Halloween Scene: Stranger Things & The Like

stranger-things-posterHey, look, it’s nearly October and I’ve already watched a bunch of great stuff! Like the rest of the world, I fell in love with Stranger Things and even wrote a list for CBR about a dozen other movies and shows you should check out if you liked it as much as me. Regular readers won’t be surprised by how much I responded to the idea of a bunch of kids trying to stop something far beyond their natural abilities. Plus, it gave me a great reason to re-watch the likes of The Gate and Cloak & Dagger. Continue reading Halloween Scene: Stranger Things & The Like

Kurtzman & Orci Returning For Third Tour Of Star Trek Duty

star trek into darkness After looking around Hollywood for new takes on the Star Trek film universe created by J.J. Abrams back in 2009, Paramount decided to go back to Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to write the third installment, The Hollywood Reporter says. The deals haven’t been finalized just yet, but the genre writing duo who worked on the previous films are expected to join back in on the Trek fun. Meanwhile, Abrams might be busy helming Star Wars Episode VII, but the studio’s trying to get him on board as a producer of this film as well.

As THR points out, 2016 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s most famous franchise, so don’t be surprised if you see Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and the crew back on the screen by then.

Undercovers Ain’t No Lost, But That’s Okay

How sick do you think JJ Abrams is of people comparing everything he does to Lost? I would imagine a lot, considering he reportedly came up with the basic idea and then handed it off to Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse who ran the show for its entire run. Hell, the dude’s gone on to rejuvenate the mostly dead and bloated Star Trek franchise and produce a string of other TV shows and movies. He’s a great creative mind and I look forward to seeing where his future endeavors take him, endeavors like his new NBC spy show Undercovers. First up, let me reiterate what I wrote over on my Maxim TV column for this week: the world doesn’t need another spy show what with good ones like Burn Notice and Covert Affairs and even boring ones like Rubicon and, with another spy show already in his resume, I’m not sure if we need another Abrams spy show. But I’m giving it a shot because the dude’s earned tons of cred with me.

But hey, it’s pretty fun. The show’s not great and it doesn’t smack of Abrams-icity per se, but it is fun which is good enough to get me coming back for more. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times, I love James Bond movies specifically and the spy genre in general. Plus, I think it’s a lot of fun to see a show like this on the air. It’s got a good budget, so things look good. As you might imagine, there’s a mystery as to why main characters Steve and Samantha Bloom were really brought back into the spy game after being gone for five years.

Here’s a quick list of what else I liked:

1. The Blooms are really likable. Sure, they’ve got common problems: they feel like the spark in their relationship is dimming IE they can’t remember the last time they danced, but those are pretty common problems which will hopefully bring in more viewers in addition to the genre fans. Hey, think of it like this: there used to be so many spy shows on TV that Get Smart, a parody, could thrive. Why not now?

2. The Blooms are BOTH spies, which takes out some of the clunkiness that comes with the old and boring secret identity concept. Sure, they’ll have to keep things from their family catering business, but that’s okay by me.

3. It’s awesome seeing African American characters in lead roles. Sure, there’s Halle Berry as Jinx in Die Anther Day and Carl Lumbly’s Marcus Dixon from Alias, but I think this is the first time a pair of married spies in a movie or series who are black.

4. It’s not Lost and by that I mean I don’t feel like I have to watch every single episode or I’ll be completely confused when I watch the next one.Plus, I can watch the show while flipping through a magazine or checking my Google Reader and still follow the action.

5. Something’s amiss. Like I said, the guy who brings them back into the spy game (played by Major Dad himself, Gerald McRaney) has another reason for bringing them back that they don’t know about. Now, because I watched Alias, I’m thinking that it might be that he’s not really with the CIA and they’re being played but I hope that’s not the case because, well, Abrams has done that already. It’s not an all-engrossing mystery right now, which is good because, like I said above, I don’t know if I’m looking for another highly-involved and complicated show.

So, I’m interested enough to keep tuning in, which is better than I felt after watching The Event.

Alias The Final Season

I wouldn’t have thought that after my reviews of the first and second, then the third seasons of Alias that the series finale would leave me feeling kinda bummed out (though, if you read my review the the fourth season, it might not seem too out there).

This season saw the real and fake deaths of plenty of characters, the return of former regular cast members, the birth of Sydney and Vaughn’s baby, characters switching sides and the introduction of two new characters. One played by Rachel Nichols (Scarlett in the G.I. Joe movie, which I still haven’t seen) and Balthazar Getty from the very first (and most watched) David Lynch movie I ever saw Lost Highway. Their characters offer the writers to tread a lot of the same beaten paths we’ve come to expect from the show, but, like the previous season, it doesn’t really bother me and I grow to like the new characters all the while growing more and more fond of the existing ones.

This was a tough series finale because one of my favorite characters dies, but they do it saving the world, so it makes me feel a little bit better. I also like the very end of the series which jumps several years into the future and shows their daughter a little more grown up. There’s an interesting little tease there that I wonder if anyone has ever thought about picking up. Maybe Abrams didn’t get it out of his system which is why he went on to do Mission: Impossible 3 and his new upcoming spy show on NBC. We shall see.

So, in the end, I’m not sure if I can recommend watching Alias all the way through. Left to my own devices, I don’t know if I would have gotten past the first two seasons (interestingly, the ones that everyone says are brilliant), but now, 5 seasons later I find myself liking the characters and feeling like I might even miss them. But I guess you might miss anyone who’s spent so many hours in your house with you, even if it was just on a TV screen.

Alias Season 4 Was Pretty Rad

I’m sure after my previous two posts that it comes as a shock to find out how much I enjoyed the fourth season of Alias and I can firmly give credit to two sources. One, a clearly higher budget (a dude shatters and there’s a giant floating red ball over a city among other SFX) and the other, Mr. Drew Goddard who came into write towards the end of Buffy, moved to Angel, then wrote and produced Alias and went on to write Cloverfield. He only wrote 5 episodes according to IMDb, but every time I noticed his name, I enjoyed the episode, but I also enjoyed all the episodes on a much higher level. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect, but what could have come off as cheesy and over-the-top to others, just felt awesome to me. Even the twists, many of which Em and I called, were fun to watch. And the season finale with the family kicking ass and taking names was awesome. They were like a real life super hero team and I love that kind of stuff. I was also thrown by the last few minutes and am psyched to get the first disc of Season 5.

I’ve also got to call out an episode called “The Road Home” which guest starred Jason Segel of Freaks & Geeks, Knocked Up, How I Met Your Mother, I Love You Man and Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame. He plays a guy in another country (can’t remember which one) who gets caught up in one of Jennifer Garner’s ops. It’s a great little fish out of water story with an actor I love. Overall, the famous guest roles were way down this season, but one guy returned that I love and haven’t mentioned yet, and that is Angus Scrimm. He played the crazy old guy who interrogated everyone in the first season or two but has disappeared thanks to the plot twists. He’s back in this and I love seeing the Tall Man in anything. Fantastic casting, by the way. Damn, he’s creepy.


"Look, Another Girl Fight Season Finale"

The above quote was straight from my lovely wife’s mouth as we watched the last episode of the third season of Alias. If you could somehow throw the word “crying” in there it would completely sum up my thoughts on this show. Season 3 really seemed to rehash a lot of previous ideas from the show (a man being betrayed by his spy wife, distrust in the organization, lying to loved ones, bad guys who just won’t die, incredibly sloppy spy stuff and crying. Lots of crying from our bad ass heroine.

The funny thing, though, is that I kind of liked these storylines better than those from the previous seasons. Maybe it’s that I knew what I was getting into when we started. Maybe it’s because the few people whose opinions I’ve heard said it was supposed to get so much worse this season, I’m not sure. I actually enjoyed this season more what with all the Rambaldi stuff taking center stage and twins and other family members coming to light. It’s not a great show, but the ticks seemed to be less (or at least less obvious) and you can see where shows like Lost and Fringe may have had their earliest seeds.

The most impressive element of this show, by far, has been the crazy amount of high quality guest stars they were able to pull in. Here’s a fairly completely list from Season 3: Scott Adsit, Djimon Hounsou, Bradley Cooper (he came back!), Richard Roundtree (seriously, Shaft is following me), David Cronenberg, Terry O’Quinn (he also came back!), Quentin Tarantino (also came back!), Isabella Rossellini (yeesh), Vivica A. Fox, Ricky Gervais (of original Office fame and general awesomeness), Raymond J. Barry, Peggy Lipton (Julie from The Mod Squad and Norma Jennings from Twin Peaks) and David Carradine (another returner). That’s a pretty impressive roster, especially when you consider that many of them made appearances in multiple episodes.

So, I’m curious to see how Season 4 and 5 go. I know there’s a twin or something. And a baby. But, since my expectations are pretty low, so I can’t really get TOO disappointed.

Jennifer Garner’s No James Bond

I’ve been saying for a few weeks now that we’ve been watching Alias. I had intended to do a review after the first season, but we got into the second one right away and I’ve been busy, so now’s as good a time as any to talk about the show now that we’ve finished the second season. SPOILERS abound.

For the record, I don’t love this show. And I’ve heard that the first two seasons are the best and it declines into the third, so I’m not sure how the rest will go, but Em digs it. My problems with the show are many, but one of the biggest is that our heroine, Sydeny Bristow, played by Jennifer Garner, just isn’t that good at her job. Sure, she can throw a wig on, sex it up and get the information she’s after, but she’s not the best fighter and she tends to get overly emotional when it comes to certain aspects of her missions. Now, I know that James Bond gets put to the ropes and doesn’t win every single fight he’s in, but he doesn’t cry about it.

Another big problem I have with the show as a whole is that it seems like all the big problems presented are tied up too tightly. What, it seems like Sydeny’s handler Michael is a spy? No, he’s just digging up dirt on her mother. Does this go anywhere? Absolutely not, it’s only used to make Sydney and us suspicous. But it just doesn’t work. There are all kinds of moments like this. Things don’t happen in a natural way and they come out as forced and obvious. There also seems to be this “let’s fool the viewer” mentality, which, once you catch on to, it makes for some pretty obvious storytelling. They’ll lead with an idea, you’re supposed to think A is going to happen, but because you know you’re supposed to expect A, you assume Z will happen and then Z happens.

This is exemplified perfectly in the season 2 finale fight between Syd and the woman posing as her friend Francie. Sydney actually comes off as a badass here, but the problem is that the story the writers are trying to tell isn’t matched by the fight choreography, so what you see is a fight that Sydeny should clearly be winning (especially considering her training), but, because the writers don’t want it to be too one-sided, she makes what look like stupid tactical mistakes just so her opponent can gain the upper hand at times. It was an intense fight, very brutal, but it just felt too written and unnatural.

I also have to call foul on the Season 2 episode “Truth Takes Time.” This is a game changing episode, but it was so artificially done that I was screaming at the TV. You see, Sydney’s mom turned out to be a spy back when Syd was a girl, but she turned herself in to the CIA, got everyone to trust her and then escaped to team up with the series’ big boss bad guy Sloane. In this episode there were just way too many ridiculous things happening I couldn’t stand it. First, Sloane’s wife turns herself in to help the CIA after hearing how crazy her husband is. Meanwhile, Sloane’s thinking of giving up his 20-year mission because his wife is freaked out. Great timing right? Can you guess what’s going to happen?

So, Sloane’s wife tells Syd and the CIA where he will be so they can grab him. Now, they don’t surround the building well enough to actually stop them when they’re running through the yard to the spot where the helicopter will pick them up, which was annoying. But then, Dixon, one of Syd’s partners, is on a hill with a sniper rifle trained on Sloane (with his wife alongside him), but the dude gets startled by a helicopter flying over him as he fires and, of course, kills Sloane’s wife. But here’s the thing, Sloane is sitting there for a WHILE and Dixon doesn’t take a second shot at Sloane or the helicopter. There was plenty of time for him to take several other shots and he doesn’t because he’s upset that he killed an innocent woman. I get it, he’s a good guy, but he’s also a well trained super spy who has killed COUNTLESS people.

I get that shows like this have to keep going on a combination of adventure and emotion, but it’s the emotional parts at the wrong time that get under my skin. They show later that Dixon, after realizing he shot Sloane’s wife, rolls over on his back and looks upset. WTF?!! He’s a damn spy! Take the second shot and THEN cry about it. I don’t know spys from anything other than the movies and I know they’re human beings, but Syd even talks about how she was trained to compartmentalize her emotions, which I assume is something real spies do as well, so freaking do it!

But, it’s not a bad show all around. I like all the characters, though tech geek Marshall has a tendency to poke at my nerves with his nervous, pointless rambling. And the set up of the first season: a spy finds out she’s not really working for the CIA, so she goes to the real CIA to become a double agent who finds out her dad is also a double agent was pretty cool. Limited, but cool. And the fact that they completely changed the game in the middle of the season by taking out all of the Alliance (bad spy guys) cells was pretty mind blowing. So big props for that kind of thing.

Another aspect of the show, and the thing that really kept me interested throughout the first season, which I found to be pretty dull for the most part, was the idea of this Renaissance inventor guy Rimbaldi and all his crazy inventions. It’s become the backbone of the story now, but I feel like we haven’t been shown enough of his inventions and what they can do (hopefully we’ll get more of that in Season 3, though we’ll see). I also feel like they let it dangle and fall off the radar for too long and it’s lost a bit of its luster going into Season 3, but we shall see. It’s a strangely fantastical concept for a show seemingly so steeped in reality.

One reason I think I didn’t like the show is because we were watching so many episodes on DVD in such a short period of time. When you do that, the little things become a lot more obvious and annoying as the slap you in the face several times in one evening as opposed to once a week. I think there’s also a difference in storytelling with shows like this now that the writers know everything will be online and on DVD. It seems like it might be like comic book writing where you’re “writing for the trade.” It might not make sense in single bits, but when everything’s together, you’ll get it. They also don’t have to remind the audience awkwardly of things in-episode and spend time on things like reviewing the entire season, that’s what the “Previously on…” part is for. There’s even a full-on clip show with new material wrapped around it (Terry O’Quinn interviewing Sydeny about her involvement with the bad guys). It was during this episode that it struck me that you don’t get episodes like this anymore. Sure, we get Lost shows where there are clips and people talk about what’s happened so far, but it’s not a canonical episode of the show. Since Alias started in 2001, it was just at the beginning of the whole TV on DVD thing and should get a limited pass because of it.

So, it’s been an okay show, not something I would give up many other shows to watch, but since nothing’s really on this summer, it’s worth a peep. I had heard that the second season finale wasn’t so hot, but I’m down with this two year jump (though why Michael would get married so damn quickly is beyond me). I’m curious to see where things go and, since I’m already not that into the show, I’ll be interested to see how it jumps the shark.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci Are Awesome!

Damn, these guys are awesome. For those of you who might not know, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are the screenwriters behind Transformers, it’s upcoming sequel (which I’m very excited about), The Legend of Zorro, Mission Impossible III, Fringe, Star Trek and The Island, the last two I watched recently.

Right off the bat, I’ve got to admit that I don’t really remember Legend of Zorro or MI3, so I can’t speak to their ability writing those or for shows like Xena, Hercules, Jack Of All Trades and Alias, but everything else I’ve seen that they’re written has been rad. As you might have noticed, Kurtzman and Orci have a history of working with producer, writer and director extraordinaire J.J. Abrams (Alias, Fringe and Trek). Not shabby company to keep if you ask me.

What I love about these guys is how thoroughly they think through genre stories that, a few years ago, would have probably been tossed to guys who were just looking to get a paycheck. Transformers didn’t have to be a good movie (and many of you might disagree with me on this), but it was. It was also full of crazy fun action scenes. Aside from the incredible stories you see on the screen, I’ve heard a number of interviews with the writing duo thanks to the Creative Screenwriting Podcast. Most recently I listened to the Star Trek one and it blew me away at how well they were able to address and answer logically many of the geek and logic-based questions. A few holes in the movie were filled in the original writing stage, but were later cut and there’s all kinds of other information they have to offer in these interviews. I highly recommend them.

Like I said, I watched The Island (2005) and Star Trek (2009) last week. I’m thinking of going back and listening to the Island podcast interview actually because I’m curious to hear what they have to say about their first original movie, which ended up getting directed by Michael Bay (who I’ve gone on record as loving). The Island is a very cool movie though it seems at first to have a ton of plot holes (how do they go from naive teenage-level beings to pulling off this crazy scheme?). But, the more I think about the various apparent holes, the more I can explain them. Ewan McGregor’s character is growing memories right? So maybe he’s growing a few character traits here and there. It’s these kinds of questions I think would be addressed in the podcast, which I will, now that I think about it, definitely be downloading from iTunes tomorrow.

What I do know just from watching the movie without any background is that it was clearly influenced by some of the classic 70s sci-fi flicks I watched back in January. It was fun watching the movie, kind of knowing what the twist was, but not really knowing how completely it would flip. SPOILER: I knew they were clones, but I didn’t know the details, like that they were living in a complex created by someone who saw Logan’s Run a time or two too many. Even knowing what I knew, I still couldn’t figure how it would be revealed, so that’s a testament to the writing.

I definitely recommend The Island to anyone. It’s got the assumed Michael Bay chases and explosions. Even a car chase with a truck dropping big scary things while being chased by a smaller vehicle (cars in Bad Boys II, train wheels here). Plus you get McGregor, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean and Steve Buscemi who are always good, and Scarlett Johansson who’s at least nice to look at. Plus if you like their later movies, I think it’s always cool to go back and see how they broke into the movie business.

So, from their first to their latest, I have to throw my hat in with just about everyone else in the world and say I really dug Star Trek. I didn’t come out of it feeling like I did when I left Iron Man (PUMPED!), but I still really enjoyed it. It might be because I’m not a Star Trek fan. Before trying to tackle the Original Series this past year, I had seen only a handful of episodes from any of the series’ (that one episode of DS9 where they Tag and Bink their way through the Tribble episode) and the movies starring the original cast. I knew the basics, it’s hard not to when you’ve worked for some of the geekiest magazines in the world (don’t forget, I was in the research department while InQuest was still around). But, even not knowing much, I had no problem watching this flick, which was great, but I still got some of the nods to past stories.

I appreciate the amount of thought that Kurtzman and Orci along with director J.J. Abrams and producer Damon Lindelof put into this epic story, especially the way they made everything you know still make sense while starting this new continuity. Honestly, I really wish this cast would get together and just do a TV series. How cool would that be? Just forget about Heroes (I dislike that show so much that I actually wanted to hate Zachary Quinto as Spock, but he was so damn good I just couldn’t) and fly Simon Pegg and John Cho in between movie roles and get that DONE!

Also, how cool was that drill scene? I started laughing as soon as the guy in the red suit showed up while Sulu and Kirk were wearing different colors. Em asked me what I was laughing at and I whispered “That guy’s gonna die.” She asked me how I knew and I told her just to watch and, man, they did NOT disappoint with that moment. Even better, though, was how Sulu and Kirk handled themselves given a crappy situation. I love how Chris Pine perfectly embodies that “never say die no matter how bad things look” mentality. Obviously, I’d like to see everyone return for a sequel, but I really hope Pine does a superhero movie. He could do justice to a bunch of heroes.

So, next up from Kurtzman and Orci will be Transformers: Rise of the Fallen and the last two episodes of Fringe that I missed and I’m pretty psyched about both.

Wired Is Awesome

Thanks to the good folks at /Film I heard that Lost co-creator and producer/director extraordinaire J.J. Abrams (a fellow initialate) is the acting guest editor of this month’s issue of Wired. So, being a huge geek, of course I picked it up.

I was slightly familiar with Wired thanks to my time living with Rickey Purdin. He’s one of the biggest purchasers of magazines I know. As a producer of magazines, I’m thankful for his ilk, even though I give him copies of ToyFare for free. Anyway, he always had a good stock of Wireds in the bathroom and I would…partake when the opportunity presented itself.

Anyway, I’m only through the initial news bits in the beginning of the mag and haven’t gotten to the features yet (that’s magazine lingo for articles), but this is a great magazine. It’s a great mix of science and entertainment. Plus, a friend and colleague from the good old days at Ohio Wesleyan Jen Trolio has a bit in there called “Life’s Secret Codes” on page 20. I completely freaked out when I saw her name in the byline and then got really jealous, but mostly it’s cool to see someone else from my incredibly boring Journalism 110 (and also a fellow first semester freshman in a class full of upperclassmen) doing something in the magazine world.

Employment of friends aside, I’m also really impressed with the clean design sense of the magazine. It never feels cluttered even when there are a ton of elements on the page. I was also impressed with how easy to understand even the more complicated articles and sidebars. Plus, I haven’t come across any spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors, which does the tiny editor part of my heart good.

But hey, if you’re even remotely interested in science or like Star Trek and Lost, you should probably grab this issue and dive in. I think I’m going to get a subscription. It’s about time I start doing my part for the industry that I make my living off of.