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Archive | December, 2013

Her Review

30 Dec

her9-blog480Her is the best movie of 2013.

On the surface, it all may seem like nothing more than a gimmick, merely a clever twist on a generic love story that should, say, criticize the modern world’s reliance on technology or wow us with a futuristic comedy.  Yet, Jonze presents a world that is very much grounded in reality; it’s more of an evolved present than an imagined future.

The film is fundamentally about evolution, whether it be that of the humans or of the operating systems. One of the great things about Her is the balance struck between the two “species”, if you will; the OSes don’t inhabit any type of body, but it seems as if they’re human; in fact, Samantha (Johansson) endures similar types of problems as Theo (Phoenix) does: a perpetual sense of loneliness, a longing to connect, a longing to enjoy and understand life. You could say Samantha is simultaneously a naive child and a mature, perceptive woman who is able to help Theo open his eyes one more time.

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Treme “…To Miss New Orleans” Review (4×05)

29 Dec

tremeBeautiful.

If I had to sum up this show in one word, that would be it. Everything about Treme is so rich, complex, and compelling, and it’ll be hard to say goodbye. Still, at least we get a brilliant send-off with “…To Miss New Orleans”.

This episode is all about life, which is pretty much the essence of the show, isn’t it? It’s about evolution, rebirth, and death, but it’s also about capturing a slice of these characters’ lives and letting us participate in it. One of the great things about this show is its ability to balance the bleakness of certain situations with a perpetual sense of hope; even though traditions may never change, the people who come together and participate in them do. When Davis talks about the fact that we can find something very different in a song we’ve heard a million times, it ultimately speaks to every character in this show.

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Nikita “Canceled” Live Blog/Review (4×06)

27 Dec

Screen shot 2013-12-27 at 6.30.42 PMAll times central. I’m excited for this.

8:01-How fitting that the final episode of the series opens with a Nikita-Amanda origin scene.

8:03-…which is immediately followed by Alex and Nikita teaming up for a badass take down of Jones; man, am I glad we get to see this dynamic again.

8:04-To be honest, I’m not all too surprised they eliminated Jones this early; it’s the safe way out, and it’s understandable that the show would want to focus on Nikita and Amanda’s relationship. Still, I do think the Jones-Nikita dynamic would’ve been interesting to explore a bit more; Jones is emotionally distant, essentially a robot who isn’t compromised by personal connections. He’s even more callous than, say, Roan, and if this was a longer season, I know we would’ve seen more.

8:07-“Now, she could destroy…the world.” Dun dun dun.

8:10-So, here we see the resurgence of former relationships; Michael’s always been the one wary of Nikita’s power, and it’s now his job to stop her. Amanda’s always wanted to harness Nikita’s power, and now she’s being encompassed by both her former protege and her current associations.

8:14-The tennis ball-smoke grenade sequence was pretty cool.

8:16-We also got a nice Nikita-Alex scene earlier. Nikita acknowledges the impact Alex has had on her–and vice versa–but they don’t get overly sentimental or emotional; they’re, first and foremost, two women on a job.

8:22-“Amanda wants you to do her dirty work for her.” We’re back to the fundamental aspect of their relationship, coming full circle from Division times.

8:26-One last desperation call by Michael. Both people are still clinging onto some sliver of hope, reaching out for anything from the person they once knew. That’s really the mark of the entire series; there are some truly desperate people here fighting to stay alive.

8:29-“What do you care? There’s no profit in it for you!”

8:30-“It’s about your heart.” Groan.

8:31-True, Nikita’s mind is the clearest it’s ever been, but it’s simultaneously the most muddled. She has a clear purpose, but that purpose has brought her to the precipice of her emotional stability. She’s now willing to murder to get what she wants, and Fonseca does great work with her reaction to Nikita shoving the poison down the guy’s throat.

8:35-It hurts to see Nikita and Alex fighting each other. It’s also awesome.

8:40-Okay, so Amanda being all powerful like this is a bit too easy, but I’ll forgive this plot point for now.

8:47-Well, the tables have turned now, haven’t they? I feel duped, but pleasantly so. Deception>brute force, indeed.

8:52-“Welcome back to the basement, Helen.” Also, a nice callback to the early title cards and Nikita’s “The last word they’ll breathe before the end will be my name.” It’s fitting for Amanda to end up like this, powerless in a basement; it’s much more damning than death, and while I do feel a little cheated by the whole plan, it does illustrate Nikita’s growth as a person; Amanda’s always hated Nikita because of their similar situations, but what sets them apart is Nikita’s ability to change. Also, good work, show, for making me believe that she’d gone off the deep end.

8:54-Jesus, a commercial break now?

9:00-Well, it’s certainly a satisfying end; I like the shot of Ryan here, the person who both helped motivate her in the end and helped keep her tethered to reality. I’ll miss you, Nikita. Final thoughts to come in a few minutes.

GRADE: A-

SEASON GRADE: B+

SERIES GRADE: A-

FINAL THOUGHTS: Well, this is it. The last four years have been absolutely amazing, and the final episode wraps everything up very nicely. First of all, the show does great work playing with the viewers’ notions of who exactly Nikita is now; it’s entirely believable that Ryan’s death would motivate her to kill, but it’s also just as believable that the family she’s known for years–really known–would pull her back. I’ll admit to feeling a bit cheated at the end, but there’s some great poetry at play here; Nikita’s no longer the snarling, wild animal she was back in that flashback. She’s grown as a woman, a lover, and a sister, and although I do not like some of the decisions she’s made, it’s nice to see her win without losing hold of who she is; she’s not a hero, but she doesn’t have to be one. She still mentions that she wanted to kill Amanda, and you know what? I would’ve been totally fine with it; Amanda deserves it. However, kudos to the writers for sticking to who Nikita was at the beginning of the series and having her be more successful, both physically and mentally, than Amanda is.

So, although I lament the lack of Sonya (and a Percy cameo! Argh!), I do believe this is a thoroughly satisfying series finale; even Sam/Owen and Alex’s relationship doesn’t evolve into anything more than a flirty, grudging friendship, and that’s how it should remain.

Michael and Nikita, meanwhile, are off on on a beach, but Nikita realizes she can’t let go of her past. It’s a nice coda to this series’ themes, and at heart, Nikita’s both the same and different person. She’s been able to turn off the dark side of her, but she’s also down for some more ass-kicking.

Goodbye, Nikita. You were always better than your ratings suggested. A final round of applause for one of the most underrated, exciting, and endearing action series ever created. I salute Craig Silverstein, Maggie Q, and all the rest. Thank you, and thank you to all the readers; I’ll miss covering this show.

Photo credit: The CW, Nikita

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Review

25 Dec

anchorman-2-review-photo-lead-1Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was, and still is, one of the most beloved comedies in recent memory. It spawned a sequel here in 2013, and while understandably, the second movie doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first, it’s still an entertaining ride.

To be honest, this isn’t much of a ‘movie’; McKay and Ferrell seem intent on piling joke after joke and tangential subplot after tangential subplot onto the already bloated proceedings, and the comedy hits more sporadically than it does in the first; for example, when Burgundy visits Linda Jackson’s (Meagan Good) house and starts talking like the stereotypical black person, it’s more cringe-worthy than uncomfortably funny. Speaking of, the whole Linda character isn’t very well-crafted; her character shifts are too broad and strange for my tastes, and her relationship with Ron is more head-scratch worthy than funny; still, Ron’s constant barrage of “Black” is hilarious.

In general, the character work–or what passes for character work in these films–is a bit disappointing, particularly with the usage of Veronica Corningstone, an integral part of the first film. The main antagonist is James Marsden’s Jack Lime/Lame, a one-note character whose foundation is one flimsy punchline and whose poop smells like sandalwood. In addition, the news team itself stumbles a bit and is fairly inconsequential (Fantana gets to show off some condoms, though), and the movie attempts to utilize Brick Tamland a bit too much with his Chani (Kristen Wiig) subplot. He’s probably one of my favorite movie characters of all time, but here, it’s a little broad. Still, he makes me laugh every time he’s on screen–Carell’s facial expressions are priceless, and he’s especially great when he freaks out over a green screen–and that’s what counts, right?

That’s what it all comes down to here. Although the movie is nowhere near the first’s quality, it’s hilarious; the second half of the movie ramps up the insanity notch by notch, starting with an exquisite sequence where a blind Ron Burgundy raises a shark with his son and serenades it off into the waters. It all ends with a variation on the first movie’s News Team fight, one which contains Stonewall Jackson’s ghost, even crazier weapons, and Liam Neeson, Vince Vaughn, Kanye West, Marion Cotillard, Jim Carrey, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Will Smith, among others. Sure, this is the very definition of broad, but I’m a sucker for random insanity, which is why the second half works for me.

Although the movie has its problems, it’s still a great way to spend your time in the theater. Ferrell and McKay understand these characters and are masters at crafting unique people, and it’s a pleasure to see them onscreen. You stay classy, Ron Burgundy.

GRADE: B

OTHER THOUGHTS

-The sequence in which Burgundy finds his news team is excellent; Champ Kind now sells fried bat, chicken of the cave, Fantana organizes video shoots of cats, and Brick is dead. This all culminates in a slow-mo RV crash that causes a bunch of bodily harm, yet at the same time does no damage to anyone.

-“By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!”

-“Who the hell is Julius Caesar? You know I don’t follow the NBA!”

-“If you’ve got an ass like the North Star, wise men are gonna want to follow it.”

-“I can always guess how many jelly beans are in a jelly bean jar, even if I’m wrong.”

-So, the movie also attempts some satire with the whole GNN thing and Ron’s big speech at the end. I appreciate the effort, but it gets lost in the shuffle.

-One of the things I liked about the first movie was that it was inherently a personal story: Ron Burgundy’s. Here, it’s a personal story plus a bunch of others.

-I wish I could read Brick’s mind. It would probably consist of everything and nothing all at once.

-The after credits scene is nice.

Photo credit: Paramount, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Treme “Sunset On Louisianne” Review (4×04)

23 Dec

treme-season-4Treme is about life and death situations, but not in the way that comes to your mind first. It’s a show about regular people living regular lives, and although it may all seem superfluous, it in fact just injects a sense of realism into the proceedings.  This season doesn’t feel so much as leftovers as much as more steps in the characters’ lives, and this episode in particular does a nice job of exploring ideas of legacy and accomplishments contrasting with inevitability; our characters will move on, but they desperately want to leave a mark.

For example, David goes on about his legacy to Nelson, who, to his credit, takes the nightclub suggestion to Liguori; Nelson is now just as sympathetic as the rest of the characters on the show, and it’s to the writers’ credit that this is the case. Anyway, Liguori essentially shuts down Davis’s dreams, reminding us of the choke hold that those in power have on us. It’s the same for Colson, someone who will inevitably have to retire even as a new wave of people are pushing through. It’s too late; everyone’s too late. Annie’s caught between her past and her future, but she’ll inevitably end up having to leave if she wants to jump start her career.

Even though this is a show that is constantly moving–life is constantly moving, after all–this episode deals in endings: the ending of Antoine’s school program, the ending of Annie’s band, the ending of Davis’s dreams, and the ending of Albert’s life.

Of that last point, Clarke Peters is brilliant in this role (as well as those around him); it is truly heartbreaking to see such a strong-willed person come to an end like this, but man, it is a pleasure to see such commitment to character here. The father-son “passing of the torch” relationship is excellently played out by both Peters and Brown, and the way the show’s integrated LaDonna into the relationship is a marvel; that last scene in particular is wonderful. Chief Albert Lambreaux will die on his deathbed, but his legacy will live on.

GRADE: B+

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-The “Sing, Sing, Sing” sequence is excellent.

-“I wrote it for you.”

-I like the parallels between Davis and Nelson, with Nelson driving a pricey car and Davis on a bicycle.

-Only one more left. I’m said.

Photo credit: HBO, Treme

American Hustle Review

22 Dec

american-hustleAmerican Hustle is a brilliant mess.

David O. Russell returns to the big screen after his Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook, topping that movie in every department except dramatic payoff; in fact, dramatic payoff is essentially nonexistent in this film, one which weaves its way through a dizzying number of scenes that never really gel into a cohesive whole. Yet, Russell is excellent at providing the illusion that we’re going somewhere, a sliver of tension here and there that brings the whole situation to a precipice before immediately descending back into the comedic safe haven that permeates the film.

That’s essentially what the movie’s all about, isn’t it? All our characters are living on the edge, trying to give themselves that final push into stardom, into the lives they’re only living as fantasies right now. All the fancy clothes, the elaborate cons, the oozes of self-confidence: all part of the facade that a con man (or woman) has to put up in order to survive. In fact, Russell seems intent on using the time period to emphasize the characters’ grandiose dreams, taking on the style of Martin Scorsese–no one will top Marty, though–and his quick cuts and musical montages and whatnot. The director also plays with shifting allegiances and sympathies, so much so that sometimes the movie gets caught up in the elaborate mess of it all and it flounders.

Here’s what makes it work, though: the acting. For the whole two-hour running time, it seems as if we’re watching a very professional, complicated, and extended improv session, due to the fact that every actor just seems to be letting loose and having fun. Yet, amidst the bombastic nature of the performances, there is incredible nuance. Christian Bale and his beer belly plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con man who happens to be the moral center of the movie; credit should be given to Bale, Cooper, and Russell for drawing parallels between Rosenfeld and DiMaso (Cooper), then sending them down opposite paths without it all seeming too contrived. Jennifer Lawrence is also terrific as a woman trying to con herself, trying to make herself believe she’s in more in control than she really is. The fearless nature of her character makes her unpredictable and nearly unhinged, and Lawrence plays this perfectly.

I’d have to give Amy Adams the award for best performance, though. She plays Sydney Prosser/Edith Greensly, a British accent dropping in and out throughout the film. She’s attracted to confidence, but at times, we can see that she might have a certain lack of confidence, a feeling that she’s losing her grip on everything around her; that scares the hell out of Sydney, and there’s a particular wonderfully acted scene by Adams that I’ll mention in the spoiler section.

Ultimately, the movie leisurely strolls to its ending, robbing it of any dramatic heft, although honestly, I don’t think Russell was intending to build up to anything particularly cathartic; the film’s end reveal doesn’t exactly shock you as much as it is an “Oh, okay. Haha that’s pretty clever.” moment. What this movie is is an insanely entertaining ride that contains some of the best performances of the year; although I’d say I was a bit underwhelmed when I walked out of the theater, I was also thoroughly entertained.

SPOILER SECTION

-Robert De Niro’s cameo is brilliantly done, both spoofing his crime movie career and providing the most tension-filled scene of the film. Ultimately, though, having everything descend into violence territory wouldn’t be true to the film Russell was trying to make. Also, the one-liner right after that scene–“What are the odds an Italian guy from Miami speaks Arabic?”–is awesome, and Michael Pena is great as the Mexican Sheik.

-Louis CK. Bradley Cooper. Ice fishing.

-Certain scenes were hurt by the public’s preconceived notion that everything was supposed to be funny. For example, in the scene where Rosalyn breaks down in front of Irving, the people around us were laughing at pretty much everything that came out of her mouth. Sure, she’s mainly played for laughs, but there’s also something inherently depressing about her situation and her perpetual notion that she’s right.

-Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are absolutely brilliant in that bathroom scene. Oh man, that is so well-acted.

-Now for that scene I said I would mention: Adams is amazing when she breaks down and confesses her true identity. You can see the relief and the desperation in her eyes, and it’s beautifully acted. Right after that is also one of the darker scenes in the movie; Sydney definitely felt some attraction to DiMaso beforehand, but his reaction to her confession is the tipping point; it also places the audience on her and Irving’s side, setting up that ending.

-Okay, that ending is just alright, in my opinion. Obviously, the movie never truly vindicates anyone, electing to have Sydney and Irving, while now “legitimate”, still living under an illusion. It’s fitting, but it’s also awkward.

-Carmine is a good character who’s hurt a bit by some meandering plot decisions, but he ultimately embodies the spirit of the film, and Renner is great.

END SPOILERS

-Louis CK is amazing.

-Adams and Lawrence are gorgeous, as always, and they kiss here. So there’s that.

-I can see this winning a bunch of awards; it’s a safe bet for the Academy.

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures, American Hustle

Saturday Night Live “Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake” Live Blog/Review (39×10)

21 Dec

jimmy_fallon_snl_a_lHey, guys, so I’m in LA today, meaning this live blog will begin at 11:30 Pacific time.

WRAPPINGVILLE: These are fun; there’s no question about that. The thing is, I’m already past the point of caring about them because they aren’t fun enough to scrape by on nostalgia. This specific one puts a nice spin on things with Fallon and Timberlake and has some pretty clever wordplay, but I just don’t enjoy it as much. GRADE: B-

MONOLOGUE: This is a perfectly good monologue that allows Fallon to sing, do some impressions of David Bowie, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan, and bring in Paul McCartney as our first guest of the night. It’s not anything original, but it’s absolutely enjoyable, and it allows Fallon to do what he does best. GRADE: B+

FAMILY FEUD: The “impressions” premise is fine enough, and I’m a sucker for these kinds of sketches. Fallon and Timberlake seem to have some kind of unique relationship that’s endearing to watch, and it’s no different when they crack up here. Taran Killam’s Ashton Kutcher is great and Fallon does a good Sheldon Cooper–Sheldon Cooper, not Jim Parsons. Thompson is also as enjoyable as ever, and oh, there’s something about Brooks Whelan not getting enough screen time. GRADE: B+

LET’S DO IT IN MY TWIN BED: And the pre-recorded segments strike again. My, this is fantastic, if only for allowing the women of SNL to shine. The song is catchy, the visual touches are amazing, and the premise is creative. Also, we get to see pictures of the cast members as seven year olds! GRADE: A-

THE BARRY GIBB TALK SHOW: Well, I’m surprised to see this sketch again. Still, it’s fairly enjoyable, and Fallon’s energy is what keeps it going; it’s also great to see Killam’s Paul Ryan back. Out of our two guests here, Barry Gibb makes more of an impression; Madonna is fairly superfluous, to be honest with you. Also, it seems like Timberlake’s a co-host. GRADE: B-

WEEKEND UPDATE: This is a nice send-off to Seth Meyers without being overly sentimental. Michael Bloomberg brings a nice dynamic to the Fallon-Meyers interactions, and I have to say, I will miss Meyers. He could get grating at times, but he was a solid weekend update host with some nice relationships with certain guests. As for the rest of the update, it’s fairly middling, even with McKinnon’s Billie Jean King, but hey, it’s solid. GRADE: B

WAKING UP WITH KIMYE: I like this sketch, and Pharoah’s Kanye is the highlight; the dynamic between him and Pedrad is fantastic, and there are some really hilarious lines in there. Oh, and of course we get a Bound 2 parody. GRADE: B-

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL CHRISTMAS: Well, here’s another impression sketch, and it’s very solid; Fallon’s impressions are all very good, Cecily Strong is great as Alanis Morrisette, and Kate McKinnon nails Shakira. GRADE: B

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: This brings a string of good sketches to a screeching halt. The main takeaway is that Ebenezer Scrooge was gay, and I just don’t find any of it funny at all. Not even Killam’s energy can save this sketch. GRADE: D+

BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE: This is great. Fallon and Strong have amazing chemistry, and the concept is excellent; it’s a very sweet sketch that showcases some great singing voices and the ability of the writers to tell a whole story in such a short time. GRADE: A-

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: I like Justin Timberlake, but I feel like he got caught up by the visual aspect in the first performance. However, the second performance shows off his skill in a much more impressive way, and it’s a solid ending to the night. GRADE: B+

OVERALL: B+

This is a very good finisher to the year that utilizes Fallon and Timberlake very well, as well as incorporating some guest stars into the proceedings. It also manages to provide a send-off to Seth Meyers, and there really is only one dud in this episode. I’m impressed, SNL.

Anyway, that does it for SNL live blogs for the year. Have a safe and happy holiday season, everyone.

Photo credit: NBC, Saturday Night Live

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