Sunday, March 29, 2009

TV Review: Dollhouse "Echoes"

Season 1, Episode 7 (Original Air Date: Friday, March 27th, 2009 at 8/7c on FOX)

The Plot: (From Echo (Eliza Dushku) abandons an assignment when she is drawn to a nearby college where the entire campus is being affected by a mysterious memory drug.

The Review: I said last week that Dollhouse was a great new science fiction series. And that's still true. But I think now, at the seventh episode, the show has finally produced an episode that I didn't like. I suppose it was inevitable, no show is perfect after all (Although Firefly went it's full season without really disappointing me. Oh, well). Maybe it's just disappointment after the last episode, which was without a doubt the best the series has yet produced.

That said, this is not a terrible episode, it's simply not up to par with everything we've seen so far (hey, that rhymes!) To show's credit, it's entertaining and engaging even on it's off days. I rather watch "Echoes" on a loop for 48 hours straight than 5 minutes of any given reality show or Disney Channel garbage.

The first thing that disappointed me was that it did nothing to advance the Agent Ballard storyline. After "Man on the Street" finally brought Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) to the forefront of the story in a big way, I was excited to see what he would do this episode. But he didn't do anything, except maybe have a small relationship talk of no real consequence with Mellie (Miracle Laurie). He barely even appeared.

Also, the whole episode was, well, a bit of a mindf*ck. Strike that, it was a total mindf*ck. And not a mindf*ck like the ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or the pink elephant scene from Dumbo. I mean a mindf*ck more lick the Architect scene from The Matrix Reloaded: you've got no idea what's going on, and you're not sure the writers do either. The plot is convoluted, and story elements go completely unexplained, or if they were I missed them. There were times when I thought I had been affected by the drug. Probably the biggest WTF moment was when they employ the magic reset button at the end with little to no explanation. (spoiler warning) Almost every employee and Active in the Dollhouse organization is caught with their pants down by the drug, out in the field in a populated area, as are the people back at base...And yet somehow they are able to clean the whole thing up without the authorities even noticing. And no, that's not another mystery to be solved, it's just poor writing. (spoiler ending)

But my major complaint was that this episode was, to be honest, a major waste of potential. This plot basically called for almost every single character to have all inhibitions and memory blocks removed. This is a incredible opportunity for character development, the chances to see these people as they truly are. But it never happens. The memory drugs effects are played almost entirely for laughs (not terribly funny ones at that), and when they aren't, they don't really tell us anything we don't already know. The only real exception is Echo, and frankly, the more I find out about her former self Caroline, the less I like her. Apparently (spoiler warning) she was just some crazy animal rights bitch who got her boyfriend killed just because she didn't like labs using guinea pigs as...well, guinea pigs. Incidentally, when she and her boyfriend do break into the lab, they discover the lab's also experimenting on human infants, but she's still way more concerned with the caged monkeys (spoiler ending). Wow. Not only have they spoiled Echo's secret origin halfway through the first season, but her secret origin makes her completely unlikable. There better be more to this, Whedon.

So yeah, this latest episode was pretty disappointing. Hope the show doesn't lose viewers for this, they were on a roll. I still love Dollhouse, as demonstrated by the fact that I expected so much more than this. But hey, we've still got a 6:1 ratio in are favor, and in all likelihood, this was just a rare misstep. Although, there is a part of me that's afraid Joss Whedon's already been handed a cancellation notice, and has to cram his five seasons of planned brilliance into this season. Pray to God I'm wrong.

Click here to visit the official website for Dollhouse.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TV Review: Kings "Prosperity"

Season 1, Episode 2 (Original Air Date: Monday, March 22nd, 2009 at 8/7c on NBC)

The Plot: (From A peace treaty signing ceremony could be jeopardized when the leader of the Gath military (Steven J. Klaszky) inquires as to why David Shepherd (Christopher Egan) isn't there. Tensions mount as King Silas (Ian McShane) and General Abner (Wes Studi) come up with a plan to get rid of David, while William (Dylan Baker) plans to get rid of King Silas.

The Review: Kings is a very new series, and one of which I have yet to make up my mind about. It's really too early to call it as a good series overall, and I personally don't know whether I like it or not yet. I admire them for trying something new, but still, I have my doubts. It can seem very pretentious and overly dramatic at times (I almost threw up over that awful scene from the pilot where David's brother died, so David runs into the battlefield and waves the white flag while the tragic hero music plays; poorly acted & completely implausible).

My views on the casting are mixed. Ian McShane is consistently brilliant, but more or less everyone is mediocre to horrible. I realize they were going for the blonde-haired, blued-eyed, all-American Boy-type with Christopher Egan, which is appropriate for his character, but to me he just comes across as a cardboard cutout character; he's just boring to watch. However, when Brian Cox suddenly showed up in the latest installment, my mouth dropped open. He was only in one scene, but man, oh man, was it an awesome. He and Ian McShane, two masters on their craft playing off one another, one as a corrupt dictator with a messiah complex, the other as a deposed dictator fallen into madness; it doesn't get much better than that.

In case you haven't figured it out already, Kings is essentially a modern retelling of the Biblical story of David, particularly his rise to power and the fall of his predecessor, King Saul. I like this angle, it's really the shows only selling point outside of Ian McShane. However, the translation is...inconsistent at best. It's very precise, even to the point where it doesn't make sense, which also makes some of the changes made all the more confusing. For example, making Saul, or Silas as the case my be, a modern day monarch of a fictional country seems odd and unnecessary. It would seem more appropriate to make him the democratic leader of Israel in an alternate world where Israel is the dominate superpower of the world. And if they're being that accurate, why bother with any name changes? Saul is a perfectly believable name in modern society, so why is he Silas here? And replacing Jonathan with Jack, seriously (incidentally, Jonathan was supposed to be David's best friend and ally against Saul, not his rival for Saul's attention and a drunken playboy)? Also, what's the deal with Samuel being young? I always pictured him an the wise, ancient old Gandalf-type prophet, but here, Saul/Silas is at least a decade his senior. I'm sorry, but that doesn't really work for me.

Still I must admit, this film has a great visual style about it. It actually manages to create a large and epic feel, something hard to accomplish on a TV budget. Though I'm not sure what butterflies and pigeons have to do with the story of David, I appreciate the poetic imagery. More appropriate animals would have been lions or lambs, but of course it would've been pretty difficult to mount one of those on David's head as a crown. This episode in particular is full of it, from the opening scene where Silas is yelling at the sky in the rain, begging God not to abandon him, and the flock of pigeons flew around him, to a scene in the climax that involved a not-so-subtle crucifix reference (wrong Bible story, guys), it's all good stuff.

Overall, I did think this episode was much better than the pilot, which got abysmal ratings despite a good amount of hype. I think the main problem with the pilot was the two-hour running time. Audiences just aren't willing to devote that much time to a totally new series they know nothing about. Extra long episodes are something you do for series finales, not premieres, because you have to have your audience already on board. Hopefully they've learned they're lesson and haven't completely alienated everyone yet. While I have yet to fully gauge the show, something genuinely fresh and original is rare and worth checking out. I definitely look fore ward to seeing what more this show has to offer.

Click here to visit the official website for Kings.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TV Review: Dollhouse "Man on the Street"

The Plot: (from Echo (Eliza Dushku) tries to help a client (Patton Oswalt) heal the ache of a lost love as a TV reporter (Patrick Stinson) prepares an expose on the Dollhouse.

The Review: Dollhouse is still a fairly new show, but it's one I've come to love. It's an interesting science fiction premise that opens up world of possibilities. Our main character can literally go anywhere, do anything, and be anyone. Of course, this also present an enormous challenge to the actress, who must literally reinvent herself with each new episode. It's a difficult feat that Eliza Dushku pulls of admirably if not quite perfectly. It's definitely a chance to show her range, and she's already surprised me over and over again. The only place she really falters any is when she's in her "tabula rasa" mode, but in her defense it's very difficult to pull of a state of complete mindlessness.

That's not to say the show is perfect, however. One of my initial fears going in was that the show would be just like the promotional material, which focused almost entirely on Echo's sex appeal. As it turns out, these fears were not entirely unjustified. No matter how interesting and complex Echo's character is, almost every episode has to take a moment to remind us how physically attractive she is, as if we'd forgotten. There's always that bit were she's gotta seduce somebody, or somebody ogles or hits on her, or when she gotta get naked, etc. It's like the show keeps saying to the audience, "Hey, by the way, she's HOT! And not only that, she's HOT! Oh, we forgot to tell you, she's HOT!". Enough already!

I had another complaint, but this episode more than makes up for it, as I knew they eventually would. My complaint was the Agent Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) and his plot line didn't seem very relevant to the story. It was like every episode had the same old b-plot: Ballard running around in circles trying to find the Dollhouse, while DeWitt (Olivia Williams) supplies him with false lead after false lead. While the assumption was always that eventually Ballard's and Echo's paths would cross and he would actually become part of the a-plot, he was getting a little repetitive, and I was beginning to wish they would just get on with it.

But not only did this episode mark the first face-to-face encounter between Ballard and Echo, but is also featured a number of new mysteries, and twist I never saw coming. Now we not only have the questions revolving around the rogue active Alpha and his intentions, but now we're told (spoiler warning) that there's a mysterious insider in the Dollhouse organization working to expose them. Who is it? Is it Boyd? He certainly believes that what is done to the Dolls is wrong. Dr. Saunders? She obviously has some kinda past we don't know about, I mean what's with those scars? Topher? He seemed shaken up after he was told Alpha was still alive, no telling what he may do with his upgraded clearance. Or maybe Alpha is the informant, manipulating Ballard as well as Echo? Can't wait to find out. (spoiler end)

The news expose angle was interesting, inter cutting scenes with clips of random people being interviewed on the street about the much-rumored Dollhouse. It the first time the show really dealt with how, to the world at large, the Dollhouse is nothing more and an urban legend. In general, it didn't lend anything to the plot other than a few laughs, but it did help establish the Dollhouse's place in the world.

The show's creator, Joss Whedon, is greatly beloved by the geek community for creating shows such as Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But despite his widespread and devoted fan base, for some reason his work often doesn't make money. Firefly was cancelled after the first season, and even it's cinematic revival Serenity didn't do well financially. Dollhouse had also been performing poorly in the rating for the first four episodes, and it looked like it was doomed to be another of Whedon's lost gems. Last episode, when the ratings went up, I thought it might've been just a fluke. But wonder of wonders, the ratings remained high this episode! They didn't really rise, but still that's pretty impressive considering it was going up again the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the series finale of Battlestar Galactica. Please support this show, guys. We don't want this cancelled in the first season like Firefly, especially with Whedon saying he's got the first five seasons already mapped out.

Click here to visit the official website for Dollhouse.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Movie Review: Watchmen (fans' edition)

SPOILER ALERT!!! Do not watch this review if you haven't read the Watchmen graphic novel. Watch my spoiler-free Watchmen review here.

DVD Review: Wonder Woman

The live-action Wonder Woman film has been in development hell for years, and it doesn't look like it's getting out anytime soon. So in the meantime, animation god Bruce Timm is kind enough to bless us with this direct-to-DVD animated feature, simply titled Wonder Woman. The plot is pretty much your standard superhero origin story: Diana (Keri Russell) is the daughter of Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen), queen of the Amazons, a race of immortal Greek warrior women hidden on the mystic island of Themiscyra (no, there's no lesbian sex here guys, sorry). One day an American fighter pilot named Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) crash lands on the island. The Amazons decide to chose their finest warrior through combat, who would escort Steve Trevor back to "Man's World", wearing the colors of the American flag (learned from Trevor's uniform patch) as a sign of friendship (look, it was that way in the comics, OK, just go with it). Unfortunately Ares (Alfred Molina), god of war and mortal enemy of the Amazons, chooses now of all times to break out of his prison on Themyscira. And if you don't have a good idea where the story goes from there, you've obviously been isolated on a mystic island your whole life.

The Pros: Memorize these words. Practice them in front of the mirror every night before bed. Make it your motto:! Just giving us Batman: The Animated Series would have been enough, but this guy also saw fit to grant us Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Justice League. If I hadn't had Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero to crawl back to during the Joel Schumacher years, also known as the Dark Ages, I would have gone bat-crap insane. Not to mention he gave us the only good Superman film ever made, namely Superman: Doomsday (sorry guys, but the Christopher Reeve films sucked; ALL of them). So obviously, there's a lot to expect from this film. And does it deliver? Well, of course it delivers! Come on, when has Bruce Timm ever made anything bad? (Superman: Brainiac Attacks doesn't count! He wasn't involved with that one!)

The first thing that struck me about this film is that it wasn't a simple superhero action romp. It is better described as romantic comedy/fantasy war epic. The interaction between Wonder Woman & Steve Trevor is both hilarious and sweet, and it really makes the film. If there was ever a superhero film for girls, this is the one. But that's not to say the guys can't enjoy it too. Believe me there is plenty of Lord of the Rings-style battles and Clash of the Titans-style monster fights. The film has a great cast including Nathan Fillion, Rosario Dawson, and Alfred Molina. Keri Russell did an acceptable as Wonder Woman, though a part of me still missed Susan Eisenberg. Though honestly it's unfair to compare them, because the two have completely different interpretations of the character. In the Justice League series, Eisenberg played the character as somewhat meek an inexperienced, while Russell's Wonder Woman is more brash & forceful.

The Cons: Two words: the length. I'm not saying 75 minutes isn't a common running time with direct-to-DVD features, but this particular story desperately needed more screen time. They barely have time to finish the origin part of a plot before they have to jump right into the climax, and the whole thing just feels rushed.

The End: Wonder Woman has always been a tragically misunderstood character. In almost literally every appearance of the character onscreen and in comics she's been sexualized. There's never enough emphasis on her character, she's always just the hot warrior princess. And as usual, Bruce Timm seems to be the only one who knows how to treat these characters right. He was the only one that knew it was pronounced "Lex LuthOr" not "Lex LuthEr", or "Mix-yiz-spit-lick" not "Mix-el-plick". He was the first to portray Mr. Freeze and the Riddler as interesting original characters. And now he once again gives Wonder Woman the respect she deserves. And at the same time he actually makes a socially relevant statement about the male/female dynamic that not enough people are saying. For a comic book fan, this is obviously a must.

Overall, I give Wonder Woman a Silver Anarchy Coin.

Click here to visit the official website for Wonder Woman.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Movie Review: Watchmen

At the risk of sounding redundent, sorry this is so late getting out. Watch the fans' edition review here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Response to the 2009 Oscars

Once again I apologize for how ridiculously late this is getting out, but I had to do something for the Oscars.