All posts by Sheldon Wiebe

MOVIE REVIEW: Crank: High Voltage – A Jolt of Adrenaline/Electricity to the Heart! CLEAR!

Crank: High Voltage steps up the adrenaline generating insanity that made Crank so much fun. Writers/Directors Neveldine and Taylor [who seem to have dropped their first names] have put together ninety minutes of craziness that picks up with Chev Chelios [Jason Statham] hitting the ground after falling thousands of feet from a helicopter – from which point, he is bundled into a van [literally shovelled off the sidewalk – a hint of the nuttiness to come], and finally awakes as his heart is being replaced with a temporary artificial pump to keep him alive until his other organs can be harvested.

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To say he doesn’t take kindly to this state of affairs is an understatement. What follows is probably best not viewed by children of any age – especially the antics that follow when Chelios loses the pump’s battery pack and has to resort to several and varied means to generate enough juice to keep the thing working. Let’s just say that the movie’s sub-title, High Voltage, is entirely appropriate.

If there is a cinematic device available, it is used here – wide-angle shots, Dutch angles, hard cuts, jump cuts, dissolves, lap dissolves, even 8-bit Nintendo-type graphics, split screen and psychedelic polarization effects! Just in passing, we get a character with “Full Body Tourettes,” striking porn stars, public sex, self mutilation, and a character right out of Futurama. Then there are the colorful sub-titles that would be right at home in Timur Bekmambetov flick and the most outrageous fight sequences in recent memory.

Crank: High Voltage lives up to its title. It is whirlwind-paced, colorful, baked, twisted and spun out of LSD-laced cotton candy. Compared to Crank: High Voltage, most other action flicks are on Quaaludes. Seriously. If you want a film that is a genuine experience – and you have no problem with sex, violence and totally whacked-out humor, this is the movie that you need to see.

Final Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: State of Play – The Fourth Estate Under Siege!

When the murders of two men – one because his route to deliver a pizza made him a witness – and the death of a congressman’s assistant turn out to be linked, the congressman’s affair with the dead woman comes to light. This puts his investigation into PrivateCorp, providers of mercenary aid in the War on Terror at risk.

State Of Play

Congressman Stephen Collins’ [Ben Affleck] affair with Sonya Baker [Maria Thayer] is even more ways than just the cheating husband aspect – it pulls his former college roommate, and veteran investigative reporter for the Washington Globe, Cal McAffrey [Russell Crowe] into the mix – and McAffrey will do just about anything for a story. Circumstances dictate that McAffrey is teamed up with Globe political blogger Della Frye [Rachel McAdams] – despite his low regard for blogs in general.

As McAffrey and Frye work the story, they are constantly badgered by their editor-in-chief, Cameron Lynne [the always impressive Helen Mirren]. The paper has new owners and they want to sell papers more than they want quality journalism.

State of Play is adapted from a six-hour British series and, as such, is probably better than it has any right to be. It’s been awhile since I saw the BBC mini-series, so I couldn’t tell you what was pruned for the theatrical film, but even so, it feels like there’s enough material here for at least two movies. There’s so much information in every frame that it’s virtually impossible for anyone [short of Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent] to pick up on some of the most important clues.

For a script that has undergone three rewrites [including a pass by Duplicity’s Tony Gilroy], State of Play really has a singular voice. Chalk that up to director Kevin MacDonald, who propels the film and is very good at creating suspense [a sequence where McAffrey is stalked in an apartment building underground parking lot is particularly well executed]. Somehow MacDonald manages to keep all the various arcs straight and, except for feeling a bit overstuffed, it is a solid, well-crafted thriller. It might even provoke some debate on the necessity for maintaining quality journalism – both in the print and online media.

Final Grade: B+

TELEVISION: In Plain Sight – In the Season Premiere, The Aftermath!

In Plain Sight [USA, Sunday, 10/9C] opens its second season immediately following the events of the first season finale. Marshal Mary Shannon [Mary McCormack] has lived through her kidnapping and, in getting herself free, has killed a man – now, in the season premiere, Mary is on administrative leave pending psychological evaluation [which will happen next week].

IN PLAIN SIGHT -- Pictured: (l-r) Nichole Hiltz as Brandi Shannon, Lesley Ann Warren as Jinx Shannon, Frederick Weller as Marshall Mann, Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, Paul Ben-Victor as Stan McQueen -- USA Network Photo: Michael Muller

That means that when one of her witnesses is murdered, it’s Marshal Marshall [Fred Weller] who has to investigate – though their boss, Stan [the excellent Paul Ben-Victor] allows her to accompany him as an observer. To complicate things, there’s a new assistant, Eleanor [Holly Maples], in the office – and we all know how much Mary likes change.

One of the things that makes In Plain Sight unique is the combination of setting [Albuquerque] and milieu [the Federal Witness Protection Program]. It’s also different because its lead character, Mary Shannon is not just a tomboy in her dream job, but a person trying to juggle two-and-a-half families: one composed of her alcoholic ditz of a mother, Jinx [Lesley Ann Warren] and her equally ditzy but now drug-free sister, Brandi [Nicole Hiltz]; the second composed of her colleagues – father-figure Stan and brother Marshall; and the potential for yet another family with Raphael [Christian de la Fuente].

In the premiere, Mary is trying to deal with the previously mentioned murder; getting a witness to stay straight and testify against his cohorts in a pot-growing business, and the mess the FBI left her home in following the events of the first season finale. That’s a lot to deal with, and it’s heightened by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If there’s one thing I didn’t expect in the second season premiere, Gilted Lily, it was for Brandi and Jinx to be so tolerable. They constitute the one part of the series that didn’t really work for me. They still exasperate Mary, but they are no longer out of this ditsy – they’ve grown a bit, and promise to grow a lot more over this season.

The show still revolves around Mary, though, and even Marshall is glad when he no longer has to be “the boss of her.” The addition of Eleanor to the marshals’ office adds a bit of grit to the one place where Mary really felt at home. Throughout the premiere, the writing is, perhaps, the best it’s been so far. The characters and situations feel right – and the development of Mary’s Post Traumatic Stress is so perfectly twisted that it provides humor and pathos simultaneously.

As the supporting cast becomes more interesting, In Plain Sight just continues to get better and better.

Final Grade: B+

TELEVISION: Law & Order: Criminal Intent – Goren and Eames… Back and In Form!

When Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s eighth season premieres on Sunday [USA, 9/8C], Detectives Goren [Vincent D’Onofrio] and Eames [Kathryn Erbe] tackle one of their strangest cases yet.


It begins with a press conference for Councilman Neil Hayes-Fitzpatrick about allegations of fiscal impropriety and moves into the murder of a drug addict/dealer, whose body winds up atop his girlfriend –and that’s how the police find them. The girl, Stacy, turns out to be the stepdaughter of Neil Hayes-Fitzpatrick [Scott Caan], who is running for mayor. His mother [Kathy Baker] is his campaign manager. Detective Goren notices something odd about the way Stacy behaves around her stepfather, and the episode builds from there to an unexpected conclusion.

As is usual in an L&O:CI episode that features Goren and Eames, it’s Goren’s powers of observation and deductive reasoning that put all the pieces together. Also as usual, it’s Eames whose thoughts seem to inspire Goren – in much the same way that Watson frequently inspired Holmes [forget the Basil Rathbone Holmes movies – in the Conan Doyle stories, Watson was smart, tough and resourceful].

Like the other Law & Order shows, Criminal Intent works best when the storytelling is intelligently developed, and that’s certainly true here. The partnership of Goren and Eames is back on pitch after the weirdness of last season, and they are definitely clicking on all cylinders. There’s even a cameo by Detective Munch [Richard Belzer] that’s on point and provides an unexpected chuckle.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the new guy on the block, Detective Zach Nichols [Jeff Goldblum].

Final Grade: B

HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s Holmes & Watson – Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe – Talk Season Eight!

L&O-CI Cast

When Law & Order: Criminal Intent returns [USA, Sunday, 9/8C], Detectives Goren [Vincent D’Onofrio] and Eames [Kathryn Erbe] will be splitting episodes with Detective Meagan Wheeler [Julianne Nicholson] and new guy, Detective Zach Nichols [Jeff Goldblum]. Wednesday afternoon, there was a Q&A session with D’Onofrio and Erbe, who talked about the eighth season. Taking part were Jamie Steinberg [Starry Constellation], Troy Rogers [], Jamie Ruby [Media Boulevard], Zach Oat [], Ashley Aikens [pitching a query for me. Doctor’s appointment. Don’t ask…], Kristyn Clarke [], Jay Jacobs [], Christine Nyholm [], Ian Dawson [], Amy Steele [Entertainment Realm], Christine Zimmer [All Things Law & Order], and Loring Judge [Reel Blog].

Continue reading HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s Holmes & Watson – Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe – Talk Season Eight!

TELEVISION: CSI’s A Space Oddity Goes Where No Crime Lab Has Gone Before!

On Thursday evening [CBS, 10/9C], CSI: Crime Scene Investigation will go where it has never gone before – a science fiction convention. Hodges [Wallace Langham] and Wendy [Liz Vassey] are attending WhatIfItCon when they run into each other. She’s dressed as Yeoman Malloy from Astro Quest, a Star Trek-like classic SF series, while he’s carrying a very tricorder-like prop from the show. Before they can get over their amazement at encountering each other in such unlikely circumstances, the dead body of Jonathan Danson [Reg Rogers] is discovered in the captain’s chair on a replica AQ set constructed for the con.

CSI - Space Oddity

When it’s discovered that Danson’s downbeat re-imagining of the series caused a major uproar, suddenly the list of possible suspects increases exponentially. Dr. Penelope Russell [Battlestar Galactica’s Kate Vernon], who is making a documentary on the AQ phenomenon; Melinda Carver Jaime Ray Newman], Danson’s financier, and one particular trio of fans would seem to be the most likely candidates, but can anyone else be ruled out?

The title A Space Oddity works on three levels: it serves as a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Pace Odyssey [as parodied by Mad Magazine]; it was the title of David Bowie’s third album – the one that made him a rock star, and it reflects on the sometimes overly zealous way fans can fixate on a beloved series/movie/novel. On yet another level, it could be a reference to an imagined romance between Hodges and Wendy, in an Astro Quest setting… And wait until you see the reference to the Klingon language! Don’t blink, though, or you’ll miss Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore’s cameo.

Written by Galactica veterans David Weddle and Bradley Thompson [from a story by Naren Shankar], A Space Oddity is a well constructed mystery that makes use of fannish temperament, professional jealousy, and even the set of the Astro Quest bridge to full advantage. The romantic imaginings of Hodges and Wendy make a fun counterpoint to the grimmer aspects of the mystery – and you will not believe what classic Star Trek phrase ends the teaser… Michael Nankin [another Galactica veteran] deftly weaves the dark, the prosaic and the humorous of the episode together to create an entertaining CSI investigation.

Final Grade: A-

HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: Roundtable Grills In Plain Sight’s Christian de la Fuente About The New Season!

On In Plain Sight [USA, returning Sunday, April 19, 2009, 10/9C] , Mary McCormack’s tough, yet sensitive United Stated Marshall has two families – one, her real [blood] family, that makes her crazy, and the other, her work family, where she feels completely at ease. In between the two, there is Raphael, the Adonis who is her on-again-off-again boyfriend who wants to marry her and start a third family. Christian de la Fuente, who plays Raphael, talked with several internet journalists/bloggers about In Plain Sight’s upcoming second season.


Taking part in the conference call were: Jamie Steinberg [Starry Constellation], Jamie Ruby [Media Boulevard], Kristyn Clarke [], Chelsea Wiley [], Christine Harker [], Christine Hedberg [Pass the Remote], and Christine Nyholm [].

Continue reading HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: Roundtable Grills In Plain Sight’s Christian de la Fuente About The New Season!

MOVIE REVIEW: Observe and Report – Most of Its Best Moments Are In The Trailer!

The trailer for Observe and Report makes it look like a raunchy romp. Instead, it’s as bi-polar and off its meds as main character, Ronnie Barnhardt [Seth Rogen], head of security in as generic a mall as we’ve ever seen in a movie.

Observe and Report

When a flasher exposes himself to a number of mall customers – and Ronnie’s personal crush, cosmetics salesgirl Brandi [Anna Faris] in the parking lot – it sets off a competition between Barnhardt and Detective Harrison. But, while Ronnie isn’t bright to realize that his second-in-command, Dennis [Michael Pena], isn’t the cool, laid back guy he appears to be, he is tough enough to make Harrison’s set up in a very bad neighborhood backfire [a sequence that suggests Rogen will be up for the action sequences in The Green Hornet].

Unfortunately, outside of terrific performances by Faris and Collette Wolfe [as fast-food server Nell, who has a sweet crush on Ronnie, who is completely oblivious], Observe and Report completely fails to reach its target as a spectacularly dark comedy. Mostly, it’s just spectacularly dark… with intermittent laughs – very intermittent… Even Celia Weston, as Ronnie’s alcoholic mother, is completely wasted. Worse, as the film moves farther into the darkness of bipolar-Ronnie-off-his-meds, even Rogen ceases to convince.

Writer/director Jody Hill keeps things moving, though – which is a blessing, as the movie wraps up in a very quick eighty-six minutes. That’s eighty-six minutes you would be advised to skip in favor of, say, counting molecules or picking your toenails. Seriously, Observe and Report is far less enjoyable than either of those options – Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a better movie!

Final Grade: D+

MANGA: VIZ Media Nabs Five Eisner Nominations!

Four manga series distributed by VIZ Media have been nominated for five Eisner awards – the awards named in honor of comics pioneer and legend, Will Eisner. The four titles nominated are: Cat-Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezi, BestU.S. Edition of International Material – Japan; COWA! by Akira Toriyama, Best Publication For Kids; Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, by Naoki Urasawa – Best continuing Series and Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan, and Solanin, by Inio Asano – Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan.


Cat-Eyed Boy [Rated “T” for Older Teens] is a series of dark vignettes revolving around Cat-Eyed Boy, a half-human/half-monster child whose mostly human appearance bans him from the demon world. Being half of each means he is hated by both.

COWA! relates the adventures of Paifu, a half-human/half-vampire child, who gets into mischief with his ghostly best friend, Jose – until the Monster Flu strikes his town and only he, his few cuddies and a retired, curmudgeonly former Sumo champion are left healthy enough to find a cure. [Previously reviewed here, COWA! received a grade of “A”]

Double nominee Naoki Urasawa’s Monster [Rated “T” for Older Teens] spins the layered tale of how a famous surgeon, Dr. Kenzo Tenma, becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders after he saves the live of a critically wounded young boy who is destined for a terrible fate.

Solanin is the story of Meiko Inoue, a recent college grad who works as an office lady – a job she hates; her freelance illustrator boyfriend crashes at her apartment because his job doesn’t well enough to rent a place of his own, and her parents send her packages of fresh vegetables that rot in her refrigerator. Meiko struggle comes from being unable to figure out how she fits in the world.

TELEVISION: SCI FI Casts Allison Scagliotti in Warehouse 13

The SCI FI Channel’s newest sci-fi/fantasy series, Warehouse 13, has added Allison Scagliotti [Drake & Josh] to its cast which already includes regulars Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek and CCH Pounder.


In the series – which focuses on two FBI agents who are assigned to a massive storage facility for “strange artifacts, mysterious relics and supernatural souvenirs” – Scagliotti will play Claudia Donovan, a young, hip, brilliant techno-whiz who cracks the facility’s security in search of Rubinek’s character, Artie. Her natural aptitude for science and technology enable her to figure out and manipulate many of the facility’s pieces in order to help the team.

Artie is the caretaker of the Warehouse, while Pete [McClintock] and Myka [Kelly] are the FBI agents who are charged with finding and securing new objects to cache there.

Warehouse 13 premieres with a two-hour episode on July 7th, 2009, at 9/8 Central.

COMIC BOOKS: Indie IDW Garners Five Eisner Nominations!

IDW Publishing, publishers of such bestselling projects as Angel: After the Fall, Doctor Who: Agent Provacateur, and Welcome to Hoxford, has had five of its titles nominated for Eisner Awards. The Eisner Awards, named for comics legend Will Eisner, are given for creative achievement in American comic books.

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IDW’s nominees are: Best Limited Series and Best Writer for Joe Hill’s Lock & Key; Best Reality-Based Work for Fishtown, and two nominations for Best Archival Collections/Project – Strips for The complete Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray, and Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles – both part of The Library of American Comics, and compiled and edited by Dean Mullaney.

Locke & Key tells about Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them, and is home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all. Joe Hill is the bestselling author of The Heart-Shaped Box.

Fishtown captures the story of four Philadelphia teenagers and their involvement with the murder of a sixteen-year-old boy. Kevin Colden wrote and illustrated Fishtown, which was originally released as a webcomic and won a Xeric Award for weekly series.

The Complete Little Orphan Annie, by Harold Gray, is the second series to be released under IDW’s The 
Library of American Comics imprint, and is edited and designed by Dean Mullaney. Volume One contains more than 1,000 daily comics in nine complete stories, from the very first strip in August, 1924 through October, 1927.

Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles is a comprehensive, 352-page volume that collects, for the first time, every Scorchy Smith strip, the groundbreaking 1930s aviation adventure series by Noel Sickles. Edited and designed by Dean Mullaney, Scorchy Smith also features extensive DVD-style extras examining Sickles’s life and the decades-long influence of his work, while showcasing the breadth of his career as one of America’s foremost magazine illustrators.