Not so much reviews as capsule “Op”ions:
Just rented the 4 discs of the Showtime series “Dead Like Me“, about a young woman who finds herself in the role of a grim reaper after her own premature expiration leaves her somewhere between heaven and hell (actually, it leaves her in the same city she was in to begin with). The concept involves this young woman having to learn this new job for awhile before moving on to whatever is next in her path. (The concept of the show appears to have been inspired by the popular LucasArts video game of a few years back called Grim Fandango, but it does not actually rip that game off). Watched the first episode last night and it was great; a peculiar premise made enjoyable by good casting (cast getting comfortable but not there yet) and interesting writing — dark humor and teen angst a la Joss Whedon (Buffy), but with some overt heartstring pulling and sentimentality to balance out the, er, grimness of the concept. (Hard not to pull the heartstrings when characters die in each episode). Housemate watched it with me and she also enjoyed it. It was a good move to rent all four discs (thanks to the 2-for-tuesday rental rate) as I am definately going to watch this entire series. Since I don’t have cable, I hadn’t been aware this show existed until I saw the DVD on the shelf of the video store. The cover has a grim reaper blowing a pink bubblegum bubble. Update: I’ve watched the whole season and it was wonderful. Update: Weeks later, this series is staying with me; I believe it is therefore the best television series I’ve discovered since Buffy.
Finally watched the remake of the film Solaris, starring George Cloony and very early-1970s sort of actress whose name I don’t recall. Good film. Not a great film. Clearly a remake; the concept of a space station whose crew is experiencing life-like visits by familiar faces from each of their pasts is is a bit light by today’s standards but must have been pretty trippy back in the 60s. (spoilers follow, be aware). The film is problematic for today’s audience in that it suggests that if the man (Cloony’s character) can remember every detail about his former wife, the new “wife” life form created from those memories will become the perfect companion to him. Essentially, the identity of this replacement wife is built by the man. Nice for him, but sucks for her (for the new “wife” life form) – she ends up with no free will. Which struck me as a hopelessly outdated, sexist concept. But honestly the film barely goes into these concepts, so there’s not much to mull over. So, a dated concept, filmed pretty well, and Cloon’s restrained performance is a huge improvement over his usual “buffoon” style.
Paycheck: This science fiction film about an engineer who routinely gets his memory wiped after completing high tech projects starts out strong, with the set-up that a project he recently completed (but cannot remember) has left him without a paycheck and with many people out to kill him. (During this first act, there are many nice references to the film Blade Runner – nods to the source materials for this story being by the same author). The heady gravitas infusing this first act soon evaporates however…and it becomes clear that the screenplay hadn’t really been finished when the film got underway. The moment the film lost my faith was when a billion dollar company hell bent on killing Ben Affleck’s character has difficulty killing him as he sits in a cafe – because a police man is nearby. Excuse me? What? Morever, there’s gaps in logic galore, as if different screenwriters never quite read each other’s contributions to the story (and the director gave up trying to tie any of it together), and the resulting stupidity is too much to ignore: Affleck’s character at one point is unable to recognize Uma Thurman’s character due to his memory of their three years together being wiped — even though we’d already seen that he’d met Uma Thurman’s character prior to the missing threee years! Didn’t anyone read the earlier scenes when they wrote that? (I give that example not to nitpick, but rather because it is one of the most obvious examples of how the story hadn’t been finalized before they started filming). As the threads of the story fall apart or fail to develop, you may notice where they tried to save the film by adding exposition in the form of dubbing in explanatory offhand remarks between the characters. But it can’t be saved. What began as a weighty, thoughtful thriller turns into drivel. They should never have started filming this until they had a satisfactory screenplay finished.