NCIS Returns with a New Mystery

April 9, 2008

Last night marked the return of post-strike NCIS with the first new episode in almost three months.  While the characters themselves might seem a little off their mark, it’s the drama behind the scenes that has everyone wondering what is going on.

In “Stakeout” we find our heroes on what appears to be a boredom-filled stakeout.  Or is it a scene from a movie?  At least Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) thinks so.  If we needed proof that she’s embracing American cinema, then look no further than her pranks on Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly).

But it’s the whole gang that gets duped when high-dollar classified equipment gets stolen under their noses.  It’s not often the highly skilled and unflappable Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) gets fooled.

The case was interesting.  But it was easy to guess that the BMW the inquisitive Tim McGee (Sean Murray) fixated on during the stakeout was going to be the key.

But despite the intriguing story, I was still scanning the show for clues as to who would be exiting the show, news leaked by TV Guide yesterday.

I eliminated Gibbs off the bat.  The show just wouldn’t be the same without him and besides they got show creator Don Bellisario to step down last season to keep Harmon.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary with Ziva or McGee.  And I can’t imagine the show without the quirky goth lab tech Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), so that’s three more down.

But DiNozzo was quick to jump on the city’s murder case, even before he found out that it was part of the NCIS investigation.  Is he possibly he’s missing life on the homicide beat?  Will he leave to go back to the police force?

No, I don’t think so.  TV Guide called the cast departure a “major freakin’ twist.”  DiNozzo leaving for another job is not a major twist.

Maybe DiNozzo leaves for another reason.  He did seem to find his perfect match in Detective Andrea Sparr (Gretchen Egolf).  The confirmed bachelor DiNozzo resigning from NCIS to begin a life as a married man would shock us all for sure.

Then I thought maybe the mild-mannered medical examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard might be leaving do to an illness or even – gasp – death because throughout the show he was running a secret medical evaluation on someone. 

But at the last minute we learn his covert actions weren’t a self diagnosis, but a favor for Director Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly).

The director, who was out of the country, was conveniently absent from this episode (could that be what TV Guide meant by “NCIS star goes AWOL?”).

If indeed the story of the cast departure broke because of Holly’s absence, then it makes sense Shepard’s days on the show might be numbered.

But I don’t think Shepard is sick or dying.  Ducky never said that the blood was the director’s.  Instead I still think that she is investigating her father’s faked death and his location.

I hear that Shepard’s nemesis La Grenouille will turn up in another episode later this season.  I suspect that if Shepard leaves the show, it’ll be a result of a run-in with La Grenouille and/or her father.

What did you think of the episode?  Who do you think is leaving the show and why?  Will the show be able to survive without him/her?  If it is the director, who should replace her?

 

Advertisements

‘Gridiron Gang’ Goes For It on Fourth and Life

January 29, 2008

With the Super Bowl just around the corner and no games on TV this past weekend, my husband and I turned to a movie to get our football fix.  Our pick for the week was Gridiron Gang.

Gridiron GangThis inspirational movie is based on a true story about how football changes the lives of kids in a juvenile detention center. 

Sean Porter (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a probation officer at the center, was tired of watching the kids that came through his center leave with little hope of a better life.  Turned back out onto the street many of these kids ended up back in the system or worse – dead.

Football, and a caring mother, had made the difference in Porter’s life.  He was hoping that football could do the same for these kids so he fought to bring a football program to the center.

Starting the program was a challenge, but, as you can imagine, a far sight easier that finding other teams willing to play a group of thugs and killers.  But in the end he succeeded.

What followed was an interesting story of how structure, teamwork and a shared goal bonded these boys together and transformed them from thugs into kids with heart. 

But the transition wasn’t easy and eventually the past life of one of the players threatens to bring down the whole team. 

I was most impressed with Dwayne Johnson as Porter.  I thought it was the first role where we got to see Johnson as an actor instead of The Rock.  There were no raised eyebrows, no bring it hand gestures; just Johnson filling the shoes of the motivating Porter.

L. Scott Caldwell (Lost‘s Rose) was a fabulous addition to the cast as the mother than never gave up on Porter.

The movie did a great job of wrapping up the story by telling you what happened to each of the players.  I’ll warn you, it’s not all happy endings.

Overall a feel-good story worth watching.


‘Heroes: Saving Charlie’ is no Fairy Tale

January 29, 2008

Heroes fans looking for more Sci Fi adventure while their favorite show is on hiatus will not find it in the new Heroes novel by Aury Wallington.  Instead “Heroes: Saving Charlie” is a story of lust – I mean love.

Unlike the online graphic novels, this novel offers no clues or tidbits to the overall mythology of the Heroes series.  In fact, “Saving Charlie” does nothing to answer those burning questions we all have about Heroes.  Instead this novel, delves into a side story of Hiro’s attraction to a doomed small town waitress that offers little to the overall plot of the TV series.

Saving CharlieHowever, on its own “Saving Charlie” is not a bad read, provided that you don’t mind already knowing how the story ends.  After all, we have seen the beginning and end of the story in Season 1 of Heroes.  Readers will have seen the beginning of the tale in Chapter 8 “Seven Minutes to Midnight” when Hiro and Ando stop at a diner in Midland, Texas on their way to ‘Save the Cheerleader’ in Odessa and the end in Chapter 10 “Six Months Ago” when a defeated Hiro returns to the Burnt Toast Diner.

Charlie

“Saving Charlie” is a sweet tale of the budding romance between Hiro and Charlie, the friendly waitress at the Burnt Toast Diner that has a knack for learning and retaining information with ease.  But as the plaque in Hiro’s dad’s office says in Chapter 5, “This is not a Fairy Tale.”

The beginning of the book was very hard to get into.  The first six chapters are almost verbatim from “Seven Minutes to Midnight.”  And while Chapter 1 sounds like the Hiro we’ve come to know and love, the Hiro described in Chapter 2 on the journey to Midland was whiny and grumpy.

But after Hiro travels back into time, the story of his mission to save Charlie is complimented with the charming tale of his courtship with her that reminds us all of how fun, magical and exciting it was to fall in love for the first time.  When else would a guy go through all the trouble of making 1000 origami cranes but when he woos her?

We are treated to a few flashbacks throughout the story that give us more insight into Hiro’s past and his relationship with his father, Kaito.

But the most interesting details are regarding Hiro’s development of his power to freeze time and space, or lack there of.  Although Hiro seems to have full control of his powers when he attempts to prove them to Charlie and when he uses them to romance her, he seems to lose complete control over them when he gets emotional.  More than once he’s teleported through time or space during very awkward moments – or at least they are awkward when he’s suddenly no longer there.

There’s even a point in the novel when Hiro travels through time in a Quantum Leap fashion jumping in and out of time erratically put gleaning a new piece of information at each new place in time until Hiro loses complete control of his powers.

Unlike in the TV series, Hiro’s ability to travel through time and space in the novel (at least towards the end) no longer seems like a gift – a power he controls – but more like something that controls him.

The end was a bit weak too.  But it must be hard to ease into an ending that everyone already knows.  Or maybe I’m just disappointed that it couldn’t have a happy ending.  After all, “Saving Charlie” was an adorable tale of young love, but it was no fairy tale.


Fill the Football Void with a True Story Football Movie

January 24, 2008

The Superbowl is still more than a week away and there will be no playoff games on the tube this weekend.  Going through football withdrawals?  Then grab a beer, settle in the recliner and put in a football movie.

That’s just what I did the other weekend.  My husband was busy cheering his Chargers to a win (a lot of good it did them) over my Colts (I couldn’t watch.  So I snuggled on the couch in the other room with a couple football movies.  But not just any football movies, but those based on real stories.

InvincibleInvincible

First up was Disney’s 2006-release Invincible, the story of Vince Papale, a South Philly bartender who secured his spot on the Philadelphia Eagles team in 1976 as a walk on.  It was a great feel good story. 

Mark Wahlberg portrayed Papale as such a down-to-earth regular guy that I could help put cheer for this unassuming man who lost his job teaching, whose cold-hearted wife left him taking everything and leaving only a mean-spirited note and who at 30 was well beyond the normal rookie age.

His own personal “rising from the ashes” was nothing compared to what his success did for the city.  He became this symbol of hope for a city in despair.  For those out of work or on strike, Papale was a sense of pride.

I’m too young to remember the 1976 Eagles, but I really enjoyed the movie.

We are MarshallWe are Marshall

The second movie in my double feature, We are Marshall, was about the rebuilding of the Marshall University football program after a 1970 airplane crashed killed most of the team.

This movie starts out with this huge tragedy that not only wipes out the sport program for this school, but also deeply impacts this college-based West Virginia town and it’s hard to get past the weight of that lost in the rest of the movie. 

But when Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) arrives as the new head coach you can’t help but be hopefully for healing in light of his determination and enthusiasm for rebuilding the program.  I don’t know if Lengyel was really that eccentric or if that’s just McConaughey’s portrayal, but you have to admit that his ‘think outside of the box’ attitude is endearing.

However, I had a harder time connecting to assistant coach Red Dawson.  I’m not sure if his survivor’s guilt was hard to watch or if I didn’t like Mathew Fox’s acting in this role.

This movie does have some gut-wrenching moments so have a box of tissues handy.

If you could only watch one of the two movies, I’d recommend Invincible.

What’s your favorite football movie based on a true story?


The Challenges of ‘Growing Up Online’

January 23, 2008

I tuned into the PBS documentary “Growing Up Online” last night on Frontline for two reasons.  As a member of Generation X, I’m just on the outskirts of this technologically suave generation and am striving to keep up with them.  And as a mother of toddlers, I will be faced with raising children smack in the middle of this generation.

When the Internet came out and everyone wanted to regulate it, I remember thinking why?  It’s a form a free speech.  Let people say what they want and if I don’t want to hear it, I won’t visit their site.

But now the thought of my twins venturing online has me freaking out.  How can I ensure their safety?  How can I control/monitor what they see and do?  How can I prevent them from making stupid mistakes that become a permanent part of the World Wide Web for all to see and mock?

But I think the show described it best when it talked about the Internet as a social network for kids.  When I was a kid, we hung out at the mall or the rec center.  My parents hung out at the malt shop (I’m guessing).  For this generation, the hang out is electronic.

According to the documentary, kids go online to express them, to complain about parents and to communicate with each other.  All the things I did at my favorite hang out.

And just like my parents had concerned about me at the mall, I’ll have concerns about my children on the Internet.  But instead of blowing these fears out of proportion, parents need to adjust with the times to appropriately address the issues.

And to do so, parents need to understand the terminology and the reason for their child’s interest in the Internet.

The documentary showed some teenage girls defining “friends.”  They would have contests to see who had the most friends, numbering in the thousands, on MySpace.  But according to these girls, they understood that they only “really knew” about 200 of these so-called friends and only about 50 of them were “best friends.”

I don’t know about you, but growing up I had one, maybe two, best friends.  And I’m not sure that I’ve ever really known 200 people. 

In addition, according to the show, these kids are more comfortable being more public with their lives.  Since we live in a world where anyone’s private live could end up on the nightly news and the escapades of the latest pop princess is headline material, it’s no surprise to me that today’s kids aren’t shying away from the spotlight.

The times have changed since I was a kid and the Internet is new territory for us all. 

The documentary called the Internet “the new wild West,” adding that no one is really in charge. 

Therefore we as parents, family members, friends and teachers of today’s youth need to help guide them through this new terrain.

I think that stay-at-home-mom Evan Skinner expressed my fears the best when she said that she wasn’t afraid that the Internet would make her kids bad, but that her good kids would make a bad decision on the Internet and would have to pay for it permanently.

Kids don’t realize the impact of their decisions, the consequences of their actions and the overall permanence of the Internet.

If as a teen I had decided to flash a group of friends, once the act was over it was done.  There was no digital photography, no camera phones and no YouTube.  I could do something stupid and the knowledge of my act was limited to who was ever in proximity of me and lasted only until somebody else did the next stupid stunt.

Today, if a teenage girl flashes a group of friends, photos and YouTube videos are on the net before she can pull her shirt down.  And while it might seem like fun and games when she’s 16, how will she feel when that photo or video is still being viewed when she’s trying to run for Congress 10 years later?  Will she still be happy when her future husband stumbles across her hijinks on the Internet?  Or her own children?

Once it’s on the Internet there is no turning back.

Aside from this big lesson, the other issues facing teens and their parents on the Internet are the same issues that have faced them in the past, but just with a twist.

Cheating

The Internet offers another way for students to take the easy road when doing homework.  While Spark Notes might be the latest craze among those behind in their literature class, the concept is not new.  We had Cliff Notes when I was in school.

But schools are adapting and adjusting to the newest way to cheat.  According to the documentary, some teachers are requiring writing assignments be done in class to ensure its original work.  Others accept assignments through turnitin.com, a site that scans for plagiarism

Image Issues

The documentary gave several examples of teens who escaped the feeling of not fitting in by recreating themselves with online alter egos.

One father who had made his daughter delete her online site later let her put it back up after he discovered that she created that online identity because it’s where she felt comfortable.  I’m not sure I agreed with his decision entirely, but I do support the idea that we need to talk to our kids to find out why they are doing it.

The Internet also lets some teens bond with others in support of an addiction.  The example given was a girl battling anorexia.  Rather than finding help she dove deeper into the obsession getting encouragement and tips from other pro-anas.

My mother recently told me about a teen who was gambling big money on ball games through the Internet.

Bullying

The last story of the documentary was the sad story of Ryan Halligan.  Ryan was not only a victim of school yard bullying, but of cyber bullying.  Other kids would start online rumors about his sexuality.  Some mocked and threatened him online.  One girl flirted with him and then told him it was all a big joke.

I can’t even imagine how psychologically defeating that had to be, especially for tween caught in that awkward age of adolescence.

But the bullying isn’t the sadist part of the story.  Without his parents’ knowledge, Ryan began an online friendship with another boy where they talked about suicide.  He visited “how to” sites and one site that let you plug in your personality traits and it told you the best way to kill yourself.

This story was the scariest of all.  But his parents openly admitted and obviously regretted that they didn’t know, or try to know, what he was doing online.

I think that’s the best thing a parent can do – get involved in a child’s Internet experience and teach them how to use it responsibly.  Skinner suggested putting the computer out in the open so that you could monitor their use.

Predators

According to the survey done for this show, one is seven kids reported being sexually solicited online.  But most of these were discounted as teenage boys saying “hey baby” as opposed to a real predator.

The show also said that most kids that got email messages from people they didn’t know just deleted them.

It reported that most online meetings were when the kids went looking for them, adding that if a child is engaging in risky behavior online, they are probably engaging in even riskier behavior offline.

Kids don’t see the internet as something separate they go to.  Instead it’s just a continuation of their life, according to the documentary.

The show called the Internet “the greatest generation gap since the advent of rock ‘n roll.”

And as parents, teachers, friends and families it is our responsibility to bridge that gap.

What ways do you suggest doing so?

You can watch “Growing up Online” at PBS.com.


‘Supernatural: Nevermore’ a Must Read for Fans

January 21, 2008

If other fans of CW’s Supernatural are anything like me they are going to love the new novel series based on the show.  First up is “Supernatural:  Nevermore” by Keith R.A. DeCandido.

 NevermoreThis series is only the second time that I’ve read books based on a TV show.  The first time was with the series Charmed.  The Charmed book series was more like a set of short stories.  You barely had time to get into the book and it was over.  They were more of a guilty pleasure that a serious read for me.

The case is not the same with the Supernatural series.  “Nevermore” was like just like watching an episode of the series, but better.  Why better?  Because you get a chance to look into the mind of Dean and Sam, to see what they are thinking and feeling.  And I have to say that the author did a pretty could job of channeling the Dean and Sam we’ve come to love as portrayed by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki.

But fear not, those of you who have never seen an episode of Supernatural, the book also does a great job of giving you enough background on Dean and Sam Winchester and their quest to battle the supernatural to understand the story without boring loyal fans.  And although the novel is easily a stand-alone story, I can’t imagine anyone not wanting more.

Meant to take place during Season 2 between the eighth and ninth episodes, “Nevermore” takes the supernatural-fighting Winchester brothers to the Bronx to help a friend of a friend rid his house of a ghost – a ghost sporting a heavy metal t-shirt from the ‘80s and only appearing on nights when the homeowner’s cover band plays at the local bar.

But if a screaming banshee isn’t enough, the boys also stumble upon some gruesome murders that are so strange and shocking they could only be dreamed up in the mind of Mr. Dark and Creepy himself, Edgar Allan Poe.  Add the fact that these murders are being reenacted all in the vicinity of the Poe Cottage, Poe’s last home, and the Winchesters fear a ritual is underway.  But what is the ritual for and who is performing it?

The adventure that follows is a great blend of the same qualities that make the show great – dark and spooky mystery that delves into the supernatural and occult without crossing the line into horror, witty dialogue exchange between two vastly different brothers bonded forever in their demon-hunting pursuit to find their parents demonic killer, and the well placed, but hilarious pop-culture references.

The novel even picks up on two of my favorite aspects of the show – the car and the music.  The black 1967 Impala is the Winchesters only mode of transportation and Dean’s one prized possession.  Dean’s only other love (besides women) is his heavy metal music.

Given that one of the storylines was about a band that covers heavy metal songs, music played a large role in the story.  But Dean’s relationship with the music was so well described that I felt like I was not only listening to the music myself, but could also see Dean jamming away and feel Sam’s annoyance with Dean for letting it get in the way of the “job.”

And even though I’m not familiar with the boroughs of New York myself, I felt like I was right there in the Bronx with the Winchester boys.  The description of the Bronx was so detailed I wasn’t surprised to find that author was a native.

If I’m going to be forced to be without my favorite show during this drought we know as the writers strike, I can at least take solace in knowing that I can continue with the adventures of Dean and Sam in the Supernatural novel series and the new comic book series, “Supernatural:  Rising Son,” which debuts in April.


Review: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is Simple Fun

November 19, 2007

I took the twins to see Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium this weekend, after all it’s the only G-rated movie out this season.  It was a nice simple family-friendly movie.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonderful EmporiumThe store itself is the real star.  The kind of toy store we all wished for as kids, the emporium is alive with magic that delights children of all ages.  I think my favorite thing in the store was the Big Book.  You just asked the book for what you wanted and if the store had it, it would appear.  If only I could have one of those books to organize my house, life would be so much easier.  The magical door was pretty cool too.  Turn the dial to select which room you wanted and it would be there when you opened the door.  What a cool way to expand your house when space is an issue? 

But if the store is alive then it has feelings too.  And we see those feelings come out when the store loses its owner.

The emporium is owned by the eccentric Mr. Magorium, delightfully portrayed by Dustin Hoffman.  A self-proclaimed toy impresario, magic aficionado and avid shoe wearer, Magorium, at the ripe old age of 243, has lived a full life.  And now that he has worn through his last pair of his favorite shoes, Magorium has decided it’s time for him to go. 

He wants to leave the emporium to Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman).  Mahoney loves the emporium and has managed it for years embracing the magic that it holds.  But believing in magic is not Mahoney’s problem.  Mahoney lacks faith in herself.  Faith she needs to complete her first composition.  Once a child musical phenomenon, Mahoney hasn’t yet lived up to her potential.

But Magorium has plenty of faith in Mahoney to take over the store.  But first his must get the store’s paperwork in order so he hires Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), an accountant to settle his affairs.  As unconventional as they come, Mr. Magorium refers to Henry as mutant since his definition of accountant is a counting mutant.  Unbothered by this nickname, Henry is all business.  He has no time for pretend or anything else associated with the store except its paperwork.

And then there’s the hat collector.  Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills) is nine years old.  He has very few friends and spends all his spare time at the emporium.  But this kid is a believer, a true whiz with the toys and the only one who truly seems to “get” Mr. Magorium.

Now when Mahony and the emporium find out about Magorium’s plans, neither are willing to accept his decision gracefully.

I truly enjoyed the movie, but was not wowed by it.  And when the emporium goes gray, the twins lost interest quickly.   The story itself flows well at that point, but there just wasn’t much here to capture the little ones attention.

The story itself seems a little confused as to who it is really about — the enigmatic Magorium, the timid Mahoney, the non-believer Henry or the delightful Eric.  Personally, I was expecting more about Eric’s story since he seems to be Magorium’s true prodigy, even a younger version of Magorium himself. 

Overall, Mr. Magorium’s is a nice sweet simple tale.  Nothing spectacular, but a cute movie nonetheless.  If you go in with these expectations, you’ll be fine.

At the end one twin was applauding and was was ready to go so I’d say they gave it one thumb up and one thumb down.