15 February 2010

Crazy old men, gung-ho feds and the unexplainable, explained – a review of “Fringe” Season 1


I recently tore my way through the first season of the instant cult classic, “Fringe”. Produced by JJ Abrams, the mastermind behind “Lost” and the latest (and my personal favourite) iteration of “Star Trek” on celluloid, “Fringe” is best described as “X-Files” for this generation – a lot less boring, too. At first, it centres around FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), who is pulled from her standard American post-9/11 terrorism-based assignments into a world of messed-up science experiments gone wrong. The top secret ’Fringe Division’ are tasked with stopping the rapidly spreading wave of unexplainable crimes to do with Fringe Science (the clue is in the title, science on the fringe of belief, not generally accepted by the scientific community... cryogenics, teleportation, mind control, etc), and Anna is drafted after her boyfriend/FBI partner is caught in the explosion of a bomb unlike any other. As he literally begins to go invisible whilst in a coma, Anna is approached by “The Wire” alum Lance Reddick, playing Agent Philip Broyles, who heads up Fringe Division.

Y’know what? I can see myself going on for another 2,000 words just trying to explain the damn first episode of this thing. So I’ll nutshell it – she does a little research into the Fringe division, finds that this strange occurrence (and many others) can be linked back to a former Professor at Harvard, and his old colleague. The Professor, Walter Bishop (the excellent John Noble), is now in an insane asylum, and his colleague is the shady CEO of a shady corporation who always seem to be involved in these messed-up cases. Dunham, to get to Bishop, must contact his son, Peter (a much less annoying Joshua Jackson, long removed from those awful Pacey “Dawson’s Creek” shenanigans) to get to him – Peter being a veritable jack-of-all-trades, holding quite a mysterious side himself. Together, Dunham and the Bishops along with the help of Agent Astrid Farnsworth (relative newcomer Jasika Nicole, a revelation), solve these Fringe cases week by week, all the while trying to peel back the curtain and find out just what is going on with Massive Dynamic, the previously mentioned shady corporation which is headed up by William Bell – Bishop’s old colleague. Just wait till you see who they cast him as – the surprise is an awesome one, especially if you count yourself as a card-carrying sci-fi nut.

Okay, so I said I’d nutshell it, and obviously that didn’t work out too well. Really, the whole appeal of Fringe is watching it for yourself and uncovering all the mysteries as you go along. Each episode is at first an interesting curveball, with cases that range from a baby being born, growing and dying of old age in minutes, to bank robbers who walk through walls - and they only get better as they go along. The whole direction of the series does an about-face just over halfway through, and suddenly the viewer is confronted with what seems like a completely different show. Clearly Abrams knows what he’s doing, because it worked on “Lost” and here, it works again.

The acting is really good in parts and serviceable (at best) in others. John Noble steals the show in every episode, his insane character often having the best lines, with his deliveries making them even better. You grow quite fond of the character, as he is very much a tragic figure with a dark past. Even though he’s not all there, you can see that he very much wants to be, and yearns for his glory days. His arc is definitely one to watch, with a few revelations along the way that’ll leave you speechless and craving more. As I said, Joshua Jackson is much better here than he has been in the past. He actually plays somewhat of a badass, believe it or not. The weak link, which is a pretty big weak link, is Anna Torv. Here she does her best Cate Blanchett impression, albeit with a little edge – but it’s just not enough to be a cut above the rest. She comes off as pretty bland, but I can’t tell if it’s the character or the actor. Then again, this is the trouble with characters such as this, being the point-of-reference for an equally clueless audience. What she discovers, you discover. What information she is spoon-fed, you are spoon-fed. You’ve seen the same character a thousand times – it’s necessary, but in the end she is but a mechanism from which the story flows. As the season goes on her character becomes less important, even if she’s meant to be the main attraction. Hopefully they will find a way to remedy this for the second season.

The budget really helps a show like this – they go all out with the special effects, which one needs with a show of this nature (in my opinion this is where “Heroes” falters – you can’t have a show about superheroes and not show any superhero fights... but that’s another article). The directing is always top notch, although do we ever really notice good or bad direction in a TV show? I digress. There are, as is the norm, filler episodes and ones that really stand out. ‘Bound’ and ‘Ability’ make for good thrillers, ‘Inner Child’ is creepy as hell at first but gains a lot of heart (an oddly stunning combo) and the last two episodes of the season, ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘There’s More Than One of Everything’ are equal parts entertaining, thought-provoking, heartwarming/breaking and f*cking cool. Not bad for 40 minutes of telly a piece.

There is one critique, being that each episode more often than not follows the same formula – but when the plot of each episode is so varied, the formula starts becoming unnoticeable.

But like I said – the real draw of the series is the hidden motive/drive of the series – this, you don’t find out until midway through the season. I can say nothing of it, as it would just ruin a lot of sh*t for you, and where’s the fun in that? If you have the time, give this series a proper chance. You might just love it...

VERDICT: 4.5 Pacey’s out of 5! A nice, entertaining way to spend a portion of your evening - curled up with a saucepan full of spag bol, a cigarette and 40 minutes of Fringe!

ALSO SEE: “Lost”, “The X-Files”, “Flashforward”

Dan Woburn

14 February 2010

Trailer Watch VII

15th - 22nd February

Afternoon readers, heres another selection of glorious HD trailers for your eyes.

1. Cemetery Junction

2. The A-Team

3. Ong Bak 3

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street

5. Wall Street 2 - Money Never Sleeps

VAUGHAN! BATEMAN! FAVREAU! ... but still a shit film!

Couples Retreat - Peter Billingsley

Every year for the past decade, around Valentine’s Day, studios have been releasing movies that follow the theme of people failing madly in love and all that jazz. Now I’m not partial to Valentine’s Day, it’s a horrible holiday used by companies to sell cheap tacky shit for people who think that one day of the year should be used to show their true affection for someone. Now if you’re one of those people who every year buys a girl flowers, chocolates and stuff, then sadly, i feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that you think its right to only spend one day of their showing your affection. I understand when you’re really young, it gives the illusion of finding true love and being happy, making the idea of marriage a good thing, something you should strive, when in actual fact, it’s not the best thing to do. The idea of marriage is wrong. And you’ve seen the figures, the amount of people getting divorced. And now for this year’s Valentine’s Day, they are releasing a film about having counselling for your marriage, finding true love even in a loveless marriage. Yes, they really have. I know in the cinema that have released Valentine’s Day, a cross breed of an American version of Love Actually and Crash. Sick in my mouth.

Now Couples Retreat, released in the cinema before Christmas, which is a very strange time to release it, it’s finally out on DVD, in the nick of time too before the heavy rush of buying for v-day. It stars a cast of comedic actors, who in their own right, can own a film or television show. But sadly here, they are not used to their strengths. Especially Jason Bateman. I love Arrested Development, even if it was cut short only after three seasons! Bateman was the star of that program, well along with Michael Cera and David Cross. Here he is seen to be the villain of the story, it’s a hard character for him to play, and it’s almost contradicting Bateman in how he acts. You can see that Vince Vaughan is the star of the show, and they need that friction between Vaughan and Bateman, but it’s not needed. Jon Favs gives really good interaction with Vaughan, but that’s what you expect from the Swingers boys. The ladies are a good selection with Malin Ackerman, right off of The Watchmen, as a normal woman, then Kristin Bell, who i adored in both Veronica Mars and Fanboys, here she is majorly underused. And Kristin Davis as the character from Sex and the City; pretty much the same role. And then you have the inclusion of the black family. Almost like they thought it would be a good idea to cover all bases. It’s horrible. I know it’s mostly used for comedy, having a larger man with a younger woman, I’m surprised Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence wasn’t ask to play it wearing a fat suit. The film is set on a magnificent island, which is the major reason the actors probably signed up for it. And don’t forget the cameo from the almighty Peter Serefinowicz and Onimusha 3’s Jean Reno. Yeah that’s right, an Onimusha reference to end the review!


Simon Childs