Saturday, September 29, 2012

"The Beginning of The End" Fringe season 5 premiere review

So it has begun, the first step towards the end of probably one of the best science fiction shows in recent memory. Fringe has been one of my favorite shows since the very first episode, and now that we're on our way to seeing it end I (for obvious reasons) am not looking forward to seeing how it ends.

For some strange reason, 2012 has quickly become a year full of endings. I always like to attribute "themes" to years depending upon common aspects I run into in my daily life. For this year, coming to conclusions has been the main theme. Mass Effect, Fringe, Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy, and even Doug Walker's Nostalgia Critic have either ended or are in the process of ending. Some have ended in utter tragedy (subtle I know) while others ended on a high note with a promising future on the horizon. So you can see why I'm anxious, Fringe is yet another one of my favorite series on the verge of ending, and I don't want to have another thing to bitch about for the rest of my life.

However, looking at the fifth season premiere: "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" (damn that's a mouthful!) I can say I'm starting to like where the show is going. This is a big turn since I really wasn't a big fan of "Letters of Transit" which provided us with the setup for season 5. I didn't like the dystopian 1984-esgue future ruled by Observers. I mainly blame the Sliders (seasons 4 and 5) feeling I got from that episode, and it also didn't feel like Fringe. This isn't the case with "Transilience" however which basically picks up where "Letters of Transit" left off. Sure, that Orwellian dystopia was still there, but I kinda bought it this time and in fact found it to be a refreshing approach to the Fringe universe. I'm not saying it was perfect, but it was handled much better than it was in "Letters of Transit."

Fringe's previous season was fraught with issues as the show basically hit the reset button by deleting Peter from the timeline. This was an obvious attempt to mix things up and change the formula, which I actually encourage. Shows should never really stay stuck in their rut, they should evolve and grow as the story progresses. House suffered from a lack of this, and I always wished they'd make a change (and they never did sadly). So I gave the Fringe folks credit for trying something new, even if it wasn't really all that new. By the time "Letters of Transit" aired, however, I felt this just came too far out of left field. I never really bought the Observers as being malevolent. Sure they were creepy, but I always saw them as explorers simply curious about events in human history. The sudden twist that they were really planning an invasion never resonated for me until I saw "Transilience."

So when I say "Transilience" is a breath of fresh air I really do mean that. While getting to this point was shaky, the episode makes up for this with some solid storytelling and great performances from the cast (once again, John Noble gives a standout performance but more on that later). The overall feel of the Observer occupied earth is now more Blade Runner than 1984, though I couldn't help but laugh at the Nazi uniforms the human police force wore, someone needs to tell the Fringe guys about subtlety. In fact, my one complaint about this episode is the obvious political undertones. I will, reluctantly, admit this has a place in fiction, but I just hate it when it's presented with all the subtlety of someone repeatedly bashing my head in with a rock. And Nazi uniforms were like the writers waving their arms shouting: "HEY LOOK! THIS IS A METAPHOR! SEE? WE'RE SMART!"

My issues with the costume department aside, this episode provides some thrilling moments. I particularly enjoyed every scene with John Noble, especially when he was getting mind raped by the Observer. John Noble totally sells you on the idea that he's got someone worming their way through his head. I cringed at these scenes. The touching moments between the Bishops throughout the episode also should be noted. There was so much crying in this episode that I'm not surprised this episode wasn't called "Open The Flood Gates." While much of the backstory behind Peter and Olivia's loss over their daughter Etta is merely hinted at in conversation I completely believed that these two had gone through hell between the Season 4 finale to now, and I think it was a brilliant decision to just let the audience connect the dots instead of just showing us outright.

"Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" was a great start for the last season of Fringe, and I'm glad that my qualms about "Letters of Transit" weren't found here. I found this turn in the story to be refreshing and I can't wait to see our heroes "make some Fringe events" of their own. While the episode does have its flaws, I can safely say I can't wait to see where this story will take us.

I give the Fringe Season 5 premiere 4 egg sticks out of 5.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"I am the law." Dredd review

I should clarify that I don't really read many comic books. Aside from a couple Spider-Man comics over the years I don't read comics all that much. So I never read the Judge Dredd comics. Along with that, I don't remember the Sylvester Stallone film at all. I know it was terrible, but that's about it. So when I went to go see Dredd I basically knew next to nothing about the world the characters inhabited apart from the basic premise. So I didn't have any real expectations for this film apart from it being a good action movie.

So it pleases me to say that Dredd succeeds in reaching my expectations. It's a competent action movie that hearkens back to the classic action movies of the 80's. It doesn't have a truly groundbreaking premise, but I never once felt this movie needed to be anything more than what it is: which is an action film. However this isn't a bad thing, this movie is exactly what it needed to be. In this day and age, where the phrase "big dumb action movie" has taken on a new meaning with the likes of Transformers, it's actually really refreshing to have an action movie that feels more like the films that created action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. It's a classic action movie, through and through, and it proves to be entertaining. 

In fact, from the very beginning of this movie I couldn't help but shake the feeling that Dredd felt like classic sci-fi action movies like The Running Man and Total Recall. Sure, the post-apocalyptic feeling could be attributed to this, in fact this film should be lauded for it's great set design and locations. I wasn't surprised to see that they filmed parts of this movie in Johannesburg, because it serves as a perfect analogue for a post-apocalyptic setting (no offence to the people of Johannesburg but the place looks like Los Angeles' crack whore sister). It's great, and not once was I taken out of the film because it wasn't too apocalyptic enough. And the main setting, a massive super structure called the "Peach Trees," looked fantastically downtrodden. 

However, it's not the locations and set design that make this film entertaining, it's the talented cast. Karl Urban's chin is great as Judge Dredd. He's a tough as nails, cold, and calculating dealer of justice. While the movie does hint at Urban's Dredd having some depth behind the mask, it isn't explored, yet doesn't really need to be. Dredd is like a Terminator, his motivation is simple and clear: dish out justice where it needs to be dished out. If anything, his actions in the film explore what kind of a person Dredd is, and he's a total badass. The more developed character is Olivia Thirlby's rookie Anderson, a Judge trainee who failed basic training yet is getting a second chance because she's got psychic powers. Thirlby's performance is arguably the best as we see her grow throughout the film from a timid rookie to a tough as nails killing machine like Dredd himself. However, because I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones, my favorite character is Lena Headey's Ma-ma. 

Headey brings her menace to the big screen and I never once felt like she wasn't scary as hell. The makeup artist here should be noted here because they are able to turn the beautiful Headey into a believable drug addict/kingpin. While the scars do this well enough (unless you find scars attractive like Krogans and myself do) it's the work they did to her teeth that really sell the illusion. Her teeth are browned and blackened much like a real addict's would be, and every time Headey grinned I cringed (eye gore and teeth squick me out more than anything).

The story is simple: Dredd and Anderson are trapped in the Peach Trees and have to fight their way to the top floor to apprehend Ma-ma. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that and that's a good thing. I know I usually harp on movies not having  a good or deep story, but when it comes to action films I make an exception. As long as the story isn't convoluted and filled with plot holes I don't mind if it just serves to put the characters into increasingly dangerous situations just to get to the action.

The action and visuals prove to be fun and explosive. Regardless of the fact that the film really doesn't provide anything new or groundbreaking the action works. It has a tinge of hyper-violence dashed into it to provide some interesting visuals. I had the misfortune of watching this film in 3D, however this film proved to be competent in making the 3D add depth to the film rather than have stuff fly out at you, however this was mixed with some amazing slow motion footage to provide some fun visual effects. The slow motion action scenes are filled with explosions, gunfire, and bloody gibs and it's spectacular! These scenes are the only time things really jump out at you but they aren't really obnoxious about it. It's all done rather competently.

You may notice I've used the word "competent" often to describe this movie. The fact of the matter is that this is a competently made film. It doesn't insult your intelligence and keeps you engaged in the action taking place. The characters and acting are good. Dredd is awesome, Anderson is a smart and amiable protagonist, and Ma-ma is threatening and terrifying. They story is simple yet well written. The action is fun, hyper-kinetic, and gloriously violent. Even the 3D is competently used. The movie is what it needed to be, and it delivers what you expect. It's a fun movie, one that proves to keep your attention and doesn't insult your intelligence. Sometimes, that's enough to satisfy your expectations. 

I give Dredd 4 Judge helmets out of 5