Battlestar Galactica, Season 3 Review

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Review:

So, after two seasons of exceptional television by really any measure, season three of Battlestar Galactica is where it started to go off the rails. After a fairly strong start on New Caprica with what is probably the single most spectacular battle scene in the show’s run, the rest of the season frequently floundered. It became increasingly clear that not only did the Cylons not have a plan, the writers really didn’t either.

What the plot lacked in logic and continuity, it did make up for in shock value, especially in the killer season finale: “Crossroads, Part 2.” Unfortunately, a few big shocking moments don’t make up for the muddled mess that was most of the rest of the season. The season was partially salvaged by some great character work from the actors, but overall, it was a disappointment.

Season three does, however, seem like a good time to point out something I was remiss in not mentioning earlier: the music! Battlestar Galactica has an absolutely beautiful score composed by Bear McCreary, whose blog posts also offer some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. Here’s the show’s opening credits music as a sample:

Why is season three an especially good time to mention the music? Another of the most memorable music choices in the series takes place in the aforementioned season finale as the Final Five are revealed to the immortal strains of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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Battlestar Galactica: Razor Review

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Review:

As I mentioned in my Battlestar Galactica season two review, the Battlestar Pegasus arc is one of my favorites in the entire series, so I was really happy when I heard that they were going to make a movie about the Pegasus and her crew.

Pegasus’s story is told through a series of flashbacks from the point of view of Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), one of Pegasus’s officers under Admiral Cain, and interspersed with scenes after Lee Adama names Shaw his XO when he takes command of Pegasus. Jacobsen does a fantastic job with her role, and there’s lots of great material with Cain and Gina in the flashbacks, and lots of good stuff with Starbuck (among others) in the later scenes, so I enjoyed the movie a lot and definitely recommend it for fans of the show. Despite the fact that you already know the outlines of Pegasus’s story (assuming you’ve watched season two, of course), the acting is so compelling that it draws you in and makes the actions undertaken by Cain and her crew in the aftermath of the attack on the 12 Colonies shocking even though you already know they’re going to happen. Razor also includes flashbacks from Adama’s backstory as a young pilot in the First Cylon War, when he stumbled on some gruesome early experiments with making humanoid cylons.

When should you watch Razor?

The movie was released in between seasons three and four, but takes place chronologically in season two, after “The Captain’s Hand.” There are no spoilers for season three in the movie, so personally I’d recommend watching it between seasons two and three, closer to where it fits chronologically. The only caveat is that some fans feel that a few lines of dialogue at the very end of the film suit the tone of season four better than that of season three, and may affect your impression of season three if you watch it first. If you’re concerned about this, fan Thunderpeel2001 has advice for how to skip those few lines.

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My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Battlestar Galactica, Season 2 Review

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Review:

Season two of Battlestar Galactica was just as outstanding as season one. It’s my favorite season of the show, largely because of the intense Battlestar Pegasus arc in the middle of the season, when the Galactica unexpectedly finds another ship that survived the Cylon attacks but has taken a very different moral path in the intervening months. The discovery of the Pegasus was the catalyst for some of the best performances of the whole series, including Tricia Helfer’s as the Number Six copy called Gina Inviere and guest star Michelle Forbes’s remarkable work as Pegasus’s Admiral Helena Cain.

I also enjoyed some of the stand-alone episodes this season, especially the uplifting “Flight of the Phoenix” and the considerably angstier “Scar.” As a huge fan of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), I thought this was Sackhoff’s best season, thanks to her performances in those two episodes, the Pegasus arc, and the Caprica arc.

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While season two itself is great, I was kind of annoyed that they chose to break it up into not one, but two DVD box sets when they released it. I mean, they managed to fit season one into a single box set and it had the extra three hour miniseries on top of the regular episodes. It kind of seems like a way  to charge fans almost twice as much for the same amount of content. Nevertheless, I clearly fell for it, and evidently so did plenty of others, because they did the same thing with season four.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Review

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Review:

I heard rave reviews of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot for a couple years before I actually sat down to watch it. This was partially because I was confused about where to start, so just in case somebody else has the same question: you start with the miniseries. The miniseries is included with the season one box set, so you don’t need to buy/rent it separately (although that is an option).

Once I finally sat down to get started, I was quickly captivated. In fact, I think the miniseries and first couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica are some of the best science fiction ever committed to screen. The storyline focuses on the captain (Edward James Olmos) of an outdated starship that is about to be decommissioned and turned into a museum. Shortly before the ceremony is scheduled to take place, the ship’s crew receives word that human civilization is under attack by their former robot slaves, the Cylons, who have attained sentience and turned on their former masters. The massive attack is carried out so swiftly and comprehensively that within hours, the human race is reduced to just 50,000 survivors.

Battlestar Galactica never struggled to find its footing, as some shows do early on. The writing in the miniseries and first season is solid throughout, the special effects are excellent, and the large ensemble cast, led by Olmos and Mary McDonnell, is outstanding. Like many great sci-fi series, the show grappled thoughtfully with serious real world religious, philosophical, and ethical quandaries, even as its characters wandered alien star systems in search of a legendary planet called Earth where they hope to find safety. At the same time, it held the interest of less philosophically inclined viewers with gripping storylines and plenty of space battles.

For me, one of the main strengths of Battlestar Galactica is its characterization. I thought the writers did a great job juggling the many different arcs and storylines and making each one both individually and collectively interesting and appealing. I quickly grew to care about nearly all the characters and even though I became increasingly unhappy with the direction some of the character’s arcs took in later seasons, I never lost my fundamental investment in the characters and their fates. This turned out to be both good and bad in the end, as I’ll discuss in my reviews of the later seasons, but it was unequivocally a good thing in the miniseries and season one.

Not going to lie: eye candy is an additional bonus of the show. I started watching the miniseries one evening without my husband. He passed by the tv at one point and practically got whiplash from Number Six, who is played by Tricia Helfer, a rare model-turned-actress who can actually act. (Grace Park, who played Number Eight, also got her start as a model.) For the ladies, you have Jamie Bamber (though the infamous towel slip is in season two), Tahmoh Penikett, and others.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The Borgia Chronicles Review

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Review:

I’m still upset about The Borgias being cancelled, so after stumbling across The Serpent and the Pearl, by Kate Quinn, the first book in The Borgia Chronicles, at the library, I decided to give it a shot to see if it could ease my withdrawal a bit.

The Borgia Chronicles, which include The Serpent and the Pearl and The Lion and the Rose, are told from the perspective of Giulia Farnese, the celebrated Italian beauty and mistress of Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), and two fictional servants: Giulia’s cook Carmelina and her bodyguard Leonello, a dwarf who reminded me of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones thanks to his sharp wit and love of books. Quinn’s Giulia starts out as a young and naive girl, but matures over the course of the series into a kind and caring young woman. She is an entirely different creature than the elegant Giulia of The Borgias or the energetic Giulia of Borgia: Faith and Fear, but I have to say, I like all three. So little is known of the real Giulia Farnese that any one (or none) of the three portrayals could be accurate.

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The Borgia family comes across fairly accurately, based on my understanding of their real life personalities, with one glaring exception related to the portrayal of Cesare in the first book that was resolved somewhat more satisfactorily in the second.

Quinn has a very pleasant and absorbing writing style that’s rich in period detail and sensory descriptions that bring the era to life. I repeatedly found myself reading much more in a sitting than I’d intended! I especially enjoyed her mouthwatering descriptions of Carmelina’s cooking, which are based on actual recipes from cooks of the period such as Bartolomeo Scappi (who is also a character in the books).

My biggest issue with the series was Quinn’s tendency to force me to suspend my disbelief over certain plot choices, which kept tossing me out of what were otherwise a pair of very enjoyable novels. I’ve already mentioned the issue with Cesare’s portrayal, which greatly marred my enjoyment of the first book, but though that eventually got resolved in a somewhat more probable manner, the second book went and did it again with an ending that seemed overly pat and tidy, not to mention improbable.

SPOILERS [click to view]

Despite having spent a third of the series reading Leonello’s thoughts, I never had the slightest suspicion that he was in love with Giulia, and I usually have a sharp nose for that sort of thing, so that seemed completely out of the blue to me. I could buy Giulia returning his feelings more easily, but despite the convenient sham marriage to the gay lord, I had trouble accepting that a noblewoman of Giulia’s era would just be allowed to shack up with a common dwarf for the rest of her life. Nor could I buy that Cesare would just take Leonello’s word that he’d killed Carmelina, given their history (however antagonistic it sometimes was). My romantic side was all fluttery and overjoyed that everybody ended up happy and free of their dangerous entanglement with the Borgia family, but my skeptical side was not so easily convinced.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Rome: The Complete Series Review

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Review:

HBO’s Rome has been on my to-watch list for years, and I finally watched it, so I can now officially add my voice the the chorus declaring it a crying shame that the show was cancelled after just two seasons, rather than the intended five. At least they had enough warning to wrap up the storyline in a coherent and relatively satisfying way, but the second season felt rushed as a result of trying to squeeze everything in before the end. Fortunately, despite its premature cancellation, the quality of the acting and the production values remained outstanding throughout.

In particular, I thought both writers and actors did a great job making ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, and their inhabitants both clearly alien to the modern Western audience, yet also sympathetic and relatable. One of the things that especially stood out to me was how brave the Roman characters were in the face of death. Rome has a considerable number of both actual suicides and people preparing for the possibility that they might have to commit suicide (for “honor” or to save themselves from a worse fate), and pretty much every single one is conducted with calm and stoic determination. As were most of the assassinations.

The historical accuracy was mixed at best, and I thought that some of the writers’ choices about when to stick to historical fact and when to switch things up were more successful than others. On the side of the good choices, I especially enjoyed Atia, Octavia, and Servilia, who were all substantially more entertaining than their reportedly pious and matronly real-life counterparts. Most of the changes made to their stories were so fun I didn’t care about the inaccuracies. In fact, Atia of the Julii is one of my new favorite female characters ever. Horrible human being, but so entertaining! Kudos to the writers and Polly Walker for bringing her to such vivid life!

One of my favorite Atia moments

One of my favorite Atia moments

On the other hand, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo had a much more mixed bag. I loved most of their interactions with the historical characters, and of course their interactions with each other (I’m always a sucker for a good bromance), but with the exception of Vorenus and Niobe’s complicated relationship in season one, most of their other non-historical relationships and storylines were kind of a mess. I didn’t like Pullo’s storylines with Eirene or Gaia at all, and the whole thing with Lucius Vorenus running the Aventine as a sort of ancient Roman mob boss also failed to hold a candle to anything he did with Caesar, Antony, or Octavian.

Another non-historical storyline I didn’t like was the incest. Though it was a minor plotline, it disproportionately annoyed me. I don’t have a problem with incest storylines per se, but they have to be justified very carefully for me to suspend disbelief. Incest is a nearly universal taboo, after all. Rome‘s incest seemed to come out of the blue for both characters. It certainly wasn’t as organic to the characters as the incest in The Borgias, which was set up from the very first scene they had together. As a result, it felt more like it was tossed in for shock value than anything else, which, in the context of a show with so much other shocking stuff going on all the time, just seemed cheap.

Overall, I thought that the first season was better than the second, partly because the second season was so rushed, and partly because too much of what little time was left in the second season was taken up by less interesting subplots like Vorenus in the Aventine and Timon the Jew’s fanatic brother. However, when season 2 was good, it was very, very good. The finale was especially spectacular, and a worthy ending to a great series.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5 Review

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Review:

Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had two big flaws: Glory (the Big Bad) and Dawn (Buffy’s surprise younger sister). Glory was too boring (I’ll be upfront here: none of the later Big Bads ever equaled season 2‘s Angelus or season 3‘s Mayor in my eyes), and Dawn was too annoying, and unfortunately, we got a lot of both of them this season.

Nevertheless, season 5 was pretty good. Not only did it have some great individual episodes, it was also much more consistent than season 4, or even season 2 (though I prefer season 2 overall.)

My favorite episodes include:

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The Paper Bag Princess Book Review

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Review:

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, was originally published in 1980 and was one of the first children’s books to feature a princess who did more than sit around and wait to be rescued. More than 30 years later, it’s still one of the best.

Its heroine, Princess Elizabeth, starts out as a Princess Classic who loves pretty dresses and is looking forward to marrying a prince named Ronald. Then a dragon demolishes her castle (burning up all her clothes) and kidnaps Ronald. Elizabeth dresses herself in a paper bag that somehow survived the fire and sets off in pursuit of the dragon. She rescues Ronald, but when he turns out to be a snobby, ungrateful jerk, she dumps him and skips off merrily into the sunset by herself.

I like The Paper Bag Princess because the message about valuing yourself despite what other people might say (even other people you thought you loved) comes through loud and clear without being preachy. It’s a fun and entertaining story, not just a lesson plan from Personal Empowerment 101.

Another thing that makes The Paper Bag Princess one of the best princess books for young readers is that Elizabeth ends up defeating the dragon using brains, not brawn. I like this because it’s more realistic for a girl who started the story as a completely stereotypical princess than having her turn out to be some secret swordfighting whiz. Even better, it teaches the valuable lessons that brains can defeat brawn and that there’s more than one way to be smart and brave… and girlie girls can do it, too!

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My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3 Review

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Complete Third Season (Slim Set) (DVD)
Actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, James Marsters
Director: David Greenwalt, David Semel, David Solomon, James A. Contner, Joss Whedon
Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Surround)
Subtitles: English
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 990 minutes

List Price: $39.98
Price: $39.99
13 offers available from $14.48
4.7 out of 5 stars (686)

Review:

I have a hard time deciding whether season two or season three of Buffy is my favorite. I think I would have to say that I like individual episodes (Innocence, Passion, Becoming 1 and 2, etc.) in season two better than any single episode in season three, but season three was much stronger and more consistent overall. The pod people, for one, seem to have spent the season on vacation, so there are no clunkers on par with “Bad Eggs” or “Go Fish,” thank the muses. The Mayor is also one of my favorite Big Bads.

mayor-become-invincible

Unfortunately, despite the fact that it’s one of my favorite seasons, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen any episodes other than my favorites (Lover’s Walk and Graduation Day 1 & 2), so I’ll have to do a rewatch before doing comments on individual episodes. Oh the pain. 😀

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2 Review

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Review:

Season two might be my favorite season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m always a little torn, because the bad episodes in season two were really, amazingly bad and I think some of the later seasons were more consistent overall.

But the good episodes were great, and the Angelus storyline starting in the final moments of Surprise is one of my favorites of the whole show. (I’ve never been much of a Buffy/Angel shipper, mainly because I always thought David Boreanaz was clearly having much more fun as Angelus.)

Another season two vampire bonus: Spike, when he was still un-chipped, un-souled, and cheerfully ripping out throats. \o/

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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