Babylon 5: The Last, Best Hope

“It was the dawn of the third age of mankind”– Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, opening monologue during the first season opening credits of Babylon 5

b5 creewWhat made Babylon 5 so great was its epic scope. It had a long-running storyline with conflicted characters and bizarre aliens who weren’t just actors with bumps on their faces. Unlike many sci-fi TV shows before it, Babylon 5 genuinely set out to present a mature story with engaging characters and it succeeded. When conceiving the show, Starczynski wanted to do a grand, epic sci-fi show and was inspired by Dune, The Lord Of The Rings and the Lensmen and Foundation series. Also emulating TV shows like Hill Street Blues, he wanted Babylon 5 to be taken seriously without robots or kids running around. Instead complex storylines were the order of the day; events had consequences in later episodes. Characters, even the heroic ones, were deeply flawed and suffered from addiction, greed, insecurities and other foibles. The show didn’t present some kind of utopian future, yet it wasn’t a moody, post-apocalyptic saga. At the end, the show was about hope and striving for a better tomorrow, which was best seen in its fourth season finale “The Deconstruction Of Falling Stars” and its final episode “Sleeping In Light”.

Evolving Situations & Complex Characters

Babylon 5 takes place in the mid 23 century on Babylon 5, a space station. It served as neutral ground for various space powers to work out their differences peacefully and as a port-of-call. At first, the station functioned as a futuristic U.N. and in the opening credit’s narration in the early seasons it was called the “last peace hope for peace.” But by the third season, intergalactic war was raging and the station then changed into the “last best hope for victory.” As can be inferred by the change in narration, Babylon 5 was very dynamic. Events, political situations and people were always in flux. It wasn’t static like many TV shows and careful viewers had to keep up with what was happening in the show.

Follow this example. There were five super space powers that had representatives on board the station; the Minbari Federation, the Earth Alliance, the Narn Regime, the Vorlon Empire and the Centauri Republic. The latter one was once a major, imperial power in the known galaxy. The B5 representative was Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), who was characterized by his outlandish hair that b5 aliensstood up in the back like peacock feathers and his boisterous personality. He came off at first as a bickering buffoon, who liked to verbally spar with his rival G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas). Now G’Kar represented the Narn, which was once ruled by the Centauri. He liked to antagonize Londo about the supposed superiority of the Narn and the fact that the Centauri were a declining power. It was very clear that Londo wished for his people to become a great power again.

Early in the show’s run, he met a mysterious person, Morden (Ed Wasser) who offered him a Faustian deal to return the Centauri to greatness. Afterwards, the Narn and Centauri went to war and the Narn were being defeated by an unknown power aiding the Centauri. At first, Londo was ecstatic over the supposed Centauri victories, but over time he learned that his people were aligned with the evil Shadows, an ancient power that returned to the known galaxy to conquer everyone. Londo came to realize the true cost of his deal, which was his soul and his people’s subjugation. So during the course of the show, Londo underwent a wide personality shift. Once seen as comedic relief, Londo assumed an adversarial role until consumed by guilt, he earned a measure of redemption when he finally turned against the Shadows and helped G’Kar and his people.

That was just one story arc. There were many other intricate plot lines that involved not just the show’s leads but supporting characters as well. sinclairPeople would suddenly die or leave the station, even the main character. In its first season, the lead was Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael  O’Hare), who was a calm, stoic leader, but was quietly suffering from his ordeals during a previous war. The show’s producers shocked fans after the first season when they announced that O’Hare wouldn’t be returning to the show. He was replaced by Bruce Boxleitner as Captain John Sheridan, a self-assured and brash commander who echoed James T. Kirk. It all may have been daunting for the average viewer who just tuned in for an episode or two, but in the end it was largely rewarding for a dedicated watcher. Continue reading

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Let’s Recast The Fantastic Four The Right Way

ff21It looks like 20th Century Fox is going ahead with their reboot of the Fantastic Four, and many fans are already up in arms over that development. They fear the reboot will be as bad as previous attempts and the negative reaction is so intense that many are hoping it stays in development hell rather than being filmed.

What is so troubling for them and myself included are the casting choices being mentioned in the trade papers. While Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch is an intriguing, though out-of-left-field possibility, some like Miles Teller as Mr. Fantastic just left me wondering what the hell is going on with the casting director. Has anyone looked tellerat this actor? He looks like a dweeb! I’m sorry but nothing about Teller gives the impression that he is a gifted scientist type. And given how young he is, it’s pretty clear that the filmmakers are going to emulate the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic book, which if you ask me wasn’t good at all. The comic book isn’t even being published anymore! Making the superhero team a bunch of child prodigies was a mistake and took out vital parts of what makes the team so fun. See, they’re a family unit, with Reed Richards as the father figure, Ben Grimm as the grumpy but lovable uncle, Sue Storm as the mother figure and her brother Johnny being the impulsive kid in the bunch.

But that doesn’t seem to be the way that Fox is going. Getting a bunch of young actors for these roles is more important to them since they want the movie to appeal to the teenagers. The problem is that the kind of teenagers they’re trying to attract don’t care about the Fantastic Four and probably wouldn’t see the reboot anyway. Then many of the teenagers that do care about the FF will probably be so turned off by the radical changes that they will boycott the film.

Let’s pretend that we’re actually in charge of casting the Fantastic Four reboot. Forget about trying to get the popular young actor and let’s try to stay faithful to the comics. After all, the Fantastic Four put Marvel Comics on the map with their novel approach to super heroics. Now I know that the following choices won’t even be considered, but they’re who I would pick for a new Fantastic Four film.

hammReed Richards/Mr. Fantastic: Going with a twentysomething is the wrong approach to Marvel’s premier scientist. Reed is the 21st century equivalent of an Einstein and he should look the part. As the leader of the Fantastic Four, Mr. Fantastic should be portrayed by a more mature yet fit actor. There are many excellent choices out there for the role and even Ioan Gruffudd did a decent job as Mr. Fantastic. For the reboot Jon Hamm would be fabulous (pun intended) as Reed Richards. He’s the right age for the part (Reed is roughly in his early forties), looks intelligent and emotes a grounded and mature quality needed for the leadership role. Other choices: Casey Affleck; Misha Collins

Sue Storm/Invisible Woman: Jessica Alba, the previous actress to portray Richards’ fiancé then wife rankled many alice evefans who didn’t think she was right for the part. Putting aside her ethnicity, Alba lacked that motherly/big sister/peacekeeper quality needed for the role, but she wasn’t the worst casting choice–more on that later. Now hands down, Alice Eve, most recently seen on Star Trek Into Darkness is a perfect pick for Sue Storm. She looks the part and has the acting chops to pull off the role easily. Eve can do the more brainy and modern interpretation of Storm seen in the comics and can be a tough lady when needed. Other choices: Evan Rachel Wood; Blake Lively Continue reading

Almost Human Rises Above Its Formula

almost human1When describing Fox’s new TV show Almost Human as cop buddy show with sci-fi trappings, it can cause eyes to roll. It sounds like your typical formulaic cop buddy show with a supposedly clever twist; this time one of the cops is an android. But that has been done before. Case in mind, there’s that moronic comedy Holmes & Yo-Yo with John Schuck as the bumbling android turned detective.

Almost Human, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. Of course, in the end it’s just another cop show in this TV wasteland littered with cop shows, and it does have elements of the too-common procedural motif. However, Almost Human is very inventive, the scripts are well written and most episodes are quite entertaining with a gritty and realistic tone. It’s never dull or routine and that is because the producers (including show creator J.H. Wyman and  executive producer J.J. Abrams) run with the concept.

In the 2040s, crime is getting way out of control. almost human forensicsCriminals are using more and more high tech to commit crimes. For example, in one episode criminals wore devices around their necks that blotted out their faces on TV cameras so they couldn’t be identified. In another one, this murderer used clones of himself to carry out his work. To combat this, the police force in an unnamed city use androids to supplement their numbers. In the pilot episode, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) was severely injured and lost a leg. After returning to work with a new bionic leg, he is forced by his commander (nicely played by Lily Taylor) to partner up with a standard android cop. But Kennex has an aversion to working with the emotionless automaton and decides to reactivate an older android model from a discontinued DRN series to help him on a case. Nicknamed Dorian (Michael Ealy), the android sports software that allows him to emulate emotions and as a result has a personality.

almost human drnAfter they solve the case in the pilot, Kennex decides to keep Dorian as a partner, even though he finds the android irritating. Naturally as par for the course with these cop shows, Kennex softens his attitude towards Dorian. So the two of them cruise the dangerous streets of their city, solve crimes and get into heated debates about lots of topics. Those range from Kennex’s personal life (or lack of), crime solving techniques, the nature of humanity and whether or not Dorian is actually sentient.

It sounds very been-there-done-that, but as mentioned before, the stories and presentation elevate the show far beyond a standard cop show. This doesn’t mean Almost Human is perfect. Sometimes ethical and legal questions aren’t fully addressed. In one episode, it’s shown that witnesses to a murder trial can just give a testimony via holograms. Things get complicated when they are attacked at a safe house. The episode didn’t dwell on the issue of them being more endangered by being in the safe house rather than going to the courthouse. In another episode, Dorian meets another model from his line who is now used as a janitor. Dorian decides to bring him on a ride along with his partner, but nothing much comes of it, the other model doesn’t add anything to the story, nor does he do anything of importance. Another drawback is the way Kennex is written. Sometimes it’s like every bitter, loner cop cliché is used to define him, but what saves the day is Urban’s acting prowess.

In addition to the imaginative scripts, what makes Almost Human stand out are the acting from the major players like Urban. Ealy does a nice job of portraying the android Dorian and adds a balanced level of humanity to his role. The production values are cityscapeexcellent, the show gives the impression that it’s in the future with new technology like small drones that patrol the skies and holographic alarm clocks. It all looks real and the show almost looks as good as what is usually seen in theatrical films. The only gnawing thing is that the cell phones are hardly different from what we have today. The producers probably hit a brick wall in trying to extrapolate on communication technology. The crimes in the show more importantly seem futuristic; illegal activities range from cloning to farming kidnapped women for their skin (to be used on sex androids) and to extorting victims with illegal artificial organs that have timers.

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In a littered TV landscape of mediocre cop and procedural shows, Almost Human stands out brightly. While it still has room to grow, it strikes a good balance between cop-buddy banter, interesting cases and a well-paced tone. The show also embraces its sci-fi trappings that add some needed oomph and enjoyment.

Waldermann Rivera

Spidey’s Back!

Spidey!In a move that really wasn’t all that surprising to us, Marvel Comics announced that Peter Parker will once again be Spider-Man this spring. The New York Daily News broke the story earlier today in a feature that included an interview with Spider-Man writer Dan Slott.

For anyone who doesn’t follow the latest happenings in the Marvel Comics universe, Peter Parker’s consciousness was removed from his body by his long-time foe Doctor Octopus in a mind swap. Doctor Octopus was dying and did the switch in order to survive. This all culminated in late 2012 with the final issue of the long-running title The Amazing Spider-Man, which was number 700. The title was replaced by The Superior Spider-Man, which featured Doctor Octopus masquerading as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his darker, meaner take of the superhero divided fans. Many decried the fact that their beloved nerd, Parker, was dumped in order to give new blood to the Spider-Man comic books. But a vocal number of readers came to like the new Spider-Man who wasn’t so noble or honorable. This divide will probably continue for the rest of the character’s history.

Still, fans who disliked the new ASm2Spider-Man are breathing a sigh of relief at the news, which isn’t truly surprising. Think about it, a big-budget movie is coming out in a few short months (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and it wouldn’t do to have a disconnect between the comic book and movie versions of Spider-Man. The idea of explaining to non-fans that the Peter Parker in the comic books isn’t really him, but the one in the movies is the real deal, can leave anyone confused. This is Marvel’s most famous and beloved superhero, after all. In the long run, that character change couldn’t be permanent. It’s all part of branding and marketing efforts to increase buzz and comic book sales. It worked in the past with so many other superheroes –Superman, Batman and Captain America have had similar storylines where they were replaced. But these marketing gimmicks, while they do work, create negativity and cynicism about the company, since the average reader knew that despite Marvel’s insistence in 2012 that Peter Parker was dying off, that things would go back to the status quo.

This doesn’t mean that The Superior Spider-Man was a flawed effort, it did have its merits and presented a fresh take on Marvel’s flagship superhero. But it is a bit of a relief that the happy-go-lucky Peter Parker is back in a new launch of The Amazing Spider-Man. If only it didn’t have to be relaunched as an issue number 1, but that’s the marketing department for you.

Lewis T. Grove

Ten Films To Look For In 2014

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Even though next year promises to be a mega-tsunami in terms of mind-blowing cinematic genre releases, this year won’t be a slouch. Superheroes, sequels and some original productions all look promising. These are are some of the most anticipated releases for 2014. Of course, some of them may wind up being major disappointments, while other films that weren’t even listed may turn out to be some of this year’s best. We’ll see…

10. Robocop

robocop 2

Yes, many genre fans are ripping this remake of the 1987 classic a new one. They point out the production problems and hate the monochromatic look of the redesigned Robocop suit. But in the end, at least from the trailers, it looks pretty badass. A lot will depend on if director José Padilha can deliver the action and somehow repeat the dark humor from the original and maybe add some humanity. (Release Date: Feb. 12)

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chris Evans reprises his role as Marvel’s capamman out of time, Steve Rogers/Captain America. This sequel takes a decidedly different slant than its World War II-based predecessor. Now set in modern times, the film takes on more of a spy thriller vibe as Steve struggles to adjust to the new world and is embroiled in a plot that involves the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. and his old partner, the deadly Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). (Release Date April 4)

8. The Hobbit: There And Back Again

Unless Peter Jackson plans on directing The Silmarillion, this is his final Middle Earth installment. Even for those that aren’t fans of Jackson’s interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, this final film in The Hobbit trilogy is an event to celebrate. Now once and for all, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf comrades have their final confrontations with the evil orcs and the dragon Smaug. (Release Date: Dec. 17).

7. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

First of all, the trailer for the newest Spider-Man flick looks amazing (pardon the pun) with all the spectacular (ahem) action scenes involving our favorite Wall-Crawler (Andrew Garfield) fighting Electro (Jamie Foxx). However, can this movie avoid the curse of other superhero sequels that have too many supervillains? Along with Electro, there’s a mechanized version of the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) and the most intriguing villain of the bunch: a rebooted Green Goblin (either Chris Cooper or Dane DeHaan). (Release Date: May 2)

6. Interstellar

interSteven Spielberg was supposed to direct this movie about scientists and explorers sent on a mission to study a newly discovered wormhole. However, he let it slip through his hands and now acclaimed director Christopher Nolan has taken over. The teaser trailer released last month perfectly captured that feeling of humanity desiring a new challenge and to push past our limitations of space travel. Given Nolan’s track record for thought-provoking and titillating fare, Interstellar should be one of the year’s best films. (Release Date: Nov. 7)

5. Guardians Of The Galaxy  

This superhero/space opera mash up from Marvel Studios is one of the most anticipated upcoming releases. From the casting (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord) to the fact that the studio and director James Gunn had the gumption to include Rocket Raccoon and Groot, a talking tree, in this film, Guardians Of The Galaxy has to be seen. It can be the next big sci-fi hit or the new Howard The Duck. Hopefully it won’t suffer the fate of other misunderstood films that failed recently in the box office like John Carter and Pacific Rim. (Release Date: Aug. 1)

4. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

The 2011 reboot/prequel Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was an unexpected surprise hit with audiences and critics. Prior to its release, few predicted that it would reinvigorate the Planet Of The Apes franchise. This sequel takes place eight years after the 2011 film after a plague has decimated humanity and given genetically enhanced apes a chance to take over the world. Humanity’s remnants led by Gary Oldman head into a fateful confrontation with their competitors, who are led by the now-embittered chimp leader Caesar (Andy Serkis). (Release Date: July 11)

3. Godzilla

Our favorite kaiju finally gets the top treatment godzillathat he deserves from Hollywood! Forget that bastardization that came out in ’98 with that wimpy reptile and that geeky Ferris Bueller dude! After all these years, director Gareth Edwards and the producers have promised this take will be the Godzilla film that we’ve been waiting for; where the behemoth is an indestructible force of nature and is treated as one. Toss in Bryan Cranston, one of the best actors around, scenes of chaos and destruction, and this has the potential to be a bonafide classic. (Release Date: May 16)

2.Transcendence

First-time director Wally Pfister, who worked as a cinematographer for Christopher Nolan’s films presents this cautionary film that capitalizes on our fears of A.I.s.  Johnny Depp stars as a scientist trying to create a true A.I. but is mortally wounded by an anti-tech group. Before dying, his consciousness is uploaded into a computer and the world’s first A.I. is born. There is a chilling aspect in the trailer released for Transcendence as the A.I. begins to take over the world. Think of it as an updated version of Colossus: The Forbin Project but with the A.I. being able to control matter itself. In a film calendar flooded with sequels and reboots this original work stands out. (Release Date: April 8)

1. X-Men: Days Of Future Past

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Finally, a big-screen adaptation of one of the greatest comic book stories ever done. In a post-apocalyptic future, mutants face extinction at the hands of out-of-control Sentinel robots. In desperation, one mutant time travels to the past to prevent the mutant holocaust. Director Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men film franchise in this followup to X-Men: First Class. The key cast members from that film (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence), plus those from Singer’s era of X-Men films (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman) return in an all-star lineup. Bryan Singer and company are promising a major epic, and from what has been seen, it looks like Singer will deliver a high-quality superhero film that could be one of the best ones yet. (Release Date: May 23)

Bear in mind that the release dates are subject to change, even to the point of a film or two being pushed back a year. Other highly anticipated films include Big Hero 6 (Disney Studios presents its first animated film based on Marvel Comics superheroes),  edgeEdge Of Tomorrow (Tom Cruise stars as an inexperienced soldier who repeatedly dies fighting aliens and is continuously resurrected into his past with more combat knowledge each time), The Giver (A teenager in a future perfect society finds out that to achieve perfection his world gave up on humanity), Home (Dreamworks Animation effort about a girl who befriends a misfit alien that is part of an Earth invasion force), How To Train Your Dragon 2 (One of Dreamworks Animation’s best films about a boy and his pet dragon gets the sequel treatment), The Hunger Games: Mockinjay, Part 1 (the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy is getting the Harry Potter and Twilight treatment and is being cut into two parts), I, Frankenstein (delayed from last year, it stars Aaron Eckhart as the title character in modern times fighting for humanity), Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis attempt another comeback with this sci-fi action piece starring Mila Kunis), and Welcome To Yesterday (a found-footage film about young adults discovering time travel and its disastrous consequences).

José Soto