New Articles for the Week of January 12th: So Long 2013 Edition

71st Annual Golden Globes A belated Happy New Years to you, dear reader. Lots to catch up on, what with this being the first update in nearly two months. Probably for the best though, as it’s been a slow start to 2014 on my end, so at least I’ve got a healthy backlog to bring to your reading attention. First, a quick rundown of a few theatrical releases I reviewed, before the big TV list promised so long ago:

Philomena: A nice little movie about a nice little old lady, featuring a nice little supporting performance from Steve Coogan. That I remember almost nothing else from this probably means I should be the one reading the review, if anyone.

Saving Mr. Banks: Ditto for this one, which I’ve only soured on more after reading about the real relationship between Walt Disney and P. L. Travers. Read Genevieve Koski’s review and analysis of “brand deposits” over on The Dissolve to understand the full ickiness I feel about this movie.

Out of the Furnace: I’d be lying if I said review scores don’t matter to me, simply because being well outside the mean distribution of critical math-ery increases your likelihood of being yelled at by people. Writing a downer review for this a full month before its release left me a little nervous to see whether I’d be an outlier, which turned out not to be the case. Part of the fun of seeing movies way before the hype machine kicks in is getting to watch them in a vacuum of buzz, which this one (rightfully) didn’t end up generating. Still love me some Christian Bale though.

American Hustle: Which is also probably a good reason why I continue to like this one a lot more than other critics. Well, reading Rottentomatoes and Metacritic scores would tell you a whole lot of critics liked this one a bunch, but since we now live in a world of Criticism 2.0, the press lifecycle of this film has accelerated faster than I reasonably would have thought.

With major awards season kicking off tonight with the Golden Globes, the widely agreed upon greatness of films in 2013 will now be boiled down to a couple of DVD box tag lines and historical footnotes, so it’s understandable why a lot of critics are upset that American Hustle is going in as a presumed favorite against the likes of 12 Years a Slave, and Inside Llewyn Davis. And yeah, I’d be disappointed if American Hustle won any of the major awards (save for any acting award they want to throw at Amy Adams, who’s totally deserving, though that's not to say most deserving), but more so because of the historical backlash it would cause that turns an unworthy, but still very enjoyable film into the worst thing to happen to movies since Crash won Best Picture.

The acceleration of the awards season cycle has caused a dogpile onto American Hustle recently, perhaps in an attempt to sway academy votes. That’s a fair enough goal, but misses the larger issue that awards fever causes the film industry. Why is it that a light, empty, but wickedly fun movie like American Hustle can so easily take gold off the table of more important, timeless pictures? My thinking is that it's because voters are human, and like to be entertained. I’ve likened the film elsewhere to being The Fast & Furious of prestige dramas, in that it’s just a bunch of likeable people having a good time for no real end or purpose. And if you do that well enough, as David O. Russell has, of course voters are going to glom onto it, because there simply aren’t enough films like that, which target adult, film-loving audiences that like to have a good time at the movies.

We need there to be more films like American Hustle, not less. Its success speaks to how badly adult audiences are looking for well-acted, well-crafted entertainment that doesn’t involved superheroes or mass destruction. If there were more movies out there balancing American Hustle's same mix of mature filmmaking and immature, "let's just have some fun" attitude, then critics wouldn’t glom onto it like a life raft. Yes, 12 Years A Slave is a more important, powerful film, just as Her is a more emotionally affecting one, but if you starve awards voters of purely enjoyable film experiences, then they’re going to be absolutely over the moon when one like American Hustle comes along, and gives them the easy satisfaction wider audiences get week after week in the summer blockbuster season.

I think American Hustle is a great good movie, while the other nominees it’ll be facing off against range from good great, to simply great great films. In every case, the great film will be the one remembered by history, but there’s still room for just good, enjoyable prestige films to exist, so long as they don’t make it easier for awards voters to screw up the one thing they have to do: pick the film that best represents the year, either on a qualitative, or idealogical level.

Now, the danger of getting more films like American Hustle is that instead of proving their disposability by satiating the baser urges of voters, the nominee lists will instead be overrun by films that spectacularly clear an insanely low bar. This would be a fine result too, in my opinion, because it would offer us the last hair fiber of proof to show that, for fuck's sake guys, awards are almost never right. To quote the immortal words of The Wire's Snoop Pearson (or Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, if you wanna be anal about it): deserve got nothing to do with it. As far as I’m concerned, the year’s best films were decided last month, when critics I love and respect made their cases for what they thought were the best movies. Look no further than Film Crit Hulk’s amazing take on the Top 10 list to see how completely arbitrary picking “bests” is, especially coming off a year as amazing as 2013.




By the way, here’s my Top 10 list of TV shows for 2013! So as to save myself from a very severe case of hypocrite-lash, let me be upfront by saying I would have chosen to not even rank these if I had my druthers. I was wishy-washy about all the numbering from conception to posting, and don’t considered myself held to the ordering in any way. You can check out my big 10 on the link, but I also just want to take a minute to highlight another 10 series from the year that didn't make the cut, roughly in ascending order of my enjoyment of them:

Homeland: Oh, Homeland. I’d say you broke my heart, but you never really had it to begin with. You had my attention all through season one, as Carrie Matheson elbowed her way into the anti-hero pantheon, and Damien Lewis put on an acting clinic every week. And for the first half of season two, you had me by the shorthairs, what with your inspired and insane willingness to barrel the plot forward at an alarming pace.

But then the rest of season 2 happened, and like a lot of other viewers, I got nervous about what would emerge from the rubble of the show’s late 2012 implosion. What we got in 2013 wasn’t an embarrassment, but it does prove the sneaking suspicion early critics had about Homeland’s success being intrinsically tied to momentum. It still looks great, and the performances are strong, but I’m not sure I’m getting much else out of it each week.

Broadchurch: Check my mega-blog from a few months back for the full scoop, but I found a lot to like in this morbid little seaside murder mystery. Here’s to hoping the American remake, and another series of the original don’t completely throw this show’s legacy off a cliff.

New Girl: I was late to the New Girl party on both ends, as I wasn’t in time to praise the strong back end of its second season we got in 2013, and have only now caught up, when the show is seriously struggling to maintain its momentum. Jake Johnson is practically carrying the show on his shoulders at this point, so this might be the only time New Girl makes a best of list for me. But, hey, at least they’ve cut down on a lot of the ironic racism humour that plagued the first couple seasons! That’s something, right?

Archer: The fuel gauge is visibly starting to dip on one of my favorite animated comedies, though word is the quickly approaching fifth season makes for a revitalizing gamechanger. This is a show I usually like watching more the second or third time than the first, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Season 4 is a whole lot better than I give it credit for. If for nothing else though, the show gets points for collapsing the H. Jon Benjamin voiceover universe into a singularity during its Bob's Burgers crossover in the premiere, which was just fantastic.

Parks & Recreation: My love of Parks still runs deep, but it’s deep enough to know that I'm about ready to say goodbye. I still love the characters and world of P&R, but as with all comedies, what made them identifiable and relatable continues to get stretched by the increasingly cartoonish lengths needed to land a joke. I’m a Legacy-ist in a lot of ways: it’s better for a show to live fast and die young than to risk overstaying its welcome. Parks isn’t nearly at that point yet (I laughed my ass off at the touching 100th episode they just had), but the show’s 3 season golden age might be forgotten by history the longer it’s followed by diminishing returns.

Scandal: Jumping off of Parks, the best way I can describe Scandal is to say that if Leslie Knope is TV’s Superman, Olivia Pope is its Batman. Scandal is a cynical soap opera thrill ride that’s only recently shown signs of flagging. It’s a show I love for a number of reasons, chief among them being how aggressively, at times embarrassingly, progressive it is. It’s almost certainly run out of juice at this point, but considering the levels it was operating at through all of 2012 and most of 2013, can you blame it? Not since Spartacus has a surface layer of trash hidden some of the most effective and thought-provoking writing on TV.

Game of Thrones: I think I ruined Game of Thrones for myself right after episode 9 of the first season (yeah, that episode), when I decided I couldn’t wait a whole week for the finale, like some sort of impulse-control-having sucker. I burned through the first book before the first season’s finale, but felt much less excitement and enjoyment when watching HBO recreating something I had already read. The same muted feeling has persisted since reading all the books, and seeing the show adapt them. It's still so incredibly well made, and so well acted that it’s almost impossible to comprehend that something like Game of Thrones not only exists, but is one of the biggest things in TV. Still, I can’t help but feel like I love Game of Thrones more in book form, and simply appreciate and respect the TV version more than feverishly devour it like a lot of other people do.

Hannibal: God bless Bryan Fuller for not only proving that serial killer television doesn’t have to be bad, but for also showing that a remake of a known property doesn’t have to be the worst thing ever. Coupled with the best cliffhanger ending of 2013, Hannibal’s first season will give you ample reason to be unbearably excited for the quickly approaching second.

Orphan Black: I’m running out of word fuel so I’ll keep it brief: watch this show. Maureen Ryan sums up best why little shows like this are some of the most important out there, but even as pure entertainment, Orphan Black is a smashing success. If Tatiana Maslany wins the Best Actress Golden Globe, it will be deserved, and make up for any and all future snubs by the HFPA.

The Returned: The third of Sundance Channel's trio of esoteric shows to premiere in 2013, this late 2012 French series was even more frightening than Hannibal, despite very rarely giving in to horror/thriller cliché and tropes. It’s a disturbing little show in a lot of ways, capable of making very simple images incredibly unnerving, but it’s all in service of a thoughtful, emotionally balanced look at loss and grief. Don’t let subtitles be a barrier to entry, or you’ll be missing out on one of the most haunting and beautiful shows 2013 had to offer.

That’s all for now, I’ll be back with more updates, once I’ve got some stuff to update you with! Play me off into 2014, mysterious and ethereal Mogwai soundtrack!


New Articles for the Week of November 18th: Penultimate Listageddon Edition

Theater waters are being thoroughly chummed with Oscar bait, and there doesn’t seem to be much anything good on TV anymore, so you know what that means: time for year-end awards! Yes it’s the most, liscticle tiiiiiiiiime of the yeeeeeeeeeeear. It’s been a slow month for me in terms of actually producing new content, as prep for click-mongering Top 10s and Best Ofs has had me busy catching up on a lot of programming I failed to get around to earlier. So let’s call this month’s post a practice round as I present Woolf On Film’s: Top 5 Pieces of Content from November!!!!!! (Feel free to flick your light switches a bunch and make some wooshing noises between each entry for added dramatic effect)

5) Interview with Gavin Hood On Ender’s Game: So this was pretty fucking crazy, seeing as A) I’ve never interviewed anyone in my life, let alone an Oscar-winning director, and B) it was held at a Trump Hotel, and I’ve never stepped foot in anything much nicer than a Marriot. I expected to get bounced the second I walked in, which would have been something of a relief. Yeah, I was nervous as all hell about spending 15 minutes talking with a guy I’ve never met, seeing as who exactly the fuck am I? I can barely make it through watching interviews hosted by actual professionals, so the prospect of doing one myself was more than a little terrifying. The artificiality of it always just weirds me out: actors and creatives giving the same canned answers to the same questions they’re going to get 20 times from a revolving door of press correspondents sounds just horribly awkward no matter how you cut it.

So my primary goal going in was to at no point stoop to something like “SO WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HARRISON FORD?!?! YOUR MOVIE IS SET IN SPACE, AND HE WAS THAT GUY IN THAT MOVIE SET IN SPACE!!!” But the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that it seems preeeetty unlikely I’ll be able to just walk into this thing and totally reinvent the rules of movie publicity. At the end of the day, this sort of thing is just a transaction: we get content, they get to pimp out their project. It’s all part of the marketing game –and it’s a game that lets me meet an Oscar-winner in person, and maybe snag a couple Trump coasters while I’m at it. Not bad, all told. 

It was no small relief then that when I actually sat down with Mr. Hood, he answered my questions with an energy and verbosity that not only made my job easier, but also actually gave me first hand evidence of what an interview can be useful for. Gavin’s passion and excitement when speaking about the film was really quite inspiring, and I hope it translates into the written version. The guy has a background in acting originally, so yeah, part of me is still suspicious as to how much of that enthusiasm is legitimate. Again, the whole point of the press tour is to get people hyped for his movie, and you’re not going to do that unless you can look them in the eye and say without hesitation their next big project it’s is better than sliced bread.

But dammit, I wanted to believe him by the end of it –not so much his confidence in the finished product, which even he was modest about, but in the idea that people are making these giant, $150 million movies because they want to share something they feel passionately about with the world, and not just because the studio thinks they’ve got a shot at cashing in on a known property. After all, this is the adaptation of a 30 year-old sci-fi novel by an author who’s spent the last 30 years proving he’s a complete fucking wacko, so it’s not like this thing was gonna be a calk walk.

4) Ender’s Game Review: Did I mention Orson Scott Card is a piece of shit? Sorry, let me rephrase: Orson Scott Card is a colossally homophobic, ginormously bigoted, 12-piece bucket-sized piece of shit. But I still liked the movie they made out his book. Despite how positively my interview with Gavin Hood shaped my opinion of Ender’s Game’s director, it didn’t make me feel more confident that the movie itself was going to be anything but a massive flop. How big a bomb it’ll be once all is said and done is still up in the air, but its soft launch was hardly surprising.

Part of the reason: the book’s reputation was poisoned, then stabbed, then beaten to an inch of its life and left bleeding at the side of the road by its author, Orson Scott Card, every time he opened his mouth, and discussed his views on religion, sexuality, government –pretty much anything that doesn’t have to do with the book he wrote. This was a huge problem for the film adaptation to get from screenplay to screen, seeing as people understandably might not want to have their money going into the pocket of a giant asshole. Granted, if we aired all of Hollywood’s dirty laundry, I doubt you’d ever be able to see a movie and have a clean conscience about where your money’s going. But Card’s been open about his opinions, and in a way, I respect him for not hiding them, no matter how hateful. At least this way, I knew I wouldn’t want to pay to see a movie that has an asshole scoring points on the backend.

Or so it seemed. Despite Summit Entertainment spending more time distancing the project from Card than actually promoting it, the last minute announcement upon its release that Card wouldn’t be getting residuals off of ticket sales hinted at the toxic word of mouth the film was premiering to. I was happy about this, as having seen the film a week earlier, and having generally enjoyed it, I felt more comfortable in being able to recommend people purchasing tickets for the film, instead of just recommending the film itself.

That all bears out in the review, in which I caught some flack for overly emphasizing my dislike for Card. In my defence, all the extratextual discussion is presented up front, and meant to establish my conflicted position: my opinion of the film wasn’t influenced by my opinion of who came up with it, but considering the large population of viewers who probably wouldn’t want to give money to this guy, I figured it was important to address the controversy directly. Whether or not that was effective I’ll leave up to you, and in the future, I’ll try to use a defter hand the next time a complete dickbag has me feeling conflicted about whether or not I can recommend a movie to someone. But hey, I got a positive review on Existimatum, the site that reviews reviews. So that’s something.

3) Dallas Buyers Club Review: Here’s a movie I saw that I gave the same rating as Ender’s Game, and caused far less grief. It’s quite good. You should see it. Matthew McConaughey has a really great mustache in it, and I really should be reviewing more of his movies, if for no other reason than because I should probably have figured out how to spell his name properly at this point.

2) Thor: The Dark World Review: Oh shit, more ratings kerfuffles! I really, really wish we as a culture, as a people, and as a species could just do away with review scores. I totally get why they exist, seeing as our need to codify and categorize entertainment for convenience sake only gets more pressing the more entertainment there is to be labeled and listed, but seriously, if your viewing habits are dictated solely by IMDB star ratings and a rotten tomatoes score, you're doing it wrong.

So yeah, when I gave Thor: The Dark World a 3 out of 5, and an ever so slightly rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I knew I was going to get in some shit from Marvel die hards. Sure enough, haters did hate, as is their wont, though when it comes to criticizing my criticism, I generally don’t respond to comments that are attacking me, or the existence of my review, as opposed to what I’m trying to say about the movie. Which can be hard! It’s incredibly tempting to jump down in the comment section muck and articulate as politely as possible why it is someone is a fucking idiot. But getting involved only fans the flames of outrage sparked by those insecure enough to take a star-rating on a movie they haven’t seen as an attack on their being, so I do what I can to stay out. Still, when you don’t get a ton of feedback on your work, it always sucks to go through the thought process of “oh hey, someone left a comment! Lemme just take a look and –oh god, what did I do to these people to offend them so personally?!”

So when I did come back to that Thor review a whiles later, and saw two -heroes? Yeah, I’ll call them heroes- basically saying exactly what I would have said myself...well goshdarnit if that didn’t just set my cockles to max heat. I actually almost wish the comments sections were full of nothing but the non-stop hate, so that that way I could always just ignore them. Instead though, people who might themselves disagree with my opinions on a movie, but acknowledge the right for them to exist, are out there fighting the good fight on my behalf. And I thank them for that. 

1)   Under the Dome Boxset Review: And coming in at number one with a Price is Right fail trombone is my final word on Under the Dome. Why did I take this assignment after spending the better part of 3 months complaining about this show? Good question, shitty answer. See, the special addition comes packaged with its own dome. Way I saw it, it'd be an excuse to try a boxset review, which I'd never done, and I'd get a trophy out of it. Also it was free, so that was a big motivator. Buuuuuuuut then they didn’t send me the special edition, just the regular one, which doesn't come in its own tiny plastic dome so why in God's name would anyone ever want to own it? Needless to say, I was heartbroken. Hard as it was to believe, Under the Dome found a way to disappoint me one last time. It’s almost poetic.

That’s all for now. Got a couple movie reviews slated for later in the month, but it’s mostly gonna be a whole lotta TV writing for the rest of 2013. I’ll be doing an official top 10 list elsewhere, but might do something a bit more extensive and free flow here later down the road.

New Articles for September: TIFF Happens Edition

TIFF 2013 Hey, TIFF happened! And I was there! Well, the festival covers almost all of downtown Toronto, and since I work in the financial district, it was kinda hard not to be there. But thanks to some writing connections, I actually wound up at some press screenings, a couple premieres, and even a press conference. Considering I've never been to TIFF, or a proper film festival, the last two weeks have been very exciting. And tiring. Tiring and exciting in equal measure. So lemme just quickly list-off the hot 'n steamy industry awards-bait I lucked my way into seeing, lest this wind up running overlong like that last post (hyperlinked titles lead to actual review).

Rating: 3 out of 5

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, and Daniel Brühl

Alternate title: The Anti-social Network

The Wikileaks Cablegate scandal represents a major flashpoint in the early 21st century's defining civil rights debate, privacy vs. security. Seeing as the site's founder, Julian Assange, only rose to public notoriety in the last few years, you might think it's too early for a biopic to be made properly. You would be right. The Fifth Estate is perhaps the most lavishly produced, best acted made-for-TV movie ever made. It's good for some soapy fun, but those looking for either a history lesson, or a look at the Wikileaks message instead of the man who started it, will have to wait.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Starring: Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal

Alternate Title: Les Miserablists

I really enjoyed, or rather, appreciated Denis Villeneuve's 2010 drama Incendies, despite the grimness of its subject matter. Understandably, some critics accused Villeneuve of hackish exploitation of war crimes, rape and incest for dramatic effect, and also understandably, those same people are not happy about the child-kidnapping drama Prisoners. I can sympathize with calling out the film for using low-hanging alarmist fruit for a premise, but the exploration of that premise makes for a well-paced, and gorgeous looking police procedural.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Starring: Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet

Alternate Title: Love in the Time of Cobbler

Two things that automatically predisposed me to liking this one: 1) director Jason Reitman makes really, really good movies, and 2) I'm a sap. Labor Day is a rural weepie through and through, but it's a really well-acted, warmly shot and heartfelt rural weepie. To really get swept up in all the melodrama, go in with open arms, and stomach empty (not since Waitress has pie been filmed so lovingly...or frequently). I'll add an addendum later once the press conference I covered for the film is posted, which includes a couple neat little tidbits from Reitman and 2/3rds of the cast.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Starring: Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo

Alternate Title: White People and Guitar - A Love Story

Photogenic movie stars playing musically talented dreamers looking for a shot at stardom/redemption? Love letters to the enduring vibrancy of New York City? Guest appearances by Cee-Lo Green and the guy from Maroon 5? Yup, this thing is pure, uncut, Bolivian-grade catnip for white people. So sure enough, me and the rest of the near-monochromatic audience I saw it with were pretty thoroughly won over by this one. The review is basically me writing an 800-word caveat, before ending with, "buuuuut, if you can ignore the core phoniness at the heart of it all, it's pretty great." I'm also one of those guys who unironically likes a bunch of Taylor Swift songs, and as we've already established, I'm a sucker for schmaltz, especially when it sounds this good.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Alternate Title: Fuck You, Space

So basically, Alfonso Cuarón decided it would be really funny if he based his next film on my biggest nightmare. Yeah, Gravity is the closest i'll ever get to becoming an astronaut, both for adding another compelling and discouraging example of the many, many ways space is a never-ending deathtrap, and for being one of the most immersive and visceral film experiences I've had in ages. Somehow, 2013 has turned out to be the year of me becoming an IMAX pitchman, because just like Pacific Rim, this one needs to be seen on the biggest screen you can sit yourself in front of. The script is nothing to write home about, but it's not insulting or problematic in the way most effects-driven epics tend to be. This was the definite highlight of the festival for me, and I'm strongly anticipating/dreading getting the chance to see it again.

New Articles for the Week of June 24th: Glorious Return Edition

Well, I guess it's been a little while, hasn't it? I should really consider just live-updating this thing with links instead of getting into a big rigamarole over doing a whole write-up just to say, yes, Mad Men happened this week, here are some thoughts. Then again, it's been a pretty busy month, one spent sampling, digesting, and then regurgitating thoughts on a whole host of things not strictly related to TV. Let's start with old business first: -Mad Men: The season finale is tonight, so if you've been using my reviews as a guide to the season, then my humblest apologies for dumping not one, not two, my God, not even three, but four recaps mere hours before Don Draper and company take their bow for 2013. Then again, that's a pretty odd way to be involved in one of TV's best shows, so don't judge me for working up a review backlog.

-Hannibal: I had the pleasure of reviewing a third episode of this year's biggest surprise, as well as share some thoughts on the season as a whole with the finale that aired a few days ago. The short version is that Hannibal will likely show up on my Top 20 for the year, based on its haunting aesthetic, terrific performances, and total commitment to being the most twisted and Goddamn insane network TV show since Twin Peaks. I have been legitimately more creeped out and frightened by Hannibal's 13-episode first season than any other piece of media I've viewed in the last 5 years, and the fact that it's often a really compelling drama doesn't hurt either. NBC left the show to die during the spring burnoff season, but they at least had the decency to pick it up for a second season, the time until which will hopefully involve many people discover this bloody little gem on streaming and DVD.

That's all from the world of TV recapping, and you can expect a Mad Men finale review in the evening hours tonight, as well as a review for CBS's Under the Dome pilot tomorrow. For now though, let's move on to a few odds and sods.

-Orphan Black: Got 10-hours to spare watching one of the most gleefully insane, and best acted TV sci-fi series in ages? Well you're in luck, because I caught up with the cult BBC series a couple weeks back and can now say I see what all the fuss is about. I won't get much into spoiler territory, but the basic premise allows for Canadian-born actress Tatiana Maslany to give five of the best performances on TV,  and with that in mind, you can probably guess that Orphan Black isn't your average cup of tea. It's a complete tonal fruit salad, shifting from sci-fi, to thriller, to mystery, to comedy and back between and within scenes, and is a BBC production shot in a Toronto masquerading as New York. Needless to say, those expecting the production values and laser focus of an HBO drama should look elsewhere. Those, however, looking for an exceptionally fun, thought-provoking, and blisteringly-paced little series should go out of their way to seek this out.

-At the Movies: Haven't spent much time in the local theatres lately, though when I tell you that the TIFF screening of "R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet Sing-Along" was the best thing I've seen in cinemas the last month, it's confirmation that this summer has been pretty awful for movies. This is the End, a surprising critical high-water mark for the season, was packed when an attempt to see it was made this week, so a viewing of Now You See Me was had instead. Seeing as the trailers made it look one of the year's most obnoxious and irritating offerings, it was unlikely this would ever be my jam, and sure enough, it wasn't. I can't remember the last time a film so completely fucked up the idea of identifying someone to root for, as in this case, my options were the asshole magician thieves, the asshole Interpol detective, or the asshole millionaires and shysters funding them. It's reductive, and more than a little mean to call it Ocean's Eleven for stupids, but that's the movie they made. At least I wasn't disappointed by it, unlike...

Man of Steel. Oh man, this one hurt. That's not to say that it's abhorrently awful, but, after resisting it for so long, I got swept up in the zeitgeist (read: marketing) for the film in the last weeks before its release. Based on what had been shown it really, really looked like Snyder and Nolan might have cracked the Superman nut. This was the movie that was supposed to save the summer, which is an unfair expectation on my part (I can really only blame myself for going to tentpole blockbuster films lately). Turns out, what we got was a movie more dour and joyless than even Nolan's Batman pictures, which could afford to be so. Superman, on the other hand, can fucking fly and lift mountains over his head: he's the last character that should be weighed down with a script so leaden with ponderous dialogue, pacing so manacled by the obligatory origin story, and a structure that weights all the action toward a numbing and concerning third act. Again, it's not reprehensible, or utterly awful, but Man of Steel is perhaps the biggest misfire in a summer season that's all but been dedicated to them.

Finally, just thought I'd mention I managed to finish The Last of Us yesterday, and I'm already planning another big ol' essay/bout of thought-diarrhoea about it like I did for Bioshock: Infinite, and what Sony's latest tentpole release says about how storytelling works within the framework of a videogame. Bottom-line: while it shares many of Infinite's faults, The Last of Us attempts (and often succeeds at) the kind of bold gameplay design, and narrative focus I was begging for in my last video game diatribe, and for at least trying to do so, I'm kinda in love with it. Even bottom-er line: I have never cried because of a video game, but within 15 minutes, The Last of Us nearly had me bawling like an big dumb baby over a bunch of pixels. That's some straight up Pixar shit right there, and I can't wait to dig deeper into what's made this game something special.

That's all for now. Play me out, wistful, and depressing video game soundtrack!


New Articles for the Week of May 20th: TV's Over Forever Addition

You hear that faint, dying buzz coming from your TV, the one that's getting fainter and fainter the nicer the weather outside gets? Yes, it's the sound of reruns, because TV is now officially over for the year. There's no more, it's all gone; it's time to unplug the cable box and start being a productive member of society again. Reruns are all that's left, which is actually worse than blizzard static, because at least randomly bouncing white and black pixels are bound to make something new appear every now and then. Might as well take the batteries out of the remote, because it's not like you'll need to turn on the TV for another four months.

And THANK GOD. I might not get summer vacations anymore, but Jesus Christ, I need a vacation from TV, or rather, new TV. There are a few stragglers hanging about (I'll keep reviewing Mad Men, of which the last two recaps can be found here, and here, and will follow up my 2nd Hannibal recap with a few more this season), and some summer series that will definitely be worth checking out, but any sort of halt to the rising tide of great TV is a godsend to someone already so far behind shows they'd normally be up to date on (I'm 5 episodes behind on Parks and Rec for crying out loud). So with so much more time these next few months available for getting caught up on what's been on and off my radar (it's time to finally see if the fuss about New Girl is justified, and the new Arrested Development season is mandatory), now's the time to do a bit of house cleaning, and wrap up a few series and season I've finished in the last few weeks. We're going have to lightning-round things this week, so let's not waste another minute.

-Arrow: This is a mini-milestone for me, as Arrow wrapping up its first season these last two weeks makes it the first show I've ever covered from pilot to finale. While I never thought my first consistent TV reviewing gig would involve writing more than 30,000 words on a show I originally had no interest in watching, you gotta start somewhere, and I'm glad Arrow was such a starting point for me. It's really, really tempting when you do freelance writing to only concern yourself with shows that align with your tastes, and tunnel-vision can develop as a side effect. Biasing your viewing habits only towards programs that are critically well-regarded will make you lose perspective on the wide range of stories available on any given night of TV. I would never argue in favour of someone watching Arrow instead of The Wire, or Louie, but it's important to give a change to shows that aren't inherently your type of jam, and to be able to recognize their strengths just as readily as their faults. Speaking of which...

-...Spartacus!!!!!!!! If ever a truly excessive number of exclamation points were warranted on this blog, this would be the case, because Spartacus, on its surface, ignores all the classically accepted hallmarks of great television. It's violent, libidinous, grimy, gory, unabashedly sex-crazed, and honest to God Great Television. There is so, so much worth celebrating about Spartacus, the most important thing being how it defies expectations at every turn; over its first season, a 300-knockoff looking like it was shot on a shoestring budget, morphed into one TV's best dramas, at once lean and spectacular. The show never looked back after that meteoric rise in quality, even after the untimely death of its star Andy Whitfield; Stephen S. DeKnight, his writing staff, the incredible production team, and a host a talented actors made every single minute of this series count, bowing out after their fourth season last month, and going out on their own terms. I've never watched another show that could dazzle the action-living, lizard part of my skull, while keeping the rest of my brain so engaged by the momentous plotting and unforgettable cast of characters. Oh, and it also happens to be one of the most sexually progressive shows of recent memory, just to round out why it is I'm so in awe of everything Spartacus has accomplished. Make no mistake; this brawny jock has more brain and heart than many of TV's most praised series.

-The ShieldWhere Spartacus is bloody opera, The Shield is Shakespearean tragedy. I was sadly unable to follow up my digestion of the first two seasons with complimenting thoughts on the rest of the series, so i'll have to give the 10 cent review instead. Long story short, while I don't think I would argue The Shield is essential viewing for your average audience, for fellow TV writers, I'd consider it a must. With each season, The Shield added another act to its tragedy in six-parts (with the scattered Season 1 acting as a prologue), and the further you step back from the show, the more you have to applaud how Shawn Ryan and company managed to tell a complete story that had almost no fat to it. Rock solid consistency across 70+ episodes is a nigh impossible feat, but really, it's the finale that gave the show its legacy, as that final hour gave weight and meaning to all those that came before it. Take note, showrunners: a bad ending won't necessarily ruin your show, but a great one can change the narrative completely.

-Top of the LakeA nice little Jane Campion mini-series breaking up all the macho stuff, Top of the Lake is not the sort of show you will devour like candy, and leave you hungry for more. It's a slow, winding, but intensely intriguing and ultimately rewarding bit of mystery fiction set in the New Zealand countryside. Elizabeth Moss is terrific in the lead role as detective Robin Griffin, kiwi accent and all, as her investigation into the seedy side of a lake-bound small town uncovers numerous oddballs and dark secrets across the seven episode series. The off-beat pacing will be off-putting to many, and there's a noticeable wonkiness to how the show's original six episode length was split into seven for Sundance Channel. I can't say I'm terribly well-versed in Campion's work other than The Piano, but her talent for spoiling gorgeous landscapes with disturbing sexual undercurrents is on full display here, making for a hypnotic, and unsettling little series that will likely find a place in my year end list of best series. I'm looking to taper off of the show's uniquely low-key high with a similarly contemplative series from Sundance, Rectify, the pilot of which I watched last night and see plenty of promise in.


New Articles for the Week of May 6th: Playoffs Edition


You know it’s been a while since you added an update to your blog when actually making one gets delayed further by forgetting your Wordpress login info. Here’s what I've had time for writing up in the last couple weeks, in between stuffing myself on the smorgasbord of hockey that is the first round of NHL playoffs:

-Two Arrows, no waiting. With the season wrapping up a week tomorrow, the recap load each week is about to get a lot lighter. The rest of May is barren for new show premieres, but June should pick things up, so their might be something worth covering weekly around that time. In the meantime, I might have to start popping in for check-in reviews, like the one I did for…

-…Hannibal, which, surprisingly, is turning out to be one of the best new shows of the year. You wouldn’t think a series based off a successful novel and film franchise would be an underdog, but considering it’s the umpteenth serial killer drama in recent memory (and on NBC no less), Hannibal entered the scene with bomb bunker-low expectations. Leave it to wunderkind showrunner Bryan Fuller, a strong cast, and the show's capacity to be legitimately creepy, to make this 2013’s most pleasant surprise. My review catches up with the show midway through its first season, and I’d recommend you do the same. Seriously though, despite being on network TV, this is not one for the squeamish. The jury’s still out for me on whether the show is making a commentary on senseless and gratuitous violence that you'll find in drek like The Following, or if Hannibal is just better at making said violence entertaining, but check it out for yourself, and see how it settles your stomach.

-Mad Men manages memorable moments mourning Mr. MLK, and major movements are made, as magnificently manic merger melts away morbid motifs.  I’m now realizing almost no one on this show has a name that starts with “M”, and I think that’s to prevent sentences like the last one from being even more tempting to write. 

This goes against my proven policy of improving productivity (okay, fine, I'll stop the alliteration) by not making any promises, but expect a big ol' hashout post about a number of series I just happened to finish within spitting distance of one another. Nothing super in-depth or all that analytical, mostly just a little baggage unpacking. The shows? I'll leave it a surprise, but the article's working title at this moment is Snakes, Lakes, and White-Male-Antiheroes. Now if you'll excuse, I need to get back to watching the Canucks lose. 

New Articles for the Week of April 22nd: Vide-ya Games Edition

[youtube=] Sorry every other contender for the title of Summer Jam 2013, but we already have a winner.

A week late, but it's time for another portfolio dump, this time with more video game-ary in one batch than pretty much ever. I don't get around to playing many games these days, mostly because the average playtime to clock-in a complete title is well over a single season of television. When you start breaking down the numbers, and you don't have a lot of free time at your disposal, the only thing I'll get out of bed for when it comes to games is a really good story...or something that's free. Both of which are present this week, so let's jump right in:

-The mystery project I teased two weeks back is out and about, and it's yet another sprawling think-piece, the informatively titled essay, Bioshock: Infinite, Choice And The State Of Storytelling In Game. Like my Bond article from last year, this was a case where the predicted length and time investment for the piece was a gross underestimate. Luckily, that let the article hit right around the time a lot of other really thoughtful analyses of the year's biggest game were coming out. I've been meaning to hash out some thoughts on the gaming industry's continued inconsistency in storytelling, and Bioshock: Infinite was the perfect catalyst for getting all those thoughts out in the open. Check it out if you've played the game, want to know what exactly is so wrong with video game storytelling, or see both those things made all the nerdier by an extended analogy based on the "Han shot first" meme.

-A decidedly less ambitious new addition to the site is my more meat 'n potatoes review for Injustice: Gods Among Us, a new comic book fighting game that I was fortunate enough to get a review copy of. This was only my second game review, and I really enjoyed both playing the game, and writing about it. And the review confirmed a lot of what I suspected about certain, let's say, more vocal, parts of the gaming community. Whereas to me, a 3 out of 5 says "fun, but flawed," to others, that can apparently read like "THE THINGS YOU LIKE ARE TERRIBLE AND YOU SHOULD HATE YOURSELF." Getting into a whole "Scores as a Review Metric is Fucked" article is something for another day, but sometimes the gaming community can really bum me out. Guys, video games are pretty well accepted in this day and age, so criticism of a single game is not damning of you, or your interests. The war for whether video games can be respectable or not is over: we won. Now start acting like it.

-And finally, it's a Mad Men, Mad Men, World, so here's a double dose to tied you over until next time. I gotta say, I'm loving this assignment, despite literally having nightmares about watching episodes, and coming away with nothing to say. Luckily, that hasn't happened for real just yet; in fact, it's been easier to spit out 1500+ words on Mad Men within 2 hours of its airing than anything else I've written under a time crunch. I'm pretty happy with how the reviews for weeks 2 and 3 turned out. I mean, I got to spend all last Sunday comparing the show to Game of Thrones, and even forced in the word "genuflecting" again. Plus, I hit the minor milestone of 1,000 views on a recap in under 24 hours. What's not to love?

That's all for this week. Slate is looking pretty clear at the moment, but we'll see what the new week brings. Sundance's Rectify is picking up some good buzz, and Amazon just clusterbombed the internet with about three dozen pilots, so there's probably something to review in all that. Or maybe I'll just go see Pain and Gain this week. I may not be a huge fan of the guy's catalogue, but I feel like Michael Bay is finally using his powers for good, instead of Transformers.

Oh, and just for good measure, here's the link to that Daft Punk song again. Mankind doesn't deserve something this joy-inducingly groovy, so it's a good thing we have French robots to make it for us.


New Articles for the Week of April 8th

Ain't no party like a Jenkins-Whitford party, cause a Jenkins-Whitford party don't stop! Whooooooooo! Break out the champagne everybody: it's the second update in as many weeks! What'd I tell you: zero promises=unstoppable productivity. Alright, well, admittedly it doesn't look like much has changed; there are only two recaps to spotlight this week, but one's a new addition to the weekly rotation, and it's a biggie. And in between all that, the groundwork for a much bigger, rambly-er article was laid, on a topic transcending genres, mediums -the very fabric of time and space! Prepare to be dazzled, and set expectations to genuflect!

Shit. Now I've gone and promised too much...Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. On to the update!

-Old business first: the weekly Arrow recaps keep on keepin' on...except this coming week, and pretty much the rest of the month, thanks to a brief hiatus for new episodes.  That's for the best though, because I need focus every iota of critical juice I've got right now on...

-Mad Men: Yeah, this was a bit of a surprise for me as well, seeing as I thought someone at the site was already going to be covering it. But in a dramatic turn of events, the big red phone rang Sunday morning, and coach put me in! As a lover of both mixed metaphors, and drinks, I was ecstatic at the chance to review Mad Men...and then legitimately kind of terrified that most of the practice I'd had in TV recapping was from covering a CW superhero soapopera. Considering Mad Men is in the running for All-Time Best Drama of Ever and Always, this was like deciding to try your hand at cracking Saturday's New Yorker crossword after months doing the word jumbles on the back of Cap'n Crunch boxes.

Or at least that's what I was worried about, as the actual writing turned out to be less of a struggle than initially feared. It was surprisingly fun to take a run at, and I actually think my recap for the premiere turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself (and I do). We'll see how that enthusiasm holds up for the rest of the season; I mean, jumping into the Mad Men review game is basically setting a weekly reminder for yourself of how decidedly not hot your shit is compared to the dozens of amazing recaps being done elsewhere, but it feels good to be a part of the conversation.

And finally, one conversation I won't be getting in on is the passing of Roger Ebert. Don't get me wrong; the guy embodied everything about the career of "critic" that makes it legitimate, and the worlds of cinema, critical thought, and general human spirit are lesser places without him in them. But you can't look both ways crossing the street without spying another deeply heartfelt, and moving tribute to the man from critics and writers more skilled than I. I'll simply let my condolences join their's in celebrating Mr. Ebert's life, by doing my damnedest to live up to the high-bar for productivity, insight, and passionate love of shared experiences that he set for the rest of us.

Roger Ebert

New Articles for the Week of April 1st

Seeeeeeee them tumbling dooooooown  

......Oh, hi there.

Things have been a little slow 'round these parts for the last month, due to the new job, the holidays, and inordinate amounts of time being spent looking for the right tumbleweed GIF. I figured if I didn't update soon, the Kentucky Fried Chicken rant might have made that last post look like a suicide note, and that would have made following it up kinda awkward.

Anyway, here's an all too brief catch-up for the month:

-A pair of Arrow reviews, on the 1s and 2s. I'm not really sure what that expression means, but it rhymed, so there. I think it has to do DJ-ing or something. Or maybe traffic and weather reports for a news station. It probably wouldn't be a very good one if the report every ten minutes always required an immediate followup.

-Yo Joe...and everybody else reading this: I reviewed the new G.I. Joe movie, Retaliation, and might be the only critic out there legitimately disappointed by it. There is an art to making a stupid movie enjoyable, something the first G.I. Joe understood, and the sequel did not. And yet, I still think it's probably the best franchise Hasbro has going for it.*

*Sidebar: This was the part where I was going sarcastically snark about being super excited for a Tonka Trucks movie, but then I remembered that, holy shit, there might actually be a Tonka Trucks movie. How are we supposed to make to make jokes about bad movie ideas using comedic hyperbole, when the actual ideas for movies these days are this hyperbolic?*

Aaaaaaand that's it for now. I'd say my plan for the month is to really throw some coal on the TV coverage fire, but science says claiming you'll do something just decreases the likelihood of you actually doing it. So, in the interest of actually being productive this month: I promise nothing. Let's see how that turns out.

New Articles for the Week of March 4th: Colonel Sanders, in the TV Parlour, with the Stoker


You ever have that moment hit you, when you're walking down the street, loving and living life, and suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, it dawns on you that you haven't had KFC in, like, a year? Before you know it, you're back home, holding a plate of undercooked drumsticks, a cup of brown, motor oil gravy, and a greased through box of stringy potatoes that are to french fries what stubbing your toe on the cafe table is to a foot massage. As even your most base cravings flee the pleasure centres of your brain, you realize this is all too familiar. The stumbled upon stroke of gastro-genius, the thrill of putting thought into motion, the dreamy anticipation that follows on the way to the kitchen, and the cold, coagulated reality that greet you there are all part of a mistake you've made again, and again, year in, year out. You knew this was going to be the end result, because this is what happens every time you order KFC, and you've gone through these same motions more times than you can count. You should know better by now, you do know better by now. But you went through with it all anyway. You let the money change hands, and knowingly brought seven herbs and spices worth of sheer, southern-fried disappointment into your home. You see yourself as Memento's Leonard Shelby, having chosen to willfully ignore the truth of your own unchanging, self-destructive nature, and chase the glimmering mirage that's better left out of reach. Alone, you stare into the depths of the red cardboard bucket of chicken, and the chicken stare back.


Whoops, sorry bout that. Just cleaning fried chicken skin out of the keyboard. I wanted to start this week off with an extended metaphor for how finding stable, gainful employment after months of searching is like drifting onto an island moments before starvation...except then the very thing keeping you alive becomes a comforting deathtrap, and you wonder if it's worth sucking down coconut juice for the rest of your life. You know, the ol' "be careful what you wish for," type deal-y, except filtered through the universal disappoint that follows the five minutes each year you spend thinking, hey, I could really go for some KFC. Guess that sorta got lost in all the dramatics, my bad. And what the hell do I know about fried chicken anyway, I like Popeye's for God's sake.

Martin Freeman

Oh, right. Articles.

  • Like clockwork, a new Arrow review materializes. I may have been assigned covering the show, but that just means I appreciate its recent hot streak all the more.
  • And speaking of wooden objects that can be driven into the heart of a person, animal, or Dracula, the latter of which was created by late-Victorian-era author Bram Stoker (BOOM, SEGUE): here's my review for Stoker, the new movie from Old Boy director Park Chan-wook. I was lucky enough to catch it in limited release, and thoroughly appreciated its gothic style, and general fucked-up-idness. Plus, I think I've finally committed the proper ordering for Park Chan-wook's name to memory.   

I also had the very industrious goal of rattling off some thoughts on the shows I'm watching right now, but KFC-slamming slam poetry got in the way. Here's the five-second appraisal for a few of the things I'm keeping tabs on:

-Four episodes after reviewing the pilot, I'm still playing the Homeland game of "is this the week a tightly constructed spy drama goes to shit for being to plot-heavy?" So far, it hasn't happened, and the great character work, combined with the beautiful, insane setpieces, make this a challenger to Justified's Stetson crown as FX's best show.

  • Justified: One sawed off foot out of a pair of Walton Goggins bug-eyes.

-I might not have expressed this clearly enough when I reviewed the premiere for season 4 a few months back, but on the level of TV as entertainment, Justified is the best thing out there right now. Even the background music for the "Previously On" intros gives me more pure pleasure in 2 minutes than most shows manage in an hour. That it's a hoot every week, while also being consistently pretty great as a showcase for drama, acting, directing, writing, and all that, is just gravy.

-I don't know if I've fallen for an animated family sitcom like this since The Simpsons. Okay, so there haven't really been too many shows that fit the profile, and I didn't really fall in love with The Simpsons, so much as devote an entire childhood to it, but I stand by the inaccurate hyperbole. Bob's Burgers lands in a perfect sweet-spot between low-key, and zany, and the voice cast is really something else.

  • The Walking Dead: Thirty Walkers-appearing-from-literally-nowhere out of every furrowed brow Michonne gets to deliver instead of actual characterizing dialogue.

-I should more thoroughly hash out my near complete falling out with this show these last few weeks, especially after last Sunday's episode, which, while a significant step up from what the latest half season has brought, convinced me that The Walking Dead and I may soon be parting ways. And that's coming from a guy who enjoyed 50-odd issues of the comic, and reads The Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide at least once a year. "The Problem with Post-apocalyptic Programming" will wait for another time, but for now, I'll just say that between the two minutes of zombie action breaking up the tedium each week, and AMC's relentless efforts to Walking Dead-ify every waking moment of your life, I'm pretty strung out.

  • EnlightenedOne epiphany-inducing sea turtle out of a dozen ironically self-involved existential voice overs.

-Again, I wish I had more time to write this one up properly. Then again, just about everything worth saying about how insanely precious this show is to TV as a whole, has come gushing out of the critical community these last two weeks like an African rainstorm, so I don't know how much I have to add. It's a show that's hard to really do justice in a paragraph, or even find an easy point of comparison, so let's settle for this: it's the opposite of Breaking Bad, and that's a compliment. Maybe everyone on Game of Thrones just wears sweat pants for a week, and HBO can spare the change to give one of the best things to happen to modern TV a third season.

  • Wordpress Shortcuts: 0 intuitive rulesets for font modification out of FUCK-YOU-I-JUST-WANT-THE-LAST-PART-ITALICIZED-WHY-IS-EVERYTHING-BOLD-NOW?!!?!

That's all for this week. To close up shop, please once again reflect on this picture of two-time Oscar-winner Ang Lee eating at In-N-Out Burger. I don't think we as a people have given the photo its proper due:

Ang Lee

New Articles for the Week of February 25th and a Little Oscars Post-Game

Happy post-Oscars Monday, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life with Argo as a Best Picture winner. Well, we could honestly say that the After Argo era started weeks ago, when the actual awards were just a formality needed to make it crystal clear that the Academy learned precisely nothing from last year. Apparently, Spielberg, and the war on terror, are out as sure-fire Oscar bait. What's in, are trifling, alphabetically convenient black & white love letters to Hollywood, The Artist being visually B&W, and Argo adopting the binary when dealing with themes, character, and writing. Well, I'm getting ahead of myself, and swear I'll be limiting my rambling on this subject, which has already been written about to death by much more perceptive commentators than I. So, let's just start with the old business: 

  • Two Arrow reviews for the price of one. Well, technically, it's two for the price of any integer, seeing as I'm not charging for these. How do people make money on the internet again?
  • And here's the piece where I got out most of my Oscar-oriented verbosity before the actual awards, in what was once titled "The Bullshitters Guide to the Oscars." I figured the addition of a number, and a subtraction of the word "bullshit" would help the SEO traffic. This was a lot of fun to write, which makes it easier to accept that I spent 7000 words writing an article with the shelf life of a baguette.

So, anyway, back to last night's big event. Look, I love the Oscars. It's maybe my favorite night of television all year, despite the fact that that as cultural commentary, a celebration of film, or just honest to god entertainment, they're usually pretty lousy. The major winners are almost always a given, and the broadcast itself is a familiarly blended cocktail of shameless pandering, and nervous flop-sweat. Worst of all, it's never quite as bad as your more sinister impulses might hope. But like I said, I love 'em, and the mix of that love that's ironic or earnest changes each year.

This time, with Argo rolling in as the prom king waiting to be crowned, and Seth MacFarlane hosting, the balance tipped far more towards the latter than the former. I don't actually mind how the winners shook out (beyond how some of the swing categories affected the results of my Oscar pool), and there's nothing really upsetting about Argo winning Best Picture, probably because there's nothing terribly upsetting about it to begin with. It was the default, the safety choice, the cheese-and-no-toppings pizza the Academy settled on after it was apparent that picking a film that played to the middle would be less of a headache than  supporting something that's even a slightly challenging. Why risk creating small pockets of dissent among the voters, when you can just make everyone shrug their shoulders in unison, mildly content with knowing that the one film that rubbed them the wrong way didn't win?

"At least it wasn't the worst thing," has become the de facto motto of the actual awards, leaving the show itself as the main attraction. This went about as well as you might imagine. The Academy hired Seth MacFarlane as a ratings bid to a younger, male-oriented audience, knowing full well that probably meant an evening of mean-spirited cracks about weight, sexual orientation, gender, and just general decency. There was a ten-second window in which it looked like MacFarlane's self-awareness would overpower his natural instincts, when his pre-recorded ditty, "We Saw Your Boobs," was cheekily pointing out the low expectations he was walking into the ceremony with. But then it kept going, and going, until you realized that the meta layer was present to let MacFarlane have his bad joke cake, and eat it too. The only thing in the opening act accomplished in a timely manner was how quickly it became apparent that William Shatner's "Ghost of Social Media Future" role wasn't an attempt at self-deprecation, so much as it was extended ass-covering (which is thematically consistent with the night, if you think about it).

The whole evening felt like it was written for the Crazy Old Racist archetype you find in a lot of TV and movies, where the jokes pretend to say "laugh at how inappropriate this person is," but really just provide backdoor entrances for the kinds of easy, racy groaners supposedly being satirized. Backhanded compliments, and other people's words, were MacFarlane's choice method of insulating himself when firing shots across the auditorium. Javier Bardem sure sounds weird huh, but it's okay, because he's pretty! I'm not making fun of Adele's weight, but remember when Rex Reed did? The thing is, there is a great Oscar host in MacFarlane, one brought out during the numerous song 'n dance skits that were the reason du jour for the overlong running time. As a comedian though, he played things as predictably as the Oscar voters, which is to say he stuck to his patented "mildly inflammatory joke, shit-eating grin" two-step. The snippy attitude infected some of the presenters, and a bit using the Jaws theme as playoff music, while amusing in concept, had the misfortune of being deployed during a heartfelt acceptance speech on behalf of recently bankrupt visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues.

Even The Onion got caught up in the general meanness, as an errant tweet about 9 year-old Best Actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis was quickly taken down after posting, requiring a full-on apology letter this morning. The joke itself was actually a simple jab at how we accept that half the reason people watch these things is to see which couch-bound critic can unload the most vicious twitter insults. Wallis was the "target" for the sake of maximizing comedic juxtaposition between the harshness of the name-calling, and how innocuous the people being judged by millions really are. Buuuuuuuut there's just no way a majorly read publication, satirical or otherwise, comes out looking clever or insightful for calling a child a "rhymes-with-hunt," so whatever point there was to be made got buried in some very, very poor phrasing. It's a bummer of an evening when the only laugh everyone could enjoy without reservation was seeing Flight reenacted using sock puppets.

So, does that mean we're in for another soft-ball show next year, with the Academy pulling back on being "hip" by bringing back Billy Crystal, so long as he promises to leave the black shoe polish at home? Hard to say. Initial reports show that ratings did go up this year, and while critical response to the show has ranged from disappointed, to outright pissed off, the broader consensus from viewers at home seems to be that MacFarlane did a solid job ("Of course he was offensive, that's his job!"). Seeing as a bunch of old white dudes, a demographic safely outside MacFarlane's go-to material (unless a joke involving pedophile is needed), decided to gives this year's biggest prize to a work that's popular and inoffensive, then why not double down making the broadcast popular and offensive. At least when you do that, people might actually talk about the Oscars.

I realize I'm coming off as a downer, even though there have been far worse Oscars in the past, and the future will surely deliver many more. To end on a positive note, please enjoy this picture of two-time Best Director winner Ang Lee going all Richard Parker on some In-N-Out Burger.

New Articles for the Week of February 11th

Hey-hey, everybody! Happy belated February, one and all. It's been a hectic one over on my end, but for celebratory reasons. After months on the hunt, I've finally locked down a job, so the lights at my humble abode will remain on for the foreseeable future. Theoretically, anyway -the electricity bill is going to take a nosedive, as my new gig is mostly night work. It's got really good pay, with some really bad hours, but it'll free me up to write more extensive features during the daytime. Already cooking is my previously mentioned Oscars guide, as well as an opinion piece on Netflix's recent entrance into the heavyweight division of TV programming. Here's some stuff to tide you over until then:

-Old business first: Not one, but two Arrow reviews. Don't I just spoil you?

-New business: I reviewed the pilot for The Americans, a very promising new show on FX that can be best summed up as Cold War-era Homeland. As with Showtime's twisty conspiracy drama, I'm waiting for this one to go off a cliff at any moment, but through two episodes, it's been terrific. If nothing else, watch the first ten minutes of the pilot, which is fantastic, and might make a Fleetwood Mac song your new pump-up jam.

-Off my mind: I like having this blog because it lets me write pieces that don't really belong on other websites. For instance, I recently decided to take on The Shield as my next big TV drama, and wrote my thoughts on it through two seasons a couple weeks back. Ditto for my not-review-but-still-kinda-review-sounding think-piece for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which was supposed to only run a few hundred words, but quickly took on a life (and length) of its own. See, Peter Jackson: you're not the only one who can turn a small, simple project into a gigantic, shaggy monstrosity that runs waaaaaaay too long.

That's all for this update, but be sure to check back regularly, or subscribe to the site. As always, you can see an orderly list of my recent published work by checking out

A Few Thoughts (and Thousand Words) on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The cast of The Hobbit

“From great things come small beginnings”– Misquoted American proverb

In the wee small hours of Friday’s snowpocalypse (known as Ragnafrost in other regions), a thought crossed my mind, one I'll attempt to transcribe in as lucid, and complete a manner as can be managed:

Mmmuuurrrrgh, go back to sleep. It is too early for this waking up nonsense. I should see what time it is to make sure it really is too early for said nonsense. No, don’t do that, that’ll just encourage you to get up; this bed is too comfy to risk that. Wasn’t I supposed to do legs at the gym today? That twitter picture made a pretty convincing case to do so…but this nirvana of warmth and goose down sounds a whole lot more enjoyable than squats. I’ll just go get some work done downtown later, that’s at least a good hour's worth of walking. The weather’ll make it a workout. This much snow outside, it’s going to be a real jour-

Quickly! Make haste to the theatre!

And that was when I realized that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had been out for more than a month, and I still hadn’t seen it. Worse, the window to watch it in theatres (which is kind of important for this type of movie) was rapidly closing. Checking the local listings, my only option was the very nice (and way too expensive) theatre that had an IMAX 3D showing. Yes, it was far, and yes, $20 is more than anyone in their right mind should pay for a movie ticket, no matter how maxed the I-s, or three the D-s. But I tread the snow, and I dropped the cash anyway. It’s The Hobbit for crying out loud.

A little bit first on my relationship with The Lord of the Rings films: I love ‘em. I still remember seeing Fellowship for the first time (also in Toronto oddly enough), and it was right around the time that the Balrog showed up in the Mines of Moira that a franchise lifer was born. At most, I usually make it six months without watching one of the movies, which more often than not leads to popping in the other two soon after. It’s a generational thing I suppose. Most of my friends are big fans of the LotR movies as well, so it’s always been incredibly easy to have one of the films on in the background while hanging out, having a drinking session (and a subsequent hangover session), or doing some household chores that could use the epic sweep of a Howard Shore score. Point being: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of the trilogy.

You shall not pass...your physical exam. Seriously, maybe don't eat the skin on your fried dwarf

The foundation of my allegiance to the franchise owed a great deal to both how old I was when first watching the films, and my near complete obliviousness to the source material itself. I’m not even sure I was really aware of The Lord of the Rings until the advertising for the first movie came out, though vague memories of a fellow classmate’s book report on all ~2000 pages of the series might have biased me against it to begin with (it was my arch-6th-grade-nemesis giving the report, so if he liked something, it had to be stupid). I had read The Hobbit years earlier, but forgotten most of it by 2001, though didn’t forget that I had enjoyed it. The movie memories have stuck, though: I remember the theatre trip for each original viewing, and the first re-watches on DVD (or 2-cassette VHS, in the case of Return of the King).

So, like a lot of people who hold Peter Jackson’s magnum opus fairly near and dear to their heart, I was pretty nervous through the entire build-up towards, and production of, The Hobbit. Jackson seemed done with Tolkien's universe, which was completely understandable: the three movies he made were massive critical and commercial successes, setting up one of the toughest acts to follow in cinematic history. Making his grand return to Middle-earth using a 300-page children’s book as a guide seemed like a daunting task, to say the least. Later claiming he wanted to make two movies out of said 300-page children's book seemed like a fool’s errand. But upon hearing a 300-page children's book was going to be the basis for atrilogy of films,you started to worry that Jackson had set out to film the world's most expensive career suicide note.

Pictured: Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, and James Rocchi of Box Office Magazine

The reviews that came out when part I was released confirmed many of the above stated fears. Despite dipping into the Tolkien appendices for extra material, critics found An Unexpected Journey too thinly stretched, and overly reminiscent of the first trilogy. Fans were kinder, recognizing that The Hobbit was a different kind of beast, and probably had no chance of escaping the shadow of the LotR movies.  A call went out for adjusted expectations. After my viewing yesterday, I feel like I side a bit more with the film’s detractors than its supporters, even though I’d say I liked it overall.

That’s not how I felt for the first fifteen minutes mind you. When the camera opened up on Ian Holm as Bilbo, and a new twist on those familiar musical strings started playing in the background, I was lucky my bulky IMAX glasses were hiding the embarrasing doofus grin that was on my face. It was like finally getting to revisit your favorite vacation spot with fresh eyes, after a decade of flipping through old photos nostalgically. There’s the Shire! Oooh, a lengthy prologue about the dwarves, and Smaug! And hey, it’s Elijah Wood! I should probably be more critical of a cameo this pandering, but who cares! Frodo!

Just making sure I've dotted all the ä-s, and crossed all the Ø-s

By the time the title card proper faded in, and we got our first glimpse of Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo (who gets flack for playing a typical Martin Freeman character, despite it being called for here), I was hopelessly back in Tolkien’s thrall. Gandalf showing up a moment later should have sent me into babbling fanboy overload, which it did…until he actually started talking. I was giddy to see Ian McKellen back in the role that has defined him for so many people my age, but as the two characters were having their formal introduction, something just felt off. Not so much in terms of how they were speaking, but what it was they were saying. There are fast friends, and there are friends that can transition a lesson on syntax into an invitation to go kill a dragon in under 30 seconds. For a being that’s never late, Gandalf seems to be in an awful rush to get Bilbo’s big adventure started.

Then came the lengthy dinner scene that’s become something of a litmus test for viewers, taking what must be at least a half hour to introduce the many dwarves in Gandalf’s company, setup their quest to take back the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, and get Bilbo from housebound fuddy-duddy, to aspiring adventurer. And sure enough, the length of the sequence makes itself felt, but it provided a beautiful display of the production values that have become a hallmark of these films. The tracking shots covering more than a dozen characters of vastly different height and stature were wonderfully intricate, and the tight corridors of Bilbo’s Hobbit-hole let your eyes feast on the elaborate costumes and set design.

Hobbits are famed for their catlike stealth, noble hearts, and skill in the potato sack race

The opening act is indeed overlong, and the singing felt a wee bit out of place, but those weren’t cause for alarm. No, what did rankle was the big speech that Gandalf gives to convince the party (especially their leader, Thorin Oakenshield) to take on Bilbo as their burglar. And by big speech, I mean he bellows menacing commands as his voice drops several octaves, and takes all the light of the room. It wasn’t just that Gandalf, one of the most level-headed inhabitants of Middle-Earth, started using his spooky outdoor voice apropos of nothing, or that the scene felt like a far too blatant homage to a memorable moment from Fellowship.

What concerned me was the same thing I felt when Gandalf and Bilbo were first meeting, because in both instances, Gandalf is telling everyone what has to happen. Not in a guiding, “let me help you find your way” manner, but more of a, “here’s how this shit is going to play out, so do as I say.” He doesn’t offer Bilbo the call to adventure: he sticks one half of adventure’s cell phone in Bilbo’s ear, as if it were Óin’s hearing aid, then shouts in the other end that, yes, Mr. Baggins will be more than happy to accept the charges.

Gandalf the Grey? More like Gandalf the Deus ex Machina! OOOOOOOOHHHH BUUUUUUURNNNNNN

As one of the most powerful beings in the LotR universe, Gandalf is entitled to having “a good feeling” about what it is everyone should be doing, but The Hobbit upgrades his skills from that of a psychic, to a full-on author surrogate, directing events instead of guiding others along through them. A common complaint for the film is that most of the predicaments Bilbo and co. find themselves in are solved by Gandalf’s miraculous timing, and pocket full of “get out of jail free” spells. This is entirely valid, as Bilbo, the ostensible hero of the story, has about as much impact on its outcome as some of the more interchangeable dwarves. Save for the finale, his biggest scene (and arguably the best in the movie) is the game of riddles he shares with Gollum, which ends with Bilbo escaping with the one ring.

What I love about that sequence isn’t the riddles, or getting to watch Andy Serkis slip back into the milky skin of his most famous role; what sold it for me was the very end, when we see Bilbo struggling to pick whether or not to kill Gollum. We know the eventual outcome of his decision because of the original trilogy, but it doesn’t diminish the suspense that comes with watching Bilbo make an actual choice for himself. Choice was a hugely important element in LotR, as it should be in any narrative. Will Frodo accept the burden of the ring? Does Gandalf join Saruman? Will Boromir betray the fellowship? Yes, these are foregone conclusions once we’ve gotten to know the characters, and the type of narrative being told, but in context, they’re weighty turning points for those involved.

Gandalf remembers why it is he and Radagast don't hangout more often

The absence of agency brings to focus that horrible balancing act most prequels are saddled with, where past events have to have importance, and weight, despite audiences knowing the eventual end to the story. If it’s done correctly, you get something like X-Men: First Class, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where learning about the origins of the original franchise is surprising, and entertaining in its own right. The journey really does become more important than the destination, something a bad prequel usually doesn't understand. Poor ones go out of their way to fill-in blanks no one ever cared about (like Anakin being the one who builds C3PO), or cause a studio do creative gymnastics to justify going back in time without mucking up the continuity (Fox’s major narrative justification for a Wolverine prequel: AMNESIA).

Maybe it's out of reverence to the original trilogy that An Unexpected Journey puts so much stock in devices like fate, and destiny, as opposed to actual character initiative. Perhaps the only prophecy in LotR was the “duh doy” claim that Sauron would one day return, and it doesn’t take a wizard to predict that the manifestation of pure evil needs more than a finger lobotomy to truly die. The events of An Unexpected Journey, on the other hand, exists entirely because of ancient forecasting, soothsaying, and dumb luck that gets explained away with similar narrative hokum. The dwarves move to retake Erebor because somebody figured Smaug’s rule over the Lonely Mountain must come with an expiration date, and a vital clue on Thorin’s map (a door that only opens at a specific time, on Dwarven New Year's) is rather conveniently revealed, thanks to the party arriving in Rivendell precisely when the moon's plot driving powers are at their peek.

Yeah he obliterated the home of the dwarves...but there's something kinda adorable about a mighty dragon wanting nothing more than to curl up in a big pile of gold

Thing is, a lot of these developments are from the book, which further illuminates the big narrative differences between The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. Generally speaking, I have an inherent issue with any plot dependent on an ancient returning evil threatening the world, because it’s the laziest means of creating audience investment. It’s not like you’re going to start rooting for the giant flaming eyeball, right? But it’s about the only narrative you can do when you want to capture a world with as much expanse as Tolkien’s, which the LotR movies smartly explored in terms of breadth, not depth. The problem with An Unexpected Journey is that it’s telling a much smaller story in a setting that’s not all that new to us anymore.Taking back a mountain full of gold doesn’t really seem quite as urgent as stopping fantasy Satan, so the film tries to make the stakes more personal, which doesn’t really work out.

Bilbo and Thorin are meant to split duties as the protagonist, but the former is often pushed off to the fringes, and the latter mostly just broods while looking purposefully off into the distance. (Again, choice seems MIA for Thorin. Aragorn had to reconcile with his lineage and rise to the throne. Thorin wants it because it’s his birthright). While this is setting up overall character arcs that will probably be impactful eventually, there’s a bro-hug’s worth of payoff to be found in part I, and that’s it. Meanwhile, when he's not busy saving everyone's asses, Gandalf runs off to share ominous musings with the Middle-earth Security Council, creating an entire subplot dedicated to justifying these films in terms of the ones that came before them. It’s understandable why Jackson was tempted to bring Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee back in for guest spots, but their scenes do little more than temper expositional groundwork laying with familiar faces.

Still the best Shadow of the Colossus movie we're ever going to get

More than anything, An Unexpected Journey’s biggest flaw is the way it tries supplementing the story’s thinness with incidental excess. Whenever there’s an opportunity for something from the book to take on life as an action sequence, Jackson goes for it, even if the source is just a line of dialogue. Azog, an intensely minor figure from the book, is built up to be Thorin’s archenemy, so that this first installment has an active antagonist, but there’s no resolution to their feud, just a bunch of a chase scenes. The party can’t even climb up a mountain without 100-foot tall, granite versions of the robots from Real Steel slugging it out. The whole film boils down to a rhythm that has the company move a few inches toward their destination, get waylaid by a sudden action scene, stumble upon a few connections to the original films, and ultimately get saved in the nick of time by Gandalf. Rinse, and repeat.

It feels like you’re watching the extended edition of the movie meant for die-hard completionists, instead of the streamlined theatrical version meant to make you want to see the extended edition. The runtime is padded out with world building that focuses on superfluous details (you’ll know more about some of the swords than most of the dwarves using them), or showy cameo appearances meant to setup dangling plot threads. Were there only two Hobbit films, it’s not hard to imagine a great deal of An Unexpected Journey’s runtime condensed to a two-minute montage. With its wide cast of characters, and sporadic plotting, the film tries to build a Mount Doom out of a dozen molehills, but they never combine into anything quite so grand.

Don't be sad Bilbo. I say these things because I love!

So, do we have another Phantom Menace on our hands? Hell no! I realize I just spent way longer criticizing the film than I had originally planned, but I still liked it. For as much as I can complain about the pacing and the narrative, the movie itself is entertaining from front to back. The battle scenes are exciting, and the lack of cataclysmic stakes makes for a much lighter and adventurous tone. And while the 3D adds nothing, An Unexpected Journey is a visual tour de force, just in a different way than its predecessors. The nerves of my brain governing how I react to spectacle shots have habituated to the point of uselessness at this point, but the establishing shots for the landscapes and cities frequently amazed me. The heavier reliance on green screen makes the sets less convincing than those in the films that came out a decade before, but as the humble origins of a massive mythology, it actually makes sense that The Hobbit looks more imaginative, and fantastical.

And that’s the thing: when you keep in mind the legacy it has to live up to, and the differences in the source material, The Hobbit really is a perfectly fine follow-up to The Lord of the Rings, one meant to get a whole new generation invested in Middle-earth. It’s probably my original trilogy blinders that make me think every parent should show their kids Fellowship through Return of the King before moving onto The Hobbit, but maybe when all is said and done, the prequels will be the new go-to films for developing Tolkien-ites. More than anything, I’m glad my understanding of what I loved about those original films is clearer because of An Unexpected Journey. I like my Tolkien movies to have narratives that are sweeping and grandiose, with production designs that are intimate and multilayered. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey flips that balance, and it didn’t work out amazingly this time, but Jackson and company still have two more shots at this. After all, I’m part of the problem: no matter how bad these movies might possibly get, I’m going to watch them. I might just make sure to pay closer attention to when Part II is in the cheap theatre, come December.

New Articles for the Week of January 20th

Greetings and g'days everybody. Got plenty to log this week, so let's not waste time on pleasantries and get on with bulletpointing this bad boy:

  • First up, a movie review! For the new Schwarzenegger movie! That was released in January! And made $6 million on a three day weekend!  Yes, The Last Stand sounds depressing, but it's actually better than it has any right to be. You might have already part of my review actually, because one of the perks of writing for We Got This Covered is seeing your work selected by Rotten Tomatoes! That's right, I am one of the critics who said this "rotten" actioneer was "fresh". I AM THE 58%! 
  • Second, is another movie review! I did the honors of pulling double-feature duty last week, and the second review is for Broken Citywhich also has a blurb on Rotten Tomatoes from yours truly. Yup, I finally have work appearing on one of the biggest review aggregators in the world, and in both cases, they clash with the consensus (I'm coming for your troll crown, Armond White). This one split me pretty much down the middle, but I give it a gentle recommendation. Save it for an airplane, or a rental.
  • Last review of the week is for Arrow which can be found, along with all my other WGTC work, by following the link.
  • Next up, is my ranking order of the Best Picture nominees, which I teased in last week's update. This was a ton of fun to write, and is just a taste of something I've got cooking for when Oscar-hype proper starts to build next month. Check it out, see what you make of my list, and let me just how wrong I am about the order in the comments.
  • Last, but not least, a feature over at a new website, What Culture. I had never heard of this publication until they got into contact with me after I published my Skyfall analysis a few months back. It seems like a site with a very active readership, so it was a fun challenge to write an article like What Your Favourite Star Wars Movie Says About You. It was a bit like coming up with a roast for your boss at work...only you're the newest hire, and the boss isn't a person, it's a legion of fans that stretches across a 30 year history. Definitely a different kind of piece than I usually write, but one that was thoroughly enjoyable to generate. Expect more like it in the future.

That's all for this week, hope you all have a good one.

New Articles for the Week of January 13th

Happy belated New Year everybody. I hope your 2013 has gotten off to a great start, as mine has, at least in a pop culture-binging sort of way. Yes, awards season fervor is in full swing, as evidenced by my liveblog, and subsequent breakdown of the Oscar nominations. I also had the great pleasure of getting to review the fourth season premiere of Justified, one of my favorite TV shows that's as good as ever. It'll probably be my only writeup for the show until it inevitably makes my best of 2013 list, the way it did for my best of 2012 (plug!). And of course, there's my review for Zero Dark Thirty, which should be required viewing, if only to let you jump in on all the juicy debate raging online about whether it's pro-torture, anti-torture, or even any good. That's all for now, but expect my ranking of the Best Picture nominees just as soon as I get back from my Amour screening.