Monday, November 24, 2008

24: Redemption

It’s been a year and a half since we’ve seen Jack Bauer, and it’s been like four years in the TV universe of 24. A lot has happened since the last time we saw Jack. For one thing, America took its cue from David Palmer and elected a real African American president. Let’s just hope Mrs. Obama is nothing like Sherry Palmer.

This two hour movie was called 24: Redemption, but it could have easily been called Jack Hawk Down. It was essentially the first two hours of the next season of 24.

Tonight’s episode takes us to the troubled African nation of Sangala. Now don’t give Sarah Palin a hard time if she doesn’t know where that is, it’s fictional. It’s 3pm in Africa and we find Jack at a school run by his old pal Carl Benton. Jack’s spent that last year ducking a subpoena form the US government, and a guy named Frank Trammell arrives to serve it. Naturally, Jack tells him to shove it. He’s not going back. (Not that much has changed in a year and a half.)

The real trouble starts when a few of the kids head into town to play soccer without permission. Unfortunately, General Juma, a local rebel leader, is abducting and brainwashing children for his army. We first meet his right hand man, Col. Dubaka, who instructs a brainwashed child to behead a man with a machete while chanting “Kill the Cock-a-roach.” When the kids from the school are abducted, Carl gets word back to Jack and directs him to a secret box where Jack finds guns and ammo for his African Jack Sack, as well as some explosives. Jack quickly finds himself fighting off a band of rebels as the remaining kids hide in a space under the schoolhouse.

Jack picks off a whole bunch of bad guys before they finally subdue him in the brush. We’re not even 30 minutes into the first hour and Jack is being strung up and tortured. Col. Dubaka’s brother is the team leader and he gives Jack a terrible case of razor burn when he scorches his face with a red hot machete. Luckily, Carl has snuck up to the school and signals to Jack and before you can say “Dammit Chloe”, the bad guys are dead and Jack has killed Col. Dubaka’s brother with his legs. Now Jack and Carl have to get the kids to the American embassy within the hour to catch the last chopper out of the country. A coup is eminent and the US is withdrawing.

There were very few other regular characters in tonight’s special two hour movie. No CTU, no Chloe. President Noah Daniels is the most prominent recurring character. We find out that today is also the inauguration of Allison Taylor, the first female president in the 24 world. Daniels refuses to send troops to aid Sangala, even though Taylor thinks it’s a good idea. Taylor wonders if Daniels has a hidden agenda and puts her people on it.

We also meet Chris, a broker who works for a company that has ties to Sangala and a mysterious government official named Hodges. Hodges is played by Jon Voight, and we all know he’s dangerous. This is the same guy who bit Kramer on Seinfeld.

Chris is ordered by his boss to destroy some files, but instead, Chris sends them to his home computer. Chris then calls his buddy Roger, who happens to be the son of the President Elect. Chris also works with his girlfriend. Soon enough some goons show up, torture and kill Chris. Hodges then puts his sights on Roger, afraid that Roger may know too much. Things are now all set up for the next season.

Back in Africa, we meet General Juma. He’s played by Tony Todd, who you may remember as The Candy Man. (The horror movie guy, not the one that can take a rainbow and wrap it in a sigh.) He is busy preparing his attack. He does not do much besides look mean tonight, but I’m sure we’ll hear more from him next season.

However, Col. Dubaka takes a break from the coup to hunt down Jack and avenge his brother’s death. He attacks by helicopter, but Jack & Carl get the kids into the woods and undercover. Dubaka lands and his team heads into the woods. Then Jack’s favorite kid Little Willie runs into a mine field and is saved by Carl, who ends up with his foot on a mine. Knowing he is screwed, Carl stays behind and takes out the bandits, and himself, in a blaze of glory.

Jack gets the kids to the city, but Juma’s goons are everywhere, and are nice enough to dress in long, dark trench coats so Jack can spot them. As the shootout unfolds, Jack turns a corner and finds himself face to face with the “Kill the Cock-a-roach.” kid, who has a machine gun pointed at him. A teary eyed Jack manages to snap the kid out of his haze and finally gets the group to the locked gates of the embassy. On the other side is Frank Trammell, who refuses to let the kids through, unless Jack surrenders to the subpoena. Jack finally agrees and they all fly off in a chopper as the city erupts. Back in the United States, President Taylor is sworn in while Hodges looks on.

So there you have it.

This episode was a real change for 24. It was refreshing to have Jack Bauer out of the Los Angeles area, but I did miss a few things from the old format. Naturally an appearance by Chloe and Morris would have been the best, but I even missed CTU a little bit. Especially all dirty looks through the glass walls, and that signature phone ring.

After a year and a half, it was good to finally get a 24 fix. And now we are ready for the season to begin in January. Just how the hell Tony Almeida comes back from the dead is the burning question. And if they can resurrect Tony, can they bring Edgar back too?

See you in January.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Boldly Going Back

Remakes. The final frontier.

Next year they are re-launching the Star Trek franchise with a movie that will feature new actors playing the classic characters from the original series. When I first heard the news I was outraged, horrified and mortified. The idea of someone else playing Scotty, Spock or Bones is bad enough, but someone playing Captain Kirk besides William Shatner is downright sacrilegious.

Why do they keep remaking old movies and TV shows? Did we really need a new Willie Wonka or an updated Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

Then I heard that this movie will include an appearance by Leonard Nimoy. He is playing the old or future Spock. From what I hear, he goes back in time and speaks with young Spock to warn him about something, possibly of some kind of Romulan plot. (Kind of like Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me.)

The young Spock is played by Zachary Quinto, Sylar from Heroes. This then passes the torch to the new cast, and I guess they will go forward as an alternate reality Star Trek or something. I’d say it’s ridiculous, but since I have rolled with countless Star Trek plots involving time travel and alternate realities, I guess I should cut them some slack.

After seeing a few stills from the production, I was still skeptical. Some things looked great and other things looked shaky. Finally, last week, an extended trailer debuted on the internet and I got my first good look at this thing in motion. The Enterprise looks good. The uniforms look like the classic show, with a tad of modification to bring them up to date. Spock looks dead on, and the action looks ramped up. Best of all, Simon Pegg, from Shaun of the Dead, plays Scotty. He definitely brings a certain amount of clout to the production for me.

Also, the buzz on the movie is pretty good from sources that are pretty trustworthy. For instance, Kevin Smith has seen some of the new movie and claims it is good. He’s a geek, so his opinion counts for something.

Okay, they got me. Damn it.
I’m still very leery, but who am I kidding? I’ll be in line on opening night to check this thing out.

To be honest, the more I think about it, the more this reboot might make sense. I grew up loving Star Trek, but I have to admit, the old TV show looks slow and outdated to today’s audiences. And of the follow-up Star Trek shows, only The Next Generation really captured a mainstream audience.

The franchise was looking like it had finally come to the end. No one is really interested in new Starfleet adventures or crews. But, they may be ready to embrace the classic characters that have ingrained themselves into the culture of America. If a remake of Star Trek can revive the franchise and give us a new set of adventures with spectacular special effects and clever writing, maybe it will bridge the gap between the old generation of Trek fans and the new generation that hardly even know what a Tribble is.

Think about it, it worked for James Bond and Batman. Maybe it could work for Star Trek.

So I will go in with my phasers set on low expectations, but I’ll also have high hopes and an open mind.

I really hope they nail this. This may be Star Trek’s last chance to live long and prosper.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Don’t Isolate Yourself from Quarantine

If you want a decent horror movie to watch, I have one for you. Quarantine is a movie that crosses two genres, the zombie movie and the real footage “POV” approach seen in movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Both genres are borderline stale, and are begging for a breath of fresh air. I’m happy to report that Quarantine is a cool, refreshing breeze of contaminated air.

Quarantine is not the first movie to combine zombies and POV. George Romero, the father of the zombie genre, tried it with Diary of the Dead and Quarantine itself is a remake of a Spanish horror movie called (Rec).

I went into Quarantine with low expectations… really low. In the POV genre it is often hard to sustain believability for an entire movie, so right there it had one strike against it. Then add the fact that Diary of the Dead was terrible and was the final nail in the coffin of the once great Romero. That’s another strike and a half against this movie. But, I love zombies and I can often find enjoyment from even the cheesiest of movies, so it was worth a shot.

I'll tell you what, I was pleasantly surprised. Quarantine pulled it off, both with the POV and the zombies. The premise is that a news crew is following a team from the fire department around for 24 hours for a special interest piece. After we meet the characters, we follow them on a late night call to an apartment building where an old woman is acting strange.

Once the woman attacks them, all hell breaks loose in the building. Before anyone can escape, the authorities have sealed off the premises and threaten to shoot anyone who tries to escape. There is some kind of infection and they don’t want it getting out. The infection does however get around, and one by one, tenants, cops and firemen are being bitten and tearing each other apart.

Because the point of view is that of a news crew, it helps explain why someone might keep filming once it all hits the fan, and later on, the camera serves as the only source of light in the building. The POV gimmick is also effective because it helps put us in the shoes of the people in the movie. We only see what the camera sees, so we’ll catch a glimpse here and there, making the suspense and shocking moments pretty effective.

It’s also a pretty good addition to the zombie genre. I’d say it owes more to 28 Days Later than Night of the Living Dead. It’s not the best of the bunch, but it’s a satisfying movie that warrants a place on the good list of zombie movies, and horror movies in general. They manage to come up with a pretty good premise and execute it well. It's a fun little horror movie, which is more than I had hoped for and just what I was looking for.

Now I really want to see the original version of this movie and see how similar or different the two are.