Tag Archives: Star Wars

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Movie Review

rogue6-xxlarge_transcwvra147zcynwgnsprk1xwk-qyyao4e-i8v8-xkbjn4Despite being a big fan of the Star Wars universe, I wasn’t really dying to see Rogue One as much as I should have been. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I watched this really fun movie this week. As others have said, it’s the prequel movie that we’ve been waiting for. For starters, this story is related much more directly to the events of the original Star Wars movie (aka Episode 4: A New Hope). We find out what went into getting those Death Star plans to the rebels that we see in that first movie. (Even more satisfyingly, we finally understand why it was so easy to blow up the Death Star with a single shot!) Even though we are mostly introduced to new characters that we have not seen in previous movies or stories, the context is very familiar. There are glossy-white storm troopers all around; you always need to get past an alien guy to see the human that you want to talk to; and everyone dresses in distressed leather with desert scarves like they just came off a dusty jeep ride. Even our heroes and their rag-tag band are echoes to previous movies: spunky female Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) is clearly cut from the Leia/Amidala/Rey cloth; rebel captain Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) has a definite Han/Poe vibe; and K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) fills our snarky C3-PO role with a better sense of humour (sorry, no cute wordless droid this time). Even though there are a lot of classic tropes in this movie, compared to The Force Awakens, Rogue One feels a lot more fresh and not like we’re watching another rehash of the seminal Star Wars story.

I really like the idea that not only does this movie fill in some back-story about how the rebels were able to get the plans to the Death Star, but also that it expands the world of the first movie in a very reasonable way. Despite the intimately connected cast of characters, as the title supposedly indicates, Star Wars is telling a war story. So, like in any war, there are many struggles and conflicts, with so much at stake, and so many lives affected, that there should be no end of perspectives to be shared and stories to be told. It’s great that they finally decided to tell one of the other ones. Jyn is the daughter of Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikkelson), a scientist/engineer who is forced at gunpoint to abandon his family to serve the evil empire and build the Death Star. On the eve of the empire’s launching of the Death Star super-weapon, Jyn is brought back into the picture when a runaway imperial pilot brings a secret message from Galen to Saw Gerrera (played maniacally by Forest Whitaker), a rebel extremist leader, which was meant for her. To prove her father is not evil, Jyn needs to rally some rebel aid (and along the way, gathers some rag-tag allies) to secure plans for the Death Star in order to help them destroy the weapon.

Considering so many things in this movie have been done before, it’s difficult to pinpoint what makes it so enjoyable. Obviously, the visuals are top-notch; from the opening scenes in the breath-taking mountainous landscapes where Jyn was born, to the eventual beaches on the planet Scarif where they fight the empire. Also, the many aliens and space-battles are always a CGI thrill. While on the topic of CGI, recreating the period of the first movie obviously provided a few challenges to the Rogue One team. It’s great that they kept a lot of the aesthetics of the Death Star interiors (with the displays and dials that seemed modern back in the 70s, but still look alright even today) from the first movie. However, what was more of an elaborate, nostalgic effort was the digital recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin (the imperial governor who commanded the Death Star). The actor, Peter Cushing, who played the character in the first movie passed away over 20 years ago. Lucasfilm used some of their latest effects from Industrial Light and Magic to recreate him and it’s actually pretty amazing. I mean, we still haven’t gotten to the point where we can’t tell the difference between actual actor and digital stand-in, but it’s pretty close. It was a little distracting because you can’t help looking closely for signs of artificiality (I’m still not quite sure what’s actually missing, but there’s definitely something), but they made a really good effort. Some viewers have complained a bit about how (like in every prequel) this movie suffers from the need to throw in cameos from the classic cast — while some make meaningful appearances, others do not.

Nevertheless, with all the attention to detail, I think in the end I was most drawn to the new characters. I really liked Jyn and Cassian. I believed in their cause and with their crew they became the underdogs that really had very little chance against an overwhelming force — but they had (as the movie keeps reminding us) hope. Also, the side-characters were wonderful as well — including Asian characters in the Star Wars universe (though one of them is still kind of relegated to doing martial arts) — way to represent, guys! If you felt kind of meh about The Force Awakens, give Rogue One a try. It might revive some of the excitement you have felt in the past for the Star Wars franchise. Plus it’s an exciting sci-fi adventure in its own right. (4.5 out of 5).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Movie Review

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens-Rey-Finn-BB8-runningFinally, I’ve gone to watch The Force Awakens. I know, judging by the nature of this blog, you’d have thought that I’d have been first in line, bright and early on opening day. What can I tell you? The Force Pushes “Snooze” and Rolls Over For a Bit, OK? Anyway, now that I’ve seen the most anticipated movie of the year, I have to say that it kind of lives up. It’s a lot of fun, non-stop action and it feels true to the spirit of the original trilogy — a plucky band of misfits save the galaxy from the evil empire.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-storm-troopersIn fact, there are clearly a lot of parallels between this movie and the original Star Wars. Kylo Ren (the black-clad force-baddie with the cool cross-shaped light-sabre) is the new Darth Vader (complete with new daddy-issues). The desert planet of Jakku is the new Tatooine, complete with new protagonist Rey (she’s like a cross between Luke Skywalker — with his jedi-potential and way with the droids — and Princess Leia — with her feminine spunk and greater destiny). Finn is the new Han Solo (he gets most of the funny lines, along with the real Han Solo, of course), and BB-8 is the new R2-D2 (who gets all the funny “beeps” and the good “boops”, just like R2 used to get). The First Order is the new Empire (complete with its new, much-bigger Death Star, a.k.a. Starkiller Base, better looking storm-troopers, and its new Emperor, a.k.a. Supreme Leader). Of course we have X-Wing vs. Tie dog-fights and canyon runs, as well as a brand new creature cantina (thankfully sans Hutt). Having all these reincarnated elements (and original-cast cameos) rather than a completely different angle, kind of makes The Force Awakens feel like the most amazing fan-film ever made. That’s a good thing. It’s like a reboot without starting over.

20141128-star-wars-force-awakens-screenshots-hr-009The new cast are good. I really enjoyed Jon Boyega as Finn. He’s so energetic and it’s clear that his character has a good heart. It was not difficult to want to root for his character at all. He was also very convincing as this kind of average guy who became extraordinary simply because of the choices he made. Plus, he was funny just by being frank and reacting like a regular guy. Daisy Ridley (who plays junk scavenger, Rey) looks like she could have been actress Keira Knightley’s younger, more-energetic sister (maybe Rey is the grand-daughter of Queen Amidala’s handmaid Sabe, who had a family and life of her own on Jakku. Fan-fic writers, go!). Rey is a character true to the Star Wars legacy of damsels-in-distress who rescue themselves. Finally, Kylo Ren is a much more flawed dark-side villain than the others. He actually has a temper (which they all should have had, because I thought that anger was the key to the dark side) and he has a lot of emotional struggles (though he still can force-throttle an underling like no one’s business but Darth’s). I think one of the things a bit lacking from this installment of the franchise is that the villain is not powerful enough. Despite the literally gigantic presence of the Supreme Leader (who is presumably the ultimate First Order villain), if Kylo Ren is one of the Order’s big bosses, it didn’t take much to take him down. So now I’m not sure what’s going to keep us going for the rest of the new trilogy. Ren also did not fulfill the coolness factor that both Boba Fett and Darth Maul did in the other two trilogies. We need a new bad-ass and he was not it.

forceawakens4-xlargeNevertheless, I thought that The Force Awakens was a really fun movie to watch. It gave so many familiar elements a new coat of paint, and it was great to see some of the original cast in some meaty cameos. I’m hoping that now that they’ve established a launching point to move on with the series, they can actually do something new next time, but in the mean time this movie deserves a 4.5 out of 5.

The Liebster Award

Thanks to YoungCinemaBuffs for the nomination

liebster-award1RULES
• Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog.
• Answer the questions given by the nominator.
• Nominate 11 other bloggers who have less than 200 followers, and link them.
• Notify all the bloggers you nominate.
• Create 11 new questions for your nominees to answer.

I’m not sure who Liebster is or why there’s an award in his honour, but I’m gathering that this is really a way for blogs to promote other blogs who share common interests — that’s great. I would love to pay this honour forward as well, but I just don’t know very many other blogs (especially ones who, according to the Liebster rules, have less than 200 followers). Sorry, blog community. Nevertheless, I thought I would still share my responses to the questions posed to me for my nomination (so y’all can get to know me a little more). So here goes:

1. What is a movie you like that most people hate?

SUCKER PUNCHSucker Punch – I know people think that this movie full of huge CGI set piece fantasies for a group of young women in a creepy asylum is over-the-top ridiculous (and probably pretty sexist and exploitative) but I’m a Zack Snyder fan and I really like his visual style (though I did not love his Man of Steel movie. That was over-the-top.)

2. What is a movie you don’t like that most people love?

citizenkane2As far as classic movies go: Citizen Kane – Of course this is the pinnacle of cinematic classics, but I could not stay awake watching it and I don’t get the appeal. As for something recent, Oscar-winner Birdman did nothing for me. It just seemed like more Hollywood navel-gazing, and the whole superhero-fantasy angle seemed like an unrelated gimmick.

3. If you had to pick a different name for your blog, what would it be?

“Pop goes the world” – I don’t pretend to have delusions that I’m doing anything so important here, but I’m just chatting about pop culture that I enjoy (or don’t enjoy) and I’m able to share my opinions with people all around the globe! Fun.

4. What is your favourite movie and tv villains?

darth vaderMovie villain: Darth Vader from Star Wars – he’s just a classic in my eyes. He’s more of an icon than an actual character, but he was this pure emblem of relentless evil, and then he got redeemed! It’s a great arc.

Sideshow Bob by timshinn73
Sideshow Bob by timshinn73

TV villains: So many! Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons – he’s kind of a loser, but so fun and his diabolical-ness is wonderfully hammy. Plus, Kelsey Grammar’s voice is perfect for the role — and he looks so ironically ridiculous with his huge palm-tree hairdo. Also, Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. I definitely like my villains smart, and preferably erudite as well. Honourable mention to two villains both played by the amazing Michael Emerson: Ben Linus from Lost and William Hinks from The Practice

5. What movie has made you feel the most emotional?

JoyLuckClub_490PyxurzThis is going to be an unusual answer, but the movie that got the tears flowing the most is probably The Joy Luck Club. I know it’s obviously a very tear-jerking movie, but it gets me every time.

6. What season do you prefer: summer, autumn, winter or spring?

I like the autumn most. New TV season begins, kids go back to school and everything starts up again. I’m not a summer-party kind of guy so I like it when things get back down to business.

7. What is your favourite actor and actress?

cumberbatchThis is a tough question. For Actor, I used to always say Kenneth Branagh (who is still very amazing) but now I really like Benedict Cumberbatch (if not for his Sherlock alone). For Actress, my “celebrity crush” answer is Michelle Pfeiffer, but for serious, there is no actress that can hold a candle to Meryl Streep for sheer awesomeness. However, if we’re talking someone more recent, I will have to go with either Emma Stone or Carey Mulligan

8. What is you thoughts on debating?

This is an odd question. I admit that while I find arguments thrilling and often they’re my favourite kind of interaction (assuming they are not violent or hostile), but debates seem a bit lame and dull.

9. What are your favourite youtubers and why?

I assume we’re talking about musicians when we say “youtubers”, right? Well, I like Peter Hollens and Sam Tsui. They are both pretty good singers and they help me discover some of the pop music that I am pretty out-of-touch with. This is like the new “easy listening”. (They would probably hate to be characterized that way. Sorry fellas. Hey, I’m middle aged. Give me a break!). Plus, they seem like really nice people. I also like Pentatonix (such a cool group with mad skills) and Walk Off The Earth (another really fun group who impress me with their videos every time).

10. What TV series’ are you into?

game of thrones s3Oh my gosh, where to begin: Game of Thrones (natch!); almost anything sci-fi (but I miss the mega-franchises like Star Trek and Stargate); I’m enjoying The Flash; I can’t wait to watch Castle every week; I love The Good Wife (the last great lawyer show, along with Suits); I am really diggin’ Empire (trashiness brings back fond memories of 80s TV titan, Dynasty). On the comedy front, I’m still really enjoying Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, and Brooklyn Nine-nine. From the UK, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and Sherlock are unmissable.

spurlockI also want to give special mention to certain shows that don’t get as much love in certain circles: anything by Morgan Spurlock is on the top of my list (recently Inside Man on CNN); also, there are occasionally some great cartoons that I love as well. Recently Avatar: The Legend of Korra came to an epic conclusion, and Disney’s Gravity Falls is one of my favourite shows and should be beloved of any sci-fi fan.

11. What is your most anticipated movie of 2015?

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer-2-description-888x456It’s almost boring to say, but it’s definitely Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Also Pixar’s Inside Out (they are at their best when not creating sequels) and (perhaps surprisingly) Pitch Perfect 2 — but I think it’s not going to be as good as the first one.

Midseason TV 2014, part 2

The midseason period this year seems to be really spread out. New series have been making their debut, and a few series returning (kind of) over the last couple of months (with more on the way). I don’t think there’s been any midseason breakout hit so far, but there’s a wide variety to choose from so there’s a chance that something may resonate with the viewing audience. I’ve checked out a few of the new shows (though the most intriguing ones are still to come).

about-a-boy-feb-25-rtgs

Based on the Hugh Grant feature film, About A Boy is about an odd, socially awkward young boy named Marcus and his flaky mom Fiona who live next to a flagrantly single man-child named Will. As you might expect, a bond forms between the boy and the man by sheer force of persistence — the boy helps the man become more sensitive, connected and less shallow; the man helps the kid adapt socially, and together they learn to grow up. David Walton plays Will, Minnie Driver plays Fiona, and Benjamin Stockham plays Marcus. While I did enjoy the Hugh Grant movie, this show is only OK. It’s a bit predictable as far as sitcoms go. So far, each episode Marcus naively gets him and Will into a situation where Will acts like the immature guy that he is, but then seeing that Marcus is hurt Will has a change of heart and does something good for them both. There are a few laughs, but those are predictable as well.

spun_out_feature

However predictable that show is, it pales in comparison to the unfunny flop that is Spun Out, a Canadian sitcom featuring Dave Foley as the head of an ad agency, with Paul Williams (he was nice guy Billy in Battlestar Galactica) as a new copy writer Beckett. I guess it’s supposed to be an office comedy but the jokes are so cliche and lame that I was actually kind of sad. On his first day, Beckett meets each new colleague by saying something that coincidentally happens to be the wrong thing to say (like saying how hot the boss’s daughter is when the boss is standing right behind). When there’s an important meeting with a client, Beckett walks in by mistake, and the client is (of course) more interested in some random ideas from him than from the pitch that the main team is trying to present. Not that it’s my number one show, but The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar is also about a father-daughter run ad agency, and blows this show out of the water. Unfortunately, Spun Out is another one of those ironically (or presciently) named shows because even after only one episode there is no good material left. I wish I could be more patriotic and give it more of a chance, but there are so many other shows more worthy of my time.

star-crossed-1

While we are on the topic of shows that I could barely sit through one episode of, Star-Crossed made its CW debut a few weeks ago. Having the audacity to pretend it was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it’s really just another teen soap (and a pretty bad one at that) with some kind of gimmicky twist. This time around, there are aliens coming to high school. Aimee Teagarden and Matt Lanter play the ill-fated lovers. She’s kind of a normal high school girl (though everyone in the show is attractive, so the fact that she is also is nothing out of the ordinary) but he’s an Atrian, part of a race whose spaceship crashed in the US decades earlier. For some reason the Atrians look just like humans (attractive ones at that) except they have got some presumably natural tattoos on their faces. The Atrians are confined to reservations, but are gradually trying to integrate into human society and the first step is by having a handful of their kids attend high school (because high school is the best place for assimilating individuals who don’t fit in with those around them, right?). While there seems to be some lip service paid to the sci-fi premise, it’s just a transparently thin veil to disguise a gloss on themes of bigotry, racism and intolerance. Even though this should be a monumental deal that there are alien kids in your school, most characters just play out the typical, dumbed-down high school melodramas. What a waste of sci-fi potential.

MIND-GAMES

Mind Games, has a bit more potential. This show has Christian Slater and Steve Zahn playing brothers who are trying to run a business, but a very unorthodox one. Based on theories of Zahn’s character, Dr. Clark Edwards, human events and fate can be manipulated and controlled, so they offer their firm’s services to help clients control the outcome of events. Slater plays Ross, the more savvy brother who is meant to be the deal-maker. While I loved this premise (and it reminds me of shows like Lie To Me or Leverage, where exceedingly clever and intelligent men run unorthodox services for clients), Mind Games has already got into the area that I hated about those other shows — it gets into all the personal baggage of its characters right away. Unfortunately this show’s characters have some serious baggage. Not only is Clark bi-polar, he was also kicked out of his teaching position after having an affair with a student (with whom he is still in love), Ross spent time in prison for securities fraud and is always only a hair’s breadth away from doing something illegal. Even in the pilot episode, most of the drama was not about the client’s situation (which should have been drama enough — a young boy being denied money for experimental drug treatment by insurance company) or about how the firm’s agents pulled off the manipulation of the situation with the insurance company. Instead, it was mostly on Clark and his issues. I know that most shows seem to think that the way you keep an audience is to get them wrapped up in the character’s lives in longer story arcs, but I think there’s something to be said for just giving us the weekly cases.

Those-Who-Kill-726x248

That being said, that tendency to get into character’s emotional and psychological backstories has become and even bigger part of the crime drama (especially now that shows like Dexter and Hannibal have been taking us inside the minds of the killers themselves). In Those Who Kill, Chloe Sevigny is appropriately cast as Catherine Jensen, a homicide detective who’s got her own haunted past to contend with while trying to catch serial killers. Based on a Danish series (so you know it’s not going to be full of rainbows and puppies), it is not an easy show to watch and enjoy. The first episode had Jensen tracking down a killer who liked to seal women in coffin-like boxes. The show is very psychological and pretty intense. To heighten the suspense, the killer is often very close at hand and in plain sight. Plus (spoiler alert) they don’t get him on the first try. Even after the crime was eventually solved and the killer put away, I felt like I needed my own personal leave time to get over it. I don’t think I could stomach going through this each week.

suits 2014

Last but definitely not least, two very different shows returned in two very different ways. Suits came back to finish its season after the huge corporate dust-up last year. Now lead character Harvey (played by Gabriel Macht) is a name partner, and he and Jessica (played by Gina Torres) continue to lock horns over how to run the firm. The cliffhanger last year was about Louis finding no file for Mike (Patrick Adams) in the Harvard vaults. I don’t love that they’re drawing out this no-Harvard secret. It was meaningful when it was an issue between Mike and his girlfriend Rachel, but with Louis it just seems like a contrived plot point. Also, they are trying to humanize and soften Harvey by putting him into this committed relationship with Scotty (Harvey’s ex-girlfriend who is now joining the new Pearson Specter). The midseason opener had a lot of backstory plots going on, but there was still a pretty good B story where Mike was handling a case against the lawyer who settled the case of his parents’ claim after they died in a car accident. It’s interesting how they deal with that baggage and Mike’s own feelings which change throughout the episode. I’m looking forward to some more good legal drama this year.

star wars clone wars

With a similarly short run, Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns from what we all thought was cancellation, with 13 “lost missions” that are available to view on Netflix. After the end of last season, where padawan Ahsoka walked away from Anakin Skywalker after she had been falsely accused of murder, the show seemed to disappear and Cartoon Network no longer planned to air the episodes that were already in the can. Thanks to Netflix we can now binge-watch more exciting adventures that bridge the gap between the prequel films (and tide us over until new series Star Wars: Rebels debuts this fall). So far I’ve only watched the first 4-episode arc, but it was pretty interesting. After one of his team-mates has a breakdown and murders one of the Jedi, a clone trooper named Fives thinks there’s a conspiracy going on and tries to investigate the true cause of the incident. Unfortunately, he’s right about the conspiracy, which puts him on the run trying to gather evidence and keep out of the hands of the Republic forces, and the Caminoan government. It’s a fun suspense story arc that even touches on the larger plan that the Sith have been hatching all this time. I am really looking forward to viewing the other two arcs as well, and even though these lost mission episodes are kind of a bonus, I wish that I wouldn’t run out of this wonderful series so soon.

Also check out Midseason TV 2014, part 1

Saturday Mornings, Now On Fridays

Remember those lazy Saturdays when we’d get up and run down to the family room, turn on the tv to catch the adventure of Thundarr the Barbarian, Spider-man and his Amazing Friends, Blue Falcon and Dyno-mutt, Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, or Space Ghost? At its height we enjoyed the Justice League in super-powered combat with the Legion of Doom. At its depths we still begrudgingly enjoyed the adventures of Rubik, the alien being with incredible powers who was shaped like the cube-shaped puzzle which had become a national pastime. Adventure ruled the airwaves (while merchandising tie-ins washed our brains). Saturday morning cartoons represented the halcyon days for 1980s kids, and it was sad when channel fragmentation and cable networks became the killers of that hallowed tradition (aka time slot).

Well, thanks to that very same programming phenomenon, cable channels are now bringing back some of that adventure-filled animation that is good enough to kick childhood memories’ butts. Friday nights on the Cartoon Network contain a solid block of quality, fun adventure shows, including: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Thundercats, Young Justice, and the brand new Green Lantern animated series.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

For those of us who enjoyed the 80s cartoon spinoffs from the Lucasfilm trilogy (yes, it was still only a trilogy back then), The Droids, and The Ewoks, you might be very surprised at the incredible quality of this show. It is truly good enough to be considered part of the Star Wars canon. Set in the time between the second and third prequel films, the tempestuous period only referred to on the big screen known as The Clone Wars is depicted in vivid, marionette-like, animated detail. (If you caught the big screen animated movie, the show is much better than that too.) At first we were following the adventures and lessons of Ahsoka, the young padawan to Jedi master Anakin Skywalker. As the show progressed into its 2nd and 3rd seasons, the stories branched out to numerous parts of the Star Wars universe, introducing many wonderful new characters, planets, and societies.

The most exciting part of this show is how it explores so many new corners of this universe and imaginatively depicts so much about these fictional places. There is wonderful thought given to the design of everything from the landscapes and vegetation to the alien physiognomy, garments, cities, traditions, etc. It seems to have been carefully thought through (again, making the quality worthy of feature films). The stories are also very well told, and unexpectedly grown-up (but not to the point where kids won’t enjoy). Often characters will struggle with moral issues and their circumstances. The show does not pull many punches, and will depict characters dying, or seriously hurting or killing other characters (which is treated quite somberly and seriously). Most episodes are part of a two or three episode story arc, allowing the stories to really develop. I know a lot of fans might be turned off by the young-skewing animation, but any fan of the Star Wars universe should definitely check out this series.

Young Justice

Based on the DC comic book, this is a super team comprised of many of the Justice League’s young protégés and sidekicks. Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Superboy, Artemis (Green Arrow’s niece) and Miss Martian, try to prove themselves worthy of eventually succeeding their heroes and mentors in the big leagues (no pun intended). The animation on this show is pretty good (in my opinion, much better than the art on the Batman and Superman series from the 90s). I also think that the stories are pretty well written as well, with equal parts super adventures, thought-provoking themes, and (unfortunately) fictional teen drama. The series is still pretty new, only in its second half-season, but I think it’s a pretty good superhero adventure show.

Thundercats

Yes, everything is back! From the Sword of Omens, with its incantation: “Give me sight beyond sight”, to all the characters: Cheetara, Tigra (now Lion-O’s brother – not sure how that makes sense, since they are different species of cats), Panthro, Wiley Kit and Kat, along with a mercifully mute Snarf. Evil Mumm-Ra the Ever-Pretentious is also back from the crypt, but they haven’t spent much time fighting him or his mutants since the first couple of episodes. Mostly the gang are on a road trip in the Thunder-tank, encountering new friends and new enemies along the way.

The animation has understandably improved since the 80s, and it’s even more anime-inspired than before. Their adventures can range from dull and preachy to colorful and exciting (which pretty much aligns with the mix we got in the original series). Nevertheless, I think this is a very fun show that should allow a whole new generation to enjoy these humanoid cats.

Green Lantern: The Animated Adventures

Clearly put into production to capitalize on the imagined wave of interest in Green Lantern after his big screen debut courtesy of Ryan Reynolds, there has only been a two-part pilot episode shown so far. Like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this series is computer animated, which is not a good thing when it ends up limiting the number of characters that can be depicted while staying under budget. This universe, which is the “beat” of the universal police force known as the Green Lantern Corps definitely feels underpopulated. Plus (much like its big-screen inspiration) the story seems simplistic and weak. It revolves around Earth’s Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and his big bruisin’ sidekick Killawog, trekking (no pun intended) off to the sparsely-populated (sigh) fringes of known space, where Green Lanterns are being taken out by a new sinister enemy, the Red Lanterns. I love the whole idea of Green Lanterns and their corps as well as this new-fangled concept of the various colors of Lanterns, but I’m hoping that this show really takes a turn for the better if I’m going to keep watching.

Kung Fu Panda: the Legends of Awesomeness

I was super excited (having loved both feature films) that Kung Fu Panda was coming to the small screen with more adventures and tongue-in-cheek humour, but so far the series has not blown me away. Again, since it’s CGI, the world looks anemically underpopulated. Po is still pretty good at cracking jokes, but for some reason they are not as funny. My love for this series goes a long way, but if this were a Saturday morning cartoon, I’d wish for it to be early in the schedule so that I wouldn’t worry too much about oversleeping.

Finally, I am highly anticipating Avatar: The Legend of Korra, a sequel to my favourite animated show of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender (put sour thoughts of Shyamalan’s godawful big screen adaptation out of your mind). It was supposed to come out next year, but now even that “date” is in question. Nevertheless, when it comes out, I’m sure it will make our “Saturday mornings” even better.

Fall TV 2011 – week 1

This year, we are in for a pretty packed month of premieres, and there are a number of new shows that I’m looking forward to checking out as well.

The CW is the first out of the gate, debuting some of their new series ahead of the other major networks. In particular, they brought back former vampire-slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer. After the first episode, there was already a lot of backlash about the poor green screen effects used to make Gellar appear as twin characters Siobhan and Bridget. Bridget the recovering addict escapes her messed-up life (and the imminent court date to testify against a murdering mob boss) by staying with her rich, socialite sister. After her sister disappears, Bridget decides to take on her sister’s life but unwittingly gets tangled up in the dangers (romantic and life-threatening) that Siobhan left behind. While it was fun to see Gellar back on TV, the episode was only OK. I don’t yet care about any of the characters (and they aren’t made very likable, so it’s not my fault). Also, the twists are a bit predictable, especially since virtually the same story setup has already been underway on ABC Family, on its new series called The Lying Game.

The other new show that I watched on the CW was The Secret Circle. Again, I was underwhelmed. Britt Robertson (formerly of Life Unexpected), plays Cassie, a girl who loses her mom in a fire and moves in with her grandma. Little does Cassie know that she’s a witch, and part of a pre-destined circle of witches (all teenagers) who have been waiting for her to complete their group. The show comes from Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries creator Kevin Williamson, so I’m already on the hook. Unfortunately, I’m not crazy about any of these characters yet either, especially the lame Adam (played by Thomas Dekker of Heroes and Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles fame) and the bitchy girl in circle (you knew there had to be one) who seems so incredibly cliche. Nevertheless, I’m self-reminded that I was so turned off by the first two episodes of The Vampire Diaries that I stopped watching, only to rejoin after the great reviews started coming in. I am willing to give The Secret Circle a bit more time.

Speaking of The Vampire Diaries, the season premiere picked up a couple of months after last season’s finale. I was dreading seeing upstanding vamp, Stefan, turn into a brutal murderer just because of his deal with Klaus (also because it seems like such a contradiction). Similarly, the kiss between Elena and Damon seemed like it was going to lead to them being together, but I’m glad that kind of got diluted in the premiere. While I was prepared to shrug my shoulders at the mediocre start to the season, I found myself surprisingly moved by the last bit of the episode. Obviously it was meant to draw out our sympathies for Stefan, and gosh darn if it didn’t just work!

Meanwhile, on a totally different note, the promising sitcom Up All Night also debuted this week. With an amazing cast featuring Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph, I was expecting another instant classic (like Modern Family had been), but this show was kind of a let down. It’s about TV producer Applegate, returning to work with a talk show diva (Rudolph freshening up her Oprah impression), leaving her lawyer husband (Arnett) at home with their new daughter. Maybe you need to have gone through that life stage to appreciate the humour, but I didn’t find the pilot episode very funny. How many times can they make a joke about how they should stop swearing around the baby (which isn’t so funny to begin with)? Half a dozen bleeping times!  Of course that pales in comparison to the Hank Azaria (who I love as the voice of Apu on The Simpsons) sitcom Free Agents (about a couple of PR agents who become friends-with-benefits). I don’t think I cracked even a smile the entire half-hour.

Finally, for the cartoon lovers out there, Cartoon Network brought back not only Star Wars: The Clone Wars with an hour-long premiere episode featuring an undersea war (and a particularly nasty shark-man villain), which I thoroughly enjoyed (I love the underwater stuff). Also, Young Justice, the animated series featuring the sidekicks of the Justice League, made an exciting return. They brought back some of their enemies from last season as well as adding heavyweights such as Lex Luthor and Ra’s Al Ghul. The kids are growin’ up.

Next week is going to be powerhouse, with the return of Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Community, and Parks and Recreation, not to mention the musical double-whammy of Glee and The Sing-Off, as well as the debut of the latest JJ Abrams creation, Person of Interest, starring none other than Michael “Ben Linus” Emerson. It’s going to be awesome!

Fall TV 2008, part 4

Here I was thinking that this fall premiere season was going to be boring simply because all my top shows (Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Medium, Dollhouse, Burn Notice) were not coming until mid-season, but now I’m writing a 4-part post about new and returning shows. Go figure! Well, this will be the last part. There are a few more new shows to come and a few more shows to return, but you’re on your own for those.

My Own Worst Enemy

This show is so Alias, it’s not even funny (which is a good thing, because we’ve already got a funny spy show called Chuck). The Jekyll-Hyde premise is that Christian Slater stars (yes, it’s his TV series debut, let’s move on …) as Henry the mild-mannered corporate consultant by day, and Edward, the super-spy by night. The twist is that Henry doesn’t know he’s Edward — at least not until he finds himself switching personalities in the middle of a mission in Russia. Alfre Woodard stars as Edward’s cold-hearted boss (a kind of Arvin Sloane if he were a black woman, and not as evil — at least not yet). They’re a secret government agency specializing in split-personality sleeper agents, so when Edward/Henry gets his wires crossed, it’s a bad day at the office for Alfre. As I mentioned, this show is very reminiscent of Alias. There’s even a secret elevator (complete with retinal scan) leading down to the lower levels where the in-your-dreams spy tech and operations centre is housed (complete with brainy Marshall-esque support guy). Henry’s shrink (played by Saffron Burrows) even looks like Jennifer Garner, complete with dark hair and bee-stung lips. In the first episode, there isn’t yet a family connection to the spy game as there had been in Alias, but given that Henry’s wife is played by the smokin’ Madchen Amick, I predict that it won’t be long before we see her revealed as more spy than a soccer mom. Until then, I’m loving the show. It fills that Alias-shaped void. (4.5 out of 5)

The Office

There were cliffhangers aplenty last season: Jim and Pam’s engagement was put off by the engagement of Andy and Angela; Phyllis caught Angela cheating with Dwight; Jan showed up pregnant with a child that was probably not Michael’s; Ryan was carted off to jail for business misdeeds; and Michael possibly found a soul mate in new HR girl, Holly. There’s already been a couple of new episodes of this season and things are off to a great start. Things are as funny as they have ever been in earlier seasons, and less crazily over the top. It seems that they’ve rediscovered some of the office-based humour that was their bread and butter. Jim and Pam’s story gets moving, and Michael continues to mess things up with Holly. In one episode there is a simply hilarious scene where Jim tortures Dwight by making all kinds of erroneous statements about Battlestar Galactica within Dwight’s hearing, but he can’t take the time to correct Jim even though he clearly wants to for fear of being considered a thief of company time. It’s a riot for a geek like me to watch! (4.5 out of 5)

Merlin

This one’s a BBC production that is scheduled to make its way over to NBC. It’s the story of the adventures of a young Merlin. I’m enjoying it so far, though the stories are definitely on the less-sophisticated side. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a Xena, but it’s definitely no Lord of the Rings. The purists will probably cringe at all the changes made to the legend, but it’s not the Camelot-meets-Smallville that I feared. So far there has been mercifully little teen angst. However, the fact that King Uther Pendragon (played by a humourless Anthony Head — Giles from Buffy) has banned all magic from Camelot on pain of death, is great for the special effects budget, but kind of hampers the fantasy storytelling a bit. Michelle Ryan (star of the failed Bionic Woman series from last year) has also made an appearance as a recurring nemesis to Arthur. It’s definitely a fun series and worth a watch, but mostly if you’re a fan of the genre (4 out of 5)

Eleventh Hour

Another British adaptation, this series is about a super-scientist employed by the FBI to solve mysteries of an advanced scientific nature. This quirky super-expert concept has become a bit of a genre all its own, with shows like House, The Mentalist or Fringe all picking up the vibe. Rufus Sewell plays the main character serviceably well, but I like Patrick Stewart in the original version much better. It’s a bit tired how these super-experts always seem to know the answers, and their guesses are as good as gold. If they’re relying on the character drama to keep this show afloat, I think it’s time for life-preservers. Hopefully the cases will be a lot more interesting themselves (3 out of 5).

Cartoons: Wolverine & The Clone Wars

Wolverine and the X-Men is a slightly grittier (as much as kids shows can be) continuation of the X-Men story. The team is scattered after an attack that renders Prof. X comatose and North America is controlled by a mutant-persecuting government (see? gritty, right?). The animation isn’t bad (for non-Asian), and it’s cool to see Wolverine as the team leader. Given the sudden dearth of good cartoons for non-kids, any X-Men fan should check this one out. (4 out of 5)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the ongoing series that continues from the underwhelming animated film. The stories are definitely better than the movie was. Each half-hour episode is a better fit than the drawn out movie. The Anakin Skywalker of the tv show even has a better sense of humour than the one portrayed by Hayden Christensen. The animation is slick, but the look of every character as computer-drawn marionettes takes a bit of getting used to. (4 out of 5)