REVIEW: VERONICA MARS – SEASON 1

Starring

Kristen Bell (The Good Place)
Teddy Dunn (Jumper)
Jason Dohring (The Originals)
Percy Daggs III (Detention)
Sydney Tamiia Poitier (Death Proof)
Francis Capra (Izombie)
Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint)

Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Michael Muhney (The Young and The Restless)
Corinne Bohrer (The Flash 90s)
Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables)
Lisa Thornhill (Agter The Sunset)
Kyle Secor (The Purge: Election Year)
Daran Norris (Izombie)
Brandon Hillock (Villains)
Bradley Joseph (Stone & Ed)
Patrick Wolff (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Duane Daniels (Fashion House)
Jonathan Chesner (Bones)
Christian Clemenson (Apollo 13)
Aaron Ashmore (Smallville)
Wilmer Calderon (Fast & Furious)
Paris Hilton (House of Wax)
Ryan Hansen (2 Broke Girls)
Bobby Edner (The Amanda Show)
Paula Marshall (Murder In The First)
Alison MacInnis (Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue)
Kyla Pratt (Dr. Dolittle)
Adam Wylie (Child’s Play 2)
Robert Baker (Supergirl)
Sam Huntington (Superman Returns)
Melissa Reneé Martin (The Secret Craft)
Lisa Rinna (Days of Our Lives)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Harry Hamlin (Clash of The Titans)
Amanda Noret (Bunny Whipped)
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dar Thirty)
Adam Kaufman (Buffy: TVS)
Steven Williams (Jason Goes To Hell)
Bonita Friedericy (Chuck)
Alona Tal (Cult)
Tina Majorino (Scorpion)
Erica Gimpel (God Friended Me)
Anastasia Baranova (Z Nation)
Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls)
Chris William Martin (The Vampire Diaries)
Megalyn Echikunwoke (That 70s Show)
Kevin Sheridan (Heart of Dixie)
Emmanuelle Vaugier (Two and a Half Men)
Max Greenfield (New Girl)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Christopher B. Duncan (Legacies)
Katie Leclerc (The Big Bang Theory)
Bridget Hoffman (Total Recall)
Anthony Anderson (Transformers)
Jowharah Jones (Ugly Betty)
Ken Merckx (Masked Rider)
Christine Lakin (Family Guy)
Adam Scott (Krampus)
Leighton Meester (The Roommate)
Alyson Hannigan (Buffy: TVS)
Cynthia LaMontagne (Austin Powers)
Zachery Ty Bryan (Home Improvement)
Erin Chambers (Stargate: Atlantis)
Ken Marino (Agent Carter)
Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Last Man Standing)
Theo Rossi (Luke Cage)
Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy)
Roy Werner (Power Rangers Time Force)
Kyle Gallner (American Sniper)

Veronica Mars is set in Neptune, California, a town without a middle-class. Everyone’s either a millionaire or works for one, and the man largely responsible for Neptune’s unparalleled success is Jake Kane (Kyle Secor), the resident billionaire software mogul. Kane and his family are still reeling from the murder of his daughter Lilly (Amanda Seyfried) some months earlier, and as if that loss wasn’t enough, the beloved Kane family was doggedly pursued by a county sheriff convinced that they were hiding something. Public sentiment turned against Sheriff Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), who was ousted from office and abandoned by his wife.Kristen Bell and Jessica Chastain in Veronica Mars (2004)Cue the title character. His daughter Veronica (Kristen Bell) had already lost her best friend with Lilly’s death, but standing by her father also cost Veronica her friends, her social status, her house…even her mother. Veronica had already been unceremoniously dumped by Lilly’s brother Duncan (Teddy Dunn) shortly before her friend’s murder, and a defiant visit to face her former friends at a party weeks later led to Veronica being drugged and raped. Despite having lost so much, Veronica is resilient enough to move on with her life, and as her father struggles to stay afloat as a private eye, Veronica puts her smarts and determination to work to help ease the caseload at Mars Investigations. She also puts her talents to use to help her classmates with their troubles — for a price, of course. To cap it all off, Veronica’s faced with a couple of her own mysteries to solve. What convinced Lianne Mars to abandon her family, and where is she now? Who was it who drugged and raped Veronica last December? Also, is her father right — did someone other than disgruntled Kane Software employee Abel Koontz murder Lilly? If there is, who orchestrated the conspiracy that led to Koontz’ confession and why?Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)The dialogue in Veronica Mars has the same sparkle as Joss Whedon’s work…arguably better, even, since Buffy sometimes sounded like a deliberate attempt to be hip, whereas Veronica Mars manages to be witty and clever without feeling quite so forced. The writing doesn’t skew as young as one might expect from a TV show set in a high school. If anything, the target audience seems to be twentysomething — I don’t know how many fifteen year olds would be able to appreciate references to Archie comics or 21 Jump Street, f’r instance. Characterization is another strength of the series, and part of the reason Veronica Mars works as well as it does is that the audience truly does care about the characters. Despite having a seemingly endless array of talents, Veronica isn’t some sort of idyllic Mary Sue. She’s not always right. Her investigations frequently take morally questionable turns. Things don’t always go the way she wants. Not every episode has a happy ending.Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)Along with the cases that are solved in the space of forty minutes and change every week, a couple of mysteries are introduced in the pilot that are gradually explored throughout the entire length of the season. That’s right — unlike the hydra that is Lost, where answering one question spawns ten more, all of Veronica Mars’ mysteries are resolved by the time the season finale rolls around. (The finale tosses out a couple questions of its own, but if a second season hadn’t gotten the green light, it still would’ve been a fitting end to the series.)Veronica Mars has a capable cast to match the quality of the writing. Veronica is strong and cynical…bright and sarcastic…and even though all of the trauma she’s suffered over the past year has aged her somewhat, she’s still an emotionally vulnerable teenage girl.Kristen Bell and Alona Tal in Veronica Mars (2004)That’s a lot to juggle, but Kristen Bell is talented enough to make such a colossal task seem effortless and captivating enough to carry a show on her shoulders. Of course, Bell is joined by a strong enough supporting cast that she doesn’t have to shoulder it all herself.VM-S2D2_04After cutting down Wallace (Percy Daggs III), the new kid at school, who’d been stripped naked and duct taped to a flagpole, he and Veronica become best friends. In teen-TV land, it’s an immutable rule that people of different genders can’t just be pals…there’s this endless temptation to couple everyone. Veronica Mars manages to resist, resulting in one of the few platonic friendships like this left on television.Enrico Colantoni, who plays Veronica’s father, is another fan favorite, able to shift from warm, loving, and borderline-goofy to secretive and deadly serious when the situation calls for it. There’s also Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra), the leader of a local biker gang from the wrong side of the tracks who engages in some mutual backscratching with Veronica.Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars (2004)The character who stands out the most — aside from Veronica, of course — is Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). Like Kristen Bell, Dohring is endlessly engaging. He’s introduced as an “obligatory psychotic jackass”, but as the season progresses, Logan’s humanized without being watered-down; even when he’s doing something as thoroughly loathesome as bribing a homeless vet to join in on his homebrew Bumfights video, there’s an undercurrent of understanding why Logan is the way he is. The character changes throughout the season, but the shift feels deserved and natural, not just because that’s what’s scrawled on the whiteboard in the writing room.Other guest stars throughout the season include Napoleon Dynamite’s Tina Majorino as computer whiz Mac, Aaron Ashmore as a love interest with a shady past, Logan’s movie star family (played by Harry Hamlin, Lisa Rinna, and Alyson Hannigan), Anthony Anderson, Zachary Ty Brian, Joey Lauren Adams, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and, in a shameless bit of stuntcasting, Paris Hilton. Kristen Bell and Francis Capra in Veronica Mars (2004)The fact that the second episode of Veronica Mars manages to be really good despite a Paris Hilton guest spot really is a testament to how good a series this is. Oh, and, in true Laura Palmer fashion, just because Lilly Kane is dead doesn’t mean that Amanda Seyfried can’t rear her head in nearly every other episode.The conclusion to most of the mysteries caught me by surprise. Throughout the entire season, the only time I correctly guessed the culprit was in “Lord of the Bling”, and even then, the motivation and execution were well out of my reach. The many twists the stories take are clever, and watching these episodes a second time, I could spot all sorts of clues and hints that didn’t seem that important the first time through. Veronica Mars is a series that’s easy to dive into as a marathon, but for viewers catching these episodes for the first time, I’d recommend drawing it out a bit.

REVIEW: CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

CAST

Dwayne Johnson (The Scorpion King)
Kevin Hart (Ride Along)
Danielle Nicolet (The Flash)
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Jason Bateman (Identity Thief)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars)
Thomas Kretschmann (Dracula)
Megan Park (The Neighbors)
Melissa McCarthy (Spy)

In 1996, student and star athlete Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is being honored at his high school’s senior assembly. Halfway through Joyner’s speech, Trevor Olson (Jason Bateman) and his friends throw Robbie Wierdicht (Dwayne Johnson), who was showering, into the hall where the assembly is taking place, embarrassing him as he is still naked. Only Joyner and his girlfriend, Maggie Johnson (Danielle Nicolet), are sympathetic towards Wierdicht, who runs away quickly after Joyner has given him his varsity jacket to cover his private parts. Everyone else, including the bullies, laugh.
Twenty years later, Joyner is married to Johnson and works as a forensic accountant but is dissatisfied with his career. Johnson suggests they see a therapist to salvage their deteriorating marriage. At work, Joyner receives a friend request on Facebook from a man named Bob Stone, who reveals that he is Wierdicht and requests that they meet. Joyner is shocked to see that Wierdicht has transformed into a muscular, confident man. Stone asks Joyner to review a few accounting records. Joyner deciphers the records as multi-million dollar transactions from an auction, with the final payment set to be made the following day. Stone avoids Joyner’s questions and spends the night on his couch.

The next morning, a group of CIA agents led by Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) arrive at Joyner’s house in search of Stone, who escapes and erases all traces of his presence. Harris tells Joyner that Stone is a dangerous rogue agent who intends to sell satellite codes to the highest bidder. Soon after, Stone abducts Joyner and explains that he is trying to stop a criminal known as the Black Badger from selling the codes but needs Joyner’s skills to find the coordinates of the deal’s location. After an attack by a bounty hunter, Joyner flees and calls Johnson, telling her to meet him at the marriage counselor’s office. Harris intercepts him and tells him that Stone murdered his partner Phil Stanton and is the Black Badger himself. She warns him to refrain from telling Johnson and gives him a device to alert them to Stone’s location. Joyner then arrives for marriage counseling, where he finds Stone posing as the counselor.

Stone convinces Joyner to help him, and Joyner sets up a meeting with Olson, who is able to track the offshore account for the auction, so they can get the deal’s location. Olson at first apologizes for his behavior 20 years ago, but then reveals that he was only kidding them and bullies Stone again who is unable to react despite Joyner encouraging him to punch Olson for this. Harris calls Joyner and threatens to arrest Johnson if he fails to help them detain Stone. Joyner is forced to betray Stone, and the CIA arrests him. As Harris tortures Stone to get him to confess, Joyner decides to help Stone escape. Joyner deduces that the deal is happening in Boston and helps Stone steal a plane. At an underground parking garage, where the deal is assumed to be taking place, Stone enters alone, while Joyner sees Harris entering a short while later. He mistakenly assumes that she is the Black Badger and runs after her, only to find Stone meeting with the buyer and claiming to be the Black Badger. Stone shoots Joyner, grazing his neck, to keep him safe.

Stanton (Aaron Paul) arrives, revealing that he is alive, and claims he is the real Black Badger. The buyer attempts to retrieve codes from both Stone and Stanton, but the CIA arrives and a shootout begins, while Joyner grabs both codes and runs outside. He encounters Stone and Stanton, who engage in combat. Unable to decide who is the criminal, Joyner randomly shoots Stone, but Stanton confesses that he is the Black Badger and that Stone is innocent. Joyner causes a distraction that allows Stone to rip Stanton’s throat out, killing him. The two deliver the codes to Harris, who then drops them off at their high school reunion, where Joyner reconciles with Johnson. Stone is announced as the Homecoming King, with Joyner revealing to Johnson that he hacked the voting system to ensure Stone’s win. Olson attempts to bully Stone a third time, but Stone knocks him out. As Stone delivers his speech, he relives his most embarrassing high-school moment and takes off all his clothes confidently. He walks off stage to unite with his high-school crush Darla McGuckian (Melissa McCarthy). Stone, Joyner, and everyone else dance.

Before the ending credits, some time after the meeting, Maggie is pregnant and Joyner has joined the CIA. As a gift for his first day on the job, Stone gives Joyner back his varsity jacket from high school.
This is great weekend entertainment, not deep and intelligent but easy watching, light-hearted comedy.

REVIEW: BIRDS OF PREY

MAIN CAST

Ashley Scott (Into The Blue)
Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers)
Rachel Skarsten (Reign)
Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds)
Ian Abercrombie (Army of Darkness)
Mia Sara (Legend)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Chris Ellis (The Dark Knight Rises)
Shawn Christian (Las Vegas)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
AJ Michalka (Super 8)
Maggie Baird (Eragon)
Silas Weir Mitchell (My Name Is Earl)
Brent Sexton (Flightplan)
Joe Flanigan (Stargate: Atlantis)
Robert Patrick Benedict (Waiting)
Autumn Reeser (The American Mall)
Riley Smith (Eight Legged Freaks)
Michael Welch (Twilight)
Brody Hutzler (Angel)
Lori Loughlin (Full House)
Stephen McHattie (300)
Shane Johnson (Behind Enemy Lines)
Sarah Brown (VR Troopers)
Kristoffer Polaha (Dollhouse)
Brian Thompson (Hired To Kill)
Annie Wersching (The Vampire Diaries)
Sung Hi Lee (The Girl Next Door)
Neil Hopkins (Lost)
Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files)
Bob Papenbrook (Jeepers Creepers 2)
Llia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)
J.P. Manoux (Euro Trip)
Bob Clendenin (That 70s Show)
Ian Reed Kesler (2 Broke Girls)
Kirk Baltz (Natural Born Killers)
Steve Hytner (Roswell)

Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

untitled-3-copyLoosely based on DC Comics and a variety of other sources with a touch of Marvel’s the X-Men thrown in, the series continues the legend of The Batman. We enter the future, dark and fantastic world of New Gotham City. Long after The Batman has driven himself into exile, his legacy lives on in the form of the Birds of Prey – Black Canary, Oracle, and the Huntress. From the creators of the CW hit Smallville, Birds of the Prey was produced in 2002 for the now defunct WB, but had only 13 episodes before cancellation. Since then, its devoted fan base worked tirelessly to have the series released on DVD. It was a really exciting action show, breaking new ground because ALL of the lead characters were women.This boxed set collects all 13 episodes and a never-collected-on-DVD before Flash-animated series “Gotham Girls.” Awesomely, it also includes the unaired pilot, which featured Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) in the role of Dr. Quinzel. Mia Sara was later cast as Quinzel in the series. She also appeared in the AIRED pilot. Interestingly, all of the scenes featuring the character in the AIRED pilot were reshot with Sara, word-for-word. Also of note, the aspect ratio of the episodes in the set will be full frame, but will have dark bars on top and on bottom to mimic widescreen. While normal citizens slept, the Birds of Prey flocked together to fight crime on the streets of New Gotham City. Several years after the city was abandoned by Batman, the awesome threesome of Huntress (Ashley Scott), Oracle (Dina Meyer), and Black Canary (Rachel Skarsten) was formed. Huntress is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, and can smell danger from miles away. Black Canary has the gift of clairvoyance and Oracle leads the team through her cyber experience, despite being wheelchair bound by Batman’s nemesis, the evil Joker.When the series opens, we learn that New Gotham’s Batman has disappeared leaving behind a daughter from his long-time love Catwoman. Her name is Helena Kyle, who transforms herself into the mysterious superhero known as “The Huntress.” Helena has hypersensitive senses and agility, but uses her gifts selfishly. Fate brings her face-to-face with her choices as well as a wheel-chair-bound Barbara Gordon, the hero Oracle, who befriends her but agrees to train her only if she uses her powers for good.splash_780-1376-720x340She teams up with Barbara, who had been “Batgirl” prior to being paralyzed by the Joker. By day, Barbara is a teacher at New Gotham High, but by night she fights crime from her secret lair in the New Gotham Clock Tower. The two meet a determined Dinah Redmond, a young woman who was drawn to New Gotham to learn more about her powers. Dinah is a touch-telepath and psychic who had terrifying dreams about Batgirl’s brutal incident that resulted in her paralysis. The Huntress resists working with Dinah, but Oracle convinces her to give the younger woman a chance. Now, they must learn not only how to work together as New Gotham’s protectors, but also as a family.Special recognition goes to Mark “Star Wars” Hamill who briefly reprises his award-winning voice role as the Joker from the iconic classic, Batman: the Animated Series. In Birds of Prey, “Mister J” on-camera is portrayed by actor/stuntman Roger Stoneburner but Hamill’s voice was dubbed over Stoneburner’s performance.  During the course of the series, the women are often confronted with schemes masterminded by the Joker’s on-and-off girlfriend, psychiatrist Dr. Harleen “Harley Quinn” Quinzel (Mia Sara), but they always prevail and eventually beat her at her own game.jsyjp3Other characters of note are: Alfred Pennyworth (Ian Abercrombie), who serves Helena as heir to the Wayne estate, and Police Detective Jesse Resse (Shemar Moore), confronted with crimes and abilities he cannot explain. A central feature of the series is the concept of metahumans: Individuals born with powers that cannot be explained. No two metahumans have the same specific ability (or set of abilities) and there exists a whole sub culture of metahuman society that the outside world knows nothing about. It is this world that Detective Reese is drawn into, reluctantly teaming up with Huntress and the Birds of Prey to defeat metahuman criminals. At first, he is disapproving of Helena’s vigilantism, even trying to arrest her, but eventually he realizes there is a need for the Birds of Prey to take down criminals the police can’t handle. Episodes in this four-disc collection are: the Pilot; Slick; Prey for the Hunter; Three Birds and a Baby; Sins of the Mother; Primal Scream; Split; Lady Shiva; Nature of the Beast; Gladiatrix; Reunion; Feat of Clay; and Devil’s Eyes. Very popular theme song “Revolution” was performed by Aimee Allen.