Monday, October 20, 2008

New Recommended Sci Fi T.V. Shows

I can't remember a time when so many new T.V. shows were out. This is clearly a result of the writer's strike.

I can recommend two out of three new shows that I've started watching. I've seen two or three episodes of the all of them, a small sampling, but enough to show promise. And the fourth I've watched from the beginning.

FRINGE is the new J.J. Abrams' T.V. show (Lost, the new Star Trek movie). The characters haven't been exactly fleshed out, but we're curious to learn more about them, which is a good sign. Each episode is X-Files-esque, featuring a new creature or weird event each week. While the press promised no conspiracy like the X-Files, they lied: there is definitely an underlying theme of conspiracy. Old boyfriends coming back to life, appearing in almost every episode, if ever so briefly. The head of the biggest science corporation plotting and morphing (no kidding) into whatever she needs to be at the time, obviously with murderous intent and popping up from time to time. The show has a definite sense of humor, not in our heroine, but in the older scientist she's sprung from the mental institution and his wise-cracking son. We're not sure what it all means, but we're there, at least so far.

SANCTUARY started out as an internet bunch of webisodes, but now that Sci Fi has picked it up, it's visual fare for the rest of us. Amanda Tapping (Stargate) puts her formidable talent to good use here as the head of a sanctuary for mutants, strange (but misunderstood) creatures that walk the earth and need safe haven. Some continue to be locked up, while others serve tea. It's got a bit of a sense of humor about itself, much needed in this very serious dungeon of weirdos. Great sets, excellent fight scenes, artistic direction is top-notch.

LIFE ON MARS just changes one little thing, and builds on it normally (without additional sci fi events). Our hero. a policeman living in 2008, is involved in a police accident on his way to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend, and finds himself in 1973. Worse yet, his boss is Harvey Keitel. And Harvey's police captain doesn't exactly follow Miranda, if you know what I mean. I'm not sure why I am still watching Life on Mars, except that I like our guy and wonder what will happen to him. But I am truly irritated by his fellow cops, those guys who don't follow the rules and are the original chauvinist pigs. And at the end, we have a cop show that's just a cop show. Why then bother with the sci fi stuff? Still, there's a quirky sense of humor about it all. The jury is out on this one.

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES isn't really new, as the 2nd season just started, but it's starting to find its legs. I actually had sworn off the show, but watched the season opener, and I was hooked once again. I'm getting a little tired of the teen angst, but all the actors are compelling despite the oftimes lame dialogue and confusing plot. Still the best special effects on television.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Beverly Hills Chihuahua is a likeable little movie that employs real people and dogs, but adds a little animation to help the dogs have their conversations.

Jamie Lee Curtis' character, Viv, is a successful Beverly Hills businesswoman whose dog, Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), is the light of her life. We see many shots early in the movie where Viv takes her beloved white little girl to the spa, to the pool, dressing her up in a number of crazy-but-cute outfits. Thankfully, that's not the end-all and be-all of this movie.

When Viv leaves for a business trip in Europe, she entrusts Chloe to her niece, played by Piper Perabo, who is a party animal. She and her girlfriends go to Mexico for the weekend, and while they're out at a bar one night, Chloe escapes the hotel room. She's immediately picked up by the bad guys, and put into a dangerous situation in a dog fight. The rest of the movie is about how Chloe befriends the dog who helps her escape, Delgado (voiced by Andy Garcia), and the two try to make it to Beverly Hills.

It has some cute dialogue:

Chloe: I don't belong here. I'm an heiress.
Manuel: A hairless?
Chloe: No, an heiress.

I think we all recognize that lines like that won't appeal to kids, but they do make the movie bearable for the rest of us. However, I was a bit surprised that there weren't more jokes about chihuahuas, and funny lines about them. Most of the dialogue advances the plot and/or the growth of the characters themselves. And I find that refreshing.

I also found refreshing the fact that after a bit of time I wasn't thinking about whose voice I was hearing. The voices mesh well with the characters. And there was no sign, nada, of Mexican stereotypes. Yay! And we got a little bit of Mexican culture thrown in, to boot.

Did I like this movie? Aye, chihuahua!

Thumb's up.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) has been running his toy store for, oh, over a hundred years now. He'd like to turn it over to his assistant, Mahoney (Natalie Portman), but she seems rather reluctant. If you haven't guessed by now, Mr. Magorium has magical powers, and Mahoney does not. Hence her reluctance. Gosh, we'd be reluctant, too, especially considering that the toy store has a mind of its own, and so does every toy in it.

I can't recommend this movie, even to kids who have a lot of patience for things to develop. It's a little scary for young kids to see toys grab other kids, or walls turning grey. And it's kind of hard to figure out the adult characters in the script, most of whom just seem rather sad rather than amusing or even kidlike. It is interesting to see where Mahoney is going, and how she gets there, but it takes all together too long in the telling.

Hoffman is fine as Magorium, who is kind of crazy whacko in a nice sort of way. And he has that amusing way of saying crazy things that seems quite rational. But the truth is the movie spends too much time with our star when he isn't the story at all. The story is really Molly Mahoney, plus the nine-year-old boy (Eric, played by Zach Mills) who helps her along the way, plus a straight-laced bookkeeper named Mutant. I'd have loved to see more for each one of these characters, as they are the pieces to this movie puzzle. Mahoney, especially, is not drawn well: she's quite the enigma. Portman makes her seem friendly when she is actually quite sensitive and lacking in self confidence, but we're not really sure why.

The young boy who plays Eric, who is constantly in the toy store and who seems to be the only rational one here, is really watchable. That young actor is going places.

But this movie isn't. The film spends most of its time explaining the situation, and less than one-fourth of it getting out of that situation. Not enough time, not enough characterization on the characters who really need it, and too much on crazy Mr. Magorium.

Thumb's down.

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