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A Torrent of Ills
One season later, another random episode - what are the chances the quality is different? Well, a "comedy" show that begins its episode by having its "host" insulting the viewers in a way that is not even remotely clever - the only way of being funny while insulting the viewers is by being *clever* - and ends with said "host" saying, "We made some s#!t. We watched some s#!t. Mmm... Fun s#!t." can only be... you guessed it. It's just that it *still* isn't any funny.
The pace is glacial. No, tectonic. These both being words the "writers" of this episode probably don't even understand - their idea of funny is way-way-way past overlong, understandably unenthusiastically acted "sketches", one of which includes a prostitute sucking a male parrot's genitals and the parrot then having intercourse with said prostitute.
The only remarkable thing about this episode is that it *truly* is deserving of that way-too often cast vote "1/10" on IMDb. Have you ever rated anything "1/10" out of spite? Without stopping to think that "1/10" means it could *not* have been worse? Watch this and then you'll most likely want to re-cast most of your 1s as maybe 2s or 3s. This is as low as it gets. Even a sketch about eating the "host's" favorite substance could not have made this any worse.
The Bridge: Pilot (2013)
Among the Top 11.76% out of 10,000 titles
This pilot was, by chance, the 10,000th title I've rated on IMDb, so I was obliged to mark the occasion with a review. I only later noticed the series (or at least season 1) is a remake of a Swedish/Danish series "Bron" *and* that the original was airing on another channel. I had already missed the airings of the first episodes, but it does not matter: if a remake is done well enough, it does *not* matter how faithful it is to the original - or, even how similar the remake is. Some of the best remakes or "re-imaginings" aren't even in the same genre as the original, be they films or TV series.
The Bridge, however, appears to be in the same genre - crime - as the original and at least starts with the same genius of an idea. It's actually ironical that Americans *haven't* made a series about a murder on the USA-Mexico border - *literally* on the actual border, as it is such an obvious idea, at least in hindsight.
The first thing that is noticeable - or unnoticeable, as it may seem to some - is how confident The Bridge is. It does not pull out any special "style", "flair" or CGI-dazzle - just plain old good writing, acting and film-making (the technical aspects). That confidence pays of in the rarest of qualities in film & TV: total believability.
One will definitely have questions after the pilot, but those questions will most likely be of the speculative type, such as "Why *is* Sonya so odd?" - not of the accusatory type, such as "Why should we take any of this seriously?" Because we will take The Bridge seriously. It feels real. Sure, it has some restrictions (such as no nudity and no swearing) placed on it that would not exist in an HBO show, but like The Walking Dead, for example, it circumvents those restrictions. This is not a show in which nude sex or swearing are needed to make the viewer buy the story.
In hindsight, it is easy to say that while the pilot raises questions, it is entirely intentional on part of the makers: the answers *will* come, be they about the plot or the characters. Speaking of which: while the plot is not even at half-point at the time of writing this review, its progression has remained intriguing and utterly addictive. One should beware of making assumptions - they *may* crumble in any of the following episodes, as the multiple plot strands *may* at an unexpected moment take a surprise turn or meeting that is still entirely plausible. One simply *must* know where this will end up.
Then there are the characters. Diane "Bridget von Hammersmark" Kruger takes a difficult, oddball character not unlike Dr. Temperance 'Bones' Brennan or Jessi XX of "Kyle XY" and makes her completely believable. Whereas the implausibly over-rational yet exactly because of that so entertaining 'Bones' feels a bit of a stretch, Sonya Cross somehow feels like someone who may exist somewhere in our world - and at this point we know her only by *some* of her eccentricities. Kruger, like the underrated Jaimie Alexander in her phenomenal role as Jessi XX, uses little expressions and subtle body language that speak volumes about the character. Alexander had the benefit that the viewers knew her character's back-story when she made her appearance in Kyle XY, but Kruger has to act without that safety net.
Demian Bichir as the other main character, Marco Ruiz, is only slightly less impressive, and that is because for the dynamic to work, his role needs to be the "average man". We learn more about his character in the pilot, but its the insight we get that matters, not the secrets withheld as in Sonya's case.
The attention to supporting characters is impressive, too. None of them comes across as a stockpile character, thanks to both good writing and excellent, experienced actors such as Annabeth Gish, the legendary Ted Levine, the fantastic Thomas M. Wright or Matthew Lillard (has it already been 17 years since Scream?), to name but a few.
There is much to praise, but A Very Special Mention goes to the show-makers for the courage of having the Mexicans actually speaking Spanish among themselves, often even while in the presence of American characters who cannot understand them, whereas the viewer can, thanks to the subtitles. And some poor subtitle-hater somewhere probably thought that because The Bridge is an American remake of a foreign show, they would not have to bear any subtitles. An impressive 9/10, one of the 942 I've given out of 10,000 (the remaining 234 are 10/10s).
Have you ever rated anything 1/10?
Regardless of your answer, you *need* to see this mind-boggling episode. Like with the movie Gigli, the question is not "Why?" but "How?" How did they manage to do something this terrible that equals viewer torture?
Not for a second - literally - is this funny. It really is so hideously teeth-grindingly unfunny that it has to be seen to be believed. After this, you may want to think twice before rating something else 1/10. This is the perfect calibration tool.
You can guess my rating for this episode. I think the host puts it best at the end of the episode before storming away: "I can't tell how sorry I am that you had to watch that. What the f**k is this company doing?"
Criminal Minds: Proof (2011)
A View from a Hole
This is great! Faith on Criminal Minds was at an all-time low after the disastrous season opener, but this seems more like something from the far superior The Closer, the absolute ruler of the Crime Procedural Drama. The Closer contains no nudity, profanity or violence unacceptable on national TV - it plays by the same rules as Criminal Minds, yet almost always comes out on top in comparison.
This time, the world of Criminal Minds seems more like the world of The Closer: a complex mixture of endless shades of gray, multiple viewpoints and not just black and white, right and wrong. Also, the repercussions of Prentiss' return are now allowed to play out - something that was crucially lacking from the "All Is Well" spirited season opener.
Normally, it would be necessary to give spoilers in order to point out the flaws, but not here: The plot and unsub-of-the-week are both layered, complex and surprising. More importantly, everything holds up in the end. Most importantly, the disturbing atmosphere established in the opening refuses to dissipate over the course of the episode and for once, not everything ends up neatly tied up in a pretty package. The unsub's methodology has a progression similar to John Doe's in SE7EN, yet is different. The unsub is more human than ever before and harder to simply brand as "a psycho" or a sociopath. You might even feel sympathy for them. *This* will linger in the memory for a long time.
Without the damage to the overall credibility to Criminal Minds that the Reaper arc and the Doyle arc did to the series, this would be a 9/10. Now it's "just" an 8/10 - but that is still great!
After Prentiss' "death" in #6.18, "Lauren", the six remaining episodes managed 6/10 at best. They were lacking, in more ways than one. It was also troubling that Seaver (Rachel Nichols) was not even given a proper exit scene in the season finale. As of this episode, she's just gone. Prentiss (Brewster) and JJ (Cook, already present in Season 6 finale) are back, so all the writers need is to come up with a satisfying conclusion to the Doyle arc.
They fail. First of all, they reuse the hearing structure from #5.9, "100", the conclusion of the Reaper arc that did irreparable damage to the credibility of the series. It barely worked then, now it just doesn't. At start, we are told in the hearing that "two members of the team" are dead, yet we are shown JJ and Morgan alive, limiting the possible dead core members to Prentiss, Rossi, Reid and Hotch. Knowing that this is also Prentiss' return to fold, the stakes are effectively halved immediately.
It gets worse. Sooner than you can say "Redshirt", two nameless agents are revealed to be the dead ones. Way to keep up the suspension! The writers do, however, introduce a mystery to the flashbacks: someone had Declan, but it was not Doyle. A new player to mix up the game?
Then comes the heart of the episode: Hotch and JJ revealing to others that Prentiss' death was staged and the funeral merely a hoax. Conveniently, there is no time for Morgan to blow his fuse or Reid to point out to Hotch that the team leader betrayed his partners. Everyone must rush to find Declan.
Cue more retconning. Contrary to original status, Declan's mother isn't dead either! Doyle was only lying in Season 6. It's hard to believe the writers would have planned this when most of the stuff on this show is made up as they go along and retconning has become more common.
From thereon, it's all downhill. Sure, the climax stirs some adrenaline, but what the writers still haven't grasped is that for the audience, it is *really* hard to care about the fates of characters introduced in the same episode. Also, just like with Hotch totally losing it with the Reaper, the team breaking the strict rules and going all Jack Bauer, everyone is only chastised with a stern speak. They will be "closely" watched. Really? Seriously?
Ultimately, it's a combination of elements that are faulty already on their own - together they just make the whole episode collapse. Over-complicated plotting. Limited character moments. Lack of suspension of disbelief. Worst, once again the writers have forgotten that important rule of drama: "Without a sacrifice there is no heroism." It's also practically a safe bet that this show will *never* pull an "Amber Benson" on us like Joss Whedon infamously did in Buffy... This is a barely tolerable 4/10 and understandably I was ready give up hope, but surprisingly, the next episode, "Proof", is actually great!
Iron Sky (2012)
Yes We Can!
"Anyone familiar with Star Wreck?" director Timo Vuorensola asked today on an 'Iron Sky on Tour' screening. What seemed like everyone in the sold-out screening raised their hands.
"Anyone familiar with Moon Nazis?" he then asked. Somewhere in the back, someone raised their hand.
"You know, we did a survey and there *actually* are people in the real world who do believe there are Nazis on the dark side of the Moon. Oh, and the genre of this movie is Diesel-punk." (This from my memory - and translated into English.)
With this in mind, you know this movie is comparable to the immortal Airplane! and the best of the Python movies. Except that with barely 7.5M euros, the filmmakers have created a movie that contains, as the director explained, about as much CGI shots as Transformers: Dark of the Moon (now *that* reference must be very intentional as this is definitely the better movie) and looks about as good as a 2D version of that movie.
So, the camp humor may not be to some people's liking, but if you like camp, this is a nearly-perfect sci-fi specimen of the genre. In all categories of movie-making from script to screen, this is a triumph. Only nitpicks would complain. It's so hilarious, the audience roared in laughter throughout and even applauded in the middle of the movie. No one did that in a screening of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Not only "may" this be the cult hit of the year, it would be *very* surprising if the rest of the year brought along a bigger cult hit. This is a 9/10. Miss this at your peril. Or if you just lack a sense of humour and/or hate non-serious sci-fi.
Welcome to Hell
The question is not "why?" but "how?" when it comes to the terribleness of this "movie". It's obvious the makers had delusions of grandeur, but were forced to work under restrictions.
They had no budget, so all the FX is self-consciously "stylicized" to look unreal. Sadly, it just looks absolutely ****. How did they manage that?
They had to deliver a Guns & Blades Movie with a PG-13 rating, so all the fights are "coreographed" so that no blood ever spills on screen. Sadly, it just makes all battles totally unengaging and laughable: Violet's blades never even become bloody, no matter how many men she stabs! How did they ever think it would work?
The movie is also horribly overwritten, forgetting the Rule of Cool: Unless your movie is Inception or The Matrix, do NOT try combining the cool and the cerebral - just pose like hell and don't outstay your welcome. Even at 88 minutes the movie manages to be too long. The six minutes longer unrated version is not likely to improve the movie because of the final "how?"
How can the movie look so painfully unreal that after 20 minutes your eyes are likely to start bleeding? When the prevents the viewer from suspending their disbelief and constantly screams at the viewer that they are watching a lousy, lousy movie, any attraction for the movie is impossible.
One of the worst "movies" I've ever seen. So ironical that it is a Screen Gems production... Well, at least it was on TV for free.
Criminal Minds: Lauren (2011)
No Good Can Come of This
I was cautiously optimistic about this episode: the ingredients for a brilliant mini-arc-ender were there, but would it deliver? It starts well, with the Prentiss' return to the bar where she was first introduced to Doyle by an intermediary, Jack Fahey. And we flashback to that meeting. Now we're getting to the meat of the story! Meanwhile, her team tries to figure out where she's gone. Prentiss lies in wait for Fahey and reveals her cold former agent persona by finishing questioning him with a shot in the back of his head - or that's what it seems from outside the car they are in. Immediately alarm bells ring: for those quick to leap into a conclusion, Fahey is dead, but for those who've been disappointed by Criminal Minds, he'll probably turn up later with only a flesh wound. Giving the viewers the impression that Prentiss killed Fahey is pointless unless he actually killed him. Well, we'll see...
The team logically reasons that Prentiss will take the fight to Doyle to protect them. They detain Clyde Easter and the fantastic Sebastian Roché is wasted by using him in only three scenes. More flashbacks reveal how Prentiss and Doyle became lovers. The most important question here drama-wise is, "Did she love him as he did her?" That would offer fantastic drama, since we already know from previous episodes that in the end, she betrayed him. Obviously things have changed, as Prentiss illegally ambushes Doyle and uses lethal force (it just happens that no-one is unlucky enough to die), but walks right into Doyle's trap for her. Cue scene with gratuitous cleavage ("Not that there is anything wrong with that!") when Doyle brands her breast. The BAU, meanwhile - OMG! - arrest Fahey, who is, indeed, still alive, albeit with a bandaged ear.
Predictable and familiar-feeling mind-games between Prentiss and Doyle and between Fahey and the BAU ensue. There is a scene with tremendous potential, but the show-runners take the safe route out. After six years, they still have not learned anything from their more successful competition - 24, CSI and NCIS, to name a few - first build main characters the audience cares about and then kill off one or more of them. Criminal Minds rarely has the courage to kill off even supporting characters.
Seaver and Easter (now there's a name for a spin-off!) bring fresh perspective to the rest of BAU. Another flashback reveals that Doyle's housekeeper had a son Doyle treated as his own. Doyle also wanted a child with Prentiss. And she offered to get him "out", but Doyle would not give up his calling. Doyle's thirst for revenge is revealed: he has seen the evidence the boy was killed. But Prentiss staged the evidence! Doyle's son lives! And the BAU somehow come to the conclusion that the only place Doyle would be holding Prentiss is where his son's death was staged. Except for the fact that Prentiss had to *manipulate* Doyle into taking her there. What a nice coincidence it all worked out and the BAU rushes to rescue with an assault team at the exact moment Prentiss gets free and gets into a fight with Doyle!
Both are wounded. Doyle disappears (so much for FBI's ability to establish a perimeter) and Emily apparently dies on the operating table. Except, after the none-more-clichéd TV funeral, we switch to Paris, where JJ gives a "mystery" woman three passports and generous amounts of money. We can hear it is Prentiss, but we do not see her face. What is the point of hiding her face? The knowledge that Prentiss will return after a summer-and-seven-episodes hiatus just makes matters worse. There is no closure. Nothing is resolved. American viewers had to wait for six months for Prentiss to return. What is the point of that? Especially in a series that tries very hard to offer easy entry into episodes for new and casual viewers. This is a mess. And somehow - though consistently when compared to the series history - manages to waste all the great ingredients with which it started. With a heavy sigh, I'll give this a 6/10 - it looks good and passes the time effortlessly, but in the end only manages to leave a hole in the show. A hole they had to refill six months later, whether planned or not. For memorable examples of how to do this better, watch NCIS #2.23, "Twilight" and #5.18 & 19, "Judgment Day". Compared to them, this is only average at best.
Criminal Minds: Valhalla (2011)
The Art of Redemption
I have to praise this episode. Over the past seasons, I've been very *critical* of Criminal Minds because of its un-evenness. There are gems, but there are also turkeys. This applies to almost every series ever made (The Wire being *one* notable exception). However, continuity and believability seem to be of a lesser and lesser concern for the show-runners of Criminal Minds as time goes by. But this latest mini-arc that centers on Prentiss goes a long way to redeem Criminal Minds' credibility and has already almost made me forget the mess that was The Reaper arc. Almost.
Though we are not yet at the climax, this episode stands out because it is a Format Breaker. Yes, there is a killer of the week, but it's not an isolated case and the way it connects to the big picture is handled really well. Criminal Minds has rarely been this captivating, their opponent so compelling. We get new information and twists at a steady feed, plus genuine shocks, the biggest of which is pretty hard to see coming. From script to the final product, all is great. There is even a firefight that is reminiscent of Michael Mann's classic Heat, and, unlike in most other cases that recall Heat, this firefight does not come across as a botched homage or imitation.
So why not more than an 8/10? Well, the story hasn't climaxed yet and there really is nothing *exceptional* here, "only" solid craftsmanship. Also, the whole "the Secret Past of Emily Prentiss" idea is still Retconning, no matter how well done. And master storytellers do not resort to Retconning - they plan everything *in advance*. Yes, in American TV this sadly often leads to potential left unrealized as shows planned to run 3 to 5 years are canceled after Season 1 (see Invasion, FlashForward, The Event, etc.)... but *the fact* remains. That being said, one cannot wait for the climax episode.
A Very Married Christmas (2004)
This is a baffling movie. The TV just happened to be on when it started, but I only took attention when I heard Joe Mantegna's voice. Now there is one actor who can always be relied on not to phone in his performance. Then I saw Jean Smart, who had impressed me as the First Lady of USA in '24' as one of the most believable characters in a show that was full of nonsense entertaining nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. The iconic Charles Durning, still with us at the time of writing, gave me one more reason to watch. And when the severely underrated Kari Matchett appeared, I knew I had to sit this one through, though I had, based on program information, beforehand dismissed this movie as "Yet Another 13-in-a-Dozen-American-Xmas-Movie". Matchett had managed to fly 6 years under my radar until she appeared as the only good thing in the miserable Cube 2: Hypercube. Thankfully she's received plenty of roles after that movie, appearing as a guest star in many high profile series such as '24', 'ER', 'Ugly Betty' and 'Criminal Minds', but ironically all her proper star roles were in series that were short-lived: she was superb in 'Invasion', great in 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip', did what she could in the doomed 'Heartland' and delighted in 'Crash'. I'm looking forward to see her in 'Covert Affairs', which predictably lasted only 27 episodes in USA.
But I digress. 'A Very Married Christmas' surprised me positively at the start. The scenes of Joe Mantegna's character Frank imagining his wife's "hobbies" were hilarious and his narration was witty. Also, Mantegna reminded us with his facial expressions and timing that he is also a great comedian. The writer and director seemed to be on fire as well, surprising us with office comedy, well-placed match cuts plus rare iris-ins and iris-outs. Scenes and shots had imagination: the mall bench scene, the doorstep shot, the pie shot, the bed shot, the "carried away" scene, the "incident" scene and "the office meeting" scene. But then something happened.
At around three fifths into the movie, at the "closing time" scene, the movie suddenly fell flat on its face. It seemed that from that point on, a team of replacement writer & director took over, despite not having the talent that had delivered what we had seen so far. We had seen some quality dramedy (which is a really hard genre), but the replacements could not even decide whether to do "serious" drama or "plain" comedy, let alone provide either. Worse still, one character spoils the ending for the audience, the writer treating us like dummies, and another character is not even given an exit scene they just vanish from the movie! And then there are the mandatory "life lessons" and American-Xmas-Movie clichés, which seemed so blessedly absent over half of the movie.
In all senses, the first three fifths are an entertaining 8/10 movie, but then there is an abrupt collapse into a dreary 2/10 waste of time and you can tell from the actors' performances that they too have lost the joy. It's hard to rate such a schizophrenic movie, so an indifferent 5/10 that's just below the IMDb average of 5.5 (at the time of writing) seems appropriate. *Now* I understand why it took *seven* years for this movie to get a premiere in Finland. I wonder if the original novel is better