Monday, July 30, 2012

'The Dark Knight Rises' more about hope than superheroes

The Dark Knight Rises is not your typical summer blockbuster. While superhero movies thrive on special-effects laden scenes, big explosions and thrilling fight scenes, The Dark Knight Rises highlights the vulnerability of our world and that anyone, not just Bruce Wayne in a Batman suit, can be a hero.

Christopher Nolan's series has grown steadily darker with each successive Batman installment and The Dark Knight Rises is no exception. This third and final installment plays on our worst nightmare. Bane's attack on Gotham City is a 9-11 terrorist attack on steroids.

Bane manages to crash the stock market, blow out all the bridges leading from the city and steals a nuclear device which he threatens to use as a bomb. Bane holds the entire city hostage and even worse Batman is terribly outmatched compared to Bane who seems an unbeatable Goliath.

Early in the movie our expectations for a superhero are shattered when Batman is beaten badly by Bane and is dumped down a well-like prison with no possibility of escape. Bane taunts Bruce Wayne with a TV news feed so he can watch Gotham burn while he languishes in prison unable to do anything.

Surprisingly The Dark Knight Rises is not about a superhero, but how anyone can be a hero even in the worst circumstances. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) finally has the strength to confront the lie told about Harvey Dent after Bane publicly reads Gordon's confession. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a police officer promoted to detective, shares several interesting parallels with Bruce Wayne such as being an orphan and struggling with his own personal anger.

Blake also believes in doing what is right even when Bane and his massive army is against him. While Bruce is in jail, it's Blake's efforts that spearhead the resistance against Bane. Selina (Anne Hathaway), who plays a sexy, smart and a kick ass Catwoman, also discovers there is more she values than just petty thievery. She decides to stay and fight Bane even when she has a chance to escape the doomed city.

Perhaps the one flaw in The Dark Knight Rises is an overemphasis on the back story of Bane and the reemergence of the evil League of Shadows intent on destroying Gotham City forever. The Dark Knight didn't have to deal with any lengthy history with the amusing and psychotic Joker played brilliantly by Heath Ledger. In comparison to past villains, Bane seems menacing, but doesn't have a riveting screen presence. Tom Hardy, who played Bane, undoubtedly was limited by the scary, but static leather mask he wore throughout the entire movie.

The action sequences and special effects are wonderful when on the screen, but mostly bookend the movie with Bane seizing control of Gotham at the end of the first act and the final showdown when Batman fights Bane. Audiences who are expecting non-stop dazzling special effects might be disappointed in the slow middle act when Gotham is under Bane's control while Batman languishes in a prison.

The Dark Knight Rises, however, is a satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan's three-part saga. When Batman does return to take on Bane, the aerial flight sequences in Batman's new beetle-like flying vehicle are impressive. Nolan also provides an interesting twist at the end where it seems the good guys are fighting a battle they can't possibly win. Perhaps the best message in the series' conclusion is you don't have to wear a costume or spend billions of dollars on fancy gadgets to be a hero. That quality comes from the heart.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Borgias' David Oakes interview explores Juan Borgias' downfall - Part One

As Showtime’s The Borgias nears its second season finale, I talked with David Oakes on June 11 about his character, Juan Borgia, and the direction the show might take after Juan’s final scene in ‘World of Wonders’ (Season 2, Episode 9).

Athough Oakes has a reputation for playing the bad guy back from his days as William Hamleigh in Pillars of the Earth, my impression when I talked to Oakes is what a nice guy he is. Oakes doesn't see Juan as the villain and often empathizes with Juan who is stigmatized as the black sheep of the Borgia family, especially by Juan’s siblings, Lucrezia and Cesare. While Juan’s life ends tragically on The Borgias, it was a dream role for David Oakes.

What were you thoughts on your final scene? Was it as intense as you thought it’d be?
It was the last thing that was shot. It was the penultimate day of shooting. It was a nice thing to die when you died and not have to come back to work the next day after being thrown off a bridge. It was kind of like his confession scene. It was the previous three episodes worth of gangrene, syphilis, opium addiction, cigars, horse riding and everything coming to a head and just exploding. It was great fun to do. I think Francois liked it immensely too because he didn’t have to learn any lines. He just had to stab me which was fine at least when he got the safety pad that I was wearing. He kept missing me now and then and stabbing me in the stomach. He needs to get some fight training at some point. (Laughs)

Did you know Juan was going to die at the beginning of the season?

I knew I was going to die. I knew that was going to happen. I didn’t know when. At one stage they were toying with killing me off in Episode 3. The next rumor I heard was Episode 5, then it got to Episode 7. I definitely was going to die episode in Episode 7 they told me. Then I had Episode 10, then I had Episode 9 and then I thought I was going to make it to the third season, but then I was knifed. It’s a funny thing, scripts come out and you only find out piece by piece.

I didn’t know it’d be quite so fun to build up to my death. I didn’t know the gangrene and the syphilis and the opium would all come into play. It was a gift of a part as an actor really. I think while everyone is falling in love or getting a bit angry or coping with cathedrals falling down or whatever I had an amazing personal journey to go on with that character and hopefully I presented it with a sense and reality and hopefully you will feel a bit sorry for the guy. I don’t think he’s useless. Everyone says he’s a useless coward. He’s just placed in some sh*t situations. I mean he would have won Forli. He would have kicked ass at Forli if his character had let him know the other Sforza was coming to cut him down from the rear.

Cesare kind of set him up on that because he didn’t warn him.
Yeah! I mean what’s his beef? He makes me lose a war, then he blames it all on me and then he kills me, but I’m not entirely sure why he kills me.

I think out of jealousy sometimes.
Huge jealousy. I always ridiculed him when we were filming because there’s at least two situations, one in Episode 8 and one in Episode 9 where for no reason Cesare goes, “Ten more sons,” just to wind him up like proper little brothers do and push their buttons and make them go crazy. I just kept telling him, “None of them [the fans] will like your character because he’s just such a bitch.” It was quite nice to do that because everyone knows Juan is a useless cowardy worm so it was quite nice to get Francois worried the girls would stop liking him for a bit.

You know there a quite few women who like your character.
Well they’re all sick and wrong. (Laughs)

How was it like working with the cast?
It was great. The funny thing is by the second year you take it all for granted. I think for me personally I was most excited working with Gina McKee as Caterina Sforza. I remember watching her in so many stage productions over here (England) and films like Notting Hill. It’s a treat. It’s what actors dream and die for really. As you said you get to wear the armor and ride the horse for a job.

I was really pissed off when I started shooting Episode 8 because I wasn’t able to walk everywhere. At that point onwards I’m in a wheelchair or I got a stick or a crutch and felt restricted. There’s a reason why Juan starts in a wheelchair and switches to a crutch and then ends up with a walking stick, but quite often forgets his walking stick because I didn’t want the prop.

I was shocked at how quickly Juan’s downward spiral was. Do you think the Siege at Forli was the downfall for his character?
Yeah. I think there is the syphilis as well which he had before Forli. The one issue I’ve always had is I wanted to elongate certain sections. Every episode has so much stuff going on and so many great meetings whether it’s the fight between Juan and Cesare or Lucrezia meeting her different lovers or it’s the pope talking to different people about political machinations. I always wanted to have Juan in Spain. I wanted to have a month where I could go over with my own unit of shooting where he finds himself a wife, but that’s not to be.

Do you think Juan was different when he came back from Spain?
Neil [Jordan] was always keen on Juan coming back different and secure and grounded. That’s how I wanted to play it when he came back. I think the shock of Lucrezia actually manning up and trying to kill him had a huge effect as well. He’s growing and maturing, his pleasures were being taken away from him. He definitely was becoming an adult. Certainly there are moments in the second season where he manipulates other people in a similar the way they’ve been manipulating him. The scene between Jeremy and myself with the dagger is a last ditch frantic attempt at trying to win him over. It’s kinda successful in a weird way. He’s just a bit useless at that point.

Do you think Juan was genuine in the knife scene? Do you think he would have killed himself?

Yeah I think so. I think if there’s one aspect of Juan that never changes throughout both seasons is he always does what it true inside him whether it’s an attempted rape or trying to win a war. I also believe if Lucrezia hadn’t come over in the first season during the first war, he would have led all his troops into death. He’s not afraid of dying in that sense, he’s afraid of not being liked or loved and being left by his family. If Jeremy disowned him he would have done it. I don’t think he’s a coward in that sense. I don’t even think he’s that much a coward. It’s just his entire family, whether they know it or not, has been ganging up on him from the very beginning of the first season. What’s the problem with him? I think he’s lovely. I think he’s really kind and compassionate and cuddly.

Do you think Juan is jealous of Lucrezia’s and Cesare’s relationship?
Definitely. There’ a great little scene which we shot on the third from last day which is Juan in the opium den scene, looking up at the ceiling with the smoke everywhere where he says, “I think my brother and sister are having congress,” which is the first time anyone in the entire series. I mean the audience had been thinking that for awhile that something twisted was going on between them and the fact that Juan is aware of this and concerned by this is quite an interesting one.

I don’t think he’s jealous of them being together. I think he’s jealous of not being a part of it as well. When he forgives Cesare at the end saying how they’re brothers and wants to be together, I think that’s genuine. That’s the first time you realize what he’s always wanted. He just wants to be a part of the family and at every turn they’ve not allowed him. They’ve always pushed him away which is a great a shame.

In Juan’s final scene, I thought there might have been some reconciliation between the two brothers.

It gets very close doesn’t it? It’s interesting that Juan’s attempt at relieving pain is through closeness and hugging and love. Cesare’s attempt to relieve pain is through murder and fratricide and that’s very interesting. It would have been quite nice to have seen where the character could have gone next, but I think what it certainly sets up is (God knows what will happen in Season Three) the downfall of the family. It will be a very different family without him. They will need different things to get annoyed by.

Part Two of the David Oakes interview

Exclusive François Arnaud (Cesare Borgia) interview

The Borgias reviews:
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli

The Borgias' David Oakes interview explores Juan Borgia's downfall - Part Two

It isn’t easy being Juan Borgia, especially when his own brother, Cesare, stabs him to death and throws him off a bridge on Showtime’s The Borgias. In part one of my interview with David Oakes on June 11, Oakes talks about how Juan just was looking for love even if it was in all the wrong places.

In the second part of this interview, Oakes talks about how he got the role of Juan and what it’s like working with Jeremy Irons. Oakes also mentioned what his next dream role would be. Hint: It includes wearing a cowboy hat or shooting in Hawaii.

Do you think your work in Pillars of the Earth led to getting the part of Juan?
I think it led to the role. I’m pretty certain in fact. I only met Neil [Jordan] only once and the only audition scene he asked me to read was the bit with me on the horse in Episode 3 of the first season where Juan’s just arrogant. So I think it was to see if I could do the petulant childish side of him. I think the fact I could play a psychotic rapist was taken for granted.

I was watching bits of Pillars of the Earth recently and cutting together my show reel. It’s very interesting for me to see where I was with Pillars two years ago and the final scenes of this season in Episode 7, 8 and 9. I feel like I’ve certainly gotten better. I’m playing more with characters now and manipulating them in different ways which proved very exciting for me. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Do you think Juan is bothered by being a bastard or being called a bastard?

I think in the first season that definitely was his driving force, especially when you’ve got Theo, his potential real father there. I think in the second season, especially when he’s come back from Spain and he had his child, I think he’s come to grips with it. It’s that confrontation with Lucrezia where he does the Michael Jackson baby dangle, it’s then when he says to her, “We’re Borgia bastards,” and he’s accepted that. He knows that they all are. He is very secure in himself at that point I think.

Did you ever create a back story for Juan?
Not really other than the one that already exists. I think that was the great thing about playing a genuine character although we play a little fast and loose with some moments in history. During the season I definitely felt the lead up to the first season was pretty much accurate as it is in the history books. A great deal is known about Juan. I think that’s quite interesting, but I mostly took all the factual stuff I could find.

Now that you’re done with The Borgias, what’s next for you?
There are a couple of plays I’m going to be doing in England soon, but they’re not very long. I want to do a big TV series. I love having years of time to present a character across a long distance. I’m becoming less interested in playing smaller parts, not just because of the profile, but you don’t necessarily get the chance to play all those nuances across their existence. So it’d be nice to do a big series or a film or two. Who knows? I’m open to suggestions.

Do you have an ideal character you’d like to play? Do you want to keep playing the baddie?
I don’t know. Part of me wants to do a rom-com [romantic comedy], another one wants to play a cowboy, but I love playing the bad guys. They’re so much fun. I wouldn’t mind a rom-com, maybe something nice and fluffy, maybe in Hawaii.

Was there any filming location for the Siege at Forli?
No, that’s all pretend. That’s all constructed and it was built just for that. I think they left it up. I think they’re going try and use it for Season Three. I imagine Caterina and Benito Sforza will come back to play some significance in the third season. That was great fun. We literally spent a week in a field with this wonderful horse which we trained up for especially that scene. We bought it whilst we were out there. He’s a brilliant horse, so well trained.

You seem very comfortable horse riding. Do have a background in it?
I used to ride a bit as a kid, but over the three years when I’ve been out in Budapest, when I haven’t been filming, I’ve just gone horse riding. I love it. I’ve ridden a lot, but I’ve never had to do armed combat. I never jumped until I did The Borgias in the first season and jumping has been great fun. There’s nothing quite as exciting as that symbiotic link between man and beast.

I’d love to do some kind of extension of that. That’s why I’d like to do a Western. You’ve got Ronan [Vibert] (who played Giovanni Sforza). He just did the Hatfields and McCoys and in fact Sarah Parish, she played my mother in Pillars of the Earth, was in it as well. We were filming The Borgias so I couldn’t do it, but I was so jealous.

Do you have a favorite scene this season?
I think my favorite scene was with Jeremy and the dagger, partly because I was working with John Maybury. John pushed it quite big for the first four takes, really big performances, all very different because it was all the drugs, all opium. I’m sure when you play those takes back it’s like pantomime, like it’s really quite silly, but it’s the best bit of directing I think I experienced on the job. He went, “Okay take that all away and just try one really flat, really quiet,” and that’s the take they used for the close up on me which was take number five. And I think it’s great.

It’s a great cross section between myself and my performance being focused. You’ve got Jeremy feeding all the lines and giving a great performance behind camera and you’ve got John Maybury who allowed us to have the time and manipulated us in such a way that I think is really electric. I think from that moment on if you don’t have any sympathy for Juan your heart is dead and you’re holding too strongly on to his past mistakes and not letting him be forgiven because he’s very vulnerable in that scene.

What’s it like playing opposite of Jeremy Irons?
Me and Jeremy had great fun playing together. We both trained at the same drama school which part of me likes to think might be the reason that we approach characters in the same way. We quite often do big things. I think if you compare my and Jeremy’s style of acting to Francois’ acting (Francois is always quite still and contained, sort of brooding and moody) whereas Jeremy and I do quite large things.

The challenge then is to make them seem truthful which we may not always do, but we try to make it quite dynamic. I mean he’s the pope for Christ's sake and I’m this crazy, drug-addled disease-ridden entity so why wouldn’t they be massive characters? It’s really fun to play.

Sibling rivalry is huge on The Borgias. Do you have any siblings?
I do. I have an older sister, a half brother and a half sister, and a step brother and a step sister from a previous marriage, but one way or another I’ve always been quite independent. I’ve always gone as far away as I could. So when I went to university, I went to the other end the country.

I went to Manchester and then when I went to drama school, I went to the other side of the country to Bristol. I get on really well with everybody. That’s always been my thing. I’ve always been nice to my family and to my siblings and hopefully my friends. If anyone has nasty things to say about me, I’m really sorry, but I didn’t mean to be horrible to you. With that rivalry with Francois, it’s all acting. We get on really well.

What has been the fans’ reception to Juan?
I felt very supported by the fans. It’s been great actually, even more so than with William [Hamleigh]. People have really gotten behind Juan. There are very few who hate him and the people who hate him kinda scare me. I don’t understand why they hate him strongly, but I feel very well supported which is lovely.

What do you think will happen on The Borgias now that Juan is out of the picture?
Who knows? It could be many things. It could be the Addams Family or it could be the Brady Bunch.

Exclusive interview with François Arnaud (Cesare Borgia)
David Oakes interview, Part One

The Borgias reviews
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli

Exclusive interview with François Arnaud explores Cesare and 'The Borgias'

François Arnaud is a busy guy. During his break before returning to film the third season of Showtime's The Borgias, Arnaud was wrapping up shooting the upcoming Civil War movie, Copperhead. I talked with Arnaud on June 14 about his character, Cesare Borgia, and where The Borgias will go now that Cesare's troublesome little brother, Juan, officially is out of the way.

Have you started filming third season of The Borgias yet?
No. I’m starting third season next week. I’m going to Budapest on June 23. I’m also doing a movie called Copperhead which is an American Civil War movie. So we’re shooting now. We just wrapped today (June 14). I’m going back home for eight days and then flying to Budapest on the 23rd for bootcamp. I need to do some training with the stunts master for like eight days before the rest of the cast arrive to get ready for a lot of action for season three.

Do you have a background for horseback riding and sword fighting before you started The Borgias?
Not in horse riding. I’ve done a little when I was 12, but I’d completely forgotten it. In The Borgias Season One was the most horse riding I’d ever done. I got better by season two and we work with great people, Peter Miles who is the stunt coordinator. I’ve worked on some amazing movies with Tom Cruise. So there’s some sword fighting, but mostly stage fighting which is a little bit different, but I’ve done a little of that in drama school.

How did you get the role of Cesare?
I had an agent in L.A. and he sent me the script for The Borgias. I sent a tape for it since there was casting in London and then a couple of days later, like 24 hours later, I got a call from Neil Jordan saying he wanted to meet me. Then they flew me over to London the first time just to audition with him and the casting director and then another time to test with Jeremy Irons. So it was like a two month long process.

Do you remember what scene they had you audition?
Yeah. I remember it was a scene in the first episode where I confront my father and he wants to make me a cardinal. I wasn’t a cardinal by then, I was just a bishop. He forces a cardinal hat on my head and I remember the day of the audition Jeremy had no cardinal hat. He only had his cowboy hat. (Laughs) So it was like a different [scene] completely.

Do you have a favorite scene this season?
Some of my favorite scenes are in the finale. I thought it was a great episode when I first read it. Everything I’ve been feeling as Cesare kind of came together. [In the finale] I confessed to my father about Juan’s murder. It was a very headstrong scene I thought. I love working with Holliday [Grainger] and Sean Harris too. It feels like walking on air really. It just feels so natural and we all connect to one another.

Where will The Borgias go now that Juan is out of the way?
I think there’s still a long way to go. Obvious the rivalry between the brothers was a big part of season two and now that that’s over with we’re going to need some more enemies. When the rest of the family hears about Juan’s death I think it’s like a bomb just dropped. It doesn’t really resolve any conflict. There’s that and early in season three we understand that the Borgias have a lot more enemies than they thought and I feel that Cesare is going to go after every single one of them.

What was that scene like killing Juan?
It was an intense scene to do. We had been working on this rivalry between the two brothers for so long that there’s a certain sense of closure that comes with the scene, but also it was his [David Oakes’] last scene on the show too. I think it was the last thing that we shot in season two actually so David was such a big part of The Borgias on and off screen that is was a bit sad to see him go. It was time for my character to take the final step and go somewhere else.

Do you think Cesare believed Juan was going to destroy the family or killing him was a means to get what Cesare wanted?
I think he had different reasons for doing that. Obviously Juan has become dangerous for the rest of the family and for Lucrezia’s baby and he hadn’t been much use as head of the papal army. He was a bit of a wreck at that point of dying from syphilis. Those are all reasons that made it possible for Cesare to finally do what he wanted to do for years really. I think it’s still fueled by envy and rage, but I think he finds some morally righteous reasons to commit that act, but still I think it’s out of envy and anger.

Was the fire real in 'World of Wonders' or was it all CGI?
No, there was a lot of fire actually. It was really hot. I had dry ice for two weeks after that. Steven Berkoff was a trooper, who plays Savonarola, actually did quite a bit himself like even when they set him on fire it was a stuntman wearing a mask of Steven’s face, but it was all pretty real. I don’t think there was any CGI.

So when you see fire on his robe that’s all real?
Yeah. They actually set a guy on fire. I mean he’s wearing layers and layers of cold cream and woolen robes, but it was great. Steven Berkoff was amazing and also the conversations I’ve had with him in between takes. I mean he’s a fascinating man. He’s an actor, a director; he’s directed some of the great actors of the 20th century. He was fascinating to talk to.

Do you think Cesare ever was afraid Savonarola would survive the fire?
No. I don’t think so, not at first, definitely not when he challenged him to do it, but maybe when Savonarola is starting to walk through fire I think there might be a little moment where he wonders. Same thing like with the plaster cannons in episode three. It was pretty risky actually. That could have failed miserably.

Did you ever read Machiavelli’s The Prince as inspiration for your role?
During the first season I read The Prince a couple of times. It became like my Bible for the character. I think Machiavelli’s character is interesting on the show. They’re so clever, both of them, and they both inspire each other and it’s great.

What is it like working with Sean Harris?
(Laughs) I mean he’s nothing like Micheletto, but he keeps a lot to himself and is very reserved and composed, but since our characters are so close and have such a unique relationship, I think he kinda lets me in a little more than he does with others. That relationship between Cesare and Micheletto is so different from anything else that I’ve ever seen or known. It’s not exactly friendship, it’s not master and slave either, it’s not brotherhood, it’s something really unique that they’re kinda figuring out themselves so it keeps you on the edge. You can’t fully trust that person either, not from the start anyway, so you can see that trust and that bond developing and I think that’s great. That’s the great thing about doing a series, you have that time to do these things.

Will we see Cesare's and Lucrezia's close relationship from Season One reemerge in Season Three?

I think we’ll get some closure on that. They’ve grown up a little bit. They can’t be as childish anymore. There was an innocence in that relationship that I think was beautiful actually, but I think you’ll see in Episode 10 in the finale as well where you see that moment when Cesare kinda decides to move on because he feels that he needs to move on and move away really, but then I think season [three] will bring them back together.

Did you know you were going to kill Giovanni Sforza in season two?
Oh yeah. I knew from the start and made sure that it would happen. That was a very intense scene.

You had some sexy scenes with Gina McKee in 'The Choice.' Was that awkward?
She was lovely. I get to work with such brilliant British actors that I’ve never seen onstage because I’m not from London. With Gina McKee I heard so much about her and I was impressed. She was lovely from the start. It is touchy material to begin with because it’s seduction, but it’s also power play and they’re sex scenes, but they’re not love scenes. It’s about who’s in control and letting the other one be on top of the situation. So yeah, she was great.

How was it like working with Jeremy Irons?
Jeremy is great. He’s such an experienced, seasoned actor. I was terrified when I started working with him, but very early on he made it clear we were in a working relationship and we’d be working as equals regardless of what his background was and I think he’s been great. He calls me the night before a big scene and we talk about what we want to do or we think what we could have done better or how we can improve it next time.

It’s a really great relationship and he’s a hard worker. He really comes to set completely prepared. Sometimes he questions a lot of the lines, but I think it’s great he wants to be comfortable with everything he has to do and I think that’s very inspiring. He never just mimics something or he does something because he was asked to. He needs to understand before he does it. I think that’s why he comes across as genuine.

Do you have any siblings?
I have a younger sister who I love more than anything else. I would do anything to protect her and I wouldn’t stab her ever. If anyone tried to I probably would stab them.

David Oakes said you kept missing the pad and stabbing him in the stomach.

What a wanker! He kept moving all over the place. He kept sliding up and down and it never was in the same place twice so I probably did stab him in the stomach. He’s been baiting me for two years, so he probably got what he deserved.

Exclusive David Oakes interview

The Borgias reviews
World of Wonders
Truth and Lies
The Siege at Forli
Day of Ashes
The Beautiful Deception
The Choice
The Borgia Bull

Sunday, March 25, 2012

'The Hunger Games' a better movie than the hype

The Hunger Games is not the big blockbuster audiences have been waiting for. It's something even better. While The Hunger Games opened on March 23 to much fanfare, the movie doesn't have the glitz or big blockbuster sleekness of many summer movies.  The Hunger Games has a gritty, dirty realism to it as though shot in documentary style.

Even the title is in a simple white text after audiences are given a quick run down on the story. Two tributes, a boy and girl, are chosen from the 12 districts that rebelled against the tyrannical Capitol. These tributes are then brought to the Capitol to fight in The Hunger Games. Each tribute is to kill each other until the last survivor wins.

In place of big explosions, high-budget special effects and impervious heroes immune to danger, pain or fear, we are given Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss grows up in poverty and fends for her family by hunting game in the forest. It's these survival skills that factor into Katniss's survival, but its not her archery that makes Katniss the heroine; it's her humanity.

Katniss selflessly volunteers to take her younger sister's place, Primrose, when Prim is chosen in The Hunger Games lottery. Katniss's one souvenir from home is a Mockingjay pin, which also later becomes a symbol of rebellion against the Capitol's cruelty. Katniss's fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is a baker's son who saved Katniss years ago from starvation when he threw out a loaf of bread to Katniss. Tension builds as Katniss must pretend to love Peeta in order to gain sponsors for the games.

The movie doesn't hide the brutality of the games. One clip of a previous season of the games had a fellow tribute bludgeon another tribute to death with a bloody brick. Perhaps the most heart breaking scene in the movie is when sweet little Rue is killed with a spear to the stomach. The movie deviates from the book when the result of Rue's death doesn't lead to a gift of a loaf of bread from District 11, but the district launching a rebellion after Katniss salutes the cameras in honor of Rue.

The Hunger Games does start out on the slow side with the set up, but the movie is leaner and at times, more poignant than the novel by Suzanne Collins. While the book followed Katniss in first person, the audience can see behind the scenes back at the Capitol. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the role of Haymitch, who seemed more an ineffectual drunk in the book. Haymitch is played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson, who proves to be a clever mentor, maneuvering behind the scenes and getting the critical aid needed to Katniss and Peeta.

A delicious addition is President Snow (Donald Sutherland) played with subdued maliciousness. After Katniss makes the Capitol and President Snow look bad during the games, Snow forces game keeper, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), to commit suicide with the same lethal nightshade berries Katniss and Peeta nearly killed themselves with.

The Hunger Games may disappoint audiences looking for big special effects, explosions and gradiose presentation. Director Gary Ross showed real chutzpah in showing the brutality of the games and that humanity and love can rise above even the cruelest situation. At the end of the movie's showing, the audience applauded. They probably will not be the only one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Face Off" down to final contestants in 'Dinoplasty'

SyFy's "Face Off" contestants faced a double elimination in the episode 'Dinoplasty' (2.9) on March 7. This is the second to the last episode for the makeup and special effects series. The remaining five, Sue, RJ, Matt, Ian and Rayce, were taken to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History to look at dinosaur skeletons. Their challenge was to create a convincing human-dinosaur hybrid. Tensions ran high with the double elimination looming over everyone.

Sue (Tianyulong dinosaur) based her creation on a colorful, punk rock looking dinosaur that embodied "girl power." She went with a bold paint job, mohawk hair and a skateboard prop. Clearly the most playful and out of the box creation of the night.

RJ (Velocoraptor) went for a play on the dinosaur's name and created a dino that was a rapper, complete with dinosaur-themed gold bling. RJ stressed the judges wouldn't like the concept and that he'd be sent home on his birthday.

Matt (Carnotaurus) went for big and aimed too high. Matt went with the idea of a dinosaur god, complete with breast plate of a dinosaur skeleton attacking a human skeleton. The dinosaur-head shoulder piece was a bit odd. Vee thought the face looked more like a demon or exoskeleton rather than a dino.

Ian (Triceratops) had the most impressive head with a full triceratops head sculpt, horns and beak that looked shiny instead of the dull matte of Sue's creation. The costume was lacking as a few tattered rags hung from his model. Glenn thought Ian should have put a body sculpt beneath the rags to make the model more barrel-chested.

Rayce (Corythosaurus) created in impressive head that was built up around the eyes. Rayce also incorporated the sloped features of his dinosaur down the head, including the hump and flow into the tail. The judges really loved the profile of the creature and Vee even was won over by the striped blue paint job.

The winners:
  • Rayce
  • Ian
  • RJ
Going home:
Matt and Amy
The judges had difficulty deciding on the winner as all the creations were strong and for the most part beautifully executed. Next week's "Face Off" will decide the winner for the series.

Other "Face Off" episodes:

Triple Threat
A Dangerous Beauty
Rock Your Body
Return to Oz

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Supernatural 'Repo Man'

Sam and Dean Winchester fight demons and Lucifer in the latest episode, 'Repo Man.' The action begins four years ago when the Winchester brothers were tracking down Lilith and trying to avert the apocalypse. 'Repo Man,' which aired Feb. 17 on the CW, has Sam and Dean Winchester on an old fashioned demon hunt and murder mystery. The Winchester brothers have demonically possessed Jeffrey tied up in chains and bound to a chair. It turns out Jeffrey (Russell Sams) has been a busy boy with the brutal serial killing of women.

Normally the Winchester would exorcise the guy and be done with it, but this demon has information on Lilith and they need answers. While the demon taunts Dean in the guise of Jeffrey, the unpossessed version of Jeffrey seems like a decent guy and appears horrified at the killing. Unfortunately it's not that simple. Dean has to beat up Jeffrey pretty bad to get the intel before they send the demon back to Hell.

Four year's later we discover Jeffrey is in sorry shape. After the demonic possession and nasty beating, he lost his job and was considered crazy when he tried to tell the truth of what happened that night. Jeffrey comes back on Sam and Dean's radar when a brutal string of bloody murders crop up with the same emo as the demon. They think the demon might have "repossessed" Jeffrey to relive the good old bloody days.

Jeffrey seems bewildered and frightened when the Winchesters return into his life as he seems to be getting his act together, complete with getting a new dog. It being Supernatural, 'Repo Man' takes a nasty and awful turn. Sam Winchester finds out more about the victims and discovers there was a heavy dose of tranquilizer in the victims' bodies. That raises a red flag as a demon has incredible physical strength and wouldn't need to sedate his victims to overcome them. Meanwhile Lucifer appears as a nagging hallucination to Sam. Lucifer offers to "help" Sam and even points out important clues to the case.

Meanwhile Dean Winchester spends some quality time with Jeffrey, which perhaps is not the best move considering Dean beat Jeffrey to a bloody pulp four years ago. Jeffrey seems more than willing to help and even guides Dean to the demon's old lair. Not surprisingsly that lair is a dark and creepy abandoned warehouse. Dean discovers a man tied to a chair much the same way the Winchesters bound demon-possessed Jeffrey. Perhaps Dean should have seen it coming, but Jeffrey sneaks up and stabs a huge hypodermic needle into Dean's neck and injects him with a tranquilizer. Dean is out for the count.

Sam Winchester freaks out when Dean doesn't pick up on any of his cell phones and is forced to work the case with hallucination Lucifer. Sam pays a visit to Nora Havelock (Nicole Oliver). It turns out Nora's son was kidnapped by Jeffrey and that's why Nora gave Jeffrey the demon summoning spell. Nora also gave Jeffrey some demon-related info before her son was kidnapped. What isn't clear is why Nora even gave Jeffrey anything regarding demons in the first place.

Sam Winchester gets Nora to whip up a tracking spell and they find the creepy warehouse. In a bizarre turnabout, Jeffrey admits he liked being possessed and the demon gave him the guts to launch his bloody serial killing career. Jeffrey wants his demon pal back and completes the summoning spell. There is one problem, the demon possesses Nora's kidnapped son instead. Jeffrey pleads for the demon to take him, but it's no go. The demon is just a "talent scout" and Jeffrey has already reached his full potential.

In a rushed conclusion, the demon is sent back to Hell in short order with an exorcism spell. Jeffrey is also sent to Hell post-haste with a bullet to the head after he tries to attack the Winchesters. This is the second human, not monster killing in two weeks, although it can be argued a serial killer is as horrible a monster as any ghoul, vampire or shapeshifter. What doesn't make sense is the episode is why Jeffrey feigned horror at the killings when the Winchesters first captured him. Wouldn't Jeffrey fight the interrogation and the exorcism if he wanted to keep his demon friend?

The real climactic ending, however, is when Sam and Dean return to their scuzzy avocado-colored motel room. Dean settles in for a deserved rest while Sam sees the hallucination of Lucifer appear. Lucifer gloats with a smile, "No nap for you Sam." Sam tries to banish the hallucination by pressing at an old scar on his palm, but it no longer works.
"I believe you've let me back in," Lucifer says gleefully and laughs.
Next Sam sees his bed consumed with hellfire. Sam's pupil's also glow red, perhaps as his memories of Hell threaten overtake him.

The 'Repo Man' is an excellent episode that is made even better by Mark Pelligrino's absolute delight in tormenting Sam as Lucifer. While I wasn't too much of a fan of Pelligrino's Lucifer during the apocalypse arc, Pelligrino's hallucination Lucifer is a delight to watch. The trap Lucifer set in starting as a distraction to Sam, then acting like a petulant, insistant child in the library was fun and added a levity to a very dark and heavy episode. Jared Padalecki and Pelligrino have a wonderful chemistry, which also was evident in 'Hello Cruel World.'

''Repo Man' definitely has an old fashioned feel, much as last week's 'Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie.' The Winchesters are off to fight a monster and are united in a common goal rather than fighting each other. The return of the series' roots seems an improvement rather than a setback in the story arc.
The next episode, "Out with the Old," will air on March 9 on the CW.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

SyFy "Face Off" with the 'Triple Threat'

"Face Off" is beginning to play hardball with its latest episode 'Triple Threat,' which aired Feb. 15 on SyFy. The cliffhanger teaser that aired last week had McKenzie Westmore enter the backstage studio where the contestants sat exhausted after the judging on 'A Dangerous Beauty.' Westmore announces to the contestants their job is not over. In 'Triple Threat,' it's revealed that another challenge awaits the exhausted contestants. A lineup of gorgeous supermodels are presented on the stage and the contestants are to tone down their beauty, making them plain or even ugly.

The contestants had to create a backstory to the characters they were creating with wardrobe, hair and makeup to match. The creations included a drug addict complete with prosthetic track marks, a librarian with a nose cold and ink stains on her fingers and an actress turned prostitute.

The winner: Rayce for his librarian. They liked the backstory of how the librarian had a red nose from having her nose in the books all the time and the ink stains on her fingers.

The next challenge takes place a day later. Westmore presents the contestants with several pairs of twins. Their task is to age one twin to age 75 and the other twin to 100. While the teams are busy sculping prosthetics, Westmore has an additional surprise - the twins are in fact triplets. The third triplet is to be aged to 50 years old. While RJ is applying the prosthetic to his model, she has an allergic skin reaction. RJ loses valuable time as they bring in another model. RJ discovers the model's face is much smaller than the previous one. He has to do a fast patchwork job cutting off the excess mask and gluing it to his model.

The creations:

Beki, RJ and Heather - They worked off the premise of an overweight black woman who loses weight and becomes emaciated over time. The judges were the most critical of this team. Glenn Hetrik criticized Beki's creation (the 50 year old) for the high edges and the mask-like plastic look of the face. Heather's 100-year-old woman was blasted for looking more like a zombie. RJ was given kudos with his 75-year-old for the solid makeup job and for his improvisation with the model replacement.

Sue, Tara and Matt - They decided on a aging gangster theme. In a complete reversal, Sue was praised for her details in the 100-year-old gangster with the wrinkles and wardrobe choice. Matt was criticized for placing a balding cap on his model's full head of hair, creating a cone-head effect. Matt's 50-year old was called a chia pet crossed with a werewolf. Tara's 75-year-old was mostly approved of, but the long hair wig was cited as distracting.

Jerry, Ian and Rayce - They went with the aging hippie look. In a suprising turnabout, Jerry was complimented not once but twice during the contest. The judges liked the coloring Jerry applied to his 100-year-old hippie chick. Meanwhile Ian was ranked at the bottom of the barrel for his 75-year-old for the different colors in the paintjob between the head and the neck. Rayce's 50-year-old wasn't sunburned enough and the makeup made his model look more diseased than old.

Winner: Sue for her wrinkled 100-year-old gangster turned Benjamin Button style.

Loser: Heather for her poor paint job and makeup application that made her 100-year-old black lady look more like a zombie.

My take: I was surprised at the swift turn about with Sue. From last week's bottom of the barrel to the top, Sue truly had a dizzying ascent. The fact Sue hasn't won any of the previous contests makes me think this is more a flash in the pan than a real trend for her. Beki's terrible plastic-like mask on the 50-year-old black woman was surprisingly awful for the talented sculptress. A part of me thinks Beki was punished this week by the judges for her lack of loyalty and blaming Sue for last week's botched spider creation.

The 'Triple Threat' episode was one of the least interesting episodes of  "Face Off." The creations weren't that imaginative as they were transforming beautiful young models into old geezers. The show also is getting dirty with driving the contestants to work exhausted after the judging for 'A Dangerous Beauty.'

Next week's episode, Alien Interpreters, will air at 9 p.m. CST Wednesday, Feb. 22 on SyFy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

SyFy "Face Off" with 'A Dangerous Beauty'

SyFy's Face Off's fifth episode, "A Dangerous Beauty," opens with Sue mourning Brea's recent departure last week while RJ tells Beki he feels his father is watching over him from heaven. The first Face Off challenge comes quickly with the contestants being led out to a nature preserve where their models are awaiting them. The challenge is to create makeup inflicted by a werewolf attack. Sam Huntington, who plays a werewolf on SyFy's Being Human, is the guest judge.

The winner: Beki for the depth of wounds and the ample use of gore.
The contestants are then led back to the studio where they are shown different animals and plants. The next challenge is to incorporate a dangerous animal with a beautiful plant for a creation both gorgeous but deadly. The whole scenario is a bit gimmicky with wolves and a leopard wrangler while a white rhino is revealed in the next room after a dramatic pause for commercial break.

Most of "A Dangerous Beauty" shows not one team steering blind, but several as they struggle with the limit of time and inconsistent direction. Beki's immunity proves a point of contention as Sue wants to add texture to their spider creation while Beki wants to go for a sleek costumed look. In perhaps the poorest decision-making and most unstunning creations yet in Face Off, the winner of "A Dangerous Beauty" wasn't chosen so much for outstanding design as the other creatures proved much worse.

Heather and Rayce - Water Monitor Lizard / Firestick creature. While the judges were impressed by the detailed lizard face and the rock star flaming firestick "hair," the toga pants were a flop.

RJ and Ian - Chameleon / Orchid lady slipper monster. While an odd choice, this was strongest creation in the group. The judges were impressed with the incorporation of both orchid and the lizard elements. The team also benefited from a strong presenation as the model opened his petals and revealed a deadly sharp-toothed lizard monster.

Beki and Sue - Spider / Bird of Paradise monster. The judges were shocked at how awful the creation turned out, which was further tainted by Beki blaming Sue for adding texture to the spider and "ruining" their creation. Even with Beki's added immunity, it seemed a cruel move to throw Sue to the lions. Beki may be one of the best, but you don't want her on your team.

Athena and Tara - Tree boa constrictor / Stargazer lily creature. The judges noticed the stenciled spray paint on the model. The lily and snake elements didn't blend well between the green scales and red flower parts. The underwear that showed through the paint was shockingly bad.

Jerry and Matt - Leopard / Yellow iris. Their final creation looked like a cat lady wearing a tan bikini. She also was sporting some funky cat head shoulder armor that looked like it belonged to another creation. The only vestige of the iris was in the form of a big green leaf plastered on the cat lady's back.

The winning team: RJ and Ian for melding plant and animal elements effectively and the cool effect of having a lizard revealed beneath the flower petals.

The winner: RJ for the concept and design of the plant animal.

The loser: Athena for her poor painting skills the judges felt hadn't been demonstrated in the last three challenges, which they felt were subpar.

My take: Beki and Sue's creation wasn't as bad as the judges deemed it to be despite the fuzzy spider texture and the bird of paradise leg appendages. Athena and Tara's model showing his underwear beneath the body paint was bad although the paint job wasn't horrid. I found Jerry's and Matt's cat lady the most lackluster of the group with just a big leaf attached to her back while she strutted in a bikini. Amazingly Jerry wasn't on the bottom of the challenge for once this week. Although the Jerry curse wasn't in effect (that anyone with Jerry gets voted off), Matt definitely has done better and could have done better without Jerry.

Next week's Face Off will feature old age makup and will air at 9 p.m. CST  Wednesday on SyFy.

For more reviews, check out .

"Supernatural" Review - Dean is the baby daddy in 'Slice Girls'

In Supernatural's latest episode "The Slice Girls," Dean Winchester finally is the baby daddy; the bad thing is the baby happens to be a monster. Dean Winchester's dreams of having a family comes with a cruel twist when his one-night fling produces a baby daughter - in one day. It turns out Dean's latest hookup is a descendant of the legendary Amazon warriors who were turned into monsters by their patron goddess, Harmonia.

While Dean is dealing with monster-daughter family issues, Sam Winchester investigates a string of murders where married men have similar one-night stands. Once Sam discovers that Dean is in danger of becoming the next victim, it becomes a race to save Dean's life before he meets a bloody end.

Perhaps the coolest twist in "The Slice Girls" is the story arc of Dean's daughter, Emma, who seems to fight her destiny of becoming a murderous monster. Emma (Alexia Fast) shows up at Dean's door, pleading for help in escaping the Amazons and her fate. Alexia Fast does an excellent job in the role of conflicted Emma who is both desperate and angry at her father.

Dean must decide if Emma is telling him the truth or if he has to kill his own daughter. At that point Sam shows up and takes the awful choice out of Dean's hands by killing Emma in a similar fashion Dean killed Sam's girlfriend-turned-monster in The Girl Next Door.

"The Slice Girls" is an interesting episode and stand alone from the Leviathan arc Supernatural has been taking in its 7th season. The episode seems rushed, cramming in a lot of exposition on the Amazons, their evil goddess Harmonia and why the Amazon descendants continue to mate with, then kill, the fathers of their offspring. The direction is heavy handed and very jarring with the hard cuts and extreme closeups when Dean is picking up his date-from-hell in the Cobalt Room.

While it seems cruel to see Dean's only flesh-and-blood daughter killed, Dean seems oddly unaffected despite his heart-to-heart chat with Sam afterward. Sam, likewise, appears even colder with his "I know she was your daughter, but she also was a monster" speech.

This week's episode Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie appears to be a funny episode and perhaps a welcome departure from the heaviness of the current season. At Plucky's, Sam Winchester will confront his worst fear yet - clowns.
Supernatural airs at 8 p.m. CST this Friday, Feb. 10 on the CW.

For more reviews, check out Write

Review: "The Woman in Black" a dark ghost story

"The Woman in Black" is a gothic ghost story in the truest sense: Old abandoned spooky house, lots of dark corridors and an evil family secret buried years ago. The movie opens with heart-broken widower Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) grieving for his beloved wife who died four years ago in childbirth. Kipps buries himself in work and grief to the detriment of his son whom he rarely spends time with. Kipps is sent on a mission by his boss to collect papers from a secluded country estate where the last survivor, an elderly widow, died leaving no heirs.

What follows is a creepy excursion to a mansion, known as the Marsh House, which is situated in a lonely mist-covered swamp. The mansion is a character in itself filled with bizarre and scary knick knacks such as taxidermy monkeys, freaky dolls and mechanical windup toys that clatter and bounce in the middle of the night.

Radcliffe gives a solid and commanding performance as the distraught and lost Arthur Kipps. Anyone who believes Radcliffe can only play Harry Potter should watch "The Woman in Black." This movie is almost a one-man show with Radcliffe spending long periods of time at the abandoned mansion facing shrieking ghosts and countless things that go bump in the night.

Movie spoilers follow. Stop here if you want to be surprised.
After Kipps sees a woman veiled in black in the family cemetery, children start to die horrifically. One girl poisons herself with lye. Another girl burns herself to death. Each time the Woman in Black shows herself, children go into a trance and commit suicide. Kipps discovers among the old papers left in the mansion that the family of the Marsh House adopted a boy who was taken from his insane mother. After the boy drowns in a swamp, the insane mother kills herself and vows to kill the rest of the town's children.

In perhaps the most exciting part of "The Lady in Black," Kipps dives into the swampy mud and tries to retrieve the body of the drowned boy, whose corpse was never was recovered. Kipps hopes if the boy and the insane mother are reunited the murderous Woman in Black will be at rest.

Serious spoilers about the ending:
What follows is surprising as it is disappointing. It turns out the Woman in Black remains firm in her vengeance and continues to kill. The final death count has a brutal twist. The Woman in Black lures Kipps' own boy out on to the railroad track as an oncoming train rushes toward him. Kipps races out on to the track to save him. When Kipp opens his eyes, his dead wife is waiting for him on the track. The now deceased Kipps and the spirit of his dead his four-year-old son follow Mrs. Kipps into the afterlife.

The audience's reaction in the theater was somber and obviously unhappy with the ending. Although the ending was a surprise, to have Kipps go through so much trouble to stop the murderous ghost only to be killed (along with his four-year old son) by the Woman in Black seems pointless and cruel.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Face Off" creates Night Terrors

The fourth episode of the Face Off series, "Night Terrors" begins with a cell phone ringing at 3 a.m. Brea answers it and a creepy voice orders her to get dressed and wake the others. They have 15 minutes to get ready and be out the door.

The contestants are brought to a creepy abandoned hospital where McKenzie Westmore shows a list of phobias painted on to the hospital wall. Each contestant is to choose one of the phobias. Some of the fears are so obscure and bizarre it's impossible to discern what they are until the meaning is revealed to the contestants.

After the contestants pick their phobia, they have 15 minutes to go to a secluded place at the hospital armed only with a flashlight and a pad of paper. They are to sketch their design of the horror villain they were to create based on the phobia.

While Beki has an instant vision of her creature, Parasitophobia (fear of parasites), Tara struggles in developing a concept Ommetophobia (fear of eyes). Jerry flounders with his creation for Electrophobia, first with wasting time trying to get the blinking lights to work, then recasting a mask that proves to be too mushy to use in the final makeup.

Hadephobia (fear of Hell) - While Sue's concept was very cool, the final creature moved in too many directions with the skull-helmet, a demon mask, braids, a few swipes of paint across the chest and a skirt.

Parasitophobia (fear of parasites) - Beki's strong vision and quick work created an impressive woman infested by parasites and a parasite-creature unto herself. The multiple lamprey-like teeth and the chest piece with protruding worms was embellished with a beautiful irridescent paint job.

Ondontophobia (fear of teeth) - Never-do-right Ian finally struck the nail the head with his tooth fairy demon. Nasty teeth protruded everywhere, embedded in the skin and the face. The slimy hands and wrinkly torso (created by plastic wrap) impressed the judges and made Ian's tooth demon very creepy.

Merinophobia (fear of being bound) - Athena created a backstory that her horror villain was raped as a child and now she strangles men who want to "play with her." The rope-wrapped hooker was a bit freaky, but the paint job was poor, especially on the swollen, bruised side of the woman's face. Athena also lost points on the ribcage and poor use of anatomy.

Cryophobia (fear of frost) - Rayce created a frost ghoul that had a face of gnarled, cracked ice. While the creation was cool, Rayce lost points on the edges popping up and revealing skin at the neck. The frost ghoul also needed sparkle or the glisten of ice.

Xerophobia (fear of razors) - Matt went with the stale theme of a mad doctor with Freddy Krueger razor glove and an odd pair of goggle eyes. Matt finished the look with a big saw blade on the right arm and a bloodied smock. Been there, seen that in many horror movies. Next.

Electrophobia (fear of electricty) - Jerry's cockiness was almost his downfall (again) when he decided he didn't like the pink in the original mask and decided to recast it to a fleshtone color. The new mask was too gooey and Jerry ended up using the pink mask anyway. His paint job was slopped together, the mask looked unrealistic and the mad doctor had no burns from the electricity. Boring and a very Halloween-like creation.

Chemophobia (fear of chemicals) - Brea also went into this challenge cocky and her chemical-burn victim creature suffered for it. The face turned into a bloody, pustule mess with chipmunk cheeks and teeth poking out in the wrong areas. It looked more like a burn victim than a villain.

Ornithophobia (fear of birds) - Heather created an odd creature wearing a bird skull with a couple of feathery friends poking their beaks out from his abdomen. The feathers across the back were kind of cool, but the bird props were cheesy and silly-looking.

Ommetophobia (fear of eyes) - While Tara had difficulty creating her creature, she developed an idea of an Egyptian goddess on the second day. Her creation also benefited from lopping off the half of the mask-like face. Overall a cool piece that Tara admits would have been better if she had a clearer direction earlier.

Xerophobia (fear of dryness) - Matt's creation with the teeth pulling back from the dried out face was a cool effect. This sort of creature, however, has appeared in dozens of previous horror movies such as Hellraiser. The creature also would have benefited from protruding ribs, dried-out, brittle skin and emaciated hands.

The winner - Ian for his brilliantly creepy tooth demon
The loser - Brea for her mushy chemical-burn victim.

Next week "A Dangerous Beauty" will air at 9 p.m. CST Wednesday on the SyFy channel
Check out my previous Face Off reviews for Rock Your Body, Water World and Return to Oz.

Kiefer Sutherland's "Touch" off to promising start

Touch, starring Kiefer Sutherland, aired a tantalizing preview of the series last week. Sutherland plays a widowed father, Martin Bohm, who has an 11-year-old autistic son, Jake. Bohm struggles to make ends meet while raising Jake, who never talks and spends his days obsessively writing numbers in notebooks and climbing cell phone towers. The cell phone climbing incidents lead social worker, Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to take Jake away from Bohm and to a child care facility.

While Touch could end tragically, Jake starts showing an uncanny ability to predict events through his sequence of numbers, starting with the millionaire lotto ticket. The patterns continue across the globe, touching lives in Japan, Kuwait and India. Danny Glover makes an important appearance in pointing Bohm in the right direction. It seems Jake has a gift and is able to see the cosmic pattern that connects us all, past, present and future.

Touch can be heavy-handed in tugging at heartstrings and can strike some viewers as too sentimental. A grieving father whose only pictures of his dead daughter are on a cell phone he’s lost (which somehow doesn’t have cell phone backup). That one little cell phone also travels the globe from person to person and manages to make a talented but unknown singer an overnight star and saves a boy from becoming a suicide bomber. Improbable? Perhaps, but this show requires viewers to make a leap of faith.

The ending of Touch is a bit rushed. The fireman’s rescue of the children from a doomed bus isn’t shown on camera and the information is relayed to viewers via a news report. Too much time was spent on the wannabe-comedian boy turned terrorist by dire circumstances. That plot thread would have done better later in the season once the introductions were out of the way and the characters established.

Touch is created by Tim Kring and is reminiscent of the pilot of Heroes where people across the globe are miraculously connected by their sudden uncanny superhero abilities. Sutherland gives a moving performance as a distraught father hoping for some meaning to his personal tragedies.

Touch promises to be an interesting show that has the potential to get better as the season progresses. Touch just has to not fall too far into sentimentality and improbable coincidences that seem stretched or forced.
Touch will air at 8 p.m. CST March March 19 on Fox.

For more TV reviews check out my Examiner website.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Face Off" contestants rock their bodies

In a series that continues to get better, SyFy channel's Face Off episode "Rock Your Body," presented equally daunting tasks compared to last week's underwater episode "Water World."
The first challenge kicked off with the contestants entering a warehouse. Four models stood before them with sunglasses. Beneath each pair of shades, a model wore contact lenses they would base their prosthetic, makeup job around.

The contestants were grouped into teams of three with each member playing tag-team and finishing where the last team member left off. The challenge had mixed results.

Green Alien - Beki, Rayce and Ian perhaps had the strongest creation with their model wearing mottled golden contacts, a pointy chin, built-up forehead and green skin. The alien looked frightening and totally convincing given the short time frame.

Zombie - RJ, Matt and Athena had strong makeup, but this quickly was ruined by the ridiculous yellow paint-ladened hair. Their zombie looked like it had a nasty run-in with a paintball machine. Ve also disagreed on the red-yellow contacts melding well with the zombie concept.

Star Princess - Perhaps the weakest of the creations, Brea saw a pair of star-patterned blue contact lenses and instantly thought of Star Princess. Unfortunately Brea only had time to put on long eyelashes and glittery eyeshadow, leaving team mates Heather and Tara struggling to share her vision.

Demon - Also a strong creation, Jerry, Miranda and Sue created a demon with a red face, painted on veins and a bloody, tooth-rotten mouth based on the black contact lenses their model wore.

Winner: Beki for her strong foundation on the green alien.
The next challenged involved painting a cover for Asher Roth's new music album based on the theme "Is This Too Orange?" The goal was to work two nude models into pre-determined billboard designs. One model was to blend into the background while the second interacted with the scene.

Park Bench with Cup - Ian and Miranda struggled to figure out how to transform a bench with a cup sitting on top of it into an engaging work of art. In the end, the work proved lackluster with one model blending into the hedges while reaching for the cup. The second model was a girl on rollerskates listening to music.

Elephant Skateboarding - Sue and Heather chose a very quirky approach with one model being given elephant ears and offering a peanut to the skating elephant. Funny and cool concept, but perhaps it proved too strange to gain the judges' favor.

Pool Scene - RJ and Athena went with the chakras theme. RJ's blend of his model with the pool was superb. Athena's 60s bikini girl had too much white paint on her and was strange-looking with painted chakras and an odd stylized makeup job.

Hanging Noose in a Barn - Beki and Rayce veered a little from the concept of blending the first model completely into the ominous barn scene background. The second model was a glowing, fiery figure trying to pull the first model from the dreary environment. The woman's tiger makeup and the concept was something you would see in an art gallery and is my personal favorite.

Concrete Wall - Jerry and Tara missed the mark when they had both models blend into the boring gray brick wall. The first model "tagged" the second one with orange paint. The airbrush paintjob was so thin it showed the model's ass. The judges found the composition a wasted opportunity with little contrast between the models and background.

Wall of Sneakers - Perhaps the most difficult background, a wall of a hundred sneakers awaited Brea and Matt. Although the team seemed cursed with challenges, this team rose to meet them. Matt created a stencil and air brushed, then handpainted each sneaker on to his model's body. Brea painted a basketball player with jersey and shorts, but faced a terrible setback when her model passed out from dehydration 17 minutes before the end of the challenge. She ended up having to repaint a new model, working 12 hours straight to get the paint job done for the judging.

Winners: Brea and Matt with Matt winning special kudos for his superb blend job of the sneaker wall.

Losers: Miranda for her inadequate paint job and poor blend of the hedge/park bench man.
Next week's Face Off contestants will create the perfect horror villain.

Face Off airs at 9 p.m. CST Wednesday on SyFy Channel.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SyFy's "Face Off" sink or swim

The second episode of SyFy's special effects show Face Off got a small face lift from its awkward, blundering pilot episode with "Underwater Amalgations." Not only did the artists have to create an underwater sea creature, but their makeup job had to withstand being submerged in an underwater tank.

Internal team bickering intensified with Beki and Miranda spending more time yelling at each other than working on their sea dragon. Nix and Jerry agreed to not collaborate on their sea turtle, with Jerry working strictly the prosthetics while Nix focussed on the paint job with disastrous results.

The tank challenge proved the sink-or-swim moment. The sea dragon creations seemed to fare the best with Tara and Matt's sexy sea dragon lady looking both gorgeous and dangerous with her long swaying headpiece, pronounced scales and shimmering iridescent fabric. Despite Beki and Miranda's infighting, their sea dragon creation was beautiful with a clean paint job and fabric that swayed gracefully in the water.

Athena and Heather's lionfish benefited from Athena's awesome paint job skills featuring hundreds of swirling brown and beige stripes and Heather's fish face mask with moveable mouth. Nix and Jerry's creation proved the worst with the prosthetic turtle shell flying off the model's back in the water, the paint bleeding into the tank and the model panicking while submerged.

Perhaps the most hilarious creation was Ian and RJ's "shark lawyer," a zebra-shark creation wearing a three-piece suit. Sadly the suit flopped and flailed in the water and the shark was lost in a sea of pin-striped suit.
The winning team was Matt and Tara for the cool iridescent sexy sea dragon lady with Matt given special kudos for prosthetics.

The Jerry "curse" (that anyone paired up with Jerry loses) remained in effect as Nix was voted off the island for his substandard makeup on the sea turtle.

Face Off airs at 9 p.m. CST Wednesday on SyFy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Supernatural" Dean Winchester time travels ... again

Dean Winchester has time traveled a lot in his life. He's traveled to the past to meet his parents in "The Song Remains the Same" and transported to 2014 in "The End."

In the latest Supernatural episode, "Time After Time After Time," Dean Winchester hitches a ride inadvertently with Chronos, the god of time, back to 1944. There Dean finds Eliot Ness who (surprise, surprise) happens to be a hunter. Ness also is hunting Chronos because of the god's nasty little habit of draining the life from people in order to time travel.

The episode harkens back to the old pre-apocalyptic Supernatural days when the Winchester boys were focused on killing the monster of the week rather than saving the world. Dean teams up with Ness in a monster hunt as they track down Chronos and discover the murderous god has settled down with a "dame" and kills people to return to 1944 to be with her.

It would be romantic if Chronos didn't leave a trail of mummified bodies behind him.

Perhaps the strongest point of this time-travel episode is that Sam Winchester isn't excluded from the story. Most time travel episodes relied heavily on Dean while Sam, stuck in the present, would disappear for the bulk of the episode. "Time after time" manages to cleverly work Sam into the story with Dean relaying a message from the past via a letter tucked inside a wall of an old house. Because of the letter, Sam is able to bring Chronos back to the present at just the right moment when Chronos is trying to strangle Dean.

"Time after time" remains one of the stronger episodes of Season 7 with solid acting, a good story and of course plenty of eye candy. Who can resist watching the always gorgeous Dean in a sharp dress coat sporting a tommy gun?