Thursday, May 31, 2007

Season 3 Episodes 22 & 23
“Through the Looking Glass” 1 & 2

Gentlemen, I asked you to dazzle me after enduring “Stranger in a Strange Land.”
Well, I’m officially blinded.
That has to go down as not just the best Lost season finale thus far, but also one of the most kick-a$$ season finales in all of TV history. When they said that this finale would change everything, that wasn’t just hyperbole.
I could go on about the twisty-turns of the episode itself (and it had that in spades), but the ultimate twisty-turn is that brilliant climax, of Jack, by the airport, as Kate drives away, because “he” might be wondering where she’s gone to.
Once again, Lost deftly toys with the show’s story structure, as what we assume to be the flashbacks (of a depressed and suicidal Jack hooked on prescription meds), turn out to be the present, and all the Island stuff is actually the flashbacks.
I said there were spoilers, didn’t I?

So it seems as if the Flight 815 crash survivors were indeed saved and rescued from the Island (at the cost of Charlie, who drowned in the Looking Glass station, just as Des saw in his flashes*).
Just before the off-screen rescue though, three crucial points:
1) Ben says that Naomi is “one of the bad guys,” and that she’s part of a group that’s been looking for the Island for a really long time, and that they would kill Jack and the survivors, not rescue them.
2) When Charlie gets the transmission from Penny at the Looking Glass, she does not know who Naomi is, and has no idea about any boat.
3) Locke actually kills Naomi and threatens to shoot Jack, since contacting Naomi’s people is the wrong thing to do.

And then of course, in the “flashbacks,” Jack is clearly a lost soul, and in his clandestine meeting with Kate, he says they should never have left the Island, and that they need to go back.

This is such a crackerjack finale, “brilliant” seems like an understatement. That ultimate twisty-turn opens the door to a whole host of possibilities, and raises all sorts of questions. (My head is doing a Linda Blair even as I type this.)
Whose viewing did Jack attend? A viewing apparently no one else from 815 went to. Locke’s? Michael’s? (Yes, I still hate the a$$hole’s guts.) Ben’s?
What happened to all the rest of the 815ers? Is Jack the only one who feels something is wrong, or are some of the others “lost” as well? (Heh. “Others.” “Lost.”)
Rousseau said she would stay on the Island since that was where she belonged. Is she still there? Is Alex? Is Locke? (If he wasn’t the one in that casket.)
As Jack suffers, where is Juliet? They did do the kissy-face back on the Island, so where is she in Jack’s time of need?
And did Kate really end up with Sawyer?
So many questions…

And of course, the other reality here is, Lindelof, Cuse, and company have again (for the time being) managed to evade addressing long-standing Island questions, among them one from all the way back to the Pilot (What is the Monster Alternately Known As Smokey?), to ones of more recent mint (Who is Jacob?), to the Mother of all Lost questions (What is the Island?**).

Having said that though, I cannot deny the guts it took to make that leap. I also cannot deny the skill with which that leap was made.
That was explosive television, gentlemen. The storytelling on this show continues to be some of the best on the cathode ray horizon, and as Carrie Fisher said over On The Lot, “My hat, wherever it is, is off to you.”

And thanks for not having Sun die horribly in labor on the Island. (Of course, for all I know, she and her baby have been abducted by Dharma or some other mysterious organization to undergo insidious tests. Her baby, after all, is the first child to have been conceived on the Island in what I guess is a very long time, assuming of course that the baby is alive and well.)
Speaking of babies, when exactly will Jack find out that Claire is his half-sister and that Aaron is his half-nephew? I mean, wasn’t that bit of info in the files the Others had on the 815ers? Didn’t Juliet read that? Surely Ben did.

Let’s just toss that on the massive pile of Lost questions, shall we?
I’ll admit it: I love this show, but it’s the biggest tease on television.
Onward ho! Season 4!

* Incredibly moving, but couldn’t Charlie have squeezed through that porthole, once the room was filled with water? And did he really need to shut the door in the first place?

** I’ve got a theory which grew over the course of season 3, and burst into my consciousness as I watched the 2-hour finale. But somehow I’d still feel like a raving lunatic if I voiced it here.
Tell you what. When Lost finally does that reveal, I’ll admit whether I was right or wrong.


(Season 3 promotional image courtesy of

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Box Office Results 1

It alarms me that all 3 of my Un-Favorites from last night survived the cut. (Is this where my personal tastes diverge from those of the American viewing/voting public?)
It doubly alarms me that Phil Hawkins was sent home. “Please Hold” may not have been on my Favorites short list, but it looked great and was still pretty funny, funnier than the shorts of some of the other directors who squeezed through to the next round. Does this actually mean “Wacky Alley Cab” or “Bus #1” was funnier in the eyes of the voting public? Errr…

I also thought Claudia La Bianca’s “Blind Date” was visually interesting, so it’s odd that she went home, when other shorts (like, ahem, “Bus #1”) weren’t particularly inspired as far as their visuals were concerned.

And though I did love Marty Martin’s “The Big Bad Heist,” placing him alongside Carolina de San Martin just made the fact that he submitted a trailer instead of a short film with an actual story seem like a glaring, unfair oversight. De San Martin’s “Deliver Me” may not have been the funniest short, but at least it displayed a single situation, as opposed to a bunch of cool money shots (which is really what a trailer is all about).
But hey, Marty, “The Big Bad Heist” was great. Really. “24 angry little ninjas.” Classic.
Boiling it down to you and Carolina in front of the television audience was in all probability the producer’s choice, so we’re all good.

On the other side of the coin, only one of my favorites (Zach Lipovsky’s “Danger Zone”) was in the top 3. The other two were Will Bigham’s “Lucky Penny” and Jason Epperson’s “Getta Rhoom.”
I enjoyed the former, so that’s cool, but Epperson’s “nerd” really did seem off the mark. I just hope that Epperson can come up with better stuff in the next challenge.

Which is what I also hope the 3 directors on my Un-Favorites short list last night—Jessica Brillhart, Hilary Graham, and Kenny Luby—do as well. Based on the comedy shorts, I honestly think Phil Hawkins is a better director than either Graham or Luby; Brillhart is arguable, as I have a feeling I haven’t seen what she’s really capable of yet.

So on that note, here’s the final 15:

Adam Stein, 29, freelance film editor, born in Miami, FL, currently living in Los Angeles
Andrew Hunt, 31, promo producer from Minneapolis, MN, raised in Pittsburgh, PA
David May, 23, admissions counselor living in Santa Ana, CA, but grew up in Aurora, CO
Hilary Graham, 37, stay-at-home wife and mom who lives in Francestown, NH, and raised in Chelmsford, MA
Jason Epperson, 30, owner of film production company, born and raised in Winchester, KY
Jessica Brillhart, 22, computer specialist, grew up in York, PA, currently living in Brooklyn, NY
Kenny Luby, 28, freelance director and painter, born and raised in Owego, NY
Marty Martin, 26, creative director of a multimedia company, born and raised in Seattle, WA
Mateen Kemet, 41, teacher, currently living in Los Angeles, CA, raised in the Bronx, NY
Sam Friedlander, 28, web producer, living in Santa Monica, CA, raised in Westchester, NY
Shalini Kantayya, 30, freelance director, raised in Hartford, CT, currently living in Brooklyn, NY
Shira-Lee Shalit, 38, acting teacher, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, now living in New York
Trever James, 24, film editor, currently living in Los Angeles, CA, and raised in Great Falls, MT
Will Bigham, 31, film editor, originally from Canyon, TX, currently living in Glendale, CA
Zach Lipovsky, 23, special effects editor from Vancouver, BC, Canada

And before I go, I have to ask, would it kill Adrianna to announce, “Next week, on On The Lot…”?
I mean, part of the fun of American Idol is the anticipation of, “Can Contestant X handle Disco Night?” or “How will Contestant Y do an Elvis?” As it is, I’m in the dark as to what’s coming next, and I can’t even seem to find that information on the website. (Or am I looking in all the wrong places?)

(Contestant images courtesy of

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Film Premiere 1

Well, first off, I’d like to correct myself.
I was under the assumption that what we’d see in the 2-hour Premiere show would be the short film submissions of the 18 finalists (which is what I said in my look at Auditions Round 2: see Archive).
What we actually saw were the results of the finalists’ first challenge: shoot a 1-minute comedy short in one week.
Voting by the public begins with this show, and the 3 directors with the lowest number of votes get eliminated in Tuesday’s Box Office results show.

We also discover that Garry Marshall and Carrie Fisher are the regular judges, while the third seat is apparently a rotating one (Yahoo! No more Brett Ratner!).
For this show, the guest judge was D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea, Taking Lives, and most recently, Disturbia).*

Sam Friedlander’s “Replication Theory”: Like Fisher and Marshall, I‘m not particularly a fan of fart jokes, but Friedlander makes it work, taking us to different places (and times) using a painfully relatable social faux pas as his jump-off point.

Andrew Hunt’s “Spaced Out”: Those aliens were brilliant! And again, not a big fan of onscreen vomiting, but this was just flat out hilarious.

Zach Lipovsky’s “Danger Zone”: Done in one continuous 360 degree take (nearly 50 times till they got it right), effects wiz Lipovsky wisely chooses not to rely on his obvious strength—saving that for the brief glimpse of the runaway killer robot—and wows with technique and a really funny short.

Jessica Brillhart’s “… To Screw in a Light Bulb”: The gag just didn’t work. I think Marshall was right: it’s hard to make a metaphor funny.

Hilary Graham’s “Bus #1”: Yes, needing to take a piss while in a moving vehicle is universal, but as I’ve mentioned above, I’m not really big on toilet humor.

Kenny Luby’s “Wack Alley Cab”: This was just bizarre and not funny at all, like watching a lame “comedy” while on speed.

Marty Martin’s “The Big Bad Heist”: This was funny. But it was a trailer, and not a short film with a beginning, middle, and end. Still, it looked great, had a cool Guy Ritchie vibe, and 24 angry little ninjas. How can you not like that?

Will Bigham’s “Lucky Penny”: A man finds the eponymous lucky penny in this Looney Tunes-flavoured tale.

Jason Epperson’s “Getta Rhoom”: A nerd (who unfortunately looks more like a special needs child) gets into a whole lotta trouble for playing monkey-see, monkey-do.

Phil Hawkins’ “Please Hold”: A young woman wakes up to find her apartment being burgled, and makes things worse by calling 911.

Trever James’ “A Golf Story”: A send-up of the alarmingly ubiquitous sports movie, on a mini-golf course.

Shalini Kantayya’s “Love in the Year 2007”: The hazards of the single life in the year 2007.

Mateen Kemet’s “Soft”: You can’t be “soft” if you wanna live in the `hood.

Claudia La Bianca’s “Blind Date”: The hazards of the single life in the year 2007, take 2.

David May’s “File Size”: The rigours of office life in the year 2007.

Carolina de San Martin’s “Deliver Me”: Going into labor in the year 2007.

Shira-Lee Shalit’s “Check Out”: The rigours of post-9/11 security.

Adam Stein’s “Dance Man”: About a man who can only communicate through interpretative dance.

What’s interesting to note in this batch of shorts are, a) that at least 5 of them are very timely, and of-the-moment, yet the shorts I thought were the funniest had concepts that were very timeless and universal (“Replication Theory” handled time, “Spaced Out” handled the universe).
And b) at least 4 turned to bodily functions for humour. Two of these, in turn, had said bodily function as the central idea of their premise: Friedlander brilliantly mines the fart, while Graham, ahem, takes the piss.

One more thing: Did I blink and miss something? Or did the show decide we didn’t need to see the cut that brought the field from the 24 of episode 2, to the 18 of this episode?

* I do find it odd that Caruso isn’t necessarily a comedy director, though I guess that’s already addressed by Marshall.

The 18 finalists:

Adam Stein, 29, freelance film editor, born in Miami, FL, currently living in Los Angeles
Andrew Hunt, 31, promo producer from Minneapolis, MN, raised in Pittsburgh, PA
Carolina de San Martin, 36, commercial director, originally from Santander, Spain, currently living in Los Angeles, CA
Claudia La Bianca, 28, painter and graphic artist, born in Bagheria, Sicily, Italy, currently lives in Miami, FL
David May, 23, admissions counselor living in Santa Ana, CA, but grew up in Aurora, CO
Hilary Graham, 37, stay-at-home wife and mom who lives in Francestown, NH, and raised in Chelmsford, MA
Jason Epperson, 30, owner of film production company, born and raised in Winchester, KY
Jessica Brillhart, 22, computer specialist, grew up in York, PA, currently living in Brooklyn, NY
Kenny Luby, 28, freelance director and painter, born and raised in Owego, NY
Marty Martin, 26, creative director of a multimedia company, born and raised in Seattle, WA
Mateen Kemet, 41, teacher, currently living in Los Angeles, CA, raised in the Bronx, NY
Phil Hawkins, 22, born and raised in Manchester, England, works as a freelance director
Sam Friedlander, 28, web producer, living in Santa Monica, CA, raised in Westchester, NY
Shalini Kantayya, 30, freelance director, raised in Hartford, CT, currently living in Brooklyn, NY
Shira-Lee Shalit, 38, acting teacher, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, now living in New York
Trever James, 24, film editor, currently living in Los Angeles, CA, and raised in Great Falls, MT
Will Bigham, 31, film editor, originally from Canyon, TX, currently living in Glendale, CA
Zach Lipovsky, 23, special effects editor from Vancouver, BC, Canada

Parting shot: Check out all the shorts at

(D.J. Caruso image courtesy of; contestant images courtesy of

Monday, May 28, 2007

Season 3 Episode 17
“The Return of The King”

The whole Medellin thing comes to a head (as Ari said it would 4 episodes back) on Yom Kippur, of all days; and we all know how many Hollywood types are circumcised, right?
It seems Benicio’s walked away from the project (as has Paul Haggis, as we find out later on), and the producers need a star in place before sundown, or the project collapses.
But it’s Yom Kippur, and the fasting and the moratorium on business deals has to remain in place… till sundown.
With Ari’s regular cell phone as well as his BatPhone confiscated by Mrs. Ari, Ari slinks around with the producer’s son, making deals with Amanda in the back alley of Temple by the dumpsters!
Ari does his best to pull the deal together (ostensibly representing the co-producer, as he’s no longer Vince’s manager), but in the end, the deal falls apart.
Agreeing with E that Ari would have never let the ball drop on this one, Vince confronts Amanda, and though it’s made clear that this really wasn’t her fault, they still go their separate ways.

Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving Johnny Drama and a race horse who happens to be the grandson of a horse that Johnny bet on years ago, and from whose winnings he bought a Lincoln that the whole gang remembers.
Though the horse loses, Drama ends up buying him as it looks like the owner’s about to send “King” off to the glue factory. But Drama spends a whole lot more than he bargained for on King’s upkeep, so he gives the horse to Ed Burns as a gift, much to Burns’ daughter’s glee.
And though that subplot is serviceable enough, the meat of the episode is in the Medellin subplot, as it picks up the thread of the long-running storyline, becomes the catalyst for the end of Vince’s professional and personal relationship with Amanda, and paves the way for next episode’s goings-on.

(Image courtesy of

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Season 3
Episode 21
“Greatest Hits”

Now this is Lost at its best, when the emotion which accompanies the focused character’s story is potent and incredibly moving, while the Island story’s plot is cruising at a rapid clip. The success is all the more notable in that the Island story isn’t just “cruising at a rapid clip” in this particular episode, it’s careening into overdrive as we speed on towards this season’s finale.

Charlie’s the focus this time out, as he learns from Des that he needs to die in order for Claire and Aaron to get on board a helicopter, apparently to get rescued. It seems Charlie will flick a switch, and then drown, and this event has to take place, in order for the “rescue” to occur.
So, facing his impending death with as much courage as he can muster, Charlie sets out to write a list of the 5 best moments of his “sorry excuse for a life,” his Greatest Hits, spurred on by Naomi mentioning that his “death” in the Oceanic 815 crash caused a big stir, and even led to a new DriveShaft album, a Greatest Hits package.

And herein are some of the most moving bits in Charlie’s story thus far. Weighted by all the emotional baggage that his character carries (and which we’ve been privy to over the past 3 seasons), we’re in on the process of letting go, just as Charlie is. The journey is astoundingly moving, and I guess I should’ve been psyching myself out for that goodbye, given that Charlie’s death has been in the cards since early on in this season, but there you go.
Man, this was a toughie to get through, what, with all his goodbyes, to Claire, Aaron (you left the ring in the crib! Doofus!), and Hurley.
And then, the apparent last minute reprieve, as Des offers Charlie an out, but Charlie opts for the Ferro Lad Gambit. (Sorry, comic book reference. In case that went over your head, Bruce Willis pulled the Ferro Lad Gambit too, in Armageddon.)
And then!
Oooh, these sneaky little buggers!
You get all worked up and prepare yourself for Charlie buying it at episode’s end… and he doesn’t! Some gun-toting women are in the Looking-Glass Station and they’ve got Charlie in their sights.
Great. Now I’ll have to go and psych myself out from square one all over again…

Parting shot 1: I’m sure the Lost people know this, but Michael Giacchino is such a prize. Man, he does know how to rachet up the suspense with that score.

Parting shot 2: That was Nadia, right? In Covent Garden, with Charlie? If that was, then she’s crossed paths with 3 survivors thus far: Sayyid, of course, and Charlie, and Locke. I guess she really must’ve gotten around in her life as a fugitive.

Parting shot 3: Wow. I didn’t even get to talk about the Island story…
Okay, Lemme just say, I apologize for not trusting Rousseau and her motives for raiding the Black Rock’s store of dynamite. Apparently, it was for Jack’s scheme to get back at the Others (Jack, who I also mistrusted for a spell back there; sorry, the Island doesn’t really foster trust, if you know what I mean).
Oooh, we’re leading up to a doozy, aren’t we? With the shooters staying behind, and the rest hiking to the radio tower…
Next up, the two-part finale, with Jack as spotlight character.

(Image courtesy of

Saturday, May 26, 2007


It’s Round 5 of the on-going b*tchslapping bout between the Five-legged Iguana and the After Dark Horrorfest line-up.
The challenger this round: Mike Mendez’s The Gravedancers.

Harris (Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell) attends the funeral of a college friend (at the bizarrely misspelled “Cresent View Cemetery”) and thanks to his loser friend Sid (Marcus Thomas), ends up messing around with something called “The Gravedancers’ Lament,” a spell which awakens three vengeful spirits that then go about and make life a living hell for them, as well as their other friend Kira (Josie Maran, one of Dracula’s brides in Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing), and Harris’ wife Allison (Clare Kramer, Glory from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
Cue a pair of paranormal investigators, Vincent (Tcheky Karyo, from the Luc Besson-directed The Messenger and the Luc Besson-produced Kiss of the Dragon) and Culpepper (Megahn Perry), throw in some unresolved issues between old friends, and you’ve got a film that’s certainly (and thankfully) better than Dark Ride and Wicked Little Things, though falls far short of the high bar established by The Abandoned.

One of The Gravedancers’ main problems is that oftentimes, the supernatural shenanigans are never convincingly terrifying enough to be truly scary. In fact, there are moments when things get vaguely ridiculous, and the hoped for screams sometimes pop out of the audience’s mouths as chuckles and laughter.
I mean, when there is actually a physical brawl between Purcell and the ghost that is tormenting him, well, you have to admit to the strangeness of it all.
Which is not to say The Gravedancers is without any saving grace.
It does have its moments (as evidenced by the screencap above), and I’ll admit to a couple of effective “jump” moments that actually got me, but the production never really pushes the material to its logical horrific extreme. There are even some awkward attempts at levity that never quite work, and seem badly out of place given the very serious matter at hand.

The performances aren’t exactly awards-worthy either, particularly that of Marcus Thomas, whose Sid is simply an annoying piece of horror movie dead meat, and the fact that all the trouble is his fault and he never really seems repentant about that just makes matters worse.
The script meanwhile, compounds the problem, with character confrontations taking place at the most inopportune and inappropriate moments. (Focus, people! Ghosts are out to kill us! Let’s get all Dr. Phil after we’ve survived the night…)

If you’re curious though, or happen to be a hardcore Purcell fan (you’re certainly not gonna see an axe-wielding piano teacher kick Purcell’s a$$ on Prison Break!), then you may want to check The Gravedancers out.
It isn’t a total loss, and hey, if Giant Flying Spectral Heads float your boat, then go knock yourself out.

Parting shot: Check the Archive for reviews of the other After Dark Horrorfest titles, The Abandoned, Dark Ride, and Wicked Little Things.

(The Gravedancers OS courtesy of

Auditions Round 2

So we are witness to the continued clash of egos and styles in two particular groups, which invariably ends in the elimination of one director from each group: Jeff Siebenick (the big guy who kept on getting in the face of the smaller guy, Marty Martin), and Hannah Sink (who, along with fellow director Jessica Brillhart, bumped heads with Kenny “I’m so proud I never went to film school” Luby).

With guest judge Jon Avnet in tow, Carrie Fisher and Brett Ratner run through the 12 short films, heaping praise on “Wilted” (by Jarrett Conaway, Jason Epperson, and Tamela D’Amico; watch it on the website) and “Time Out” (by fx wiz Zach Lipovsky, Sam Friedlander, and Adam Stein; though we get to see portions of it on the episode, you really should see the entire film too).
And though I love “Wilted,” “Time Out” really does rachet up the stakes, as these guys had the balls to go with an idea that pretty much relied on special effects, and actually pulled it off in the insanely constrictive time limit.
So right now, in my books, these are 6 directors I’m keeping my eye on.

Now, as for the show itself, I’m enjoying it, but my chief complaint is that there’s too much going on, so much so that we really don’t get to see a lot, and you’re forced to go on-line just to see what the judges sometimes refer to.
The thing is, when I watch a television show, I don’t want to have to be forced to go elsewhere for everything to make sense to me. I feel that the TV show itself should be able to stand alone and give me all I need to enjoy the On The Lot viewing experience.
I mean, it’s not like these were particularly long short films. They were 2 and a half minutes each, so that comes to 30 minutes total. Would it have hurt Fox to have had a second 1-hour long episode, just so the audience could see all 12 films, instead of the snippets we saw in this episode?
Hopefully, when the field gets whittled down further, then On The Lot can settle down to actually showing us both the directors, as well as their work, in greater detail.

So we left the 24 remaining directors with a new challenge: with 30 minutes of prep time, they’re tasked to direct and shoot a 1-page script in 1 hour. The shorts resulting from this challenge will determine which 18 will go on to next week’s first “Film Premiere” episode. Running 2 hours, it’ll showcase the short films the remaining 18 directors initially submitted, that got them into that field of 50 we saw in the first episode.
(Now, how we get from the 24 of episode 2 to the 18 of episode 3, I’m not entirely sure, but I can only assume we’ll see the 6 eliminations in the initial part of next week’s 2-hour show.)
That’s followed by a “Box Office” results show the following day, where we learn the results of the voting, and who gets sent home.

The remaining 24 directors, as of the end of episode 2:

Adam Stein, 29, freelance film editor, born in Miami, FL, currently living in Los Angeles
Andrew Hunt, 31, promo producer from Minneapolis, MN, raised in Pittsburgh, PA
Brent M., 34, freelancer producer, born and raised in Dallas, TX
Carolina Z., 36, commercial director, originally from Santander, Spain, currently living in Los Angeles, CA
Claudia L., 28, painter and graphic artist, born in Bagheria, Sicily, Italy, currently lives in Miami, FL
David M., 23, admissions counselor living in Santa Ana, CA, but grew up in Aurora, CO
Dean L., 36, writer/director, living in Los Angeles , CA , originally from New York City
Hilari S., 40, independent filmmaker living in Los Angeles, CA, raised in Chicago, Atlanta and NYC
Hilary G., 37, stay-at-home wife and mom who lives in Francestown, NH, and raised in Chelmsford, MA
Jarrett Conaway, 24, graduate student living in Los Angeles, originally from Virginia Beach, VA
Jason Epperson, 30, owner of film production company, born and raised in Winchester, KY
Jessica Brillhart, 22, computer specialist, grew up in York, PA, currently living in Brooklyn, NY
Justin L., 24, digital post-production engineer, born and raised in Orange County, CA
Kenny Luby, 28, freelance director and painter, born and raised in Owego, NY
Marty Martin, 26, creative director of a multimedia company, born and raised in Seattle , WA
Mateen K., 41, teacher, currently living in Los Angeles, CA, raised in the Bronx, NY
Phil H., 22, born and raised in Manchester, England, works as a freelance director
Sam Friedlander, 28, web producer, living in Santa Monica, CA, raised in Westchester, NY
Shalini K., 30, freelance director, raised in Hartford, CT, currently living in Brooklyn, NY
Shira-Lee S., 38, acting teacher, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, now living in New York
Tamela D’Amico, 27, singer, actress and filmmaker living in Los Angeles, raised in Deer Park, NY
Trever J. 24, film editor, currently living in Los Angeles, CA, and raised in Great Falls, MT
Will Bigham, 31, film editor, originally from Canyon, TX, currently living in Glendale, CA
Zach Lipovsky, 23, special effects editor from Vancouver, BC, Canada

The list is from the On The Lot website, and for some reason, the contestants’ last names appear only as initials. I supplied the last names of the directors I’m aware of at the moment.

(Images courtesy of [Spielberg] and [Burnett].)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

(A Psycho

Dedicated to the memory of Janet Leigh, whose final film role was, appropriately enough, opposite real-life daughter (and fellow Scream Queen) Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween: H20.

Note: This retrospective assumes that the reader has seen either version of Psycho, or is at least familiar with its plot.

“Mother! Oh God! Mother! Blood! Blood!”

From the opening title sequence designed by Saul Bass, orchestrated to the screeching violins of Bernard Herrmann, all the way to the final shot of the car being pulled from the swamp, Psycho is a riveting and unforgettable cinematic experience.
By now, nearly 50 years after its initial release, many are aware of it, even if they’ve never actually seen the 1960 original. Some may have seen the color remake by Gus Van Sant, starring Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn, and Viggo Mortensen in his pre-Aragorn days. There may even be some film students out there who’ve studied the editing of the famous shower stabbing frame by frame, and never bothered to watch the entire film. Their loss.
And, barring all of that, you may have just heard Janet Leigh’s immortal shower scream from a nearby cellphone. Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

“We have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies.”

There are very few individuals who may wish to refute, or even debate, the genius of Alfred Hitchcock as a film director. And in handling the suspense thriller, there are even fewer who can come close to his masterful technique and his uncanny ability to keep the audience at the edge of their proverbial seats.
Consider that in the nearly half-century since its release, Psycho has become known as the granddaddy of the slasher film; the daddy, being John Carpenter’s Halloween. But note that Psycho lacks one of the by-now traditional staples of the slasher film: the chase sequence. Nowhere in the film do we see Norman Bates in a cheap wig and his mother’s clothes stalking either of the Crane sisters down the halls and rooms of the Bates house. Think about it, a suspense thriller without a single chase scene.
Instead, what we have is the spectre of pursuit, the feeling of being on the run, as Marion Crane drives down stretches of the American Interstate with nothing for company except the imagined voices of lovers, co-workers, policemen, and used car salesmen, with Bernard Herrmann’s hauntingly insistent string section for musical accompaniment.
Another of Psycho’s brilliant achievements is that it is successful in making the audience identify with a less-than-sterling individual as the apparent main protagonist of the tale. Yes, Marion Crane is no murderer; she is simply a person placed in the barreling way of temptation, and who succumbs, mistakenly thinking that $40,000 can buy off her unhappiness (and her lover’s debts).
Still, this was no Jimmy Stewart, the good man unwittingly pulled into mystery and intrigue and danger (as in Hitchcock’s brilliant Rear Window, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2004). This was not even Tippi Hedren in The Birds. This was a woman who stole $40,000. And she was our heroine.
Until the shower scene.

“It’s not as if she were a maniac. A raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes.”

And here, again, Hitchcock subverts, because, the instant we recover from the shock of Marion Crane’s sudden demise, we realize we are without anyone to identify with.
Then, bizarrely, we find ourselves identifying with Norman, who, after all, is only cleaning up. Only doing what a loving, dutiful son would to protect his mother, regardless of how psychotic she may be. Our breath even hitches, as Norman’s does, when Marion’s car stops sinking into the swamp for a second or two.
It is only once the film is over that we realize, for a certain window of Psycho’s running time, before we are introduced to Lila Crane, that we actually identified with the killer. That, in the end, Hitchcock actually did get us to identify, even if only briefly, with a murderer.

“My mother, uh, what is the phrase? She isn’t quite herself today.”

And of course, there’s the cross-dressing.
Keep in mind, this was 1960. Reportedly, the on-screen toilet flushing was already a big deal. Here, not only did we have a loony stabbing women in the shower, but we had a loony stabbing women in the shower while he was dressed up as his mother!
Thankfully, the psychosexual basis for Norman’s pathology is neatly mapped out in the film’s denouement; in the history of serial killer films, Norman Bates is one of the few whose pathology we are actually privy to.
Additionally, Anthony Perkins’ performance affords Norman Bates a very lonely and fragile vulnerability. We understand the trap he was born in, we sympathize with his predicament, at least until we realize just how disturbed the poor man really is.

“Well, a… a boy’s best friend is his mother.”

It is in Hitchcock’s skilled manipulation and subversion of audience expectations that Psycho finds one of its main strengths, and its influence can be seen in the early giallo of Dario Argento—who, in turn, according to writer Douglas E. Winter, has influenced “more directors of horror films since Hitchcock himself”—as well as more recent works like Satoshi Kon’s razor-edged anime, Perfect Blue, and Takashi Miike’s wildly disturbing Audition (both films also clearly influenced by Argento).
Psycho is a film that holds up well for its age—which is, I suppose, the true definition of the term “classic”—the sort of suspense thriller you can watch repeatedly, even if you already know exactly how it all turns out. According to Steven H. Scheuer’s Movies on TV and Videocassette, it “… broke all of the existing rules for horror films and filmmakers,” and “… set the standard for a generation of new ones,” claims that I can only agree with without reservation.

Author’s note: giallo – moody and violent suspense thriller from the Italian school of horror

(Psycho Italian OS courtesy of and Psycho DVD cover art courtesy of

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Volume One Chapter 23
“How To Stop An Exploding Man”

Opening with a reprise of Mo’s introductory voice-over in the pilot, and sporting the most frivolous chapter title in the entire volume, Heroes says “Sayonara” till the fall, and it’s a moving, inspiring, and thrilling television hour that puts a capper on the past season’s breakaway hit.
Given the body count last chapter though, it’s a bit funny and anticlimactic that we don’t actually see anyone die onscreen this time out.

Granted, there are some lives apparently hanging in the balance (D.L. is still bleeding from the gunshot wound; Parkman is bleeding from several gunshot wounds), and Nathan may never be able to have another one of those Moments when he lands in the middle of things to save the day, but we never actually see an onscreen death here.
Who knows, maybe Nathan just flew really high up, then flew off, letting Peter drop, and explode, then flew back to catch Peter before he went splat on the ground. But then again, that’s assuming Claire’s cellular regeneration is powerful enough to counteract a nuclear blast in the first place. Given though that Peter apparently has a central role in the Heroes saga, it’s probably safe to assume at least one Petrelli brother survives that atmospheric detonation.
(I should also point out that in Greg Beeman’s blog, he says of Chapter 23: “Some of the characters you have come to know and love, in fact, DID die last night.”)

And since I’ve already mentioned them, let’s take a look at the brothers Petrelli first.
Peter’s pivotal destiny continues to unfold, most pointedly in his witnessing of the past, and his dialogue with Charles Deveaux.
So we’ve got the confirmation: Charles was one of the earlier generation, and knew Grandma P.
And in a fantastic scene, we see just how steely and manipulative this woman truly is*, while at the same time getting a sense of the close friendship she shared with Charles. It is also here that Peter discovers just how much his mother really knows, and what she really thinks about him. (Man, Peter had a lot to process here, huh?)
Nathan, meanwhile, flies away with one of this chapter’s Moments, as he redeems himself by defying Grandma P. and returning to help Peter and to save the day.** It’s just too bad Hiro wasn’t there to see it…

… since he wound up in 1671, with that samurai dude Daddy Sulu told him stories of, as an eclipse darkens the land.
Cliffhanger, anyone?

And back at Kirby Plaza, a bleeding Sylar slinks away into the sewers.
These people. First Mo blows icing Sylar, now Hiro. He really should’ve just beheaded Sylar right after stabbing him. You know, just to make sure.

On other fronts, we finally get Mr. Bennet’s given name (Noah) and he’s reunited with Claire; Niki and D.L. find Micah; Molly goes off with Mo (though not before she meets Micah; hmmmm).
So all’s well that ends well.
Except for Hiro being in 1671 Japan.
And Sylar still being alive.
And Linderman still being dead.
Oh, and that Sauron-sounding baddie Molly prattles on about (who’s apparently way worse than Sylar, and can “see” her when she tries to find him).
Well, I guess we can’t really blame them. I mean, they do want people to come back for Volume Two, right? And let’s face it, we really do wanna come back for it too, anyway.

“So much struggle for meaning. For purpose. And in the end, we find it only in each other. Our shared experience of the fantastic. And the mundane. The simple human need to find a kindred. To connect. And to know in our hearts that we are not alone.”
-- Mohinder Suresh

Parting shot: Well, at least Ando’s safe and sound in Japan.

Parting shot 2: In Greg Beeman’s blog, he also stresses: “We are all ABSOLUTELY COMMITTED to not repeating ourselves next season – but in bringing you a freshly conceived show.”

* Angela Petrelli has the potential to be TV’s biggest Queen B*tch of the Universe since 24’s Sherry Palmer. (And Cristine Rose is astounding.)

** Thus justifying Peter’s faith in him, and proving to the audience that, despite what Grandma P. may think, Charles was right, and hope does win out over strength in the end.

(Image courtesy of

Auditions Round 1

Opening with one of those interview montages Oscar loves so much, we get to hear some of the 50 would-be contestants of this reality show, as they talk about why they love movies so much, and this is the sort of effective intro sequence that hooks your audience. As one of them says, everyone loves to watch movies.
So, yeah, seeing the boulder roll after Harrison Ford, that was a Movie Moment, and we’ve all had that, whether it was with Raiders of the Lost Ark, or some other treasured film of our perpetual youth.
Sometimes, it isn’t just the movie that sears itself into your brain; sometimes, it’s the experience too. The anticipation of the night before, the trip to the theatre, the standing in line for the ticket; all this melds into one seamless memory of that movie.
All this is successfully conveyed in On The Lot’s opening, as is the reality that here are 50 dreams, 49 of which will be basically dashed by the end of this season.
And yes, other dreams may emerge over the course of the show, new opportunities present themselves, but let’s face it: 49 of these people taking the Universal tour will not get the dream that is inside their heads at this precise moment in time. But then again, that’s the nature of the beast that is reality television, and On The Lot has the potential to follow in Project Runway’s footsteps, in being that rare reality competition show about creative people where the audience can actually see what the judges are making pronouncements on (as opposed, say, to all those chef shows where someone at home can’t really taste the food, can they?).

And speaking of the judges…
Garry Marshall. Cool. He’s done some funny stuff, but I think more importantly, he seems (like his sister Penny) to be a really funny individual who doesn’t exude an air of Hollywood pretension.
Carrie Fisher. Way cool. I mean, Princess Leia. Come on! And, post-Star Wars, she proved she was an excellent writer (for the printed page and the screen).
And then there’s Brett Ratner. Wha?!
Note that they were introduced as Hollywood “legends” (or something to that effect).
Brett. Ratner.
Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

At any rate, the first episode shows just how insane this show can be: the first challenge, given one of five loglines*, you’re to come up with a pitch for a feature-length film overnight, and present it to the judges the following day.
On very little or no sleep, the 50 finalists (from a field of over 12,000, from 33 countries) go through their pitches, and there are the overconfident ones, the hyperactive ones, the nervous one, the ones who are just all over the map.
14 don’t make it through, and for the 36 left, they’re told to form groups of three for the next challenge: write the script for, shoot, and edit a 2 and a half-minute short film… in 24 hours.

And though it’s at that early stage of a reality show where you’re still getting a feel for the contestants** (harder still with shows of this sort where you’re privy to the preliminary elimination rounds, when there are far too many contestants to keep track of), I will say that they interestingly decide to present the second challenge and show us the initial part of it (ego clashes, two crews attempting to shoot at the same location at the same time), before coming to the end of the show, thus leaving the audience with a cliffhanger of sorts.
For a premiere episode, it’s got enough of a hook to make me come back for round 2, and though not as cleverly shot and edited as Project Runway, it kicks off to a promising start.

* Personally, my favorite one was the one where a man is watching television, when on the news, his picture is flashed on the screen, and he is reported to be either missing or wanted.

** There are of course, the ones who were focused on who actually got through the first round: Andrew Hunt (confident pitch) and Will Bigham (pointed out by Ratner as having very commercial ideas). Still too early for me to say whether I’d bet on either of these two guys, though Hunt did have a particularly strong and effective pitch delivery.

(Images courtesy of [Marshall], [Fisher], and [Ratner].)

Monday, May 21, 2007


Bolstered by the interesting The Abadoned (review in Archive: May 2007), I came at my fourth After Dark Horrorfest title, Craig Singer’s Dark Ride, with a smidgen of hope that this would at least be better than J.S. Cardone’s Wicked Little Things (review in Archive: April 2007).
If I had seen this as a double bill alongside Wicked Little Things, I would’ve right then and there changed the title of the affair to the “After Crap Horrorfest.”
But, onto the details…

There’s a perfunctory prologue set in the 80’s, which sees a pair of frizzy-haired twins (Brittney and Chelsea Coyle) get murdered in a dark ride. (And as early as this, there is no attempt at all to make our first view of the film a memorable one. No move to grab hold of our attention the way Wes Craven did at the start of Scream, or Hideo Nakata, in Ringu. This is a painfully standard opening that serves simply as the switch that starts the film’s clunky narrative engine, and nothing more.)
The opening titles then offer a montage of newspaper clippings, filling us in on the aftermath: 14 other bodies are found on the premises, the killer is put in a mental institute, and the ride is closed.
Flash forward as the millennium turns, and it seems that the dark ride is about to open up for business again.
We’re then introduced to five college students set to go off on a road trip for spring break. One unstable hitchhiker later (Jen, played by Andrea Bogart), and they’re off to the infamous dark ride of the title, a pamphlet for its impending opening apparently found by Bill (Patrick Renna, from TV’s Boston Legal; genre fans may remember him as the vampiric pizza delivery boy, Ronnie Strickland, in the hilarious X-Files episode “Bad Blood”) in a gas station rest room.
They’re off to the dark ride because a) they want to save money, so they decide they’d like to spend the night there; and b) because Bill argues that everyone says their generation doesn’t do anything and is doomed. “So let’s do something,” he says, with the earnest conviction of the damned and the completely insane.
Yes, let’s! Let’s break into an amusement park ride where at least 16 people were killed, so we can prove to all those naysayers that, dammit, our generation is not doomed! That we have significance!
Why is the average (or, in this case, far-less-than-average) horror movie populated by morons?

Naturally, bad things happen at the dark ride, though it does take some time before the blood starts to spatter. And when the “thrills” kick in, they are, appropriately enough, of the funhouse variety, mechanical and ultimately meaningless.
More to the point, this entire movie smacks of pointlessness. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of creativity or intelligence in the entire production, and the blatant transparency of the tale Bill tells is vaguely insulting to the audience; any horror fan worth his salt should spot the “twist” coming a light year away.
And when you suddenly drop a gratingly annoying “Two weeks earlier” flashback in the midst of the proceedings without an apparently good reason, you just have to throw up your hands and the towel. (The baby, the bath water, and the kitchen sink too, while you’re at it. And throwing them in the general direction of Craig Singer’s head would be good. Now that’s entertainment!)

I apologize. I don’t normally advocate violence (or mash up my clichés), but Dark Ride was really just a lame excuse for a horror movie. It’s jostling with Plane Dead for Worst Movie I’ve Seen This Year Thus Far.
And as for the After Crap (oops, I mean After Dark) Horrorfest score card, I hoped it wasn’t possible, but this is actually worse than Wicked Little Things.
(Wow. I’m looking back at that last sentence, and I can’t believe I actually typed that.)

Well, I’m at the halfway mark of the After Dark Horrorfest*, and the score is 1-3, in favour of the “What were they thinking? Can I have my money back?” School of Horror Films.
When will the madness stop?!

* The other four Horrorfest titles are: Jason Todd Ipson’s Unrest; Richard Brandes’ Penny Dreadful; Mike Mendez’s The Gravedancers; and the Butcher Brothers’ The Hamiltons.

Parting shot: To any Sopranos fans, Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s in this one.

(Dark Ride OS courtesy of

Saturday, May 19, 2007


A preliminary word: Plane Dead is set to be released in the U.S. under the title Flight of the Living Dead, a title I much rather prefer since it has that Shaun of the Dead vibe going for it. I thought to myself before watching the film, that if I ended up liking it, I’d refer to it in the review as Flight, and if I was less than ecstatic with it, I’d use Plane Dead.

Review proper: Plane Dead is the story of Concord Air Flight 239, which, in passing through some turbulent weather, is subjected to the outbreak of an engineered virus which kills the infected, then re-animates them as blood-thirsty, flesh-hungry zombies.
Yes, it’s Zombies on a Plane.
Now, I may have had certain reservations about the entertainment value of Snakes on a Plane (this was, after all, still possible in the realm of reality, and in the post-9/11 world, getting some yucks from a planeload of civilians in jeopardy is a tad questionable in my books), but having a zombie outbreak on a commercial airliner was safely in the zone of make-believe, so I had high hopes for this one, hopes that came crashing down soon after take-off.

When the first laugh your film elicits is purely unintentional—cop Truman Burrows (One Life To Live’s David Chisum) bonks himself unconscious, his head gash later leaking blood that looks suspiciously like grape jelly—and the zombies take their damn sweet time to start chowing down, you know you’re in trouble.
Toss some patently fake shots of planes zipping around, some bad sound effects and editing, a completely thrill-free script, a bunch of sad-a$$ zombies, and some uninspired directing by Scott Thomas (producer on TV’s horrible NightMan and the early 90’s X-Men animated series), and you have, hands down, the worst film I’ve seen thus far this year.
This doesn’t even fall into the so-bad-it’s-good category. It’s just “plane” bad. (Sorry.)

It’s sad to see Erick Avari (Heroes’ Papa Suresh) slumming in this bargain basement production, just one other thing we can blame Sylar for. If that maniac hadn’t iced Papa Suresh, then maybe Avari would have been too busy and not been forced to endure the humiliation of playing Dr. Bennett, the slimeball responsible for the virus.
Kevin J. O’Connor’s also here, as the prisoner Burrows is transporting to France. O’Connor was a lot of fun in Stephen Sommers’ neat creature feature Deep Rising. He was annoying though in Sommers’ follow-ups, The Mummy and Van Helsing. He isn’t very funny either in Plane Dead.
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better than Averi and O’Connor, and it’s pretty difficult to find anyone who seems to be having fun in this one.

It’s all sad and shoddy, the sort of production where nothing quite masks the low budget it’s all operating on. You can’t even be distracted by good performances or good storytelling.
I’ve mentioned the thrill-free script. Well, it also displays a distinct lack of creativity and flair in getting its story across.
There are a bunch of Pentagon sequences, which serve as nothing so much as awkward expository devices, as the military and government types conveniently discuss the whys and wherefores of the virus.
It is also here among these scenes that the one chillingly serious note in the entire film is played: that if the virus is loose on Flight 239, that it should simply be shot down to prevent the contagion from spreading. It’s a serious note though that gets lost in the achingly bad film it finds itself in.
Not a shred of tension can be found anywhere in Plane Dead’s running time, no sense of danger or anxiety. Just knuckle-headed goings-on and mediocre zombie splatter you’ve all seen before.
And just when you think things can’t get any worse, just after a zombified Papa Suresh sticks his face in the camera, the end credits start scrolling to a horrendous song entitled “Don’t Blink,” written and performed by one Bill Grainer.
Sweet mother of God.

It’s a film like Plane Dead that makes the current zombie cinema craze a bad, bad thing. Ironically, their tag line says it all: this is a flight you really wanna miss.

(Plane Dead OS courtesy of

Volume One
Chapter 22

“… episode 21, 22 and 23 are three parts of one story. In fact, it’s less of a trilogy, and more like, Act one, Act two and Act three of a film.”
-- Greg Beeman
Director, “Landslide”

So here we are in the second act of the final story of Volume One, and all the plot threads move quite nicely towards that final shot of Sylar above the NY cityscape, his hands crackling with the nuclear energy he’s stolen from poor Ted. (I’m gonna miss the schmo.)

And in all of this major plot motion, it’s the small moments that stand out, particularly Candice’s, as she finally becomes a real person to me, with the intimation that she’s not actually the hot Missy Peregrym, but quite possibly a lonely, overweight social pariah, who’s helping Linderman because he’s promising to change the world and its prejudices.
And it’s in this plot thread where we also see what Linderman really wants with Micah. So that was it. I actually thought he wanted Micah for, like ICBM missile control or something, in case he needed a contingency plan for the Big Boom.

A bunch of covergences in this chapter as well, as all the major players are in New York. And where people meet and collide, there are bound to be casualties. I’ve already mentioned Ted, but we also lose Thompson (good riddance), D.L. (though I’m not 100% certain on that, cause didn’t he move a little in that last shot of Niki cradling him?), and, most surprising of all, Linderman. (Come on! He can’t die like that! Please tell me that was Candice covering for her boss. And even if it was her, I’d still feel like we were losing a lot of potential by icing her. Kind of like Eden all over again; except I really love Nora Zehetner, and I’m only kind’a warming up to Candice at the moment.)
Still, I hope that wasn’t the end of Linderman… (And if it was, at least he healed Mrs. P before he bought it.)

And, in the Hiro plot thread, we hear Daddy Sulu sing the same song Linderman did, about trying to save the world and people losing their way. So really, who lost whose way?
Presumably though, Daddy Sulu’s one of the “good” guys, as he’s willing to help stop Sylar, while Linderman is one of the “bad” guys, as he’s all too willing to have the city blown up so he can have a man inside the White House. (Of course, he claims to be doing it all for the greater good, so is that justification, or does he really believe his own press?)
Then of course, Grandma P. knows about Linderman’s plan and is all for it, so what does that make her? “Good”? “Bad”? (And what would Peter think if he knew that his mother was in on that plot? I mean, Peter is her favorite son; or so she claims.)
Oh, and Linderman confirms that Daddy P. did have some power or other…

Also, among the cliffhangers of this chapter, Ando most unwisely going off to face Sylar with a purchased katana (please don’t kill Ando!), and Mo and Mr. Bennet in a Mexican stand-off, Mo pointing his gun at Bennet, Bennet pointing his gun at poor little Molly Walker (can anyone say “trauma” and “therapy”?).
At least these are cliffhangers that will take a week to resolve.

Onward ho! Final chapter!

Parting shot 1: “Mr. Claremont,” huh? Gee, I wonder who he’s named after… (And appropriately enough, something to do with samurai swords...)
On top of getting Kirby Plaza last chapter.

Parting shot 2: The scene with Hiro and Nathan was just heartbreaking. The sense of betrayal Hiro feels is nearly palpable, and given that past Hiro-Nathan scenes have always had an element of comedy, this one’s all the more potent. (And it’s a play on their previous “billen” scene as well.)

(Image courtesy of

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Season 3
Episode 20
“The Man
Behind the

Okay, that’s a cliffhanger. Locke, shot, in a pit filled with the corpses of the Dharma contingent Ben had a hand in exterminating.
The man is a stone cold lunatic.

While back at the camp, it becomes clear that Juliet has told Jack about Ben’s nefarious plans to abduct Sun (and any other pregnant survivors) and that Jack has been (presumably) hatching his own scheme (I apologize for not fully trusting Jack; probably lingering resentment for his having been the primary reason I had to endure “Stranger in a Strange Land,” arguably this season’s lowest point) to deal with the problem.
So everyone’s apparently on the same page now. I already apologized for calling Juliet a “two-faced lying slag,” but somehow, I still can’t bring myself to entirely trust her. Like I said, if she busts her a$$ to help Sun, then maybe.

Of course, the major focus of the episode is Ben and what he’s lied about and what he hasn’t.
“Born on this island,” my a$$. Liar.
I mean, this is the man responsible for the “hostile” takeover of the Barracks. Sure, he had a pretty miserable life, with a father who blamed Ben for the death of his mother (and perhaps herein lies the fuel for Ben’s crusade to get women to come to full term on the Island; so that other kids won’t have to endure the hell he went through), but he ends up not just killing his old man (thus giving us the back story of the VW van Hurley and company had a joy ride in in “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead,” and justifying that episode’s existence) but paving the way for the slaughter of all the other Dharma people.

And what is up with “Jacob”?
That was a masterly sequence, stretching out the question of whether Ben was completely bugf*ck crazy, talking to an apparently empty chair, then all hell breaking loose when Locke unwisely shines that flashlight (Ben did warn him that Jacob felt the same way about technology as Locke did. Refresh my memory though, ‘cause Locke never struck me as a Luddite).
Of course, it really all could have been some elaborate parlour trick, but that just seems too far-fetched (says he, as opposed to the idea of a man seen by one man but not seen by another, who hears him when the other doesn’t; that’s not far-fetched at all, is it?).

And here, I thought we’d see about the whole Alex thing, but of course, we don’t. We also don’t see what happened to Annie, though I imagine Ben got her pregnant and she died. (More personal fuel for his crusade to make the Island a conception-safe zone.)
But really, weren’t those dolls Annie gave him just creepy?
And why does Richard look like he’s younger than Ben, when he’s not?

Crackerjack episode, gentlemen.
I continue to be dazzled, as does my iguana.

(Image courtesy of

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Nacho Cerda’s The Abandoned is the third After Dark Horrorfest film I’ve seen (the others, Takashi Shimizu’s Rinne and J.S. Cardone’s Wicked Little Things; review in Archive: March 2007), and it’s the best one so far.

We open in Russia, in 1966, where two infants are found in a truck with a dead woman at the wheel.
Flash forward four decades later, and Marie (Anastasia Hille, seen in Po-Chih Leong’s excellent The Wisdom of Crocodiles and Nick Hamm’s The Hole), an American film producer, is contacted by a Mr. Misharin (Valentin Ganev), a solicitor who tells her that she has come into the ownership of a farm in Russia. As it turns out, Marie is adopted, and the farm belonged to her birth mother, who apparently died shortly after she was born.
No sooner does Marie arrive at the isolated farm (completely surrounded by a river; and she can’t swim!), when strange phenomena begin to take place, including Marie seeing her doppelganger, soaking wet, eyes rolled up to their whites.
Shortly thereafter, she meets Nicolai (Karel Roden, recognizable to genre fans from Guillermo Del Toro films Blade II and Hellboy, as well as Paul Hunter’s Bullet-Proof Monk), who may have a connection with Marie, and who is also seeing his own doppelganger, bearing the bloody wounds of what seems to have been an animal attack.
And as the doppelganger sightings become more frequent and violent, neither Marie nor Nicolai can seem to leave the farm…

It’s an interesting premise Cerda brings to our door in The Abandoned. Utilizing a key horror element familiar to fans of the genre (the decrepit house out in the middle of nowhere), Cerda introduces the mystery of the doppelgangers and as a result, gives us a film that actually feels original.
At any rate, it’s certainly not cut from the cloth (sometimes all-too-wearing-thin these days) of the average modern-day horror film, with the long-haired spectre of Asian horror cinema casting its deep shadow over the ghostly proceedings.
Cerda does not even depend on the usual scare tactics of the sudden tandem shock of movement, music, and sound, to get to his audience. (No jumping, yowling cats here.)
Instead, it’s all about the situation and the predicament, with an almost constant sonic layer of voices and whispers, as Marie and Nicolai try to solve the mystery of the farm and their ghastly counterparts.

From Filmax, the production company responsible for much of the excellent non-Asian, non-Hollywood horror films in the recent past (most notably the films of Jaume Balaguero), The Abandoned is largely effective and has an interesting (if downbeat) pay-off. It’s only perhaps in the maintenance of the tension that the film suffers somewhat. The Abandoned isn’t as taut as it might have been, and whether or not you ultimately enjoy this film will be based largely on your patience and ability to lose yourself in a movie.

Having said that, the film does boast Xavi Gimenez as its cinematographer. Gimenez (go-to cinematographer for Jaume Balaguero) has a great eye and has made films like Balaguero’s Los Sin Nombre and Darkness, and Brad Anderson’s El Maquinista visually arresting cinematic experiences. (Interestingly enough, editor Luis De La Madrid, often paired with Gimenez to brilliant effect, is thanked by Cerda in the end credits.)

Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the horror genre, you owe it to yourself to see The Abandoned, if only because it’s quite unlike the typical horror film of the moment. Whether you’ll like it or not will be based on your personal tastes, but at the very least, you can say you had a bite.

Parting shot: The Abandoned is the only one of the eight After Dark Horrorfest films that actually had a theatrical release in the U.S. (Unlike the others, which, following the Horrorfest, were released straight to DVD.)

Parting shot 2: Cerda directed the documentary The Machinist: Breaking the Rules, found on the El Maquinista DVD.

(The Abandoned OS courtesy of

Season 3 Episode 16

It’s the morning after Amanda and Vince’s one time thing, and they’re in the tub together, with E trying in vain to get in touch with Vince. Afterwards, Vince sends her flowers. (Yup. Definitely a one time thing.)

Meanwhile, Drama gets into a verbal altercation with UFC champ Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell over a parking spot and ends up in the octagon with him (all part of the long-range, two-fold master plan of Drama’s arch-nemesis Pauly Shore—their history stretching back to Season 2’s “Aquamansion”—for his new hidden camera show, Gotcha).

And on the Ari front, Ari’s frat brother Scott stays over with his hot fiancée and Ari finds himself getting jealous of this ex-loser’s success. The subplot winds down with Ari and Mrs. Ari having hot monkey love anyway, so it’s all good. (It’s great that Mrs. Ari is getting some.)*

Before the episode wraps up, E finds out about Vince’s “one time thing” and ends up talking about it with Amanda, who admits she may like Vince after all. And when Vince hears this, he says he may like Amanda after all too…
I’ll say it again: Complication, anyone?

* Seriously though, it’s one of the great things about this show, Ari’s loving relationship with his wife. I mean, they have problems, but they really do sincerely love each other.

(Image courtesy of

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


8.1 On the heels of major wins at this year’s Saturn Awards, Superman Returns, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroes are all nominees in several categories of the upcoming Constellation Awards, “…Canada's new set of annual science fiction awards, focused on rewarding excellence in science fiction film and television.”
This is a partial list of the nominees:

Best Male Performance in a 2006 Science Fiction Television Episode
Masi Oka, Heroes, “Genesis”

Best Female Performance in a 2006 Science Fiction Television Episode
Hayden Panettierre, Heroes, “Genesis”
Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica, “Torn”

Best Science Fiction Television Series of 2006
Battlestar Galactica

Best Male Performance in a 2006 Science Fiction Film, TV Movie, or Mini-Series
Brandon Routh, Superman Returns
Clive Owen, Children of Men
Hugh Jackman, X-Men: The Last Stand
Hugo Weaving, V For Vendetta
Nathan Fillion, Slither

Best Female Performance in a 2006 Science Fiction Film, TV Movie, or Mini-Series
Julianne Moore, Children of Men
Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns
Maribel Verdu, El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Natalie Portman, V For Vendetta

Best Science Fiction Film, TV Movie, or Mini-Series of 2006
Children of Men
El Laberinto Del Fauno
(Pan’s Labyrinth)
Superman Returns
V For Vendetta

Best Technical Accomplishment in a 2006 Science Fiction Film or Television Production
Battlestar Galactica, Visual Effects (Zoic Studios)
Children of Men, Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Overall 2006 Science Fiction Film or Television Script
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, & Hawk Ostby)
Heroes, “Six Months Ago” (Aron Eli Coleite)
El Laberinto Del Fauno (Guillermo Del Toro)

Outstanding Canadian Contribution to Science Fiction Film or Television in 2006
Battlestar Galactica
Evangeline Lilly

Check out the Constellation Awards website for the complete list of nominees.
Winners will be determined by the Canadian viewing public, so all you Canadians out there, go vote for your favorite SF TV shows and films.

8.2 Meanwhile, on the good ship Galactica, apparently, whatever comments Edward James Olmos made at this year’s Saturn Awards night, they aren’t an “official” announcement of the series’ end. Executive producer David Eick made his own statement, and promises the public “… that when [executive producer] Ron [Moore] and I make a decision about Galactica's future, we'll let you know."
Okay. Breathing a little easier now.

8.3 Hey! There’s gonna be a Heroes World Tour before the second Volume kicks off this fall. To emphasize the global scope of Volume Two (“Generations”), the Heroes cast will be globe-trotting to promote the show, and presumably, work to broaden Heroes’ already impressive fan base.

8.4 And, in some other Heroes news: spin-off, people!
Not only is NBC ponying up for a world tour, they’re putting together a 6-episode mini-series, Heroes: Origins.
Origins will introduce a new character each week, and then, in an interactive twist, the audience will then get to vote for their favorite character, who will graduate to the third Volume of Heroes.
It’s like American Idol with superpowers!
That bit of news also had an interesting revelation. They’re already pegging a third season.
Origins will air during the mid-season hiatus of Heroes, so as to avoid those dreaded re-runs. With 24 chapters in Volume Two, plus the half-dozen Origins episodes, that’s an even 30 hour-long doses of Heroes coolness starting this fall. (Read about it here.)
I’ll say it again: Awesome!

Season 6
Episode 21

Time for another of my semi-regular visits to Smallville. The reason this time out: January’s a ways off, and the TV movie this fall is about the Pegasus, so it’s probably mostly gonna be about that psycho b*tch, Admiral Cain.
I just wanted a Battlestar Galactica fix. Sue me.

Karl “Helo” Agathon himself, Tahmoh Penikett, plays Wes Keenan, an Army brat-turned-war hero, who happens to have been the first boy Lois ever kissed, and is now Ares Mark IV, the prototype for Project Ares, Lex’s little science project to create his own super-soldier.
And wouldn’t you know it, the witness to Wes’ assassination of the crooked Senator Burke (who’s threatening to shut Project Ares down) is one Lois Lane. Of course, plot conveniences and contrivances are nothing new on Smallville, so let’s just roll with the punch, shall we?
At any rate, the episode actually allows some of the cast to shine; Erica Durance, pleading with Penikett (who has been ordered to kill her), “Remember me!”; Tom Welling, telling Annette O’Toole that she should become Kansas senator in the wake of Burke’s death. (Isn’t there a line of succession here? Aren’t there Junior Senators or something?)
Penikett meanwhile, is underutilized, though is at least given something more to do than some other past Smallville guest stars (like WWE’s Batista).

In the end, “Prototype” isn’t a horrible episode, though also isn’t any indication that Smallville is a better show than when I last checked in.

(Image courtesy of

Monday, May 14, 2007

Season 1
Chapter 21
“The Hard Part”

Sigh. Didn’t I say? That Peter shouldn’t meet Ted?
These people…

Directed by John Badham (yes, Mr. War Games is back), “The Hard Part” pretty much sets things up for the final 2 chapters of this Volume.
D.L. and Jessica are off to save Micah, who is under the careful guard of Candice; Mohinder uses his own antibodies to save Molly Walker (heh. The “Walker system”…), something he was a little late in doing for his own sister; Peter convinces Claire to stay in New York for the cause; Mr. Bennet and sidekicks are in New York (heh. At Kirby Plaza) to destroy the Walker system; Hiro tries without much success (or conviction) to kill Sylar; and Sylar gets it in his head to become the President.

And as unlikely as that last one may sound, this was an interesting aspect of this chapter, as we see the reasons why Gabriel ended up the way he did, with his pathological need to be “special.”
We also get to see an important facet to Sylar’s character: that he is actually hesitant to be the cause of so many innocent deaths. Sure, his reasons are still self-motivated: that he would find no gain in their deaths—unlike when he murders someone with powers—but still, at least the man shows some smidgen of remorse.
Of course, that’s before he does the bone-headed move of calling up his snow globe-obsessed mother and it becomes all too clear where the seeds of Sylar sprung from.
Things go horribly awry, and well… Let’s just say that was a momentary lapse, and the unhinged watchmaker is back in town.
(I could have done without the voice over though, when Sylar discovers he may be the “exploding man” who will cause so much grief for New York. It’s one of my pet peeves, people apparently talking to themselves for no good reason. I mean, the audience is smart, right? They could figure out what the deal was, couldn’t they?)

Oh, and Grandma P is in on Linderman’s plan! Man, this woman is playing so many sides. Is she hedging her bets, or is she actually one of the baddies here?
Still, you gotta love her.

And now Peter has crossed paths with Ted and he’s in danger of a meltdown.
Again, didn’t I say?
Of course, given that we’ve got two more episodes to go, I guess that means Peter gets it under control, at least at the beginning of next chapter. After that, all bets are off.

I do have to mention the downside though. This is one of those episodes where there are too many headless chickens running around, too many subplots vying for screen time. Understandable, perhaps, given that they have to amp things up towards the volume’s climax, but hopefully in Volume Two, we could have a slightly smaller number of characters, thus making them more manageable, and the subplot juggling a little less frenetic.

Parting shot: Hayden Panettierre’s well-deserved win at the Saturns is justified here (as it is in all the other chapters of this Volume). Those tiny moments: Claire on the stairs as Nathan’s family arrives; Claire’s reaction to her discovery that Nathan can fly. Those weighty moments: Claire at Kirby Plaza, as she shares a Moment with Peter.
This girl is amazing.

Parting shot 2: Yes, I belatedly realized I should be using the terms “volume” instead of “season,” and “chapter” instead of “episode,” as per Tim Kring’s narrative structure for the show.

(Image courtesy of


Let’s kick off with a scorecard, shall we?
I loved Spider-Man. I thought it was a thematically cohesive film that made good use of the superhero origin cinematic template (where roughly the first half of the film depicts the main character growing into his heroic role, without the primary colour swirl of his trademark costume), allowing us to witness the life of Peter Parker, come to care for him, and thus, make us willing to take the journey of discovery with him.
I did not love Spider-Man 2. Though it arguably had a more human antagonist in Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, I thought the script was overly burdened by plot contrivances and was manipulative of the audience. And the over-dependence on CGI that was nowhere near flawless was a major sticking point as well.
All this was conveniently brought back to me in the wake of the images that accompany the third installment’s opening credits.
And what do I think of Spider-Man 3?
Let’s see…

To put a bullet in the back of the suspense’s head, I actually like it more than Spider-Man 2. But, like the beleaguered Peter Parker, it’s got a lot of problems.
Big problems.
I wish it were as simple as saying, “Well, if they’d just dropped a villain or two here, shaved off a subplot there, then maybe the movie would have been better.”
It isn’t, though. Not really.

The thing is, given what they were attempting to do, the story Sam Raimi set out to tell, I can see the roles each villain had to play.
Let’s take a look at Harry first (or, as the end credits so unimaginatively dub him, the “New Goblin”).
Harry is the most important villain of the piece, I don’t think that’s even in question. He is Parker’s best friend, we’ve watched his character arc over the Spider-Man films as he progressively became the obsessed, revenge-driven son, and perhaps most importantly, he was shown entering the arsenal of his late, deranged father at the end of the second installment, after having discovered that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same individual.
Everything was set up for a cataclysmic confrontation between these once-best friends.
And, truth to tell, perhaps the most interesting beat in Spider-Man 3 is when Peter (after having almost killed him with one of those Goblin grenades) actually asks a scarred Harry for help to battle Venom and the Sandman in order to rescue Mary Jane. Harry says “No,” Parker leaves, faithful butler Bernard (nicely played by John Paxton, incidentally, father of Aliens’ Bill Paxton) tells Harry what he knows: the elder Osborn caused his own death, thus rendering all of Harry’s hate towards Spider-Man null and void. (True, this smacks of plot contrivance, as Bernard could have spoken up far sooner, thus saving Harry and Peter a whole lot of heartache, but what can you do? It’s not like plot contrivances are anything new to this franchise anyway.) Harry then goes off to help his friends, and proves that the words he spoke early on in a hospital bed were the truth.
Now, as painful as Harry’s death was (really the only moving part of the entire film), the sacrifice is essential since this is all meant to be a lesson for Parker (and his words during the final voice-over say as much).
The funny thing is though, the redemption Harry earns is far more evident and potent than Peter’s. And let’s face it, Peter has a hell of a lot to redeem himself for, not just in Mary Jane’s eyes, but in the audience’s as well.
(It should also be noted, where Harry is concerned, that what at first seems to be a painful soap opera cliché, the convenient bout of memory loss, becomes essential to Harry’s pivotal decision in the third act. Harry needed to know what it was like to “come home,” to live without the burning desire for revenge, for him to truly understand the price he was paying for his Spider-Man vendetta, and so that he would have something to fall back on, once Bernard pulls the rug out from under Harry’s hate for Spidey. That amnesia-induced idyll for Harry was there so that his choice to help Peter—despite the bit with the grenade in the face—would actually have resonance and not seem like some mawkish Hollywood convenience.)

Secondly, Venom.
I know this is asking a lot, but let’s put aside all the problematic plot point baggage that comes with Venom, since it does have a role to play in this erstwhile morality play.
Venom is here to show Peter what can happen if he allows his emotions to rule him, if he allows his aggression to come to the fore and shadow his very soul.
This is all very weighty, so why is it that when Venom does seem to take full hold of Peter, it turns him into a sleazy loser? (A sleazy, dancing, and piano-playing loser, to be precise.)
Why does Venom turn Eddie Brock (the still-reeking of That 70’s Show Topher Grace) into a vicious, snaggle-toothed steroid monstrosity, while turning Parker into a pathetic nimrod who would put John Travolta on a Saturday night in the 70’s to shame? (And Travolta really doesn’t need any more embarrassment in his life.)
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with Raimi’s sometimes ill-placed penchant for humour (most famously in that terrible collision of The Evil Dead and the Three Stooges, Army of Darkness), but in a film that arguably should have been the darkest of the series thus far, given its subject matter, there are moments (and stretches) during its 2 hour and 20 minute running time where the laughs are just so out of place, it’s not merely embarrassing, it’s downright painful.

Thirdly, Sandman.
Giving a run for Doc Ock’s money in the Let’s Humanize the Baddie sweepstakes, Flint Marko (played fairly effectively by Thomas Haden Church) is here to give Peter an opportunity to forgive the nominal reason for his Uncle Ben’s death.
This is essential since a major factor in Peter’s choosing to take on the mantle of Spider-Man was because of his uncle’s death. But there was always that element of revenge and bitter hatred and guilt and self-loathing that came with the package. In finding the grace to forgive Marko (whether he actually meant to pull the trigger or not), Peter thus relieves himself of much of the weight that burdens his soul, and hopefully, allows him to learn from all his tribulations and become a better person, man, and hero.*
This is, I feel, one of the greatest shortcomings of Spider-Man 2, that we don’t really see if Peter has changed. He makes his choice, chooses to be Spider-Man, thus sacrificing his love for Mary Jane, but he still ends up getting the girl, who ditched a well-meaning if boring fiancée at the altar to be there for her arachnid love.
And though asking Mary Jane to dance isn’t really that much better (for all we know, Parker just wants to relive his Dancing Venom days), at least there is an inkling of a man who is trying to atone by Spider-Man 3’s end.

So where does all that really leave us?
With the frustrated knowledge that here was an interesting story actually worth telling, but somehow, it just got garbled and mixed up and resulted in the deeply flawed film that is Spider-Man 3.**
Which is sad, because this was ambitious, and had some genuinely interesting moments (mostly within the Harry subplot).
That said, it also had some truly horrendous moments. Not only did the whole protracted Venom-influenced Parker sequence (particularly the piano-and-dance number) seem like it was hijacked from some other, more frivolous film, but like Spider-Man 2, 3 commits the major sin of introducing us not to characters, but to plot complications.
In 2, it was Mary Jane’s astronaut fiancée; here, it’s Gwen Stacy. Bryce Dallas Howard (excellent in The Village and passably acceptable in Lady in the Water) is severely underutilized here, as the plot complication meant to give Brock more reason to hate Parker, and to be a bone of contention between Mary Jane and Peter.
But do we really know anything about her as a person? Not really. As I said, she really isn’t a person to begin with; she’s a plot complication. And to do that to a character like Gwen Stacy, who carries a lot of weight in the Spider-Man comic book mythos, is another whole can of worms.
All things considered though, she’s probably in a better position than astronaut fiancée guy; all he really got to do was be Mary Jane’s Kissing Slut, before getting dumped by her.

Which, in a roundabout sort of way, leads me to another point: as the films progressed, I came to realize these weren’t exactly characters I had grown to like. I mean, I liked them well enough at the beginning, but as I got to know them better, I realized they weren’t particularly nice people.
What Mary Jane does to her fiancée is terrible enough, but to see no hint of remorse on her part…
And Parker. Oh boy. This is not just a flawed character. This is a sad, confused, messed-up guy who never really seems to learn anything. (Although, to be fair, that last dance could be the start of a more mature Peter. Of course, if that happens, it probably won’t be Tobey Maguire in the role any more; which is quite possibly a good thing, as the apparent actor’s fatigue he displayed in Spider-Man 2 has given way to an erratic and agonizingly uneven performance here.)

I could go on—the iffy performances of some of the cast, the (equally and still) iffy CGI, the epileptic pacing, the reliance on plot contrivance and convenience to fuel the narrative, the stunningly needless and grotesquely indulgent Stan Lee cameo, and on and on—but that would be flogging an already lame horse.
If the Raimi brothers (Sam and co-writer Ivan) had perhaps done one more sweep over the script for another draft, and figured out a better way to inject the levity into the proceedings, then this might have been the best of the Spider-Man series thus far.
As it is (and in the questionable tradition of the X-Men franchise), it’s the monstrously flawed third installment that will nonetheless make a squillion dollars worldwide and get the studio to salivate at the prospect of the next cash cow (sorry, I meant “film”) in line.

* It also prevents him from becoming Batman.

** And certainly not the “silly” one George Lucas said it was.

(Spider-Man 3 OS courtesy of