Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Excellent Piece on Criticism

As a die-hard supporter of the art of film criticism (and simultaneously a player in its so called demise, what with my frequent stabs at it from my non-existent pedastal that is this blog), I was saddened to hear of the end of "At the Movies," the show started by Siskel and Ebert, and of late hosted by Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. Here, Scott lays out his own views on the profession and is, as always, compelling.

A. O. Scott Piece

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 14: 5:00 am-6:00 am

Well, its official. This will be the last season of 24. I can't say I'm surprised, as this has been rumored for months, and basically confirmed in the last few weeks, and considering the quality of this season, I can't even say I'm heartbroken that the end is in sight. I am disappointed, however, that the writers didn't know from Hour 1 that this would be the last very bad day Jack Bauer would ever face (except for the upcoming movie spin-off, that is). I feel Season 8 would have been more powerful had the writers known this was their last hurrah, and as it is, I doubt we'll see much gravitas in the final hours. We may even end on a cliff-hanger, which would be awful (though I'm sure the writers had enough sense to bring in some closure, just in case). Yet, considering how repetitive and predictable the show has become, how increasingly immortal Jack Bauer is, and how the show has dropped any vague pretense toward realism, its no tragedy that CTU will soon be closing its doors.

As for tonight, we finally got the inevitable government conspiracy plotline underway as Weiss and another self-righteous TV general decided that they know better than the President, and should take the fate of the nation into their own hands, attacking and killing Americans in order to save other Americans. Weiss has always been a pretty unbelievable dick to have risen as high as he has, and pretty disloyal to the President from the start, and TV Generals are very self-righteous, so this came as no surprise. How quickly the show turned from a reasonable, if extreme, back room discussion about sacrificing a foreign leader for American lives (which I can almost guarantee would at least be brought up in the event that this entirely impossible situation arose), to villianizing the seditious Chief of Staff when he agrees to delay medical attention to Ethan after the Secretary suffers a heart attack. The show has always had a black and white mentality when it comes to good vs. evil, so it was no surprise that Weiss was immediately willing to let a friend and colleague die once he made the decision to commit sedition, yet Ethan's heart attack seemed a little too convenient a way to immediately make us hate him.

In another instance of immediately villainizing someone after revealing they're a bad guy, Dana has apparently given up all pretense that she's a CTU agent this hour. She made a total of four phone calls to Samir in the last hour, cut out a surveillance feed, providing him with codes, and advising him not to use the rods. Also, every chance she got she gave the classic 24 sideways glance that shows the audience you're doing something devious. Her revelation as the mole is twice as hilarious when you consider all the time she's spent dealing with Kevin and Prady over the past fourteen hours. If she was also dealing with Samir this whole time, she would have had literally no time to keep her cover up. Even if it wasn't unrealistic to assume she was dealing with the Kevin crisis and Samir at the same time, the number of calls she made to a terrorist from within CTU is patently absurd. Its like Dana realized that the audience knows she's a bad guy now, and so has stopped even vaguely pretending to be anything else. I'm sure its only a matter of time before Chloe catches on and points out Dana's behavior, but really, how has that not happened already? For the love of God, she was on the phone with Samir AT HER DESK. During the tracking of the cab containing the rods, is it even remotely possible that no one in the crowded room heard Dana muttering about how she was going to take out the satellite and which direction Samir should go? I have heard great things about Katee Sackhoff's work on Battlestar Galactica (which I still haven't seen), yet her Dana Walsh has been seriously disappointing, veering from annoyingly weak and whimpering to unbelievably composed and cold hearted. The performance lacks realism, but more importantly, it lacks any hint of subtlety. Sackhoff spends the entire hour glowering as if she's Jack Nicholson in The Shining, which is really only slightly better than the spineless whiny Dana of a few hours ago.

President Taylor was actually given something to do tonight, which is a nice change of pace, as Cherry Jones can actually act and is pretty fun to watch, even if her character has always been slightly over the top (take, for example, her "rah, rah, America!" speech to her staff tonight). Yet she was privvy to another plot development that makes absolutely no sense when she requested that Jack come escort Hassan through his evacuation. From a writer's standpoint this makes sense, as Jack needed to be involved in the action set-piece at the episode's center, but its a pretty lazy way to bring our boy Bauer into line with the major events. Keep in mind that at the time President Taylor asked Jack to come escort Hassan, she had not yet heard from Samir and had no idea that she would be asked to hand him over. What she did know was that she was taking the best federal agent in existence out of the search for radiological material directly after it had been smuggled into Manhattan, putting hundreds of thousands of lives in danger. I know she needs Hassan alive, and I know that she trusts Jack above anyone else, but it still seems like a pretty stupid call overall. Even if you can get past Jack's lazy inclusion, the military team he was set against behaved like crazy people. literally seconds after their leader ordered them to take Hassan alive, they began peppering the tunnels with machine gun fire, murdering a bunch of secret service agents and leaving them with no guarantee that they hadn't killed Hassan and doomed New York and their country even further. The shooting as a whole also lead to a dramatic problem in my view, in that there was no development on CTU's search for the rods for almost a full hour. Jack's shoot out was pretty exciting, yes, and Jack got saved at the last second by an unexpected gunman for the second time in two weeks, but still the show could have thrown in a few minutes of CTU desperately trying to beat the impossible deadline set in front of them. You know, for tension's sake.

This hour ends with Hassan learning that he must turn himself over to stop the attack, and pretty much cements Renee as Jack's partner for the rest of the day. If 24 sticks to his patterns, that means that she will probably die or go completely crazy in the remaining hours. I hope, however, that the writers presumed this might be their final day and have written an ending that will allow Jack some modicum of peace in exchange for the years of torment the show has put him through.

Grade: C-


-How many times do you think Hastings has said "I can no longer guarantee the safety of Manhattan"?

-I'm glad you need literally no qualifications to serve on the security detail assigned to escort a foreign leader to safety, otherwise Renee might not have plausibly been allowed to accompany Jack.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 16: Floyd

Reading the title of tonight's episode made me incredibly excited. Not only did it herald the return of Jason Sudeikis, whom I find frequently hilarious, but it hearkened back to a story from the golden days of 30 Rock when viewers only concern was whether the episode they were about to watch was very, very good or one of the funniest things they'd seen in months. Unfortunately, rather than marking a return to the good old days of the show, "Floyd" just pissed on my memories of better days.

Part of this may come from the fact that I, like Liz, thought she and Floyd might end up together at some point. The show has beaten Liz up for years, and when the series does come to an end, I tend to hope she gets a happy ending. So far, the only possibility of that the series has offered is Floyd, who was a great boyfriend and a good match for Liz. Tonight we learned, through a horribly over broad and miserably unfunny drunk scene, that Floyd really hated a lot of things about Liz, and is really in love with his new, more beautiful girlfriend he's about to marry on The Today Show. There are many problems, not the least of which that this episode went way overboard with the "Liz is a shrew" joke. I grant the show much of its Liz-deprecating humor, but at the end of the day, Tina Fey is a gorgeous, capable, hilarious woman, and putting her up against an anorexic blonde as the woman who bested her is patently absurd. Combine that with the aforementioned awfulness that was Sudeikis' drunk Floyd, and you have a flat out loser of an A-plot that not only failed to deliver laughs, but actively tarnished my hopes for where the show might go from here.

If only there had been anything to make up for it in the subplots. The B-plot centered around Frank, Lutz, and Twofer, who got into a prank off with Jack and Danny. Don't worry, no laughter ensued as they traded pretty stupid pranks that the actors couldn't make humorous no matter how hard they tried (not that they seemed to be straining for laughs. Baldwin especially seemed to be coasting through an awful script with a smile on his face). The C-plot, which had Jenna and Tracy being forced to listen to Kenneth for hours and then having erotic dreams centered around him was equally dumb, and while Tracy and Jenna beating up Kenneth and trying to fly away in real life was chuckle worthy, no one can say they didn't see that ending coming.

30 Rock is at its best when it mixes its absurdism with subtle writing so the jokes come at you from both sides. Tonight it avoided either of those positive tendencies in favor of a cartoonish over breadth that was more cringe-worthy than laugh inducing. The episode wasn't funny, which is bad enough, but it also took one of the better recurring characters and dragged him through the mud. "Floyd" was more than just an affront to 30 Rock fans, though. It was, for the most part, an affront to the comedy we've come to expect from the show.

Grade: C-


-After being harsh (though not overly so) above, here are a few winners that were laced throughout the otherwise plum awful episode:

-"And I NEVER call Tracy 'clean' and 'articulate'...why would I? He's not!"

-"I'm no stranger to japery..."

-"What's the most handsome animal? A silver panther."

-"So if my grandfather hadn't gotten on the train that day, he never would have met his wife...'s murderer."

-"I wonder what the Hawaii state quarter is going to be?No one knows, but here are a few hundred guesses...

-"The Early Show? What am I, in the hospital?"

-"I would never get you drunk on salmon...or ANY fish!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 20: The Science of Illusion

Community gets a lot of mileage out of its willingness to be absurd, and that is a type of comedy that can work brilliantly, but can also be somewhat off-putting. If you're willing to suspend your dibelief, you can be treated to a sailboat on a rescue mission in a parking lot, or a buddy cop movie involving two inherently non-threatening characters in a competition to see who is the badass among them. If that sort of set up plays a little too fast and loose with reality for you, this is probably not a show for you. But Community is developing in to an excellent show, and as it becomes better and better at determining what works, it seems to be trending more toward a masterpiece of the absurd than a standard subversion of cliches, which many early episodes aimed for.

For about the first half of this episode I thought it was a pretty mediocre outing for the show. The show has already done storylines about Britta's failure to be funny, Pierce's naivete, and Jeff's penchant for mockery, which is fine, but none of these stories seemed to be going anyplace new. The only plotline that worked for me from the get go was Annie and Shirley being deputized as campus security in preparation for the coming April Fool's Day tomfoolery. Where an early episode of the show probably would have cast Troy and Abed in these roles, as the two are the group's best parodists, Community is letting itself get weirder, and instead came up with an original take on the parody: Annie and Shirley, with their respective past breakdown and bitter divorce, but also their incredibly sweet personas, could each lay claim to the standard "badass" or "by the book" character trope that comes along with a buddy cop movie. With Abed along to provide meta-commentary and keep their story chugging along as a buddy cop film would, the two were able to let loose in a constant competition to be seen as the more badass.

As I said, the A-plot worked for me from the beginning, but at about the halfway point, each of the otherplotlines started to click into place. When Britta lost the frog she was trying to steal, I immediately feared we were going to get a rehash of the hint for Fievel from earlier this season, but the show took a much darker twist, having Britta dump a cadaver out a window and kill the frog, both on accident, and thus create the crime at the A-plot's center. Instead of having Jeff just mocking Pierce the whole time (which was funny enough as is), he was framed for Britta's crime, and launched into a hilarious police chase that ended when Annie pepper sprayed herself while chasing him. And Pierce's bit even transcended the standard "Pierce is naive" jokes when he revealed that he knew all along he wasn't psychic, but just wanted to fit in.

At the end of the day, "The Science of Illusion" worked because of just that fact. I have said many times that Community impresses me because its a sitcom that wants to be about something, and one of its major themes is each character's struggle to fit in. The comedy ended up coming together very solidly by the end, but more to the show's credit, the very funny scene at the end where everyone (but Jeff and Abed, the "sane" ones) broke down crying showed each of their inherent vulnerabilities. Britta wants to be as funny as everyone, but at her core she cares too much to really make fun of anyone. Pierce wants so desperately to fit in, he will dress up like the wizard from Cookie Crisp to impress his friends. Annie wants to be taken seriously as an adult, Shirley wants people to see she retains some vitality, and Troy wants everyone to think he's smart. The reason that this show transcends its simple sitcom trappings is that beneath each joke, beneath each insane plotline, are real characters with real doubts and insecurities. Not only does the show make me laugh on a weekly basis, it makes me care deeply for its characters, it invests me in its masterplot, and it even allows for the possibility of one of its characters pepper-spraying herslef in the face to show what a bad ass she is. In short, Community is a beauty to behold.

Grade: A-

-Leonard is a great recurring character. Something about everyone getting angry at this meek looking old man is hysterical every time.

-"I assume I'll fight better if I can see more, dumbass."

-I liked that Abed just appeared in the Dean's office to provide buddy cop exposition, almost without explanation. It was gloriously weird.

-"Buddha arrived on a meteor!"

-"She loves rules. I only have one: Stay out of my way."

-"Drop 'em if you smoke 'em!"

-"These are not tears! This is self-inflicted friendly fire!"

-"April 1st is officially March 32nd forever."

-That African American police chief Abed was playing was right."

-"I don't even deserve this Buddhist Meteor Wand!"

-"Knock, knock. Who's there? Cancer. Oh, come in, I thought it was Britta."

-"That's not even a reference I get because Cookie Crisp Mascot wasn't a wizard when I was a kid. It was a burglar!" Me too, Troy, me too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 13: 4:00 am-5:00 am

This has been a very subpar season of 24 pretty much from the get go. The plot of "terrorists threatening America" has never felt remotely threatening, the story has done a lot to keep Jack out of the action, the show has wasted plotlines with potential (like Renee's walk on the wild side, or Hassan's courageous and sane Middle Eastern leader) in favor of drivel like Kayla and Tarin's romance and, even worse, Dana's slow descent into madness. Watching her try to sabotage Chloe's attempts to get the system back online tonight was annoying enough, and watching her murder Prady (does Stephen Root always have to get murdered? Is it in his contract liek Sean Penn and crying?) was a little funny, just because it was so predictable and there happened to be a giant air ventilation shaft. The whole scenario was a little comical, until it got absolutely fucking ridiculous.

Because guess what, twist seekers of the world? The government agency with the single worst system of background checks, and possibly a recruiter who only looks for corruptible data analysts has hired yet another mole. I can see why the writers would do this, because they needed some way to connect Dana to the main storyline, otherwise the last twelve hours of her plot has been a waste. What I can't see is how this makes any fucking sense. If Dana was a terrorist all along, why did she sufferthe visit from her ex at all? Why did she help him commit robbery, or more importantly, if she's a hardened killer like Prady's death suggested, why did she hesitate before killing Kevin and his hillbilly friend? For a twist to work, it needs to be at least grounded in the reality of the show, and it needs to make some sense. Literally nothing about Dana's plotline makes sense anymore if you factor in that she's been working with Samir all along. Plus, the show just took the only character whose agenda didn't match with CTU throughout the season so far and made her into a mole. Fro mthe first hour, if we had to pick out of a line-up who would be this season's inevitable mole, it would have been Dana, and after thirteen hours of an insufferably stupid plot it is.

Another 24 trope was exercised tonight as an NSA team arrives to help out CTU, and guess what? They're assholes. Because every government bureaucrat ever stands in the way of effectively running the government and wants to take as long as possible to do something that should be easy to accomplish. This plotline began irritating me when Jack called the NSA for back-up, which made perfect sense. What didn't make any sense is that Brian Hastings, the head of a temporarily defunct intelligence ageny never thought to call for some back-up and just figured they didn't need surveillance until his team could get it back up. I'm sure there were protocols violated there, but he seemed genuinely surprised when the NSA showed up. And there had to be a better way to get the NSA out of the room than by injecting "tension" into the scene by having Chloe pull out a gun and barricade herself in there. Not only are all bureaucrats obstructionist assholes, but only Chloe and Jack are ever right on this show, and that gets a little boring after several seasons. Of course, Chloe was right and saved the day, enabling CTU to continue failing at their job.

The episode's saving grace came from the shoot out at the East River, which falls into my continuing "24 is only good this year when guns are being fired" theory. That shoot out was expertly choreographed and pretty tense, but there were still four major problems with it. First, this season, more than any other, really just feels like a giant game of cat and mouse, when CTu gets close to catching the terrorists and obtaining the nuclear rods, but then the terrorists miraculously escape, allowing the threat to go on for a few more hours, because, well, the show is called 24...Second, it was clear from the opening that Owen and Random Asian CTU Agent were in the car simply so they could die in the shootout, especially once the armor came into play. Owen was shown to be brave earlier, so it was also obvious that Random Asian CTU Agent would be the one to crack under pressure and get shot, and then it was obvious that brave Baby Owen would run out to save him and get shot. We've seen this set up a lot on 24 and it played out exactly like it has many, many times before. Thirdly, thank god that both CTU and the terrorists brought their guns with infinite bullets today, because re-loading would have given either side a chance to take an advantage, and given the scene a realistic pacing that would have added the tension this show is desperate for of late. Finally, thank god Renee managed to not only arrive at exactly the right time, but show up in the exact right place to shoot the guy aiming at Jack in the head. Had she come three seconds later, or shot anyone else first, Jack would be dead, which would be bad for the show, but would be an actual twist, and wouldn't stink of deus ex machina.

I apologize that my reviews over the past two weeks have been less analysis and more a long rant about the endless things wrong with the show this year, but I feel there isn't all that much to analyze except the myriad issues the show is having and just how far it has fallen from its glory seasons just a few years ago.

Grade: C

-This one gets a slightly higher grade than last weeks if only because the shoot out scene was choreographed very well, and there were some good moments throughout it, even if it was incredibly predictable and implausible.

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 18: Say Cheese

How I Met Your Mother makes a point of examining common relationship situations, and the effect those situations have on both the people involved, and those around them. Tonigh'ts episode continued that tradition by examining the problem of the "group picture," which is apparently a recurring obsession of Lily's (and one I'm inclined to believe based on what we know of her). Lily loves to take group pictures, and Ted continues to inadvertently ruin them by bringing along an endless line of random skanks.

This particular issue arises on Lily's 32nd birthday, which is important if only for one of my brief, continuity police tangents: Lily is not 32 yet, as Ted, the second oldest member of the group (after Barney, who is actually a few years older than everyone else) doesn't turn 32 until late April/early May (depending on which one of his birthday episodes falls closer to his "actual birthday"). This is a pretty minor deal, however, and since this episode is a stand alone, I'm willing to accept that this story is being told to us slightly out of order, and that Lily is only a littler younger than Ted. They were in the same grade after all. Anyway, Lily makes a big deal of her birthday, which means Marshall makes an even bigger deal out of her birthday, making her breakfast in bed, bringing in a musician to play her through it, making her birthday dinner a black tie event, and even composing a birthday song for her. All Ted has to do is bring her favorite kind of cheesecake.

Instead, Ted brings along Amanda, a chef who will make Lily a cake. Amanda consistently gets in the way of all the Lily-centric fun, failing to answer her question in "Lillial Pursuit", and not knowing what to write in the compliment-based game "Gilding the Lily" (where Barney writes, "She seems nice" and means every word). This leads to a group-wide confrontation while Amanda is off baking the cake, and a trip down memory lane. Ted has ruined Christmas (with a girl he thinks was named Sarah), he's ruined Marshall's passing the bar party (by bringing Strawberry, a hippy who throws red paint on the hibachi chef), and he even ruined Marshall's trip to see Lily in Paris, by bringing Karen who he fought with and broke up with on the plane.

Ted's random string of skanks has produced some positive results though. As Ted correctly points out, Robin began as one of his random skanks (Lily retorts, "She's the skanky exception, not the skanky rule" to which Robin replies, "I'm crying a little bit"), and in the episode's very cute, if a little pat, conclusion, a flashback reveals that the first picture of Ted, Marshall, and Lily occurred when Ted invited Marshall's random skank into their first picture together.

This wasn't a particularly fascinating or funny storyline, and the ending was a little forced, yet I give the show credit for any episode that throws the gang in a room and just lets them go. Excellent side gags included Marshall's propensity to close his eyes during every picture, and Barney's incredible composure in every shot, as well as Marshall's continued attempts to get everyone to sing the "Lily Day" song. The episode could have been better by making the flashbacks a little zippier, or by making the side gags slightly more dynamic, but it was nothing if not a pleasant twenty two mintues spent with characters we've grown to love.

Grade: B


-For an episode that had so many Marshall jokes, this week had surprisingly few belly laughs. Usually the more adorable Marshall there is, the harder I laugh in an episode.

-"I believe Ted was mouthing the word yellow...which also would have been wrong."

-"Let's just take a random stroll down skank lane." "Or we could keep walking down Best Birthday Ever Avenue!"

-"Is your thing, 'I ha sex with my philosophy professor last night?' Because that's my thing."

-"Two months! My balls were Bleu! Bleu!"

-"I admit it, Strawberry was a mistake, but how was I supposed to know that?" "Her name was Strawberry!"

-I like that the cake read "Happy 42nd Birthday Lori."

-CONTINUITY POLICE: Natalie and Ted broke up in a restaurant, where she kicked his ass. There's no way she would have been crying at the apartment. What about the first time they broke up, you ask? He did it over a message, left at her apartment.

-"I don't know how I'm going to put my life back together..." "Oh shut up!"

-The flashforward was really wasted. I get excited for those because they usually employ some foreshadowing, but unless there's a reason Barney has lost his mojo by next year, that was a pretty stupid gag to flash forward for...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sam's Review: The Office: "New Leads"

Last night’s episode of The Office was a perfect example of how things go awry on the once great show. It usually stems from Michael acting unrealistically stupid, insane or inconsiderate. Without a doubt Michael needs to be one or all of these things in any given week. But in order to believe him as a character (with a job, mind you) he needs to reign it in at some point. Last night, Michael’s stupidity was more frustrating rather than amusing as he got the new leads in and in order to quell a warring office between sales and everyone else, Michael gave the leads to anyone who had absolutely no need for them.

For the most part, the episode was trying to pull the laughs out of the disconnect between the two sides of the office. The warring co-workers were forced to intermingle awkwardly in attempts to get their leads. Like Stanley had to sit and listen to the always bickering Ryan and Kelly and Andy of course gravitated to Erin’s desk in search of leads. This gag was the best of the night and also it was indicative of the best thing the show has going for it-Andy and Erin. The two remain hopelessly incompetent about how to move their relationship forward. In the funniest scene of the night Erin plays the “hotter-colder” game in getting Andy to try to find the leads. As Andy moves closer to her (and her breasts) she keeps saying hotter. Ed Helms displays the perfect combination of terrified and excited, until Erin reveals they were under the mat on her desk. As always she has no idea what a tease she has been.

Since the best moment of the night lasted approximately a minute and didn’t really have anything to do with the plot of the episode, it was a failed show. Michael and Dwight go to the dump where they hope to find a lead that’s been thrown away by Toby (aka The Office’s Jerry). The scene was a miss as was the rest of the storyline where Michael’s gross incompetence was not funny, but just frustrating. Hopefully, with the departure of the general Sabre story arc with Kathy Bates leaving, The
Office can try to find its footing.



-Andy and Erin kiss……in the dump. I’ll take what I can get with these two since they have conisistantly been the most interesting part of the show lately.

-Good idea that peace was made (everything’s back to normal!) in the office after sales staff offered food, when they were really going in to offer a piece of their commission.

-“I’m sick of your uppity attitude….Jim.”

-“You couldn’t handle my undivided attention.”

Sam's Review: Parks And Recreation: "Park Safety"

This week’s episode of Parks and Recreation dealt with one of its best running jokes-Jerry. For those unfamiliar, meaning you’ve never watched any episode of Parks and Rec, Jerry is the office buffoon. No, he’s not mentally insane or evil like a Dwight Schrute and he’s not grossly incompetent like Michael Scott. He’s a real life sad-sack. Every week the staff at the Parks Department throws Jerry some serious guff. This week’s episode, “Park Safety”, was jam packed with Jerry hate.

The show started brilliantly with the group picking names out of the hat to see who would have to do the job of setting up hummingbird feeders. Sadly, Jerry picked his name for the third week in a row. How does this happen? Everyone in the office wrote Jerry’s name down instead of their own, and Leslie put in an additional 20 slips of paper labeled ‘Jerry’. This set up the episodes main arc where the team finds out Jerry was mugged while going to do his job. This leads Leslie to question the Park’s safety and have it evaluated. This brings in Andy Samberg who did a solid job as the head of outdoor security. The main gag here was that he was a loud talker. A seemingly throw away gag but it worked for the most part in this episode as Samberg’s concern over not having seen Avatar yet is hilarious.

In an amusing B-story, Ron “Fucking” Swanson decides to teach some of his staff some self-defense techniques in order to stave off any future muggings. This was a nice way of getting Ann, Mark, April and Andy into the same room. Of course there has been some of that bubbling tension the last few weeks as Ann has seen that Andy has been getting his life in order (or at least more of an order than living in a pit). Unfortunately for Ann, April has got it bad for the new lead singer of “Scrotation Marks”, the former “Mouse Rat”.

Of course it was revealed that Jerry injured himself for a much more pathetic reason than a mugging but a lesson was learned. Wait, no there wasn’t. After protecting Jerry’s secret creek-diving-for-a-burrito shame, Leslie and the rest of the gang at Parks and Rec went right back to giving Jerry a hard time, but he seems ok with it and that’s why it works. The writers on Parks and Rec have done such a great job of toeing the line of where it becomes just sadly abusive without ever keeping it from being hilarious. Let’s hope Leslie, Tom and April keep giving Jerry crap until the day he retires.


-Something about Aziz Ansari running next to a moving golf cart was oddly hilarious.

-Mo Collins returned as the host of Pawnee Today. Or as she so horrifically calls it, “Pawnee Fucking Today!”

-Amy Poehler does an excellent Aziz Ansari impression

-April and Andy continues to work incredibly well for me, but I think Andy is still somehow clueless to April’s pining.

-Ron suffocates Andy while wearing one of those giant belt things. I love Ron Swanson.

-“There’s no shame in attacking a criminal’s beanbag”-Ron Fuckin’ Swanson

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 15: Don Geiss, America, and Hope

This week's 30 Rock seemed aimed at righting the greivous wrong that was last week's episode, bringing Michael Sheen back and actually using him in a humorous way, leaving Elizabeth Banks where she belongs (not on television at all) and actually being funn throughout its run time, which is more of a feat than you might think after last week.

Sheen returned as the cleverly named Wesley Snipes (who does look more like someone that should be named Wesley Snipes than the actor), who continued his awkward semi-courtship of Liz despite the fact that they have literally nothing in common. I appreciated this plotline's commitment to subverting the standard romantic comedy, as Wesley and Liz continuously run into each other by chance, only to further realize just how wrong for each other they are. He thinks its ridiculous to order popcorn at the movies (preferring seltzer and mike 'n ike's), doesn't find Liz's obsession with food endearing, and most horrendously of all, actually likes the film Notting Hill. He also condescendingly refers to God as a she, and believes that she is putting he and Liz together so that they can be "settling soulmates," a hilarious term that actually seems possible for a Liz that fears dying alone. Yet our heroine refuses to be beaten by the universe, and turns down Wesley's offer.

In an oddly parallel plot, Jack finds a "settling soulmate" of sorts in Kabletown, the company that has purchased NBC. It specializes in making nothing in particular, and wants him to join up just because he would look good during press conferences. Jack's crisis was surprisingly affecting and very funny, especially because of the revulsion he infused into every utterance of the word "kabletown." The plot was pretty hysterical throughout, though it does suffer overall from the hacky ending surrounding the idea of porn for women, which is just guys listening to them.

In a bizarre inversion of last week, Tracy's C-plot is the thing that worked least in this episode. It centered around his maid publishing a tell all book revealing he had never cheated on his wife, and on is failing struggle to commit adultery to stay famous. I'm sure on paper it played as a clever inversion of the Tiger Woods scandal (as if it should even be called that), but in practice it was pretty flat, and even Tracy's random craziness throughout the night seemed less funny than usual and a little off.

This episode really pulled off it's main two plots, however, and resolved Jack's professional crisis, for now at least. 30 Rock at its best would have had a much cleverer ending than the porn for women gag, but I can't fault an episode that has Don Geiss frozen in carbonite too heavily.

Grade: B


-I have to just stress that Geiss being buried a la Han Solo was the biggest laugh of the night for me, and its humor lasted throughout the funeral scene.

-"Did you just whip a battery at me?"

-"L.A. Rules! Michael Bay, freeways, Legoland..."

-"The Earth is one of the top three planets in the Universe."

-I hate it so much when Jenna sings. They always play it like a gag about how much she loves to sing, yet it always comes off as just Jane Krakowski wanting to show everyone what a good singer she is.

-"Angie's going to be madder than a bat in a suitcase. Which reminds me..."

-"I got a lot of flak after I ate that pig from babe..."

-"Jack "The Master Baiter" Donaghy." I shouldn't have laughed as hard as I did at that line...

-"Fresh Ass, Based on the novel Tush by Assphire."

-"Gangway for the footcycle!"

-"Settling soulmates? That is grim. And I've played monopoly alone" ties "You know what I have? A Sims family that keeps getting murdered" as saddest Liz line of the night.

-"I'll see you in may for sweeps...which is what we call spring cleaning in England!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 19: Beginner Pottery

Community is a show about a group of people pulled together by their mutual failures and desire to underachieve and forced to form a family of sorts that will care for each other through thick and thin (its also a show about many other, less cliche things, but since that sentence works for this episode, I'm going with that this week). Both of those themes are shown tonight, yet the show deftly avoids the standard cheese that goes along with either of them by steeping tonight's plots in absurdity.

The A-plot has Jeff, along with Abed and Annie, seeking the ultimate blow-off class again, this time in the titular pottery course, taught by guest star Tony Hale (hilarious as always, veering between his half crazed revulsion of "ghosting," the practice of recreating the pottery scene from Ghost and an odd attraction to pottery wunderkind Richard). Jeff is thrown by a charming doctor who excels at pottery, and becomes determined to expose him as a grifter, or at least a previously experienced pot-maker. This reveals Jeff's belief that he is the best at everything, a belief that is obviously false and had to be shut down at some point. The moral of this plot is ostensibly the simple "you can;t win them all," theme that has become a totally cliche, but it gets extra points for packing in some cynical honesty as Jeff's imaginary mother tells him that he'll be very good at a few things in life, and really crappy at the rest. A great message that isn't broadcast on TV that often.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gang enrolls in a different blow-off class that promises to teach them sailing, in the span of a week, in the school's parking lot. This plotline is so gleefully absurd that it too covers up the treacly lesson at its center, which has Shirley learning that while the sea may be cold and unfeeling, she is not. However, that sort of simple moral is sandwiched by Pierce a parking lot, and Troy dramatically asking, "What in God's name have we done?" after Shirley allows Pierce to "drown" to save the rest of the crew. Its also mitigated by a great Pierce moment where he divulges to Jeff that he came out of the womb screwing up and just kept going because that's part of life. Another great message that rarely gets screen time, and helped to buoy a plotline that otherwise might have been too heavy on the absurd and too light on the meaning.

As I've already noted, both plotlines tonight have pretty simple, cliched morals behind them, yet both were handled so well and provided so many laughs, its hard to complain. they each also offered a slightly more subversive message that tied in with the main plots, but reminded us that this isn't just any sitcom, but one of quality and a certain amount of truth to it. This episode may not have had anything new to say, but it certainly had some surprisingly new ways to say it, and it was willing to say some things that most television shows don't have the brass to communicate. "Beginner Pottery" also gets credit for the sheer comic glee of watching half the cast pilot a sailboat across a parking lot to rescue Pierce, who has managed to spring a leak in his canoe...on land. It is to Community's credit that even when it stumbles in its efforts to be a sitcom that's actually about something, it can fall back on its stellar cast and tendencies toward the absurd to turn in a pretty excellent episode.

Grade: A-

-Also, there was a scene in which Allison Bree gently massaged something phallic. I'm pretty sure that's worth about half a grade right there.

-"Abed, what did we discuss?" "No voice-over. I'm sorry, it is kind of a crutch."

-"Yes, I was robbed at the YMCA...again."

-"I don't see students here, I see seamen. Amd I didn't create them. From the moment you came aboard I've seen seamen within you... And the fact that you've all stopped laughing when I say seamen proves that you are true seamen."

-"I may be able to reach it. It landed on the Hyundai...I mean mermaid's car."

-Joel McHale has a shockingly good Jeff Goldblum impression.

-"Now I know what the C in Captain stands for. Crabapple."

-I loved Tony Hale's Patrick Swayze sign with an X over him. "I had it made before he died, its not in bad taste!"

-What an awesomely dark ending to the episode, with the voice of Richard's mother giving us insight into his past. "It was supposed to be you on that roller coaster Richard! it was supposed to be you!"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 12: 3:00 am-4:00 am

I got called out last week, and rightly, for my argument that 24 was sacrificing its political message for a cheap twist. A friend of mine pointed out that the idea that this show would ever be the vehicle for an effective political message is laughable, and to an extent that's true. I am often guilty of hoisting high expectations onto entertainment that doesn't warrant them (often by that entertainment's choice) and this was another example of that. As much as I may wish, hope, or occasionally argue that 24 is a show with important themes, its really a simple suspense machine, and its quality, to an extent, should be measured by how many thrills it generates per hour.

If that is the case, then this season still ranks at the bottom of my 24 list. I've beaten to death the fact that Samir and his vague threats of "nuclear rods" or "dirty bombs" feel overly done and don't put me anywhere near the edge of my seat. I've also criticized beyond reason the fluff that has been passed off as subplots this season. Last week, I ended my review excited for the prospect of some good old fashioned suspense this week, with a hostage, some promised twists, and Jack at the forefront. Instead, we saw recycled 24 bits and Jack stuck in a car, or in the living room of the only President this show remembers having (apparently President Taylor has been napping for the last few hours). To paraphrase another friend of mine, talking about a different show, it is one thing when a show borrows bits from other series and reworks them to create something new, but you know a show is in trouble when it starts stealing from itself. At this point, 24 is dealing in tropes we're so used to, its barely even shocking.

To recap tonight's episode: Tarin is a bad guy, who wants to kidnap Kayla. Jack is on his way there to stop him (if only he had MORE TIME), but NYPD Sgt. Amis refuses to be a good little police officer and set up a perimeter. Why? Because everyone who isn't Jack is a cocksure idiot with no restraint. So Amis' men get slaughtered and Tarin escapes. Kayla gets held hostage, and the baddies promise to kill her unless Hassan turns over File 33 (apparently he has the U.S. Nuclear Codes? This seems like a bigger breach of security than letting a few nuclear rods into the country, but let's all ignore that for the sake of the plot we've committed ourselves to!), but Tarin "selflessly" helps Kayla escape...except TWIST because really he doesn't. He just sends her to CTU with an EMP that will take out all of their computers.

If the heavy sarcasm of the last paragraph doesn't indicate my fury, allow me to elaborate slightly. We've seen a hostage situation like Kalya's in almost every season of the show, we've seen bad guys use an underpass to escape detection more times than I can count, and if I had a dollar for every time CTU was attacked or otherwise compromised by the bad guys, I'd have enough money to build my own Counter Terrorist Unit with much better security.

This isn't even mentioning the Dana plotline, which continues to be predictable and insufferable. Stephen Root is a joy to watch (As usual) as Prady the parole officer who knows more than he lets on, but was anyone surprised when he revealed he knew enough that Dana is in serious trouble. Just arrest her or let her sacrifice herself to protect Cole already and let's move on to another boring plotline. Perhaps President Taylor has indigestion and wakes up to take some Pepto? Is there a chance Hastings needs to cover up that he moonlights as a female impersonator (or more likely as a shrimp obsessed Vietnam vet)?Maybe something involving Renee getting attacked by Jack's wild housecat could fill some time? Actually, that last one doesn't sound half bad...

Grade: C-


-Interesting that the EMP was rigged by a timer, meaning that the terrorists had to know the exact driving time between their pretty cliched evil lair and the end of the CTU security tunnel in order to have even a remote chance that the EMP would take out CTU.

-The only time I'm not disappointed this season is when there's a shootout. And that's only because the quick cutting and loud noises distract me from the shoddy plotting...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 4, Episode 14: Future Husband

Well, it had to happen eventually. Ever since GE sold NBC to Comcast, I have been wondering how 30 Rock would deal with this development. In no other even remote way did the sale affect my life, but with Jack Donaghy serving as a GE executive and the show's main action anchored pretty steadily to NBC, the parting of the ways had to occur. It was handled fairly deftly, all things considered, but sadly it required the return of the humorless succubus that is Elizabeth Banks. of all Jack's unfunny girlfriends past (I'm looking at you, Selma Hayek) I have never despised on enough that she actively damages my enjoyment of the show, but even when Banks was yelling at Brian Williams, a task that is easy to make hilarious, she came off as obnoxious and grating.

It didn't help much that Liz's plotline was a waste of the extremely talented Michael Sheen, who was relegated to a role that's become a 30 Rock cliche by this point: a guy that Liz feels she should be attracted to and yet somehow deeply dislikes. She tried to slog through it anyway, in part because of Kenneth's endless belief that everything works out for the best, but it wasn't meant to be.

Other things that clearly aren't meant to be include Tracy's quest to EGOT, which made a return in the closest plotline this episode had to a winner. Tracy opens a one man show, which gets good reviews (or at least a Claps Giving Yay Har-ade), but is felled by the Tony requirement that it be performed at least 8 times. Tracy is deeply improvistational (que a clever montage of him entering a house, first saying "Honey, I'm home!" then the far less sensical, "Pacman, I'm jewish!" and "Jeffrey, we lost the tournamant!") and so Jenna agrees to be his acting coach. This all leads to the "I'd watch him reading a phone book" cliche, yet Morgan makes it work, probably because, as Tracy points out, people love to just watch him be himself.

For the most part, this episode fell flat, and it relegated its best plotline to an almost unseen C-plot ranking, leaving Jack and Liz's boring stories at the foreground. 30 Rock used to be consistently the best comedy on not just Thursday night, but on television. At this point its often the weakest on NBC's Thursday night line up. It hurts a lot to say that, but maybe next week the show will turn it all around with the live beheading of Elizabeth Banks (not her character). A man can dream, right?

Grade: C-


-"Your dentist gets drunk with you too?"

-Kenneth's donkey spells were a bit too broad and over the top for my taste, especially when no one reacted at all to them. I do like that he keeps a lucky rabbit spine in his wallet though.

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 18: Basic Genealogy

This week it was "Family Day" at Greendale Community College, which provided us a window into the lives of the characters we've been slowly getting to know so far this season, and another peg along Jeff's moral development as the show used its now standard brand of optimistic irony to bring home the message that friends can act as a more supportive, functional version of a family when relatives may fail.

Pierce's ex-step-daughter has come to see him, and is immediately attracted to Jeff. Of course Pierce tells him to stay away from her, except when he is winging for Pierce. Jeff initially refuses this task, until he talks to Annie, who reminds him that as a friend he must support Pierce in his time of need. It was a nice change of pace to have Annie acting as Jeff's conscience tonight, especially since I am an avowed fan of the Jeff-Annie pairing, but sadly this left her with relatively little to do except look reproachful and hit Jeff after he slept with Pierce's faux progeny. It all worked out in the end though, as Pierce's ex-step-daughter turned out to be grifting him for $25,000 anyway, and Pierce learned the important and aforementioned lesson of the episode.

Elsewhere, Troy tried to prove to Britta that all elderly people are not worth treasuring by introducing her to his Grandma, who almost immediately sends Britta to find a switch so she can receive a "whooping." While Britta endures that torture, Shirley squares off with Abed's dad over their varying parenting styles, as he believes in strict discipline and Shirley lets her kids run wild. When Shirley's kids help Abed's younger sister to escape her burka and enjoy the bounce house, everyone wins and Abed's dad is none the wiser.

The "meeting the family" episode had to be done at some point, but Community handled it well by keeping the focus on the "family" that the show already centers on. With solid plots that continued to mix up the cast interactions (is this the first Troy/Britta pairing or am I forgetting something?) and some excellent payoffs like Troy crying during Britta's beating and Jeff and Pierce hug-dancing at the barbeque, the episode came off solidly while checking another sitcom cliche off the list.

Grade: B


-"Oh look, the human being has a little human with it. How blood curdlingly adorable."

-"I'll give Jeff a shoulder to cry on, you two boys go find a dead bird to put in that bitch's gloves compartment."

-"For you? I'd break a light sweat..." Awww!

-"Disappointing you is like choking the little mermaid with a bike chain."

-Senor Chang's brother is Rabbi Chang. Nice.

-"I may just be a simple cop, but people need to know...this isn't going to stop until Pictionary bans the word windmill..."

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 11: 2:00 am-3:00 am

24 has done a lot to hurt the productivity of the discussion around the effectiveness of torture in this country (see, didn't I warn you we'd get to a discussion of torture at some point this season?). The idea of a "ticking time bomb" situation like those we've become accustomed to on the show actually occurring are slim to none. Therefore, any of the things that Jack Bauer does when he is in these entirely impossible situations must be viewed under a lens of pragmatism, and with the idea that Jack Bauer is a fictional character, not a political talking point, and certainly not evidence of the effectiveness of torture.

The show knows how politicized its become, and it has taken steps in the last few seasons to point out how ineffective torture can be and what horrible consequences it can entail for the victims, the perpetrators, and for our country. Tonight we got our first real torture scene of the season (discounting Jack's few moments of Lethal Weapon style electrocution at the hands of the now defunct Russians), and it played pretty much like it usually does. Jack tried talking reason into Marcos, then brought in Marcos' mother (a solid Mare Winningham) to try and get at him through empathy, and finally, Jack threatened to torture and kill Marcos' mother if he didn't surrender. It was pretty standard 24 fare, yet the show has never lost its skill at drawing tension from torture scenes, especially as Jack has become more and more morally compromised by his actions. When he tells Marcos he will personally expose his mother to radiation poisoning and let her die in agony, there is no doubt in the mind's of the audience that Jack would be capable of such things. Kiefer Sutherland has a coldness to his gaze as he locks eyes with marcos, and there is no doubt that Jack is not bluffing.

Yet the torture scene plays out slightly differently than we might expect this time around, which is to the show's credit. Jack's threats are not immediate; that is, he and Marcos are separated by the chamber Marcos has barricaded himself in, and Jack cannot use physical violence to get what he wants. This fits well with both Jack's image of himself now as more of a Grandfather than a federal agent (or, as he called himself this week, a specialist brought in for today). He is still the world's ultimate badass, but the acts of overt and immediate violence he used to take part in without hesitation now give him pause. Earlier in the season, when Renee cut off the man's thumb, Jack was shocked by the action, even though any die hard fan of 24 has seen Bauer do much worse over the last 8 seasons. Jack Bauer is changing, and his change fits in perfectly with a show that's more conscious of the effects it has on the national debate over torture.

Tangents aside, the episode's biggest flaw is that it didn't spend more time drawing tension from Jack's story, which is always the most compelling, especially when a situation like this arises. Instead, we saw that Stephen Root's parole officer is out looking for Kevin, and needs to speak to Dana about him. Also, there was a bit too much of Tarin and Kayla being lovey-dovey, which I'm sure was meant to lull us into submission before thw big twist, but mostly it just felt like more stalling from the series. As for the big twist, I'm sure I should have seen the "Tarin's a traitor" twist coming, but honestly I was giving the show a bit too much credit. I thought his character was being used to show the danger's of Hassan's dictatorial style and the pitfalls of his paranoia, and his character was all the more interesting as an innocent man indicted wrongfully by a dictator losing his control and his reason along with it. Instead, 24 has made Hassan's madness seem almost logical by proving his paranoia correct, which really underplays a perfectly valid plotline they were building this year. This is a general issue for the show, and they've sort of painted themselves into a corner. The writers seem to have fairly pragmatic views on torture, the corruptibility of government officials and many other issues, yet going to the extremes creates much better drama on a show like 24. While the writers may begin each season with an eye on being realistic and on tacklign serious issues in a pragmatic way, they eventually write themselves into a corner in an effort to feed the beast that is suspense, the driving element of their show. That being said, I was a bit shocked by the twist, and I have to give the show a little credit for that.

For the most part, this episode avoided focusing on the things that were actually interesting in favor of still more stalling, but if next week's preview is any indication, we should be in for a seriously good time, hopefully not at the expense of any solid themes or easy to call twists along the way.

Grade: B

-Apologies for the late publishing, I've been on Spring Break, which means things are slightly more hectic and delayed.

-No Renee this week. And here I assumed she'd get into some tomfoolery en route back to Jack's apartment...

-Dana and Cole's plot is mostly boring because its obvious they'll get caught, and almost as obvious that she'll take the fall to let him keep his job. But I won't object to more Stephen Root...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 17: Of Course

The early part of Season Five of How I Met Your Mother was consumed by the Barney and Robin storyline, which, in spite of my strong support for the two as a couple, flat out did not work the way it was written. A lesser show would just try its best to forget that the relationship ever occurred, and for much of the time since their break up, I have worried that the show would never mention what was a momentous event in the characters lives ever again. But then "Of Course" arrived and proved that How I Met Your Mother can handle a story with depth, realism, and a lot of laughs.

It turns out tonight that Robin has not been as blase about her break up with Barney as she seemed, and is in fact pretty torn up by all of his conquests, and all of the gang's celebrations of them (shown mostly through a hilarious recurring gag in which increasing numbers of the gang sing Marshall's "bang bang bangity bang" song). So Robin hires tonight's obligatory guest star, J. Lo, who plays the author of a self help book Of Course You're Still Single, Take a Look at Yourself, You Dumb Slut to teach Barney a lesson by...not sleeping with him. Its sort of a stupid plotline that the show pulls off nearly perfectly, as Barney tries to woo Lopez who refuses to have sex with him in less than 17 dates. Ted comes up with the solution, which leads to a musical number that puts the earlier ode to suits to shame as Ted (and some really cool uses of moving set components) explains to barney his idea--a superdate. Barney prepares to take his conquest out, only to discover how upset Robin is at his repeated conquests, and how unimportant to him she feels. This allows Barney to show, as he intermittently does, that he has a heart as he refuses to sleep with Lopez, and sends Robin on his superdate with Don.

This episode marks the second recent use of the "Barney narrates an episode" construction, which I think is fundamentally problematic for a show that is already being narrated from the future by Ted, yet the conceit has worked so well both times (the other in the recent home run "The Perfect Week") that I honestly can't complain too much about it. The whole cast was firing on all cylinders tonight, the show tried some new things, and it was very, very funny. How I Met Your Mother took some big risks in tonight's episode, and they really pulled them all off, providing an incredibly entertaining, if ultimately inconsequential episode.

Grade: A-


-To be fair, the episode dealt with Barney and Robin, and put Robin on her first date with Don. Maybe it wasn't inconsequential, just of tengential importance...

-"How about we just call it a tie?" ..."You see a cravat is a kind of tie..."

-"Well you're in luck, 'cause mine's the tiniest, and the more you touch it, the softer it gets."

-I loved when Barney took the time to ask about to stool, pull it over, and sit down, just to pratfall off of it in shock.

-"Huh. Her name must be Anita."

-I like the "but um" callback on Robin's show.

-Anita's next book: Of Course You Don't Have a Retirement Plan Yet, Take a Look at Yourself, You Dumb Slut.

-"There was a lot of scotch and a lot of long nights at the shooting range." "I hope those weren't the same nights..." "Jeez Lily, its not like I remember all of them..."

-I love it when Marshall yells.

-"Oh, well count me in for a verse..." The song was a great building joke, especially when Barney came in playing the spoon.

-Nice touch wit hBarney whistling "Superdate."

-"I'm angry at you, I'm angry at me, I'm angry at Ted, and frankly I'm still angry at the Empire!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sam's Review: Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton’s new take on the classic story, Alice in Wonderland, was fated to disappoint. Such a beloved story that has withstood the test of time, Alice is ripe for film adaptation but it seems like no one can nail it down-but there’s a reason for this. Alice in Wonderland is incredibly difficult to bring to the screen due to its lack of plot. Burton tries to maneuver he way around this by throwing a “Hook”.

In this incarnation, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is 13 years older and about to be asked to wed the type of awful, disgusting man who only exists in film. Alice sees the recognizable white rabbit and returns to Wonderland (which is now called Underland). Now having returned to the fantasy land, Alice is told that she is destined to slay the Jabberwocky and rid Underland of the evil Queen of Hearts (Burton regular and wife Helena Bonham Carter) and restore the White Queen (wonderfully played by Anne Hathaway) to the throne. She is helped by a recognizable cast of characters most notably the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas), the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry).

The film is absolutely predictable which is not necessarily that important but it all feels a bit flat, which is particularly disappointing considering the past films Burton has directed. Much of the fault lands on the fact that this was clearly aimed toward young children. There’s nothing wrong with having a film aimed toward kids but it’s a problem when it does not give them much credit. The film is PG and Burton, who is the king at going dark while still remaining playful, presents a film which appears to be restrained. There looms a wonderful R-rated film here that could not ever be made (at least not by the Walt Disney Company). The idea of Tim Burton directing an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland was so exciting to so many people because he can take things that have been inappropriately lightened up in the past (Batman and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and makes them wonderfully dark. The fact that the plot is so different than the original story is not that much of an issue unless one is married to the idea that this needs to be a straight adaptation.

Unfortunately, the film felt bogged down by CGI and a middling effort for Depp who was predictably cast as the Hatter. Would it hurt Burton to try some more creative casting choices once in a while? One of the more positive moves was getting a rare glimpse at Crispin Glover who played Stayne, a sword wielding lap dog for the Queen. Wasikowska did an adequate job as Alice but there seems to be something inherently wrong with Alice wielding a sword and the Mad Hatter displaying ninja skills and break dancing. Burton is obviously one of the most talented auteurs in the business but Alice in Wonderland felt as if he was trying to please everyone. Too bad that meant Tim Burton fans are left out in the cold.


Jordan's Review: Alice in Wonderland

Its been conventional wisdom for years that Tim Burton should make a version of Alice in Wonderland. When it was originally announced that he was finally undertaking the project, I was overjoyed at the prospect of Burton taking his morbid touches to an already absurd story and coming out with a totally unique version of the tale that would stand alongside the multitudes of other adaptations. When i heard he was making his as a sequel, I thought it was even better news. Unburdened by the standards before him, Burton would finally be able to let his freak flag fly on one of the weirdest, most wondrous stories ever told. Instead, what he delivered was tepid, safe, and more than a little cliche.

Mia Wasikowska plays the older Alice as a bit of an existentialist, determined to make her life her own and resistant to any notion that she might have a destiny to fulfill. This is the stuff of a potentially interesting fantasy film, but not the stuff of Carroll's Wonderland. The original book, and the best adaptations that have been made of it, thrive on the absurdity of life and the chaos that can come from trying to impose self-created systems of order onto an existence that resists being typified, even by logic. Burton (who seems to be phoning in his direction, as the movie lacks almost any semblance of his touch, discounting the cast) abandons the sense of the weird, and with it the whimsy that makes Alice such an enduring tale. Instead, he has created a standard struggle between good and evil that ends up feeling more like a trip to Narnia than a journey through Wonderland.

Even Johnny Depp, usually a treasure to behold in even mediocre movies, turns in a flat and largely boring performance as the not-really-that-mad Hatter, whose only noticeable tick is an occasional Scottish accent, and who is far too cognizant of the goings on around him to qualify as anything more than eccentric. Depp's Willy Wonka would have made a more convincing Mad Hatter than he does here, and the opportunity for a bold new creation from him seems utterly wasted. In fact, most of the cast (with the exception of Anne Hathaway, whose White Queen is tongue-in-cheek and slightly off kilter in a way that at least resembles what Lewis Carroll envisioned) give boring performances, from Alan Rickman's exposition-heavy Caterpillar to Stephen Fry's fairly straightforward Chesshire Cat. Even Helena Bonham Carter, whose head is for some reason blown up to bulbous proportions just does the standard yelling required of anyone playing the Red Queen and moons over Crispin Glover's Knave, who seems to be present simply so that he can fight the Mad Hatter in an action sequence that feels nothing if not forced. These are not the lunatic creations of Carroll's fevered prose, they are caricatures shoe-horned into a story far too conventional to allow them any room for madness.

Burton abandoned the inspired lunacy and free form construction of Wonderland in favor of Underland, which steals the events from every Alice story you've ever seen, but leaves the joy and life of them elsewhere. Underland isn't a world where the logic you cling to is questioned by every person you meet, its a place where CGI dragons (in the form of another Carroll creation borrowed in name only, the Jabberwocky) face off with empowered women; it isn't a place where the thrilling and unexpected occur because nothing makes sense except the nonsensical, its a place where prophecies are followed and good fights evil. In short, Tim Burton wrought an Alice in Wonderland so safe and predictable it sucks the joy out of every bizarre creation he tries to throw in to spice things up. It is not nearly enough that he gives all of the characters and events eccentric names because their actions (barring Depp's cringe worthy dance sequence near the film's conclusion) are anything but. Wonderland is never the type of place that adheres to the cause and effect structure of any sort of plot (especially not one so boring and conventional), its the sort of inspired madhouse that asks you why a raven is like a writing desk, when it knows that the two are as dissimilar as Burton's film and its source material.

Grade: C

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Jordan and Sam Liveblog the Oscars!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 1, Episode 17: Physical Education

Tonight was a weird one for Community. Britta couldn't pronounce bagel, there was a white version of Abed, and Jeff ended the episode playing naked pool with Boy Meets World's Chet Hunter. The moral itself also subverted the norm, starting out as a standard "you shouldn't change youself for others" story, and ending up as a more original, and valid message: its ok to change yourself in certain situations so long as you don't lose sight of who you are.

When the gang finds a book with a drawing of Abed in it, they determine that someone has a crush on him, and decide to help him change so that he can get the girl. Jeff tries to stop them from falling into the cliche, but they are sitcom characters, and nothing can deter them from trying to change Abed. This leads Abed into an excellent Don Draper impression and a really, really strange vampire impression that seems quite like a dinosaur. As Abed gets up his nerve and approaches the girl, it turns out her drawing was of her boyfriend "Joey" who is literally white Abed.

Jeff's story centers around his reluctance to play pool in shorts. This could be a metaphor for how uncomfortable he is in his own skin, or how often he focuses on seeming cool before actually being cool, but really its mostly an excuse to get Jeff naked and have him face off against Chet Hunter in an epic game of pool.

This episode was less about the show's depth, nor about advancing its plot. It was at its heart about just how absurd this cast can get, and how much fun that is to watch. It may not have been a classic episode, but it was a testament to this show's continues ability to be a blast to watch.

Grade: B+


-"Its just like the notebook but instead of alzheimers, Abed has...someone who likes him."

-"You guys are going to Can't buy Me Love me." "Oh, he means we're going to Love Don't Cost a Thing him."

-"Shut up Leonard. I talked to your son on family day, and I know all about your gambling problem."

-"Vanity, thy name is...his name."

-"You should be like Calvin. His best friend is a tiger, he always went on adventures, and if anything got in his way, he just peed on it."

-Anyone else see the blatant continuity errors in the pool game?

-"I choose shorts!" "You magnificent son of a bitch!"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jordan's Review: 24, Season 8, Episode 10: 1:00 am-2:00 am

Remember the early days of 24 before Jack Bauer was Batman, James Bond, Jason Bourne and Chuck Norris combined? Back in those first few seasons Jack was a government employee who was very good at his job, in a sea of government employees who were almost as good at their jobs and an inexplicable amount of moles pretending to be government employees who were almost as good at their jobs. In the first few seasons of the show, CTU was filled with smart, competent people who mostly knew that Jack was the best around, and mostly trusted his judgment (at least until those bastards at Division showed up). But that has disappeared over the last several seasons as Jack graduated to superhero, lost his ability to ever be wrong, and found only Chloe on his side in the quest to always be right in the face of incompetent government bureaucrats. I understand why the show has moved this way, as watching a good man be great at his job against impossible odds and increasing psychological tolls would likely have lead us to either a boring show or an insane and suicidal Jack Bauer. In spite of all that, however, I was happy to see some of the other employees at CTU show off their abilities tonight, and do so in service of actually helpful goals.

When Jack's team faield to rescue Farhad due to Farhad's incompetence, Jack came up with a very clever plan to use Farhad as "dead bait" and Hastings went along with it. Hastings also stood up to Weiss by himself, taking the reins of CTU fully back into his control by refusing to press charges against Renee. Further than that, little Owen showed himself to be not only competent at his job, but exceedingly brave as he lead a bomb strapped terrorist through the hospital, stalling as much as possible and getting Chloe the necessary information to disarm the bomb. Most episodes of 24 over the past several seasons would have Hastings disagree with Jack and try ot stand in his way, or have poor Owen exhibit cowardice or incompetence that would further complicate the situation, but tonight even Arlo scored some points by disarming the bomb remotely (albeit with Chloe's help).

Hassan and all Hassan related plots continued to suck though, as he wavered between sympathetic foreigner in a serious situation and crazed dicator-cliche entirely on the strength of the performance, rather than any plausibility. Plus, I reall couldn't care less that Tarin and Kayla are together now, but in harm's way. Of all the tens of thousands of people the show has told us are in danger from the potential attack, those two might be the ones I care least about, and yet they get much more story than Mare Winningham's turn as the mother of the terrorist (who it seems will at least be back next week).

In Cole and Dana's subplot, Dana continued to follow the orders of whatever man was nearer as they disposed of the bodies they created in last week's episode ending gunfight. Dana seemd more concerned with the future of their relationship than with the chances of getting caught (she offered to just call the police and take the fall) but this was all pretty boring stuff, given any semblance of excitement only by the dark visuals of the two weighing down and sinking bodies (also, are they in Central Park? Because if so the idea of hiding a body in any "lake" there is patently absurd). This plotline didn't move at all tonight, but it looks like Stephen Root (who played poor, poor Eddie on Season One of True Blood and poor, sort of evil Dwight Dixon on Season Two of Pushing Daisies very well) will be showing up next week to complicate things further as a probably more dangerous Redneck.

Nothing all that exciting happened this hour, and there are still a slew of stupid plotlines detracting from my Jack-time, but for the first time in a while, the employees at CTU seemed like they might actually be capable of stopping terorist attacks without Super Jack and His Girl Chloe there to show them how its done. And that's comforting, in a fictional sort of way.

Grade: B-


-Asking "Are we alone?" is a surefire way to ramp up suspicion if you aren't alone...

-Now that Jack and Renee are apparently madly in love, is she going to die or go crazy?

-Is it just me, or has CTU continued to be shitty at setting up a perimeter for like 8 years now?

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 5, Episode 16: Hooked

It wasn't much of a surprise tonight that we got no closer to meeting the mother, of to finding any sort of overarching story to take us through the rest of the season. It also wasn't surprising that tnight's "special guest star" Carrie Underwood wasn't particularly funny, nor that her shoehorned in plot lead to the development of some very, very thin subplots to fill out 22 minutes. What was surprising is that "Hooked" came off as an incredibly decent and entertaining episode of How I Met Your Mother in spite of all of these things working against it. Sure, it wasn't earth-shatteringly good, but there was some solid continuity, a decent amount of laughter, and a teacup pig (which is the best way to lure women to your apartment, as a slot machine is too fun and a trampoline is too dangerous).

Tonight we got to see a creature we haven't laid eyes on et this season emerge: douche Ted. This version of douche Ted was really more of a jerk than the pretentious douchebag we love to mock, but his jerkiness was offset by how common a situation he had fallen into. Tonight Ted found himself hooked by Carrie Underwood's Tiffany, a pharma girl wh always mentioned her boyfriend whenever old Teddy Westside got ready to make his move. This lead to the inevitable stories from all of the gang about times they had been hooked, or done some hooking, and set up subplots for the rest of the episode.

Barney revealed that pharma girls are the current profession that attracts exclusively hot women (following gatherers, nurses, and stewardesses) and proceeded to have sex with a lot of them. This was paper thin material to build a story on, but Neil Patrick Harris is always a class act, and he made what little he was given work, especially in a recurring gag where he upset a bowl of bar snacks in irritation.

The other two sub-plots are probably equally thin, but seem all the thicker for the sly bits of continuity they fit in (its well established at this point that I am a sucker for good continuity). On Robin's side, she has been hooking Mike, her long time camera-man along and using him to do her laundary, among other things (Mike, for those who are less obsessive than men, has in fact been Robin's camera-man since at least season two, when he got to read the news in Robin's absence because "I'm the best at readin'). It is slightly odd that Mike has stuck with Robin through her show changes, but I'm willing to overlook that for the simple fact that they fit a tiny recurring character into a pretty rote plotline as a way of spicing it up. The Marshall and Lily plotline (they are one entity at this point after all) focused on the return of Lily's erstwhile boyfriend Scooter, who is still holding onto the faint hope that he and Lily might someday be together (and has abandoned his dreams of umpiring to be the lunch lady at Lily's school). This is fun because Scooter is recurringly such a ridiculous character (and Neil Patrick Harris' real-life boyfriend) and watching his life spiral downward is good for some laughs. Bonus points for the fct that Lily spends a good portion of the episode rejecting the tea cup pig for practice.

When all is said and done, nothing really changed in this episode, no real insight into dating life was achieved and "Hooked" came nowhere near classic status, yet it had a lot of fun with a pretty boring premise and worked in something for the long term fans as well. It may not have been my favorite episode in recent memory, but it got the job done.

Grade: B


-"I've been a bit loose, but money never changed hands."

-"Hey Lily, nice dress. Tater tots? I love you."

-"Hang in there, scoots, I'm not going to live forever." I love Marshall.

-"Last night the pharma girl I hooked up with was so hot you should call a doctor if you don't get an erection lasting more than four hours. Am I right people?" "Yeah, there are no people here, just the girl you most recently dated..."