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The Avengers

A cinematic Marvel in more ways than one
When the first Iron Man film came out, the studios behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe were embarking on something truly unprecedented in modern cinema. Iron Man was a relatively under-promoted movie with trailers that showed barely the surface of what to expect. I went to the midnight screening of the movie with a number of friends as a social outing, while they were the ones who were truly Marvel comics fanatics. By the end, I was absolutely blown away by the strength of the movie in both its action and gravitas. And after the credits, when Nick Fury arrived played by Samuel L. Jackson to announce "The Avengers Initiative", I was both excited and skeptical.

Although I wasn't an avid comic book fan at the time, most people my age knew who the Avengers were - the "World's Mightiest Heroes", comprising such characters which would be almost ludicrous to depict on screen. In this day and age, who would take a movie about Captain America seriously? Or Thor, who I knew of primarily as a chief Norse god and not a superhero? And yet, one by one, each of the movies blew away all my preconceptions and expectations.

The Avengers, the result of four years of meticulous buildup and hard work, does not disappoint. I am by no means a Joss Whedon fanboy, but you could see his work ingrained in the dialogue, the scripting, and the loving attention paid to a universe that he, as a comic book fan, clearly cares about. I remained skeptical all the way until I was physically sitting in the theater that this could be anything but an action orgy, yet through the most unlikely situations, they gave the film a heart.

The premise is surprisingly simple - Loki, Thor's brother from his film, is preparing to invade the Earth with the help of an unknown benefactor and an army called the Chitauri (who are in fact the Ultimate Marvel version of the notorious Skrull - minus the shapeshifting ability) while taking advantage of the artifact known as the Tesseract (which the fans of the comics would recognize as the Cosmic Cube). SHIELD's Nick Fury, recognizing the threat, tries to bring the team together with Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor, and the out-of-time Captain America, while consulting Dr. Bruce Banner, whose angry side has been kept under control for some time, to help find the Tesseract. The initial interaction between them is, as expected, not a cordial one, though you do see the beginnings of some deep friendships beginning, including one between Stark and Banner - evidently brought together by a penchant for genius. While there are numerous shorter action sequences stringing the film together with character setpieces, the finale of the movie culminates in one of the most brilliantly shot 30-40 minute action sequences I've ever seen. The third Transformers movie attempted something similar, and failed at it, where this truly succeeded.

A few things really stand out in the movie. The first is the evolution of Tony Stark's character. In previous movies the main thing that had really been explored were (a) his ego and (b) his quest for redemption; as Rogers puts it, however, he seems to only fight for himself and is "all about style". Yet, in this film, he manages to portray not only a semblance of heroism, but participates in one of probably the most heroic acts depicted so far in a superhero film. His relationship with Dr. Banner manages to underscore just how strong his character has become - where the other team see Banner as a ticking "time bomb", as he aptly puts at one point, Stark believes that not only did the Hulk save Banner's life, it is something of his nature to be embraced and taken control of instead of feared. And ultimately, the faith he shows in him proves to be right.

Another strong element of the film, as in most Joss Whedon productions, is the uplifting of a strong female character, namely Black Widow. Natasha Romanoff had a bit part in the second Iron Man film, but wasn't the real focus of the film nor was she fully explored as a character. This film provides a strong focus into her psyche as a master assassin and highlights her relationship with Hawkeye, the master marksman. She's surprisingly one of the film's most inscrutable characters, showing only enough emotion as she needs, but being capable of great loyalty, compassion, and heroism. Despite her and Clint Barton being the two "non-superheroes" on the team, they provide an absolutely integral part of the team; their role is irreplaceable on the team and they kick as much butt as the rest of the hyper-powered team members. At no point in the movie did I feel like any one super hero was used to prop up the others like a crutch.

And finally, without a doubt, Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of both Bruce Banner and the Hulk is probably one of the best ever to hit the screen. Previous movies had touched on the strength of the Hulk and his potential for limitless strength while highlighting Banner's genius and compassionate nature, but it has never been done quite so well. He steals the movie, ultimately surpassing all expectations against all the odds. He grows rapidly (both literally and figuratively) throughout the movie, gaining a new sort of confidence. Before the film I wasn't a huge fan of the Hulk, but after-wards, I have infinitely more respect for the character - mixed in with a touch of respectful fear.

This movie is definitely worth watching in theaters, on the big screen. The experience is 100% worth it. All I can say is, The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to if it hopes to do anywhere near as well as this monster of a film.

Captain America: The First Avenger

The Cap doesn't disappoint
The Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong, it seems--with nearly every film release closer to their Avengers extravaganza, we get a new style of storytelling which seems to show just how diverse the universe really is. With Iron Man, we get a balls-out action flick with glitz, glam, and some great character. With The Incredible Hulk, we got a taste of a genuine love story. In Thor, we got a fantasy epic which took an old story and made it incredibly new. And finally, Captain America takes classic war movies like Patton, adventure movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and superhero films, and puts together an amazing amalgam which works well.

The story is one of the oldest in comic book history but they manage to distill it down to its core for the uninitiated: Steve Rogers, a puny kid from Brooklyn, wants so badly to join the army to fight evil and serve his country, but keeps getting turned down because of his laundry list of medical problems and his stature. Eventually he captures the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine, a German defector who was horrified with Hitler's rise to power, and he becomes the test subject for a super-soldier serum that augments Rogers' strength - not just physically, but emotionally, building upon his inherently good character. This forms the core of the movie, as Erskine repeatedly states that no matter what Rogers becomes, he should "stay a good man". And he does. He eventually comes head to head with the Red Skull, the head of the Nazi science division, Hydra, who has ambitions of his own to take over the world using a device he calls the "Tesseract" (which most comic book fans might recognize as the infamous Cosmic Cube!).

The movie itself is written and directed beautifully. It doesn't rely on the superhero clichés of the guy who falls from grace or has some sort of personal problems, and then has to work to overcome them or become humbled. Thor in this respect, despite its originality, was very much a typical comic book film. The Cap isn't full of personal problems - sure he's a weakling at first, but what matters most is his convictions and his character, and that's what shines throughout the movie. Repeated scenes in the movie showcase this and really allow us to see what makes the Cap unique. Is he perfect? Well, he has trouble talking to women, sure. But he's not tempted by evil, greed, or selfishness.

More than anything, I love how this movie starts to really tie the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe together. We meet Howard Stark, the father of Tony Stark, with his Howard Hughes-esque personality. The Cosmic Cube is a gift to mankind from Odin, and the various references to Yggdrasil, the Nine Realms, etc tie in the cosmic mythos built up in Thor. And at the end... without giving away too much... we finally see SHIELD enter the picture.

This movie is worth your money at the theaters. 9/10.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Immensely good start to a two-parter
It's sort of unfair to have to do a review to the Part 1 of a movie since there were a lot of plot threads left hanging (as intended) but for the most part, it stands on its own as a fairly decent film. It's probably one of the most faithful in terms of adaptation to the novel (with a few extra scenes added in for emotional and dramatic effect), which has the dual effect of being very good for the fans but not necessarily the most coherent for people who haven't read the books. That's why I gave it a 9 out of 10 for the most part.

The movie starts off on a strong note, more or less where the novel began (with a short, rather shocking prologue where Hermione wipes her parents' memories to protect them) at Malfoy Manor, where Voldemort discusses how he wants to kill Harry Potter, and so on and so forth. For the next thirty minutes or so it follows almost *exactly* from the novel in terms of events progression (though they cut out a few relatively disposable characters like Tonks' parents). There's a fantastic aerial battle over the skies of England (and oddly on the streets as well, apparently us nonmagical people don't notice anything), with the aftershock and the reading of Dumbledore's will, etc, etc.

Then this is where the movie REALLY begins - the Ministry is taken over by the Death Eaters, Voldemort's faction, and they start a manhunt for Harry and his friends, and begin to round up "undesirables" in what is basically a campaign of genocide. This is an eerie depiction for Harry Potter novel fans and a chilling one for those who have read stories of the Nazis, Stalinists, etc. as they realize just how evil Voldemort's plans really are. I was a little amused to see they played the trope straight and installed a cadre of blackshirts in the new Ministry of Magic, ready to carry out their shadow Fuhrer's orders.

There's a lot of complaints about the second half of the movie, which slows down considerably, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione getting lost in the woods as they are forced to run and hide in any way they can but without any sort of real plan of action - and this definitely induced some ennui. Even I was forced, at times, to push myself to keep watching the scenes with the understanding that it's going to get crazier and crazier.

Unfortunately a few things aren't handled properly; Firstly, the whole subplot about Dumbledore's childhood and past, and his relationship with Grindelwald is sort of rushed and mangled as though they had saved it up for an "extended version". I doubt most of the viewers who haven't read the books know who the heck Grindelwald is (basically the magical equivalent of the German Fuhrer during the Second World War) and how he figures so importantly into the plot; I'm HOPING they make that more clear in the second movie. The other thing that wasn't properly explored was the concept of the Deathly Hallows (again something I'm sure they'll give more time to in the second film), since they sort of went from having it explained to them to being bombarded by Death Eater explosives and then going on a chase through the woods and then holycrapthemovieisalmostover.

Anyway... remaining cautiously optimistic for the finale, I'm sure it'll be fun, but hopefully it makes clear some of the weaker points of this film.

Sherlock Holmes

Absolutely brilliant!
I found it strange when I read reviews that people were labeling Guy Ritchie's new film as a travesty of sorts to the canon of Sherlock Holmes. Not only did I find the film delightfully refreshing, it is easily one of the best thrillers of the year. It plays like a classic mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes and injects enough kinetic action into it without sacrificing the integrity of the Holmes canon. In fact I would argue that not only does it not sacrifice the integrity, it ENHANCES it.

The vision of Sherlock Holmes with the deerstalker cap and the clogs and the meticulous tidy demeanor is one concocted purely in some fictional alternate universe where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle apparently never existed. The Sherlock Holmes from the book was a fast-living, eccentric, drug-abusing, fairly obnoxious character whose intelligence was not only a gift, but a curse; it managed to alienate everyone he had ever known, save for a few friends in the police force who admired him and his dearest friend, Dr. Watson (played by Jude Law). Not only is he a more energetic Holmes, he's a much more accurate and faithful one too. We get to see more of his physical side (in conjunction with a considerable amount of his mental side, in fact; I can't begin to count the number of times in the film we see Holmes use logical deduction and quick thinking to piece together facts, even at the eleventh hour). This is, again, in keeping with his character from the stories - he does know martial arts and he is a master of disguise.

The story itself is immensely entertaining too. The film starts out with him supposedly closing a case involving a Satanic serial killer, who turns out to be a nobleman in the House of Lords, namely, Lord Blackwood (who is yet another cameo character). Blackwood is tried and hanged soon thereafter, and old flame Irene Adler (ANOTHER cameo character - see, how can the Holmes enthusiasts NOT love this film?) comes to him with a case. There is a subplot about her working with another person, which I won't reveal as it's a fantastic revelation near the end of the film, but Holmes quickly discovers that her case is connected to Blackwood's - who apparently is no longer dead and has risen from the grave. The film is largely spent trying to figure out Blackwood's endgame, making logical leaps throughout and culminating in an intensely exciting climax.

Dr. Watson is a heavily improved character from the bumbling comic relief he served in the television series - in fact, he is more accurately depicted (though without the limp), as a veteran of the Afghan wars, and a stout, powerful man with some martial arts capabilities of his own. Most importantly, his relationship with Holmes as his closest friend, more than a brother, is given high importance and much more respectful treatment. Holmes is devastated to learn that Watson is not only getting engaged and married, but that he's going to move out of 221B Baker Street. The two prove to be nearly inseparable companions, although of course his irritation with Holmes does occasionally reach a boiling point (as it should).

Anyone - including those new to Holmes and Holmes fans/enthusiasts - is going to love this movie. It takes a ton of talent to produce a movie like this and I can't wait for a sequel.

New York

Good, bad, and mild.
Being an Indian American myself, I was personally affected by the 9/11 attacks very strongly. They were a powerful psychological blow to myself as an American and the justification for a great deal of discrimination I experienced following the attacks.

Therefore, when a film about the event comes out from an alternative perspective, I'm always very intrigued about the possibilities of what's being depicted. New York explores the effect of 9/11 upon three individuals, all Indian college graduates from a faux American university located in NYC (although I'm not entirely sure if Katrina Kaif's character is Indian...); two of them have grown up in the United States from their childhood (including John Abraham) and the other came to the USA for schooling. All three of them love the United States and Sam, the American-born Muslim, considers it his home. A love triangle forms, but the third member of their group, Omar, leaves after 9/11 occurs, disheartened by his unreciprocated love and the difficult situation that has been made for Muslims.

Years later, the FBI picks him up in Philadelphia, after planting guns in his trunk; as it turns out, it's a ruse for him to spy on Sam, who has married the girl he loved, Maya, and is now a suspected terrorist. In complete disbelief, Omar discounts this, as the Sam he knew loved his country more than his own life. However, when he agrees to find out what Sam is up to, he finds out to his horror that Sam has started working against the United States alongside a number of known terrorists towards an unspecified plan that is only revealed at the film's climax. Having been captured and tortured for months shortly after graduating from university for "suspected terrorist activities" he is arrested under the PATRIOT act and only released after there is no evidence of his connection to terrorist activities.

The film goes through some pretty unspeakably awful things to depict what is done to break the prisoners. Sam proves no different, breaking as well, but of course not being a terrorist, has nothing to reveal. He's mentally scarred after being released and marries Maya, but unable to find comfort, he follows a cryptic message given to him by another inmate who leads him to a terrorist cell in NYC. Omar, upon realizing that the US government is indirectly responsible for turning him into a terrorist, realizes that there is hope for him still, and tries his best to work with the FBI while attempting to get Sam to recant.

Although you don't sympathize with what Sam becomes as you see what he was put through, you can still see that it was done to him, and not a function of his own choice. Omar's character is played well and is a strong counterpoint to Sam. The film's main weaknesses lie in its completely absurd depictions of American college and suburban life, but this is more or less a function of it being a Bollywood movie... they aren't really known for researching anything beyond an American stereotype when making these kinds of films as most of those scenes are thrown in as rickshaw-driver crowd pleasers. The other weakness is Katrina Kaif's character, Maya, who aside from being a boring and stolid middle-of-the-triangle character, is also an awful actress. I've never understood this Indian obsession with her; I don't find her all that attractive and I can think of many other actresses who could have fit the bill, were equally attractive, and could actually act worth their own salt.

On the other hand, the main purpose of the film, to portray Muslims in Americas' lives before and after 9/11, both succeeds and fails. Yes, Muslims were not really as persecuted beforehand; on the other hand, they're really not all that persecuted now. I realize Kabir Khan is making a more allegorical film, but he would do well to recognize that he's drawing up an artificial distinction. Before 9/11, the US still had racial and religious tensions, and little has changed afterwards, if at all. The effect of 9/11 was temporary, and while it certainly changed my view forever, the way it's depicted in the film is almost completely ridiculous. Indians, before they became more prolific in the American media and public life, usually kept their heads down; I certainly did. We were quiet contributors to society and are generally white collar workers who would spend time at college, uh, studying, not playing the class clown. I find it a little irritating that again, as usual, the Indian director in question, Kabir Khan, did not bother to do his research by interviewing real NRIs and first-generation Indians here. Of course, it's likely he was just making a popcorn flick in the guise of a sociopolitical film, so it hardly matters.

The thing that probably bothered me the most is the depiction of how people reacted after 9/11. They looked at the TV set where the twin towers were falling.... and kept watching. Really? Let me give you my personal story. I was in middle school at the time. My classmates kept talking about the "Muslims blowing up the twin towers", and myself not being a Muslim but being an Indian, I didn't think they would target me. Then I get a call from my mother to pull me out of school for the day for fear that there could be a retaliation against me - and she was right. I didn't attend school for three days because my parents were afraid if we stepped out of the house, we would get shot in retaliation for attacks they had nothing to do with, simply because of our brown skin. THAT is the real effect of 9/11.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who's interested, in any case; just take their cultural depictions with a grain of salt.

NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Amazing show
I got into NCIS only during the past summer but I was so engrossed with the show that I watched it start to finish. It had a rocky start, sure, with the show trying to find its footing and its niche, but it figured out what it wanted to be fast and I find it to be FAR superior to its parent show, JAG. The plots, the characters, the cases, the everything, in this show, makes it great.

NCIS is the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, an actual organization, which investigates the homicides and crimes committed by or against members of the US Navy - i.e. naval civilian officers, navy officers and enlisted, and marine officers and enlisted. They're also very obscure, and hence are seen as the underdog of law enforcement(in the show, anyway) but, of course, as our heroes, they are brilliant. The main character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, is a former gunnery sergeant Marine sniper with a murky and depressing past (like Bellisario likes to make his characters) and appears to have a consistent team of four characters: Abby Sciuto, the forensics expert, Anthony DiNozzo, the senior field agent, and Timothy McGee, the computer forensics expert and field agent who joined the show as a permanent member in season 2.

Earlier in the show, Kate Todd, played by Sasha Alexander, was also a member of the team and a former member of the Secret Service tasked with protecting the life of the president. Her character ended up being killed in one of the most brilliant story arcs I've seen on TV, and being replaced by Ziva David, a very unique character in terms of law enforcement drama, as she is a Mossad officer - i.e. her training is not investigation, but rather assassination and intelligence gathering.

The show has two very strong aspects to it which really make it stand out from the other generic shows of its kind like CSI. Firstly, the characters are, while somewhat stereotypical in their mold, fully developed and incredibly dynamic. Tony is perhaps the best example of this - when the show started he was a goofy, slightly moronic field agent, and he developed into the professional, trained officer who keeps his sense of humor in check or uses it to his advantage. Relationships between the characters changed dramatically, with Ziva and Tony starting out as small friends and quickly graduating to huge amounts of romantic tension - which of course ends up playing a massive role in the 6th season and ultimately brings the events to their culmination. The second aspect of the show that really makes it unique to me is both the creativity of the individual cases and the amazing nature of the story arcs. The La Grenouille story arc was absolutely brilliant and I could not have foreseen it, and the introduction of Ari and Michael were equally fascinating. In addition to that, the show is not afraid to make some bold choices (for those who have seen the season 2 finale, they know what I'm talking about). Characters can go and come and even with the main ones, there's no certainty. It's the mark of a good television show.

The dark horse of the show, Dr. Mallard, played by famous Scottish actor David McCallum, is probably the most intriguing of these characters. As a body forensics expert he has a strange past that he loves to share but personally, as a medical student, I found the accuracy of his character's work to be fascinating. The autopsy scenes, while grisly, fascinate me because they're quite accurate in their depiction and their protocol.

This show is worth seeing and is a family show; I think it can be watched by more than one generation at a time and is thoroughly enjoyable. 9/10

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Not a bad film, perhaps the second best of the series
I wasn't expecting the movie to be good when I saw this film, mind you - I had no real expectations going in at all, beyond a kind of dread. The PG rating immediately turned me off, and I was pretty much going through the motions with it. The moment the film started i was utterly surprised at the dark, Gothic feel that was not nearly as prevalent in previous films.

The first massive improvement over the past films is Michael Gambon's acting. Although he's not 100% perfect as Dumbledore, his previous appearances were AWFUL. He had none of the wisdom, finesse, and flair that Dumbledore seemed to have in the books. In this one he was very accurate (if a little less serene) to the book and actually appeared to have read up on his character. He seemed more like the headmaster I had envisioned in the novel and he certainly seemed to show all the characteristic Dumbledore-esquire traits.

The second improvement was Ron's character. In the previous films he was like the whipping boy instead of an actual character, and that thoroughly irritated me. Instead of being Harry's best friend, they made him his sidekick and turned Hermione into his best friend. I realize the reason they did this is because he has more jovial chemistry with Emma Watson, but it's still annoying and completely out of line with his character. They improved that considerably in this film and used his romance with Lavender to round him off nicely. For reasons inexplicable to me they turned Lavender into a cheerleader-esquire bimbo, but I'm not really complaining as she's not a very important character.

The plot was pretty solid. They cut out some things that were fan favorites, I suppose, including some of the memories, but overall I found it flowed very well. I would have liked them to leave in the memory of Hufflepuff's cup so it wouldn't come out of left field in the next movie, but I suppose they'll deal with that in some manner eventually.

... I hope.

I was not, however, impressed with the way the Astronomy Tower scene was done. While I'm sure the real loyalty of Snape is now common knowledge, it did not seem that way in the book and they should have made it feel so. Perhaps it's just me, but it didn't look like Dumbledore was pleading and that Snape killed him cold blood, which is what it was staged to seem. And why the HELL would Harry just stay below on the word of his headmaster? He was *paralyzed*, he was ready to come running but he couldn't in the book. The whole impact of Snape being the Half-Blood Prince was lost as well, they didn't really properly go into it. I didn't mind the funeral being cut, though - the scene with the students wiping out the Dark Mark from above Dumbledore was actually quite touching, and it seems like Daniel Radcliffe really got into character as Harry.

Purists are going to be disappointed. This movie takes quite a few liberties from the book, going so far as to actually suggest the Ministry and the Order KNEW about Draco's plan and did nothing about it, when in reality nobody believed (except for Harry, Dumbledore and Snape) Harry when he confronted them with this news. However it is a must-see film and I would recommend it to anyone who has read the books or is interested in a solid fantasy film.

Royal Pains

Decent, entertaining... as long as it stays that way
I'm a sucker for doctor-related shows, but I'm usually severely turned off by the ones which start diving into soap-opera territory or are used to probe the lives of filthy rich doctors and the many women they sleep with and the many things they drink and their big houses. There were a few shows which started to break with that trend early on in this decade, most notably House, which showcases doctors performing medicine as opposed to a show all about the doctors and not about the patients. That may have changed, but my point remains that it was the original premise of the show.

Royal Pains is a sort of hybrid. The plot revolves around a doctor, Hank Lawson, who, after performing emergency heart surgery on a wealthy donor to the hospital who dies due to complications, is fired from the hospital after he checks upon another patient who was crashing fast due to a heart attack. Despite the fact that Lawson probably did the right thing, and the man's death was likely not his fault, under financial pressure and legal threats from the family of the dead man, the hospital uses him as a scapegoat. Having been blackballed from essentially ever performing emergency medicine in a hospital again, his life descends into chaos, his fiancée leaves him, and he loses pretty much all of his possessions. His brother Evan picks him up for a weekend of partying in the Hamptons - yes, THE Hamptons - and end up inside of a party where Hank performs an emergency procedure to save a person's life.

I'm willing to accept the implausibility of the whole situation, that a guy who has just lost his job and all of his assets liquidated, would go and party in a rich neighborhood for a weekend. For now. With that out of the way, he goes back to his motel, and gets a call from someone else who got into a car crash with his girlfriend. He performs another emergency procedure that saves his life, and word travels even faster when another woman calls upon him to... do a boob job.

Two minor characters are introduced here. Divya, a young Indian woman, believes Hank is trying to set up in the Hamptons as a "concierge doctor", a traveling physician who goes to the patients' houses and gets paid directly for his services. Hank is initially disgusted by the idea and believes it's reminiscent of a system where the rich treat doctors like servants (despite the considerable profit). The other is Jill, the hospital administrator to whom Hank develops a certain attraction, who believes that his actions which got him fired were kind and that he could have done nothing to help.

In this sense, the show seems to revolve a great deal around Hank's personal life as much as it does around the medicine. The show isn't immune to breaking the fourth wall, either, as Hank makes quips about learning emergency techniques from Macgyver and remarks that he "saw something on House". He remains a fairly likable character throughout, with a disdain for the over-opulent lifestyles of the filthy rich. When confronting the kid who was driving in the car crash, he is appalled to hear that the kid would rather just buy a new car for his dad (this car being a rare, million dollar commodity) than go and get it fixed. Instead of the rich and handsome doctor, you have the... well, still handsome doctor who values his ethics over money.

That being said, the show isn't without its flaws, since I find the medicine to be unreliable in its depiction, and the Hamptons are rather caricatured - only about 15 percent of its residents are of the filthy rich type and the rest are anything from boaters to fishermen to commuters who work in New York City. As long as the show doesn't devolve into trying to flaunt too much of the lifestyles of the rich I think it'll be successful.

True Blood

A solid HBO series
This is a great work of direction and writing on an HBO series. The show has a very straightforward premise in a uniquely realistic environment. Vampires exist, and they do feed on human blood, but recently the invention of a synthetic blood called Tru Blood has allowed vampires to come out of hiding and try to integrate into modern society, as they no longer have to feed on humans. They aren't supernatural and things like crosses and holy water don't hurt them, but physically while they resemble humans they have unique characteristics, like immortality, increased strength and speed, and a severe aversion to sunlight. Also, due to the fact that their neurons do not fire and their hearts do not beat, they are, for all intents and purposes, the walking dead.

Just like normal American society, however, being a new group has the serious disadvantage of ostracizing them and keeping them from integrating into society as normal citizens. The show draws a pretty solid parallel to the struggle of LGBT citizens trying to integrate into society... sometimes with the subtlety of a blunt spoon. The characters are what really make the show interesting though. Sookie Stackhouse, played by Anna Paquin of X-Men fame, is a waitress in a town in Louisiana where the show takes place, who is able to read minds. She meets a vampire in their restaurant for the first time, however, and can't read his mind. The vampire, Bill, is a former resident of the town whose family line has died out, making him the proprietor of a house which he owned... 170 years ago during the Civil War. He is trying to make a full effort to integrate into modern society and eventually he and Sookie fall in love with each other.

The first season ended with the resolution of a subplot about a man killing girls who had slept with vampires (made ever-so-clear by the gratuitous amount of explicit sex on the show) and opened up a whole new world of supernatural/odd creatures who inhabit the Earth, including shapeshifters and werewolves. But the real strength of the show is in its characters and its depiction of rural Louisiana, which has grown into the modern age while still retaining some backward aspects - and not just against vampires either. You see homophobia, Christian fundamentalism, and racism, all while exploring well rounded characters. My favorite scene remains the one where Bill gives a talk in the church (after laughing about the fact that they tried to remove the crucifixes, thinking it would set him on fire) and discusses how he's from an earlier time, during the Civil War in which he fought for the Confederacy, and how his father owned slaves. The show doesn't bring judgment upon him - I think we can all pretty much assume he regrets it now - but when a very old man in the audience stands up and talks about how his father was part of a regiment in the Civil War, the way Bill talks about him, you can really tell what kind of experiences he had. I am intrigued as to what else they will do with older vampires, like the thousand year old Eric.

It's a must watch, although I would never recommend it to people under the age of 18 because of the explicit sexual content and rather graphic violence (think about the effect of staking a vampire... *shudder*) but at some point it's a great viewing.

Star Trek

The greatest Trek film of the new era, and one that is sure to live long and prosper
I have rarely been able to go to the movie theater and say "wow, that was a great film. It was completely worth paying 15 dollars to see it in IMAX", since with a rough economy, I find it hard to justify taking out the time to watch films in the first place. Not only that, but many movies are essentially television episodes produced for the big screen, and don't take full advantage of the scope that a film can provide. Star Trek did that, and more, and topped it with icing and whipped cream while providing a relatively coherent narrative with an epic scope combined with special effects that truly blew me out of the water.

I had come to the film with high expectations, and was not disappointed. The strength of the film is apparent from the very beginning, when you witness the birth of Kirk and the death of his father thanks to direct meddling with the timeline by a crazed Romulan by the name of Nero, who's been thrown back in time inadvertently by a black hole. You later learn the black hole was created by collapsing a rampaging supernova that was consuming the galaxy, and before it could have been collapsed it destroyed Romulus, his home planet.

The film cuts to Spock and Kirk's childhoods, and their struggles growing up. Spock's Vulcan classmates refer to his mother as a "human whore" and he has trouble controlling his already massively turbulent emotions (which are because of his being half-Vulcan) due to his half-human nature. Despite being trained in the Vulcan art of emotional suppression, the Vulcan high council recognizes his abilities but always holds him on an inferior emotional level because of his dual species parentage, and he leaves them for Starfleet. Kirk, on the other hand, is being raised by his abusive stepfather, and despite being intelligent and intuitive, he's become a drunkard and a bruiser with no sense of direction to take in his life. That all changes when he meets Captain Pike, who tells him of his father's heroics, and he resolves to show his mettle by enlisting in Starfleet and earning his stripes as a starship captain.

In this sense, the film gives heavy precedence to the growth and story of Kirk and Spock, who embody the central presence in the film. They aren't friends at first sight, unlike the original series, and come to clashes when Kirk cheats on an infamous test (but if I told you what, I'd be giving too much fun things away!) that Spock designed. The interaction between the characters is far from awkward, and Quinto pulls off Spock's Vulcan stoicism with a passion. You can see his emotions beneath the surface, much like Nimoy, and he still possesses the casual sense of humor. This is perhaps the strongest part of the film, in that the cast members and everyone involved are not only good at their roles, but they bring to it a vitality that hasn't been seen in science fiction cinema for a long time. For all the insane criticism i've seen for them being young, that's *exactly* what we need - a younger, dynamic cast who can really bring energy to these roles. Even the minor roles, like Jennifer Morrison as Kirk's mother, were done so well I was convinced with their acting from the outset.

The space battles and SFX were, as I said, amazing, and it really gave dimension to the universe and to the scope of the Federation. My favorite scene is probably the orbital dive. The complete soundless space, no music, nothing except for the breathing in their masks, and then the boom of entering the atmosphere - this shows Star Trek at its best, able to use spectacle in an artistic form. The sound effects were cool and tuned to sound different, but at the same time quite faithful to the original (the beaming noise effect, the warp drives engaging, etc). I was particularly impressed with the soundtrack, which conveyed the urgency portrayed in the film and the fast paced action, while providing somber setpieces and a thematic tune for places like Vulcan.

I was most surprised by the vast emotional undercurrent in the film, particularly in choice scenes. The opening scene during Kirk's birth, where his mother is escaping in the shuttlecraft and his parents are trying to decide what to name him - all as his father, George Kirk, sets the Kelvin on a collision course and to his death - was one of the saddest, most poignant scenes in the entire film. I could actually see people crying in the theater. Another scene that stands out in my mind is where Spock meets his older self near the end of the film. The exchange shows the personal chemistry between Quinto and Nimoy, and it's quite believable that Quinto is playing the younger version of Nimoy's Spock.

I will warn the hardcore fans however that this movie does take considerable liberties with star trek canon. This didn't really bother me in the slightest, as it was (1) taking place in an alternate universe, and (2) has basically revived a dead franchise, but if you are easily bothered by things or take it too seriously, you're better off not watching the film. If you enjoy good cinema on the other hand, this is the movie to watch/rent when the time comes.

This movie is the must-see of the year, if anything else. It's made for the big screen, and you'll feel your money was well spent, at the very least. It's the beginning of a new adventure, and as I said, I hope this new franchise will live long and prosper.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

An improvement - but still made for small children
On a purely technical basis, the first Harry Potter movie was horrid. It was awful. But as an origin story, I let it slide with the expectation that it would be somewhat awkward because the first novel isn't all that good either. Working with whatever material they had, they managed to churn *something* out that wasn't completely embarrassing.

The second film is, overall, pretty good, but suffers from trying-to-please-every-fan-too-much-itis in a manner similar to the fourth film. There's some reference to every major scene in the book, some things are truncated, and a few of the "expected" scenes and/or lines are included to make the little kids "ooh" and "aah" with happiness. Which I suppose is fine, but looking back at it as an adult, I feel like I was cheated out of my money. Most major events are still included with sufficient emphasis and it seems like a much more faithful adaptation of the book as closely as possible, but with some serious drawbacks.

The plot continues Harry's second year at Hogwarts, where he's got to deal initially with some exposure to the Wizarding equivalent of racism, the first real encounter he has with intolerance and bigotry on a harsher level than in the previous novels. Then, a fabled monster is released from the innards of the castle, said to be hiding there for hundreds of years. Turns out, one of the school founders, who subscribed to the bigotry against Muggle-born wizards, placed him there expressly to kill them when it was released. The majority of the story takes a sort of detective mystery theme, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out to find out who/what is attacking the students.

As far as pacing and plot goes, the film succeeds in building up suspense and a story - to some degree. A number of the attacks are cut out to conserve time, and they don't show the castle being locked down as much, etc. but overall they manage the job. What the film suffers from heavily is the literal adaptation of dialogue. Instead of improving where it needed to be improved, they adapted it very literally and it relies too much on awkward exposition. The most striking scene that irritates me is when Fawkes heals Harry's wound, and he goes "of course! Phoenix tears have healing powers!" I half expected him to give a thumbs up to the camera and grin. There was no damn need to put that dialogue into the film. Another instance was where the trio happen upon the blood written sign in the corridor, and Hermione reads the sign aloud. I realize they're doing this because it's unlikely a little kid is going to remember what Dumbledore said earlier in the movie, or even necessarily be able to read the words on the wall fast enough while it's on the screen, but for the rest of us, it's just annoying.

Still, worth watching and I'd recommend it as a much more faithful adaptation, even though it's probably not as good a film as many of the others.

Dragonball Evolution

Easily the worst anime adaptation I've ever seen
Jesus, what a turd of a film.

In the first place, it was probably a mistake for an American director to make this movie because nobody outside of Japan is apparently capable of treating manga/anime stories with the proper respect or fidelity. Beyond being a complete mess as an adaptation (I don't have enough fingers or toes to count what makes this movie anything BUT dragonball-related) it's such a bad, bad, bad, bad movie that it's painful to discuss.

The plot (I think) has something to do with Piccolo coming to Earth after a long imprisonment(never mind why/how he got out) to try and find the dragonballs, seven mystical orbs which remain unexplained in origin. He sends his minions to find the dragonballs (never mind that he's apparently capable of leveling cities with a flick of the hand) in an awful, comical version of the Power Rangers. Then, enter Goku, the stupid turd of an excuse for a hero, who is (yes, believe me) a teenage kid in high school. I can't even begin to explain how stupid that is. Never mind his origins as a Saiyan. Never mind his training SINCE BIRTH. Never mind that he's got no backstory beyond the fetid, rotting, and stereotypical "geeky boy in high school who has the hots for the girl who hangs around the jocks" storyline. Oh, and Bulma is basically a Lara Croft-esquire Tomb Raider. I want to know what drugs they were taking when desiging (read: maligning) the characters for this movie.

The rest of the movie involves random, stupid fight scenes which are both completely out of whack with the style that you would normally see in Dragonball and/or DBZ and also inconsistent and useless. You have some chick named "Mai" who is apparently Piccolo's evil henchwoman, and then out of NOWHERE, Chichi turns up in some martial arts tournament. I'm not even sure what happened up to this point. Then, they fall into a bloody ditch, meet Yamcha, and waste a good 15 minutes of the movie screwing around (this was, incidentally, one of the few actual events from the manga). The rest of the movie makes so little sense it's unbearably hard to talk about.

Seriously, what the hell were they thinking while making this? Were they TRYING to turn out an awful product, or did James Wong have a checklist of "stereotypical BS to stick into a mediocre movie"? I feel like my eyes need to be cauterized after watching that bilge. Don't waste your money or time on this. PLEASE.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The greatest Trek film out there
I wouldn't describe myself as a "Trekkie". I've seen all of TOS/TNG and DS9, and about half of VOY, but I never really connected with the franchise as a rabid fan. However, I connected to this movie on a level that transcends fandom, because it genuinely is one of the best movies of its time and one of the best science fiction films I've ever seen.

The plot picks up a few decades after TOS, still in the 23rd century, and you still have the same main characters, but they're all much older and they're going through their 'midlife crisis', to put it mildly. Kirk has been promoted to Admiral and is no longer doing what he likes best - captaining a starship and going where no man has gone before. McCoy is a teacher, and Spock has been promoted to the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk literally loves the Enterprise as he would love a friend, and you can see his attachment to it and his utter disdain for having been promoted and been required to leave what he loves to do. Bones McCoy is there to hammer the point home to his face, telling him that he's not doing what he should be doing very early in the film. It's brutal, but very much the truth.

So he goes out for a romp of sorts. He takes the opportunity to "oversee" the new crew on a mission. Meanwhile though, Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically modified tyrant whom Kirk left stranded on a planet, has grown bitter and angry at the death of his wife and for the nasty circumstances he's been left in, and takes the opportunity to hijack a ship and steal a device capable of creating a new world - the Genesis project. He confronts Kirk, and they play a game of space chicken that would leave even the most disconnected viewer cringing with fear and anticipation.

The small things about this film are what really make it so great. Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban, is one of the best villains of his time. He's not just a megalomaniac, he's genuinely evil, sadistic, and intelligent, and has a desire for revenge transcending any rationality. He throws around his worshipful subordinates, and quotes Ahab wherever he gets the chance, because he really, truly *is* deranged. And yet, instead of being cheesy, he's a true screen presence. The old saying that any film is as good as its villain applies here, very strongly and very true. Montalban MAKES this film what it is.

The biggest element of the story, Spock's sacrifice, also goes a long way to making this one of the most poignant stories about ST out there. It's by far a recommended viewing for anyone, Trekkie or not, and appeals to emotion and to reason, whichever suits your fancy.

Mission: Impossible III

What Mission Impossible is all about!
This was genuinely one of the first movies of the summer that I enjoyed when it came out. I was in India at the time, so I was lucky to see it in a movie cineplex which offered undubbed English versions of films, and it was worth it. I didn't expect much from it initially but it was literally an adrenaline ride all throughout - sheer action, not the stylized nonsense that was MI:2.

JJ Abrams' direction and Orci/Kurtzman's writing team is absolute ace in this film. The plot feels like a real return to Mission Impossible - instead of a megalomaniacal Bond-esquire plan as in the second film, we have an arms/bioweapons dealer who wants to acquire a very expensive, very dangerous bioweapon of unknoown power referred to as the "Rabbit's Foot". Ethan Hunt is sent from retirement from active duty to rescue his former trainee, who has been captured by the arms dealer. The mission fails at almost literally the last second, but not before she's able to tell Ethan of a traitor inside of IMF (hearkening back to the first film). Ethan's wife is eventually captured by the arms dealer, and, driven by revenge, he goes to heavy lengths to retrieve her and bring the dealer to justice.

This film has a slew of strengths. Tom Cruise, for all of his media publicity and stunts, is an amazing actor, and he delivers the familiar Ethan Hunt while adding something new to his role. Ving Rhames comes back as Luthor Stickel, his partner, and he has three more wingmen in his crew, two of them played by Simon Pegg and Maggie Q. All of them, while relatively underdeveloped, play their parts well. My biggest problem with the second Mission Impossible has always been that the movie threw out the essence of the Mission Impossible TV and film franchise - namely, teamwork - to create a movie starring a character from the Mission Impossible series in a James Bond plot playing a James Bond style character. While this is good for James Bond, it is terrible for Ethan Hunt, who plays the pointman but actually has significant backup from the others on his team. This isn't to say Hunt's character isn't memorable - he's still the main hero of the story.

The most impressive performance probably comes from the villain, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's not invincible or more powerful than the heroes, but he causes some pain and suffering to them which was quite a shock to me. The only weak point of this film, I believe, is the underdeveloped romance between Ethan Hunt and his nurse fiancée/wife who ends up kidnapped later in the film. Although well intentioned as a plot device, you don't really feel anything for her on your own. The emotion and sense of suspense comes from Cruise's acting as Ethan Hunt, not from the actress.

Otherwise, the action sequences and character pieces are brilliant. Most of the negative reviews that I've read have been nasty diatribes on Cruise's character in his personal life - which, while admittedly shady, have no bearing on his excellent performance in this film. If they made a fourth one in a similar bearing, I would probably line up to watch it.


Wow. Absolute awesome.
I was fairly impressed with the pilot episode of this series, and even though I picked up on the Biblical allegory partway through, I definitely didn't know about it beforehand. As a fan of drama, I'm fairly intrigued and am waiting on tenterhooks for the next episode, which will hopefully help my impression of the film.

The setting of the story is somewhat unusual. It takes place in a monarchic state called "Gilboa", which bears an uncanny (read: almost exact) similarity to the United States, with the one obvious difference being the presence of what appears to be a constitutional monarchy. However, the monarch here isn't some figurehead like the Queen of England. He's a very real monarch. He makes laws, decrees, signs treaties, acts as the head of state and commander-in-chief, and there is a line of succession. Regardless, this is unlike any TV show about royalty that I've ever seen. The culture, customs, dress, language, and society are exact copies of that which you'd find in the United States and the issues they face are very real - if anything, more real - than the issues we find in our society. The society is mixed-race, with no race truly claiming dominance (the royal Reverend is black, one of the secretaries is Latina, etc) and instead of sprawling palaces and estates, the King is housed in a gargantuan skyscraper in the capital city, referred to (tongue-in-cheek) as the Capitol. It reminds me somewhat of Battlestar Galactica, in that you could find nearly everything in our society - but not quite.

The story, on the other hand, is a direct cognate of the David and Goliath story and the rise of David to become King of Israel from the Biblical version. The King's name is Silas (Saul), his son is Jack (Jonathan), of the House of Benjamin, and they're at war with a country called Gath, which commands fearsome Goliath tanks. A farmboy enlistee, David Shepard (note the last name), saves the King's son from a hostage situation single-handedly and takes out a Goliath tank on his own, and becomes a national hero. Out of personal gratitude, the King invites him over for a banquet in his honor, and realizing his potential, turns him into the military liaison of the royal house (an obvious reference to David's appointment as the commander of Saul's armies). He eventually strikes up a romance with the King's daughter, Michelle (as did the biblical David with Michal).

Although relatively faithful to the biblical material from which its borrowing, beyond modernizing, the story takes some obvious dramatic liberties. David isn't fearless, although he is brave. He isn't without flaws. The society isn't Jewish, obviously, it's multicultural and multireligious. And, in a sort of twist of the Samuel storyline, the power working behind Silas is not a witch or crone, but rather a shadow corporation which helped put him into power. Most strikingly, Jack's character is quite different from that of the biblical Jonathan. For one, although only hinted at in the Bible, his homosexuality in the show is made relatively obvious. He doesn't show any love towards David that we know of, and in fact resents him for being given a position which he feels he should have deserved. So, although definitely remaining loyal to the source material, it's perhaps no secret that Kings will develop a life of its own.

The acting is high above average and it paints a visual and dramatic spectacle which is unlike anything I've seen on television in a long time. I sincerely hope this show remains on such a powerful dramatic note.


Awful film
The poor quality of this movie really sets a low bar for the film industry as a whole. Unfortunately, thanks to a severe addiction to novels, I had the (dis)pleasure of reading Twilight several months before the film came out, and basically took the book for what it was - a semi-erotic vampire story in which Stephanie Meyer took her own "romantic" (I use the word loosely) ideal and put it into words. To further clarify, as if it weren't clear enough from the author herself, the book is her own version of erotic fan-fiction. The plot itself is laughably simple and the romance is creepy, and seems to enjoy creating a vampire lore that makes them look about as fearsome as rabbits.

Nevertheless, I decided to give the film a chance. After all, I've seen mediocre books turned into good films - Prince Caspian being my notable favorite. Within ten minutes of the film, I was bored and on the verge of leaving the theater. I decided to get my money's worth and sit it out, which was an unpleasant experience thanks to the fact that I and my brother were surrounded by middle school girls - and I think my brother fell asleep. It was probably the fact that the sun, a vampire's *main* weakness, made Edward's skin "shimmer and glitter" and the fact that he had no fangs or attributes of a vampire. It probably didn't even help that the basis behind Edward's attraction to Bella was flimsy to the point of being laughable.

There's so, so many things wrong with this film that even the novel isn't responsible for. The acting is on a level of horrid that I would expect from far less seasoned actors. Pattinson is a pretty above-average actor, and coming into the film industry as a teen heartthrob, it's probably enough for him to be on screen and for girls to ogle at his face, but for most other people his acting was stilted and his lines delivered with the fakery that only someone relying too much on his looks could possibly pull off. There is a reason why less handsome or beautiful actors are usually better at what they do, and it's because they have to make up for their visual deficiencies. He obviously didn't break the pattern. The actress, Kristin Stewart, was slightly better, but it was offset by the fact that she overacted her way and blundered through the film.

The werewolf's role was boring, forgettable, and probably not even worth noticing, as were most of the peripheral characters, like the other vampire gang and the vampire in that gang who Edward battles, whose name I can't be bothered to remember. This film wasn't just a waste of my time, it was a waste of money and I *beg* people not to watch this travesty.


A poorly made pilot, with a decent followup episode
I was pleasantly surprised to see Joss Whedon come out of the woodwork and attempt another television show involving one of his favorite little archetypes (ass-kicking women), particularly after the release of Dr. Horrible. The casting for the show definitely seemed reasonably good (Eliza Dushku - check. Tahmoh Penikett - check. Black dude from the Matrix - check.) and I expected the first episode to be a great pilot episode full of adrenaline and power.

I was disappointed sorely. The premise of the show is relatively simple - an organization called the Dollhouse, run by a beautiful but cold woman, involves wiping the minds of young men and women and imprinting them with whatever personalities and skills they see fit, whether it's as the perfect date or as the perfect hit-man. The lead character, Echo, played by Dushku, is one of the most requested and most skilled. An FBI agent, Paul Ballard (Penikett), believes the Dollhouse (which by all rights could put the owners and operators of it in an electric chair) exists despite the fact that the FBI thinks he's a joke. It's the recipe for the perfect plot, but ends up falling flat on its face.

The dialogue is poorly written, almost to the point where I was surprised Joss Whedon was producing the show. It isn't at all reminiscent of his style. Dushku is, unfortunately, while a great thing to look at, not a very good actress. Even Penikett, who is a personal favorite of mine after his portrayal of Karl "Helo" Agathon on Battlestar Galactica, doesn't quite play up to par.

Despite being disappointed, I returned for the following week's episode, and was pleasantly surprised. It added a great deal to the show's mythology through flashbacks and exposition, and the acting quality rose noticeably. As such, I am willing to give the show a shot, but it can go either way. All I know is, if Fox cancels this show like they did Firefly, they'd better have a damn good reason to this time.

Update: Forget the last paragraph. This show has shown that it cannot depict any consistency in quality. Following the awful premiere and a good second episode, the third episode dropped in quality once again, although the fourth one rose in terms of dramatic tension but ended up resolving itself in a nonsensical deus ex machina at the end. The third episode is almost as bad, if not worse, than the season premiere. The problem here is that for every "strong" female in his shows, he has to give them stupid qualities which make them look laughable (the notable exception being River Tam).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

An acceptable enough origin story
I'll preface this review by saying that I did not treat this as I would the other Harry Potter films due to its nature as (a) a first film foray into the world of Harry Potter and (b) an origin story. It is inevitably going to be exposition-heavy and heavy-handed in its treatment of the characters, and the plot is always going to be as literally adapted as possible. Christopher Columbus, while probably not the best director for this job, nevertheless managed to pull it off without doing a terrible job. Had this been judged as any other Potter film, however, it would probably have received a 4/10 as it was possibly one of the worst in comparison to the others.

The story is a straight adaptation of Rowling's first Potter book. Young Harry is rescued from a life of misery, neglect and cruelty at the hands of his aunt, uncle and cousin when he learns that he's a wizard and is destined to attend the famous Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry - the British learning institution for magical folk. Compounded by this is that he discovers he is an involuntary celebrity in the magical world because of the manner in which he was orphaned. An evil wizard, Voldemort, killed his parents when he was a child but was unable to kill him and was robbed of his powers and a body - and nobody understands why.

Up to this point, Columbus does his magic. He portrays the world of Hogwarts beautifully (although the following films were able to do a much better job of it) and in a manner that is faithful to the novel, he shows how Harry meets Ron and Hermione, his closest friends, and introduces the main entourage of characters with equal grace (Harry's classmates, Malfoy, Snape, McGonagall and the other teachers, Hagrid, and most importantly, Dumbledore). He discards events and truncates the length of certain scenes but leaves the essential parts.

Then, of course, the main plot of the film is discussed. A powerful object known as the Philosopher's Stone (Sorcerer's Stone in the oddly named American version) is being hidden at Hogwarts, which grants the user immortality and limitless wealth. Harry is suspicious of a teacher, and does his damndest to try and stop him, and his fears are worsened by the realization that the person trying to steal the stone isn't doing so for personal gain, but to return Voldemort, the killer of his parents, back to power.

This bit, Columbus does not handle as well. He did not cast someone significant for Voldemort when he makes his appearance and as such there is a disconnect when Fiennes' Voldemort makes his appearance in the fourth film, and opts instead to CGI Voldemort into existence. He takes creative liberties with the traps that are used to hide the stone, and eliminates a few altogether (although that at least was somewhat acceptable). However, his biggest blunder was leaving out crucial scenes which establish Harry's suspicions. It becomes important in later books (and by extension, later films) and isn't handled properly.

That being said, the film gains considerable strength of character from Richard Harris' Albus Dumbledore. He has more or less defined the face of Dumbledore and his acting capability is far superior to that of the farcical, ridiculous Gambon. As for my recommendation, if you're a Potter fan and haven't seen this film for whatever reason, I would give it a try anyway, just to see the strengths in his adaptation. A tentative "yes" from me does not exempt it from the fact that the film has some serious flaws.

Fantastic Four

This movie sucks
I'm not going to give it a completely craptastic rating since I've never read the F4 comics as a kid or whenever, but this movie was just bad in so many different ways. In an era of superhero films where we see them taking on a usually childish genre with incredible, mature, and serious finesse (case in point, the X-Men series), we expect there to be some kind of obvious change from the nonsense we've seen before.

F4 has no such pretensions. It's blatantly obvious about the transition from "dude" to "superhero", even making such pithy statements as "we need a team vehicle" and "let's sell our own marketing brand!" *SNORE* Yes, that's exactly what we need to see, a marketing ad in a film that's poorly disguised as self-mockery. Never mind a good story or a good premise for a film, let's turn this into the "round of laughs" nonsense.

As for the premise of the story, well, I'm not really quite sure what it's supposed to be. First we have the origin story... okay... I'll give them that, even though they've royally screwed with Dr. Doom's origin story and source of his powers. Then we have some weird interlude where they figure out how to use their powers, then save a bunch of people from a pointless, random pileup on a bridge. Then, taking the nonsense further, this is where they try to go into the "marketing scheme", with the characters discussing logos, action figures, etc and a dull side story about The Thing and his quest to get back to his older self. Too bad it's about as well executed as watching a rock sit on a bench.

They manage to shoehorn the Thing's classic line ("It's clobberin' time!") without it really making sense, and Johnny Storm's character is about as poorly acted as a plank of wood. The only redeeming thing about this film is watching Jessica Alba for the eye candy, because as far as acting talent goes, she has none. Don't bother renting or watching this movie.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Two words: Jar Jar
I'll admit, the first time I saw the ads for this movie, I was hooked. I thought it was going to be off the wall, particularly since I was, well, eleven years old and I liked anything in movies which was flashy. And at that age, I loved the film when I went to watch it. It was fun, fast, and fantastic. Explosions, lasers, spaceships, what else could a kid ask for? Then I grew up. I watched the movie again when I was seventeen, and all I could do was gape in horror. I could have sworn I saw a different movie as a child, but going back through it, I couldn't believe that I had liked it so much. It really reminds me as to how my tastes have changed and how what I look for in a movie has changed. As an addition to the Star Wars saga, I didn't begrudge it at the time simply because it was, well, another chapter in the Star Wars saga. I loved watching one of my favorite film franchises play out on the big screen. But frankly, in retrospect, I think (right now at 20 years old) it should have been avoided entirely.

Where to start? The writing of this story was abysmal. The writers were looking for some sort of "main bad guy", so they concocted the Trade Federation, a corporate conglomerate of evil. A good idea in principle, but terrible in execution. Instead of being composed of a variety of aliens, humans, etc. it's composed of a single type of alien who seem so stereotypically modeled after the "greedy Asian" model that it would make the person who designed the pathetic Klingon stereotype for Star Trek: The Original Series cringe. The fact that they all had thick Japanese accents didn't really help. So point one was that Lucas apparently didn't know how to write a good story without including some bad stereotypes.

The second point was the introduction of the Jedi. Liam Neeson's role as Qui-Gon Jinn was perhaps the high point of the film, since he's already known for his acting prowess; in fact, it's hard to find talent like his. The problem is that everything Liam Neeson brings to the screen is offset by the horrible dialogue scripted by Lucas. As Yoda would perhaps say, stilted one-liners and poorly written expository statements a Jedi does not make. Ewan MacGregor didn't bring much to the role either, although I will admit, his character is far more in keeping with his elderly Alec Guinness counterpart.

The third and worst clincher is, of course, Jar Jar Binks. This godawful Caribbean-stereotyped character whose sole purpose is to fall on his face and annoy the characters at every turn seems to try the patience of every person who is sitting in the theater. He not only is unfunny, but all of his scripted lines consist of making stupid noises and funny (not) faces. The reason people connected with Chewbacca even though his entirety of dialogue was in growling was due to his interaction with Han Solo. Jar Jar Binks' interaction with the other characters makes people want to slice his head off.

And last but not least, Anakin Skywalker. Seriously. What kind of whiny runt of a kid grows up to become a Dark Lord of the Sith? Granted, the actor was something like 13 years old, but his acting was atrocious. Lucas decided to conceive him as some sort of virgin birth in order to give him some sort of mystical quality and that quickly backfired when we find out that he complains ALL THE TIME. He also manages to end up being the hero because he randomly shot off a couple of torpedoes... what? The reason Luke was able to fire off torpedoes and destroy the Death Star was because of his attunement to the Force. Anakin just fired like a blind idiot. Out of character and out of whack.

I can't give this film a lower rating than it already has because, frankly, it's got better writing than the other two prequel trilogy films, which just shows you the abysmal depths to which Lucas has sunk the franchise.

Star Trek: First Contact

Trek at its best
Trek has seen some pretty big variety in terms of success in its feature films. We have the amazing (Wrath of Khan) and the absolutely horrifying (Star Trek: The Motion Picture). There's also the average (ST: Generations), mostly fanboy-pandering films which leave casual viewers out of the loop. Then, you have films like this, which have the double result of giving the franchise life and telling a great story. Perhaps it's no secret that good writing is what makes Trek more so than good FX, but when the two are combined in a spectacular manner, it is none the worse for the franchise.

The story continues the saga of the TNG characters, but doesn't make it so obtuse as to cut new viewers out of the loop. They make it clear who is the villain, who is the hero, and provide all the background necessary to watch the film. In terms of continuity, it picks up three or four years after ST: Generations, on a brand new Enterprise (NCC-1701E), captained by almost the same crew as the Enterprise-D. The film is fast paced, and jumps into the plot almost immediately. The stakes are incredibly dire and very close to home - the Borg have begun an invasion of the Federation, starting with Earth. The Enterprise is initially called away from the battle, but Picard disobeys orders and returns, using his experience with the Borg to destroy the cube attacking Earth.

Within minutes, however, the Borg escape and travel back in time to 2063 - the year in which humans discovered the warp travel that allowed them to exceed the speed of light, and on the date when it was first tested - and brought them into first contact with the Vulcans, revolutionizing their society and ushering in the utopia of the Federation. Picard pursues them back, planning to stop their plans to assimilate Earth and change the future.

The story is written by Jonathan Frakes, who is known for being a superb writer as well as an actor. He writes a great deal of character into his story, notably around Picard and the inventor of the warp drive, Zefram Cochrane, who has been alluded to repeatedly throughout TNG (and seen in TOS). Cochrane is portrayed by James Cromwell and is, far from being a visionary and a saint (as he claims the 24th century looks at him) is an alcoholic and driven by desire for money, not for the betterment of mankind. Yet, he changes throughout the film, and both Cromwell's fantastic acting and Frakes' script make it clear where and why he changes his views.

Picard, on the other hand, is a different sort of character, who, with the invasion of the Borg, is finally beginning to truly feel the trauma that was done to his mind and body by being assimilated into their collective seven years prior. His infamous bearing and restraint is cracking heavily under the strain of his anger and desire for revenge. In one of the most famous scenes of the movie, a 21st century woman, Lily Sloane, confronts him with brutal honesty, comparing him to the obsessed Captain Ahab of Moby Dick, that the Borg have become his white whale. He succumbs to anger and realizes that she has been right all along. The dialogue, acting and complete honesty of the cast make his emotions seem realistic and terrifying.

This is not just a good star trek film, it's a great film - period. For people who wish to be introduced into the Star Trek franchise, this is a great place to start, as it embodies what Star Trek is truly about. The battle sequences, based in land, space, and ship to ship, are at their best as far as Star Trek goes, and the movie's pace doesn't ever truly slow down.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

A "bold" start for a new generation
The Star Trek franchise is most often associated with The Original Series - ironically, a short-run franchise which only lasted a few seasons. To me, the truly defining series of Star Trek is Star Trek: The Next Generation, and its stellar cast. Although I am personally not a "Trekkie" or an obsessive fan, I have always appreciated Trek as a vision of the future that is not altogether common science fiction - a utopian view of the universe not often held by modern science fiction. Although I am a huge fan of the "darker" sci fi series (like Battlestar Galactica and the like), ST: TNG is the show that really got me into science fiction in the first place, along with Star Wars.

The show's new cast is, as I said before, stellar. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is portrayed by Patrick Stewart, a renowned Shakespearean actor with a talent for acting in all sorts of roles, with an Oxbridge education and refined British sense of taste (even though he plays a Frenchman on the show, oddly enough - Q even mockingly refers to him as "mon capitaine"). Commander William Riker, the second in command, is played by Jonathan Frakes, an exceptional director as well as actor, who time and time again shows that he is a master of the set. Various others, including Greco-British actress Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner as Data the android, and Michael Dorn as Worf, the Klingon, bring their own sets of talent to the bridge, as it were.

The purpose of the show is almost identical to The Original Series - the Enterprise is on a (vaguely unspecified length of time) mission to explore the Beta Quadrant for new civilizations and worlds, and to explore new phenomena wherever they encounter them. They make friends, and many enemies, including the militaristic, praetorian Romulans, the Cardassians, and most strikingly, the most powerful enemy of Star Trek to date, the Borg, a ruthless collective of consciousnesses housed in a Hive foundation. The show tackles concepts like secession (with the Maquis), sexuality, xenophobia, and even individualism. Not only does it serve as a purposeful view of the future, it also allows us to view our faults and show how shameful our weaknesses are and that we can move past them.

A great show, worthy of extreme praise. 9/10


A great television drama, with some unfortunate weaknesses
Very few shows have the right to be called "groundbreaking" endeavors in television, ones which break the show free from the generic mould that defines primetime serials and dramas. 24 is one of those few television shows and, while not without some serious faults, is overall an incredible feat of television.

The show's plot(s) are not that complex. A government organization known as the Counter-Terrorism Unit or CTU, specifically the division in Los Angeles, is at the forefront of defending against any terrorist attack upon the United States, whether from within the country or from the outside. The main character and field agent Jack Bauer is usually the one who saves the country from these disasters, with the help of a superb team from CTU, including friends Tony Almeda, Chloe O'Brian, Michelle Dessler, and his daughter, Kim Bauer, portrayed by Elisha Cuthbert.

The most unique feature of the show is the use of "real-time" dynamics. Specifically, the events on the show occur in complete real time, instead of jumping forward two hours or speeding up an action. While this is not entirely believable (the characters never seem to eat or run out of energy, for example, and seem to never run into problems like traffic or accidents while in transit), it is nevertheless a brave attempt. The main flaw of this approach is also its strength in suspense-building - that is, it actually takes time to accomplish certain actions and while such events would be shortened in a film or another TV show, the laborious details are portrayed.

The show's main failing is its lack of originality as far as plot goes, at least for the latter few seasons. The first season involved a Serbian terrorist seeking revenge by assassination, while the second switched to Islamic terrorism, nuclear threats and corrupt government officials wishing to start war. The third season changed the villainous focus to a more down-to-earth one, with a drug-lord holding Los Angeles hostage using viral weaponry. The fourth season became considerably more complex, involving cyber-terrorism aimed at the acquisition of nuclear technology (and involving a concrete single villain). The fifth and sixth seasons were fairly mediocre, the fifth using biological weapons again as a plot device (though with a Russian villain instead of an Islamic one) and the sixth using an almost incomprehensible mash of villains including the Chinese, the Russians, Islamic terrorists, corrupt politicians, nuclear weaponry, and Jack Bauer's father. As of the seventh season the directors have switched their focus to domestic terrorism from within and political idealism against genocide (and subsequent corruption), effectively rebooting what had eventually become a convoluted, mediocre plot.

The progression of each season (with a few exceptions) is unfortunately quite formulaic. The terrorists almost universally are controlled by some backer, who has an even larger threat, and near the middle of the season that terrorist is revealed. The sixth season went overboard, involving cabals from three different nations and two separate terrorist organizations while bringing back characters who held almost no significance whatsoever in previous seasons.

Another serious flaw is that the show tends to take an extreme right political stance (even though the one "good" president on the show has been a Democrat). It justifies torture, makes it seem like a legitimate technique in extracting information (both psychological and physical) and by the sixth season, which I find distasteful, suggests that racial profiling and forced internment are viable measures to national security.

Otherwise the show is fun to watch and can easily be picked up without requiring too much background, since each "Day" or season's plot is effectively independent of the others, and extraneous details are usually explained in the first episodes. Despite its flaws, it deserves the accolades it receives.


The "First Reboot"
I have always argued that there have been two instances in the Bond franchise where the story and style have been rebooted in order to fit the changing needs of the time. The first was the introduction of Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench with Goldeneye, and the second was the introduction of Daniel Craig into Casino Royale. Being the First Reboot, Goldeneye holds a special place in my heart as the film that both introduced me to Bond and also reinvigorated a dying franchise - for the first time.

Pierce Brosnan, the new James Bond, is an amazing choice for the protagonist. In fact he would have won the role had Remington Steele not been renewed for another season - but then again, he would have likely been cast in the rather mediocre films that Timothy Dalton ended up starring in. Instead, Goldeneye is a well-written film with cinematography that truly took Bond to a new level, and was the first to deal with the state of the world following the Cold War.

In keeping with the theme of post-Cold War problems, the movie centers around post-Soviet Russia, which is seeing a capitalist revival and the rise of a corrupt mafia and government. During an operation at a chemical weapons factory, Bond's compatriot, Agent 006, Alec Trevelyan is killed by General Arkadi Ouroumov, a Soviet general. Approximately ten years later, he returns to Russia to investigate the theft of an experimental electronically shielded helicopter capable of withstanding the most powerful electronic countermeasures. Concurrently, a Russian satellite weapon known as the GoldenEye destroys a secret complex in Siberia - the platform from which it is controlled. The sole survivor, Natalya Simonova, escapes with the knowledge that Ouroumov is behind the attack.

Bond finds out that the theft of the helicopter and the detonation of the GoldenEye device was masterminded by a crime syndicate known as Janus. The organization is revealed to be led by none other than the thought-dead Alec Trevelyan, a traitor seeking revenge on England for murdering his parents, who were Lienz Cossacks, a group of Russians who sought asylum in England and were deported. His ultimate plot is to use the GoldenEye satellite to wipe out the electronics of London - and by doing so, destroy the financial market of Europe and cause the world economy to collapse as an act of revenge.

The plot is beautifully Bond-like, and while from a scripted perspective seems stereotypically megalomaniacal, Trevelyan is not a typical villain. He is a vengeful, angry assassin who seeks revenge, not glory or money. His plight is understandable, not the result of some deluded fantasy, and Bond makes it his personal mission to kill him - not because of Dear England, but as he says, "for me". It brought out a whole new character in James Bond, a quality of pride and vengeance that had not been seen in Connery or Moore - and only touched upon by Dalton. Oddly enough, this is usually one of the criticisms of Daniel Craig's Bond, his vengeful nature, and yet Brosnan is the one who sets the precedent.

Judi Dench is a completely different M from her predecessors, most of whom either were entirely antagonistic to Bond or were gruff old men who gave Bond a free reign. She is a cold, calculating, "ice queen of numbers" (as Tanner puts it) who considers Bond an asset outwardly, but thinks of him almost as a son. She is subtle and decisive, acting in a way that is often unexpected, and her wit is, of course, worthy of recognition.

Although perhaps not the best of the Bond films, GoldenEye is considered one of the best, and Brosnan, despite all odds, proves himself as a contender for the iconic model of the super-spy. His legacy will (and has) defined that of his descendants.


Starts off slow, then soars, but it's beginning to die
I have watched Smallville since its inception on TV, and was immediately drawn to the show simply because of its premise as the origin story of Clark Kent, the boy who grows up to become Superman. It would be the first real take after the horrifying Superboy, and would be set in the modern day - two things I immediately liked. Although I found their depiction of Kansas a little too... well, rosy for reality, the setting was also fantastic (even though it seemed to make Smallville look like the posh center of civilization that it is not). Overall, it started off quite well.

An interesting feature of Smallville is that we don't understand Clark's origin story from the start. We don't know about Krypton, we don't know that his real name is Kal-El, we don't know about his mother, his father, or his alien lineage. All we know is that his parents found him in a cornfield inside of a spaceship and that he began to develop powers from an early age. He grows up on an idyllic farm with a perfect, working class family and attends high school with his close friends.

There's a few interesting twists, of course. He's not the popular kid in class - in fact, he's initially a social outcast, not liked by the jockstraps that roam his school. His traditional comic book love interest, Lana Lang, has a boyfriend and initially won't give him a second glance. His best friends Pete Ross (reimagined as black) and Chloe Sullivan are nerds at best. Perhaps most strikingly, he has a run in with his future archnemesis, Lex Luthor, and ends up saving his life. Lex is about five years older than Clark, but considers him a best friend, and at the start of the series, he starts off as the person whom Clark can trust the most, aside from his parents.

The first two seasons are very formulaic, involving a meteor freak of the week format (meteor freaks being people with powers brought on by kryptonite, the one substance that can weaken Clark), with almost no continuity from episode to episode, and deals with the mundane aspects of Clark's life. However, starting at the end of season 2, the focus shifts to Clark's origins, and we learn that he's Kryptonian and that his destiny was to rule over men.

Initially repulsed by this, Clark delves further into his past and realizes that his father sent him to Earth because his home planet was completely destroyed. Soon, the traditional elements of the Superman mythos are introduced, such as the Justice League, characters such as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and famous villains such as Zod, Brainiac, and Bizarro. Most importantly, Lex's traditional role as a villain becomes more apparent as the show progresses, and makes a point to explain that his transformation wasn't a result of birth or destiny, but because of the choices he made.

The show has some extremely weak detractors, unfortunately. Kristin Kreuk, the actress who plays Lana Lang, does not portray acting versatility and her character and relationship with Clark remain fairly unchanged over the series. Ultimately she becomes a recurring fallback plot device that slows down the plot instead of helping it. Some bad casting choices have also impeded it and lately a lack of creative endeavor and interest in the show are causing it to die, but while it was running stron git served a new, fresh interest in Superman, as the modern face of the Superhero's new look, and as the first show to provide a serious face to the franchise after Superman I.

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