When the Disney rep asked me what I thought of UP at the conclusion of the screening, my immediate response was, “Several million points out of ten!” Yeah, I know. Douglas Adams. Zaphod Beeblebrox. What can I say – I only steal from the best. The thing is, UP is going to make more top ten, top five and top three lists than almost any other film to be released this year. Why? Because it is Pixar’s biggest risk and most fully realized motion picture.
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.
How do you create and write a series like Burn Notice? What influences – from life and classic TV – go into the unique mix that is Burn Notice [USA, Thursdays, 10/9C]? Series creator Matt Nix answers these questions and more…
Tomorrow marks the return of one of the summer’s brightest lights, Burn Notice [USA, Thursdays, 10/9C]. When last we saw burnt agent Michael Westen [Jeffrey Donovan], he was caught in a freeze frame in mid-air after a bomb planted inside his door had gone off. It should come as no surprise that the winter premiere of the show picks up right at that precise instant. Nor will it come as a surprise that Westen survives – though he is banged up enough that he’s less than subtle in both his dealings with Carla [Tricia Helfer] and the con artists who benefited financially at the expense of a perhaps terminally ill boy named Jack. Westen saves Jack’s father from a terrible mistake [suicide] and after a very brief conversation, Kenny [David Barry Gray] becomes his next “side job” [as Carla puts it].
In our interview with Bruce Campbell [Westen’s right-hand man, Sam Axe] mentioned that he thought the show had a core of innocence, like The Rockford Files. Actually, I’d take that a couple of steps further and suggest that Burn Notice is a mash-up of Rockford and It Takes a Thief – only the hero is I Spy’s Kelly Robinson [in an upcoming interview, Nix talks about the way classic TV influenced the show].
In Do No Harm, the Season 2.5 premiere, Westen, who was pretty banged up after surviving the explosion, decides that he’s not exactly in the mood for subtle –something to do with almost dying [attempts on his life, he says, “are like snowflakes. Each one is different – and icy cold]. This puts Sam a bit on edge, and makes Fiona [Gabriel Anwar] a hair crazier than usual. It also means babysitting duty for Westen’s mom, Madeline [Sharon Gless].
The episode – which was written and directed by creator Matt Nix – seems to move a bit faster than usual. Probably because of Westen’s decision to forego subtlety. Also probably because of a twist in regard to his would-be assassin. Mostly, though it’s the combination of the above and con artists who target fatally ill children. As a result, the voiceovers aren’t quite as matter-of-fact as usual. There’s just a slight tonal difference, but we can tell Westen’s objectivity isn’t exactly intact.
Nix proves to be a capable director. He keeps the pace up and knows when to let the show’s trademark humor relieve the tension. Because he is so good, it should come as no surprise that Do Not Harm is one of the series’ best episodes, to date. After all, there’s compromising of the writer’s vision.
Final Grade: A
SCI FI Channel has announced Justin Louis, David Blue, Brian J. Smith and Jamil Walker Smith will join the cast of the highly anticipated new original series Stargate Universe. The four will enlist alongside Robert Carlyle (Dr. Nicholas Rush) in the latest adventure in the Stargate franchise produced by MGM television. Production will begin in Vancouver in February 2009 with an eye toward a fall ‘09 premiere.
Edgier and younger in tone than the two previous series, SGU follows a band of soldiers, scientists and civilians, who must fend for themselves as they are forced through a Stargate when their hidden base comes under attack. The desperate survivors emerge aboard an ancient ship, which is locked on an unknown course and unable to return to Earth.
The trailers for Hotel For Dogs make much of the Rube Goldberg devices that are created for the titular hotel and, in truth, they are pretty amazing. The film is not nearly as much fun, but it does have its good points.
Andi [Emma Roberts] and her little brother, Bruce [Jake T. Austin] are foster kids who have adopted a stray dog they’ve named Friday. Their latest foster parents, Lois [Lisa Kudrow] and Carl [Matt Dillon] are obnoxious, and talentless, would be rock stars who have a no pets policy. In trying to find ways to keep Friday with them, yet unseen by Lois and Carl, they have gone to extraordinary lengths – which take them into a closed down hotel, where they find two dogs, that Bruce names Lenny and Georgia. Before long, Andi and Bruce are being helped by a pair of pet store employees named Dave [Johnny Simmons] and Heather [Kyla Pratt] as they turn the place into a hotel for dogs. Along the way, a guy named Mark [Troy Gentile] joins the band, maybe because chunky kids are funny… or something.
The Rube Goldberg devices in all those trailers? They’re to take care of feeding the dogs and give them typical doggie experiences – like playing fetch, barking when there’s someone at the door, or sticking their heads out of a car window. The devices are created by Bruce [who is clearly the reincarnation of Mr. Goldberg], but one of the key plot points is what happens when the devices malfunction and the dogs all flee the building.
The villains are the pet control officers who rake sadistic glee at putting strays in their cages and count the moments until the unclaimed ones will be put down. Other than the sympathetic Bernie [Don Cheadle], the kids’ social worker, all the remaining adults in the film are pretty much twits [though not as bad as Lois and Carl].
Despite its flaws [and they are several], Hotel For Dogs kinda works. The dogs are well trained and steal every scene, though the kids hold their own, for the most part. There’s a certain lowbrow charm to the piece – though perhaps one too many dog poop jokes. The movie is aimed at tweens [the Nickelodeon demographic], but the dogs and Bruce’s wacky machines will keep adults interested while the forced romance between Dave and Andi develops.
Hotel For Dogs is a put your brain on hold and eat your popcorn movie. That’s precisely what it intends to be and, on that level, it works.
Final Grade: B-
“…You are one of a small number of trusted BSG enthusiasts with whom we are sharing a review copy.”
While that statement from the letter that accompanies the mid-season premiere of BSG [Sci Fi, Fridays, 10/9C], Sometimes a Great Notion, doesn’t exactly hurt my ego, it does come with some hefty caveats. I can’t give away a couple of HUGE plot points – like they’d have to tell me that in the first place – and then there’s the scene that has been withheld from screener in the interests of maintaining “the secrecy surrounding an extremely sensitive reveal” [which only guarantees that I’ll be in front of my TV for the premiere – but I’d have been there anyway, the ep is that good].
What’s left? Forty-two minutes of pretty frakkin’ awesome stuff! [Remember, I saw it without commercials.] Which means you should set your TiVo for an extra three minutes or so…
In the past, I’ve been known to complain about episodes that are way too talky and slow – episodes where it’s all about exposition, or recapitulation of themes that maybe didn’t need to be recapitulated – or about the Messiah Baltar [James Callis] and his harem. Well, Sometimes a Great Notion is a talky episode – the one burst of unexpected violence [not counting a fist fight in one of the Galactica’s corridors as a major character walks by] is one of things I can’t talk about – but even without the violence, so much happens here that it will be one of the best television episodes of 2009 [and that’s without the missing scene]!
The episode begins mere moments after the conclusion of Revelations with the various human and Cylon characters wandering about in a daze. The only one who is actively doing something, really, is Starbuck [Katie Sackhoff], who is looking for something. Before the teaser is over, there have been answers to at least a couple of major questions, including one about the Final Five – not to mention… but that would be too much to say here…
Essentially, Sometimes a Great Notion is about what happens when your biggest and best hopes and dreams are dangled before your eyes then ripped ruthlessly away. Some of the responses are dire [see HUGE plot point #2] while some are just there – a kind enervation. Then there are those who see the situation not as an invalidation of their hopes and dreams, but an opportunity to be completely free from any expectations, or prophecies. The characters who fall into these categories might not necessarily be the ones you’ll be expecting.
Written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson [they wrote Revelations – every resolution of a cliffhanger should be written by the same writer[s] who did the cliffhanger] and directed by Michael Nankin, Sometimes a Great Notion is an amazing example of how a mostly violence-free episode should be done. Nankin’s pacing is best described as deliberate – just slow enough that we can pick up on the many subtleties of the episode [watch the reactions of the crew in the background after the announcement is made about the state of the Earth] – even as we watch the main characters fall apart, go into shock, or buck up and decide to keep going forward.
The bleached palette of the bleak Earth scenes contrast with the much warmer palette aboard the Galactica [warmer tones that make that one burst of violence even more mind-boggling]. It’s partly because of contrasts such as these that we buy into most of the responses to the news about the Earth – though, as in real life, some will never be understood. Though I haven’t said much about the Cylons who allied themselves with the humans, they, too, are caught up in the situation with an equally wide range of reactions – especially Leoben [Callum Keith Rennie] and D’Anna [Lucy Lawless].
Because of the missing scene, I can’t give Sometimes a Great Notion an unqualified A+ – but it is close to perfect as it can be without that scene [and I can’t wait to see what it is!].
Final Grade: A
The new A&E series, The Beast [Thursdays, 10/9C], is built around a familiar premise – the veteran cop/FBI/CIA agent being teamed up with a green partner. The main difference between most movies and TV series that use this premise is that this one has Patrick Swayze and some very effective writing.
Swayze is the unorthodox [and possibly corrupt] veteran FBI agent, Charles Barker, who is partnered with the wet-behind-the-ears Ellis Dove [Travis Fimmel – who’s learned to act since The WB’s Tarzan]. Dove was handpicked by the cantankerous Barker to become his new partner, though you’d never know it from the way he treats him. The show opens with the two working undercover – and Barker shoots him! When they’re not actively pursuing a case, Barker has Dove fetch coffee, deal with obnoxious drunks and generally act as a gopher. By hitting the kid in his pride, Barker is pushing him to work on his undercover skills.
Then there’s the Internal Affairs thing. In the premiere, Ellis is approached by a handful of IA people who try to recruit him to prove Barker’s corruption – of the four, only “Ray” [Larry Gilliard Jr.] reappears in the second episode, and then to give Dove a DVD that allegedly implicates Barker in something illegal. Throw in something that disappears from the evidence room, and a woman who lives in Dove’s apartment building [Rose, played by Lindsay Pulsipher], and you’ve got most of the ingredients for a formula show.
Fortunately, series creators Vincent Angell and William L. Rothko aren’t interested in the standard tropes of the genre. Instead, they set up a selection of standard characters and play with their motivations and situations. The result is a smarter, darker show than you’d expect on basic cable – and an entertainment that would be more engrossing than most even without Swayze. With him, though, the show has serious heft.
Michael Dinner directs the first two episodes with an eye toward mixing noir-ish lighting with slightly bleached colors to give the show an individual look. He has a knack for lighting his characters so that we get a sense of who they are even before they say anything. Dinner does a good job of exploiting the chemistry between Swayze and Fimmel – not to mention Fimmel and Pulsipher – in a way that doesn’t seem forced. When you put it all together, it’s safe to say that The Beast is the best hour-long series that A&E has had since Nero Wolfe.
Final Grade: B+
I’ve just seen the two-hour premiere of season five of Lost [ABC Wednesdays, 8/7C, beginning on Jan. 21st]. You think it was strange and wild and exhilarating before? Just wait until you see what’s next!
Although my agreement with ABC is that I can’t give away plot points, I can, perhaps, give clues. I can tell you that Vincent’s back – and that Sawyer plays a more prominent role. I can tell you that things have changed between Benjamin Linus [Michael Emerson] and Sayid [Naveen Andrews]; that Hurley [Jorge Garcia] has reached his limit on lying – and that Sayid’s life may depend on him; I can tell you that a potential legal problem may change Kate’s [Evangeline Lilly] and Aaron’s lives, and that Charlotte [Rebecca Mader] may not be well. And speaking of Hurley, remember Dave? And Charlie’s enigmatic appearance at the mental institution [“I’m dead. And I’m here”]? I can safely say that Hurley sees dead people.
There are lots more clues that I could give you in that vein, but when the events to which they allude happen, all that’ll happen is that some answers will be given [like why Hurley finally reaches his limit with The Lie] and more will be asked [like what’s happening to the people who were left on the island]. Even the titles of the two parts of this season’s premiere have titles [Because You Left & The Lie] that are carefully gauged to give hints that spawn unexpected answers and set the stage for more [and possibly bigger] questions. As is always the case with Lost, context is everything.
Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof co-wrote Because You Left and Stephen Williams’s direction keeps up a pace that matches that of last season’s three-hour finale. Revelations are given in quick bursts and emotional moments in almost a state suspension – but no scene lasts for more a few moments. The Lie, written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and directed by Jack Bender, keeps up that pace, for the most part but lingers a bit more over the key emotional sequences, giving them more heft as the give and take of answers and questions mounts.
I have to say that I enjoyed the season five premiere episodes as much as the three-part season four finale. Everyone we care about gets a choice moment or two and the plot forges onward. The rollercoaster ride that is Lost is definitely maintaining the quality level it regained last season.
Final Grade: A+
I had the opportunity to take part in a teleconference with Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore and David Eick this week. The forty-minute touched on BSG’s upcoming prequel series, Caprica as well as the final ten episodes of BSG, itself. Somehow, Moore and Eick got through the ordeal without leaking any spoilers, but we still had fun.
There was an overwhelming amount of great TV, this year [and, as you’ll see not too much later, an almost equally overwhelming amount of excessively bad TV]. Given the truly amazing amount of quality to be found between the networks and the various cable outlets, I’ve decided to list my favorite fifteen shows of the year.