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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Expendables



If ever a movie oozed machismo, it's Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables. Sweaty, leathery, tattooed, gun-toting, exploderiffic machismo. This is a movie where every vehicle Stallone rides has "The Expendables" emblazoned on it - because it matches the tattoo on his back. The Expendables is hyped up as all of the greatest action movie stars ever assembled together in one movie; it sort of is but it really isn't.

In reality, The Expendables bands together many of the greatest B-movie action movie stars of the past decade-or-so: international action gods Jason Statham and Jet Li are the main stars besides Stallone himself. (It's funny how the three headlining action heroes are largely incomprehensible when they speak) Li is on board to chop socky fight and to earn more money for the family he claims to have. Statham is probably the most interesting Expendable, especially when he beats up the entire basketball team of the asshole who hit the woman he loves, Charisma Carpenter. Mickey Rourke, as the Expendables' grisled tattoo artist and mission liaison, provides gravitas (no, really) with a heartfelt speech about his missing soul. A brief scene with Sly, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the biggest action junkie geek out moment, but it really only makes one wish The Expendables happened with these three together 20 years ago.

Nevertheless, holy shit, The Expendables is hilariously action-packed and action-packed with hilarity. The ultra-violence is completely over the top with bodies regularly exploding into pieces, all sorts of  gruesome dismemberments (the best is Sly chopping off an enemy's head with a bowie knife in one swipe), and explosions. Lots and lots of fiery explosions. The Expendables don't know how to exit a fight without detonating absolutely everything - and everyone - in sight into a fireball you could see from outer space. Explosions solve everything! I also really liked when instead of just escaping in their sea plane, since they'd already gotten away scot free, Stallone and Statham turned the plane around specifically to light the enemy soldiers on fire.

In-jokes galore for those in the know include Dolph Lundgren as the rouge junkie Expendable who betrays them and tries to kill Sly and Li. Of course, Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago can't get along. Except that, no, they can and Dolph's back in the fold drinking with his buddies at the end, even after it looked like Sly shot him dead. Stone Cold Steve Austin as the villainous Eric Roberts' top ass kicker wins a dream match with Stallone, but then loses an Inferno Match against Randy Couture.

But my favorite thing of all in The Expendables is how neither Stallone, nor any of the Expendables, nor I, fully understood the reasons why Sly had to go back to that island nation and rescue that woman. Or even why Eric Roberts had to take her hostage and didn't just kill her. I guess I'm also confused as to why, in a movie called The Expendables, none of the Expendables died. You know, because they're expendable. But why anything? When half the island blows the fuck up to kingdom come just because, there's no need to be asking why. The Expendables 2 next, please, thank you.

Wish list for The Expendables 2: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Carl Weathers, Mr. T., Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, and my number one request: Ralph Macchio! (Think about it.) How about female Expendables? Gina Carano, Milla Jovovich, and Charisma Carpenter promoted to female Expendable. Or Sarah Michelle Gellar! Sky's the limit, Sly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1



Harry Pitches A Tent

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 begins the final chapter of the world's most beloved wizarding saga and aims to deliver the grandest Harry Potter movie adventure of all. It's certainly the longest. At two and a half stately-paced hours, this Hagrid-sized film epic is full to the Sorting Hat's brim with beloved and not-so-beloved characters making (in some cases their final) appearances, deepening mysteries, and debuting characters previously mentioned in the prior chapters. There are new revelations, tragic deaths, and there is camping.  Lots and lots of camping. 

Following the tragic events of the previous entry, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Professor Dumbledore has died at the hands of Severus Snape, who was working for Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters (or so it seems). Before his demise, Dumbledore charged Harry with the task for finding and destroying the missing Horcruxes, the keys to the ultimate defeat of Lord Voldemort.  Harry doesn't quite get around to his quest until after the first thirty minutes or so. To his credit, he tries to get going with his job sooner, but Ron talks Harry back to hang around and watch his brother Bill get married to Fleur Delacour. 

Up until the Death Eaters attack the Weasleys' wedding reception, The Death Hallows, Part 1 is basically one giant cameo-a-thon. So many recurring characters pop up, you'd need a Ph.D in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter just to keep everyone straight. The first welcome cameo is by Bill Nighy as the new Minister of Magic. He gets a couple of scenes before dying off screen. Then let's see, all of the Weasleys appear, Mad-Eye Moody, Fleur Delacour, Professor Lupin, What's Her Name, the black guy with the fez hat, and maybe there were others... it was actually easier to keep track of them all when most of them drank Poly Juice Potion and all ended up looking identical to Harry. They're all present to provide callbacks to the previous films (interrupting Harry's private bittersweet callbacks of watching the Dursleys hit the bricks and then remembering all the good times when he lived in the cupboard under the stairs) and then protect Harry from an aerial attack by the Death Eaters. 

Before they burst from the clouds on their broomsticks like a bunch of screaming banshees, the Death Eaters held an exclusive pow wow at Lucius Malfoy's house.  Lord Voldemort is (always) the guest of honor. Also in attendance were all of the Malfoys, Snape, Wormtail, Bellatrix Lestrange, Count Chocula, Mr. Burns, Rainier Wolfcastle, Sideshow Bob, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. A Death Eater corporate retreat is actually far, far worse than the ones held by SPECTRE in the old James Bond movies. They kill someone at both meetings, but at least at the SPECTRE meetings no one has to sit around and watch Nagiri the python eat the corpse on the boardroom table. Even though the forces of evil are winning, morale in the Death Eaters is low, and one can easily see why. Their boss is a snake-faced psychopath - what exactly do they have to look forward to if Voldemort conquers the world?

When the Weasley-Delacour wedding reception is attacked by the Black Smoke (Death Eaters always like to burst from the clouds like the Smoke Monster on Lost, only without the clanking sound effects), Harry, Ron and Hermione escape to downtown London and are pretty much on their own for the whole rest of the movie. It's clear immediately that they have no idea what to do. This is a bummer and surprising. After all, Dumbledore died at the end of the prior school year. They had all summer to come up with a plan of action to locate and destroy the Horcruxes, but no, they've got nothing. At least Hermione thought ahead: she came prepared with a magical bottomless bag containing the equivalent of three of Batman's utility belts. Dumbledore also bequeathed Harry, Ron, and Hermione each something from his Will, but the most important item, the Sword of Godric Griffyndor, is missing. Why not go look for that?  No, the three young Wizards don't have any idea where to look for the Sword anymore than they do the Horcruxes.

It was delightful, however, to see Harry, Ron and Hermione roaming the streets of London. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the movie that established that the Harry Potter saga takes place in the modern world and that all of the kids are modern kids. Although unlike modern Muggle kids, Harry, Ron and Hermione don't have laptops, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and aren't texting each other every damn second.  Modern kids also don't have to constantly duck, run and hide from ugly blokes on broomsticks blasting them with wands. 

After a couple of ugly blokes try to blast them with wands, the Wizarding firm of H, R & H hide out in the dusty old house of the late, lamented Sirius Black, Harry's godfather. Re-introduced into the Harry Potter movies are Kreacher and Dobby the House Elves, both reminders of the more innocent years of when Harry Potter was whimsical and aimed for fanciful children, instead of how bleak, grim and killy-kill-kill the Harry Potter saga has now become. Kreacher and Dobby are awkward presences now, with the kids much older and the world about to end, but on the other hand the CGI for the House Elves is far more convincing than in the prior films.

Probably the most entertaining sequence in Deathly Hallows, Part 1 involves Harry, Ron, and Hermione using Poly Juice Potion (again with the Poly Juice Potion!) to impersonate three employees of the Ministry of Magic so they can steal the locket, which is a Horcrux, of their evil former Headmaster Delores Umbridge. (Umbridge was last seen being carried away by a bunch of centaurs in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but I guess she's fine. One wonders what, er, favors, got her out of being stampeded by the centaurs she insulted as being inferior creatures.)  The size and scope of the Ministry of Magic set is awe-inspiring, and the sequence thrillingly invoked Luke Skywalker and Han Solo bungling into the Death Star to rescue Princess Leia.

There's a frightful excursion to Godric's Hollow, both the birthplace of Dumbledore and where Harry's parents James and Lily Potter died to save their son, wherein Harry and Hermione have a thrilling battle with Nagiri the snake.  Our Wizarding Super Friends also get attacked at the home of Luna Lovegood, and later are trapped in the home of Lucius Malfoy, where Bellatrix Lestrange slices and dices the word "Mudblood" into poor Hermione. Hermione isn't a cutter, but Bellatrix sure is. 

But mainly, Harry, Ron and Hermione go camping. For months on end, they pitch a tent and go camping, in the woods, by a lake, in the mountains. They don't do any of the fun things one does while camping like sing songs or go fishing; they just sit around morosely and complain about how they don't know what to do and why they can't destroy the one Horcrux they found.  Inexplicably, they each take turns wearing the Horcrux locket, which contains some ill-defined power like the One Ring in Lord of the Rings that drives the wearer mad. Harry yells at Ron, Ron yells at Hermione, Hermione yells at Harry - Hey dummies!  Stop wearing the stupid Horcrux locket!  Put it in your pockets, or better yet, in Hermione's bottomless bag and stay away from it! 

Really, I expect better logic from Hermione, who got the biggest laugh in the movie when she proudly explains to Harry why her logic makes her so damn smart. (Also, loveable.) Second biggest laugh in the movie - and this is a movie where there is precious little laughter to be had - was the awkward shout out to Twilight when Ron interrupted Hermione telling the story of the Three Brothers (excellently animated) from The Tales of Beedle the Bard: "Midnight. My mum always says midnight. But Twilight's just as good!" What an olive branch to the Stephanie Meyer and her legion of Twi-hards. Let the two tween fandoms join as one in Harry's tent under the stars!

Eventually, Ron gets sick of all the camping and bolts in a fit of imagined jealousy over the closeness of Harry and Hermione. With Ron out of the way, The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 toys a bit with the sexual tension between Harry and Hermione. For a minute, Harry stops pouting and it occurs to him he's stuck in a tent with the most beautiful Mudblood in Britain. The film introduces a brand new moment where Harry and Hermione dance together sweetly to break the tension and sorrow in their tent. But they don't kiss, no, no. Their hearts are both promised to Weasleys and the movie wouldn't dare violate what JK Rowling has laid down as inviolate law in her books. However, when Ron does return and helps Harry find the Sword of Griffyndor, the Horcrux locket conjures a thoroughly questionable illusion of Harry and Hermione naked and embracing. Wait, showing Ron a vision of the girl he loves about to hump his best friend was supposed to stop Ron from attacking the Horcrux how? (Maybe the Horcrux thought Ron would stab Harry with the sword instead. Seems to me the Horcrux was making a lot of assumptions.)

Very late in the movie, the Horcruxes, which are the main things that concern H, R & H for the entire movie, take a back seat when Luna Lovegood's father introduces the existence of the Deathly Hallows, three legendary magical objects that combined together can kill Voldemort, I think. The Deathly Hallows are the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand ever made, which was buried with Dumbledore but Voldemort recovers after he exhumes his ex-headmaster's rather well-preserved corpse in the final scene, a stone that could be the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone (depending on which side of the Pond you're from), and the Invisibility Cloak that's been in Harry's possession since the first movie. Wait, do they need the Horcruxes at all now? Will the Deathly Hallows be enough to kill Voldemort? (I only read the book once the weekend it came out so I've honestly forgotten.)

There is no traditional three act movie structure to speak of in The Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Screenwriter Steve Kloves essentially ripped JK Rowling's novel in half and wrote the script for Part 1, choosing the death of Dobby the House Elf as the end point.  The movie doesn't build to Dobby's death, the movie just stops there.  Maddeningly, the demise of Dobby is given more weight and impact than the death of Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince! Dumbledore just falls to his death and is met with silence from a school-full of shocked zombies barely emoting. (What an infuriating cheat of the audience that the movies never show us the magnificent funeral for Dumbledore as described in the novel.)  Dobby the fucking House Elf dies with famous last words in a tearful Harry's arms, compete with Harry personally digging his grave and burying him. (If I wrote the script, Dobby dies, followed by Harry suddenly blurting out, "Well, who wants House Elf for dinner?")

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is carried entirely by the considerable charm of its three leads, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Many of the venerable adult actors such as Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter and John Hurt make their usual welcome contributions, but they're completely background players in Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  Even their Hogwarts classmates are mere walk-ons; this is the first Harry Potter movie where we spend no time whatsoever at the beloved Hogwarts school. We do find out via radio broadcast Snape is suddenly Headmaster. This movie is all about Hermione, Ron, and Harry, and even moreso about Harry and Hermione, who are in nearly every scene together. Any deficiencies they may still have as actors are nullified by how Radcliffe, Watson and Grint inhabit these characters inside and out. They live these characters, they are Harry, Ron, and Hermione. 

The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is the most ambitiously filmed Harry Potter movie, featuring stunning location shooting all over the United Kingdom. But what the movie lacks is ebb and flow. Speaking in the Queen's English, The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 lacks zip, zazz, zowie. Every now and then there's a kapow!, but not nearly often enough. The memorable sequences of action and interest are welcome interruptions to the constant, interminable stretches where not a lot happens besides good looking, dour young Brits camping.

Director David Yates was chosen by the producers as the steward of the final four Harry Potter films and, as with his previous efforts, Yates has continued to deliver an enjoyable but underwhelming live action rendering of Rowling's story. (Not to say Rowling's seventh book doesn't have inherent problems, like, say, the first 400+ pages.) Yates benefits from attractive, appealing young leads, magnificent supporting actors, wondrous locations, and the finest visual effects money can buy. And yet, The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is the latest of his Harry Potter films to revel in the gathering storm of darkness while simultaneously lacking the wonder and joie de vivre of the novels. If we didn't already like the three lead actors, if we didn't already have an investment of boundless good will towards the Harry Potter saga, would anyone sit through this grim marathon of drudgery?

At this point, it's a no-brainer audiences who have spent the last decade loving Harry Potter will return for the second half of The Deathly Hallows. Much like the magical Room of Requirement in Hogwarts, the movie theaters showing The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 will be in and of themselves rooms of requirement.  It is my fondest wish that in the action-packed ultimate confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, with the lives of the entire Wizarding world at stake, director Yates has saved his grandest trick for last and gives the Harry Potter movie saga the truly magical ending it and we deserve.

Smallville 10x9 - "Patriot"


Special DC Universe Guest Stars:
Plus referenced via their photographs:

All four members of the primary cast were present and accounted for this week. The main business dealt with the Vigilante Registration Act spearheaded by Lois' father General Lane and enforced by his colleague, General Slade Wilson (Michael Hogan from Battlestar Galactica-fame. Not quite the Deathstroke from the comics, but really good for Smallville's version of the character). Slade doesn't just want the superheroes of the Smallville Universe registered, he wants them imprisoned, and he's building the facilities to hold them. (One of them is a BP-like oil rig destroyed by Aquaman and Mera.) As "Kingdom Come" references go, all that was missing was Batman, or in this case Aquaman, saying, "They're building a gulag. You know this."

The Team, Clark, Tess, and Oliver, converge at Watchtower to hash out how to handle the VRA. (We also learn that Clark has been having clandestine meetings with Kara around the world.) The rest of the Team, the ones not in the opening credits of the show, have gone off grid; they're not communicating with each other and Aquaman, or AC as he's called in Smallville, has taken matters into his own hands and blew up the government oil rig. Clark decides he should lead by example, reveal himself as the Blur, and register with the VRA. After all, he revealed himself to Lois and that's been going real well, what with getting regular sex at the farm, so maybe signing up with the VRA will yield some positives.

Oliver, already the public face of superheroes, volunteers to register instead, and see what the government is actually up to. It can't be any good if  the government's own strike force The Suicide Squad splintered off and is attacking people like General Lane. This leads to a moment where I had to step back for a second to take in: The Green Arrow shaking hands with Deathstroke The Terminator at a press conference. Of course, it was all a ruse. After testing out Oliver's skill level ("Off the charts!") Slade promptly knocks Oliver out and has him waterboarded so he gives up his super friends.

Meanwhile, Clark takes a run to an aquarium in Miami to visit with AC and finds out AC got married to a hot - I say again, hot! - aqua girl named Mera (Elena Satine. What a sweet babe.). Mera talks funny - that is to say with a sexy ethereal quality - and she doesn't mind getting naked in front of strangers. Also, she controls water, calls AC by his Atlantean name "Orin", and hypes him up as the "future King of the Seven Seas". Not hard to see why AC is so hot for his hot wife. Clark and AC compare whose jaw is squarer as Clark argues his vague ideas about being a hero and leading by example vs. AC's reactionary "terrorist" tactics creating fear and mistrust with the public, proving the government right about superheroes.

While all that's going on, Lois is two steps behind chasing Clark around while trying to unravel the secrets of the VRA on her own. Lois gets a meeting with General Slade based on who her father is where she manages to take digital pics of his gulag and pulls a neat bluff where he thinks he's caught her red handed but in her hand is a lighter for his cigar. Lois is bad ass; she proves it to Professor Emil Hamilton when she pretended she'd kill him if he didn't give up where Clark is. Even Mera sized up how bad ass Lois is when they meet at the Miami aquarium. Lois finds Clark there "Skyping" with Tess and now she knows Tess and Clark are on The Team together. Meanwhile, Mera hangs back and doles out a lot of relationship advice in the episode. She's like the superhero love line.

Somehow AC gets captured off camera and is held in Slade's gulag with Oliver. (Another moment I paused to enjoy: Aquaman and Green Arrow captured by Deathstroke The Terminator.) Mera arrives for the rescue and the three of them together save... each other... while Slade books it. Then Slade runs into Clark, who promptly gets himself trapped in a Kryptonite cage. While caged and trying to reason with Slade, Clark uses his X-ray vision to find the Omega symbol on Slade's skull. He's being controlled by "the Darkness". Clark tries to talk Slade into not committing suicide by detonating his base, but Slade does it anyway. KA-BLOOEY!

But it doesn't matter because everything's fine. After commercial we're right back in the warm glowing warming glow of the Kent Farm, where AC and Clark patch up their differences, AC tells Clark he'll do things Clark's way now and lead by example, and AC concedes he trusts Clark even though AC's jaw is technically squarer. Then the two best looking couples in Kansas get together in the Kent kitchen and talk about coupley shit; about how Lois is the only one for Clark, and how Clark is just so awesome. Clark and Lois also have a conversation where Clark realizes for the 17,357th time how awesome Lois is.

Finally, Clark takes Lois to Watchtower where Tess warmly welcomes her as part of The Team. (The best was Oliver's entrance and reaction to seeing Lois there.) Lois is all-in. All four main castmembers are on The Team now. There's a lot of dialogue wrapping up What Just Happened and setting up What's Coming Next where Clark explains what he knows about "the Darkness", the Omega on Slade's skull, and deduces how Darkseid (he does say "Dark Side" offhandedly) operates by preying on the darkness in humanity with the end goal of possessing the entire planet. Also, Slade is alive and he only has one eye now. And he's a Cylon. Wait, wrong show.

Sunday, November 14, 2010




Megamind is a wonderfully inventive homage to Superman, flip flopping everything through the point of view of Lex Luthor. Honoring all of the classic tropes of the rivalry between Superman and Lex Luthor (with a nod to Brainiac), Megamind opens with the fiendish Megamind (voiced heroically by Will Farrell) and his lifelong arch rival, handsome champion of do-goodery Metroman (Brad Pitt), both rocketed to Earth from dying worlds as infants. They spent their lives locked in an eternal struggle between Good and Evil - until Megamind accidentally wins.  Now the overlord of Metro City (Megamind gets laughs by constantly mispronouncing words - Metro City becomes "Metrocity" and he pronounces school as "shoole"), Megamind takes slightly longer to get bored with having no one to do battle with than General Zod did when he conquered the White House in Superman II.  Looking for a new rival, he empowers the worst person imaginable, a worthless, slovenly camera operator named Hal Stewart (an amusing in-joke mashup of Green Lantern secret identities), with all of Metroman's powers. Stewart becomes Titan (voiced by Jonah Hill), and quickly becomes an even greater menace than Megamind ever was.  In further references to Superman, Megamind poses as Titan's "space dad" to unsuccessfully train him as a hero, doing a savvy impersonation of Marlon Brando as Jor-El crossed with Don Corleone. Megamind even romances girl reporter Roxy Ritchi (Tina Fey). In Megamind, even the bad guy can get the girl in the end, but only after pretending to be someone else and lying to her constantly.  The voice over work by all the of actors is tremendous, but David Cross was a standout as Megamind's loyal talking fish Minion. (How odd that this year's other excellent animated film about a super villain, Despicable Me, also had minions named Minion.) Chock-full of self-aware, hilarious dialogue, genuine surprises in the story, and a welcome amount of heart, Megamind is the best Superman movie we'll never get to see in live-action. Especially with how Megamind features two characters as stand-ins for the Man of Steel, both of whom are disappointments. When Megamind's end credits rolled, I half-expected to see the writing credit go to Lex Luthor. Megamind would be Lex Luthor's favorite movie. He'd probably even be in tears from sheer joy at the end

Saturday, November 13, 2010




Runaway Train, Never Comin' Back. Runaway Train On A One Way Track.

Unstoppable is Thomas The Tank Engine on steroids. It's like Speed 2 except with a train instead of a boat. Unstoppable is also an immensely entertaining, careening joyride.

If there's any justice in this world, runaway freight train 777 would take its place alongside the shark in Jaws as one of the great movie villains of all time.  At the very least 777 deserves to win Best Villain in next year's MTV Movie Awards.  Because bumbling boob Ethan Suplee didn't properly set its air brakes and exited the cab, 777 became the most dangerous vehicle in southern Pennsylvania. Traveling at speeds in excess of 70 MPH, 777 is "a missile the size of the Chrysler Building"; it has over thirty cars attached and sports not only three cars worth of Diesel fuel but several tons of toxic chemicals.  If it derails, it could destroy a town and kill thousands.  Left unchecked it can "vaporize everything in its path."

The only two men who can stop 777 are a couple of down on their luck working men who also happen to look like movie stars: Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. They don't like or trust each other at first but nothing bonds two men like risking their lives to stop a runaway train. Pine, a rookie conductor four months out of training, is estranged from his wife and trying to have a restraining order rescinded so he can see his young son. Denzel is a 28 year engineer facing forced retirement and is himself estranged from his college-age daughters, who are both Hooters waitresses. (Pine with a big grin: "I'm a fan." My man!)  Someone else who could work at Hooters is Rosario Dawson, who runs the rail operations and believes Denzel and Pine are the only ones who can stop 777, despite corporate interference from Kevin Dunn, the Incompetent Executive Who Is Wrong About Everything.  

An action picture about a runaway train doesn't necessarily require a great deal of depth or complexity, but the actors bring a convincing urgency and believability to Unstoppable, which is "based on true events".  When Captain Kirk finally, injured foot and all, leaps into the cab of 777 and stops that train cold while Malcolm X cheers from the roof of the rear cab, the blue collar heroism on display is rousing and fun. Denzel even hilariously scores a kiss from Dawson at the end while his Hooters Girls daughters hoot, holler, and applaud.

My pitch for Unstoppable 2: 777 is again a runaway freight train, this time stalking Denzel, Pine, and their families while they vacation in the Caribbean.




"I hate LA."

Upon reflection, Skyline's greatest achievement is making one appreciate everything Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds did right.  Skyline is War of the Worlds for Dummies. The dummies in question are a gaggle of some of the most tedious-to-be-around characters ever to be trapped in a luxurious high-rise penthouse in Los Angeles during an alien invasion.  Eric Balfour is a Brooklyn artist reunited with his childhood friend Donald Faison.  Faison is a big success now, driving a Ferrari and banging skanks (and I mean skanks) like Brittany Daniel and Crystal Reed in said luxurious high-rise penthouse.  Of course, one assumes he's a rapper, but no, apparently he runs a visual effects house or something and wants to bring a reticent Balfour on board.  The character drama revolving around Balfour's pregnant girlfriend Scottie Thompson not wanting to move to LA while Daniel is shocked to learn Faison is sleeping with Reed is excruciating, but we endure to see the aliens.  How is it possible when the aliens arrive, the movie actually gets worse? The unnamed aliens unleash blue lights that vacuum up humans into their motherships.  For some reason, the blue lights also decay people - but they also somehow made Balfour more-than human (in a riff taken from District 9) because he stared at the blue light for too long, or something.  When they're done lighting up LA, the aliens send out tentacled probe thingies and giant monster thingies to grab people, suck off their heads, and smash things, stealing concepts and moments wholesale from War of the Worlds and the also-superior Cloverfield. The aliens have no stated purpose, nor is anyone even remotely curious what they are and why they're here.  I was curious about why the aliens spent so much time hanging around the apartment building Faison lived in.  Seriously, they sent wave after wave of creatures into that one apartment complex to hunt down like six people. The aliens are pretty inefficient, unlike the aliens in Independence Day, which Skyline also rips off when presenting aerial battles between human fighter jets and alien fighter pods. The one amusing moment was how Faison was dispatched, driving in his open-topped Ferrari while knowing aliens were afoot, literally.  The characters are complete idiots.  Balfour kept insisting they escape in a boat because as far as he could see from the penthouse windows, the alien ships weren't docked over the water. I'm sorry, are these the M. Night Shyamalan aliens who are afraid of water? Then the Apartment Building Manager enters their lives; first he seems heroic but then he turns out to be a bug-eyed, bullying lunatic. Finally, after a morbid but at least conclusive sci-fi moment where Balfour and Thompson are sucked into an alien ship, instead of ending and cutting their losses, Skyline makes matters even worse by showing the interior of the alien ship.  Balfour is decapitated and the aliens eat his brain but his brain is "special" for some reason (it glows red instead of blue) and he becomes a rebellious alien ready to fight all the other aliens in a sequel. Holy. Shit. No.

Smallville 10x8 - "Abandoned"


Special DC Universe Guest Stars:
Extra Special Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Guest Star:

With a combination of forward story movement, revelatory flashbacks, and copious amounts of DC Universe guest stars, "Abandoned" righted the Smallville ship after "Ambush" last week. I didn't like "Ambush". As much as I enjoy the visual delights of Lois and Lucy Lane reunited, "Ambush" was nonsensical; it was structured and felt like a season three or four episode, back when I didn't like Smallville (but still watched every week). On the plus side, Rick Flagg blew up the Talon set (with a missile, no less), ridding Smallville of that tie to its early seasons. AND Clark asked General Lane for permission to marry Lois! Will we see Lois in a wedding dress before Clark wears the red and blue suit?

This week, Smallville touted Teri Hatcher's guest appearance as Lois Lane's mother, who has been dead of cancer for years but recorded a series of videos for her daughter (not terribly unlike what Jor-El did for Kal-El). Teri Hatcher's scene was really, really good. Not just well-written, but her performance was moving and poignant. Just the way she started the video by saying, "Lois...", passing the Lois Lane torch to Erica Durance was... wow. Durance, for the entire episode as usual but specifically in this scene, brought her A game, with Lois reacting to her mother's advice with pitch perfect facial reactions.

Lois resolved her lingering abandonment issues with her mother and decided to help Clark do the same with Jor-El. Even Shelby the dog was skeptical (it's always fun to see Clark's one-time Superdog), or maybe Shelby just thought it was as much fun as I did to see Lois pouring over Clark's Kryptonian journals and maps of the old Indian caves from the early seasons. The jig really is up: All of this stuff was kept secret from Lois for years but now she's all in. She finds the key Clark poorly hid behind a bookcase and marched right into the Fortress of Solitude (in a black winter ensemble from The Lois Lane Collection) and read Jor-El the riot act, name dropping "Kal-El".

Jor-El had enough of this human woman yelling at him and held Lois in stasis until Clark showed up, but maybe Jor-El really just did that so Lois wouldn't freeze to death. Once Lois and Clark are together, the Fortress showed a hologram re-enactment of Jor-El and Lara's words to baby Kal-El in his starship as Krypton was about to explode. (With the un-hyped re-appearances of Julian Sands as Jor-El and the original Supergirl Helen Slater as Lara!) Clark found out his Kryptonian parents really did love him, and I guess the ice between him and Jor-El has been melted. And Lois being all up in his Kryptonian area further convinced Clark that Lois is The One for him. He's even got the ring now to prove it. Not a Legion flight ring. Not a Green Lantern Power Ring. But a diamond engagement ring! (Did Clark crush a piece of coal to create that huge diamond himself? I like to think yes! A perk of being Superman means never having to overpay at Tiffany's.)

Meanwhile, Tess is having nightmares of herself as a little girl being tortured and abused in a terrifying orphanage. They feel like more than dreams but Tess has no memories of being in that orphanage, or of her parents, or of anything before she was five years old. Using Watchtower, she gets on the trail of "the Mother Theresa of abandoned children", a silver haired old fox (not really) named Granny Goodness! Clark offers to help her investigate. After all, Tess is part of his team now. I must say Cassidy Freeman is favorably competing with Erica Durance in the acting department; without saying a word Freeman communicates myriad emotions via facial expressions. And I think Tess is a much tougher character to play and make believable.

Tess and Clark arrive at Granny Goodness' orphanage and Clark immediately hears a cry for help, excusing himself with the lamest reason he could think of ("I left my notebook in the car.") Clark finds a little girl being tortured in the basement and frees her, then locks her in a room for safety before he's attacked by The Female Furies! (And WE NEVER CHECK IN WITH THAT LITTLE GIRL AGAIN! IS SHE STILL IN THE CLOSET? CLARK FORGOT ALL ABOUT HER!)

The Female Furies have some sort of Kryptonite fire pit, which weakens Clark so they can have their way with him. Of course, they waste no time rendering Clark shirtless and tied up. For a bunch of women raised by an insane (alien?) grandmother since they were little girls and turned into superpowered assassins, they're pretty kinky. The main two Furies are Mad Harrett, with Freddy Krueger Kryptonite claws, and Lashina, who whips it good.

Tess is reunited with Granny Goodness, who reveals Tess was under her care as a little girl, dropped off by her birth parents ("who were powerful"), but then taken away from the orphanage when her birth parents found her a foster home. While she was there, Tess was subject to Granny's methods but Granny also said Tess was her favorite charge. Granny's girls all have gone on to great things, and so did Tess, what with now having Luthorcorp, The Daily Planet and Watchtower (shh!) under her control.
Granny was also the one, as suspected, who brought Tess to Cadmus and healed all the injuries she got in last season's finale. Granny reveals all of this to Tess while chasing her around the orphanage and locking her in her old room. (Tess broke out the same way she did when she was a girl.) Biggest in joke of the episode was that little Tess scrawled "SOMEBODY SAVE ME!" on the wall. I guess Granny wouldn't allow her to listen to Remy Zero either.

Now, was Tess supposed to be a Female Fury? She beat up Mad Harriett all by her lonesome, but was almost hanged by Lashina. Luckily, Clark used his Super Breath to seal the Kryptonite fire pit, free himself, and save Tess. Clark also took out Lashina before he and Tess booked it from the world's worst orphanage. Did Superman hit a woman? We don't know. We don't know what he did because he did it in Superspeed. One second Lashina was just standing there, the next, she was out cold.

That's not all, though: Tess' repressed childhood memories came flooding back in the form of more flashbacks: She remembers getting dropped off at the orphanage by her daddy, a man in a limousine, and the license plate reads: LUTHOR! And she found her birth certificate with her real name: LUTESSA LENA LUTHOR! (I laughed.)

As a Dead Like Me fan (seasons one and two only please, the reunion movie was terrible), I loved the casting of Christine Willes (Delores Herbig) as Granny Goodness. Willes is a prolific Canadian character actor who has appeared in just about every television series ever shot in Vancouver; it took ten years but she finally got cast in Smallville. In a major role too. As far as I recall, the Granny Goodness in the comics was just a physically powerful old battleaxe with a Mega-Rod. Smallville's Granny has telekinesis and the ability to erase memories. We were also treated to an Apokolips reunion when DeSaad shows up expectedly. Also unexpected is Smallville's DeSaad depicted as a swarthy blonde Euro-trash nightclub owner. And Gordon Godfrey showed up too! Godfrey no longer seems to be possessed by the spirit of Darkseid, which begs the question where Darkseid is now. Granny, DeSaad, and Godfrey all agree - "HE'S COMING!" All Hail Lord Darkseid! (I'm just preparing for the inevitable.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes)



The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest brings the sordid, lurid saga of hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander to its inevitable conclusion. Picking up directly where The Girl Who Played With Fire left off, Lisbeth has been hospitalized from her near-death experience of being shot several times and buried alive before exacting vengeance on her evil crimelord father.  Unlike the more propulsive, almost Bourne-like Girl Who Played With Fire, which was driven by Lisbeth's actions to find out who framed her for murder and why, Hornet's Nest is a sprawling, endlessly-talky game of Keep Away - Keep Lisbeth Away From These Evil Scumbag Swedes Who Want Her Dead. As Lisbeth recovers from her wounds, even more shady forces - a secret cabal of sinister, old and frail scumbag Swedish men dubbed The Section - rally to finish her off once and for all. The Section even enlist the sinister old scumbag psychiatrist who had 12 year old Lisbeth committed, abused her while she was in his care, and then had her declared legally incompetent. Plus Lisbeth's hulking, mute, and murderous half brother continues to skulk around Stockholm. Fortunately, Lisbeth is again aided by her knight in journalistic armor, Mikail Blomkvist.  Although the Berlin Wall of Silence Lisbeth imposed in the previous film had fallen by its end, Blomkvist still spends most of Hornet's Nest away from her; he assigns his pregnant attorney sister Annika as her legal counsel while he moves into Lisbeth's apartment, sleeps in her bed, and uses her wifi. Meanwhile, as Blomkvist engages his magazine Millennium to publicly reveal the massive conspiracy aimed against this one girl with the dragon tattoo, he and his co-workers are besieged by death threats. This leads to one of the few and welcome bursts of action in the film as Blomkvist and a would-be assassin brawl in a restaurant. While hospitalized, Lisbeth composes her autobiography - No doubt if she published it in three volumes, they would become international best sellers and would have both Swedish and Hollywood films made of them. The performances are again very fine from leads Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyquist, though they've got these characters down to a T. His performance almost skirts the edge of perfunctory. It's unfortunate also that Rapace, who cleaned up so nicely in the previous film, reverts back to her offputting 1980's goth look, complete with mohawk and combat boots by the end. The DVD of the rape of Lisbeth in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - the most important and pivotal rape ever committed in Sweden - once again is referenced, as if any of us who saw it could ever forget it. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Winter's Bone



In Winter's Bone, Jennifer Lawrence is astounding as a type of teenager rarely seen in movies. Raised in her bleak Ozark mountain shanty house and surrounded by a community where everyone is related in some way or another ("bread and butter"), Lawrence is the caretaker of two young siblings and a mentally handicapped mother. She's tough and brave, resourceful and independent, underestimated by everyone around her but unflinching and proud of who she is and what she comes from. Her missing father cooked meth and has skipped his parole hearing. If he isn't found in a few days, she and her family will lose their house. Lawrence takes this responsibility upon herself without question or complaint and goes on a Hero's Journey to find her father, confronting her "kin" for answers. She is threatened, frightened, bullied (by her uncle played by Deadwood's John Hawkes), lied to, beaten, and nearly killed, but she continues on because there is no recourse but to find her father or proof of what became of him.

Lawrence's courage and inner strength is epitomized by the following exchange:

"What should we do with you?"
"Kill me, I guess."
"That idea's already been said. Got any others?"
"Help me. Ain't no one's said that idea yet."

It's interesting that everything Lawrence does is not to get ahead or achieve something for herself, but simply to maintain what little she has as a status quo, which is enough.  Some of the most poignant moments are of Lawrence in school gazing dreamily at the ROTC - she hopes to join the Army not as a way out, but only because they pay $40,000 for the five year commitment. What a sad scene it was when she explained to the Army recruiter she was only interested in the Army for the money, which she is desperate for, and he gently rebuffed her because she can't take her siblings with her to basic training, nor would she get paid the money she'd be joining for for five years.  The resolution to Lawrence's story offers a reward that feels like almost too much, but the final moments are moving and just right for this girl who would "be lost without the burden [of her family] on her back."

Winter's Bone is the second great film I've seen this year where the plot and salvation of the main character hinges on an amputation (the other being 127 Hours). It seems so much cooler when someone's arm gets chopped off by a lightsaber in Star Wars.