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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Checking Out V

Last night's episode of V answered the question I've had during every show so far: How is this going to last for a full season?

Well, it's not.

V is gone until March, as all of us who have made it appointment TV found out last night. It just had that mini-series feel to it all along. I'm guessing the network is going with the FX style of a short "season," and they are just looking to stretch it out. Promos for the return of V should start any moment now.

Don't get me wrong, I love the show, which is generally a death sentence for any series. Like many, I'm fascinated with the idea that there could be other life out there in the universe. I was a huge fan of the original series as a kid, which didn't last very long after what actually was a mini-series.

The show has touched on some interesting concepts that I hope it will really explore. The questions that the existence of other life forms would raise for religion is one of the best issues, but so far the show hasn't gone too far into it. Manipulation of the media has been explored a little. I wouldn't have minded more on the political front, as well as the human nature to trust the Vs, which I didn't quite buy. If I remember correctly, the first episode jumped past three weeks or so after the initial alien arrival. I wondered why that happened until last night revealed the scheduling for the show.

Of course, I'm not suggesting V is a brain teaser. The show is focused on the impending war between the planets, and, let's face it, Morena Baccarin is just plain hot in the lead role of Anna, leader of the Vs.

Last night was supposed to reveal why the Visitors were here, which didn't really happen. Does it really count as a "revelation" in a drama about aliens that they want to kill the human race?

Duh.

But we still don't know why beyond the notion that they are trying to survive as a species. And apparently we won't find out until March.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Review of Changeling starring Angelina Jolie

I finally caught Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, over the weekend. This portrayal of the 1920s Los Angeles police stirs plenty of emotion. Maybe it's just that society focuses on the corrupt as opposed to the positive things done by public figures, but the arrogance of those in power never ceases to amaze me.

Dubbed as a true story, Changeling details the life of Christine Collins after her young son disappears when the single mother is called to work on a Saturday. Already under intense scrutiny, the LAPD "solves" the headline grabbing case after several months by attempting to substitute a similar looking boy for Collins' son. When the mother protests, threatening the positive media attention the LAPD was desperately trying to generate, Collins is abruptly locked away in a mental institution.

It might be too strong to suggest that this film "grabs you" right from the beginning, but there is definitely not much effort needed to get into the film. Knowing the basic premise of the movie may be the reason, but I found myself glued to the opening scenes with Collins and her son, Walter (played by Gattlin Griffith). Perhaps I was looking for clues to what I knew was coming, but whatever the reason, the scenes worked. The recreation of 1929 Los Angeles was also a cool aspect of the early part of the movie.

Jeffery Donovan stood out as J.J. Jones, the main symbol of corruption within the LAPD. I never quite buy that an actor brings out the emotion as opposed to the writer of the script; I'm sure it's the wannabee writer in me. But Jones certainly personified every little weasel with an ounce of power we've all had to tolerate in our lives. Unfortunately, Jones had actual power, and single-handedly had Collins institutionalized. From there, she learns that any female who becomes a nuisance to the police was declared unstable.

Jolie received plenty of acclaim for this role as I heard many had said she stole every scene she was in. I didn't really have a feeling one way or another on her acting, but I imagine not noticing the acting while being very intrigued by the plight of the character — as I was — is in fact complimenting the actress. Her fight against "the system" came through in a powerful way, and I'm sure women of today and other minorities relate to battling against the patronizing attitudes that were perfectly acceptable in the era in which the film took place.

John Malkovich was a tad creepy as Reverend Gustav Briegle, the LAPD's harshest critic who becomes an advocate for Collins. However, his role in aiding Jolie's character helps him win over the audience.

A minor character that really stood out was Sanford Clark played by Eddie Alderson. The young actor was very good as the kid who ultimately reveals how Walter disappears, and may have played the best part in the movie. He walked the line between tough kid who had to do whatever was necessary to survive and a vulnerable young teen or pre-teen very well.

Despite running for more than two hours, the film never really felt long. It does a good job of following the story of Collins, the case that ultimately involves a number of children and includes some brutal moments, and the corrupt police force.

Changeling is definitely worth watching.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Glee Offers Solid Episode Focused on a Character with a Disability

I checked out Fox's Glee last night after reading that the show focused on the group's efforts to pay for an accessible bus to bring Artie, a member of the group that uses a wheelchair, to a contest with the others. I had also read that the character is played by an able-bodied actor, Kevin McHale, news that I wish was shocking but certainly is not.

Entering the show with trepidation -- glee club was just never on my radar -- I found myself basically entertained by the show. At first I was watching Artie's rendition of "Dancing with Myself" thinking it was a bit over the top, but then I realized that type of sequence is probably a regular part of a show about a glee club. Once that clicked in my brain, I actually thought it was a creative take on the song.

However, I will admit that the sequence was the one part of the show in which I was bothered by the knowledge that Artie was played by an able-bodied person. It was a very smooth routine complete with a few wheelchair maneuvers on two wheels (as opposed to four). I understand the realities of Hollywood, and I hate to use soft words in this situation, but it just didn't feel right.

Even an occasional observer of Hollywood knows it's a superficial world that will go with the best looking person over someone who may bring more authenticity to a role 99 times out of 100. Tom Cruise didn't get the lead role in Jerry Maguire because he had some deep understanding of NFL agents. So, it's not too outrageous to suggest that giving McHale the role of Arty is just par for the course. Not that an actor with a disability couldn't have been just as good, but it's at least possible that the producers did their due diligence in seeking out an actor with a disability and McHale won the part. I doubt that occurred and even if it did there are still problems with this casting, but let's assume for the moment that was the case.

Watching McHale do tricks in a wheelchair raises a question that goes beyond role playing or star power. Certainly, some people with disabilities can do those maneuvers, but there just seemed to be a hint of leaving the disability behind when it was time to perform. It's disingenuous and potentially sends a poor message to the show's teenage target audience that someone with a disability can just shake it off when necessary. To be fair, the episode addressed that very issue later.

Again, it's a show about a glee club, so it gets some latitude. Certainly it's a long way from the days of a character in a wheelchair showing up out of nowhere on a show like What's Happenin' and having all of his problems solved with a pop-a-wheelie for Rog, Rerun, and the gang at the end of the half-hour. In fact, the Glee story line that lead to the entire club spending three hours a day in a wheelchair was done fairly well. The club's teacher/sponsor brought up the often overlooked issue of the need to have the person with a disability, Artie, travel with the group to be part of the comradery of traveling as opposed to just going in a separate car with his dad. Even the Rolling on a River finale performed with everyone using wheelchairs and the ultimate conclusion of the story line about Artie was solid.

One question remains though, especially in light of the news that Brothers is likely to be canceled. This is the only other show I'm aware of currently running -- or possibly was running -- with a character who has a disability (and is played by an actor who actually uses a wheelchair, Daryl Mitchell) Is Artie's disability a true part of the show even when it's not the centerpiece?

I was disappointed by the news on Brothers, as the show was genuinely funny, though not uproariously so, and the disability of Chill, Mitchell's character, was dealt with in a manner that needs to be seen much more. It was simply part of who he was, not the center of the show. C.C.H. Pounder's character, the mother of Chill and Michael (played by Michael Strahan) delivered a couple of great lines in the pilot about Chill using the chair as a tool as opposed to being stuck in a chair, but it was a real reaction from a caring mother and the show moved on.

This may be unfair to question with Glee as I've only seen one episode and the show may already be dealing with the disability as part of the show. But last night disabilities were shown to touch the lives of three characters and was a central theme of the show. One of the other story lines involved a gay member of the club. Was this the "minority" episode after which these characters return to the background?

Hopefully not.