Sunday, January 27, 2008

No. 2: Torchwood, S2, E1

This Week: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, or, Jack, You Ignorant Slut

Previously, on the 'Wood: Months of tension and mistrust culminated in the team's mutiny and murder of Captain Jack Harkness. But, Jack being Jack, he survived both that and a life-draining encounter with dark god Abaddon, before ditching his mates to join The Doctor on another world-saving adventure.

The makers of Torchwood probably prefer it if you don't ask a lot of questions while watching their show. You know, like, "What did these people do before joining the agency?" "Don't any of them get counseling?" And perhaps most obviously, "How can such a group of fuck-ups be trusted to run a drive-thru, let alone operate a Top-Secret Government Program?"

"Dwell on any of this too much," the creators seem to want to tell us, "and your head will probably blow up. Just stare at the pretty damaged people and we'll all have a laugh, okay?" So it's surprising that the much-hyped season premiere shows a few changes in the formula.

The big news first: slashfic monkeys, rejoice! You have a new playground for Cap'n Jack, in the form of Captain John Hart (Whedon alum James Marsters, wisely rediscovering his British accent), a fellow ex-Time Agent, con man -- and partner, he quickly informs us, "in every way imaginable." As George Takei would coo, Ohhh, my!

Armed with Adam Ant's leftover jacket, Spike-esque snark, twin hand-cannons and a MacGuffin, Hart isn't memorable as a character, yet, but he does bring something besides kissy-face to the table: finally, Jack and the series have a nemesis. And a bad ex, to boot, so it's more drama, less melodrama.

A good chunk of the episode is spent watching Jack try to reacquaint and re-assert himself with his teammates, and it's nice to see that, at least for this hour, the gang -- Gwen, Owen, Toshiko and even skittish ol' Ianto -- has adjusted to really working together without the good Captain. But, given that we last saw Jack in Doctor Who, he was being dropped off almost literally at Torchwood's front door, how could it take him so long to re-join the team?

Oops, there I go, asking questions.

The Scoobies may be getting along these days, but Jack still has issues: he asks Ianto on a date while going all Dawson on the newly-engaged Gwen; he still sneaks in a few snogs with Not-Spike; and he still won't 'fess up to his, uh, time as a Time Agent, or even to the real reason he skipped out of Cardiff after the battle with Abaddon: to hitch a ride with The Doctor and the goddamn-fine Martha Jones, which ended up with him helping to save the world. Again.

There could be two unspoken reasons for this strained level of secrecy: the show's creators want to keep it "independent" from its' more family-friendly parent program; and Jack, the character, might look at it this way: Why would I confide in a bunch of schmucks who killed me and took my job? Still, with Martha due to join the team later this year, and Jack himself reportedly teaming up with The Doctor later on in Who's season, something's sure to be revealed.

Another subplot that seems to be developing is that, for a Top-Secret Government Organization, suddenly more people seem to know what Torchwood is. In the opening chase sequence, an otherwise common matron gripes, "Bloody Torchwood!" Later, at a crime scene, Andrew the Cop asks Gwen rather flippantly whether the case is "another one of [their] spooky 'dos." Did Harry Saxon sell them out? Did the repeated alien and supernatural goings-on around the country make them take on a higher profile? Oh, and who the hell is Grey?

For once, those last few questions aren't recriminating toward the show. It's a welcome change of pace after last year.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No. 1: Clusterfu, er, Cloverfield

The Greeks would sum up my friend's experience watching Cloverfield thusly: Vini, Vidi, Vomite. I came, I saw, I threw up.

My friend's reaction, in its' own gross way, is possibly what director Matt Reeves was going for with this so-simple-it's-too-clever-by-half upending of the Kaiju formula. Simply put, instead of seeing the action from the outside in, we're plunged into the heart of the action -- and, supposedly, the Lower East Side (though our New York correspondent, Mona Lisa Vito, says some shots suggest a vantage point of Harlem.)

Outside of that, though, we get no backstory, aside from Rob (Michael Stahl-David) pining over longtime friend Beth (Odette Yustman) and seemingly finally losing her the night of his going-away party, all captured on video by his best friend Hud (Seth Rogen lookalike T.J. Miller). As protagonists go, this group and their friends is suspect. They come off more like retreads from The O.C. than honest-to-Giuliani New Yorkers. Six minutes in, I was ready to root for the monster.

Yes, it is a monster. No, this wasn't a top-secret Voltron movie. The story truly kicks off when the tim'rous beasti goes Sweeney Todd on Lady Liberty and starts rampaging around the city.

I won't spoil it, of course, but let me just say: as monsters go, this one's definitely mean-looking. No guy-in-rubber-suit goofiness here. In another change-up on the formula, we're never told what it is, and none of these decidedly common (though unnervingly pretty) people suddenly becomes neither an expert nor a champion. "Whatever it is, it's winning," one overmatched sergeant huffs, and that's all we get explained to us. The rest of the uglyness is for us to watch and try to figure out.

Since it's a disaster, and since it's New York -- and really, hasn't this city been picked on enough? Wouldn't Los Angeles pay a monster to demolish its' downtown at this point? -- we get a few shots designed to harken back to You Know What during the beast's initial assault.

Along the way, Hollywood conventions bump into the storytelling experiment: Rob decides to journey back into the beast's path to rescue Beth. His friends decide to join him. Nobody decides to steal a gun or get out of their hipster boots or heels. Hud decides to keep taping, explaining, "Someone needs to see this." And the military decides to let him. Since the film grossed a reported $41 million last weekend, I guess we can't argue with him.

That kind of money demands a sequel, and the story leaves enough dangling threads (What created this thing? What's its' next move? Did the Knicks sign it to a two-year contract?) to sell it on more than the curiosity factor this film had going for it.
Cloverfield vs. Eli, here we come!

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Image Credits:
* Photo 1 courtesy of Chicago Tribune & Paramount Pictures
* Photo 2 courtesy of MSNBC & Paramount Pictures

Monday, January 21, 2008

Who He Is And How This Came To Be

At my new writers' group meeting:
Non-Vampire Dave: Why did the hooker go to the bathroom?
Me: To get to the john!

At a friend's party:
Drunken angry "cockblocking" guest: Replace yourself, if you please.
Me: I don't speak Lindsay Lohan. What are you saying?

Talking to The Homie Kate:
Kate: I had a dream about ___________________.
Me: Oh, no.
Kate: Don’t worry, there weren’t any clothes off.
Me: So he was in it, but not in it.

That's me: Smart-ass. Jerk. Bigmouth. Callbacks are Rocky Horror-ese for poking fun at what you see on the screen. And I don't stop there: I'm the guy who whistled the Python tune during Passion Of The Christ. I've gone Capital One to folks at SCA battles.

Smart-ass. Jerk. Bigmouth.

I'm opening this blog because I wanted a new space for venting. I'm also going to use it to help me keep my only resolution for '08: Write More. So, starting tomorrow, I'm going to write reviews for at least one movie or tv show per week. In time, I'll also incorporate more stories, with the hopes of this becoming my primary blog by the start of 2009. Sorry, LJ, our relationship is on borrowed time.

So, welcome, those of you following this small rant. Trust me, there's more where it came from.