October 15, 2013

[Once Upon a Time]in Wonderland

Another series from Lost creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is a spin-off of OUAT. The promos don't keep the plot very hush hush, so I'll give you a synopsis for once (just this once…). Alice went on an adventure when she was a little girl; she fell down a rabbit hole and into Wonderland, and when she came home, her father, who had presumed her to be dead, was very concerned about where his little girl had been. For years she continued to tell him stories of caterpillars smoking hookahs and playing cards that come to life, but he could never get out of her where she really disappeared to. To make matters worse, she continued to disappear for long stretches of time throughout her adolescence, never ceasing to recount stories of her travels to Wonderland, even into adulthood. You can't really blame the guy for sending her to the loony bin.

I'm always more interested in these kinds of stories if there's a possibility that everything is happening in the crazy person's imagination. I'll just have to hold out for the next Shutter Island, because Once Upon a Time in Wonderland proposes a real fantasy land with real magic and real trouser-wearing rabbits.

I like Alice. She's spunky, occasionally has some of the childlike wonder of her storybook-self, and sometimes the naivety. Her heroism fits the character development of post-Jabberwocky Alice; she ought to be about as badass a warrior as Prince Charming or any of the rest of them.

We do get to see a little bit of Storybrook in the pilot, a few familiar friends (Grumpy and Cinderella). You think the Knave of Hearts is up to something breaking into Granny's diner, but really he just wants to steal a cup of coffee really badly. Oh wait, he paid for it…

The first time I watched it, I didn't catch John Lithgow saying, "she needs help from the Knave of Hearts," and I spent the whole episode wondering who this thief character was supposed to be — and I liked it better that way. One thing Once Upon a Time has stumbled onto accidentally a few times, at least for me, is keeping things hidden unintentionally in a way that improves the show. For example, in season 1 it felt like they assumed that the audience would know that Regina had her memories from her life in the enchanted forest; there's no sudden reveal of that, it just becomes clearer as time goes on, but I assumed she didn't know, which made the show all the more interesting from my (mistaken) point of view.

I'm certainly worried there won't be enough of a real-world connection through the rest of the show for me. What I've always liked about OUAT is the mash-up between contemporary life and the fairy-tale world.

As much as I will always and forever love Lost's Sayid, I will never be able to see Naveen Andrews as Jafar. I mean, look at him. Does he look like Jafar? Not even a little bit.

The cast are a bunch of unknowns: Sophie Lowe as Alice, Michael Socha as the Knave of Hearts, Peter Gadiot as Cyrus. Emma Rigby simmers as the Red Queen. I guess she's the queen of diamonds if Cora is the queen of hearts. In the pilot these nobodies prove themselves worthy additions to the OUAT crew. OUAT in Wonderland is better than I expected so far. That's because I expected some degree of awfulness, especially as the spin-off tries to gain its feet, but instead it was fairly consistent quality and completely enjoyable. But if you know me, you know I'll find a nitpick somewhere.

And here it is: OUAT in Wonderland is inconsistent with the expectations we've formed from OUAT. On OUAT, in season 1, none of the characters know they are Snow White or Prince Charming, Geppetto, the huntsman, Doctor Frankenstein or Jimminy Cricket, but they know all of the stories. The fairytales exist in the "real world." In OUAT in Wonderland, the situation isn't made as clear, but this is what I can gather: Alice knows who she is, but nobody seems familiar with Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It's not that she realizes she's a storybook character, she just is that character, and the story doesn't seem to exist. Indeed, in the insane asylum her jailers don't accuse her for being insane because she thinks she's Alice from Alice in Wonderland, they accuse her of being insane for believing she has been to Wonderland, period. There's no mention of Carroll.

I doubt this will ever or can ever be addressed, but there you have it. I'll try not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the new series, but it is some food for thought. And hey, let me know if I've missed something or got it wrong. Drop me a comment!

October 11, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [review time]

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I can't even begin to describe how much I enjoyed the pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — but I did manage to put into words how much I disliked The Avengers. The disparity between quality and hype is at its greatest with The Avengers. Some will argue that other contenders include Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, but the IMDb ratings don't lie: Inception has an has an 8.8, making it number 16 of the greatest films of all time (if only for mass appeal), Dark Knight Rises has an 8.6 (number 57), and The Avengers has a measly 8.2, and sits at number 168. But we can all agree to give this award to Avatar (7.9) and quit bickering.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., on the other hand, hasn't created -that- much hype so far (I guess with Thor 2 coming and Avengers 2 on the radar, the fanboys are well sated) and is head and shoulders above the quality of The Avengers, at least in the first episode.

Agents of Shield castFrom the first, I liked the tone they set. Pretty classy. The first fight scene has opera (or some shiz) in the background. There's a nice mixture of humour and gravity to this pilot, where the agents form up a motley team of qualified yet mis-matched troops to be a kind of "welcoming committee" for new super heroes who don't understand their powers, much like The Company or the World Superhero Registry (lol).

I'm excited about the cast so far. Cobie Smulders looks amazing as Agent Maria Hill; her character comes across as a far bit less useless than in the film, and I hope she becomes a frequent player. I'd never seen Chloe Bennet (Skye) before, but immediately fell in love with her, and I'm sure Brett Dalton (Agent Ward) and Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May) will grow on me... The other two members of the cast promo shot you've seen everywhere (including above) are genius duo Fitz & Simmons, played by Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge respectively.

Cobie Smulders Maria Hill Agents of Shield

They definitely tried for Whedonesque humor.

"I don't think Thor's technically a god."
"Well, you haven't been near his arms"

When a (beloved?) long lost character steps out from the shadows to reveal he's still alive: "Sorry, that corner was really dark and I couldn’t help myself. I think there’s a bulb out." And scene.

"Next to people skills she drew — I think that's a little poop."

It got tempting to write down every silly joke, but I decided on restraint. Just prepare yourself for some good moments, folks.

Charles Gunn Mike Peterson

And prepare yourself to be reunited with old friends!

There are a few Whedon favorites I hadn't seen anywhere else yet: Charles Gunn! and Shepherd Book! I hope J. August Richards and Ron Glass make it into the series for more than just the pilot, because I'm super excited.

Agents of Shield Ron Glass Shepherd Book Dr. Streiten

In comparison to The Avengers, the pilot for S.H.I.E.L.D. had a -satisfying- resolution for its conflict, none of that Hulk-smashing Loki bullshiz. It's a eucatastrophe Tolkien would be proud of. At the most pivotal moment, when it seems there is no going back and no way to win, a saving grace changes the course of history; previously established as imaginable yet impossible, this solution will only work once (okay, the eagles saved the citizens of middle earth more than once, so the old man's a hypocrite, but his theory works. A good eucatastrophe makes for a good ending to any story).

Fitz and Simmons Agents of Shield

I'm off to watch the next episode. Cheers!

Agents of Shield

October 4, 2013

The World's End (2013): The Cornetto's Conclusion? [review time]

Edgar Wright may not have been the only director to release an apocalyptic film during the universal sigh of relief from having survived 2012, but he's probably the one for which we had the highest expectations. We have a very high opinion of the first two members of the Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but reviews of the last Cornetto flick have been nothing if not mixed.

The plot is as ridiculous as it sounds: Five high school buddies return to their hometown to finish the Golden Mile, a pub-crawl challenge involving 12 charmingly British-sounding small town pubs, culminating in the World's End pub. Partway through the drinking gauntlet, they uncover an apocalyptic secret too good to spoil in a review, and (here's what makes it problematically ridiculous) decide that they must continue their boozing in order to stay under the radar and survive.

It is exciting to see the Cornetto stars on screen together again, even if the product is below the flawless quality of Shaun of the Dead.

Our boys are pictured above, from left to right: Martin Freeman, who played some dude named Declan in Shaun of the Dead and the Sergeant in Hot Fuzz, as Oliver; Paddy Considine, who played DS Andy Wainwright in Hot Fuzz, as Steven; Simon Pegg, who played Shaun in Shaun of the Dead and Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz, as Garry King; Nick Frost, who played Danny in Hot Fuzz and Ed in Shaun of the Dead, as Andy; and Eddie Marsan as Peter.

Cornetto similarities: All three Cornetto movies involve a comical sequence of fence hopping in series. In both The World's End and Shaun of the Dead, Pegg's character has to work really hard for the love interest. Shaun and Ed are basically Garry and Andy but with the actors (and protagonist role) switched. World's End and Shaun of the Dead each feature an intolerable jackass character with no off switch (except that Ed manages to be endearing and likable). The World's End is basically Shaun of the Dead with a different, but not so different, catalyst for the potential apocalypse.

Problems: There are some general complaints that I have heard and wholeheartedly agree with. For one thing, once the apocalypse is nigh, it just makes no sense that the Muskateers continue with their pub crawl. A flimsy rationale is given, but just about no one is buying it. The rule of survival is fight or flight, not fight or get crunked and pretend nothing's going on.

If you remember Shaun and Ed in Shaun of the Dead, Garry and Andy are pretty much the two reversed, except we're supposed to empathise with Ed (Garry) as the protagonist, and while Ed was quite lovable as a sidekick, he's way too much of an ass to be our hero. He's supposed to be the pain-in-the-ass best friend of the hero.

The ending was downright confusing. I mean, I feel that I understand what I was meant to understand, but I'm left with so many (spoilerful) questions. Why was the tap in the World's End pub the lever that opened up the aliens' secret lair? Was it a coincidence or a trap for specifically for Garry?

And just what was up with the use of "wtf" throughout the film as if it's new and memeworthy?

Inconsistencies: The blanks' level of aggression. The first blank we encounter won't speak unless spoken to, or rather, unless violently raged at. When Sam foolishly confides Garry's warning to the Twins, they immediately try to kill her, and 11.34 minutes later, Guy Shepherd is telling them that he wants a peaceful "merger" — the blanks don't want to hurt anyone at all. Then why were they trying to kill Sam? I'm so confused.

It does get better (and laugh out loud funnier) after a few views — and I would know, since I watched it a bunch of times to try to figure out what makes it so inconsistent in comparison to the spot on Shaun of the Dead. Good use of The Doors' Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) though.

Next week when I review This is the End, I'll address the similarities between these two apocalypse flicks as well.

So, um, did you like it? Oh, and if you can answer any of my questions and settle my confusion, that would be lovely.

October 2, 2013

The Heart of the Truest Believer — Some Thoughts [once upon a time]

I fell in love with Peter Pan in my childhood, just like everyone else, but it wasn't until I grew up and read J.M. Barrie's novel that its brilliance really struck me. It's really dark and all about what rotten little human beings children are. For example, if you've watched Disney's Peter Pan lately, you'll notice the abhorrently racist portrayal of native americans, and while you'll be tempted to blame it on "the times" or on Disney, what it really comes down to is how dedicated Barrie was to presenting children's perceptions of things in his novel, and that's how children at that time saw "the Injuns." Read for yourself. What you'll find is a Peter Pan who almost stabs Tootles through the heart with an arrow and keeps bringing Lost Boys to Neverland to replace the ones that have been killed by pirates — not the most promising of destinies.

Creators Kitsis and Horowitz have promised to show an even darker Peter, contributing to the myth by questioning the effect of eternal life on the boy who never grows up. Eternal youth in adults is one thing — do we really want to see what happens to the psyche of a child who lives forever? (Actually, if you do want to, check out Interview with a Vampire. Classic.) Well, like it or not, that's what this season of Once Upon a Time is going to explore.

So what about our heroes? While the hashtag #savehenry has been floating around Twitter, there hasn't been much hinting so far as to how. Emma doesn't really seem to have a plan. Other than leading her band of merry enemies into the thick of things without a plan. Which Regina is almost enjoying pointing out. Rumpelstiltskin seems to have some ideas, but he's not letting anyone in on them, and he's going off on his own. Emma might trust him to find her son, but... we're not so sure, are we? After all, he's destined to die saving Henry, but if Henry doesn't get saved, he just might live.

Anyone else notice how bad Hook is crushing on Emma? In the final scene with the Jolly Roger crew he was blushing like a schoolgirl the whole bloody time. So is he just pretending to care about Baelfire, or... being his typical lady-friend stealing self?

As I promised, Baelfire is alive and well taken care of by Aurora, Prince what's-his-name, and Mulan.

There's something about Baelfire hanging with Mulan that I like. I think it's that their characters happened to be conducive to good conversation.

'Neal' was also perfect for some of that good old our world-your world humour: 

"Can I ask you a question?"
"Yeah I don't know how to explain what a movie is..."

Classic. Almost as good as Hook not knowing what jello is. But, ya know, there was some good deeper stuff in there too, like how he was too cowardly to go after Emma (like father like son?).

Overall, the premiere was pretty solid, and I'll forgive my concerns from last season on the basis that we're moving forward, hopefully toward something better :)

I couldn't resist including this, although I think it's just a promo. I can't think of any reason why Belle would wear her most iconic ballgown to Granny's Diner.

September 27, 2013

Journey to Neverland [once upon a time]

If you're excited for the season 3 premiere of ABC's Once Upon a Time on Sunday, you'll enjoy the above promo. Another recommendation is to re-watch the finale of season 2 for a pump-up. That's what I did this morning, and it revived a few mixed feelings that I had. I'm thrilled to be heading to Neverland, but I do have a few qualms I'm not putting aside just yet.

#1. It really bothered me that Belle didn't have a problem with Mr. Gold after her memory came back. The pragmatist in me gets that devoting screen time to her rampage might not have been fitting, but it looks like they're going to skip that confrontation entirely. At least give me a "We'll talk about this later." Classic lady line.

#2. Hook and Gold practically kiss and make up. In a split second, for the sake of a kid that didn't want him around (Baelfire), Hook is willing to put aside his blood lust for vengeance, the very quest that led him to Storybrooke, and not only that, he's willing to let the bastard on his ship. It's not a very big ship, so I expect there to be some tension, but not enough to make up for the loving camaraderie they showed in the final scenes of the finale.

On the upside, there's something I forgot: Aurora and company found Baelfire! So that's good news. I think it's an unwritten rule of narratives that if someone just -might- be dead, they're going to last a bit longer. The only character to fall through a portal and never be seen again is Sirius Black. Did you remember that little detail?

So Sunday is approaching, and my nit-picky qualms won't keep me from enjoying the new season. My favorite characters are back! All I'm saying is that the team better watch those character relationships and pay the details the attention they deserve. No more hugs and kisses between Hook and Gold!

April 9, 2013

Zero History by William Gibson [review time]

If you thought he could write about the future, you should see him write about the present. William Gibson's 2011 novel, the third of an informal trilogy that includes Pattern Recognition (2005) and Spook Country (2007), is relentlessly contemporary and doesn't shy away from weaving Twitter and a much-loved MacBook Air into the story, a modern tale of love, marketing and stolen denim. Although fans have been critical of Gibson for expecting us to care about the mystery surrounding the identity of a blue jeans designer, the book does have something. The words breathe some amount of mysticism into the real world of digital systems and networks, and the characters are worth caring about, even if you don't share their obsession with the maker of Gabriel Hounds jeans.

Hollis Henry is a former rock star who has agreed to work for one Hubertus Bigend, founder of a company called Blue Ant, and Milgrim is a recovered drug addict Bigend comes to own in return for his expensive rehabilitation. What's most interesting is that Bigend, the big boss man of our two heroes, is neither protagonist nor antagonist; he's someone of whom to be very wary. Hollis's reluctance to work with him is the first foreboding warning that her employer, who seems jovial and even caring at times, is actually something of a danger. Milgrim's loyalty to Bigend is not out of fear, but he is afraid to tell Bigend when he veers away from orders, largely because it is the first time since joining the payroll that he has thought for himself. That's kind of worrisome.

It doesn't come to much, however. Zero History may have received a lot of critical acclaim for its masterful authorship, but many fans agree that the plot falls flat. Take our fears about Bigend, for example. In the end, it isn't hard for Hollis to keep him in check; a simple deal suffices to keep him from harming any of the characters we care about before the actual threat of what he might do is even revealed. The main story suffers from a similar lack of stakes, and lack of consequence. One review I read on Amazon had a long-time fan who read both Pattern Recognition and Spook Country put down the book two thirds of the way in, and I know exactly the feeling. There just comes a point when there are only so many pages left and you can tell whether the end will be climactic, or completely unsatisfying. Gibson's latest novel failed to come up with a story the readers would care about, and an ending that would at any point have them on the edges of their seats.

No one can touch Gibson's writing, and it's got to be damn hard to keep at it after peaking with Neuromancer in 1984, but Zero History is only worth reading if you're jonesing for his masterful wordsmithing and you're already bored to tears with the rest of his work. It may be the best story about denim ever written (maybe), but from William Gibson we've come to expect something a little more consequential. Then again, maybe that says a lot about us as readers. We're always looking for something big, and we're not easily sated.

April 3, 2013

Game of Thrones Season 3 Premiere: Valar Dohaeris

The most pirated and anticipated, ratings record breaking premiere got off to a steady start. Did some good old catching up with all our old friends, a minute or two north of the wall, a little check-in with the surviving Baratheon "licking his wounds" back in Dragonstone, and a peak at the carnage the Starks come across at Harrenhal while they bide their time, have a few pints before they get around to taking King's Landing.

I know this is the time for rising action, but start killing each other already! Two seasons and Joffrey's head is still on his body. What's with that? At least Stannis gave it a shot; what are those Starks doing? Dany has an excuse. Her dragons are too small to kill even the puniest of kings, and she doesn't have much of an army. Yet.

Thanks to the books we can just read ahead to the action, but Valar Dohaeris did start a few things off. The great ethical dilemma of Daenerys' completely dehumanized slave army, Jon Snow climbing up the wildlong ranks from prisoner to... not prisoner, and Sansa's opportunity for escape, and in fact, even wanting to escape King's Landing, or outwardly admitting that she does, is a new and very welcome development. I haven't figured out why I feel fiercely protective over this arguably very weak, sad character, but just think how much room there is for development when you're a complete crybaby and a coward. If she kills Joffrey one day it'll be the best thing a woman has done since the Witch King (okay not really), but she'll have to both beat Arya to it, and humble herself enough to her sister to ask for fencing lessons.

It's difficult to tell to what extent Stannis is still in the game, particularly when he's burning his own soldiers and generals at the stake, and he's not looking too hot. It would be a shame to lose another contender for the throne; the more the merrier. The more to take it from the damn Lannisters. 

A few notable characters didn't appear in this first episode. Where's Arya? Last we saw her she had escaped Harrenhal, and good timing based on what Robb and Lady Stark found there. Hopefully she's near enough for a reunion but probably not. There are also the little stark boys, Bran and Rickon, whom Maester Luwin urged to flee north to the fricking wall in the season finale. Yeah, wish them luck. Osha and a couple direwolves should be able to protect them from the army of white walker things we got a glimpse of up north. Okay, those are on the other side of the wall, but we've seen what kinds of things can happen to children in this show, and at this point, nothing would surprise me.

Don't forget about Jaime Lannister, either. We should expect an update on where he is very soon.

Last season ended with Margaery Tyrell asking King Joffrey to marry her, which made me angry even though the new arrangement saves Sansa having to marry him. Still, what a strumpet. I guess I was most concerned over Sansa's safety if Joffrey is done with her, but that doesn't seem to concern anyone. I guess Cersei has forgotten about the Stark in their midst. Still, if there's one thing that makes me tear my hair out, it's when I don't like a character from the start, and the storyteller flips them on their ass to redeem them. Margaery Tyrell works with the poor in the city and isn't afraid to get shit on her boots in the process. How honourable. I'm running out of villainous characters to dislike.

I hear it's going to be a good season. Winter's coming, and all that. Well get on with it then!

March 19, 2013

Three Steps to Enjoying Oz The Great and Powerful

James Franco is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs. That is, the Wizard of Oz.

Trippy as it would be for Dorothy to turn up, her house having landed on a lady with real nice heals, and be asked, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?" I think Oscar Diggs gets it even worse. Imagine waking up in a land that's named after you; yeah, this place is called Oz. I don't know what can be worse for your ego than having the world be named after you.

There's also the fact that Oscar Diggs, the tricksy magician, is expected to be able to kill the Wicked Witch who's been tormenting his land, because there's one of those nifty prophecies. Queue James Franco's face, looking like it always does: that of a smug, stoned sonofabitch. Goofy, incapable, thinks he's charming enough to blow off the Oscars like it's no big deal. The freaking Oscars. That's about all you'll get from his character, and probably from Franco's acting for the rest of his career unless someone gives him a sock in the head hard enough to get through his thick skull.

Luckily we have three beautiful witches to feast our eyes on through the entire production.

Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz play the witches of Oz, and play with Oz's heart, and are probably the biggest reason Oz the Great and Powerful has grossed $283 million worldwide, other than Happy Meal toy promotion.

Of course, you've already decided to go see the movie for Mila, so now the question becomes, will you like it?

Or better yet: How will you make sure you will like it?

Step 1: Remember Magic

Repeat the following mantra to yourself. It's Disney. It's Disney. It's Disney. Remember this is a kids flick, and therefore, Franco's sidekicks are going to be annoying, there will be inappropriately light-hearted one-liners to keep the kindergarteners from tearing up (too much), and there will be a storybook ending. The best way to remember what you're getting into would be to watch not only (Warner Brothers') The Wizard of Oz, but also a couple of Disney films. Maybe some of the less good ones, like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, cuz let's be honest, this is no Aladdin. Just remember how to laugh when you're supposed to and try to have a good time.

Step 2: Think about Oz

I wouldn't recommend marathoning The Wizard of Oz, then Oz the Great and Powerful, because this contemporary prequel just has none of that level of mastery. But of course, you need to be ready to catch those magical references. There won't be any ruby slippers, but there will be the odd reverberating line that will make you think of the classic, which is basically all Oz the Great and Powerful is good for. Okay, the story isn't terrible. But everyone going to see it is clearly just trying to recapture some of what you're supposed to get over the rainbow.

Step 3: Go to the matinée

The goofy jokes really need a laugh-track to be any fun for adults, or what I will call The Finding Neverland effect.

25 Seats for Orphans:

I couldn't get a clip of how infectious the children laughing was but I'm sure you will remember, and you will remember to go see Oz The Great and Powerful with as many rugrats in the audience as you can manage.

Alternatively, you can go to a late show and brown bag it.

BONUS: Try to forget how much you don't like James Franco's face.

The longer it's been since you've watched Freaks and Geeks or Pineapple Express, the better. Don't watch the interview of him on Colbert slouching disrespectfully in his seat because movie stars don't have to sit up straight; don't check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes (for various reasons); and whatever you do, don't watch him slowly and torturously strangle the 2011 Academy Awards, leaving Anne Hathaway dancing and giving mouth-to-mouth at the same time. Just try to forget.

Not that reading this post just helped you with that.
Okay, here's a distraction!

If you remember the 1939 classic, you can't possibly forget all of those heavy handed insinuations that the whole thing is a dream. I mean, come on, she even wakes up in her bed at the end. But the cowardly lion, the scarecrow and the tin man are all farmhands in the employ of Aunty Em, and the Wicked Witch of the West looks a lot like mean old Miss Gulch, the psycho who wants to kill her dog.

Oz The Great and Powerful has a few hints as well, but I don't think Disney managed as seamless a dream quest as Warner Bros. did. Sure, it was a different story and timeline to work with, so of course Oscar can't wake up just yet, but I only uncovered a few hints that the writers were still playing with dreams at all.

The first and most obvious is named Annie. Look familiar?

If not, good. I didn't spoil anything for you. Carry on with your movie watching.

The next has to do with Oscar Digg's failure as a magician; the fact that he's a con man who can't actually do magic. Now, normally you wouldn't hold that against a guy, but when he's on stage pretending he can levitate lady volunteers and making fireworks and explosions, he tells his audience to believe, and that's just what they do. To the point where a little girl in a wheelchair believes that he can fix her legs, and she's crying, and he's completely failing to do the adult thing in the situation, which is to either tell her the truth or come up with a really, really good lie. Yup, that's the adult thing to do. But watch closely, and you will see in true Freudian style that his subconscious will deal with the disappointment of not being able to help the little girl to walk.

And that's pretty much all I got. So please flood my comment board with your genius observations; I have need of you.

I haven't given Oz The Great and Powerful a stellar review, and that's because it's not exactly a stellar film. It could be the fault of L. Frank Baum's original story, but I felt that Oscar's great accomplishments were taken away from by the final conflict and how ridiculously that was resolved. Yay Glinda! Now why didn't you just do that in the first place? Oh wait, that's just how Glinda rolls, if you remember in The Wizard of Oz her whole "You've always had the power to go back to Kansas" thing.

But what I did find to be stellar was the entire intro. I might be alone, and Dorothy wouldn't agree with me until the end of her little dream quest, but I didn't want to leave Kansas at all. The Professor's circus had more magic for me than a digitally remastered fantasy land. I hope you'll find the same. Or maybe you will enjoy contemporary Emerald City and the yellow brick road more than I did.

March 14, 2013

Star Trek's Unaired Pilot: The Cage

It's 1964, and television Western writer Gene Roddenberry has just been rejected by NBC executives for the pilot to his new interstellar science fiction project: Star Trek. That pilot was entitled The Cage, and it was turned down on the basis that it was "too intelligent."

Damn right it was too intelligent. Not in a hard sci-fi, technological, hyper space and time travel understanding kind of way, but Star Trek was, and always has been, a show that could hack away at some of the touchiest social issues of the period for the simple reason that it's not so touchy if it takes place on another planet with a race of aliens rather than humans. Who cares if aliens live in a society of hierarchical oppression? Oh wait, that's a reflection of Western culture? Shit.

The Cage introduces the USS Enterprise and its crew: starring Mr. Spock, Captain Pike, Number One, and Yeoman Colt. If you're wondering who three out of four are, it's not because you're new to the series; the relaunched pilot, The Man Trap, reinvented the crew of the Enterprise. I only mention it because I'm about to blasphemy myself as a non-trekky when I say that Captain Pike had that perfect period acting, and character-wise, the perfect street-smarts and attitude, and here it is: I wish he had made it on to Season 1. Shatner just doesn't really do it for me. I don't get it. I guess he'll have to grow on me. I like Pike better.

So Captain Pike is tired and jaded and wants to retire from the ship, and he is given the perfect opportunity to do so when he lands on a Matrix-esque planet where he could just pull a Cypher and stay a while in a fantasy land inside his head.

"Why, oh why didn't I take the blue pill."

The purpose of his mind-trap is to get him to agree to be the partner of Vina, a human woman who was greatly disfigured in a space ship crash. As you can see, the aliens who took her in can deceive Pike's mind to make him think she is beautiful, when really she's a scarred, oldish, crone.

The other character missing when Season 1 got green-lighted is Number One, our feminist lead, second in command and the only woman allowed on the bridge. Because, according to Pike, she's "different, of course." Yeah, never say that to a woman. This is the face she'll make at you:

Oh, and the doctor (who is, I'm informed, not Dr. McCoy) reminds me of the doctor on Battlestar:

"Sometimes a man'll tell his bartender things he'll never tell his doctor."

The Cage is kind of awkward, I'll be honest. The aliens helping Vina, the Talosians (or whatever), try to manipulate Pike by capturing Number One and Yoeman Colt as well and offering either of them to be his, erm, partners, in the hopes that he will choose Vina over his female co-workers. Talk about office romance. While the show, I've heard, champions feminism, I suppose the question The Cage asks is how to deal with women entering command with concern for professionalism and sexuality. It's just so awkward because the Talosians can read the women's minds and they tell Pike that both of his co-workers have feelings for him, or would consider a sexual relationship - I mean how do you show up to the office the next day?

Well, they didn't - neither character appears in the actual pilot, The Man Trap, an episode that I felt carried some of the themes of this story, including a female who, like Vina, can change her appearance. However, unlike the Sherlock pilots, this new pilot was completely rethought, reworked from start to finish. The story that is most like The Cage is called The Menagerie, a two-parter spanning episodes 11 and 12, and in fact, The Menagerie features much of the footage from The Cage.

Needless to say, I would have liked a series that included The Cage and some of its characters.

Star Trek had a rocky history in terms of production and reception. The original pilot was rejected and it's lucky NBC bought the series and filmed a completely new one. The series was almost cancelled after Season 1, it never did well in ratings, it was moved to the Friday night death slot in Season 2 and the shows cancellation in Season 3 was hardly unforeseen - which hopefully means the original series ended on a well-written note, with a storybook ending. I'll let you know when I get there.

March 8, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Unaired Pilot

Sherlock is a consulting detective who lives at 221B Baker Street in modern day London. He's a mass-texter with an addiction to nicotine patches, because "It's impossible to sustain a smoking habit in London these days", and he solves crime using what he calls The Science of Deduction on his personal website.

Translating a myth like that of detective Sherlock Holmes into modern life is a very dangerous task.

If you're going to take the most beloved of crime fiction stories and translate it to a contemporary setting, you had better do a damn good job of it. Everyone knows that you should never mess with a classic, and Sherlock Holmes has come to be a great literary figure period, not just the greatest of formula detective fiction.
Luckily, BBC's Sherlock has the production value, writing and pitch-perfect cast to keep the show from being an utter disaster. In fact, it's really quite good.

Casting Martin Freeman (as Doctor Watson) and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Holmes) was probably the first step to success. The second probably had to be the re-shooting of the entire pilot with better cinematography, a faster pace, and yet the length of a short movie.

The pilot you will encounter on Netflix is entitled A Study in Pink, a nod to the first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet. It's 90 minutes of a good old fashioned Conan Doyle-esque mystery, except that Sherlock sends tactical texts and hacks e-mail accounts to draw out the serial murderer.
The unbroadcast pilot is worth a watch, but only if you're really curious. It's the same story. Oh, the work they must have put that cast and crew through to re-shoot the entire episode, with most of the scenes matching up with little more tweeking than costume design and a tightening up of the acting, but some being almost completely re-written. It is, however, a very good thing they re-worked the script and shot the whole thing over - this time looking much prettier.

Another change, beyond the drastic diference in length, is that the premiere, broadcast in 2010, manages to actually establish a longer term plot line by having a vague hinting toward a certain Moriarty. Of all the shows I'm examining, Sherlock might be the last I expected to resist that episodicness I was complaining about earlier.
You know how much I love a show that doesn't treat me like an idiot. In fact, sometimes Sherlock makes me feel like maybe I am an idiot - as authentic an experience of watching Sherlock Holmes solve mysteries as you can ask for. I mean, he is a genius.

If he wasn't smarter than the audience, the show wouldn't be worth watching.

The dialogue does go a little fast so you might want to have a cuppa before watching and prepare yourself to keep up. Or maybe it's just the British accent (but it seems like they talk really fast).

Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both writers for Doctor Who.
To some, a modern Sherlock who relies on his cell (or those of the people around him) and the internet to solve mysteries might sound hokey and not worth the watch. Paul McGuigan defends the use of modern technology in Sherlock: "In the books he would use any device possible... He will use the tools that are available to him today in order to find things out." The defence seems kind of unnecessary - I think the main problem is that we just don't really know how to deal with the new world of tablets, apps, GPS and facebook messaging on the screen yet, big or little.

If you have watched Sherlock already, what did you think of all that texting? And the way the information was displayed for us? Was it all too heavy-handed, or is it the right direction for modern storytelling?

And if this review has not convinced you yet to sit down for 90 minutes of A Study in Pink, consider the banter.

Watson: Why didn't I think of that.
Sherlock: Because you're an idiot. No no no, don't be like that. Practically everyone is.

And that most everyone the show throws at us assumes the flatmates are a couple. Good time to be alive and watching television!

March 6, 2013

Wheel of Time: The Series Everyone Wanted to End

Ever read a book that you just did not want to end? Of course you have. Ever read 11,916 pages of a series that began two decades ago, that had its most vehement fans calling for the end to come since around 1992? We've been calling for Tarmon Gaidon for years now, and it’s finally here, and there’s never been anything like it. A Memory of Light, like books 8 through 13 of the series, debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers list, which means that millions of readers made it through all 14 books, and millions of readers were ready to turn that final page.

The series dragged on. Robert Jordan, the late storyteller, was criticized for the long-windedness of one of his less skilled Gleeman. When he passed, his notes were left to Brandon Sanderson, and it soon became clear that the story could not be told in the single final tome RJ was envisioning. It had to keep going. It had to be even longer. A Memory of Light was split into three volumes: The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and the finale, A Memory of Light.