Thursday, March 31, 2011

Soul Surfer

SOUL SURFER

"I don't need easy. I just need possible."

** SPOILERS **

On October 31, 2003 thirteen year old surfer Bethany Hamilton went on a morning surf with friends of her family. While resting idly on her surfboard, a 15 foot tiger shark leaped out of the water and took her entire left arm. With the straightforwardness of a Hallmark card, Soul Surfer chronicles her amazing, inspirational true story; how Hamilton recovered from a crippling injury to regain her competitive stature and, more importantly, her faith and greater purpose in life. Ostensibly a cross between Blue Crush, 127 Hours and Jaws, Soul Surfer's soul is deeply and earnestly Christian, with themes of faith and family front and center. What Soul Surfer has going for it is breathtaking cinematography of Kauai, Hawaii surpassing even the lush, island eye candy Blue Crush presented a decade ago, appealing lead performances by AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany Hamilton and Dennis Quaid as her father Tom Hamilton, and tremendous CGI effects that seamlessly, convincingly remove Robb's arm for almost the entire movie. Seriously - you will believe AnnaSophia Robb only has one arm. Soul Surfer delves into the dilemma Hamilton faced of having to learn how to live life with just one arm, and then learning to surf competitively with one arm (the training montages of Hamilton and her family developing strategies for how she could overcome her handicap were brief but fascinating). Later, Hamilton travels to Thailand in the wake of the 2004 tsunami; a nice broadening of the scope of her story beyond the tragedy that befell her. I did really like some of the dialogue, like when Robb says, "I don't need easy, I just need possible" and later when she tells the press she's been able to embrace more people with one arm than she ever would have with two arms. But Soul Surfer has many moments where its nearly sunk by some truly banal TV movie of the week acting by virtually everyone in the cast (including Helen Hunt as Bethany's mother hen and American Idol Carrie Underwood, constantly distracting as a Christian missionary and mentor to Bethany). There's a hilarious night-time lynch scene complete with a crowd gathered carrying flaming torches where the shark that bit Hamilton is caught and brought before the vengeful Dennis Quaid. Though the entire Hamilton family may as well have had halos over their heads, besides Robb as Bethany, the most heroic person in Soul Surfer is Kevin Sorbo, whose quick thinking and action got Bethany to the hospital and saved her life. God bless that Hercules, friend to all soul surfers.

I would be happy to write and direct Soul Surfer 2, where the shark stalks Bethany Hamilton and her family during a vacation in the Bahamas. Have your sharks call my people.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch

SUCKER PUNCH

** SPOILERS **

And If You Complain Once More, You'll Meet An Army Of Me

Sucker Punch is the fevered dream of a horny, childlike mad man, weened on too many late night shoot-em-up, fantasy, science fiction, and samurai films, plus maybe a few too many screenings of Girl, Interrupted. Ostensibly about five girls in an insane asylum (the movie's "real world", such as it is, seems to take place in the 1960s) dreaming about breaking out and achieving their freedom, Sucker Punch is a grandiose, mythic tome about... uh...er... um...

Reminiscent of Inception, much of the action in Sucker Punch takes place in a dream, with the fanboy wank action sequences occurring in a dream-within-a-dream, activated whenever Baby Doll (Emily Browning) starts dancing all sexy-like. (The lead role was originally intended for Amanda Seyfried, who was forced to drop out due to commitments to Big Love. The movie insists the Baby Doll character is incredibly sexy; this would have been a lot more believable with Seyfried.) Browning was locked up in the asylum by her evil stepfather after a manic opening sequence. She has five days before she is lobotomized; five days to escape with the help of fellow inmates Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (the curiously named Vanessa Hudgens, a brunette), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Sweet Pea (Abby Cornish). As far as sex appeal goes, their doctor and madam Carla Gugino, a real, full-bodied woman, blows away all five of those little girls combined. 

The main draw for Sucker Punch are the fantastical action set pieces, where Baby Doll, clad in a Sailor Moon costume, leads her leather-clad, gun-toting soul sisters in frenetic battles against orcs, giant samurai, fire-breathing dragons, and armored Nazis. (My favorite of the five fantasy scenarios was the apocalyptic vision of World War I, with giant zeppelins bursting into flames and crashing from the skies.) In the dream-within-a-dream world, Baby Doll is an unstoppable fighting machine, capable of superhuman feats, all ending with Browning in hyper-stylized action goddess poses. In the other two realities, Browning has a bad habit of dropping her weapons before running out of the room in a panic. 

The action beats are visually splendid and achieve the one-dimensional, surface-y coolness Snyder is gunning for. Assaults on the senses they might be, but the action fantasies are a welcome respite from the long pauses in between where the characters debate the unfathomable and uninteresting intricacies of the plot among themselves. The bulk of the story occurs in a dream reality where the girls are not imprisoned in an asylum but are escorts and prostitutes in a bordello (whose dream is this, exactly?) run by Oscar Issac (who was great as the teeth-gnashing King John in Sir Ridley Scott's Robin Hood). Jon Hamm is wasted in a rather thankless, throwaway appearance.

To attempt to make sense of the story, the rules of Baby Doll's fantasies, what is fantasy vs. what is reality, the hows and the whys, would be a folly. Helping to fill in the huge narrative gaps and infusing the chaos with pulse-pounding energy are co-writer and director Zack Snyder's intriguing but overbearing musical choices for Sucker Punch's bombastic soundtrack, most prominently Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams Are Made of These" and Bjork's "Army of Me". Altogether, Sucker Punch is a cock tease, a cock punch, as sugary as Hawaiian Punch, and about as beneficial.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Limitless

LIMITLESS


** SPOILERS **

The stylish but empty Limitless poses intriguing questions: What if you could take a pill that could unlock full access to your brain? What if you could be the perfect version of yourself? What would you do? Then Bradley Cooper takes such a pill, and Limitless spends the rest of its running time answering this question: What if you're kind of an asshole and unlocking the "perfect version of yourself" just makes you a bigger, morally bankrupt asshole?  In Limitless, Cooper is a grungy, struggling writer on the fast track to nowhere, living in a roach-infested Chinatown apartment, recently dumped by his successful knockout girlfriend Abby Cornish. One day he runs into his skeevy ex-brother in law who offers him a pill ("USDA approved," he lies) that unlocks the full capacity of his brain. Operating at genius level, Cooper finishes his novel and gets his act together. When he crashes, he naturally wants more, even when his ex-brother in law is murdered for the drugs stolen from a shady pharmaceutical company. Cooper finds the hidden stash, continues taking the drugs, and becomes that "perfect version of himself". Armed with "limitless" intellect and the capacity to do just about anything, Cooper does... what? He decides to make money in the investment trade, under the tutelage of investment kingpin Robert De Niro. Yawn. Cooper's "perfect version of himself" is just a greedy, self-absorbed drug addict who wants to make money for money's sake, and maybe one day become President of the United States. Limitless never pauses to consider why the audience would even want Cooper to succeed. After an intriguing first act, Limitless squanders its limitless potential, with plot holes piling up as the movie careens forward with ludicrous plot twists and preposterous action set pieces as Cooper is chased by shady assassins and Russian gangsters, all seeking the drugs to make them limitless. When he learns of the debilitating side effects and the sordid body count of the others who have taken the drugs, trying to be limitless, like his suffering ex-wife Anna Friel, Cooper... heeds no warning and does nothing differently. A compelling moment where Cornish takes a pill and becomes limitless to avoid being murdered in Central Park goes nowhere; she had no problem getting off the drug, unlike everyone else who crams it down their throat. Limitless is ultimately sunk by its own limited imagination. Cooper slurping limitless drug-spiked blood off the floor was the high point of Limitless.

The Lincoln Lawyer

THE LINCOLN LAWYER

** SPOILERS **

In the solid, crowd-pleasing legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, Matthew McConaughey rides the highways and byways of Los Angeles in his Lincoln Continental, defending the guilty for the almighty dollar. He's a fine drinking buddy and personally liked by many of his peers, even while they openly despise his money-grubbing ethics. A smooth talking, snake oil shillin' slickster, McConaughey unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a labyrinthine set up when he agrees to defend handsome rich boy Ryan Phillippe, who is accused of the rape and battery of comely prostitute Margarita Levieva. It doesn't take long for McConaughey to realize Phillippe is guilty - there's no ambiguity about this and even the trailers give Phillippe's guilt away.  McConaughey is stuck being forced to defend a man he knows not only committed this crime but actually murdered a different comely prostitute (Yari De Leon); in the past McConaughey plea bargained a man to life in San Quentin for that murder without ever digging deeper to learn it was really Phillippe who did it. Phillippe has a time to kill, more than enough time, it turns out. Soon, Phillippe and McConaughey are caught in a deadly game, with Phillippe threatening to kill the family of the lawyer he hand picked to keep him out of prison.  An excellent cast, including William H. Macy and Marisa Tomei, never overshadow the confident magnetism McConaughey delivers, even as his shiny patina is stripped away in repeated bouts of self-destructive alcoholism. McConaughey wrestles provocatively with his own conscience and morality, coming face to face with the reality of the living he earns defending the truly evil. The Lincoln Lawyer also proved once and for all that Matthew McConaughey and Josh Lucas are not only different people but can occupy the same space at the same time. While McConaughey shines, The Lincoln Lawyer makes Lucas, as the state prosecutor, look so weak and foolish, he might as well have appeared at Phillippe's trial with his pants pulled down around his ankles. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jane Eyre

JANE EYRE

"I imagine things I am powerless to execute."

Louis CK once joked that if he had a time machine, he could travel back to any point in history and, as a white man, things would be pretty good for him regardless of when he landed.  Women can't say the same; Jane Eyre is another example of how much it sucked to be a woman until roughly the 1970s. As Jane Eyre, Mia Wasikowska bristles against the stifling repression of her station in life - more intelligent and ambitious than those around her but lacking a means to fully express and explore her desires, kowtowed from a young age into demure self-denial. Jane was much more interesting - and perhaps even better acted - in the flashback scenes where she was portrayed by young Amelia Clarkson. (Clarkson looks little like Wasikowska, one of my pet peeves in movies.) Wasikowska's ghostly pale, thin-lipped, harsh staring and playing hard to get drives the two men who encounter her mad with desire to do some bodice-ripping, mainly Michael Fassbender as our requisite Byronic hero Edward Fairfax Rochester, who harbors a dark secret (easily guessed, even for one such as I, who was rather blissfully un-indoctrinated into Charlotte Bronte). The other man who wants Jane, especially when she becomes suddenly wealthy at the end, is Jamie Bell, who plays the Jacob to Fassbender's Edward, as it were. It's also enjoyable to see Dame Judi Dench neither playing a fearsome queen nor an ineffectual den mother to James Bond. The performances are terrific, as is the direction by Cary Fukunaga; there are some camera moves and placements that seem so simple but are brilliantly evocative. Fukunaga gloriously revels in the darkness and forbidden shadows of Fassbender's gloomy English manor. What Jane Eyre was missing was Harry Osborn's butler from Spider-Man 3 saying, "I've seen a lot of strange things in this house, sir..." If you crave to witness Michael Fassbender repeatedly grab Mia Wasikowska by the arm and drag her across his hundreds of acres of land to have her repeatedly reject his breathless advances, Jane Eyre is your good time Gothic romance.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

V 2x10 - "Mother's Day"


"Mother's Day" was the best episode of V ever - because it was utterly, shamelessly hilarious. I mean, if any part of the episode involved kids on a school bus, V would deserve the moniker of "The Funniest Field Trip of the Year!" by Michael Cole.

Remember the episode of WWE Monday Night RAW 10 years ago when ECW and WCW joined forces as the Alliance, laid waste to the WWF, and introduced Stephanie McMahon as the new owner of ECW, blowing off several weeks worth of angles in one episode? "Mother's Day" was kind of like that. Because their initial 13 episode season 2 order was cut down to 10 episodes by ABC, V's producers decided to cram a bunch of stuff they hadn't done in the previous 9 episodes of dicking around story-wise into the final 42 minutes. As a result, the laughs kept on coming.

Here are the highlights:

1) The Fifth Column was contacted by Diana, still hanging out in the bowels of the New York Mothership. Diana and Lisa are in cahoots plotting to overthrow Anna and restore Diana as Queen. So here's the brilliant plan the Fifth Column came up with to take out Anna:

A phony kidnapping.

That's right, they cribbed right out of the Homer Simpson and Rodney Dangerfield playbook with Anna as Mr. Burns. The Fifth Column pretended to kidnap Lisa, whom they smuggled out of the V ship in a coffin like she was the Undertaker from 1991. The plan was to lure Anna into an empty warehouse where Lisa would then kill her mother. How? By shooting her with a gun of course!

So Anna plays the worried mother to the public and actually goes to the warehouse and frees Lisa. Lisa then sneakily pulls a gun on her while her back is turned. Anna sees this in the reflection of a mirror in front of her - which Lisa does not see - and knows her daughter has betrayed her. Anna, being the smartest character on the show, decides to act all emotional and gives an impassioned speech to Lisa about how she's learned the value of human emotions and the human soul - which she has spent all season trying to eliminate - and hugs Lisa. Lisa falls for it, hides the gun, and hugs her loving mother back, unaware of the sneaky smile on Anna's face.

Lisa is too stupid to be queen.

What failed to happen after Anna and Lisa emerged together unharmed was the FBI and the Visitors drinking and partying while "Any Way You Want It" played. "It's a party! It doesn't have to make sense!" Instead Erica yells at Lisa for not killing her mother in full view of everyone but no one apparently hears her.

2) Back on the mothership, Ryan and Joshua free Diana from her basement prison. Instead of leaving the ship, Diana commands, "Assemble my people!" Then lickety split, she's on a stage surrounded on all sides by adoring Vs who aren't the least bit surprised their Queen they thought dead for 15 years is now giving a speech in front of them. While she's speechifying, apparently Anna, Marcus and Lisa were able to enter the chamber and sneak up behind her without anyone noticing. Anna unleashes her Prehensile Tail of Doom and IMPALES DIANA, holding her body up in the air and then tossing her corpse down! Diana is dead! Nine episodes of standing in the basement then she's dead! Thanks for coming, Jane Badler!

Then Anna turns to Lisa and rasps: "THAT'S HOW YOU KILL YOUR MOTHER!" Hilarious. I could have died laughing myself. Best moment in the history of the new V.

Regicide and matricide all at once!

But they weren't done yet.

3) Ryan sees the murder of Diana and says, "I gotta gets out of here. Feets, don't fail me now!" But first, he's got to find Amy, his hybrid daughter, who's now rapidly aged to about 7 or 8. Amy thinks Anna is her mother and Ryan, her father, is just some dude who leaves all the time. So she doesn't want to go anywhere with him. When he insists, Amy unleashes her Prehensile Tail of Doom, wraps it around her daddy's neck and squeezes until he's dead!

Patricide! All in the span of 10 minutes!

4) Anna has one last Queen egg that can hatch a new daughter to replace the one who's betrayed her. It hatches and we see a V in it's full reptilian form for the very first time. It looks a'it. Anna orders: "Give her human skin! Make her look just like Lisa!"

Oh ho. Ho ho ho. And I mean ho.

Lisa 2 now appears (Homer would call her Lisa Jr. and so will I) and Anna gives her new daughter her marching orders: "Go have sex with Tyler!"

Tyler had been told by Erica that the Vs were really reptiles, but he works for them as a shuttle pilot with a bad haircut now, so he doesn't know what to believe. He goes to find Lisa, finds Lisa Jr. waiting for him in a silk robe on her bed all sexy-like, and he loses interest in questions when all she wants is sexy sexin'.

Meanwhile, the original dumb as nails Lisa is being held in the bowels of the ship Diana used to live in. Anna comes down and lays down her punishment for betrayal: YOU MUST NOW WATCH MY NEW DAUGHTER WHO LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE YOU FUCK YOUR DUMB AS FUCK HUMAN BOYFRIEND!

And she does. She watches the whole thing as Lisa Jr. rides Tyler cowgirl. And then, instead of a cigarette post-doin' it, Lisa Jr. opens up her reptile mouth AND RIPS TYLER'S THROAT OUT WITH HER TEETH! YES! TYLER'S DEAD!

What's the 'cide' word for killing your reptile clone sister's human boyfriend? There isn't one? Someone invent it, stat.

Three fantastically funny major character deaths in the space of 20 minutes!

4) Erica has been secretly watched by her bosses in the FBI and they're now sure she's part of the Fifth Column. So they kidnap her in her house and bring her to a Super Secret Headquarters Miles Underneath New York City. This is the base of Project Ares, and their boss is MARC SINGER! Erica learns that Project Ares has been working against the Vs for years - yet they did nothing to help the endless bungling of the Fifth Column.

5) Anna decides now that she actually likes human emotion, she should use her Bliss to control not just the Vs but every person on Earth. Except doing so literally makes her eyes bleed. Still, an evil Queen's gotta try. So she gets in her sexy Blissin' robe and tries to Bliss the whole planet. But she can't, her eyes are bleeding, and she's gonna die. Then Amy comes in and she has Bliss too! And Amy Blisses the entire planet. Every person is now under V control, including Father Jack (but apparently not anyone in Project Ares in a Super Secret Headquarters Miles Underneath New York City.) So get this: Amy and Anna, who each just murdered a parent, just Blissed humanity. (I'm all for being Blissed by Anna, but if you ask me, I don't wanna be Blissed by a pre-teen. Am I right, fellas?)

6) The season (series?) ends the same way season one ended, with a bunch of Visitor ships hanging out above Earth waiting for... SEASON 3! Will the Vs wait forever?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

** SPOILERS **

In Battle: Los Angeles, War is Hell. And Loud. And Dirty, Very Very Dirty. Everyone and everything is covered in debris, ash and schmootz. Whoever wins the war better have a Dustbuster the size of an aircraft carrier. Aaron Eckhart toplines Battle: LA as a Marines staff sergeant who was one day away from retirement. He thought he was out, but then a bunch of aliens invaded the Earth, and they pulled him back in.  Eckhart has a bad rep from a previous mission that went sideways where he was the only survivor of his squad. His new squad doesn't trust him, but they're a hodgepodge of military movie cliches like The Soldier About To Get Married, The Scared Rookie On This First Mission, and The Young Commander Fresh Out of the Academy In Over His Head.  The last cliche is played by Ramon Rodriguez, who was Shia LaBeouf's annoying sidekick in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Will Rodriguez ever face an alien invasion without cowardly crapping his pants?  Eckhart's new squad is sent on a mission to rescue civilians trapped in a police station. They have three hours before the Air Force drops bombs and levels Santa Monica. Eckart is almost relived when they arrive at the police station and they meet Bridget Moynahan and Michelle Rodriguez. "Finally," he must've thought, "I'm not the only movie star in this movie!" The aliens in Battle: LA are never named but intercut news reports throughout the movie tell us that, like the aliens in the original V, they're here for our water. (Unlike M. Night Shyamalan's aliens, they aren't afraid of water and traveled to a planet 70% covered by it.)  Oh, another thing, throughout Battle: LA we're told that the aliens have attacked and laid waste to over 20 major cities worldwide, but the news keeps broadcasting with experts blathering on despite every major network being located in the cities being destroyed. Clanking hardware aside, the aliens are not interesting, or cool looking, or even remotely memorable. Thousands of people, civilian and military, are killed in Battle: LA, but only Eckhart figures out how to kill the aliens (shoot them "to the right of where our hearts are"), and only Eckhart determines the alien airships are drones taking orders from a gigantic Command and Control unit. Yet no one uses morse code to tell the rest of the world to bring down the C&C units a la Independence Day. As the battle(: LA) rages on, Battle: LA grows redundant and never really shifts out of one gear, but it is occasionally kind of fun to watch Eckhart clinch his square cleft jaw, speak in rasps, and do "John Wayne shit" to fight the aliens, inspiring his squad to do the same, even forgoing breakfast to keep on fighting. When Eckhart is told by his superiors the humans are losing Battle: LA, he refuses to retreat and keeps fighting. No way will Aaron Eckhart lose Battle: LA.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Morning Glory

MORNING GLORY

 ** SPOILERS **

When he promoted Morning Glory on Conan O'Brien's show, Harrison Ford stated, "The girl is very good in it." The girl Ford was referring to is Rachel McAdams, and he wasn't kidding. In Morning Glory, McAdams puts on a winning three ring circus of adorableness, charm, and determination. As a can-do morning television news producer tapped to executive produce Daybreak, the number four morning program in New York City (at the fictional IBS network), McAdams is a whirlwind, somehow turning a struggling, little-seen newscast into a scrappy fighter reflecting her cheerful sensibilities and endless drive. Not that it's easy for her: McAdams has to juggle the diva-like behavior of entrenched anchor Diane Keaton, the ratings demands of her boss Jeff Goldblum, and her greatest challenge, Ford, the ornery bulldog serious reporter she brings in to give Daybreak credibility. Ford, "the Third Worst Person in the World", is in his element, playing difficult, irascible, and cantankerous, but with good reason in his opinion; after a heralded career in news, he finds himself in the twilight of his years forced to do fluff pieces for info-tainment. Ford pointedly expresses the regularly drowned-out viewpoint that modern television news is more about providing pablum for the masses than useful information. McAdams doesn't necessarily argue his point, but her job is to generate ratings to keep her show from getting canceled.  Their prickly relationship is ultimately more interesting than McAdams' love affair with fellow producer Patrick Wilson. Morning Glory could have benefited from a few harder edges, but it's light, frothy entertainment with a deliriously endearing performance by McAdams holding it all together. Whenever McAdams flashes her 10,000 megawatt movie star smile, she's the person you want to wake up with in the morning.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Next Three Days

THE NEXT THREE DAYS

** SPOILERS **

Call Them Mint Jelly Because They're On The Lam

The Next Three Days is an effective primer if one is planning to break a loved one out of prison. I have no idea if what Russell Crowe does in this picture to bust his wife Elizabeth Banks out of the clink and escape to Venezuela would actually work, but the movie is bursting with verisimilitude. In The Next Three Days, Crowe plays a community college teacher whose wife Banks is suddenly arrested and charged with the murder of her boss. Banks has a "motive" because in the opening scene, we witness a dinner party where it's established Banks doesn't get along with her boss. From there, Crowe slowly goes, for lack of a better world, insane, and spends the next three years plotting to break Banks out.  Liam Neeson has a walk on as a former prison escapee who instructs both Crowe and the audience in the intimate details, counter-procedures, and personal cost becoming a federal fugitive would entail. None of this deters Crowe in the slightest, so convinced is he that Banks is innocent. Crowe's learning curve in procuring weapons, money, and faked identification is a steep one, with Crowe immersing himself in Pittsburgh's local underworld and paying for it both financially and by getting his rugged face cracked open. These scenes, and Crowe's ultimate escape with Banks, are nail-biters, thrillingly staged by writer-director Paul Haggis. What doesn't fly is whether the audience can identify with the extreme way Crowe reunites his family. I know I couldn't. Despite his glaringly suspicious behavior, no one, not Crowe's young son, nor his elderly parents, nor a disarmingly lovely but wasted Olivia Wilde as the mother of Crowe's son's playmate, catches onto Crowe. Brian Dennehy, as Crowe's dad, comes the closest of realizing what Crowe may be up to, but as he tells the cops later on, "We never speak." My sympathies fell squarely with the Pittsburgh police trying to stop this guy but finding themselves a step behind. I wanted Crowe and Banks to die Bonnie and Clyde-style in a torrent of gunfire, but the presence of their son made that ending impossible. The movie plays coy with Banks' ultimate innocence of the crime she was imprisoned for until the final reveal that Crowe was right about her all along. I guess we're supposed to be glad about that. But was Crowe right to break dozens of federal laws and condemn his entire family into becoming fugitives hiding in South America?  Perhaps a bigger question, given Haggis' public battles and break from the Church, is how much of The Next Three Days can we read as Haggis' desire to escape from Scientology?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Smallville 10x16 - "Scion"


ROLL CALL: 

SUPERMAN! LOIS LANE! TESS MERCER! THE GREEN ARROW! (Off living in Star City with his new wife Chloe Sullivan)
Special Guest Star:
THE LIONEL LUTHOR OF EARTH-2!
Special DC Universe Guest Stars:
SUPERBOY!
and
DARKSEID!

Yes, Superboy. "Scion", a detail-dense, exposition-heavy episode, completely re-jiggered Alexander, the rapidly-aging, S-shield-scribbling, psychotic clone of Lex Luthor, into Smallville's version of the Boy of Steel. Alexander is now the distinctly not-bald Conner (Kent by the end of the episode), revealed as a genetically engineered 50/50 "genetic love child" of Lex and Clark Kent. (Though Clark really wishes Lois wouldn't put it quite that way.) 

Turns out, Conner is a CNR, Cognitive Neuroplastic Replicant, and he has Clark's powers (how many and at what level was left ill-defined). We know Conner has Super-strength, Superspeed, Super Hearing, and Heat Vision; the latter he suddenly developed when he met the shapely womanliness of Lois Lane, in a neat homage to how Clark gained Heat Vision in season one when he got sexually excited by Lana. We learn when Lex was busy cloning himself, his trick to control his doppelgangers' rapid aging via cellular mitosis was to add a dollop of Clark's Kryptonian DNA.  If only Lex had lived to see Clark's DNA is also the cure for baldness.  

Unlike Superman and Superboy in Young Justice, Clark actually wants to spend time with Conner and be his mentor. I liked the scenes of Clark training Conner in the Kent Barn, as Conner tries and fails to get the hang of his Heat Vision. Clark is keenly aware of all the terrible ways he could have turned out if he didn't have Jonathan and Martha there to help him every step of the way.  Conner now conveniently doesn't remember anything of his time when he was crazy and bald, and he wants to do good in the world like his hero, The Blur.  Clark starts off not wanting to reveal anything about his own Superness or Conner's Luthor half, but all of those plans get blown Super fast.  In spite of being well aware Conner has Super Hearing, Clark and Tess have conversations about Conner anyway, and the Boy of Steel Superspeeds off in search of the answers to his heritage, right smack dab into the hands of his "father" (or is it "grandfather"?) from another Earth, Lionel Luthor-2.

Before Conner goes AWOL, Lois and Clark, who aren't even married yet, have conversations about raising Conner together. Then Lois and Tess have a tete-a-tete over how best to deal with Lionel-2 since Clark refuses to send Lionel-2 to the Phantom Zone.  This leads to Lois' fiendishly clever plan (inspired by how Al Capone was brought down for tax evasion in The Untouchables) to commit corporate espionage and reveal Lionel-2 as a fake.  This then leads to Lois deciding to commit said corporate espionage at Luthorcorp during the day. Lois dresses up in the black outfit Homer Simpson wears to "commit certain deeds" and breaks into Luthorcorp before the sun goes down!  Shockingly, she is caught red handed. It's a good thing Lois has looks.

Meanwhile, Conner meets Lionel-2 in the cinder ruins of what was once the Luthor Mansion set, and Lionel-2 makes the big play to turn Conner to his side by making Conner embrace his Luthor-ness.  When that doesn't work, he busts out a red Kryptonite ring.  But when Conner sees Lionel-2 also has Lois all tied up and is about to put a bullet in her brain, Conner zooms in to save Lois. Which would be great, except the red K brings out Conner's inner Chris Brown (with shades of the jealous and unbalanced Superboy Prime in the comics). Conner gets all romantic towards Lois, which involves him kidnapping her, stealing fur, cars and jewels for her, coming onto her awkwardly 'cause he's a bio-construct who don't know nuthin' 'bout pleasin' no ladies, and then smacking her around when she resists. This rapey side of Superboy is blamed squarely on the Lex-side of his DNA mix. (Oh sure, blame Lex for everything! I don't recall rape being in Lex's playbook.)

After confronting Lionel-2, Clark arrives to take down Conner and save Lois, and they have a one sided fight where Conner tosses Clark around, further demolishing the demolished Luthor Mansion yet.  Why Clark sold so much for Conner and didn't just Heat Vision the red ring on his finger, I'll never know, but instead Clark wrestled Conner for the ring and smashed it.  Lionel then appears with green Kryptonite and tries to abscond with Conner, but that was a tactical boner on Lionel's part as well, because without the red K, the Clark-side of Conner is dominant and Conner Heat Visions the Kryptonite, saving his genetic brother.

Our Smallville heroes and heroines are extremely forgiving when it comes to Kryptonians under the influence of red Kryptonite, because Lois was well within her rights to want Conner banished for his physical and sexual assaults on her.  But instead, she smiles and nods as Clark enrolls Conner in Smallville High as "Conner Kent".  Conner, for his part, went to the local comic store and bought a black S shirt, making him part of the Super Family. Hey, speaking of family, Clark never mentioned Kara, who's out there in the world as Supergirl. You'd think their having a girl cousin also with all their powers (plus she can fly) would have come up.

My favorite stuff in "Scion" actually revolved around Tess. Tess alternated from being smiley and giggly around Clark (is there time yet to fully explore the rampant sexual chemistry between Tom Welling and Cassidy Freeman? And poor, forgotten Dr. Emil Hamilton...) to tough as nails whenever Lionel-2 entered her vicinity. She tried to con Lionel-2 into thinking a vial of goo was Conner, but that didn't last long.  Tess' greatest triumph was using Earth-1 Lionel's own paperwork when he checked Tess into Granny Goodness' orphanage as the proof she needed that Lionel-2 was a fake. By the end, Tess has regained control of Luthorcorp. I'd like to sit in on the meetings on how Tess plans to explain how the head of the company went from Oliver Queen to a lookalike of the late Lionel Luthor back to Tess Mercer.  But Smallville has never been interested in real world details and petty things like logic.

No, what Smallville is good at is cliffhangers and to send us into a six week hiatus, they delivered one of their best:  As a ruined, forlorn Lionel-2 grasps at Lex's grave marker and wishes he were here, a swirl of black smoke encompasses him and then forms the blazing-eyed image of DARKSEID.  Apokalips, wow.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight

TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT

** SPOILERS**

"Really."

There was Hot Tub Time Machine last year and now Take Me Home Tonight brings Hollywood to a 0-2 record in recent 1980's themed nostalgia comedies.  In Take Me Home Tonight, Topher Grace plays Liar McLiar, a numbers genius MIT grad who chooses to squander his potential by working at Suncoast Video. He claims he's just taking his time until he finds out what he wants to do, but he isn't.  The one thing Grace does know is who he wants to do - his knockout high school crush Teresa Palmer, who's back in town post-graduation and about to intern at an investment bank. To impress Palmer, Grace lies that he works for Goldman Sachs, and then keeps lying and lying until he can't lie no more. Later, they attend the Labor Day bash hosted by wealthy trust fund baby Chris Pratt, who is the fiance of Grace's twin sister Anna Faris. Take Me Home Tonight commits multiple crimes against the audience, like shooting from a dreadful screenplay lacking in actual wit, but its most repugnant creation is Grace's loud boorish sidekick played by Dan Fogler. Fogler is as unpleasant and unsympathetic a character as any that has ever been vomited on movie screens. Take Me Home Tonight is a movie where a bunch of 22+ year olds who have all graduated college don't seem to know or want anyone they didn't go to high school with. Grace and Palmer actually do have some chemistry but both actors are completely sabotaged by the clunker of a screenplay. Palmer is given a shell of a character to play, with more than half the movie expiring before she is even allowed more than one word to utter at a time.  In his best moment where he's actually allowed to be as intelligent as his character is purported to be, when he cons a slimy investment banker trying to bed Palmer at a party, Grace easily outpaces the material. Pratt and Faris are married in real life and have a couple of bright comedic beats together but their talents are ultimately squandered. I also lost count of how many times the characters in Take Me Home Tonight said "Really", and in how many intonations. "Really. Really? Really? Really." On the plus side, Michael Biehn was wisely cast as Grace and Faris' cop dad. The soundtrack of 1980's pop hits is admittedly rad, but other than a gimmick to sell CDs and iTunes downloads, nothing about Take Me Home Tonight actually needed to be set in the '80s. Or be seen by audiences, as it turned out.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU


Fate Wears A Fedora

** SPOILERS **

In The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon puts it all on the line for love, fighting the stern hand of Fate. Damon plays a promising young New York Congressman running for Senator who has unlimited success in his future. When Damon falls in love with fetching ballerina Emily Blunt, he throws the entire future planned out for him in jeopardy, and this simply won't do. Thus, the Adjustment Bureau steps in to right Damon on his path. But Damon doesn't want to be righted on any path - the man is in head over heels in love and chooses Blunt with his own free will.

Based on a story by Phillip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau is an elegant mix of science fiction and romance, positing intriguing questions regarding predestination vs. free will. Damon tangles with mysterious, well-dressed "men" wearing fedora hats, played by John Slattery and Anthony Mackie, standing in the way of a happy life with Blunt. The Adjustment Bureau has been around since Man has walked the Earth, guiding humanity behind the scenes, and often pulling us back from the brink of us causing our own destruction. (Though presumably, they only started wearing fedoras for the last century or so. And I wonder what they called themselves in the Middle Ages?)

To his credit, Damon asks the obvious question flat out: "Are you angels?" Well, they go by many names, and so does the one they all answer to, whom they refer to as the Chairman. Strange how the almighty Chairman chose such a stern, dry model of bureaucracy as anthropomorphic manifestations on this mortal plane. (But if The Adjustment Bureau continues into the year 3011, Hermes Conrad of Futurama would approve of them.)

We learn that the Chairman has a plan for everyone, represented by books that look like geometric versions of Harry Potter's Marauder's Map, but Damon's plan is extra special. Like, President of the United States special. But if Damon and Blunt stay together, it would all go kaput. Damon and Blunt were actually born to be together, but somewhere along the way, the Chairman literally rewrote the book on Damon. Yet, Damon and Blunt continue to be irresistibly drawn to each other, mucking up the Chairman's plans, and making the Adjustment Bureau's eternal lives a living Hell.

Much of the fun of The Adjustment Bureau is in watching Damon stick a middle finger at the Plan for him, as he outwits and outruns an exasperated Slattery and his crew. Eventually, the Bureau calls in the big gun, General Zod himself, Terrence Stamp, to make Damon fall in line; Damon still refuses to kneel before Zod.

Carrying the movie with his intelligence and charisma, Damon is at the top of his game. He and Blunt share a lovely chemistry together, though she gets wise to the men with fedora hats very late in the story. The climax is a thrilling extra-dimensional chase through Manhattan using the gimmick of doors opening into new locations - it's an amped up version of the Keymaker's similar tricks in The Matrix Reloaded. (The hats enable the Bureau to walk through the doors.)

Can Damon and Blunt defy and then write their own Fate?  The real question is, if the Chairman is omniscient, wouldn't He have seen Damon's defiance coming? Either way, the Bureau didn't get the memo.

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