Thursday, November 4, 2010

Halloween Premiere Weekend: Werewolves and Zombies and Internet Sensations, Oh My!

Last weekend was a great time for some geek-tastic TV premieres.  The Syfy channel premiered Red: Werewolf Hunter and AMC finally premiered the Walking Dead series.  Any card-carrying nerd can tell you why these two premieres have been hotly anticipated since their initial announcements, but if you have been under a rock or failed your official Nerd-License Exam (keep trying, you can do it!), I'll tell you why.  First, Felicia Day.  The Guild writer and star has been on fire over the past few years, with her own show and prominent guest spots on hit shows like Fox's House and Lie to Me.  Second, The Walking F'ing Dead.  The multi-Eisner award winning comic series by Robert Kirkman being made into a live-action series by the station that brought us Breaking Bad & Mad Men?  No brainer.  So, lets get down to the details.  How did each of these shows live up to the hype?  Read on...

Red: Werewolf Hunter
All of the camp, none of the guilt!

Couresty of SyFy

This is a Syfy Original Film...
Normally that'd be enough to end any credible review, but in this case we have a unique exception.  Sure, Syfy has a long-standing reputation of quality films like Sharktopus & Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, but we won't let their record (and apparent sea-creature fetish) taint our judgment. The main attraction for this gem is its red-headed star, Felicia Day.  As I've mentioned, Felicia has recently been putting out an impressive collection of work, but this film is different for a few reasons.  First, it's a leap into the world of science-fiction action, which is not necessarily new to her, but definitely out of her niche of awkward comedy.  Second, she's taking the lead in a full length (for TV) feature.  Her most note-worthy roles are in web-based short episodes, and I mentioned her guest spot on House; however, we all know that all the sick person ever gets to do is fall over, then convulse after a wrong-guess diagnosis.

The plot of the film is a spin on the Red Riding Hood tale, and promises to be the first in a line of fairy-tale exploitation films from Syfy.  It starts with Red (Day) introducing her fiance to her family and eventually their family tradition of hunting werewolves.  What starts out as a fun weekend with the folks turns hairy (sorry) when Red's man gets himself snacked on by a werewolf and begins to manifest his own transformation.  From there it becomes a Romeo & Juliet tale of love versus family loyalty.

Any movie that starts with "Syfy Original" is going to have some issues with writing, but despite that, the cast was able to deliver some decent performances and some memorable moments.  I particularly enjoyed Rosemary Dunsmore's performance as the rifle packing Grandmother.  All-in-all the movie lived up to the hype by delivering a fun experience.  The IGH crew actually had a lot of fun playing our own little Riff-Trax session while watching.  Let's face it, we all watch the awful Syfy channel movies anyway, at least this time we can say it was to support Felicia (my love!).  So in closing, I'd give Red: Werewolf Hunter an IGH rating of 7 lycanthropes.

The Walking Dead
In a perfect world all apocalypses would look like this.

Courtesy of AMC
To start, I'm a huge fan of the Walking Dead comic series.  I first picked it up when they were around issue #50 and I've been a steady reader ever since.  If you haven't looked at it yet you owe it to yourself to pick up the first trade.  Robert Kirkman's epic "horror movie that never ends" has set the new standard in horror/suspense books and garnered an immense fan following as a result.

The story begins with our protagonist, Sheriff Rick, waking from a gunshot-induced coma in an abandoned hospital.  Confusion turns to cold-blooded panic when he finds he's not alone in the world, but instead there are hordes of walking undead dying to invite him to dinner (I really can't help it!  Sorry!). After meeting some warm bodies, Rick sets off to search for his missing family, and from here the series will lead us through the story of Rick and the many survivors he meets along the way.

The series is being directed by Frank Darabont, who also brought us classics like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.  It's obvious from the first episode that he has studied the source material and has a deep respect for Robert Kirkman's original vision.  So many scenes were ripped right from the book and the direction and acting made it seem completely natural.  I was fortunate enough to be at the Walking Dead AMC panel at San Diego Comic Con and got a first-hand account of how Robert and Frank have been working together.  The collaboration has clearly paid off big time.  We all know the pitfalls of comic book adaptation, especially to a TV series, but what the Walking Dead has pulled off is nothing short of perfection.  I personally cannot wait to see how the rest of the series plays out, and how far they'll get this season.

When it comes to living up to hype, this show not only lives up to, but surpasses expectations.  I would, with confidence, give AMC's The Walking Dead the patented IGH rating of 18.9 head shots.

I hope you've enjoyed these shows as much as I did.  I also hope you enjoy my review.  Let us know what you thought on the comments, or send a tweet our way @IGHInsider.

Mata atode aimashou!

Glee: Grilled Cheesus

As I said in my previous post, Glee's sophomore season has not been living up to its hype (if that's even possible). There's an unevenness that's become more apparent than last year's back nine. We're five episodes in and they have been all over the place.

Seriously, don't say I didn't warn you. 
Read on at your own risk

There are three storylines of importance in Grilled Cheesus - 

1) Finn sees what he believes to be Jesus in the grill marks of his sandwich, hence “Grilled Cheesus.” He attempts to pray and when what he prays for comes true, he believes it was due to a high power, leaving him with the desire to share this with the rest of the glee club. Later on, when something unfortunate happens to a fellow teammate but gives Finn something he asked for, he starts to question whether Grilled Cheesus is good or bad and eventually, his beliefs, already tentative and not fully formed, are seriously shaken and he’s left asking more questions.

2) Kurt goes through a family crisis. His father ends up in the hospital, comatose. The glee club tries to rally around Kurt, offering support and prayers. Kurt pushes them away because he doesn’t believe as they do and because he’s carrying around so much guilt, because of  his behavior prior to his father’s heart attack, that he has a hard time seeing how everyone is trying to help in their own way. For Kurt, his lesson is not about believing in God but believing in something more than what the five senses tell us.

3) Lastly, Sue’s story with her older sister, Jeannie, is a smaller storyline but just as important. Jeannie has Down’s Syndrome but that has never mattered to Sue. To Sue, she’s everything. She’s Sue’s hero, but Sue noticed, when they were very young, that people would treat Jeannie differently and cruelly. Sue would pray for her sister to get better and when she didn’t, Sue stopped believing. A conversation with Jeannie about God shows how at ease she is with her disorder, while Sue is the one who continues to struggle.

Memorable moments include -

Puck, giving one of the most profound and humorous statements of the show, saying, "Oh, I got no problem with the guy. I'm a total Jew for Jesus. He's my number one Heb. What I don't like seeing is people using J-money to cramp everyone else's style, 'cause it seems to me that true spirituality or whatever you want to call it is about enjoying the life that you've been given. I mean, I see God every time I make out with a new chick."

Brittnay - “Whenever I pray, I fall asleep.”

Jeannie says she doesn't believe God makes mistakes and asks Sue if she wants to be prayed for. Sue's voice cracking a tiny bit as she says, "That'd be nice."

Kurt singing a beautiful stripped down version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” with flashbacks documenting significant moments with his father, including a not to be missed tea party.

This was an interesting episode. It wanted to say a lot but aside from the stellar performances of Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch, I felt it missed the mark. Wanting to explore spirituality is one thing but to lay it on so thickly is off putting. Why was Rachel singing  "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" Was it because it had the word "papa" in it or was it one of the few "Jewish" songs they could find that wasn't overly religious? I don't know but as beautifully sung as it was, it didn't belong there. Giving Mercedes two spiritual songs, one of which took place in a church, was too much.  There were comments made that didn't feel authentic, as if they were just put there to continually convey the show's message. I strongly believe that the questions asked should be explored but it felt as if they were being crammed down our throats.

I'd also like to point out that I do not believe that Finn wouldn't have known earlier about Burt being in the hospital. Kurt might have forgotten to tell him but Finn's mother knew. Why wouldn't she tell him as soon as she found out? I just don't buy it. I'd also like to know how old was the grilled cheese sandwich before Finn finally ate it? I get the symbolism behind the gesture but eating a cold, several days old grilled cheese sandwich is not that appealing to me. It was moments like these that kept taking me out of the story. I had to keep re-watching in order to find the good moments and it turns out there are many of them.

Jane Lynch was stunning. You could see her pain and anger simmering beneath the surface. Her scene with her sister made me want to cry because it was Jeannie comforting Sue. Chris Colfer was beautiful. He can mesmerize a person with both his acting and singing. Not a small feat, especially for someone so young. Mike O'Malley's portrayal of Burt is unpretentious and wonderful and he didn't even do much in this episode. Even Cory Monteith at the end of the show had me interested. Seeing Finn's faith shaken added a new depth to the character that hadn't previously been there. It's nice to see him growing as an actor. I also want to acknowledge Robin Trocki, the actress who plays Jean Sylvester. It's not often that shows use actors with disabilities, especially older actors with disabilities, and I think it's fantastic Glee does this because not only does it helps color the world of Glee and make it more realistic, but she can act! It's about time. Other than Chris Burke, who played Corky on Life Goes On, when was the last time you saw someone with Down's Syndrome or any other disability playing a role that was meaningful and important? Life Goes On has been off the air since 1993! I don't know about you, but I want a world as diverse as possible when it comes to the shows I watch.

I don't get worked up about a show's message very often. I like asking questions, being forced to think and a good controversy. I might dislike the writing or acting, I might hate where a storyline is going or cheesy special effects (I look to you X-Men Origins: Wolverine) but "Grilled Cheesus" bothered me enough that for a moment, I seriously considered not watching Glee anymore. Then I stopped, thought about it, and decided I love the show too much to just give up on it like that. I'll keep watching and hoping the show pulls itself together and in the meantime, keep you informed on how it's progressing.

* Sorry for the delay.  The other ep. reviews will be out this week and then done as each new ep. comes in.