Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "WUPHF.com," "College," & "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design"

The Office, Season 7 Episode 9 — "WUPHF.com"

If you read too many TV blogs and forums like I do, this was among the most fascinating episodes of the season solely for the wide range of reactions it got. I read comments and reviews ranging from "best episode of the season, it felt like season two again!" to "this is fucking terrible, I'm done" and everything in between. I can't remember the last time I saw so little consensus. But I'm afraid I have no strong opinion one way or the other and must take the pussy middle-of-the-road stance of declaring it okay.

"WUPHF.com" was light on belly laughs, the only two I recall being Stanley sharing his lighthouse fantasy and the very clever "Washington University Public Health Fund" reveal. Kevin getting lost in the hay maze won a chuckle for the way Brian Baumgartner sold Kevin's panic, but there isn't a human being on earth who didn't know exactly what was going to happen the second he stepped into the maze. But what's actually interesting is that, outside of Michael and Toby's moment in "Counseling," this is the first episode that legitimately felt like part of Michael Scott's farewell tour.

Ryan Howard isn't really a character. Perhaps he was in the first three seasons as the temp filled with thinly-veiled contempt for Dunder Mifflin and all his coworkers, and maybe even in season four when he became Evil Ryan the VP, but since getting arrested and resurfacing as a bizarre hipster stereotype he's just a walking punchline who no longer has much of a place in the ensemble (and has fittingly had his office relocated to the closet). But the way Michael projects his need to be a mentor and father figure onto Ryan has always been a key part of Michael's character, and this episode put a small bow on this longrunning subplot by having Michael admit that Ryan is lazy and selfish and using everyone but saying he'll stand behind his employee nonetheless. I don't know if the show has any additional Michael-Ryan stories in store for Steve Carell's final seventeen episodes, but if this it I could live with that.

The main thing I hated? The sudden, out-of-nowhere subplot about the cap on sales commissions, which spat boldly in the face of the "sales is king" Sabre policy that shuffled Jim back down to his old position last season. I know this isn't a mythology show like Lost and loose continuity isn't a huge deal, but even as someone who only watched season six's episodes exactly once each I was immediately like "wait, what? Bullshit!" It led to a somewhat amusing moment at the end with Jim's prank on Gabe, but I'm going to be frustrated if this is a running subplot in coming weeks (and since Jim no longer has incentive to do his job, I don't see how it couldn't be).

But as a positive closing note, I thought there was a marked improvement in the character of Erin this week. I was getting fed up with them writing her as an absolute moron too dumb to convincingly breathe, let alone work as a secretary, and her protectiveness of the color ink is much more along the lines of what they should be doing with her; weird and neurotic, but not fucking retarded.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 8 — "College"

I said last week that season five is noticeably better than the fourth, and upon a little introspection the reason is clear and singular: we've finally moved beyond the turgid, seemingly endless love triangle between Jack Donaghy, Avery Jessup, and Nancy Donovan. I don't care that it was packed with famous actors, I absolutely loathed that subplot, and it seemed like it was all the show's greatest comedic weapon was stuck with for months on end.

But now corporate shark Jack is back, albeit a noticeably softened and humanized version from how he appeared at the beginning of the series. But that's okay; that's just character development, stemming less from Avery and his unborn daughter and more from his friendship with Liz. Watching him let go of the microwave division in this latest episode was a solid little Jack story (even if I could have done without the engineers explicitly noting the deliveryman was played by Alec Baldwin... thanks, I got it, 30 Rock), and I loved the way it collided with the pranking of Pete in a funny-yet-melancholy, pizza-shotgunning belated college party in Jack's office. It was great to see some writers room antics again too.

Liz's brief taste of popularity stood out less than the rest of the episode but was still amusing. Her threat to put her crewmember's dog down "with a smile" at the end was hilarious and ballsy in its willingness to make the show's protagonist aggressively unlikable. All in all, another pretty good 30 Rock joins a pretty good season.

Community, Season 2 Episode 9 — "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design"

Another Thursday, another outstanding Community. I'd be bored with the consistent goodness if it wasn't so goddamned good, but with "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" I have officially decided that Community has surpassed the peak years of both The Office and 30 Rock (as well as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Party Down, Always Sunny, and whatever Fox cartoons and laugh track CBS shows you care to name) as the best post-Arrested Development sitcom. It's simply brilliant and the current shining example of how film is lagging behind TV when it comes to comedy.

I won't bother going through everything I liked about this 70s conspiracy thriller spoof because that would just be summarizing the whole episode, but I'll note that it was interesting how half of the main cast either put in tiny cameos (Britta, Pierce, Shirley) or was entirely absent (Chang). Even Troy and Abed's role was pretty small in terms of screen time; this was really the Jeff, Annie, and Dean Pelton show, all the way from the hilarious "explosive" message to Annie to the Dean crying "would that this hoodie were a time hoodie!" in a scene that showcased exactly why Jim Rash should be added to the primary cast posthaste.

If the climactic scene featuring five subsequent fake shootings felt vaguely familiar to you, don't worry, that just means that you have good taste in sitcoms and were having flashbacks to "Pier Pressure" and "Making a Stand," the two Arrested Development episodes featuring J. Walter Weatherman using his missing arm to scare people. Both involved fake injuries to teach lessons and both were hilarious. But even more so than those Arrested episodes this demands a second viewing so you can see it knowing all the layers of conspiracy from the very beginning. It's just such an efficient and elegantly written 22 minutes of television even removed from the comedy that I can only applaud.

I was initially concerned that Abed and Troy's blanket fort was going to be superfluous and disconnected (not an entirely unfounded fear, if you look at recent Community episodes like "Aerodynamics of Gender" and "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" where the different stories seem to take place in different worlds), but the way the traditional 70s thriller chase involving Jeff, Annie, and Professor Professorson cut through it justified the whole damn thing. I was also impressed by how good it looked — after last week's bottle episode I assumed they were cutting back on costs, but these were some nice production values when it would have been easier and cheaper to just use vanilla dorms. I also kind of hope that Abed and Troy writing a screenplay together wasn't just a throwaway line and actually comes up again!

However, in spite of all that, the funniest part of the episode was near the beginning when Annie blew off walking, then blew off standing, then blew off talking language, then writhed on the floor of a busy school hallway shouting "BLEE BLOO BLUH BLOO BLOH BLEE BLUGH BLUGGHH" at Jeff as he walked away. Alison Brie is a national treasure.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tim's Trailer Talk, Vol. 13


Chances of me seeing it: 12%. If I were to tell you there was a movie coming out starring Jason Statham, Ray Winstone, and Mickey Rourke, you'd be understood and forgiven for being like "sounds badass!" (Assuming you'd forgotten The Expendables, which co-starred two of those three men and was retarded.) However, if you watched this bizarre and nonsensical trailer and proceeded to express the same sentiment, I'd haul you to the loony bin. I'll grant the slightest possibility of seeing it on account of the cool actors present, but this a horrible, horrible trailer.

Chances of me liking it: 4%. A little wiggle room because anything's possible. I could like 13. I could also win the fucking lottery.

Beyond the jump: Two right-wing propaganda films and Mean Girls 2. I'll let you decide which is worse.

Monday, November 22, 2010


What's the expression... "all dressed up and nowhere to go?" The new Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried devises a unique filmmaking challenge — let's set an entire movie in a coffin with only one actor and try to make it compelling for ninety minutes! — then proceeds to go absolutely nowhere interesting with it. With so much crap flooding major multiplex screens I feel vaguely guilty attacking a tiny, low-budget indie flick, like I'm picking on the smallest kid in class, but if I don't call it like I see it I don't deserve to discuss movies in the first place, and I didn't like Buried at all.

This will probably be my shortest review ever because there isn't that much to say. Paul Conroy, an American truck driver in Iraq, wakes up in a buried coffin with only a cell phone, a lighter, and a couple other simple tools unsuited for escaping, and gets a call from a mysterious Iraqi demanding "five million money" or he'll let Paul suffocate. Then everything you'd expect to happen happens; Paul makes frantic calls to his employers and the FBI trying to arrange for "five million money" or his rescue, tries to get in touch with his wife, makes a call to his mother to say goodbye. A snake gets in the coffin; some sand leaks in. The ending can obviously go one way or another, neither of which would have surprised me, but although I won't say which happens I will say that it's clear and unambiguous.

Director Rodrigo Cortés does a good job keeping the film visually dynamic by switching between orange light from the lighter, blue light from the cell phone, green light from a glowstick, and red or white light from a flashlight, while Ryan Reynolds easily gives his career-best performance. Sure, that's not saying all that much, and he won't win an Oscar or anything, but it's a raw and unguarded depiction of a man looking death in the eye. But none of that changes the fact that when all was said and done I was filled with profound apathy. I didn't like or particularly care about the character and I didn't find anything beyond the initial concept to be clever. It's not my least favorite movie of 2010 but I think it may be the last one I'd rewatch.

1 Star out of 5

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fair Game

Doug Liman's Fair Game is the only film I can think of where every act feels like a completely different movie. As a whole it centers around Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative who (spoilers for real life, I guess) had her identity leaked to the press by Scooter Libby, Richard Armitage, and probably Karl Rove in arguably the most blatant act of knowing treason by any administration in American history as retaliation for her husband Joe Wilson writing an article detailing how Iraq didn't and never could have had weapons of mass destruction. But it tackles this story from three distinct angles, so much so that I'll just go ahead and basically write three separate reviews (the same way I wrote my last review of a Naomi Watts film, funnily enough).

The first act mostly focuses on Plame's CIA operations and Joe Wilson's trip to Niger wherein he concluded that Saddam could not have purchased the uranium from Africa that Bush claimed he did in the 2003 State of the Union address. Although we see Bush goons trying to strongarm the CIA into claiming Iraq has WMDs and some arguments on the matter, the film thankfully treats the nonexistence of said weaponry as a simple fact rather than a political stance. Sure, millions of mouthbreathers infecting my country either still believe that they had WMDs (and will for the rest of their lives, and will probably pass that nugget of "knowledge" onto their redneck children too) or have willfully forgotten and embraced the Republican Party line that the war was about "freeing the people of Iraq" all along, but neither of these groups will ever watch Fair Game anyway, or even hear about it outside of Rush Limbaugh or some other right-wing pustule mentioning it as another example of Hollywood being "out of touch with America." Because as we all know, bringing up utterly objective, cold hard facts is now regarded as liberal propaganda.

Anyway, this is the only part of the film that even vaguely feels like a thriller, but it's really all foreplay leading up to the main event of Plame's name and profession being leaked. If you want a movie more entirely centered around the nonexistence of WMDs in Iraq (albeit one seen through the eyes of fictional characters) you'd be better off watching Paul Greengrass's Green Zone from a few months back. Hell, that one even has action scenes! (And if you're a film buff you may have noticed that both of this year's movies about how Iraq never had WMDs were directed by people who directed Bourne films. Combine with Matt Damon doing the narration for the documentary Inside Job, which was released a week or two back, and it becomes clear that the Bourne series is just a hotbed of anti-American activities.)

The second act of Fair Game begins upon the start of the Iraq War and Joe Wilson's article denouncing the Bush administration's fabricated intelligence being published, when Scooter Libby and Karl Rove (the only two Bush administration officials actually played by actors in the film, although we see Bush, Cheney, and Condi via real footage on TVs and whatnot) decide to "change the story" by outing Plame and smearing her and Wilson to try and cover up the illegality of their war. This is the most blatantly political, most anger-stoking, and most strictly factual part of the film, even using real footage from Fox News, wherein Plame and Wilson, despite doing their work under a Republican president and being, you know, 100% right about everything they said, are smeared as left-wing "anti-war zealots" and accused of treason. And if what you're looking for is to feel the white-hot anti-Bush rage bubble up anew, which I'm always down for, it's the most effective part of the film too.

Finally, as the film wraps up, its focus is primarily turned on Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson's marriage and the strain the White House's campaign against them puts on it, as Plame is more inclined to sit quiet and let things blow over while Wilson wants to fight tooth and nail. They have some shouting matches and storm away from each other angrily a couple times and grow distant, and Plame goes to visit her elderly dad and tell him that she thinks her marriage is over. I guess this part of the film is nice in that it shows Fair Game to be about real people rather than the personality-free ciphers found in Green Zone, but even so I admit that it lost me a little bit and left me anxious for it to get back to politics. I can see marriages in turmoil in countless films and TV shows (hell, that's what Watts's story in her last film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was about too), but this is the only movie about the so-called "Plame Affair." Anyway, I won't say how it ends up, but since the facts of Plame and Wilson's marriage and Scooter Libby's indictment are public record, you probably don't need me to.

It's a movie that's impact is mostly reliant on the infuriating facts it's based upon, with the screenwriting and filmmaking and performances all perfectly competent and professional but none truly jumping out as deserving awards attention or anything. Naomi Watts does a good job as Plame but part of me kind of wishes someone other than Sean Penn was playing Joe Wilson. I mean, Penn is a fine actor, of course. He embodies a role with all he's got. But at the same time when a character played by Sean Penn starts railing against Bush's White House it becomes really, really hard to see anything other than Sean Penn. He almost jerks himself out of character. I'm all for Sean Penn acting but I kind of wish he would do more nonpolitical roles like Mystic River, because he's definitely stereotyped himself.

But all in all it's a fine film. I'm not crazy about the marriage turmoil and several of Sean Penn's scenes cross over that line into toxic preachiness, but it's a solid documentation from a unique angle of why the Bush administration will be remembered as the most corrupt in American history. Consider it another entry alongside The Hurt Locker, The Messenger, Green Zone, and Body of Lies in the annals of Iraq War-related movies that justify their existence. Another two or three good ones and the war, despite being the most embarrassing and horrific blemish in modern American history, will have produced a pretty respectable filmography.

3 Stars out of 5

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "Viewing Party," "Brooklyn Without Limits," & "Cooperative Calligraphy"

The Office, Season 7 Episode 8 — "Viewing Party"

This latest Office was distinctly okay. Which is actually a relief, because fresh off of last week's ghastly episode "Christening," I'll take any laughs we can get and be thankful in light of how much worse I know it could be. I was cringing during the first five minutes or so with all the Glee jokes — I'm apathetic towards Glee, I neither love it nor hate it, but I sure as fuck don't want it invading other shows I watch — but the Glee references ironically toned down in favor of a mishmash of subplots as soon as the titular Glee viewing party actually started, and the episode became much more tolerable.

My favorite story was probably Dwight's unexpected connection with CeCe, Pam's relief, and Jim's emasculation, capped off by a strange but vaguely sweet conversation between Pam and naked Angela in the back of a car. I'm not much for baby humor — in fact, that was part of what made "Christening" so terrible and also why I quit Fox's Raising Hope after three episodes — but Dwight's simultaneous benevolence towards Pam and CeCe and malevolent humiliation of Jim made for an amusing contrast. Andy's pining over Erin is one of those subplots I've become tired of but it was spiced up this time by the inclusion of Darryl, who I'm increasingly hoping takes over as boss when Michael leaves. However, Andy swallowing the drugs or whatever then having a freakout wasn't funny. Other than not being pot, it was to identical dozens of "I'm so high!" scenes in any number of shitty straight-to-DVD comedies.

Michael's subplot was a mixed bag. As I've mentioned before, I actually, unlike many Office fans, really enjoy it when Michael turns into a raging, petulant manchild to the intense discomfort of everyone around him. Yeah, it's bizarre and it's awkward, but it's what separates him from every other sitcom protagonist on television. So I liked his anger at Gabe and his storming off to the other room. However, the whole "I'm not your father!" thing with Erin was just weird. For a show that used to earn its dramatic character beats (think back to Jim and Pam in the second season finale), that came out of fucking nowhere. Maybe it could have worked near or during Michael's departure episode if they spent a lot more time this season building a father-daughter dynamic between Michael and Erin, but as is it felt like the resolution to a character arc we never even knew existed.

Another weird part was when Oscar pointed at Dianna Agron and incorrectly proclaimed that she had been in a couple episodes of Friday Night Lights, because one of the main credited cast members on Glee was in fact in several episodes of FNL, but not Dianna Agron.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 7 — "Brooklyn Without Limits"

With its third quality episode in a row, I think I'm officially ready to declare 30 Rock once again better than The Office. I know I said the exact opposite at the start of this season and labeled the show decrepit, but I was talking about the fourth season, and 30 Rock is one of the only shows I've ever seen (except 24 and maybe Friends) that has actually become better in its fifth season than it was in its fourth. I don't know if they got some fresh writers or they changed the coffee at the production office or what, but the show is feeling alive again in a way that most of season four didn't.

Of course it helps that this episode felt tailor-made for me, being primarily dedicated to skewering the Tea Party and with a bonus hilarious Nintendo reference ("Lesbian Mario Brothers!"). John Slattery's guest spot as a lunatic congressional candidate who wants to take back America and possibly reinstitute slavery felt a little reliant on being familiar with him from Mad Men and knowing that he was playing against type (not to mention it seemed like it was meant to air before the midterm elections, which makes me wonder if the show got knocked off schedule at some point), but it was an amusing satire nonetheless. I also loved the way Tracy Jordan's subplot mocked both the shallowness of campaigning for acting awards and ultra-gritty urban dramas, not to mention that the continuity of his fictional film Hard to Watch has been maintained across a couple seasons now.

The story about Liz's new jeans was a bit more generic and forgettable outside of the aforementioned Mario Bros. joke, but it didn't change this being a solid, funny, sharp little episode. 30 Rock has regained my trust.

Community, Season 2 Episode 8 — "Cooperative Calligraphy"

"Cooperative Calligraphy" is both a "bzzt, wrong!" to anyone who thought the show had lost its ability to entertain outside of broad, high concept gimmick episodes and the episode that made me start to consider that Community may one day be remembered as one of the greatest television series of all time. Not comedies, but series, period. Community is a brilliant fusion of great ideas, sharp writing, pop cultural awareness, distinct and likable characters, and a terrific cast with tons of chemistry and no weak spots, and it's definitely threatening to usurp the early years of both The Office and 30 Rock to win the title of my favorite post-Arrested TV comedy.

This was, of course, a textbook bottle episode, a budgetsaving measure presumably made to counterbalance the cost of the zombie episode from a few weeks back by featuring no guest stars (no human ones, anyway; there was a monkey, a cat, and some puppies) and no scenes set outside the library's study room except for the closing credit tag. And like all the best bottle episodes it expertly deconstructed the characters and their relationships. Secrets came out, fights were had, and emotions laid bare. Abed's socially uncomfortable observations and Annie's neuroses and even Shirley's possible pregnancy all had the light ingeniously shined upon them via the whodunnit mystery of the missing pen, but more importantly the pen became emblematic of the friendship among the group at large. The true success of Community is not just that I like these people but that it genuinely seems they like each other, something few sitcoms successfully replicate.

Toss in some strong continuity — Shirley's hookup with Chang, Pierce's broken legs, Troy's monkey, Abed knowing all the girls' menstrual cycles — and you got 22 golden minutes of television. I loved this episode and I love this show. It must get a third season.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tim's Trailer Talk, Vol. 12

Barney's Version

Chances of me seeing it: 40%. First off, this trailer is kind of confusingly edited. The first half seems to be the trailer for a straight-up (if somewhat quirky) comedy, then it takes this screeching left turn into a cloying, incredibly earnest romantic drama that I have no more desire to see than I do to clean the toilet at the local gas station with my tongue. I mean, I understand the existence of the dramedy, but normally in a trailer you'll try to mix the two elements rather than just chopping them into completely distinct halves. However, I do like Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman, so I'll still consider it.

Chances of me liking it: 20%. Also, no matter how many movies she does, I will always associate Rosamund Pike exclusively with her villain Miranda Frost from Die Another Day.

Beyond the jump: not one but two movies named Winnie. I shit you not.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ranking Fall 2010's New TV Series UPDATE

I said about a month back when I first ranked this season's new TV shows that I would, quote, "go back and edit this post to insert the new shows in my rankings." But I've done like the Republican Party's fictional version of John Kerry and flip-flopped, deciding that editing my original rankings would border on dishonest. No, I must reap what I've sown and allow my original rankings to remain online until the internet finally crashes forever, so I will instead do brand new (but mostly similar) rankings and explain any shifts I've made.

First off, The Walking Dead has been inserted into the good tier, because it's a good show. Little explanation needed there. But I will say that FX's Terriers has developed into a truly wonderful season of television, one that everyone should watch, and I went back and forth a million times on whether or not to switch it to #1 and move Boardwalk Empire down to #2. I eventually decided to stick with Boardwalk as my top pick because its gorgeous production values and epic sociopolitical scope are hard to beat, but there's no character or performance on Boardwalk that I love as much as Donal Logue as ex-cop private investigator Hank Dolworth on Terriers. Easily my favorite new TV character this year, brought to life by a performance that deserves awards recognition. Consider the two shows for all practical purposes tied.

You may notice that I've notched ABC's No Ordinary Family, which I originally shit on and declared worse than season four of Heroes, up into the watchable tier alongside Running Wilde and The Event. And yes, I'm still watching it. I'm not taking back the spirit of what I originally said, as I still think the family drama subplots are overwritten after school specials, but the main story of the superpowers can be fun and it has fine comedic supporting performances from Autumn Reeser and Romany Malco. I also read an interview with the actress who plays the daughter where she named Friday Night Lights as one of her favorite shows, which brutally twists my arm and demands I keep an open mind. So I take back any claims of No Ordinary Family being horrible — it's merely ordinary.

The biggest change other than No Ordinary Family's meteoric rise is me dropping Greg Garcia's white trash family sitcom Raising Hope from #7 all the way down to #12 and the poor tier, the result of me attempting to watch a few more episodes and finding that the humor and tone isn't particularly far removed from Garcia's last white trash sitcom My Name Is Earl (that, and I loathe the grandma character). The pilot tricked me into thinking the show was more subversive than it really is with the bizarre visual of a man vomiting on his baby daughter, but subsequent episodes quickly settled into a boring groove, and I'm done.

And to the shock of TV critics everywhere who decided they wanted to take down a show this season and that show would be Outsourced, I've notched Outsourced up a rank into the inoffensive tier. It's still the worst of NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup by a million miles and has a frightfully bland protagonist, but if I had to pick a place to spend 22 comedic minutes a week I'd rather it be Mumbai than white trash America (and yes, I'm aware that both Outsourced and Raising Hope are shot in Los Angeles, probably mere miles apart, but it's the spirit of the thing).

Other than that, I bumped Hawaii Five-0 down to the poor tier when I tried to watch a second episode and couldn't get past the fifteen-minute mark when I realized it's just another cop procedural beyond its Hawaiian location shooting. It's still the best new CBS show and better than ABC's cop procedural Detroit 1-8-7, but only by a hair. And I switched Better With You and Chase in the awful tier as while they're both moronic and terrible thinking back on Chase makes me feel just a little bit more ill and exhausted. The apocalypse tier is unaltered.

Day 1: Outlaw, Boardwalk Empire, Chase, The Event, Lone Star
Day 2: Detroit 1-8-7, Raising Hope, Running Wilde, Better With You, Undercovers
Day 3: My Generation, Outsourced, No Ordinary Family, Law & Order: Los Angeles
Day 4: Blue Bloods, The Defenders, Hawaii Five-0, Mike & Molly, $#*! My Dad Says
Day 5: Hellcats, Terriers, Nikita, The Whole Truth
Day 6: The Walking Dead

Beyond the jump, the rankings!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

TV Pilots, Day 6 — The Walking Dead

Okay, I'm a little embarrassed. I said a month back when I posted my recaps and rankings of fall 2010's new TV series that I would wait a few weeks for the final batch of premieres then do a sixth days of pilot reviews. Soon after was the premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead, but I didn't want to do a post consisting of a single review, so I waited a couple weeks, sure that more pilots were on their way. Hell, I would've taken just one more. But nope (excepting TBS's Conan, but I'm only covering narrative fiction here), and now my Walking Dead writeup is not only alone but no longer even a pilot review so much as a "half of the season" review.

Now it looks (according to Wikipedia) like there will in fact be about twenty new series premieres beginning in early 2011, so I'll get back to doing multi-show pilot review extravaganzas then. But for now, enjoy this extremely lonely review of The Walking Dead and the revamped rankings I'll post soon after:


The premise in ten words or less? Zombies, zombies, zombies!

Any good? Yes, it's very cool, with terrific production values, great cinematography for television, lots of violence and intensity, and a strong sense of horror, and this is coming from someone who generally finds nerd culture's obsession with zombies to be a little overblown and embarrassing. The Walking Dead is a truly visual show, unafraid to dwell on long stretches of eerie silence (most notably the protagonist's slow horseback ride into the ruins of Atlanta in the pilot being drawn out for five tense, dialogue-free minutes) and with some impressively disgusting-looking zombies. It's also extremely tightly serialized up to this point, with the first three episodes stringing seamlessly together as what amounts to the first act of a really long zombie flick. This will probably make a great series to watch on DVD for anyone who's already too late to catch up on TV (though anyone can check out the pilot on Hulu).

The show's only glaring flaw is thus far hamfisted writing when it comes to intergroup conflict among the survivors. Now don't get me wrong — zombie survivor conflict is a good thing. Necessary, really, even at two hours, let alone for the dozens of hours this series will run. But so far the loose cannons of the group are incredibly overwritten as dangerous, gun-waving, wife-abusing racist lunatics to the degree that you wouldn't blame the survivors for one second if they just put bullets in their heads. However, I trust the show will be able to iron this out given time to feel out the group dynamics, and all pure zombie stuff so far is badass.

Will I watch again? I already have! Half the season, in fact, since this first season is only going to be six episodes, but in case my above enthusiasm isn't clear, yes, I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

GoldenEye — Film vs. N64 vs. Wii Story Analysis

As someone who considers GoldenEye to be one of my top fifty favorite movies and GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64 to be one of my top ten favorite video games, I've watched or played through the same story dozens of times; hell, I even read John Gardner's novelization back in elementary school, although I remember finding it pretty insipid. I daresay I'm as close to an expert on GoldenEye's plot as probably just about anyone alive this side of Bruce Feirstein.

So I found it an interesting experience to play through the new remake of GoldenEye 007 on Wii. It seemed like a lot of whiners on internet message boards thought it was a travesty for them to swap in Daniel Craig and shift the story a bit (a lot of whiners who saw the movie once or maybe twice in the mid-to-late 90s, I imagine), but while it certainly doesn't replace the original I enjoyed experiencing a favorite story in a new light, just as I'm sure huge Shakespeare buffs enjoy the freshness of seeing Hamlet and Richard III with new actors and reinterpreted aesthetics every few years. Not that I'm comparing Bond to Shakespeare... Bond is clearly better.

Furthermore, this game actually adds back in a whole bunch of memorable movie scenes absent from the original game. Of course for every one of these there's also something they kept from the N64 version that wasn't in the film or something they changed or added that wasn't in either. It's an eclectic mix of story elements, as you'd probably expect from a narrative that's adapted from a game that is adapted from a movie while being updated from 1995 to 2010. So let's just break into down into bullet points, go through, and document everything I can think of.

We'll be doing this in five categories: first, film scenes absent from the N64 game that have been added back into this one. Second, changes the N64 game made that the Wii one kept (note that this is only analyzing story differences, not gameplay). Thirdly, film changes the N64 game made that the Wii version ditched. Fourthly, stuff the Wii game did that flies against both film and N64. And lastly, just for fun, stuff from the film neither game included. I'll leave out stuff present in all three because the broad framework of the story is consistent across all mediums and I don't wanna synopsize the whole damn plot. Obviously, full spoilers for every version of the story ahead.

Beyond the jump: get shaken, not stirred.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "Christening," "Gentleman's Intermission," & "Aerodynamics of Gender"

The Office, Season 7 Episode 7 — "Christening"

I try to avoid over-the-top hyperbole when discussing pop culture, and unlike approximately 99.998% of people who can be found posting on internet message forums I don't fling around phrases like "best ever" and "worst ever" unless I truly mean them. That said, "Christening" is without a shadow of a doubt one of the top five worst episodes in the history of The Office. I can't call it the worst of all time — that is and I pray will always remain season six's "The Banker" — but it was really, really bad. I stared at the screen with a stony mask face for approximately 21 of the episode's 22 minutes and when it was done I actually said, out loud, "ugh."

The entire first half of the episode, documenting the christening of little CeCe Halpert, was somehow simultaneously the driest The Office has ever been (and not a good "Dinner Party" sort of dry, but a profoundly boring sort of dry) and cringe-inducingly broad and sitcommy. I'm blown away that the biggest punchline of the first half was actually "the baby pooed a lot!" That's a circa 1982 multi-camera sitcom punchline right there. A laugh track should have sounded. Give me a fucking break, Office.

Things got marginally more tolerable after the halfway point, key word being "marginally." The second that Michael and Andy hopped on the bus to Mexico it was incredibly obvious to every human being who had seen more than two episodes of The Office that the rest of their subplot was going to play out with them realizing the enormity of their commitment, panicking, and telling them to stop the bus, and then it did, exactly, with no deviation or surprises. Jim suspecting Angela of stealing the baby was more goofily broad sitcom humor, and although it could have been salvaged by lingering on Jim's self-inflicted discomfort at the end when he shouted his accusation, they dropped the ball on that too when they attempted to pass the awkwardness hot potato to Angela by revealing that she had stolen the scones.

The only parts of the episode I enjoyed were the tiny subplot dedicated to Toby's existential crisis and Erin and Michael's exchange when she picked him up at the end: "Get in, quick!" "Why quick?" "So it's faster." But two or three laughs does not a sitcom episode make. This was a near-complete failure, and I dread the possibility that it was anything other than an aberration.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 6 — "Gentleman's Intermission"

Whaddaya know, two great consecutive 30 Rocks! Admittedly my view of "Gentleman's Intermission" may have been positively skewed by watching it immediately after The Office, but I thought this was a genuinely funny bit of television by any standard, largely for the same reason I enjoyed the last episode "Reaganing" so much: the writers' realization that Jack and Liz's relationship is by far the show greatest strength, arguably one of the best platonic male-female friendships in the history of television. Once again this episode explored how they complement each other, why Jack needs someone to mentor, why it must be Liz ("Lemon is above average. She's got just the right amount of DIHC for me — I hear it, and I don't care!") and why she needs his blustery guidance. Hell, I may have even been the tiniest bit touched.

My only gripes about "Reaganing" were that it segregated Kenneth and Jenna into their own subplot and seemed to have no idea how to end Tracy's story, pitfalls which "Gentleman's Intermission" avoids entirely. Kenneth staging an attempted murder of a hero cat for Tracy to foil and become a double hero was beautifully absurd, and while I was initially cringing at Jenna's seemingly disconnected C-plot (which for the thousandth time shoehorned in a reason for Jane Krakowski to sing, as if it will one day become funny), it eventually collided with Tracy, Kenneth, and the hero cat in a wholly satisfying way. Not to mention that the hero cat was adorable, and you know how much I love a cute kitty.

All in all, kudos to Tina Fey; this was almost as enjoyable as Community. Keep it up, 30 Rock, you're on a roll!

Community, Season 2 Episode 7 — "Aerodynamics of Gender"

All the buzz I heard going into this latest Community was that it was a parody of Mean Girls with Abed and Hilary Duff vying for queen bee status of the Greendale cafeteria, so it was much to my surprise that the episode's true highlight (and by extension the highlight of last Thursday's NBC comedy block) was the B-plot I hadn't heard one word about, a beautifully absurd and non-sequitur parody of The Secret Garden starring Troy, Jeff, Pierce, a magical trampoline, and a white supremacist gardner. Every second of this subplot was hysterical, from Donald Glover sobbing and asking "why are you doing this?!" while double-bouncing Pierce, to Pierce's slow motion "faaaatthhherrrr" as he flew into the air, to the flashback of the swastika on the gardner's chest. I've seen this kind of elaborate parody on television before but never in live-action, once again cementing Community as not just a great sitcom but a great sitcom for people who love pop culture.

The A-plot was funny too, but not as completely successful as the trampoline tale. I enjoyed Abed's insults and eventual meltdown into an insulting Terminator who destroyed everyone in his path with bitchy putdowns, but the way it was going to unfold and end was pretty obvious halfway in. And while I appreciate that Community is pretty good about not letting their guest stars take over episodes, limiting people like Betty White and Tony Hale and Drew Carey to small supporting roles that take advantage of their exact comedic skillsets, Hilary Duff's role was so small and so nondescript that it could have been played by basically any pretty girl on earth. Wasn't quite sure I saw the point of paying her presumably larger salary. Nevertheless, a pretty good Community is still the funniest thing on TV all week.

Tim's Trailer Talk, Vol. 11

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

Chances of me seeing it: 0%. The question is less "Will I see Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son?" than "Which vital organs would I rather have forcibly removed with an AIDS-infected scalpel than see Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son?" This movie looks so bad that its badness expands beyond the movie screen and retroactively wipes out fifty years of American artistic progress. If the cavemen knew that etching pictures with stones would one day culminate in Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, they would have done the honorable thing and committed mass suicide, allowing the human race to die off early and preventing this movie's eventual existence. I would rather eat a birthday cake made out feces than watch Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. I would rather let a king cobra bite the tip of my penis. I would watch five consecutive episodes of Two and a Half Men.

Chances of me liking it: 0%. It doesn't look very good.

Beyond the jump: two movies with the exact same plot.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Just Like the Moonraker Goes

I've spent the last week or so playing and greatly enjoying the remake of GoldenEye 007 on Wii. I'll post some more elaborate thoughts in a few days (don't worry, I have absolutely no intention of getting into gaming criticism, but you know me and James Bond; I just gotta talk about him), but in the meantime I've been thinking about which other Bond films might make for great games, and it occurred to me that while most films since the 90s have been adapted and even the Connery era was revived for 2005's From Russia With Love, the Moore era remains untapped.

At first I was thinking of The Spy Who Loved Me, which has a lot of action and several showdowns with Jaws, but on the flip side the entire first half of the game would be set in Egypt and the entire second half in the ocean and on submarines and tankers, which worked perfectly for the movie but might get a little monotonous in playable form. Most other Moore films are similarly chopped in two, with Live and Let Die moving from New York City to Louisiana, Octopussy from India to Germany, and A View to a Kill from Paris to San Francisco, while The Man With the Golden Gun barely leaves Hong Kong. For Your Eyes Only moves around more but it's also the talkiest of the Moore era (which isn't to say it's not a great movie, but it doesn't lend itself seamlessly to a game adaptation). But it occurred to me that 1979's Moonraker, while not one of the better Bond films, could make for a rad game.

They wouldn't even need to reinterpret that much of the narrative to do it. Perhaps they could expand Bond's mostly unseen pre-credits mission in Africa which culminates with Jaws attacking him on an airplane into a full opening level, and maybe even find a way to tie it to Drax's theft of the Moonraker shuttle, but after that they could largely follow the arc of the film. I mean, they would need to "game it up" some by working in some new shootouts and a couple additional set pieces, but the structure is largely there. Next Bond would go to Drax Industries in California, meet Hugo Drax and Dr. Holly Goodhead, avoid / kill Drax's anonymous assassins, and find evidence of Drax's laboratory in Venice. (As a side note, I never understood why the filmmakers set Drax's chateau in California rather than some more exotic European locale in France or something. But oh well, it is what it is. I guess California is exotic to some people.)

In Venice, you'd have Drax's henchmen attempt to kill Bond in the canals just like in the movie, but maybe expand it into more of a full-blown shootout through the streets, buildings, and, mirroring the film, finally Saint Mark's Square, followed by a more-stealth oriented level where Bond sneaks into Drax's laboratory, obtains new evidence, and has a showdown with Drax's henchman Chang in the museum which leads to a fatal culmination in the nearby clock tower. Then Bond could again meet Holly Goodhead, who reveals she's an undercover CIA agent investigating Drax. Next, Rio de Janeiro, where Bond's encounters with Jaws during the parade and on the cable cars could be lifted wholesale from the film, albeit led into or capped off with more elaborate levels.

Then off to the Amazon to find the rare orchid Drax is manufacturing his toxin from, starting with a a stealth level set in the jungle, followed by a boat ride down the Amazon River and another showdown with Jaws at Iguacu Falls, then a journey through the Aztec complex (shades of the secret level in the original GoldenEye 007 for N64 here), and finally a story sequence where Drax captures Bond and Holly and explains his plan in classic Bond villain style. Then, following the film exactly, Bond and Holly could escape, sneak through Drax's base (all playable, of course), steal the uniforms of and pose as henchmen, and stow away on one of the Moonraker shuttles as it blasts into outer space.

The climactic mission would begin with sneaking through Drax's space fortress, subduing guards and trying to broadcast a message to the CIA. The message is sent, the space marines (!!) arrive, and the giant CIA vs. Drax Industries laser gun battle ensues, which unfolds without Bond in the movie but in gaming form would definitely necessitate strapping on an astronaut suit, heading out an airlock, and getting in on that shit. As in the film, Jaws would turn to the side of good at this point, and Bond would team up with him for the final on-foot level as he makes his way through the exploding space station towards the final duel with Hugo Drax. And in the last stage of the game, just like the film, Bond and Holly would hijack a Moonraker shuttle and shoot all of Drax's toxic capsules out of the sky before they breach earth's atmosphere. End with the "I think he's attempting re-entry, sir!" scene taken verbatim from the film and you got a badass game.

With Bernard Lee long passed they'd need to find a vocal mimic for M, but Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale could easily come back and voice James Bond, Holly Goodhead, and Hugo Drax (to mention Richard Kiel for Jaws' one and only line). Give all this to the development team behind GoldenEye Wii and you'd have retro Bond fanservice that goes above and beyond. Basically, a Moonraker game must happen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I often find myself frustrated that publicity for films always seems to fall upon the actors when I'm much more interested in what the writers and the directors have to say. I mean, I understand it — your average joe at best doesn't think about writers and directors, at worst barely comprehends that such people exist. Actors are, for better or for worse, the de facto faces of any film in which they appear that isn't by a superstar filmmaker like Spielberg or Scorsese or Tarantino or Nolan. But as I watched Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time it occurred to me that I too am wrong if I discount the contributions of the stars. Writers, directors, and actors form a tripod, and without three sturdy legs any tripod will fall, all this being a longwinded way to say that Jerry Bruckheimer's dreams of Prince of Persia becoming a new Pirates of the Caribbean franchise were dead on arrival because Jake Gyllenhaal is not and never will be on par with Johnny Depp.

I harbor no particular hatred for Gyllenhaal. Zodiac and Brokeback Mountain both made my top hundred movies of the last decade list. But his talents are best suited for inhabiting fairly understated characters that could conceivably exist in the real world, and he just can't breathe life into or lend humanizing charisma to this kind of epic fantasy. His forced, painfully fake British (?) accent, his astonishing lack of chemistry with his supposed romantic interest Gemma Arterton, and the way he delivers every wannabe Jack Sparrowian one-liner with a dull, wet thud all add up to a movie without a center, something to point at and say "look, it could be way worse" to anyone critical of Daniel Radcliffe's performance as Harry Potter.

Now, beyond Gyllenhaal, the movie is basically competent. Its pacing, narrative structure, and glossy production values actually resemble a real movie, which pretty much by default makes it the the best video game adaptation ever made (I almost typed "best video game movie ever made," but of course in light of Scott Pilgrim that's no longer within a million miles of being true).

The plot involves an orphan-turned-prince named Dastan being framed for the assassination of his adopted father, the king of the Persian Empire, during an invasion of the city of Alamut. Along with a magical dagger that can reverse time and Tamina, Princess of Alamut, Dastan goes on the run to prove his innocence, discover and expose the real killer, and get swept up in lots of action scenes. And although the story is predictable, the characters dull, and the romantic subplot as generic and disposable as any I've seen in years, as pure visual spectacle Prince of Persia ain't half bad. The parkour-flavored chase sequences are clever and exciting and its sweeping vistas of a mostly-fictionalized ancient Persian Empire look, for lack of a better term, very expensive.

But there are a couple huge problems. Firstly, as I mentioned above, the film version of Dastan has for some reason been reinterpreted from an actual Prince of Persia into an orphan the king plucked off the streets as a child. I suppose they did this to give him some Aladdin flavor, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making the Prince perhaps the first character in the history of game-to-film adaptations to actually become flatter and more softly-defined than he was in pixel form. If Dastan had been a literal Prince of Persia, arrogant, vain, and pampered, we could have watched him undergo a meaningful character arc and become a better man through the film. Maybe this could have even given some spark to the romance between him and Tamina. As is he's humble, noble, and goodhearted from frame uno, has no room to develop as a character, and is just really boring.

The second fatal flaw can be found at the very end of the film. Without giving away specifics or the identity of the real villain, the final showdown between Dastan and said villain takes the form of a laughable, weightless, impossible-to-follow festival of CGI nonsense that honestly might make the cut for my worst movie moments of 2010 list. The producer of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies should know better. I mean, which Pirates had the best climax? Curse of the Black Pearl, with its small, intimate swordfight between Sparrow and Barbossa? Dead Man's Chest, with its huge ship battle with the Kraken? Or At World's End, with its massive, apocalyptic showdown between all the forces of good and evil swirling in canyon-sized whirlpool? Curse of the Black Pearl, of course, by far. Sometimes less is more. Prince of Persia drops the ball in its closing minutes in a way that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I'll stop short of calling the film awful, and I'll even grant that fantasy junkies such as myself may get enough fleeting amusement out of it to justify a Netflix rental, but the curse of no video game producing a legitimately worthwhile film adaptation remains unbroken. So what's the next attempt? Halo? Uncharted? Bring it on, I guess, but I ain't holdin' my breath.

2 Stars out of 5

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

It's early yet to be discussing the worst movies of 2010, but I have some pretty good ideas about the most overrated ones. Amongst the masses it's a close call between Alice in Wonderland and Iron Man 2, the former of which was grating and the latter tedious, neither of which deserved the shitloads of money they made. On the internet it's clearly The Expendables, a dull and stupid action movie I probably overrated even at two stars that millions of internet nerds are still inexplicably pretending was some kind of masterwork. And amongst the critics? That's too easy: The Kids Are All Right, an insubstantial, cutesy little sitcom that somehow achieved a mind-blowing 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Either I saw a different movie than the rest of these guys or there was some kind of memo sent out telling all critics to like it, because I can't make any sense of its reception otherwise.

Basically, there are two wives of about twenty years; a high-strung and controlling doctor named Nic, played by Annette Bening, and the more easygoing Jules, played by Julianne Moore. They each gave birth to a kid via the same anonymous sperm donor, and their now-grown children Joni and Laser (yes, the fucking kid's name is Laser; it's that kind of movie) decide to look up and meet their biological father before Joni leaves for college. He winds up being a well-meaning, vaguely hippie-ish restaurant owner named Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo. Joni and Laser then largely vanish from the narrative and we instead focus on the way that the arrival of Paul throws Nic and Jules' marriage into turmoil. I won't say exactly how, but if you fast-forward to about a minute and a half into the incredibly spoiler-happy trailer it goes ahead and shows you.

I'll agree with the critics on certain counts, namely that every actor in The Kids Are All Right delivers a fine performance (with the exception of the kids playing Joni's slutty best friend and guy friend she's secretly in love with in a subplot that would barely pass muster on a CW teen drama). The three adult stars all deserve credit for naturalistic and occasionally funny work, particularly Bening and Moore for their very convincing portrayal of a married couple who love each other but are starting to feel the minor exhaustion of being with one person for decades. It's a rare cinematic family that actually feels like a family, with a deep personal history.

But here's the rub: I hated, hated, hated Nic, Jules, and Paul. I mean, all three of them are just awful human beings who I wouldn't want to so much as be in a room with if they were real; Jules and Paul for plot-related reasons that you can see in the spoilerific trailer linked above if you want and Nic for being a deeply unpleasant, passive-aggressive shithead who spends the entire movie shrieking angrily and insulting people and storming off all the time. Yes, the movie was occasionally funny and it was occasionally cute and it presented a believable marriage, but I truly despised the three main characters. I didn't care if they achieved happiness. I didn't want them to achieve happiness. They didn't deserve it.

It's not that I can't enjoy a film with loathsome protagonists. See the brilliant American Psycho or The Rules of Attraction for examples of films that use their cruel, awful characters as part of superb satire. But The Kids Are All Right is incredibly earnest and wants us to feel for these shitty people, deep in our hearts (or at least for Nic and Jules, seeing as the ending throws Paul under the bus in a ridiculously unsatisfying way). And I so don't. Not even a little bit. Did I mention that Jules fires the gardner who works for her for glancing at her suspiciously in a scene that I guess was supposed to be funny? Absolutely hilarious! No, just kidding, I actually wanted her to die.

I suspect that much of this film's critical acclaim stems from its blasé, matter-of-fact presentation a lesbian marriage with kids and a house and the whole nine. And I sympathize with that. The illegality of gay marriage is obviously something that the United States will look back upon with embarrassment fifty years from now, but in the meantime I'm not gonna pretend that simply depicting it makes a good film. A progressive one, sure, but not a good one, and when gay marriage is legal across the country The Kids Are All Right is going to rapidly shrivel up in the public eye into the sitcommy nothing is really is. (By the way, I don't refer to the impending legalization of gay marriage as a leftist rallying cry but as a simple, bland statement of fact. Soccer moms who wail about how they can't bear the thought of their kids growing up in a world with gay marriage really have no choice but to kill their kids, because it's gonna happen in next couple decades.)

So I can't really recommend this movie. If you wanna laugh or feel touched just shoot me an email and I'll name you dozens of films and TV shows preferable to this one from the last few years alone. But as a funny parting observation, this movie, which critics loved and I didn't, was co-written by Stuart Blumberg, co-writer of the 2004 teen sex comedy The Girl Next Door, which I loved and critics didn't. Guess I'm just backwards as hell, man.

2 Stars out of 5

Thursday, November 4, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

So it turns out that shooting in Europe is not, in fact, the secret to making a good Woody Allen movie. Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona gave me hope, but now comes You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger to crush that hope into fine powder and scatter it on the breeze. Allen's latest is a mirthless, turgid affair that underneath its thin intellectual gloss is as disposable as your average sitcom episode. I still have a couple dozen Woody Allen films on my backlog yet to be watched (that happens when a director puts out a movie a year for over four decades), but from what I've seen this is easily one of the top five least essential films he's ever made, if not a contender for the very top.

Since the movie is divided into four intercut, interconnected storylines, I'll just boil this down into four separate reviews. First off, the nucleus through which all characters connect is Naomi Watts as an assistant to an art gallery owner. She's unhappy in her marriage to a failed writer but has two passions, the first being her lust for her boss, played by Antonio Banderas, and the second being her desire to open her own gallery. Watts gives the film's best performance (which isn't to say that she comes within a million miles of deserving awards attention, she's merely pretty good), but her story fizzles out into the one of the most bizarre question marks of an "ending" I've seen in years. Not to be confused with an intentionally ambiguous and haunting ending like No Country for Old Men; it just feels like they forgot to shoot the last part and then decided in the editing room that it was fine, no one would notice. Well, I did. It left the half-hour invested in her feeling like a waste of time.

Speaking of No Country, Watts's husband is played by none other than Josh Brolin, who seems to be filling the role that Allen himself would have played twenty years ago as a rueful failed writer who had one book published and has seen every manuscript since rejected. His end of the marriage is even more loveless than his wife's (note: if you cannot keep the passion alive with Naomi Watts, you are probably gay), but his internal fire is reignited by watching the woman in red who lives in the flat across the street, played by Freida Pinto.

In terms of plot, Brolin's story is far and away the best part of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. The desperate measures he takes to get a book published lead to the film's only satisfying and clever resolution, one of its few moments that made me laugh out loud and probably the only moment worthy of Allen at his peak. However, the big problem here is Freida Pinto playing a walking wet dream on legs with the character depth of a saucepan. I'm not faulting Pinto here — she does just fine — but Allen for saddling her with dialogue and scenes no actress on earth could have salvaged. Look Woody, I get that you enjoyed jerking off to her in Slumdog Millionaire. But that doesn't mean you have to give her a scene where Josh Brolin admits to spying on her changing clothes and having sex through her window and she responds by smiling and giggling, because no one in the world would respond like that. It made my skin crawl to watch. Easily one of the worst movie characters of 2010.

Next up we got Anthony Hopkins as Watts's father, who has recently had a crisis of mortality, divorced his wife of forty years, and married a hooker who gives him sex and the illusion of love in exchange for buying anything she wants. More so than any other story I feel like this could have potentially been developed into an interesting feature, but as is it's very light on laughs outside of the scene where Hopkins introduces his new wife to his daughter and her husband, and it's light on emotion because, really, who cares if Hopkins realizes he's made a mistake? I mean, he's an asshole for what he did to his old wife in the first place, so he pretty much deserves whatever he gets. It would've taken much more time to develop him into someone who we care about despite that, time which the film can't spare.

(And yes, this film features both Zorros from the 1998 swashbuckling classic The Mask of Zorro, Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins! Sadly, that's probably my favorite thing about it.)

Finally, Gemma Jones plays Watts's mother and Hopkins' ex-wife, who turns to a fortune teller to soothe her pain and finds love anew with an occult book store owner. This story comes to a very traditional cinematic resolution and has no outstandingly bad characters cluttering it up, but it's also the least creative and most boring of the movie. Frankly, if this story was the whole film then I'd probably consider You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger to be one of the worst movies of the year.

As is it's not one of the worst of the year but merely an instantly forgettable trifle of a film that will not enrich the life of anyone who sees it in any way. I'm not gonna get all melodramatic and claim that Woody Allen will never make a good film again, because a lot of people did that in the early 00s before Woody busted out the terrific Match Point as a cinematic "fuck you!" to all doubters, but I can say with absolute certainty that fifty years from now this will be a film no one mentions when they discuss his filmography.

2 Stars out of 5

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tim's Trailer Talk, Vol. 10

2010: Moby Dick

Chances of me seeing it: 10%. "I'd strike the sun if it insulted me!" If only Melville could have lived to see his vision brought so accurately to life.

Chances of me liking it: 1%. I watched Asylum's last aquatic monster movie, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and was unimpressed by what I saw. Not unimpressed in the "this is not quality cinema!" way, I obviously didn't expect that; I mean that it didn't even measure up to its "so bad it's good" comedic potential. It was mostly just boring. I expect more of the same from 2010: Moby Dick.

Beyond the jump: Jason Statham, Colin Farrell, and another literary adaptation that is against all odds a bigger mockery of its source material than 2010: Moby Dick.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Reviews, Part II — The Last Exorcism

If I remember The Last Exorcism ten years from now it's going to be as one of the most spectacular dropping of the balls of literally any film I've seen in my entire life. No hyperbole. I'm talking ever. One almost has to write two reviews to do the film justice; one for the first 95 minutes and another entirely different review for the very last scene. Right up until the final revelation I was honestly thinking, "hey, this ain't half bad!" I was ready to declare it one of 2010's better horror films and give it a mild recommendation. But then... that ending. The credits were met with a chorus of boos, and as much contempt as I usually have for the adolescent rabble that attends horror movies, this time we found ourselves in perfect alignment. Boo indeed.

But as I said, the movie actually gets off to a pretty decent start. It's basically The Exorcist from the point of view of the exorcist himself rather than the family, spiced up with The Blair Witch Project's "found footage" aesthetic and Southern Gothic settings. Reverend Cotton Marcus is an preacher-turned-skeptic who decides to follow up on one final exorcism request and film it to show what a sham the whole process is, so he takes off into deep Louisiana to meet a redneck father who believes his daughter to be possessed by a demon. The exorcism begins smooth and easy, but, as I'm sure you can predict, it gradually becomes creepier and more inexplicable than Cotton could have initially imagined.

It sounds generic enough, but the film actually manages to avoid two common pitfalls of contemporary horror: one, its protagonist is unusually complex, nuanced, and well-acted by the standards of the genre. Compared to the inert heroes of the Paranormal Activity films (let alone the soulless warm bodies that populate slasher flicks), Cotton Marcus is someone you can become legitimately invested in. And two, the film has a creepy slow burn to it that almost entirely eschews sudden loud noises and jump scares. The most horrific moments are quietly unsettling and eerie, which I find much more menacing than something suddenly leaping out of the dark with a bloodcurdling shriek.

Unfortunately, The Last Exorcism brutally annihilates all subtlety in its closing moments. (MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING.) When I said above that the film's plot was basically The Exorcist, I wasn't being totally forthcoming. It's actually a mix of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. You see, the daughter in question is not just possessed but also pregnant, and Cotton's attempts to identify the father yield no results. So in the end he and his documentary crew return to the farm and find a Satanist redneck-hippie bonfire in the forest, with everyone in town in on the conspiracy. The Satanists tie the girl up and pull a demon baby from her vagina, revealing that the father couldn't be found because it was a demon all along, then the bonfire rises high up into the sky, Cotton runs towards it with his cross out shouting that the power of Christ compels them, and one of the Satanist hicks kills the cameraman.

It's not that such an absurd, cartoonish scene has no place in cinema, but tacked onto the end of this mostly subtle movie it was like if Frost/Nixon had ended with the final battle from Avatar. The two things just did not go together, and the end result was hilarious and awful. And despite what Lost fanboys in denial will tell you, endings do matter, a lot. Ever listen to someone tell a joke then forget the punchline? It's enraging. The Last Exorcism feels just like that, and the moronic final scene left me sorry I'd wasted my time with the film in the first place. I hated it.

1 Star out of 5