All posts by Sheldon Wiebe

MOVIE REVIEW: Miracle at St. Anna: Great Moments Do Not a Movie Make!

Spike Lee’s latest joint, Miracle at St. Anna, has a number of incredibly good moments. Unfortunately, the movie as a whole sucks big. The film, which is intended to show how black soldiers figured in World War II [and every war the U.S. has fought], has several plot threads and character arcs – enough to fuel two – or even three – sleek, ninety minute films that could make his point with benefit of sledgehammers or piledrivers.

Miracle at St. Anna

Of course, Lee has never been known for his subtlety, but sitting through Miracle at St. Anna is somewhat akin to being hammered by a sack of flying mallets. The plot twists and turn are many and varied [there’s even a flashback in the middle of a flashback], but just in case that’s not enough, we get three different tones for each piece of this unnecessarily large puzzle. The one main theme – the treatment of blacks, even in the armed forces – is hammered home time and again. If the Buffalo Soldiers aren’t been treated like imbeciles by their prejudiced commanding officer, they’re commenting on how they’re being treated like real people by the citizens of the Italian village where they spend a few days hiding from the Nazis.

Then there’s the shining hypocrisy of a character called Axis Sally [Alexandra Maria Lara] – a version of the infamous Tokyo Rose, only she aims to sew dissension among the Buffalo Soldiers so that they will turn on their white officers and join the Nazis – who would kill them outright. You need a major appliance to cut the irony – it’s that thick.

The only really compelling arc in the film is the bond that develops between the somewhat slow Private Samuel Train [Omar Benson Miller] and an orphaned Italian boy named Angelo [Matteo Sciabordi]. The two mange to figure out a way to communicate the basics, and give each other strength.

An arc that’s meant to be compelling is the triangle developed between a village woman, Renata [Valentina Cervi], Private Hector Negron [Laz Alonzo], who is falling in love with her, and Sgt. Bishop Cummings [Michael Ealy], who just wants to get in her pants. It is clichéd and trite and again, badly handled. And let’s not forget the framing device for the film, in which the postal employee kills a customer – it was in the trailers, and in the actual film, it’s just preposterous.

At two hours and forty minutes, Miracle at St. Anna is more enervating than inspiring. I can’t put it any more plainly than that.

Final Grade: D

TELEVISION: Dexter: Life Gets Interesting For Dexter!

A couple of interesting things happen over the first four episodes of the third season of Dexter [Showtime, Sundays, 9/8C]: Dexter [Michael C. Hall] commits a spontaneous act that calls into question Harry’s Code, and Dexter makes a friend in the person of an Assistant District Attorney named Miguel Prado [Jimmy Smits]. The spontaneous act is the murder of Prado’s brother, whom he thinks is a drug dealer named Freebo [Mike Erwin] – and the manner in which he has to cover up this act while dealing with the police investigation and Miguel.


Otherwise, Dex’s life is pretty good. He no longer has the FBI on his trail; he and Rita [Julie Benz] seem to be in a good place [and he dotes on her kids], and his sister, Debra [Jennifer Carpenter], seems to have sworn off men, drinking and smoking – if not cussing. The thing of it is he doesn’t refer to himself as a monster every so often, either. Somehow, while he would probably vehemently disagree, Dexter is becoming more human – maybe not much more, but enough that it is noticeable.

The Showtime series does continue to play with the idea of morality, though. Dex’s moment of spontaneity has him rethinking Harry’s code even further when he spies a creepy guy asking Rita’s daughter Christina Robinson] for directions in a supermarket. His fierce feeling of protectiveness for the kids is as human as anything he’s ever felt. Couple that with his growing friendship with Miguel, and there are moments that find him seeming practically normal.

Dexter continues to be one of the most compelling dramas on television. From its opening sequence that emphasizes the violence of the everyday, to the odd relationship between Dexter and Rita, to his day job as a blood spatter expert for the Miami-Dade Police, Dexter is an examination of all the kinds of violence that permeate our existence. It has some of the best dialogue anywhere and a cast that serves it up perfectly – and manages a perfect balance between drama, melodrama and gallows humor.

The exceptional ensemble also continues to warrant intriguing arcs as well. Angel [David Zayas] gets promoted to sergeant – and has to deal with the sometimes unhappy responsibilities that come with his new position. Vince [C.S. Lee] has an article printed in a prestigious forensics journal but can’t find a way to persuade anyone to help him celebrate his success. Debra finds her swearing off of men challenged by a most unlikely guy – and is harassed by Internal Affairs to spy on the new guy in the division, Quinn [Desmond Harrington]. The richness of the plotting and the depth of the characterization remain amongst the absolute best on TV. Even the jaunty theme music is oddly creepy and utterly appropriate.

Dexter may not be for everyone, but for those of us who are into it, it is a treasure.

Final Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: Eagle Eye Combines Hi-Tech and SF to Create Effective Thriller!

Eagle Eye marks the fourth time Shia LeBeouf has worked on a Steven Spielberg production, and the second time that he’s worked with both Spielberg and director D.J. Caruso – and the triple team may well be turning into one of modern cinema’s most potent.

Labeouf & Monaghan

Eagle Eye is a techno-thriller that comes across as a twisted tale that might make Tom Clancy duck for cover. It opens with a missile launch intended to take out a major terrorist – a launch that is undertaken with only a 51% chance of the target being correctly identified. From there we move into the life of Jerry Shaw [LaBeouf], who seems to be a typical, ambition-free slacker, watching him at work as a “copy associate” for Kinko’s-like copy shop; fleecing a few friends in a poker game, and attending the funeral of his identical twin brother.

The next part of the film is pretty much what we got in the trailer: Jerry finding a lot of money in his account and a lot of weapons components in his living room: the warning call and his being taken in by the FBI – introducing us to Special Agent Thomas Morgan [Billy Bob Thornton] – and his escape by incredible means and ultimately, his teaming up with Rachel Holliman [Monaghan], whose participation in what follows is coerced by threats to her son. From there, we do, eventually, learn the identity of the mysterious female voice that can call them even from pay phones, or a cell phone belonging to the napping guy across from Shaw on a train.

Part of the reason that Eagle Eye works is that a lot of it [but not all, as you’ll see when you learn the identity of the mystery woman] is technically feasible right now. The film hooks us with what’s possible then draws into the realms of the definitely not yet real. The transition is smooth and the shocking reveal of the source of the voice, and the over-the-top plot that follows, zip by quickly enough that we buy them in the context of the film. The way all the various parts of the film connect may be a bit of a stretch, but the sheer fun of the film supersedes that.

LaBeouf does a good job as slacker Jerry; Thornton keeps Agent Morgan from being just another federal grunt, and Rosario Dawson simmers as an Air force investigator looking into the death of Jerry’s brother – though Monaghan is barely adequate as Rachel.

Michael Chiklis gets the role of the Secretary of Defence Callister – a role that leads everyone to the key plot point of the film: the identity of the mysterious female voice that hounds Jerry and Rachel – and the voice’s grandiose plans.

The special effects are very good and the CGI have enough weight that we buy them even if they are used to create something that is way over the edge of the possible. There may be a nod to societal commentary in the way that various devices [security cameras, traffic cameras and cell phones among them] are used to shred the duo’s privacy, but it’s a surface thing that comes as the by-product of a thriller that aims more toward entertaining than saying stuff.

Final Grade: B Introduces New Primetime Related Content!

Starting today, begins rolling out a wide array of new interactive digital features for many of ABC’s most popular primetime series, including Dancing with the Stars, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty.


Site highlights include:

· Wisteria Lane Virtual Tour — Sponsored by Lexus, this interactive tour of the Desperate Housewives set allows fans to get an up-close peek into the homes of their favorite Wisteria Lane residents. Fans will be able to click on hot spots found throughout the houses, zooming in on certain features and objects to find details about the series’ characters and storylines, as well as information about Lexus vehicles featured on the show.

· Design a Dance Contest – This feature combines user-generated submissions and weekly polls to allow Dancing with the Stars fans to contribute to a special on-air dance segment based on viewer-selected elements including the dancing couple, style of dance, music and costumes.

· Mode Magazine Online – An online version of Mode Magazine (from Ugly Betty) that is updated with new content each week.

· Dr. Sydney Heron’s Healing with Love blog – Using submissions of the viewers of Grey’s Anatomy, this blog features “tongue-in-cheek” advice and self-help strategies from the Seattle Grace resident

· Life on Mars Interactive Poll – Fans place themselves in Detective Sam Tyler’s shoes when they’re confronted with a series of situations that test how well they would fare living in 1973 versus 2008.

· Life on Mars 1973 Computer Electronic Game – Fans play a vintage computer game that features segments containing trivia and factoids about the year 1973.

· How Well Do You Know Me? Quiz – Viewers of Opportunity Knocks have the opportunity to find out how well their friends, family and co-workers really know them – by challenging them to answer ten simple questions about their habits, likes and dislikes. Users can see which family members, friends and co-workers know them best on their personal leader board, and can compete to have the highest ranking on the ABC leader board by having the most people take the challenge.

· Personality Quizzes – Fans can learn which characters from their favorite shows they’re most like through a variety of quizzes. Shows include Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Dirty Sexy Money, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Samantha Who? and Ugly Betty.

The site offers a multitude of other features, including games, trivia, message boards and a library of over 2,000 pieces of short-form content related to ABC’s popular primetime lineup. is also home to a new Ugly Betty webisode series, Mode After Hours, featuring Marc (Michael Urie) and Amanda (Becki Newton) in different adventures at the Mode office after the work day is done and everyone has left. Original webisode series are also planned for Brothers & Sisters and Scrubs.

PIXAR’s Cars Spawns Multi-Channel Cars Toons Series of Shorts

Disney•Pixar’s Cars Toons, a new animated short series directed by Academy Award®-winner John Lasseter, and starring Lightning McQueen’s rusty but trusty friend Mater, will be presented on, Disney Channel, Toon Disney and ABC Family beginning Monday, October 27.


“Cars Toons” are directed by John Lasseter, (director on Cars, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life and Toy Story). Victor Navone (animator on Cars, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.) and Rob Gibbs (story artist on Cars, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2) are co-directors. Kori Rae (associate producer on The Incredibles and Monsters Inc.) is the producer.

The shorts premiere as follows on Toon Disney (all times ET/PT):

Monday, October 27 (6:56 p.m.)

“Rescue Squad Mater” — Mater is a fire truck that rescues Lightning McQueen from a burning building.  When McQueen is rushed to the hospital, he discovers that Mater is a doctor, too.

Tuesday, October 28 (6:57 p.m.)

“Mater the Greater” — Mater is a famous daredevil who does all kinds of stunts. And Lightning McQueen becomes an unwilling participant in Mater’s greatest stunt ever.

Wednesday, October 29 (6:57 p.m.)

“El Materdor” — Mater is a famous bulldozer fighter in Spain.  He’s so good, he’s able to fend off multiple bulldozers at once.  Lightning McQueen joins Mater in this Tall Tale just as things are at their worst.

Disney Channel will present all three shorts throughout the day on Saturday, November 1. ABC Family will present the shorts beginning Tuesday, December 23 during the network’s annual “25 Days of Christmas” programming event

TELEVISION: Criminal Minds: As Promised Someone Dies!

There are many reasons that I gave up on Criminal Minds [CBS, Wednesdays, 9/8C] – among them, a seemingly deliberate bad treatment of women and unctuous and predictable writing. Both are present in this season’s premiere, subtly entitled Mayhem. It’s the resolution of the terrorist investigation/car bombing cliffhanger that ended the show’s third season.

Criminal Minds, S4

You may remember the scene: members of the team moved to their various SUVs and one exploded. Turns out that in the case of the one that exploded, its passengers hadn’t quite gotten into it [can you say cheat?] and were blown back by the explosion, not instantly killed. Not only that, but a passer-by calls 911 – of course no one is allowed to approach them because it was established that the bombers were actually looking to follow up the initial bomb with one to take out the initial response team[s].

So, we’ve got a badly injured woman. How she survived being scraped along the street for twenty yards, leaving a trail of skin and blood, is beyond me [when we get a glance at it, her back is so much hamburger]. Meanwhile the male agent is blown into the air and comes down across the street and is only shaken up and cut from the SUV’s windows – or so it seems. Actually, it’s later shown to be bad enough to have both agents requiring emergency treatment.

In the meantime, we get a bunch of fairly predictable events – the injured agent driving the ambulance to a hospital that has been barricaded, another agent discovering the second bomb and appearing to die saving everyone… the usual – and the only member of the team that comes off well is, once again, Garcia [Kristen Vangsness].

Sadly, all of the episode’s major reveals were obvious to me well before we reached them [before the teaser was over, actually]. And the promised death once again put a woman through all kinds of agony – a Criminal Minds staple. Not that Mayhem was totally ridiculous – it was beautifully filmed [though the hamburger shot could have been briefer] and Vangsness’ performance was excellent. On the other hand, Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi was reduced to the role of bystander and Paget Brewster’s Emily Prentiss was little more than window dressing.

Overall, then, Mayhem reminded me why I seldom watch Criminal Minds. It was overblown fooferaw and pretty much a waste of my time. Don’t let it waste yours.

Final Grade: D

Television: The Mentalist: Simon Baker Sees Stuff You Don’t!

Have you ever wondered what the series Psych would be like if it had been played as a drama? It might well have looked like The Mentalist [CBS, Tuesdays, 9/8C], a series about Patrick Jane, a former fraud television psychic who makes a major career change after a performance on a talk show takes a nasty turn.

mentalist - baker & tunney

The premiere finds Jane, who is now working for the California Bureau of Investigation, solving a murder in the opening minutes by simply, as he puts it, “paying attention.” His methods, being somewhat unorthodox, his boss, Teresa Lisbon [Robin Tunney], suspends him – but a new set of murders appears to strike home to him and he goes over her head to get back on the case.

Judging by the premiere, The Mentalist is one of those shows that seem like it’s going to go one way and then, BAM! It’s snuck up on you and grabbed you by the throat! Unlike Psych, which places the humor upfront, The Mentalist seems like it’s going to be deadly earnest – and mostly, it is – but at key moments, shrewdly placed bits of gallows humor serve to both emphasize the drama and relieve the carefully built up tension.

David Nutter, a true king of the pilots [Millennium, Roswell, Dark Angel, Smallville, and Without a Trace, among them], really has a handle on Bruno Heller’s [Touching Evil, Rome] excellent script. Some of the key moments are [deliberately] predictable in order to set up the ones that aren’t – and he draws series defining performances from an ensemble that also includes Owain Yeoman [Kitchen Confidential, The Nine], Amanda Righetti [The O.C., Reunion] and Tim Kang [Third Watch, Rambo].

The Mentalist may be the series that gives Simon Baker the hit his talent and charisma deserve – and with its NCIS lead-in, it’s positioned well. The fact that it’s a police show – if not exactly a procedural – means that it takes a different tone than NCIS, but its quality should hold that show’s audience.

TELEVISION: Heroes Returns With a Bang!

Tim Kring and his creative team on Heroes [Mondays, 8/7C] have heard their show’s fans. Heroes returns with one helluva bang, giving us the answer to last season’s cliffhanger – who shot Nathan Petrelli [Adrian Pasdar] – inside of the first ninety seconds of the season three premiere. The premiere, The Second Coming/The Butterfly Effect, promises to be one of the more electrifying two hours of the new season [only the first hour was sent out for review].

S3 - Claire & Peter

One thing that remains constant is the show’s multiple character arcs that intersect in odd and unexpected ways. Thus, we find Matt Parkman [Greg Grunberg] in a desert; skip to a future confrontation from a very dark [brunette, actually] Claire and Peter, and meet a character named Tracey Strauss [Ali Larter] who looks exactly like Niki Sanders whom we were pretty sure had died in that exploding building in last season’s finale. Then there’s the character who returns from the grave; an encounter between the present-day Claire [Hayden Panettiere] and Sylar [Zachary Quinto] that doesn’t go the way anyone [except Tim Kring, who wrote the script] could have imagined. To cap it all off, there are the prisoners of Level 5 – and Noah Bennett [Jack Coleman] still channelling Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

One of the things that Heroes does best – when it’s on form, and it’s on form here – is juggle multiple plot and character arcs. Volume Three: Villains looks to be the most complex volume in the series, thus far, and yet none of the characters seems to be short changed. Even odd pairings, like Suresh [Sendhil Ramamurthy] and Maya [Dania Ramirez] work – and it’s the first time since her introduction that Maya doesn’t drain the life out of her scenes. The show’s FX are in good form, too. Hiro’s [Masi Oka] arch-enemy. A young speedster named Daphne [Brea Grant] is handled extremely well by the FX team, and Grant brings an impish sense of fun to the character.

If you lost interest in Heroes last season, or stuck with it but thought it opened too slowly, you’ll find season three a real rush [and not just in the sense of Daphne’s superspeed]. If you need to brush up on what’s happened, so far, there is a special one-hour summary episode that immediately precedes the third season premiere.

Final Grade: B+

TELEVISION: The Emmy Winds Are Changing!

While some things Emmy [ABC, 8/7C] remain the same [Hello, James Spader!], some things Emmy have definitely changed – and for the better [I’m looking at you Mad Men!]. Gold Derby at the Los Angeles Times has handicapped the possible winners for us, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right. Heaven knows that the Academy does the unexpected often enough to make their award winning selections suitable for bookie fodder. So, then, what follows is the Gold Derby handicapping for each category followed by my selections – not of the winners, but of those who should win in my not necessarily humble opinion…

Continue reading TELEVISION: The Emmy Winds Are Changing!

MOVIE REVIEW: IGOR: Inspired Idea – Utterly Inadequate Film!

In the land of Malaria, things have changed since it was a sunny, happy place. Constant cloud cover and rain have ruined it for agriculture, so the king has decreed that the best way to survive is to develop an economy based on the creation of evil science. The country’s best mad scientists compete in an “Evil Science Fair” – and the king charges the rest of the world a [you should pardon the expression] king’s ransom to not use it.

The Triumvarate of Terror

Each mad scientist has an Igor – a hunchbacked assistant to gather materials and pull the power switch to put the finishing touches on their evil experiments. The film is built on the idea that one of these Igors [voiced by John Cusack] wants to be the scientist, not the Igor. When his master, Dr. Glickenstein [John Cleese] dies during the creation of a new weapon, Igor seizes his chance. With the aid [?] of his previous inventions – Scamper [Steve Buscemi], a suicidal immortal rabbit, and Brain [Sean Hayes], a robot with a brain in a jar – he decides to create life.

The idea of an Igor supplanting his mad scientist and succeeding is a good one, so it’s really a shame that this beautifully designed film [looking like some mad hybrid of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and a Tex Avery cartoon] is virtually humor-free. Even Jennifer Coolidge’s assortment of scientists’ girlfriends and Eddie Izzard’s unscrupulous Dr. Schadenfreude [who’s won seventeen Fairs by stealing the best efforts of his competitors – and delights in the misery of others] somehow fail to… ummm… come to life.

The animation, from design on, is extremely good, but in light of the paucity of laughs and any real sense of danger, it simply isn’t enough to recommend the film. In short, Igor could’ve used a lot more madness.

Final Grade: D

MOVIE REVIEW: Ghost Town: Gervais Displays Surprising Range!

Bertram Pincus [Ricky Gervais] is a solitary man, rude and generally misanthropic, he lives alone and has a job [he’s a dentist] where he can make sure his patients don’t to him. He even has his office literally a few yards from he works so he can avoid as many people as possible – until he goes in for a routine colonoscopy. After the procedure, he finds himself being assailed by the ghosts of people who had unfinished business when they died – the most insistent of whom, Frank Herlihy [Greg Kinnear], believes that his unfinished business is to prevent his widow, Gwen [Tea Leoni], from marrying a “scumbag lawyer.” Problems arise when Pincus manages to weasel his way into her life via the manner in which an important mummified Egyptian died, and he gets the opportunity to meet Gwen’s finance´.

ghost town poster

Ghost Town reminded of the superb Truly, Madly, Deeply, though it’s a good deal more superficial. David Koepp and John Kamps’ script works best when director Koepp allows the rhythms of the dialogue to dictate the pacing and when he leads Gervais into some genuinely poignant moments of revelation – regarding himself and how much he’s been missing while he wastes his life. There are moments where the film verges on maudlin, but Koepp manages to walk that line reasonably well throughout.

It’s not a surprise that Gervais made me laugh here. What is a surprise is the deftness with which he handles the poignant moments mentioned above. Both work because he has terrific chemistry with both Kinnear and Leoni. Kinnear plays Frank as a seeming good guy with a surface smarm but takes it to a level where it masks a smarmy guy who projects a superficial good guy over his smarm, but beneath an equally superficial level of smarm [please don’t ask me to say that again…]. Leoni, who has always had terrific comic chops, matched Gervais mood for mood – and she matches his banter equally well.

There’s a scene where Pincus goes off on politically incorrect riff on the Chinese that really isn’t funny, but because Gwen thinks he’s joking, and laughs, it becomes a far more disarming scene than it might have been. Gervais and Leoni work this potentially awkward scene in such a way that we believe because they’ve established their odd rapport from early on. In the end, it’s the chemistry between Gervais and Leoni – and the way they play off each other – that raises Ghost town above the average romantic dramedy – supernatural or otherwise.

Final Grade: B