I’ll be out of town the rest of this week, so here’s what I’ve turned up about the rest of the broadcast networks’ fall schedules. CBS has announced its official lineup. Here’s some info about the new entries. And while Fox and The CW have yet to make their own announcements, there’s been early word about their pickups and cancellations.
Here, for no reason (no good reason, anyway), is a picture of Tina Fey.
I went on a movie kick last week, catching a couple of current releases and catching up on one on DVD that I had meant to see. As it turned out, all three were foreign films, though if you’re expecting me to review the latest arty drama from famed French director Jacques Fromage, you don’t know me very well.
First up was The Host, a South Korean monster flick that broke box-office records in its native land. The premise is bog-standard: chemicals dumped into the Han River generate a mutant tadpole beast. But this familiar genre rapidly becomes something quite unfamiliar.
The Host breaks with tradition by introducing its title monster in the first 10 minutes, in broad daylight in front of hundreds of witnesses. And it’s quite a sequence: the creature charges up and down the riverbank like a twenty-foot Great Dane, grabbing people almost playfully with its prehensile tail before gobbling them down. It also demonstrates a great deal of acrobatic agility, using its limbs to flip end over end across the underside of a bridge.
When it drags a little girl off to its secret sewer larder, her family rallies to rescue her. The foursome–a beachfront food shack owner and his three children, one of whom is a competitive archery expert–become an unlikely foursome of monster hunters. At one point, the bickering siblings (one of whom is the idiot father of the missing girl) commandeer a van, and for a time the film threatens to become a Korean Little Miss Sunshine, albeit one with a flesh-eating tadpole. There are moments of oddly-placed slapstick and social satire, though the ending is too bittersweet to qualify it as a comedy.
Actually, The Host‘s title is something of a misnomer. It refers to the mistaken belief that the monster is hosting a deadly virus, despite the lack of supporting evidence. The Korean authorities are depicted to be not only ineffectual, but making the problem much, much worse. But they get off lightly in comparison to the Americans, whose plan is to douse the entire area in “Agent Yellow.” I’m not sure that these satirical elements are that strong, but they add to the overall oddness of the proceedings.
Another odd slice of genre fare is the U.K.’s Hot Fuzz, also currently in theaters. Don’t let the terrible, Airplane! knockoff title put you off: this is a tremendously entertaining film from the folks who brought you the zombie romantic-comedy Shaun of the Dead.
Simon Pegg (aka Shaun) plays Sgt. Angel, an intense London police officer who’s so good at his job that his coworkers ship him off to a sleepy, country village in order to keep him from making the rest of them look bad. His no-nonsense approach clashes with Sandford’s locals, whose own approach is to let certain things (underage drinking, for example) slide “for the greater good.” However, it earns him the interest of his good-natured but rather thick partner, played by Nick Frost, who has seen far, far too many cop films and peppers him with questions like “Is it true that there’s a point on a man’s head where if you shoot it, it will blow up?”
Sgt. Angel soon becomes suspicious of events in the town, which hasn’t had a recorded murder in 20 years, but which also has a rather high rate of fatal accidents. Sandford joins the roster of offbeat British villages which harbor dark conspiracies, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the stars is Edward Woodward, who played an out-of-town cop investigating a sinister community in The Wicker Man.
Hot Fuzz both sends up and embraces the action cop genre, and is surprisingly gory at times, culminating in a lengthy series of shoot-outs and car chases. The mystery is well set-up and signposted throughout, and the film subscribes to the age-old theory that if a disused naval mine is introduced in Act One, it will explode by Act Three.
If the above makes Hot Fuzz sound like a serious action flick, it’s really not. There’s a lot of character-based humor and out-and-out silliness. And it turns out that the most dangerous felon in Sandford may just be an escaped swan.
A rather more severe British import is the horror film The Descent, about the fatal exploits of six hot, thrill-seeking women who go caving in a previously unexplored underground network in the Appalachian Mountains. When the husband and daughter of one of the women are killed in an especially unlikely road accident, her friends try to cheer her up one year later by…taking her into a scary-ass cavern?
The Descent does a great job building its tension, sending the women through a series of tunnels so tight that they left me feeling claustrophobic, then trapping them below the earth with little hope of finding another exit. And it’s not until about forty-five minutes in before they begin to realize that they’re not alone…
I admit it, I actually screamed when the monsters made their first appearance. I was sitting in my own living room, comfortable in the knowledge that Gollum’s hungrier, more loathsome cousins were nowhere near, but I shouted something both blasphemous and scatological when one of them sneaked into the frame. I can only imagine that popcorn would’ve been flying everywhere whenever The Descent was screened in a movie theater.
While they never “got me” that good again, the film remained creepy, intense and ultimately downbeat. The Descent never invoked anything overtly Lovecraftian, but one could certainly draw parallels to H.P. Lovecraft’s writings in a tale of ghoulish subhumans driving their victims to madness.
It had some flaws. It drank from the screechy-music-monster-jumping-out well a few times too often, and it rarely paid off the conceit of creatures that hunted entirely by sound. Four of the six women were entirely interchangeable. There was a subplot involving infidelity that I entirely missed the first time through, partially because most of it was introduced before I’d even gotten to know who was married to whom, and partially because the dialogue in a crucial scene was rasped by a dying character in a British accent. While it wasn’t crucial, that context did make the later actions of another character much more understandable.
Still, I think it says a lot in favor of The Descent that I felt compelled to go back over it the next day looking for clues. While it’s not exactly restrained in its use of gore in the last forty minutes of the film, I have to give its director props for holding his monsters back until the moment of maximum effect.
NBC has just announced its new fall season, according to an article in Variety. The most interesting thing about it is that in order to combat falling ratings for repeat programming, two of their series, Heroes and The Office, have been renewed for 30 episodes each instead of the standard twenty-two. In olden days, networks commonly ordered 39 episodes a year, leaving the remaining 13 weeks open for what was known as the “summer replacement series,” often variety shows. Looks like we’re moving back to that. Can the return of Donny & Marie be far behind?
This week, it was confirmed–to no one’s real surprise–that the next season of Battlestar Galactica will be the last. (Updated: Not true! See below.) This revelation came hot on the heels of ABC’s announcement that Lost will end in 2010, after three shortened seasons of 16 episodes each.
I, for one, welcome both pieces of news.
In the case of Lost, the announced end date was a clear signal to its dwindling number of devoted viewers that we’re not simply being strung along indefinitely. Make no mistake, we’re still being strung along, but at least the string has a definite end point.
Now, I’ve given Lost a bunch of flak this season for devoting too many episodes to mysteries no one wanted solved, and for spending a half dozen episodes amongst “The Others” without telling us anything about their background or motivations. In fairness, the second half of the season has been much better in this regard, and even if the producers’ aren’t doling out the answers as satisfactorily as those behind Heroes, the sluggish metaplot has shown signs of movement. (However, it’s worth noting that this week’s episode, which started with Locke demanding the story of the Island from the beginning, ended with him learning virtually nothing concrete about it.)
I’ve found Battlestar much less frustrating in the revelations department, but even here I’m ready for it to end. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s one of the best sci-fi series ever–despite a weak run of episodes in the latter half of season three–but I want to get to the “end of the book.”
There are several kinds of serialized dramas. Nighttime soap operas, such as Ugly Betty or, to a lesser extent, Gilmore Girls, meander along without necessarily having a destination in mind. Storylines and characters come and go.
Next are serials with annual story arcs, such as Heroes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each season tells a more-or-less self-contained story. This is my preferred format; it’s long enough to tell a gripping epic, but generally keeps things moving as a reasonable pace.
Lost and Galactica belong to the third variety: serials with a single primary storyline. A definite ending is implied by the show’s premise. Lost ends when the castaways get off the Island; Galactica concludes with the fleet arriving at Earth. And since these storylines can’t conclude until their respective series end, they run the risk of stretching things out long past the point of viewer impatience.
That’s why I welcome the recent “cancellation” announcements. Now that I know we’re getting somewhere, I can sit back and enjoy the journey.
Updated: Hmm, imagine that. Edward James Olmos, who last week announced Battlestar‘s imminent cancellation, was full of crap. According to a follow-up from the Sci-Fi Channel, executive producer David Eick said, “For those of you who have been paying attention over the years, this is not the first time Eddie has made an announcement about the possibility of the show’s end.”
Why am I not entirely surprised? Some years back, when PBS was prepping its American Family series–touted as the first U.S. TV drama with a full Hispanic cast–Olmos barged unannounced into a public TV programmers meeting I was attending to exhort us all to carry it on our local stations. His intentions were certainly good, but he left me with the impression that he was a bit of a loose cannon.
The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly included an insert booklet listing the editors’ choices for the top 25 sci-fi movies/TV shows of the past 25 years. Making such lists can be dangerous, especially with subjects that inspire passionate outrage in their devotees. Even I can’t pretend to be immune to thoughts such as “How could you have possibly put x on your list!?!” But, as it turned out, I really couldn’t find much to fault here.
Here’s a summary of the list:
- 25. V (the original miniseries)
- 24. Galaxy Quest
- 23. Doctor Who
- 22. Quantum Leap
- 21. Futurama
- 20. Star Wars: Clone Wars
- 19. Starship Troopers
- 18. Heroes
- 17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- 16. Total Recall
- 15. Firefly/Serenity
- 14. Children of Men
- 13. The Terminator/Terminator 2
- 12. Back to the Future
- 11. Lost
- 10. The Thing (the remake)
- 9. Aliens
- 8. Star Trek: The Next Generation
- 7. E.T.
- 6. Brazil
- 5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- 4. The X-Files
- 3. Blade Runner
- 2. Battlestar Galactica (the remake)
- 1. The Matrix
What surprised me about this list was how little I disagreed with it. Sure, I have various minor quibbles. I find Terminator 2 highly overrated, but I know I’m in the minority there. I’d hold off on including Lost until we’re sure that they’re really going somewhere with it. I’d also replace Star Trek: The Next Generation with Deep Space Nine. Beyond that, it’s mostly issues of placement: Doctor Who would be higher, and The Matrix certainly would not be number one.
There were some omissions. My own list would include Revenge of the Sith; Spielberg’s War of the Worlds; and the TV series Max Headroom and Alien Nation. And while I never watched Farscape much, it’s so highly regarded that I’m surprised it didn’t make the cut. (Plus, I gotta think that the Babylon 5 Kool-Aid drinkers will be pissed at being left out.)
For me, the one howler is the inclusion of Quantum Leap. I know that it had many fans, but it’s only science-fiction in that it has a quasi-scientific starting point and that it didn’t really happen.
I know that sounds like a lot of quibbles, but for this sort of exercise, I don’t think it’s all that bad. And I can’t bring myself to find all that much fault with a list that ignores conventional wisdom to include Starship Troopers, or one that acknowledges the criminally overlooked charms of Galaxy Quest.