Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recap: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - S1E2 "Gnothi Seauton""

Google Greek translation: gnothi seauton = know thyself

Remember, y'all - it ain't 1999 any more.  It's 2007 and our heroes are trying to make their way in this new time.  Also, anomalously, in this new time: a disembodied metal Terminator skull, found by a roadside crew member who stuffs it in his pocket as a keepsake.  Is this Cromarty's skull?  Didn't he get all blowed up in 1999?

As the gang regroups, Cameron tells Sarah that there are some other freedom fighters (sent back by John) in 2007.  The two women go to a flophouse where four of the freedom fighters live; unfortunately, there are four dead bodies on the floor.  Wait!  One of them is yet alive!  Oh, oops: it's a Terminator, lying in wait.  He and Cameron have a big ol' fight until the Terminator makes a run for it.  Cameron chases and Sarah steals a motorcycle and follows.  They lose him and Sarah is pissed because Cameron told her it would be safe and, lo and behold, Terminators.  (Sarah is really kind of ungrateful and bitchy to Cameron.)  Cameron points out that at this point in 2007, the Terminators don't know what John looks like, so they would walk right by him without recognizing and trying to kill him.  So that's a plus.

Later, Sarah and Cameron go out to track down Enrique, one of Sarah's old freedom fighter buddies who was the go-to guy for fake IDs back in the day; he's out of the business now, however, and sends them to his nephew.  John is supposed to stay at home but he's fidgety and heads out to the frickin' mall of all places, where he goggles at the crazy new 2007 cellphone and computer technology - so cool!  He does a web search and learns that Charley Dixon is now living here in L.A.

Meanwhile, the roadside crew guy puts the Terminator head on his coffee table.  His pet cat hisses at it when its eyes glow red.  And somewhere in a L.A. scrapyard, a headless Terminator body springs to life ... and promptly murders the junkyard dog and its owner.

Sarah and Cameron meet with Enrique's nephew Carlos.  His pitbulls take an instant disliking to Cameron, so she has to wait out by the car.  Carlos wants $20,000 for the new IDs: prices have gone up since 9/11.  Sarah: what's 9/11?  Carlos: are you f'ing kidding me?  After he and his buddy bring her up to speed, she gets to the car just in time to stop Cameron from killing a nosy cop.  

On the other side of town, John has broken into Charley's home.  It appears that Charley is now married - to Penny, the love of Desmond's life (that's a Lost reference, btw).   Charley comes home in time to find John there and is understandably incredulous that John hasn't aged at all in the last eight years.  John panics, knocks Charley down and gets the hell out of there.

When Sarah and Cameron get home, they figure out that John went out but don't press him on it.  The three of them go back to the flophouse to retrieve the money, weapons, etc. the freedom fighters probably have stashed there.  (Unless the fourth guy, not left dead on the floor by the Terminator, collected it already.)  When Cameron tries to open the safe, she gets zapped by the booby trap and her system has to reboot (120 seconds).  They hear the Terminator coming up the stairs so Sarah tosses Cameron out the second (third?) story window while John opens the safe - by guessing the date that is the combination - and snatches up what's inside (guns, diamonds, etc.).  Cameron reboots and they get away just in time.

Back at the roadside worker's house, the Terminator body has come to collect its head.

Sarah and Cameron pick up their new IDs from Carlos and Sarah overhears him saying something in Spanish to his crony that troubles her.  She goes back to Enrique's and confronts him: he's an informer and has sold her out to the FBI.  Cameron steps up and shoots him dead which makes Sarah kind of cross.  Whatever, Sarah, he ratted you and your boy out to the feds.

Closing montage:  John and Cameron register for high school; the Terminator roams among the ranks of the homeless, wrapped in ratty clothing; Sarah goes to the hospital for tests because Cameron had told her earlier in the episode that she died of cancer in 2005, which is why Future John sent them ahead to 2007, because he wanted to skip his mom's death.

Previously on T:TSCC / next time on T:TSCC

Monday, June 27, 2011

Recap: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - S1E1 "Pilot"

I started watching T:TSCC when it was actually on.  I stuck with it for a while too, but dropped it eventually - I think it was dragging for me or I was tired of teenaged John Connor whingeing all the time or something.  Yet here we are again, revisiting the series (which is only about two seasons long) all because my dear old friend (as in, we've been friends forever, not that we ourselves are aged or anything) Joe has suggested I give it another go.  So here we go, Joe, it's all for you!

1999.  Sarah Connor, in a waitress uniform, grabs future messiah John Connor out of his high school library.  They try to run but the cops are waiting outside, and Sarah and John get stuffed into separate cruisers.  When Sarah sees the Terminator approaching, she kickassedly subdues the cop who's supposed to be watching her.  As the cops engage the Terminator (much to their detriment), Sarah drags John out of the cruiser and tells him to run for it.  He does; the Terminator shoots him down; Sarah screams and begs for her own death; the Terminapocalypse happens around them; and Sarah wakes up from her nightmare, gasping.  Her fiance, Charley Dixon, comforts her, not seeing the look in her eyes.

When John rolls out of bed, his mom tells him that they have to take off, fiance notwithstanding.  John whinges: he likes it here, he likes Charley, no one knows them, it's been two years, it's safe.  Sarah snaps: Don't you ever think that - no one is ever safe.  We leave in half an hour: you get one bag and I'll go make pancakes.  After the pancakes, they rabbit.  Later, when Charley goes to the cops about his missing fiancee, hot FBI agent Ellison is there to bring him up to speed on the T2 events: mental hospital, high body count, blowing up Cyberdyne and Miles Dyson, etc.  When Ellison updates the FBI/police database with Sarah's current aliases, a Terminator picks up the information.

Some time later, in whatever rural NM area the Connors have landed, a cute girl - "Cameron" - tries to chat with John at school, but he's uncomfortable with the attention.  That night, he bitches to his mom about how his clothes are all wrong for this "hick town."  Meanwhile, Ellison has tracked the Connors down because Sarah forgets to change her alias.  

The next day, there's a new teacher in John's class: Cromarty.  He's a Terminator, of course, and soon opens fire at John in the classroom, taking out poor cute Cameron while John dives out the window.  John runs; Cromarty follows.  At work at a diner, Sarah catches the breaking news on t.v. - shots fired at the high school - and takes off.  In the school parking lot, Cromarty has John in his sights when a pickup truck runs him over. Cameron is driving.  "Come with me if you want to live," quoth she, because she too is a Terminator, one of the good ones.  John gets in the truck and they drive away.  When Sarah scopes out the school, Cromarty grabs her.  He takes her cell and uses her voice when John calls.  At their house, Cromarty lies in wait, Sarah helpless beside him.  A sweatshirted figure opens the door and speaks in John's voice.  Cromarty shoots but it's Cameron.  There's a hugenormous fight between these two Terminators, the great big guy and the tiny girl.  John and Sarah get the hell out of there and Cameron manages to knock Cromarty out for a couple of minutes by hitting him with a bunch of electricity.  The next day, Ellison checks out the wrecked house.  Where's the blood?  

John and Sarah are frustrated that this is happening again to them - didn't they take care of this during T2?  No, says Cameron, someone else built SkyNet but she doesn't know who.  John starts whingeing again (third time in one episode!) about how he doesn't want to be humanity's savior and can't his mom do something about it now so he doesn't have to?  Okay, says Sarah, we'll find SkyNet and shut it down once and for all.  The three of them go to the Dyson residence where Miles's widow is understandably reluctant to let them in.  Sarah tells her that she didn't kill Miles - he was a hero - but is there anyone who was interested in his work?  Theresa Dyson says no, no one (is this a totally useless scene or what?), then Cameron pipes up that they have to go now.  Cromarty shows up; Sarah, John and Cameron commandeer the Dyson SUV and get away, but Sarah gets shot in the process.  As Cromarty runs past their abandoned pickup truck, Cameron triggers a remote charge, blowing it all to bits.  Cromarty is still coming after them, but he's looking a little rough now.  The three find a hideout and Cameron stitches Sarah up.

In the morning, they go to a bank where Cameron waves a gun around and insists that the teller lock the three of them in the safe deposit box vault.  Once inside, they open a bunch of boxes (which accounts she opened in 1963 and which subsequent time-travelers have stocked) and start assembling a sort-of nuclear weapon.  Cameron opens another box which reveals a computer: it's an escape hatch/time machine and she can take the three of them out of here and into the future where they can continue their search for SkyNet.  Outside, Cromarty has arrived and, completely disregarding the gathered cops, stomps inside and begins to systematically dismantle the vault door.  Cameron sets the time machine to 2007 and just before they disappear from this when, Sarah shoots Cromarty with the sort-of nuclear gun and blows him all to bits.

2007:  In a flash of light, Sarah, John and Cameron appear in the middle of a road, naked since nothing can come through with you on the time traveling.  Cameron easily gets a carload of frat boys to pull over for her, then beats them all unconscious and takes their clothes.  Now that they're in this when, 2007, no one knows the Connors are here and no one should be looking for them.  Except that there's cellphone footage of naked Sarah being played across the television new broadcasts and both Charley (now married) and FBI agent Ellison see it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My truth about cats and dogs

After having watched three (?) episodes of Teen Wolf and one episode of The Nine Lives of Chloe King, I feel I can confidently pass judgment on these two new, supernatural-teenager summer shows*.  Or at least pass my judgment: Chloe is the vastly superior show (she said, only having watched the pilot).  I'm not entirely surprised by this because I've liked another ABC Family show quite a lot (GREEK).

While MTV's Teen Wolf is banking on the current werewolf upsurge in the wake of Twilight and True Blood, the acting is really pretty terrible, especially from the kid they got for the lead.  Sure, he's got this fairly attractive/geeky vibe going where you can believe that his post-bite transformation adds just enough charisma and strength that the hot chick (who looks like she's about 30) is going to notice him.  But dude cannot act.  Anything that calls for the slightest bit of emotion results in SHOUTING.

Chloe's ensemble is stronger, generally speaking (Chloe is played by the succubus chickie from The Gates, which saddened me by its utter failure).  The show is taking a risk by creating a new mythology and not falling back on vampires/werewolves/witches, which has all been done before, and I like that.  The pacing is fast: we had to listen to some exposition to pass along said new mythology, but we also got right to the parkour and fighting, and SPOILER our girl is already down one life as of the first episode - she's going to have to be more careful from hereon out.

I'm going to stick with both of them for the time being, especially since it's summer and my dance-card is not quite full (T:TSCC S1, Harsh Realm remainder and True Blood S3 on the horizon).  Hopefully TW will get better - let's not forget that BtVS was pretty shaky in the acting department when it started too.

*  Mr. Mouse is standing back there, shaking his head, wondering why it is that I am so compelled to watch supernatural high schoolers.  He thought it was over when Buffy went off the air.  Guess he was wrong.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mini-cap: Harsh Realm E4 "Kein Ausgang"

Google German translation: Kein ausgang = no output

Seriously, I hate these voiceovers.  Someone needs to goose Tom, get a little energy into his voice.  Anyway, the gang is looking for a certain assassin, one of the first men sent into the game to take out Santiago: one Captain Wolf.  They're out in the boonies somewhere and Dexter runs off into the woods.  When Tom and Pinnochio chase after him, they encounter some weird computer code/glitch so that Mute Girl/"Florence" and the car are gone when they go back to the road.  Also, they seem to be back in World War II.

A troop of U.S. GIs, including Doug Savant, desperately trying to butch it up, captures our boys, thinking they're German spies.  Tom notices something weird[er] right off, however, when he catches Doug Savant reciting the VCs' lines before they speak.  The soldiers lock Tom, Pinnochio and Dexter in a storeroom where they find a little VC boy hiding in the woodbox; Pinnochio finds a pinup of Betty Grable and tucks it into his vest (ha!).  He explains to Tom that this is a battlefield simulation, an early version of Harsh Realm, that apparently someone forgot to delete.

The boys try to escape but there's no way out of the simulation.  Doug Savant/"Scott Somer" tells them that he's been stuck in here for 18 months.  When Pinnochio learns his name, he nearly rips Somer's throat out because Somer was in Desert Storm with him and got four of his men killed.  When everyone settles down, they brainstorm that since the objective of the simulation is to capture the bridge over the river, maybe the simulation will end if they blow the bridge up.  Or, another option is the simulation crashes and kills them all.

That night, they sneak out and set the explosives on the bridge.  Dexter and the VC kid wander out onto the bridge after them and Tom gets captured by ze Germans as he's shooing them to safety.  The kid makes it back to Pinnochio; Dexter scurries off the side of the bridge in a hail of bullets.  Some wants to blow the bridge anyway - nearly frantic to get out of this simulation - but Pinnochio won't let him.  He's going after Tom.

Tom is beaten/interrogated by ze Germans for a while until the ranking officer comes in: it's Captain Wolf, the assassin they've been looking for.  Wolf says that he actually prefers the simulation to Harsh Realm (it helps that he speaks German).  He also says that the boys shouldn't blow up the bridge - which Tom takes to mean that the jump-port (the escape switch out of the simulation) is located there.  Wolf leaves, giving Tom a knife with which to cut himself free.  Shortly thereafter, Pinnochio shows up and Tom takes him to see Wolf.  Meanwhile, Somer can't stand it any longer and tracks down another detonator, determined to blow the bridge since he doesn't know about the jump-port.

When Tom, Pinnochio and Wolf get to the bridge, Somer has lit the fuse.  Pinnochio goes for the fuse while Wolf and Tom cover him, but Pinnochio gets tagged and falls off the side of the bridge.  Wolf gets shot and killed, but before he expires, he tells Tom that the jump-port is off the side of the bridge, right where both Dexter and Pinnochio went over.  Tom makes a dash for it, falling into the jump-port just as the bridge explodes.  Somer tries to follow but gets caught in the explosion instead.

In the aftermath, Tom, Dexter and Pinnochio have made it back to Harsh Realm where Florence is patiently waiting by the car.  Somer, however, reawakens back in the simulation.  There is no escape for him (except doesn't he now know where the jump-port is and can go there since the simulation seems to have reset?).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mini-cap: Harsh Realm E3 "Inga Fossa"

In the real world, the army is worried about keeping their Harsh Realm program a secret - Sophie is asking too many questions.  Also, Sophie's voiceover is just as boring and sucky as Tom's are.  The Woman-In-Black who gave Sophie Pinnochio's dog tags works for the military in I-Corps; Sophie follows her as she leaves work one day and drives to an army supply depot.  Once inside one of the warehouses, WIB hooks herself up to a machine and is transported [somehow - it's not clear/evident] to Harsh Realm.  Once there, she meets with Santiago.  She's on good terms with him but is not actually on his side - she's working against both the Army and Santiago?  What's her game?  He gets all intense when he asks if she's uncovered the leak yet but she plays it cool.

Outside Santiago City, Tom, Pinnochio and Mute Girl are looking for Freddy the Forger in a club where illegal "zip-fights" are being held.  Zip-fights are actually less exciting than those motorized skateboard fights with knifes on Max Headroom: they're holographic zip-files that holographically bludgeon each other.  Whatever.  Pinnochio finds Freddy, who is S&Mishly chained to a guy who doesn't want to share his pet, so Pinnochio beats the crap out of him.  The army busts in and Tom, Pinnochio and Freddy scarper off, Freddy dropping a bunch of his forged ID chips.  MG tries to gather the chips up and gets nabbed by the army.

The boys manage to find a glitch in the game code and slip into some blank, unprogrammed game space where they wander in the dark until they catch a glimpse of Waters in the latrine.  They bust through the wall - scaring the piss literally out of Waters - and carve the ID chip out of his chest.  They need it to access the building in Santiago City where Santiago keeps the portal between the two worlds.  Tom steals a Humvee and they head for the city.  Later, WIB commends Waters on achieving his objective and smooches him.  They do it on the conference room table.  When she notices the wound on his chest, he smirks that it was all part of the plan to catch Tom.

Once in the city, the boys stop in at the apartment of Freddy's contact to (a) steal his clothing and (b) cut the ID badge out of his chest.  When they come back out, the Humvee has been towed so Pinnochio tells Tom and Freddy to take the bus. He's not going with them - he doesn't want to go back to the real world for some reason.  When the bus pulls away, however, Waters is there with a squadron and they nab Pinnochio, taking some time to beat the snot out of him.  Apparently Pinnochio used to have Waters's job before he was insubordinate to Santiago and there are some lingering hard feelings.

WIB watches Tom and Freddy go up to the fourteenth floor where the portal is; she waylays them there, telling them that it's a trap.  She hands Tom the message from Sophie and tells him that Santiago's master plan is to destroy the real world so that Harsh Realm is all that is left.  Tom doesn't care: he wants to see his girl.  The alarm sounds.  WIB begs Tom to stay in Harsh Realm and defeat Santiago.  When Santiago arrives at the portal room, only poor Freddy is there, WIB and Tom having disappeared.  Freddy gets dragged off and I'm guessing his VC gets terminated.  In a droning voiceover, Tom tells Sophie that he's going to stay in Harsh Realm and take down Santiago.

Then, inexplicably, Tom waltzes into the jail where MG, Dexter, Pinnochio and dozens of other people are being held.  He lets them all out.  Pinnochio snarls: "She got to you, didn't she, Inga?"

Real world:  When Inga/WIB returns to the real world, where her real body has been lying on a gurney in that huge warehouse, Pinnochio's RW body is on the gurney next to her: his face and body have terrible burn scars and it looks like he's lost an eye.  No wonder he doesn't want to leave Harsh Realm.

Meanwhile, back at Santiago's headquarters, he's getting ready to conquer New Jersey and add it to the other five states he currently controls (looks like all of New England on the map).  WIB catches Waters as he heads out to lead the strike force.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mini-cap: Harsh Realm E2 "Leviathan"

We open with a long shot of a farmhouse ... hey! That's the farmhouse from that awesome X-Files episode from S4, "Home," that never gets rerun because of the incest and the deformities and the violence and the incest.  But I digress.  A couple of rough-looking guys go up to the farmhouse, briefly terrorizing the woman and children inside.  They're looking for her husband.  One of the kids goes running across the field to warn his dad but the tough customers get there first and tell him that they're after a soldier he served with.  He cocks his shotgun (not a euphemism) but one of the rough guys zaps him with a remote control, effectively pausing him.  Oh, right - this is a VR game.

In the poverty-stricken "Pittsburgh Encampment," Tom, Dexter, Pinnochio and the mute chick roam around, looking for gas for Pinnochio's car.  Tom's voiceover drones on and on - it's very stiff and I'm not paying attention to it.

Back in the real world, Sophie goes to the army base and demands to know why Tom has been missing for over a week.  The army tells her that he's been KIA on a top-secret mission and his body is being shipped home. As she runs out, upset, a dark haired woman from an adjoining office watches her go.

Back in Harsh Realm, Pinnochio tracks down some gas but it's a trap set for him by those two rough looking guys.  They're bounty hunters and Santiago has a price on Pinnochio's head.  In the next scene, Santiago himself is at the farmhouse where the wife tells him that the bounty hunters took her husband away.  The soldiers drag the family outside and Santiago orders the house to be torched.

Real world:  After Tom's funeral, the dark haired woman approaches Sophie and tells her that the army is lying to her about Tom's death.  She gives Sophie Pinnochio's dog tags and Sophie's all, WTF is this?

Harsh Realm:  Out on the "Pennsylvania Frontier," Tom, Dexter and Mute Chick find Pinnochio's car and follow tracks to where the bounty hunters are holding their buddy, along with "Johnny," the dad from the farmhouse.  Johnny has been beaten pretty badly but he's still alive.  Outside the fence, Tom and Mute Girl plan to go in after nightfall; Dexter has other plans and tunnels under the fence, trotting right inside past a dozing bounty hunter.  There's a girl there, girlfriend/whore of one of the bounty hunters, and she sees the little dog, snatching him up and snuggling him, obviously desperate for some affection.  But on the outside, Tom hears yelping and foolheartedly rushes in to save his dog.  It's a trap, of course - Dexter is fine - and Tom gets tossed into the holding cell with Pinnochio and Johnny.  Nice rescue, snarks Pinnochio.

Meanwhile, Santiago's troops are torching the Pittsburgh Encampment.

Real world: Sophie follows the Mike Pinnochio lead and finds Johnny's real world wife.  The wife has been unable to learn anything about her husband's disappearance either but shows Sophie a photo of Johnny and Pinnochio's unit: each of these men have disappeared and are presumed dead.  Sophie thinks that fishy.

At this point, I was getting a little bored with the episode, so, in short, Mute Girl frees the boys and, with the help of the girlfriend/whore, they all escape just as the army closes in on them.  The girlfriend/whore gets shot but she's just a virtual character, so it's no big deal. The gang delivers Johnny to his VC family before heading off on the next adventure.

Real world:  The dark haired woman tells Sophie that she can get Tom a message [somehow].  In a droning voiceover much like her fiance's, Sophie tells him - and us - that he needs to get back to her from wherever he is: she's pregnant.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mini-cap: Harsh Realm E1 "Pilot"

I don't think I remembered that Harsh Realm ever existed.  It certainly wasn't around for long: nine episodes were made (based on a comic book by James D. Hudnall and Andrew Paquette (thanks, Wikipedia); developed by Chris Carter of The X-Files fame) but only three aired before FOX yanked it.  And I can't remember what prompted me to move it up my queue.  Be that as it may, I've got a DVD of it and might as well run through it for you.  The pilot was a little confusing and hard to hear - I'm particularly fuzzy on names - but it's got several ringers cast-wise and by the end of the episode, I was ready to watch another one.

E1 begins in war-torn Sarajevo, 1994.  A solider, name of Waters, tries to help a little girl and gets pinned down inside a derelict building that U.S. forces are going to bomb the bejeezus out of to clean out the rabble.  Waters's buddy, Tom Hobbes, goes in after him and saves his life, Waters's gut shot notwithstanding.

Fast-forward to Fort Dix, New Jersey, "present day," which would be 1999.  Tom Hobbes, now a lieutenant, is just a couple weeks away from his discharge and eagerly looking forward to moving to California with his fiancee, Sophie, and dog Dexter (a fairly charismatic Jack Russell terrier), when the military sucks him into one last mission.  They've got this virtual reality (hereinafter referred to as "VR") training program that they want him to test.  More to the point, they want him to try to defeat the current high scorer, Omar Santiago.  Tom puts on the headphones and watches the introductory video - narrated by the extremely recognizable dulcet tones of Gillian Anderson herself!

The video cuts off halfway through.  We the viewers know that Tom is now in the VR program but he hasn't figured it out yet.  He figures it out pretty quickly when people start shooting at him and blowing buildings up and when he tries to help a wounded guy, the wounded guy fades away in a blur of pixels.  He gets himself shot but a mysterious and mute woman finds him and heals him by laying on of hands.  Next, Tom finds his home at Fort Dix, but it's destroyed and empty, except for his dog, Dexter.  Then Tom hooks up with the cynical and cranky Mike Pinnochio (D.B. Sweeney!) who promises to take him to where Santiago is in exchange for Dexter, whom Pinnochio says he's going to eat. 

Pinocchio shows Tom a highly fortified fence around a bustling, well-lit city - Santiago City, because Santiago has hijacked the program and become the defacto despot, controlling all the power and money, and leaving rebels like Pinnochio and others to live in darkness outside the fence - and shows him where to get through.  Tom goes in (taking both Dexter and Pinnochio's car keys) and finds his old army buddy, Waters.  Waters is now working for Santiago: he too was given the same mission Tom was - to defeat/kill Santiago - but it's no use and now he's working for the guy just to stay alive since there's no way out of Harsh Realm.  And also, Waters is married to Tom's girl Sophie, or at least a virtual character (hereinafter "VC") version of her.  Tom has a tough time getting it through his head that VC Sophie isn't his actual girl, even when she doesn't know who he is, and runs off with her.

Soon enough Tom and Sophie get arrested by Santiago's men and comes face-to-face with Santiago himself, played by Terry O'Quinn, a/k/a John Locke from Lost.  Meanwhile, Pinnochio and the mute mystery woman are at a scruffy bar outside the fence, Pinnochio drinking steadily.  She writes on the dusty bar, "It's him," and Pinnochio grunts that he knew it from the moment he saw Tom - and they head into the city to rescue him.  As they're all escaping, Waters shoots and kills VC Sophie.  Tom is Very Angry about this, but Pinnochio drags him away.  Santiago shakes his head and tells Waters that he just made a big mistake as now Tom will never stop coming after them.

The last shot is of Tom in the real world, lying comatose on a gurney, sensors stuck to his head.  The camera pulls back and we see that he is not alone hooked up to Harsh Realm: he is in a warehouse-sized building and there are thousands of unconscious Harsh Realmers around him, stretching as far as the eye can see.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mini book review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I love Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of her books.  I love zombies.  It would stand to reason that these would be two great tastes that taste great together (now I want a peanut butter cup - rats) ... did I love Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?  Not so much.

I think the problem is that Austen's original is just so sharp and clever and funny and on the nose, and Grahame-Smith not only didn't add to that, but he subtracted some of it as well when he inserted his zombies.  It wasn't funny anymore.  Plus, when he added in the zombie bits, he tried to stylize it to Austen's era, so the zombies weren't scary.  Before I started reading this book, I never would have imagined that Jane Austen + zombies would = tedious.  But that's what it was: tedious.  I had to make myself slog through the novel to the end.

Do yourselves a favor: read the original Pride and Prejudice and then watch George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (or Shaun of the Dead if you want to stick with the British theme).  That'll be a much more satisfactory way to get your Austen/zombie fix.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Movie review: Moon

It's some time in the future.  Our planet, after decades of famine, war and dependence on fossil fuels, is now fed, cared for and using HE3, a clean fuel source that is found in abundance on the dark side of the moon.  It's even easily mined: one man is all it takes to keep the mining equipment running and the fuel heading back to Earth at regular intervals.  Now, it's not all tea and cookies for this one man - Sam Bell - since he is all alone in the mining company's depot.  Sure, he's got reruns of classic television shows to watch and is whittling a scale model of his hometown; he's got a treadmill and free weights; he can talk to his houseplants and GERTY, the mining company's computer, who is actually a pretty good conversationalist.  But the communications antenna array is broken and Sam can't talk live to anyone on Earth, relying on recorded messages from his wife, infant daughter and the mining company bosses. 

It's lonely.  It's extremely lonely and, shortly before his three-year contract is up, Sam starts hallucinating, which causes him to crash his rover into one of the mining machines.  The accident is a bad one and when Sam wakes up back at the base, GERTY hovering solicitously over him, he has no memory of it.  GERTY tells him that a rescue crew will come to clean up the wreck but Sam sneaks out, going back to the crashed rover.  What he finds there is confusing and disturbing and calls first his sanity, and then reality, into question.

Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell and is a tour de force in this tight little (97 minute) science fiction flick.  Rockwell is practically the only live actor ever on the screen - GERTY is voiced by a smugly sympathetic Kevin Spacey (who makes an excellent robot) and Sam's wife is shown only as a recording or a flashback.  Rockwell is awesome as Sam's mind and body start to deteriorate, carrying the whole movie.  Although there is very little that can be called "action," Moon catches and keeps your attention easily.  A very nice genre piece - definitely worth your time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mini-book review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

We all know that Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest presidents this country has ever had: strong, hard-working, self-made from nothing, superlatively articulate and a visionary for the ages.  What we didn't know, until this book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, was that he was one of the greatest killers of vampires this country has ever had as well.

After his mother was killed by a vampire when Abe was a young boy, due to his layabout father's owing money to said vampire, Abe embarked on a mission to rid his country of vampires.  As he grew older and was guided on the path to political leadership by powerful allies, Lincoln learned that the scourge of the South - slavery - was closely intertwined with the undead scourge.  Driven out of Europe by vampire hunters, the creatures found America to be a place of freedom, where they could have access to nearly limitless slave blood if they supported the Southern slaveowners.  What the human slaveholders didn't know was that the vampires intended to enslave them as well, enslave all Americans and live fat and happy off their blood.  When Abe learned of this plot, he realized that by abolishing slavery he could abolish the vampires too, and thus began his crusade.

Written as a biography based on the now-found lost journals of our sixteenth president, Seth Grahame-Smith does a good job of sounding factual, using "excerpts" from the journals and incorporating Photoshopped "historical" photographs and drawings.  There is a nice balance of real Lincoln history interspersed with the chopping off of heads - plenty of fact and fiction to satisfy both the biography fan and the vampire fan in me.

P.S.  The book is being made into a movie - should be fun!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Movie review: The Town

Normally I am not a fan of Ben Affleck the Actor.  I find him stiff and unnuanced, boorish.  But in The Town, which Affleck also directed and cowrote, I liked him just fine.  Pluswhich, there's very few actors who can do a more authentic Boston accent than he can.

The Town is about a group of Charlestown (a Boston neighborhood) thugs who are very good at robbing banks.  Led by Doug McCray (Affleck), they've caused a lot of grief to the local cops and FBI guys (Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver - and the latter's accent is pretty good, no doubt because he's from Maine).  When the boys pull a bank job in Cambridge, Doug's childhood buddy, Jem (a very menacing Jeremy Renner), takes a hostage, Claire (Rebecca Hall), the bank manager.  They let her go but Doug later approaches her in an attempt to determine if she can identify any of the bank robbers.  She can't, and the two of them hit it off, and it goes from there.  In fact, Doug likes her so well that he wants to get out of the 'Town and try a new life.  But before he can, his crew has to pull one more job, a big one: robbing the "Cathedral of Boston," a/k/a Fenway Park after a NYY-BOS series.

The cast in The Town is loaded.  Along with those already mentioned are Pete Postlethwaite (R.I.P.) as the local heavy; Chris Cooper as Doug's incarcerated dad; and Blake Lively as Jem's gorgeous drug-mule white-trash sister who has a thing for Doug.  (Note: her Boston accent is not so good.)  Shot on location all over Boston, the city is almost another character and it was fun for me to see places I'm familiar with from my three years living in Beantown: the Charlestown bridge, Fenway Park, Harvard Square, the T, the North End (they did a car chase in the narrow streets of the North End! that's some ballsy filmmaking!).

I quite liked The Town with its solid, well-paced story, strong acting and ring of authenticity.  I'm still not willing to entirely approve of Ben Affleck's acting, but the nice job he did in this movie has redeemed him somewhat in my eyes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Movie review: Session 9

Session 9 is a 2001, small budget horror film where, to quote one of the movie's cast and crew, the horror is about "dread, not shock."  This haunted house story is nicely done, slowly ratcheting up the tension to the inevitable reveal at the end, never devolving into (too much) carnage.

The story unfolds over the period of a week in which an asbestos abatement crew is hired to clean up the Danvers State Hospital, an old lunatic asylum in Danvers, Massachusetts, before construction crews come in for a massive remodel.  The five-man crew consists of: Gordon, the owner of the asbestos abatement company who is suffering from sleep deprivation in the wake of his new baby's birth; his second-in-command Phil, intense, pragmatic, and bitter as all get out; Hank, the cocky young buck, always looking for his golden ticket and currently shacked up with Phil's ex-girlfriend (hence the bitterness); Mike, the law school dropout, too smart for the job but not sure what to do with his life; and Jeff, Gordon's acne-scarred, mullet-headed nephew.

There is a sixth major character in Session 9: the building itself.  The movie was filmed on location and the old hospital is grander and more scary than any CGI construct could ever be.  Built in 1874, the Danvers State Hospital was enormous, holding 2,000 [severely overcrowded] patients at one point.  It was said to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy - essentially an icepick through the eye socket - and home to some abusive treatments of its inmates.  The hospital was emptied of patients in the late 1980s and finally shut down in 1992.  In the movie, the building radiates fallen grandeur and decay, the red brick towers looming over the landscape while inside, the treatment rooms, corridors and subterranean tunnels echo with their former denizens' madness.

As the asbestos crew works away, the hospital manages to split them up and worm its menace into each of them.  Mike finds a series of reel-to-reel recordings in an old office, and steals away as often as he can to listen to the nine sessions of one Mary, afflicted with multiple personalities.  The voiceover of these sessions weaves in and around the other guys, as Phil buys drugs to deal with the job's stress, Jeff's fear of the dark threatens to overcome him in the tunnels, Gordon slaps his wife in an exhausted rage and Hank uncovers a hidden cache of old coins in the basement morgue.  Things get tenser and creepier, the guys lashing out at one another, until you just know one of them is going to succumb to the building's insanity.  The fun is figuring out who will crack first.  I guessed wrong.

The coda to Session 9 is that the amazing old hospital was finally torn down in 2006, despite the protests of preservation groups and the building's listing on the National Register of Historic Places.  The plan was to build apartment buildings on the grounds but the initial attempt was destroyed in a mysterious fire that gutted the place.  All that is left now are some cemetaries, blocked off tunnels, the brick administration facade and a couple of wards.  Despite its troubled lifespan and ultimate demise, the Danvers State Hospital lives on in Session 9, and this film is as much a monument to the building as it is an effectively creepy little horror flick.