Category Archives: Review

Reactions to and analysis of newly aired episodes.

Person of Interest: “Pilot”

My expectations for this series were – and still are – pretty high. I can’t say that I loved the pilot, but I’m not sure if that’s because there was actually anything wrong with it or if my disappointment is just a reflection of overblown expectations not being met. Or maybe a strange combination of both. (This dilemma, along with the similar difficulty I’m having pinning down my thoughts on Prime Suspect, is actually fairly amusing given the article I wrote for Personal Arrogants yesterday.)

If I’m totally honest, I think 90% of the problem is that I saw the “big plot twist” coming from five minutes into the episode. When I watch an at least half-decent detective show (let’s use Castle and NCIS as examples), I almost never know who the killer is before it is revealed in the script. I would make a pretty terrible detective. So I worry when I can do some quick math (quote from Finch “She might be the victim, she could be the perpetrator” + Natalie Zea is credited high up on the guest star pecking order + we stop focusing on her for most of the episode + red herring of the jailed guy’s little brother = OMG IT’S HER) and figure out what is supposed to be the epic turning point of the episode. Especially when I can do it before the second commercial break. On the other hand, maybe knowing what was coming helped me see more clearly the crafty writing/plotting used to set it as a surprise – which was pretty crafty – , and I should actually appreciate it more as the result of a set-up than be disappointed with it as a successful shock-me moment? (I think I may have just accidentally converted myself to agreeing with the conclusion of this UC San Diego study re: the benefit of spoilers, at least in letter. In spirit, I maintain my belief that stories are more enjoyable when you don’t know what’s coming.) I think I’m going to have to wait to pass judgment on the script/story quality of this series until after a few more episodes pass. The episode that blows my mind is coming – I’m still holding out.

As far as the broader storyline of the series goes, I was actually pretty impressed. Not so straightforward Minority Report style afterall. And not even straightforward ex-government-agent-seeks-redemption either. It’s been revealed explicitly that Reese (Jim Caviezel) is presumed dead, on the run, and seeking newer better purpose after his disenchantment with his work for the government. Here’s what we don’t know: who he was, what he did, who, specifically, he worked for. Yes, I know they said “Agency,” presumably with a capital “A”, presumably as in “CI-A”, but you never know. Given that he apparently has warrants out for him on US soil and given the ties being drawn to 9/11, I’m almost thinking DEA or NSA might be more likely. I suppose we’ll find out eventually. In the meantime, I am looking forward to the development of this story line. Also oddly intriguing is the girlfriend storyline…which is weird, because I never care about the dead-significant-other story, even (or maybe especially) when it’s the point of the whole thing. Gotta give props to Jonathan Nolan for this bit of writing. I think the main reason I’m so curious in spite of myself is that practically nothing was revealed about it.

Final note on story: I really want the investigation of Reese by Carter (Taraji P. Henson) to be an on-going thing. I mean, I’d probably have to shoot myself if I heard “Just one guy. In a suit.” as many times in every episode as I did in this one, but the fact that she can find anything is a) unusual, b) fascinating, and c) possible fodder for long-term plot development wherein the NYC investigation crosses paths with people looking for Reese everywhere from D.C. to Americanaville, USA. And (just had this full revelation thanks to a seed of thought planted in my brain last night by an excellent TVer friend), the whole investigation-of-a-vigilante-bad-guy-fighter gives a great Batman vibe to the whole show. (Yes, I’m mentioning Batman. Sorry Jonathan Nolan. I really didn’t mean for that to happen. But seriously: think about it.) Gotta love the Batman vibe.

One place where this show definitely meets-and-exceeds expectations is sheer badassery. And by “this show” I do mean Reese. The one-guy-taking-down-a-whole-room isn’t what I’m talking about. I mean, sure, it’s a passable cheap thrill. But it isn’t new or exciting anymore, and it’s actually rather unimpressive when the room is a handful of the douchiest white kid punkfaces ever. I’m gonna give props for pointing out exactly How Stupid the whole holding-a-gun-sideways-“it’ll-eject-a-shell-casing-in-your-face” thing is – I didn’t know it until that happened, but I’ve been waiting for someone to point this out for years. I don’t know about the necessity of Reese carrying The Largest Gun Ever at all times either, but I’m willing to overlook it. The moment that validated Reese/Jim Caviezel as a bona fide bad ass in my mind was the grenade in the car…the car that he was riding. The framing of that detective was also pretty good, but I’d say the grenade and the point-blank shooting that followed were the key moments. The only moment that might have been better: “You need to know what it’s like to listen to someone be murdered and not be able to do anything about it.” We didn’t get a lot of Finch in the pilot, but that moment/the following scene count for an awful lot.

There are some things that I did really, truly enjoy about this pilot. The visual style is excellent – a nifty mix of security-cam-type footage, pseudo-voyeuristic camera shots, and wacky (but not too annoyingly wacky) diagonals to make the two-people-talking scenes just a tad more interesting. I’m also impressed by the level of taste – reducing the final result of the final showdown to exterior shots of two gun blasts might have been intended as a time-saver, but it is also a relief from what might have been a totally gratuitous display of violence. And of course there are a couple things that I found highly disappointing – prime example: the recording-switch in the courtroom. Yes, it is always a little satisfying, but. Old. Tired. Cliche. Try Harder Next Time.

I guess the final conclusion is, I need to see more. I definitely need to see more Michael Emerson than we got in this episode. And I could also do with just little a bit more influence from J.J. Abrams – the most obvious thing I could pick out was that the sound editing and soundtrack seemed to share a lot of features (major instrumental bursts before commercial breaks, for example) with Abrams/Michael Giacchino series…and then it turned out that no-one in the music department has worked on previous Abrams series and I was just wrong anyway. Person of Interest could benefit from a little of the hit-maker magic, although giving it some of the Cloverfield/Super 8 Abrams flavor could be more interesting. What I want to see most is staying power, because I have every confidence this show will improve with time – it just needs the chance.

Castle: “Rise”

This week’s review of Castle is brought to you by the letter CAPS LOCK.

After watching the Castle S3 finale (in July…), I had a few general hypotheses about where the S4 premiere might go. By “hypotheses” I mean less predictions, more like “extrapolations of what might happen, based on well-worn cliches.” These were not, I stress, not things I was hoping for. Just things I was expecting.

1) We’d start after a time skip, when Beckett returned to work.

2) The new captain would try to split up Beckett and Castle/get rid of Castle.

3) Beckett wouldn’t remember the shooting, and she definitely wouldn’t remember the I Love You desplaration.*

So…how’d I do? Not too badly. Unfortunately, that means the folks at Castle didn’t do a whole lot better.

Let’s start with item #1: Time Skip. You could argue that I was flat out wrong about this. The episode did actually begin the moment immediately after the funeral, with Beckett being rushed off to the hospital in a high-stress, higher-drama sequence with some pretty sweet moving and handheld camera work. Effective way to get the audience’s blood pumping and recapture summer-muddled attention immediately, so props for that. However. However. I think it needs to be pointed out exactly how stupid the entire scene really was. For one thing, talk about a no-risk scenario. At no point was there any doubt that Beckett was going survive and be Just Fine. So, WHY EVEN BOTHER. (I actually rolled my eyes at the flat-lining. Most unnecessary melodramatic thirty seconds ever.) For another thing: Josh. All of that. He had more screentime in that opening scene than over the entire past season, and yet somehow I cared Even Less. Because first we see him being all That’s My Girlfriend! I Will Save Her! heroic (melodramatic cliche bullshit in its purest form), then we see him being Grar Macho Man I Blame You Castle! douchey (out of character, and we – the audience – didn’t like him anyway so why bother giving us a reason?). My final reason why this first scene was a terrible idea is probably the most important. The only important-to-the-story thing that happened in the entire thing was Beckett’s “I’ll call you in a few days (read: not).” And you know what happened then? The Same Damn Thing That Happens Every Summer Break On Castle: Castle and Beckett part ways, at least one of them angrily, and then reconcile. TRY SOMETHING NEW. Seriously. I don’t think this first scene – any of it – needed to happen at all, and the five-or-six minutes spent on it might have been more useful for development elsewhere. Like, say,

Item #2: New Captain**. I feel pretty justified in saying that I totally called this one. Which makes me sad, because it is about as cliche and predictable as you can get. The new authority character who everybody hates/fears, who is ultimately destined to either become a watered-down sympathetic shell of their former self OR who will get killed off/promoted/made gone. I don’t care that the authority character is, by-only-semi-unusual-choice, a woman. I don’t even care that that woman is Penny Johnson Jerald (one of the greatest parts of 24 S1). This narrative choice, even with the sneaky twist of her jealousy of Beckett, is kind of like the ancient family butler of the cop-drama genre. He’s perfectly effective, but even if you put a new, shiny, affirmative action vest on him, he is showing his age and maybe you should let him retire peacefully and choose something more interesting to take his place. Like a robot. Or a house elf. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.

Now, finally, item #3: Beckett Amnesia. I was flat-out wrong about this one, but I didn’t realize until the very end of the episode because the writers were tricky as fuck. Beckett didn’t black everything out: she remembers Everything. This is maybe slightly unrealistic (I don’t have any firsthand experience with getting shot at a funeral, but I don’t think memory loss is unusual after, you know, dying, even temporarily), but it is potentially a great starting point. Especially when it gets revealed during my hands-down favorite scene of the episode, Beckett talking to her new therapist, Michael Dorn. This was the scene of the episode, for two reasons. One: MICHAEL DORN (I mean really, does it get any better than having Lieutenant Worf as your therapist? No.) Two: This shows promise. Here more than anywhere else in the episode, I see potential for Castle‘s story actually growing and developing. Beckett, already a fascinating character played by a highly capable actress, has great potential for personal growth and development. And, as in real life, her admission to herself that she has problems and needs to deal with them is the place where change is going to start. She isn’t Sydney Bristow, required to go to therapy and spending all her energy on resisting. She’s human, admitting her own weakness, and striving in a believable way to build up strength. As far as character development and progress in the interpersonal storylines, this might be the most brilliant choice of the series so far. So writers, DON’T FUCK IT UP.

I didn’t hate this episode, but I can’t say I liked it. Too many poor choices, not enough redeeming factors, and a homicide case backbone so nothing I barely even noticed it was happening. But, looking past the way “Rise” was reacting to last season and moving on to how it is setting up for this season, I’m actually pretty excited. Castle‘s development has been, a few trip-ups aside, on a permanent uphill trajectory. And while that is a wonderful thing, it starts to make us nervous around S3 when we start asking ourselves the inevitable question: “When is it going to reach the top and start going down?” I don’t think it will be this season. If Castle keeps up the solid episode-to-episode work and really digs in to the new character choices (Beckett’s therapy, as I mentioned, and also the newfound more-adult, more-aggressive Alexis we got a glimpse of), this season still could be the best yet, the show could still keep growing. BRING IT ON.

*That’s a mashup of “desperate” and “declaration”, incase you didn’t get it.
**Haha, I just had a funny moment in my brain where I realized when I’m talking about something related to Nathan Fillion and use the word “captain,” I immediately associate it with him, even when that’s completely incorrect.

Castle: “Setup/Countdown” – Tick, Tick, Tick…Boink.

(This post’s title brought to you by last year’s excellent Castle doubleheader and by a childhood spent reading Bill Watterson*.)

Translation: I am highly disappointed in how “Setup”/”Countdown” turned out.

The biggest problem is the premise of the entire thing. Castle and Beckett have no business hunting down and diffusing bombs. They just don’t. Taking down a smuggling ring or a gambling operation or something mob-related, I could potentially understand. But a terrorist threat? No. Just no. Castle has definitely rewritten the book (…so to speak…) on homicide procedurals and done a phenomenal job of that, no question. There is, however, a limit to its powers. A line, if you will, that has just been crossed.

To be fair, the team at Castle did embrace the chance to do what they do best and put a new, more personable spin on the whole counterterrorist genre. Sort of. Plenty of shows and movies before have explained the stress that Homeland Security types are under to do their very difficult and very dangerous jobs without completely losing all grasp on humanity/reality. Maybe it’s just that I’m more receptive to explanations of these things from Castle than I am from, say, Jack Bauer, but I will admit that I did have a bit of an emotional-context paradigm shift thanks to the Castle-and-Beckett breakdown of Agent Fallon’s baggage-sum-behavior. A bit.

The second greatest disappointment for me was the incredible lack of originality in “Setup”/”Countdown.” And by “lack of originality,” I guess what I mean is “predictability.” Perhaps my lack of surprise is due to the fact that I have seen every single episode of 24 and most similar movies, to the point where eighty to ninety percent of the counterterrorist genre resides in my head. Perhaps it is merely because Castle has established a pattern over the past two and a half years and, I flatter myself, I’ve pretty much got it down at this point. But I was surprised by nothing over the course of two episodes. And that is just sad. Seriously though. Having the Middle Easterners not be terrorists and having Castle and Beckett be the only ones to believe it? Not stunningly original (by genre standards). Having Castle and Beckett go rogue because they have a different idea, and then rogue-er when no-one believes them? Typical (by show and genre standards). Putting Castle and Beckett in a near-death situation only to have Ryan and Esposito rescue them at the last minute because Alexis made a call and started a chain reaction? Flat out lame (by Castle standards).

And, unfortunately, that standard of predictability colored my view of the whole thing to the point where I couldn’t even fully appreciate the bomb-stop-by-dumbass-luck purely on principle of “I saw that coming.” To be clear, that decision, which would probably be considered a cop-out anywhere but on Castle, is not something I consider an indication of lameness. That was, in fact, a quintessential Castle moment. A level of sheer ridiculousness, if you will, that no other show can get away with. The moment itself, and the immediate emotional reaction by the lead actors/characters almost made the whole two episode lead-in worthwhile. But only almost.

My final complaint with “Setup”/”Countdown” is a bit of a double-edged sword, actually, and it extends beyond this two episode storyline. It is, in brief, The Whole Doctor Motorcycle Boy Thing. That arc has been bothering me for all of S3 for a several reasons. Some of those reasons I will let go (and by “let go” I mean “just mention so you think about it on your own but move on with my larger point for the sake of this post”), like how Victor Webster is completely underused (even when you take into consideration that he’s moderately talented at best), or how calling Beckett/DMB updates “sporadic” would be generous on a saintly level.

What I can’t let go is the general feeling that the entire relationship and its place within the greater storyline of Castle is nothing more than a token romantic conflict. In a show that hinges entirely on the should-be romance of its two lead characters, the presence of a romantic rival is vital to the development of that central relationship and to the maintenance of fanbase interest. The problem is, Castle doesn’t hinge entirely on the should-be romance of Castle and Beckett! Obviously their relationship is the central element. But, newsflash, that relationship goes a lot further than Ooooh, They Want To Be Together But Can’t. Personally, I feel like the more platonic elements are actually stronger and more enjoyable than the almost-romance. I fullheartedly embrace the day-to-day snarking. The Kiss is not a moment that I’ve been living and dying for since day one, and it didn’t totally rock my world when it happened.

BUT I DIGRESS. Point is, “Setup”/”Countdown” gave the Beckett/Josh relationship a raise from Lame Background Story to Lame Forefront Story. And yes, that is a problem. If the counterterrorism two-parter was predictable, then I don’t think I know a suitably hyperbolic synonym for how boring the next developments in this love triangle plotline are going to be. We all know how it is going to end. I wish Castle would just get on with it and get it over with, for all our sakes. But not as much as I wish it had just never happened in the first place.

The DMB issue notwithstanding, there are elements of this two-parter to be grateful for. Little points of light include but are not limited to, the “Would You Just Let Me Drive” exchange, the “Best Dad Ever” moment, and the latest installment of “Ryan And Esposito: Bros For Life.” There was also the unparalleled excellence of “You’ve never heard of The Serenity?,” which gets double points for being both a Firefly/Serenity and a Star Wars joke. And, my personal favorite, the guest appearance by Adrian Pasdar, who I have been missing dreadfully in an inactive way since he was FINALLY killed off on Heroes.

It is possible that my overall disappointment with “Setup”/”Countdown” is the natural result of having high expectations that just aren’t met. I expect more of Castle, period. More originality, more nuance, and more elegance in storytelling than was displayed. Also more jokes. After last year’s “Tick, Tick, Tick…”/”Boom!”, this two-episode event was a letdown in comparison. I guess everyone is allowed an off-day, so to speak, so I certainly haven’t lost faith in the series as a whole. I’m just glad this particular moment is over with. Better days ahead.

*For those of you who didn’t make the cognitive leap on your own: a link.

Bones: “The Bullet in the Brain”

I worry sometimes that Bones is going to exhaust itself, that it will die a slow, painful death because it just can’t seem to come up with anything new. Alternatively, I worry when the show tries new things that are just so ridiculous or awful or uncalled for that it seems like cancellation would be a mercy to all of us. But alternatively again, sometimes Bones truly outdoes itself with moments of sheer brilliance. And maybe that inconsistency is really the best way for a show to survive? Gotta wonder.

I mention this series of worries of mine because they all surfaced while and after watching the latest episode, “The Bullet in the Brain.” It all started with the word “Gravedigger.” My initial reaction? Seriously? The Gravedigger? Can’t we, like, move on? I mean really. The Gravedigger’s been around since freaking S1. Isn’t it time to put this to rest? Thankfully, the answer to that last question was a resounding “yes!,” as indicated by a sniper assassination that is possibly the most disgusting thing that Bones has ever done. Seriously. That was disgusting. Slime? Sure. Rotting flesh? Absolutely. That half-dissolved body in the second part of the episode? Totally in favor. But the exploding head and residual brain matter goo puddle was just…eesh. I actually almost wanted to be sick.* I guess the special effects team deserves some congratulations.

…back to the subject- not brain-matter at hand. The pertinent point of all this is that they did finally get rid of the fricking Gravedigger. That absolutely had my approval. I’m even a supporter of Heather Taffet’s final act of completely throwing Sweets off his game. Deirdre Lovejoy gave a last, fantastic performance of absolute creepiness. And we all got to see Sweets go through some personal growth and development that didn’t involve Daisy. Plus, we were treated to not just another appearance by Caroline Julian (Patricia Belcher) but a moment that was so uncharacteristically touching and yet totally believable, the character may have finally crossed the threshold into multi-dimensionality.

So much for the good news. As far as the Gravedigger issues, the Sweets moments, and the procedural content of the episode are concerned, “The Bullet in the Brain” is a fabulous episode. The sadly short-lived but exciting appearance by Arnold Vosloo was a particular highlight for me**. Unfortunately, that is all secondary to the true main element of Bones which is, as we are all well aware, the Brennan and Booth relationship.

Frankly, as of this season, I am starting to get tired of it. I have my limits as far as how long I am willing to be strung along. Brennan’s refusal to give in to feelings last season was absolutely heartbreaking. I won’t deny that I did feel a certain about of emotional crushing, especially when they whole team parted ways at the end of the season. That said, unlike many Bones fans*, I’m finding Hannah, the character herself and her function as a way to totally interrupt the B&B will-they-won’t-they nonsense, to be an absolute godsend. I love her. I love the development. I love the way that it has been pushing the characters and actors – Brennan/Emily Deschanel especially – to explore different depths. I would actually be genuinely delighted if Hannah/Katheryn Winnick became a permanent fixture.

But as I said, the Booth and Brennan relationship is the lifeblood of the show and I’m afraid that “The Bullet in the Brain” was an indication that the end is near. The strongest hint came from the appearance of Brennan’s father. Of course I am always delighted to see Ryan O’Neal as Max Keenan. However, the inclusion of him on the suspect list for a crime that he was obviously incapable of is a sadly thin premise on which to bring him in so he can ask the awkward questions about why Booth and Brennan aren’t together and bring the concept of “they are not but they ought to be” back to the front of all our minds.

That heavy-handed harbinger moment was more than enough, thankyouverymuch. But, sadly, it was not all. The worst (read: most disappointing) thing for me came in the very final moments of the episode via Booth staring out the window at happy Brennan with intense-non-specific-emotion-vision. Since the episode was directed by David Boreanaz, I don’t think I am making an unreasonable cognitive leap by seeing that shot as a Very Strong Hint straight from the innerworkings of Booth’s mind. The message? Booth, despite all his denials, is not over Brennan. At all. And yeah, we knew that, no surprise there. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

A return to the old routine of Booth and Brennan skirting around each other carefully while the rest of the characters and millions of fanshippers pant with anticipation was pretty much inevitable. I know that. I will just have to get over my disappointment that the day has finally come. Disappointment aside, I am still worried. Very worried, that Bones is going to get boring again. That we’ve reached the end of the track and now we’re just going to loop right back to the beginning and do it all over again. Will it make me stop watching the show? No. I watch Bones for reasons other than the B&B relationship, so even intense displeasure with developments there won’t really diminish my enjoyment of or dedication to the show. I’ll keep watching. I’ll just have to resign myself to occasional moments of critical displeasure.

*Recall that I’m the gal who gets a huge kick out of nasty gooiness most of the time.

**Especially since there was maybe sort of a slight indication that he might be coming back.

***I’m only guessing this is true. But I’d be willing to bet.

PS – HOLY CRAP I JUST LOOKED AT THE WHOLE CAST LIST FOR THIS EPISODE ON IMDB AND REALIZED BOOTH’S SNIPER RIVAL BUDDY GUY WILLIAM PRESTON IS MATTHEW JOHN ARMSTRONG aka TED FROM HEROES. HOW DID THIS MANAGE TO ESCAPE ME!?

First Glance: The Cape

Reader Challenge: Keep your eyes peeled for the alliterative passages! (I’m not really sure how it happened, but they just kept popping up.) There are more than there ought to be, considering I wasn’t trying to do that.

Four episodes in and I still can’t believe I’m saying this (but I must): The Cape is surprisingly awesome. It isn’t really quality television programming, per se. But it is exactly as good as it ought to be for what it is.

Basically, The Cape is the television iteration of a comic book. Or, alternatively, an extended superhero blockbuster movie. It maintains the fairly straightforward, rather simplistic story format of each, as well as the blend of pseudo-realism and heavy stylization that characterizes superhero fiction in general. I’d argue it is formatted more similarly to paper comics; each episode is equivalent to an issue, split into smaller chapters, each of which is announced by what is basically a title page. (During the pilot, before I figured out what the titles were, I was not only confused but vaguely disapproving. Now that I understand what’s going on, I’m actually a fan of the presentation.) Since much of the show revolves around a comic book, the stylization is a rather creative and definitely effective technique. You just need to watch the opening credits to see that the aesthetics of the show are awesome.

There is no lack of stylization in any aspect of The Cape. It is, arguably, more style than substance (at least so far). It is filmed with the idea of comic-style images in mind – it’s a technique that worked wonderfully for Heroes. The visual similarity to comic book images extends into color choice, set design, and even the casting. No, really: if you look at them, there is not a single one who cannot easily be imagined into a cartoon character.

As far as casting goes, The Cape is populated by individuals who have been chosen more for look and persona than any amount of nuance in their performance. David Lyons (Vince Faraday) is just the right mix of abs, altruism, and border-line asinine determination. His voice and his manner would be just a little too puppy dog if he were trying to pass for a tougher, more epic superhero. But for a guy who lurks in corners, is trained by circus performers, and goes around calling himself “The Cape”, it works. He couldn’t hold the show up by himself, but he doesn’t necessarily have to.

The supporting cast is much more entertaining, naturally; but they are all only as excellent as they should be, without threatening to overshadow the central character. Summer Glau is, well, Summer Glau. I hate to say it because I love her, but there’s just not a whole lot of acting going on. Her role so far is a cross between watered-down River Tam and a ballerina. The situation is, sadly, made worse by the fact that her character’s storyline so far is painfully predictable. BUT. She is Summer Glau. So “Orwell” (real name X Fleming) is sexy and droll and yet still childlike and charming. Not new, as I say, but not unwelcome either.

Keith David, arguably best known as the voice of Goliath the Gargoyle, plays ring master and bank robber Max Malini to perfection. Between his voice and his eyebrows, he manages to give the two sides of the character – wise old trainer and happy resident of Moral-Gray-Area-Ville – an individual flourish of overwrought sardonic-ness. Also, he rocks some seriously rad Tuareg jewelry. His circus underlings, Rollo (Martin Klebba), Ruvi (Anil Kumar), and Raia (Izabella Miko) are obvious caricatures – no layers there – but unarguably entertaining. Not a whole lot of time is spent at Max Malini’s circus now that The Cape has his own fantastically aesthetic batcave (capecave?), but that time is unfailingly enjoyable.

Naturally, it is the humdrum humans who are least spectacular. And really, that’s the fault of the roles rather than the actors. It takes longer to warm up to characters who aren’t flashbanging their way across the screen making cheesy one-liners and forcing you to either like or hate them immediately. I’m still formulating my opinions about Dana (Jennifer Ferrin), Trip (Ryan Wynott), and Marty (Dorian Missick), but they are definitely growing on me.

The best roles are always the villains, and Chess aka Peter Fleming aka James Frain is no exception. In the pilot there seemed to be some question about whether or not he was going to have an accent or not. Now that the accent has been embraced, it is much easier to concentrate on his snobbish Brit businessman excellence. He is massively fun to watch, and plays the role with just enough of a tongue-in-cheek twist to make dressing in an all-white Western sheriff outfit seem like something the character would actually do. (And, even more impressive, managing to not look any more ridiculous than intended.) “Chess” has been killed in the world of The Cape so, unfortunately, we don’t get to see much of the CREEPY-AS-HELL snake eyes in red leather which is CREEPY AS HELL. Thankfully, Vinnie Jones fills the evil theatricality void by playing his usual money-man mobster-type bad guy…with awesome reptile makeup.

There are many things to enjoy about The Cape. It is well-made, beautifully orchestrated, and achieves exactly what it wants to in terms of creating a world and a story. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to be getting particularly swept up in said story. Ratings for The Cape are not encouraging. (It doesn’t help that its main timeslot competition is FOX’s Lie to Me, which airs immediately after perennial House.)I think part of that is due to the fact that the promos just looked so stupid. I mean, I almost didn’t watch the show because of them (and I have low standards!). That was the immediate problem that got The Cape off to a slow start. Well, that and the fact that it is called “The Cape” and revolves around a superhero named “The Cape” and no-one has been able to take capes seriously since Edna Mode of The Incredibles.*

The on-going problem is that there just isn’t much substance to back up all the style. My main concern is that the writers just won’t be able to come up with enough story to keep the show going…and it looks like they won’t even have all that many episodes to fill. Time was, a superhero could go through basically the exact same routine every week with a different opponent and everybody was thrilled. But we are living in a post-Nolan-Batman world. People demand more depth to their superhero fiction. And that is a good thing, no question. Still, it is kind of sad to live in a world where the classic superhero model – misunderstood good guy repeatedly saves the world without recognition or ego – isn’t enough anymore.

I really am enjoying The Cape in all its stylistic simplicity. But I’m not especially invested. And neither, it seems, is the rest of the television-viewing audience. Too bad, so sad. Not, however, a tragedy. I honestly believe that The Cape is worth watching as far as its own merits are concerned. I also honestly believe it is doomed to fail (could be quickly or via slow, painful slide) so unless you have plenty of time on your hands, don’t bother. There are better, or at least more dependable, things to watch…probably.

*They have managed to make the cape itself a tool rather than an accessory. Yeah, the disappearing act and cape-as-weapon bits are a tad silly. But how much sillier are capes that just hang there? I ask you.

Oscar Nominations (Are Dumb)

The nominations were released at 5am this morning…Pacific Time? I don’t remember. ANYWAY. Here they are, in all their expectable-but-occasionally-infuriating glory.

Best Actor:
Javier Bardem for “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges for “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg for “The Social Network”
Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech”
James Franco for “127 Hours”

Javier Bardem and Jeff Bridges, I love you. But Colin Firth had better fucking win this.

Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale for “The Fighter”
John Hawkes for “Winter’s Bone”
Jeremy Renner for “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo for “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush for “The King’s Speech”

What the HELL ASS do you mean, Matt Damon wasn’t even nominated?! (Admittedly, there is a lot of heavy competition in this category.)

Best Actress:
Annette Bening for “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman for “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter’s Bone”
Natalie Portman for “Black Swan”
Michelle Williams for “Blue Valentine”

Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams for “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter for “The King’s Speech”
Melissa Leo for “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld for “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver for “Animal Kingdom”

Animated Feature Film:
How to Train Your Dragon
Toy Story 3
The Illusionist

Toy Story 3 is going to win. One wonders why they even bother with other nominations.

Art Direction:
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter
Inception
The King’s Speech
True Grit

Ohhhh The King’s Speech had better not win this.

Cinematography:
Black Swan
Inception
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

I will be embarrassed for the world if The King’s Speech wins this.

Directing:
Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan”
David O. Russell for “The Fighter”
Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech”
David Fincher for “The Social Network”
Coen Brothers for “True Grit”

LACK OF CHRISTOPHER NOLAN NOM IS CRAPCRAPCRAP.

Original Score:
John Powell for “How to Train Your Dragon”
Hans Zimmer for “Inception”
Alexandre Desplat for “The King’s Speech”
A.R. Rahman for “127 Hours”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for “The Social Network”

No nomination for Daft Punk?! Lame. But not surprising. (The King’s Speech had also better not win this.)

Best Picture:
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Visual Effects:
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter
Hereafter
Inception
Iron Man II

If Inception doesn’t win this category, I will have no respect for the Oscars anymore.

Adapted Screenplay:
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Team True Grit! (The Social Network will probably win.)

Original Screenplay:
Another Year
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech

Team Inception! (The King’s Speech will probably win.)

Castle: “Nikki Heat”

All things considered, I’m actually a little disappointed in this episode. It was not as hilarious as I was expecting. Given Castle‘s usual M.O., I thought an episode where Castle comes face to face with Nikki Heat would be more comical than, well, pseudo-revelatory. Frankly, the more serious tone was a let down.

All the “insight” from this episode regarding the Castle-Beckett relationship falls solidly into the “duh” category. And the presentation was well suited to that level of subtlety (and by “subtlety” I mean “lack thereof”). Castle and Beckett have unresolved sexual tension?! Nikki Heat is an opportunity for Castle to fantasize?! Beckett actually does have feelings for Castle but doesn’t want to admit them?! Whaaaat? If you were surprised by any of that, you are a moron and I am revoking your Castle Fan Club card.

We did not need a Hollywood actress character to come in, study Beckett, make some observations, and then explain all of this to us. We just didn’t. And, sadly, having said Hollywood actress character become Beckett’s freaky doppleganger was not quite funny enough to balance out that insult to the audience’s intelligence. Which is not to say it wasn’t funny.

Laura Prepon (best known for her role on That 70s Show) as Natalie Gray gave an excellent performance. She hit just the right note in-between blonde bimbo slasher star and serious studious actress. I’m also going to compliment the people who cast her; at the start of the show, she didn’t look a thing like Beckett. But throw on the right clothes and wig and BAM!, suddenly you realize they do have fairly similar facial structures. She was a good choice, and she did absolutely everything that was asked of her to perfection.

 

Spending so much time on a guest character definitely had a costly effect on the usual supporting cast. Esposito and Martha and Lanie and the Captain each had about five seconds on-screen. Alexis was around only slightly longer – although the writers made that time count by revealing her bad side! (Of course, her “bad side” only amounts to watching horrible R-rated teen slasher flicks, but still.)

Ryan got the most attention of any of the supporting cast. Unfortunately, his time in the sun was one huge, honking WTF moment. Ryan and girlfriend storyline: WHY? Yes, having Seamus Dever and his real-life wife Juliana act out this adorable courtship is cute in an awwsqueeVOMIT sort of way. But it is a complete non sequitor in relation to the rest of the show. Obviously I am always looking for more character development of Ryan (and Esposito). This does not count.

One unquestionably great thing about this episode: it was basically a showcase of How Awesome Stana Katic Is. Yes we all knew about the emotional stuff and yes explicating all of that was pretty redundant. That said, how many of us were really in tune with everything that Stana Katic does to embody the character of Beckett? If you weren’t impressed before, you sure as hell’d better be now. This is definitely her season; the title of the series hasn’t changed, but she is starting to steal the show from Nathan Fillion. I love the man, no question. And he is a phenomenal actor. But now he’s found a worthy co-star, he needs to step it up. Together, both at the top of their game, these two could make Castle the best dynamic duo procedural yet.

I am looking forward to next week. Beckett and Castle investigating the death of an illusionist can only mean a return to the show’s signature dark-but-wacky brand of comedy.

Waiting until January is not The Event

Yes, Asa, you were correct and I admit it.

It can fairly be said that, now I have seen the first ten episodes, I do regret not having started watching The Event sooner. In a television world now without 24, Heroes, and Lost, The Event has successfully filled the gaping hole left in the hearts of sci-fi fans…and without trying so hard that it comes up an obvious second.

What sets The Event apart from its predecessors is the presentation. It requires undivided attention from the viewer, but it does not demand that attention. The show almost tricks the audience into believing it is boring, until it pulls some ridiculously creepy stunt out of nowhere. Except not actually out of nowhere, because everything that happens fits into the narrative…somewhere.

The first few episodes, I felt like I needed to make myself a timeline to figure out exactly what was happening when and what the actual chronological order of events was. Now that the story has become more or less linear, the confusion is considerably less. And so is the excitement. The first three episodes were characterized by melodrama in the same class of, say, Lost or 24. Lots of fights, lots of booms, a little narrative progress, but mostly content to grab the audience’s attention. It took a few more episodes before something happened to keep that attention.

Visually, The Event matches the tone of the narrative. The cinematography is a bit reminiscent of the semi-voyeuristic, close-up ridden camera work of 24. But there are a lot more sweeping, cinematic sequences, and the overall colorscheme is actually rather light and airy. There’s little harshness to be found.

The thing about The Event is that it is so…calm. Even though all of these epic things are happening, the story twists and turns are allowed to stand alone without being punctuated by ridiculous, overbearing, dramatic sound effects a la JJ Abrams shows or constantly, melodramatically shouted swears a la Jack Bauer. People get shot, people die, bombs are set off, yes. But the greatest off-putting comes from quiet, creepy moments like little girls with old lady faces.

And maybe that is this show’s greatest trick. It doesn’t feel the need to force itself on you every single moment, but it does provide just enough reminders to keep you watching because you never know when the next crazy thing is going to happen.

The storytelling method – technique and pacing – are impressive. But The Event also has its disappointments. I’ve yet to get really attached to any of the characters. They’re all so-so at best. The president (Blair Underwood) wavers between being irritatingly moral and disturbingly short tempered. The two central action stars, Sean (Jason Ritter) and Simon (Ian Anthony Dale), are interesting to watch but not particularly connectable, despite efforts to make them so. Oddly, I find myself most drawn to Leila (Sarah Roemer), but I couldn’t tell you why. The two characters who disappoint me the most are Sterling and Sophia; the first because I expect so much from Zeljko Ivanek and am not getting it; the second because the character is half Laura Roslin, half Kathryn Janeway, but Laura Innes is not even a quarter so fascinating or chasimatic as those two.

I can’t say that The Event has moved me or captured me in any monumental way. It’s not…exciting enough. (That isn’t quite the word I want, but I can’t think of the one I’m looking for.) But all the elements needed to make a great sci-fi show are more or less in play. I definitely have hopes that this series will grow and develop given time. Hopefully that time will be given.

Big Screen Brain: Black Swan

For the New Year, in an effort to encourage more Melted Brain productivity, I’m branching out to film. There will probably not be anywhere near as much film-related content as television-related content, because I don’t have that much to say about movies. But there will be a few fun new things. Like this.

After seeing this film, I found myself trying to define exactly what makes a “good” movie. I honestly cannot decide if Black Swan qualifies or not. It certainly is not destined to become a classic (I doubt it’ll last much beyond DVD release). But, the film achieves exactly what it aims to achieve, and it does that to perfection.

The entire point of Black Swan is to disturb the viewer on a fundamental level. It is not about the duality of beauty/brutality in ballet. It’s not about any kind of duality, although director Darren Aronofsky tries really hard to trick you into thinking that it is. Black Swan exists for the sole purpose of freaking people out. And it does that exceedingly well. This film is a veritable masterpiece of mindfuckery.

The achievement is in the visual and auditory effects. Clint Mansell‘s original score and Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” are combined with musical hints of terror straight out of a teenage slasher film to create a soundtrack of elegance and horror. If I were the type to have deep, analytical thoughts about things, I might say something along the lines of “The soundtrack is mixed and moderated to be perfectly in tune with the visual elements and the emotional material; it adds a certain dimension of participation to the film, giving the audience a sense of becoming lost in the music much the way the disturbed ballerina protagonist is encouraged to do.” If I were the type to say that sort of thing.

Black Swan‘s visual side is also excellent. The color choice in the film – mostly combined blacks and whites, as you might imagine – is distinctive and fitted to the mood of each scene. Costuming for the plainclothes portions of the film was given just as much attention and importance as the extraordinary ballet costumes, and the ballet makeup is phenomenal to the point where it draws attention to itself. My favorite visual element of the entire film is Nina’s (Natalie Portman) bedroom. It is childlike, and appears to be girlish and pink and almost freakishly innocent at the beginning. But as the film progresses and becomes increasingly more disturbing, the room changes. Except it doesn’t. The same elements are there the entire time, but the brown and pink floral comforter seems to veer closer and closer to black and white. The large stuffed animals begin to loom. As the viewer’s understanding of the warped surreality increases, the perception of the room changes from “Aww, what a sweet little girl bedroom!” to “Oh My God it’s a pedophile prison.” That is a sort of visual excellence that stands on its own enough that I could watch this movie in another language and not understand a thing, but I’d still get a sense of the mood and enjoy watching.

I wish I could say there was no weak link in the visual elements, but I can’t. Because there was one visual element that embodies the weakest link of the entire film.

Dear filmmaking industry,
Just because the technology is available does not mean you have to use CGI in everything.
Love,
Melted Brain

Seriously, the CGI almost ruined it for me. Black Swan incorporates a whole fleet of amazing cutting and editing tricks involving mirrors and multiple Natalie Portmans and changing faces and all sorts of fun things like that. But for some reason someone decided that wasn’t enough. And so we are treated to the mysterious floating macro-goosebumps of craziness (or possibly arousal), to Nina sprouting and growing feathers in the middle of a ballet, to Mila Kunis‘ clearly cliche back tattoo (which a ballerina wouldn’t actually be able to have and work with anyway) which mutates mysteriously during sex, to the most incongruous part of the entire film: the creepy photo room that screams and cries and actually looks more like the pseudo-cartoonish opening sequence of Sweeney Todd more than anything else – actually, now that I think about it, there is also a certain resemblance to the moving-eye portraits in Scooby Doo… . Anyway. All of it is slightly ridiculous, only moderately well-done, and completely unnecessary. BUT. It does exactly what it is supposed to do: it confounds and confuses and profoundly creeps-out. So my dilemma continues.

One part of this film that I will absolutely qualify as good is the acting. The cast is phenomenal, although I believe the true highlights are the performances that garnered less pre-release attention. Certainly, Natalie Portman delivers. Her performance is absolutely stunning. Not only does she make a semi-credible ballerina (at least in the eyes of non-ballerinas), but she also masters both the frighteningly childish and the frighteningly sinful. I can think of only one line in the entire movie where I was aware of Natalie Portman rather than of her character and, well, that wasn’t her fault. It’s just that someone really wanted to foreshadow the lesbian sex with a female genitalia joke and no matter how much she tries, clearly Natalie Portman is too aware of it to completely convince an audience that virginal, innocent Nina is not.

My major actor props go to the supporting cast, though. And not to Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder either. Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel are brilliant in this film. Mila Kunis’ Lily is about the only thing that keeps Black Swan from being totally awful. She is scripted to bring in just enough humor to break up the dark madness; Mila Kunis took that and completely embodied to the role to make it larger than its initial purpose. Everytime she left the screen, I was sad to see her go. But she isn’t my favorite performance of the film. Vincent Cassel is completely amazing. Com-plete-ly a-maze-ing. He managed to hit just the perfect note. The character of Thomas Leroy could easily have been a one-note of creeper or a one-note of self-obsessed-director. But Vincent Cassel manages to embody both of those, and then other dimensions as well. At the beginning of the film, he makes a perfect creep. By the end of the film, he has shown just enough other sides to make you wonder if he was even all that creepy in the first place. Plus he’s French, which never hurts.

Black Swan is undoubtedly an artistic film. It is beautiful to watch, beautiful to hear, and appropriately disturbing. But is it good?

Even after getting some analysis written, I still can’t decide. The story is weak at best (and just short of moronic at worst). The Beth (Winona Ryder) character seems completely unnecessary. The film fails to find an appropriate balance between explaining too much and explaining too little, leaving the audience with the clear understanding that Nina is completely batshit, but also with a whole boatload of questions about why or how or what. Potential storylines or subtleties involving Nina’s mother (Barbara Hershey) or her anorexia are completely skimmed over to the point where one wonders why they were included in the first place. Thinking back on the film through a critical lens, the whole thing appears absurd and poorly managed and, well, bad.

Except that it isn’t. Because even though there are parts of it that make absolutely no sense, the film does not fail in anyway, least of all it’s primary goal. The desired effect is achieved. It disturbs the audience, plants questions in their minds, and inspires consideration and reflection that is, at least in my case, longwinded and ongoing. And what makes a film “good” (which we will define for the moment as “a successful piece of art”) if not success in provoking thought?

Your mom is a rhetorical question.

(Fun fact for Human Target fans: Janet Montgomery – Ames – is also in this film. She’s one of the ballerinas. Apparently they only cast brunettes with good bone structure.)

Merry Christmas Special

I did not grow up watching all those stop-motion animation Christmas television movie specials that are actually horrible but no-one wants to say so because they grew up with them and have thus assigned a huge amount of sentimental value. ALSO, my family has never been big on Christmas movies. I think I’ve seen It’s A Wonderful Life once, ever. Likewise Miracle on 34th Street until last night when channel flipping landed me on AMC. White Christmas is a different story because it’s an early-fifties era musical and that was basically my childhood. But I digress. Point is, I don’t watch real Christmas specials.

Unluckily for me, television series really like to make their own special holiday episodes.

Luckily for all of us, this gives me review fodder.

So, without further ado, a quick review of four of this year’s Christmas Special Episodes.

Human Target: “The Other Side of the Mall”

Dear Human Target,

If you’re going to do a Christmas episode, maybe don’t revolve the whole thing around how much the main character hates Christmas. It kind of ruins things. It’s bad enough to do a holiday-themed episode. You could at least make an effort to get into the spirit a little. Funny as it is to send the team down light-vomited suburban holiday lane to the tune of “Where are we?” “Hell.”, the whole thing just ends up lame. Also, semi-metal rock n’ roll riff Christmas carols? You have ruined ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Forever’…and it wasn’t that good to begin with. Thanks for that.

Love,
Melted Brain

Best quotes: “Wow. You’re an excellent whistler.” and “You are what we in the custodial arts like to call…a douche.”

Glee: “A Very Glee Christmas”

My expectations for this episode were really low, so I guess you could say they’ve been fulfilled. Basically, I found the lack of inspiration embarrassing. Least original Christmas special ever. And all the more disappointing because Glee is capable of doing better when it actually tries. But not this year. Glee seems to be having some major writing problems this year and is getting worse by the episode and I could go on, but that’s not really the point right now. So, let me break this review down into pros and cons…and I’ll try to come up with an even number of each, because it’s only fair:

GOOD:
1) Brittany still believes in Santa Claus: Touche, Glee. If there is anything to make me at least accept a Christmassy Christmas special filled with Christmassy Christmas spirit…Brittany believing in Santa and the whole club teaming up to make her time magical is it. AWWWWWWWW.
2) Coach Beiste: This was actually just a good episode thing in general. I’m really pleased she’s becoming incorporated into the show in general. Dot Jones is a much better element than Coach Tanaka (Peter Gallagher) ever was. And the Arty-slash-Brittany gift? AWWWWWWWW.
3) Baby It’s Cold Outside: On behalf of fangirls everywhere, thank you. I don’t care that the script had to take a completely ridiculous and unnecessary side trip. I will bet you any amount of money this is the most popular part of the episode. (But I still feel the need to remark: Chris Colfer singing the low part in a duet with another dude is frickin’ weird.)

UNDECIDED:
Island of Misfit Toys: Great echo back to the early days…but so saccharine I wanted to cry.

BAD:
1) The Jew Problem: Puck decorating a Christmas tree? JEWFAIL. Rachel singing not just one, but two Christmas numbers? JEWFAIL. The fact that the Glee Club has two Jews very obsessed with being Jewish could have been a jumping off point for making a Christmas episode with some actual valuable social commentary the like of which Glee supposedly is still capable of. But NO. No. Instead let’s just ignore that. Because Christmas is too commercially dominant for us to do anything else. I mean, it’s not as if there are any Jews in showbiz or anything.
2) The Sue plot: I am embarrassed by how lame this was. Sue as the Grinch. Really. Wow. Let’s talk about low-hanging fruit from the obvious tree.
3) The end: And of course, how else could this episode possibly have ended but with a hair joke. Wow. Merry fucking Christmas to you too, Glee. Motherfuckers.

Best quotes: “This year, Glee Club’s going full-Santa *CRAZYEYES*” and Schue’s ideas for Sue-mas gifts (1 – robot dog, 2 – a soul)

Leverage: “The Ho Ho Ho Job”

Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this episode. It just wasn’t that noteworthy. It was an average episode of Leverage, but with Santa. And not even very much Santa. Yes, yes, Parker’s obsession with Christmas was kind of cute fun. But that was about it. Christmas in the mall. Wa. Hoo.

Eureka: “O Little Town”

The whole “telling a tale of Christmas past” is a bit heavy-handed. BUT, Eureka is beyond tongue-in-cheek enough to handle it. The episode works because it’s a totally standard episode of Eureka…it just happens to take place during Christmas. We get Taggart back, which is awesome. There is nothing funnier than a gangly Australian trying to explain Santa Claus with science. Except for maybe  an ENORMOUS ROLLING CHRISTMAS BALL ORNAMENT. (YESSS.) The can of Christmas cheer was excessively creepy, but the episode ended on not just the right key, but the right note exactly. Kids who go “That’s way too sappy…but good story” is the perfect sappy holiday touch that doesn’t make the audience want to die. And, final note: I usually don’t approve of changing of credits/opener to incorporate holiday decor, but Sheriff Carter in an elf/Santa/whatever-that-was costume? Admittedly pretty hysterical

Best quotes: “Tell me about it. I had to ice my hot toddies.”

 

 

Merry Christmas from Melted Brain.