Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Incredible Hulk Smashes Into The Cinema…Take Two

The fanboy film festival of ’08 continues later this week with the Friday the 13th opening of The Incredible Hulk, staring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner and computer generated photons as the green-skinned, 9 foot tall, 1,500 pound title character.

Here’s The Upshot from Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures: Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) desperately hunts for a cure to the gamma radiation that poisoned his cells and unleashes the unbridled force of rage within him: The Hulk.

Living in the shadows, cut off from a life he knew and the woman he loves—Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)—Banner struggles to avoid the obsessive pursuit of his nemesis—General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and the military machinery that seeks to capture him and exploit his power.

As all three grapple with the secrets that led to the Hulk’s creation, they are confronted with a monstrous new adversary known as the Abomination (Tim Roth), whose destructive strength exceeds the Hulk’s own.

With just a couple days to go until opening, FanBoyWonder has been feeling the urge to go see this film. That’s a far cry from a year ago when—though peripherally aware that this comic book film was in production—we really didn’t give it much thought.

We certainly weren’t chomping at the bit to see another Hulk motion picture following the disappointment that was Ang Lee’s HULK from 2003. Yet we must admit that given the nicely understated marketing campaign one month following Iron Man, FanBoyWonder is intrigued bordering on moderately excited about the coming of The Incredible Hulk.

Is that moderate excitement misplaced? That IS the question.

What Incredible Hulk is NOT is a sequel to Ang Lee’s HULK—for better or worse. Edward Norton and company are gambling that it’s better.

The biggest thing that was wrong with HULK was that director Ang Lee took the premise and the character development TOO seriously. He was respectful of the Hulk’s history…literally to a fault. Which is a crying shame considering how many other comic book movie directors/writers/producers tend to superimpose their own limited, myopic vision onto beloved characters.

Lee’s adaptation of the comic book story line of the abused child by name Bruce Banner who grows up to become gamma-irradiated rage personified was a noble effort but he took that part of the premise WAY too far without proper balance—namely a formidable nemesis for the Hulk.

Face it, Nick Nolte as Bruce’s whack-job dad David Banner (gotta love the Bill Bixby homage) and gamma-mutated dogs just didn’t cut it. The middle of the film in the Grand Canyon with Hulk versus everything Sam Elliott’s General Thunderbolt Ross could throw at it remains quite entertaining but it wasn’t enough to build a film around.

Plus it took FOREVER to get to that point in the film.

Comparisons are inevitable so let’s not avoid it. Edward Norton vs. Eric Bana as Bruce Banner. Both fine actors. Bana did a respectable job given a weak story but he came off flat. Norton, on the other hand, does have that “puny Banner” quality of suppressed desperation to him.

In interviews, it’s encouraging that Norton speaks quite respectfully of the Hulk character both from the comics and from the Incredible Hulk television show of the late 70s staring the late Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno and the new film looks to incorporate both.

As an aside, while the Hulk TV show deviated greatly from the comic book—formatted for television to be essentially a cross between Jekyll & Hyde meets The Fugitive—it was a character driven show that took it’s premise seriously.

We WANTED David Banner to find a cure and that haunting piano music at the end of each episode made the viewer feel for this gentle but dangerous man.

Also, for anyone who thinks Lou Ferrigno was just dumb muscle who showed up, got painted green and flexed, take another look. During the TV Hulk’s quiet moments, Ferrigno wordlessly conveyed great emotion and feeling making “the creature” every bit as sympathetic as the man—THAT’s acting!

Battle of the Betty Rosses (oh if only!). We have nothing against Liv Tyler who we know will do a good job in the new film, but Jennifer Connelly has been a sentimental favorite of ours for many, many years—two words—Mulholland Falls. We’ll just leave at that and move on.

General Thunderbolt Ross—Again nothing against William Hurt. He’s a good actor but we liked Sam Elliott as Ross. To us, he was the perfect rare balance of a military man who was NOT a simple stereotype kill 'em all let God sort of out reactionary.

Elliott made us believe that this was a man who swore an oath to preserve protect and defend when he put on that uniform. Plus, he’s as tough as they come, not matter what the role.

For Mrs. Lovey Wonder, she favors Sam Elliott for a different reason as she’s had a crush on him forever. She once went so far to tell us that we would have a “free pass” if she should ever score Sam Elliott. Other women we’ve spoken with in an informal survey have agreed. Frankly we don’t blame Lovey. Sam’s a man’s man—and besides, we’ve had a crush on his wife Katherine Ross since seeing Butch and Sundance on TV one night in high school.

Best of all, The Incredible Hulk has an adversary in the form of the Abomination played by Tim Roth. For anyone who doesn’t know what kind of really, really bad guy Roth can play, rent 1995’s Rob Roy and check out his portrayal of a Scottish nobleman’s henchman.

FanBoyWonder has confirmed with our own eyes via a you-tube clip that the rumored cameo of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is true, while Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury also a probability and perhaps even some sort of Steve Rogers/Captain America connection.

This would be a concerted effort by the filmmakers at Marvel Studios to connect these characters in the same motion picture universe with hopefully all roads ending at an Avengers movie.

The Incredible Hulk opens Friday in theatres everywhere. For more, check out the film’s website and see you at the movies.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Battlestar Galactica—The Hub

Quote of the Week: “I'm not saying Baltar's done more good than harm in the universe; he hasn't. The thing is, the harder it is to recognize someone's right to draw a breath, the more crucial it is. If humanity is going to prove itself worthy of surviving, it can't do it on a case by case basis. A bad man feels his death just as keenly as a good man,” said the “ghost” of late priest Elosha to President Laura Roslin during a vision.

The Upshot From Sci-Fi Channel: In pursuit of the enemy’s Resurrection Hub, a misfit band of Viper pilots and Cylon rebels become uneasy collaborators as they formulate a battle plan. Meanwhile, President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) remains a captive of the rebel Cylons.

This episode really left us blown away—not just by the acting, especially by Mary McDonnell, but that the writers are really pulling out all the stops with a number of characters taking “no turning back” steps.

Although The Hub can and does stand on its own, The Hub along with the previous week’s episode, Sine Qua Non, are really two haves of the same episode.

The writers wisely opted to devote two interrupted hours to the two different points of view—the fleet’s reaction to the vanishing of the captured rebel Cylon baseship in Sine Qua Non and this week in The Hub, we see what happened with those aboard the baseship.

In the moments between faster than light (F.T.L.) jumps, Roslin experiences a vision of herself aboard an (near) empty Galactica with Elosha (Lorena Gale), who is in full “Ghost of Christmas Past” mode.

As you’ll recall, the priest Elosha was Roslin’s spiritual advisor and friend before she was killed on Kobol in the show’s second season during the crew’s search for the ancient Tomb of Athena, which pointed the fleet in the right direction (so far) to Earth.

Back again in normal space, the rebel Cylons (correctly) surmise that the baseship Hybrid (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) sensed that something happened to Natalie Six (Tricia Helfer) aboard Galactica—and they are right as she was shot and killed by Athena (Grace Park). Sensing dangers, the Hybrid F.T.L. jumped the ship just as soon as she was plugged back in.

Since the Hybrid tied itself to the ship’s life support system, there’s no pulling the plug again—the Cylons have control again of their ship. Fortunately for the humans, they Cylon rebels still want to blow up the Resurrection Hub and each side needs the other to do it

Captain Karl “Helo” Agathon (Tahmoh Penikett) was ranking officer aboard when the baseship abruptly jumped so he’s in charge—at the orders of the President—so we all know that the mission is good hands.

As Helo coordinates with his Cylon liaison, and Sharon/Eight model (also Grace Park), both he and the viewer see striking similarities between this Eight and Helo’s wife Athena (also Park) that’s beyond the cookie cutter, production-line identical physical appearance.

When Eight rubs Helo’s back in just the same way that his wife does—something only HIS wife would know. Eight cops to the fact that when Athena last downloaded—so Athena could get aboard the baseship and rescue their abducted daughter Hera—Eight “was curious” about Athena and downloaded her memories.

So it’s not Athena, just an incredible simulation. That weirds Helo out and it should.

Another question that's raised is: Did the Cylons access Athena’s knowledge and did they or have they used her knowledge of Galactica’s defenses, tactics…etc? The massive, fleet-wide power outage followed by the Cylon attack at the nebula during the season opener has never been explained—could Athena’s stolen memories have something to do with it?

Despite this uncomfortable revelation, Helo and Eight hatch a plan that requires precision flying and trust between the Cylon pilots—multiple copies of Sixes and Eights (where were the Number Twos/Leobens (Callum Keith Rennie???)—and the Viper jocks who will be towed unpowered and under the DRADIS by the Cylon heavy raiders then cut loose to go weapons hot on the Hub.

But before they nuke the Hub, Helo and Eight are to fly in on a raptor to snatch and grab the unboxed D’Anna/Number Three (Lucy Lawless), who was boxed in the first place by Cavil/Number One (Dean Stockwell) for daring to see the faces of the Final Five Cylons.

However, Roslin orders Helo to bring D’Anna to her and her alone—going back on their deal to allow the rebel Cylons access to D’Anna. Roslin wants the names of the Final Five and she doesn’t trust the Cylons to come across.

Helo objects to the humans breaking the deal, noting that he believes the Cylons will honor their end of the deal, particularly the Eights/Sharons.

Roslin responds: Captain, you are not married to the entire production line. I cannot afford to be sentimental right now. I cannot afford you to be sentimental either. If you can't do this job, find me someone who can.” That almost made quote of the week but something better came along later.

Helo doesn’t like it but he’s a good solider and he swore an oath to obey his Commander and Chief. The same individual, by the way, who ordered the abduction of Helo and Athena’s daughter at birth, made them believe their half human/half Cylon child was dead and gave it to another to raise under her supervision, before the Cylons stole the baby and before Athena stole her back.

Helo’s got every reason in the world to tell her to frak off but he’s a professional and he’ll get he job done.

Meanwhile, aboard the Hub, Cavil—along with Boomer, the sole Number Eight who sided with Cavil in the Cylon civil war—unboxes the single, D’Anna model.

It’s kind of bass-ackwards reasoning but Cavil seems to think that D’Anna can defuse the conflict with the rebel Cylons and their quest for the Final Five. But his pitch is interrupted by the rebel/colonial attack.

Cavil realizes what they are trying to do and decries it as “mass murder.” With no more Hub, there would be no more downloading and dead would really be DEAD for the Cylon. Upon hearing this, D’Anna reaches out and breaks Cavil’s neck.

It’s too bad the commercial previews gave this away; it would have been a funny scene in a dark sort of way. We hope there are other copies of Cavil still out there because we REALLY want to see more of Dean Stockwell.

Helo and Eight fetch D’Anna and the Hub is blown. Mission accomplished.

Yet the best scenes of this episode revolved around Roslin and Gaius Baltar (James Callis), particularly when they are sharing a scene.

It was almost comic to watch them bicker as each attempted to communicate with the Hybrid. Almost as funny was seeing Baltar chat up a Cylon Centurion about the nature of the Cylon God, playing to the “toasters’” new-found individuality like some sort of evangelical, Bolshevik union organizer.

When the basestar takes a missile hit, Baltar is preaching in the wrong place, in the wrong time and is severely wounded by shrapnel.

Two Marines (extras) carry Baltar to a bed and quickly scurry off leaving Roslin alone with a medkit and Baltar’s life literally in her hands. She injects him with morpha and attempts to tend to his wounds, including a nasty, profusely bleeding gash on is torso.

Yet even wounded and doped up, Gaius, ever the c**khound, hits on Roslin—“You’re very pretty,” leaving Roslin to roll her eyes.

The scene quickly turns decidedly darker as Baltar in is pain-killer la-la-land preaches to Roslin about God, telling her about the terrible guilt he harbored before he made peace with it.

Sensing an opening, Roslin asks about what that guilt is and Baltar confesses that he unwittingly gave the Cylons the Colonial defense computer access codes prior to the attack and nuclear holocaust of the Twelve Colonies.

“Pythia talks about a flood that wiped out most of humanity. Nobody blames the flood. The flood is a force of nature. Through the flood, mankind is rejuvenated -- born again. I was not a flood, you see. I blamed myself... I blamed myself. But God had made the man who made that choice. God made us all perfect. And in that thought, all my guilt flies away -- flies away like a bird. Baltar tells Roslin.

This is what makes Baltar such the master anti-villain. He’s not an evil man (vein, weak, cowardly but NOT evil). He does the right thing for the decidedly wrong reasons. God made him perfect, made him as he is so can rationalize that it’s God’s fault, not his, for allowing him to give up the defense access codes to a hot chick—the Cylon Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer)—so as to get into her pants.

You see, God has absolved Gaius of the guilt—guilt that that his selfish, reckless lustful actions had genocidal consequences. God made him that way so it’s not his fault. THIS IS WHAT GAIUS BALTAR REALLY BELIEVES (with apologies to South Park).

Shocked by Baltar's confession, having been told that her nagging feeling about him was oh so correct, Roslin tries to kill Baltar by removing his bandages. As he loses blood he begs her to stop.

We certainly can understand her reaction but we found ourselves hoping Roslin wouldn’t kill him—not for him but for her.

It’s now when the ship jumps again and Roslin has another vision with Elosha at her side in Galactica’s sickbay viewing her cancer ravaged self near death with William Adama (Edward James Olmos) at her bedside.

In a touching scene, Adama removes his wedding band and places it on the just-died Roslin’s finger. He says he won’t be selfish anymore and that he wants her to go rest now. Even knowing this wasn’t real, it was tough to watch.

The imaginary/ghost/vision of Elosha convinces Roslin to show Baltar mercy, saying that humanity cannot be saved on a "case-by-case basis". Roslin awakens with a change of heart and she works frantically to re-bandage Baltar’s wounds and keep him alive.

Later, when Helo brings D’Anna to Roslin as ordered, Roslin asks about the Final Five. D’Anna plays the head fake by telling Roslin she’s one of them. NOT!

Sorry no dice. D’Anna is the last Number Three in the universe and information is all she has to bargain with. She’ll only give up the Final Five names when she’s safe back among the fleet.

The best for last comes as “Husker” Adama’s patience waiting alone in a raptor pays off and the rebel baseship appears. In the landing bay, Roslin is waiting for Adama and they embrace.

Adama: “Missed you.”
Roslin: “Me too.”
Roslin [Embracing Adama]: “I love you.”
Adama [Breaking the embrace; looks into her eyes]: “About time.”

Actually, it was just the right time. The writers played it out for just the right amount of time—neither rushing or allowing the romantic tension to sour from waiting too long.

This is a mature, intimacy among two damaged people who mean the universe to each other and as they realize that life is too short to let it slide. Good for them!

This Friday is Galactica’s mid-season finale. We only hope that Sci-Fi airs the rest of the show THIS calendar year instead of stretching it out until 2009. So say we all!
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