Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: The Year in My Own Damned Navel

First of all, yes, I know exactly how classy it is to dedicate a year-end best-of post solely to stuff I wrote myself. But as blog posts (and Facebook conversations, and tweets, my god TWEETS) become ever more fleeting, I find it valuable to mark certain highlights around here. It's not even just "Oh, wasn't that a sparkling bit of writing from ol' me" -- some of these posts are nothing more than a link to an odd video. Mostly, this is my way of marking time here on Low Res. I may not get as much time on here as I'd like, but I try to make it count. Here are fifteen instances of putting my best blog foot forward:

Low Res 2009 Movie Awards: Best Moments (01.26.10)

Bright Star Review + Screenshots (02.09.10)

Winter Olympics: Figure Skating Liveblog (w/ AB Chao) (02.16.10)

The Pride and Crushing Hard on Ben Whishaw (02.24.10)

Diablo Cody + Michaela Watkins = "Tight" (04.27.10)

Mystique Summers Madison Tells You Where She's From (05.02.10)

Commemorating the Lost Finale with -- what else? -- The Hours (05.24.10)

Commemorating the Lost Finale with Actual Discussion of the Lost Finale (05.24.10)

For One Week, I Descended Once More Into Buffy Madness (06.23.10)

My Interview with Buffy scribe Drew Z. Greenberg (07.05.10)

My Favorite Shot(s) from Angels in America (08.11.10)

Casting Lauren Gottlieb in the 4th Step Up Movie (08.12.10)

The Sluttening of Blake Lively in The Town (09.02.10)

Live-Chatting the Challenge with the Sarahs (10.13.10)

22 Short Thoughts About Burlesque (11.24.10)

Reviewing The Fighter and Its Slurry Sisters (12.13.10)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year-End Movie Binge: Mini-Reviews

BLUE VALENTINE (dir: Derek Cianfrance)
I really have to stop sticking around for these filmmaker Q&As after movie screenings. Which isn't to say I'm not still a big fan of Blue Valentine. It's a remarkable pas des deux between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, two deeply naturalistic performers who are once again burrowing far into their characters. The miracle is that neither of these two incredibly method-y actors ever feels like they're working -- the courtship scenes are as light and sweet as anything you'll see all year.

My niggling problems are with the writing/direction of Derek Cianfrance -- who does mostly excellent work I should note. But the structure feels a tad too structured for the raggedy story it's telling, and there's more than a hint of holier-than-thou hipsterism in the story, particularly in how, for example, the evil violent ex-boyfriend gets characterized by the fact that he's a baseball-cap-wearing jock? Which all were truly not very big issues in the scope of this bracing, wonderful movie ... until the Q&A with Derek Cianfrance and his nonstop barrage of canned, cute answers (to, admittedly, dumb, self-serving questions), and his "I didn't want the script to be a script you know?" and his Giving Tree tattoo ... okay, it's actually Ryan Gosling's Giving Tree tattoo, but since a) I like Ryan Gosling too much to acknowledge that he's got something as cloyingly ironic as a Giving Tree tattoo, and b) Gosling really seems to be channeling Cianfrance in the movie anyway, I'm crediting that tat to Cianfrance anyway. Summing up: good movie, great performances, maybe directed by a twat. B+

RABBIT HOLE (dir: John Cameron Mitchell)
I keep trying to speak to someone who's seen the stage version of the play, because I have this theory that John Cameron Mitchell did a LOT to shape this into a purely cinematic experience, and he's not getting any credit for it. The film -- dealing with the aftermath as a married couple tries to re-start their lives after their child's death -- never once feels stagebound, and it's done without using any of the flourishes that have characterized JCM's earlier films. The imagery from the comic book, in particular, feels like something that couldn't have been a part of the play but which is possessed of such haunting beauty, it's come to define the film as much (if not more) than Nicole Kidman's acclaimed performance.

Two elements are keeping this from superlative greatness in my mind: 1) I have an Aaron Eckhart problem. Maybe this is all on me. Maybe he's an actor who never fails to show you just how hard he's working to come up JUST short every time. 2) Tammy Blanchard as Kidman's sister is going to goin the 2010 pantheon of white-trash ladies I want to have a beer with (scoot over, Dale Dickey from Winter's Bone and the pretty Ward sister from The Fighter), but her character isn't developed all that well. Also, the last shot of Sandra Oh in the film was either poorly directed or poorly performed and I can't decide which. All this said, the movie has been stuck on my brain for two weeks, so maybe those nagging problems haven't mattered much.

Nicole Kidman's performance is amazing and is the biggest and best reason that the film doesn't wallow in its own subject matter but instead feels it, acknowledges it, is bewildered by it, laughs at it, and generally figures out a way to live with it. Dianne Weist is brilliant, the kind of passive-aggressive mom whose drunken bowling alley self-pity masks hard-won wisdom. B+/A-

THE GHOST WRITER (dir: Roman Polanski)
I appreciate why people like it, I suppose. It's a twisty political thriller and certainly a skillful throwback to '70s-'80s filmmaking aesthetics. It's the go-to movie for people who say "They don't make 'em like they used to anymore!" Me, I'll stay planted in the present, thanks. Part of my problem is that you couldn't pick three actors who hold less interest for me than Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Kim Cattrall. Yes, Polanski threw me a bone by casting Olivia Williams to essentially play Adelle DeWitt in her role as political wife, but much as I love her, she can't carry me through the tedium of watching McGregor bland his way through twists and turns that are alternately obvious and nonsensical (the movie follows the "Only our protagonist is capable of executing a Google search" rule). Stylistically, it's an interesting ride, but a wildly overpraised one. C+

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pawnee's Finest

One of the better aspects of taking a holiday vacation is that I have free time where I get to do things like binge on the entire second season of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. The show finally makes it back for Season 3 on January 20th, and revisiting Season 2 has only made me more psyched for that.

More interestingly, revisiting the second season has allowed me to appreciate it without some of the things that were hanging over my head during its original run. Remember, after a shaky season 1, there was a definite "prove it to me" mandate placed on this show, and especially in the early part of the season the show was under a whole lot of scrutiny as to its long-term viability. Watching the season now -- with the show a critical darling (if not a commercial smash) -- I can appreciate the episodes on their own merits, and BOY do they make for a fantastic collection.

They're such a uniformly strong collection of episodes, in fact, that I think the series as a whole may have suffered some by not having that one episode for everyone to hang their hat on. Community had "Modern Warfare," Modern Family had "Fizbo," The Office had the Niagara Falls wedding. There doesn't seem to be anything in the way of consensus around which P&R episode was the standout, but in many ways that only underlines what a strong season it was. Myles McNutt, for example, named "Sweetums" his favorite P&R episode on his blog Cultural Learnings. It says an awful lot that I can love "Sweetums" as much as I did and it still didn't crack my own top 10. What episodes did make my list? I'M SO GLAD YOU ASKED!

1) "The Camel" (Episode 9; aired 11/12/09)
The master plot, which saw the P&R department (plus Ann, minus Ron) designing murals to replace the offensive (but historically accurate) ones currently on display, showcased an ensemble firing on all cylinders. It's that ensemble that puts this show head-and-shoulders above the rest of the shows on TV (save Cougar Town, but that's an argument for another day). Some of my favorite beats of the season are here. Jerry getting mocked for his "murinal." Donna's obsession with celebrities from Indiana. Tom becoming entranced by a piece of abstract art (a brilliant and essential tweak to Tom's character). Plus another reminder of the Parks department's adversarial relationship with the other areas of city government. It's the B-plot that puts this at #1, as Ron Swanson gets a shoeshine/accidental foot massage from Andy and emits a moan that freaks everybody out.

2) "Greg Pikitis" (Episdoe 7; aired 10/29/09)
The subplot in this one -- Ann's loser of a Halloween party that gets brought to life by Tom "T-Pain" Haverford -- isn't quite as hysterical in "Greg," but the main plot, with Leslie taking on the local no-good teen of the episode's title is a defining story, capitalizing on Leslie's obsession, local pride, and overestimation of her own standing in the community.

3) "Hunting Trip" (Episode 10; aired 11/19/09)
Another superb "the whole gang comes together" outing, as Ron's guys-only hunting trip gets crashed by Leslie, Ann, Tom, and Donna. This one's a crucial step in the "Leslie earns Ron's respect" arc that really defined the season, plus we get Donna's maniacal concern over her car (a recurring theme), plus back in Pawnee, the sweet beginnings of the Andy/April romance.

4) "The Master Plan" (Episode 23; aired 5/13/10)
Because I'm a worrier, I had started to grow concerned about Parks season 3, with new cast members Adam Scott and Rob Lowe and newly raised expectations. Then I watched "The Master Plan" again, and I was reminded how much fresh material Scott and Lowe are bringing to the table, with the latter's hookup with Ann, and the former's already well-defined character (his past as a failed teen mayor gives him all sorts of angles at which to bounce off Leslie). This episode also featured April's 21st birthday, at which Leslie and Ann get remarkably, hilariously drunk.

5) "94 Meetings" (Episode 21; aired 4/29/10)
Another great season-long thread -- April as Ron's assistant -- got the focus here, with April's mistaken belief that March 31st doesn't exist leading her to schedule all of Ron's blown-off meetings on the same all-too-real day. Along with Andy, Ron and April are the breakout characters of the show, and giving their oddly perfect professional relationship a trial by fire really paid off.

6) "Pawnee Zoo" (Episode 1; aired 9/17/09)
The second season premiere suffered a lot for having to prove itself in the wake of the ambivalent reactions to Season 1. The gift of hindsight just allows us to revel in Leslie reveling in her newfound gay icon-dom, one of the most purely joyful sequences of the series. Plus: "Parents Just Don't Understand"!

7) "Woman of the Year" (Episode 17; aired 3/4/10)
The subplot, with Tom looking for co-investors in the club he wants to co-own, offers my favorite Donna moments of the whole year (her assessment of Jean Ralphio!). The main plot, with Ron putting Leslie through hell after being named the first male "Woman of the Year," is yet another fantastic series of moments for their adversarial friendship.

8) "Beauty Pageant" (Episode 3; aired 10/1/09)
This seemed to be the epsidoe that kick-started the "Is Parks and Rec suddenly one of the best comedies on TV?" narrative that would come to dominate critical discussion. And for good reason, with Leslie's character coming into very sharp focus (Tom's recitation of Leslie's rubric for evaluating the pageant contestants -- "the Naomi Wolf factor"! -- is the best shorthand for a major sitcom character I've ever heard), plus the simple hilarity of April's pageant speech ("I love people, places, and thiiiiings!").

9) "Telethon" (Episode 22; aired 5/6/10)
Kind of just an excuse for Amy Poehler to go all-out, but what makes this episode for me is the visual gag of Ron's sleep-fighting disorder.

10) "Ron and Tammy" (Episode 8; aired 11/5/09)
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally got to show off their married-in-real-life chemistry as Ron's evil ex-wife Tammy comes back into the picture and totally effs up his life. Notable for introducing Ron's affinity for dark-haired woman and breakfast foods, as well as advancing the rivalry between the Parks department and the hated, vile Library department.

What'd I miss? What'd I get right? Comment, fools!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Art of the Skank

I had a lot of things to talk about upon seeing David O. Russell's excellent movie The Fighter. But the first thing wasn't about top-line stars and Oscar contenders like Christian Bale and Melissa Leo and Mark Wahlberg. No, my first thought, which I tweeted immediately after getting home, was that I dearly wish I could've sat in on the casting session for the Ward/Ecklund sisters. Talk about a triumph of realistic, lived-in, unglamorous casting, and they're the most reliable source of comedy in a movie that was way funnier than I expected it to be.

I suppose when I first saw the Fighter trailer, with its rote bullet-pointing of all the usual sports movie tropes (Adversity! Family! The love of a good woman!), it made me forget everything I like about David O. Russell's filmmaking style. Specifically that he keeps a wide gaze on his characters -- both in the points of view he juggles and also the multiplicity of angles from which his leads are being acted upon. Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is getting it from all sides: promoters, trainers, his monstrously self-involved crackhead brother (Christian Bale), his girlfriend (Amy Adams) and most frighteningly, his mother (Melissa Leo) and a gaggle of sisters, numbering at at various times from five to seventeen. Each one's hair bigger and more hilarious than the last, their faces telling stories of misspent youth, barfights, scratch-off lottery near-misses, and fetal alcohol syndrome. It's like Amy Ryan's squish-faced cohort from Gone Baby Gone went and volunteered for an experimental cloning protocol that netted her $90 and 8-10 identical twins.* Every single one of their line-readings, non-verbal reactions, and braying insults hurled at Amy Adams absolutely killed. And Adams was no slouch either -- she couldn't keep up in the looks department, but she sure could throw down with that army of Massachusetts harridans.

*See the comments below for this mind-blower: one of the Ward/Ecklund sisters is played by Jill Quigg, who WAS Amy Ryan's squish-faced cohort from Gone Baby Gone! So there aren't two people out there who look like that. And make sure you click on that link Nick included about Jill's recent exploits.

All in all, The Fighter kind of blew me away, particularly in relation to my expectations. The sports-movie stuff was so well-supported by a first two-thirds that really invests in its characters and sets up that final third so that the (relatively rote, sure) sports-movie machinations had consequences for people we cared about. It's almost impossible to do a "win it for the ol' hometown" story beat that doesn't have me rolling my eyes, but Russell really captures that mentality that hits dying, beat-down northeast cities, where individual triumphs and fuck-ups are felt by everyone.

I feel like all these achievements are bound to be overshadowed by the scenery-chewing Oscar campaigns of Bale and Leo. Which is fine, I thought they were both insanely compelling and a total credit to the film. I don't much care for Christian Bale and expected him to be a twitchy annoyance, but he digs deep into Dickie and pulls out the frustrated, maddening guy who's never going to quite learn all the lessons he should (even "reformed" he still takes all the air out of a room). And while Leo certainly goes whole hog into the Monstrous Ma type, it's tough to say she doesn't earn the raves. She manages to convince me she mothered that army of bar-harpies up there, at the very least.

The Week in TV

Community (12/9)
Ugh. I just don't know. I liked the idea of a stop-motion, Rankin-Bass style episode of this show. I genuinely enjoy this show's willingness to play with form and to stretch the boundaries, it's just the execution that's been spotty. I've seen false generalities thrown around about how certain Community fans only like the high-concept episodes and certain fans like the character episodes and certain fans like the sad episodes. I don't think there's a hard and fast rule, at least not for me. I think part of my problem has been that the episodes this season have been so either/or. Either it's all-out genre parody (zombie Halloween) or completely stripped down (the "bottle episode"). Or it's like last week's "Troy gets sad on his birthday episode," which decided it would just bum us out for 30 minutes. kind of what the Christmas episode did too. I like it that the shows takes these characters seriously and lets them have emotions and problems and depth. But the comedy needs to be the driving force of the show, and these past two episodes, you've felt the gears grind to a halt and they shifted from regular, funny Community to sad, serious Community. I think I'm still waiting for the Community episode that makes me forget all these genre/format questions for a half-hour and makes me laugh again.

30 Rock (12/9)
The Jenna stuff was mostly a miss (though it led to the very funny moment of Liz being repeatedly confused for a drag queen), and the Tracy stuff was one joke carried out for a while episode. But I really liked the Jack/Avery/Colleen/Milton stuff. Elizabeth Banks really delivers when she stops by, and Alan Alda is a great foil for Jack.

Real World/Road Rules Challenge (12/8)
So much to love! Starting with CT carrying Johnny Bananas like he's a papoose and then dropping his ass on a trash can for funsies. No one person on this show deserved that treatment more, though I will give Bananas credit for having some self-awareness in his interviews. You know who comes across worse than Johnny this season? Brad. BRAAAAD. When did he become such a bitch? Hiding behind alliances, shirking his alpha-male duties and generally scheming Paula-style to make it to the end? That's beneath you, B-Rad. Looking forward to next week, when hopefully Emily puts Paula out of her misery, and somebody finds a way to get Laurel to just STOP. ALL OF IT.

Top Chef All-Stars (12/8)
Man, I loved Jen on her season and I love her now, but I can't decide if that was Jen going out in a blaze of scorched-earth glory or if she just had a breakdown on national TV. I have to say, while I can't find fault with Jen's ouster (Casey herself said Jen's pork belly was awful). But I do think that Team Meat was really set up for failure in that task. Classic case of The Advantage That's Not. That said, thrilled to see some of my favorites really shining (Tiffani, Dale), even if I have to sneer at Blais and Marcel and their stupid-ass hair winding up in the winner's circle.

Survivor (12/8)
This has been a bad season, I'm not going to front. But I guess it says a lot about how much I enjoy the ins and outs of the game that I am still very interested to see how it all shakes out. The latter half of this season has gotten us down to some characters I'm rooting for (Holly), some I'm rooting against (Sash, Dan), and someone like Jane, who is either wonderful or crazy or both. This past episode went a long way towards clarifying why I hate Sash (so chronically insincere!) and made a decent case for Chase as a genuinely good guy who is mostly aware of how he can sometimes be a dumbass. Like I said, the season hasn't been good, but it still stands a shot at a decent finish.

Raising Hope (12/7)
Best Christmas episode of the season so far! And not just because they featured the Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" cover, a Top 10 Christmas song of mine. It adhered to the Raising Hope forumula fairly well (Jimmy wants a better Christmas for Hope than he got; Virginia goes overboard trying to prove herself), but I find comfort in this show's rhythms, and Martha Plimpton was alternately crazed and endearing. And the undercurrent of Burt contemplating letting Maw Maw die by natural causes (and/or misadventure) was a nice darkly funny note to add to all the holiday themes. If I had one complaint, it would be the under-use of Jonathan Slavin, so beloved by me from his Better Off Ted days. Stop fucking around, Hollywood, and get this guy a show again.

Glee (12/7)
This is one of those Glee episodes that shouldn't work ... and kind of doesn't work, but the one or two beats that did work make me think of the episode fondly. I was frankly worried about "Baby It's Cold Outside," mostly because Kurt has yet to really sell me on his romantic side. But I thought it worked. The Dalton scenes have bothered a lot of people, but for me, Dalton has been presented as such a through-the-looking glass place, it tends to accomodate the weird "Hot Toddies at the Snow Lodge, 1967" vibe that song needs. You know I don't care for Artie, so his bionic legs were probably not going to move me much BUT Quinn once again saves the day. I know I'm like a broken record with this stuff but honestly, that whole treacly storyline couldn't accomplish as much emotion as Diana Agron's face from the background of that scene. GIVE HER SHIT TO DO.

Gossip Girl (12/6)
Once again, Katie Cassidy has been KILLING IT this season, and I hope she sticks around now that this secret-vengeance plot has been (mostly) solved. In other news, while I'm used to this show essentially spinning a wheel to determine which character will be the designated villain of the moment, it really feels like the show was stretching this week to turn Lily into a cold-hearted schemer. It's better than yet another Serena/Blair fight (or another Deus Ex Georgina), but it also doesn't feel right.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fringe, Season 3, Episode 9: "Marionette"

I appreciate your patience in waiting through the weekend for me to catch up. I wanted to talk about the episode itself, then the season to date, and then the upcoming move to (GASP! FRET!) Fridays.

As for"Marionette," it might have presented my favorite monster storyline of the season so far (which is saying a lot, as I think the season has been awfully strong when it comes to the freaks of the week). That moment where the organ thief is making his prospective Frankenstein dance with the assistance of pulleys and levers? Horrifying, sure, but also deeply sad. And kind of beautiful. Fringe manages to pull off that particular convergence of moods more often than it gets credit for.

I also really dig that the development of Broyles's alt-world doppelganger (R.I.P.) has now been extended to our world's Broyles. Knowing how his mirror self sacrificed himself -- and also his family-man status -- looks like it's going to have an effect on Broyles going forward.

As for the Peter/Olivia stuff ... I know the A.V. Club really liked it, and it did give Anna Torv a lot of room to show once again that she's been damned excellent this season. But I don't know, I have to admit I don't have much patience for this hand-wringing over Peter sleeping with Fauxlivia. I understand why Olivia is bothered by it, and I understand why Peter's not in the wrong. It's emotionally complex and fraught, but I really have so little interest in seeing them go through these motions.

But overall, definite thumbs up for "Marionette."

As for Season 3 thus far: this is the first season where I've watched them episode-to-episode. I used to save them all up on the DVR and then watch in chunks. I expected watching the season unfold one hour at a time would be frustrating, but thus far I've been pretty well riveted. If you've been reading along with these recaps, you should know that the biggest triumph of the season, in my eyes, has been the establishment of Alt World as a place that's worth our care and concern. Fringe Team Red has won my heart, and I am incredibly anxious to get back to them at some point. When this whole Doomsday Device thing comes to a head, I expect that our collected affection for Alt World is going to pay off in a serious way.

Also, as I've mentioned, the care with which a character like Alt Broyles has been written has rubbed off on Our Broyles, who up until this season has been the one major character who I didn't much care about one way or the other.

My guess is that the red world is going to be set on a back burner to simmer while we deal with the Observers and our world for a while, but it's all going to come together by season's end, and damn it, I'll be ready!

Which brings me to the move to Fridays, starting January 21st. Yes, it returns with an episode called "Firefly." Yes, crazy internet people are taking this as a bad omen, since we're all the post-traumatic children of the one Joss Whedon show not to make it to a second season. Look ... by the time this show comes back on the air, we're going to be in 2011. Friday nights need not be the no-man's-land we once feared. Think about it: Dollhouse got two seasons on Friday nights, and NO ONE WATCHED THAT SHOW. I can certainly see Fringe setting up camp on Fridays for a couple more seasons with its core audience. All I want is one more season past this one, anyway. This isn't a season that needs to go seven or eight seasons. Anyway, my point is this: stop freaking out, you guys. You're embarrassing us.

Your thoughts on the episode? Season? Fridays?

More Fringe on Low Res:
Fringe 3.1 "Olivia"
Fringe 3.2 "The Box"
Fringe 3.3 "The Plateau".
Fringe 3.4 "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?"
Fringe 3.5, "Amber 31422"
Fringe 3.6, "6995 kHz"
Fringe 3.7, "The Abducted"
Fringe 3.8, "Entrada"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Looking for Fringe?

Sorry, guys, I won't get to watching Fringe until tonight. Expect a post on last night's episode, the season so far, and the upcoming move to Fridays, sometime over the weekend. Your patience is the greatest!

And Let Me Say What Nobody Else Wants to Say

Your looks have become a problem.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Free Jackson!

For reasons entirely work-related, I ended up watching the second and third Twilight movies over the weekend. I'd seen and scoffed my way through the first one with friends a couple years ago and never had a particular desire to continue the series, but I also never had any particular aversion to it either.

I don't really have a ton to say about the movies. New Moon is spectacularly boring, making the comparatively action-packed Eclipse go down much better. But I guess my major takeaway is -- shocker -- a shallow one: how the fuck is an entire generation losing their shit over Robert Pattinson when Jackson Rathbone is right there?

Jackson plays Jasper, the dubiously-accented Confederate-soldier-turned-vampire combat expert with a weakness for paper cuts. But more importantly, he is a teenage dream that I would have killed to ogle (on the sly) as a teen. And yet today's kids are limiting themselves to R.Pattz? Dubious.

It really bothered me that in the 2+ years since Twilight, Jackson hasn't appeared to have gotten the commensurate career bump. In other words, why did it take until NOW for me to hear about him? Comparatively, I've seen 10,000 photos of Kellan Lutz in that same time period. (Important to note: Not complaining.) Anyway, Roommate Jenn pointed out to me that this was how Jackson presented in the first Twilight movie:

Mystery solved! Lord, the untold number of victims that the Twilight wig department has left in its wake. No wonder he didn't make an impression on me (or anyone) in the first one. But they seem to have his shit mostly under control now. And honestly, there's only so many ways you can keep that face under a powdery bushel:

[Caveat: A Google image search of Jackson reveals oodles of unfortunate sexy-faced posing and enough hipstery hats to choke Jack White. This isn't a dealbreaker. It just means he's a project.]

I actually think he remembers another underrated crush o' mine, Aaron Johnson:

I think it's the lips. Which has me hoping the both of them will get cast in a movie about rival con artists who use their lips to mesmerize their female (and male) marks. Their shared mentor will, obviously, be this one here:

Make it happen, Hollywood.

That's all. That's all I have to say. It's seriously that shallow of a post. I can't defend it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Week in TV

Community (12/2)
Another indulgent "Community" episode, this one firmly dedicated to not being funny in exchange for a seemingly arbitrary "Troy learns a lesson" plot. Nobody loves Troy more than me -- and Donald Glover and Allison Brie manage to salvage the episode through sheer force of personality -- but nothing about his melancholy realization that Jeff and Britta are no longer his role models felt eared. First of all, Jeff and Britta are Troy's role models?? I know a lot of people were drooling over this for being so "character focused," but this one felt like it took the easy way out and mistook "serious" for "character focused."

30 Rock (12/2)
Probably the best they've used Kenneth since the "Hill Witch" episode, but I'm not sure how much mileage I got out of Jack and Liz airing out their respective childhood traumas. Jenna and her Jenna-impersonating boyfriend have plateaued, and if they were going to bring one of Tracy's sons back, why not the Bobb'e J. Thompson one?

Grey's Anatomy (12/2)
I'm generally happy to be back onboard with the show. It's not appointment viewing or anything, but I feel like it's back on track. And this week was a keeper -- pretty much any week is a keeper when you can get Miranda Bailey drunk and giggling.

Terriers (12/1)
Fantastic finale to a fantastic season, and though I would dearly love for it to be renewed, if this does end up all she wrote on this show, what a fantastic season of TV it's been. Loved that the show refused to let their main characters off the hook for their actions, yet never allowed them to wallow in their less-than-admirable qualities. They also really sold the ragged edges of Ocean Beach as a community worth saving, which drove the engine of a sneakily compelling serial plot about land-acquisition. I think it's just Terriers and Veronica Mars that have managed to make land-grabbing a interesting. The 25th Hour homage at the end was such a wonderful open door for Britt and Hank, and hopefully we'll get to see which way they chose to go.

Sons of Anarchy (11/30)
Mercifully, the season ends, and I can't believe I'm saying that about a show whose second season was as strong as any I've seen. But no show on TV needs a clean slate more than this one. With Ireland and Jimmy O Abel's kidnapping and now Agent Stahl all mercifully behind them, the show can more or less start fresh, re-focus on the club, and get things back to the central conflict in the story: will Jax Teller reform his wayward club from the inside, or won't he? There was nothing offensively over the top in the conclusion of this week's finale

Glee (11/30)
I know everybody shit their pants (in a bad way) over how supposedly bad the Kurt-discovers-private-school episode was a few weeks back, but as far as I'm concerned, the show has been rolling with largely enjoyable episodes ever since that "Rocky Horror" nadir. No, still not enough Quinn, and the "bully kisses Kurt" twist was super groan-inducting, but that Gwyneth episode was killer, and this return trip to sectionals brought some excellent performances (you kill that Winehouse track, Santana!), the first time this season that either Rachel or Puck has been well-utilized, and the slightest indication that the show has some forward momentum. I'm not naïve enough to think that's guaranteed to last, but on my Glee Scale of Expectation, these episodes have more than made the grade.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Fringe, Season 3, Episodes 7-8

Apologies for flaking out last week, guys. Holiday travels plans and all. But before we get into last night's episode, I want to get down a few lingering thoughts on episode 7, "The Abducted," which I really, REALLY loved.

Clearly I have been enjoying Red Fringe more than Blue Fringe this season. Not that Blue Fringe has been a slouch, but I've been more captivated by our Olivia, her struggles to get back, and of course my beloved Red Fringe Team. This episode did a lot to deepen Alt Broyles (something that obviously paid off in this week's episode). And it once again gave Walternate the slightest twinge of humanity, which is the exact right amount. He's still the bad guy, and there's nothing that says we shouldn't have a guy to root against, but the show has been very careful not to strip away his humanity. He's the bad guy, but he's still a guy with feelings -- like empathy for Broyles, who we learn also knows what it's like to have a son taken.

The monster plot, with the child-abductor who's using them to steal their youth (how's THAT for a metaphor?), was terrifically frightening (those MASKS). I do like when Fringe scares the crap out of me. But it's Alt Broyles learning to trust Ourlivia that ends up being the most important part of the episode. It certainly gives tonight's episode it's big emotional wallop.


I've been neither effervescent nor harsh about the Peter/Olivia relationship chemistry. But it probably says something that I was FAR more emotionally invested in Alt Broyles's tragic efforts to aid Olivia than I was in Peter's heartbreak over the truth about Fauxlivia. It's kind of a loaded scenario, I'll admit. Broyles and Olivia got to be cool and secretive and resourceful (when is an adrenaline shot to the chest NOT awesome?), while Peter and the gang from our world were always several steps behind. But even in execution, how much fun was it watching Olivia try to explain two-plus seasons of weirdness (cortexifan!) to Broyles in ways that all seemed to amount to "kinda, yeah!"? I'm going to be sad to see Ourlivia go back to blonde, but I think this excursion to the alt world has brought Anna Torv's performance out in a way that won't regress.

As always, here's where I hope that this isn't the last we've seen of the Red Fringe team. Not when Lincoln's finally gotten himself burn-wound free! I was hopeful that Alt Broyles was going to take back with him the idea that Our World isn't trying to destroy his, and that the next time we see the Alt World that germ of an idea will have taken hold on some level (we've already seen political unrest at the fringes -- pardon the pun -- of Alt World life). But with Broyles dead, it looks like Olivia's going to have to fight the "we're not enemies" fight from our side. After all, she saw quite a bit on the Red side of the divide. I can't believe she's not going to want to save that world from snow-globe-metaphor doom.

I love this show, you guys.

More Fringe on Low Res:
Fringe 3.1 "Olivia"
Fringe 3.2 "The Box"
Fringe 3.3 "The Plateau".
Fringe 3.4 "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?"
Fringe 3.5, "Amber 31422"
Fringe 3.6, "6995 kHz"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Loving, Learning, Sharing, Judging

New podcast today! Extra Hot Great #8: A Gypsy, a Tramp, and a Thief. (Yes, by the image on the EHG site, I guess that makes me the tramp. I can live with that.)

Among other things (Burlesque, Buffy fans, font-based wordplay), we get caught up in a discussion of Clone High, the late, lamented MTV animated show about a school full of sexy teen clones of famous historical figures. It's pretty tough to find on DVD -- I believe I had to try (and thank Christ that overrated sourpuss Ramona Flowers didn't rollerblade her ass on over to my place to deliver it) to find it. But it's so completely worth it -- 13 episodes of hilarity, just waiting for you.

Anyhoo, I found out something else today as I was YouTubing for Clone High clips: the theme song -- one of the best, hookiest TV themes ever -- was sung by the band Abandoned Pools. Who I totally saw in concert once, even though I had no idea who they were, as they were opening for Flickerstick, a.k.a. the winners of the VH1 reality show Bands on the Run, which was another phenomenal TV show from the early-2000s that only lasted one perfect season!

The world is an amazing place sometimes...


Monday, November 29, 2010

Fall Movie Preview 2010, Part 5

Fall movie season is upon us! What goodies await? What kind of an impact will they make? How many leading questions will I ask before I just get on with it? Three. The answer is three.

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Movie: The Fighter (David O. Russell)
High-Concept Synopsis: Mark Wahlberg plays one of those scrappy, tiny, white athletes that American usually goes ga-ga over, this time a boxer who fights his way up from white-trash surroundings with the help of his ne'er-do-well brother, played by Christian Bale.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Audiences following the (manufactured?) Oscar buzz, particularly in the case of Bale, who is being tapped as a Best Supporting Actor winner. Fans of the pedigreed cast, which also includes Amy Adams as Wahlberg's wife and Melissa Leo as his and Bale's insanely-bouffanted mother. People who can't get enough of boxing movies about credulity-straining short white dudes.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Folks who might be skeptical about how David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings) is going to marry his comedic style to such a leaden story type. People who found a little too much self-conscious bombast in the trailer. Audiences turned off by the combined jackassery of the director and male leads.
Why I'd See It: Russell's I Heart Huckabees is one of my favorite movies of the past ten years. But I am finding a very hard time working up enthusiasm for this movie, which is the perfect storm of a story type I don't care about, lead actors I don't care for (love Wahlberg in comedies, think he's kind of a disaster in dramas), and supporting actresses I generally like seeming to go WAY overboard. This is all based on a trailer, though, so there's no guarantee I won't be wrong. But ... I'm not, come on. December 10

Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Michael Apted)
High-Concept Synopsis: Once more into the fantasy/allegory breach, this time on the high seas of Narnia with the two younger Pevensie kids, fine-ass Prince Caspian, and that little Eddie Izzard mouse. Like last time, Tilda Swinton will return all too briefly.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of the C.S. Lewis books. Families looking for neutral viewing options. Folks who maybe didn't care for the first installment of this series but warmed up to Prince Caspian for various reasons.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Folks turned off by the "Lord of the Rings for Christian evangelists" reputation the series hasn't entirely been able to shake. Shallow audiences disappointed that we'll be sticking with the two awkward-looking siblings and dumping the cute boring ones. Audiences unsure of how Michael Apted's career (Rome, Nell, Gorillas in the Mist) jibes with this story.
Why I'd See It: I didn't much care for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I was largely pleased by Prince Caspian, for non-Ben Barnes related reasons, even! I'm not saying I'm going to go out of my way to see this when December is acting like its usual jam-packed self, but I'm not going to reflexively turn my nose up at it either. December 10

Movie: The Tempest (Julie Taymor)
High-Concept Synopsis: After finding critical (if not popular) success with Titus, Julie Taymor aims to crack out Shakespeare once again, this time with Helen Mirren playing a gender-swapped Prospero.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of Taymor's wild style, which isn't always successful (Across the Universe) but certainly distinguishes itself. Fans of Mirren, an actress who has shown an increasingly adventurous streak as of late. Shakespeare completists.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Folks who have followed the rather poisonous buzz around the festival circuit. Audiences who have tired of Taymor's excesses. People left on edge by the odd mix of co-stars (Alfred Molina, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, Russell Brand, Ben Whishaw).
Why I'd See It: It's supposed to be a mess, but maybe a grand mess. A trainwreck in the making might be fun -- plus Helen Mirren's always good justification for a ticket purchase. December 10

Movie: Tron: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski)
High-Concept Synopsis: A triumphant return to the computer-world classic beloved by ... dozens of people? If that? Jeff Bridges reprises his role, and does a creepy mo-cap version of himself as the film's villain.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who liked the original and have been waiting for computer-animation technology to catch up to the film's original vision. Bridges fans who will -- and have -- see him in anything. The world's oldest techno-dweebs.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who object to the integrity of the original being sullied by youth-casting choices like Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde. Technophobes. People freaked the hell out by Motion-Captured Jeff Bridges from the trailer.
Why I'd See It: I don't recall much about the original Tron from Saturday-afternoon viewings during my grade-school year. I'm not sure this is shaping up to be good, but it's certainly distinctive this season. December 17

Movie: How Do You Know (James L. Brooks)
High-Concept Synopsis: Reese Witherspoon is a directionless lady who is courted by pro ballplayer Owen Wilson and endearing disaster Paul Rudd. Jack Nicholson also shows up there as well.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of James L. Brooks's mostly reliable oeuvre (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment). Fans of Reese. Fans of Rudd. Fans of Owen Wilson.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who remember the last time they saw a movie solely because it had James L. Brooks's name on it. Never forget, Spanglish victims. Never forget.
Why I'd See It: I do love Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd. Each gets a moment in the trailer that sums up why I'm so hooked on them -- his dead face-plant on the table; her getting annoyed at herself for crying. And while I wonder whether their particular brands of charisma are a good match (she needs a strong-willed guy to butt up against), I'm definitely willing to see what they throw at me. December 17

Movie: Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell)
High-Concept Synopsis: The usual awards-baity "grieving parents struggle to cope" story, hopefully livened up by the director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and featuring reportedly strong performances by Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Weist.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of the Broadway play, which is apparently stunning. People anxiously waiting for Kidman to return to award-winning form. John Cameron Mitchell fans psyched to see what stylistic flourishes he brings to the material.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who are still scared away by Kidman's freaky face experiments. People worried that Mitchell won't be as free to experiment while directing a script that's not his own. People who just don't dig watching parental grief, no matter how exquisitely rendered.
Why I'd See It: I truly do like Nicole Kidman, even if I can't lie that the lingering facial issues aren't a problem. The botox seems to have calmed down in this preview footage, but the lips are still insane. But I'm an even bigger JCM fan, and the reviews have been pretty stellar. My expectations are suddenly really high. December 17

Movie: Gulliver's Travels (Rob Letterman)
High-Concept Synopsis: Jack Black brings his fresh and hilarious brand of mugging to a modern-day update of Jonathan Swift's classic tale. Emily Blunt and Jason Segel, among others, lower themselves both literally and figuratively as Lilliputians.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who were longing for the madcap laugh-a-minutemovie antics of Year One combined with the literature-defiling thrills of The Cat in the Hat. Jack Black loyalists. People who'll get a kick out of Jason Segel's quasi-continental accent.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Anybody who has anything better to do whatsoever.
Why I'd See It: I tried to keep an open mind about this whole endeavor, and it's probably for kids anyway, but seriously, that trailer about broke me. This looks absolutely awful. December 22

Movie: Country Strong (Shana Feste)
High-Concept Synopsis: Gwyneth Paltrow does the Crazy Heart thing as a boozy, washed up country star who's watching her career get eclipsed by a pretty youngster (Leighton Meester) struggles to get herself back on top with the help of a young hottie (Garrett Hedlund).
Who Will Be Seeing It: Gwyneth fans, having recently been bolstered by her successful appearance on Glee. Fans of the road-to-country-redemption trope, which has endured for decades for a reason. Audiences happy to get to see the dude play the pretty young thing in one of these movies for once.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Country music agnostics. Anybody who doesn't think they can buy pretty princess Gwyneth as a hard-ridden country whiskey-swiller. Anybody who may not want to buy into what could be interpreted as a late-entry Oscar-grab fusion of Sandra Bullock AND Jeff Bridges's awards-bait roles from last year.
Why I'd See It: After years of thinking I hated her -- even while allowing for the wonderful exception that was The Royal Tenenbaums -- it turns out I kind of love Gwyneth Paltrow. And I often take comfort in familiar genre fare starring likeable actors. I am but an average American. December 22

Movie: True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen)
High-Concept Synopsis: The Coens remake the John Wayne "classic," which is notable for winning The Duke the Oscar, but maybe not for much else. Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld co-star.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Coen fans who recognize the hottest of hot streaks they've been on lately. Bridges fans who: ditto. That sad band of westerns fans who come out of the woodwork every time one of these movies comes out, moaning about how this is the quintessential American genre and they don't make 'em like they used to.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Western fans who object to John Wayne getting re-made in any way. Coens fans who nonetheless don't think they should be in the business of remakes, and who can point to disappointments like The Ladykillers as proof. Matt Damon fans who maybe aren't thrilled about seeing their guy second-billed and covered with dirt.
Why I'd See It: I'm already onboard when you give me Coens, Bridges, and Damon, and to top that off the trailer looks positively amazing. I'm no drooling fan of the western, but the Coens did it about as well as I've ever liked it on No Country for Old Men. I'm in. December 22

Movie: Somewhere (Sofia Coppola)
High-Concept Synopsis: Stephen Dorff plays a fuckup of an actor (hrm...) who's living in swanky hotels and keeping the world at bay until he gets a visit from his young daughter, played by Elle Fanning.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of Coppola's previous films, all of which have their passionate fans -- yes, even Marie Antoinette. People who have been waiting a long, long, long time for Stephen Dorff to finally have his moment in the sun. Fans of movies about lounging, looking intriguingly bored, and pondering your wealthy, meaningless existence at poolside.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who thought Marie Antoinette was vapid and shallow. People who don't feel like Dorff's career achievements thus far have bought him enough goodwill to warrant this kind of a role. People who have a kneejerk opposition to whatever movie those snooty Cannes folk decided to honour.
Why I'd See It: Personally, I don't have any objection to watching movies about the idle rich, provided they're compelling and intriguingly filmed. Coppola has shown she's able to do just that. December 24

Movie: Another Year (Mike Leigh)
High-Concept Synopsis: Leigh delivers another typically lived-in tale, this one about a longtime, happily married couple and the degrees of sadness that exist in their many close friends and family members.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Anyone who's grown fond of Leigh's brand of modest English realism. Fans of the critically lauded performances by Jim Broadbent, Ruth Shean, and Lesley Manville. Audiences looking for a constant stream of laughter to cushion some deep-cutting meditations on loneliness.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Leigh fans who need more of a Happy Go Lucky-type hook to grab them. Non-fans of quiet British humor. Audiences who won't have time during the holiday rush to seek anything beyond the shopping mall multiplexes.
Why I'd See It: Actually, I already have, at the New York Film Festival. I'm absolutely over the moon for it, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again. December 29

Movie: Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance)
High-Concept Synopsis: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a young couple going through some painfully cinematic troubled times.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Audiences following the couldn't-be-more-stellar festival buzz. Fans of the two stars, both of whom are said to give blazing, challenging performances. Folks who will always see a movie that's been the subject of an MPAA rating controversy.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Folks who would never see a movie the MPAA slapped with an NC-17. Audiences turned off by a movie that's been called "difficult" and "punishing." People who don't get the benefit of Oscar screeners.
Why I'd See It: I'm a huge fan of both Gosling and Williams, and everything I'm hearing about it has me thinking this is right up my alley. I will always line up for intense movies about young people in love. December 31

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

22 Short Thoughts About Burlesque

01. It's not Showgirls. That's going to be bad news for people who were hoping for the next kitsch classic. It's nowhere near as insane, as poorly acted, as aggressively off-putting as Paul Verhoeven much embraced gilded turd.

02. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Planets really had to align for a movie as terrible as Showgirls to have become as embraced by the trash-humping masses. Trying to repeat that kind of "success" would have been a fool's errand. Instead, this is a mostly pretty-good movie if you happen to enjoy: 1) Cher, 2) Christina Aguilera, 3) Dancing, 4) Movie cliches, or 5) sparkly things.

03. Cher is Cher, and if you like that, you're golden. Yes, her face is kind of puffy and fishy, and that gets distracting at times, but that charm of hers comes shining through. She's such a relaxed, lived-in presence on the film, it's like Aunt Cher stopped by for some dress-up fun.

04. Christina Aguilera ... it depends on what your starting point is. You could point out that she doesn't bring a whole lot of idiosyncratic life to the role of "Ali," the small-town girl looking to Make It in L.A. But considering the fact that this is her first feature film role of any kind, I found myself a little impressed that she wasn't stilted or all that mannered. It's a solid debut.

05. Stanley Tucci! I mean, right? He's spent the last 5 or so years playing utterly charming supporting characters and allowing that wonderful, unforced humor of his to infuse entire movies. The depressing fact that his lone Oscar nomination was for last year's The Lovely Bones -- the fidgety, mannered exception to that rule -- has been made up for this year by ace work in both Easy A and now here.

06. Is it weird that coming out of a movie starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, my first thought was of Cam Gigandet? And not purely for shallow reasons, either! Well ... 70% for shallow reasons. That boy is rocking a torso that is here to please, and he's kind enough to sport some butt, after all. But when did he develop a personality? He's kind of ridiculously charming in his guyliner and junk-covering Famous Amos cookies. I take back all those "Hatchet Face" comments, Cam! I find your mug beguiling now.

07. Steve Antin's direction leaves a good bit to be desired. The whole movie is kind of flabby, there's no real flow from one musical number to one another. A better director with a tighter style would've kept the movie from lulling the way it does.

08. The musical numbers could have been funnier, too. I understand Christina needs her torch ballads, but this is the girl who did that dirty Andrews Sisters video for "Candyman." Or "Dirrty" for that matter. And then there's Cher! You're telling me no one could think of anything memorably hilarious?

09. Steve Antin has definitely watched Rob Marshall's Chicago at least two times. He probably also saw the Rob Marshall-directed Broadway revival of Cabaret. Which would explain why Alan Cumming's emcee character is lifted wholesale from that show and placed in the Burlesque ticket-taking booth for absolutely no Earthly reason.

10. Not that I'm here to totally bag on Steve Antin. He did write the script, which while not setting a new standard for screenwriting definitely produces a story that gives a shit about its characters in a way that lesser films (and even some better films) don't manage.

11. Antin's script also makes room for one of those perfunctory "The bank is about to foreclose on our home/farm/dance warehouse/burlesque parlor" subplots that's both dumb, unnecessary, and kind of awesome if you're in the mood to laugh at things like plot twists revolving around "air rights."

12. Here's the biggest problem in the movie, and one that I'm surprised no one else is mentioning: Cher and Christina never perform together! Didn't the concept, casting, promotion, trailer, and overall story of the movie pretty much promise that they would? I feel ever so cheated!

13. Props to So You Think You Can Dance alum Chelsea Traille for getting cast as dancing girl Coco. (You go, Glenn Coco!) Chelsea's triumph gives hope to 16th-place finishing contestants everywhere. There's still hope, Jessi Peralta!

14. Dancing with the Stars fans can also enjoy Julianne Hough as pregnant (ish?) Georgia, for whatever that's worth.

15. Blink and you'll miss Glee's Diana Agron's thankless appearance about an hour and a half into the film. It's a fine match to her thankless role on Glee. Free Quinn Fabray, people. Free Quinn Fabray.

16. If you think about it, Burlesque is really just a high-wattage retelling of Coyote Ugly. Except that movie got made when the slutty-bartenders craze was only a year or two past its prime, while the burlesque trend peaked at the latest in 2004, right?

17. Speaking of Coyote Ugly, Piper Perabo's Casio-based songstressing gets transferred not to Aguilera's character but to Gigandet's. And after a movie's worth of secretive songwriting, we get the episode-capping "Show Me How You Burlesque," a fun-as-hell, energetic number that nonetheless could have been written by Robin Antin's pet cat.

18. Speaking of the songs, how many of them had the word "burlesque" in the title? Four? Seven? All of them?

19. Kristen Bell doesn't get the most rewarding role, but she employs her bitchface to full volume and reminds me once again that no matter how much I rooted for her as Veronica Mars, her future in movies is playing hellacious bitches and nothing but.

20. One of the montage scenes was set to Madonna's "Ray of Light," an excellent song choice, and one which gave me visions of a Burlesque 2, where Cher and Xtina must deal with a rival burlesque club that moves in across the street, run by a wizened Madonna and her protégée Britney Spears. This kind of has to happen, right?

21. Eric Dane is pretty great shorthand for "sleazy opportunist." The fact that he gets no more naked than short sleeves is kind of a betrayal of the audience, though.

22. All told: B-? B+? C+ with A- tendencies? I'm not sure a letter-grade assessment does this film the right kind of justice. If you think you might enjoy it, you probably will. It's no disasterpiece, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Best Laugh I've Had All Week

I'm not sure if I thought this week's Community was quite the miraculous benchmark for televised comedy that some of its internet champions did, but it was very funny and a huge step up from the rather dire direction the show had been heading in. A big part of that was due to the following scene, easily the funniest thing on TV all week:

Well, that and the pregnancy test box, but that was more of a visual gag. Enjoy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fringe, Season 3, Episode 6: "6995 kHz"

Hey y'all. I'm in the midst of a hellish week, work-wise (I'm recapping three shows at TWoP, so if you feel like popping in to see what I thought about Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, or Grey's Anatomy, please do!), so no Fringe review from me. But I contracted my pal Kirk Hamilton to give the write-up for me. Now, I haven't even had time to WATCH the episode yet, so I can't even comment, but I'm confident Kirk has it covered, and I'll be back to make comments (in the ... you know, comments) probably over the weekend. Enjoy it! And thanks again to Kirk for coming through for me.
- - - -

Thanks for having me, Joe! Okay, let's do this.

So here I was, hoping that after real-Liv realized the truth of her situation, we'd actually get some Liv-on-Liv action this week. Oh, how naive I was! It's like I haven't been watching television my whole life. No, instead, we got another placeholder episode as the various pieces of this season's puzzle (and Walternate's doomsday machine) were slowly moved into place.

The episode begins with a bunch of interesting-looking strangers getting waylaid by a bunch of numbers, and man… the whole "Spooky voice reading numbers on a radio" has sure started to wear out its welcome fast, hasn't it? Between this episode and a similar trick working its way into the new Call of Duty game, I'm kind of on Mysterious Numbers-overload this week.

12, 34, 17, 9, 15, 42, 40…

The bulk of the episode is spent trying to figure out what happened to all the Ham Radio Number-Channel Enthusiasts (hey, it's a "thing," okay?) around the globe who lost their memory by listening to a certain numbers broadcast. Also, to figure out why the broadcast was happening in the first place. Which… to be honest, still kinda hazy on that over here.

We learned that there was a race of super-advanced people who populated the earth Before The Dinosaurs, which on any other show would seem like a pretty major revelation but in this episode is treated pretty matter-of-factly. I dunno, I hope we learn more about these "First People" in coming episodes. Seems like it could just be another narrative device to explain implausible stuff—"You say this is impossible? The First People must've done it!"—and I'm not really sure that this show needs yet another of those.

We also got to meet another shapeshifter, who must've watched a bunch of Alias back in the day since he chose to take the form of Ken Weisman, a.k.a. Marshall Flinkman, everyone's favorite impressively-chinned CIA tech wiz. After Walter (excellently) repurposes a wah-wah pedal to mute the signal's low frequencies, he learns that the Evil-Flinkman (Fink-man?) was plugging in a box at various radio towers and broadcasting the numbers for some unknown purpose. The memory loss was simply a side-effect of the signal, built in to keep people from learning about it.

The larger goals of the shapeshifter's mission are left unclear, mostly because Fauxlivia blows his ass out of a window right in front of Peter and Broyles, which prompts Lance Reddick to give what might be the single most hilarious reaction shot I have ever seen:

Peter and Walter spend the episode arguing about Peter's quest to understand the doomsday device from last season's finale. Peter seems to think that they need to keep up with the Alt-Universe, while Walter is terrified for Peter's safety and is afraid of what the device is capable of, should he get it working.

After sharing some more chemistry-free kissy kissy scenes with Peter, Fauxlivia gets Nina to talk to Walter about letting Peter continue his research, since of course, she (Fauxlivia) wants Peter to reactive the device and destroy his world, thereby saving her own. Nina agrees, but only after appearing to intuit that something is off about Fauxlivia. She heads over to the lab to talk with Walter, and the two of them do a J on the Harvard campus and talk shit about how wussy and boring Harvard students have become. It's as awesome as it sounds.

So in the end, it would appear that the magnetic box was kind of a MacGuffin (shocker!), a tool in a larger scheme. Asterisk gets her Rubicon on and cracks the First People's code in increasingly improbable ways, eventually realizing that the numbers code to the First People's wacky calendar, which lines up to a code matrix, which eventually winds up pointing to the coordinates of 59 different points on the globe. …yeah, okay, whatever.

The twist is that each of the locations marks a buried part of the doomsday device, and the team will now have the means to reassemble the thing. Walter changes his mind about not letting Peter experiment on the device, just after Peter explains to Fauxlivia that it is not his plan to destroy her (and really, their) reality, but that he hopes to find another way, something that won't cost so much innocent life. Fauxlivia remains difficult to read, as always.

The episode ends by flashing to real-Liv, still trapped in the Alt-World with the boring boringness of Ghost-Peter. She realizes that Walternate has gotten what he needed with the tests, and that she needs to escape. So then Ghost-Peter tells her, "They've gotten what they needed from the tests. You need to escape." POW! ROLL CREDITS!

So yeah, kind of a placeholder episode. Though between the electromagnetism, the numbers recordings, the plane going down, the Flinkman factor, and the presence of a Mystery Box, it certainly felt even more Abrams-y than most.

But what did I miss? What did everyone else think? Has the show dropped more hints about Walternate's plan more than I caught? Can Peter really find a way to fix the tear without killing everyone? And WHAT, by God, DO THE NUMBERS MEEEEEEN?

You can -- and are encouraged to -- find Kirk elsewhere at Murfins and Burglars and Gamer Melodico.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Fringe, Season 3, Episode 5, "Amber 31422"

And we're BACK from the baseball hiatus with a somewhat impromptu episode (had the World Series gone to seven games, tonight's episode would have been pre-empted) that throws us right back into Alt World and helped me to clarify at least one thing about this still-young season.

Because, for the most part, I've been totally in love with this season, both the Alt episodes and the Our World episodes. But while "Amber 31422" showcased a decently strong standalone storyline, it also brought to light my least favorite element of the season so far: Ghost Peter. Or Mind-Figment Peter -- however we're assessing him, he's the part of the show that has me thinking I've stumbled into an episode of Dexter where he's being lectured yet again by his long-winded ghost of a dad. (I like Dexter. I HATE those scenes.)

In this case, yes, Ghost Peter does lead Olivia down the primrose path to realizing that she doesn't belong in alt-world, but he does it via a lot of irritating exposition and underlining of the major points of Olivia's story so far. I'm of the belief that Anna Torv is doing a good enough job that she could let us know what Olivia's thinking without having GP essentially repeat it for us, and if that means Joshua Jackson takes an episode off, so be it. That said, it seems like we're moving ever closer to crossover, where our two seperate story paths will merge (let's hope very soon -- the baseball break has really made it seem like the show's been split in half longer than it actually has.

But now on to what I liked about this episode, including another reminder of how very much I am liking the chemistry of the Alt World fringe team. Liv, Charlie, and Lincoln make an excellent team -- more traditionally bantery in a way that makes me think they're being written to emulate some kind of CSI-squad, but the performances are so strong that it never feels generic. I'm dearly hoping the show finds a place for Charlie and Lincoln once the two-Olivias story gets resolved.

I'm also really digging how these episodes make use of Alt World's expanded (im)possibilities -- in this case, that anti-matter glowy ring thing (jargon!) -- to put a twist on well-worn TV tropes like a heist. I also admire the boldness of dealing with socio-political questions for a world the audience likely sees as less real. The murky ethics of amber quarantine were given a fairly three-dimensional treatment, from Walternate's most human scenes yet (he looked almost regretful for a second there) to the sad tale of the Brothers Ashmore.

Speaking of the Ashmores, I thought they did a great (if occasionally mumbly) job selling a story that often seemed unnecessarily complicated. But their last scene together was, I thought, well-played by the both of them.

Oh, and finally (FINALLY) the show decides to play the Rachel card, having Olivia realize that on the other side, her sister and niece are alive. Of course, her mother is dead on the other side, and unless the show is willing to promise me copious amounts of Ari Graynor this season, I'd just as soon we find a way to stick with the Amy Madigan we already have. (And, sadly, are under-utilizing.)

What else am I missing? What did you guys think? Am I being too hard on Ghost Peter? Would you best describe Alt-World Asterisk as autistic or a mentat? (What? They could have Dune in Alt World!) And wasn't I promised some Marshall Flinkman this week?

More Fringe on Low Res:
Fringe 3.1 "Olivia"
Fringe 3.2 "The Box"
Fringe 3.3 "The Plateau".
Fringe 3.4 "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Words of Wisdom

This is what happens when YOU die. That is what happens when HE dies. And that is what happens when THEY die. It's all very personal. And I'll tell you something -- if I knew then what I know now ...

...I wouldn't have had my little accident.

Sounds of My Commute, No. 001

Also, updated the TV reviews on the sidebar >>>>>>

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sometimes There Are Hot Guys*

*Or, "You'll Never Fully Appreciate the Effort It Took to Not Title This Post with a Cheesy Doctor Pun."

So after filling in on a recap last season, I've found myself back watching Grey's Anatomy again. It still manages to be remarkably solid when it's good, and of all the characters I used to find annoying, Izzy and George are now gone (I may not hate Katherine Heigl, but her character was written atrociously), and Meredith has managed to grow up a bit and not be quite so in love with her own dysfunction. McDreamy's still terrible, but on the whole it's still a major improvement.

Another major improvement? Dr. Jackson Avery, played by Jesse Williams. He spent pretty much the entire finale last year with a surgical mask over his face, so the following was quite the pleasant surprise when I started watching last month:

Not sure in what capacity executive producer Mark Gordon is responsible for this, but thanks regardless! Also: hey, pretty!

Avery managed to be hot enough that an entire storyline two weeks ago was about how incredibly, distractingly attractive he is. And who am I to argue?

And if you like what you see above but can't bring yourself to abide Grey's Anatomy (and as an added bonus you DO like frustrating projects that may or may not ever get made) you should know that Jesse is also supposed to be in that Cabin in the Woods movie that Joss Whedon keeps talking about. I hadn't been able to work up much enthusiasm for that one -- Joss projects tends to be like Tarantino movies: if they ever manage to get made rather than just talked about, I will happily watch. Until then, keep your insanely frequent updates to yourselves. But knowing that this waits for me in that cabin ...

... well, still keep your updates to yourselves. But I'm gonna watch it even harder now. (...If it ever gets made.)

[Oh, and also, apparently Jesse was in a Rihanna video recently. Which is only going to lead me to imagine them coupling up and creating a master race of brown-skinned, blue-eyed offspring who will bring the world to its knees with sheer beauty.]