Thursday, May 31, 2012

TV Show Review: Once upon a Time

Last fall, one of the new shows to premiere on ABC was "Once upon a Time." The show was centered on the following plot: a young woman Emma Swan (played by Jennifer Morrison, "House M.D.") is contacted by her son Henry, whom she gave up for adoption long ago. As Emma is drawn into Henry's town Storybrooke, her son tries to convince her that the entire town is made up of characters from fairy tales who were banished there long ago by an evil queen, whom he believes is his adopted mother Regina Mills. Each episode is formatted in a way that is similar to "Lost" (which, ironically, shares some of the same writers as "Once upon a Time"): half of the episode focuses on something that is going on in Storybrooke while the other half is a kind of flash-back to fairy-tale land and what happened to the central character(s) there. I watched the entire first season, but unfortunately I found the show to be quite a let-down from its interesting concept.


One of the main issues I have with the show is the entire plot, not just overlying arcs but also individual stories that pop up occasionally when a main arc is not being told. Concerning the overlying arcs, the pacing was not very good. The writers dragged certain arcs out (for example, David and Mary Margaret's affair and also Mary Margaret being accused of murdering David's wife Kathryn. Both of them, I thought, took way too long to tell their respective story). One of the plot arcs that took way too long to resolve and still has not been fully resolved is the whole Prince Charming and Snow White trying to be together; the season spent way too many episodes focusing on them and their pasts, and it could have been compressed into something shorter yet better instead of being drawn out into ridiculous episodes like "Heart of Darkness," or the writers could have explained more about some of the other situations like Rumplestiltskin and Baelfire's story, which was largely ignored most of the season. The pacing also showed its flaws in certain episodes like "Fruit of the Forbidden Tree," where it is revealed that Sidney is in an alliance with Regina to bring Emma down; this alliance is largely ignored for the rest of the season and only shows up one other time towards the end of the season when Emma realizes Sidney's true motives. Other story lines like Sidney's double-agent status are also introduced, forgotten most of the time, and then suddenly re-introduced for no good reason at all, such as Belle hiding underneath the hospital for most of the season, and other story lines are ended too suddenly with little resolution, such as Kathryn being found alive (even though Emma suspects Regina is behind it and believes Sidney is covering for her, we never got an explanation for what actually happened because the story line was abruptly dropped). Most of the stories in individual episodes also suffered from problems. Episodes like "Dreamy," "That Still Small Voice," and "Hat Trick" were boring and felt more like filler episodes than anything else. Especially as the season wore on, the episodes became more lackluster and less interesting than earlier ones. A final issue with the plot was certain story lines that had dumb resolutions, such as Snow White losing her memory and then getting her "good" self back after kissing Prince Charming or even Emma's kiss breaking the curse in Storybrooke; the resolutions could have been much better, but I think the writers took the easy way out.

The issues with the plot are not helped by the characters. Good, well-written, intriguing characters can make a convoluted story more bearable (like how I felt with "Lost"), but unfortunately this is not the case in "Once upon a Time." The overwhelming majority of the characters (both real world and fairy world) are flat and one-dimensional, having little personality and very few redeeming qualities. Regina Mills/ Evil Queen is meant to be evil, but she comes across as being more ridiculous, not creepy or overly memorable; even the episode "The Stable Boy," which was meant to portray her in a brighter light and to explain how she became evil, did nothing to change her flat character or redeem her. The only interesting character is Mr. Gold/ Rumplestiltskin, but I am not sure what the writers have in mind for him because they change him from villain to possible good guy so frequently.

Another major part of the show that could have been so much better was the whole re-telling of fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, and Red Riding Hood. While some of them had interesting twists, like Rumplestiltskin being "the Beast," or tried to offer background for stories like "Pinocchio," most of the re-tellings were not ultimately very memorable or well-done; the only one I really liked was The Red Riding Hood one. While it was an interesting concept to combine fairy tales or to make them intermingle in some way, like the Evil Queen sending Hansel and Gretel to steal the poisonous apple, most of the time the attempts were shoddily put together with little explanation for them, like why Jiminy Cricket was somehow involved with Snow White and the dwarfs or why Belle was involved with the dwarfs. Another thing that did not make sense was including stories that were not directly connected to fairy tales, like the Mad Hatter and Wonderland or even the use of King Midas; the writers sort of explained this in an episode where one of the characters (I've forgotten which one) said that all stories are based on reality, on events that happen in multiple worlds, but I thought it was a poor explanation and didn't fit with the show's billing of being based on fairy tales.

"Once upon a Time" had good potential to be something new and fun, but unfortunately it fell flat. The plots were uninteresting and badly paced, the characters were flat and boring, and the re-tellings were sometimes confusing or just not memorable at all.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

I generally don't go to the movie theater much, as it's too expensive and there's really not many good movies that are worth seeing nowadays. However, for my birthday, I went with my family and a small group of friends to see "The Avengers."


"The Avengers" takes place at some point after all the other movies (i.e. "The Hulk," "Iron Man," "Iron Man 2," "Thor," and "Captain America") have taken place. Thor's adopted brother Loki shows up at a S.H.I.E.L.D. base and steals the tesseract, also converting Erik Selvig and Hawkeye/ Clint Barton to serve him. Nick Fury then begins assembling Captain America, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Black Widow to get the tesseract back. Thor ends up joining the team when he tries to convince Loki to stop his ambitions to rule over mankind. The Avengers team must learn to put up with each other and unite to bring down Loki and his alien army.

I must say that the movie was very, very enjoyable to watch. The characters were good and, generally speaking, portrayed very well. I'm still not fully into Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/ Hulk, and I wasn't overly impressed with the Black Widow's character either. I liked Hawkeye's brief cameo in "Thor," but he spent half of this movie as a bad guy and wasn't seen around much until the last battle in New York City. I did enjoy Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. What made the characters really memorable, to me, was their interactions with each other. The Avengers team all have their different personalities and abilities, which often set them at odds with each other but makes for good, realistic entertainment. Tom Hiddleston as Loki was also very good. Loki, since "Thor" the movie, has grown more darker and creepier, and the actor does an excellent job of pulling off a good, worthy villain.

The plot itself was good and pretty easy to follow, though I'm still trying to figure out Loki's motivations for his captivity (I'll probably understand it after a second viewing of the film or if I watch the movie with captions- I'm a bit shameful about my use of captions). Joss Whedon did an excellent job of making the film darker than "Iron Man" and "Thor" but adding plenty of humor to lighten it. Even though I'm only familiar with Whedon's work on "Firefly" and "Serenity," he has a good sense of humor and did an excellent job on directing as well as writing the screenplay. The visual effects were also very good, and plus, you get to see New York City destroyed for the billionth time in cinema history.

In conclusion, the movie was very enjoyable and definitely worth seeing in theater. I saw it a few days ago and am already itching to see it again. I will say, though, the plot and characters are easier to understand if you see the Avengers set-up movies like "Thor," "Captain America," "Hulk," and "Iron Man" ("Iron Man 2" didn't really add much to the story, except for the introduction of Black Widow, but that was about it). So, if you're a big Marvel fan or just looking for an enjoyable action-adventure movie, this one is for you.

I give the movie four out of a half stars.