Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Americans May Love Cars But The Kings Are Still In England. TopGear still rules

Update to this post on the great motoring show TopGear: A lot of big stars are now making Top Gear their stop and taking a drive around the test track. If it's good enough for Tom Cruise, it's good enough for everyone else. He even led the leaderboard.

This is because the BBC relaxed it's rule on promotions on the show. Previously, they weren't allowed to promoted anything directly (below is the hilarious Ferrari Enzo segment where they bend this rule to the breaking point). Recently, they are becoming more popular to the point the series is now franchised worldwide with Top Gear USA being the latest.
Now, you can head over to their YouTube channel for archives of their old shows.
Here is the original article.

Who knew what fun a socialist government funded program can produce?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Keith: Things are not often what they seem... but sometimes they are

Starring: Elisabeth Harnois,Jesse McCartney
 Category: Teen Drama / Romance 

Keith (Jesse McCartney) is what some people call trouble. He views his world with contempt and he knows that the adults around him are powerless to change him. He mocks them openly. He knows they are uncomfortable around him. So he uses their discomfort  to make them do what he wants and get what he wants.
Keith decides to bring down school goody-two-shoes Natalie (Elisabeth Harnois). First, he makes their science teacher pair them together. He creates this elaborate persona, mysterious and challenging. He never bends to her basic requests and answers few questions as possible. He knows he can take advantage of her inquisitive personality this way. He makes her work even for the simplest things.
Keith wants to humiliate her. He starts by making her do things she wouldn't normally do. He thinks that it would bring her out of her comfort zone, making her more vulnerable. But he discovers instead someone who is closer to himself than he thought. When it comes to understanding their world around them, her view isn't too far off than his.
While Natalie does great in school, is involved in school activities and has an active social life, she understands that high school doesn't last. She puts the right amount of attention and importance to them. She avoids teen drama as much as she can. She knows about the pecking order and realizes she is at the top. She just doesn't care that much about it. She has a better grip on life and her reality than most of her friends.
She is popular and socializes in the right circles but has no qualms when it comes to making friends outside these circle. She knows exactly where all of these things stand in the big picture.
Natalie is really running in automatic most of the time anyway as her parents has planned her life in detail. However, they do leave space for her own activities. They don't try to stop her from being a teenager. Since she is good at school, she apparently has relaxed house rules. That and because she follows their plan.
She knows there is a world beyond hers but doesn't venture further than what she's used to. Not to say that she would feel uncomfortable with it, there was no reason to venture out further. She is not afraid of it. She simply has no reason to push her boundaries.
Until she meets Keith. Keith lures her further and further away from her comfort zone. He points out things in her life that makes her question her life and direction. But as he draws her away from her 'comfort zone', she finds she is not too uncomfortable with it all. She deals with it as she would anything else. It doesn't cause the damage he expects. She in turn, tries to be part of his life. This catches him by surprise. Instead he becomes uncomfortable. She want their relationship to grow but he doesn't.
The movie starts out promising and is romantic and touching. But it isn't great. The world of the movie is fairly realistic, though. High school cliches are avoided but it seems the producers and director were casting actors who looked older. If they were trying to make up for Elisabeth Harnois, they really didn't have to. She is much older than Jesse McCartney but looks no older than he is. What they ended up with is this weird group of teens in the popular group who look out of place from the rest of the school.
Keith starts the movie being arrogant. Being young comes with a sense of arrogance. A sense of rebellion. It comes with the absence of experience. It may even be a mechanism for dealing with a new-found realization of a world larger than what was known and comfortable with.
Either way, Hollywood has been tapping into this sense for a long time. Just look at the image of James Dean and Rebel Without A Cause. That, I think, is what the people behind this movie were aiming for. A rebel that could be looked up to, that continues in that great tradition of movie rebels. That was what they were aiming for in the character of Keith.
What they ended up with was an irredeemable jerk called Keith. Seriously, not a moment goes through the movie when you don't want to slap that smirk off his face. Which is just about the range of Jesse McCartney's acting in this movie. Be mysterious expression? Smirk. I don't care attitude? Smirk. Surprised expression? Smirk. CSI: Las Vegas did a stunt casting by having him on. Elisabeth Harnois is a regular on the series. He was mostly in the hospital bed barely making sense with a few lines at the end. That was I guess how much they trusted his acting.
Some people had problems with how Natalie fell for Keith. Really, there is no reason. But when is love reasonable? She felt an attraction, a kinship with his views on life. She felt challenged in the relationship and she liked it. They communicated at a different level. Both were wearing masks. Masks that worked in their social world around them but not to each other. They had to remove it to honestly communicate and within that they found something special. They found a form of comfort that one can only find in truth and dealing with it. Which is a rare thing for a teenager. This part of the movie worked but I think that it was because it was told from Natalie's point of view.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Is Fringe trying to out-Lost Lost?

Starring: Anna Trov, Joshua Jackson, John Noble
Category: TV
Things are getting complicated in Season 4.
In the beginning, Fringe was the show that tried very hard to bring you into their world slowly. Very slowly. Key story concepts were re-introduced almost ever week. Things were overall complicated but it was easy to understand if you just watched two or more episodes.
Then something happened. Probably because they were moved to a difficult time slot. It was as if the writers said, 'Screw this. We're taking the gloves off". At first, it was the revelations that most seasoned sci-fi fans figured out already, like the true identity of Peter Bishop. These came out in fast succession. Probably to say what every fan knows and just get it out of the way. Even so, it was done so well and advanced the overall story arch. This is not unprecedented. Star Trek: Enterprise got really interesting in it's last season when the writers did what they were holding back.
In Fringe's season 3, things were settling down. Almost every one understood the 'rules' of the world of Fringe. The conventions and relationships were established and strengthened. The thought that came to my mind was that they were going to make the world familiar enough so that the storylines would shift back to the characters as opposed to building and expanding the mythology. Boy, was I wrong. There kept on expanding and building on the mythology at an accelerated rate. Towards the end of Season 3, things were moving so fast that I didn't have time to enjoy the story being played out. I knew things were coming to a head but it was getting ridiculous.

Now, Season 4 seems to be almost a reboot. Nobody is who we are used to. Established relationships were shifted and altered. Characters now have different motivations than in the past seasons. For a good reason, too. These are not the same people we are used to. But familiar enough to not break the connections we have made in the past. Now, instead of focusing on characters, the focus is back on the mythology and storylines are going everywhere. Past story arches are being revisited. So much so that it feels that the series has at least 4 long-term story arches. And every week, there seems to be a threat of adding more.
Is Fringe getting too complicated to follow for the average viewer? Are they closing the doors to new viewers and saying 'Go back and watch the previous episodes.' ? After three seasons, they do have that right. With all that is available now, going back to watch previous seasons is not all that hard. It is easier to watch previous episodes than it was a when Fringe started. Watching a TV series and immersing in the world of that TV series is no longer just an option, it is required to fully enjoy it. Making it hard to jump in could just be a way of making viewers work harder and making the experience more valuable.
It could also be a way of the writers to reward long time viewers who have stuck with the show. With their difficult scheduling slot, the majority of the viewers by now are long time and hardcore fans. Those who do find the show would not be as inclined to watch it now but could be intrigued enough to watch past episodes to figure out what is happening on the show.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Find Love Twice: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend

Starring: Alyssa Milano , Christopher Groham, Tom Lenk, Michael Landes  
Category: Romantic Comedy

Do you think it's hard finding the right guy/girl? Well, what do you do if you find two of them at the same time?

This is Jesse's problem. Jesse (Alyssa Milano) meets Ethan (Christopher Groham) and Troy (Michael Landes) at the same time, literally within minutes of each other. Both men sweep her off her feet in their own ways. Ethan is a struggling writer who finds Jesse to be a source of inspiration. He is sweet, charming and funny. She feels comfortable enough with him to confide about her failed marriage. She is worried about how it will affect her relationships but Ethan doesn't care. She is the one right thing going on in his life. Despite of their awkwardness with each other, the difference between their personalities fills the other's life.

Troy, on the other hand is a successful advertising executive who understands the nature of his job but is quite grounded regardless. He is taken by Jesse's beauty and charms. He takes her on fantastic dates to impress her but find him impressed by her. at every turn. He is well off but realizes that Jesse is the true treasure in his life.
Jesse finds happiness in both men but she has a secret. She torn by it. Her brother reminds her to come clean with her boyfriend before it gets serious but it is too late. She is love. But with who? Who will she choose? That is the thrust of the movie.  And the conceit/deceit of the movie. I'll get to that later.

This is an out and out romantic movie. There is some sharp and funny dialogue but that is to be expected when a writer tries to woo a girl above his station, at least in his eyes. This movie is funny naturally for once, invoking a smile and a chuckle. As opposed to other romantic comedies that are almost purely comedic and sitcom-ish with the romance thrown in the mix. These movies aim for the big laughs and either win or lose big. This movies aims to be easily funny and hits it right on every time.

All of the main characters are sweet and charming but with a small flaw. This makes them human and raise them above the standard Hollywood caricatures. Ethan's burden is the realization that he may have to abandon his dreams for a more stable future. Troy is the opposite, successful but realizes that his job is no longer his dream. Troy is hopelessly in love with Jesse and realizes that Jesse's the best thing in his life and something he cannot live without. And Jesse is carrying a burden that has stood in the way of relationships in the past and she is worried that it will affect her current relationship. That is probably the movies main 'villain' if there is any and the plot's central conceit, if you may.

However, that is where the movie starts to fall apart. Although Jesse's concern with her problem is there, it is not prominent nor focused on until the end. To movie's director, it is important to the movie's tension that Jesse's problem remain a secret. But in order for the audience to care for the secret problem, it has to affect a large part of the movie, which it doesn't. Jesse is often carefree and goes about with her dates as if nothing is happening. She also does not suffer guilt after the fact, which would emphasize her secret problem. It is hinted on briefly in the middle of the movie but then gets lost with everything else that is happening. The movie does not make us wonder what is going through her mind when it comes to dealing with her relationships and her problem. That is an opportunity lost.

The actors played their part well. Alyssa Milano can carry a movie, all she has to do is fight for the right one. This movie didn't challenge her range but neither has most of her past work. Her scenes with Christopher showed their unique chemistry. They brought out a believable sincerity in their characters. Both Christopher and Michael were good but the star was Alyssa. The actor who plays her bother is also good and his story line rounds out the movie well.

Generally, the movie works as a date movie. There hasn't been a movie with touching romantic scenes like those in this movie for a while now. Even the Nick Sparks movie of the year felt flat (I know it was a custom job for Miley Cyrus but the book offered so much potential). The romantic scenes were the movie's strong points, corny but in a good way. Not over the top nor too ironic.