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.