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January 27, 2010


CoverOn December 21, 2012, the world as we know it is going to end. Based on the ancient Mayan calendar, this "real world" doomsday prophecy is picking up a lot of exposure lately as the date slowly creeps up on us.

The movie 2012 uses this date has an excuse to make the ultimate disaster film. Disaster film guru Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Independence Day) has created a masterpiece of destruction on celluloid. The result is nothing short of spectacular, both visually and viscerally, and makes for the perfect popcorn flick. It’s great to watch, but falls apart when you think about it too much.

The film is divided by two stories. The first is that of Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a failed writer and failed family man working as a limo driver. As the city starts to fall apart around him (literally) he risks everything to rescue his ex-wife and his children and try to keep them alive as long as possible. The second is the story of Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, using a near flawless American accent), a geologist working for the White House who discovers that the Earth is slowing destroying itself. His story centers around how the government reacts to this crisis, and also tries to explain the science behind what is happening.

You see, on the titular date the planets will align which will cause harmful Sun activity. This activity somehow causes the Earth's core to heat up and thus forces the Earth’s continents to shift. This shifting causes all the destruction that the film centers around. Of course, how planets aligning affects the Sun, or how the Sun affects the Earth's core, or even how the Ancient Mayans knew about this impending doom (right down to the exact day no less) is never explained.

Anyways, the stories around these characters are great quiet moments amidst all the grand-scale chaos. The ancillary characters that surround them are the normal mixture for a movie of this type. They are a simple batch of the unlikeable and the quirky who all have some usefulness, and are unceremoniously killed off, then if they're lucky they'll get a brief scene for others to grieve, then they're never mentioned again (the only exception to this rule are animals and children, both of whom inexplicably escape harm at all turns). And then everyone moves on to the next point of epic carnage.

And when I say epic... I mean epic! The cataclysmic destruction of our planet and the cities is beautiful to behold. 2012 packs in every single disaster into one film; Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, nautical, any place disaster could strike and in any way it could happen, happens here.  And boy is it fun to watch. Whole cities crumble in glorious detail. Sky scrappers break apart in slow motion sequences where can you see every person and every piece of office furniture as they go to their doom. A major national park becomes the unwitting victim of a very large volcanic eruption.  Even Washington D.C. is not free from the tsunami to end all tsunamis. Every minute detail is crafted with loving care, and by loving care, I'm talking about the death of several billion people on the planet.

Despite some rather questionable science, and the usual where characters literally outlive their usefulness, 2012 is wonderful to watch. If you grew up on Irwin Allen's disaster films, this flick will knock your socks off!

January 10, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Coming about two years too late to be an absolute knock-off of Zack Snyder's box-office hit "300," but just early enough to capitalize on any renewed interest in mythology-based storytelling (see March's "Clash of the Titans" remake), the Starz network's most ambitious original project to date, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," looks to fill a void on television.

From executive producer Sam Raimi and the creative team that brought us "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Legend of the Seeker," Spartacus, as you may or may not recall from history class or the Kirk Douglas movie, is the story of a soldier who, as a result of his actions, ends up a slave in the Roman court. But Spartacus isn't your average house servant. No, he's sent to gladiator training camp and taught to fight, for the amusement of the masses. Understandably discontent with his lot, Spartacus sews the seeds of revolution among Rome's greatest warriors.

I got a chance to view the first two episodes of the new series, which premieres on Starz January 22, and can tell you I don't really know what to expect in the weeks to come. The pilot episode undeniably pulls all of its inspiration from Snyder's epic, with a level of blood and gore Tarantino could envy. Violent fighting sequences filmed in dramatic slow motion, with clashing sword and shields between men with ripped muscles covered sparingly by cloaks and togas happen every few minutes. Not too sparse are also the sex scenes, which are graphic and filmed with the same level of detail as the battle sequences.

In great contrast, the second episode diverges from the visual style of the first. Intact are the sex and violence, but the story shifts to include political intrigue, adulterous lust, and glimpses of where the season may lead us. Performances from John Hannah and Lucy Lawless are solid, as a married couple fighting to keep their place in the hierarchy of the times. Though, Lawless' blinding red hair could use a shade or two tone-down. A welcome new face to the screen is Andy Whitfield, who's portrayal of the title character doesn't fall into Gerard Butler-Russel Crowe stereotypes of the genre.

My short take is fans of the genre should soldier through the rough pilot for the more satisfying second episode to see where the story takes us. The good news for fans out there is there's sure to be more after the initial episodes. In an unusually bold move for any network, Starz has ordered a second season, "Spartacus: Vengeance," before the current series has even premiered.

January 05, 2010

V - The Series Premier

CoverFor those who remember (or the generation like me who caught the reruns), the original V was a miniseries in the early 80’s that involved aliens coming to earth making all kinds of promises, but turned out to be attempting a take-over. This turn of events prompted a group of regular folk to band together and rebel against their pseudo alien overlords.

By today’s standards, that miniseries, and the regular series that followed, is painfully cheesy. The acting is not very well done, and the special effects are woefully dated. The one element that still holds up is the story, which is a universal tale about normal folk overcoming great odds and achieving immeasurable success.

Naturally, the higher-ups in TV land thought that the "success" of the Bionic Woman remake and the Knight Rider remake (read: epic fail) could easily be applied to V. After the premiere, only one word came to mind… meh.

First off, let’s just say that the show definitely gave V a fresh coat of paint. This is a series for high-def. The scenes of the spaceships are gorgeous. At one point we get a very detailed fly-through of the interiors of the mothership. Obviously scenes like this were done at very high expense.

Sadly, that was the only real highlight of the premiere. What the show loses from what that mini-series was able to achieve was a slow build-up. The original rebellion had a very organic feeling, as you watched it build up from very humble beginnings to a full-on attack force. The modern retelling just jumps right into the fray with a rebellion already formed (it quickly gets deformed, but that’s for a future episode to explore). And while the original had the feeling that this was all done by ordinary people who were just trying to figure things out as they went along, this new take has professionals doing very uncommon people jobs. For instance, the main heroine is changed from a doctor in the original to an FBI terrorist hunter. Plus, the reveal that the Vistors are up to something is way too apparent way too quickly.

It’s odd that the only thing that makes the original stand out today is the one thing that got pushed aside so they could bring in name TV actors and flashy CGI graphics. I know you shouldn’t judge a series by its premiere, like judging a book by its cover. However, this show really needs to remember that at it’s core, it’s always about the story and the characters, everything else comes second.

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