S1E7: This week's Terra Nova offers a slight change regarding which Shannons get the meat of the screen time/story severity. Jim plays a supporting role to Taylor for the first third of the episode, retiring to perform some handy exposition with Liz for the remaining forty minutes (albeit capping off the episode with some nick-of-time machismo). This week's Terra Nova, "Proof," invests in the elder Shannon children, who take the law into their own hands. As you might guess, Maddy is on the serve-and-protect side of things, trying to outsmart and bring to justice a man she believes to be a fraud and a murderer. Josh, on the other hand, is a less noble figure this episode: he takes on a brief stint as a criminal, all with the intention to (you already know) get his girlfriend sent back to Terra Nova. And Taylor...well, everytime Taylor's son is brought into the equation, we see Taylor slip just a little further into the abyss of lunacy.
"Tell Dad I'll be home in time to make the asparagus." - Maddy
An exploration team that has been gone for six months returns to Terra Nova, and the team includes Maddy's hero: Dr. Ken Horton (guest star Robert Coleby), a great scientist who wrote the book that inspired and eased her about her trip into the past, Atlas of a Long Forgotten World. However, upon meeting the fellow, Maddy finds that he's not all he was cracked up to be. He forgets and contradicts past statements of his from his book (which he attributes to a stroke) and boasts a signature that does not match the one signed on a fan letter he sent to Maddy long ago. She is probed to investigate, with the help of Zoe, who assumes the man is a vampire (apparently vampires are going to be trendy all the way into the 2100s...and then back into prehistory...so we're doomed...) and Malcolm, minorly, who also has his suspicions of the ill-tempered man. However, Maddy's real triumph over Dr. Horton comes from her own mental machinations. She channels her own middle child syndrome to realize that the would-be Horton is actually the real Horton's assistant, who murdered him before heading back in time to Terra Nova (so that he could take his place in the paradise world). Once Faux Horton realizes Maddy is onto him, he attempts to kill her, but a well-timed "code word" delivered through her baby sister to her dad gets Jim there just in time to knock the murderous maniac out cold.
Now, I'm a sucker for a detective story. This isn't exactly a clue-laden, expertly crafted Sherlock Holmes tale, but it's a fun subplot...even if it really contributes nothing to the story as a whole (except maybe the "We can't really trust anyone here" theme that's been lain in place for a few weeks now). But the best part of it is, we get to see Maddy do something other than fawn over her Pakuni boyfriend. I get that Terra Nova is a new world to her, and in that world she doesn't have to just be a lonely brainiac...but sometimes, she should be a lonely brainiac. That's where her charm comes in.
"They say a man's nature is revealed by how he discharges his debts." - Boylan
And now, for the brother. Josh has been slated as the trouble son since the pilot, when he denounced his dad for having been in jail too long and set off into the woods with some Terra Novians as a...statement? Or boredom, or something. Anyway, ever since then, he's been dead set on getting his girlfriend sent back to Terra Nova to live in the gradually-cracking paradise. Over the course of previous episodes, he went to work for the seedy bartender Boylan, who is his link to the Sixers, who have the technology to bring Cara back to the Nove. The Sixers are willing to comply with Josh's request, so long as he steals a bunch of medicine from the community hospital (to do so, he'll have to steal his doctor mother's security card).
Josh battles with the ethics behind this, ultimately deciding that it is worth lying to and stealing from his parents in order to bring his girlfriend back from the deadly 2100s. Josh's break-in goes awry, and he is forced to smash his way into the cabinets, leaving a fair amount of evidence that somebody might have been there illicitly. Jim investigates, and the clues eventually lead him back to Boylan, who reveals that the Sixers do indeed have the technology to speak to the future. Josh makes his delivery in time, but he also comes clean to his parents (and retrieves for them the amount of medicine needed to save an ailing patient his mother mentioned in passing). However, he does lose their trust, and potentially the friendship of Skye, who methinks is a bit upset that he is still so hung up on Cara after all they've been through.
It seems as though this is as far as Josh's loyalties to his family can be bended. He is overcome by guilt and admits his misdeeds by the end, indicating that we probably won't see him teaming with the Sixers behind the community's back anymore. Does this mean stray Josh adventures are over, and he'll be confined to self-contained episodes for a while? Or will his girlfriend show up, and he'll be stuck with love-triangle drama? I'm not sure which is preferable...
"This is the first time I've ever heard you talk about Lucas. How long has it been since he went missing?" - Jim
"That's not my favorite topic." - Taylor
Taylor takes Jim to the waterfront (did anyone else know they were on an island? Does anyone else hope it's a special island? With a glowing core?) for a fishing trip. While there, they discover an individual campsite thrown asunder. Jim heads back home, and Taylor tracks the injured party to realize that it is the soldier he banished from Terra Nova -- he has been attacked by a gila monster, or something. Taylor fights off his predator and nurses him to help, and promises to consider allowing him back into society...with a favor in exchange: Taylor gives him a secretive mission to, so it seems, find his long-lost son.
Taylor seems to know what we do: his son isn't "lost," he's gone. He split out of malice or rebellion or some crazy calling. Whatever reason, this better come into play soon. The most promising thing about Terra Nova is the potential in this Lucas Taylor story. Taylor, Jr., has something in the works -- something big, and some crazy in his eyes to boot. This show can't last on Josh's will to see his girlfriend alone. Either they work this big storyline into the episodes soon, or there won't be much will to keep watching.
On the outside Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) couldn’t be further from the mold of a “normal teenager.” He wears a suit everywhere he is precocious and he has a spring in his step that suggests oblivion to his high school surroundings. Of course Charlie isn’t really at all oblivious and at his core is very much that “normal teenager”: He wants only to be popular. After starting anew at a public school--because he got kicked out of yet another private school for distributing fake IDs--Charlie is promptly pummeled for the way he dresses by the school’s bully (Tyler Hilton). He complains to his psychiatrist whom his mother (Hope Davis) keeps on retainer. The shrink decides to put Charlie on Ritalin. Ever the entrepreneur Charlie tries to parlay his easy access to drugs into popularity and it works like gangbusters. Before long “Dr. Charlie” is listening diagnosing and prescribing drugs to the entire student faculty. He’s got the popularity the trust and the girl (Kat Dennings) the latter of which just happens to be the principal’s (Robert Downey Jr.) daughter. And that relationship--not to mention the slight legality issue of prescribing controlled substances to minors--threatens to ruin his whole operation. Yelchin (Alpha Dog) is a Hollywood rarity: He’s an ‘it’ boy because of his acting not his looks (sorry Anton). Rarer still is the fact that Yelchin’s actual age is near that of Charlie Bartlett and not since the days of Freaks and Geeks has that industry taboo been broken so successfully. It’s all a credit to the young actor who in the span of Bartlett oozes everything from vulnerability and precociousness to Ritalin-induced mania and the theatricality of a much older actor. There’s nothing he can’t do in this movie; the same goes for his acting future. And the same goes for his adversary in Bartlett Downey Jr. although that’s been abundantly clear for decades now. Downey Jr. is famous for making seemingly effortless work of a complex character which is precisely what he does with Principal Gardner--a concerned parent recovering alcoholic and dutiful high school enforcer/villain. He’s a force to be reckoned with on screen and when Yelchin’s Charlie finally squares off with him the scene is a thing of beauty. As an essential link between those two characters Dennings (40-Year-Old Virgin) is a credible charmer and refreshingly the rare non-ditzy non-clichéd high school-portrayed girl we’re used to seeing. Rounding out the cast is Davis (American Splendor) aka Laura Linney-in-waiting. Her clueless alcoholic mom is a source of laughs and ultimately sobriety--for the character and us. For the first time in his decades-long career Jon Poll trades the editing room for the director’s chair. And after seeing Bartlett it makes sense that Poll who has edited movies like Austin Powers in Goldmember and Meet the Parents/Fockers is a behind-the-scenes veteran but a rookie helmer. His debut is fresh and loose but also very sure-handed. The movie is constantly a pleasant unclassifiable surprise spurning both the raunchiness of teen comedies and the pretention of psychology dramedies. The result is something far less precious and opaque than Wes Anderson’s Rushmore--to which Bartlett bears a broad thematic resemblance--yet a sharp commentary nonetheless. To that end Gustin Nash’s debut screenplay is just as impressive as his director’s rookie effort. His writing is clearly steeped in satire namely how loose today’s doctors are with the prescription pads--especially when it comes to our children--but it’s also able to be sweet and real when necessary. It’s the most impressive screenplay debut we’ve seen in a while--gold standard Juno notwithstanding--and the directorial one isn’t too shabby itself.
Finally a brilliantly told fractured fairy tale for children and adults alike that does not feature a grouchy green orge anywhere. Once upon a time a young man sneaks into the mysterious magic kingdom of Stormhold that’s walled off from his quiet English village. He soon meets a lovely young lady who just so happens to be a princess enslaved by a not-so-wicked witch. Nine months later a basket is dropped on his doorstep. Yes this baby boy is the unexpected result of his one-night liasion with the royal lass. The boy grows up blissfully unaware of his regal roots so when he reaches manhood Tristan (Charlie Cox) doesn’t understand why he so drawn to the land on the other side of the Wall. He finally hops over the Wall when a star falls out of the sky and lands deep in the heart of Stormhold. His goal: to bring back the star as proof of his love for Victoria (Sienna Miller). Too bad this scheming temptress doesn’t think too much of the penniless and mild-mannered workingclass stiff. This being a fairy tale the star isn’t just a star. The star’s actually a beautiful celestial being named Yvaine (Claire Danes). And she fell to earth as part of a devious plan by Stormhold’s dying king (Peter O'Toole) to determine his successor. But the king’s scheming sons (Jason Flemying and Mark Strong) are not the only ones seeking Yvaine. The oh-so-wicked witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) needs Yvaine to help her restore her youth. So that means Tristan must become the hero he’s destined to become—and take on witches princes airbourne pirates (Robert De Niro’s Capt. Shakespeare) and shady black marketeers (The Office’s Ricky Gervais)—so he can return home to Victoria. But Cupid has other plans for Tristran and it’s not hard to guess what those are. If all stars took on the human form of Claire Danes many more of us would probably pursue a career in astronomy. But it doesn’t take a working knowledge of the Hubble telescope to see how relaxed and luminous Danes is when she’s not carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. And sparks definitely fly between Danes and Charlie Cox even when they’re at hurling hilarious insults at each other. Newcomer Cox makes a smooth transition from ill-at-ease lovesick puppy to swashbuckling hero. He also doesn’t seem to be intimidated at the prospect of staring down Robert De Niro. There’s always concern whenever De Niro takes on a comedic role for a big paycheck. He usually gets by with pure talent and nothing more. And when De Niro’s pirate crosses paths with Cox and Danes you immediately fear that he’s going to offer yet another variation on his tough gruff Alpha males from Analyze This and Meet the Parents. But he blindsides us by instead going all Jack Sparrow on us—that is if the old sea dog had no interest in the ladies—to deliriously campy effect. What with Hairspray and now Stardust Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback seems to be predicated on getting in touch with her inner bitch. She’s splendidly nasty and scary as Lamia. And the uglier and older she gets the meaner and funnier she gets. Equally cruel—though more cheerfully so—is Sienna Miller. Providing small but amusing cameos are Gervais once again revealing an unparallel mastery of toadying and Peter O'Toole who kicks the bucket quicker than John Cleese’s King Harold does in Shrek the Third. There’s legitimate reason to question whether Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn has what it takes to direct a big-budget effects-driven summer blockbuster. Remember after making his name producing or directing relatively inexpensive British crime capers Vaughn walked away from X-Men: The Last Stand. Judging by Stardust though Vaughn would have done a masterful job leading those misunderstood mutants into battle. Then again he couldn’t have done worse than Brett Ratner. Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess Stardust possesses both a big heart and an uncommon adventurous streak. Unlike the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which was too long and too cumbersome for its own good Stardust moves nimbly and confidently through a strange and wonderful land populated with noble heroes to cheer for fiendish villains to boo at and gorgeous damsels in distress to sigh over. Vaughn keeps us on the edge of our seats whenever Tristan must think or fight his way out of danger. But he invests as much time in making believe that Tristan and Yvaine are made for each other. He also strikes a fine balance between honoring the sword-and-sorcery genre while playfully sending up its many cliches. The humor’s a lot more risqué than the bedtime story that was The Princess Bride but most of the sexual innuendoes will zoom over the heads of those still too young to pick up on many of Shrek’s pop-cultural references. Clearly Stardust cannot escape all other comparisons to The Princess Bride but Stardust boasts more than enough magic and daring-do to win over those who remained enthralled to this day by Cary Elwes’ brave efforts to rescue a kidnapped Robin Wright Penn. So this is one fairy tale that richly deserves its happily ever after--and for that matter so does Vaughn.
The tragic opera tells the story of a disfigured musical genius (Gerald Butler) who haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera waging a reign of terror over its occupants [cue the organ music]. Think The Elephant Man meets The Hunchback of Notre Dame--except this particular "monster" has some serious sex appeal. I mean honestly his only "disfigurement" is some scarring on one side of his face which he covers with a rather classy mask. No big whoop. But I digress. When he falls desperately in love with the lovely ingénue Christine (Emmy Rossum) who has lived in the opera house for most of her life the Phantom devotes himself to molding the young soprano into a star exerting a strange sense of control over her as he nurtures her extraordinary talents. But when Christine falls for the dashing Raoul (Patrick Wilson) all hell breaks loose as the Phantom's growing jealousies threatens to tear everyone apart [OK now it's really time to cue the organ music].
Fans will no doubt be happy their favorite musical has finally made it to the big screen but the musical's original stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman have been replaced in the movie version by hot young actors. This is a very wise decision considering the film's rather longwinded nature. In other words even though the Phantom performers keep singing and singing and then sing some more at least they are appealing to watch (and they did do all their own singing). Butler (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) is particularly effective as the Phantom all brooding mysterious and far more intriguing a suitor than pretty boy Raoul played blandly by Wilson (HBO's Angels in America). With her alabaster skin and long luscious locks Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow) also does a nice job as Christine. But she is unfortunately limited to only a few range of emotions--either all doe-eyed and somber over her Phantom doe-eyed and gushy over Raoul or just plain doe-eyed. As for the supporting players Minnie Driver nearly steals the show as the Italian soprano diva La Carlotta. As the only breath of fresh air in the musty opera house you definitely crave more of her.
It's taken about 15 years to bring Webber's smash hit to the big screen. Apparently after winning every known theater award for Phantom the legendary producer-composer approached director Joel Schumacher in 1988 to do the movie after being impressed by Schumacher's work on The Lost Boys. Hmmm The Lost Boys to Phantom of the Opera--I'm still trying to tie that one together. Anyway Webber had to postpone production for personal reasons and then Schumacher was busy doing such films as Tigerland and Phone Booth. Finally the time was ripe to make Phantom coming on the heels of the musical movie boom started by Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Schumacher certainly incorporates all the right elements from the young and talented cast to the opulent sets and magnificent costumes. The problem is the material: Phantom really isn't all that compelling of a story. Sure the stage production was and still is a theatrical event especially as the Phantom moves on catwalks all over the theater and the impressive chandelier comes crashing down on the stage. But for the film adaptation there needs to be something more than just grand posturing set pieces and operatic music. Maybe a little more dialogue? A sex scene? Anything?
Packed with too much goodness and determined to push its platform of paranormal events A Rumor of Angels is an overwrought drama about friendship grief and the spiritual rebirth of a boy and his eccentric recluse neighbor. Twelve-year-old James Neubauer his father Nathan and his stepmother Mary are spending their summer vacation in the small seaside town where the boy's mother died years earlier in a car accident near a local bridge. Because James has been traumatized by her death he has problems connecting with his often absent father and new mother. When James wanders onto the property of eccentric elderly neighbor Maddy Bennett who lives in a decrepit shingled house overlooking the ocean she scares the boy by firing a rifle in his direction. After a showdown with the Neubauers Maddy succeeds in hiring James to rebuild and paint her fence. An unlikely friendship ensues when James becomes a kind of surrogate son to Maddy who lost her own son in the Vietnam War and the stern but caring Maddy becomes mother surrogate the boy so desperately needs. Maddy also beset by grief teaches James about the power of remembrance and imagination and the possibility of angels and communicating with those long gone. James also learns about the importance of family love friendship and spiritual awakening.
Vanessa Redgrave is terrific as usual as the eccentric recluse Maddy giving yet another powerful performance that dazzles delights and soars beyond the limitations of the character as written. Trevor Morgan is fine if not memorable as James. Catherine McCormack as the stepmother Ron Livingston as a slacker uncle and veteran actor George Coe as Maddy's oldest friend also turn in serviceable performances. Only Ray Liotta so memorable in edgier meatier roles like those in Something Wild and Goodfellas or the more recent Hannibal and Blow is out of his element as a frustrated often absent dad. In fact most of the actors are chewed up by the gorgeous evocative Nova Scotia locales that brilliantly stand in for the Maine village.
Director Peter O'Fallon's biggest obstacle in A Rumor of Angels appears to be his own screenplay which he co-wrote and adapted from the very old inspirational novel Thy Son Liveth. Most filmgoers won't get beyond the film's pile-up of hokum about communication with the dead. Also the horror and mystery elements that A Rumor of Angels plants early on dissipate into a cinematic sermon about familiar family values and faith. The messages may be poignant but the drama sending them isn't. O'Fallon relies instead on lovely cinematography scenes suggestive of paranormal reality (those lights those angels) and a soundtrack rich in classical music--all at the expense of delivering a credible story with flesh and blood characters who actually sound like they just might be real New Englanders. His direction is style over substance scenery over psychological truths.