Monday, July 30, 2007

Feldman and Haim: The Coreys are Back in Action!

What you will find below is a review of The Two Coreys, A&E's new
"reality" show. Should you be really curious about what you missed you can find a recap of the double episode that aired last night over on
Zap2it's blog.

What is this weird obsession people have with the 1980s? Were they really that fantastic? The music? The jeans? The hair? Really? The Coreys? Really!?

Well, at least it's not all back I guess, but the two Coreys are. Last night, their new show, shockingly entitled The Two Coreys, launched on A&E with back-to-back episodes. Why exactly they are back I can't fathom, but apparently, at least fleetingly, they are.

Corey Feldman is allegedly able to make a living as an actor full-time, and certainly has a nice house. Corey Haim on the other hand is unemployed and, we're told, clean and sober (his jitteriness calls that into question). Feldman is married, Haim isn't. Wow, it's like The Odd Couple; I guess that's why The Odd Couple theme music plays at the opening of the show along with an Odd Couple-esque introduction.

If I mock, it's not because I dislike it all, rather just because the whole thing is so terribly silly. These two guys were teen heartthrobs for about a minute and a half back in the mid- to late-'80s. Feldman is still friends with Haim, but seems to want to be able to have a career outside the Corey thing. Haim, on the other hand, sees this reunion as a chance for the two Coreys to have a new lease on a career and stardom. I can't imagine it being a success.

Even Feldman's appearance of wanting a career outside of the Corey thing has to be called into question though because, after all, he is doing this show. Hypothetically, he may just be helping out a friend, but I think he's pretty invested in the Corey thing still. He may be working as an actor, but it's not like he's getting parts in big movies. My guess is that he is just acting nonchalant about the entire endeavor in case it doesn't pan out. He doesn't want to look like he was really into it and have another thing flop.

It doesn't take long for their biggest hit, The Lost Boys, to be brought up. There's a poster of the film prominently placed on Feldman's wall which Haim happens to break when he smacks it (why he smacks it is another question entirely). And, by the second episode, they're attending a 20th anniversary screening of the film and talking about a sequel. Well, Haim is talking about a sequel, Feldman is much more ambivalent about it. Haim actually wants to write the sequel with Feldman (and possibly that other brother from the film, too). They both seem to want to make sure the whole thing is "done right." Certainly the two Coreys writing the sequel belies the notion of doing it "right," but I digress.

At first, Feldman's seeming ambivalence to the whole thing is weird. As it turns out, he's acting strangely about it all because he already knows that a direct-to-video sequel is in the works and the two Coreys aren't invited (Feldman was actually, he was offered a cameo but turned it down). This turn of events breaks Haim's heart (and, presumably, his dreams).

As train-wreck television goes, if you were ever interested in the two Coreys, you will probably like the show. It seems highly edited and some of the goings-on appear as though they were set up ahead of time, but it is an interesting diversion for the voyeur in you.

The Two Coreys airs Sunday nights on A&E.

A New Film Noir Collection - It's the same, but different

A skeleton is found one morning, having washed up onto the beach. There are no clothes, no flesh, and no clues as to what happened. Or are there? In comes the forensic expert who correctly identifies the bones as being those of a woman and helps a detective string together the pieces of what happened to the unlucky lady.

Is this a plotline from the next episode of CSI? It certainly could be, but it's actually the plot of Mystery Street, directed by John Sturges (The Great Escape), and starring Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn) as Lieutenant Peter Morales.

Mystery Street is just one of the gems that make Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 worth the price. While the ending is destined from the start in Mystery Street, watching the tale unfold and the origins of CSI come to pass in the form of Dr. McAdoo of Harvard University (Bruce Bennett) more than make up for it. It is a fast-paced film, well handled by Sturges, and the young Montalban shines in his role.

However not every film in the set is quite as exciting or fresh fifty years down the line, such as Where Danger Lives, starring Robert Mitchum and Faith Domergue (and with appearances by Claude Rains and Maureen O'Sullivan). In this story, a doctor falls in love with a woman who has attempted suicide, and ends up drawn into her web of lies, deceit, and trickery. Mitchum, as Dr. Jeff Cameron, is given the impossible task of convincing the audience that he would completely throw away his current relationship in hopes of being able to love, and save, Domergue's Margo Lannington. The cast is strong enough, and Claude Rains gives a good performance in his small role, but the story fails to engender any sort of sympathy for Cameron. The notion that he has a concussion and so may not be thinking straight as the story progresses is a foolish way to try to make him more appealing to the audience.

Mitchum appears again in the set in The Big Steal, which places him opposite Jane Greer, from the true noir classic, Out of the Past. The Big Steal may not be as good as Out of the Past, but it is certainly better than Where Danger Lives.

The Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 includes ten different movies on five discs: Act of Violence/Mystery Street, Crime Wave/Decoy, Illegal/The Big Steal, They Live By Night/Side Street, Where Danger Lives/Tension. All the films have been digitally remastered and look wonderful. Additionally, each comes with a brief featurette and theatrical trailers.

Perhaps my favorite in the set is Illegal, starring Edward G. Robinson as an ex-prosecutor and directed by Lewis Allen. Robinson was in numerous film noir pieces, including the famed Double Indemnity. Here though, Robinson is the lead, and has to face the enormity of his mistake upon learning that he sent an innocent man to the chair. After going on a serious bender, he ends up working as a not terribly honest, but incredibly smart, defense attorney. Eventually, he has to make a decision between doing the right thing and continuing to head down his current path. As with many noir pictures it is at times funny but more often dark and serious. Robinson is, as usual, a true standout and carries the entire movie.

One of the best features of this set, however, are the DVD commentaries. Each film has a film professor or historian discuss the work, including looks into the filmmakers, actors, and genre as a whole. Having worked for him in the past I may be partial, but Dr. Drew Casper's look at Act of Violence is a real treat. Though it sounds at times that he (and many of the other people providing commentary tracks) are reading from notes, the sheer depth and breadth of information provided by Casper is quite astounding. He provides information on every aspect of the film and genre and is well worth the time it takes to watch the movie again.

Not every movie in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 is the strongest entry into the genre, but they all have aspects that intrigue. For a fan of the genre or older movies, it is a worthy addition to any collection.

Friday, July 27, 2007

How to Eat a Turtle (if You're a Tiger Shark)

Jaws. That's almost enough said. That movie was enough to make a generation of children terrified of swimming in the ocean. How better to capitalize on our society's continuing and continuous fear of sharks than the Discovery Channel's yearly Shark Week?

That's right, it's back, and it starts next week. Actually, it starts this Sunday, July 29 (Is that next week? I can never tell), and runs through August 4. They're going to be airing a whopping 18 hours a day (9am to 3am) of shark what-not, including, I'm told, eight all-new specials.

Okay, I warn you, the video below is not for the timid, the weak-stomached, or the turtle-loving (even the teenage mutant ninja kind). In this video (posted by the Discovery Channel, don't think I went out searching for crazy video) a tiger shark eats a turtle. That's right, if you hit the play button, you'll get to watch a tiger shark eat a turtle. Man, do I wish the clip had some foley work, cause that chomping seems hellacious. Chompity, chomp, chomp, chomp.

Did you click? Did you have the strength of will and the fortitude of belly to click play? I did. Loved it. Listen, if you go to Youtube you can see a ton of other clips the nice folks at Discovery Channel have uploaded for your viewing pleasure (the one I chose I think to be among the most mild), but I'm not going to embed them in this article because it seems gratuitous (unlike the turtle soup you just witnessed).

Of particular note in this year's viewing schedule is Ocean of Fear: The Worst Shark Attack Ever which goes into depth on the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which, if you'll recall from Jaws, is the boat that Quint (Robert Shaw) was on when he got his first taste of sharks (or, more accurately, vice versa). That bad boy airs opening night at 9pm and is even narrated by Richard Dreyfuss (yes, of Jaws fame). As Quint put it oh so many a year ago (you really need to try and do a Quint accent to get the quote right, even just reading it), "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back, from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer," and his tale went on from there. Now though, you can hear Richard Dreyfuss go into depth on the whole thing with the help of several experts in the field (or, if your prefer, ocean).

Like sharks? Then, by all means check out Shark Week, or, click play again on the video -- if you have the guts.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Racking Up Some Serious Damages

Exactly what type of show is FX’s new series, Damages? Is it a murder mystery? Is it a legal thriller? Is it something more personal? After watching the premiere episode, it seems unclear; I am not even sure that the producers could tell you.

It all starts off simply enough, with artistic shots of a dead man, in a pool of blood, on the floor in a bathroom. He is found by the police and a murder investigation begins. But then the series jumps backward six months, and we see the dead man at a birthday for his girlfriend. One of the women at the party is upset about something to do with a restaurant she wants to open. What’s going on? Who knows.

Soon, the haze clears and it boils down to this: the birthday party was for Ellen (Rose Byrne), the dead boyfriend is David (Noah Bean) and the woman with the restaurant problem is David’s sister (though if they state that in the episode I completely missed it), Katie (Anastasia Griffith). It turns out that Katie can’t get the restaurant opened because the money is coming from Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) who wants Katie to sign a confidentiality agreement that would cover goodness knows what. You see, Rose’s boss at her law firm, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), thinks that Katie can give her information about Frobisher that will help her destroy him in a lawsuit Hewes is pursuing about Frobisher’s bankrupting his own company and selling out his workers.

Sorry, I said the “haze clears” and it really does not, does it? It is all so convoluted and makes little sense after seeing only one episode. And, as the episode flips back to the investigation of David’s death, one can only assume that you have switched the channels and started watching a completely different show. The deadpan discussion among the cops in the bathroom is hugely over-the-top, and is capped with the umpteenth derivation of Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe, with one of the detectives stating “good looking boy” as David’s body is wheeled out and the scene ends.

Like so many serialized dramas, the premiere of Damages asks many more questions than it answers. Sadly though, most of the questions, and how they are asked and shown, fail to entice this viewer. All that is left then in deciding whether or not to watch a follow-up episode are the characters. Are they interesting? Are they well portrayed and well written?

Certainly Glenn Close is fun to watch as Hewes, though she is, just like the story and plot, way over the top. The same is true of her current nemesis, Frobisher. Close and Danson seethe and boil over and play it cool and close to the vest an astonishing number of times.

It can be fun to watch, but the nonsensical questions put forth to the viewer are simply too distracting. The viewer has been dropped into the middle of the second act and the middle of the third act at the same time. There are simply too many dangling threads (and assuredly red herrings).

The premiere episode of Damages is an overly-serialized piece of work. It appears as though it will be absolutely crucial to watch each and every episode if one wants to hope to understand the machinations behind what is taking place. The odds that a viewer could pick it up in the middle of the season and understand the story are slim.

While there are shows that are written in this manner, and some succeed, Damages, in its premiere, fails to provide a sufficiently enticing hook to bring the audience back. There are certainly intriguing questions, but there is also the sense that they will all tie together in some overly convenient and terribly silly way just in time to start a new mystery at the tail end of the season finale. And, as I do not care terribly much about this mystery, I am just not sure I want to stick around to find out about the next one.

Nova science NOW NOW NOW

Sadly, after several reviews in which I said that Nova scienceNOW was a good, fun show, this week's episode leaves me quite disappointed. Certainly the humor is still there and Neil deGrasse Tyson holds everything together, but the stories -- particularly the first one -- are not as compelling as they ought to be.

The first story is all about dinosaurs, mainly T-Rex's, and paleobiologist Mary Schweitzer, who has managed to find soft tissue remains of dinosaurs. This is a pretty unbelievable feat considering that they died off tens of millions of years ago. She's even found red blood cells. It is an incredible story, but from the moment it starts, two things are apparent: 1) Schweitzer does not have a very strong on-camera presence, and 2) they're going to show a clip from Jurassic Park. The first of these things is easily forgiven. She's doing incredible work and she's the only one doing it, and it is difficult to engage with her and the story because of it, but it is understandable and only mildly disturbing. The second is a far, far larger problem.

It takes absolutely forever for the Jurassic Park clip to be used. In fact, it takes so long that it proves a huge distraction. I just kept thinking to myself, "Where's the clip? Why haven't the shown the clip? They haven't even mentioned that it's just like Jurassic Park, why not? Was the clip too expensive?" And then, wham! It appears, but not to great effect. In the end, this story is so poorly constructed that Jurassic Park would prove far more useful as an opening to the story and a "what if we could do it" then sticking the clip in more than halfway through. The next three stories are more interesting and well constructed, but by that point it almost feels too late.

Story number two is on epigenetics. Genes can either be turned on or off, depending on outside influences to them, and turning them on or off creates huge differences in who we are, and who healthy we are. In fact, it seems that many of these ons and offs can be passed from mother to child, in mice they certainly can be. Simply by feeding a mother mouse certain types of food, her genetically identical offspring can either be small and healthy or huge and unhealthy. Epigenetics are also at work currently in certain cancer treatments that are proving useful. That is a fascinating story.

Did you know that there is a sculpture on the CIA's grounds that is a code that even they cannot crack? Well, there is and they cannot. It was constructed by James Sanborn, with a little help from an ex-head of Cryptography for the CIA. The show goes into the history of cryptography, and teaches a couple of basic cryptography techniques. The even finish the story with a little coded message of their own. Solve it and you could win a prize.

This is the kind of story the show does best. It is light, airy, has a good character behind it, and is interesting. It may not be strong enough to be the lead story for the episode, but it is a welcome addition.

Last up is the profile; this time around it is about Arlie Petters. Petters grew up poor in Belize, and is now one of the most best researchers in the field of gravitational lensing in the world. More than just that though, Petters is doing his best to aid Belize however he can, including building an institute to help educate children in science and math. The story is a solid conclusion to the episode, one that is uplifting and provides hope for the future.

And that is this week's episode of Nova scienceNOW. What could be a really good episode is marred by a weak, poorly told lead story. There are interesting elements to it, and were it re-cut the story could truly shine, but as it stands, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for the rest of the episode.

Nova scienceNOW airs Tuesday, July 24 at 8:00pm, but check your local listings anyway to make sure.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Breaking News: My Recaps Now on Zap2it!

Dying to know what happened yesterday on Scott Baio is 45... and Single, or, starting next week, how Haim and Feldman are doing on The Two Coreys. Well, I'll now be writing weekly recaps for Zap2it's blog on those very shows. Find them here.

Don't think that this means that I won't still be writing up reviews and rants and raves here, but if you're anxious to read more, know that it's all out there.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bad AND In A Home, Then That's Resident Evil (For the Wii)

No matter what the popular myth is, Resident Evil did not invent the video game survival horror genre (personally, I’d vote that Alone in the Dark did). What Resident Evil did do however is set the gold standard in the genre. No one does moody, atmospheric, creepy, and terrifying like the Resident Evil series. It does not matter how many different systems and re-releases of the first two games you play, every time a zombie dog jumps through a window (even when you know it is coming), you jump. More than just moody though, the gameplay in the series is always top notch.

The latest release in the series, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, is no exception. Originally released for Gamecube in early 2005 and later for Playstation 2, the game (like most RE games) has found success on numerous systems. The Wii Edition of RE4 not only looks fantastic, but manages to utilize the Wii’s motion sensing controls in a way that enhances gameplay rather than simply feeling gimmicky.

The story follows Leon S. Kennedy, who first appeared in Resident Evil 2, on a mission to rescue the President’s daughter, who has been kidnapped, somewhere in the bowels of Europe. Dropped into a small village, Leon begins his search only to immediately be harassed by townspeople that require bullet after bullet after bullet to be stopped. Though an examination of the remains of Leon’s first enemy reveals that he doesn’t appear to be a zombie, something is certainly amiss.

As the game progresses, things just get worse and worse for Leon, and things really get going once he “rescues” the President’s daughter. Old enemies reappear, things take a turn for the weird, and there is just something not right about the villagers, their leader, or that El Gigante character. It’s a wild and fun ride.

Once the game is completed there are bonuses and special features aplenty, including the usual extra outfits and weapons, and the same ability to play as Ada Wong that was included in the PS2 version of the game.

The graphics in the game are some of the best yet available for the Wii, particularly the lighting, complete with lightning effects in the sky momentarily brightening things and rain drops bouncing off Leon’s shoulders. While the graphics are not what they might be on the PS3 or Xbox 360, they are more then enough to make most game players happy. The sound is equally good, particularly the use of the speaker in the Wiimote, which makes gun reloading sounds as well as knife swishes.

Handling the controls takes about 15 or 20 minutes to learn, and after that point it is completely intuitive. Movement is controlled with the nunchuk analog stick and shooting is controlled by pointing the Wiimote at the screen while holding down two buttons, one to aim and a second to fire. It’s an incredibly precise and easy to use targeting system. While some may call it too easy, the quantity of ammo Leon (more than in previous RE games and yet not enough to be comfortable) has and the number of enemies he faces make it more difficult.

The main problem with the game is Leon’s extremely narrow field of vision. The camera is placed slightly behind Leon, and far too often creatures attack from just outside his peripheral view. This does not appear to happen because the creatures are incredibly intelligent (mindless zombie-like things usually are not), but rather because the field of view simply is not as wide as it should be.

Despite any shortcomings, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition is, unquestionably, one of the best games thus far available on the system, even if it is just a port. Hopefully there will be more games like this one, developed specifically for the Wii in the future.

Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for blood and gore, intense violence, and language. This game can also be found on: PS2, Gamecube, and PC.

Five stars out of five.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Just Yearning To Be Kidnapped

Are you down in the summer television doldrums? I'm not, but I imagine that there are many of you out there who are -- there's nothing particularly interesting for you right now on television. You really just want to hunker down with some fantastically wonderful story, something with a good cast that's well conceived and well written.

Now, I'll admit, you did not listen to me in the fall when I repeatedly told you to watch this show, so I have no great hopes that you will now, but here it is: go out and get Kidnapped on DVD. It is only 13 episodes long, so it is not a huge commitment, and by the end of the third episode, you'll be hooked. Now, I do not just encourage you to go out and get it because you'll see just how wrong you were for not watching it, and how right I was for telling you to watch it, but rather because it is great television.

No joke, no lie, it is great television.

This tale of the kidnapping follows the abduction of Leopold Cain (Will Denton). Leo is the son of the incredibly wealthy Conrad (Timothy Hutton) and Ellie (Dana Delany) Cain, a family with more secrets than you can shake a stick at. In fact, they have so many problems that Leo actually has a bodyguard, Virgil (Mykelti Williamson), who was shot when Leo was abducted.

Brought into the investigation are the FBI, led by Latimer King (Delroy Lindo), and the private freelancer Knapp (Jeremy Sisto). Knapp has the ability to go places and do things King and the FBI cannot, while King has the might of the U.S. government and tons of manpower to be wielded at his discretion. They are a strong team, even if they do not always get along.

Hutton, as always, is incredibly charismatic on screen and though not often recognized for it, one of the best actors of his generation. It is a shame that his forays into the world of television have not lasted longer, because his weekly presence on screen would be a boon for the medium. The rest of the cast is strong in their roles, particularly Mykelti Williamson, even if his return to the job so soon after getting shot is less than believable. They always manage to add depth, nuance, and intrigue into even the smallest elements.

The story itself has twists and tricks and turns, red herrings, and more than one dead end. Everyone has a past and is overcoming their own demons, any one of which could destroy the investigation.

Was Leo’s kidnapping due to his mother’s affair? What about his father’s shadier business dealings? Or his father’s “friends” that he ditched when he had the opportunity to make something of himself? Maybe it has to do with the father’s affair? Maybe it was the older sister that did something to prompt this? How do Knapp’s demons and past history figure into it all?

The series provides more questions than you can shake a stick at, and while not all the questions are answered by the end, it is a fantastic journey to go on and just the sort of thing to take those summer television blues away.

You did not listen to me last fall when I said that this show should be watched, so you may not be listening now either, but I am telling you, this show should be owned. Check out Kidnapped on DVD, you won’t be disappointed (unless you end up hoping for a second season).

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Time Has Come For More Nova scienceNOW

Sitting down to watch the fourth episode of the second season of Nova scienceNOW I'm mainly struck by one thought: why have they only put out four episodes nearly nine months into their second season? They show is incredibly accessible and fun to watch. It takes some difficult scientific ideas and concepts and makes them understandable without ever making the viewer feel as though the concepts have been dumbed down. This episode's four stories are on: sleep and memory, CERN's Large Hadron Collider, a concept known as emergence, and a profile on archeologist Julie Schablitsky.

During my freshman year in college, I spent hours playing multiplayer Descent. It got to the point where every time I closed my eyes I could see the ships and levels and bonuses and problems. Apparently that's totally normal, though the example used in the episode of Nova scienceNOW is Tetris. Scientists in different labs around the country are looking into why exactly we sleep, and many (building from experiments performed on insects, animals, and humans) have arrived at the conclusion that when we sleep our mind processes what happened during the day and learns from it.

This is to say that if you can't pass the fifth level on Tetris one day, go to sleep, and if you try again in the morning you very well may be able to (this strategy never led me to any victories in Descent, but maybe it will for you). One of the specific examples given in the episode is with rats going through a maze. These rats have wires going into their brain, so that their thoughts can be mapped out. After running a rat through a maze to find chocolate syrup several times in a day, the rat learns about the maze and certain synapses fire in a certain order in certain parts of the maze. When the rat sleeps, the synapses fire in the same order, the rat is thinking his way through the maze. And, apparently, his visual cortex is active too; he's seeing the maze again. It's a great way to lead off the episode, because sleep, and the lack thereof, is something with which we can all associate.

The second story does not have the same sort of hook; it is all about CERN and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). CERN is the international particle physics lab, and this collider throws protons into each other at high speed in order to see what happens. We know that protons are made up of smaller things, and the collider will help show what exactly those things are. While this story is told in an understandable fashion, it fails to be as interesting as the previous story -- it is, much more, a story for scientists. It doesn't have the accessibility of the sleep story.

Luckily, the third story is again wonderfully interesting. It is on a concept known as "emergence." The story starts by looking at flocks of birds and schools of fish, and how each member of the group seems to know what the other member of the group is going to do; how they move with such beauty and grace that it seems as though it is calculated in advance. Turns out, it is not. There are very simple rules that govern each individual bird's movement, things like maintain a constant distance from the other birds, avoid predators, and things like that. When all the birds in a flock follow these same rules, what emerges are the movements of flocks that we are used to seeing. People in crowds exhibit the exact same patterns of behavior, too. And, the story tells us, it's possible that this is all actually how life on Earth began. This is really the brilliance of the show -- Nova scienceNOW did a story on something that virtually everyone sees and marvels at, the way flocks of birds and school of fish move, and found people to talk about it in an easy to understand way, and even is able to paint a bigger picture about humanity as a whole.

The last story for the episode is the traditional profile that Nova scienceNOW always includes, and it is far better here in the last position in the episode than in the third as it was early in the season. Up this time is Julie Schablitsky who explores the Old West and unravels myth from fact. She's high energy, fun, and is currently working on the history of the Chinese laborers who came to this country, built railroads, and did other difficult jobs. It is a little awkward to see this Caucasian woman talk about "telling the story" of Chinese people in the United States, and happily the episode doesn't linger there for long before talking about the famous Donner party. Schablitsky was part of a group that helped separate fact from fiction and showed that only very few members of the group resorted to cannibalism and only did so as a last resort.

As always, holding the show together is Neil deGrasse Tyson, who even does the interviews and gets to do the heavy lifting in the first story. He is the only reason why the series works as well as it does, otherwise it would be just a bunch of unconnected pieces. I am quite sure that I have said this before, but his personality is incredibly engrossing, and a large reason why Nova scienceNOW is as much fun as it is. If only the story on CERN and the LHC had used Tyson it may have proved more interesting.

Nova scienceNOW airs Tuesday, July 10 at 9pm, but, please do check your local listings rather than just accepting my word for it.