Tuesday, November 30, 2010

MI-5 - Season 4

I thought that the fourth season of MI-5 was a step down from the previous one, although it still had its share of interesting episodes and good moments. I felt like they were turning to the Islamic terrorist angle a bit too often this time, since it often results in some of the least compelling stories the show has to offer, although I'd hesitate to call anything the show has done thus far truly bad. We do get the series' first true two part episode, although honestly I'm not sure the bad guys here actually deserved to see their scheme get carried across nearly two hours. Andy really, they were dipping into spy story cliches a bit too much, with things like an agent's former spouse not being dead after all and a CIA agent orchestrating an attack in England to garner support for an invasion of Iran is about as silly as they've gotten thus far. On the other hand, a lot of the nitty gritty espionage stuff was as cool as ever, and the cliffhanging season finale involving a possible conspiracy around Princess Diana's death and a particularly well equipped nemesis is possibly the most fun I've had with the whole show so far. I've gotten a bit more used to the transience of the cast at this point, and I think it sort of works both for and against the show. The willingness of the writers to write out or even kill off central characters makes the stakes high in every episode and has resulted in some strong drama, but with how frequently it's been happening, it also makes it more difficult to become too attached to a character when you know how easily they could be replaced. It stunts character development just a bit when the people who get the most screen time are the most likely to leave, too. Still, the show has balls, and that's a good thing.

Monday, November 29, 2010

8 1/2

Famed Italian director Federico Fellini's most celebrated work is unfortunately not one that I can say I truly enjoyed all that much. It's a well-made film with a lot of thought, creativity, and inventiveness crammed into its two hours of meandering story, but at times I found actually watching it more of a struggle than a classic should be. There was obviously a lot of talent involved in making it, it just wasn't a movie that was made for me. I probably would have appreciated more if I knew more about Fellini's life and career, because it's known as an especially autobiographical film, as he delves into his own mind quite a bit. But as it is, that doesn't enhance it that much for me. I guess you could say it's about as watchable as an Italian expressionist film from the 60s could be, but it's still something that requires a lot of attention and forgiveness for certain production quirks.

It's about a film director struggling to come up with his next picture. He spends a lot of time talking with his writer and producer, meeting actors, and wondering what he will do. But while this is the focus of the plot, the film itself goes a bit deeper. There are tons of dream sequences, and they're usually interwoven with reality so before you know it you've transitioned from one to the other and back again. These scenes are often the most interesting in the film, because they shed light on the director's psychology, particularly in regard to all the women in his life, and they often have an energy that's missing in the scenes from reality. The film's score and visual sense are some of its greatest assets, with a ton of well chosen imagery and darn good cinematography for the 60s, and a mix of classical music that tends to enhance what's happening on screen. An unfortunate aspect of the way it was put together is the dialogue though, with every single line being overdubbed and often quite obviously not matching whatever the actor was saying on set. I realize that it was a choice by Fellini, but that doesn't make it less distracting, and with a movie that's basically filled to the brim with rapid dialogue as the director is bombarded with questions, it strikes me as a curious relic that I'm glad doesn't happen anymore. It's the kind of artistic movie that I think almost anybody could see the intelligence and craft in, although I think many would struggle to enjoy it as I did. Worth seeing if you love the medium, but definitely a long two hours.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

MI-5 - Season 3

Well, I was hoping that MI-5 would raise the stakes after two mostly predictable (but still good) seasons, and boy did it ever. There was a bit of turnover from season one to two, but what we have here is a massive cast overhaul over the course of the season. All three of what I'd call the main characters leave the show for various reasons by the end, and while it's a bit obvious how their niches in the ensemble are getting replaced by other actors, it was still an impressive showing that the stories in this show are more important than the comfort of seeing the same faces every week. There are still a couple guys who appeared in season one left, but they've definitely established at this point that no one is safe.

And it's not just characters leaving, the stories this season were really damn good as well, several easily among the best in the series. The cliffhanger had much more immediacy than last time, and the whole first episode was dedicated to resolving one of the better schemes the show has cooked up. It also had two outstanding, emotionally powerful episodes back to back dealing with Danny's struggles to commit his first assassination and the political fallout for Zoe of an undercover operation that goes wrong. This is definitely not the typical glamorous pop culture spy life getting depicted here, things get dirty and they're hard on everyone involved. Even more typical missions seemed to have more weight than before, with complex character drama woven in to make the guest stars more than just a recognizable face. I mean, I haven't even been watching the show for that long, but I definitely have more confidence in it making good use of appearances by guys like Gollum and Palpatine going forward than most others. And while the season didn't end with a cliffhanger like the first two times, that's actually a good thing, because the episode itself didn't need it and was again a pretty damn great hour of drama and action. I like this series a lot.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stand By Me

Stand By Me is another one of those movies I've seen chunks of but never sat down and watched until now. And it's good! Rob Reiner knew how to direct mature movies that would be interesting to people of many different ages. It takes place mostly at the end of the 50s, but it still has a timeless quality that should remind anyone of summer vacations spending time with friends, especially if they lived in a rural area. The main character is Gordie, played by Wil Wheaton as a kid a couple years before Star Trek: The Next Generation and Richard Dreyfuss as an adult and the narrator. After learning that his childhood friend was killed in a restaurant, he decides to write down the story of a watershed moment from his youth, where he and his buddies walked through miles and miles of countryside to find the body of a local boy who's been missing.

The other three friends are played by River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell, and while they tend to be more famous for why they don't have careers than the careers themselves, it's remarkable how they're all still recognizable names 24 years later. I don't think that usually happens with kid actors. The older teenager characters are occasionally recognizable too, with Kiefer Sutherland playing the biggest jerk in town and antagonist and John Cusack in flashbacks as Gordie's deceased older brother, and the only one in his family who seems to care about him. Everybody does a pretty good job, and it's noteworthy how the kids all manage to act like real twelve-year-olds without getting annoying.

So it's sort of like a small-scale road movie as they wander along train tracks, over bridges, and through forests looking for where one of them heard his older brother describe the body's location. Their relationships are as realistic as you'll see when it comes to adolescent American males, always poking fun at each other and sometimes getting violent, but obviously still affectionate and understanding. O'Connell doesn't really get an opportunity to be dramatic, but the other three all have moments of vulnerability that bring them closer together as they use the body as a goal to get through their troubles. The movie is often funny and touching when it wants to be, and while the story sort of sweeps some of the difficulties under the rug by the end, it's still a good story and a definite piece of Americana. Apparently the Stephen King story that this was based on was quite a bit harsher, but the movie didn't need to be to work.

Friday, November 26, 2010

MI-5 - Season 2

MI-5's second season follows essentially the same pattern as the first. A team of British secret agents juggles occasionally dangerous missions, interoffice politics, and personal lives without letting anything get too far away from them, but sometimes things in one of these areas go wrong, and in the season finale, something very dramatic happens. There are some additions to and subtractions from the cast, but the core players are basically the same, with Matthew MacFayden as Tom in the lead role, Danny and Zoe as his support, and Harry as his angry boss. Some of the episodes are a lot more interesting than others, but the general level of quality is fairly consistent. The fifth episode is an interesting departure with its extremely high stakes, although it becomes obvious that things aren't what they seem because a show like this would be excessively unlikely to actually do something like that. Otherwise, the characters take on false identities, covertly monitor communications, undermine conspiracies, and occasionally watch helplessly while very bad things happen. While the off-duty stuff was spread around pretty well in the first season, it's almost all on Tom this time around, as he deals with the aftermath of the first season's cliffhanger, and it builds to a final episode that has him in a ton of hot water. Still waiting to see if the show will ever truly surprise me, but until then, it's a pretty enjoyable spy show.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Expendables

The Expendables is kind of weird, because in some ways it delivers on its promise of over-the-top 80s style action with a giant cast of movie veterans, and in some ways it doesn't. I definitely liked it, but I feel that it also could have been much better. The problem is the question of how seriously the movie takes itself. If the movie was straight-up homage to what movies used to be and maybe more tongue-in-cheek, it might have been better. But you get the feeling that Sly Stallone was being completely genuine in his attempt to bring back the glory days, and in that light it's not as successful. I mean, as far as replicating what's come before, he pulled it off. The problem is that those movies were rarely actually very good, and the script at work here is pretty damn weak. It gets made up for a bit by the advancements we've made in filming entertaining violence, but it's certainly a flawed movie.

Sylvester is the leader of a crack team of guns for hire, featuring knife expert Jason Statham, martial arts expert Jet Li, betrayal expert Dolph Lundgren, giant ridiculous automatic shotgun expert Terry Crews, and Randy Couture. Stallone is the only one whose character is really drawn beyond a very brief sketch, and while the rest of them all have what could be described as character traits, they're really just there to help blow things up. Even the second in command Statham is basically playing Action Star Jason Statham, with the only thing trying to avoid this being one of the most pointless subplots ever. Here's what it consists of: Scene 1. He goes home to his girl (played by Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and surprises her with a ring, but he finds out she's seeing another guy. Scene 2: He finds out the guy hits her, so he kicks his and his friends' asses on a basketball court and then drives off with her on his bike. Then she disappears from the movie.

And that's by far the most anybody besides Sly gets to do outside action scenes. Lots of guys get small parts, there's a fun scene where Sly gets a mission from Bruce Willis and has some half-witty repartee with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mickey Rourke forgets what movie he's in and acts his ass off delivering a monologue that helps Sly figure out what he has to do. Eric Roberts is an enjoyable smarmy villain, Batista from Dexter is the foreign general whose army is getting taken advantage of, and Stone Cold is menacing enough as the king henchman. So there's a lot of recognizable faces, and they all seem to be having fun kicking each other's asses. The action is surprisingly well choreographed, featuring an entertaining mix of guns, hand to hand beatings, and giant explosions. Unfortunately this is mired a bit by how dark the movie is, especially in the climactic scenes, and a tendency to match the current trend of very quick cuts despite the old pedigree, which occasionally makes the super violence a bit hard to see. So it's an action movie without a good story to prop it up, and the action isn't perfect either. But like I said, I mostly enjoyed it, laughing out loud on numerous occasions while acknowledging that it wasn't actually a very good film. Which is fine, it certainly could have been much worse. Personally, I'm hoping for a sequel with more Dolph, Arnie, and Bruce. And some decent lighting.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Finding Nemo

I feel like the first several Pixar movies were good but not quite exceptional like their more recent output, and Nemo sort of marks that transition to true brilliance. It's not a favorite, but it's really quite good, capturing the right combination of humor, excitement, and heart. I guess they really figured things out when they started making things sad. The movie doesn't linger on it, but the opening scene where Marlin loses his wife and most of his children is probably harder than anything else the studio had done to that point, and it works very well to inform the character for the rest of the film. Marlin searching all over the ocean for his son isn't a terribly different story from say, the toys trying to rescue Woody after he gets stolen, but the knowledge of that earlier tragedy gives everything a greater weight and urgency. You want him to find Nemo because you know it will destroy him if he doesn't. One of the best family relationships the company has done.

It doesn't take over the whole movie though, as there's plenty of opportunity for the expected clever action sequences and windfall of entertaining celebrity voices. Sequences like Dory reading the address by the light of an anglerfish and escaping from the seagulls in the beak of a pelican are a lot of fun, and while I think having famous people do voices because they're famous can be damaging in pointless, everyone here seems really well cast. Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres make a good leading pair, it's surprising hearing a very young Shane from Weeds as the titular character, Willem Dafoe is entertaining as the gruff leader of a group of aquarium fish including Brad Garrett and Allison Janney, and you'll probably hear a few more recognizable voices at some point. It's a nice looking film if not as eye-popping as what they've done in the last few years, and it tells its story and wraps it up at a very nice pace. Not my favorite animated movie, but a pretty good benchmark for what family films should aim for.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Usually when I watch a classic silent film, I'm impressed by the importance it holds in the evolution of cinema but I don't actually enjoy it that much. That isn't the case with Sunrise, which is now definitely my favorite movie of the era. Its gigantic shifts in tone at various points are a bit odd, and you have to think a more modern take on the story would blend those different elements a bit more gracefully. But it's still a great film, important stylistically and still emotionally effective today.

Based on the description I read, I expected the general arc of the plot to be a bit different. It's about a couple living in the country whose marriage is interrupted when the man is seduced by a woman from the city. I expected it to establish the marriage early, break it up in the second act, and then reconcile them in the third. But it opens with the husband already in the city woman's clutches, and within the first ten minutes she's asking him to kill his wife, sell the farm, and move with her to the city. The story focuses almost entirely on the couple from that point forward, as they go through what is surely the most eventful day of their lives. There are scenes filled with surprisingly effective tension and dread, some devastating emotionally, and others wonderfully romantic. The middle has some almost confusingly broad comedy, including a scene where I'm pretty sure they actually got a pig drunk based on how realistically it was stumbling around, but it doesn't take the story completely off the rails so it gets a pass.

Janet Gaynor won an Oscar for her performance as the wife (along with a couple other movies as the first woman to get the award), and both of the lead performances are really quite effective considering the complete absence of dialogue. The film would work just based on the story and acting alone, but it's improved a great deal by the German director F.W. Murnau's extra touches that make the film seem quite ahead of its time. His photographers pioneered some really good tracking shots and there's a lot of well-done (for the time) compositing of multiple images, used in many different ways to dramatic effect. I even liked the subtitles, which actually have a personality and are used to convey the mood of the story beyond just putting dialogue on the screen. It's an old movie that feels a lot newer thanks to the quality of both its style and substance, and definitely one of the best products of the 1920s.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Venture Bros. - Season 4

Season four of Adult Swim's best series began with a broken promise and ended with a bang. Instead of one long run of thirteen episodes, the creators promised two blocks of eight with smaller gaps in between, not only reducing the wait time for more Venture goodness, but providing more content overall. Unfortunately, there were some production delays that come with your show largely being produced by two dudes, and the finale didn't actually air until a month after the rest of the second half and well over two years since season three ended. Still though, that finale exemplifies the quality the series has become known for. The show has undoubtedly gotten more profane, as the boys have finally started aging and the world has become more adult with them. It's not the twisted Jonny Quest parody it was before, but a full world filled with interesting characters, and sometimes those characters swear a lot. That shows in the finale's best gag, and one of the show's best ever, as various characters describe what they heard a "Rusty Venture" sex act was, and the precise placement of bleeps that mostly failed to actually hide the meaning of what they were saying was amazingly funny.

That humor is something that a lot of fans said was missing in the third season, although I have to vehemently disagree. They thought the show was too focused on backstory and minutia and not on actually being funny. Personally I've always enjoyed both sides of the show, but I do think these episodes might have struck a better balance between the two. Again we see this in the finale, which was an hour long and gave ample time for lots of laughs at the home school prom and a ton of important moments in the show's mythology - characters quitting their jobs, moving on emotionally, dying, or blasting themselves into space so aliens can cure their diseases. It speaks to the quality of the writing that an extended sequence involving heavily secondary characters like Colonel Gathers, the head of the OSI, and the Lepidopterists can be compelling and have significant implications for whatever happens next. It's a cartoon that does so much more than any other currently running, and is truly one of the most interesting and entertaining science fiction settings in existence.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Girl Talk - All Day

All Girl Talk albums are basically the same thing. That's not really a knock, he does one thing and does it very well. A good mash-up can be a very surprising and entertaining thing, and Gillis is pretty much the Picasso of the medium. Even if you've already listened to a lot of his work, a new batch of it is always worth checking out just to see what he managed to cram together this time. No one else even seems to be trying to do what he does regularly. He released the fifth album earlier this week and broke the internet when everyone tried to download it once. I managed to grab it from a torrent linked on his website, and wasn't surprised to find I enjoyed it about as much as the other two records of his I've heard. Like the last one, it's meant to be heard as one long, continuous piece of music, and it's even available as a single hour long file if you're so inclined. You can spot a few places where he takes a breath before jumping straight into the next sequence of co-mingling tracks from all eras and types of music, but it's pretty much a constantly evolving and continuing enjoyable jumble of sound. I could do what I've done before and point out some of the more inspired selections, but really you should just find a list and check it out yourself. Everybody likes different stuff, and pretty much everyone could probably pick a handful of favorites from the literally hundreds of sources he used to put the album together. It's not something that I could really see elevating to truly great music status in my mind, but it's certainly a good time to listen to.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sons of Anarchy - Season 2

Sons of Anarchy's second season was a nice follow-up to the first. I sort of wish Jax' perceived split with the group at the end had more immediately impact on the story here, but his issues with the club's direction still manage to fester and grow while they boil under the surface, as there's a more immediate threat that the Sons have to deal with. The League of American Nationalists come to town when the President Ethan Zobelle opens a cigar shop on main street. They're a white supremacy group, and along with his second in command Weston played by Henry Rollins, Zobelle looks to use a lot of clout and underhanded tactics to supplant the Sons as the primary gun supplier in the area. He came at the right time with Jax and Clay constantly butting heads, and it's a struggle all season long for the club to deal with this new threat when they aren't united internally.

There's a lot of good character progression this season, as everyone in the club gets their chance to be sympathetic despite their criminal leanings. Some very bad things happen to a few of them, and the way they handle it while maintaining outward appearances is always compelling drama. Katey Sagal's performance is again key, and what she goes through while at the same time her relationship with Tara is evolving is pretty great stuff. It really is all about the characters, even in such a tightly plotted show like this, where five minutes rarely seem to pass without something significant happening. Because even though it would be enjoyable just for the crime drama plot and often impressively done spurts of action and violence, what makes the show awesome is that I honestly like and care about all of the characters. It doesn't matter if they're a grizzled, cantankerous veteran like Piney or a dimwitted but ballsy prospect like Half Sack, the show does a great job of making them into people instead of tools, no matter what evils they're committing to save themselves or just make some money. And by the last couple episodes it's just fantastic moments coming one after the other, with some genuinely thrilling and hard hitting scenes as good as anything from the great dramas that came in the last decade. I wasn't the biggest fan of the note things actually ended on, but if anything that just makes me more eager to catch up with the almost-finished third season.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Black Ops is Treyarch's fourth Call of Duty game, and it seems like they've finally gotten the hang of the series. They've long been seen as a very secondary developer in comparison with Infinity Ward, the team that created the series in the first place, but with that studio obviously having issues following the departure of many key employees, Treyarch has the opportunity to establish themselves as top dogs. Black Ops has already surpassed Modern Warfare 2 in early sales, and I certainly had a good time playing it.

If there's one thing the Black Ops campaign does right, it's that it's consistent. I've played all of the main entries in the series except for Call of Duty 3, and every single one of them, while fun and impressively presented, has had moments of pure frustration that lasted way too long. When the series was primarily set in World War II, they occasionally liked to throw in missions where you had to defend a lightly fortified position for several minutes, and these always ended up being frustrating trial-and-error sections as you repeatedly got killed and tried something slightly different the next time until you miraculously made it to the end. As the series went on, they started using this type of mission less, but there still always seemed to be at least one level that asked too much of you, just overwhelming you with enemies without stopping to ask if what they were throwing at you was realistically playable. Thankfully, Black Ops has no sections like that. There were a few moments that irritated me a bit, but they were never as bad as the series can be.

I hesitate to call it the best game in the series though, because while the campaign is consistently pretty good, it doesn't often reach its previous high points. It's possibly just series fatigue after playing seven of these in the last five years, so I'm pretty familiar with what the games do well at this point, but it's just not as impressive as it's seemed in the past. There are some interesting scenarios that play out for you and a few really cool set pieces. It was nice seeing the vehicle sections return with so much vigor, and I appreciate that this is the first time the series has really focused on a single character for the play, besides three missions where you play as Ed Harris and Gary Oldman (which is cool too). But the most tightly designed and scripted moments are rarely as shocking and compelling as the Modern Warfare games at their best, as their focus seems to be less on what's cool and more on just being brutal as hell. There are some very violent things happening, including several that you do yourself, and the way the game lingers on it feels sort of gross and seems like it's trying too hard to please frat boys who would otherwise stay away from the story in favor of the online.

The multiplayer is cool, but it's just not why I like these games. I know that at this point, the majority of Call of Duty players must spend the majority of their time with the games shooting friends rather than computer enemies, but the amount of effort put into single player shows me at least the developers still care. It's an impressive game visually, especially the work by the effects team, and while the gun sounds still aren't as dynamic as in Battlefield, it sounds pretty good too. The use of licensed music worked for me even if the choices were obvious, and the celebrity voice cast did a nice job, even if Sam Worthington sounds way too Australian a lot of the time. I liked the story for the most part, as it got the most attention of any game in the franchise, and the writers seemed to enjoy working in as many historical figures, conspiracy theories, and real-life locations and operations as possible.

It's odd that they dropped campaign co-op play after having it last time, but you can understand with the focus on the storyline this time. Obviously zombie mode can fill that gap a little bit, but it's pretty much the same as it was before, and really doesn't measure up to Spec Ops in terms of variety and replayability. They actually do a lot of little things to surprise you with the amount of stuff they crammed onto the disc, although in the end, it's another Call of Duty game and that formula can really only take you so far the more you use it every year. Still, it's worth a try.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

South Park - Season 14

South Park is really quite venerable at this point. They've now completed more seasons than The Simpsons had when they did the episode about how The Simpsons had been on so long that there weren't any stories it hadn't done. Of course South Park seasons are typically only about two thirds as long as Simpsons ones, but the fact is it's been around for a while. I wouldn't be surprised if the creators are sick of making it at this point, and decide not to continue after their contract is up following the 15th run next year. I mean, making 14 20 minute cartoons a year seems like a pretty cushy job, but at some point you gotta move on, right? It's not like animated shows on networks that have a lot of turnover on the writing staff and can perpetuate themselves seemingly indefinitely. Not that I'm really complaining about the quality of the season. It was pretty good. I've come to accept that the show is no longer the mixture of laugh out loud hilarity and absolutely shocking imagery that it was, and has settled into being quietly amusing and mildly provocative.

I'm not even sure that it's actually the quality of the content anymore - it would be pretty surprising if another episode had characters bouncing around on their gigantic cancerous testicles. It could be just that South Park is more like an old friend than anything else now. Two multi-part episodes this time, including a three parter that seemed to dominate the second half of the season. It's probably easier to work on fewer stories per year. The 200th episode really brought a lot of crap the creators have to put up with to light, and the Coon storyline seemed a bit long but was fairly packed with amusing bits from all sorts of origins. Facebook, Jersey Shore, and Inception were mocked, NASCAR and the Shake Weight were poked fun at. There's actually not very much from this season that wasn't taken from pop culture somehow. That can be fine, although sometimes the best South Park episodes aren't topical at all, and there weren't really any classics this year. Not a big deal though. Just a few months until the next batch of shows.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Touch of Evil

There's something very weird about this movie. There's a lot of skill behind its creation, but the act of watching it is fairly off-putting and distracts from the actual plot. Orson Welles uses a lot of long takes, most obviously in its deservedly famous opening shot of over three minutes, but also just in regular dialogue scenes. A group of characters will be together discussing the case and talking over each other, and there's just no point of reference for what's going on and I found myself with no interest in deciphering who these supporting actors were or what they were talking about. Charlton Heston inexplicably plays a Mexican official with no accent whatsoever, and he's a fairly limp protagonist. Janet Leigh is his wife, and does little more than look good as she's put in peril while Heston tries to unravel what's really going on. Welles himself, significantly older and fatter than the last time I saw him, gives an interesting turn as a scummy but very effective detective, though it's not exactly the power performance I expect from him.

So it's a story about a murder. From the opening shot, we see a car get sabotaged in Mexico, cross the border, and blow up in America. So authorities from both countries get involved, and Heston and Welles butt heads over the latter's methods. He seems to plant evidence and do other nefarious things to close cases, something Heston doesn't take very kindly to. Eventually Welles becomes less ambiguous and more of a true villain, and things get a bit out of control. It's a well made and plotted movie, I just didn't find the action terribly engrossing for some reason. There are some very good scenes and dramatic moments, it just never gelled for me into a really good film. And I seriously don't get the casting. It's always weird when someone gets cast as a different ethnicity, but besides darkening his skin there is no way in which Heston actually seems Mexican, which pulls you out of the story in every scene. Oh well. Pretty good, not fantastic.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weeds - Season 6

I don't understand why some publications review seasons of television series and not just episodes before they've actually seen the finale, or even more than a handful of episodes. How can you really pass judgment on the quality of something before you've seen the whole thing? That's like if Roger Ebert walked out of movies after the first hour because he'd seen enough to write his review. Obviously if a show is completely episodic it's more justifiable, because while the quality may ebb and flow slightly from week to week, you pretty much know what you're getting. But with a heavily plotted and character-based show like Weeds, you really need to see the whole thing to know if what came before was worth it.

While I enjoyed the last couple years of Weeds, I have to agree that it seemed like the show lost its way at least a bit during that time. Things were happening just because they needed to keep happening. And for a lot of this season I found myself wondering what the point was, and if the story was actually going anywhere. But by the end I was convinced that it was worth it, and while I still don't know how much longer it can or should last, we should maybe give the creators a bit more credit that we have been. This season actually took a lot of risks by having the Botwins traveling all over America instead of sticking to one location as we finally saw what the world of Weeds is like outside California. We spend time in Seattle, Detroit, and in various other places, never letting one location and set of supporting actors get stale before moving on. It wasn't the show's most exciting or funniest season, but it was competently entertaining, and had one of the best finales in the show's run. I was considering whether I would stick with the show for another year most of the time, but in the end the decision was made for me. I'll be there next year.

Also, here are my recaps for the last four episodes of the season:
Viking Pride
Fran Tarkenton
Theoretical Love is Not Dead

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bored to Death - Season 2

Bored to Death's second season was a nice improvement on the first. It took more time to actually be laugh-out-loud funny, without damaging its unique atmosphere and the chemistry between the three main characters. It's still an incredibly twee show that revels in its own cleverness, but if you're someone who can accept that kind of thing, it's really a pretty enjoyable show. The formula is much less obvious this time around, as instead of Jonathan having a case each week that dominates the plot, the guys spend a lot of time together just because they can, and often the cases just lead to a different story idea than expected or don't come up at all. It feels like a more real and fleshed out world when the characters can just have lives and bounce of each other, and amateur private detection is just something Jonathan does rather than what his life revolves around.

The fact is, Jonathan simply doesn't have as much time to run around solving cases because his second novel was rejected and he has to teach a creative writing class to help pay bills. He gets involved with various girls who have issues he has to worry about, but at least he's over his ex-girlfriend from the first season. Ray however isn't, as he's devastated over his girlfriend breaking up with him, the only thing saving him being the sudden success of his comic book. George is probably this season's most interesting character, as Ted Danson clearly has a great time with the role and all of its weird quirks. His magazine has been bought out by a company on the religious right, he's smoking more pot that ever, and he has to face difficult medical news. Seeing the three of them together is usually the highlight of any episode, as their unique yet compatible personalities bounce off each other in fun and unexpected ways. I wasn't that stoked to see the show again when it was coming back on, but my affection for it definitely grew this season, and I was glad to see it was renewed for a third run a couple weeks ago. It's questionable whether the show would have legs without its high profile cast, but either way I like it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Rock

You know, I've repeatedly seen The Rock referred to as one of if not the only good movie Michael Bay has made. But... I really don't see it. It's not as bad as some of his other work. I didn't hate it. But as far as big action movies go, I've seen a hell of a lot better and smarter. It's clear that some people, including developers of popular video games, took quite a liking to what it did. But while I wasn't bored or annoyed by what was happening on screen, I wasn't terribly entertained either. It was the kind of movie you just watch while rarely caring about what you're seeing.

There were a few elements I liked. I'll get into the oddness of the plot in a bit, but I liked Ed Harris as the main antagonist. There was a righteousness and power to his performance that I didn't quite expect, and it lent some gravitas to some of the more dramatic scenes he was involved with. That stuff tended to work okay. Sean Connery is likable as good guy one, and while he's already in self-parody mode as early as 1996 here, Nicolas Cage is a tolerable good guy two. I didn't care that he was worrying about his pregnant girlfriend because she was a prop instead of a character, but he wasn't bad. And some of the shootouts and fights were okay. I'm really not a huge fan of the way Michael Bay films action; it's often too cluttered and jumpy to really understand and thus enjoy what's going on. Especially car chases, the one here was pretty much a mess of choppy editing and irritating wacky reactions from bystanders (that kind of stuff: basically never funny). But some of the stuff on the prison island itself was mildly enjoyable.

And the way they handled the main plot was just odd. The primary antagonist was more sympathetic than the guys the heroes were working for. Simply put, a decorated general is mad at his country for neglecting to honor and provide support to some of its soldiers, even that which they were lawfully obligated to. So instead of doing something productive about it, he recruits some men under his command, they steal a dangerous chemical weapon, and threaten to launch it on San Francisco from Alcatraz, where they've taken hostages, unless their monetary demands are met. But rather than even pay for the legally required monetary support to the families of fallen soldiers, let alone the further demands, the government decides to send in a SWAT team led by Cage's chemical weapons expert FBI agent and Connery's grizzled former spy who knows the prison from having escaped there. And by the way, Connery hates the government because they held him without trial for over thirty years. Also, after the evil plot falls apart, things still aren't over because the cavalry still doesn't know what's going on in a fairly ludicrous sequence. So basically, the bad guys in this movie are the military and the government. Great. This edge to the plot is handled with no subtlety and distracts from what's already a mediocre action movie. The government doesn't even try to justify itself in any way, we're just expected to be on their side because the citizens of San Francisco are at risk. It's pretty weak stuff. And that describes the movie in general. Again, I wasn't actively bothered by the movie. It was just incredibly dumb and did little to make up for it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia is certainly one of the most epic movies I've seen, in the true sense of the word. It's extremely long, and fully aware of its own importance. Over ten minutes of its nearly four hour running time are just the film's impressive score set against a black screen. It tells the mostly true story of T. E. Lawrence, a British military officer who became famous after helping to unite warring Arab tribes and lead them in revolt against the Turkish empire during World War I. The amount of area covered isn't exactly global in its scope, but you get a great feel for the tremendous size and danger of living in the desert, and the delicate politics of trying to keep natural enemies from killing each other in pursuit of a bigger goal.

Peter O'Toole plays Lawrence, and does a good job of it. He's the main character, and he did great things, but he's not exactly a good guy. He has compassion for others, but it's worn thin by constant fighting, and he eventually starts drinking his own Kool-Aid and believing himself to be invincible. He also has a sadistic streak that rears its head sometimes. An interesting way to handle a protagonist. The whole cast is good although it seems kind of odd to cast Europeans as Arabs nowadays, including Alec Guinness as a prince who gives him support early on.

But while the film tells an interesting story with a good cast, it wasn't as entertaining to actually watch as it could have been. It's not just the running time, I've seen plenty of films of similar length that haven't bored me to this extent at times. Scenes of Lawrence and others marching across the desert often seem endless and repetitive, and the plot never really seems to rev up or ever reach a true climax. There are moments of violence and significant drama, but no consistent rising action. The movie is broken into two acts, which confounds the typical narrative structure. It's well constructed and filmed by David Lean and his crew, it just wasn't as gripping as movies I find superior. There are a few scenes that are arresting in that sort of way, particularly the opening sequence which actually takes place at the end of the story, but not as many as there should have been. A Classic movie, but not exactly my cup of tea.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Apartment

Another great film by Billy Wilder. I've seen that he can do film noir before, but now I know he can do romantic comedy. And those old romantic comedies that are actually funny and touching, not those modern ones that are all exactly the same familiar crap. The premise is something that could have come from a sitcom, but it's saved from those mundane origins by an extremely tight script that wrestles every possible ounce out of it and a fantastic cast. A few moments were sort of contrived, specifically how perfectly consistently everything the neighbors saw pointed to the same conclusion, but otherwise it was quite clever throughout.

It begins with a bit of narration by Jack Lemmon establishing his position in society at the outset. He works at an insurance company in New York City, and while he's an efficient worker, he doesn't get a lot of attention while on the job. He does however have a few executives on his side, because a situation has developed where he allows them to bring girlfriends and mistresses to his apartment near the park when he's not around, in return for a good word when promotion time comes. It's not a situation he's happy with, but he's accepted it, until he finds out that the reason the boss played by Fred MacMurray wants to use the apartment is he's having an affair with the elevator girl played by Shirley MacLaine that he's been getting to know.

Things proceed from there as everyone works with the knowledge they have, which might not be the complete picture. It's both funny and emotional when it wants as you feel affection for Lemmon and MacLaine as they get to know each other while events conspire against them, and MacMurray plays one of the more nuanced and interesting antagonistic characters from this kind of movie. What's interesting is the film's perceived dirtiness fifty years ago versus today. At the time it was controversial for its depiction of things like adultery, but it's almost impossibly innocent today, without so much as a single kiss taking place on screen (at least not that I can remember). It strikes the right balance between humor and drama, and is simply one of the best films I've seen from the 60s.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Childrens' Hospital - Season 2

I enjoyed the first season of this show, which crammed the ten original web episodes into five fifteen minute segments. But when they started actually making it for TV, it really came into its own. Malin Akerman and Henry Winkler are fine additions to the main cast, gelling well with the rest of the cast and the show's surreal sense of humor. Things like the six year old with advanced aging disease and a doctor discovering a cure for cancer in butterfly fluids are fun even when they aren't entirely clever, and luckily it is often pretty darn smart. It's a show that doesn't bother terribly with character development, and it really shouldn't, as it's the most fun when everyone's just bouncing off each other and the jokes are flying every five seconds. The guest actors are a lot of fun too, with Michael Cera returning to read the dispatches and the imminently recognizable Kurtwood Smith as the representative of a government agency that wants the cancer cure stopped at all costs.

Although it's not the most inspired subject matter, the show is actually often at its best when it acknowledges that it's a TV show, like the episode that's a cast reunion after the long running series is canceled and especially the completely amazing "live" season finale. It's funny that it aired so soon after 30 Rock's terrible live episode, but it's really a send up of all silly TV stunts, as everything that can go disastrously wrong does. Cameras get broken, actors quit or injure themselves in the middle of filming, and crew keep accidentally getting caught on screen. It's mostly a single take of absolute madcap brilliance, and just the epitome of what this show can do when it's on its game. It's a bit too silly and niche to be a comedy on a real network, but it embraces that and fits perfectly with the Adult Swim lineup despite the relative high profile of its cast. Season three is coming, and it should be fun.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Eastbound & Down - Season 2

If I had to pick one, the second season doesn't quite live up to the mostly brilliant first. But as a direct follow-up and the soul-searching middle part of a story (it's been picked up for a third and supposedly final season), Eastbound & Down season two was very good. It finds Kenny Powers in Mexico after his chance with Tampa Bay falls through, living off the spoils of cock fighting and his friend Stevie's stolen credit card. It's a new low in Kenny's life, but you wouldn't know it from the exterior, as he's still as arrogant, self righteous, and vulgar as ever. The best part of the show is still just listening to him narrate his own version of his life and curse people out for disappointing him over and over again. In terms of creating a character that's a total jerk but one you still can't help but love, it's still one of the best successes on television.

But the whole show isn't just Kenny strutting around, doing drugs, and chasing women. His destiny is to be a ballplayer again, and the thrust of the season is him getting a shot through a local baseball team. The manager knows who he is and wants to help him get back into the game, but Kenny is often his own worst enemy as he misjudges his relationships with others and has conflicts with the team owner. The plot follows a lot of the same beats as the first season, but it also does some new things including some exploration of why Kenny is the way he is that's particularly enlightening. It's basically the same mix of comedy, depressing moments, awesomely appropriate music, nudity, and entertaining cameos throughout these seven episodes, and the Mexican setting helps keep it fresh. Unlike the huge downer of the last finale, this one is more hopeful, and I'm really interested in seeing how things end up for our old buddy Kenny fuckin' Powers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sherlock - Season 1

It's apt that this modern day take on Sherlock Holmes was co-created by Steven Moffat, the man currently in charge of Doctor Who. In both, the titular character is a brilliant, fast-talking eccentric who solves mysteries and hangs out with British people. The difference is the Doctor is a time traveling, immortal alien while Holmes is, in his own words, a high-functioning sociopath and the world's only consulting detective. Sherlock is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, a man who is as talented as his name is crazy, and he creates a pretty fascinating, updated take on the classic character. One of Holmes' more interesting characteristics is how he can be a complete master in certain fields of knowledge but absolutely clueless in others, and Cumberbatch takes it to the next level, portraying a real enigma of a man who doesn't really know how to do anything but analyze situations and explain deductions extremely quickly. The always-likable Martin Freeman plays Dr. John Watson, a field medic experiencing adverse effects after what he experienced in Afghanistan. He's set up as Holmes' roommate, and after that the two form an uneasy but persistent friendship as Watson begins accompanying him on cases.

So there's only three episodes to this season, as it really feels more like a trilogy of films more than a TV show. Each episode is about an hour and a half, and tells a full story as the pair solves a case, or to be more accurate, Sherlock solves a case while Watson mostly compliments his brilliance. There's not really much of a chance for a formula to form beyond what I've already said, and it's probably to the show's benefit that the number of cases is so low since it allows each one to be fully fleshed out and intriguing as possible. There's a lot of interesting touches that could have become distracting but instead help serve the modern vibe they're going for, such as a lot of quick cuts and closeups to simulate Holmes' thinking process and popping up text that characters are reading on screens to keep the conveying of information elegant. Unlike some other cop shows, the fun is watching the characters figure things out instead of trying to do it yourself, and none of the plots are as simple as they appear at first. The third and final one re-introduces Sherlock's greatest nemesis in fairly grand fashion and ends on a cliffhanger, an effective way to leave the audience wanting more and assuring them that there will be. I don't know if Freeman's commitment to The Hobbit (which I am in great favor of) will affect the show down the road, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what they do.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Due Date

When I saw the first trailer for Due Date, I was interested, because it seemed to have the potential to be a modern day Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I was also a bit wary, because the trailer itself wasn't actually very funny. So while it didn't turn out to really measure up to some of the great road comedies of the past, I was glad to have enjoyed it enough to make seeing seem worthwhile. It's not the most creative movie ever written, but a lot of times mediocre material can be salvaged by a good cast, and Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifiankis are two of the best funny actors working today. The surrounding supporting players aren't as unique and compelling as you'd hope, but they work well enough to give material for the two leads to bounce off of.

Todd Phillips has never really been very impressive at his job, and the main problem with the movie is the script that he and the bevy of other writers involved came up with. There's just not a ton there to work with. Some of the dialogue is pretty good, especially pretty much everything Downey says when he gets pissed, which is often. But less effort is made to justify the contrivances of this movie, such as why the two mismatched main characters are stuck together and why they are eventually able to bond. Of course it's something that has to happen, it just doesn't feel natural when the transition occurs after not a whole ton of prodding. And the biggest gap in the story involves the resolution of several highly dangerous crimes that take place, in a way that just completely ignores how the world works. I get that it's a comedy and that I should just enjoy it, but usually movies at least try to hand wave this stuff somehow rather than completely ignoring it.

And while I liked the performances, the characters were a bit thin, especially Galifianakis'. His performance of an overweight, effeminate, idiotic, delusional man-child is enjoyable, but unlike his role in Phillips' The Hangover, pretty much all of the humor comes from pointing out these characteristics repeatedly rather than showing how these characteristics would be funny. As I mentioned before, the supporting cast is decent. Danny McBride makes another stellar cameo as a war veteran working at the Western Union, and Juliette Lewis makes for a pretty good pot dealer. It's kind of funny seeing Michelle Monaghan as Downey's wife after their roles together in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, though despite Jamie Foxx' likability, I really could have done without the subplot involving those two, and he was also heavily involved with the ashes-in-coffee-can bit that was way too The Big Lebowski for me. So that probably gives you a pretty good feel for how the movie goes - lots of issues with the writing, but still enjoyable because of the people in it. It makes for a pretty enjoyable movie that's far from a great one, and one I'm not desperate for the chance to see again. Better than it could have been, but less than its potential.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sons of Anarchy - Season 1

Sons was created by Kurt Sutter, one of the producers and more frequent writers on The Shield, which is one of the reasons I decided to make it my next show. I've heard that it started out anywhere from weak to only decent before blossoming as it went on, though to be honest I mostly enjoyed it from the beginning. The first season definitely improved as it built up its story and cast, but that germ of quality was always there. It's about a motorcycle club in Northern California that does illegal gun running to make money and pressures law enforcement to keep them out of trouble and businesses to avoid their home town of Charming to keep it small and away from federal attention. It could have been just another mob show on bikes, but they do enough to keep it unique, and the Hamlet-inspired story makes it a bit deeper than it might seem at first.

It's funny seeing the timing between Sons of Anarchy beginning and Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned coming a bit later, because they must have been developed around the same time. They definitely remind me of each other despite taking place on opposite coasts (theoretically), and leads me to believe they're both fairly accurate depictions of these kind of gangs. I've read how the motorcycle clubs are fundamentally different from other kinds of organized crime in that most organizations use violence as a means to the end of profit, the clubs are violent because it's fun and just happen to make money while they're doing it. The cast of Sons is mostly made up of the various gang members, and they do a really good job of making the group likable while never compromising on them being very bad people. Obvious standouts are Ron Perlman as Clay the club president and Katey Sagal as his wife Gemma, who despite her increasing age still has a power over the men her husband commands. Protagonist Jax is her son and Clay's step kid, vice president of the club who begins to question the gang's methods and beliefs after his son his born and he finds a manifesto written by his long-dead father about how the club went bad. It's a slow burning storyline, but it builds pretty brilliantly over the 13 episodes until the finale, which should have pretty major ramifications that will be interesting to watch play out. Not perfect, but very fun to watch.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


So, Kick-Ass. What's interesting about this comic adaptation to me is that that's not actually what it is, exactly. The book was apparently written at the same time as the script for this film, so the departures in tone and story are organic growths from the same idea rather than changes for the sake of changing. Based on what I've read, the movie is less mean-spirited than the book, and also less plausible, especially near the end. Fundamentally, I think it kind of has an identity crisis. Aaron Johnson is a dork in high school who idiotically tries to be the world's first real super hero, and at first things progress very believably - he gets a silly costume, dons the name Kick-Ass, confronts some thugs, and then gets stabbed and hit by a car. Eventually he gets a bit better at it, although he's still quite amateurish. Things take a change though when another pair of heroes are introduced, the father/daughter team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz are both pretty great in these roles, Cage especially with a cadence straight from Adam West's school of acting. And the action scenes that feature them at work are a lot of fun. But they're just both way too good at stylishly killing people to buy into the rest of the story as something that could happen.

I generally liked the super hero stuff, although that's not all there is to the movie. There's a fair amount of whiny narration and boring high school stuff going on, none of which you haven't seen before a million times. It's not that it's impossible to make that thing interesting, it's just that this movie fails to do so. He has a couple embarrassing situations, an extremely improbable story arc with a girl who's out of his league, and that's about it. His friend played by Clark Duke has a few funny lines, but if they were going to do this whole ultra violence thing, they could have dedicated more time to developing that part of the story and just cut a lot of the high school stuff out. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is surprisingly still likable as a rich kid who gets involved in the super hero business, and whenever all that stuff is the highlight the movie is a lot more fun. Some of it gets fairly brutal, but it's never too far away from making you laugh again. And about the shock value stuff with a preteen girl killing mobsters and cussing like a sailor - if that stuff offends you, then guess what, it's working. I'll watch the sequel when it comes out, but first Matthew Vaughn has to direct the first X-Men movie without Wolverine. Let's hope he can fix the franchise.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Delocated - Season 2

As is often the case with certain comedies, Delocated improved markedly in its second season. It helps that it had triple the amount of time to have fun with the concept (12 half hour episodes over 7 fifteen minute ones), and they also expanded the cast in entertaining ways. While the first season had a lot of fun with the absurdity of the concept of a man in the Witness Protection Program getting a reality show, it's more just a fact of life here and the humor comes from all the weird stuff he comes up with to pass the time and a few other running subplots. I can't remember if Yvgeny's father was introduced in season one, but his brother Sergei is definitely new and a great addition. He has the cold-blooded killer's spirit that Eugene Mirman's Yvgeny simply doesn't. It provides for a new source of laughs and occasional actual darkness as he kills everyone around Jon to try to make his life hell.

But the Russian mob is generally in the background as a B story to whatever Jon's working on. His new producer Mighty Joe Jon the Black Blond is a likable jerk in much the same way Jon himself is, although he's definitely more downright antagonistic at times. Jon's new handler is a bit more interesting than the one from the first season, since there's more of an arc to their friendship and it has more time to build. They also developed his actual family more, with generally entertaining results. His son reminds me a bit of Justin Bieber, but not enough to make me want to punch him. There's no telling yet if the show's coming back, especially since I don't really know what it means that they moved premieres to Thursday night in the middle of the season yet still replayed the episodes at the regular time on Sunday. But I hope it does, because it's a funny, clever show that still has plenty of material it can explore.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I already reviewed the anime based on the manga tangentially based on this, but here's the original. If I waited another month I could have watched a new, even more restored version of the film, with over twenty extra minutes. To be honest... I'm glad I didn't. I have mixed feelings on this film, a German silent classic. Conceptually, for 1927, it's downright amazing. It's a very early example of science fiction in film, and was definitely very influential and important to the history of the medium. Some of the ideas are really great, and aspects of the production are impressive. I just didn't find it terribly entertaining to watch. It wasn't awful by any stretch, it's just that I find it much harder for film to work without dialogue unless it's funny, mostly because scenes tend to last a lot longer than they have to. It's not that you can't convey ideas and emotion without words, it's that movies like this often pretend to have dialogue, so you're watching two people mouth words at each other for minutes on end while only getting maybe two subtitles throughout the whole thing. What's happening in each scene is often clear for a long time before it actually ends, and it just makes it difficult sometimes to maintain attention when things actually start happening.

So it's about a future society where the very rich live in grand, tall buildings, and the working class toils endlessly maintaining machines below the surface. One of the men in charge has a son, who becomes disillusioned after seeing the conditions, understanding what the life of a worker is like, and meeting a woman who has become a spiritual leader down below. The man and his crazy evil scientist colleague come up with a plan to use a robot in the woman's image to regain control of the situation, but things go awry in ways that neither of them expect. It's an interesting, forward thinking story, and I'm definitely glad having seen of the movie. I just feel that it definitely could have been told efficiently, and it's one of those situations where it wouldn't actually be a tragedy to trim some of the fat. Still, I understand the desire for wanting to have as complete a version of the original as possible in existence.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

American History X

This is the 1000th post on this blog. I know no one cares but I think that's pretty crazy.

So American History X is not a terrible effective argument against racism. If that's its goal, then it failed. Still, I loved the movie itself, minus a couple tone deaf scenes, mostly because of Edward Norton's superb performance. He basically has to play three characters - a normal teenager who kowtows to his father's beliefs; a ripped, militant skinhead; and a reformed ex-con. I'm not sure how much time he had to transform himself physically so completely from phase 1 to phase 2, but it's pretty startling. And the several scenes that are just him talking or arguing with others for minutes on end are generally the best in the film. You feel his rage, his sorrow, his disappointment. He really did a great job sympathizing a character who's despicable for about half of the movie.

Otherwise, the film has a few strengths. It's a good looking movie, with the black and white/color disparity in the flashbacks and current events more effective than I would have guessed. And Norton's far from the only cast member who's not a slouch. I can't decide whether Edward Furlong is more annoying here as a teenager or in Terminator 2 as a kid, and his narration is especially irritating. But the various authority figures around Norton and Furlong are all generally very good, no matter what side they're on. And the film uses violence very well, highlighting the most important moments of the story in a way that makes the story a lot more intense. But yeah, the failure to actually make a convincing argument against all the racist rhetoric it spews throughout is something of a concern, and the unearned ending really doesn't have the emotional effect they wanted it to. I could easily see a white supremacist watching the film and being even more convinced of his beliefs despite its purported message. Still, as a movie, I liked it a lot.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Top Gear - Season 15

Although the previous season's final episode didn't technically air until last January in Great Britain, it looks like this will unfortunately be the first year to only have one season of Top Gear since 2006. On the bright side, it came over to America after something much closer to a reasonable delay (You might as well air it the next day guys, it's the most pirated show in the world), and for the first time was not edited to a shorter length. There's apparently a new special from the Middle East airing this Christmas that I'm just now hearing about for the first time, but hey, the regular season's over. It was fairly eventful with the inauguration of a new reasonably priced car and a huge bump in the general profile of the special guests, including Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter movies and even big American celebrities like Tom Cruise and the delightful Jeff Goldblum.

But the highlight as always is not the appearances by famous people but the more inspired taped segments. Highlights included Jeremy driving a three-wheeled Reliant Robin in one of the funniest things the show has ever done, and one of the more clever challenges as the three men tried to build their own version of a superior mobile home. Some of these bits are too obviously planned for purely comedic value sometimes, and while it can be more fun when it seems like they're at least trying to make it real like in the races, I appreciate the extent they go to to avoid running out of fun ideas. I'm not sure what's next for the show, or if the American version which is now fully in production will be able to hold a candle. Whatever happens, I hope to spend some more time with these guys.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Con Air

I still don't really understand Nick Cage. He can be a really good actor when he wants to, but he seems to want to less and less these days. He'll pretty much be in any movie as long as he gets the lead role. Which is why he's here in Con Air, bulked up to hell and back and putting on one of the worst accents I've ever heard. Cage trying to sound southern is just... just an abomination of acting. For some reason though, it works with the rest of the movie. He's surrounded by colorful characters, and if the protagonist was taken too seriously, I don't think the film would be as enjoyable as it is. It's not perfect, but for what it is it works pretty well.

It's one of those slightly older big action movies that at least tries to have an interesting and clever plot - you know, something Hollywood doesn't really try anymore. So Cage is a military veteran who comes home from the service to his pregnant wife, only to kill a man while defending her that night. Because his training has made him a deadly weapon, they throw the book at him and give him 7-10 years for manslaughter. Way to support the troops, legal system. Anyway, at the end of his sentence, he is to be transported by plane to a location for release. Unfortunately there are a bunch of bad dudes on that plane and they manage to take it over, causing a hostage situation in the skies. The revolt is lead by an enjoyably evil John Malkovich, and he's got everyone from a black militant Ving Rhames to a serial rapist Danny Trejo helping him out. John Cusack is in charge of the plane on the ground and is trying to stop it, but he's antagonized at every turn by Colm Meaney as a DEA official pissed that one of his guys got killed, so it's more or less up to Cage to save the day while maintaining his cover as just another bad guy. Also, Steve Buscemi is a serial killer.

So there's a lot of menacing dialogue and somewhat interesting tricks to try to avoid the authorities, and some goofy one-liners from Cage as he sows discord and takes out anyone who might stop him. The plane itself is a major location, but there's also some fun to be had at an abandoned airfield and eventually in the middle of the Vegas strip. People shoot guns and beat each other up and things explode all pretty. There's quite a few holes in the script, but it's fairly solid for this kind of action movie, and it can certainly be a fun time if you don't take it too seriously. I still just don't understand how an Oscar winning actor could butcher an accent so completely. Or how it's wrong for a vet to defend his wife with deadly force but not to chase someone all around Las Vegas with murderous intent. Oh well. Pretty good.