Category Archives: TV

The Legend of Korra Trailer

The Legend of Korra, the much-anticipated sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, is coming this spring to Nickelodeon. A new trailer has just been released, and it looks awesome!

Nickelodeon Publicity describes the series:
Taking place 70 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, this story follows the adventures of the Avatar after Aang – a passionate, rebellious, and fearless teenage girl from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra. With three of the four elements under her belt (Earth, Water, and Fire), Korra seeks to master the final element, Air. Her quest leads her to the epicenter of the modern “Avatar” world, Republic City – a metropolis that is fueled by steampunk technology. It is a virtual melting pot where benders and non-benders from all nations live and thrive. However, Korra discovers that Republic City is plagued by crime as well as a growing anti-bending revolution that threatens to rip it apart. Under the tutelage of Aang’s son, Tenzin, Korra begins her airbending training while dealing with the dangers at large.

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Touch

Touch
“Pilot,” written by Tim Kring; directed by Francis Lawrence

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Tim Kring is back with what superficially looks like Heroes 2.0. Jake Bohm (David Mazouz), an autistic boy with the superpower to see into the quantum state of past, present, and future, leaves cryptic number clues for his father Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) to figure out and prevent catastrophe from happening. Danny Glover plays a haggard-looking kook named Arthur DeWitt who explains all of this mumbo-jumbo to Martin in an info dump directly out of a New Age encounter group. And Martin just sits there with a straight face and accepts it without a second thought.

The premise that people all over the world are subtly connected in unexpected ways is one that has some merit worth exploring, but I don’t know how Kring will be able to sustain this over the course of a TV series. The story of how a lost cell phone brought people together from Ireland to Japan to Iraq was intriguing but barely credible; is this the kind of storytelling contortions we can expect week to week?

The direction of Francis Lawrence (I Am LegendWater for Elephants) was fast paced, as you would expect from someone who got his start directing music videos. This is probably a good thing, because there was less time to contemplate the layers of BS being heaped upon us.

The acting was the best part of Touch. Although I kept expecting to see Jack Bauer start pistol-whipping the Man in Black (aka Titus Welliver), Sutherland was restrained as a distraught single father who didn’t know how to take care of his mute son. Mazouz had the hardest job, especially for a youngster, of conveying emotion while staying mute and not showing external reactions, and he handled it superbly. However, the supporting roles were almost all simple clichés–the Tokyo prostitute, the Baghdad terrorists, the Irish singer with a heart of gold.

The episode scheduling for Touch is truly bizarre. The next episode isn’t until March. Maybe that’s so we’ll all forget how lame the pilot was and be ready for what comes next. I know what Kring is capable of writing, and I enjoy watching Sutherland, so I’ll tune in at least once or twice more, but unfortunately I’m not impressed so far and will bail quickly if the series doesn’t improve.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz (2012)
“Pilot” Written by Elizabeth Sarnoff & Steven Lilien & Bryan Wynbrandt; directed by Danny Cannon.
“Ernest Cobb” Written by Alison Balian; directed by Jack Bender.

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Sarah Jones plays Rebecca Madsen, a San Francisco police detective whose partner is killed when he falls off a roof while chasing a suspect, an almost shot for shot recreation of the opening of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo. While waiting to be reassigned a new partner, Madsen gets involved in a murder investigation that leads her to the abandoned prison island of Alcatraz.

She seeks out the assistance of an expert on Alcatraz, Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), who also happens to own a comic book store. What they uncover seems impossible: the murderer’s fingerprint is from an Alcatraz inmate who supposedly died many years ago.

A mysterious federal agent named Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) detains the two investigators in a high-tech lair far below the rusting prison monument and grudgingly reveals that the inmate is somehow still alive. Long story short, all of the inmates and guards disappeared from the prison in 1963, just before the prison was scheduled to be decommissioned, and now they are slowly reappearing, one by one, to wreak havoc.

Madsen and Soto join Hauser’s task force, and the hunt for the men out of time begins. It is clear that Hauser, who had been a rookie guard at the time of the inmates’ disappearance, knows much more about what’s going on than he is telling Madsen and Soto. This is even more evident with Hauser’s assistant Lucy (Parminder Nagra) in a startling revelation at the end of “Ernest Cobb.”

Alcatraz was created by many of the same folks who gave us Lost, and in many ways this is Lost on a different island. It looks like each episode will be the prisoner recapture of the week, with plenty of mythology and mystery thrown in to keep the audience guessing. I suspect that the show would last about 5 minutes if Hauser just relaxed and let everyone in on the big secret, but perhaps even he doesn’t know as much as I assume.

The acting  and chemistry between the characters is fun to watch. Garcia, in particular, looks like he will bring the same comic sensibilities to Alcatraz that he brought to Lost.

With a bit of science fiction, a bit of mystery, and a bit of police procedural, Alcatraz kept me engaged. I am looking forward to continuing with this new Fox series.

The Muppets

The Muppets (2011)
Written by Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created by Jim Henson; directed by James Bobin

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The Muppets haven’t been part of my life, so I really didn’t know what to expect from this movie. I’ve seen Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy and some of the others on commercials, but I’ve never seen The Muppet Show or any of their previous movies. I’m not a fan of movie musicals, either.

But The Muppet Movie surprisingly entertained me. The jokes were kind of corny, and I know I missed some of the references, but the movie was basically an extended sitcom starring a bunch of sock puppets. The musical numbers were more parodies than true songs, and so were mostly funny. I liked that the moviemakers didn’t take themselves too seriously; after all, this is a movie that starts out claiming that Gary (Jason Segel) is the brother of Walter, a Muppet.

The plot was almost beside the point. Bad guy Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) was going to take over the old Muppet Theater so he could drill for oil unless Kermit could reunite his Muppet friends for a benefit show to raise $10 million. One of the funnier moments came when Gary, Kermit, and some of the others drove across the Atlantic Ocean “by map” to find Miss Piggy.

There were a lot of small parts by famous TV and movie stars, which I guess is standard for a Muppet movie. They kept talking about an old show they did with Steve Martin, but surprisingly, he never appeared in this movie.

I thought the ending was kind of heavy-handed with a “lesson” for Gary and Kermit to tell their girlfriends they loved them. Do real people not know this?

Otherwise, I thought The Muppet Movie was mostly funny. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it again, but would watch it on TV if there were nothing else on.

2011 in Review

I started this blog in late August 2011. My goal was to write at least 500 words a day, which I accomplished. Views of my blog have steadily increased, approximately doubling every month.

The most viewed posts were:

  1. Real Steel
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist
  3. Evangelion
  4. Batman: The Brave and The Bold
  5. Arthur Christmas
  6. The New 52: Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Batman and Robin

My favorite posts were:

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My favorite comics were:

My favorite novels were:

Initially, I didn’t think this was a great year for movies, but looking back on my favorites, there are actually quite a few good, if not necessarily great, ones on my list:

My favorite TV series were:

There were several novels published in 2011 that I’m looking forward to reading:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
  • Embassytown by China Miéville
  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross
  • The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

2011 was a good year for conventions, too. I attended the San Diego Comic-Con, the World Science Fiction Convention (Renovation) in Reno, and a number of smaller, local conventions.

I’m looking forward to 2012.

Doctor Who Christmas Special

“The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe”
Written by Steven Moffat; directed by Farren Blackburn

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Snapshot: After the intense, life-and-death perils of the previous season, this year’s Christmas Special was a nice, lighthearted relief. With its focus on two children and a crisis that did not involve the fate of the universe, it enabled us to catch our breaths.

Spoilers ahead!

The episode opened with the Doctor (Matt Smith) trapped on an exploding spaceship. The Doctor apparently can survive the vacuum of space, and was able to snag a passing spacesuit in time to use it to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, amazingly unharmed after cratering into the ground. Adding to the implausibility of the situation was that the Doctor put the spacesuit’s helmet on backwards—I don’t know about future spacesuit designs, but I know that real spacesuits are built in such a way that’s it’s impossible to wear incorrectly. Nevertheless, you don’t watch Doctor Who for scientific accuracy.

The main story involved the Doctor tending to a recently widowed woman (Claire Skinner) and her two children, Cyril (Maurice Cole) and Lily (Holly Earl), at a country estate as they escaped the London Blitz in World War II (for a fascinating, detailed account of this period, read this year’s Hugo Award winning novel, Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis). Matt Smith showed once again his remarkable rapport with children as he magnificently showed off the fabulous Christmas decorations in the house.

There wouldn’t be a story if the Doctor didn’t overlook something simple and allow one of the children unsupervised access to a time/space vortex. While everyone is sleeping, undisciplined Cyril sneaks downstairs  to unwrap a giant Christmas present from the Doctor. (Another nitpick: no kid, or anyone, sleeps with their glasses on, no matter how bad their eyesight is.) The unwrapped box turns out to be a portal to another world, filled with beautiful conifer trees dusted with a blanket of snow. No problem, right? Despite the Doctor’s claim that this was the most peaceful world in the galaxy, Cyril and ultimately Lily, their mother, and the Doctor become trapped when some mysterious prospectors plan to harvest the trees for fuel by dissolving them with acid rain (what the what?).

Complications ensue when the Doctor realizes that the trees contain sentient beings—to paraphrase his words, the trees are more alive than normal trees. After some typical bumbling, the Doctor figures out that the way to save the trees’ souls is to store them in the mother’s head, fly through the time/space vortex, and let them find a new home elsewhere in the galaxy. In the process, she somehow saves her husband by leading his plane through the vortex to safety.

The best part of the episode is the epilogue in which the Doctor visits his most recent companions, Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), two years after seemingly dying. Of course, River Song had told Amy that the Doctor faked his death, but the Doctor didn’t know that Amy knew he was alive. After some awkward moments, the Doctor and Amy have a big hug, the Doctor sheds a tear (the first one in eons, apparently), and everyone realizes how important it is to forgive the ones they love. (Until, of course, Amy and Rory are killed in the upcoming season [I’m guessing]).

So, not a terribly profound episode; it mainly served as a buffer between the brutal conclusion from the end of the previous season and the presumably severe repercussions in the upcoming season.

Roku Streaming Player

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Roku streaming player allows you to watch streaming Internet content on your TV. Roku easily plugs into your TV and receives Wi-Fi from your home network. Set-up is easy and you’re up and running in no time.

The Roku menu is easy to navigate using a simple remote (one more remote!). The Roku menu includes a number of “channels” such as subscription services like Netflix, HuluPlus, and Amazon, plus many more free content providers. There is no monthly fee for the Roku box, it is a one-time hardware purchase. The Roku box is not much larger than a deck of playing cards.

With over 350 channels, and more coming all the time, Roku provides an almost unlimited amount of content. There are live sports, music, photo and video sharing, games, international programming, radio, tech news, non-tech news, podcasts, and cartoons. Some of my favorites include NASA TV, Khan Academy, and TEDTalks. Pandora and TuneIn Radio provide music and Internet radio. Popular Internet sites such as Facebook, Flixster, Fandango, Flickr, and Vimeo (no YouTube yet, as far as I can tell) provide social networking and video content.

For a movie and TV buff like me, Roku is a dream. Besides having access to my Netflix account, there are a number of channels that provide free movies and TV. Most of these are public domain titles, but there are a few channels that offer more recent releases. Crackle, in particular, has a large library of free content including a lot of anime and science fiction that is worth looking at. PopcornFlix has similar content, although not much of it is worth watching.

There are several channels dedicated to anime, such as Crunchyroll and Anime Vice.

For the bad-movie aficionado there are several channels to choose from, including Drive-In Classics, Moonlight Movies, and Pub-D-Hub.

Pub-D-Hub is my new favorite channel. They have an extensive and eclectic catalog of public domain titles. For animation fans, there are many old cartoons such as Betty Boop, Felix the Cat, old Merry Melodies, Popeye, and Superman. I’ve seen Winsor McCay’s Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend from 1921, a forgotten classic. On the other end of the scale, they also have Lego Star Wars from 2008. There are also a few foreign cartoons.

Pub-D-Hub’s movie selections are diverse—including all kinds of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Of particular note are short educational and “cautionary” films—things like “Duck and Cover” and “VD is for Everybody,” and “Good Grooming for Girls.” There are even old TV commercials for all kinds of products, including toys and cigarettes.

I’ll be exploring my new Roku player much more in the days to come.

The Captains, a Film by William Shatner

The Captains (2011)
Written and directed by William Shatner

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This documentary is a series of interviews, actually conversations, between iconic actor William Shatner and the other actors who have played Star Trek captains. Jetting around the country, Shatner talked with Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Avery Brooks, Captain Sisco from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Kate Mulgrew, Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager, Scott Bakula, Captain Archer from Enterprise, and Chris Pike, Captain Kirk from the 2009 Star Trek movie.

Interspersed with the interviews were clips from a Las Vegas Star Trek convention at which Shatner appeared, where he met other Star Trek actors, including Rene Auberjonois, Jonathan Frakes, Robert Picardo, Connor Trinneer, and Nana Visitor, among others. Shatner also had a short interview with his old friend Christopher Plummer for whom he understudied at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario early in his career and who played the villainous Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). The only really obvious omission was Leonard Nimoy.

This documentary was fascinating in how it revealed as much about Shatner as his subjects. Topics ranged from how they got started acting, to how each actor got their Star Trek role, to how the Star Trek experience changed their lives and affected their families, to philosophical musings on death, and many things in between. Most of the captains are classically trained stage actors who weren’t necessarily immediately onboard with playing a science fiction character for TV. Bakula and Brooks both have extensive musical backgrounds, Bakula as a singer and Brooks as a jazz pianist. In fact, Brooks provided the documentary with a pleasing smooth jazz score.

All of the captains came off as intelligent, hard-working, and frank. It was nice to see that they all still took their roles seriously and were truly humbled by the fan reactions to their work. Shatner, especially, seemed genuinely moved when he found out that the Canadian head of Bombardier Aerospace was inspired to take up aerospace engineering from watching Shatner on Star Trek. There was also a poignant scene at the convention where Shatner greeted a young wheelchair-bound man whose devotion to Star Trek seemed to be about the only thing that kept him going.

The interview with Stewart seemed to have the most resonance. It was obvious that there was genuine rapport between him and Shatner. When they talked about how the long hours playing their roles negatively impacted their marriages, it was heartbreaking. Mulgrew’s take on being a single mother during her tenure as captain was also touching.

Shatner turned out to be an excellent interviewer. He kept things light and often humorous, such as when he conducted Pine’s interview at a card table on a busy intersection or when he met Mulgrew sitting in a cardboard box. This allowed him to get his subjects relaxed and able to open up about some of the deeper questions. Shatner used his personal experiences to draw out measured responses from the other actors. Shatner has a reputation for being egotistical and antagonistic, but none of that was evident here. Maybe time has mellowed him out.

The Captains is a journey of discovery for Shatner that is an enjoyable look at the world of acting in general and the Star Trek universe in particular. It is a sincere glimpse into the heart and soul of Star Trek.

39th Annie Award Nominations Announced

ASIFA-Hollywood, the International Animated Film Society, announced the nominations for its 39th Annual Annie Awards, recognizing the year’s best in the field of animation. The Annie Awards cover 28 categories and include Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Special Production, Commercials, Short Subjects, and Outstanding Individual Achievements.

The slate of nominations for Best Animated Features is expanded to 10 this year: A Cat in Paris (Folimage), Arthur Christmas (Sony Pictures Animation, Aardman Animations), Arrugas (Wrinkles) (Perro Verde Films, S.L.), Cars 2 (Pixar Animation Studios), Chico & Rita (Chico & Rita Distribution), Kung Fu Panda 2 (DreamWorks Animation), Puss in Boots (DreamWorks Animation), Rango (Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies), Rio (Blue Sky Studios), and The Adventures of Tintin (Amblin Entertainment, Wingnut Films, and Kennedy/Marshall).

This is a very strong field of nominees. Right now, I would give the edge to Rango, but I suspect voting will be tight. I haven’t seen A Cat in Paris, Arrugas, or Chico & Rita, foreign-made films that will probably not see wide distribution in the U.S.

There are 9 nominees in the Best Animated Short Subject category, 8 nominees in the Best General Audience Animated TV Production category, and 9 nominees in the Best Animated Video Game category. So all in all, it looks like 2011 was a great year for animation.

The 2011 Annie Award ceremony will be on Saturday, February 4, 2012, at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles.  The complete list of Annie Award nominations, ticket, and event information can be found at www.annieawards.org.

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Coming four years after the live-action series ended, the Saturday morning incarnation of Star Trek reunited many of its creative staff and actors. Produced at Filmation Studios by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott (who were masters at bringing low-budget licensed properties to Saturday mornings), the 22-episode run was actually a decent show, at least as good as, if not better than, the third season of the original. The problem was that the animation was terrible. This was an era of declining animation budgets, before animation was routinely outsourced to Korea and other cheap labor markets. Today, we would charitably call this “motion comics.” Back then it was just limited animation. Honestly, I’ve seen PowerPoint presentations with more animation than the Star Trek series. They relied heavily on stock footage and didn’t seem to care about continuity. Hairstyles, in particular, seemed to regularly flip back and forth.

What made the series interesting, though, were the stories. Gene Roddenberry oversaw the production and several veterans of the original series wrote scripts, such as Samuel A. Peeples, Marc Daniels, Margaret Armen, Stephen Kandel, Paul Schneider, David P. Harmon, and D.C. Fontana (also the series story editor and associate producer). As with the original, notable science fiction writers contributed stories. David Gerrold had a couple of scripts, including a return look at his creation, the tribbles. Larry Niven produced a script that included his Known Space aliens, the cat-like warrior Kzinti. One big advantage the animated series had was to be able to show non-humanoid aliens and truly alien landscapes. They also introduced the concept of the holodeck (although it wasn’t called that), which was used extensively in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Which is not to say there weren’t some clunkers in the batch. One episode had Spock cloned by an alien, but the clone was about 30 feet tall! In another, several of the crew were surgically modified with gills by an underwater race and then easily restored to normal at the end. There was one episode where the crew was artificially aged and then returned to their original ages by going through the transporter. Another episode did the opposite: the crew regressed to children and was returned to normal by going through the transporter. Stardates seemed to be chosen haphazardly; they certainly weren’t in a discernible order.

Six out of the seven original principal actors, plus Majel Barrett as Nurse Chapel, provided voice work for the series, not only their own characters but many of the other crew members and aliens; only Walter Koenig was excluded, reportedly for budgetary reasons (however, Koenig did write one episode). A three-armed and legged alien named Lt. Arex (which sounded like “Erics,” not a particularly alien sounding name) voiced by James Doohan replaced Chekov on the bridge. A feline alien, Lt. M’Ress (Majel Barrett), occasionally replaced Lt. Uhura at the Communications Station. Some of the original guest actors reprised their characters: Stanley Adams as Cyrano Jones, Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd, and Mark Lenard as Sarek. In addition, some of the locations from the original series turned up in the animated series, for example, the Guardian of Forever from “City on the Edge of Forever” (although I don’t think they called it that, probably for copyright reasons) and the amusement planet from “Shore Leave.” Klingons and Romulans made regular appearances as well, creating an expanded look at some of the characters and worlds from the original series.

Look past the horrible animation and you will be rewarded with wonderful examples of some of the best that Star Trek had to offer.