Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maybe more mediocre shows should get canceled prematurely...

As I huge fan of the Stargate television franchise, I've always loyally watched the Stargate SG-1 spin-off, Stargate Atlantis, but always acknowledged that it is very much a second (and less delicious) banana. But since the show got canned by the SciFi Channel at the top of its fifth season (for a Stargate series, this is extremely premature - SG-1 lasted 10 seasons), it has exhibited signs of, with nothing to lose, being liberated and, albeit for a limited time only, ready to break the bonds of mediocrity.

A recent episode titled "Vegas" prompted me to form this opinion. At first it seemed like the usual episode that does not follow the normal narrative arc of the season by a.) taking place on earth and b.) taking place in a parallel version of the universe we usually inhabit on a weekly basis. Our primary hero, Col. John Shepard, appears to us without explanation as a destitute detective in Las Vegas who has no knowledge of the Stargate program.

But then it became very clear, with highly stylized and extra sleek camera work, that this episode actually serves as a parody of procedural dramas such as CSI (actually, I would even go so far as to say that the show is specifically poking fun at CSI...they even managed to cast a minor character with an actor who looks just like the red-headed guy on CSI Miami). Random freeze frames, sudden shifts to black and white, and steely acting all point towards something distinctly other than Stargate. And there are desert action scenes that are simply striking (and therefore surprising - why am I always writing reviews in which I'm pleasantly surprised on this blog?). Oh, and there's good use of Johnny Cash in this episode as well. Can't say no to the Cash.

What other shows right now might benefit from news of premature cancellation? More cynical viewers of Lost may offer it up for the slaughter, but I personally am still holding on. I've also heard complaints about The Office starting to get into a rut or plateauing in its novelty.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tom Cruise: German soldier, eye-patch wearer

This sounds like a recipe for hilarity, right? Well, it turns out that Valkyrie, a rather somber retelling of an attempted coup of the Third Reich, does not suffer as much from Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise as one would think.

The film makes the unprecedented move of letting its actors use their native accents instead of poorly imitating German ones. Now, to the well-conditioned American movie-goer's ear, hearing Tom Cruise speak as a German soldier the same way he would as Maverick from Top Gun is a bit jarring and absurd at first, but think of it this way: if Germans in a film are already speaking English to each other instead of German, why would they have to speak English with German accents? Authenticity at that point has already gone to lunch, splurged on dessert, gone home, and taken a siesta, frankly. (Exhibit A: Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker.) The film in general deals with this issue nicely, particularly in its opening scenes, and really positions the American and British accents we hear as part of a translation for our benefit from German to English.

Cruise, in spite of a couple moments of overacting (I would remind him that this is an historical film, not an action flick), remains fairly inoffensive. The story of the coup itself is compelling enough such that whatever ridiculousness he as a Hollywood icon might bring to the part can't really do much damage. Perhaps after considering this performance combined with this past summer's Tropic Thunder, we can declare him on the road to redemption? Cautiously, my mind wanders down that path.

This film, however, is not without its moments that will make you laugh when you shouldn't be laughing (Nazis, after all, are NOT funny, right? Well, unless they're singing "Springtime for Hitler," maybe.). The interactions between Cruise's character and his wife, for example, do not tug at any genuine heart strings. And oftentimes pointed stares between characters are ambiguous and frequent enough to either confuse the viewer or act as arbitrary filler.

If anything, you should take a look at Valkyrie just to see all your favorite actors over the age of 50 wearing military uniforms (I had to ask myself, "Who ISN'T in this movie?"). In the end, though, I'd say Defiance starring Daniel Craig (a personal favorite of mine, so I may be biased) looks like a much more promising slice of WWII filmmaking.