Friday, March 25, 2011

"Smallvile" Top 10 - Number 9

Another Friday, time to continue my countdown of my 10 favorite Smallville episodes of all-time with my number 9:


"Insurgence" from Season 2

"Insurgence" is one of the many great Smallville episodes comparing the Luthor family dynamic to that of the Kents, but rather than the focus being on Lex and Clark, it is Clark's Mom and Lex's Dad who are the ones in danger.

In the episode, Lex hires a team of men to bug his father's office, after losing a big business deal to Lionel and learning that the reason he lost it is cause Lionel had him bugged, so Lex decides to give Lionel a taste of his own medicine. Meanwhile, this is when Lionel is blind and Martha is working as Lionel's assistant, much to Jonathan's dislike, and she is called into work on the day of their Anniversary. John Schneider has some really good scenes in this episode, acting out his hatred against the Luthors through his and Martha's arguments which causes the two to separate that morning on bad terms, and no matter what Clark tries, he can't fix it.

Of course, things all spiral out of control when the thugs go rogue with their ulterior motive of lifting valuables from Lionel's safe in Luthorcorp Tower, and Lionel and Martha wind up being their hostages. The police try to diffuse the situation from the streets, while Clark tries to find a way that he can sneak into the building to save his mom, and Jonathan starts suspecting that Lex may have been behind this whole situation due to the sordid relationship between him and his father.

There are many episodes dealing with similar subject matter in the Smallville canon, but few of the episodes have the thrills that this episode has, in particular the heart stopping finale where Clark jumps from the roof of the Daily Planet, crashing onto the upper floors of Luthorcorp Tower. Scenes like this are dynamic at showing the future Man of Steel, pushing his powers to limits that he has yet to push himself to; Clark had no clue he could make it, but he took a leap of faith to save his mother.

Plus, I'm a sucker for a good John Schneider episode, and this one is it, with us seeing a bitter John Schneider, followed by a remorseful John Schneider, then ending on the good ol' boy that we all love when Martha and Clark finally walk out of Luthorcorp Tower. As always, the dynamic between the Luthors and the Kents results in the Kents hugging at the end of the episode and the Luthors walking off in opposite directions. It is the subtlety in these moments that really illustrate as to why Clark becomes Superman and why Lex Luthor becomes the villain.


Tune back in next Friday for number 8 of My 10 Favorite Episodes of Smallville of All-Time!

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Smallvile" Top 10 - Number 10

There are 10 weeks left till the Series Finale of my favorite TV Show of all-time, Smallville. I figured that it is only befitting to countdown to the finale by unveiling one of my favorite 10 episodes from the show's 10 seasons each Friday leading up to the series' end. It's a simple enough idea, but it wasn't easy distilling down a list of my 10 favorite episodes of the series run, there are over 200 episodes total, and nearly each and every episode (save for a few spoiled sports) could have wound up on this list.

With that said, I think the list that I have is a good summation as to why I think this show is so enduring and spectacular, with episodes ranging from core mythology to simple monsters of the week, I strongly urge any viewer to watch these 10 episodes and if you don't like Smallville after that, then I don't know what to do with you. So enough chit-chat, time to start the countdown to Smallville's final bow, here is my number 10 pick for my 10th favorite episode of all-time:


"Fracture" from Season 7

"Fracture" is one of the many episodes in the show's cannon that deals with Clark and Lex's unique relationship, but this episode just came at the right point in the story arcs of these two characters for it to have the greatest amount of tension and impact.

In the episode, Clark's cousin Kara is missing, and the only man who can help him is his soon to be mortal enemy, Lex Luthor, who has been shot and is in a coma. In order to save his cousin, Clark must venture into Lex's mind, via an experimental Luthorcorp procedure that was designed to interrogate military targets. The concept is high science fiction at its finest, years ahead of Inception. Within Lex's subconscious Clark travels through Lex's memories and nightmares, confronting Lex's good side (portrayed as a young kid version of Lex) and Lex's bad side.

What is so impacting about "Fracture" is that it comes right in the middle of season 7. By this point Lex and Clark have been at odds with one another for three seasons, and Lex is only a few episodes away from killing his father and finally learning Clark's secret, taking that final plunge into villainy, but what this episode shows is that no matter how evil Lex may become, there is a part of Lex that will always be Clark's best friend. Few other hero vs. villain clashes in modern mythology have such fantastic drama between the two, and it is because of this reason that "Fracture" shines.


Tune back in next Friday for number 9 in my countdown of the 10 best episodes of Smallville of all-time!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TV Review: "V" - Season 2

The alien invasion story gets a nice shot in the arm with the second season of V on ABC, the revamped version of the 1980s cult mini-series, just recently putting the cap on a stellar second season. When the show premiered a little over a year and a half ago, there were questions as to how such a thin premise could sustain a network television show, but they do it by simply making compelling television.

What makes V continue to work are the pay-offs. So many shows on television frustrate the viewer trying to be cryptic and never answering questions till they have to pack all of the answers into a finale, and it just doesn't work. With V, the answers are hinted at a few episodes before their reveal, then the answers come and start fitting together to form a bigger piece to the puzzle as to why these so-called "Visitors" have come to Earth. While the "Visitors" are still seen by most humans as beings of peace, the resistance group, the Fifth Column has grown in strength and numbers, challenging Anna's every move (the evil alien Queen).

What transpires over the second season is a lot of the wily nily characters who refused to take sides in season one now finally stating their allegiances, with characters like Chad Decker and Anna's daughter, Lisa, coming over to the Fifth Column, while Tyler joins the live aboards on the New York mothership and Ryan betrays the Fifth Column. Lots happens in this season, Father Jack loses his collar for preaching out against the Vs and not accepting them as the Vatican has decreed, and Erica goes through many heartaches, not just losing her ex-husband and having her own son turn on her, but she finds herself at the heart of an FBI investigation into the Fifth Column where FBI agents suspect her. Then to cap Erica's storyline off, Erica becomes the worldwide leader of the Fifth Column! I thought the parallels between Anna gaining emotion and Erica losing emotion were nicely done, and I just love to hate Anna. She is by far one of the greatest villains created since Darth Vader himself, and possibly even more sadistic, with Anna on a constant quest in season two to prove she is not gaining human emotion, so rather than embrace it, she tries to figure out how to kill the human soul!

The action is superb, the CGI effects are even more seamlessly integrated this past season than in the first, and the story constantly moves forward, though this does not mean that season two was an all around success. Tyler is still one of the dumbest television characters ever created, and if you ask me he got a good send off, of course no one in V ever stays dead long. I still have no clue what to think of the Fifth Column's rogue agent, Hobbes, especially in regards to his and Erica's new relationship. Hobbes I feel is the most underdeveloped character on the show, and if I could change one thing about how this show has unfolded, is that Hobbes' true motives would be made more clear. Why does he work for Marcus, what sort of hold do the "Visitors" have over Hobbes that made him be responsible for Erica's ex-husband's death?

To be honest, there isn't much to complain about. Anna is still evil, maniacal, and manages to be the smartest person on the show. Why are the bad guys always smarter than the good guys? As well, this season really fueled the fires between humanity and the "Visitors" with more coming to light about why the Vs really have come to Earth. Now with the reveal of Anna's grand plan in the latter half of this season, I'm really eager to see where everything goes from here, will the Fifth Column stop hiding and take this war from the shadows and to the streets? Time will tell as I hope season three is not very far on the horizon.

I give V - Season 2 an A!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review Roundup: "Gnomeo & Juliet" and "Rango"

** Gnomeo & Juliet **

The idea of Gnomeo & Juliet is to take the story of Romeo & Juliet, but simply tell it from the perspective of two neighboring garden gnome communities in Britain, that just happen to be waged in a constant war between one another. Of course this movie is as much a tragedy as Scooby Doo. If you're wanting the most faithful adaptation on Earth, this isn't it, nor is it the most entertaining. While there are some occasional funny moments that will make even the adults in the audience laugh, the deficiencies of the story, animation, and voice acting, cannot be overlooked.

For starters, gnomes are kind of stoic to begin with, so they don't lend themselves very well to authentic emotional reactions, their faces often seeming stiff and unflinching. Not to mention, the voice acting does not help matters, with Emily Blunt and James Macavoy (as Juliet and Gnomeo, respectively) in competition with one another to see who can deliver the most stale vocal performance of the year. It is sad, seeing as how there is such great talent that lends their voices to this film, from Michael Caine to Julie Walters, but every voice just misses the mark and lacks any real fire beneath it, part of me thinking that these roles may have just been miscast from the get go. Then you get to the story, where it seems to just try and fly past any actual story beats to action sequences, that are well crafted, but when the story tries to slow down and get emotional, the emotional moments fall flat because we were never given anytime to love these characters before we were thrust in the middle of everything. (Plus, am I the only one that thought all of the re-purposed Elton John music was just out of place? Like using "Rocketman" as Gnome's theme?)

Gnomeo & Juliet may be a charming animation for the younger audiences, but for adults who adore the art of animation, this attempt at reimagining Will Shakespeare's tale just doesn't work.

I give Gnomeo & Juliet an F!

** Rango **

Rango is a movie clearly inspired by the works of others to create something that is a unique mash-up, and it actually works. The movie has fun with these various different styles of the Western, managing to never fall into spoof territory, but simply remain fun and entertaining. It does this through a blend of humor and sophistication that is rarely found in children's films. The movie seems to at times draw influence from films of the French New Wave or the Italian Neorealists, where it seems Rango is breaking the Fourth Wall and is communing with the audience, "Who am I?" After all, a chameleon with an identity crisis (and no name to boot) is something that is a tad sad, and existential.

Rango is a lonely critter, having no friends and no identity, spending all of his time in his cage creating stage plays with inanimate objects. But when this actor finds himself lost in the desert as a fascinating stranger in a small desert town called Dirt, he can fashion himself as a rough-and-tough, gunslinger named Rango, and be whatever the people want so he wont be alone. There is obviously a moral to this story, don't try to be what you aren't, just be you, and Johnny Depp's charismatic voice over work as Rango really makes this message ring true with the audience. There is something so lovable about how Depp plays Rango; he is funny, skittish, over-the-top in his mannerisms, and is essentially what makes this movie worth watching. No other character in the movie seems as alive as Rango, but there and again that is not a detriment to the other voice over performances, just high praise for Johnny Depp stealing the show.

Even if Depp steals the show, director Gore Verbinski keeps the movie rolling with some slick action set pieces, including a marvelous sequence near the middle of the movie where Rango and his "possum" (aka posse) are fighting off a swarm of badguys while trying to escape with a covered wagon. While these things seem so cliche to the Western film, the way everything is mashed together makes it feel fresh. The town of Dirt is imaginative, with the fronts of buildings being things like juice boxes or whatever, and the filmmakers never stop playing with these various desert animals and the stereotypes and odd eccentricities that they all have to make them funny. For example, when Rango sheds skin when he first walks out into the desert sunlight, these little touches with the scale of the world and the attributes of these characters keep the perspective where it needs to be in order for the audience to suspend our disbelief.

Of course, as much as Rango keeps things humorous with its existential studies and Western homages, the movie often dips into the bag of just plain old annoying bathroom humor at times, like fart or burp gags, just to try and get a cheap laugh from the child audience whenever things seem to be going a little slow. So what if the movie takes its time to develop its thoughts and emotions? That makes for a great movie, so don't ruin it with a fart joke! Even if that is tough to get over, did I mention the gorgeous, photo-realistic animation done by Industrial Light & Magic on their first ever animated flick? This is some of the most stunning animation I have ever seen, it is fluid, and the facial movements are spot on in relaying the emotion. Bravo to ILM!

I give Rango a B+!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Difference Between America and the World

Yesterday, me and my film partner shot an interview with a Japanese businessman for the documentary that we are making at school, and we asked him to compare and contrast the differences between Japanese and American movies, and his answer really summed up what I've tried to nail down for some time when thinking on this subject.

I've always noticed a marked difference between Japanese and American films, the pacing of the films, and the sheer scope and scale, are often as far apart as the two countries themselves, but what this Japanese businessman said was that he found most Japanese films tended to be about the heart and mind, where as American films were usually just about the scale, and in rare cases, the mind. Now, this wasn't always the case in America, way back in the '30, '40s, and even '50s, what would now be considered sentimental lifetime fodder were the films that had reign at the box office, with works of such greats as John Ford and Frank Capra. Then, that all changed when the French New Wave hit the US in the '60s, and our movies became cynical, and for the most part, our movies have been that way since.

Now, take for example the movies of Hayao Miyazaki, the animator behind Ponyo, and the folks at Dreamworks Animation, the guys behind Shrek. Why have Miyazaki's movies been able to be so internationally successful, where as Dreamworks' films are at best an American enterprise? While Shrek is funny and appeals to both adults and children alike, there is a beating heart beneath the stories that Hayao Miyazaki tells that manages to transcend nationalities and affect people the world over. Just look at the Academy Award-winning Japanese flick, Departures, or the movies of Akira Kurosawa and Takeshi "Beat" Kitano. These Japanese made movies favor sentimentality and pure heart over just about any other American made movie I can think of, save for some of the films of Ford or Capra from way back when. And this is a tradition that can be found, not in just Japanese movies, but movies from every other country but America. Look at the two biggest critical hits of this past year, The King's Speech and The Social Network, one engaged the heart, the other, just the mind, and The King's Speech was more successful than The Social Network, because it favored the heart over the mind. Now, let's break it down, The King's Speech was British, The Social Network was American.

There are tried and true themes that manage to affect people universally, and be cross-cultural. I mean, a movie about the founding of facebook and the dangers of the internet doesn't play as well to someone in another country who doesn't have the internet, as say a movie that is about an unlikely friendship between two men. Themes like friendship, love, and family, exist in every culture around the world, it is why the Star Wars films are loved the world over, or why Avatar was a bigger international success than Inception. At the end of the day, it didn't really have anything to do with originality or how groundbreaking the movie was, what mattered were those heartfelt themes that no matter how old, how young, or what corner of the Earth you hail from, you can identify with those said themes. This is what I feel this Japanese businessman was saying, and it was so beautiful and poignant, I had to share it. Thanks for your time.