New reviews, small screen, and special screenings 

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Justin Bartha and Nicolas Cage make their cavalier way through a pale reflection of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

New review

Sci-fi gets real and 'National Treasure' doesn't

National Treasure
Dir. John Turteltaub; writ. Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley; feat. Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer (PG)

Remember that song about the valley people who kill the mountain people for the treasure under the stone, and then it turns out that the treasure is just a little proverb? National Treasure will help you to identify with the valley people. After slogging through what feels like three hours of dialogue as fresh as yesterday's donuts and enduring Cage and Kruger's attempts to ignite a romantic spark with painfully flinty interaction, the audience is dished a happy ending saccharine enough to make fillings ache. But nothing hurts more than a wasted appearance by a newly cuddly Keitel, and Cage's apparent, if understandable, contempt for the script. The story's apogee, however, is its portrayal of the first Crusaders as selfless curators who "saved" acres of gold artifacts and scrolls from the library at Alexandria because they realized the treasure was too great for any one entity to own. (That strange feeling is your gag reflex.) At the end of the film, the goods are given to "the people" across the globe in the form of the Cairo museum and such, which in a way mirrors the evolution of Western acquisition. Just thinking about that is already putting more effort into it than the filmmakers themselves. The diamond in the rough here is Justin Bartha as the idiot savant programmer sidekick. He occasionally manages to turn cold canned asparagus into something you'd consider putting in your mouth. Elaine Wolff


Small screen

Sci-Fi gets real

Screenwriter Ron Moore brings depth and character development to genre TV

By J. Michael Owen

Two mini-series you may have missed recently, Carnivale and the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica, will return this January as full-fledged ongoing series. It's not often that shows considered "one-shots" do well enough in the ratings to become a series. It's also less often that they share the same writer, in this case Ronald Moore.

Moore got his start with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, then developed his writing credentials further to include Roswell, The Dead Zone, Touching Evil, and the films Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, and Mission Impossible 2. Then came HBO's Carnivale which tells a supernatural story while following a travelling road-show during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. It stars Michael J. Anderson (Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive), Clancy Brown (Highlander, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai), Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, Escape From New York), and Nick Stahl (Terminator 3, In The Bedroom).

From the beautifully elegant opening credits until the very end of each episode, rich characters, creepy situations, and believable settings are rife with realism. "I like to leave things open to keep the audience thinking, and asking more questions about those characters motives," Moore told SciFiPulse.net. "I like to steer clear of writing characters in black and white. There have to be some shades of gray there in order to keep the balance there."

Now that the Sci-Fi channel has given Battlestar Galactica the green light, Moore will leave Carnivale, and devote all of his time as executive producer for Galactica. The new series retells and reinvents the science-fiction space-opera that ran for one season in 1978 on ABC. After destroying 12 planets inhabited by humans, the evil Cylons return for revenge on their creators and chase them across the galaxy in a "rag-tag fugitive fleet" of ships lead by a gigantic space-faring aircraft carrier, the Battlestar Galactica. Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Miami Vice) and Mary McDonnell (Dances with Wolves, Donnie Darko) head the cast in a smart and innovative version of the original series.

Asked about the differences in writing for the two series, Moore told Canada's Hollywood North Report that, "Carnivale is a long, continuing story with a lot more characters and a very deep and complicated back-story ... you're playing a much bigger game of 'what if' than you are with non-genre material. It sounds contradictory to say this, but Carnivale and Galactica both try very hard to be realistic ... to bring realism into the genre ... to play character and play story from a realistic point of view and then put them in a genre context, which I think is an interesting juxtaposition."

It may be easy to dismiss the accolades for genre-television as "fan-boy" drivel but it is indeed a rarity to find a writer that is able to create believability in unbelievable situations. Thanks to Ron Moore, Carnivale and Battlestar Galactica are the kind of programs that sets the bar high for future television and their fans.

The first season of Carnivale will be released December 7 on DVD with the second season premiering in January on HBO. The Battlestar Galactica mini-series will be released on DVD December 28 and the Sci-Fi channel will broadcast the first episode of the new series on January 14 with new episodes every week for both shows. J. Michael Owen


Special screenings

Cinema Flaternité

Three films remain in Finesilver Gallery's free Wednesday film series. Films by Bresson, Godard, and Kubrick were selected to compliment the current exhibit of work by Hills Snyder, Flaternité, on view at the gallery through January 8. Further elucidation of Snyder's work, which references history, philosophy, pop culture, and his own refreshingly weird and dark sense of humor is always welcome. Viewers are encouraged to bring popcorn or other snacks.

Bresson's A Man Escaped will screen December 8, and Godard's 1967 Le Weekend screens December 15. Show time is 7pm. Admission is free. For more information, contact John Tevis at 354-3333.

In the beginning there was ... lights, camera, action!

Alamo Height's Christ Lutheran Associate Pastor Michael Coffey continues his "Theology in the Movies" series with Grand Canyon, a tale of adventure gone awry in a magnificent natural setting. Following the film, Coffey will lead a discussion of spiritual and theological themes related to the film. The series is non-sectarian and open to people of all religious backgrounds.

Grand Canyon will screen at 7pm Tuesday, December 7 at the Bijou Theatre at Crossroads Mall, as part of the series "Theology in the Movies." An audience discussion will follow. Admission is $6. For more information, contact Christ Lutheran Church at 822-3394, or the Bijou at 734-4024.

SXSW

Applications are being accepted through December 6 for the 2005 SXSW Film Festival - the most important film festival in Texas and arguably one of the most prestigious in the country - which runs March 11-19 in Austin. Works in progress are not eligible unless they will be completed by February 20, but submissions may be made in several categories, including narrative short, narrative feature, documentary short and feature, animated short, experimental short, and music video. Films can screen in any format, but entries must be in video. Postmark date to guarantee consideration is December 6, and the entry fee is $25 for shorts and $35 for features. For more information, visit www.sxsw.com/film/.


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