Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, April 25, 2009
      ( 4/25/2009 04:40:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"GET HIP TO WHAT'S IN THE AIR. IT'S CALLED ATMOSPHERE." When we last left Jimmy Riordan (Ian Tracey), at the end of the first season of Intelligence, the Vancouver drug boss and family man was in a bit of a pickle. Standing in the middle of a Seattle roadhouse with a disabled gun, surrounded by American DEA agents, his wife and daughter taken into custody, our anti-hero was definitely not in a happy place. Fortunately for the second season, James escapes this carefully constructed ambush, though it takes four episodes for him to return to business as usual. First, there's the tiny matter of getting smuggled back into Canada and keeping the Americans from extraditing him on a pair of trumped-up murder charges.

While Jimmy struggles to get back to business at the Chickadee Club, his handler and counterpart in the law enforcement community Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) has her own worries. Promoted to head the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, the ambitious policewoman finds the politics of her new position even more treacherous than undercover drug work. Both our leads face dangerous incursions from American interlopers: for Jimmy, it's American drug dealers eager to wrest the Vancouver pot selling market from the Canadians; for Mary, it's a shady financial group evocatively named Blackmire that is working to eradicate the U.S./Canada border for its own duplicitous ends.

The plotlines merge as Jimmy, in his ongoing efforts to "go legit," becomes involved in an offshore banking set-up that the Blackmire Group is utilizing for money laundering. The imperialistic American drug dealers turn out to have connections to the CIA, while the primary player in Blackmire, George Browne, none-too-coincidentally also happens to be a "retired CIA agent." To learn more about the Group, Mary recruits an escort named Juliana (Pascale Hutton) to cozy up to Browne. Unfortunately, Juliana proves to be far less stable as an informant than Jimmy. Both Mary and her new second-in-command Martin (Eugene Lipinski) are forced to baby and manipulate the émigré informant -- as they also try to shield her identity from the way-too-curious American agents.

As with its first season, Intelligence devotes a lot of time to parsing the shifting allegiances within its two shadowy realms. Jimmy and Mary both align with men who were actively working against them in Season One: in Jimmy's case, the threat of the Americans has him allying with brutal biker dealer Dante Ribiso (Fulvio Cecere); for Mary, it involves promoting snaky alcoholic copper Ted Altman (the ever-watchable Matt Frewer) into her old position, even after Altman's repeated efforts to undermine her chance at a promotion. The strategy seems to bring both former enemies in line, though we certainly don't trust either of 'em to not betray their "friends" when given the opportunity to do so.

Writer/creator Chris Haddock continues to balance his convoluted espionage storylines with the personal lives of an expanding family of cops and criminals. Jimmy's borderliney ex- Francine (Camille Sullivan) continues to give him grief, especially after he hooks up with a younger woman. Chickadee Club manager Ronnie (John Cassini) learns he's going to be a father with one of his dancers, though his happiness is tempered by the fact that he's lied to the lady about his divorce going through. The one M.I.A. player proves to be Jimmy's screw-up brother Mike (Bernie Coulson), who basically stays out of the storyline once he's helped Jim cross the border. Guy finally does something right, and he gets shoved out of the picture.

Much as David Simon's The Wire moved beyond its initial drug-focus to incorporate city politics, urban gentrification, union corruption and the struggle in inner city schools, Haddock pushes the parameters of his story into broader areas. The sinister Blackmire Group, we learn, is invested in eliminating the border between Canada and the U.S. -- with an eye toward gaining control of Canada's fresh water rights. At one point in the series, we see Mary reading a report entitled "The War Over Water," and it's later revealed that the Group has purchased several prominent Canadian politicos to promote this process of "deep integration." Would have been interesting to see where the show would have taken this provocative plotline in its next season, but, unfortunately, the Canadian Broadcast Company, citing poor ratings, refused to renew the show for a third outing.

Smartly acted (Lipinski's deceptively soft-voiced handler Martin particularly comes into his own this season) and meticulously scripted, Intelligence is the kind of ambitious, complex adult crime drama that garners critical plaudits and a fiercely loyal fan base without ever quite grabbing the big ratings. Acorn Media is promoting its Season Two 12-episode boxed set as the series' "concluding episodes," though it's clear from the way that Haddock winds up his final violent entry (tellingly titled "We Were Here Now We Disappear") that he had much more story to tell. The set also contains a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes, character descriptions and actor filmographies (I forgot Klea Scott had a regular role on Millenium!), but, unfortunately, carries on the first set's practice of not including closed captioning for its sporadically muttery dialog. Still, that's what the DVD remote is for, eh?

Back when I reviewed the first set, there was word in the air that Haddock had interest from Fox for an Americanized version of Intelligence. As much as I enjoy this series -- and would love to know where a third season would've taken us -- I'd hate to see the characters taken out of Vancouver. The specificity of its Northern setting is a much a part of Intelligence as troubled Baltimore was to The Wire. Here's hoping Haddock is some day given another opportunity to take us into that particular urban landscape.


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Friday, April 24, 2009
      ( 4/24/2009 06:10:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC: Spent a lotta time this week, working on fencing in the backyard, with both dawgs watching me. Here's Kyan Pup, getting himself all dusty by the back steps.

THE USUAL NOTE: For more cool pics of companion animals, please check out Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009
      ( 4/22/2009 07:23:00 AM ) Bill S.  

MID-WEEK MUSIC VID: Watching the eighties-set Ashes to Ashes
has me pulling out discs I haven't played in a while. This week's BBC-Am ep featured a lotta ska music, so here's a favorite track by the Specials.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009
      ( 4/21/2009 04:49:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"IT'S THE WHOLE DEATH THING I'M NOT CRAZY ABOUT." Recently picked up a cheap copy of the two-disc "20th Anniversary Edition" of Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad (1987), a flick I hadn't previously seen, though I very much enjoyed Dekker's directorial debut, Night of the Creeps. An entertaining kids' horror comedy described by the writer/director as an attempt at blending "Our Gang comedies with Universal monster movies," Squad was an unfortunate box office flop when it first was released. Co-written by fledgling scripter Shane Black (who later blended the Three Stooges with cop actioner in Lethal Weapon), the movie also owes much to Richard Donner's The Goonies, though to my eyes, it's not as loudly abrasive as that 1985 Spielberg production. Mary Ellen Trainor shows up as a mom in both flicks, though.

Squad concerns itself with a group of monster-mad kids in a small California town attacked by creatures. The quintet of beasties (Drac, Frankenstein's monster, Wolfman, Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon) is led by a caped Dracula (Duncan Regher), who has come to the New World to retrieve an amulet that he wishes to destroy so he can overturn the balance between good and evil. Though we're not exactly shown how the movie's creatures united, that's not important. What matters is this: Monsters May Take Over the World! And there's nuthin' but a group of 12-year-old misfits (plus one five-year-old girl) to stop 'em!

Black & Dekker's screenplay at times shticks too closely to kid flick clichés -- Squad leader Sean's (Andre Gower) parents are struggling with their marriage; Fat Kid Horace (Brent Chalem) is the movie's comic grouser, though he comes through in a pinch more than once -- but is refreshingly economical in its storytelling. The film clocks in at 82-minutes, no small thing when you consider how bloated so many comedies are these days. A few of its plot points are more than a little rickety: most moviegoers will, I suspect, wonder how a 12-year-old is able to manufacture working silver bullets in shop class, though the bit that truly strained my credulity came earlier in the flick.

In it, Sean has come into possession of noted vampire slayer Van Helsing's diary. Dracula wants said book, so he phones Sean's mother who takes down a message that a "Mr. Alucard" called about buying the book. Suspicious, our boy writes the name down on a piece of paper, fiddles with the letters and realizes that Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards. Half a mo', we think. We know that Sean's a classic monster movie buff: shouldn't he have recognized that obvious alias from Lon Chaney Jr.'s turn as the vamp in Son of Dracula?

The heart of the movie belongs to character actor Tom (Manhunter) Noonan as the Frankenstein monster. The creature bonds with Sean's five-year-old sister Phoebe (Ashley Banks) and, much like John Matuszak's Sloth in The Goonies, performs a crowd-pleasing rescue in the movie's climactic showdown. The scene where the two meet is ironically framed by Dekker like the monster-and-child moment from James Whale's Frankenstein, though we never really worry for her safety with Noonan's creature. When Regher's sadistic Drac grabs the girl and holds her pudgy little face in his hands, that's a whole other matter.

Phoebe's moment of peril is arguably the PG-13 picture's one true suspenseful scene. Though the rest of the squad has scenes of personal danger, only the youngest viewers'll most likely take 'em seriously. A lotta faceless town cops get trashed in the movie's finale and a few anonymous small town damsels are transformed into vampiresses, but the Squad itself emerges relatively unscathed. Can't say the same thing for the Wolfman, though, who gets kicked in "the nards," prompting the movie's big inappropriate laff line.

Lionsgate's two-disc anniversary edition contains the by-now-inevitable director and actor commentary, plus an extended feature looking back at the making of Monster Squad. Though relatively low-budget, the film does boast fx and makeup work by two big names (Richard Edlund and Stan Winston, respectively); Winston, in particular, does an ace job suggesting without duplicating Universal's copyrighted monster images. A few action moments look like they'd have benefited from at least one more shooting, but like I say it all moves so quickly that you barely notice. And when Fat Kid Horace wounds the Big D. by slapping a garlicky slice of pizza on his face, you know you're watching horror kid flick history being made.

For that alone, Monster Squad deserves to be rescued from the discount bins.


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Sunday, April 19, 2009
      ( 4/19/2009 03:26:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC: Since we've moved away from a two-story bungalow with basement in Illinois to a one-floor Arizona double-wide, our shy cat Willow has become more sociable than she used to be. (Less places to hide.) Here's the ol' girl now, sitting on the back of the living room couch, resting her eyes.

THE USUAL NOTE: For more cool pics of companion animals, please check out Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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