Soap Opera Weekly: 8/04/10

I usually try to avoid any and all spoilers before seeing a thriller, so I went into Angelina Jolie‘s spy flick, Salt, with blinders on. (And, never fear, I won’t spoil anything here.) I knew the plot concerned a CIA operative accused of being a Russian sleeper agent, and I was determined not to ruin any surprises.

Well, imagine my surprise to see that the film’s president of the United States was played by none other than Hunt Block! Block was my favorite incarnation of AS THE WORLD TURNS’ Craig (Sorry, Jon Lindstrom), and I was delighted to see that he portrayed fictional President Lewis with the same laconic charm that he brought to the shady Mr. Montgomery. But Block also lent Lewis a real sense of gravitas. I was surprised at what a great commander-in-chief Block made.

Another veteran of ATWT, former Faith Cassidy Hinkle, has a featured role in several flashback sequences. In addition, a couple of other soap stars have blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em roles: Victor Slezak goes from dead sleazeball politician Silas on ATWT to a one-star general in the movie; ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Tika Sumpter (Layla) runs the front desk at Langley, while castmate Kamar de Los Reyes (Antonio) plays a Secret Service agent; and Michelle Ray Smith (ex-Ava, GUIDING LIGHT) can be seen in a key bunker scene.

And, by the way, I really enjoyed Salt. Jolie is a charismatic lead, and the story went in a direction that I didn’t quite expect. The action sequences were a bit outlandish, but the story was so entertaining that I was willing to take it all with a grain of…salt.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 7/07/10

“You’re a gifted liar, Sonny,” GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Olivia noted. “Just don’t lie to me now,” she pleaded as she demanded to know if he planted the explosive in Johnny’s car.

She was not the only one wondering: Alexis had already confronted Sonny with the same question the instant she heard about the bomb. “Of course not,” he calmly shrugged, then launched into a song-and-dance that climaxed with him rapping his knuckles on the desk as he insisted to Alexis, “I did not put that bomb in his car.”

Which is literally the truth, since the hired bomb-maker actually put the device in Johnny’s vehicle. I was amazed at the ease with which Sonny wove his cover story, but everyone knows the best lies have a dose of truth mixed in. It’s Alexis’ fault for not asking the correct question, right?

A dazzled Michael’s jaw hung open, in awe or disbelief, as Sonny asked, “You understand why I had to lie tonight, right, son?” Um, I think I do, Sonny: You didn’t want to get caught! But the whoppers didn’t stop there. “I’m not used to lying to the people that I love,” Sonny maintained. Later, Olivia made him take an oath to tell the truth. “I swear on Dante’s life that I didn’t do it,” Sonny rasped.

Sonny told Michael, “Someday you’re gonna be a father, and you’ll understand what I’m saying.” I think Michael understands just fine right now: Sometimes Daddy screws up, and it’s too embarrassing (or too dangerous to life and limb!) to admit.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 7/6/10

GENERAL HOSPITAL observed Monday’s Independence Day holiday with another rerun of its most infamous recent episode, the Jan. 29 installment in which Sonny shot Dante.

Okay, we get it, GH, that was a turning-point episode — but it also marked a low-point for Sonny, didn’t it? Dante pulled his badge to arrest Sonny. The gangster pulled his weapon and held the cop at gunpoint long enough to have a conversation with him, then unleashed a stone-cold, “Goodbye, detective” and shot Dante right in the chest. Then he stood over his victim and prepared to plug him a second time to make sure he would die. There is no way to sugar-coat what Sonny did to an officer of the law (and his own son), and replaying the (admittedly emotionally powerful) sequence drives home the point that Sonny is exactly what Dante called him: “A cold-eyed bastard who’d kill anyone to get whatever the hell he wants.”

Point taken. By now we can be pretty certain that everyone has seen this pivotal installment, so I hope we see something a little more upbeat to celebrate Labor Day. How about rerunning the May 5 episode, in which Lulu and Dante make love for the first time?

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Soap Opera Weekly: 6/25/10

If you’re looking for an over-the-top, fun action movie this weekend, why not try The A-Team? If the big-screen adaptation of the iconic 1980s TV series seems to be struggling a bit at the box office, there is one person nobody can blame: Brian Bloom, who formerly played AS THE WORLD TURNS’ Dusty. Bloom not only features in The A-Team as cold-fish bad guy Pike (Get it?), he also co-wrote the screenplay! What more do you want the guy to do — sell you popcorn in the lobby?

I have seen the movie, and I can tell you it is an excellent reimagining and expansion of the TV series. The best material goes to Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) as lady-killer “Face,” but everyone gets his moment, including Ultimate Fighting champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus, and Sharlto Copley (District 9) as Murdock. Liam Neeson adds dramatic heft as Col. Hannibal Smith. The plot concerns stolen printing plates for counterfeiting U.S. currency, and provides plenty of excuses to travel the globe, blowing stuff up and trading quips. Bloom is quite sinister as the bloodless Pike, and I certainly did not trust him after his first appearance.

But you can trust Bloom to deliver a highly entertaining popcorn movie.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 6/11/10

This week’s wedding of Jake and Amanda on ALL MY CHILDREN was my favorite soap nuptials in a long time — thanks largely to Ricky Paull Goldin, who played Jake more like a regular guy than an idealized romantic hero so many male characters are forced to be.

I have never been to a real-life wedding in which the bride and groom wrote their own vows. Nope, it’s never happened. Yet, on soaps, every couple writes their own vows — no matter who they are, or how impromptu the ceremony. Hell, even THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS’ drunken Billy and Victoria made up their own vows on that beach a couple of weeks ago! It’s one of those soap conventions that reminds us viewers that we’re watching a fantasy. Well, Jake joked that he didn’t know he was supposed to plan something! When Jake fashioned his own vows, the words sounded realistic; it wasn’t some flowery speech clearly penned by a writer who stayed up all night crafting it. He simply professed his love and admiration and devotion for his bride. Jake was not afraid to play the goofball and look a little silly. He feels real. Goldin plays Jake as a guy who would hang out and watch a game with you — and know the teams.

Jake and Amanda’s ceremony itself also had a grounded quality that made it seem like an event that could actually take place in the real world; it was not some impossibly grandiose affair fit for fairy-tale royalty. Even with the do-it-yourself vows, this was a ceremony real people might actually be invited to.

Okay, so Jake busted out the purple prose at very end, and the happy couple made a splashy, scripted exit. But, hey, it is a soap opera, after all.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 5/25/10

After the sheer awesomeness that was the LOST finale on Sunday night, I was amazingly disappointed in the final, back-to-back episodes of 24.

The first hour was mostly deadly dull exposition. I understand that foundations must be laid, but the basework here was drab and boring. I would expect the-powers-that-be to have honed the craft of creating exciting exposition for 24’s penultimate hour.

The final hour of Jack’s very long day was a bit more exciting, as the first half was filled with tension: Would Jack assassinate the Russian president — in sequence that called to mind the premise of season one, in which Jack fought to thwart the assassination of US presidential candidate David Palmer? Later, a furious Jack barking at Chloe to shoot him was vintage Jack at his “by any means necessary” best. And Chloe actually shooting him? Awesome. I was even crossing my fingers that she could upload the data file before being stopped.

But overall, it was a waste of time. The final chapter was devoted to tying off loose ends and wrapping up the overly convoluted story — as it related to other characters! Jack was barely in most of the episode! I love Chloe as much as the next 24 fan, but I need to her interacting with Jack, not Arlo and Cole, the shallow doppelgangers of the way she and Jack used to be.

As for Jack, he ended up stabbed, shot, beaten and on the run, a bloodied man hunted by the USA as well as Russia. This was our last glimpse of 24 as a series, and it was not a satisfying story. I wish TPTB had ended with some closure for character rather than a blatant set-up for a future movie. It made the TV finale feel less important; like it was just a launching pad for a big-screen venture.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 5/17/10

After probably the best season ever, SURVIVOR: HEROES VS. VILLAINS came down to an exciting photo finish in the final immunity challenge, an entertaining jury session and (for my money) ended last night with the wrong person winning.

Sandra Diaz-Twine claimed the $1 million prize, triumphing over Parvati Shallow (who had previously won MICRONESIA) and Russell Hantz. This marked Sandra’s second grand prize, since she also won PEARL ISLANDS, making her the first double winner. I am at a complete loss to explain what Sandra did to earn her victory, but…she did it. Apparently, the folks on the jury just liked her more than Parvati. (Russell did not get a single vote!)

Let me state upfront that I was rooting for Rupert all the way. He has long been my favorite SURVIVOR player. I interviewed him for Reality Check magazine after his PEARL ISLANDS season, and I was struck by how…well, real the guy is. The gregarious (sometimes) gentle giant you see onscreen is the way he comes across in real life. Rupert truly qualified to be a Hero.

After Rupert was booted, I threw my support behind my No. 2 choice, Parvati. When she made it to the final three, I figured she had a good chance, because of her strength in challenges and the way everyone was bad-mouthing Russell. Ah, Russell. I know this won’t be a popular position, but I believe Russell played the purest game: He was evil from the word “go,” continued to be evil every step of the way, and ended the game evil. And, even though I was rooting against him, based on his gameplay, I believe he should have won. But all his backstabbing and blindsiding came back to haunt him. At least he did win $100,000 in a fan call-in vote.

Many of the other players, while not my faves, were entertaining to watch. Boston Rob, Courtney, Amanda, James, Sugar and even Colby had their fun moments. But Sandra? Not so much. She was just…there. She never won even a single challenge. She never made a bold strategic move or exerted any influence on gameplay at all. She just lurked in the background. Clearly, she elevated “flying under the radar” to an art form, and cashed in for $2 million.

At least there will be a new winner in the fall, when Jeff Probst travels to Central America to guide all-new players through SURVIVOR: NICARAGUA.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 4/23/10

With the demise of AS THE WORLD TURNS’s Rocco, I would like to declare a moratorium on mobbed-up Italian-American men in Oakdale.

Speaking as an Italian-American, I can say for a fact that not every one of us is in the mafia. I don’t see ATWT (or any soap) depicting any other minority groups in such a uniformly negative manner. In a genre that bends over backward to wink at the reality of organized crime so that popular characters like GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Sonny can be presented as importing harmless, unspecified “shipments,” I was aghast to see ATWT’s Uncle Ralph depicted as an ugly character who runs a protection racket and threatens pregnant women. And Rocco’s mob ties produced a hit man who nearly killed Dusty. In short, why are some gangsters, like GH’s Sonny, Jason or Alcazar heroes, while Italian mobsters are always scary? Perhaps the closest parallel is the shoddy treatment that South Asians have received, playing cabbies on BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL and YOUNG AND RESTLESS. But hey, at least those guys were gainfully employed doing honest work.

Sure, we all enjoyed watching THE SOPRANOS on HBO, and The Godfather movies are classics worthy of worship, but not every work of fiction needs to be packed with gangsters of Italian descent. I applaud GH for giving us Dante the crusading police officer and his loving mother, Olivia, and we need to see more characters like them. Not every Italian-American is a member of La Cosa Nostra; it’s just not our thing.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 4/01/10

It was nice to see Lindze Letherman back on GENERAL HOSPITAL this week, portraying a spirit version of Georgie. Letherman was cool and controlled, and played Georgie as sentimental without being overly emotional. I found it interesting how Maxie took her dead sister’s appearance in stride. In fact, she seemed much more interested in Spinelli than the sight of her spectral sibling, which says something about Maxie’s dedication to the Jackal.

A ghostly loved one offering someone a choice between living and dying is pretty standard in soaps (most recently seen on ABC when ALL MY CHILDREN’s Dixie dangled paradise before her son JR a couple of weeks back). However, Georgie did not seriously try to tempt Maxie into going into the light. She clearly sensed Maxie’s concern for Spinelli — especially since Maxie mulled her own potential death in terms of the effect it would have on Spin.

Everyone talks about sacrificing his or her own life for a loved one — but Maxie sacrificed her death!

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Soap Opera Weekly: 3/09/10

Watching GENERAL HOSPITAL this week, I have to wonder how somebody as insecure as Spinelli can be with Maxie. The way he works himself into a lather of fear and suspicion is ridiculous. She has chosen to hang with him, and he gives himself no credit for that at all.

How insecure can Spinelli be? I thought he settled his issues a while back, but this week he acts on his old fear that Maxie is only attracted to dark and dangerous bad boys. Okay, so she slept with Franco. But that was about Maxie and her hang-ups, not a reflection on Spinelli. She would have no problem finding other male companionship if she wanted it. The truth is, Maxie hangs with the Jackal because she wants to. She’s not legally bound to stick around until death do they part. In fact, she loves him so much that she didn’t want to ruin their friendship by marrying him. So take a cue from that, dude. Actions speak louder than words.

And your actions this week scream, “Lunatic!” While I do not question the Jackal’s intelligence, sometimes I do wonder about his sanity. A common definition of madness is “repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different outcome.” Spinelli has tried this gambit of dragging Maxie along on some manufactured adventure before, and it has never gone well. What makes him think this time it will be any different? It’s just plain dangerous. And crazy. Remember, GH, he’s supposed to be the Jackal, not the Loon.

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