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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Amazing Spider Man




Spider-Man is reborn for a new generation! Well, actually, it’s probably more like the same generation, only slightly older. But either way, he’s back again, for the first time, in The Amazing Spider-Man.

The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents' disappearance - leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), his father's former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors' alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero. -- (C) Sony



The Amazing Spider Man.
The Amazing Spider Man
The film starts off by giving us some Batman Begins-style scenes with kid Peter (even starting as Begins does with a game of hide and seek), showing us how he came to live with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, his mom and super-scientist dad fleeing into the night after someone tries to steal his super-magic science formula. Something to do with spiders…

This initial intro not only gives us a peek into Peter’s formative years, but also adds some backstory to the science project that creates Spider-Man, and possibly all the other villains in this new series. Making his dad responsible for Peter’s gifts certainly is a traditional way to explore the hero’s journey. Like Superman, or Luke Skywalker or King Arthur, Spider-Man’s powers now come from his father.

Unfortunately, this is probably the only aspect of the origin story that the other films didn’t cover, meaning that once we get to teenage Peter, played by Andrew Garfield, we end up retreading a lot of the same ground. Peter’s relationship with Uncle Ben and Aunt May is virtually blow-for-blow in step with the first Maguire movie, even down to alienating them once he gets his powers and shifts his priorities, causing Ben’s death. Sally Field and Martin Sheen are spectacular, though, and like Garfield, come across as more realistic and grounded than in the other films, feeling more like real people and less like characters in a movie, if that makes any sense.

My only qualm is that Peter’s motivation following Ben’s death was more about revenge and less about responsibility. The driving factor in Spider-Man is that he slipped up just once and acted like a jerk, costing the life of someone he loved. And so he can never afford to be irresponsible again. He’s eternally trying to make up for that one screw-up. But here, Peter seems motivated only by revenge, becoming a violent vigilante to catch the man that killed Ben. And yes, you could argue that the guilt is still there, but it feels like the focus was more on the anger, which is a more fun emotion, than the guilt.

special effects.
Spider Man  special effects
The film’s main plot, which involves Peter providing his dad’s old partner Curt Conners with the secret formula for creating animal-human hybrids, turning the man into the monstrous Lizard, who then plans to turn the whole world into monsters, is suitably epic and sci-fi-y for a comic movie plot. The film quotes Batman Begins yet again when the ending becomes a race to THE TOWER, in order to stop THE VILLAIN from releasing a toxin that will CHANGE THE WORLD, along the way incorporating the original Spider-Man’s habit of having New York’s citizens pitch in and aid Spidey in his last battle.

Overall, where this film really shines is the special effects. This is a movie that looks like a comic book. Technology has finally allowed us a Spider-Man that leaps, and bends and fights just like he does on the page. The new suit looks somehow more classic than in the other films, in quick shots resembling more of what your subconscious mind pictures when it thinks of Spider-Man.

Spider Man love story.
Spider Man love story


The Amazing Spider-Man may be the first big-ticket, big-budget, big-action-sequence comic-book movie that also doubles as a lilting coming-of-age indie.
—Lisa Schwarzbaum Entertainment Weekly 








Directed by   Marc Webb
Produced by  Avi Arad
                      Laura Ziskin
                      Matt Tolmach
Screenplay by James Vanderbilt
                       Alvin Sargent
                       Steve Kloves
Story by James Vanderbilt
Based on The Amazing Spider-Man by
     Stan Lee
     Steve Ditko
Starring     Andrew Garfield
                 Emma Stone
                 Rhys Ifans
                 Denis Leary
                 Campbell Scott
                 Irrfan Khan
                 Martin Sheen
                 Sally Field
                 Chris Zylka
Studio   Marvel Entertainment
             Laura Ziskin Productions
Release date  July 3, 2012
Budget     $230 million










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Skyline





A series of blindingly bright lights appear all over Los Angeles, mesmerizing the citizens of the city while luring them to an uncertain fate in this sci-fi thriller from sibling filmmakers Greg and Colin Strause. As speculation regarding the origin of the mysterious lights runs rampant, a Los Angeles entrepreneur (Donald Faison), his best friend, Jarrod (Eric Balfour), and Jarrod's frightened girlfriend (Scottie Thompson) struggle to resist temptation as they seek out the source of the luminous threat. Jason Buchanan, Rovi




 Review in a Hurry: Acclaimed special-effects duo Greg and Colin Strause follow up their decidedly unclaimed directorial debut (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) with a second space-creature feature about an alien invasion of Los Angeles.

A penthouse would be the best vantage point to watch the apocalypse, but perhaps not the nicest to be actually trapped inside, as our small band of generic characters quickly finds.

What little back story the characters get involves out-of-towner Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his successful childhood friend Terry (Donald Faison). They seem to be musicians, but then later it seems as though Terry wants to hire Jarrod as a special effects artist? Either way doesn't matter much, since this isn't one of those movies where a character's hidden talent saves the day later. That would be too coherent a plot point.

Besides, the next day, the Independence Day/Matrix hybrid aliens come. Their multi-tiered invasion involves sending down blue, swirling lights, which briefly zombify anyone who looks at them, luring them into tractor beams up to the mother ships.

Meanwhile, hovering squid critters and large elephant/crab hybrid things capture stray humans the old-fashioned way...with tentacles.

But their plan has a flaw—if someone looks at the lights but gets tackled and prevented from entering the tractor beam, enough of the zombification remains inside them to enable super-strength, or something. They should have worked out that little kink first.



Not to mention, the aliens are immune to nuclear weapons, but can be hurt by guns and bazookas. This is probably because the U.S. military opts to attack them with the world's worst nuke, one that seemingly has zero fallout or electromagnetic pulse, and leaves nearby skyscrapers standing.

All of this is covered by TV news cameras, even though nobody is left to operate them. Guess they just point themselves at the action.

The visuals are very cool, and plentiful, save for the brothers' overuse of cheesy slo-mo. For a movie on a $10 million budget, it delivers more and better bangs for the buck than many blockbusters ten times the price. It's just a shame they couldn't find actors who deliver equal efficiency. Or script doctors, for that matter.





Directed by  Brothers Strause
Produced by  Brothers Strause
                      Kristian Andresen
                      Liam O'Donnell
                      Brett Ratner
Written by    Joshua Cordes
                    Liam O'Donnell
Starring          Eric Balfour
                      Scottie Thompson
                      Brittany Daniel
                      Donald Faison
                      David Zayas
                      Crystal Reed
Studio   Universal Pictures
             Momentum/Paramount
Release date   November 12, 2010




For more see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyline_(film)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1564585/











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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stargate Atlantis



An ancient facility beneath Antarctica becomes the launching platform to the lost city of Atlantis. Atlantis is buried beneath an ocean in another galaxy and can only be reached with an additional symbol on the Stargate. Because of power limitations this trip, at least for the time being, is a one-way adventure. A crew of scientists and military officers from many countries assemble to explore the Pegasus Galaxy from the Atlantis gate. Led by scientist Dr. Weir (Higginson) and Maj. John Sheppard (Flanigan) they take over the Atlantian command center and begin to explore. In their initial investigations they accidentally awaken the area’s top bad guys, the Wraith. These vampire-like beings suck the life-force out of humans.



When Stargate SG-1 was about to enter its ninth year, there was speculation that after season 8 the series would bow out gracefully with the anticipated exit of Richard Dean Anderson. With that plan in mind, the folks at Stargate Command decided it was time to spin off the franchise, and so was born Atlantis. Stargate Atlantis boasts pretty much the same production team as SG-1. The quality of the production and tight storytelling have translated well to this sister series. Stargate Atlantis took a little getting used to. I wasn’t sure the characters had enough chemistry or were even dynamic enough to carry the high expectations for a Stargate series. Those concerns eventually evaporated by the time Atlantis began to live without the SG-1 companion series. These characters really took off, and they’ve developed into nearly as strong a group as SG-1 ever was. Now with Atlantis available on high-definition Blu-ray, you’ll have the chance to explore where the show from beginning to ending.



star cast :-

Rodney McKay

 A brilliant astrophysicist and one of the world's leading experts on the Stargate, Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay is a member of the Atlantis base's lead reconnaissance unit, under the command of Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. As a child McKay always wanted to be a pianist, but his teacher discouraged him from continuing to practice, believing he had no sense of the art. McKay turned to science because he thought it would be the farthest away from his previous pursuits -- but he discovered it was just as much of an art as anything else.
While posted at Area 51 on the Air Force payroll, McKay was assigned to work with a computer model of the Antarctic Stargate. His first chance to see the "real thing" came during a crisis at the S.G.C. when Teal'c was
trapped within
the Stargate's temporary memory buffer. After meeting Samantha Carter, also an astrophysicist and his counterpart at Stargate Command, it became evident that he and she got off on the wrong foot, despite physical attractions shared by both. Arrogant and condescending by personality, McKay was insistent that the Stargate's crystal memory did not contain the remains of Teal'c, and pushed for the Stargate program to recommence immediately -- destroying any chance of rescuing the Jaffa.
McKay turned out to be wrong, and with aid from a Goa'uld Teal'c was recovered. After the incident, he was swiftly reassigned to Russia to advise their new naquadah reactor program. Carter was not sad to see him go. He returned less than a year later, when his services were required to solve yet another gate-related crisis at the S.G.C. McKay arrived to learn that the gate had been open long past its 38-minute limit; the Goa'uld Anubis was using a weapon to destroy the gate, and Earth along with it.
With help from a somewhat hostile Major Carter -- whom he found both increasingly attractive and worthy of his respect -- they devised a plan to save Earth by sending the Stargate away from the planet through hyperspace. McKay and Carter had made a good team, saving the Earth from certain destruction. Carter finally acknowledged to McKay that she did, indeed, find him attractive, before he was dismissed from the facility after a job well-done.

McKay was later assigned to the Atlantus outpost left behind by the Ancients in Antarctica, where he quickly became an expert on Ancient technology and pioneered the interface between human and Ancient technology. He was disturbed to learn that he is not among those who possess a very rare gene which allows some -- including Sheppard and McKay's friend and colleague Carson Beckett -- to operate Ancient technology intuitively. But Dr. Beckett's gene therapy has helped there -- after allowing himself to be a test subject, McKay has found that he can activate Ancient devices.

McKay joined Dr. Elizabeth Weir's expedition to find the lost city of Atlantis in the Pegasus Galaxy, only to learn that they do not have the power to return home to Earth. He joined up as a member of Sheppard's off-world reconnaissance unit, and the two quickly became friends (though they drive each other crazy).                                                                                              Rodney has one sister, Jeannie, who is married with a young daughter. The two were estranged for several years, but a need arising from the Atlantis expedition forced Rodney to get back in touch with his sister -- who also has a brilliant scientific mind.


John Sheppard

Lieutenant Colonel in the United States military and a highly skilled pilot with a checkered past, John Sheppard commands the flagship reconnaissance team from Earth's Atlantis base. He traveled to the Pegasus Galaxy with the Atlantis expedition under the command of Dr. Elizabeth Weir, and became the base's ranking military officer following the death of Colonel Marshall Sumner at the hands of the Wraith. He leads the base's flagship reconnaissance team in exploring other worlds through the Stargate.



Sheppard was based at McMurdo Air Force Base -- possibly due to the black mark on his record -- and preferred the quiet of the Antarctic. He was assigned to fly General Jack O'Neill to the remains of the Ancient outpost to oversee the research team's latest developments. There he discovered that he possesses the rare gene that allows him to use Ancient technology -- and unlike most others who possess the gene, he is a natural at it. Weir implored O'Neill to allow Sheppard to be a part of her team despite his record, tarnished for disobeying orders to save two teammates in Afghanistan.

Once in the Pegasus Galaxy Sheppard was sent on a mission to planet Athos in the hopes of recovering additional Z.P.M.s to power the sunken city of Atlantis. He met the Athosian leader Teyla Emmagan and her people, and the two immediately hit it off. He learned of the threat of the Wraith, who had once defeated the Ancients, and witnessed a culling of the Athosians -- including Teyla -- and Sumner, his commanding officer. Sheppard returned to Atlantis with the surviving Athosians, and embarked on a daring rescue mission to recover them. He was successful -- but in the process, Sheppard was responsible for reawakening the entire Wraith civilization when he killed the Wraith Keeper.
As the most senior surviving member of the Atlantis expedition's military contingent, John served as the head of the officers stationed there -- making him second in command of the base, to the civilian Weir. One year later he was promoted to Lt. Colonel, when his role on Atlantis was formalized. He was on the short list to assume command when Weir was lost to the Replicators, but seemed happy to have Colonel Samantha Carter take the job instead.

Sheppard enjoys ferris wheels, college football, and "anything that goes faster than 200 miles per hour." He loves Johnny Cash and is kind and generous, and not afraid to voice his opinions, particularly when the end result is in the best interests of a needy teammate. Little is known about his past or family life, though he was once married.


Elizabeth Weir
  
A civilian diplomat and the first commander of the Atlantis expedition in the Pegasus Galaxy. An expert in international politics, Dr. Weir is well-known for mediating for the United Nations. When President Henry Hayes took office in 2004, he placed her in command of the S.G.C. after moving General George Hammond to a new position. After standing up to Vice President Kinsey and his agenda to take control of the Stargate program, Weir led a total review of the Stargate program over the following months.




Teyla Emmagan

A member of John Sheppard's team based in the city of Atlantis,
 and once the proud leader of the Athosians, from the planet Athos.
 Teyla is cautious, and must get to know someone before trusting them.
 She found a special connection with John Sheppard upon meeting the humans of Earth for the very first time.




Ronon Dex

Once an elite soldier on the planet Sateda, Specialist Ronon Dex became a Runner when the Wraith took him from his home. Now he is a member of John Sheppard's team operating from Atlantis.
Ronon defended his world during a devastating Wraith culling seven years before he joined the team, but was swept up in a culling beam. He was taken aboard a hive ship, but when a Wraith attempted to feed on him something forced it to stop. Instead of dying as food, Ronon was made a Runner: The Wraith implanted a transmitter in his back and let him go, hunting him across many worlds for sport, for training, or for some other, unknown reason.

Ronon possesses a rather unique gun with both stun and kill settings. A cunning and skilled warrior, he hunted his Hunters, killing many Wraith. But he could never return home, nor could he stay in one place for too long. Once, when he stopped to eat a meal and get a night's sleep in a village, the Wraith showed up the next day and destroyed it.

Dex captured John Sheppard and Teyla Emmagan when the team came to P3M-736 to search for Aiden Ford, who himself hunted and killed the Wraith pursuing Dex. They agreed to help him, and brought Dr. Beckett to the planet to remove the Wraith tracking device from his back. Now, he is free to stay in one place. Upon learning that the Wraith destroyed Sateda, Ronon decided to stay in Atlantis.


Ronon's physiology is unique. Not only can the Wraith apparently not feed on him, but he also fully recovered from a stunner blast within seconds. He is a dangerous ally to have, as his abilities and personal motivations remain unknown. But he is loyal to Sheppard and his new friends, and puts the fight against the Wraith -- all Wraith, in any form they might take, anywhere and at any time -- as his highest priority.


Carson Beckett

Biologist and the first chief medical doctor at Earth's Atlantis base in the Pegasus Galaxy. Beckett was originally assigned as a representative from Scotland to the Ancient outpost in the Antarctic, where it was discovered that he possessed a rare gene from the Ancients that allows him to use their technology. In fact, it was Beckett who discovered the gene necessary to operate many Ancient devices.

Despite the fact that Beckett himself was not especially technologically inclined, Dr. Rodney McKay forced him into the outpost's command chair in the hopes of learning something more about the technology. Beckett accidentally activated a dormant drone weapon, but was able to shut it back down before it harmed General O'Neill and Major Sheppard as they traveled toward the base in a helicopter. 

A member of the expedition under the command of Elizabeth Weir, Beckett traveled through the Stargate to Atlantis. One of his first duties was to dissect a severed Wraith arm that Sheppard brought back from Athos after the creature's Dart was shot down. His study led to the first insights into Wraith physiology. Beckett later learned even more about Wraith biology when he helped the Hoffans to develop a drug that prevents the creatures from feeding on the life-force of a human victim.

Carson was particularly good friends with Rodney McKay, and also with Dr. Weir -- with both of whom he was on a first name basis.

Because of his position, Beckett became an expert on Wraith physiology. This led him to develop a retrovirus, which effectively strips the iratus bug DNA elements out of a target patient and leaves only the human elements. Though he always wrestled with the ethics of it, his retrovirus was used successfully on a Wraith nicknamed Michael and on an entire ship of Wraith soldiers. But when Michael regained his memory and his Wraith physiology began to reassert itself, Beckett found himself a target.
Beckett served with distinction on Atlantis for three years before he was tragically killed in the line of duty. Carson acted against orders to perform emergency surgery on an expedition scientist, removing a highly volatile tumor created by exposure to previously unknown Ancient technology in the city. Dr. Beckett successfully removed the tumor and saved his patient's life, but during the hand-off to the explosives disposal unit the tumor detonated, engulfing him in flames.

Carson is survived by his mother back home on Earth. His role as chief medical officer on Atlantis was taken over by one of his friends and colleagues, Jennifer Keller.




Season 1 sets the whole thing up.

Rising: This two-part episode brought us from Earth to Atlantis and introduced us to the characters and the new bad guys, the Wraith.

Hide And Seek: We really get to know McKay in this episode. He activates a private force field, and it looks like loads of fun being invincible until he can’t turn it off. While the device protects things from hurting him, it also keeps out other things like food and water.

The Storm/The Eye: This two-part episode has a huge hurricane bearing down on Atlantis. The city is evacuated and a small crew is left behind to engineer some protection. That’s when the Genni strike and attempt to overtake the city. It’s Die Hard on Atlantis as Sheppard moves about picking off members of the strike team.

The Siege: Another two-part episode that serves as a cliffhanger. The Wraith have arrived, and Atlantis is under full attack without the resources to defend herself.





Season Two: When last we saw our courageous Atlantis crew, they were in dire straits indeed. The series had just completed its first season, and not without at times relying on the mother series, SG-1, for help along the way. Would the show now find its own legs in its critical sophomore year? Would the Sci-Fi Channel continue to support it or take out its legs unrepentantly as they had done with Farscape not many years ago? Oh, and then there was that pesky Wraith problem we were left with in the season 1 ending cliffhanger… The Wraith are about to destroy the city when a wormhole from Earth delivers an SGC unit to assist.

Martin Wood asserts in one of his interviews that Atlantis and SG-1 were beginning to look too much the same on the surface of things. So one of the mission statements for the second year was to give Atlantis its own look and identity. Without a doubt, Atlantis became darker, but without losing its humor or charm. A hard thing to pull off, indeed. Season 2 brings changes for Atlantis. Some I like. Some not so much. I’m not sure I’m happy with more permanent and reliable contact being restored with Earth. One of the show’s strengths was its isolation. Thus, the temptation to lean too heavily on its parent show would be minimal. I know there was the danger of the Deep Space Nine Syndrome, but I’d be willing to risk it. First off, these characters are far more interesting than those DS9 had, and while they might have been cut off from Earth, there was indeed an entire new galaxy to explore. One of the best moves was to take a rather mediocre character like Ford and turn him into a wonderfully complex villain, of sorts. With a greater range to draw from, we find out that Rainbow Sun Francks was a far better actor than season 1 would indicate. If you haven’t seen his new persona, you should get these DVD’s just for that experience. Another brilliant move was to use Paul McGillion more as Dr. Beckett. Once a throwaway character, he has blossomed this season into one of the better members of the team. The character chemistry between Beckett and McKay (Hewlett) is priceless. The most significant change for season 2 is the addition of Ronon Dex, played by newcomer Jason Mamoa. For me the jury is still out on Ronon. I understand that he brings a hyped-up action persona to the mix, but I might have liked to have seen Teyla provide more of that in the future. The portrayal is quite good, but I’m not sold on the mix yet. The character reminds me somewhat of Vin Diesel’s Riddick.


The best episodes here include:

The Siege (part 3): The episode finishes the cliffhanger and turns Ford into some kind of hybrid dosed up on an enzyme he can only get from the Wraith. He will no longer be a regular but shows up from time to time as a threat.

Grace Under Pressure: Another good McKay episode that finds him alone in a sinking puddle-jumper in the ocean. He conjures an imagined Samantha Carter to help him figure a way to survive. Fans of Amanda Tapping will love this episode.

Runner: This episode introduces us to Ronan.

Michael: Star Trek Enterprise‘s Trip Conner Trinneer guests as a Wraith turned human. This is going to come back and bite the team on the behind.


Which brings us to season three: Stargate Atlantis went into its third season with a lot to prove. Its companion and older series SG-1 was winding down and preparing to take its show to the longer direct-to-video path. Atlantis rose to the challenge and had what was arguably its best season to date. The best decision the show runners could have made was the one to concentrate on their core characters and give us episodes that were obviously intended to help us learn more about them. We meet McKay’s sister and Ronon’s wife and family along the way. We get to witness Sheppard in his alluded-to battle in Afghanistan. This is also the year we lose Dr. Beckett, at least in heroic fashion. We all expected that Paul McGillion would turn up on the next Star Trek film as everyone’s favorite starship engineer. It wasn’t through lack of trying and fan support that the film went in another direction, but we will get to see him in some sort of cameo. The Wraith and the Geni are both featured in some strong episodes.



Some great season 3 episodes:

No Man’s Land and Misbegotten: These first episodes continue with the Michael story that ended season 2. Connor Trinneer returns as the “is he a Wraith or is he a human” Michael. While the team struggles with whether to trust him or not, Dr. Weir is recalled to Stargate Command where the group overseeing the Atlantis mission question her leadership skills. Woolsey (Picardo) ends up coming to Atlantis to see for himself and report back to the group. This episode foreshadows the return of Woolsey later as the head of Atlantis in season 5.



McKay and Mrs. Miller: Rodney has a sister, and guess what, she’s played by Hewlett’s real sister, Jeannine Hewlett. We also get a dose of Amanda Tapping’s Carter in this episode as well. Top it off with 2 Rodney’s, one a very modest nice guy, and it’s another nicely done light moment in the Stargate universe.

The Return: This is a two-part episode. Again the crew meets up with what could be ancients. The Atlantis Mission is ordered to vacate the city and return it to its rightful owners. When the team returns to Earth, O’Neill and Woolsey are left alone in the city acting as liaisons with the Atlantians. It’s nice to see O’Neill in need of rescue for a change by the former Atlantis team who are ordered not to go. This is also the first test of the new Carter Stargate Bridge that would allow traffic back and forth from Atlantis to Earth without the need of a Z point module. Using a string of harvested gates, a ship or traveler can make the trip in about 30 minutes. There’s more replicator action just in case you can’t get enough.

Sunday: This is such a bittersweet episode for Atlantis fans. The episodes offers a rare look at the team enjoying time off and interacting without the constant threat of life or death on their heads. Unfortunately this is where we lose Dr. Beckett. At least the episode provides a nice long look at the character and a fitting demise. Of course, he does return somewhat again, but this marks his last episode as a series regular

The Tao Of Rodney: How about a McKay with super powers? Can you imagine if he could read minds? Imagine no longer with this lighter moment in Atlantis lore. They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, but in McKay’s case what makes him stronger is gonna kill him.
 Again Rodney’s arrogance has him rushing in where wise men fear to tread. Everything’s just peaches and cream until he discovers the powers come with a price. He’s only days away from ascension, as in dead. Now Rodney has to become a nice guy so at least he can ascend instead of just dying; good luck with that, Rodney.


Season Four was a huge change for Atlantis. Fans of the SG-1 series rejoiced when Amanda Tapping came aboard as Samantha Carter to take over the command of Atlantis. Episodes include:

The final season of Atlantis saw Carter relinquish command of Atlantis to Woolsey, played by Robert Picardo.


Perhaps it is fitting that the fifth and final season of “Stargate: Atlantis” contained all of the strengths and weaknesses of the series as whole. The show has always struggled with its sense of identity, after a strong introductory season, and it has never found the balance that it strove to achieve. So ends the second series for the Stargate live-action franchise, and one can only hope that its successor will be an improvement.


Which is not to say that “Stargate: Atlantis” was a complete failure. The show was simply average in the end. It fell into the same rut that plagued the latter half of the original “SG-1″ series. As I already said, the problems with the series were all exhibited in the fifth season as well.

The writers were constantly fighting the battle of episodic vs. serialized storytelling. They knew that the fans wanted to have several plot and character threads over the course of a season, but they never seemed to have a plan for how to make that happen. Apart from the first season, there was never a sense that the writers were planting the seeds over time to pay off in the season finale.

This inability to capitalize on the potential of a plot element was remarked upon in the wrap-up for the fourth season as well. In this case, Michael’s gambit, the emergence of a new threat, and the formation of a coalition within the Pegasus Galaxy were all handled haphazardly. This lack of attention to detail led to a situation with the Wraith in the finale that literally came out of an alternate universe without any advanced foreshadowing. (Yet, somehow, many fans loved the prelude to the finale, “Vegas”, which was an awful send-up of the “CSI” franchise.)


The most well-known example of sacrificing ongoing plot coherence and logical character development in favor of a mish-mosh combination of episodic and serialized elements is “The X-Files”. Episodes of that series varied drastically in quality from week to week, and towards the end, the characterization of Mulder and Scully even changed from writer to writer, even as their iconic roles were reinforced.
This was precisely the case for this season of “Stargate: Atlantis”. Other than the stop-start McKay/Keller relationship (which is overly criticized, usually at the expense of Jewel Staite), there just wasn’t much attention given to character arcs. When supporting characters were brought in, they either fulfilled their genetic roles in the story or, when necessary for a given situation, acted far out of character. Teyla in particular was hard to reconcile. Ronon’s semi-involvement in a love triangle was ridiculous.
If there was one bright spot to the season, it was the introduction of Woolsey as a capable and sympathetic commander. I wasn’t sold on the idea at first, but he quickly grew on me, and turned out to be better than Carter in the fourth season. One can only hope that Woolsey makes a solid appearance in the eventual “Stargate: Atlantis” DVD film.

The fifth season of “Stargate: Atlantis” earned a Critical Myth rating of 7.2, which is just slightly above average and a slight dip from the fourth season. That is also the approximate rating for “Stargate: Atlantis” as a whole. It certainly had its moments, but too often, the writers were clearly making things up as they went along, and it never seemed to come together as well as they had hoped.
It’s hard to tell how much of this series finale was conceived after the decision to cancel the series. Is that final scene on the balcony something that was always on the page,

or was it a last-minute addition to give the fans a sense of closure? Was Atlantis always intended to crash back to Earth as a cliffhanger?
I personally believe that the return to Earth was always on the books, and that we should be pretty damn happy that it was. Normally the seasons end with a cliffhanger, and ending the series that way would have been a shame. This choice makes it seem like the series has come full circle (recalling that “The Rising” began with the Atlantis taking flight in the distant past).



Of course, none of the long-term issues are resolved. This eliminates one particular problem by taking down the only Wraith ship with a ZPM. But Todd’s alliance has fallen apart, the Wraith are still marauding the Pegasus Galaxy, and now one of the major human powers has flown the coop.
It’s not hard to imagine that repairing and refining this “wormhole drive” will factor into any future return to Pegasus, and might even factor into the impending launch of “Stargate Universe”. With the SGC and Atlantis in such close proximity, I also can’t help but wonder if this was meant to facilitate some future character cross-pollination. With Area 51 gone and the defense of Earth now a rather big problem, Atlantis is going to be at the center of a great deal of attention.
Keeping Todd around was a great choice. Keeping Ronon alive may not have been. As much as I like the character, he hasn’t been given much in the way of development of late. The producers only seem willing to take out major characters when they want to toss a cast member out of the franchise airlock, and this would have been a stunning change of pace. Hopefully the eventual TV-movie will give Ronon more to do to justify his survival.


As series finales go, this did pull out most of the stops. Sheppard and McKay had their usual moments of brilliance, the supporting cast was strong as ever, and Woolsey gave a rousing command performance. (Who would have guessed that Woolsey would be a better leader than Carter?) It was great to see some old, familiar faces here at the end. Some items felt a bit rushed at times, and this would have worked better as a two-hour finale event, but they did a great job with the time and resources available.



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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Real Steel




Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) in Real Steel builds robots to fight. This guy isn't interested in cybernetic superintelligence or making a personal slave out of nuts and bolts - he constructs robots that are designed almost exclusively to battle it out in the ring. But when Real Steel opens, his big kahuna 'bot is trampled by a bull, and not only is the guy quickly without his robotic claim to fame, but all the money has drained out of his pockets, as well.


Of course, this is the perfect time for Charlie to learn that his one-time ladyfriend has kicked the bucket, and she left him as custodian of their son, Max (Dakota Goyo). Charlie isn't exactly a child-rearing kid of dude, but the kid's aunt and uncle make him a deal: If Max can stay with him over the summer, after they get back from Europe, they'll take him - and they'll throw in $100,000 to sweeten the deal.



Predictably, Real Steel then becomes a father-son introduction story, in which Charlie shows Max how to build robot fighters, and Max proves to Charlie that sometimes it's worth opening your heart every once in a while outside the ring. They unearth an old, cranky bot from a junkyard - Max thinks it 'still has a chance!' - and the road to a climactic ring-battle sequence is laid out clearly in front of us.



Real Steel is a thin film, but your take on it will depend on what you come into it with. I thought the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em concept of the movie looked seriously dumb in the film's previews, and that sensibility wasn't exactly countered by the picture's innate cinematic value. That being said, many viewers who approach the movie expecting nothing more than diverting, escapist melodramatic fare have actually fallen in love with the thing.

Long story short: If you rent Real Steel expecting it to be shitty, you just might find yourself surprised.


Directed by  Shawn Levy

Produced by Shawn Levy
                      Susan Montford
                       Don Murphy

Starring  Hugh Jackman
                Dakota Goyo
                Evangeline Lilly
                Anthony Mackie
                Kevin Durand

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures
Release date October 6, 2011

Budget $110 million
Box office $295,120,796




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Monday, December 19, 2011

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES





Occupying a window between "T2" -- which featured the assault on a barely pubescent John -- and the 20-something version in "T3," the pilot finds Sarah Connor ("300's" Lena Headey) vigilantly guarding her teenage son, never knowing when the next portal-popping threat from the future will send them scurrying into retreat.

In fact, John has only just become acquainted with a pretty new classmate, Cameron (Summer Glau), when another Terminator turns up as a substitute teacher, attempting to administer the toughest pop quiz ever. (After toying with excising the scene last summer because of the Virginia Tech shootings, cooler heads prevailed, and it's back mostly intact.)

So the Connors are on the run again, with an FBI agent (Richard T. Jones) in hot pursuit -- introducing an extra "The Fugitive" riff -- along with the mechanical monster. The first of several intriguing plot twists, however, temporarily puts mother and son out of danger -- though for how long remains anybody's guess.
Friedman and Nutter (whose enviable directing record as a pilot launcher continues) recognize that simply scaling down the cat-and-mouse chase sequences for TV won't be enough to sustain a series, so they rely on the movie franchise's time-travel motif to provide new wrinkles that become apparent in episode two -- namely, that emissaries from the future, good and bad, can pop up in this current reality, creating various narrative possibilities, among them another shot at altering humanity's grim destiny.

Even with that, the questionable logic that has allowed the "Terminator" franchise to flourish (such as a guy from the future fathering a child in the past) could easily unravel on an episodic basis. Fortunately, the reworked pilot (shot in New Mexico before production shifted to Los Angeles) exhibits a tighter pace, impressive and abundant action with convincing effects and, frankly, plenty of eye candy between Glau and Headey -- who solidly slips into the Rambette role, complete with the portentous voiceover -- sure to be enjoyed by teenage boys of all ages.
Strategically it all makes perfect sense, provided that Friedman and company can continue meeting the daunting task of oiling the tracks on this thrill ride. "No one is ever safe," Sarah tells her very-important son -- advice that's as true for a sci-fi series facing this many creative hurdles as it is for the world's eventual savior.




I am a fan of time travel fiction, and I am a fan of how greedy studios with complicated rights-holding issues eventually shit the bed, and these two things come together beautifully in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Suffice to say that if you are in need of ironclad time travel logic to drive your science fiction, the Terminator franchise has never been your friend, especially given that it has been passed from creator to creator to creator with little more oversight than a general order to "make something good." Even between films 1 and 2, there are some pretty significant logical gaps; everything post-Cameron, meanwhile, is essentially a working analogue for the many-worlds hypothesis. Even allowing for the fact that Skynet was not destroyed at the end of T2, as Terminator 3 insists, what do we do with a Terminator Salvation that takes place both before, and after, the previous films... to say nothing of a television series that ignores the third and fourth films outright, settling instead for a quantum leap eight years into its narrative future, and a timeline in which an infinite number of Judgment Days still await our heroes at any given time, depending on which way the wind blows?




It is this fibrous complexity to the time travel storyline which, ultimately, is SCC's strength. The timeworks may, in fact, be a step more complex than could be withstood by a Friday-nights-at-10 audience. At various points in the series, we are being directly misled about "which" timeline various characters and events are originating from - and that "which," and its attendant suggestion that there are just a bajillion of these timelines, is a lot for an audience to wrap its mind around. In fact, the series ends with its best time-slip, when John gets warped into the post-Judgment Day future... but a version of the future in which he never became the leader of the resistance. (Or did he? We'll never know. Given SCC's valiant willingness to reinvest the "known" history of the Terminator universe with new interpretations - a notable lack in Terminator Salvation's by-rote adherence to the established mythology - it's possible that the never-produced Season Three would have revealed that John was always meant to take this leap into the future, and that it was only after doing so that he became the leader of the resistance!)

In other words, Sarah Connor Chronicles does two things right:

1) It recognizes that a time travel storyline inherently owes less to established mythology than other mythologies would, and thereby writes itself a license to take the storyline in different directions than what has been canonized previously. This creates an enjoyable string of "elseworlds"-type riffs on what we think we know about Judgment Day, and all that came after, and all that came before. (Best example: the flat-out phenomenal reveal at the end of Season Two, vis-a-vis the motivations of Zeira Corp, John Henry, and Catherine Weaver.)

2) By throwing our assumptions about the continuity of the franchise back at us, over and over again, it legitimately creates a sense of stakes, something Terminators 3 and 4 achieved rarely, if at all.

Should be great, right? Well, not really. However nimble SCC's gymnastics around the elements of the future war and its own contemporary mythology turn out to be, it's still dragged down repeatedly by what can be assumed to be the basic requirements of a weekly network television series. There is a default level of complexity and serialization that SCC is allowed to reach, and go no further. In other words, it always comes back to being just a TV show, a kind if sitcom (without the com), about a loose family of people on the run in unlikely circumstances. And in a lot of ways, the sitcom sucks: with its road-hopping, help-strangers-in-need vibe, The Sarah Connor Chronicles would not be out of place with The Fugitive, The Incredible Hulk or The Littlest Hobo, and that style of TV went out of vogue decades ago. Meanwhile, the back half of its day-to-day mythology are various mysteries about how Skynet will - inexorably, it seems - sprout up in the world, and as mystery plots go, SCC's tend to be sub-Jessica Fletcher.

The biggest problem, though, is the S and C in SCC, i.e. Sarah Connor. Doesn't matter how many term papers have been written about her; Sarah Connor is a shitty choice for a television series protagonist. I don't think Lena Headey is a particularly incapable actress, but the task of turning Sarah into a viable character for weekly drama completely escaped Headey and the series' writers. The Sarah of SCC is neither the hapless waitress of The Terminator nor the batshit-nuts powerhouse of Terminator 2. Instead she's a cold, and in some ways cruel, automaton who faces every new problem with brow furrowed and jaw grimly set. She is, perhaps, the least likeable, least engaging series principal ever. She is given atrocious voiceovers to lead into and out of episodes, quasi-spiritual gobbledegook that could have been deleted wholesale with no detriment to the storytelling, and her spoken dialogue is rarely any better. The core paradox of the character - that she is so desperately trying to save the world and the people around her that she is incapable of expressing feeling for that world or the people around her - might be a dramatic doozie in a different context, but a television show is not that context. On a television show, I'd argue, you need to at least halfway like the people you're spending all this time with. Not so, with this Sarah Connor.
Like Sarah herself, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is unrelentingly melancholic, which might have been another part of its difficulty in finding a lasting audience. I always appreciated the chilly tones of the first two Terminator films, and their palms-up "we're fucked" attitude towards the nuclear war forever beyond the protagonists' headlights. SCC appropriates this aesthetic for better or worse, and the majority of its drama is mined from how the human characters varyingly cope with the overwhelming burden of their weird, pre-cognitive form of survivor's guilt.
As such, Sarah Connor Chronicles stands out because there is legitimately nothing else like it. It's an action/adventure show where there is never even a spritely hint of victory; it's a science-fiction series where almost all the science fiction happens offscreen. And for any deficiencies in its principal character, its supporting cast is interesting enough to carry the load... and sometimes, even, elevate it.

The troubles with Sarah become such a clear ongoing problem for the show that Sarah is frequently sidelined to guest-star status, as the writers move in fits and starts to find the right balance of the characters (before inevitably snapping back to do an entirely Sarah-centric episode, the execrable "Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep" being the best example). Much of the weight is shifted to her son John, future leader of the human resistance, who, as played by Thomas Dekker, is as finnicky about that fate as he's been in all other half-dozen portrayals thus far. (Truly, John Connor must be up with Bond and Hamlet in the revolving-actors department.) Dekker has a casual playfulness about him that only occasionally is allowed to peek out from all the doomsaying, but he's a welcome respite from his onscreen mother, and the series makes better and better use of him as it goes along.

As was obvious before the series even hit the airwaves, SCC's largest success is the cloyingly-named Terminator character, Cameron, played by Summer Glau. Glau isn't working on even half the level she was playing at on Firefly (or even her brief Dollhouse stint), but of all the actors to play a Terminator since Arnie, Glau's otherworldly nature hews closest to making us believe that she is, in fact, a machine - albeit, in this case, a machine with serious emotional problems under all the programming. Cameron's bizarrely complex, semi-sexual relationship with John is one of the series' highlights, and the character gets all the best action beats and all the best comedy beats. Really, the show should have been about her instead of Sarah, if the writers weren't willing to share the wealth a bit more. Episodes like "Samson and Delilah," in which Cameron inevitably reverts to her "kill John Connor!" original programming, and "Allison from Palmdale," in which Cameron's buried human memories surface, linger on the mind's eye long after the series has ended - and the fate of Cameron, particularly, is the largest emotional dangling-point left by the series finale.

Other Terminators on the series hit with less success, be they Garrett Dillahunt's repurposed T-888, Cromartie (and later, much more engagingly, the pseudo-Skynet A.I. program, John Henry), or Shirley "Garbage" Manson's icy T-1001. I like Dillahunt as an actor, but feel he was a bit stymied by the material here; Manson, too, may have been befuddled in trying to work out whether she was, ultimately, playing a good guy or a bad guy. (Remember, bad guys never think they're bad guys - even Terminators.) The T-1001 also suffers some rather painful believability setbacks via the fact that, even twenty years later, a television budget apparently isn't up to the task of creating a liquid-metal monster as compelling as the one built by ILM in 1991 for Terminator 2. While Glau's prosthetic appliances recall classic Stan Winston effects, the T-1001 unfortunately brings up bad memories of Soaron from Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

The series' largest surprise is the welcome badassery of Brian Austin Green as Kyle Reese's brother, back from the future on ambiguous motives. I never, as a teenager, would have thought the phrases "Brian Austin Green" and "badassery" could be linked by a workable sentence structure, but there you have it. (Not for nothing, I guess, does this guy go home to Megan Fox.) Green has some great scenes with Dekker, particularly in "What He Beheld" and "Goodbye To All That," but the character is sidelined and ultimately laid low by one of the running storylines of the second season, the arrival of Derek's future-times girlfriend, Jesse.

On paper, the Jesse/Riley/Derek/John subplot is terrific. It contains one of the series' great reveals - the fact that Riley is not a normal teenaged girl at all - and gives us some of the best post-Judgment Day content in the series, in the "Today is the Day" two-parter. (Odd that both Terminator Salvation and The Sarah Connor Chronicles arrived at the idea of that submarine, completely independently of one another. SCC's obvious influence is Y: The Last Man, though, so I'll give it the advantage in any match-ups.) John's final confrontation with Jesse, and Cameron's final confrontation with Jesse, and Derek's final confrontation with Jesse (boy, there are a lot of "final confrontations" in "Today is the Day, Part 2"), are wall-to-wall power.

So what's the trouble? Simple: Jesse. I think she may actually be the most unappealing character in the history of television. Not an exaggeration: the actual whole history of television. Played by Stephanie Jacobsen, Jesse is a maddening, mean-spirited, illogical, contrived bitch - which can work out fine, provided we aren't supposed to believe that any of our characters (particularly in this case, Derek and Riley) would have fond feelings for her at all. She's terribly written, terribly performed, terribly conceived and terribly delivered. She is terrible, terrible, terrible, and she is flatly unbelievable as either a romantic interest or a soldier. (To whit: Summer Glau and Stephanie Jacobsen must, in reality, be the same size and weight, i.e. tiny. So how is it that I can believe that Glau could pick up a grown man and throw him across a room, while not being able to fathom the notion that Jacobsen could hold her own on the bridge of a submarine? Well that's an easy one: it's called acting.) The Jesse runner drags on forever, and the strength of its conclusion (and, truly, it concludes wonderfully) scarcely make up for the amount of time she spends pissing us off.





A lot of fans may have been disappointed when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was canceled by FOX, especially since the second season finale was such a cliffhanger. I was dying to know what would happen next, but we probably never will.

Despite that, Syfy has announced that it has acquired the rights to all 31 TSCC episodes and plans to air them on the network. The series will premiere on Syfy on Thursday, April 7, with two episodes beginning at 9:00 p.m. Terminator 3 will air as a lead-in to the premiere on April 7. The show will then air during its regular time-slot on Thursdays from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. With four hours airing every night, fans who missed the show should be able to watch the entire series within a few months.














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