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Breaking Bad (2008)
One the best TV shows I've ever seen
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher who seems trapped in his own life. He works part-time at a car wash and worries about money. His wife is pregnant and his son has cerebral palsy. In the midst of all this he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Seeing as he hasn't amounted to much in life Walter wants to leave something behind. He's looking for easy cash. By chance he meets up with a former student. The student is now a drug dealer, real name Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who goes by the street name "Captain Cook". Walter, who was once a genius chemist, produces some of the best methamphetamine Jesse have ever tried and he starts to push it.
Walter, who already had to deal with his cancer, now also has to deal with his new life as a criminal and a world that might be too much for him to handle. He's also struggling to avoid to catch the suspicion of his brother-in-law Hank who is a D.E.A agent.
Personally, I love the set-up, and the theme. Drug romanticizing and criminal shows always have some moral ambiguity and as such, with very little spoiling, Walter is forced to do bad things. It's intriguing to see a show that doesn't push these things to the edge nor does it ignore them blatantly. Walter displays a gradual and small change. Not overwhelming development from scene to scene as in other TV shows. He also reacts and show disgust for gruesome acts of violence instead of the regular indifference or even reveling in it as we're so used to see in other shows. But it still affects him. And that is another thing I like about this show. Walter has a conscience. But each of his morally ambiguous choices push him closer and closer to the edge. Which raises another point of interest in the show: Will his family tolerate the person he's becoming and will they stick around?
Bryan Cranston has created a very living character with his portrayal of Walter White. Not putting down everyone else's performance for that matter. Even the more apparently superficial characters such as Jesse and Hank have a lot of subtle nuances to them. It's a refreshing contrast to the otherwise exaggerated and stereotypical Hollywood characters who can be summarized in two or three words.
As far as inspirational sources goes the theme of a making the character a bad guy is recognizable from Dexter or The Shield. Breaking Bad however is not as fast-paced as the later (although seasons 2 does crank up the speed) and not as vivid as the former. Not saying that it's not inspirational but Breaking Bad, so far, seems to reward the patient. If this had been CSI: Miami they would probably have told this story in one episode but lacking the great photography, excellent acting and hilarious black comedy.
If you're looking for a show that will grow on you and with refreshing ideas and character development, look no further, Breaking Bad is here.
Joss Whedon creates TV history again.
There have been few directors and writers who creates as much ruckus as Joss Whedon. There are the dedicated fan-base, the crowd who loves to hate him and those who simply scratch their head and wonders what the big deal is.
Joss Whedon's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" has been described as "influential" on the entertainment industry. He proved that throwing monsters and demons in the mix doesn't make a show that appeals to an audience. It requires a good writer and actually relating to the audience.
He's a writer that prefers to build momentum as the show progresses with each season being bigger, better and badder than the next. In many ways this is also true for the "Dollhouse". It started out in a crawling speed with less of a general storyline and more of the standard episodic narration.
Dollhouse is the story of Echo, a doll in a veritable Dollhouse, who is imprinted with different personalities in order for the rich and influential to enact their fantasies with her. Not their sexual (primarily at least) but their emotional desires. Thus far the show had a pretty unique opportunity and actually did venture into many different genres placing Echo in love, crime, action and mystery stories.
But as things evolved it turns out Echo remembers more and more of her "imprints" even though she's not supposed to and a grand scheme of things are uncovered.
And as of lately the show really caught some speed. What started off as a slow-moving little model train has suddenly turned into a huge, derailed locomotive. May it be that the show has been canceled that has forced Whedon to progress the story quicker. But regardless the fact of the matter is that right now the show is at a great place. Few TV shows right now offer this amount of suspense and surprising plot twists within and between each episode.
If the show quietly had progressed along and died out after the first season things might have been different. But as it stands now I will miss the "Dollhouse" and Fox will be blamed for canceling what could have been one of the best shows on TV.
Who is the audience?
Gamer, starring "This is Sparta" Gerard Butler and "Psychotic Serial Killer" Michael C. Hall unfortunately seem to have been type-casted for this movie.
While both of them are convincing as their respective characters. I can buy Hall as the eccentric and even slightly crazed multi-billionaire genius Ken Castle and Butler as the iconic star of the game Slayers: Kable. Who, as it turns out, happens to excel at killing people. But unfortunately their main contribution to the movie is a face, voice and some fancy punchlines. Hall's character probably even gets the most dialogue and he's not even the main character. To clarify: Shallow character portrayals, uninspired acting and cliché dialogue.
The setting is rather cliché as well. Ken Castle, a "next-generation" Bill Gates (or an evil Mark Zuckerberg), has invented technology which allows players to control other humans. The first application of this was social networking game. But the story revolves around the follow-up: Slayers. A game which allows the players to control death row inmates in a game which simply is all about killing each other.
The actual rules of the game is actually never explained but it involves team play and save points but with one winner, which so happens, to be Kable (Gerard Butler) who's controlled by the star player Simon (Logan Lerman).
Any player that participates in thirty matches is automatically released. Kable has three more rounds to go before his release and, of course, there will be trouble.
This story has been iterated many times before with gladiators of some sort fighting for freedom. Whether it be racing, running, fighting, shooting or just staying alive this really isn't in any way a fresh idea. Neither is the social commentary the movie attempts to make: Bill Gates never involved himself in game development, social networking sites such as Facebook really are applications which let you be yourself and, well, the terminology is out of place.
Something called "save points" are in the game which are never explained at all. For us gamers a save point is a point where your game saves it's state automatically. But in a game like this, with real players in a real-life environment, how do you save a state like that? Just throwing some terminology around doesn't make it more convincing. If that were true I could pose as a doctor and theoretical physicist.
It also seems as the writers simply failed in identifying the audience. For instance there's plenty of gore and over-the-top violence in Gamer and, again, I'm not sure the writers or the director realized that the most popular games are not known for their gore but their game mechanics.
The most played MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft, are cartoonish and childish in their design. The most popular First-Person Shooters are tactical shooters such as Battlefield: 1942 or Counterstrike. None of which depicts any actual gore.
With a title like Gamer and the approach of a real-life video game I assumed they were aiming for a, well, gaming audience. But the more I watched I got the feeling that this movie is actually directed to those who are prejudiced about gamers.
Games which do feature this amount of gore, such as Postal 2 and even Quake or Unreal, never actually generates that amount of success. Not today at least with such a young generation of players and such a huge audience. So why are there really bits and pieces of human flying around in this movie?
All in all: Gamer may be intense, action-filled and with a respectable cast but it seemingly fails to relate to the audience or even make a social commentary of itself other than the fact that Hollywood can still be horribly self-absorbed.
SGU Stargate Universe (2009)
It's good TV. Really.
"SGU: Stargate Universe" is a TV-show that tries to fill a gap. It seems there's an audience out there looking for the next Lost.
FlashForward, Defying Gravity and Stargate Universe are all shows that tries to capitalize on the success of mystery shows such as Lost.
The Stargate franchise previous shows, SG-1 and Atlantis, both followed a pretty standard self-contained story for each episode and with a story arch for each season.
Stargate Universe so far breaks the ordinary Stargate mold and goes for building suspense and ending with cliffhangers. There are some self-contained storytelling within each episode but building suspense between episodes is intriguing and it's fresh. For the Stargate Universe that is. Unfortunately it's what can bring the show to a screeching halt.
There's already a slight uproar about what can mostly be described as a "Lostification" of the TV Show. And, frankly, I'm not sure if Stargate, even with SG-1 running for ten years, can ever be mainstream enough to attract a wide audience. Personally I would probably have preferred a more casual show such as SG-1 and Atlantis that, truth to be told, didn't require much of an investment. You could jump into the show after the first commercial break and still enjoy the rest.
It's sad too because I still found myself hooked. There's enough Stargate in there to recognize it and there's enough mystery and suspense to keep me hooked until the next episode.
The cast is also very impressive. There's Robert Carlyle that's metaphorically speaking acting circles around everyone. David Blue as the lead character, Eli Wallace, is sympathetic. While it seems as he's the stereotypical nerd tossed in for the audience to relate to he is, in fact, a likable character.
Other names are Justin Louis, Lou Diamond Phillips and Ming-Na leads to a rather impressive cast in terms of television.
The cast, suspense and and mystery adds to (in my mind) a great TV show. Let's just hope it doesn't end up like other promising shows this year such as Dollhouse and Defying Gravity.
Star Trek (2009)
Great reboot of the Star Trek Universe.
My father usually described Star Trek very simply: "When the camera shakes stuff happens". I'm guessing even he will stand in awe upon this action-oriented Star Trek movie.
While I'm by no means a trekkie I still consider myself somewhat more educated in the Star Trek trivia than your average TV-viewer.
So for me it was kind of hard watching the first half of the movie seeing some rather large plot events went with current lore and status of the Star Trek universe. I was under the impression that this actually was a prequel.
However, as it turned out, this is a reboot. And that's very fortunate because it's a great one at that.
Chris Pine is a great James T. Kirk. He got the smug look and the over-the-top confidence to match. He reminds me a bit more of the early work of Shatner during the first series.
Howver, the real star here, I would dare say is Zachary Quinto who nails Spock. When he first appeared on screen I wondered what kind of plastic surgery Leonard Nimoy went through only to realize that it's really not him. This is just Spock.
What's even greater is that Quinto not only portrays the character Spock but develops him further. He really turns Spock into his own, not only striving to "play him like Nimoy".
Other names involved Eric Bana, Chris Hemsworth, Karl Urban and John Cho really delivers. Especially the otherwise over-the-top humoristic John Cho gives us a slightly more advanced Sulu. Again, more action-oriented, but never-the-less Sulu.
In all this new, rebooted, crew really delivers and honor the predecessors. The only one that I'm still uncertain about is Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov. However something tells me he will grow into character.
I expect great things of the Star Trek reboot. The cast is young and the action scenes are great. There's plenty of time to develop this into a new batch of series.
Hopefully we'll get to see more of J.J Abrams and his new Star Trek.
Bill Maher poking on religion
Let's get this said first: I live in Sweden. In a recent survey 23% of Swedish citizens replied that they "they believe there is a God". However 53% replied "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and only 23% really defined themselves as atheists by stating "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
So fundamentalism and religion isn't a real issue for us. Not as it is portrayed in Bill Maher's Religulous.
Maher does bring some valid points however. A recent case in Sweden involved pastor Åke Green who was sentenced for hate speech because of a sermon where referred to homosexuality as an "abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumor in the body of society". He was later acquitted on grounds of freedom of religion. When religion are held above the laws of the nation you have a problem. Fortunately for us in Sweden as a democratic nation these religious beliefs aren't laws.
When religion even goes above the laws of a nation we have a problem. Not only nation-wide but worldwide. Religious people can preach hate against non-religious people. Mahers documentary makes the very valid point that atheists and agnostics shouldn't tip-toe around and be more vocal about their doubt. Especially when we see history repeating itself.
However and this is my criticism, this documentary ended up more like a mockumentary. Maher mostly mocks and ridicules the mere notion of belief. Which, is pretty funny to see, when his victims start displaying classic cognitive dissonance but it becomes something different when he starts going after religions which he seems less familiar with.
When he comes to Islam we get to see pictures of suicide bombings in Jerusalem. Here is where I think Maher starts getting it wrong. Over 13 000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed since the Six-Day War. Not a singe Israeli settlement has been destroyed. Not to mention that suicide bombings make up less than one percent of the attacks by Palestinians against Israelis.
The facts in this documentary gets a bit skewed when it comes to the discussion of Islam. Maher seems to do his best to portray this as a violent religion preaching hate and violence more so than any other. If Maher had focused his eye on Sweden he would have heard about Ecce Homo, portraying Jesus as gay, which spawned numerous death threats from the Christian community. On top of that islamist terrorism accounted for 4 of 583 terrorist acts according to Europol during 2007. Giving Islam a different treatment than any other religion as a "terrorist" religion is plain wrong. All religions have spawned violent acts.
What can be said about Religulous in the end is that it's too short, biased and doesn't quite follow through on the core issues.
Still, worth a watch, but keep in mind that this is more of a statement than a documentary.
Stargate SG-1 (1997)
Just what it's supposed to be
Fact: Stargate SG-1 is a cheesy sci-fi TV series.
There's no escaping facts. How much you try to excuse yourself or explain it Stargate SG-1 remains a cheesy sci-fi TV series. Stargate SG-1 does borrow and steal ideas briskly. Special FX aren't nearly as impressive as they could have been (although they do get progressively better) and the action isn't going to blow you out of the chair or couch for that matter either. The dialogue may be corny at best and Richard Dean Andersons punchlines may be lame but it's all part of it's charm.
But, and this is where I really think Stargate SG-1 deserves all the credit it can get, for each and every episode or stolen idea I think you can count at least one cheesy sci-fi movie that's actually worse than a one hour TV episode. In fact some episodes actually could probably have been 90 minutes long and still have been better than most movies.
Being able to keep that quality throughout the show and keep delivering and pushing the storyline further is what makes Stargate SG-1 special. Trust me: I am very picky with my selections. I follow perhaps one or two TV series at most and I hold pretty high standards which made me even more surprised when I found myself caught. I wasn't a fan boy and didn't catch the shows until it was on reruns. But, man, was it fun. The overarching story for each season is worth investing in too. They really go out of the way to make for interesting season finales.
The very last few seasons are probably the most interesting. While you may think that it would just drag on they actually came with some refreshing ideas and took the effort to play on itself and the genre as a whole. There's a fantastic episode where they have a sit-down and pitches movie ideas with an old friend and movie producer. There's some hilarious stuff in that episode. Few shows will ever progress as far to make such an episode a reality!
So for those who decide to brush of Stargate SG-1 as yet another tacky sci-fi show: Don't. Stick with it and you'll see what I'm talking about.
The Transporter (2002)
High-speed action from start to stop
Jason Statham plays Frank Martin a man works as a professional transporter. That means delivering or driving anyone without asking questions.
Statham is an unlikely action hero. From chased in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to boxing promoter in Snatch and now energetic action star challenging "actors" as Van Damme for the role as hard-kicking bad boy.
And he does a fine job too. Statham has a lot of presence and a lot more acting talent than other action stars. He might not be a Kevin Spacey but he can definitely get into character. Even if it happens to be the generic "ex-special forces" unwilling hero that just happens to be good at just about everything, except giving up that is.
French action movies are plenty in numbers now a days. This movie isn't bringing life into a stagnating movie industry. If anything this movie is contributing to it. This is, pretty much, a standard generic template. Some cool action stunts, fight scenes, car chase and some, but not much, snappy dialog.
In the end The Transporter is nothing more and nothing less than a good action flick. With Jason Statham as the main contributor that is.
This is also another one, albeit rather early, movie that carries the "Luc Besson Label". He was indeed involved as a writer and producer his name even puts director Louis Leterrier on the side. A director who, as a note, got to direct The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton. That these movies, with Bessons involvement, act as a springboard for directors and upcoming action stars is likely but also sets the standard for movies to come.
Still, Transporter was one of the earlier action movies, not groundbreaking or anything but very well worth viewing and by all likelihood even enjoying.
Kung fu (2004)
No holds barred non-stop fun
I saw this movie some time after The Matrix fever settled. Hugely disappointed at the last two movies I didn't think wire fu movies could ever be truly magnificent.
And along came Kung Fu Hustle. I was amazed and in awe. There was comedy, plenty of CGI, action, drama and even a bit of horror. Stephen Chow really explores each and every bit of the action genre and even dares to mix in cartoonish action.
The playfulness and honesty portrayed in this movie blends together perfectly. One part never play out the other. It's never too serious and never too silly. It's just right and you'll probably sit with a quirky smile and feel-good notion in your belly at the end of this beautiful movie.
Chow's main character is probably one of the funniest portrays in a while. It's hard to describe last time we saw such presence both in acting and action sequences. It's not fair to compare him with Bruce Lee but that is the amount of presence he delivers in this movie. Bruce may have proved himself as a fighter but Stephen Chow proves himself as a creator and actor.
Ultimately Kung Fu Hustle is a movie that you have to see. I've introduced it among friends and family and not one person so far has disliked it. It's a movie with a little bit of everything that anyone can enjoy.
Go rent and watch it today. I'm serious. Don't miss out on this one.
Good, but gets a bit predictable
Monk is by far one of the best detective shows I've seen. It uses a pretty standard template for each episode where we as viewers are handed parts of the puzzle early on and for the remainder of the show watch Adrian Monk investigate the murder. In the end you'll probably have the solution right before Monk does and you can feel as clever about yourself as he does.
It's really brilliant in fact and the wonderful acting of Tony Shalhoub on top of that is just frosting on this wonderful cake.
Tony Shalhoub's character Adrian Monk is a former cop who has turned private investigator after his wife's death. He's also suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and believes cleanliness to be more than a virtue. Those little quirks plays out altogether coherently. In other show the characters are pushed around by explosions or threatened by gunshots. Monk gets intimidated by a messy room or are scared half to death having climb through a dusty window. It's really extremely fun to see Monk in action, how is a very different sort of anti-hero.
However as the show progressed things started getting predictable. I don't believe they got sloppy writing it. But as Monk is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder his behavior and reactions does tend to repeat itself. And some episodes left so many obvious clues that we had solved the riddle during the first 15 minutes.
Still, Monk is something different. It's refreshing and it's fun. Definitely worth viewing.