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<p>Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester in &quot;Strike Back.&quot;</p>

Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester in "Strike Back."

Credit: Cinemax

Brothers in arms: Checking in on Cinemax's 'Strike Back'

The Friday night action series has turned out to be much better than it needs to be

Cinemax's "Strike Back" fell into an unfortunate scheduling nether-region in terms of reviewing, with the first episode debuting while I was recuperating from press tour (though Dan and I discussed it on the podcast), and the series really kicking into gear while I've been trying to stay afloat amidst the broadcast network premieres.

And that's a shame, because over the course of six episodes so far, I feel like the show has turned out to be far better than it needs to be.

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<p>A good alternative title for the new Bustillo/Maury horror film 'Inside' would be 'Very Black Swan'</p>

A good alternative title for the new Bustillo/Maury horror film 'Inside' would be 'Very Black Swan'

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: 'Livid' is a beautiful nightmare from the French directors of 'Inside'

Gorgeous and disturbing film may throw some horror fans

I rarely remember my dreams.

When I was in Toronto this year for the festival, I was staying at a hotel that was ridiculously close to the venues where they were showing the movies, so I went home in the middle of a few of the days and got a nap or two.  Since I rarely nap, and since most of the time I have terrible insomnia at home and don't sleep until I'm exhausted, at which point I pass out more than anything, I'm not used to the kind of shallow sleep I was getting in Toronto at all.

As a result, I started having crazy vivid dreams, and while I was having them, I was absolutely cognizant that they were dreams, but even so, I felt trapped in them, and they were absolutely nightmares.  Things were embarrassing, disturbing, hard to explain, working against logic, the laws of physics suddenly up for grabs.  I was upset but couldn't explain why in the dream, and even when I managed to wake up from the dreams, there was a mood they cast over me that was hard to shake. It was one of the strangest few days of consciousness I've ever had, and I think I'm glad I don't have more recall of what happens when I dream.  I think it would be upsetting based on the work-out I got in those few short days.

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<p>The cover of Tony Bennett's &quot;Duets II&quot;</p>
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The cover of Tony Bennett's "Duets II"

Tony Bennett, 85, will finally land his first Billboard 200 No. 1

Crooner's "Duets ll" looks like a lock for the top spot

Tony Bennett will get a wonderful birthday present: his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. “Duets ll,” which pairs him with such artists as Amy Winehouse, Carrie Underwood and k.d. lang to commemorate his 85th birthday,  will debut at the top of the chart next week with sales of up to 170,000.

The title should be able to hold off on any last minute surge by Lady Antebellum, whose “Own The Night” drops to No. 2 with a still very sturdy 150,000 in sales, according to Hits Daily Double.  “Duets: An American Classic,” which Bennett released in 2006 to herald his 80th birthday, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling 202,000 in its opening frame.

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<p>Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson in &quot;A&nbsp;Gifted Man.&quot;</p>

Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson in "A Gifted Man."

Credit: CBS

'A Gifted Man' - 'Pilot': The ghost chatterer

What did everybody think of the new CBS medical drama?

Time constraints (on Dan's part) and a lack of enthusiasm (on mine) prevented either Fienberg or I from offering a written review of "A Gifted Man," but I did run my Margo Martindale interview this morning, and we discussed the show as the first segment on today's podcast. Not ideal, but premiere week is not an ideal time.

To sum things up, Dan really admired the way Jonathan Demme's direction of the pilot brought some grit and leavened the sap of the premise. I was less impressed by the direction and felt the show was tonally inconsistent, and didn't particularly believe Patrick Wilson in the scenes where he was playing his character as a cold bastard in need of change. (On the other hand, the scenes where he's with Jennifer Ehle or Mr. Noodle and opening himself up? He's terrific.) And both of us are skeptical about the show going forward.

Now it's your turn. For anyone who watched tonight, what did you think? You setting the season pass for this or not?

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<p>&nbsp;Seth Gabel of &quot;Fringe&quot;</p>
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 Seth Gabel of "Fringe"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Fringe' Premiere - 'Neither Here Nor There'

Tension remains between both worlds, even with Peter still missing

When last we met, “Fringe” fans, a lot of you were unhappy with me. Whereas the Season 3 worked like gangbusters for most of you, to me it felt hollow, cheap, and too clever by half. Staging a future that will no longer exist thanks to Peter’s intervention and a time-travel twist stolen from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” simply didn’t do it for me. (“Doomsday Device…remember a Doomsday Device!” I can hear Walter Bishop, Esquire, saying.) Did that undo all of my good feelings towards the show? Of course not! It’s a stellar show that got away from its strengths in the final hour. Having the show back on my television now makes me happy. But I’m still wary.

Here’s the problem: it’s not as if the show ever planned on keeping Peter off the show for good. It didn’t make a bold, fundamental change to the show’s structure when it erased Peter from existence. In a way, I’m glad, since the interplay between Olivia and The Bishop Boys sits at the heart of what makes this show work. On the other hand, we now have in the show’s present the same problem we had in its potential future: the people that we’ve followed for three seasons are gone, replaced by variants that possess the same DNA but slightly different personalities, behaviors, demeanors, and histories.

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<p>Walter (John Noble)&nbsp;has a sleepless night on &quot;Fringe.&quot;</p>

Walter (John Noble) has a sleepless night on "Fringe."

Credit: FOX

'Fringe' - 'Neither Here Nor There': It's the little things

Season 4 gets off to a bumpy start as the universe adjust to life without Peter

A quick review of the "Fringe" season 4 premiere coming up just as soon as I need to erase someone from time...

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<p>Tomar Sisley has a moment of relief in the midst of a long and wild 'Sleepless Night'</p>

Tomar Sisley has a moment of relief in the midst of a long and wild 'Sleepless Night'

Credit: Bac Films

Review: French thriller 'Sleepless Night' is a marvel of geography with emotional hook

Is it any wonder Hollywood just bought it to remake it?

Geography is one of the most important things in making an action movie, yet it is one of the most egregiously abused things in most big Hollywood action films.  Last week, I ran a series of links out to all sorts of conversations about modern action cinema, and in those various conversations, there many conflicting theories about what works in modern action cinema advanced by the various writers and filmmakers involved.

Action geography has been on my mind for the last few weeks anyway thanks to the screening of "Sleepless Night" that I attended as part of the Toronto Midnight Madness program.  I walked in knowing nothing about the film, and walked out wondering how Frederic Jardin has gone totally unnoticed so far as a filmmaker.  Together with his co-writer Nicolas Saada, he's crafted a wickedly smart thriller that erupts into flurries of action in scenes that feel real, not like heightened Hollywood hooey.  It's a smart premise in the first place, but then the film is broken into two long movements, one which teaches you every inch of this giant Paris nightclub, and then one where our knowledge of that location pays off in one thrilling scene after another.

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Deon Lotz in "Beauty," South Africa's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Deon Lotz in "Beauty," South Africa's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Credit: TLA Releasing

China and South Africa bring a little English to the foreign Oscar conversation

Christian Bale could find himself in another Oscar vehicle this year

We talk about name appeal being a factor in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race, but no country this year can boast it to quite the same extent as China: not only is their submission, just announced today, directed by three-time Oscar nominee Zhang Yimou, but it stars reigning Best Supporting Actor champ Christian Bale. If nothing else, the lure of the familiar should be worth a few votes. 

The film in question is "The Flowers of War," Zhang's much-anticipated epic set during the Japanese invasion of Nanking in 1937, in which Bale stars as an American priest trapped in a cathedral with a group of schoolchildren and courtesans. As the most expensive production in Chinese film history, the film has a lot riding on it; no one's seen the finished product yet, but 20 minutes of footage were previewed at the Toronto Film Festival to a strong reception. (The film opens in China in December, which would normally rule it ineligible for consideration, but will have a week-long qualifying run beginning tomorrow.)

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<p>Charlize Theron could be kicking off a long and rewarding awards circuit for her work in &quot;Young Adult&quot;&nbsp;with the honor.</p>

Charlize Theron could be kicking off a long and rewarding awards circuit for her work in "Young Adult" with the honor.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Charlize Theron, Gary Oldman and David Cronenberg set for Gotham Award tributes

The trio joins previously announced honoree Tom Rothman

I'm just now getting around to yesterday's press release concerning this year's Gotham Awards tributes, which will go to actress Charlize Theron, actor Gary Oldman and director David Cronenberg. Announced previously was a similar tribute for Fox Chairman and CEP Tom Rothman.

Now is the time of year when publicists jockey for their clients' positions at tributes throughout the various awards season events. Whether it's recognition at the Independent Film Project's (IFP) Gotham Awards ceremony, the Hollywood Film Festival's Hollywood Awards, the Palm Springs Film Festival's gala of honors or the Santa Barbara Film Festival's week-and-a-half of fetes, these notices can do a lot to further fuel an Oscar campaign, and these three will likely be in the thick of it.

Okay, maybe David Cronenberg is a stretch for Best Director recognition (for his work on "A Dangerous Method") at this point, but that doesn't mean the occasion of the film isn't a good excuse to recognize a career of singular work. But Charlize Theron and Gary Oldman will be very much in the conversation for Best Actress and Best Actor respectively.

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<p>Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell and the rest of the &quot;House of Lies&quot;&nbsp;cast.</p>

Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell and the rest of the "House of Lies" cast.

Credit: Showtime

Exclusive: The 'House of Lies' cast gets down in a new promo

What's Don Cheadle making Kristen Bell wait for?

Premiere week for the 2011-12 TV season isn't officially over yet (it runs Monday-Sunday), but as you know if you've been reading my reviews, it hasn't been the most inspiring batch of new shows so far. Some hope will come in a week with the debut of Showtime's "Homeland" (which you can still watch the pilot of in its entirety here), but beyond that, most of the genuinely exciting shows seem to be coming at mid-season: NBC's "Awake" and "Smash: The Brian Williams Story," ABC's "Apartment 23" and "The River," etc.

Hopefully we can add Showtime's "House of Liesto that list. I still haven't seen the pilot for the new comedy - in which Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell and Ben Schwartz are part of a team of cutthroat management consultants who will do anything in their pursuit of money - but that cast is great, Showtime president David Nevins promised it would be more overtly funny than most of the Showtime "comedies," and, well, the people involved with the show helped make this promo, which has made me laugh every single time I've seen it this week.

"House of Lies" may or may not pan out, but at least it's given the world Veronica Mars, Jean-Ralphio and Paul Rusesabagina getting down with their bad selves. Enjoy. 

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<p>Steve Buscemi of &quot;Boardwalk Empire&quot;</p>
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Steve Buscemi of "Boardwalk Empire"

Credit: HBO

Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 95

Dan and Alan review 'Pan Am,' 'A Gifted Man,' 'Boardwalk Empire' and more
Happy Friday, Boys & Girls. It's a late afternoon installment of the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast
 
No time to dilly-dally.
 
In this installment, we review "A Gifted Man," "Pan Am" and "Boardwalk Empire" and we talk about the start of the new seasons in terms of ratings and a bunch of the shows that we talk about regularly. Let's get down to it!
 
The breakdown:
"A Gifted Man" -- 01:35 - 11:15
"Pan Am" -- 11:20 - 20:00
"Boardwalk Empire" -- 20:00 - 29:30
Early Season Ratings -- 29:30 - 44:00
"How I Met Your Mother: -- 44:10 - 48:40
"Glee" -- 48:40 - 55:15
"Modern Family" -- 55:26 - 01:01:20
"Community" -- 01:01:25 - 01:05:35
"Parks and Recreation" -- 01:05:40 - 01:11:55
"The Office" -- 01:12:00 - 01:18:55
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<p>Christian Bale in Zhang Yimou's &quot;The Flowers of War.&quot;</p>

Christian Bale in Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War."

No surprise: China picks Zhang Yimou's 'The Flowers of War' with Christian Bale for Oscar

Another intriguing foreign language picture entry

Surprising few, the China Film Bureau announced that Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War" will represent China in this year's foreign language film Oscar race.  The picture is notable not just because it's from the director of "Hero" and "Raise the Red Lantern," but because it stars last year's best supporting actor winner, Christian Bale.

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