Friday, November 30, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Razor—A FanBoyWonder Review With SPOILERS

It’s been a bear of a week for FanBoyWonder so forgive us for the delay in banging out our Galactica review.

At long last following an eight-month drought, we were able to watch some new Battlestar Galactica (beyond the 2-minute “Flashbacks” over the past several weeks) in the form of a bonus, stand-alone BSG mega-movie episode—Battlestar Galactica: Razor.

Here’s the Upshot from the Sci-Fi Channel and Universal Studios Home Entertainment: "Battlestar Galactica: Razor takes you on an edge-of-your-seat adventure with as it tells the story of Lee Adama's (Jamie Bamber’s) first mission as the commander of the Battlestar Pegasus — and the harrowing tale of that ship's desperate fight for survival in the immediate aftermath of the Cylon's genocidal siege of the Twelve Colonies.
“Lee Adama's new XO, Major Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Chaves-Jacobson), is plagued by memories of her service and sacrifices under Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes), who was able to save her ship during the Cylon attack — but only by making Shaw and her fellow officers rationalize suicidal battle tactics and brutal war crimes against their own people.
“In the crucible of war, Shaw must let her hesitation and doubts burn away, until all that remains of her is the honed edge of a living human weapon — what Colonial veterans call "a razor." But an edge so fine cuts in more than one direction. It can cleave an enemy to pieces … or it can carve away a person's soul.”

We’ve been chewing on Razor all week since its Saturday night broadcast and we found that it was turned out to be more and less than what we were expecting—but in the end we couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by what we saw and what we didn’t see.

In telling “The Other Story of Survival” of how the Battlestar Pegasus endured and survived the original Cylon sneak-attacks on the Twelve Colonies of Man via Shaw’s point-of-view flashbacks, Razor took viewers back to the middle of BSG’s second season to show us more of Commander Lee Adama’s first days of command—before the discovery of New Caprica and the election of President Baltar (James Callis).

The three Pegasus episodes—Pegasus plus Resurrection Ship Parts 1&2—are among our favorite episodes of the entire series. Upon viewing those three episodes—especially the extended version of Pegasus available on the BSG Season 2.5 DVD, it left us wanting to know more about Admiral Cain and about the Pegasus crew before they encountered Galactica and the rag tag fugitive fleet.

During the Pegasus episode trilogy, Michelle Forbes was compelling in the extreme as Admiral Cain—the hard-charging warrior who butts heads with Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) almost from their first meeting as she always seemed to be technically correct but unbending to a fault—and as we find out utterly ruthless and untrustworthy.

Cain’s Pegasus came to represent the path NOT taken by Adama and Galactica—thanks in no small part to President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) who had the standing and the moral authority to provide much-needed push back when it mattered most—starting with Roslin convincing Adama to run with the fleet of 50,000 survivors of the human race rather than fight and die.

Razor allowed the viewer to see more of Cain thanks to Shaw’s flashbacks but more does not mean deeper. The writers really dropped the ball by failing to drill down to tell us who Helena Cain was or the motivation behind her character’s many wrong acts for seemingly the right reasons.

The only thing that came close was a scene in Cain’s quarters where the viewer sees her walking at a moderate pace on her treadmill while reading paperwork. Her XO and friend Col. Jergen Belzen (Steve Bacic) gently chides her for working too hard as only a friend can do and urges her to come spend part of her leave with his family—that she has to “step off the treadmill sometime.”

Cain declines and as soon as Belzen leaves the room she kicks up the treadmill to a full sprint. But this is a rare, if veiled insight of a character that is otherwise built around military clichés as Cain channels at various times everyone from George S. Patton to Sgt. Rock.

Although we knew from the Pegasus trilogy that Cain was murdered by a version of the Cylon Number Six named Gina (Tricia Helfer)—after the Cylon had been subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques” (read: ritualized rape and torture) at Cain’s orders—viewers in Razor learn that Cain and Gina were in fact lovers.

We’re not sure we like Cain as a lesbian—only for the simple reason that a strong, uncompromising, hard-charging woman who turns out to be gay is an unfortunate stereotype and just one cliché too many for this character.

In an odd scene following the Cylon attacks and Pegasus’ escape and Cain’s stirring speech to the crew vowing payback, Cain has her senior staff and Gina to dinner in her quarters. Gina greets the Admiral with an affectionate, spousal-like kiss and we suppose this was meant to establish to their couple hood to the audience (and also to the officers in the room?) in a minimally salacious way as the scene seemed to serve no other purpose.

Yet there is no denying that her retroactively revealed romantic relationship with Gina dramatically changes our view of Cain and her treatment of the Cylon prisoner. Was she a pitiless solider or a betrayed and emotional wounded lover when Cain ordered the torture of someone who was literally a sleeper enemy agent. We take not a lot of comfort in discovering she was both.

During the aforementioned dinner scene, Cain monologues about how despite her call for “payback” to the crew, she intends to wage a classic guerrilla operation, play it smart and not make a mad charge at the first Cylon fleet she comes across. Yet later, that’s exactly what she does even when it becomes plain that Pegasus has jumped into a Cylon ambush.

When Belzen objects to proceeding head-long into battle hopelessly outnumbered—reminding Cain that this was exactly what she said she would not do—she asks for his sidearm and coldly shoots her loyal aide and friend in the head.

We already knew about this scene as the story was relayed during the Pegasus trilogy, but the stilted way it is presented in Razor really added nothing to the viewer’s knowledge or understanding of the event. The viewer is given no sense of motivation as to why Cain—even in the heat of battle—would take such a drastic action but subtext—you are either with her or against her—becomes clear.

Cain’s journey into darkness is completed once Shaw figures out that Gina is a Cylon.
It’s telling that Cain was in the interrogation room looking at a violated and beaten but not yet completely broken Gina when Cain gaves the order to shoot uncooperative civilians as Pegasus scavenged parts, supplies and people from a helpless convoy of civilian ships.

Worse, we find that Shaw is the one who executed the order and the civilians and in doing so, Shaw became the living embodiment of Cain’s legacy.

Ironically, what didn’t work so much for us was the inclusion of the old Cylon base with old model (70s era “classic”) Centurions. Based on one encounter with an old style raider, Adama realized that these are the same frakers he encountered as a young pilot 40 years ago during the Flashback mini-sodes.

In what amounts to a cameo on her own show, we get to see the captured Cylon Sharon (Grace Park, the not-yet re-named Athena) who helpfully informs Adama and company of the existence of a squadron of early Cylons—throwbacks called “Guardians” who are charged with guarding the first Cylon hybrid—the missing link between the robot and human Cylon models

Seeing Sharon wearing her slave collar /restraints was jarring and it reminded us just how far the show and the characters have come since in a season and a half.

So from there the movie becomes a standard rescue mission story. In the end, Shaw sacrifices herself to complete the mission and gain redemption for the sins she committed at Cain’s behest.

Along the way, Shaw and the Cylon hybrid have a little chat where the hybrid reveals that Kara Thrace/Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) will “lead the human race to its end. Kara is the “harbinger of death” and the fleet must not follow her.

So a nice big fat juicy seed has been planted for Season 4. Hmmm

We are bummed that Shaw dies at the end (or does she?) We also didn’t like how Commander Apollo was big-footed by his father the Admiral who tagged along on the mission just to observe, until Apollo gave an order he didn’t like.

Overall we are disappointed with what we saw Saturday night. Our disappointment comes knowing that stacked up against the three Pegasus episodes from the second season, Razor might equal but it definitely fails to surpass the original story—and given hype, the extra time and the extra budget allowed to Razor, it should have.

To be sure, part of it was the hype—both in a well planned advertisement effort and with the groundwork laid with Flashback mini-sodes over the past several weeks—as well as some BSG withdrawal among those of use who long ago drank the Kool-Aid.

It’s not that Razor was bad—far from it, but it did feel incomplete. As a one-shot, stand-alone movie, Razor represented an opportunity to introduce new and/or uninitiated viewers to an award-winning television character drama that happens to be set in space.

We are hopeful that despite the storytelling flaws that we’ve noted above, when the Razor DVD—advertised as unrated and uncut—comes out on Tuesday, Dec. 4, it will be a more coherent story as we suspect Sci-Fi Channel had to do some cutting for network airtime.

So we will reserve final judgment on Battlestar Galactica: Razor until we view the DVD.

Kemosabe’s Take on Razor

Meanwhile, special thanks to our best pal and all around Kemosabe JLM who helps us gather our thoughts on Razor during an e-mail, back and forth chat. We so enjoyed his thoughts so much that he agreed to let us post them in tandem with our own review. Thanks pal.

“I was never that big a fan of Michelle Forbes' character, but as an allegory for the dark side we all could have succumbed to six years ago when the Towers fell, she was spot on. There was some softness to her, but it was so well-hidden and so private that it made her sort of difficult to identify with. Her execution of her first officer, for instance, destroyed whatever belief I may have had in her.

“And I'd agree that the lesbian thing was a bit cliché. But it did help to explain the absolute torment she allowed Gina to be subjected to. It was more than a military decision, it was the act of a person with a broken heart, and that personalized her. Cain also functioned as a good "dark" to Bill Adama's "light." In his monologue at the end, he was right; he did have Laura Roslin there to keep him human. He easily could have slid, but did not. It's the fight we all face.

“For my money, though, this show really belonged to Kendra Shaw. I'd never seen the young actress who played her before, but she gave an incredibly riveting performance. She really commanded every scene she was in. You knew she wouldn't reach her end any other way -- there was too much she had to answer for. But she was as she said she was, the living embodiment of Helena Cain's legacy.

“And seeing Katee Sackhoff last night reminded me of how annoying Starbuck had become by the end of the third season. Her character, for me, had just stopped growing and had become tiresome. But during Razor, she had that rakish charm that had made her so much fun to watch before she ported down to New Caprica with the rest of the crew.

“The addition of the "old school" Cylons was a nice sop to the fans, and the movie did function as a kind of continuity fix to explain why Pegasus fit into the universe. And, as a reviewer on Newsarama mentioned, it was a good entry point for the uninitiated. I was able to explain to [Mrs. Kemosabe] what was going on in a few sentences. You didn't need a ton of background to appreciate what was going on. And that's testament to good acting and good story. That will always, always win out.

“I'm just pained that we're going to have to wait until next April for the final season to start up. Hopefully, they'll handle it right (Dylan lyrics notwithstanding).”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Wall Checkmated, The Flash of Two Titles and Dr. Fate’s Self-Diagnostic

As we noted we’re working on catching up on our regular programming following so without further ado, here’s our take on books we picked up from our friends at Brainstorm Comics for the week of November 21.

Checkmate #20

The Upshot From DC Comics: The Fall of the Wall concludes with a bang! Taskforce X marks the spot as the Royals force a showdown with Amanda Waller!

Although we do like this book, in the past we are on record as saying that Checkmate writer Greg Rucka can be too smart for his own good. Following our read of Issue 20, we are forced to repeat that assertion.

Okay, if a Wall falls in a storytelling forest but no one understand how, does the climactic ending really matter?

We’ve been waiting for Checkmate’s White Queen Amanda Waller to get her comeuppance since just about the beginning of this book and now that it has finally arrived we find it a bit perplexing and completely unsatisfying.

Rucka is a gifted writer with a particular talent for telling espionage tales and political intrigue. Furthermore, his work on books such as Wonder Woman has proven that he is also adept at character development.

Yet in Checkmate, Rucka has consistently failed to provide any but the most cursory character development. The result is that even as he excels at crafting a procedural drama, the reader knows very little about these characters that we are required to care about.

The worst example of this is Amanda Waller. “The Wall” has been a favorite of ours she was created by Suicide Squad writer John Ostrander with his late wife Kim Yale. Yet Waller as Checkmate’s White Queen is little more than a Simon Bar-Sinister-like antagonist who happens to be named “Amanda Waller.”

Rucka had been getting away with his interpretation of Waller until the recent Suicide Squad reunion mini-series where Waller’s creator John Ostrander reminded readers that The Wall is a fully three-dimensional character. By comparison, Rucka’s White Queen is an empty suit.

The last straw comes in Issue 20 Rucka’s from out of left field excuse for forcing out the White Queen from Checkmate. She has been infected by nanites, which technically makes her a meta-human, something that’s against Checkmate’s charter.

The good news from this we hope is that we’ll get to read the “real” Amanda Waller in the pages of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad mini-series.

Flash #234

The Upshot From DC Comics: The unstable powers of Wally West's growing children reach a terrifying new level! And in the backup feature, "The Fast Life," by Mark Waid, John Rogers and Doug Braithwaite, the compelling tale of Wally's family's life on a Flash-friendly alien world continues.

We’ve been enjoying Wally West as a family man following his return. The plot thread that his kids’ powers being unstable and potentially life-threatening makes sense—but we’re not too hot about the alien technology aspect Wally’s wife and the kids’ mom Linda—a former medical student—is the only one who can care for the twins condition.

This is a stretch for us but we see how writer Mark Waid is trying to give the non-powered Mom a useful purpose.

That said, we really have been enjoying getting to know The Flash’s “tornado twins” Iris and Jai. These are kids with real personalities—Iris who gets annoyed with her dad for interrupting her while she watches Kim Possible while Jai, who is scared of losing his sister or even his own life after he overhears his dad tell the JLA about how the kids’ powers could continue to hyper-accelerate their age until death.

Yet we hope Waid doesn’t drag out this story thread too long.

Brave and Bold #8

The Upshot From DC Comics: A virtually unstoppable force has driven the Doom Patrol to the brink of destruction and despair! And why is The Flash the only hero who can possibly stand between them and utter chaos?

We get a Fastest Man Alive two-fer this week with a most off-beat pairing, The Flash and the Doom Patrol. The Patrol’s Chief offers to analyze the Flash’s kids Iris and Jai with an eye toward curing them of their pre-mature aging and the Flash reluctantly accepts the offer.

At the Patrol’s castle headquarters, writer Mark Waid again gives us a great demonstration of the kids’ personalities. As they excitedly explore the castle with Elasti Girl, it’s quite funny to watch them freak out as they realize her arms have been stretching across the castle with them.

Even funnier is their reaction to Robotman as he pops open his armored skull and pulls out his human brain for them to see.

Of course it would be a comic book team up if the Chief’s experiment didn’t go wrong, placing the kids in danger. The Chief dramatically tells Flash that he can only save on of the twins…and he must choose. Luckily Flash figures out how to save them both with an assist by Robotman and Negative Man.

AT the end of the issue, we see Wally tearfully confessing to his wife Linda that at super speed, the split second that he had to decide was actually a month to him and that he had indeed made the unthinkable Sophie’s Choice as to which child to save and which child to doom.

This was really out of place in what had been a light-hearted, if weird, team up. But as always master illustrator George Perez makes it all flow smoothly and yet again Brave and Bold accomplishes its purpose by introducing us a corner of the DC Universe we don’t normally follow—in this case The Doom Patrol.

Countdown to Mystery #3

The Upshot From DC Comics: Eclipso continues her maniacal mission to corrupt the heroes of the DCU! Find out who's next in her path! Plus, Doctor Fate enters a simple storefront that introduces him to a woman who will change his life!

We don’t care about the Eclipso story line and we resent that we have to pay an extra dollar for a crappy Countdown title just so we can read the adventures of Dr. Fate. Yet it’s money well spent.

Kudos to writer Steve Gerber for selling us on a new Dr. Fate that we didn’t want but one that we know consistently enjoy reading.

This issue, Kent V. Nelson investigates his new magic helmet with the help of an occult book store owner and it leads him on a vision quest of his own dark and broken spirit.

Gerber has really struck the right tone here of a psychologist who is grounded in rationality and science having to adapt to irrational and decadently un-scientific world of magic.

But again we must lament that this is such a good book that it should have been it’s on title instead being saddled with the crappy Countdown kiss of death designation. We hope that after the initial eight issues, DC green lights Steve Gerber to write more Dr. Fate.

Birds of Prey #112

The Upshot From DC Comics: A colleague has been murdered, and Lady Blackhawk goes missing…but only to honor the memory of her fallen teammate!

We’ve been wanting a solo story of Lady Blackhawk for a long time and frankly we’re disappointed that Gail Simone didn’t get around to it before she left Birds of Prey.

Guest-writer Tony Bedard’s tale wasn’t bad but it’s not anything that’s especially memorable. Yet given that he really did hit a home run last issue with his Oracle vs. Calculator story, we’ll give him a pass.

For now, we’re looking ahead to BoP’s new writer. They’ve got some big shoes to fill following Gail Simone.
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