Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest: The Top Ten Movies of The 2000s

After a year spent reviewing the last decade in film, I have finally narrowed down my lists to create a list of my top ten movies of the last decade. It was a grueling process, and many times over the past few weeks I have wished I had decided upon making a top twenty of thirty movies list, yet I set out to determine my top ten movies of the decade, and it has been done. Many of my very favorite movies had to be hacked off of this list, which hovered around 20 for the last week, but below you will find my picks for the ten best movies of the last ten years, along with a blurb about each. If you're curious where I got the nominees for this list, feel free to take a look at each of my top ten movies of the year lists for the past ten years, which can be found at 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

And now, for the final list:

10. Adaptation (2002)—Writer Charlier Kaufman strikes brilliance yet again in this tale of writer Charlie Kaufman (Oscar nominee Nicholas Cage) attempting to adapt the unadaptable book The Orchid Thief by elusive journalist Susan Orlean (Oscar nominee Meryl Streep). Kaufman is too caught up in his own insecurities, both creative and romantic, to actually make progress on the adaptation, and he begins to write himself into the screenplay. His brother Donald (also Nicholas Cage) is there to lend a helping hand, but his tastes are a tad too Hollywood for Charlie. As the Kaufmans look into Orlean’s life and her relationship with the enigmatic and fascinating orchid poacher John Laroche (the Oscar winner Christ Cooper, never better than here) the narrative devolves as Kaufman struggles to complete his second screenplay and maintain his fraying life in the process. Also nominated for best adapted screenplay (as it is in fact based on The Orchid Thief by real life Susan Orlean) and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich,Where the Wild Things Are) the film is without doubt the best treatise on writing ever created and also a great look at how difficult it can be to create art and to start your life again once you’ve made a wrong turn. By turns hilarious, haunting, and deeply affecting, Adaptation will change the way you look at movies, and at life itself.

9. The Dark Knight (2008)—After solidly molding a Batman origin story in Batman Begins, Director Christopher Nolan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan) returns with the greatest super hero movie of all time. Months after the last film ended, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still working the night-shift as Batman, and searching for a flesh and bones hero who can save the city by bringing it the hope and legitimacy that his vigilante alter ego never could. He finds his strongest candidate in the tough on crime new DA Harvey Dent (a phenomenal and underrated Aaron Eckhart), who along with the morally unimpeachable cop James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is waging a war against organized crime in the city. Their struggle is complicated by the arrival on the scene of the terrifyingly nihilistic “engine of chaos” that is the Joker (Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his stellar performance), who believes that anarchy is the only way to live in a world without rules. The Joker sees life as one dark joke, and its punch line is the terror he inflicts and the death toll he racks up. The film also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and combines some of the best action set pieces of the decade with the thematic scope of a great novel and more depth than any movie in its genre has ever tried. More than just a titanic battle between good and evil over the soul of a troubled city, The Dark Knight is an examination of existentialism versus nihilism, order versus chaos, and vigilantism versus the often failed attempts of a broken system to do good. The film may be a super-hero movie on its face, but beneath the surface lies an epic and a tragedy of greater proportions than most, making it one of the most resonant movies of the decade.

8. Lost in Translation (2003)—Bob Harris (Oscar nominee Bill Murray, in easily his best performance) is most assuredly going through a mid-life crisis. His movie career is dead, his relationship with his wife is strained at best, and he has traveled to Tokyo to sell himself out as a celebrity spokesperson for whiskey. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is stuck in a rut in her mid-twenties, already disconnected from her husband, and drifting through life after graduating with a Philosophy degree and no real aspirations for a career. When both are hit with a bout of insomnia while staying in the same hotel, they bond over their lack of sleep and their general malaise. Director Sofia Coppola constructs a visually stunning look at Tokyo as well as a fascinating study of two people who can’t seem to find their place in the world and can’t manage to get over the depressive state that keeps dragging them down. With brilliant performances from Murray and Johansson, excellent cinematography and a thoughtful, melodic soundtrack, Lost in Translation is a moving meditation on unfulfilled longing, missed connections, and the mistakes that make up our lives.

7. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)— Director Guillermo Del Toro is known for his inventive use of visuals and his penchant for puppetry over CGI, and these skills have never seen better use than in this fairy tale of a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) whose mother brings her to live with a her malicious new husband Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) after the Spanish Civil War. As Ofelia struggles to escape her bleak surroundings, she is drawn into a quest to assume her thrown as Princess of the Underworld by completing three tasks with the help of a devilish faun (Doug Jones). As she braves the challenges set out before her, she must also avoid the machinations of her new step-father, who aims to root out some rebels hiding in the nearby woods. At once a gory, terrifying R-rated fairy tale and a look at the uses people have for fantasy and for history, Pan’s Labyrinth balances its period setting with its grim fantasy, creating a journey that is arresting, inventive, thought-provoking and more than a little scary.

6. Almost Famous (Director's Cut) (2000)—The story of high schooler William Miller (Patrick Fugit) who nabs an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine to follow rising band Stillwater around the country and document their tour. Packed with nostalgia for '70's rock and roll and the mysterious bonds that form on the road, director Cameron Crowe's masterpiece seemlessly ties together the coming of age of William Miller with the systematic destruction and potential fall of Stillwater as tensions rise between the lead singer Jeff (Jason Lee) and the more popular guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup). Along for the ride is the enigmatic groupie Penny Lane (Oscar nominee Kate Hudson, in what appears to be the only great role she'll ever play) who catches the affections of William while trying to maintain an affair with Russell. The Director's cut of the film runs 40 minutes longer, allowing Crowe to meander through his examination of the band in a more ambling way than the original version, and giving a chance to greatly deepen the characters of Russell and Penny, adding to the tragedy and the revelations at the heart of their relationship. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, nostalgic and knowing, the movie is the perfect document of life on the road, and of what it feels like to be a band on the fringe of fame.

5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)—The Tenenbaum children were all prodigies in their youth, but two decades of failure, betrayal, and disaster have stripped them of their former glory. Playwright Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is trapped in a loveless marriage with neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) and an equally passionless affair with overwrought writer and long-time family friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Chaz Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller, in his greatest performance) is experiencing a nervous breakdown in the wake of his wife’s death, and is subsequently shielding his sons from the real world. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) has retired from tennis and now travels the world aimlessly trying to deal with his love for Margot. Things start to come to a head for the Tenenbaum family when their mother Etheline (Anjelica Huston) becomes engaged to her long time friend Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), the children all move back into her home, and their long-estranged father Royal (an Oscar-worthy Gene Hackman) returns into their lives, claiming to be dying of stomach cancer. The Royal Tenenbaums tells the story of a family strangled by its own successes and restrained in its multitudes of failure. But more than that, Wes Anderson’s gem of a film looks at the ties that bind even the most dysfunctional families together, and what it takes to repair those relationships that have broken apart, and in doing so creates a film that is truly one of the most intelligent and hilarious of all time.

4. Children of Men (2006)—In the near future, humanity has become inexplicably infertile. While the entire race awaits extinction, and has thus fallen prey to the worst aspects of human nature, Theo (Clive Owen) is recruited by his activist ex (Julianne Moore ) to transport a girl to the coast. Theo soon discovers his cargo (Clare Hope Ashitey) is miraculously pregnant, which makes her valuable to both terrorist cells, including one lead by Chiwitel Eijiofor, and to the government. Also starring Michael Caine, the film some how slipped through the critical cracks, rendering it easily one of the most underrated movies of the decade. Stark in its construction, bleak in its depictions of politics and the dark side of human nature, and yet endlessly hopeful in its depiction of one man's refusal to give up on his dream of a better life, the film tackles a subject that is often done heavy handedly with both subtlety and nuance. Children of Men is alternately pulse-pounding and peaceful, nihilistic and hopeful in its depiction of a society that has fallen apart after realizing it has nothing left to live for, and of one man who struggles to believe there may be a chance for something more.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)— From genius writer Charlie Kaufman and Director Michel Gondry comes a tale of romance gone wrong, and the convoluted path back to happiness. Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey in a rare serious turn) has just broken up with the love of his life, Clementine (Oscar Nominee Kate Winslet in a stunning performance). Desperate to win her back, he soon discovers that she has utilized new technology to have all memory of their relationship erased. Half out of anger and half out of depression, Joel goes to visit Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (the always excellent Tom Wilkinson) and decides to have Clementine erased from his memory. As the procedure is carried out by Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood), Joel must watch his relationship with Clementine play out in reverse. As he sees their bitterness and anger dissolve into intimacy and love, he realizes he may be better off with the memories intact. A meticulous study in a particular relationship, from its downfall to its romantic inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reminds us all the importance of love, even when it fails, and displays the necessity of even our worst memories toward making us who we are, and in doing so asserts itself as one of the smartest, most realistic, and most touching films of this or any decade.

2. There Will Be Blood (2007)—It’s the story of America that hard work and a bit of business savvy can make a man rich. Following that idea to its ugliest, most amoral endpoint is Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful story of Daniel Plainview (Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis in a towering and terrifying performance) and his endless quest for oil, and with it, riches. His ruthless business dealings put him into conflict with a charismatic preacher (Paul Dano, shockingly deprived of a richly deserved supporting Actor nomination) on the rise in the small community Plainview is about to rob of their oil supply. Anderson created one of the most fascinating, and profoundly terrifying characters in cinema history in Daniel Plainview, and placed him in an epic struggle against harsh terrain, harsher rivalries, and finally, the harshest enemy of all—himself. There Will Be Blood is an unforgiving epic, made so by its scope and the intensity of its focus on a single man’s spiritual death and tormented mental state, and by its larger implications for a country often strangled by capitalistic intentions and positively drowning in its need for oil.

1. No Country For Old Men (2007)—As Sherriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) prepares to retire from a job he can no longer perform in a world that has grown too violent and evil for his old fashioned sensibility, a trail of bodies begins to pile up in the wake of Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) after he absconds with $2 million in drug money from the scene of a shootout. Hot on his tail is the bleakly moral and brutally efficient hired gun Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar winning role). The Coen Brothers' film (which also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) is nearly flawless, combining pulse-pounding action sequences with quiet meditations on fate, futility, old age, evil, and greed. This masterpiece races along like a rocket, providing some of the most intense scenes in cinematic history. But beneath its surface lie deep lasting questions about human nature, the unrelenting existence of evil, and the attractiveness of nihilism in a world where all roads lead to death. Suspenseful, thoughtful, and endlessly brilliant, No Country For Old Men is the best film of the decade, and one of the greatest movies ever made.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2009

Looking over the last year in cinema, I was shocked to discover how much quality was there. All year I have been mocking the lower caliber of movies, and to an extent I feel I was right; there are no “all-time classics” that jump out of this year, no masterpieces that I know will be treasured among the best in decades to come, but there are a slew of very good movies that deserved recognition. Were it not for my own OCD tendencies that forced me into cutting it down to 10, you might see 15 or 20 entries on this list (among the last to go, and deserving of honorable mentions are An Education, Moon, and Up in the Air). Without further ado, here are my top ten movies of the last year:

10. Coraline-After years of being largely ignored for doing the lion’s share of the work on The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach (both of which are largely considered Tim Burton movies), Henry Selick should certainly become a household name after the visually stunning, wildly inventive Coraline. Based on the short novel by Neil Gaiman, the film tells the story of Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) a young girl forced to move away from her friends and into a boring house in the middle of nowhere. Her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) largely ignore her, and the only other kid around is a socially awkward adventurer named Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.). Her life seems to have hit rock bottom, when she discovers a door in her house that leads to another world, full of wonders and populated by doppelgangers of everyone in her life, improved and centered on exactly what she would like. Coraline is visually superb, wonderfully creative, and more than a little unsettling, creating a new, creepier take on the standard “be careful what you wish for” story to thrilling effect.

9. Where the Wild Things Are-Spike Jonze had a lot of trouble bringing his adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s classic to the stage. The book was short, the content dark and controversial, and the studio unsure whether it would be marketable for kids. Looking past all that, Jonze (who co-wrote the script with Dave Eggers) created arguably the best movie ever made about the excitement, loneliness, jealousy, depression, and rage that come along with childhood. When Max (Max Records) runs away from his mother (Catherine Keener) and travels across a vast sea, he finds himself crowned king of a gaggle of creatures (voiced by an all star cast including James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, and Chris Cooper), each of whom reflects one of his own flaws. Max struggles to come to terms with issues he doesn’t even fully grasp yet, and it is part of the magic of the film that the ending is ambiguous as to whether Max has learned anything at all. Jonze does not force any meaning down the audience’s throat, nor does he seem to emphasize one interpretation; rather he has made a movie that is structured like a child’s play-date and exudes all the wide range of emotions that comes along with that.

8. Away We Go- Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) have been together, and unmarried for years. When they find out Verona is pregnant, and that Burt’s parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O’Hara) are moving away and leaving them alone, they realize the world is open to them and set out to find the perfect place to make a life for their new family. What begins as a series of vignettes on the variety of parents they encounter on their journey (including Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, and Paul Schneider) soon evolves into an in-depth examination of the anxieties that accompany impending parenthood and the variety of approaches to raising children that exist. Grounded with aplomb by Director Sam Mendes, and backed by a soundtrack from Alexi Murdoch, Away We Go manages to be both touching and very funny in its look at what makes parents, what binds them to their children, what keeps them up at night, and what finally helps them to realize they are on the right track.

7. (500) Days of Summer-Tom Hansen (the always excellent Joseph Gordon Levitt) thinks he was meant to be with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), a beguiling, commitment-phobic beauty from the greeting card company where he works. The trouble is the two have just broken up. Told out of order and spanning the titular 500 days in the life of its characters, the film examines the ups and downs, ins and outs and all other aspects of a relationship from its first kiss to what may be a last goodbye. From the beginning the narrator informs you that this movie is not a love story; in fact it’s something much more meaningful. It’s a film about how we see ourselves, the plans we make for our lives, the people we want to be and the people we end up being. (500) Days of Summer is an in-depth look at how different people approach love, and how various approaches can lead to disastrous, or sometimes wonderful results.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox-There is no doubt that when you walk into a Wes Anderson movie, you know what you’re getting. Over his five previous films, he has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most unique auteurs, developing an inimitable style that makes each of his movies unmistakably his. That Fantastic Mr. Fox can be undeniably Andersonian and also a fairly close adaptation of the excellent Roald Dahl book from which it originated is a testament to his whimsical ability as a director, and to the lasting power of the story. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a retired thief working as a columnist and living happily with his wife (Meryl Streep) and son (Jason Schwartzman) when he decides to recruit his neighbor (Wally Wolodarsky) for one last big heist, from the evil farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (lead by a nefarious Michael Gambon). Co-Starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker and Willem Dafoe, the movie is wonderfully verbose, subtly clever, occasionally hysterically funny, whimsical, endearing, and occasionally wise in its meditation on the animal that resides in all of us, and how its hard to let our glory days go, but even harder to deny that with a little help from family and friends, and yes, a pretty fantastic fox, anything is possible.

5. Big Fan-Paul (Patton Oswalt) is a parking attendant by day and a Giants super-fan by night, calling in to deliver pre-planned diatribes on the team’s successes and their opponents failures. His life is small, but he is happy, until he runs into his personal hero, the team’s quarter back and is beaten to a pulp by him. In the aftermath of the incident, Paul must deal with the medical, legal, and personal fallout from the beating, as well as the ethical and moral dilemmas that come along with the choice between damaging his team and damaging himself. Oswalt is tremendous as a man with a tenuous grip on everything he loves, divided between his faith and the reality that keeps being imposed on him. At its heart, Big Fan (written and directed by The Wrestler scribe Robert Siegel) is a meditation on how far faith can drive us, and of what we are willing to do to cling to the things that make us comfortable. The film also exists as a darkly comic, often tragic examination on the potential differences between what we want for ourselves and what we “should” want, on the role that faith plays in our lives, and on the tension that often exists between happiness and truth.

4. Up-From the moving montage that opens the movie through its thrilling final set-piece, Up is a gem of a movie. Telling the story of the recently widowed Carl (Ed Asner) and his quest to make it the one place he and his wife always hoped to travel, with a young wilderness explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) in tow, the movie does not shy away or pull any punches in its look at the effects of death, the process of grief, and the potential to find joy again in life. Both Carl and Russell are broken down and abandoned, Carl by his beloved wife and Russell by his neglectful father, yet together they manage to find a way back into happiness, as well as a rollicking adventure involving a dastardly explorer, a multi-colored bird and talking dogs. The movie is as thought-provoking as it is hilarious, and as exciting as it is heartwarming, proving that, for now at least, Pixar can do no wrong.

3. In the Loop-Arguably the greatest political satire since Dr. Strangelove, In the Loop is a scathing, brilliant, quick witted, black as midnight on a moonless night look at the political machinations of the western world as it teeters on the brink of armed conflict in the Middle East. When a fairly powerless British politico (Tom Hollander) accidentally claims that war is “unforeseeable” he is pulled into a complex web of political plotting, back-stabbing, scheming and lobbying that drags him across the pond and into a spotlight he never desired. Filled with characters as verbally vicious as they are verbose, including a spin doctor (a hilarious Peter Capaldi) prone to profanity filled rants, In the Loop is an uncompromising and hysterical look at how history can be shaped via the foibles of a few, and how mountains can be moved with just one misplaced word.

2. The Hurt Locker- The story of a bomb-squad assigned to disengage IED’s in Baghdad, The Hurt Locker is almost unrelentingly tense as it follows the squad (played by Jeremy Renner, in an Oscar worthy performance, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) through several of their missions and through some time on the base during one of their tours. Renner’s leader is a creature of conflict, exuding an invincible swagger and a disregard for protocol that would feel right at home in an action movie, but often seems insane in the hyper-real setting here. The character is doubtlessly a hero, but the question of what toll his work takes on him weighs hard on his soul, and adds another layer of tension to the already boiling film. Gritty, daring, horrifying and thought-provoking, Director Katheryn Bigelow has made a movie that both respects the soldiers it examines and stops short of canonizing them, showing that these are men who do heroic things in the service of their country, but at a great cost to themselves and those around them.

1. A Serious Man-Larry Gopnik (a stellar Michael Stuhlbarg) is a man of Job-like proportions. His wife wants a divorce, his son is smoking pot, a student is trying to bribe him, his brother is having a breakdown, an anonymous letter writer hopes to deprive him of tenure and on, and on, and on. The Coen Brothers craft the film as a parable about Larry’s visits to three Rabbis, to whom he looks for spiritual guidance, and who provide him with a series of muddled messages and absurd anecdotes. Larry is beset on all sides by tragedy and misfortune, and finds that in a world with no higher meaning, the lyrics to a Jefferson Airplane song can have as much meaning as the words of the Torah. The film coats its disaffected nihilism in a sheen of sympathy for its hapless protagonist, and never ceases to be hilarious and intriguing as a recording of one man’s quest for meaning in a world that may be without it. Funny, philosophical, and finally surprisingly affecting A Serious Man is a movie more about the questions we should be asking than the answers we may find when we decide to look.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jordan's Review: Dollhouse, Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10: Stop Loss/ The Attic

Dollhouse continued its sprint toward the finale tonight, churning out two more episodes that were mind-blowingly brilliant, more than a little scary, occasionally hilarious, and pretty much non-stop awesome. The show has been forced to move at breakneck speed since the cancellation was announced (though they were probably prepared for it with these episodes far before it became official), but rather than simplify their themes or dumb down the story they have been trying to tell since day one, Whedon and co. have managed to fit more into each hour they have left than i owuld have thought possible.

"Stop Loss," the first episode tonight, centers around Victor (aka Anthony) being released back into the real world after his contract expires. The episode begins with Adelle, still at the height of her evil reign, trying to get one last roger from "Roger," the imprint she made Victor into to satisfy her need for companionship. Unfortunately for her, even Victor's imprints are inexplicably tied to Sierra, and unwilling to consummate the farce that is his programmed fling with Adelle. His release rocks the Dollhouse, as Sierra is unwilling to believe Victor would abandon her, and Echo is upset because she intended to use Victor in her efforts to free everyone from the clutches of Rossum. Victor (as I'll call him to minimize the mind-fuckery) is released back into his life as a soldier from Afghanistan who suffered severe PTSD and agreed to become a doll to have it cured, but he doesn't exactly know how to begin living again. He sleeps in his bath tub because it resembles his pod from the Dollhouse, andalmost hits on a woman at a bar because she looks vaguely like Sierra. He is vulnerable and lost, and so its no surprise that Rossum takes advantage of that, recruiting him to become part of their Blackwateresque military division and join the hive-mind that comprises it.

Refusing to lose Victor, even in spite of "Cruella DeWitt" and her direct orders to the contrary, Topher and Ivy load Echo up with all of the military savvy and fighting skills they have, and also equip her with Sierra (re-imprinted as Priya) so that she can infiltrate and bring Victor back. Adelle is too busy binge-drinking away her guilt over her ethical missteps and immoral directives to notice, and Echo and Priya manage to get into the compound where the hive mind live and bring Victor out of its control. What follows is a pretty kick ass action set-piece in which Victor (and later Echo) try to use the advantage of the hive mind against other people within it. This leads to a fair amount of doppleganger fighting, but it all coems off without a hitch, and allows Dushku to kick ass just as God intended. Once they escape, she intends to set Victor and Sierra (Anthony and Priya) free to start their lives together, until they are all remote wiped and taken back to the Dollhouse. There, Adelle, at her seemingly most heartless, condemns them all to the one place they fear above all else: The Attic.

It was inevitable that we would see the attic eventually, but it was far less definite that it would be this cool. Remniscient of "Restless," one of my favorite episodes of Buffy, The Attic is actually a place where its denizens are forced to repeat nightmares that feed on their greatest fears, in the process powering Rossum's mainframe. Echo learns this when she is attakced by a thing known as Arcane and saved by an unlikely ally in Lawrence Dominic. Seeing the return of the now haggard, but determined Dominic (still played excellently by Reed Diamond) was enoguh to get me pumped, but what followed was even cooler. It seems every mind in the Attic is somehow connected through the mainframe, and Arcane has been hunting people within their own minds and murdering them (if you die in the Matrix...).

Dominic has become something of a rogue hero, hunting Arcane and trying to stop him from murdering those trapped in the Attic. So Echo and Dominic leap from brain to brain, and are showed some wonderfully creepy nightmares, the best (and worst) of which centers around a Japanese former Rossum-tech who is condemned to eat himself sushi style for all of time (when Arcan slashes his throat, his last words add to the creep factor: "Now the meat won't be fresh."). Priya's nightmare involves her sleeping with Victor, only to have him transformed into the rotting corpse of Nolan ("rigor mortis is the new Viagra"), while Anthony (I can't stop thinking of him as Victor!) dreams of fighting himself in an Afghanistan-like setting.

Once Echo, Sierra, Victor, and Dominic track Arcane to his own mind, they find themselves in a post-apocalyptic future much like we saw in "Epitaph One" and discover that Arcane is really a man named Clyde, one of the foudner's of Rossum. After imprinting a body with "Clyde 2.0" a version of himself made to only follow order, her was betrayed by his best friend, the other Rossum founder and left to the Attic to calculate what his tech will do (he has found that all but 3% of scenarios lead to the end of civilization). Echo finally realizes that flat-lining is the only way out of the Attic, and prepares the others to follow her. Dominic and Clyde decide to stay behind and continue working to shut down the mainframe from inside the Attic, while Echo, Victor and Sierra battle Rossum in the real world. Once they emerge, it is discovered that Adelle has been playing the long-game all along, pretending to be soulless evil to get Echo access to the mainframe inside the Attic, where she has learned many of Rossum's secrets. Now our team at the L.A. Dollhouse is ready to stand against Rossum, with the help of the ever mysterious Caroline Farrell (who has apparently had access to the Rossum inner-circle) who must be re-imprinted into Echo to prepare them for the fight to come.

Grade: A

-That's technically 6 episodes of Dollhouse in a row I've given an A, yet thinking about it, they have all deserved it. With Mad Men on hiatus until next summer, Dollhouse has until the end of January to enjoy its reign as the best show on television.

-Forgot to mention Ballard who, as I suspected, has become imprinted with himself. But something had to be removed from him in the process, and its clearly a pretty important something.

-"That joke went under my head."

-Darth Vader kills lieutenenants, not storm troopers."

-"I have seen the future, Mr. Langton, and it is not for the weak."

-"Why do you call yourself Arcane?" "It sounded badass."

-"2010 I think. We don't know how long we've been off the air." A nice little meta-joke at Fox's expense.

-So, there are some clear suspects as to who Clyde 2.0 is and who the real man behind Rossum is, but there is always a chance we're in for some new characters...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2008

Continuing my ongoing quest through the last decade in film, here are my top ten of 2008, with a brief summary of each:

10. Frost/Nixon- Screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) seems to find inspiration, and a unique view of how the last century played out, through various examinations of the relationships between important and powerful people. This time around, with Director Ron Howard behind the camera, he examines the clash of the titans between media savvy playboy David Frost (Michael Sheen) and disgraced former president and intellectual giant Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, who was nominated for an Oscar for the role). Both men are searching for redemption as they begin the interview at the movies center—Frost wants to prove he is more than just a lightweight entertainer who is only fit to interview starlets, and Nixon wants to redeem himself in the eyes of America after the Watergate scandal—and both men have absolutely everything to lost if it doesn’t go well. Co-starring Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, and Oliver Platt, the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Editing, and exists as an excellent meditation on regret, redemption, the elusive nature of truth, and the important function that the media plays in our lives for better or worse.

9. Hamlet 2-Grossly underrated at the time of its release and grossly under seen since, Hamlet 2 is a cult classic waiting to be discovered. Dana Marschz (a hilarious Steve Coogan, in one of the best comedic performances in recent memory) is a failed actor stuck teaching high school drama and in a dead end marriage with an acerbic wife (Catherine Keener, who makes the most of her small screen time) who barely conceals her disappointment. When the theater program is threatened with cancellation, Dana pulls out all the stops to create the most controversial work of fiction in the history of Tuscon Arizona High School Theater—a sequel to Hamlet that features a time machine, group sex, Elton John, swordfights, Jesus Christ, and a surprisingly apt examination of the nature of father-son relationships and the damage they can cause. Filled with rapid-fire dialogue, absurd occurrences, a solid supporting cast (including Elizabeth Shue, Amy Poehler, David Arquette and Phoebe Strole) and one of the most hilarious soundtracks of all time, Hamlet 2 will be the movie you can’t believe you haven’t seen ten years from now.

8. Rachel Getting Married-Anne Hathaway earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Kym, an addict out of rehab for her sister’s wedding and out to steal the spotlight just as she always does. What could easily have slipped into melodrama and overindulgence is played with a documentary-style and realistic pacing by director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) which occasionally leads to lags in pacing, but which fully immerses you in the world of the family at its center. Rachel (an Oscar worthy Rosemarie DeWitt) is tired of dealing with Kym, who has long since lost her family’s trust and faith in her recovery, and just wants to have a quiet celebration of the love she’s found with Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe, of TV on the Radio fame). The family patriarch Paul (Bill Irwin) just hopes to gloss over past pain and put a smile on everything, as does his new wife (Anna Deavere Smith). Yet the girls’ mother (an excellent Debra Winger) and a past tragedy that still colors the family’s interactions linger over every scene and threaten to botch the perfectly laid plans. Far from wallowing in melancholy, Rachel Getting Married manages to celebrate the joy that has brought this couple together and the undying affection that binds families together through marriage, providing at atmosphere that is alternately celebratory and filled with the melancholy that comes with the sins of the past and the long road to redemption that is never without its bumps.

7. The Visitor-After years of hanging in the background as a scene stealing character actor often ignored and underrated, Richard Jenkins (Burn After Reading, television’s Six Feet Under) finally got the chance to be a leading man, and proved he has always had what it takes, walking away with an Oscar nomination for his performance as Walter Vale, a depressive professor who lives a solitary life until he discovers two illegal immigrants have taken up residence in his seldom-used New York apartment. Tarek Khalil (Haaz Sleiman) is an Arab drummer with an African girlfriend (Danai Gurira) who is understandably paranoid about the arrival of Walter. Tarek and Walter strike up an unlikely friendship as the former teaches the latter how to play the drums, but their newfound bond is threatened when Tarek is arrested and placed in a detention center for illegal immigrants. As Walter springs into action to save his friend from deportation, he forms a tentative friendship that borders on something more with Tarek’s mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass) and discovers the importance of friendship, loyalty, and finding something to live for. A closely drawn character study of a subdued man plagued by a quiet angst and longing for something to draw him out of his monotonous life, The Visitor rarely missteps as it provides us a window into his life, as well as a different perspective on a hot button political issue.

6. The Wrestler-Mickey Rourke was born (and surgically deformed) to play the role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an ex-pro wrestler dying to get back into the game if only because his life outside the ring leaves something to be desired. It’s no surprise, therefore, that he picked up an Oscar nomination for the role, which he imbues with a tragic persistence and a dawning self-awareness that his life isn’t what it once was, and might never have been that much at all. On top of trying to break back into the business, he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter (a surprisingly solid Evan Rachel Wood) and carries on a flirtation with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the role) who seems a whole lot less affectionate when he isn’t slipping her money. The Wrestler is an examination of people who make their living off of their bodies, and what happens when those bodies age beyond use, but further than that, the movie (Directed by Darren Aronofsky) looks at what dreams are made of, and how much we end up giving up in our pursuit of that one day at the top.

5. Doubt-Writer-Director John Patrick Shanley adapted his own play (and received a best Adapted Screenplay nomination for his effort) which tells the story of a conservative nun of the old guard (a phenomenally icy Meryl Streep, who was nominated for Best Actress) and her struggle against a progressive Priest (Best Actor nominated Phillip Seymour Hoffman) whom she accuses of molesting a little boy, based mostly on circumstantial evidence and a hunch provided by a meek younger nun (Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams). Rounding out the pitch-perfect cast is Viola Davis (who, unsurprisingly was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her brief, but compelling scene) as the boy’s mother who seems less concerned with the accusations than she is with her son’s place at the otherwise all-white school. Complex, and thematically dense, the film’s quick-fire back and forth as Streep cross-examines Hoffman and pushes the church to the edge tackles issues of morality, authority, the reach of religion, and the amount of skepticism we fail to breed into our daily lives and our examinations of some of the most important issues of our day.

4. Synecdoche, New York-To call Synecdoche, New York, the directorial debut of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, a dense mind-fuck of a movie would probably qualify as an understatement, yet beneath the layers of absurdism and meta-textualism the movie is a startlingly deep meditation on mortality, love, regret, and the passage of time (as well as basically any other theme of philosophical question you can imagine). Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in another amazing performance) is a mildly successful playwright living in the New York suburbs with his wife (Catherine Keener) and his daughter. Yet when he wins a MacArthur Genius Grant, he sets out to make a play about life as a whole, building a replica city inside a warehouse and filling it with actors playing fictional versions of the real life people who populate his life. Co-starring Tom Noonan, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Michelle Williams, the film manages to be surprisingly witty and deeply poignant as it searches for the meaning behind artistic endeavors, behind the fleeting nature of romance, and in the way our lives slip away from us as we focus on minutiae and miss the big picture entirely.

3. WALL-E-I have said it before, and will hopefully say it many more times before it becomes wrong, but Pixar does not make bad movies. WALL-E opens on a desolate, trash-choked and abandoned Earth, where the titular robot has spent centuries in isolation, silently sifting through trash by day, and developing a personality via a collection of human refuse and an obsession with Hello, Dolly! that gets him through the lonely nights. When a shiny new robot named EVE arrives on the planet, she threatens WALL-E’s way of life, but more than that, gives him a chance to leave his lonely existence behind. What follows is an endlessly adorable robot romance, that also doubles as an (occasionally too obvious) examination on the consumer greed and environmental ignorance that lead to the apocalypse depicted in the film. As WALL-E struggles to win the heart of his beloved, he also becomes part of a greater redemptive struggle by humanity as a whole, and the result is heartwarming, hilarious, and beautifully rendered.

2. Milk- My dislike of Sean Penn is well known, so when I say that he fully deserved his Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, it should not be taken lightly. Penn imbues Milk with a sense of purpose and grandeur, but beyond that a sense of humor and humility as he strives for equality as the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. After moving to San Francisco with his boyfriend (James Franco), Milk embarks on a populist quest to gain respect, and civil rights, for the growing gay community in the city. Lurking at the edge of his quest is the strait laced conservative Dan White (Josh Brolin, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the role), who opposes Harvey politically, and later devolves into a depressive insanity that leads the film to its tragic conclusion. The film won Best Original Screenplay, and was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (for Gus Van Sant), Best Editing, Best Costumes, and Best Music for its endlessly compelling portrayal of a struggle that began on the streets of San Francisco and still continues across our nation today.

1. The Dark Knight-After solidly molding a Batman origin story in Batman Begins, Director Christopher Nolan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan) returns with the greatest super hero movie of all time. Months after the last film ended, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still working the night-shift as Batman, and searching for a flesh and bones hero who can save the city by bringing it the hope and legitimacy that his vigilante never could. He finds his strongest candidate in the tough on crime new DA Harvey Dent (a phenomenal and underrated Aaron Eckhart), who along with the morally unimpeachable cop James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is waging a war against organized crime in the city. Their struggle is complicated by the arrival on the scene of the terrifyingly nihilistic “engine of chaos” that is the Joker (Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his stellar performance), who believes that anarchy is the only way to live in a world without rules. The Joker sees life as one dark joke, and its punch line is the terror he inflicts and the death toll he racks up. The film also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and combines some of the best action set pieces of the decade with the thematic scope of a great novel and more depth than any movie in its genre has ever tried. More than just a titanic battle between good and evil over the soul of a troubled city, The Dark Knight is an examination of existentialism versus nihilism, order versus chaos, and vigilantism versus the often failed attempts of a broken system to do good. The film may be a super-hero movie on its face, but beneath the surface lies an epic and a tragedy of greater proportions than most, and of greater resonance than any other movie of the year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 11: Last Cigarette Ever

I have complained before, mostly because I have had many reasons too so far this season, that in my mind the cardinal sin an episode of How I Met Your Mother can make is to violate continuity. On some shows, this is not an issue, or would be only a minor slight, but this show has always prided itself on a meticulous attention to the details of its mythology. Pictures change in the background during flashbacks, obscure jokes from seasons back are brought up again, and there is a strong sense of the intertextual throughout the series, so when it messes up, I am always there as the continuity police to rant and rave as if it mattered much more than it actually does.

Tonight's lapse in continuity was ingrained into the very plot of the episode, which to me makes it all the more insulting. Tonight, we find out that every member of the cast is a smoker, has been throughout the series, and will be until differing times in the future. Robin has always been a smoker, and this is a well the show has gone to several times throughout. I would not be at all surprised to find that Barney smokes, because, well, he's Barney. We have known Lily to smoke a single cigarette in the show's history (on her werdding day, when everything was spiraling out of control) and that was seen as sort of shocking at the time. Fine, I'll accept the random admission that Marshall smokes, because why not? But Ted has always been firmly anti-smoking, to the point that Robin had to hide it from him when they were together, even as much as she had to hide her gun-loving ways. It could be argued that the ridiculous judments the gang visits on each other while they all smoke during this episode cover for that, but I don't buy it. The writers wanted to do an episode where everyone was a smoker, and they did, disregarding continuity in the process.

The whole plotline seemed sort of useless. I know that not every episode can bring us closer to Ted finding the mother, and I like it when the show at least tries (as it did during the ending monologue this week) to tie the events of an episode in to continuity, but this week the whole thing felt very sitcom-y. Adding a new character trait for every single cast member out of the blue and creating an entire episode centered around that trait, only to (I assume, and hope I'm proved wrong here) never mention said trait again is something I consider below this show, which tends to make the best of its sitcom conventions and often, at its best, subverts them for new levels of comedy and pathos.

All of that being said though, the episode did tie up nicely, with the discovery that Robin will quit smoking permanently in 2013, Barney in 2017, Lily when she tries to get pregnant, Marshall when his son is born (so they have a son!) and Ted right after he meets the mother. It is evidence of how invested in this show I am that even a mention of the master plot like this makes my heart warm a little and my anger at shoddy plotting and poor continuity melts slightly when I know that someday, we will see Ted through to that last cigarette, and into the arms of the woman he will spend the rest of his life with. For now though, the show hasn't proven that it's found a way out of this slump, even after last week's marked improvement in quality. I hope that when the show returns next year, it makes use of the second half of the season to get back to form as one of the best comedies on television. For now, let's just latch on to the little master-plot we got an hope there are better days ahead.

Grade: C+


-In Minnesota, it snows in summer. Which, reminds me that this is the second "Marshall Time Travels" joke in as many weeks, even if it is in a fantasy sequence.

-"Is this about the Mcrib? Its gone dude, let it go."

-We also learn tonight that Robin and Don will be together within three months. I love when the show gives us a hint at what's to come so we can follow along as it builds there. I can't help but thinking that the grade would have been inflated slightly if we had been given a hint at when Marshall and Lily will have their baby, just for the sake of the flash-forwarding fun. Though, simultaneously, I don't want that baby to come anytime soon. The last thing this show needs right now is a baby.

-"He fired what's his face, Ted! And what's his face was invaluable!" I'm glad Bob Odenkirk is back, even if he was underused.

-"We already have four Viking's lamps, and smoking kills!"

-"I think that hot girl over there is smiling at me." "That's a chair, but yeah, dude, hit that."

-Lily and Marshall are both convinced that Robin wants to sleep with him.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jordan's Review: Dexter, Season 4, Episode 12: The Getaway

There are no two ways about it: "The Getaway" is a game changer. After a season of middling episodes, plagued by stupid plots and water-treading, this finale single handedly changed everything Dexter as a series will be about, and also forever altered Dexter as a character. The show has previously dealt with the metaphor of Dexter's dark passenger as an addiction, but never before has our hero considered trying to break free of the drug. Before tonight, Dexter was content to keep his dark side hidden from the world, but now he wants to be rid of it once and for all.

Much of the episode is standard finale fair, as Dexter stays just a step ahead of Miami Metro in his quest to bring Arthur Mitchell to his table and rid the world of the Trinity killer, who has destroyed many more lives than just those of his victims. Watching Dexter actually get arrested, seeing him barely avoid being caught at Trinity's house before the police, and hearing that glorious comeback to last week's ending when he said, "hello Arthur Mitchell" was all the stuff of a great Dexter episode. but beyond that, just beneath the surface, was Dexter's burgeoning realization that life is what we make of it, and that he can change the man he is. I always worried the series would get too soft, and leave us with a happy, perfectly adjusted Dexter at the end, and while it seems we're headed toward a less murderous man (as this season has, in retrospect, subtly hinted at throughout with the lack of killing) I can't say we'll get there with a happy Dexter in tow.

The table scene was easily the most meaningful and intriguing we've seen since Dexter killed his own brother in Season One, as Arthur and Dexter discussed free will versus determinism, and Arthur's belief that they, as killers, are part of God's plan, doomed to follow his will while in turn being barred form heaven because of it. Dexter does not think this way; he hopes now that he can change the person he is. There is a tragedy to viewing the scene straight on, as Dexter sympathetically turns on the toy train and Arthur's favorite record before dispatching him, but even moreso once the show reveals what Arthur knew all along: he had already killed Rita, Dexter's chance at perfect happiness and adjustment, and left Dexter's infant son sitting in a puddle of his mother's blood.

Dexter now exists as a single father to three children who are doomed to be fucked up, even as he struggles against the serial killer living within him, and tries to be a better man in a world that constantly throw temptation at him, fueling the fire inside him even as he tries to put it out. Having Dexter struggle against the hand that "fate" has dealt him, and try to be better than the world ever wants him to be is about as fascinating a development as this show could have taken in this episode. Not only did it create a twist that bowled me over, the episode also set up the direction that this series wil ltake in seasons to come, and made me very, very excited for the show that Dexter will be when it returns next year.

Grade: A


-"I have to be the one to kill him!" Dexter sounded more like an addict tonight than ever before, but I think the show has been subtly setting the pieces up for this move for over a season now. I feel I haven't been giving Dexter enough credit, and perhaps a subsequent viewing will make me see this plan has been at play for a while.

-What sort of cell phones do they have on this show? Are they for people going blind? The lettering is so huge, and the text messages pop up automatically...they are insane!

-"I prayed to be changed, to be made different." "That's not trying, that's waiting for change." Dexter taking the other route and actually working towards change has created an even more fascinating protagonist than the series already had. If the show pulls off the road its headed down, he may stand the test of time as one of the great characters in the history of the medium.

-"Nothing is inevitable."

-"Life doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be lived."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jordan's Review: Dollhouse, Season 2, Episodes 7 and 8: Meet Jane Doe/A Love Supreme

Dollhouse is clearly gearing up toward its finale next month, and in that spirit, "Meet Jane Doe" does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of moving the plot. We begin as Echo wanders through the world, scrounging for food in her Doll-like state, and then leap a pretty shocking three months ahead to find that the pieces have moved immensely in the interim. Echo has developed an anti-Dollhouse agenda and spent most of her time trying to break a woman out of prison (she was an immigrant who Echo stole food to feed, and she's being abused by some prison guards that haven't heard of the Constitution, including Glenn Morshower, who solidly plays a character that is pretty much the direct inverse of his chivalrous Aaron Pierce over on 24) and training with Ballard for what's to come. Meanwhile Matthew Harding has stripped Adelle of her house, taking it over himself and moving things inexirably toward the future we've seen in "Epitaph One."

Echo's quest to free the woman from jail reminds me perfectly that the show can be just as thrilling and tense as it is intellectually stimulating, and watching Echo shift through personality's was a bit like seeing Heroes done right--her power to adapt through the numerous people she stores in her, and her newfound sense of self (and sense of humor) makes her into a character I actually sort of love. This makes things vastly more interesting, as Caroline has always been very unlikable, and at some point in the remaining weeks the struggle for which personality will end up in control of the body is going to come to a head (if I had to guess, I would assume either some sort of amalgamation will end up being "Caroline" or that Echo will nobly sacrifice herself for the bland bitch who inhabited the body first. But then again, this show continues to surprise me, so who knows what'll happen next?).

While Echo struggles to deal with the realities of the real world, Adelle works to regain control of her house by any means necessary, including turning plans for remote imprints that Topher figured out over to Harding. Adelle has forsaken the idea of being ethical, as she has realized that Rossum has too much power at this point to actively resist them. So, for the moment at least, she has sold her sould and sacked up with the bad guys, turning herseld into "the coldest bitch on the planet" and locking Echo up without a treatment when she returns to the house.

"A Love Supreme" began with the kind of monologue a movie might open with, as we learned of a man who programmed a woman to love him, and then found that he loved her back. He blew his whole fortune on spending time with her, and now lives in a trailer, where he is telling his story to none other than Alpha. It was clear that Alan Tudyk would be back before the end of the series, but they was he returned was more thrilling and amusing than I could have hoped. It seems Alpha is out to kill all of Echo's previous romantic engagements, including (fortunately for us viewers) Patton Oswalt's Joel Mynor. Mynor's return was a treat in an of itself, but the idea that he has stopped using the Dollhouse and moved on, only to see his dead wife (mostly) walk up to him and force him back into that world was interesting, and played with both humor and pathos by Oswalt, who continues to prove his depth as an actor.

Of course, Patton was just the bait, and when Alpha pulled the switch and took on Ballard, things exploded even further. It is a testament to the strength of these hours that I alredy truly believe Echo's love for Ballard, and sympathize with her pain at his condition. We have seen the future, however, and know that Ballard will make it back at some point (Though I wonder if it might just be an imprint of Ballard into his own body). The scene at the end of the episode, when Joel says goodbye to "Rebecca" for the last time was on par with anthing else this show has done in terms of creating a realistic interactions between two characters in a very unreal situation, and while Oswalt did the heavy lifting, I will give credit where it is due and allow that Dusku was pretty solid tonight as well.

Dollhouse may be coming to an end, but it seems determined to go out with a bang, giving us some of the best television I've seen in years in the process, and leaving me excited beyond belief for what's to come.

Grade: A


-I loved Topher remote wiping VIctor and Sierra as they started making out. He just looked so annoyed.

-"I have to ask. Did you ever think of just imprinting a doll to kill me?" "I like to think I would have done it myself."

-"You want to know the saddest part? Its the ending." Tudyk is just phenomenal, and his Alpha gets to be funny and scary at the same time.

-"what does that make her? What is she?" Topher asking the questions of the series.

-"' Not tonight honey, I have a headache' is not really one of the excuses we allow our actives." Which should be enough to tip you off that what you're doing is wrong...

-"So she's a serial killer?" "Only a little."

-"I am obsolete. This must be what old people feel like. And blockbuster."

-Sierra and Victor didn't have much to do, but Victor's creepy psychologist, and Sierra's noirish gangster's moll were both a treat to watch.

-"I said it was a blast." "Who doesn't love a pun?"

-"You have to put it together?" "Its the Manufacturing Room, not the Its Finished Room!"

-"Your boyfriend is dead. Wanna snuggle? Too soon?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2007

Continuing my quest through the last decade in film, here are my top ten of the phenomenal year 2007, with a brief summary of each:

10. Hot Fuzz-Three years after taking on the zombie genre in Shaun of the Dead and creating a brand new amalgamation of hilarity, heart, and horror, Simon Pegg and writing partner Edgar Wright returned with Hot Fuzz, a hysterical and often brilliant take on the buddy cop genre. Sergeant Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) is good at his job. So good in fact that he is making the rest of the London police force look bad, and is soon transferred to a small town, where he is partnered with the drunken, doltish movie lover Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). When suspicious accidents begin occurring all over town, the two investigate and get pulled into a conspiracy that leads to a thrilling and hilarious climactic battle. Hot Fuzz manages to use parody to create a film better than most recent entries in the genre it’s spoofing.

9. The Darjeeling Limited- When director Wes Anderson released his fifth film, many critics decried it as more of the same. The story of three estranged brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody) on a train voyage across India that goes expectedly awry is similar to Anderson’s other work, exploring the dynamics of dysfunctional families, the melancholy that occasionally accompanies entitlement, and a sort of earnest hopefulness that the world is as romantic and magical as we hope. Yet Anderson steeped the film in a reverence for India’s beautiful scenery and vibrant culture, creating another work in his expanding oeuvre of emotionally affecting, subtly hilarious examinations of the flaws we try to hide, and the way we come to triumph over them with a little help from those we love.

8. Waitress-Jenna (Keri Russell, in an Oscar worthy performance) is unhappily married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto), and even more unhappily pregnant with his child. The only joy she gets is her job at a local pie shop, where she works alongside Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Director Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered before the film’s release), serving pies to a variety of customer’s including the cantankerous owner Old Joe (Andy Griffith). When Jenna meets her new Doctor (Nathan Fillion) and falls into an unlikely and often awkward affair, she realizes she may have one last shot at happiness. Unrelentingly optimistic, deeply heartfelt, often hilarious, and almost too cute for its own good, Waitress proves that it is never too late to get what you want, if only you’re willing to go for it.

7. The Savages-Wendy Savage (Laura Linney, in an Oscar nominated role) is an aspiring (read: failed) playwright in a go-nowhere affair with a married man. Her brother Jon (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater professor in Buffalo, working on an unwanted biography of Bertolt Brecht. The two are estranged from each other, but even further so from the father (Philip Bosco) who abandoned them in their youth. They have him tucked in a retirement community in Arizona until his wife dies and his cantankerous behavior gets him kicked out. Now it’s up to Jon and Wendy to determine what to do with their father, who, contrary to many movies of this sort is not looking for redemption and forgiveness in his old age. That their father is just as much a miserable bastard as ever does not change the fact that his children must take the high road and determine how best to care for him without increasing their guilt. What follows is an often nihilistic look at a lose-lose situation for a family where no one is who they hoped they would be. Fortunately, The Savages (which was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay) tackles its depressing premise with a darkly biting wit that renders the movie as funny as it is heart-wrenchingly sad, and as thought-provoking as it is honest in its depiction of aging, the prospect of death, and the often unwanted responsibilities that elderly parents can heave upon their children.

6. Charlie Wilson’s War- Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a good-‘ol-boy from Texas with a love of booze and an insatiable appetite for women. In addition to that, however, he happens to have a brilliant political mind. When he discovers the plight of the Afghan people, who are battling against the Soviets, he sets out to get them all the support he can. With the help of two unlikely allies, a gruff CIA operative (Oscar nominated Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a right-wing socialite (Julia Roberts), Wilson begins providing the Afghans with the arms that will eventually provide them the means to attack us. The script by Aaron Sorkin provides plenty of laughs along the way, but also gives just enough tragedy and pathos to remind us that Wilson’s victories will in fact come back to bite us 20 years later.

5. Enchanted-Slyly parodying decades of standard princess fair, Enchanted tells the story of Gisele (Amy Adams) who hopes to marry a handsome prince (James Marsden) but is banished by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon) who fears that Gisele will usurp her throne. Cast into the live-action world of modern day New York, the princess finds and falls for a lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) with just the right level of cynicism. Occasionally cloying, but often just the right amount of adorable for a Disney film, Enchanted also has the edge of understanding exactly the type of movie it’s trying to be, and thus manages to simultaneously create the best movie Disney has done (without the aid of Pixar, that is) in years and to poke fun at what the studio has been doing since its humble beginnings.

4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street-If Stephen Sondheim’s nihilistic and witty musical had to be made into a movie, Director Tim Burton was the man to do it. Casting Johnny Depp in the role of the barber who was wrongfully banished when a Judge (the perfectly cast Alan Rickman) decided to steal his wife and daughter away from him, Burton brings his own gothic sensibilities to telling the often macabre tale of the barber’s revenge. Sweeney is soon teamed with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter, proving once again that she and Tim Burton are a match made in Heaven), who conspires with him to save her ailing pie business. Sweeney will practice his murderous ways on unsuspecting customers, and she will make his victims into pies which she will pass off to more unsuspecting customers as a secret recipe. Sweeney Todd is a standard examination of revenge and its repercussions, writ larger by its focus on the sympathetic portions of the monsters at its center. The characters may all be headed toward a calamitous end, and each may deserve what they have coming, but that doesn’t mean they don’t yearn for more, hoping that they can escape the grime filled world that entraps them and get back the optimism they lost with their youth.

3. Juno-Screenwriter Diablo Cody (who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the script) has spent the years since squandering the good will she earned with it, but no matter how annoying she becomes, no one can take away the gem of a movie she created with Juno, the story of a precocious (Sometimes too precocious) pregnant 16-year-old (Oscar nominee Ellen Page, who carries the movie beyond its often grating dialogue and into much deeper emotional wells) who decides to keep the baby and give it up for adoption. The couple she chooses (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) are not as perfect as they seem (she is a bit too type-A and a little desperate for a child, he is a responsibility shirking man-child with creepy feelings toward Juno), which complicates a situation that is already harder than a girl her age should have to bear. Trying to navigate the complicated waters of impending motherhood while dealing with her feelings for the child’s father (Michael Cera), Juno learns about life, love, and responsibility while making the best of a bad situation. Hilariously touching and genuinely sweet, Juno doesn’t back away from its characters’ flaws but provides them all a way to happiness never the less.

2. There Will Be Blood-It’s the story of America that hard work and a bit of business savvy can make a man rich. Following that idea to its ugliest, most amoral endpoint is Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful story of Daniel Plainview (Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis in a towering and terrifying performance) and his endless quest for oil, and with it, riches. His ruthless business dealings put him into conflict with a charismatic preacher on the rise in the small community Plainview is about to rob of their oil supply. There Will Be Blood is an unforgiving epic, made so by its scope and the intensity of its focus on a single man’s spiritual death and tormented mental state, and by its larger implications for a country often strangled by capitalistic intentions and positively drowning in the need for oil.

1. No Country For Old Men- As Sherriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) prepares to retire from a job he can no longer perform in a world that has grown to violent and evil for his old fashioned sensibility, a trail of bodies begins to pile up in the wake of Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) after he absconds with $2 million in drug money from the scene of a shootout. Hot on his tail is the bleakly moral and brutally efficient hired gun Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar winning role). The Coen Brother’s film (which also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) races along like a rocket, providing some of the most intense scenes in cinematic history. But beneath its surface lie deep lasting questions about human nature, the unrelenting existence of evil, and the attractiveness of nihilism in a world where all roads lead to death.

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 7: Secret Santa

After arguing last week that those who say 30 Rock has lost its magic are being too harsh, the show set out to make a fool of me, delivering a pretty subpar holiday episode with far too many plotlines that fell entirely flat. In fact, i would argue that every one of the plotlines fell entirely flat, and that the episode was saved by the one liners and one-off jokes that got thrown into each plot.

In the A-plot, Jack was reunited with his high school crush via YouFace, the show's attempt at a Facebook parody that was mostly just an unfunny twist on the sort of ridiculous things being on Facebook entails. His crush was played solidly by Julianne Moore, with a thick boston accent that reminded Jack of home and of the better times he escaped as quickly as he could. While those two flirted, Liz failed to come up with anything clever for Jack, who is apparently the world's greatest gift giver.

The B-plot revolved around Twofer, Lutz, and Frank getting out of Kenneth's Secret Santa by inventing a religion. Their deceit caused Kenneth to lose his faith, but he got it back when they were all arrested, proving that God is indeed vengeful. How this set of simple jokes shifted from one liners into an actual plot shocked me. This season has watched former ace in the hole Kenneth degenerate further and further into uninspired lunacy and unfunny plotlines, which hurts, as Kenneth used to consistently deliver hilarious lines for every episode. The C-plot was even dumber, as the new cast member took a dive for Jenna's self confidence, which considering how aloof, rude, and unlikable she is doesn't really make any sense.

I guess Canadian man's sacrifice fit into the Christmas theme (the only thing Jenna loved about Christmas was singing to distract shoppers while her mom shoplifted), but I didn't much care. In the end. Liz ended up finding Jack the perfect gift (a bomb threat to Penn station that resulted in him getting to kiss his crush) but 30 Rock ended the year on a down note. Here's hoping the show figures out what has been going wrong and rights it in time for new episodes next year.

Grade: C


-"I bought him a $95 bottle of olive oil, and in return, he got my sister out of a North Korean Jail!"

-"Verdukianism? That doesn't make sense! Jimmy is a catholic!"

-French kissing is for the Italians.

-"Weird in a good way." "Like going to the gym drunk."

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 12: Comparative Religion

Its that time of year again. Carolers are carloning, snowmen are staving off their own death, Santa is prepping his sleigh, and NBC is doing a night of holiday themed shows. Community takes on the idea of political correctness around the holiday, and the the fact that everyone pretends to respect each other's religion out of politeness, but in point of fact thinks what everyone else believes is stupid. What it came away with was a little bit cliche, and a tad too politically correct for my taste, but still very solid and very, very funny.

In the A-plot Jeff faced off with a bully who got angry at Abed for taking the "winterdoodles" at the school's non-descript holiday party (the dean, ever desperate not to offend, appeared as Mr. Winter and declared, "Hohoho! Merry Happy!"). Unfortunately, Jeff has never been in a fight, so it's time for standard comedy plot #27 as Pierce and Abed prep him for the face off. The plot is as old as the medium of television, but the show pulls it off with supreme wit and confidence, including the nice touch of Britta in the background commenting on just how the urge to fight another guy is just how men subliminate their gay urges.

The B-plot centered around Shirley trying to throw a Christmas party that everyone would attend, only to discover that every member of the group is of a different religion. This allows for some decent barbs at ludicrous beliefs and at religious insensitivity, but also gives the show its problem of being too PC. Instead of changing the lyrics to a bunch of Christian carols, why not just sing non-denominational ones ("Frosty the Snowman" and "Winter Wonderland" come immediately to mind as pretty inoffensive songs for the season). I'm all for the idea that this season can be a little too Christian-biased, but I think the show spent too much of its run time pandering to every religion (except agnosticism, which was rightfully boo'd and dubbed "the lazy man;s atheism."). However, its hard to harbor ill-will at the show when it ended with Annie using a snow blower as a weapon and Shirley beating a man with a candy cane.

The show wrapped itself up for the year with a sweet seasonally appropriate ending that had Jeff preaching about the joys of friendship and the group all together, ready to take on the next semester (where Senor Chang will pull a Feeny and remain their teacher). After an early run this solid, I can't wait for the new year, and for more Community.

Grade: B+


-"That guy wasn't gay! He had a mustache!"

-"True or false or none of the above? That doesn't make any sense!"

-I loved when Troy started to say "fight" and then just finished it because he couldn't think of another word. Jeff then does the same.

-"Oh, look, Britta brought what she believes in...nothing..."

-"Annie knows a little something about guilt, right jew?" "Say the whole word!" "You would never catch a Jehovah's Witness saying 'jewy.'" "Tell it to the birthday cake you never got."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jordan's Review: Glee, Season 1, Episode 13: Sectionals

After 13 weeks, nearly as many stupid plotlines, and about a zillion songs more than they would need, the Glee Club has made it to sectionals. And, after just as long, the show is disappearing off into the sunset until April. Its smart television making to treat the 13th episode of a first season (usually the end of the original order a network makes) like it is a series finale, and Glee does that here, effectively wrapping up most of its plotlines and leaving viewers satisfied in the event that it wasn't renewed. Of course it was, and it will return this spring, but for now let's unpack the fall finale for all its good, bad, and shamelessly unnecessary.

I don't get to say this as much as I'd like while reviewing Glee, but last night was mostly good. As the gang prepared for sectionals, Mr. Shue had to sit out as coach, and Finn finally discovered that Puck is the father of Quinn's baby. I have never had a problem with this storyline, especially not as compared to Terri's fake pregnancy, but it wrapped up exactly as it should. No quick resolve here, even as Finn inevitably returned to the club he had abandoned about 10 minutes earlier--things are not ok with he and Quinn, nor with he and Puck, and that is just as it should be. Terri also appeared for one scene tonight, as Will prepared to go to Emma's wedding, and Will was just as cold and cruel as he needed to be. The biggest difference between the two plotlines to me (other than the idiocy of Will not knowing his wife wasn't pregnant for that long) was that while both Quinn and Terri were doing awful things to the men in their lives, the show managed to make Quinn a believeable and even sympathetic character in spite of what she was doing. Instead of making her into an oversized villain, Quinn remained a person who was fully capable of making mistakes, and that made her contribution to the show vastly more interesting.

So the gang got to Sectionals, only to discover what we already knew. Their set list had been leaked, and their competitors were doing all of their songs. This should have been a huge dramatic moment, as the Club rushed to throw somthing together on the fly, except for one thing: Every week throughout the show's run, the Glee Club manages to throw together an insanely overproduced number basically out of thin air. Thus, the suspense of them having to do it again was pretty nil. Additionally, while it might have been more interesting for the Club to lose at sectionals from a small picture viewpoint (they can try and fail, plus it gives them something to aspire to next season) it was clear from viewing the big picture that New Directions was coming out on top. If the club lost, there would be nothing to do but mope over the nine episodes we will get this spring, so there wasn't really suspense as to whether or not they would win.

In terms of the other big plotlines, we got to see Sue Sylvester temporarily defeated, de-throned as Cheerios coach, and suspended from the school. As satisfying as that was, I feel it will be even more satisfying to watch her tanned, triumphant return this spring as she is even more obsessed with Will's destruction. Finally, the Will and Emma plotlien was wrapped up, and honestly that one felt a little bit rushed and very cliched. I would have liked the show to toy with them a bit more first, but at the same time, they were a foregone conclusion from episode one, so there really wasn't any point to building up suspense as to whether they would end up together. Could I have done without the slow motion hallway run? Yes. But at the same time, I'll allow a little cliche to seep in, especially considering Will is the kind of guy who would love that sort of thing.

So Glee has wrapped up its first run, and its fall finale was really about as good as I could have expected from the show (and considering its batting average, much better than I did expect). There are still plenty of danglong plotlines to explore when the show comes back, and I'm sure plenty more aggravating stumbles as the show tries to find its footing and become as good as it has the potential to be. Either way, come April, I'll be here, overly criticizing it when it fails, and overly praising it when it succeeds. That's just how I roll.

Grade: A-


-Some very solid musical choices tonight. Mercedes rocked the shit out of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not GOing" a song that begs to have the shit rocked out of it. I thought it was a little obvious how Mercedes basically said "I've already had a number this episode, Rachel, you sing it" but then Rachel just destroyed "Don't Rain on My Parade" proving why she is the Glee Club star, and providing a seriously cool entrance for the rest of the club while simultaneously working as a song her character would sing. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is a phenomenal song, and it was done well here, proving yet again that the show should let Artie sing more.

-I like the idea that Brittany and Santana are in a secret lesbian relationship, mostly because their characters are so flat and poorly acted, they need some zaniness thrown in, and Brittany's mentally deficient inability to hide a secret and torrid affair might be just the right stuff.

-I thought the judges had some pretty hilarious stuff. Those panels are always made up of random personages, and these three were all winners. Plus, I sort of (insensitive though it may be) agree with the beauty queen that deaf kids in show choir is a bit ridiculous.

-"I've never told you guys this before...but I'm a little psychic."

-"Artie keeps ramming himself into the wall."

-"I'm reasonably confident you will be adding revenge to the long list of things that you are no good at. Right next to marriage, running a high school glee club, and finding a hairstyle that doesn't make you look like a lesbian." I'll say it again. Jane Lynch is this show's mvp, and by a mile.

-"You are about to board the Sue Sylvester express. Destination? HORROR." I loved that, and how she just shoved kids out of her way as she exited. The more insanely evil she becomes, the more hilarious she is.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 10: The Window

After the train wreck that was the last episode of How I Met Your Mother, the show is back to something approximating form tonight ,delivering the funniest episode its done in months. When Ted receive a mysterious phone call from an elderly woman telling him "the window is open" he rockets into action. It seems his college crush Maggie Wilkes has just broken up with her boyfriend, and after missing his window three times before, Ted refuses to risk it again. He makes it to Maggie in time, and invites her to Maclaren's before realizing that he has a class that night. He leaves her in the capable and protective hands of Marshall and Lily, but this is a sitcom, folks, and everything will not go off without a hitch.

Marshall's mother has been shipping him random stuff from his old room ever since he and Lily moved into their own place, and the newest batch contains a letter from his 15 year old self, telling him that about how awesome his life should be. Of course Marshall's life is not at all how he envisioned it, so he sets out to accomplish at least one goal on his list by dunking a basketball. He fails to do even that, but comes to the (let's face it) pretty adorable conclusion that his life will be perfect in 30 more years, as long as he's with Lily. When Marshall leaves, however, Lily believes he is going to quit his job and so chases after him, leaving Maggie with Robin.

Robin does her best to keep men away from Maggie, but ends up taking one for the team and dragging one of Maggie's coworkers to Le Chien Erotique, a photo display that is apparently just dogs in sexual positions. This leaves Maggie with Barney, who has given himself the challenge of wearing Marshall's old overalls until he can get someone to have sex with him. When Maggie comments that she likes the look, Ted has to rush back to stop Barney from stealing the girl of his dreams. Of course, Maggie is not the mother, and by episode's end she has reconnected with a childhood love who she will spend the rest of her life with. She has also served as an inspiration (along with Ted's class) to our hero to get back in the game, get out there and find the mother.

Tonight's episode provided the serious laughter I've been missing from the show, and also the actual emotions that make it great. By bringing the focus back to Ted (who, in case you forgot so far this season, is the main character) and his quest for true love, the show managed to pull itself back on track, delivering both the laughs and the pathos necessary to make an excellent episode. I can't say the show is out of its slump yet, but "The Window" was definitely a much needed step in the right direction.

Grade: B+


-Robin's random Seven reference was funny.

-Marshall's old mad lib: "Fart went to the window to fart fartly."

-"No one could have sex in these overalls...challenge accepted." I love NPH's delivery on that line. Its like he just realized where everything was going.

-"I don't think 911 takes requests."

-I also loved Ted's reaction to his students actually wanting to listen to him.

-Ted's acronym for MAGGIE: Make Adjustments Go Get It Energized.

-"Ok, Louis, then Meg."

-"Did you see the one over there of the Corgie's doing it people style?"

-"It wasn't that they were too hot. Its just that I had wings earlier. Much earlier." Apparently time travel is possible 30 years from now, and it created a hysterical blip to end the episode.

Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2006

With the year winding down, my movie quest through the last decade must draw to a conclusion. At this point, my lists are all completed (with the exception of 2009, which I am still compiling over the next few weeks) and what is left is the actual writing of each. So, without further ado, here are my top ten of 2006, with a little summary of each:

10. The Queen- The death of Princess Diana has become one of the largest historical moments in our lifetime (especially if you ask any of the number of author’s or documentarians who have profited off her demise). Stephen Frear’s film focuses on how Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren, in an Oscar-winning role) dealt with that death, and more importantly, how she dealt with the public perception of her own reaction. Assuming it is best to hide her grief, Queen Elizabeth and her family remain sequestered in Balmoral, yet newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) struggles to convince her that her people need her presence. The ensuing tug of war is played out with all of the subtlety one would expect of British Royalty, and the film’s most important and meaningful moments are those in which Elizabeth feels the world changing around her, and silently begins to adjust to a new era. Filled with dry wit and a surprising amount of compassion, The Queen exists both as a study on one woman and on the way that times change and eras end, whether or not we want them to.

9. Casino Royale- Forty years and 21 movies in, the James Bond franchise decided to reboot, and in the process created the freshest, fastest, most exciting installment in years. Newly recruited 007 (Daniel Craig) is dispatched to prevent Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning a high stakes poker game that would get him out of debt with some of the world’s most nefarious terrorist organizations. Along for the ride are Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a British accountant with a dark past, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an ally within the CIA, and Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Gianini) one of Bond’s contacts. Craig infuses his Bond with a roguish sensibility and a penchant for overt violence, making him a large step apart from previous portrayals, but beneath the surface, the James Bond he will become lies awaiting to emerge. Thoughtful, tense, funny, and action packed, Casino Royale put the franchise's best foot forward to welcome Daniel Craig aboard.

8. The Devil and Daniel Johnston-Director Jeff Feuerzeig uses an extraordinary amount of footage recorded by Johnston himself and new interviews with those who know him to plumb the depths of the tortured soul at this documentary’s center. Daniel Johnston is a manic depressive whose songwriting chops are far too often outweighed by periods of madness, violence, and institutionalization. As the film tracks his ascent in the Texas music world, his brief brush with fame, and his inevitable fall from grace, it provides an excellent mixture of the artist’s own views on his art, his loves, his life and the world at large with the crushing realities that he must do battle with on a daily basis to simply stay alive, much less to create the music that he does.

7. The Prestige-Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) begin their careers as assistant’s working for an expert magician, each trying to one up the other to prove himself the better magic man. As the years progress their rivalry becomes more bitter, obsessive, and dangerous as each man learns exactly how much he will have to sacrifice in order to be the best possible magician. Directed by Christopher Nolan (who co-wrote the script with his brother Johnathan), and co-starring Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, and David Bowie, The Prestige is complex, probing, and incredibly complex, but comes together perfectly in its examination of how far obsession can drive us, and what we are willing to give up to get what we desire.

6. Little Miss Sunshine- When little Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) gets into the finals of a beauty pageant, her family is determined to get her there and give her a chance to make her dreams comes true. Setting off in an old VW bus that barely runs, the family encounters many obstacles, including each other, as they race to get to California. Along for the ride are Olive’s father Richard (Greg Kinnear), a failed motivational speaker who is convinced he can make it to the top by following his own advice, her grandfather Edwin (Alan Arkin, who won Best Supporting Actor for the role), a heroin addicted misanthrope, her brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) who has taken a Nietzsche inspired vow of silence, her uncle Frank (Steve Carell), a suicidal gay academic whose pretensions match his cynicism, and her mother Sheryl (Toni Collette) who is just struggling to hold her family together. As broadly funny as it is deeply introspective, Little Miss Sunshine presents us with a dysfunctional family of fully formed characters, and asks us to open ourselves up enough to love each of them for who they are.

5. The Departed- Martin Scorsese finally scored his long deserved Best Director Oscar for helming this twisty crime thriller which also picked up awards for Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is placed undercover by his superiors at the Massachusetts State Police (a hilarious Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen). While he aims to infiltrate the organization of crime magnate Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) has been sent in undercover by Costello to keep an eye on things within the State Police. Violence and bloodshed ensue when both sides discover there are moles in their midst, and a bevy of peerless actors imbue the film with a sense of desperation and gravity that keep it pulse pounding through its final frame.

4. Brick- Writer-Director Rian Johnson sets his hard boiled film noir in a high school, and rather than playing as a gimmick, this concept allows an examination of both the genre conventions of film noir, and the often harsh realities of life in high school. Brendan Fry (an excellent Joseph Gordon Levitt) sets out to assist his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), but when she winds up dead, he begins investigating throughout the rigid caste system of his high school to find answers, and extract vengeance where necessary. His quest puts him in the path of the stock noir characters, played out with excellence by an ensemble including Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, and Lukas Haas. Brick began as a high concept experiment, but manages to succeed both as a high school movie and a true noir film, putting its lead through the ringer as he deals with angst, melancholy, and a healthy dose of cynicism that would probably be considered just right for a teenager or, alternatively, for a detective in any number of noirs that came before.

3. The Lives of Others- Set in East Berlin just a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others follows the Stasi’s cruel, extensive, and ultimately futile efforts to use surveillance to root out subversives. Gerd Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) is one of the top agents the Stasi has, and as such is assigned to keep tabs on a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend (Martina Gedeck). As he watches them, he becomes increasingly obsessed with their lives, and even attempts to conceal their anti-government opinions from his superiors. An examination of voyeurism, hypocrisy, the strength it takes to oppose authority and the subtleties of our behavior that can define us to the outside world, The Lives of Others functions both as a political commentary and as a film about the people we let ourselves be when we think no one is watching.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth-Director Guillermo Del Toro is known for his inventive use of visuals and his penchant for puppetry over CGI, yet these skills have never seen better use than in this fairy tale of a young girl (Ivana Baquero) whose mother brings her to live with a her malicious new husband Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) after the Spanish Civil War. At once a gory, terrifying R-rated fairy tale and a look at the uses people have for fantasy and for history, Pan’s Labyrinth is arresting, inventive, thought-provoking and more than a little scary.

1. Children of Men-In the near future, humanity has become inexplicably infertile. While the entire race awaits extinction, and has thus fallen prey to the worst aspects of human nature, Theo (Clive Owen) is recruited by his activist ex (Julianne Moore ) to transport a girl to the coast. Theo soon discovers his cargo (Clare Hope Ashitey) is miraculously pregnant, which makes her valuable to both terrorist cells, including one lead by Chiwitel Eijiofor, and to the government. Also starring Michael Caine, Children of Men is alternately pulse-pounding and peaceful, nihilistic and hopeful in its depiction of a society that has fallen apart after realizing it has nothing left to live for, and of one man who struggles to believe there may be a chance for something more.

Jordan's Review: Dexter, Season 4, Episode 11: Hello, Dexter Morgan

To begin, I would like to point out some things about this season of Dexter that have been troubling me, but I have yet to highlight in my reviews. For starters, up to this point in the series, Dexter was a man who did the clean up work for the police. When they messed up, broke chain of custody, or otherwise allowed a killer to go free, Dexter Morgan was there to pick up the pieces and protect the people of Miami. This allowed the show to occasionally become a sort of morality play about how far we are willing to go to ensure safety. the idea of a serial killer who only kills other killers is something that doesn't particularly bother a lot of people, and portraying that up on the screen allowed the show to examine what kind of monster that desire in humanity might create. This season, however, Dexter has seemingly lost this portion of his code as he actively works against the police so that he might kill Trinity himself. I understand the idea that he feels the need to bag the greatest serial killer ever himself, but framing someone, planting DNA evidence and actively working against the police in their pursuit of justice seems a little anti-Dexter in my view.

Another thing about this season that occasionally bothers me is just how shitty Dexter has been at his job of late. He is always out of the office, barely coming up with excuses and falling behind on all of his blood spatter. This all works with the theme of Dexter's life spinning out of his control as he tries to juggle the many different sides of his personality (a theme that was drawn on pretty heavily tonight), but it feels a little odd to me that no one seems to notice or case that the blood spatter analyst barely comes to work anymore. If this is all leading somewhere, like to QUinn's suspicions being aroused (as was hinted at tonight) or to someone else starting to catch on to Dexter's suspicious activity, I'll be willing to let it slide, but at the moment it just seems like the writer's got bored writing crime scenes and so Dexter doesn't work anymore. The only crime scenes he really goes to this season are ones directly related to the master plot.

Griping aside, however, there was some pretty solid stuff in this episode. I don't particularly care that Angel and LaGuerta are married, or that reporter is dead (in fact, I've sort of been hoping for the latter for about ten episodes now). The show has done a decent job of building the tension between Dexter and Trinity though, and this episode kept ratcheting it up. The downside of this is that all of the climax must come in the finale, where the best seasons of Dexter have rocketed through the second half, but that doesn't change the fact that I am excited for next week's episode. Deb had a great moment tonight as she struggled to erase Lundy's name from the board, tying up a plotline that has given us a lot of insight into her pain and grief, and generally been done better than most other Dexter subplots. There was a moment between Dexter and Rita in their kitchen after Dexter punched Elliot that was actually cute, a rare feat in their relationship, and something the show would do well to give us more of. And there was the excellent moment where we realized Arthur's trip to the arcade was just a ruse to draw out Dexter so he could follow him. The "killer knows who Dexter is" plotline has been done in literally every season (Ice Truck knew he was Dexter's brother from the get go, Lila knew Dexter was a serial killer, and Miguel worked alongside Dexter as a killer) but it is a reliable well of tension to draw from, and John Lithgow plays the moment with the perfect amount of reserved menace. It has been a pretty rocky road getting to this point, but Dexter can make it all seem a lot more worth it if next week's finale knocks it out of the park.

Grade: B


-"I'm sorry you were ever born!" A surprisingly cold thing to say, played with such hatred by Lithgow it actually shocked me a bit.

-Dear Dexter, Please don't end this season like every other season with you killing Trinity and everyone going off to be boring for the next 9 months until another serial killer appears in Miami. Thanks!