Tuesday, September 20, 2005

TV: Late to the Reunion

I want to like Reunion, an early debut from FOX, but I can't. I defy anybody to really like any of the characters at the core of this "friends forever" series that will showcase a year in the life, each week.

Three boys and three girls. In some social circles, that would be three couples. In others, it would be two couples (see Friends) and two singles. In this show, everybody likes somebody else and there's only one official couple, which teams up a cheater and a creep.

That's the problem. The characters are either floor mats or uber-twits. Chyler Leigh, who demonstrated some personality in the otherwise drab That 80's Show and in a guest spot of the doomed North Shore last year, is the primary floor mat. She likes the male floor mat, but arrives just as he enjoys momentary bliss with HIS ideal, the slut played by Amanda Righetti. I'm on record as admiring Righetti, but putting her in Madonna fashion circa 1986 is cruel. The third lady is Alexa Davalos, who dates the alpha creep and beds his best friend.

The boys are rich, poor and artistic. I can't remember any of their names, not even the Tom Cruise wannabe, straight out of Risky Business. I'll probably watch one more show, to see if the older, bitchy Chyler Leigh's right. Will 1987 be a helluva year, starting off with a bang? If not, there'll be no more Reunion for me.

Monday, September 19, 2005

TV: The First Returns are in

Fox and the WB kicked off their new seasons early, some reviews have appeared here before. New episodes of returning shows merit a mention or two now.

The O.C. took two episodes to introduce new villains for the plucky rich kids to contend with. Out with Trey and in with a new Dean of Discipline, a hissy missy for Summer and Marisa to contend with, a troubled stranger (played by the inexplicably popular Jeri Ryan) to bedevil Kristin and the turning of Jimmy to the dark side. Or should I say, a return of Jimmy to the dark side. Could he be more devious than his once and future missus? Stay tuned.

Luke and Lorelei are still headed for the Gilmore Girls fictional altar. It's been one whole episode and no break-up. It's coming, just like the rapprochement between Laura and Rory, who didn't have one, not one, of the patented mother-daughter conversations that have driven this show for a half-decade. Rory's attempts to live the bad girls' life should fuel another good season of this well-written show.

I laugh at What I Like About You. I think Jenny Garth's sexy and Amanda Bynes is adorable. I wish a certain teenager I'm related to would try to emulate Bynes more. The supporting cast is strong. There's marriage and love (not necessarily between the two same people) in the air, but the laughs do outnumber the groans. A guilty pleasure.

Living with Fran
would be a guiltier pleasure if I enjoyed the show. Fran Drescher seems to have aged from the first season this spring. The kids remain unlikeable and the only good part of the show is Ryan McPartlin. He seems to be making an effort to fit into the madcap band that is Fran's family. I'll give it another couple of episodes, but the kids gotta get over their brat days.

TV: Twins are one too many

The television season has been a real hit or miss proposition. The hits are pretty good, the misses are REALLY bad. Unredeemably bad. Twins bad.

Sara Gilbert gives it a good try in the character part she's become mired in, the plain-jane smart-alec. One wonders if they gussied Gilbert up and put her into a good show, whether she could be the star I think she could be. But, we will never know.

This show has cancellation written all over it. Mark Linn-Baker was funny a billion years ago in Perfect Strangers. He's not funny anymore. Melanie Griffith was funny a trillion years ago, the pre-frozen face days of Something Wild and Working Girl. She's so plastic in this part, a mannequin could have been used and no one would be the wiser. She's VERY unfunny.

Which brings me to Gilbert's titular twin, Farrah, as played by Molly Stanton. She's blonde and possess the killer bod a lingerie model is supposed to have. But she's Melanie Griffith-dumb and I don't find her all that attractive.

Imagine, a show set in a lingerie and underwear factory, and I can't recommend it. How sad is that?!?!

TV: Bones has the bones

David Boreanaz looks uncomfortable in a suit. THAT was my first reaction in watching the Bones premiere episode this weekend (taped from earlier in the week). He smiles more in this show, but I kept waiting for him to break out the scowl and duster, that he perpetually wore in Angel. He kept the dry delivery for jokes, though.

Bones is a TV adaptation of the books written by Kathy Reichs, a more literate and readable Patricia Cornwell (who started with two good books and a series of bad ones since). Boreanaz's FBI agent, Seeley Booth, hooks up with anthropologist/super-heroine Temperance Brennan to solve a crime that was a tad less devious than one might have hoped for in a first episode.

Brennan, played by one of the quirky-cute Deschanel sisters, Emily, comes across as a modern-day Emma Peel. She's constantly flipping people and doing mostly whatever she wants. Cuz she's cute and smarter than most of the other characters, she gets away with it. Boreanaz and Deschanel have a good chemistry, but it's going to be a workplace chemistry.

Speaking of workplace, the digs Brennan and her crew of helpers get to work out of, are spectacular. Unbelievable, but spectacular. And the Washington scenery is no less imposing. This show LOOKS good.

And one last thought, welcome back John Jackson. He plays the vaguely unlikeable boss for Boreanaz, although it's not much different than the bureaucrat he played in JAG.

The show is off to a decent start. It's certainly worth continued watching.

TV: The Batman Has a Girl

I'm too old to watch cartoons. But animation? Sure!

Coming off the disaster that was Loonatics Unleashed, I had to admit loading up The Batman was done with just a bit of trepidation. I was coming to the party a bit late, having still not watched the first two seasons of this well-regarded show. And, now, I'm going to have to dig up the saved episodes for watching.

The season three kick off is a multi-parter called Batgirl Begins, a takeoff on the movie of this summer. And it's a dandy barn-burner of a show. It recasts the origins of Batgirl and Poison Ivy. At least as much as they can be modernized. The first episode has an opening credits cliffhanger followed by a "How this predicament came to be" section that was well-done. Nobody seemed perfect, which is rare for a super-hero cartoon (or comic book). There was a genuine sense of drama throughout.

In any cartoon, the first question is: How is the animation? Pretty good. This is a slightly raggedly drawn cartoon, when compared to earlier Batman shows, like Batman Beyond. But that fits with MY concept of Gotham. Batman, Alfred and the Commissioner all are appropriately drawn. I'm not crazy about the new Batgirl suit, which is Catwoman's suit with a cape, but I can get past that. Barbara Gordon and Pam Isely look like the teenaged friends they are in this show (I did say there was a recasting of the origins, didn't I?).

THIS is the kind of cartoon that adults and kids can watch.

TV: Loonatics Unleashed Should Have a Leash

Within the animation fans' community, the announcement that a futuristic super-hero team version of the beloved cartoon characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, RoadRunner, Wile E. Coyote and the Tazmanian Devil was met with, shall we say, unhappiness. Actually, revulsion might be closer in accuracy.

Sooooo, I watched the debut episode of Loonatics Unleashed this weekend and discovered everybody's worst fears were wrong. It's worse. Bad graphics. Horrible opening credits. Weak voice acting, with only lame attempts to really mimic the originals' voices. Dumb plot. Worthless.

I'd be surprised if even kiddies would return to this trash for a second visit.

You've been warned.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

TV: Distant Shores comes to Ontario

I channel surf while watching ball games. I keep the game on the secondary TV, but switch channels between half-innings. Think I'm getting ADD from too much exposure to kids this summer.

Mid-evening, I was doing the remote rhumba and encountered Distant Shores playing on the TVOntario channel. I stopped and watched Peter Davison playing a total ninny of a doctor making a ninny of himself. This six-episode series out of England was one of my year-end break pleasures last winter. I managed to get all six episodes and watched them one night. It was great!

The show plays on many of the themes of my third-favourite movie of all time, Local Hero. In that Bill Forsyth movie, a bunch of Americans arrive on the shores of Scotland, prepared to roll over the locals and get an oil refinery up and going just off the shore. Needless to say, the whimsical local folk just ignore the Americans into a non-problem and everything ends happily.

In Distant Shores, Davison's Dr. Bill Shore gets dragged to a craggy isle off the British coast by his fed-up-with-her-marriage wife, played by Samantha Bond. His beloved new car comes to a stop upon arrival, only re-starting when departure is imminent. His two kids, played winningly by Emmy Fildes and Mathew Davies, need a change of pace and place, and get it. Fildes's wild child Laney, discovers being different can be done in non-obvious ways, while Davies' Harvey rediscovers a father he thought he'd lost.

The islanders, led by Tristan Gemmill's Duncan, are an odd lot. But you come to know and feel for them, especially in the tragedy-marred final episode. I defy anybody with real blood flowing through their veins, not to give way to a tear or two when last we see Duncan.

In a way, the predictable and silly ending to a sweet tale of personal growth, was just perfect.

This is a series worth catching on TV or getting a DVD set.

TV: Head Cases headed for ...

The Blue Jays/Red Sox game tonight ended a tad early thanks to Papi Ortiz's latest game-winning home run. That caused me a bit of pain. I cheer for my Blue Jays, but Ortiz is the star of my roto team. At any rate, the game ended in time for me to check out Chris O'Donnell and Adam Goldberg in Head Cases on Fox.

If I was told I could never see another episode again, I'd actually feel some regret. I didn't necessarily love the first episode, even with winsome Krista Allen playing O'Donnell's soon to be ex-wife. But there is a BIT of a seed there. And adding top second banana Richard Kind and another favourite actress, Rachel Leigh Cook, could turn this into a real watcher. Maybe not, but maybe yes. Certainly worth looking in on the second episode to check out the changes.

The key to watchability will be dial back Goldberg's rampaging maniac lawyer act. A lawyer with little or no inhibition isn't exactly a stretch. Angry lawyers (remember Petrocelli?) aren't exactly rare in TVdom. Mixing the two, and then throwing in the panicky O'Donnell's character and it might be overkill. But if the ever-bombastic Goldberg can cut those rages down to one an episode and let the viewers see the fight within he has to wage to keep control, then this series can succeed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

MOVIES: Silencing The Sound of Thunder

One of the seemingly endless source of crappy movies these days are good skits on Saturday Night Live. The TV show generates MANY ideas worthy of five minutes, not so many when stretched to movie-length. It so pervasive, that it's like a neon sign blinking 'AVOID ME.'

Ray Bradbury wrote a masterful short story called The Sound of Thunder. It has been collected many times and I manage to read it about once every dozen years or so. I've seen two comic book adaptions that were first-rate, each time, the story being completely told in about 20 pages of art. The ending is always perfect, whether on the comic page, or in the mind's eye as you read the last paragraph of the short story.

So good is the story, that it's been made into a movie at least once before Peter Hyams came along and gave it another shot this summer. He's a director that mined the time travel field in a decent actioner called TimeCop and he also helmed one of my favourite SF movies of all time, Outland. Soooo, good source, good director, not to mention decent lead actors in Ben Kingsley and Ed Burns. Had to be worth shelling out the dollars to watch.

Not so much. No applause at the end of this stinker, just relief that it was time to slink out and try to forget the movie.

The problem in the movie is the padding. Hyams decides to introduce the artifice of time waves to have the changes wrought by the mistake that lies at the heart of the story, slowly over-take our time. BUUZZZZZZZ! Wrong! If the time travellers changed something back 65 million years ago, the meanie plants and animals would have evolved along side mankind and a wholly different architecture that's nowhere to be seen in the movie. If the time travellers brought something back from the time safari, then the bug, spores, virii or whatever would spring forth in epidemic fashion, but would not change the weather and cause earthquakes. In fact, none of that would have happened regardless of the time travellers missteps.

So, a great story turns into a creepy, poorly-written, CGI-enhanced Night Stalker story, replete with dino/mandrills and pterodactyl/vampire bats. Ugly. About the only saving grace was young actress Jemima Rooper, who's about to start a second series of the excellent British TV show, Hex. It's not that Rooper was any great shakes in this movie, it's just good to remember that Hex is coming back soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

TV: The War at Home ... Surrender!

This review is based completely on the pre-credits act in tonight's premiere of the new Fox series, The War at Home. So cringingly bad that I went back to work. Yep, rather than continue slacking off (I am the world's laziest man), I got out of the easy chair and went back to programming.

A show that makes emininently likeable Michael Rapaport unlikeable in four minutes flat isn't a place where anybody with half a brain wants to spend time at. It might be billed as this century's Married with Children, but it's lacking any heart whatsoever. May it die quickly.

In the meantime, back to work.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

MOVIES: The Sublime and the Ridiculous

Caught on a holiday Monday with nothing to do after the ballgames. What do you do? Why head for a movie theatre of course. And what two movies do you pair together for your own off-beat double feature? The Transporter 2 and March of the Penguins.

Okay, I'm a seriously deranged movie-picker. But the absurd fiction of The Transporter sequel fits quite well with the factual absurdity that is the life of an Emporer Penguin. I enjoyed both movies. A fair bit, too.

Jason Statham has a David Janssen mimics Jackie Chan style in his movies. Not much talk and a grim determination to his antics. Evading cops by flinging one's car from one building to the next, skidding to a tottering on the edge stop in the second building wouldn't be MY first idea. But that's how Frank, the Transporter does things. I could detail the plot, but I'd only confuse you. I could mention model Kate Nauta plays a wacky lingerie-clad gun moll. I could even include mention of gorgeous Amber Valleta. But it's all meaningless.

How are the stunts? What about the car chases? REALLY, REALLY good and unbelievable. 'nuff said.

The perfect antidote to getting all hot and sweaty over Kate and Amber is to head for the Antarctic and the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman as he details the intriguing life of the Emporer Penguin. It's not long, it will fit uncut into a 90-minute TV slot sometime in the future. Yet in those few minutes, any watcher gains a new-found respect for the sea-going birds who walk miles inland to launch their next generation.

Penguins are funny. They waddle and surf the land to get to and fro. They fight like sissies (well the females do, over the males to boot). But after this movie, you can't help but respect them.

It might be a super-sized National Geographic special, but March of the Penguins is a revelation on a movie screen. It's worth the ducats and might even be worth tricking your kids into seeing it.

Thumbs up to both movies.

TV: A maybe, a miss and a hit

TV Pilots are an inexact science. Good to great pilots don't always turn into great TV series, and some very good TV series survived so-so pilots. Frequently with many changes.

The series E-Ring this fall will be nothing at all like the pilot, apparently. The wife, a major component of the pilot, doesn't exist in the TV series. That means I can't predict what this Benjamin Bratt-starrer will be like. I did like the supporting cast (wife included), a fair bit of the rescue-by-submarine plot and Bratt's got plenty of TVQ. But the series seems a non-starter for me, following in the brief footsteps of several recent series pushing the American military agenda. JAG excepted. Does the exception make the rule ... or invalidate it?

On the other hand, I'm pretty secure about my projections for the other two series in this blog entry. They are Surface and Threshold, both inspired partly by last year's Lost bonanza.

Surface used to be Fathom. Surface stars nobody I know, save Lake Bell. And I watch LOTS of TV. So there is no stardust to get in my eyes, although Bell looks WAAAAAY better in blue jeans and a rumpled sweatshirt than she did in a Boston lawyer's suit. The story was fractured and each piece was water-based. And there is NO reason to continue after that. Not since the halcyon days of Sea Hunt, has a water-based story survived. Love Boat was a set, for those in an arguing mood.

I just don't see Surface lasting as long as the original Kolchak, Night Stalker, the series that I really feel Surface is an ode to. The Lost comparison? Must have been drugs. I know Lost, and this is no Lost.

On the other hand, Lost isn't that fair a comparison to Threshold either. In fact, a favourite of mine, Stargate SG-1, has a lot more blood in this one that the fine folks marooned on that lost isle.

There's lots of familiar faces, led by scrumptious Carla Gugino. Nobody that saw it will forget Gugino's bit role in Sin City and a TV series worth DVDing was Gugino's Karen Sisco from a couple of years back. She's got the "Samantha Carter" role in Threshold. She's got her own team of eccentrics, including Brent "Star Trek's Data" Spiner as a crotchety med expert and Peter Dinklage as the uninhibited math whiz that speaks 200 languages. Dinklage always seems to make me see the character rather than the lack of height. Always welcome Charles S. Dutton has the leader job Don Davis played so well over at Stargate.

The team gets thrown into an alien contact mission at sea (see, THERE's the connection between the three shows [G]). The contact seems about as successful as most of the Stargate crews' entanglements with their own baddies, the Goa'uld. And the debut episode of Stargate immediately jumped into the body-taking over powers of the bad guys. Same story here. Leads to a real nifty final shot, even if it isn't exactly unpredictable.

Still, I can see this show outlasting Surface by a fair bit. It's got pseudo-science, name stars and Carla Gugino. And her dog Monster, a lovably ugly mutt that could be a breakout star on his own.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

BOOKS: On the whole, I'd rather...

Sometimes, reading is a bother.

These days, I prefer my books in electronic form. I can carry around a dozen or so on my Sony Clie PDA. The screen on the Clie is great. I can sit/lay in the dark and read comfortably, switching hands as necessary. No bookmarks are needed. It remembers where I left off. And, if I want to look back for something, there's even a search function. Virtual nirvana.

Well, not quite. The battery doesn't last as long as I do, which might or might not be a good thing. And I can't even consider a leisurely bath with the Clie. I use it for business reasons too, and dunking it would NOT be a good thing.

So, I still read the old-fashioned hard-copy books. In fact, by prior arrangement (a publishing of my Gift Wishbook a month before birthdays and Christmases), I get A LOT of books as presents. I suggest paperbacks to lessen the hit on gift-givers' pocketbooks. But I list a bunch of each format, paperback, trade paperback and hard-cover. Naturally I get some of each.

Hard-covers can be handsome reminders that somebody cared enough about me to spend the most. But, they seem to be getting more and more awkward to handle as I get older. A connection, I'm sure. I end up sitting up in the green comfy chair downstairs when I read a hard-cover book these days. But I do love a book I can read while lying on my side.

Trade paperbacks are nice. A medium price-point and easily handled for the books I tend to read. There was the exception of the Captain's Log ombnibus of Star Trek-related titles that weighed a zillion pounds, but I was able to buy an electronic version of that one [G]. The other thing publishers can do to screw up the trade paperback is to die-cut the cover so that it's no longer rectangular. Two recent Clive Cussler books reviewed below, demonstrated I can fight through the annoyance of a badly-cut cover to recommend a book. But it would have been a WHOLE lot nicer not to have to work around the cover issues.

Which brings me to paperbacks. I have had a LOOOOONG love affair with books and paperbacks in general. My personal library now runs close to 5,000 volumes, mostly in the paperback format. I would have no space to actually live in my house otherwise. But even this format is changing. And I think for the better.

The latest Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich, arrived with Large EASY-TO-READ type. It said so right on the front cover. I was a tad annoyed at which of my relatives thought it necessary to give me the large type book, until I realized I had ordered that particular book pre-release in February and it was only a happy happinstance that the book arrived as is. And frankly, I loved it.

The other new formatting I recently saw was in The Lost City by Clive Cussler. It advertised itself as being easier to hold. And by dadgum it was. It was slimmer and a tad taller. And it was perfectly easy to use single-handed. I want MORE paperbacks in this format.

They can even survive a little soap suds. Trust me.

BOOKS: So much for a month

Once I find a writer I enjoy, I tend to hoarde books until I can sit down and spend a month reading one writer. Sometimes, I can buy every book put out by a writer for as much as four or five years, and then go through them one-after-another until I have another half-decade wait 'til the next time I'll read his or her offerings again.

There are exceptions. My birthday and Christmas co-inside with Janet Evanovich's publishing schedule. The latest Stephanie Plum book never lasts two days from receipt. I do the same "get and read" for the latest Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) and Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer) books. But that's about it. I have self-control for the most part.

This month was SUPPOSED to be Clive Cussler month. Turned into a week. I've been a big fan of Cussler since a radio interview he did convinced me to read Raise the Titanic! It was a great book (and one of the stinker movies of all time) and made Cussler a must-read on acquisition day for a loooong time. But somewhere around Sahara (a bad book, punctuated by a character named Cussler, but a very pleasant surprise of a movie), I started collecting Cussler for "reading months." And it was time to plow through the four Cussler co-authored books on the top of my reading pile.

As previously mentioned, I was disappointed by the Kurt Austin series entry, The Lost City. I bit my lip at the Dirk Pitt series tome, The Black Wind, when the Cussler fictional alter-ego once again improbably arrived to save the day, an aaargh moment in an otherwise decent thriller. And I raced through the two entries in the Corporation series, Golden Buddha and Sacred Stone in three days. Thus, my intended enjoyment of Cussler's writing was condensed into just eight days.

But Cussler, writing with Craig Dirgo, has a keeper in The Corporation books, aka the Oregon Files. It's really a literary equivalent of the TV Alias series transplanted to a floating wonder-ship. There's none of the unconvincing romantic by-play that Cussler really doesn't do well. It's wall-to-seawall action and I have no problem seeing these books making good TV or a movie or two. And nary a fictional Cussler to rub me the wrong way.

My brother hobnobs in the higher circles of the literary world and only offers a bemused smile when I mention my affection for Cussler's work. But when it comes to escapist, page-turning fare, it's hard to beat the mcguffin man.