The House


Heroes

Heroes is now a quarter of the way into its second season, but its sixth episode "The Line" is evident of the lack of progress the show has made since returning in September. The vast (and ever-expanding) ensemble remains scattered to the winds, their various plots lumbering sluggishly towards recycled conclusions. The cliffhanger at the end of "The Line" finally hints at a possible unifying save-the-world arc for the show to rally around—just the thing Heroes needs to regain its zeitgeist credibility. The problem is, the cliffhanger is a lame rip-off of the show's own material, which just serves to hit home how this season has been a rather pale imitation of the first.

After all, the first season at least had the element of surprise. There were plenty of shocks, most of them character-related, for the writers to reveal. Nathan can fly! Peter absorbs powers! Sylar steals powers! And so on. By now, that's obviously no longer an option, so we're treated to far more ordinary plot developments, like Peter's amnesia, Claire's suspicious boyfriend, Parkman's father being evil. Even worse, some of the new characters demonstrate powers we've already seen before—Kensei can regenerate like Claire, West can fly like Nathan, and Monica's 'muscle memory' bears similarity to the quick learning skills of last year's recurring character Charlie (Jayma Mays). I'm not ready to give up on Heroes, partly because I think it's eventually going to pick up speed out of sheer necessity. Nonetheless "The Line" (written by Adam Armus and Kay Foster and directed by Jeannot Szwarc) is another meandering, at times frustratingly dull hour, redeemed only by a similar theme running through all of this week's stories.

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TAGS: adam armus, Dana Davis, Dania Ramirez, David Anders, Hayden Panettiere, heroes, isaac mendez, jack coleman, Jayma Mays, jeannot szwarc, Jimmy Jean-Louis, kay foster, Masi Oka, milo ventimiglia, nicholas d'agosto, recap, Sendhil Ramamurthy, shalim ortiz, stephen tobolowsky, the line, tim kring, zachary quinto


Gustav Mahler Although I've long outgrown the typical trick-or-treating and extravagant costume-wearing of Halloween, my, uh, adult-ness doesn't stop me from getting somewhat into the spirit of things by firing up a CD player—or, in more 21st-century terms, an iPod—and spinning a scary piece of music on October 31. But this Halloween, you won't be hearing old Halloween standbys like Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" or Camille Saint-Saëns's "Danse macabre"—or, heck, maybe even Michael Jackson's "Thriller," most likely with the music video—emanating from my speakers. Instead...you'll be hearing Gustav Mahler's unsettling Sixth Symphony blasting away.

What? you may be asking. A symphony—especially one that runs nearly 90 minutes long? And why Mahler? He may have been a neurotic, he may even have been plain crazy musically, but his music isn't necessarily what is considered scary or frightening in a traditional sense. Well, depends on what you consider scary: a programmatic depiction of a magic trick gone awry—as Paul Dukas's popularized-by-Fantasia tone poem "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is—or an abstract evocation of a tragic fall from grace, as Mahler's Sixth is? One might shock and dazzle in the moment, but the latter might just keep you up at nights pondering its bleak, dark depths amidst its severe military marches, its despairing major/minor motifs, and its overwhelming sense of pessimism ultimately untouched by its episodes of dreamlike serenity and repose. Did I mention that this amazing piece was written during what outwardly seemed like one of the happiest times in Mahler's life?

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TAGS: camille saint-saëns, gustav mahler, johann sebastian bach, michael jackson, sixth symphony, thriller


Torchwood

"They Keep Killing Suzie" is the kind of episode that Torchwood does well: an exploration of the human character, unfolding in unexpected ways in a unique context. It could be seen as a return to form, if Torchwood had established one yet. There are no aliens in this week's episode, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any monsters; whether they are monsters by nature or nurture is the question of the day.

When the team arrives to investigate a series of gruesome murders, they're met by a Detective Swanson (Yasmin Bannerman) with a chip on her shoulder so big it's spoiling her attractive features. She and her staff have no patience for Torchwood with their "special ops" mystique, and from her attitude we glean that Torchwood isn't as secret an organization as we've been led to believe. This may be another manifestation of a poorly managed first season, but a good bit of the character interactions hang on this point; if Swanson's entire staff is aware enough of Torchwood to detest them, our team has been doing a poor job of keeping a low profile.

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TAGS: Burn Gorman, daniel llewelyn-williams, gary pillai, Indira Varma, naoko mori, recap, they keep killing suzie, torchwood, yasmin bannerman


Friday Night Lights

A better title for "Backfire" might have been "Blowback" or "Fallout", as the episode has more to do with the consequences of plans not working out, as opposed to the actual failure—and even then, not all of the plans collapse and not all of the consequences are negative. While not one of FNL's strongest-ever episodes, it still had a lot of what made me and others fall in love with the series and shows that while some unpopular storylines are still in play, the writers nonetheless have a firm hand on the rudder and know where they're going.

It's rare to see a Panther game at the top of an episode, and perhaps rarer still for one to take up so little screen time. It's also rare to see the team get its asses completely nailed to the wall, though it did happen once or twice last season. Matt Saracen—the center of the show for many viewers—didn't get a lot of screen time this week, but his on-the-field frustration with Smash, and with Coach MacGregor's tactics, was pure Matt. What we've seen of Jason Street's coaching technique has me convinced the Panthers wouldn't have won State if he'd gone injured—he's good at motivating a team and being a leader, but he simply doesn't have the strategic grasp of the game that Matt does. Matt's insight into the mechanics of football has done a lot to compensate for his relatively scrawny body and lack of experience, and one would think that letting him serve as field commander while making Smash the sparkplug would be an obvious winning strategy. It's an obvious winning strategy that MacGregor ignores, out of willfulness or lack of vision, and that ignorance soon costs him his job.

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TAGS: backfire, friday night lights, recap


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TAGS: james seitz


Heroes

After a brief resurgence in energy and fun last week, Heroes' second season takes a real dive with its fifth episode "Fight or Flight". It is definitely one of the worst episodes the series has produced in its young life, but not because any of the material is particularly shockingly bad. It is just lazy and sluggish, lacking any sense of forward momentum and weighed down with plodding, expositional dialogue.

Consider the fifth episode of the first season, "Hiros," which featured a conversation between Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) and a future version of Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), a confident warrior who seemed to know Peter well and knew the trials they would face together. This twist suggested quite an exciting future for the show's characters, where they were hardened warriors who fought alongside each other in full mastery of their powers. Yet currently, Peter is an amnesiac, dilly-dallying in Ireland rather than do-gooding in New York (easily the best real-life superhero location in comics lore), and Hiro is stuck in an increasingly boring feudal Japan trying to woo a beautiful princess. There are smatterings of intrigue, some domestic drama and a couple of fledgling romances, but for a show called Heroes, there's really not a lot of heroism going down at the moment.

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TAGS: Adrian Pasdar, alan blumenfeld, Ali Larter, Dana Davis, David Anders, fight or flight, Greg Grunberg, heroes, jack coleman, James Kyson Lee, katie carr, Kristen Bell, Masi Oka, milo ventimiglia, noah grey-cabey, recap, Sendhil Ramamurthy


Mala Noche"I wanna show him that I'm gay for him," Walt (Tim Streeter) says early on in Mala Noche. He's in love with a fresh-off-the-train Mexican named Johnny (Doug Cooeyate), but of course that isn't true. In writer/director Gus Van Sant's world, love is a sad, funny whimper, spoken for affect, as when River Phoenix huddles next to Keanu Reeves in My Own Private Idaho, trying to express feeling in a hustler's cold language: "I really wanna kiss you, man." Real love is never satisfied, and sex is always painful, which is Van Sant's tragic-poetic view of gay culture condensed into an image, from the two disillusioned youths soaping each other up in Elephant to the anxious physical encounter between two friends lost in the desert in Gerry. You can't find love until you find home, and none of Van Sant's characters can even find themselves.

Armond White recently wrote that Mala Noche "unabashedly romanticizes Walt's gay attraction to Johnny." To be sure, it's Van Sant's most picturesque work: Shot in stark black and white, the movie plays like a reverie to Walt's white, privileged lust. A simmering pot of water and the dewy surfaces of Portland become wistful metaphors for Walt's unrequited crush. His daydreaming voiceover is echoed in the textures of city life, a la Woody Allen's Manhattan, but while, almost 30 years later, Allen's best film still feels like a pretty paean to his own ego, Mala Noche packs intellectual honesty. Van Sant understands how Walt's presumptuous come-ons—offering Johnny $15 for a night's fuck—are wound up in the destructiveness of the gay underclass, and so his story moves with the cyclical motions of a bad night (mala noche) or, more appropriately, a bad dream.

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TAGS: annie proulx, armond white, brokeback mountain, doug cooeyate, elephant, gerry, gus van sant, hellbent, keanu reeves, mala noche, manhattan, my own private idaho, mysterious skin, the criterion collection, tim streeter, woody allen


Friday Night Lights

The divisive Landry-Tyra plotline recedes into the background for a week as the Panthers take to the gridiron at last for their first game of the 2007 season. The long run-up to said game retroactively draws attention to how there's undeniably been some spinning of wheels in the first two episodes of FNL's second season, and tonight's episode continues the trend. I really loved "Last Days of Summer", and I think that anyone who considers "Bad Ideas" a shark jumper is being premature, but this week's episode—by no means a bad one—makes it hard to deny that the writers are still in housekeeping mode as they continue dealing with the consequences of having had to make sure that last season's "State" could have served, if necessary, as a series finale as well as a season-ender.

Sending Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) to the new job in Austin was a good move from a character development POV in terms of how it gives us a really solid look at why he's a great high school football coach rather than a great football coach, period—he excels at a kind of mentorship that doesn't work in the more corporate world of college ball. But while I really liked his scenes with Antwone last week (as well as his reluctance this week at being forced to cut an underperforming player), his separation from the Panthers and Tami (Connie Britton) has gone on a bit long. I'm sure these early S2 episodes will flow more smoothly when DVDs of the whole second season are out there, and the Matt-Smash tension (more about that below) offers a couple of ways for the writers to unseat Coach McGregor without too much difficulty. But the juxtaposition of Coach's plot with the rest of the current story lines makes it seem pretty transparent that the writers are spending a lot of time moving around furniture.

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TAGS: Aimee Teegarden, are you ready for friday night, brad leland, friday night lights, kyle chandler, recap, Scott Porter, taylor kitsch


Torchwood

This week's cautionary tale falls short in spite of its interesting themes and compelling execution. The failure lies in the decision to reduce Toshiko (Naoko Mori) to a lonely, vulnerable mess, unhinging the entire process. Portraying Owen (Burn Gorman) and Gwen (Eve Myles) as idiotic horny teenagers doesn't help. Fortunately Jack (John Barrowman) remains true to his save-the-day character, while Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd), reverting to his previous status of inscrutable cipher, evokes a three-word response: Seek professional help.

We open on a balmy evening in Cardiff, 1812, as a pretty young woman (Daniela Denby-Ashe) leads an even prettier, younger redcoat through the woods to a clearing, chattering away the whole time. For a prostitute, she's excruciatingly oblivious to her client's attitude; his irritation with her is rapidly overcoming his arousal. "My name's Mary, like the Virgin," she smirks, in what she imagines is wit; when the young officer doesn't respond, she asks if he's religious. Something snaps in the young man, and he smacks her; she displays a glimmer of intelligence, or at least a self-preservation instinct, and informs him acidly, "I'm not one of your hounds," and rakes her nails across her face.

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TAGS: Burn Gorman, daniela denby-ashe, greeks bearing gifts, naoko mori, recap, tim kring, toby whithouse, torchwood


Control

Watching Anton Corbijn's sumptuously shot Control, the wisdom of Werner Herzog filled my head. Responding to charges that he took far too many liberties with real-life events in Rescue Dawn, Herzog responded that "if you're purely after facts, please buy yourself the phone directory of Manhattan. It has four million times correct facts. But it doesn't illuminate."

And this is the problem with Corbijn's film version of the life of Joy Division's doomed front man Ian Curtis, based on the book Touching from a Distance by his widow Deborah. On the surface, Corbijn seems the perfect choice to direct the material. After all, he was there—the photographer on the scene during Manchester's musical heyday, shooting Joy Division and other bands in the same signature style he'd later apply to music videos for Depeche Mode and U2 among others. But it turns out that this insider knowledge is actually Corbijn's Achilles heel. He's too close to his subject, so concerned with taking Ian Curtis down from the cross of rock martyrdom and returning him to everyman's land that he's unwilling to diverge from the absolute facts. Corbijn has given us a stark, tactile black-and-white phone book, his gorgeous near-noir lighting casting sharp shadows in lieu of illumination.

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TAGS: Anton Corbijn, control, ian curtis, joy division, touching from a distance







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