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Posts in Category: Film Monthly

The Eroticist (1972)

Do you like your sex comedies both stilted and over the top? If so, legendary horror directory Lucio Fulci has the movie for you! The Eroticist stars hammy Lando Buzzanca as presidential candidate (and sitting senator) Puppis with a bizarre sexual compulsion—namely, a desire to grab the ass of any and every nearby female. When a priest captures such an act on film a threatens to expose him (I think—plot isn’t one of this film’s strong points), Puppis goes on a “religious retreat” to a monastery, so he can overcome this unusual predilection.

What follows is basically Fellini Lite™, with Fulci cramming the thin premise full of characters an plot twists to pad the story out to feature length. Cluttered with papal and Italian political satire, much of which flew straight over my head (as I imagine it would most Americans), The Eroticist lurches along whenever Puppis isn’t onscreen. This is not a result of Buzzanca’s goofy mugging so much as the fact that his story has an endearing, relatable quality to it that the other subplots lack. Unfortunately, his struggle to overcome this sexual problem devolves into a door-slamming farce as characters from each subplot enter Puppis’ home and he has to keep each hidden from the others. All this lurches toward an end that will provide erotica fans with a lot of much-desired nudity, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as the first 45 minutes or so.

The humor is hit-or-miss at best. As mentioned, part of this stems from a culture barrier, so maybe those more familiar with the intricacies of Italian politics will enjoy the satire. However, much of the problem with the comedy is Fulci’s tendency to get way too broad. One example comes in the middle of the film, when Puppis has exiled himself to the monastery (which is filled with the sexiest nuns in the history of Catholicism). While he discusses his problems with Pietro Fornari (José Quaglio), the old monk makes the mistake of bending over in front of him. Buzzanca lets out a groan, which is funny—then Fulci takes it too far, having Buzzanca grab Fornari’s behind and leaving the old man to struggle to remove it. What started as a funny, subtle moment turns into a plodding, beat-the-joke-to-death scene.

Once in awhile, a few legitimately funny moments and one-liners escape Fulci’s ham-fisted treatment. At the beginning, Fulci shows us the televised political discourse, and then we hear shouts—thinking citizens are swept up in the election. Then he reveals the men shouting at a soccer match. At one point, an embittered police captain declares, “This is the first time in political history that someone has held a coup without alerting the generals!” I laughed at moments like these, but there aren’t many, so the product as a whole is unsatisfying and overlong.

While it will not suit fans of comedy, fans of erotica fare even worse; aside from a few dream sequences and one extended nude scene near the end, there’s little excitement to be had. The plot deals with a man whose sexual repression threatens to ruin his political career, so it probably won’t surprise anyone to find out that it’s filled mainly with discussions of sex rather than graphic portrayals.

The transfer on Severin’s DVD release is really sharp. I’ve reviewed several releases, all of which look better than older VHS releases but still suffer from heavy grain and the occasional washed-out image. The Eroticist looks great, however—it looks about as good as most mainstream film restorations from the same era.

I can’t quite recommend The Eroticist, but I think maybe even the over-the-top humor can be attributed to a cultural problem. Maybe this just isn’t a great Italian film to release in the U.S., or maybe American fans of Italian cinema will love it.

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Black Emanuelle’s Box Volume 2 (1976-1979)

On November 13th, Severin released volume two of the Black Emanuelle box set. It includes Black Emanuelle 2, Black Emanuelle/White Emanuelle and Black Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade. One of the more intriguing and worthwhile curiosities of the collection is Black Emanuelle 2, the only film of the series that does not star the gorgeous Laura Gemser. Even more curiously, star Sharon Lesley (also known as Shulamith Lasri) never appeared in another film. I found myself more intrigued by Lesley’s story than by anything offered in the films themselves. Unfortunately, none of the collection’s supplemental features gave any explanation of where she came from or where she went.

Each film suffers from simplified plots, mediocre acting (made worse by truly atrocious dubbing—both poorly translated and poorly recited) and a low-budget verité style that doesn’t quite match the content. If you enjoy mid-’70s music, the score for each movie is pretty good (although some of the songs with lyrics are sung in Italian). Each film boasts some impressive locations, although they aren’t exactly served well by the sloppy guerilla filmmaking.

But you didn’t come here for the traditional merits of cinema, did you? The sex scenes (all simulated) range from poorly blocked to surprisingly erotic, and one of the highlights is the sheer number of beautiful women. Laura Gemser, of course, might go down in history in the top 10 all-time beauties, but supporting actors—like Annie Belle, Susan Scott, Ziggy Zanger, Danielle Ellison, Dagmar Lassander and Elly Galleani—round out the cast in more ways than one. Sharon Lesley, too, is quite beautiful, but she can’t hold a candle to Gemser.

Almost as importantly, Severin did a very nice job with the DVD transfers. Anybody who saw a Black Emanuelle movie on VHS or cable (or on bootleg DVDs prior to Severin’s U.S. releases) is aware of how fuzzy and washed out these films can look. Here, they probably look as well as they did in theatrical release—not great, thanks to the rushed and amateurish production, but serviceable.

If you like the Black Emanuelle series, this set is a no-brainer. If you like beautiful women getting the softcore treatment and don’t mind the usual trappings of erotica, you might like it, too.

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Finale Fever

Most shows are heading to “fall finale” land this week. For some, it’s disappointing that we’ll have to wait until January or February to see two or three episodes before a strike-induced hiatus; for the rest, good fucking riddance.

Aliens in America (The CW)—After ignoring it, we’ve returned to the “Gary gets laid off” story for two weeks in a row. It’s a funny and relevant storyline, and watching the ways Gary and Franny attempt to deal with it (in last week’s, Gary pretends to work at a hardware store and develops a surrogate family, and in this week’s Franny becomes addicted to selling all of their belongings on Craigslist) won’t stop amusing me any time soon. However, the meat of each story belongs to the kids.

As the story revolving around Claire and Justin two weeks ago, it looks like the writers are trying to throw characters together at random to see what kind of magic may happen. Fortunately, they have one of the most capable comedic ensembles currently on television, so every combination has yielded great results. It’s helped Claire develop into more of a nuanced character. I like that they’ve given her character some interesting dynamics with the others, because for the first few weeks it seemed like she’d just be a stereotypical nasty-yet-vapid sister character. While the meat of each story for the past two weeks has belonged to Justin and Raja, whose friendship continues to develop in odd, surprising ways, the strategy of giving each character face time with someone new It’s also led to oddly touching scenes like Gary, the former jock, trying to relate to a son who can’t even work up the nerve to be a mascot. Like Hank Hill, it’s not that Gary is disappointed or unloving; he’s just confused.

Bones (Fox)—Oh wow, John Francis Daley has gone from recurring guest star to series regular in about two months. It’s probably a wise decision. Brennan relies on hard data, Booth trusts his gut, but neither of them trust psychology. In their case, having a psychologist consult on murder investigations probably isn’t a bad idea. Beyond that, Daley is awesome and has been consistently great since his first appearance on this show.

Now, last week it seemed like the mystery vault story arc may be done, but I believe they still have all that evidence. It may become useful in the future, or maybe they are going to start doing House-style short arcs that only last for a few episodes. Either way, this story hasn’t been given much air time, but even if it had it’s not nearly as irritating as House’s attempts to do the same thing. I welcome changes like this.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)—So in the past two weeks, the best thing to happen on this show is Patrick getting shot by his wife for having an affair with a tranny hooker. Simon Elder is boring as hell, the only thing worse is the Nick-Karen fiasco, and even worse than that, they’ve gotten Karen together with Simon Elder as, I guess, a way to hurt Nick. I don’t really know or care what’s going on with them. Please, please, please focus more on anybody and everybody else. Don’t let this storyline drag you down, Dirty Sexy Money.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—Has Aliens in America spoiled me beyond the point of redemption? The CW’s other great comedy, which airs right after Everybody Hates Chris, has not only blasted out of the gate with a confidence and quality impressive of a freshman show—it’s managed to make its lead-in look bad in comparison.

“Bad” may be too strong a phrase. Everybody Hates Chris remains one of the funniest comedies on television, and it’s not like there was anything inherently wrong with the past few episodes. The retained the series’ typical sharp satire and comic insanity, and yet…Aliens in America has simply revealed itself to be that much better.

Maybe it’s not even that, though. Certainly Aliens in America is great, but perhaps the problem these past two weeks have been…well, everybody hating Chris. Two weeks ago, he got dumped on by both the owner of a Chinese restaurant and Doc after Doc refused to pay Chris minimum wage, prompting him to quit. This week, a new African-American student starts at Corleone. Chris is elated until he learns the new kid (Albert) is a thug, and when Albert wants Chris to help in his nefarious deeds, Chris refuses…but is blamed anyway.

They were funny on the surface, but when you dig deeper, each episode was kind of a downer. Maybe the upcoming holiday-themed episode will be a little more uplifting…

Heroes (NBC)—If this show had killed Noah Bennet, it would have been dead to me. The season, so far, hasn’t been awful, but it has been disappointing. If the most interesting character they have had died, is it safe to say the entire audience would have fled en masse? Now, after a few lackluster storylines, everything feels too crammed together as they run toward the finish line. Why did we spend all that time in Ireland and feudal Japan? I hated the West storyline, but at least it’s paying off (sort of). I imagine the more tedious threads will pay off, as well, but enough to justify the interminable screen time they were afforded? Doubtful.

House (Fox)—I hate it when House tries for these artsy endings. More often than not, they come across as pretentious; more often than that, they end on confusing notes of ambiguity, and not in a good way. This week’s “fall finale” has House making his version Sophie’s choice, bringing his four remaining “contestants” down to two. He wants to hire three but can’t, so he goes with Taub and Kutner. Why? Was this some kind of weird strategy? Why did Cuddy tell him to keep Kutner when, last week, her choices for firing (as voiced through “Big Love”) were Kutner and Cutthroat Bitch? Why did House give that whole goofy speech about how he’d choose 13 if he had three available slots, but then he gets all defensive of Cutthroat Bitch? And then…did Cuddy give him three slots because he needed to choose a woman but refused to give up the two men, or does he have to fire Kutner now? What the hell is going on?

To sum up: stop trying to be artsy, House. You’re a barely-above-average medical-mystery series with delusions of grandeur. Accept what you are and write clearly. Thanks, and happy holidays!

Journeyman (NBC)—I hate to get down on a good show when it’s already ratings-challenged and, for the most part, critically lambasted, but…the second part of the last two weeks’ two-parter was quite possibly the worst and silliest episode in Journeyman’s brief history. Despite its flaws, this series usually has a confidence about it that unintentionally improves it. The confidence was still there, but it means less when it confidently plows ahead with a goofy storyline involving a shooting, a kidnapping, and melodramatic monologuing—all of it taking place in Dan’s house.

The first part of the two-parter was good, in a creepy/nostalgiac way. It was sort of interesting to see a time when child predators got excited about Windows 95 and America Online, because they could prey on children more anonymously than they could on 976 party lines (remember those?). Tracing Aeden Bennett (played with creepy aplomb by character actor Raphael Sbarge) from the mid-’90s to the present, with Dan ignoring whatever divine directive has led him to these time periods, worked very well. It tackled one thing Quantum Leap touched on a few times but never committed to: the idea of ignoring your higher purpose to go after something you want.

In Quantum Leap, it was usually reconnecting with a love interest. Here, Dan doesn’t care about making minor nudges in an average joe’s life. Like the earthquake episode a few weeks ago, he knows he can stop this serial kidnapper cold. He does stop him, but it creates two timeline-related problems: first, he fails in his “mission,” and even worse, Aeden Bennett remembers him. And he’s just released from prison in 2007.

This leads us to the second part, where Dan is shot by Bennett right off the bat, then travels to a young Aeden Bennett’s house. We get to see his creepy backstory: Mom left, Dad’s a crooked cop who locks the boy in his room constantly and, if he’s lucky, will give him special treats like ketchup sandwiches (or “pizza sandwiches,” as he calls them). He’s the serial kidnapper with a heart of gold, not wanting to kidnap them out of any meanness or weird power trip. He spots kids with lives like his and wants to “rescue” them.

Where did this episode go wrong? Taking Katie and Zack hostage? The killing of the FBI agent who has been hunting Dan for the past month (sealing up one of the more interesting continuing stories the show has given us)? Trying to humanize a child predator just enough to let Dan exploit that humanity and force him to give up instead of killing everyone and/or himself. It didn’t feel like a series of clichés—the story was a bit too weird for that—but something about it just felt a little too “happy ending”/”big reset button”-ish.

Journeyman probably won’t last much longer, so I hope they make the last few episodes count.

King of the Hill (Fox)—Wow, the first dud of the season. Not that it was horrible or unfunny, just not up to the unusually high bar of excellence set by King of the Hill (especially this season, during which the writers have had a huge winning streak). A sensitive tolerance coach, who makes the pilot episode’s DCFS counselor look nuanced by comparison, sees racial intolerance all over Tom Landry Junior High. He ends up making everything worse when he transforms Bobby’s carnival into a depressing tolerance-themed talent show. Meanwhile, Lucky and the alley boys are wasted in yet another pointless subplot, this one about ambushing Lucky and forcing him to go to the hospital after a serious injury.

Last week’s episode, in which conservative and easily frustrated Hank turns around a hippie co-op because it’s the only place in town with good meat and vegetables, was a near-masterpiece of character continuity and ordinary situations blowing out of proportion to such a degree that it ends with Hank receiving a Polaroid and semi-anonymous letter stating that the cattle he helped kidnap have returned to open range. It made this week’s “Bobby allows himself to be influenced by adult idiots” story come across even worse.

My Name Is Earl (NBC)—These sons of bitches. We finally, finally reach the precipice of Earl’s jail release, only to conclude the episode with Craig T. Nelson’s hilariously incompetent warden (currently the only redeeming part of the show) shredding Earl’s well-earned sentence-reduction certificates. Don’t tease me, you bastards.

Numb3rs (CBS)—Two weeks ago, we were treated to a dull, pandering-to-nerd-fanboys story whose only redeeming quality was the mini-reunion between Taxi alums Judd Hirsch and Christopher Lloyd (who guested as a legendary comic-book artist). If I weren’t such a fan of both actors and Taxi, I would suggest that this reunion was counteracted by the vast suckitude of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Wil Wheaton as a sleazy collector. It’s been 15 years, and the poor guy’s apparently too devoted to his blog to learn how to act.

I have to admit, it also disappoints me when Numb3rs tries to pander to what it believes is a fanbase of nerds when, in fact, its core fans are most likely middle-aged cat-ladies too fascinated by Rob Morrow’s choices in too-tight denim pants to properly enjoy the mysteries. I’m a nerd, but I don’t know much about math, which is probably the only reason I can enjoy the show.

I do, however, know a few comic-book nerds, and know enough about that goofy subculture to understand when an episode is loaded with clichés and implausibilities. So in this episode, an embittered artist draws copies of Christopher Lloyd’s rare comic in order to drive down the value, because he doesn’t like greedy “tycoons” like Wil Wheaton getting rich while brilliant artists like Lloyd can’t make ends meet. Except, when it’s explained that the thief only did it so he could present the comic back to Lloyd, the drawing of the copies doesn’t make much sense except to shoehorn in some more math (the forger hides his signature in some kind of crazy mathematical pattern that only Charlie can see). It also leads to a goofy auction scene where they catch the killer (of a security guard, which is arguably the least important part of the story even though it’s the only reason the FBI is on the case) because only he knows which comic is real, so he’ll keep bidding no matter what.

In the episode, we’re presented with three stereotypes: the poor, aging artist; the greasy, slobbering fanboy/artist who understands it’s all about the art, maaaan; and the greedy comic collectors ruining…something. I don’t understand how Wil Wheaton became rich because it doesn’t appear that he wants to sell any of his valuable comics; he just buys them. Is this like 19th-century England, where the upper-class could coast on theoretical inheritances they didn’t actually have because it was all tied up in chancery court for decades? The mere fact that he owns a bunch of comics grants him access to a secret society where he can get dapper suits and a private security force just by waving Action Comics #1 around?

At the end of the day, I guess I just wish these characters had transcended their stereotypical roles, and aside from the greasy, slobbering fanboy turning out to be behind the robbery (which was pretty much a “duh” moment from the get-go), none of them were given much dimension. That’s not going to appeal to the nerd fanboys.

Pushing Daisies (ABC)—Molly Shannon? Come on! If the past two weeks are any indication, I’m concerned the goodwill bubble is going to burst. Much as I enjoy the Ned-Chuck relationship, it has started to get repetitive. Beyond that, the basic demented cop-show formula the show follows is also in danger of either getting stale or become so precious it will turn from funny to stupid. Last week’s scratch-‘n’-sniff book explosion came dangerously close to stupidity levels, redeemed only by Paul Reubens’ sewer-dweling olfactory expert. This week’s candy store episode took things to a disturbing place, but Molly Shannon is no Paul Reubens.

Reaper (The CW)—One of my regular complaints has been a lack of real character depth from our stars. This week, things changed a bit as we got to know Ben and his family a little bitter; in fact, sad to say, at this point Ben has become the show’s most fully realized character. This was also one of the series strongest episodes, and it’s laying the groundwork for some interesting development with Sam: first, giving advice to the Devil’s girlfriend, then discovering she has a daughter who may be the daughter of Satan. I’m not sure where this is going, but I look forward to it.

Next week: Nothing’s on.

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The Closer / Saving Grace (2007)

Tonight, cable’s most popular show returns with a Christmas special. Riding hot on its coattails is cable’s somewhat-popular show, which begins a four-episode arc held back from its summer run for reasons I can’t explain.

Frankly, with both series I’m at a loss. I’ve never seen either show before, and neither takes the time to re-establish regular and recurring characters. I tried to leap into the fray but found both shows left me cold. Since I don’t exactly have the time to rush out and rent DVDs of The Closer or track down episodes of Saving Grace, I did the next best thing: I read episode synopses. Very unhelpful episode synopses.

I’d ignore all the stuff I didn’t understand about either show and try to concentrate on everything else, but the problem is that these shows stories are so tied into characters I’ve never met, all I can do is try to grope in the dark and hope I get some things right. If I don’t, you can blame the show’s writers for not giving even small hints of the characters’ relationships to one another.

I guess, at the end of the day, that qualifies as the major drawback of each show: the supporting actors in both shows don’t do much more than prop up Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter. Even in their own subplots, none of these characters showed any real spark. The best thing I can compare it to is Monk, which very much exists as a vehicle for Tony Shalhoub, leaving even seasoned pros like Ted Levine in the background more often than not. It’s a disappointment that The Closer has J.K. Simmons and Jon Tenney and Saving Grace has Leon Rippy and Laura San Giacomo, but their roles feel nonexistent.

It becomes a more significant problem when the cop-show plots’ rote nature reveals itself. These should be shows about the characters above anything else—and by that, I don’t mean “main character.” Why have an ensemble if they only exist to further the plot? One-man shows are cheaper to produce.

Maybe The Closer served itself better by only offering one (two-hour) episode. Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda Johnson may have the least convincing Southern accent in the history of television, made especially bad next to the vastly superior Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen (guest starring as her parents), but Sedgwick is solid enough as a lead. The storyline was a little humdrum—especially the machinations of getting her to fly to Georgia under dubious circumstances—but it does contain a few legitimate surprises. Above all, this is a story of Johnson’s strained relationship with her parents. Since guest stars are required by law to dive into heaping helpings of backstory and exposition, this journey was more palatable than the subplots in which Johnson’s unit…sat around until she got back.

Saving Grace, possibly because these shows were produced to run along with season one, suffers greatly in comparison. It tries to toe the line between dark comedy and brooding drama, with mixed results. Holly Hunter is a skilled actress, and she has (mostly) able support, but I was completely lost. Characters kept saying and doing inexplicable things. Episodes kept having subplots that, I assume, called back to previous episodes, but they made no sense to me. I usually like subtle writing, so I don’t want to complain, but I can say that what I did see hasn’t encouraged me to seek out reruns. Aside from self-conscious attempts to be risqué with language and sexual content, it’s a routine cop show.

Saving Grace‘s season finale contains a cliffhanger, which I will not spoil, but the episode illustrates exactly why I have a problem catching a show like this in the middle of its season: it brings to us a story that—one assumes—has been mentioned on the show in the past and has Holly Hunter doing things I’d assume are out of character (based on spending three previous hours with her). Whether it’s out of character or not, the surprise ending felt like the writers were merely continuing their uneasy quest to make the show edgy.

Overall, the inclusion of Earl the Angel and Hunter’s deep-seated lapsed-Catholic rage, Saving Grace feels like it wants to tackle heavy theological and philosophical issues without saying anything new. At least The Closer, while nothing special, doesn’t have such pretentious ambitious.

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57 Channels (and Nothing On)

What, you thought I was kidding last week? We got a pretty solid Heroes finale and perhaps the best Reaper episode of the series’ run (unfortunately, legend has it that this will also be the last episode until the strike ends), but otherwise? Damn you, television. I can’t write a weekly column if nothing’s on. The few readers who care about my opinions won’t stick around to hear me ramble about Mythbusters reruns.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)—So Karen and Simon are together and Nick’s jealous? Oh no, sorry, he’s not jealous. He just seems Simon manipulating Karen just like he manipulated Patrick—and, Nick fears, manipulated him. That’s right, no jealousy. You hear me, show? No jealousy! Because nobody cares about Nick and Karen.

In brighter news, I suspect Juliet’s new boyfriend is bad news. I suspect Jeremy and Lisa getting together (not like that…unless that’s where it’s headed!) is the show’s worst move since Nick and Karen, and not just because Zoe McLellan is shrill and irritating in the role. Did anything else happen? Oh yeah, Carmelita got kidnapped. I gotta say, it’s pretty sad that of the two relationships I’m most invested in, one is built on a foundation of hilarious lies (Jeremy and Sofia, although it appears that’s over) and the other is between a reluctant politician and his tranny hooker. Good times!

Heroes (NBC)—I wish I had more to say about this show than: it’s impossible to take any death seriously now that we have Claire’s blood as the easy cure for anything. I wish I could say I was interested in something as lame as the Shanti virus, but I’m just not. I still enjoy the show, but the only thing I’m curious about is why it looked like Bennet was Nathan Petrelli’s shooter. I know he’s back to working for The Company, but why do they want the “heroes” to remain a secret? I suppose they explored some of that last year, when we traveled to a dystopian future where heroes were freaks in the manner of the X-Men universe, hunted and imprisoned simply for being. But, um…I thought they only did that because the “heroes” were blamed for the nuclear attack on New York? Why would their outing get the same reaction?

My Name Is Earl (NBC)—Is he finally out? For real? It’s about fucking time!

Reaper (The CW)—Wow, this episode managed to take my minor quibbles with the show—lack of depth in its heroes, dull/repetitive villains, and not making the Sam-Andi relationship really meaningful—and managed to undo all the damage in one fell swoop. Thanks to this week’s stolen loot, we got more insight into the characters than ever before. It would appear greed really does bring out the best in people! Perhaps the most entertaining development: Ted, the manager of the Bench, as a recovering gambling addict.

Adding to this, it looks like Sam’s potential relationship with Cady will cause a little jealousy with Andi, easily the most interesting monkey wrench ever thrown into what has been, thus far, a fairly bland take on the will-they-or-won’t-they “relationship.” Similar, the Devil didn’t exactly act please about Sam dating her. He can deny his lovechild all he wants; all the wilting plants and dead goldfish speak volumes.

I fear the hiatus created by the strike may cause Reaper to lose momentum, both in gaining audience members and retaining former audience members. Let’s hope the CW is smart enough to play some choice reruns before it comes back.

Next week: Even less is on. Imagine it!

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The Windy City Incident (2005)

What follows is the synopsis provided by Ariztical Entertainment, distributors of The Windy City Incident:

Chanel Puget resides in peaceful Olympia, Washington, and is frequently haunted by ghostly dreams. One evening, Chanel has a vivid dream and is “ordered” to travel to Chicago. Despite continual pressure from his boyfriend of two months (Randy), Chanel follows the message in his dreams and heads for Chicago, the “windy city.” Upon his arrival, Chanel wastes no time supporting his rent and daily expenses by hustling on the streets. One evening while visiting a drag bar, Chanel’s past history collides with the present. Mysteries begin to unravel as it becomes apparent that Chanel’s body and soul have become a vehicle for ghastly and vindictive apparitions. Only the viewer knows if Chanel will safely and sanely make it back to his home in Olympia, or be possessed forever in Chicago by the dreaded ghost, known as “Ant.”

This description left me with the foolish belief that I would be reviewing a bizarre, offbeat comedy, the kind of movie that sneaks in under the radar and slowly develops a cult audience of devoted fans.

What I received, instead, was the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a shitload of bad movies.

I’m going to be nice and start with the editing, because it’s a huge problem that is easily fixed, all things considered. This shit needs to be tightened up. I imagine the editing is so poor because, at 71 minutes, The Windy City Incident is barely feature-length. Yet, every single shot in this entire movie starts three seconds too soon and lingers at least three seconds too long. It gives the entire movie the pacing of a bad 1970s melodrama.

This problem is most noticeable in the dialogue scenes, where, for some reason that I can only assume is a private joke, an adult male coos like a baby on the soundtrack to punctuate jokes that probably wouldn’t be funny even if the editing were tightened. But let’s pretend this is a film that can be saved. Get rid of the cooing, obviously, and make it appear as if each character is interacting with one another. The goal is to create the illusion that something one person says inspires the next person to speak. Instead, we are treated to shot after shot of actors staring off into space for far too long before delivering their lines.

On the subject of acting, I don’t want to denigrate the cast too much, but it reaches a point where it’s difficult not to. In many scenes, it’s abundantly clear that actors are either reading from cue cards or having lines fed to them by somebody offscreen. You’re shooting on videotape, and these are the best performances that could be culled from these actors? It’d be one thing if this had been shot on film, where every single frame is precious and expensive, but video? You could keep that shit rolling for hours until you get it right. I have my doubts that shooting time was limited by usual factors like lighting, costuming, set decoration (seriously, every set in this movie looks like a dorm room, a boiler room in an abandoned warehouse, or the director’s parents’ house), and sound recording, so why not spend time letting actors rehearse their lines? Or learn them?

With great difficulty, I tried to remove the story/dialogue aspects from the atrocious performances and the goofy pacing. I tried to objectively say whether or not this story would fly if it had been created by a group of competent individuals. Perhaps if the film had been written by the marketing team at Ariztical, we could have had a winner on our hands. Unfortunately, the movie we have plays like a series of loosely connected sketches that aren’t funny, interspersed with sex scenes as awkward and dispassionate as HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, only more random and less relevant to the skimpy plot.

So what is this? A chance for some friends to fuck around with a camera they bought for $99 at Circuit City and edited in Windows Movie Maker? An opportunity for a sleazy director to tape a variety of starving-actor erections under the guise of making a “comedy”? I tried looking to the audio commentary for answers. In the two minutes I watched before shutting it off in disgust, all I heard was the lip-smacking of two men impolitely eating fast-food and making limp inside-jokes and giggling without letting the audience in on their “creative process.”

Maybe a braver soul will find this DVD and unlock the mysteries of why anybody would make a film like The Windy City Incident, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

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The Rise—well…Fall of Journeyman

This week, NBC unceremoniously burned off the last two episodes of its best new show, Journeyman. It probably won’t return after the holidays, or the strike—it’s unofficial, but it’s done. NBC gave full-season pickups to two dismal but slightly-more-popular shows, Chuck and Life (and if you don’t believe the latter is a bad show, just take a step back from your frothing e-mail and watch or re-watch this clip; no amount of arguing will convince me that Life isn’t a piece of shit), while The Bionic Woman and Journeyman will be left to die. The former deserves its fate, but I’d like to take an opportunity to explore the failures—both creative and commercial—of Journeyman.

Given the sweet lead-in of Heroes, this seemingly compatible sci-fi effort should have retained that sizable audience share, and it did. For the first half hour of the first episode. Because, it became abundantly clear, the show NBC was selling is not the show that aired. Promos implied this would be a whiz-bang adventure staring that muscly guy from Rome and that hot chick from Daybreak, making out and traveling through time and beating people up and—we got a domestic drama about thirty-something yuppies struggling to adapt their semi-posh lifestyle to the economic realities of the modern, city-dwelling print journalist. We didn’t even get a depressed man yearning for a change from his increasingly tragic life, escaping into time travel to find fun and adventure. We got a guy who didn’t want to travel through time, who reluctantly made minor nudges to change average people’s lives.

Suddenly, Journeyman and Heroes didn’t seem quite as compatible. The misleading promos lured in an audience that never would have enjoyed the show, while at the same time pushing away an audience who may have embraced it.

Would they, though? Certainly, college students or recent graduates don’t want to watch a show that said, “Your future is nothing but financial woes and petty domestic squabbling.” Would an older audience, from the non-coveted slightly-above-34 crowd, enjoy this any more than their younger counterparts? It’s possible, maybe even likely, that they looked at a couple living in a gargantuan house, working fairly glamorous (if jeopardized) jobs, and either had a hard time buying their money problems or had a hard time caring. When you’re living in a saltine-box apartment, working as a bottom-feeding cubicle drone in an enormous corporation, and still can’t make ends meet, it makes the woes of the upper-middle-class a bit less relatable.

Who would this show grab? Hard to say. Nerds like me who enjoy time travel. Where I could easily imagine friends and coworkers getting annoyed or enraged by aging yuppies whining about money, I shrugged it off with a chuckle. In the reality of the show, it’s amusing to me that two journalists didn’t have the foresight to realize their industry was going down as they bought the gigantic house they could barely afford spreading it out across 30 years, rather than going with something a little smaller and more reasonable. It’s emblematic of our communal excesses. Why live within your means when you can get more on credit? Besides that, starting them on such a high financial plane can only mean high drama as they toboggan toward bankruptcy.

Commercially, focusing on a yuppie family’s domestic problems might have ruined the show. Creatively, I can’t imagine anything better. Here, you have a guy who’s job is constantly in question—and he suddenly starts disappearing for long stretches, with no control over it. You have a wife and son who have to make commitments and have to deal with the increasingly unreliable husband and father. It not only adds a layer of depth to Kevin McKidd’s Dan Vasser—it allows him to be the reluctant hero no matter what. “Gee, I could be stopping a liquor-store robbery in 1973, but my kid has a Cub Scouts thing…”

At first I was dubious about the family angle. It made me fear the show would tie him down too much and get bogged down in the strife of a failing marriage and a son who grows more and more detached. Thankfully, with a few Livia-related exceptions, the show never went down that road. Most of the problems within the family could have just as easily been unrelated to time travel. His lateness, lack of reliability—it’s the same as having a high-pressure job with a schedule that’s all over the map (like, for instance, being a newspaper reporter).

Despite doing some things well, Journeyman suffered from creative problems that it couldn’t recover from until the audience had already left. The biggest, perhaps, is leaving Dan so unconcerned with why he’s traveling through time—what’s causing it, what is he supposed to do, what happens if he fails? By the time he finally started asking questions—and getting creepy answers—it was getting numbers that would look low on basic cable.

It also had a major issue, especially in the first three episodes, of downplaying the time-travel elements of a show about time travel. While I didn’t mind the slow pace and concentration on building up its characters so we could really see how the time travel problem would affect them, it seems like a fair assumption that this was a poor creative decision for bringing in the audience and making them stick around. By the time they finally integrated more time-traveling exploits into the show, it was too little, too late.

The important thing here is that the writers recognized these problems and did something about them. NBC’s major crime is canceling Journeyman before it gets a chance to reach its full potential. It had an abbreviated season where it was clear the writers were trying to figure out how to pace their story, and when they finally started getting the mixture right—that’s it, they’re done. Nobody’s watching. When NBC and its notoriously horrific promo department are as much to blame as the writers, you’d think they’d at least suck it up, cut Journeyman some slack, pick up the back nine, and relaunch the show properly after the strike.

But hey, it’s NBC. They fell from #1 to #4 for a reason.

Next week: No columns for the next two. There is that little on TV. Have a good holiday!

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The Wire Returns

That’s right, the best show on television has returned for its fifth and (sadly) final season. Also returning this week: Medium, which ranks at the top of the network shows in terms of quality, and USA’s Monk and Psych. Neither of these two will win any awards (well, other than Tony Shalhoub winning best actor…every single year), but they’re pretty entertaining. Hey, what happened to all the other shows?

Medium (NBC)—This show can do “realistically disturbing” like nothing else on TV. It’s rare for anyone to make images as innocuous as dancing feet, Run DMC, and a smiling kid bobbing his head to the beat into something skin-crawling and nauseating. Kudos, Medium, for giving me more nightmares than your main character.

As far as our noble band of misfits are concerned, we got at least a minor check-in with all of them: Scanlon has become Officer Friendly, Devalos has gone on vacation, Joe’s still out of work, and Allison has to call 1-800 tip lines to deliver her premonitions. I feared that, with last season’s “shit hits the fan” three-parter, the show would back itself into a My Name Is Earl-esque corner, but if this episode is any indication, that won’t happen. I don’t say any kind of “we’re getting the band back together”-type storyline in the show’s future, but I think the group can still crime solve in their new vocations.

Did anyone else get a little confused by the Sound of Music subplot? At the risk of unleashing my inner musical nerd, I have to point out that the “Going on 17” song Arielle auditioned with was…not Maria’s song. “My Favorite Things,” sung by the world’s oldest high school sophomore, is Maria’s song, so at least they got that right. Since I automatically assume executive producer Kelsey Grammer is exactly like Frasier Crane, this slip-up surprised me. Frasier would know better! Anyway…I only bring up the subplot not because of my confusion at misassigned songs, but because—what the hell was going on with that montage at the end? I hate it when TV shows try to get arty, especially when they try to get arty and I don’t know what the hell is happening (I’m looking at you, House). Feel free to e-mail me so I can take credit for it in next week’s column and not appear to be such a fool.

Oh yeah, and when did Elvin turn into a dick? That’s right, Geoffrey Owens has apparently been hanging around NBC so long since The Cosby Show ended that they’ve finally put him to work in brief cameos on this, Las Vegas, and Journeyman. He played Joe’s unemployment counselor.

Monk (USA)—I found this premiere enjoyable, especially Howie Mandel’s fun guest appearance (hey, remember when he was a moderately amusing actor-comedian?) as an overly friendly cult leader. The idea of Monk getting duped into joining a cult is a pretty good one, and although the mystery was a bit obvious (as usual, though the mystery elements improved significantly in several episodes last season), Monk is a mystery show where the mystery doesn’t matter.

It’s hard to say much more about this show than “it’s funny,” with varying degrees depending on how amusing Monk’s antics are in a given week, but I will level this minor criticism at the episode: I think they’ve gone to the “Trudy makes everything better” well a few too many times. The one thing that snaps Monk out of his obsession is Dr. Kroger reminding him of Trudy and wondering what she’d think of him—and boom, he’s all better. They’ve used the same device a several times to good effect, but it’s become too much of a crutch, which cheapens the sentiment of Monk’s undying love for Trudy.

Psych (USA)—Now that they’re finally letting Gus come into his own more, he’s revealing himself to be as insane (or more) than Shawn. Would anyone have imagined Gus as the type of guy to get trashed and marry somebody? Me neither, but they made it seem plausible thanks to that goofy flashback and the idea of Kerry Washington as a woman who makes Gus do unendingly stupid things. For Kerry Washington, who wouldn’t?

All of this supported a reasonably interesting whodunit, first casting suspicion on Washington’s character, then Shawn realizing she has no knowledge of anything—it’s all her mystery fiancé, a notorious con artist looking to swindle her wealthy family’s collection of rare and expensive wines. The episode maintained its usual hyperkinetic, ’80s-pop-culture-obsessed pace. I’m happy to see it back.

The Wire (HBO)—In a show as densely packed as this one, it’s surprising to think they can wrap the entire thing up in a satisfying way, all the while introducing new characters and (according to rumor and innuendo that I’ve picked up while trying desperately to remain spoiler free) resolving long-thought-dead storylines involving the Sobotkas and Barksdales—and doing all of this in 10 episodes instead of the usual 13. And the 10-episode order is supposedly David Simon’s idea, not HBO’s. Considering the way they’ve been promoting this show—for the first time ever, it seems—now that cash cows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City are dead, I think it’s fair to assume Simon is telling the truth. After four years of brilliant storytelling, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

So in the opener, Baltimore is grimmer than ever: it’s a year after Carcetti decision to royally fuck the police to save the schools (and his political career), and he’s both whining for more cutbacks and whining because the police department’s stats don’t look better. I used to sort of like Carcetti, and I appreciate The Wire for giving nuance and dimension to his character, because ever since last season’s finale, I’ve hated him. I probably wouldn’t hate him nearly as much if they hadn’t shown us everything leading up to his decision in last season’s finale. I wonder how his wife feels, after telling him generically that she thinks he’ll “do what’s right.” Oh well, at least we still have Norman laying it out (paraphrased): “I think when the governor threw $55 million on the table, you should’ve taken that and run… you’re just the weak-ass mayor of a broke-ass city.”

As a result of these cutbacks, the police department has resorted to paying overtime and court hours with vouchers. In a final act of shitting all over the BPD, Carcetti approves shutting down Major Crimes—no more looking into Marlo Stanfield, no more investigation of the 22 bodies pulled out of row houses last season. The best Carcetti could offer was two men to stay on Clay Davis, and that’s only because he pissed off a fed offering police funding in exchange for taking the Davis case federal. My prediction? That whole thing will become a clusterfuck that will end with Davis getting off scot-free.

Oh, and Marlo’s crew is checking up on Sergei. Looks like he was serious when he said he wanted to find out more about the Greeks. I hope this is the avenue through which the Sobotkas and Barksdale are returning.

Perhaps the disgusting masterstroke of this episode was the reveal that Herc has gone from fucking up the BPD to investigating on behalf of Levy, the weasel who repped the Barksdales (and I think he reps the co-op, as well). He also reps Naresse Campbell, the City Councilwoman whose role went from “shrill adversary to Carcetti” to “horrible criminal” in this episode. This subplot was also our avenue into the new characters, the staff at the Baltimore Sun. All the promos have suggested this will be David Simon eviscerating his former stomping grounds just as he and Ed Burns destroyed the police department, city and state politics, the school system, and the docks. Granted, there’s a shitload to attack involving the media, especially a print media struggling to compete in a digital world, but for now the significance of these characters remains unclear. We had an introduction to those who appear to be key players, watched them get a juicy story, and didn’t see much else.

What did I leave out? Bubs is clean and bored as shit, apparently. Randy Wagstaff and Namond Brice are MIA (not to mention Prez and Bunny Colvin), but we saw a brief glimpse at Michael and Dukie and their ultra-depressing lifestyle. Michael seems typically sociopathic, but I’m concerned about Dukie. He looks a little suicidal. I have to say, while it’d be nice to check in on Randy, I’ll be happier if we don’t see Namond or Bunny. I like to think things are going to be okay now, for both of them, and I know if they bring them back, nothing will be okay for either of them. Ever.

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He Was a Quiet Man (2007)

He Was a Quiet Man has one of the most interesting premises I’ve ever seen in a movie. It takes a cubicle drone, who is unhinged because he’s so lonely he talks to his fish (who talks back, but we’ll get to that), and allows him to fall in love…which makes him more unhinged. That is the journey Christian Slater’s Bob Maconel takes. It’s Slater’s finest performance, and an exceptional calling card to declare that he’s back, and he’s capable—and yes, he should reclaim his A-list status. The movie is good, but it doesn’t quite live up to the performance.

The setup for Bob’s love story is appropriately twisted. He’s a sad sack—no friends, no respect at work, apparently no family. His neighbors only talk to him when they want him to “do something about that lawn.” His only friend is a fish, who he thinks talk to him. It’s clear he doesn’t—even the fish admits that he sees everything Bob sees and nothing else. It allows us to learn about Bob’s subconscious without torturing us with long voiceovers.

But it’s clear Bob needs a hobby; unfortunately, he has one—toiling away on fake bombs. He has a ritual of loading a gun, assigning each bullet to an obnoxious coworker, except the last one—that one’s for him, if he ever had the guts to start shooting. Then comes the day when he drops the last bullet, and as he reaches under his cubicle to pick it up…somebody else starts shooting.

When he discovers the shooter has accidentally shot his crush, Vanessa (Elisha Cuthbert), Bob Maconel the potential shooter accidentally becomes Bob Maconel the hero. He’s rewarded with a new executive job, some respect at the office, extra money—but it’s not what he want. He saved Vanessa’s life, but she’s paralyzed from the neck down. He wants her, so when she asks him to finish the job, he has no idea what to do.

What follows is a love story as twisted an uncomfortable as its setting. He Was a Quiet Man toes the line between bleak (but mostly funny) corporate satire and uncomfortable, sad-sack drama. It’s like The Office with guns. Sometimes the tonal shifts are a little jarring, but it didn’t crush my suspension of disbelief. As Vanessa makes Bob realize his biggest problem is fear rather than loneliness, and he finally gets the confidence to do something about it, it leads him down a path that is as unfortunate as it is inevitable.

Both Christian Slater and Elisha Cuthbert give impressive performances. I’ve always been a fan of Slater, but when he resorted to working with Uwe Boll I felt like all was lost. It’s good to see him play a role worthy of his talents. Cuthbert, on the other hand, is someone I’ve only seen on 24, and while she did well with the rebellious-teen stuff in the first season, “adult Kim Bauer” was not her finest work. Based on her nuanced, tragic performance here, I’ll go ahead and blame that on 24‘s weak writing. William H. Macy is underused but typically awesome as the slimy head of Bob’s company, a man who once had a fling with Vanessa (his former personal assistant). A supporting cast of mostly unknowns do a solid job of rounding out a corporate environment of shallow jackasses.

The ending gets a little overly existential and weird—in fact, so existential and weird that it kind of rips off Camus’s The Stranger—but writer/director Frank A. Cappello is on the right track. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a good film. Cappello clearly has an interesting visual flair, but sometimes it’s a little too much flair. Certain sections feel a bit over-directed, with the swinging camera and quirky trick photography. It makes some scenes, like Bob and Vanessa’s awkward but hilarious karaoke experience, feel stagnant because the camera isn’t whooshing around all over the place. Even so, a director having the ability to exhibit such interesting work on what I assume is a modest budget gets points from me, even if he overdoes it.

He Was a Quiet Man has its flaws, but it’s an enjoyable experience well worth seeking out. I just wish it were getting a more publicized release so more people would get the chance to see it. Fortunately, it’s available on DVD, so you can find it for rent or purchase pretty much everywhere. Check it out.

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Strike Fever!

So how’s that new, “writer-less” model working out? What’s that, all the reality shows are underperforming? Including American Idol being down 11% from last year’s premiere? Wait, did you just say you’re going to start airing Dexter and USA Network shows in place of new programming? I didn’t realize cable shows didn’t have writers! How interesting. Hey, good luck editing Dexter so it’s appropriate for network TV. Are you going to put it into a 30-minute time slot, with commercials? Good thing you aren’t desperate or anything.

Medium (NBC)—We know Allison has these visions and often doesn’t know what they mean, and even oftener her subconscious substitutes friends or loved ones in place of the actual people. In this case, we see a dream of a near-dead Ariel in a flipped car, reaching for a cell phone and moaning for her mother. Meanwhile, we have Ariel dreaming of her “cool mom” in 1987 (unfortunately, the younger Allison was not played by two-time flashback-Allison and underrated actress Jessy Schram), who has an ingenious scheme to get concert tickets. Present-day Arielle also wants to go to a concert.

These visions are connected; we’re not sure how, and as the plot comes together we are somewhat dazzled by how it all goes down, tying a flashback crime to a present-day crime, and tying the subplot of teen-angst Ariel to the main plot. It’s one of the most tightly constructed episodes of this show, and yet…

We don’t know how these visions happen. Psychic energy, increased activity in areas of the brain closed off to most people, God? This episode featured more divine intervention than usual, as these visions both brought Allison and Ariel closer together while informing Arielle of the dangers of sneaking off to a concert. Yet…I have a beef with this, because that’s not usually how these visions roll. On top of which, the idea of having Allison dream certain chunks of these visions and having Ariel dream another, expecting on the two of them to put their heads together and figure it out, seems like the most inefficient possible way for these visions to work.

Maybe it falls under the category of “stranger than fiction”—perhaps the real Allison DuBois has daughters who have psychic dreams, and they have had similar experiences. I tend to think it falls under the category of “as strange as fiction.” Looking past the tight structure, every scene in this episode was dramatically compelling, from Ariel and Young Allison’s teenage foolishness to Present Allison’s humiliation in the wake of Anjelica Huston’s mildly terrifying frustration…but the inefficiency of the visions was little more than a dramatic device, as effective as it is irritating. Some speculation as to why the dreams were divvied up in this manner would have been nice; I’m not seeking clear, goofy answers—just somebody like Joe wondering.

Monk (USA)—See, this is why I’m not happy about them always dipping into the Trudy well. Yes, I enjoyed this episode; yes, I found it as amusing as any given Monk episode. At the end of the day, though, setting up Trudy as a motivating factor for Monk working as a security guard, then giving us a teensy bit of drama and suspense as he’s forced to give up her diamond bracelet in order to save their lives, just didn’t work. Solely because it’s the show’s crutch, and it’s been used so many times (up to and including last week).

Still, it had some intriguing moments—more flirtation and rock-like support from Natalie, which was interesting. Sometimes I wonder if they’re going in that direction, and then they don’t, but in this episode it seemed so overt that they must be headed in that direction. Feel free to laugh when I’m thoroughly wrong.

Beyond my annoyance with the Trudy thing, this episode also featured the most compelling and complex mystery the show has had in some time. It’s a rare episode where I’ve predicted twists, but then they zag when I think they’ll zig. I come up with some stupid-ass twists, but usually when I finish an episode I think, “Eh, my lame way’s better.” This week, however, I thought of some decent ways the story could have gone—and the writers skunked me by going in better directions every time. Well played.

Numb3rs (CBS)—This show is, officially, dead to me. I was willing to cut it some slack a few weeks ago because, even though it turned out to be both an FBI agent and a congressional candidate—violating my “if they make one more dirty cop the villain, I walk” promise—it was played so well by the regulars and guest stars Enrico Colantoni and Chris Bruno, I had no problem with it. This week, I didn’t even watch it. The TV Guide write-up said they’re on the hunt for a crooked-cop rapist, and that’s it. It’s clear the writers and producers of Numb3rs want to tackle the issue of police and political corruption (and/or be the poor-man’s The Wire), which is fine and noble, but give us a little variety. And by “variety,” I don’t mean “give us two cops and make us think one is dirty to mask the fact that the other is dirty.” Sorry, Numb3rs. I liked you better when it was about the math.

Psych (USA)—This episode worked better than usual because it took the time to integrate Corbin Bernsen (who has been underused since the series started) more fully into the story. They usually shoehorn him awkwardly into a scene or two (plus the opening flashback), but this time he had a real purpose in the story and showed he can keep up with the fevered insanity of James Roday and Dulé Hill. I do hope the wasted cameo from Brian Doyle-Murray pays off in a future episode, though.

This episode also did a pretty good job of keeping us as unconcerned as possible with the reasonably simplistic whodunit. One thing this show has over Monk, its companion, is that unless they have a pretty tight mystery, they try as hard as possible to keep us focused on the antics of Shawn and Gus (and to a lesser extent Lassiter and Jules). The mystery takes a backseat, whereas in Monk—crazy “Monk is a fish out of water” setpieces aside—focuses on the mystery a little more than it needs to.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox)—This new series had a special, 24-esque two-night premiere, except unlike 24, it was apparently just a two-hour pilot that they sloppily chopped into one hour. Maybe I have that wrong, but if you combine the two episodes, the first hour had a brisk pace, a lot of rapid-fire exposition, and the “series setup” (1999 Connors traveling to 2007), and then, once they had us hooked, the second hour slowed quite a bit to develop some new mythology and give us a better sense of our characters. Without the first-hour hook, I have my fears that audiences stuck around past the first commercial break.

This is a good show that has the potential to be great. It’s made by folks who clearly loved the first two Terminator movies, and they are able to capitalize on my love of these two movies with the occasional reference and shout-out, and by paying close attention to the movies’ continuity (though I did catch one glitch—the new, advanced, “Summer Glau” model Terminator was sent back two years earlier than the inferior Schwarzenegger model from Terminator 2, when that movie strongly implies that it took quite a bit of effort to nab and reprogram a Terminator. It’s also sort of bizarre that Future John Connor would send this Terminator to find 15-year-old John, then transport them 2007 so they can be “safe,” then two years later Future John Connor sends another one to protect 11-year-old John from the T-1000. Could this mean Summer Glau’s mission will ultimately fail?

Okay, enough nerding out. I have no clues on the direction of this show, though I do suspect the reason they are using Some Random Dude’s picture in place of Joe Morton’s in the Miles Dyson photos is because—he’s not really dead! This is my one prediction; he’s alive and in some sort of Cyberdyne Witness Protection Program so he can keep working on Skynet. It’s unfortunate, because Dyson seemed to really believe Sarah Connor’s history of the future, which is why he helped them destroy Cyberdyne, and actually sacrificed himself for the cause… or did he?!

Wait, didn’t I say I’d stop nerding out? Objectively, as a non-Terminator nerd, I will say that these two pilots had some fantastic stunt coordination and action sequences—much better than any other supposed “action” show currently on TV. I hope this trend continues despite the budget constraints of TV.

As I said, I also enjoyed the deepening of the Terminator mythology. We have some hints that John Connor and the Resistance have established an entire underground infrastructure, dating back at least as early as 1963, in order to “fight the future” in the past. I hope we get more involved in that concept now that we know the Enrique of 2007 has turned into la rata (gotta say, that was a disappointing character assassination—almost as Dyson’s will be, when he shows up alive and well), which pretty much severs ties with the only other “good” character we know and love from Terminator 2.

Regarding the new characters, I’m unsure of Charley’s motivation. I guess it’s hard to trust anyone when you know the Resistance has sent humans back in time for various reasons. What if the Resistance is splintered? What if there are some folks in the future who don’t believe John “I Can’t Find the Turkey” Connor is humanity’s only hope? It could be interesting to see a little non-cyborg sabotage happening. I think the FBI agent was a tad underdeveloped, though. He seemed like little more than a backstory machine this week. I’d like to see more of him, maybe enough so that I learn his name.

One last thing I enjoyed, and hope they play around with, are the brief glimmers of anachronism with the Connors. John Connor, computer expert, getting flustered because he doesn’t know what a browser history is—funny, yet believable. Even in 1999, when it was dawning on people the World Wide Web was here to stay and it could be used to sell products and services that don’t do anything, the idea of clearing the history hadn’t really caught on as a method for covering tracks. It was a nice detail, as was Sarah’s baffled (but slightly more obvious) “What’s a 9/11?”

The Wire (HBO)—“There’s a serial killer in Baltimore.”—McNulty

Jesus Christ, McNulty, when did you go insane? Oh, right: season one, episode one. Yeah, that’s right. Anyone who is thinking and/or complaining that this is out of character or that McNulty is a good guy—think of all the other unethical and illegal shit McNulty has done. Just take a few minutes to think about the fact that a functioning brain is the only thing that separates McNulty from Herc, and the way McNulty’s pounding back the Jameson, he’s trying to reduce the curve as much as possible.

Think, also, about the narrative tightness of this episode. At first, I thought the whole thing felt rushed. As we go through the episode, we witness McNulty having the mother of all bad days, all of it caused by the budgetary clusterfuck of this year’s BPD. We hear some important tidbits about how to make any old death look like a murder, and in the end, we watch McNulty put that knowledge to devious use. It’s all a little too neat. The Wire is the type of show that lays the tracks well in advance of the train, and while I know they only have 10 episodes this year, the quickened pace felt a little jarring…

And yet, as I thought about it, I slowly came to the realization that this wasn’t a one-episode builld-up. This has been coming, slowly but surely, since day one. Starting this episode, we have the addict and former prostitute spilling her guts at the NA meeting: “That bitch wants to kill me.” Sound familiar? McNulty expressed almost that exact sentiment in last season’s finale? What about him complaining that “the game’s rigged”? Words out of Bodie’s mouth, again in the finale (so quit griping that the poor guy’s death had no effect on McNulty). What about his long history of addiction, not just to alcohol and (some might argue) sex, but to the job. The ugly Jimmy has reared its head again, and with his actions in the final moments of the episode, it looks like this time maybe it will kill him—either literally or figuratively.

Ahem…moving on. Can I complain about all the hubbub regarding the suspiciously nuance-free characterizations in the Sun newsroom? I gotta say, I know Gus is supposed to be a David Simon surrogate, but the man is a dick—and I firmly believe David Simon and everyone else writing this show knows and agrees with that. He is not the knight crusading for good journalism in the face of all the evil, mustache-twirling higher-ups and incompetent, sycophantic underlings. He certainly has his heart in the right place, and he’s probably a good journalist, but good enough to justify the colossal ego, the occasional belittling of coworkers (I was actually surprised when he complimented Gutierrez last week), and the quiet seething over the increasingly corporate structure at the paper? Maybe he is, but the fact remains that Simon must recognize these qualities in himself; it can’t just be Clark Johnson seeing this in the subtext, because most of his snottiness is in the text.

Compounding this, I don’t see nearly the level of vilification in the other Sun characters that certain folks in his former newsroom do. Maybe it cuts deep because he’s taking real stories and turning them into thinly veiled fiction (something The Wire has always done, and done well) and they’re having a hard time taking criticism in such a public forum, just as I imagine the police department, drug dealers, mayor’s office, state capitol, docks, unions, and city schools (did I leave any institutions out?) had a hard time with it. The representatives of these institutions are just not quite as shrill, perhaps because they’re actually willing to acknowledge the flaws in a broken system (something the news media across the board obviously has a difficult time accepting).

We don’t have quite as many shades of gray as we usually do, but that also doesn’t make it a black and white portrayal. We haven’t gotten much screen time with these Sun reporters, and remember we barely got into Carcetti’s head until the end of the third season (and never saw his true colors until the end of the fourth). On a related note—what the hell happened to Cutty? I miss that dude.

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