The CW broke new ground in random rebooting with The Tomorrow People. The original was a British neo-futuristic series from the 1970s. It follows the next stage of human evolution as they toy with telepathy and time travel. In 1992, the series was given an update with British teenagers, including Naomie Harris (Skyfall), teleporting around town trying to stop would-be criminals.
The latest version of the series is an interesting blend of Alias and Charmed. Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell) develops super powers and finds out he’s one of The Tomorrow People. (Just like that?) He gets drafted into a secret government agency by his uncle, Dr. Jedikiah Price (Mark Pellegrino) and must play both sides to protect his species from extinction.
The show has a great blend of action, suspense and super powers. Hear that, Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? However, it features a cast of sexy robots. Amell’s blue eyes and abs do not compensate for his cold robotic acting. Peyton List plays the group's resident telepath, Cara Coburn. In “Girl, Interrupted” we find out that Cara was deaf before her powers manifested. Despite the big developments of her character, List spent the whole episode giving sultry looks to the camera. Luke Mitchell and Madeline Mantock are also breathtakingly attractive but completely flat. I can’t help but wonder if the show could be recreated using an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue and some really elaborate special effects. The one test of any actor is being able to say the title of the series and not sound like a total dork.
Robotic casting aside, the show’s saving grace is that it’s well written and really subverts your expectations. You think you know what will happen but the show keeps surprising you. Also, the show has the right level of special effects. The super powers are seamlessly choreographed into fighting and action sequences and open up possibilities for plot twists and surprises.
There are some great characters on the show. Aaron Yoo brings some humor and badass fighting moments in the character of Russell Kwon. The group’s supercomputer TIM (Dan Stevens) also has some witty repartee and pop culture references for an artifically intelligent piece of equipment. Entertainment Weekly reports that Veronica Mars star Jason Dohring is set to join the cast. Here's hoping he brings some Logan Echols snark to the cast.
Hopefully, the series can reprogram their robotic supermodel cast members' acting hard drives because this show is well written, action packed and a great addition to The CW’s line-up. In the meantime, enjoy this Brit-tastically awesome clip from the original series.
If a John Hughes teen flick comingled with some sick alternative rock band the product would be Nick and Norah. First there’s Nick (Michael Cera) a nerdy musician who just got his heart stomped on by his now ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena). Then there’s Norah (Kat Dennings) a nerdy prep school coed who is questioning pretty much all of her assumptions about the world. These two have just GOT to get together--and together they do. Through a chance encounter in the Big Apple which leads them on an all-night quest to find a legendary band's secret show Nick and Norah discover they might share more than just a love for the same infinite playlist. There are few mishaps but mostly it’s the joy of watching these two quirky kids fall for each other over what turns out to be one of hell of a first date. After impressing us with his first outing in TV’s Arrested Development Cera is running the risk of being typecast as the sweet and lovable nerd with Juno Superbad--and now Nick and Norah. Mind you we aren’t quite getting tired of the character but Cera may want to move on. Dennings whose high-strung snarkiness was best played as the teenage daughter in 40 Year-Old Virgin gels well with Cera’s superb subtleness making their pairing infinitely watchable (OK I’ll stop using that word). And truthfully they share one of the more intimate and refreshingly unique love scenes seen in a long time. Kudos also go out to the side players including up-and-comer Ari Graynor as Norah’s party-girl best friend--who proceeds to find herself in all kinds of predicaments--as well as the gay boys (Aaron Yoo and Ravi Gafron) in Nick’s band the Jerk Offs. Good stuff. The fact you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a teen comedy these days how do you capture something fresh and new? It isn’t easy but newbie director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas) and first-time screenwriter Lorene Scafaria seem to have hit the right note with Nick and Norah. By combining a young cast on the rise and really cool alternative music the film speaks to its own generation succinctly. And at the same time it provides genuine entertainment for someone who might not have a Facebook profile or iPhone yet with its classic It Happened One Night rom-com setup. Fun had by all!
The Wackness winner of Sundance Film Festival's Audience Award compares favorably with some of the best teen angst movies of the past. It could have been just another stoner slack-fest but instead finds much to say and should resonate with not only those who also came of age in the ‘90s but anyone who ever crossed that frightening threshold. Set in the summer of 1994 when N.A.S Notorious B.I.G. and Outkast ruled the airwaves Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is spending his last summer peddling marijuana out of an ice cart and trading it for free therapy sessions with his aging pot-smoking psychiatrist Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) who seems to be trying desperately to hang onto his own youth. Although the advice (“you need to get laid”) he hands out probably wouldn’t pass muster in most medical circles the two strike up an unusual relationship. Luke takes his first tentative steps into manhood courtesy of his shrink’s stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) while Squires must deal with a fading marriage to his much-younger wife (Famke Janssen). Peck--best known for Nickelodeon’s bubblegum sitcom Drake and Josh--exhibits great promise with his low-key simple performance as a messed-up pot-dealing teenager on the verge of adulthood. He could have played this as a straight stoner but instead is remarkably three dimensional offering a portrait of a young man in transition. He’s a guy whose problems with his parents friends and girls are just the tip of the iceberg in his own coming-of-age drama. As the other half of this very odd couple Kingsley seems to be relishing his role as an aging hippie therapist whose lifelong obsession with pot has clearly rattled his brain. Squires own confusion leads him to a hilarious “romantic” encounter with a dreadlocked little tramp played amusingly by Mary-Kate Olsen who is probably STILL talking about her make-out scene with the Oscar-winning actor. Also along for Luke’s quirky ride into manhood is Thirlby who showed great promise in Juno and confirms it here as a very confident young woman who deflowers the awkward Luke in a wonderfully understated bedroom scene. Janssen has little to do but look lovely while Talia Balsam and David Wohl are in for some brief moments as Luke’s difficult parents. And look for nice bits from Jane Adams as a new wave keyboard player Disturbia’s Aaron Yoo and Method Man as Luke’s supplier. It’s probably no coincidence young writer/director Jonathan Levine graduated from high school in 1994--the same year he has set for The Wackness. Clearly he knows the era and particularly the music which plays such a key role in setting the mood of this picture. Levine has passion for the hip hop sounds of the era and has effortlessly incorporated them directly into his storyline. Where The Wackness really departs from your average slacker epic however is in its seriousness of tone. At its core the film is not unlike classic teen movies such as Risky Business and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Levine creates flawed almost tragic figures we can identify with in one way or another. That’s what holds this somewhat meandering tale together so well. We come to like these characters and wish them well as their lives are hovering at a crossroads. Levine’s filmmaking style is slightly awkward and the movie is unattractively lit but with The Wackness Levine captures a moment in time with great skill and heart.
Of course 21 isn’t just about blackjack. It’s more about Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) a shy but brilliant M.I.T. student who--needing to pay Harvard medical school tuition--finds the answers in the cards so to speak. After dazzling his unorthodox math professor and stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) with some mathematical prowess Ben is quickly indoctrinated into Rosa’s group of “gifted” students who head to Las Vegas every weekend with the know-how to count cards and beat the casino at the blackjack tables. And win big they do. Ben is soon seduced by the allure of this luxurious lifestyle including his sexy teammate Jill (Kate Bosworth) but begins rebelling against the well-oiled machine Rosa has built. Apparently you don’t want to cross this particular math professor--nor the old-school casino security consultant (Laurence Fishburne) who has set his sights on Ben as a master card counter. It’s not illegal to do that but the casinos don’t much like it when they catch you doing it. Hey what happens in Vegas…oh you know the rest. The most well-rounded performance comes from the British Sturgess best known for singing Beatles’ songs in Across the Universe. His Ben starts out as a naive math whiz/nerd whose biggest thrill is designing the perfect science project for an M.I.T. contest but then becomes the smooth Vegas dude with the nice clothes and hot girlfriend and finally turns into the guy who eventually loses it all. It’s not hard to see just how much Ben is going to change once he gets involved in the moneymaking scheme but Sturgess handles the transition with aplomb. The stiff Bosworth isn’t nearly as effective as his love interest but she has her moments. Also good for comic relief is Aaron Yoo (Disturbia) as one of the blackjack players who oddly enough is also a kleptomaniac. The performance drawbacks in 21 come from the more veteran players. Spacey and Fishburne seem to be going through the motions utilizing techniques they’ve used many times before. Spacey can whither whoever it is with that look of his while Fishburne postures as he always does. It’s too bad they couldn’t have put in more effort. As with any movie in which the action is inherently stagnant (i.e. sitting at a blackjack table) the question is how to keep things visually stimulating. That’s where director Robert Luketic--who up to this point has only done broad comedies such as Legally Blonde and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton--comes in. Luketic does a fine job maneuvering the camera around the tables creating slo-mo close-ups of the cards and incorporating a cool soundtrack. A good montage or four usually can also work well in a situation like this and Luketic fully utilizes that technique--from the kids winning to them spending their money in gloriously obscene ways. Based on the book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions 21 has the extra advantage of being a somewhat true story as well. But the script from Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb basically copies from other sources and never really distinguishes itself.
Anyone who thought Disturbia could be the name of a family bonding movie could get a false sense of security in the opening scene. Kale (Shia LaBeouf) has a sweet fishing trip with his supportive dad but an automobile accident on the way home costs Dad his life and turns Kale into a brooding moping mess. A fight with his teacher lands him under house arrest for the summer with nothing to do but watch the neighbors from his window. A pretty new girl (Sarah Roemer) provides good scenery but across the street something more disturbing is going on. Neighbor Mr. Turner (David Morse) seems to have a lot in common with a serial killer recently on the news but the ankle bracelet limits Kale's investigation. The ankle bracelet creates a false illusion of mobility but crossing the barrier only makes things harder. This may all sound familiar but Disturbia gives a fresh take on voyeurism. You might not expect a thriller like Disturbia to showcase great performances but it is a great vehicle for Shia LaBeouf to show his talent. He plays every moment against the standard conventions. His sullen kid is totally sympathetic. He's not just looking for attention but really trying to cope with a great loss. You actually want him to hit the asshole teacher for presuming to know what's up. Then while home his love struck voyeur is not just some horny kid. He seems moved by the vision not just the body. Then lastly as an action hero LaBeouf is truly desperate not just trying to be a badass. The others fill more traditional roles. Morse does his now familiar bad guy thing and is far more interesting as the friendly neighbor than when he's just going bonkers. Aaron Yoo as Kale’s goofy sidekick tries too hard to be wacky and clueless. Roemer on the other hand is a self-assured sexpot though a little too wise to her seductive wiles. Carrie-Anne Moss does the tough-love mom thing well. In fact she really hasn't repeated herself in her whole career. But ultimately it’s LaBeouf's show. With the whole movie seen through his perspective he creates a well-rounded guide through the sometimes far-fetched adventure. Director DJ Caruso (Two for the Money) knows all the classic tricks of suspense to keep audiences jumping and comes up with a few new ones of his own. The pacing is breakneck. To begin with the auto accident is staged beautifully. It is a realistic portrayal of the dangers caused by speed demon SUVs yet never gratuitous in communicating the horrific tragedy. Having the villain show up under innocuous pretenses also keeps the audience on their toes. But the house arrest hook is the best device of all. It can be a barrier as Kale stretches the limits of his mobility. Or it can be the edge of safety as Kale struggles to signal for help. Of course modern technology to spy on the neighbors is also employed to full effect. The film's tight storytelling packs it all into 95 minutes with no down time. Fans of this genre won't be disappointed