domingo, 28 de octubre de 2012

Homeland: Four episodes in, what now?

(This review includes spoilers on the first four episodes of the second season)

A lot has happened since Homeland's season 2 premiere. A lot. In four episodes, this show has done what others do in a whole season, which leads me to the titular question. What now? After a pretty good first episode, the show has sped through the next episodes, with a lot of intense moments and unexpected twists. Saul discovering that Brody is a terrorist, and his eventual capture, came as a shock to me, and I'm sure to most viewers. This is not new to the show. The writers did the same during the first season, when they unexpectedly revealed Brody's nature way earlier than most people expected. And still, they managed to deliver a kick-ass season with a gripping finale. So, perhaps we shouldn't worry about where will they head now.

Until now, the show has been one of the best. The second episode, "Beirut is Back", delivered some extremely intense moments as the CIA tries to kill Abu Nazir, and then when Saul and Carrie go to pick up Fatima Ali in the middle of Hezbollah-controled Beirut. And to finish things off, Saul discovers the video where Brody confesses to be a terrorist. Wow. I mean, I was expecting this on maybe episode 4 or 5.

The third episode, "State of Independence", was equally solid, although seeing Brody handling the extraction of The Tailor required a bit of a stretch in believability. I mean, you have a deep-seated terrorist within the highest ranks of the US government, about to become Vice-President, and you send him to do a routine extraction? C'mon! I'm still waiting for them to reveal that there was something else going on that forced them to have Brody do that. But still, the episode had its share of great moments, as we see Carrie's psychological struggles. The scene where she goes back to her apartment and prepares to go out, only to swallow a dozen pills later, was excellent.

Fourth episode in, Saul shows Brody's confession to Estes, who agrees to have a surveillance team on Brody in order to identify his mission and his superiors. As we get to meet the leader of the surveillance team, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), and see all the logistics put in place for the operation, it seems that the show is preparing for it. At this point, I'm thinking "well, they'll probably milk the whole surveillance plotline for a couple of episodes." Which is why I was baffled when, after meeting with Brody at a hotel bar, Carrie went up to his bedroom and blew the whole mission to him, forcing the CIA to detain him. Again, this is something I was expecting to happen maybe on episode 7? 

I must also add that I'm very pleased with how the show is handling the character of Dana. The performance of Morgan Saylor is so subtle. I love her.

But anyway, as I've said, I'm shocked at how fast the show is moving. I have no idea where are they taking the story now, and what will happen to Brody. Or Carrie, for that matter. After all, she blew an operation that was set to capture one of the most wanted terrorists after just one day of work. The way the writers handled the first season gives me faith that they know what they're doing, but I won't deny the fact that I'm worried they've run out of steam too early. We'll have to keep watching to find out.

(All pictures belong to Showtime and its affiliates)

viernes, 26 de octubre de 2012

The Voice: The Battle Rounds

Another week went by, and with it, another chapter of The Voice. After the Blind Auditions, each coach paired two of their artists on what is known as The Battle Rounds. The paired artists will perform a duet of a song picked by their coach. After a live performance, it's up to the coach to select one of the artists to stay in the competition, while the other goes home.

Overall, the Battle Rounds were a mixed bag. First, as opposed to the Blind Auditions, there were several very impressive performances in this rounds. On the other hand, there were several odd, surprising, and irksome choices made by the coaches. One gripe that me and my wife have is the fact that either the producers or NBC decided not to air all the battles. I know it would mean a lot more screentime, but then what's the point of picking up more artists, and making bigger teams, if you're not going to give them a glimpse of the spotlight anyway?

Also, one of the new spins of the show is the ability of the judges to "steal" an artist after his coach chooses not to take him during the Battle Rounds. This is a great opportunity for great artists to remain on the show, considering the penchant the coaches have for pairing two great artists together.

But anyway, here's my take on what I considered to be the most notable battles of this round:

Terry McDermott vs. Casey Muessigmann ("Carry On Wayward Son")
Great opener for thr the battles. Ironically, Terry was also the first audition to be shown during the Blinds, and one of the few that really surprised me. Plus, I love this Kansas song. Terry was practically flawless and won, but I'll be damned if I wasn't surprised by country-boy Casey. He took the challenge and brought it, making the decision more even than I would've thought.

De'Borah vs. Nelly's Echo ("Message in a Bottle")
Yet another song that I love on the voice of one of the singers that impressed me the least. Like I wrote on my earlier entry, I thought De'Borah was pretty weak in the Blind Auditions. Nelly's Echo, on the other hand, was pretty good. During the rehearsals, I thought Nelly had it. His voice was perfect for the song and he seemed to sing it perfectly. But on the night of the performance, I don't know what got into him, he was a mess. I think he actually felt threatened by De'Borah and tried to do way too much. I actually liked some of the improvisations and counter-vocals he did, but overall, his performance was too over the top and disorganized. De'Borah wasn't that great either, but I thought she was better than in the auditions.

Trevin Hunte vs. Amanda Brown ("Vision of Love")
Trevin Hunte made a name for himself during the Blind Auditions. His powerful performance turned the chairs of all four judges, and was one of the most featured in promotions for the show. Amanda, on the other hand, slipped by with an average performance and just Cee Lo's chair turned. However, their rendition of Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love" was one of the best and most powerful battles of the whole show. So great was it that even after Cee Lo picked Trevin, the remaining judges all chose to "steal" Amanda. Ultimately, she chose to be a part of Team Adam.

Julio Cesar Castillo vs. Terisa Griffin ("Conga")
This battle had one of the results that baffled me more. My respects to Julio, but Terisa sang her way around him. That's not to say that Julio's performance was bad. He held his own, but just wasn't on the same level as Terisa. Blake still decided to take Julio, I suppose for the novelty (or rating?) of having a Latin artist. Luckily for Terisa, Cee Lo "stole" her.

Sam James vs. Benji ("You Give Love a Bad Name")
This was a pretty cool battle. Both artists went at it with the right attitude, and vocally, both killed it. I know most people, including the coaches, were praising Benji's performance, but I thought he relied too much on his "waaaaaaaah!" moments. Sam seemed to be more versatile, and had a cleaner voice, so I agreed with Adam's decision. Still, I was surprised that no one "stole" Benji, after all the praise he got.

Nicholas David vs. Todd Kessler ("She's Gone")
This one could easily be one of my favorite performances of the whole battles. Competition aside, the pairing of Nicholas and Todd was so perfect, their voices blended so well together, that I can even say their rendition of the song was better than Hall & Oates'. I think I kinda liked Todd a bit more, but Nicholas was just as good. So Cee Lo picking him was still a great choice. However, I'm pissed that nobody decided to "steal" Todd. He had a great voice.

Other random notes on some of the battles:
  • I'm happy Domo was eliminated. She was really, really annoying.
  • Dez Duron continues to surprise me with how much he has grown from last season.
  • I wasn't happy with Christina picking Sylvia Yacoub. Didn't like her performance. But thankfully, Blake "stole" her rival, Joselyn.
  • Avery Wilson was yet another performer that was excellent.

All in all, the Battle Rounds were pretty solid. Now, coaches will continue chipping away five more artists. Let's hope that the best ones stay.

(All pictures belong to NBC and its affiliates)

Win or Die: Game of Thrones Season 1

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."
-Queen Cersei; Episode 7, Season 1

This quote from Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) to lead character Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) lies at the core of HBO's medieval-themed show Game of Thrones. The quote, which gives title to the seventh episode of the first season, exemplifies the cold, cutthroat nature of war and politics in this world. We see it in the life of reigning King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and his right-hand, Stark; and in the lore of past kings that instills the background story of the show.

I've been hearing great things about this show for awhile, but for some reason, I wasn't able to watch it until recently. After watching the first season, I can say that it has skyrocketed to the top of my favorite shows, along with The Shield and Breaking Bad. The show is based on George R. R. Martin's series of fantasy books A Song of Ice and Fire. It is set in the fictional land of Westeros, where a power struggle for the Iron Throne arises among several noble families. Meanwhile, an impending threat of an upcoming long and harsh winter and mysterious creatures from the North also loom over the kingdom.

Leading the cast is the great Sean Bean, who plays Stark. Lord of the Kingdom of Winterfell, he feels forced to move to the capital of King's Landing at the request of his friend and reigning King Robert. This unleashes a series of events as Robert's wife, Cersei, plots to take over the throne for his son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), along with his brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Stark's family is also thrown into the chaos. His wife (Michelle Fairley) feels forced to take matters in her own hands to protect her family after several attempts against her family, his oldest son Robb (Richard Madden) has to step up to protect Winterfell in Stark's absence, and his oldest daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner) has to deal with the fact that she has been promised as wife to Prince Joffrey.

All this is just a layer of what lies within the show. I have to say that, after the third episode, I was officially hooked. The show has many strong things on its favor. First, the story is so rich and deep, and all that background is beautifully transmitted into the show. You believe in the setting, the mythology, and the characters. Granted, I was shaking my head at one point, trying to keep tabs on all the characters seen and mentioned, but one just has to stick with it and have patience.

Second, the cast is excellent. Led by Bean, I honestly can't recall a single bad performance on the show. Even though some characters might seem to be caricature villains, like Jamie, or cookie-cutter noble men, like Stark, they all seem to have a more complex nature within. Kudos also to the child actors. All of them are simply amazing, most notably Maisie Williams, who plays Stark's youngest daughter Arya, and Jack Gleeson who starts playing Joffrey as a spoiled brat, but slowly becomes into one of the most despicable characters of the show. Gleeson's performance in the last 2-3 episodes was stellar. If anything, I had some minor issues with Aidan Gillen as Lord Baelish, but mostly because I kept seeing him as Mayor Thomas Carcetti, from The Wire, which happens to be another one of my favorite shows.

One of the most interesting and complex characters is Cersei and Jaime's younger brother, Tyrion Lannister, known as "The Imp". Brilliantly played by Peter Dinklage, Tyrion is a smart man that is usually overlooked for his short stature and vulgar behavior, but who manages to use this to his advantage as a cunning manipulator. Although his performance and delivery are usually funny, it is a product of his cynicism and bitterness, and not because he is used as a comic relief. The depth his character develops as the show progresses is so good that one can't help but root for him.

Finally, aside of the story and the cast, the other strength of the show lies on its crew. The direction and production values are top-notch. The way the story flows from one episode to the other is flawless. The show takes its time to build the groundwork for its plots, like the mysterious creatures from beyond the Wall, or the mythology of the dragons. These two aren't even necessarily addressed on the first season, and yet, the show takes its time to build the story and not make it feel forced later. Also, there are so many great scenes in the show: Arya's "dancing" classes and the "crowning" of aspiring king Viserys Targaryen come to mind.

(Although I tried to refrain from spoilers, some might infer what happens at the end of the season from this next paragraph. If you want to go in the show with nothing spoiled, PLEASE, skip to the last line)

One of the most surprising things of the show is what happens on its last two episodes. I was warned by a friend not to read anything about the show before watching it, so I managed to avoid any spoilers. My advice to anyone who hasn't seen it is the same, because when "it" happens, your jaw will probably hit the floor, like mine did. Like the opening quote on the review says, either triumph or death lies in front of the characters, sometimes not in the most satisfying ways. Some of the events that happen might have that bitter taste, but like that other HBO show, The Wire, Game of Thrones manages to stay away from clichéd resolutions and crowd-pleasing confrontations. It just tells the story the way it is: with some people winning, and others dying. The event in question was such a powerful shock for me that on the upcoming episode I was still hoping that it would've been a dream, or something. Easily, one of the most unexpectedly shocking scenes I've seen.

(End of potential spoilers)

Looking forward to the second season, but I can easily give this first season an A+.

(TV pictures belong to HBO and its affiliates. Book cover belongs to Bantam Spectra)

domingo, 21 de octubre de 2012

The Town: Just Another Heist Film

(Although I tried to refrain from spoilers, the review might include some minor ones)

Ben Affleck has been on the spotlight during the last weeks, what with his new film - Argo - being released and getting good reviews. Ever since Affleck released his first directing effort (Gone Baby Gone), critics and audiences have been surprised by his skills behind the camera, as opposed to his talent (or lack of it) in front of it. And I agree. Gone Baby Gone was a well-acted, skillfully directed, thought-provoking drama. So, with all this Affleck talk revived, I decided to check his second film, The Town.

The Town is set in Charlestown, Massachussets, where a group of childhood friends use their free time to rob banks. The group is led by Doug MacCray (Affleck), a former hockey prospect whose father is in jail. The other member of the group is Doug's best friend, Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), a career criminal with a bit of a short temper. The other two members of the group barely get lines or screen-time. Their robberies are ordered by Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), a local crime lord who uses a flower shop as a front for his illegal business.

The film opens with one of their robberies at a bank, where Jem ends up taking the manager (Rebecca Hall) as hostage. As they wonder if they have any heat on them, Doug decides to follow the manager to make sure she doesn't lead the authorities to them. Eventually, he falls for her and decides to walk out on the life, but not before he is convinced to two additional jobs, the first one by Jem, and the second one by Fergie. All the while, FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) is on his tail.

Now, if you've gotten this far, you've probably noticed my main issue with the film. It borrows so much elements from other similar films that it ends up feeling formulaic, clichéd, and by-the-numbers. Most of the characters follow a template that we've seen on other films:
  • The noble criminal that wants out of the life,
  • His unstable, trigger-happy friend who forces him to stay,
  • The crime lord that is actually the man behind the crimes, and the actual "bad guy"
Even elements of its narrative and plot are borrowed from similar films: noble criminal falls for female mark, noble criminal has father in jail, the one big hit he has to do before he can walk out, and so on. 

That's not to say that the film is bad, but its lack of originality surely hinders its overall effect. On the good side, Affleck does show his directing skills. Most notably, the chase and action scenes are well handled and intense. Plus, he also handles the lead role quite well. Most of the cast delivers, although I'm not sure that Jeremy Renner's performance was Oscar-caliber (he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar). The film also features one of the last performances by the great Pete Postlethwaite. His performance, although brief, was pretty good.

So, all in all, the film is a decent effort, brought down by its own formula. I know it's based on a novel, but a bit of originality on its script wouldn't have hurt. Grade: I'm torn between a low B- or a high C+. I'll leave it at that.

(All pictures belong to Warner Bros. Pictures and its affiliates)

jueves, 18 de octubre de 2012

Seed: The Walking Dead Season 3 premiere

Last weekend, AMC premiered the third season of The Walking Dead. Coming on the heels of a troubled second season, there is much expectation on how the show can maintain its footing. For those unaware, last season, original developer and screenwriter Frank Darabont stepped down as showrunner in the middle of an alleged conflict with writers and producers. Although the show has continued to enjoy solid ratings, some critics and fans have criticized the pace and narrative of the second season. So season 3 is the time for Glen Mazzara, the new showrunner, to prove that whatever problems were a result of the past administration, and that he can handle the job.

The episode, titled "Seed", picks up several months after season two, with our band of zombie-fighters on the run, looking for food and shelter in every other place. The group is still led by noble-sheriff-turned-dictator Rick (Andrew Lincoln) who seems to be at odds with his pregnant wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) probably because there's no way to make a paternity test for the baby in the middle of the zombie infested country. As they look for a place to settle, they stumble upon a prison that seems like the perfect place to hole up for some time, give some rest to the group, and welcome Lori's baby. But first, they have to get rid of the zombies around and inside the facility.But after a seemingly "easy" cleanup of the prison courtyards, they stumble upon bunches of "walkers" inside the labyrinth-like corridors of the prison. Their attempt to escape leaves one of them without a limb, and the rest of the group looking at a group of residents that aren't precisely zombies.

There was also a brief moment with Andrea, who was saved on last season's finale by Michonne, a sword-wielding woman that carries two armless and jawless zombies in chains. There's not much to say about this, cause the scene was quite brief, but I've been having my reservations about this character since the finale. But I suppose it's too soon to speak, so I won't.

Let me begin my review, by saying that I didn't have as much of a problem with the past season as most people. Sure, it had some ups and downs, but overall, it was a pretty solid show with some excellent moments. That said, I have to say that I wasn't that impressed with this episode. I liked it, but if I were to compare the first episodes of all three seasons, this one would easily be the weakest. During the first half hour, the show features three different instances of our group blitzing groups of zombies (first at the house, then at the prison patio, and finally at the inner courtyard). IMO, all of them felt somewhat stale and repetitive. There was no tension at all. It just felt like formulaic, by-the-numbers hacking to get the characters from Point A to Point B.

As for the drama between the characters, I didn't care that much for the conflict between Rick and Lori. But I do think that Lori's moment at the cell, where he wonders what will be of her and her baby, was pretty good. I think the last act picked up the pace a bit, and that last walkout through the dark prison corridors was pretty good and tense. I thought that someone getting bit was a bit dumb, but it might be cool where this takes us. I, for one, would've been stabbing and hacking at all those corpses heads like a madman to avoid that. And speaking of hacking, that last scene had me cringing a bit, but it's cool to have gore. It's a zombie show! Finally, the revelation that they weren't alone comes as no surprise. I think it was pretty obvious that there would be somebody else inside.

So, like I said, not the best season premiere of the show, but it was still a decent episode. I do hope that things heat up as the season continues. Grade: B-

(All pictures belong to AMC and its affiliates)

domingo, 14 de octubre de 2012

Let the Right One In: Original or Remake? Original.

(Although I tried to refrain from spoilers, the review includes one for a main plotpoint)

With so many remakes nowadays, this is a common question in my mind. Which one should I see first? the original or the remake? It's tougher when the time span between them isn't much, and both films have received positive criticism. It happened to me earlier this year with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In that case, I decided to go with the remake because I'm a fan of Fincher. This time, I chose to let the original in first.

Let the Right One In is set in a Stockholm suburb, and follows the unlikely friendship formed between two teenagers: 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and umm, 14-year-old Eli? (Lina Leandersson) The former is a shy, introverted, kid who is being bullied at school. When Eli moves to the apartment next to him, they develop a strange but cute friendship. The only problem is that Eli is a vampire. 

Despite this premise, this film is nothing like a vampire film, which is probably its strongest point. Despite following the typical guidelines regarding vampires, the film behaves more like a drama/coming-of-age film with some thrills sprinkled around. As Oskar and Eli befriend each other, she encourages Oskar to stand up against his bullies. Meanwhile, she has to deal with her bloodthirst with the help of her father, Håkan (Per Ragnar).

Another strength of the film is the performance from the two teens. They have wonderful chemistry and their friendship feels true to the audience. Despite the circumstances, it is really an innocent and charming relationship between two teenagers facing the same problems (isolation, loneliness?). The rest of the cast is effective, led by Peter Carlberg. Carlberg plays Lacke, a local that has lost his best friend to Eli's thirst, and is looking for answers. The aforementioned Ragnar is also pretty good as Eli's guardian.

Also, most of the technical aspects of the film are top notch. The directing is solid, the cinematography is pretty great making the most of the snow-filled environment and dark settings.In the end, I can say that the film wasn't one to blow me away, but it was still a unique and charming take on the vampire genre. I enjoyed it a lot. Grade: B+

viernes, 5 de octubre de 2012

The Voice: Blind Auditions

Last weekend, The Voice finished its Blind Auditions with each coach completing a team of 16 artists. For the untrained eye/ear, The Voice is a singing competition whose most notable feature are its auditions, where singers of all ages and genres perform blindly to potential coaches Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, and Adam Levine. If a coach is interested enough in the voice, he/she will push their button turning their chair around to watch the artist. This is pretty notable, considering how much an artists "image" is taken in consideration by other singing competitions. So, after four weeks of auditioning lots of singers, each coach ended up choosing 16 artists they would coach and train en route to a finale.

Right off the bat, I can say that none of the artists has really blown me away so far. On the past two seasons, I can say that some singers left an impression from the first time I heard them. Jared Blake, Nakia, Javier Colon, Jamar Rogers, and Tony Vincent are some of the past contestants that I remember being great from the get-go. I haven't gotten that this season. Not sure if it's the fact that the talent bar has been raised so high that there is more consistency, and hence less peaks within the talent pool, but after watching more than 100 artists audition, I can barely remember a handful. I guess I'll have to watch some bits of the auditions again; I'll be right back.


Scottish singer Terry McDermott
Ok, I'm back. So, seriously now, one of the things that kinda irks me about the show is how inconsistent or random the criteria to push the button seems to be. Sometimes you will hear a perfectly good singer, and coaches will not push their buttons or wait until the last second to do it; but then another singer comes and sometimes before they even finish a verse, they'll all be pushing their buttons. This happened with the first two singers auditioned. Scottish rocker Terry McDermott did a perfect, clean-voiced rendition of "Baba O'Riley", and even though three coaches turned around, they waited until the last second to push their buttons. Then, right after him, Chicago singer De'borah went out to sing "Hey Soul Sister", and she hadn't even completed the first verse, and they had already pushed their buttons. In the end, her rendition was very weak. I thought she had pitch problems, and couldn't carry the flow of the lyrics effectively.

That one kinda stuck with me, because I think Terry had one of the best voices in all the auditions. Bryan Keith and Trevin Hunte were others that shined in that first episode. Bryan had a unique, cool rasp to his voice, and Trevin was just a powerhouse. Adriana Louise, Aquile, and Mackenzie Bourg were other solid singers from the first batch of auditions. On the other hand, Cee Lo picked returning singer Daniel Rosa, and I was left wondering why. His rendition of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" wasn't that great, and I really didn't see much difference in the singer from last year to this. Cee Lo also picked up Domo, and from her introduction I knew I would hate this girl. And damn, was I right. Her performance was weak, and her attitude made her the most annoying singer to audition this season.

Bryan Keith on The Voice
The second week opened with a solid performance from quirky singer, Melanie Martinez. Her rendition of "Toxic" was pretty cool, but her voice reminded me to much of Dia, from the first season. As a matter of fact, there have been so many singers trying to emulate that quirky, gasp-like, off-pitchy style that its getting tiresome at times. Brian Scartocci, Avery Wilson, and Nicholas David were others I liked. As for the not so great, Blake picked country singer Liz Davis, who I thought was pretty weak; and Christina picked duo Beat Frequency, who wasn't that impressive either. For what it's worth, the guy could sing, but most of the lyrics relied on his wife, and she wasn't very good.

The last two weeks were okay, but nothing that spectacular either. Bank teller Michelle Brooks, soul singer Brandon Mahone, and Caitlin Michelle were among the best from those auditions. I was also surprised by returning singer Dez Duron who, unlike Daniel Rosa, showed some great improvement from his audition on the second season to this one. Maybe it was also a matter of what song you choose. Last year he auditioned with a Backstreet Boys song; this year, he chose a Hall & Oates song.

So, like I said, nothing has actually blown me away so far. Lots of good singers, but I still haven't heard something that makes me go "Whoa!". Strongest team, IMO, is probably Adam's, and the weakest could be Blake's or Christina's. One thing that has piqued my interest is all the talk abut the "steals" in the show. We'll see when the battles begin this weekend.

(All pictures belong to NBC and its affiliates)

jueves, 4 de octubre de 2012

NCIS: Recovery

(This review includes some spoilers about the episode)

I really wasn't thinking on making an entry about this episode, but decided to give it a shot for several reasons. First, I'm a fan of the show, so it's unusual to have an unfavorable reaction to an episode. Second, with two previous glowing entries dedicated to NCIS, I thought that an entry that wasn't as warm would be fitting to counterbalance things.

So, first things first, the episode continues after the events of the last episodes, with everybody at the Navy Yard recovering from Harper Dearing's bombing. Recovery is something that seems to be on everybody's mind in the show, so the episode is aptly titled. From the get-go, you can see that everybody on the team is not "OK". Whether it's as obvious as Ducky's limp or Abby's nightmares, or as subtle as DiNozzo's "fake" smiles and jokes, Ziva's lost gaze, or Gibbs' lack of sleep. They even seem to be floating some sort of father/son conflict between McGee and his father that will probably surface at some point in the season.

So as the team tries to pick up the pieces, emotionally speaking, they must work the case of the murder of a co-worker that was killed during the aftermath of the bombing. In the meantime, they are required to complete mandatory psych evaluations with a crisis counselor (Steve Valentine).

First with the weekly case, I thought that the resolution of the crime was too convoluted and "pulled-by-the-hairs". All those bits with the Facility Manager that *somehow* had never appeared even though everybody knew her, and the fact that she ends up being involved in the crime was pretty weak. Second, I really wish they would give Ducky a break from the show. What I mean is, if they really want to instill in us the sense that Ducky isn't with the team anymore, then why not leave one or two episodes without him? His appearance in the crime scene, and later in the lab, felt shoe-horned and forced. Sure, it is on sync with what's happening and the overall theme of the episode, but it takes away the effect it might have on the audience to really "miss" him.

That said, I did like the bits with the shrink. At first I thought he felt too cliché, but as he talked with each character, I kinda liked the direction it went and that the character was a bit more dimensional than I felt he was at first. And finally, the reappearance of Abby's biological brother, Kyle, was cute, even if I wasn't crazy about it. I just think that the whole "recovery" thing with Abby didn't flow as naturally as it could. That said, the casting of Daniel Louis Rivas as Kyle was inspired. The guy is a dead ringer for Abby.

So, overall, I wasn't that crazy about the episode. It wasn't bottom-of-the-barrel bad, but it was fairly mediocre. Let's see if they pick up the pace next week. Grade: C

(All pictures belong to CBS and its affiliates)

miércoles, 3 de octubre de 2012

Chris Cornell: Euphora Morning

When someone mentions Chris Cornell, most people will think of Soundgarden and/or Audioslave. But the lead singer has also made his name as a solo artist. Two years after the break-up of Soundgarden in 1997, Cornell released his first solo effort titled Euphoria Morning. This album is one of several albums that were introduced to me by my wife. As a matter of fact, I could make a blog entry titled "Albums/artists that my wife introduced me to". The thing is that it has become one of the most pleasant albums for me to listen to.

For the most part, Euphoria Morning has an easygoing, lounge-like sound to it that makes it so relaxing for me to listen to. There's little to no crunch in the guitars, but instead some twang and laid-back riffs, accompanied by a smooth piano and simple drums. And most of the music feels as if you were sitting at a calm nightclub. As for the vocals, they flow so effortlessly from Cornell. His voice is as impeccable as usual, but with less rasp and more of a soulful vibe.

If I were to mention a favorite song, I tend to lean towards the slower ones. "When I'm Down", "Moonchild", "Sweet Euphoria", and "Preaching the End of the World" are probably my top songs. I would probably consider "Flutter Girl" the weakest song, even though it is not a bad song in itself. It's just not my favorite. In summary, the album is a pleasure to listen to and it's one of my most frequent listens. Grade: A

martes, 2 de octubre de 2012

The Smile: Homeland Season 2 premiere

(Although I tried to refrain from spoilers, the review might include some light ones.)

Homeland debuted its sophomore season last night with an episode titled simply "The Smile". The premiere takes place several months after the first season, which left Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) still alive, loose, and set for political stardom while Carrie Mathison's (Claire Danes) life was in shambles. Carrie had been unable to prove Brody's connection to terrorist Abu Nazir and, after a severe mental breakdown, was institutionalized and set for electroshock therapy. Brody, on the other hand, was persuaded from his terrorist attack against Vice-president Walden (Jamey Sheridan) by his daughter Dana, albeit unknowingly to her. After that, he persuaded his boss Abu Nazir that he could serve his purpose better with his political position.

Season 2 finds both Carrie and Brody in very different positions, but facing similar decisions. Brody is already serving as Congressman and is about to be selected as Walden's running mate for the next election, when he is approached by an ally of Abu Nazir to retrieve some classified information about potential targets in the US. Meanwhile, Carrie is recovering from her breakdown along her sister and father, while working as an English teacher when she is thrown into the loop again to contact one of her former assets in Lebanon that might have information about a future attack. Both characters are reluctant to accept their missions at first. Carrie still holds a grudge against the agency after the way she was treated upon her dismissal, while Brody doesn't want to be complicit in the death of innocent people. Still, both comply when they are presented with a chance to right some wrongs from the past. Brody has the chance to avenge Issa's death, while Carrie has the chance to redeem herself.

The episode was pretty good. It had some worthy moments. Nazir's request of Brody (to snatch a folder from a safe) seemed too simple for his reach, but perhaps it was a way to test him first. Plus, the scene where he does it is pretty tense. A scene I really liked was the one at Dana's school, mostly because I know that a lot of people have the same closed-minded point of view of Dana's schoolmates. The generalizations, the broad blanket statements, talking without really knowing or understanding anything; that's the kind of things that lead to the problems that our society has right now. I also liked her final scene with Brody, and I can already see where this is leading with her. We'll see.

As for Carrie, I liked how we see the anger eating at her once her past colleagues start contacting her. And from the first time Galvez contacts her at her new job, you see that sort of crazy anger in her eyes that we saw in the last episode of the first season. She seems to accept what the CIA asks of her, reluctantly. When she is about to meet her mentor, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), she is chased by a Lebanese policeman. In trying to lose him, she runs through the streets and alleys, and her smile, the one that lends the episode its title, tells so much. In a way, it's the smile that shows how much she wanted this again, but it's also the kind of psychotic smile that reminds us of the Carrie we last saw in the first season. Regarding the performance, it's stellar work. Claire Danes continues the great work she began in last season. I have to admit, I never thought this girl had it in her.

So, to sum it all up, the episode was a pretty good premiere with some great acting and a nice set-up for the season. All of the cast was in top shape, and I can't wait to see what's next. Grade: A-

(All pictures belong to Showtime and its affiliates)