V 2.1 (RED RAIN)

V, where the hell has you been?!  After a so so first season complete with as many downs as ups, V returned tonight, and I have to be honest…THIS EPISODE ROCKED!!!  It’s almost like the producers were listening to the Ninja’s podcast and took some of our advice to heart.  All kidding aside, the showrunners clearly learned something from it’s depleting fan base and took some serious measures to right the ship.  I’ll temper the excitement somewhat, as it was only one episode, but if this is what we have in store for Season 2, I am all on board.  Of course, if the show does get good but can’t recapture a foothold in the ratings, all bets are off that it will survive past this season.  Then we will have another Sarah Connor Chronicles on our hands and that will leave me sad.

The episode starts off with Erica awakening on the street in a very FlashForward meets The Walking Dead typesetting.  The eerie calm combined with all of the presumably dead bodies provided a nice effect.  Erica searches for her shithead son, Tyler, finding him kneeling in the street.  As she holds him, dude’s face literally starts to melt away as a red rain starts to fall (AND THEY SHOWED IT IN ALL OF IT’S GOREY GOODNESS!!).   As Anna appears, Erica begs her to explain why she has done this to her son.  Anna’s reply is pointed…”You killed my children”, harkening back to the Season One finale when Erica went all gangsta on Anna’s egg nest.  Predictably, this was all a dream as Erica wakes up at her desk at the FBI office.

We cut up to the Mothership where Anna is talking with her advisor, Marcus.  Does anyone get the feeling that this dolt has other plans in store?  He’s shifty.  Anyway, Marcus has informed Erica that a scientist by the name of Ellis Watts is becoming uncomfortably close to discovering the truth about who the Vs really are.  I liked the scientist’s reference here as an homage to the original series.  It really didn’t go any further than that, as to say that the Vs didn’t start rounding up the science community, but the reference was a cool nod nonetheless.

Marcus also shared some concerns with Anna from the commanders of the other 29 Motherships who feel that Anna’s release of the red sky (in the finale of Season One) was premature and they are concerned that the death of her children forced her into a vengeful rage as a result of being infected by human emotion, which is something the Vs just don’t do.  Anna lays those concerns to rest as she summons all of the commanders to her Mothership and proceeds to filet one of them on site.  They showed this guy with half of his skull ripped open and his Geiko Gecko innards on full display.  I guess the backlash from showing that stupid baby puppet tail at the end of last season forced them to give us something with a little more meat.  It’s quite clear that the makeup department increased its budget in the offseason.  Keep it coming.

Ryan, who we left at a crossroads at the end of Season One, what with his girlfriend dead and baby was taken away for experimentation, is banished from the Mothership by Anna, never to be allowed to return.  Thankfully they did not prolong any sort of drama on what Ryan would do (stay with the Fifth Column or rejoin the V).  I was curious at first why Anna wouldn’t just kill the guy, but she reveals her plan for him soon after his release.  This is sort of weak, as it might have sent a better message to the Fifth Column to have sent Ryan back to them in a hundred little lizard pieces, but I get that they can’t kill off the main character like that just yet.  I really sort of think that Morris Chestnut’s acting is a weak point in the series.  I think he’s a bit of an over-actor in many scenes.  He just doesn’t feel believable or natural a lot of the time.

Chad Decker has an epiphany.  Hey, these Vs aren’t really who they say they are.  Congrats on catching on so quickly, Chad, I mean you’ve only had carte blanche on that Mothership for 13 episodes now.  He ends up back in the church pleading with Father Jack to trust him and that he wants to help expose the Vs.  Father Jack is a hard sell, telling Chad he’ll have to earn his trust.  This seems a tad off in Father Jack’s character.  He’s always been cautious, but the priest in him has always seemed to be forgiving, so I found it a bit odd that he was so reluctant to embrace the new Chad Decker.  I guess that’s what happens when you transition from saver to soldier.

I have hated Tyler since day one.  He is annoying and whiny.  Now I’m glad they didn’t kill him off since his character is solely responsible for giving us a scene with Laura Vandervoort in her unmentionables.  She, of course, plays Anna’s daughter, Lisa, and has been instructed by Mommy dearest to “attach” herself to Tyler.  Suffice it to say that Tyler and Lisa “connect” and that Vandervoort looks mighty fine in her Fruit of the Loom.

Meanwhile, the Fifth Column pay Ellis Watt’s office a visit.  They miss the old guy but find his assistant, Sidney (played by Bret Harrison of Reaper!!).  Turns out old Sid is actually the one who has been studying the V all along, having come into possession of an old skeleton discovered in a mass grave from many years ago.  Suffice it to say that Sidney is surprised to learn of the true nature of the Vs and is recruited to sort of act as the “science guy” for the Fifth Column. No sign of Sock or the Devil.

The title of the episode, Red Rain, comes from just that, red rain.  From the red sky cometh the red rain.  Anna convinces the humans that the red rain is a source of good, that it will heal the planet, stop global warming, vegetate the deserts, etc.  What we find out is that it is really a phosphorus-based liquid that will help to protect the Vs eggs from being destroyed in the future.  Erica is distressed at this news as she recalls her pregnancy with Tyler, where she suffered from pre-eclampsia as a result of too much phosphorus in her system.  She goes all WebMD on herself and thinks that maybe she was a part of some sort of V breeding experiment back in the day.  Interesting, but I’m not sure that this was a necessary subplot.  I’m not overly keen on the way she just sorts of deduced that so quickly and jumped right into conspiracy theory mode.  That sort of goes against her character.  We’ll see how that pans out.

I enjoyed how they finally portrayed Anna to be the ruthless, no-nonsense bitch that she is supposed to be.  She was hardcore, taking it out on just about everybody.  Those she didn’t kill she gave the stink eye to as if to imply that she doesn’t trust anyone and they are all on notice, including those closest to her.

The final scene was one that fans of the original series have been jonesing for since last season.  The return of the original Diana, Jane Badler.  Anna, having just pulled the plug on the six surviving soldier children, takes the elevator down into the bowels of the Mothership (which oddly looks like the old set of Land of the Lost).  Out of some cocoon-like thing, pops an elegantly dressed Jane Badler.  Not too sure why she’s dressed to the nines in this scene, but okay, I’ll roll with it.  Anna refers to her as “Mother”, and I think this is a great way to plug Badler back into the show.  Well done.

All in all, a terrific first episode to kick off Season Two.  There were moments all throughout Season One in which I felt there could be something here, but every time, it just seemed to fall flat.  In this episode, I kept waiting for the bubble to burst, but they put the gas peddle to the floor and didn’t lift it.  As I said, it’s gonna take more than one episode to recapture me completely, but this is a good start.

HAWAII 5-O 1.13 (Ke Kinohi)

The second half of the television season kicks off with another high octane episode of Hawaii 5-O.  My pick for the best new network show continues to be a blast.

This episode does a lot to move the central plot-line of McGarrett seeking answers about the deaths of his parents forward.  Many of the episodes are more or fewer one-shots with subtle undertones of the bigger picture revealed gradually throughout the season.  A lot is revealed in this episode.

We start in McGarrett’s home as he is awakened by noises downstairs.  Steve-o heads down to investigate, only to be jumped by three Ninja types that introduce him to the business end of a taser and steal the toolbox containing all of his notes and evidence of his mother’s death.

Turns out McGarrett’s kid sister got a bit nosy and started snooping around trying to discover the truth about her mother’s demise as well.  As she learns the truth from an old family friend, she finds the toolbox and its contents, as well as trouble from the people who are desperate to cover up the truth.

Sis ends up a trunk monkey when she is abducted by a couple of goons from the Island mafia known as the Yakuza.  Even though Hawaii 5-O is over the top in many of its action sequences (think the A-Team where the bullets actually hit people), the show really doesn’t take itself too seriously. It all works and is deliciously satisfying.  These guys are total badasses, and it’s fun to watch even though the reality of it all is laughable.

So McGarrett and little Sis are coming to grips with the reality of finding out that Mommy was collateral damage, having blown up in the car bombing intended for their Father.  Clearly they are forming a closer bond with each other.  One thing about this show, besides the over the top action and comedic moments, is that it has a heart.  There have been many truly meaningful emotional moments littered throughout each episode.  The look that McGarrett gives his Sister as he learns what she knows and how she found out (turns out she’s like frakking Columbo) is one of those moments.  It looks respect and understanding, which is something he really never had for her in the past.  It was a true character growth moment for McGarrett.

In another one of those ‘I solved Rubik’s Cube without looking it up’ moments (meaning, unrealistic), McGarrett discovers that a man named Hiro Nashimuri is the kingpin behind the Yakuza and may be the key link into the death of his Mother.  No, it wasn’t the wormy little guy from Heroes, this Hiro is a well respected, major financier in and around Hawaii.  When McGarrett zeroes in on Hiro with some face to face posturing at a local restaurant, it is revealed that the Governor, the same Governor that funds 5-O, is a close personal friend of this guy.  They could have gone major conspiracy theory style here and made the Governor be a part of the inner workings of the Yakuza, but they didn’t.  She seems completely taken by surprise in learning the truth behind her friend, although she mentions to McGarrett that if he plans to go after Nashimuri, he’d better have all of his ducks in a row as she might not be able to protect him.  I’m sort of glad they took this route.  It would have been classic network overthinking to have had the Governor be in on the cover-up, which would have mucked up and convoluted the story.  Keep it simple, stupid.  Thanks for doing the right thing here.

Turns out Hiro Nashimuri has a brother, Koji, who McGarrett discovers is likely responsible for planting the bomb that killed his Mother.  Koji works as a “consultant” for Hiro.  Uh Huh.  And the girls in that parlor down the street are “masseuses” too.  McGarrett confronts the brothers on the 14th green at a local golf club.  For whatever reason, they appear to be the only people on the course.  Isn’t this Hawaii?  I’m thinking there might be a few people waiting to play through, but whatever.  They arrest Hiro, charging him with the kidnapping of little Sis earlier in the show, and McGarrett stares down Koji, vowing to take him down when he finds enough evidence against him to do so.

There was a third man in the golf party.  It is our old friend, Wo Fat (sweet) from the previous episode.  Steve and Danno have no idea who he is or how he’s linked in, thus let him walk.  We’ll be hearing more from Wo Fat to be sure.  At least I’m hoping, as I won’t get tired of saying Wo Fat any time soon.

The story winds down with 5-O learning that Koji Nashimuri turned up dead in a car explosion.  I got the sense that McGarrett isn’t buying it though, so we’ll have to see if the dude is really dead or not.

All in all, another fun, solid episode.  The acting continues to be top-notch, with Scott Caan locking it down as Danno.  Hopefully, they will give Grace Park (Kono) a meatier role as the series progresses.  So far, she really serves no purpose beyond busy work and looking good in a bikini.  Get Park more involved, CBS.  The series is easy to follow, as it doesn’t bog us down with too many sub-plots that convolute the story and in turn risk continuity issues popping up.  It is a refreshing take on the action cop drama that is well worth your attention.

REVIEW: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

Paranormal Activity is one of those love/hate relationships.  Big props to the amateur filmmakers who were able to create a film with some decent creepy moments on basically no budget, building the success of their blossoming franchise essentially through word of mouth.  Paranormal Activity went on to amass around $107 million, making it dollar for dollar one of the most successful movies of all time.  Most audiences, myself included, found the first film to provide enough creepiness and suspense to satisfy.  It was refreshing to see a horror film that played off of some actual fear as opposed to the steady diet of slasher or torture porn flicks we are normally fed.  Although it’s clear that Paranormal Activity was in the hands of unseasoned filmmakers, we were able to give them a pass for most of their faults and just enjoy the experience for what it was.  It annoys me to no end when the haters spew all over the interwebs about what an abomination of a film it was or how anyone who thought it was scary must have serious mental issues.  Look, certain things set certain people’s imaginations off.  For some, it’s a chainsaw-wielding madman or skyscraper-sized monsters.  For some, it’s the unknown things that go bump in the night.  It’s footsteps, loud bangs, and shadows that we endure in Paranormal Activity, and I think it’s extremely pompous and arrogant to blindly brand fans of the franchise as idiots for liking it.  If you didn’t like the first one then just say it wasn’t for you or that you just didn’t find it scary enough rather than proclaim yourself holier than thou and the be-all of cinematic critique.  I’m sorry your mommies didn’t hug you enough as children but get over yourselves.  It was what it was and never proclaimed to be some Oscar-worthy achievement.

I had tempered my expectations for Paranormal Activity 2, after all, the franchise was now in the hands of Hollywood which we could presume would kill the buzz from the first film.  After viewing PA2, I can say that they did not bastardize the original.  In fact, they stayed so completely true to the original that it might be said that PA2 was essentially the same movie.  No new ground was broken here.  At all.  All of the same effects and jump scares that caught us in the first are present here, but it’s too bad that this time around we are waiting for them, which sort of kills the effect.  Essentially, it’s just more of the same ‘ole same ‘ole.

We learn pretty quickly that PA2 is actually a prequel to the first film.  We are introduced to Katie’s sister, Kristi, and her family which consists of her husband, Dan, stepdaughter Ali and newborn son, Hunter.  The action starts off 60 days prior to the ending of PA1.  The demon that tortures Katie and Micah in the first flick is wreaking havoc on Kristi’s home.  When the family comes home to find the entire house ransacked by what they assume to be burglars, Dan has surveillance cameras installed throughout the property.  This gives us the same feel of the first flick as we catch everything that happens on camera.

Similar to the first flick, PA2 is a slow burn.  The frights are painfully gradual, coming almost exactly in the order they came in PA1.  Loud boom, footsteps, shadows, clutch, and grab, etc. etc.  Again, it begs the question, why the hell are these people still in this house when everything is being spelled out for them when they replay the videos every day?  What more of a clue that you are in danger are you waiting for?  That was one of my biggest gripes about the first film.  Any semi-sane person is going to beat feat from the premises and take a shot at the Red Roof Inn for a while.  I know the concept revolves around a demon that follows them and they have been told that leaving the house won’t rid them of the spirit, but really, don’t you think you’ve got to give it a shot?

Apparently only animals, babies, and Latinos can see evil spirits.  The dog, Abby, does a great job on cue.  Scooby Snacks all around.  I’m pretty sure the baby that played Hunter is fucked mentally for life.  Someone was clearly just off camera trying to get his attention to give the effect that he was looking at something.  As much as he cried during the film I have to wonder what that stagehand was waving around.  Then there was the family’s housekeeper, Martine, who is promptly let go as she breaks out the D-Con spirit bomb and clam bakes the house while carrying little Hunter in her arms.  Mom and Dad are none too happy to walk in on their infant son getting a contact high from Martine’s spirit extermination methods.

One of the other big gripes from the first flick was that the filmmakers tried to cram every cliche ghost story effect into the movie, including the dreaded Ouija Board.  Why do people insist that Ouija Boards are an essential element in telling a ghost story?  Thing is, Paranormal Activity is not a ghost story, it’s a demon story, which renders the Ouija moot.  I figured that now that the franchise was in the hands of real filmmakers that maybe they wouldn’t fall into this trap, but lo and behold, enter the Ouija about halfway in.  Again, it was an unnecessary addition that just reeked of cliche.  Horror fans are not that stupid.  Stop it.  This was where the story jumped the shark, adding nothing more in the way of frights that we haven’t seen before and just didn’t give us the experience of the first film.

It’s likely that Paranormal Activity is going to be the next Halloween franchise.  I suspect we’ll see a continuation of the story next year as they have left the story open-ended yet again.  I will give some limited props for the way they tied the two films together continuity-wise.  We now know what happened to Katie in the short term after the events of PA1, but I have to say that I was disappointed overall in the lack of anything original in this flick.  I’m also going to give a bonus point to the studio for not bringing this to us in 3-D.  That just wouldn’t have worked at all.

I wanted to like PA2.  In the end, I really didn’t.  Lightning did not strike twice in my opinion.  The next installment needs to bring us something in the way of backstory.  What is this spirit that haunts this family?  They really need to give us something more in the way of frights that aren’t telegraphed beforehand.  I jumped once, and for a movie that relies on its jump scares for much of its the effect on the audience, that is a big fail.