Advertisements

Tag Archive: Olivia Wilde


They are three very different series, one an 11 season megahit, one a five season struggling hit, and the other a one-season series that missed its audience and hardly had a chance at all.  Fox’s House, M.D. finished its eleventh season Monday with a Hugh Laurie retrospective (where actors Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard end by trashing the production set) and a textbook finale episode.  USA Network’s In Plain Sight pulled itself together in the final two seasons and ended with a satisfying conclusion earlier this month–the best finale of the three series reviewed here.  NBC’s one season series Awake, a series inexplicably cut short when NBC continues other much weaker, tired programming, provided a rare opportunity to wrap a cancelled series, bookending a stunningly well written series with a clean finish in Thursday night’s finale.

If you haven’t seen these finales you’d do yourself a favor to stop, watch them online or elsewhere, and come back, as there be spoilers ahead here.

House, M.D. had some powerhouse seasons and a superb cast that was ever-changing.  That change took the series to a new level.  With Doctors Chase (Jesse Spencer), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Foreman (Omar Epps) one-upping each other over the first seasons, and an ongoing “will they or won’t they” storyline between Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Greg House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), it took the break-up of the team and a room full of candidates for House’s team to really show the series’ potential.  Enter Doctors Taub (Peter Jacobson), Kutner (Kal Penn), and the Doctors we knew as Cutthroat Bitch (Anne Dudek) and Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) in competition for House’s praise and a place on staff.  Only when the writers finally gave in and put House and Cuddy together did the show fall apart, but then a minor character named Martha Masters played by Amber Tamblyn turned the show around and it sailed in for a strong finish this season as we got to see House with his ideal wife, Dominika, played by Karolina Wydra.

But the writers always returned to what really gave the series heart–House’s friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard)–and creator David Shore all but admitted the inspiration for House in the finale’s retrospective.  As we’d always expected the House/Holmes (pronounce it “Homes” if you need to) and Wilson/Watson was intentional, including the House/Holmes brilliant analytical mind and antisocial nature, and to highlight it further the season finale mirrored the famous Sherlock Holmes case, “The Reichenbach Fall.”   Ultimately House, M.D. was a weekly buddy series, and the creators gave us the last scene we all needed.  A big plus for the finale was the return of past cast members, except the glaringly missing Cuddy, with even Kal Penn’s Kutner returning from the dead for an appearance.  And we knew that Doctor Chase would ultimately come out on top in the battle to replace House.  Taking the chair of House’s desk leaves us with the thought that the “show will go on” if not on TV then, by analogy, in real life.

In Plain Sight started almost unsure of what it wanted to be with star Mary McCormack playing an ever-irritable witness relocation program U.S. Marshal who was the bad end of a relationship with cool and (almost) decent boyfriend Raph (Cristian de la Fuente).  Then we began to understand her more as we met her disaster of a family, mom Jinx (Leslie Ann Warren) and sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz).  Jinx and Brandi got so bad at points you felt bad for the actresses having to play these roles.  But Mary had the best support team you could wish on a person: partner Marshal Marshall Mann (played by Frederick Weller) (a strange character name that worked anyway) who was smart and full of brainy curiosities, and boss Stan McQueen (Paul Ben-Victor), a gruff but perfect-for-Mary leader of the Albuquerque federal office.  Creative differences almost lost the audience at the end of season two, but a re-focus on Mary prompted the series to pick itself up in time for actress Mary McCormack’s real-life pregnancy that the producers smartly just adapted for her character in season four, one of the best seasons of writing an acting for any actress on any television series.

As for the finale, the “will they or won’t they” angst we saw botched by allowing House and Cuddy get together, kept us guessing until almost the last scene for Mary Shannon and Marshall Mann.  When Marshall finally professes his love for Mary in the finale you could hear a collective sigh of relief across the viewing audience.  But it wasn’t what the passing viewer might think–it was true to both characters and simply a perfect climax to the relationship between these two partners, resulting in Marshall taking over the Albuquerque office where he could finally take care of Mary and still marry his fiancée Detective Chaffee (Rachel Boston), while Mary ends up with a new beau and boss Stan gets promoted to the Washington, DC office with new girlfriend Lia (Tia Carrere in the final season’s most refreshing new role).   As satisfying endings go, In Plain Sight simply was a winner.

As standalone episodes, the Awake finale packed a rollercoaster of action, twists, and emotion, with all the important plot threads nicely tied up.  The only problem with Awake likely was that it aired in a primetime slot on a major network.  On any other network–Fox, CW, USA, AMC–Awake would have found its audience and been a smash hit.  But NBC’s typical viewer does not like the clever supernatural drama as NBC has proven with prior cancellations year after year.  Awake was exciting, and included a cast of brilliant actors headlined by British actor Jason Isaacs, who, like fellow Brit Hugh Laurie, offered up a pitch perfect American accent.  Preparing for the worst, the creators readied a season finale that could stand strong as a series finale should the show get cancelled, and low viewership resulted in just that end.  Isaacs’ character Detective Britten never got any rest in season one–every time he awakened he was in a different reality–and it seemed as if Isaacs himself had a heavy burden playing this challenging character in an Emmy-worthy performance.  In fact, if Emmys nominees were being considered right now, you could bet Laurie, McCormack, and Isaacs would be strong contenders.

Awake’s finale allowed the supporting cast to shine–Detective Freeman (Steve Harris), Detective Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) and Dr. Lee (BD Wong) only scratched the surface of what future seasons could have revealed.  Missed opportunities, such as what was to happen between Detective Britten and Tara (Michaela McManus), will never be known. Although we will never learn the “why” of the series, the unravelling of the car crash that got Britten into the entire mess gave viewers what we wanted in the end–a way for Britten to undo the past, or at least move forward as if the crash never ruined his life.

Sadly, we likely will never see the one-season Awake characters again other than on DVD, but House, M.D. and In Plain Sight will likely visit us again and again forever in syndication.  The good news is that these great actors are now freed up to give us something else.  What will Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Mary McCormack, Peter Jacobson, Jesse Spencer and Jason Isaacs do next?

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Advertisements

Despite an interesting premise and a good cast, Cowboys & Aliens never quite comes together.  How could a team-up like Jon Favreau, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Steven Spielberg not get this right?  Unfortunately, the movie is “just okay.”  It’s an example of what happens when you buy an idea without a great story to back it up.  And it’s what happens when it takes six A- list writers to craft a screenplay, based on a work that itself isn’t very interesting.

Cowboys & Aliens lacks most of the elements of good science fiction and qualifies as a western only because of the bundle of cliched characters, a beautiful desert hills setting, and all the horses.  That said, it may find an audience with those who have never seen a good western or appreciate a good science fiction story.  It could be dismissed as “another summer blockbuster romp, sure to please general audiences.”  With the fun premise, the stellar cast, producer Spielberg and director Favreau, it may get favorable initial box office returns, but it fails to live up to its potential to rival all the summer movies released this year.  It should be better than all the sequels released this summer.  But it’s not.  In comparison, it doesn’t quite match up to past summer hits like Independence Day or Men in Black.

It’s not as fun as a movie with the title Cowboys & Aliens should be.  I wasn’t looking for humorous by any means, but there was not one point in the packed movie house where the crowd had any reason to laugh, cheer, or gasp.  The story lacked tension and energy.  From scene to scene the characters didn’t convincingly indicate the gravity of their would-be, desperate situations.  And we were never quite pulled into the world in any gripping way–you keep waiting for something to happen, then the movie is over.

Fortunately the film has no relation to the graphic novel created by Scott Rosenberg and written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley.  The graphic novel is a simple analog of alien imperialism over humans as a reflection of European imperialism over the native Americans, and that’s about it.  Not enough to turn into a good comic book, let alone a good movie.  Add to that the six screenplay contributers (including Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who wrote the iffy 2009 Star Trek script) who couldn’t pull a complete story out of a good idea, and proved yet again that a story written by committee rarely works.  It is frustrating that an idea as fun as mixing aliens into the 1800s Old West is so hard to make awesome.  Even kids mixing toy soldiers and science fiction figures could come up with a fun story. 

The best of the film is the cast. As for the lead cast, Olivia Wilde’s character Ella was the stand-out.  She seemed to do the best she could with her role and, as with her with roles in Tron: Legacy and House, M.D. , she is fun to watch.  And Daniel Craig delivered an excellent performance as the western movie drifter with the secret past, Jake Lonergan.  But his character was put into too many strange circumstances, and we never got to see how a man in the 1880s would react to aliens vs someone in the 2010s.  Daniel Craig’s past roles have been so good, this one probably falls toward the bottom of the list.  Audiences are starving to see the next Han Solo or Indiana Jones role for Harrison Ford.  Billed as Ford’s “Rooster Cogburn” performance, Ford’s, Colonel Dolarhyde (a really bad name, by the way) is a one-note character.  The audience wants to like this performance, but we don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about this character.  At one point we’re told he’s tough and we feel he’s meant to be the traditional man in the black hat, but everything else indicates otherwise, and we don’t have enough back story to know what to think.

As for the supporting cast, Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Medium, Leverage, Law and Order, Lost, Enterprise) shows how great a supporting actor he is as the town’s preacher.  Keith Carradine also delivers a believable performance as the sheriff.  But as with Favreau’s Iron Man 2, another annoying Sam Rockwell performance almost reduces his scenes to cringe-worthy.

One more positive thing–I loved the “arm gun”.  It’s not in the graphic novel, so it’s a great addition and helps make Daniel Craig’s every move as cool as he is as James Bond.

The movie might have been more exciting if they hardly showed us the aliens at all (like the shark in Jaws).  When they appear, it is too much too often, and the aliens were a mix of creatures we had seen before, lifeless like the bugs from Starship Troopers, grotesque like Kuato from Total Recall, and the scenes are shot just like the aliens in the Alien movies.  The creatures should be terrifying, to the point that the humans should be running for their lives screaming–especially for people who have no concept of space travel or extraterrestrials.  They just aren’t.

The soundtrack starts with a good clip but ultimately relies too much on what sounded like a modern electric guitar ballad instead of a full orchestral sound–an epic, grandiose score you’d expect from a western, which might have helped save the film.

Not that my standards for a video rental should be any different than for a movie in the theater, but this may play better on video or late-night cable.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of the western scenes again, just not enough to buy another movie ticket.  The opening, for example, gets off to the right start, with Craig’s character executing a fight scene dive straight from Rio Bravo.

Unfortunately, this one left me wishing for a real good western or good sci-fi movie.

Cowboys & Aliens is in theaters.  2.5 of 5 stars.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

%d bloggers like this: