Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Secret Circle: review

Well, it was about what I was expecting: derivative, not very well-written, and obviously designed to appeal to teenage viewers. But that's okay: it's been over a year since the premature cancellation of Eastwick with no new shows about witches in all that time, so we'll take whatever we can get, right?

I felt like I had already seen a fair amount of the episode, having watched the seven minute trailer which featured the beginning and a few major plot points. Cassie, the beautiful blonde teen who is our heroine (actress Brittany Robertson bears a striking resemblance to Michelle Williams), is the new kid on the block and in school (sounds like The Craft, right?) in a charming coastal town in Washington state. She is immediately recognized and set upon, albeit slyly, by a handful of attractive students who react her variously with kindness, disdain and infatuation (sounds like The Craft, right?). We learn prior to her arrival that Cassie's mother has been killed (sounds like The Craft, right?), burned to death in her home, by someone who ives in Chance Harbor and who obviously has his eye on Cassie, too. Cassie's father is also dead, and she has gone to live with her grandmother in the house her mother grew up in. This theme of "absent parents" is common in stories where a young person is involved in dangerous and occult goings on.

Cassie is invited by one of her classmates to a deserted house, where a group of students inform Cassie that she is a witch, just like they are. That their powers date back to the 1600s, linked through their family line (Sounds like Charmed, right?). One girl in the coven of witches (Diana, like the mood goddess, get it?) likes Cassie, and her boyfriend Adam likes Cassie, too, maybe a bit too much--we know this because the forest lights up with colors and sparkles right before they almost kiss, which is bad because of course he has a girlfriend. Oh noes! Teen hormonal angst! Another girl, Faye (Phoebe Tonkin, an Australian actress who is kinda awesome) seems to dislike Cassie either because she's jealous, or just plain mean to everyone (kinda like Nancy in The Craft). But then, her name is Faye, like Morgan le Fay, get it?

The man who burned Cassie's mother's house shows up suddenly, expresses his sympathies to Cassie and looks at her in a creepy way. Cassie finds an old, magical book (sounds like Charmed, right?) and learns that it dates way, way back to the olden days, when the ancestors of this group of witches first came to Chance Harbor.

The mean girl Faye makes it rain! Then Cassie makes it stop raining! They all stand around in skimpy wet clothing! They're witches!

As other reviewers have pointed out, the show is nothing special but since it airs immediately after the wildly popular The Vampire Diaries, it should do all right. I will probably keep watching just to see where they take it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

THE SECRET CIRCLE premieres tonight!

This new show about young witches premieres tonight at 9 pm EST on the CW network. The Secret Circle is the story of a young woman named Cassie (Brittany Robertson) whose mother dies in a mysterious house fire, prompting Cassie to move back to her mother's small hometown, Chance Harbor. There she meets some new friends who inform her they are witches, and that Cassie is, too.

Yes, it's all VERY reminiscent of the 1996 film The Craft. Robin Tunney's character Sarah has also lost her mother, moved to a new town and met friends who helped her understand her "powers." Cassie is "the sixth" just as Sarah was "the fourth." Oh, and just like in the WB television show Charmed (which is, of course, also loosely based on The Craft), there's an old book! And the tradition of witchcraft in Chance Harbor goes back to the olden days. Oh, and if you're not familiar with the British series Hex, that one also features a young blonde college student named Cassie who discovers she is a witch. Yes, The Secret Circle would appear to be derivative of a number of things we've seen before.

So what's new about this one? Well, there are also male witches in this group, which makes for some sexy possibilities. Instead of men being merely clueless outsiders or vengeful enemies, they're in cahoots: in The Secret Circle, witchcraft is not just for the ladies (as it was in Eastwick, the short-lived ABC series very loosely based upon the novel (and to a lesser extent the film) The Witches of Eastwick, and which I rather enjoyed for its sly humor and nod to Desperate Housewives. Of course, like Eastwick, The Secret Circle is also set in a sweet little coastal town.

Check out this video preview for a taste of what's in store. I'll be tuning in tonight, so watch for my review later! I don't have particularly high hopes for this series, but it will be interesting to see if the producers and writers decide to lift details from modern Wicca practice (as The Craft did), and how much the depiction of magic will depend upon over-the-top special effects.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky didn't know, when they started filming the documentary Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, that after they'd finished editing and submitted the film to festivals, that the story of Damien, Jason and Jessie would, after eighteen long years, suddenly take a dramatic turn. Purgatory is that place where people are stuck, suspended, between this world and the next, and given the biblical allusions in the titles of the first two films about the West Memphis Three, Paradise Lost and Revelations, this seemed like an appropriate if pessimistic title.

After the film had already been accepted to at least two very high profile film festivals, in Toronto (where the film aired this past weekend) and New York, the three young men were unexpectedly released from prison, in a strange and, some say, insultingly-unfair deal that made admitting their guilt a condition of their release, thereby protecting the state of Arkansas from any legal action.

Now, a re-edited version is being prepared for premiere at the New York Film Festival in October, as well as for limited theatrical release later this fall (so that it may qualify for Oscar consideration). HBO, who has produced and shown all three documentaries on television, will also be showing the film beginning in January 2012.

As I have said before, it is impossible to overstate how much impact these filmmakers have had on this case and on the fate of the three wrongly-imprisoned young man. Without the increased awareness that Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills created, without their thorough and thought-provoking coverage of this story over the last eighteen years, it is extremely doubtful this happy but bittersweet ending would have occurred.

And the story is not over, so it is very likely that Joe and Bruce will continue to help document it, until justice is done for the three young boys were brutally killed in 1993.