughed out loud. What is Visitor science all about if it can't analyze the brain chemistry of humans (maybe they could run some tests on the Live Aboards?—speaking of which, what happened to them?).

Now new and improved evil Joshua is going to find the soul for Anna, and I have visions of him coming up with some glowing orb in a glass that Anna's going to be able to smash. This whole emotion angle has gone off the rails and would have best been ignored completely. The Visitors are reptilian, we're's as simple as that. The writers seem determined to bring in some religious analogy, but their initial tendency to portray the Visitors as a replacement religion hasn't been followed through. With Jack's proselytizing to Ryan, I'm wondering if the writers think they can resolve the whole invasion by having Lisa find God, become queen, and leave?

Jack preaches against the Visitors in church (despite his superior pretty much firing him in the finale), and on YouTube, then wonders why Chad seems to guess that everyone in his church, including Erica, might be Fifth Column? What happened to the miraculous Visitor technology which last week found a single scientist who was uncovering the truth of the Red Skies? This week it can identify random fibres from the bomb blast but no one checks out social media. The omnipotent surveillance techniques of the Visitors are carted out and ignored with no sense of consistency.

And my final pet peeve for this week—Why do the Visitors refer to themselves as Vs, wear their human skins, keep referring to themselves by human names, and speak English all the time in the privacy of the mother ships? 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recommendation: Irredeemable

Non Spoiler Review:
Mark Waid (in collaboration with Alex Ross) delivered an apocalyptic world of super-heroes gone bad in DC's Kingdom Come. Now he's developed his own universe to play in. 

Having written much for DC, Waid has created a very similar universe—The Plutonian (or Tony) is a virtual Superman, with similar godlike powers and boy scout persona, tireless and vigilante, revered by the masses until suddenly and inexplicably he snaps. The first issue begins several weeks into his worldwide rampage that has mercilessly ravaged both everyday citizens and his former teammates in the super-hero group The Paradigm.

Waid's universe is firmly inspired by the DC Silver Age—a variety of super-powered heroes (science or magically inclined) have faced a disparate manner of threats from super-villains, disasters, demons, alien invasions, and the like. Heroes have only made their appearance within the last five years of story time (allowing for a more concise batch of continuity to handle), with the Plutonian being the only one (so far) of his kind and power.

Irredeemable is a very dark book—the Plutonian commits genocide at a whim, and more personal and psychological atrocities that would make Hannibal Lecter proud. The thrust of the initial storyline involves the surviving Paradigm members racing against time to figure out what snapped the Plutonian, piecing together his vague origins and associations to find some answers (some of which are quite disturbing), while looking for a key to defeat his nearly omnipotent power. One answer might be to locate the missing villain, Modeus, Tony's arch nemesis.

The supporting cast is an interesting ensemble—Qubit is the brainiac of the team, who's genius is both helpful and reckless in his pursuit to find answers. Charybdis and Scylla are a pair of mysterious twins who work in concert together, sharpshooter Bette Noir, winged immortal Gilgamos, and Kaidan, a magic user who can summon ghosts to battle. The Batman-like character, Hornet, has, in fact, already been killed at the beginning of the series, but his influence on events plays out nicely through the first two years of the book.

The mystery of the Plutonian and the constant peril to the surviving members of the Paradigm brings out some messy secrets along the way, including lies and indiscretions among the members that erode the bonds of the team. The Plutonian's mayhem has not only broken down society and made heroes an object of fear, but shatters the once close friendships of the heroes and forces them into difficult and odious choices. Nearly two years in, the pieces are coming together—backstories to the individual heroes, details of Tony's rampages, and the truth behind many of the events that preceded his insanity.

"I'm B-A-N-A-N-A-S!"
While the Irredeemable world doesn't have a published history of 75 plus years (like DC) to lend the Plutonian's fall more gravitas, he does give his setting and heroes a backstory that succeeds fairly well in fleshing out this world. It's similar to The Watchmen in this respect, jumping into the middle of the story and using flashbacks to construct a complete history for these characters and events. 

A neverending battle with the Plutonian could get old very fast, so rest assured, that is not the direction of the storyline. There are victories and losses, and the status quo changes often. Events have climaxed as Irredeemable reaches the end of its second year, and the series could easily go in a variety of directions, but I'm still hooked. 

Irredeemable is produced by Boom! Studios. The art is steadily consistent. It's a very compelling read as it imagines the fall of a god-hero and the carnage he's capable of, making one reflect on what's going through Superman's mind when he deals with an ungrateful citizen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: The Tudors "Death of a Monarchy"

Non Spoiler Review:
Death of a Monarchy concludes the epic journey of The Tudors. The final episode wraps up the lingering plotlines of religious division, Catherine's travails at the hands of Gardiner, and the death of a major character. All of this is framed within the more intimate moments of Henry's reflections on his life as he comes to terms with his mortality.

Before writing this review, I rewatched the entire series on DVD, which I highly recommend now that it's complete. The many characters and plotlines are done a better service when viewed again without the long gaps between seasons.

Death of a Monarchy was beautifully shot, powerful and emotional, and a fitting end to the series. The storylines conclude in a satisfying manner, politically and personally setting the remaining characters on their future paths—particularly Mary, Elizabeth, Catherine and Hartford. The whole episode is weighed by the sense of weariness and death that permeates the scenes and the noticeably aged characters (from the increasingly infirm Charles and Henry, to the autumn leaves blowing among the palace gardens).

The quiet moments with Henry's reflections are poetic, including one dream sequence with the Grim Reaper that provides an iconic image. We get prophetic visions of his dead wives, which may be a bit of a conceit on the part of the director, but it's great to see these actresses again one last time.

Also of note is Trevor Morris' score—with an epic riff on The Tudors title theme, as well as some weighty compositions for the dream sequences. This was a fantastic and satisfying conclusion that should make any fan of the series happy.

Spoilers Now!
This final episode begins with Henry's musings on life and that one thing that can never be recovered—time. He and Charles are both reflecting on their mortality while political machinations continue in court on what the future will hold for the kingdom upon their deaths.

The Admiral of France arrives to sign the new peace treaty and is greeted by an older (and newly cast) Edward, as well as the entire Tudor clan and Queen Catherine. Mary continues to scheme with Gardiner, lamenting Lord Hartford's ever growing influence with the king. But Gardiner suggests the people would support Mary as queen rather than a mere child (and one being raised as a protestant). And on the subject of Catherine, he is preparing his arrest warrant.

Henry greets the admiral and is happy to be done with the Emperor and his betrayals. He abruptly suggests, given his own reformation of the English church, that they abolish communion in both England and France and replace it with a simple mass. The shocked Admiral stammers that he cannot negotiate such terms, and announces King Francis is on his deathbed.

A loyal subject of the queen intercepts the arrest warrant and advises her of it beforehand. Henry hears her crying from his quarters, and goes to see her. This appears to be all for show for Catherine, who is petrified at his intentions. She suggests he has grown displeased with her. He appears confused at that, wondering what reason he would have to be. After he leaves, she orders her ladies to clear the quarters of any books, and they will nolonger discuss religious matters.

Lord Hartford comes to visit a very weary-looking Charles, who has fallen ill. The two discuss the ongoing state of affairs between the Seymours and the Gardiner faction. Edward is concerned over the succession given the youth of his nephew. Charles carries great influence whether he likes it or not, but few know that his wife, the duchess, as well as Lady Hartford and the queen share the same religious affiliations. Charles is not of the same mind, however (a closet Catholic at heart), but they have an amicable discussion. Charles is quite weary of all the religious strife and longs for the older, merrier days of England. Though he does not overtly support Hartford, he will not interfere in how things turn out.

Lady Hartford is summoned before Gardiner, who confidently demands to know the truth of her relationship with Anne Askew. Hartford is unrepentant. She knows his secret—that he has the fortunes of two monasteries that should have gone to the king, and advises him to tear up the warrant. Gardiner has been checkmated.

The king entertains several of his advisers as the queen is summoned before him to resolve him of certain doubts. Catherine sits before them to acknowledge she may have spoken out of turn on religious matters in his presence, but she did so only to engage him in debate and take his mind off his infirmities. She acknowledges she is but a woman and yields to his wisdom, apologising if she spoke out of turn. With that, they have made amends, though Henry appears suspicious that she might be telling him what he wants to hear. Regardless, he declares them perfect friends again.

After she leaves, his groom questions if he should cancel the arrest warrant, and Henry appears surprised at the suggestion. When the lord chancellor comes to arrest the queen the next day, Henry puts on a spectacle in front of her, appearing surprised, then shouting and sending him and the guards away in her defence. Catherine can barely contain her terror at both the arrest and Henry's completely erratic behaviour. He assures her all will be well, but she knows he's playing some sort of game with her (or worse, completely mad).

The lord chancellor confides in Gardiner about what happened, and both remain confused trying to interpret the king's wishes. But Gardiner won't give up.

At the privy council, an argument erupts over the provisions for Prince Edward. Lord Hartford is upset that they are bringing up these matters he thought settled. Gardiner disputes Hartford's legitimacy and implies he's a heretic, receiving a punch in the face as Seymour storms out.

Gardiner then goes to see the king, but Henry abruptly bans Gardiner from court, almost at a whim. He calls him a troublemaker, and never wants to see him again. Gardiner leaves court in shame. With that, the chancellor makes amends with Lord Hartford, who is clearly in the king's favor now.

Henry commissions Holbein for another portrait. As he sits for him, he has a vision of Catherine of Aragon and Mary. Catherine chides him for abandoning her daughter, leaving her unmarried and childless. She is still his wife in God's eyes, she says, leaving a tortured Henry to contemplate all he's done to her. 

Facing his mortality as his fever worsens, Charles confesses how happy he's been in these last years with Brigitte. But upon hearing of his infirmity, Henry summons him to court against Brigitte's protests. A feverish Charles comes to see his old friend, and the two reminisce about the old days of their youth and those they've lost, including Princess Margaret.

This is, perhaps, the most poignant and bittersweet exchange—Henry tells Charles he is the one man he could always trust. The friendship of these two characters has bound the series since the beginning. Henry declares his divine power as God's vicar will heal his friend, but in the next scene we see Charles has passed, and at the funeral, Brigitte is shunned by the cold duchess and Charles' son. She walks away.

Holbein's first attempt at a portrait falls far short of Henry's expectations, painting him as an old man. Henry then has his second vision—Anne and young Elizabeth. Anne regrets neglecting her daughter while she was still alive. Elizabeth is much like her mother, but not intemperate. Henry confesses that he is so very proud of his wise daughter, but she reminds him of Anne from time to time. Anne professes her innocence, and like poor Catherine Howard who lies next to her grave, they were two moths drawn to the flame.

Henry summons Catherine, Mary and Elizabeth to tell them he's sending them away and will not be spending Christmas with them now or ever again. He asks a disconsolate Mary to look after Edward. To Catherine he grants a wealthy endowment and freedom to remarry on his death. Mary is heartbroken at being left an orphan, while stoic Elizabeth walks off without a word after he leaves.

Alone, Henry has his final vision of Jane, asking of her son's well being. She declares Edward will die young from being locked away from the world. His father has killed him. A horrified Henry weeps.

Henry declares that Edward Seymour shall be lord protector while Edward is in his minority. Again, the Seymours have succeeded in securing their place in the power structure. Henry shall be buried next to his true love Jane. And with that, the king's political affairs are concluded.

Henry spends his last days in seclusion while Holbein finishes his portrait. Henry has a final spectacular vision—a youthful Henry standing among a beautiful sky that dissolves to a field of stars, while a horseman, Death, rides up behind. We cut away before he strikes with the sword, thinking that the king may be dead. But not yet.

Henry is summoned to view the completed portrait, and as he looks upon it we get a powerful montage of scenes throughout the series. When we cut to the canvas, we see it is the iconic painting of Henry VIII.

It is well done, and Henry walks away.

And so ends four seasons of The Tudors. A conclusion that delicately manages to keep the audience's empathy for Henry, despite his evolution into the mad and changeable tyrant of his final years. It's obvious that he genuinely loves Catherine, but his machinations to mentally torture her seem to be geared to put her in her place (as the good wife he's always wanted) rather than do her actual harm. His final moments with his family show the true love he feels despite his changeable disposition to them throughout the series.

There is little to criticize. Some may be upset about Henry's offscreen death, but that would have served very little. What we did get was a requiem with the mothers of his children, and his sins brought back to stare him in the face.

We got many good-byes—Charles' especially touching death, given he was so much the heart of this series, as well as Mary and Elizabeth's contrasting reactions to their departing father. The weight of Mary and Elizabeth's future enmity and ultimate fates always figure in the background. And Catherine, so craftily portrayed these last few episodes, leaves us wondering if she does love the king, or has simply managed to excel at her role as queen and wife. Whatever the case, she is rewarded for her loyalty and sacrifice, and like so few of these historical characters, has a happy ending.

Historical series such as this have their work cut out for them—creating living characters out of books and records, a cohesive storyline that fits the pace of a television series, and bringing it all to life dramatically and believably. With a few hiccups along the way, The Tudors succeeded in recreating the 16th Century culture, showing the important political and religious changes that had such ramifications on the modern world.

The cast excelled, most notably Jonathan Rhys Meyers (portraying an increasingly mad and tyrannical ruler) and Henry Cavill (the sombre and weary Charles Brandon who had embodied the free spirit of youth at the beginning), Sarah Bolger (as the tortured and increasingly vindictive Mary), and this season in particular, Joely Richardson (as the intelligent, loving, but calculating reformer Catherine Parr).

Like Henry's painting, The Tudors is well done. It has sparked in me a greater interest in the time period, and will be missed. But it will always be around for a rewatch on DVD—an epic Medieval television experience, beginning with an appetizer of 2010's miniseries, The Pillars of the Earth, followed by four seasons of The Tudors, and ending with Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth and Elizabeth: the Golden Age.

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