"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Friday, September 4, 2009

Warehouse 13: Pilot

The Sci-Fi Channel, newly dubbed Syfy, premiered its brand new supernatural drama/comedy Warehouse 13. The show is being called a mix between X-Files and Moonlighting, with a dash of Indiana Jones. The two hour premiere introduced me to Secret Service agents, Myka Bering and Peter Lattimer, two very different individuals who are thrown together on assignment to protect the President of the United States during his visit to a museum. Myka is the “by the book” type and Peter is the “reckless rule bender”, and begrudgingly they must work together to protect the President. Their actions separately executed end up protecting President from an angry goverment agent who appears to have been possessed by an ancient artifact. I learned throughout the show that Myka is top notch a profiler and Peter has an intuition that is spot on. Together they make one solid investigation team. Despite their success in saving the President, the next day they find themselves in desolate South Dakota, reassigned to one Mrs. Fredric, the head of a secret government department in charge of Warehouse 13.

The unwitting pair encounter Artie, who reveals himself as the agent in charge of Warehouse 13, and their mentor for their new roles as gatherers. Artie explains that his previous team members all met with some type of ill fate, and proceeds to show his new team members the secrets of Warehouse 13. He explains their job is to find, bag, and tagsupernatural artifacts for storage in the secret government-run Warehouse 13. The two agents are confused and upset, but are also curious. Their first assignment takes them on an adventure to hunt for an evil, golden, and bejeweled hair comb dating back to the Italian Renaissance. Myka and Peter narrowly escape their demise almost brought upon them by the item. They bag, tag, and bring the item back to Warehouse 13. The show ends with Myka having to decide if she will take a transfer away from Peter and Warehouse 13 or stay on the strangest assignment she will probably ever know.

The Verdict:

Warehouse 13, is the story of an eccentric caretaker named Artie, who is both comedic and mysterious. He balances the “odd couple” like characters of Myka and Peter, and seems to be the thread which binds the group together. Now throw in a warehouse packed full of strange powerful artifacts that vary from a “wishing” kettle to personal items that once belonged Harry Houdini, and you have the basis for a potentially great series. Yet is this enough to keep viewers on the edge of their seat?

I think that Myka and Peter as characters struggled to hold my attention for the first half of the pilot, while Artie had me from the moment he appeared on screen. The warehouse is massive and reminds me of the National Treasure films, and the charm and mystery they portrayed. I do also enjoy the light comedic vibe that hums just under the surface of this supernatural drama, and I hope the writers can keep it fresh. I am for now interested to see what Warehouse 13 holds and what is yet to be discovered throughout this new show’s first season.

The Closer - Half Load

I knew it! When the new season premiered, my take on the Kitty shenanigans looked like this: “My guess is that this is all a prelude to revisiting the talk of children from earlier in their engagement.” Now here I am and that’s just what I find. Away from the idea of a little Brenda or Fritz, I was reacquainted with Father Jack (Mark Rolston) as the team faced a particularly sensitive case.

Starting with the case, it was something quite different from the norm. There was no motive, and it ended up being more of a mystery than a typical murder investigation. That’s not a negative. There were a number of things I really liked about how it all played out. First, the take-charge Sanchez. He’s been in a bit of a weird spot since his shooting, but I’m taking this as him turning the corner. As is to be expected, the whole team came together to solve the case, but Sanchez is the one that really broke it figuring out how the two scenes were linked.

While this story could have certainly been done without bringing back Father Jack, I’m glad they did. It makes for great continuity, and rewards fans that have been playing along the whole time. His relationship with the department, and Brenda particularly, is very interesting to watch. It also sends up a flag that there may be another returning character. Did you catch the pictures of Stroh in Brenda’s unsolved cases room? I’m guessing a revisiting of that story before the end of the season.

Finally, the whole idea of hope, and imagining something better. At first, it felt like typical Brenda, shamelessly lifting Fritz’s honest sentiment to manipulate a witness. It didn’t finish that way though. The moment shared at the community center, after Father Jack explained what the meaning of the death really was, was very nice. And Brenda looking up to reflect on it all tied right back in to that conversation with Fritz.

I don’t know that it’s a done deal, but it looks like the topic is certainly on the table. The possibilities seem a little crazy. Can you imagine Brenda with hormonal issues brought on by pregnancy? It might be fun to watch the chaos, but the idea, and Brenda’s previous medical issues, leads me to the possibility that they could be in the market to adopt. That would also offer up the possibility of bringing in the kid earlier. My thinking is that, in true Closer style, the topic will be ignored next week. But then it will be a recurring thing, and I’ll be left at the end of this season wondering if she is pregnant, or if the adoption will go through. It really could go either way, but they have me curious.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - Graphic but Good

Meet the Inglorious Bastards, er, the Inglourious Basterds: a quintessential Quentin Tarantino clan (see also Reservoir Dogs) helmed by an accent-affected Brad Pitt. Pitt, who plays a sort of Tennessean hillbilly, is the ringleader of the group of mostly Jewish-American soldiers whose aim is to kill — specifically by scalping — Nazis. It's as disgusting as it sounds, but the film is not all gory and the Basterds are only one in a series of interwoven stories. In fact, Brad Pitt and his band of men are each in fewer than half of the movie's chapters. Yes, there is violence but the biggest tone of the movie is artfully crafted tension that left me holding my breath, wondering where the action was going to come from next.

At its core, the film has the violent tendencies you'd expect from writer/director Tarantino. It's incredibly graphic and gory, but it's peppered with moments of genuine humor (albeit of the dark variety) with just a small dash of romance. In this regard, Basterds is very much like his classic film Pulp Fiction, but topically, the two couldn't be more different.

The movie begins with an incredible and very intense scene between a Nazi colonel (played by Christopher Waltz) and French countryman Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet). It sets up the tone of the film perfectly, while introducing one of the most chilling villains I've ever seen on the big screen, played superbly by Waltz. The vignette could stand alone as a short film, and doesn't quite blend in with the rest of the movie, but it will be what stays with you long after you've walked out of the theater. The rest of Basterds fast-forwards a few years, but I haven't seen the last of the first scene's survivors.

Elsewhere, Aldo Raine (Pitt) is prepping his troops to drop into Europe and kill as many Nazis as possible — he wants each solider to gather 100 scalps. Based on some of the more graphic scenes, the mission is a success. Most of their work takes place off-screen but their influence is clear when a bumbling Hitler and his high ranking official start trembling in their boots. As the Basterds' popularity rises, they're presented with an opportunity that ropes in famous actress and spy Bridget von Hammrsmark (Diane Kruger). The movie is building up to a climactic movie premiere, but unbeknownst to the Basterds, they're not the only ones plotting.

This, for me, is when the movie really starts getting good. Firstly, based on her relatively small résumé, I was not expecting to be so blown away by Kruger. She's simply stunning in her role including carrying one of the longest and most intense scenes. Pitt also pulls off the necessary swagger and bravado that goes with his ringleader role. When these two get together the screen seems to warm to their combined presence. Both Pitt and Kruger also add to the element of humor in the film, which is clear throughout all 2.5 hours of it.

It's hard to talk much more about the plot without spoilers, but it's one of the most satisfying — and quite frankly, entertaining and thought-provoking — movies I've seen in some time. If you can stomach the violence, the film is worth its weight in gold (or blood).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sweet Ruin by Cathi Hanauer

Elayna Leopold's story is a typical one in many ways: She's a suburban housewife with a young daughter, a workaholic husband, and an attraction to the adorable (and much younger) boy across the street. What I soon learn about Elayna, though, is that she's suffered two great losses in her life: the first, when she was a child, a loss of innocence after an episode with her parents; the second, much more recently, a loss of innocence of a very different kind: the death of her infant son, Oliver.

When I meet Elayna, Oliver has been gone for a year, and she's slowly reaching the acceptance stage of her grief. Helping her through the grieving process are her six-year-old daughter Hazel and best friend and college roommate Celeste. (Her husband, Paul, is a lawyer who's working around the clock on a death row case, and he's rarely home.) But it is Kevin, the artist across the street with the Weimaraner who poops in her yard, who will be both Elayna's salvation and her downfall as she hurtles toward something she can't take back.

Author Cathi Hanauer has a true gift. Sweet Ruin is a beautifully written novel, with particularly stunning descriptions of the seasons (which serve as a larger framework for the novel). Hanauer has a keen eye for detail and a good ear for dialogue. Her observations and insights on suburban life are spot-on and subtly sarcastic, which amused me.

However, I found many of the characters to be lacking, both in substance and believability. Elayna herself comes across as shallow and self-indulgent. I really wanted to have sympathy for her, but Hanauer never really offered me the opportunity to mourn Oliver's loss along with Elayna. Instead, I was treated to Elayna's seemingly endless interior monologue, most of it regarding Kevin. Kevin himself is never really fleshed-out, and I struggled to see Elayna's attraction to him. The character of Pansy, Hazel's daycare teacher, was a little bit too wacky for me; I just didn't "get" her. And the situation with Elayna's father was just creepy and could have been left out of the novel entirely.

What really saved the novel, for me, was Hazel. I saw her as an endearing, bright character in a novel of hollow ones. She lends a sense of innocence to the plot, and Hanauer really succeeds in conveying her expressions, dialogue, and utter child-ness. Hazel is the kind of child I want to have; Hanauer portrays her beautifully.

I really wanted to love this novel; as I mentioned, the writing is beautiful. I plan on picking up Hanauer's first novel from the library; I think she's an author I'll like reading. I just hope, in her next novel, she explores less stereotypical territory.