Carnivale (Pilot)

The pilot opens with escaped convict Ben Hawkins, sitting with his dying mother in their home, as a dust storm rages outside, and bulldozers wait to tear down the house which has been repossessed by the bank. The storm winds down, and Ben begins to dig his mother’s grave while the construction workers try and force him to move out of their way. The situation is saved by Jones, a former baseball player who now travels with the carnival whose caravan is parked nearby. The carnies get together an impromptu funeral for Ben’s mom, and this provides us with a meet and greet for our characters.

There are Siamese twins, a bearded lady, a retarded strong man, gypsies, snake charmers, a blind seer and a lizard man, complete with tail. As the funeral ends, the bulldozers crush Ben’s home and the carnival decides to take Ben in, just for a few stops.

Cut to a church, where Brother Justin Crowe demonstrates unusual powers in dealing with a member of his flock who steals from the collection plate.

Back to the carnival, where Jones and Samson, the day to day managers of the circus, have a brief conversation about the real “Manager” of Carnivale. This mysterious Management is never seen, and no one but Samson and Jones are allowed into his trailer, but when told of Ben’s arrival and asked how the cash poor carnival is going to feed this extra mouth, the Management only replies, “he was expected”.

Ben is sharing a trailer with blind Lodz and bearded lady Lila. Ben is asleep and clearly dreaming. Lila begs Lodz to read Ben’s dream, and he can and does, seeing a WWI battlefield and someone who Lodz recognizes. Lodz panics and runs to Samson, begging him to speak to Management about what he saw in Ben’s dream. He’s told that if Management wants to know something, Management will ask.

We move to beautiful Sophie the gypsy’s trailer, where she is having a conversation with her mother. All is well and good, except her mother is in a coma. We get more scenes of the carnival oddities, and we get to see Ben absolutely freak out as he realizes that this is one very strange traveling circus. Ben wanders away from the carnival to get a little peace, and ends up at a nearby hobo camp. Poor Ben, there’s no peace there for him, only more tragedy.

As Ben keeps walking and wanders into town, so does Sophie. She stops at a gas station to get a soda, and ends up getting attacked. Of course, Ben saves her. They return to camp and there Ben works with the carnies to set up for the night’s show. We meet more of the carnies, and get to see their acts as Ben wanders through the show at night. Sophie’s attackers show up to get revenge, but Ben is bailed out by Jones and Gabriel, the strong man. All this further cements Ben to the Carnivale.

We then get another scene of Brother Justin, who has an epiphany when strolling through Chinatown. Methinks Brother Justin may become very interesting to Management as the show goes on. Or, will it be the other way aroundr Will the powers of the Carnivale’s freaks attract Brother Justinr

The final scene shows the carnival packing up and moving on. Sophie reads Ben’s tarot and he has a disturbing flashback. He runs away in terror as we finally understand why Management is interested in Ben. If the Carnivale is a gathering of people with true powers, then Ben certainly belongs there.

As a pilot, this sets things up very well. While I feel Sophie’s attack was very contrived, and that Ben perhaps has a few too many tragedies piled on him for one day, as a whole this sets up the course of the show nicely, while leaving many, many questions to be answered in future episodes. The premise is so unusual, and has the potential to be truly creepy. The weakest element is the dialogue, which is merely purposeful and plain, although, with a plot this baroque, simplicity is probably the best way to go. I’m looking forward to this show, and can’t wait to see how the plot elements entwine in future episodes. While I don’t see this as being a water cooler show, or a huge ratings success, I do envision this as having a strong and loyal cult following which hopefully will be what HBO expected when it green lighted a show about a dust bowl carnival full of freaks with superpowers.

Rating: B
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Enterprise episode – The Crossing

That during the course of one hour I changed my mind about this outing so many times…often so violently…that I have an honest-to-god crick in my neck from it allr Nah…I didn’t think so.

The story starts typically enough – Jonathan Archer and crew encounter a ship that not even the Vulcans have seen before and are immediately captured. This is not difficult for their new adversary, as the Captain does nothing to avoid it! True, they may not be able to out-run them but what about an evasive maneuver…something…anythingr At this point I’m already hating this episode and it isn’t even time to hit the mute for the opening credits yet!

Since his ship has been swallowed whole by another vessel, Archer decides to get out and look around. Even though the warp drive is down and the weapons aren’t working, he brings Trip and Reed along on his little excursion (not like they would be needed back on the ship). Trip is immediately “joined” by one of the life forms on this alien ship.

However, as Archer talks to the being who inhabits Trip and then when Trip returns, instead of “Crossing of the Body Snatchers” cliches there is a real feeling of a first encounter between two very different species. It was a promising scene and a nice job done by Connor Trinneer.

But just when you think it’s safe to think this episode might have something new to say, the aliens start switching life forces with the crew without their permission. This results in one particularly embarrassing scene in which an alien in Reed’s body invites himself into T’Pol’s quarters and starts telling her that she is the most beautiful woman on board the ship (since when the alien took over Reed would be completely gone how does he know this since he’s just arrived). He then tells T’Pol that she should undress so they can “mate”. This is also a ridiculous statement as she’s barely dressed to begin with. Poor T’Pol…for some reason she just can’t seem to find clothes that fit her. She’s wearing sweatpants in this scene that are so small – when she tried unsuccessfully to pull them up over her hips – she gave herself a wedgie.

Another jolt comes when it’s discovered that the aliens can’t reach the unaffected crew members in the catwalk area. Not that this safe haven is such a unique plot development – but that Mayweather discovers it is such a welcome change! He takes a leadership role while in the catwalk area. Trip punches him out. This is the most action Mayweather’s had in all the episodes so far, I think!

The third act involves T’Pol letting an alien try to “replace” her and then fending it off, but not before learning what they’ve been lying all along. They weren’t just “crossing” with the crew of Enterprise out of curiosity but to survive the inevitable destruction of their own vessel. With the clever assistance of Dr. Phlox, a plan is devised to “gas” the possessed crewmembers because the aliens can’t live in a dead body. These crewmen are then revived once their own essences returned. How it’s known that their own spirits would definitely return to the corpses is never said. Once this is accomplished, Enterprise starts to leave but not before hitting the alien ship with two photon torpedoes, destroying it and the last of members of an advanced race.

And this is what ultimately burns my ass about this episode. Through Archer’s first conversation with whoever it is that inhabits Trip, the writers start to show the aliens as amicable and non-threatening. Then, at the end we’re to just believe that they’re all just like those who take over Reed and Hoshi – cold and self-servingr Somehow to the authors of this story the fact that these aliens have no bodies means they couldn’t have their own personalitiesr When T’Pol makes contact with the alien was there even an offer to try to repair their shipr Any attempt made to find them another method of surviving the breakdown of the vesselr I guess this is a long time from when Kirk, Spock and a character played by Diana Muldaur will offer to change places with noncorporeal beings to allow them to build android bodies in which to live.

At the end of the broadcast, next week’s Enterprise is shown to involve Archer being put on trial by the Klingon High Counsel.

Wonder if one of the charges involves “Genocide”r

Rating: C-
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Battlestar Galactica

Please note: This review follows two previous reports concerning this show. A story published December 3, 2002 reporting on the updated characters for this upcoming BSG miniseries/pilot, while the second story on December 8, 2002 presented what was purported to a mission statement created by this current BSG miniseries’ executive producer Ronald D. Moore, which stated his desire to do “nothing less than the reinvention of the science fiction television series” with this series. If you have not read either report, it is suggested you do before continuing.

Also note this review does contain some foul language, when giving examples from the screenplay, as well as frequent spoilers to the new story.

Continue reading “Battlestar Galactica”

Rating: C
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NYPD 2069

Det. Franco quickly deduces that the husband is the murderer, but before he can make his case he is run down in the street by a speeding van. The last thing he sees is Kroger turn and walk away from the scene. The detective’s distraught wife is told that her husband is a vegetable and makes the decision to remove him from life-support. However, he keeps breathing on his own. The doctor tells her that there is a secret government project that cryogenically freezes fallen members of the NYPD and FDNY and that he could be brought back to life in about ten years due to advances in nano-technology.

Sixty-six years later, Alex Franco awakens with a new prosthetic arm and the stunning realization that his wife is dead and that his son is a 77 year-old vegetable (due to a viral outbreak that killed 300,000 in the year 2039 that was most likely terrorism). More incredulously, his murderer is now 99 years old, but with the benefits of money and scientific advancements has the mind and body of a 50 year-old man. He is given a new identity as Alex Bohlander and is assigned to his old precinct, where he will work alongside his grandson Paul Franco.

What follows is the classic fish-out-of-water story. Detective Franco must adjust to a world he knows little about without giving away his secret (the secret government project was a failure, with him as the one unknown and illegal success, and was terminated). New York City is now devoid of vehicles, except for government use. Despite the population of New York being 15 million, it looks like the streets are abandoned. Most of the city has been segregated into rich gated areas (“Chelsea Gardens”) with their own private police force. Very few people ever venture outside. The skies are filled with buildings much taller than the standard skyscraper and there are holographic billboards and “police drones” floating around monitoring the citizens’ every move.

Police work has changed dramatically and Bohlander, as he is now known, must adjust accordingly. Weapons are now mostly laser and microwave technology, although he is allowed to carry a nine-millimeter pistol. Police all wear the latest technology. The glasses that they wear can show all pertinent information on any suspect, give on the spot and instant lie detector tests, and allow a judge to render real-time decisions. A suspect can be found guilty and terminated right in the field.

Bohlander tracks the man responsible for his predicament, Kroger, to a restaurant where he observes him living lavishly. After talking his way past a bodyguard, he comes close to both revealing who he is and killing the man. Knowing that such actions would have his new life revoked, he slips away. Then Bohlander along with his new partners, including his grandson Paul, track the case of a child who was kidnapped from the nanny of a wealthy family. The ensuing chase and gunfight leaves his grandson dead. The pilot ends with Bohlander volunteering to break the news to Paul’s wife and son. While at their apartment, the young boy seems oddly drawn to Alex. He finds an old photo of him from 2003 and is bewildered.

If I didn’t know that Stephen Bochco was at the helm when I heard the title for the first time I might still be chuckling, which I must admit, I did for quite some time. Bochco is responsible for some of the best dramatic television in the medium’s history. “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue” have defined the police genre and helped raise the quality of many other network dramas. He is also responsible for “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “Cop Rock.” The question is what do we have herer

The script reads like how an “NYPD Blue” episode looks and sounds, especially in the initial interrogation in 2003 of Harlan Kroger. From the dialogue to the script instructions to the actors makes it difficult to keep Dennis Franz out of mind. I can’t decide if that is a bad thing. Has the cop show been done to deathr As we know from the past, any pop culture medium is going to be beaten to death before it goes away, and then it will come back again a decade later. I think I can see the thinking here. Bochco is taking what he knows best and throwing it almost seven decades into the future. It’s not cookie-cutter science fiction, but it has enough elements of the new and unknown that it will certainly look different. Having his lead straddle the beginning of the century and the end lets him stay in safe territory with his “old school” cop who must search for answers in the somewhat fascist future (I am hoping for a shot of a “John Aschroft Junior High School”).

Whether this show can work depends on the casting and art direction. They need to find an appealing cast and the look has to be done right. It’s a not too distant future, so he should be able to achieve that with some plasma screens and funky clothes. Regardless, it’s fun to see what previous generations envision the near future will look like. What about all the implausibility, you sayr One might think that anyone who wakes up from a coma in 2069 after 66 years and is able to go back to work in his old precinct might be a hard sell, but if this is TV. Joss Whedon thought he could have a space show (“Firefly”) with folks running around saying “pardner” brandishing six-shooters. Ok, that one didn’t work (Fox Exec- “Um, Joss, when you said it’s a space western, you were being literalr!”). Maybe a better example would be “24” with more plot holes, amnesia, and kidnappings of the same person, than could possibly happen in one day. If people, and I mean smart people, not “The Bachelor” or “Fear Factor” people, can rave about that show, what’s so far-fetched about this. Fox needs a signature drama that can last awhile. “The X-files” is a distant memory, “Firefly” will be cancelled faster than you can say “Draw, Yoda!” and “24” can’t possible be done a third time, rightr (I know, I know.) Bochco took this to Fox because of his well-publicized rift with ABC over the juggling of NYPD Blue’s timeslot and cancellation of “Philly”. If Fox is smart they give him lots of money and a timeslot other than Friday at 8 or 9 and I think they could have a new flagship drama for themselves.

Please, just change the title.

The Scorecard
Pilot Director: Gregory Hoblit
Producers/Show Creators: Steven Bochco, Nicholas Wooton, Matt Olmstead
Start Date: March 2003
Location: Los Angeles

Rating: B-
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Birds of Prey (Pilot)

Seriously. The Batman Universe has some of the greatest female characters ever. Batgirl. Harley Quinn. Poison Ivy. You get my picture. Not that the men are sub-par, but the women outshine them in every instance they possibly can.

For me, the definitive Batman is the animated series. That IS Batman. The style, the tone, the writing, the characters: perfect. Mask of the Phantasm is the best Batman movie. Not that I’m ragging on the live action films. The 2 films (and yes, there were only two films. “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” understandr) They were decent, but they were always lacking in some areas.

When I heard about “Birds of Prey,” I got totally psyched. Totally. A show about female characters from the Bat-verse. I thought it was a wonderful idea.

In case you haven’t been up on the latest news, let me run down the basics for you. “Birds of Prey” is about 3 chicks fighting crime in Gotham City. Oracle (as some of you will know her better as Barbara Gordon, and the original Batgirl), who is stuck in a wheelchair up in a clocktower, where she masterminds all the crimefighting going on. Huntress (originally not one of the BoP, but added to TV-up the comic), or Helena Kyle, who happens to be the daughter of Catwoman and Batman. Trippy stuff. And finally Black Canary, or Dinah Lance, who is this weird 16 year old who has weird psychic powers. Together they fight crime, and do other stuff.

I got ahold of the pilot script. Read it hungrily in an instant. I thought it was a wonderful script. There were a lot of unanswered questions and liberties taken with the source material, but other than that, it was solid.

And then I saw the cast.

Oh.

My.

God.

I have never been so disappointed in my life. Completely.

They have Dina Meyer as Oracle. While she might have been “great” in “Starship Troopers” she is completely wrong for the part, save the red hair. Then, they have this skanky looking chick named Ashley Scott for the part of Huntress, whose only other roles were a 2 episode stint on “Dark Angel” (gag me, please) and “Gigolo Jane” in “AI.” And last, and certainly least, is Rachel Skarsten as Black Canary, whose only other roles were bit parts in movies you’ve never heard before.

My main argument is not that they don’t have enough acting experience to play these roles. It’s that they look completely wrong! What can I expect though, this is a WB show, after all. They need skanky/somewhat attractive girls to put in their promo shots. God forbid they ever cast normal looking people. That would be beyond their scope of reason.

Then you have the role of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Yes, that sounds familiar, you know her as Harley Quinn. The IMDB claims that Sherilyn Fenn will play her, but my sources tell me they’re still looking for someone to fill this role. Apparently Ms. Fenn didn’t cut it.

And the humdinger of them all, is the Joker. Played by Roger Stoneburner, a stunt man. Voiced by Mark Hamill. Okay, they got half of the Joker right. But look at this picture, and tell me that isn’t the most gag-worthy thing you have ever seen. Carrot Top would have been a better choice, yeck.

So I’ve done a lot of bitching and moaning, well here’s the good stuff.

What I would do, if I were making this show.

I’d have it be animated.

Damn right.

But since they would never put an animated show in a prime time slot, I have to settle for live action. Here’s my vision:

Gotham City of the near future maintains the dark, seedy look of its previous incarnations. The sky is bloated and blood red, the shadows dark and covering nearly everything. The buildings are impossibly tall, and seem to touch the sky.

The characters are as they have been described. Barbara is trapped in two worlds. Part of her is still the well-oiled ass kicking machine she used to be, and the other part is the new Barbara, the genius computer hacker, perched up in the clocktower overseeing everything. She is not overly gorgeous, and she is not ass ugly. She is fairly attractive, but there is a tiredness about her that comes with the line of work.

What little I know of Huntress is this: she’s a smart ass hardcore bitch. Think Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with Spider-Man. She roams the city wearing party clothes, shunning the costumes her parents hid behind. She is mischievous, and also troubled, from watching her mother murdered in front of her. She should not be a hardass wearing leather and carrying a whip around. There is a middle ground, and she needs to find it.

Black Canary, or I guess she’s just going by Dinah now, is also all wrong. This Rachel girl they cast looks albino and stoned perpetually. This girl was written as somewhat naive, but also a risk taker, someone who moves from her safe small town to a big unknown city just because of a vision she had seen 7 years before. Get someone more innocent looking, and someone who looks relatively sober.

Ways this can go even worse

– Cheesy CG. I really hate CG, for the most part. Not to mention those goddamn digital cameras. All of them. Give me an SLR any day.

– Too campy. Remember the 60’s Batman showr We don’t need another.

– Not recasting the Joker. This guy is just bad looking. He looks like some Bozo who has had a little too much to drink, not the Clown Prince of Crime, and Batman’s most arch of his arch-enemies.

– Detective Reese. Total Mulder clone. As if we needed another dumbass “believer.”

– They need to lose all the “sly” comic references. I counted several, including Dark Horse, Supergirl, and Spider-Man.

– Bad fight scenes. This could make or break the show. Continuity

Anyone who has seen the “Batman Beyond” show, and the movie, “Return of the Joker” will know that they have thrown out this entire aspect of the Bat-verse. Completely.

Also, Harley Quinn has been drastically changed. In the animated series (where she was created) her transformation from Dr. Quinzel into the right hand gal of the Joker is shown during the breathtakingly incredible episode Mad Love. Bits of it are also shown in a few of the Harley Quinn comics. My main point: she stopped being Dr. Harleen Quinzel when she became Harley Quinn. And she became Harley Quinn lonnngggg before this show starts. So how is it that Barbara Gordon doesn’t know that the shrink she is sending Helena Kyle to see is Harley Quinnr Hmmmr Perhaps I’m missing something.

As I mentioned before, this show is based on the comic series, Birds of Prey. In the comics, the characters are much different from their portrayals in this show. This is all fairly understandable, things have to be changed for TV.

One very welcome (I hope) addition to the show is the character of Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred has always been one of my favorites, and it was a pleasant surprise to see he shows up.

Also I have found that Bruce Thomas will be playing Batman. You may recognize him as Batman from the Onstar commercials, as well as the UPS guy from Legally Blonde. Very good choice for this one, although Kevin Conroy will always be Batman.

I actually think I’m finished with this “article.” I guess it’s more of a late night rant then anything else, but who gives a fuck, rightr For now, I must content myself with my 1 DVD of Batman Animated episodes, and hope and pray that they release the others soon.

Ciao!

Rating: B-
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BMW’S ”The Hire” Series

Episode One: Ambush
Director: John Frankenheimer

Much like the first episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie, this installment sucks. I’m a big Frankenheimer fan, and I’m just a little too aware that John, like many directors from the old school, is much more concerned with the actual mechanics of directing than any of the complete filmmaking protocols. The fatal flaw of all short films is that you only have a few short moments of exposition before you must fast-forward into a full-blown climax and resolution. Ambush’s concept is simple: dudes in ski masks try and hijack the BMW, and in the process, snaking 2 million dollars of diamonds from the passenger. Of course, it’s not that simple. “Ambush” starts right in the middle, with no real beginning, and disappoints with a sloppy climax and a completely dull ending. The car chase work in this segment is lackluster, mainly due to static camera blocking and lack of rocket launchers (see Frankenheimer’s “Ronin”). Additionally, I am a big, big believer in scoring/sound mixing, and this piece’s lack of proper music and timing just blows it for me. I’ll give a few bonus points for Thomas Seigel’s pretty night photography, too, but ultimately, the segment fails because Frankenheimer forgets that this is a short film… rather, he’s just making a five-minute motion picture, and it doesn’t come through.

GRADE: C

Episode Two: Chosen
Director: Ang Lee

Ang Lee is a master of vision, and often, execution. Directing for any medium to be recorded and edited, in and of itself, requires a mastery of dozens of different skills, including management, motivation, technical expertise, etc. etc. In the process, sometimes a director can lose track of the hats that he is wearing. Lee forgets here that there is more to a short than the vision, and as a result, the flow of this piece is somewhat damaged. Chosen depicts our faithful driver transporting a young boy to safety, but as with any piece of storytelling, there is a hurdle to overcome. Here, faceless bad guys chase down the boy for no apparent reason. Instead of going action-sequencey with it, though, Lee borrows a page from countryman John Woo (Editor’s Note: Ang is Taiwanese, while Woo is Chinese, so technically they aren’t countrymen per se, dearest Savant.), and shows a car-chase-ballet set to a classical score. Most amusing. In the end, there’s a nice weird twist, but the goddamn thing just isn’t believable. Once more, we are watching a short film, not a five-minute motion picture.

GRADE: B-

Episode Three: The Follow
Director: Wong Kar-Wai (aka WKW)

I haven’t seen any of Wong Kar-Wai’s shit, but based on the air that surrounds his name, I’m going to assure he’s pretty good. His segment, The Follow, boasts some of the nicest cinematography, atmosphere, and general setting and tone of this series. What’s it aboutr I’m not really sure. Our driver gets to follow some georgeous chick in a BMW, watching her every move. The cast is nice in this one, too, boasting Forrest Whitaker and Mickey Rourke, but the story is artsy and convoluted. The images and mood set by WKW are the real star of this piece, with no small thanks to DP Harris Savides (Fincher’s The Game). Some of the shots linger a bit too long, and again, where’s the storyr It’s there, but only if you look, and the whole point of good cinema is that you shouldn’t have to look, unless there’s more beneath the surface. That statement, dear friends, requires a surface to begin with.

GRADE: B

Episode Four: Star
Director: Guy Ritchie

Okay, Guy Ritchie is married to Madonna, who takes the spotlight in this piece. It’s good to see that both of them have a great sense of humor. Ritchie is an obviously talented director, and noting that I haven’t been the biggest fan of his work in the past, I will be grading him harder because he comes from a background in commercial and music-video-style directing. He knows this ground, he knows how to make a short film. (Aren’t commercials exactly thatr) With that tougher grading curve in mind, Ritchie’s Star still passes with flying colors, and is easily the best (and most fun) of the four shorts reviewed here. Madonna plays the unnamed Star, who is compared in the opening sequences to a famous part of the female anatomy. Unbeknownst (is that a wordr) to her, she’s about to go on the ride of her life, as our driver appears to have inhaled a little too much nitrous for this segment. The effects work is amazing (although obvious if you know how it’s done) and the choice of camera angles and soundtrack is utterly perfect… do note that I’ve been pissed at (this) Guy before because he has a tendency to overdo it, but he’s actually somewhat… restrained… if such things are possible. This segment is fast, funny, and most importantly, complete. It’s a true short film and it’s fucking hilarious.

GRADE: A

Once again, I would like to issue my challenge to that pussy David Fincher to let me put my talents up against these washed up pansy fucks. I can do this shit much better at a tenth the cost. You up to my challenge, Daveyr I doubt it, because you know I would OWN YOUR BASEBALL CAP AND DOWN JACKET WEARING PUNK ASS!!! Fuck you!

Rating: B
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