Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jordan's Review: Running Wilde, Season 1, Episode 7: Mental Flaws

First, a programming note: For those of you who don't know, its now been made official: Running Wilde is cancelled, and the remainder of its 13 episode run is going to be burnt off over the course of the next month, on Sunday evenings from what I've heard. I'll keep my eye out for the show and will cover the episodes as they air, provided I don't miss them, but its kind of a pointless exercise all things considered, so if the episodes prove too hard to track (Fox is notorious for throwing episodes of shows its looking to burn into random time slots until their order has been broadcast) I may not review any or all of them.

I can't say I'm too sad to see the show go, though honestly. I still maintain that the central relationship between Steve and Emmy is legitimately well drawn, and remains potentially good fodder for a television series. I also think that Fa'ad is a hilarious character and played perfectly by Peter Serafinowicz (who I like so much I have actually learned to spell his name without double checking it). Yet after watching all seven of the episodes that have aired to date, I am left wondering if the show's creators ever honestly brainstormed more than one episode. Literally every episode of the series so far has been patterned on a variety of comic misunderstandings between Steve and Emmy, usually with nary a subplot in sight and the supporting characters mostly just delivering jokes that fall within this plotline. Think about how many parties have been the center of an episode's plot. After only seven episodes, the show is entirely too predictable for its own good. There have been many shows that center each week on comic misunderstandings, and that isn't necessarily a bad idea for Running Wilde (though I think Mitch Hurwitz will always be better served with a show that allows for more variation in the plotlines), yet there is a difference between being a sitcom that emphasizes the sit (by using a standard "situation" to drive the plot of each episode) and being a show that only has one episode and presents slight variations on it week after week.

Mitch Hurwitz wanted to create a sitcom that could be a mainstream hit, but I think that Running Wilde displays more clearly than ever that Hurwitz just isn't meant for the mainstream. He doesn't understand what makes a mainstream comedy work, nor, clearly, why Arrested Development wasn't a mainstream hit, not really. He seems to have taken the lessons a petulant and bitter child would've learned from his masterpiece, and so turned in a terrible sitcom as retribution to a world that didn't recognize and reward his genius. The networks say Arrested Development was too smart to be a mainstream hit? Fine. Hurwitz will give them Running Wilde, a show with a near identical comedic sensibility to Arrested only, well dumber. Where AD was famous for its subltety, its ability to underplay its jokes, and its multifaceted layers of jokes that rewarded re-watching, Running Wilde telegraphs its every joke to the point that it destroys the comedy (see tonight's running gag about Steve not understanding what a dental school is, for a perfect example), plays its joke as broadly as possible, and has Puddle's narration explain the plotline which is already written so simplistically that anyone could easily understand it, which destroys the pacing and any hint of the narrative subtleties that were the joy of Arrested Development. The networks thought Arrested Development was too serialized for casual viewers to understand? Great. Here's Running Wilde, a show so absurdly episodic that literally the same thing happens every single week. If you miss an episode of Running Wilde, don't worry, the next one will be pretty much identical. In sum, Mitch Hurwitz didn't really create Running Wilde as a potential mainstream hit, he seems to have created it as a childish joke on what a show has to be in order to draw an audience. It isn't a particularly well told joke, and it mostly makes him seem ornery and bitter. Also, it didn't draw any audiences.

This week's plot, which is almost pointless to go over, has Steve trying to invite Emmy to another party, which Emmy wants to go to unti lshe realizes Steve is inviting her for shallow reasons (as GOB would say, "come on!") After she chips a tooth (wow, another Arrested callback. For the fans? Because I think we would've been happier if the show was just funny on its own without relying on, "hey, remember when that funny thing happened on your favorite sitcom ever? We do too!" gags), she embarks on a campaign to uglify herself so Steve will disinvite her while Steve fights his urges to do just that. In the end, they don't go to the party, because Emmy really gets sick in front of a fake doctor played by Johnathan from 30 Rock and a faker doctor played by Fa'ad. That's pretty much it, in a nutshell.

I won't miss Running Wilde when its gone. If anything it has made me actively question my faith in Mitch Hurwitz and his ability to produce a television show that can stay on the air, and in his maturity as a human being. To be clear, my disappointment with this show takes nothing away from Arrested Development, which I still maintain is the greatest sitcom of all time, and which I still think proves that Hurwitz is a comedy genius who honestly didn't get the appreciation he deserved while the show was on the air (Though the accolades, critical support, and slowly gorwing fervent fan base should really be enough for the man). Unfortunately he spent the entire run of Running Wilde living in the shadow of Arrested to the point that it often seemed like he was only doing the show this way as some weird sort of revenge against Fox for cancelling his magnum opus (which also explains why I have so often broken my initial pledge to avoid mentioning AD in these reviews). At the end of the day, Hurwitz may be satisfied in his revenge, but he has failed in his admitted aim to make a television show that would draw enough viewers to stay on the air and make him a steady income. Mostly I think that's because Running Wilde isn't a television show at all. It's a temper tantrum.

Grade: C-


-"Come on, Africa. Let's waterski safely."

-"Yes, she's attractive on the surface, but she doesn't have any of Emmy's beautiful inner qualities--like her metabolism...or her teeth."

-"Those are just things! Except for Weebiscuit and Carla."

-Perhaps my favorite line about Fa'ad yet: "How does he even get in here?" Good God I hope that someone gives Serafinowicz something else to do very quickly, or that Mitch Hurwitz drafts him into his repertoire for use on his next, hopefully better show (which with any luck he'll do on Showtime or HBO where he'll have creative freedom and fewer ratings worries).

-"You know its in the ear now, right?" "Since when?"

-"Wow. Important."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jordan's Review: The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 4: Wildfire

Following my discussion last week of the two camps of people who are likely to watch The Walking Dead, I engaged in a further debate with my sometimes co-blogger here, Sam, in which he claimed that as a fan of both zombie entertainment and AMC dramas, he only watched the show as the former mostly because it doesn't meet his requirements for the former. He argued that he didn't care about whether any of the characters lived or died yet, especially because this season is only 6 episodes long and we barely know any of them. Because of this, he said, the show is at its best when there is a lot of zombie violence and less dialogue or drama. If you've been following my coverage of the show so far, it is probably pretty clear that I disagree with this assessment, but the man has some fair points. I think The Walking Dead is a better show than that, and I think that given a bit more time to grow and gain depth, I will really care about every character and what happens to them. The show has its flaws, yes, but I hope that in its forthcoming second season, it will overcome them. That makes judging these episodes in the interim a bit tricky, but that's what I've pledged to do, so here goes.

This week opens with Rick on the walkie talkie trying to communicate with Morgan to tell him to stay away from Atlanta. There's a hint of futility in his voice that I found fairly convincing--he knows how bad things have become, and he really doesn't see a way out. The sanctuary his group has made in the wilderness has been invaded, and people he has come to know (albeit only slightly) are dead all around him. While the men go about destroying the brains of their dead, burning the zombie bodies (but notably burying the bodies of their own dead) and clearly the wreckage, Andrea mourns Amy and refuses to let anyone come near her. Her grief is a little over done, but its convincing, and Dale's speech to her about how much he has come to care for her and for Amy was very moving. Watching Amy come back to life and scrape at Andrea in mindless hunger was very heart-wrenching, as Andrea screamed and put a bullet through the head of her baby sister.

Yet as decently as Amy's reanimation and death was handled, watching Carol beat Ed's head in was a giant, walking cliche. Every time an abusive husband is killed in anything ever, the wife always takes her anger out on the corpse. It may be a realistic reaction and a decent portrayal, but it comes across as false and forced simply because its been done so many times. While Carol and Andrea grieve in their own ways, Jim realizes he has been bitten, and is therefore in the slow, painful process of becoming one of the walkers. The debate over whether to kill Jim is short ("we don't kill the living" seems to be a code that Rick will stick to very strongly), but the question of what to do next is more drawn out. Rick wants to take Jim to the CDC in the (fairly naive) hope of finding a cure, and Shane hopes to get to a military base 125 miles in the other direction.

Shane continues to be possibly the most fascinating character on the show. He is quick to use violence to exert his authority, but seemingly does this because he knows that power must be consolidated or order will fall by the wayside. He believes in practicality over the righteousness that Rick clings to, which often sets them at odds. Rick is quick to hand out guns to those who choose not to accompany of them, and even to offer Jim one when he eventually decides to be left at the side of the road; Shane seems more weary of getting rid of the supply that most closely resembles any kind of currency in this post-apocalyptic world. Most crucially, this week, Shane considers killing Rick in the woods after Rick tells him he does not understand hat its like to have a family to consider. The moment is a tour de force for Jon Bernthal, who excellently portrays Shane's torment as he contemplates murdering his former partner. On the one hand, it would further consolidate power, which is practical. It would also give Shane a chance to be the father figure for Carl and the lover to Lori that he so wants to be. Most interestingly, it shows how quickly Shane has learned to resort to violence in order to solve even his smallest problems. Shane is a man who believes in keeping order even if he does it by breaking the peace, and the question of how far he will go to gain power or control is a fascinating one. The moment when Dale comes upon Shane with a gun trained at Rick is also a fascinating one--Dale clearly knows what he has just seen, and is obviously unsettled by it, yet what can really be done? Shane is the de facto leader of their group (though Rick consistently struggles for that position with him), and he clearly doesn't take kindly to those who question his authority. Dale, at least for now, chooses not to.

The moment when Jim asks to be left by the road, and when everyone says goodbye to him, is truly harrowing, a somewhat beautiful expression of how powerful every life is in a world with very few people left. This is one moment where everyone seems to come into agreement with Rick's fairly die hard view that every human life is sacred; each member of the group appreciates the quiet tragedy of Jim's decision, and realizes what a precious presence will be missing from here on out. Many members of the group had honestly considered killing Jim, yet no one is happy to leave him dying by the side of the road.

I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the awesome, shocking ending of the episode, in which a mostly abandoned CDC is still populated by one dedicated, if cynical, scientist searching for a cure. The man suffers a miserable setback when his best samples are destroyed--a setback so severe he contemplates suicide until he sees a small group of survivors. Rick has something of a breakdown in front of the CDC shutters, screaming "you're killing us!" and hurling himself against the shudders. Its another excellently played scene, and even though the shutters opening to reveal a Close Encounters style white light was a little bit much, the ending of the episode suggested a bold new direction the show could go in for the next several weeks.

This was another very solid episode of The Walking Dead. I do still think of the show as flawed, but I don't see a single flaw that can't be overcome with slightly better writing. That isn't to say that the uneven writing isn't a large problem for the show--it is. Moments like Andrea's tragic murder of Amy are seriously undercut by walking cliches like Carol's beating of Ed's corpse, and that lessens the quality of the show overall. This is not a great television series yet, but I can think of several series that had uneven shortened first seasons, only to come back with excellence when they had a full order in front of them (the first examples to come to mind are Buffy, which had a mixed first season of 13 episodes, and then a pretty stellar second, The Office, which aped its British predecessor a bit much in its first 6 episodes only to set itself apart in its next season, and Parks and Rec which felt derivative of The Office until the second season where it became a much, much funnier version of The Office). All of this is basically to say that The Walking Dead is far from perfect at this point, but its pretty damn good, and I can see many ways that it will become pretty damn great in its second season. For now, though, I'm just excited to see how this first season wraps up.

Grade: B+


-Apparently the outbreak of zombies started 163 days ago. That may help us start to narrow the window of how long Lori thought Rick was dead before she started banging Shane. And, you know, its important for other reasons too...

-"We don't burn them! We bury them!"

-"Its not about what you want. That sound you hear is God laughing while you make plans."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 10: Blitzgiving

One of the things that set How I Met Your Mother apart from other sitcoms in its early years was its ability to coin terms for everyday occurrences that seemed to match perfectly with real life experiences. They have continued to try this over the last few years, with increasingly mixed results, but tonight's term, "The Blitz" is definitely more a winner than a loser.

The term "The Blitz" denotes the person with the tendency to leave the room right before a succession of increasingly awesome things occur, which in the life of the gang was Steve (Jorge Garcia, throwing as many Lost jokes as possible into his appearance), who left Ted and Marshall's room for Kraft-Croft night (a mixture of mac and cheese and Tomb Raider that sounds delightful to me) and missed a naked girl and a "sandwich" fueled viewing of Apocalypse Now with Weird Al's Greatest Hits playing over it, among many other awesome occurrences. This week, Ted and Barney both briefly become The Blitz before it, of course, transfers back to steve in the blip at the episode's end. Ted's reign as The Blitz is my personal favorite, bringing back the idea of drunken misadventures and their conflated awesomeness like we haven't seen since "The Pineapple Incident," a Season One classic in my book. After Ted goes to sleep, the gang bonds with Zoey, throwing hats onto Marshall's head ("The Gentlemen!"), playing truth or dare and sending a picture of Marshall's junk to a random guy, and watching a dog skateboard through Maclaren's before breaking Ted's oven and painting a kiss mask on a passed out Robin.

With the oven broken, the gang, and The Blitz, who managed to be there for all of it, transferring his curse to Ted, search for a suitable place for Thanksgiving and end up at Zoey's, where Barney has become the Blitz for taking his own cab and missing the gang's joining of the Macy's Day parade and Ted's becoming "The Bueller" by singing "Twist and Shout" on a float. Barney feeling like the butt of a joke and getting all whiney about of it is always fodder for comedic gold, and NPH plays it as excellently as usual tonight.

And so we see Zoey pass from enemy to friend with Ted's realization that she hoped to spend Thanksgiving with her stepdaughter, and the apparent masterplot of Season Six moves another step forward. more than that, though, "Blitzgiving" also gives us a pretty good Thanksgiving episode to clear the palate after "Slapsgiving 2" (which I was thinking during tonight's episode would have gotten a few continuity points if it had been called "Slapsgiving 2: The Re-Return") and a new term that will actually be applicable in daily life. Not too shabby for a late period episode of How I Met Your Mother and a decent model for how the show can continue to turn out funny episodes that move the plotline forward and manage to be respectful of the show's continuity.

Grade: B


-I like Ted's turturkeykey idea.

-"Lily doesn't let me do truths, so dare."

-"My name...Is Steve!"

-Most ridiculous joke I never fail to laugh at: People having sad yearbook quotes. Since you choose your own quote, its patently ridiculous that you'd pick something sad, and yet every Blitz chose "Aw, Man!" as their quote.

-I also liked that the original Blitz dropped out right before college became co-ed.

-"And here's the twist, Babakha..." I love Barney's ability to become best friends with cab drivers instantaneously.

-"I'm so happy to be here my face hurts from smiling."

-"Did Wang guy just quote Gandhi?" Also a good running Robin gag is her refusing to admit crushes and instead saying something like "No, I hate him!"

-"Where to?" "I guess we're going home." "Yeah, I don't know where that is..." and later, "You really need to start throwing some addresses my way, buddy."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jordan's Review: The Walking Dead, Season 1, Episode 4: Vatos

There is no doubt about it, The Walking Dead's biggest problem is the two masters it is serving. On the one hand, people who have become accustomed to a certain level of depth and quality to their AMC programming, through Madd Men, Breaking Bad and to a much lesser extent Rubicon are watching the show expecting a more meditative, complex, and deeply wrought version of the standard zombie storylines. On the other are the zombie people who come to the show (probably in much larger numbers than the former group) possibly entirely unaware of AMC's track record and just looking for week-to-week thrills and gore. Personally, I fall more into the former camp than the latter, but I understand that the show will always have to deal with those who are around just to watch zombies get slaughtered. The Sopranos often drew complaints from people who thought there should be more wacking, and a similar contingency will likely be clamoring for more gore if the show goes too philosophical for too long. Personally, the more introspective The Sopranos got, the happier I was, and the same will be true of The Walking Dead, I'm sure. I hope that in the long run, the show leans less on zombie violence and more on thought-provoking ethical conundrums, but for now I understand the need for balance, and I think the show has done a pretty solid job of doing that so far.

This week's episode opens with a subtly heart-warming discussion between Andrea and Amy as they compare notes about their father's fishing style. At first they think that they're memories are failing them, but they soon come to realize that their dad knew the differences between them and accommodated them both as best he could. What starts as a nice moment between two characters quickly becomes a quietly tragic contemplation of the pain of outliving those you love and the marks that parents indelibly leave on their children. I should have seen this as foreshadowing of what was to come, but the scene was so tranquil, I failed to notice it as the calm before the storm. Jim, meanwhile was a few steps ahead of me, having apparently dreamed of a zombie attack and spending the day digging graves in a nearby field, refusing to stop for anyone until Shane broke out his trusty violent tendencies and subdued Jim. I like how the show plays Shane so far as a man who truly wants to do good for everyone around him but is discovering the most efficient way to do that is to rule like a dictator, through violence and fear. Shane may be corrupted by the power he wields, and he may stop using violence for the greater good, but at the moment he is a kind, contemplative man of action with a dark side brewing under the surface. I'm excited to see where this internal conflict takes him. Jim was also deepened in a fascinating way tonight, with the discovery that his wife and children were eaten in front of him, and he only escaped because the zombies were to busy eating his family to notice him.

In Atlanta, Rick, Daryl, Short Round, and T-Dog search for Merle and get into a conflict with another group of survivors, who kidnap Short Round to extort the guns out of the group. What begins as a showdown between a ruthless "gang leader" in Guillermo quickly gains added depth after it is revealed that Guillermo and Felipe, his right hand man, were staff at a hospital who stayed behind after everyone else fled the city to assist the elderly who couldn't make it out. Even better, while Felipe is a nurse, Guillermo was only a janitor before the zombie apocalypse began. This was a nice way to give depth to a storyline that would otherwise have been pretty straightforward "people are assholes" schtick. While The Walking Dead seems perfectly willing to show us that in a post-apocalyptic world, people are the real enemy, not zombies, I appreciated the color that was added to Guillermo's character with the revelation that he is not a cold gang leader, but rather a janitor trying his best to help people in need. Not everyone on this show is a hero, but its nice to know that not everyone is an obvious villain either. The scene was played out in almost eye-rolling fashion, especially in Guillermo's dialogue, but the heart was in the right place, and for now that's enough for me.

As the episode ends, the Atlanta group has rushed back to camp on foot, thinking that Merle was driving back to get some revenge, only to discover a zombie horde attacking their peaceful camp. The night fight scene was incredibly well executed and should have made any of the "watching only for the gore" group pretty happy. Yet it also packed the emotional punch that this show does best, taking Amy on the eve of her birthday, and leaving Andrea crying over the loved one she has now lost, hearkening back to the beginning of the episode.

In all, this episode is definitely a step down from last week's. While I appreciated the shading on the Vatos, I still think their plotline was a bit sappy, and ultimately felt like a stall rather than a necessary cog in this season's story arc. The opening and closing scenes were incredibly strong, though, and there was enough thoughtfulness, and yes, action in between them to call "Vatos" a solid, if not stellar, installment of The Walking Dead.

Grade: B


-While seeing Amy go was sad, I was actually relieved to watch Ed be devoured by a zombie. One asshole down.

-"Guess the world changed." "No. Its the same as it ever was. The weak get taken."

-"How long do you think they got?" "How long do any of us?"

-"I give this to you not so you can remember time, but so you can forget it, and not waste your every breath trying to conquer it."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: Kathryn Bigelow

By Jordan

Note: The purpose of Whose Film Is It Anyway? is to examine the validity of the auteur theory through the lens of individual film-makers, taking a look at their bodies of work and highlighting the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of their films. Ultimately, the goal of this column will be to generate a discussion of the merits of auteur theory through examinations of directors widely considered auteurs, analyses of directors whose status as auteurs is more tenuous, and occasional looks at non-directors who may drive the quality and content of their films with more assuredness than the directors they work with.

"You're a real blue flame special, aren't you son? Young, dumb, and full of come, I know. What I don't know is how you got assigned here. Guess we must have ourselves an asshole shortage, huh?"-Ben Harp (John C. McGinley), Point Break

Last March, there was a showdown of potentially epic proportions in the Best Director's race at the Oscars. Kathryn Bigelow was poised to become the first woman to take home the prize, and all she had to do to be assured of victory was bypass her ex-husband, James Cameron who had made the highest grossing movie of all time a few months earlier and was looking to replicate his Titanic winning streak. Unfortunately for movie geeks the world over, Bigelow and Cameron have an amicable relationship and were both very supportive of one another's films and chances at the awards. Bigelow has garnered a strange mixture over the course of her career of critical respect and feminist regrets. While she has flown further in her filmmaking career than any other woman has yet, Bigelow is often criticized for attempting to make "a man's movies" to fit into a "man's industry."

As Salon writer Martha P. Nochimson rather reductively put it in this piece in response to Quentin Tarantino calling Bigelow that Queen of Directors, "I prefer the 'Transvestite of Directors.' Looks to me like she's masquerading as the baddest boy on the block to win the respect of an industry still so hobbled by gender-specific tunnel vision that it has trouble admiring anything but filmmaking soaked in a reduced notion of masculinity." To say I disagree with Ms. Nochimson's presumptive, reductive, and self-serving analysis of Bigelow's work is an understatement. Not only is she flat out wrong about Kathryn Bigelow, she comes off sounding like a crazy person in the process. One of the most puzzling aspects of the feminist movement to my far from feminine (though I would say strongly feminist) eye is the desire to take down women who have found success for having done it in "the wrong way." Kathryn Bigelow gets the harshest reviews of her career from women who seem to think she has only reached success by making "guy movies." Personally, I think Bigelow deserves more criticism for being wildly inconsistent and for stringing together a career of near-hits between two very well done movies, yet apparently there is no way to extract her gender from a discussion of her work.

So let me preface my analysis of Bigelow as a potential auteur with this statement: I don't think men can make movies any better than women. I don't think men can inherently do almost anything better than women. And I don't think Kathryn Bigelow makes her movies as a way of masquerading as a man. I do, however, think that Bigelow ties her films (both those that work and those that don't) together through an examination of the male psyche, of male bonding, and finally, of the ways that the men who dominate her films alter the ways that the women in them can function. Rather than reading Bigelow's work as an attempt to disguise herself as a man to find success, I see Bigelow's films as a criticism of the kind of destructive machismo that has made the film industry as consistently male-driven and occasionally flat-out misogynistic as it is.

The first example of this trend can be seen in 1990's Blue Steel, in which Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis), one of Bigelow's few female leads, is plagued by the psychopathic Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver). Turner is a policewoman who kills a man in the line of duty in front of Hunt, who steals the man's weapon from the scene and begins committing murders with it while simultaneously trying to seduce Turner. Over the course of the film, Hunt's masculine machinations rob Turner of her job, potentially her freedom, and possibly her sanity as he tries to drive her completely insane. Turner's life has certainly spiraled out of her own control because of Hunt's sick games, yet by the film's end she manages to regain a semblance of it through the exercise of what Bigelow dibs as a typically male activity--violence.

In perhaps her most famous film, Point Break, the trend is slightly more obviously. Tyler (Lori Petty) has easily the smallest of the lead roles in the movie, and is almost drowned out by the cavalcade of masculine posturing that surrounds her. The film is centered around Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), an FBI agent who goes undercover into the surfing subculture to catch a band of bank robbers called the Ex-Presidents, lead by surfing guru Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). The film is like a love letter to masculine posturing, from the gun fetishizing police officers to the hard-ass superior, and from the adrenaline fueled male bonding to the cocky game of chicken between Utah and Bodhi as they free-fall out of an airplane. Throughout, Tyler is mostly there as Utah's love interest and Bodhi's ex-girlfriend, until her control is literally stripped from her when she is kidnapped by one of Bodhi's cronies.

In 1995, Strange Days, Bigelow's most interesting failure, follows Lenny (Ralph Feinnes) through a near-future in which "clips", virtual reality experiences of real people doing real things, are traded like drugs. The world of the film is trapped in the L.A. riots of the early '90s, but the focus is still on the ways that men subjugate women just as much as it focuses on the way that the white police officers subjugate the black community. The clip at the center of the movie depicts the killing of a popular rapper (Glenn Plummer) by the LAPD, yet the more intriguing subplot comes from a mysterious man sending clips to Lenny of him subduing, raping, and murdering women. The film's greatest misstep comes in the casting of Juliette Lewis as someone who is supposed to be desirable (she may be the most annoying actor alive, rivaling Elizabeth Banks for the ire she inspires in me), yet her character is one that left Lenny for greater freedom and now finds herself in a relationship that restricts her even more. The real hero of the film, however is Angela Bassett's hapless sidekick, who is constricted by her inexplicable love for Lenny and yet is the freest character in the film. She kicks the most ass, is not addicted to clips, and is not in a misogynistic relationship either.

In easily Bigelow's best film, The Hurt Locker, a woman appears for only about five minutes, but is depicted as one of the film's multitude of tragic characters. She is Will's (Jeremy Renner) hapless semi-ex-wife, who stays in their house and with him despite the fact that he spends all of his time in Iraq and cannot find it within himself to really love her or their child. Will is Bigelow's most fascinating creation, a man singularly obsessed with the adrenaline of war to the point that he tells his son that as you grow older you love fewer and fewer things, and "for me its just one." Will has lost his ability to care about anything or anyone except the bombs he deactivates on the battle field, and in the process has become the most tragic of Bigelow's male creations--a man so consumed by masculine posturing that he fails to function in real society.

Bigelow has spent her entire career fighting charges that she makes male movies to make the men in her industry happy. As she herself put it, "If there's a specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It's irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don't. There should be more women directing; I think there's just not the awareness that its really possible. It is." Bigelow has refused to be stopped by any obstacle thrown in her way, and has forced people to take notice of her for the last three decades. Rather than being mired in the misogyny that often fells women in Hollywood, she has spent her career making people question their preconceptions about masculinity and about the effects it has on women's freedom and ability to live their lives. Unlike many of her female characters, Bigelow has consistently refused to be subjugated and has repeatedly brought forth her view on the world to be seen, and often criticized both fairly and unfairly, by the masses who sadly are still questioning the role of women in the film industry well into the 21st century. Kathryn Bigelow has not single-handedly solved the problem of sexism in the film industry, but she has certainly made strong steps toward bringing the issue into the light.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

Coming up on Who's Film Is It Anyway?:

12/5: Darren Aronofsky

12/19: Frank Capra

1/2: Mike Myers

1/16: Kevin Smith

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 7: College

This week was one of those weird times when 30 Rock tries to add thematic depth to its sleet little joke machine, and fortunately, it was also one of the weirder times it pretty much worked. "College" is all about finding yourself by losing yourself, and about how we may not be who we think we are or who we want to be, but that doesn't mean we can change who we are at our core.

At the episode's center is Jack's journey into his own past, started when he realizes the recordings he created for a scholarship of him reciting every word in the dictionary to preserve perfect pronunciation in the event of a nuclear holocaust (awesome sentence to type, by the way) have been sold by Princeton and that he is now basically the voice of everything. This leads Jack down memory land to a time when he worked several jobs to pay his way through college (as Liz says, "i always forget you were poor" and as Jack replies, "Thank you.") Jack was working too hard to truly enjoy his college life, and he wants that experience back. Additionally, he wants to make sure that the microwave division, which just had its best quarter in five years without him, doesn't succeed unless he can take the credit. Its unfortunate that his efforts included a lot of racist jokes about Indians and Hinduism, but I'm chalking that up to a meta gag about how terrible Outsourced is and just moving on.

Meanwhile, Liz too is trying to recapture her lost glory days by making the crew like her. In typical Liz Lemon fashion, the second she steps out of control the place spirals into disarray, with drunk crew members, shit covered dogs, flying footballs and a 72-minute long ice cream break. This is a plotline that the show has done before, but it still generates laughs, and provides some nice thematic resonance with Jack's A-plot. In a strange move for a 30 Rock episod, "College" had no real C-plot, with all of the background characters pretty much existing on the sidelines of the main stories. I guess you could argue that the Prank on Pete was a C-plot, but really that tied so fluidly into Jack's story that I don't think it particularly counts. This is one of the only shows on tv that pulls off cramming three plotlines into the episode on a semi-regular basis, but tonight the lack of one wasn't bothersome at all. Instead, it allowed two plotlines that may have been just "joke generators" in a three plot episode to breathe and gain a little depth.

The moment at the end in which Pete, Jack, and Liz all get a little taste of happiness and a little taste of college was a nice emotional ending for a story about the place that nostalgia keeps in our daily lives, and the fact that we may not be able to change, but we also all serve a purpose just as we are.

Grade: B+


-"Your boo's are not scaring me. I know most of you are not ghosts!"

-"Lemon, lesbian Frankenstein wants her shoes back." "Oh my god it is him!"

-"It wasn't the feces that got to me, Lemon. It was the crudely scrawled notes of 'Help me.'" I love how Baldwin played this, with the perfect mixture of pathos and humor.

-"Oh Lemon, please. Money can't buy happiness. It IS happiness."

-I loved Lutz saying, "i told them not to. Let's get out of here, Jack!"

-"Usually everyone around here makes me feel like Hitler. But today, I feel like...Hitler in Germany!"

-"I'm Ogbert the nerd. Always have been, always will be."

-"My uncle was a tinkerer. Until the FBI shot him."

-"Oh really? That's how much time is left? Pizza?"

-"Kenneth, I've told you this before: Your Nana was an idiot."

-"Not stolen property of Adolf Lemon."

-"Want to see me shotgun this?" "Oh god, she means the pizza!"

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 9: Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design

Last week Community took a step back to reevaluate the characters and how they relate to each other, dropping any pretense of parody to focus instead on jut interactions between the group of characters we have become invested in. This week marked a return to parody that was very funny, if a little disappointing, but it also gave us something that the show does excellently, and more rarely than it might seem: a Troy and Abed subplot.

The conspiracy storyline had its faults, first and foremost in that it squandered the idea that Greendale might have a night school that would be even worse than its actual school, yet it delivered something as fantastic as the extended chase sequence through the pillow fort (which I will discuss more in a moment) so I can't complain too much about it. It also returned to the idea of Jeff and Annie as a romantic pairing, and to how hurt Annie actually is by the way Jeff blew off their kiss in last year's season finale. Again, I'll say that this show can do parody's of just about anything and be funny, but what makes it work is that all of the tensions are routed in the believable feelings of well drawn out characters. When South Park does a parody episode (and has it really done much else for the last 5 years?) it often abandons any pretense of characterizations, plugging in everyone where they need to go to make the story work. This isn't an inherently flawed strategy (and I think it really works for that show) but there is something more rewarding in a well executed parody that would also work if it were making fun of nothing.

Imagine for a moment, that no "conspiracy thrillers" actually existed and my point might make more sense.If you had never seen an elaborate chase sequence in which the suspect fleeing disappeared into a parade of some sort, would the idea that there was a Latvian Independence parade going on inside a pillow fort be any less funny? If there had never been a movie that was more dedicated to a ridiculous amount of twists and double crosses, would you not laugh at the conclusion of this plotline, in which pretty much everyone shoots pretty much everyone after long exposition? These jokes are funnier because they reference well worn cinematic tropes, but they are also funny in and of themselves. And that the entire conspiracy was dreamed up by Annie to teach Jeff a lesson about cheating the system, joined by the Dean because he's painfully lonely and his job doesn't really require anything of him, and ended with Annie cathartically "murdering" Jeff for actually hurting her--well, that just makes it all the better. If "conspiracy thrillers" never existed, this would still be a hilarious episode of the show, and it would still be grounded in real character developments.

The subplot is pretty much just glorious, glorious icing on the episode's cake. Troy and Abed are the dynamic duo of this show, and wisely, Community avoids burning us out on their crazy adventures by giving them an entire subplot to themselves pretty rarely Sure, the two hang out and trade quips every episode, and most of the blips are centered on the sort of shenanigans these two get up to, but as a pairing in a full subplot, I don't think these two are thrown together too much more than anyone else, which is just a credit to how strong the show's ensemble has become. Of course once Troy and Abed started building a pillow fort it would become an epic undertaking and a ridiculously meticulous construction, and yet, every detail they added to the place made it more amazing.

It should also be noted how well the episode flows along while dumping several of its main characters to background roles. Last week was great because it gave everyone a chance to shine, but tonight we barely saw Pierce, Shirley, or Britta (except for in that awesome sight gag in which they stumbled upon her in the Turkish section of the pillow fort just hanging out and she just said "Hey..." like it wasn't the weirdest thing ever) and yet the episode went off pretty much flawlessly. The show didn't need any of them to work tonight, and os it wisely kept them in the background. A lesser sitcom would've gummed up the flow by throwing Pierce into the conspiracy story line and having him shout in the final confrontation (or maybe try to help Troy and Abed build the fort, though that would have been tough from his wheelchair) or had Shirley lecture one of the two pairs), but Community knows how to best utilize its characters, and in an episode that is, at the heart of both plotlines, about the silly joy of just playing around and getting way too into the minutiae of a given situation, Britta's wet blanket, Shirley's judgment and Pierce's desire to be center of attention would have detracted from the episode, not added to it. The characters "Conspiracy Theories" did focus on are the ones that make the most sense, and the ones its the most fun to watch in this scenario. Troy and Abed are pretty much huge kids, but they're adult enough to dig deep into their geekiness and make something even geekier in the process--they built a pillow fort, sure, but they also built it into a microcosm of society as a whole. Jeff and Annie meanwhile are less kid-like, but both equally stubborn and prone to trying to prove their point at any cost, which leads to them becoming just as obsessively involved in the ridiculous construct of their plotline.

"Conspiracy Theories" is not a perfect episode, but when push comes to shove it was such a blast it never really mattered. I praise Community a lot for how deeply realized its characters are, and how well it tells a continuing story about their ever-strengthening bonds, and all of that is on display here, but more importantly, this is a really fun episode of television that I enjoyed from start to finish. And for all of my pretentious analyses every week, sometimes that's the most important thing a sitcom can be.

Grade: A-


-I think its worth noting that this show is shockingly good at turning on romantic tension whenever it needs it and dropping it when it doesn't without ever feeling inconsistent on the issues. One week can be a Jeff-Britta episode, and the next can be a jeff-Annie episode, and yet it all feels perfectly reasonable. And while this isn't a show that really hinges on the "will they won't they" plotlines, it handles the relationships so well that I really do care when it asks me too. And, for the record, I'm still in the Jeff-Annie camp, which had some great moments tonight.

-"Notice all the animals wearing sunglasses?" "Because its a brighter tomorrow." Nice throwaway "Green week" joke.

-"I heard one kid built a diorama about a world without dioramas."

-Professor Professorson is a great name. Also, "My family name was Professorburg, but we changed it when we were fleeing from the Nazis."

-"I have always dreamt of playing charades with you Jeffrey. But not like this. And not on dry land..."

-"Looks like somebody sent us a message. A tiny, underwhelming message." It was a great touch to shoot the little car's "explosion" from three angles, just like every car explosion scene ever.

-"These'll be perfect for Pierce's Mom Memorial Tunnel." Also included in the blanket fort: A Turkish Section, a Latvian Independence Parade, and a Civil Right's museum.

-"Did you just mispronounce et cetera?" "My latin class is fake, Jeff. Like all my classes. Like my life, aren't you listening?"

-"Once it was obviosu the Dean had orchestrated everything, it was even more obvious the Dean was too stupid to orchestrate anything."

-"I can't keep track of it anymore! I just keep teaming up with whoever suggests it!"

-"Would that this hoodie were a time hoodie..."

-"We've started looting!" "Want to build a cardboard submarine?" "Get out of my brain."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 9: Glitter

When I first heard that the Robin Sparkles mythology was getting another chapter, I was ecstatic. "Slap Bet" is probably the best episode How I Met Your Mother ever produced, introducing the running slap gag and Robin's pop star past, all within 22 minutes. But my ecstasy lapsed a bit when I remembered last season's terrible "Slapsgiving 2" which insulted and sullied the glorious running gag of the slap bet and tried its best to tarnish the show's mythology. Worse than that, it wasn't funny. So I began to fear that "Glitter" would be just as bad as that monstrosity. I am happy to say, it wasn't. In fact, this week's episode was the best we've had in a while, combining mythology, call backs, and actual, hearty laughs in a way the show hasn't pulled off all year so far.

The show's main plot is a little bit silly, but not too bad by late era-HIMYM standards. Lily begins to fear that her baby fever will lead to a break up with Robin, and so she preemptively breaks up with her. This ties in with Barney's discovery of an episode of the show that introdued the world to Robin Sparkles, and her bff Jessica Glitter. The idea of Lily and Robin breaking up is insane, even with the fact that Robin has often exhibited her distaste for children, but I'm willing to accept this fear for what it allows--a good number of scenes from Space Teens, Robin's old show, and a confrontation with Robin's ex-bff Jessica Glitter. I absolutely loved the moment when Barney slid across the room, prepared to slap Marshall when it seemed like Robin might have done porn (which was his original position in "Slap Bet" and which led to his 5-slap deep debt to Marshall), but really, I was equally happy with almost all of this storyline. The Lily-Robin conflict was puffed up to give the episode some non-existent stakes, but it was done to provide material that allowed for plenty of laughs. Space Teens is endlessly, obliviously filthy, and the gang's glee at this made up for any weak points in the plot's construction.

The show deserves extra points for the Robin Sparkles foil that Ted's story provides, when Ted reunites with Punchy, a high school friend he claims he is still close with, but is actually pretty annoyed by. Punchy still lives in Cleveland, has worked at the same job, tells exactly the same story about Ted all the time, and is fascinated with only one aspect of the fantastically diverse New York--Times Square. I appreciate the effort to provide Robin and Glitter a foil in Ted and Punchy, and to an extent the comparison works. He is pretty much a walking cliche of terrible old friend traits, and none too funny to boot. But damn if this plotline isn't saved pretty much entirely by the moment when Punchy asks Ted to be the best man at his upcoming nuptuals. I will confess to getting gooesebumps at the very mention of Ted being the best man at a wedding, which harkens back to the flash forward we got at the beginning of the season.

Despite the shockingly uneven season we've been served so far, I am still completely devoted to the show and its mythology, and I was very satisfied by this episode, which paid tribute to the show's history, and gave us hints about its present. It is certainly true that I give an episode more credit when it is steeped in mythology, especially when it is both forward looking and history-affirming, but "Glitter" does more than just play with the show's mythology. Unlike much of the season so far, this episode actually made me laugh. It was not a perfect half hour of television (it was certainly no "Slap Bet," but then what is?), but it was a better episode than the show has delivered in weeks, and it reminded me just how dedicated I am to the story How I Met Your Mother is telling, and to its success in telling that story. The show is not as good as it once was, but if it can turn out more episodes like this one, it will certainly remain far from a lost cause.

Grade: B+


-"Show us on Lily."

-"Robin, this show is so dirty, I don't know whether to hug you or run you a cold shower for you to sit in and cry while hugging your knees."

-"Much like our friends the space teens, I think I can solve this problem with math."

-"Dude...feel the room."

-"If Robin's beaver devours six inches of wood an hour..."

-"Ok, maybe just one cuddle, but that's it!" Aww....

-"I found a little wounded bird in the alley." "That's your scrotum."

-"Yo, Glitter...be cool."

-"Hockey, bow hunting for caribou, math...all that goes out the window."

-"Two beavers are better than one, they're twice the fun..."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jordan's Review: The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 3: Tell it to the Frogs

After the definite step down that was last week's "Guts," The Walking Dead really needed to hit one out of the park. This first season is only 6 episodes long, and if the show is going to be successful, it needs to minimize the first season missteps. Any show will stumble a bit out of the gate, but this is more allowable when a series is tossing out 22 or so episodes in that inaugural run. When you only have 6 episodes, you can't really afford to throw out too many off-episodes. Fortunately, "Tell it to the Frogs" is the best episode the show has done so far, and gives a good indication of where the series may be headed in the remainder of this season, and in subsequent ones (AMC recently renewed it for a second season, which will likely be longer).

The show starts with a bang, showing Merle going just a little bit crazy chained to that pipe on the roof, babbling to himself as if he doesn't even remember where he is, then going through a moment of clarity when some zombies start trying to get onto the roof. This was a definite step in the right direction for the character after the atrocious stereotype he was last week, and watching him desperately fight for his life, and make a dire decision for survival, was a visceral, moving cold open.

After three episodes, I can say pretty surely that The Walking Dead is at its best when it is dealing with raw, powerful emotions, a skill that will serve it well seeing as it is set during a zombie apocalypse, when emotions run high. Case in point is the scene in which Rick arrives at the camp to see his wife and child are still alive. The reunion is pretty much pitch perfect, and filled with genuine, earned emotion. Rick has already been through a lot to get to his family, and you can see the weight of his journey hitting him as he holds his wife and child in his arms again. Lori's reaction is also handled perfectly, from her initial shock that Rick is alive, to the creeping realization of what that means for her life. Rick and Lori may be reunited, but their marriage was in trouble before the dead started walking, and his simply being alive isn't going to fix the long term problems they were having. Add to that Shane's relationship with Lori and Carl, which clearly means a lot to him, and Lori's cold insistence that he is no longer a part of her life and there are enough emotional conflicts just within this core family unit to sustain the series for a long time to come. Each of the characters involved in this conflict is incredible well drawn and fully realized. Rick is so glad to be back that he is blinded to Lori's regret and apology, Lori wants to be faithful to her husband, but is not sure if she's even happy at his return, and Shane wants to step back graciously but truly loves Lori and has bonded with Carl. Because all of this is believable, each character is immediately relatable. They may be making mistakes, but their actions are understandable.

The tensions at the camp are also palpable and well drawn, with one exception. Ed, the misogynistic wife beater feels pretty much as stereotypical as Merle did last episode, though I hope the show will give him more depth in the remaining weeks of the season. The survivors are barely keeping things together though, and Shane's near despotic rule is already not sitting well with the rest of the group. Small incidents like the size of a fire and the borrowing of tools engender resentment, and the show makes it pretty clear that just because all of these people have survived and ended up in the same place does not mean they trust each other, or even like each other. This is made abundantly clear in a scene near the episode's end, when a poorly drawn conversation about sexual roles (that felt a bit too Sex and the City for my taste) quickly descends into a revelation of the guilt and fear that drives this little commune, and how quickly those strong emotions can lead to strong outbursts. When Ed beats his wife for not following orders, Shane steps in and nearly beats Ed to death, partially to protect his wife, and partially to exert control, but also because of the latent anger that has been simmering since Rick's return. There is no law in this post-apocalyptic world, and so violence has become the only way to establish order. If people are afraid of you, they are more likely to listen to orders and therefore, less likely to screw up. This is a tough, ugly fact about the realities of life once society has disappeared, and The Walking Dead is doing an excellent job of exploring that fact.

Another thing the show is getting better at is exploring the moral quandaries that arise in this world, and the importance of this development cannot be undersold. If The Walking Dead is to attain greatness, it will be partially because of its ability to explore ethical questions in-depth, and tonight the question of whether to rescue Merle is a good example of how the show can do this well. The introduction of Daryl, Merle's brother, is well handled. Daryl is clearly an asshole, but he seems to be less overtly aggressive than his brother. He doesn't like anyone anymore than Merle does, but he directs his anti-social behavior into hunting and mostly seems to internalize his rage where his brother takes it out on those around him. Its obvious from the beginning that an expedition to rescue Merle will be mounted (this is television, after all, and while the show is willing to be dark, it is only willing to go so far into the darkness at this early stage), yet watching Rick convince the family he just found that he needs to go is interesting, and it was refreshing to hear doubt expressed that a miserable human being like Merle is worth risking four lives to save. That Rick brings his decision back to the debt he owes Morgan is excellent and perfectly within his character. None of the men who were in Atlanta feels good about the fact that they left Merle, and the realization that he is almost definitely still alive makes their lapse all the more terrible. Rick refuses to let a man die in a world where the only real line is between the living and the dead, but he also feels deeply indebted to Morgan, who literally saved his life and got him started on his journey. Watching the group reach the roof only to find Merle's hand is a wonderful ending to a very good episode of The Walking Dead.

"Tell it to the Frogs" convinced me that the show is more ambitious than it indicated in "Guts," and that makes me excited for where it will go from here on out. It gave added depth to the characters, began filling in the complex details of their relationships, and gave the actors plenty of room to fully realize their performances, in both the little moments and the explosive conflicts. The episode isn't perfect. The dialogue is getting better, but is still spotty at best, and it still relies on stereotypes more often than I'm comfortable with, but tonight was evidence that given time, the show will fix both of those problems. Half way through the show's first season, I am very excited for what's to come.

Grade: A-


-I intended to give this episode an A, but as I wrote this review, I realized that there was a little too much clumsiness and a few too many missteps for it to attain a perfect grade.

-"Words can be meager things. Sometimes they fall short."

-"Why would you risk your life for a douchebag like Merle Dixon?" "Hey! Choose your words more carefully!" "No, douchebag is what I meant."

-"Tell her that." "She knows." Clearly the communication issues in Rick and Lori's relationship still linger.

-I didn't mention Short Round tonight, but I enjoyed how upset he was at the dismantling of the car.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jordan's Review: 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 7: Brooklyn Without Limits

I want to start off by commending 30 Rock for finally, finally, FINALLY doing a storyline in which Liz Lemon is depicted as an attractive woman. Sure, its blamed on magic pants, but one of my biggest pet peeves on the show is its constant reliance on "Tina Fey is hideous" jokes. As I've discussed previously, I think the "Liz Lemon is appallingly gross" jokes tend to land, because Fey plays them so well, but they just can't pull off calling someone as beautiful as Tina Fey ugly every week. On the other hand, the show also brought back its strange, off-putting fascination with poorly executed New England accents, this time under the visage of the always awesome John Slattery.

Slattery played a Tea Party style political candidate that Jack decides to back in order to knock off Representative Bookman, who is still fighting against the NBC Kabletown merger, and outside of his accent, it was a solid, very funny performance. Jack's desire to beat Bookman regardless of whether he had to let an insane person into Congress mirrored the Republican Party's reluctant alliance with the Tea Party in a way that was much more politically astute that 30 Rock usually pulls off.

While Jack compromises his ideals for good business, Liz compromises hers for her ass, buying a great pair of jeans that were "locally made," only to discover that they are in fact manufactured by a Haliburton subsidiary. They make Liz look good, they make her feel good, and they enable her to pull off that "back it up" move she's been trying to do again since high school. Liz is generally the most idealistic member of the cast, and the show often has fun with making her sacrifice her immediate happiness to stick to her long-held ideals.

In the C-plot, Tracy is getting sudden Oscar buzz for his performance as Lucky in Hard to Watch: Based on the book Stone Cold Bummer by Manipulate, and asks Jenna to help him throw a screening party for the Hollywood Foreign Press, who hand out the Golden Globes, an award second in importance only to the People's Choice Awards (where the fans are in charge). Jenna of course tries to sabotage Tracy so that he won't attain the success she has been denied, by having him throw a screening party with Kenneth as a human sushi platter and prepare to bribe the HFP (Which he seems ready to do by just pulling handfulls of cash out of a sack). In a strange turn of events, Jenna realizes Tracy's performance is actually great and decides to do the right thing, even though its hard.

This of course inspires Liz and then Jack to stop compromising their ideals, even if that will ultimately hurt them in life. This was a decent little moral from a show that often strains to add any sort of meaning to the string of one-liners its been since mid-last season, but like in most other episodes this season, the one liners are far more hit than miss, and "Brooklyn Without Limits" is a pretty funny episode. It doesn't quite stack up to the very strong material we've been seeing this season so far, mostly because the A and B plots are somewhere short of inspired, but as always, pairing Tracy and Jenna and throwing in a small pinch of Kenneth provides enough laughs to keep the episode afloat even when the other two plotlines are running a bit thin.

Grade: B+


-"I love award shows! They teach me how much to care about various dead people."

"Good God Lemon, you look like a Mexican sports reporter!"

"Technically I'm a freelancer, which is basically a modern cowboy." Liz also eats beans out of a can, though that's due to impatience.

-"Yeah, I know its not a house, but I sleep there!"

-"Now the only thing I use a football for is as a toilet."

-"My generation never votes. It interferes with talking about ourselves all the time."

-"The Hand are a tribe of Vietnamese orphans, and usa is their prison."

-"His great grandfather was Domingo Haliburton."

-"Your mother exploded."

-"That movie gave me drunk in the bathtub face."

-"You were right about Brooklyn Without Limits. Crunchy on the outside, crazy right wing nutjob on the inside." "Like Anne COulter's underwear."

-"Compromises are for lesser souls. Die werewolf zombie."

-"Ooga booga big, Ooga booga strong, I'm gonna sing my Ooga booga song."

Jordan's Review: Community, Season 2, Episode 8: Cooperative Calligraphy

"Cooperative Calligraphy" is pretty much everything Community does well, done very well. After a season in which the show's signature "big group fight" scenes have been scarce, this week provided us with an entire episode centered around one (a bottle episode, as Abed kept reminding us, in which the characters were all on one set, the sort of budget saving maneuver that allows for zombie apocalypses and space ships in other weeks), but it was also filled with the character based humor, pop culture references, and plenty of absurdity. A bottle episode is a way for the show to turn in an incredibly cheap episode, sure, but on Community its actually almost the ideal for an episode. On a show that has designed its characters so well and let them flow together so fluidly, what could be better than throwing them all on one place and just watching the hilarity fly. This is a show that does very well with its excellent ensemble, so much so that other components of the show, though hilarious, can sometimes get in the way of the awesomeness at the core of the group. Community is focused on a group that becomes more and more tightly knit over time, and the more the whole group is together, the better for the show in my mind.

The plot of the episode is pretty simple: As the gang prepares to leave to go to a puppy parade on the quad, Annie realizes that she's lost her pen. This is not a big deal to anyone else, but Annie quickly reveals that this is a huge deal to her, as its the ninth pen she's lost and she is losing her trust in the gang. Its an absolutely silly reason for everyone to be locked in the room, yet the way its played is nothing short of fucking brilliant. The show, knowing that we're all rolling our eyes at the obvious contrivance to keep everyone locked in the room, does the same, both through Abed's frankness ("Are we going to the puppy parade or not? Because this is starting to feel like a bottle episode.") and through the rest of the gang's annoyance. That's enough to get the ball rolling, but a pitch perfect understanding of these characters is what keeps it going for the whole episode. Annie is a bit of a control freak who feels like she's losing control and wants it back. Britta is a super liberal who feels her civil rights have been violated, but she's also more than a little petty and wants everyone to suffer the same indignities as her. Jeff has an insane amount of ego, and refuses to have his credibility besmirched. And everyone else is increasingly curious about who among them might be inconsiderate enough to strand them in the room and make them miss a puppy parade (let's also not ignore how hilarious that concept is).

The show quickly becomes much more than just a bottle episode. Its a classic drawing room mystery starring characters we already love and understand. And as things get pushed farther and farther, it becomes obvious that much more than the pen is at stake for these characters. First off, the show makes the pen work to bring up other conflicts that have been simmering on the sidelines, from Shirley's potential pregnancy (by Chang, as you may recall), to Abed's trouble relating to people (he's been tracking the girls' menstrual cycles, which is creepy, but for good reason--so he can be more senesitive to them), and even to Pierce's legs, which are awesomely still broken from his trampoline accident last week.

The core of their relationships with each other become the center of the episode, and somehow the stakes couldn't seem higher. On a show like Glee, every time a plot contrivance comes along to break up the Glee Club (aka once every two or three episodes) you roll your eyes because its fucking ridiculous and you know it won't happen. Yet somehow Community manages to usually pull off the "someone is leaving the gang/the gang is breaking up" plotline with enough pathos to make you care about how they end up staying together. Tonight, its a very moving scene in which Jeff points out that the existence of ghosts is more plausible than a member of the study group not belonging in it. Its silly, yes, but its also a beautiful little moment in which these pretty crazy people agree to a collective lie so that they can keep believing in each other, because they are that important to each other. However, again, this ending doesn't just come out of nowhere because the episode has to end; it is based in the characters and how they would actually act. Jeff needs this group to stay together, and is becoming increasingly ok with saying that, Abed has to make commentary on the side, and Troy is never happier than when telling an elaborately constructed ghost story. This all works because its funny, sure, and because its sweet (I'm a sucker for heart string pulling when it works), but also because its completely believable for these characters.

The best episodes of Community, and make no mistake, "Competitive Calligraphy" is among them, bring the laughs hard and fast, but also ground them in the relationships at the center of the show, and in each of these characters' personal journey towards self-improvement. Each character makes a sacrifice this week--of their privacy, of their time, and finally, for at least one moment, of their sanity in order to maintain the relationships that have become vital to all of them. On a lesser show, this episode would probably feel every bit the bottle episode it is, but on this show, on this beautiful, brilliant little show, it jsut reminds us how deeply invested we have become in these characters and in keeping them together so their weird, wonderful adventures can keep going on and so that each of them can move slowly forward to becoming the people they hope to be.

Grade: A


-I love the revelation at the end that Troy's monkey (named Annie's Boobs, as you may recall) Abed released is now living in the vents, stealing things from the group and constructing some little shrine to them. I really hope this monkey comes back. He is awesome.

-I have to be honest, the show also did a really good job at the mystery thing. I really was curious about who had the pen, and for at least a moment in the episode, every character seemed like a viable culprit.

-Again, the puppy parade is a hilarious idea, and part of a bottle episode tradition in which the show's cast would rather be doing something insanely awesome, but are instead stuck inside missing it.

-"I want to see if weiner dogs are born that way or start out normal and then get weiner."

"Sometimes I think I lost something really important to me and then it turns out I already ate it."

-"Do they find our thoughts in our butts? I knew I should have read that book!" Troy had a really great episode, even in an episode when everyone was on fire.

-"Happy?" "Not if that's a used cue tip..."

-"Verbal dysphasia and octopus loss. I don;t see anything about memory here Troy!" A nice joke which returned later with, "Pierce, don't you have a bag?" "Giraffe."

-"Gwennifer, its me. I can't make it. Well tell your disappointment to suck it. I'm doing a bottle episode!"

-"People like you are the reason we took so long to get into Vietnam."

-"It smells like a wafflehouse sink!"

-"Something you and your puppies could only dream of you non-miraculous son of a bitch!"

"It used to be about the puppies, not the politics."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jordan's Review: Running WIlde, Season 1, Episode 6: Best Man

The more I watch Running Wilde, the more I'm convinced that there's really only one episode of the show, with varying returns: Every week, Steve and Emmy are stubborn and unable to understand what the other wants, Puddle is precocious and over-explains everything, Migo and Lutz look out for Steve, and Fa'ad is the best thing on the show. All of those ingredients are pretty much acceptable for an episode when they're done well, but when they fail to coalesce, the show feels really repetitive, and worse, unfunny.

Tonight, Steve and Emmy engage in a game of chicken over her engagement to Andy, with Steve offering to throw Emmy a wedding in an attempt to get her to admit she doesn't want to marry Andy, and Emmy going along with the plans to convince Steve she does (Even though she doesn't). What results is a Renaissance style fairy tale wedding with games of skill, free cups, and costumes for all involved. Things get even more complicated when Steve decides he actually to wants to marry Emmy (he doesn't) and when Andy shows up to win Emmy back from Steve so he can marry her (which he doesn't want to do). The two joust, which results in Steve being a "total loser" (Puddle's unfortunate term, not mine) and Andy going to Canadian jail.

There is a lot of good material in "Best Man" and a ridiculous number of gags. I think the basis of Steve and Emmy's relationship is solid, and I still believe that it could form tha foundations of a very good sitcom; the problem I'm having with it currently is that every episode pretty much uses their relationship in an identical way. I understand that Hurwitz is going for a more traditional and repetitive sitcom (though I hate that goal), but that cannot mean that he makes the exact same episode again and again. There have to be permutations, at the very least, to his form, and so far Running Wilde has onyl shown us one story it can do. Similarly, Steve and Andy are well drawn and funny characters who have reasonable problems with each other, but if they are to be only thrown into the same rivalry over Emmy every time Andy appears, its going to get old fast. Even Fa'ad, easily the best character on the show and the most reliable generator of laughs, seems to have ostensibly one plotline (trying to "compete" with whatever Steve is doing, which is really a pretty stupid idea but a potentially funny one) but manages to transcend it better than the rest of the cast by being so strange that you almost forget he's doing effectively the same thing every week.

There have been a few pretty good episodes of Running Wilde and a few pretty bad ones. I'm not ready to give up on the show, because there is so much potential in all aspects of it, and because I keep hoping that Hurwitz will stop flagellating himself and just go, well, wild with his concept and characters. Yet I can only watch this episode so many times before it doesn't matter how many times I laugh (and despite the effort, "Best Man" was maybe the least funny episode so far) if its at effectively the same joke. The show as its currently being run has diminishing marginal returns. I just hope it realizes that before those returns completely diminish.

Grade: C


-"And you don't need to shy away from the double entendre. Like have her...eating a banana while he's making love to her."

-"First of all, even an idiot would get that...Although you did say Steve..."

-"Perhaps I have put too much faith in the wisdom of this tent school jungle child who combs her hair with a stick..."

-"You're growing more mature every day." "I know I am, but what are you?"

-"Come here my little Burning Man!"

-"Tomorrow at high noon." "No, high noon is really sticky around here." "Yeah, I've noticed that." "How about like 10 or 10:30?"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jordan's Review: Conan

After nine long, tragic, sleepless months without my Conesy fix, tonight marked the return of television's most recently screwed former late night King to his rightful throne...or rather, to a much lower paying basic cable semi-equivalent. The bright side of this tragic turn of events is that TBS won't expect high ratings for the show, and will give Conan all the freedom he wants to go a little crazy.

And that's exactly what he does tonight, opening with a "Last Season on Conan" montage that summarizes his battle with NBC, complete with the full hit squad that brutally attempts to assassinate him, and a look at his rock bottom job search that takes him from the office of Don Draper circa 1965 (where he's told he has no experience, and is two), to Burger King, a short stint as a party clown, and finally to near suicide before he is rescued by taking the advice of his still living Guardian Angel, Larry King. The bit is vintage Conan, and is every bit as funny as any opener I could have hoped for.

The rest of the episode falls a little flat by comparison, though to be fair pretty much anything would. The monologue was mediocre, and the "Completely Rigged First Guest Contestant" was a funny bit that was a little rushed for my taste. Seth Rogen was very fun to watch, and Lea Michele was very fun to look at, but neither interview sizzled like Conan at his best. That's not to say either was anything short of very entertaining though, full of the absurd asides and hilarious interplay that Conan brings to every interview. And watching Conan perform with musical guest Jack White was nothing short of stupendous. Conan is an incredibly talented individual, and where The Tonight Show squandered his best qualities, it looks like Conan will let him put them on full display.

The new set is a little blah, with a mediocre painting of a shockingly flat ocean, but it has a moving moon, which I hope will be used for jokes for a long time coming (after prognosticating that I'd be watching Conan on The Tonight Show for years to come last June, I think I'll stay vague this time), but Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band are solid, and Andy Richter is as hysterical as ever, with a much better first outing tonight than he was given by the Nazis in charge of NBC last year. I'm sure there will be criticisms of the show for not reinventing the wheel now that Conan has more freedom, but I never expected Conan to be anything other than a less controlled replica of his other shows, and I'm satisfied just to have him back doing what he does best. At the end of the day this was a very solid premiere to a show that seems primed to showcase the multi-talented, completely insane, always hysterical Conan Obrien, and hopefully in a place that will appreciate him and treat him with the respect and admiration he rightly earns on a nightly basis.

Grade: B+


-Obviously I won't be covering Conan on a nightly basis, but I may check in on it a few months down the road to weigh in on how its developed, especially considering most late night shows get much better after they find their footing. If this idea interests you, please feel free to comment and let me know.

-A very funny Ricky Gervais cameo as he recorded various messages to document his predicted downward trajectory for Conan.

Sam's Review: CONAN

So let's get this out of the way first--reviewing the first episode of a late-night talk show is pretty a futile as the first show (for that matter the first week of shows) will look drastically different than what Conan's new show will really look like. Now, how was the first episode of CONAN? It was great. First because comedy nerds across America got their late-night champion back and second because it generated laugh out loud comedy.

The opening to the episode was probably the funniest bit of the night. With a Sonny Corleone-esque sendoff from NBC, Conan had to being looking for work. Thankfully he applies to SCDP and Don Draper has none of it because Conan would only be two years old. For the record, Jon Hamm cameos are welcome at any time anywhere.

Of course, Conan takes the deal with TBS and gets shot up again by NBC hoodlums. I got chills when Conan walked out from backstage as he was introduced by Andy Richter. Now walking to his star with Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band, Conan O'Brien looked at home. Conan's monologue was solidly funny but the most noticeable change was that he could actually walk up and touch the audience (which he did frequently). He also walked around quite a bit which was a bit disconcerting but I could see myself get used to it. In fact it seemed more in line with his monologue MO as he usually loves to jump off frame.

One of the other hilarious bits of the night was a recorded message from Ricky Gervais that predicted his next downfall, and the few fumbles after that. Conan introduced his "winner" of the first guest poll and it was a nice old lady who was the curator of a nutcracker museum. This was a bit of a dud though it was comfortably familiar crazy Conan fare.

As for the night's guests, Seth Rogen was what he always is--funny and crass yet somehow charming. Lea Michelle was a bit of a thorn in the side but we shouldn't expect more of a Glee castmember. The show was capped off wonderfully with Conan joining Jack White in a song recorded for the album the pair made together earlier this year. It was fun and showed off O'Brien's pretty sweet guitar skills.

The problem is this episode is not very representative of what the show will be. In fact it wasn't a perfect episode. Conan fumbled some intros and outros a bit and was a bit overconcerned about Rogen saying "shit" on the air. Hopefully Conan can embrace the fact that he's on cable and use it to his comedic advantage. People made the argument that when Conan took over The Tonight Show that he'd have to be toned down. Well, he's on cable now so that should not be an issue. This late night endeavor should make for an interesting experiment in whether the format can thrive outside of network television. Yes, I know George Lopez has done it for a year or so, but Conan's the first Major League late-night talent to make the venture. One thing is for sure though, it's great to see Conan O'Brien back on my TV. Maybe the best part of the premier was knowing that he'd be on again tomorrow night.



-It seems as though the masturbating bear has returned! Great news since this seemingly means that Conan has some rights to his old characters and bits though time will tell there.

-Conan displayed his most valuable asset during his interview with Lea Michelle, his ability to think on his feet and make funny of an awkward situation. When something backstage made a startling sound he pulled the biggest laugh of the interview out of it.

-Conan's "getting shot repeatedly by machine gun" was hilarious, the funniest thing I'd seen all night.

-Good to see Andy function as sidekick again rather than awkward podium guy.

-Conan's back on tv, just wanted to throw that out there again.

Jordan's Review: How I met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 8: Natural History

After the last three weeks of god awful episodes, I didn't have high hopes for "Natural History." How I Met Your Mother has been on a downward trajectory for a while now, and last week was the worst episode so far this year. Yet I laughed more in the cold open of "Natural History" than I have in the last several episodes combined.

Two of the three plotlines tonight were at least somewhat successful, so let's start with the worst of the lot and save the best for last. Marshall and Lily's story was another heaping pile of cliche as Lily ridiculously overreacted to Marshall's mature, realistic decision to stay at GNB and make money for his wife and his coming children instead of quitting to make no money as an environmental lawyer. This story wouldn't have worked anywhere, but at least the show threw the characters into tuxedos and an exotic locale to spice up what was otherwise a boring and unfunny plotline.

Ted's story this week was slightly better, even though it marked the return of Zoey, a character I am not yet sold on. Ted meets Zoey's rich husband The Captain (played by Kyle Machlachlan, showing his age), and falls prey to her "my life is a mess" trap that allows her to catch Ted trashing GNB on tape. Fortunately, because of a stranged architectural occurrence (the equivalent of which exists in the Capitol Building), Zoey overhears Ted sticking up for her to her husband and decides not to play dirty in her fight against him. Since we know Zoey isn't the mother, and I can't think of an important lesson ted needs to learn before he's ready to be married, I don't yet see the point of her character, but I'm willing to be proved wrong in the coming weeks.

In the funniest plotline, Robin and Barney engage in a contest to touch as many of the off limits display as possible, in outlandish ways. Its a very funny storyline, started off when Barney outlandishly claims that he used a triceratops bone to knock down the giant blue whale. The subplot has Barney and Robin's chemistry on full display, and takes a classic "Barney subplot pulls on your heartstrings" turn when its revealed that Barney's "Uncle" Jerome Whitaker is actually his father. Barney has been building toward this moment all season long, and it delivered completely, ending off a plotline filled with laughs with a moment of earned emotion unlike any so far this season.

What was especially impressive about the episode is how the seemingly random setting at the Museum of Natural History became a key thematic piece of the episode as the idea of history and how it affects the present became a key portion of all three stories. Ted, Marshall, and Barney were all confronted with a truth from their past and forced to come up against the way they have changed over time and how that will influence their reactions to their current dilemmas. The moment in which Lily confront past Marshall, behind the heading "extinct" was a little on the nose (though Segel mined it for all it was worth), yet it also felt truer than anything in the last several weeks. "Natural History" was far from perfect, but it was better than the show has been in a while, and worked very well as a set up for what I'm sure is coming in the next few weeks. I don't care about Zoey yet, but tonight brought me closer. And any story that focuses on an emotional journey by Barney will be gold for Neil Patrick Harris to mine (hopefully all the way to an Emmy). I sincerely hope that "Natural History" is a turning point for Season Six, but I'm not getting too excited until the show proves it isn't headed back into the depths next week.

Grade: B


-"We're not fat cats." "Totally. I say, Marshall my good man, how's my bow tie?" "Splendid. To industry!"

-"Please enjoy yourselves, but don't touch anything." "Challenge accepted."

-"I didn't realize you were small potatoes. And, to be clear, I am referring to your testicles."

-I love Ted's self-imposed nickname Galactic President Superstar Mcawesomeville.

-"Oh my god, you have a monocle! Is this real? Is this really happening?"

-"That story is legen...hold on...dary."

-"Its ok. College Lily thinks those are orgasms."

-One question: Does it cost half as much as glasses?"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jordan's Review: The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 2: Guts

Before the premiere of The Walking Dead, I had already heard that the second episode was a disappointment after the very solid pilot. I thought last week was very good, and while I did not hate "Guts" as much as I worried I might, it was certainly not as strong an outing.

The episode opens in the survivor's camp we saw briefly last week, and its clear from the start that this is the "character's being introduced" episode after the pilot was mostly Andrew Lincoln by himself. We meet Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) who is trying to repair his RV (and let's guess if that'll be important later). We also meet Amy (Emma Bell), and see Shane and Loria again when he pops out and scares her in the woods, and then they have sex for which she feels the need to remove her wedding ring. First off, jumping out and scaring someone in the woods is never ok, but during the zombie apocalypse that shit is punishable by death. Think about it: if someone jumps out at you, and that person might be a zombie, you have every license to just murder them.

Back in the tank where we left Rick, he is guided out of his situation by Glenn (the solid Steven Yeun), who will heretofore be referred to on this blog as Short Round. It was a good introduction to the best new character in the episode to have Short Round save Rick by guiding him out of the tank, but after the hopelessness of the end of the last episode, it felt like a fairly easy solution to what the pilot had set up as a pretty desperate situation. However, Rick still hasn't learned his lesson about gunshots attracting zombies, and so soon he and his new band of survivors are trapped in a department store, Dawn of the Dead style. We quickly meet the insane, racist Merle Dixon, who is the type of character that doesn't exist anywhere in the real world and is only around to cause tension. I think even the most hardened racist would probably make an exception in terms of survival during the zombie apocalypse (though maybe I'm being too optimistic). He wastes bullets needlessly firing off the roof, is a complete misogynist, and beats T-Dog (which is a ridiculous name, and is ridicuously overacted by Robert Singleton). It doesn't make any sense that anyone would have let them into this group in the first place. He is exactly the kind of person you don't want around you in the zombie apocalypse, which is the only reason he is on this show. I understand why they didn't kill him on the show (though I think it would have been morally interesting to at least discuss killing the dangerous crazy person who held them all at gunpoint and beat T-Dog just for being black), but I don't understand why there was even the question of uncuffing him. He should have been left. He's fucking crazy, and a danger to everyone around him.

The rest of the group is pretty broadly drawn this week, from Morales (Juan Pareja) who mostly just stands there, to Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott Sales, who is a distractingly spastic actress), and finalyl Andrea, who is the most well drawn character outside of Short Round, if only because we know that Amy is her sister. An escape plan of the grossest proportions is hatched when Rick surmises that zombies rely on their sense of smell and he hacks up a defunct zombie and smears the guts of the title all over he and Glenn so they can walk down the street to the moving vans that can get them to safety. This is a shockingly disgusting scene on a show that gets away with a surprising amount of gore, even for cable. The zombies are disgusting, and we've already seen a rat, a horse, and now a man torn to shreds, intestines and all on display. I did like the touch of Rick getting to know the guy before hacking him up, showing that he still cares about humanity and all, but doing it in a surprisingly effective way. This episode is chock full of some terrible dialogue, but like last week, The Walking Dead seems particularly adept at catching the small moments of tragedy that occur in a world overtaken by death and the dead. The sequence is suspenseful, even though its been done a thousand times before, and leads to Glenn providing a distraction by driving a car with the alarm going off to distract the horde while Rick gets everyone else out.

There's the hint of a moral quandary, when the camp gets a splice of an update from T-Dog that lets them know the group is trapped, and Amy argues for mounting a rescue until Shane shuts her down, refusing to sacrifice anyone else in a futile attempt to save them, but its brought up and promptly dropped without a true debate. This show will likely be full of moral quandaries, and I hope in the future there's a little more weight given to both sides of the ethical situation instead of lip service paid to the opposing views.

"Guts" was a disappointing second outing, sure, but it was saddled with a lot of exposition, a ton of character introductions, and a lot of plot to get thorugh in 42 minutes. The cinematography was still excellent, Glenn seems like a fun character, and some future conflicts were already set up (though I hope Merle dies very, very soon. He is a drag on the whole show, and certainly lowered the grade for this episode) ot be paid off in the coming weeks. But after the pilot, I'm willing to hope that "Guts" was more of a misstep than a sign that the show peaked early. I am stil lexcited for the remaining for episodes in The Walking Dead's first season, and can't wait to see where the show is going next.

Grade: B-


-Its always strange to me when in zombie movies people don't call the creatures "zombies." Here, they are "Walkers," which is a decent term (and better than the oft used "the infected"), but still rings false. Either everyone on this show has never seen a zombie movie (which is possible, I guess. Maybe they don't exist in the show's universe), or they need to start calling them zombies, and fast.

-"Bright side? It'll be the fall that kills us."

-It seems like these zombies are already learning how to use tools. How advanced will their methods get?

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: James Cameron

By Jordan

Note: The purpose of Whose Film Is It Anyway? is to examine the validity of the auteur theory through the lens of individual film-makers, taking a look at their bodies of work and highlighting the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of their films. Ultimately, the goal of this column will be to generate a discussion of the merits of auteur theory through examinations of directors widely considered auteurs, analyses of directors whose status as auteurs is more tenuous, and occasional looks at non-directors who may drive the quality and content of their films with more assuredness than the directors they work with.

“Well, I see our potential destruction and the potential salvation as human beings coming from technology and how we use it, how we master it, and how we prevent it from mastering us.”-James Cameron

James Cameron knows how to make movies that make money. There’s no real question about that. If James Cameron was a board game character instead of a film director, he would be Uncle Pennybags. Yet, for whatever reason, Cameron has forsaken the life of board game mascotery in favor of being an incredibly financially successful maker of motion pictures. His last two films, Avatar and Titanic are the two highest grossing movies of all time, and his other movies are no slouches either. Yet financial success does not an auteur make (nor, by the way, does quality. Many good directors are not auteurs, and some terrible ones can be seen to have consistency throughout their work beyond a dearth of quality). If Uncle Pennybags just turned out giant blockbuster after giant blockbuster with nothing linking them together, there is little chance that he would rate even consideration of his merits as a potential auteur. Yet Cameron’s consistent focus on how humanity uses technology, how technology uses humans, and how people behave when pushed to the very edge of their limits in a quest for survival—well now, that’s a little more worth looking into.

The Bill Gates of movies first really dug into this theme on his own terms in 1984’s The Terminator. The film, which Cameron wrote and directed, follows the efforts of an average woman, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to escape the murderous and unstoppable Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) with only the help of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a soldier from the future. The Terminator was sent back to assassinate Connor before she gives birth to a son that will grow to be the savior of the human race from the robot apocalypse that has overtaken the near future. The Terminator is a clear fable about the potential dangers of technological advancement, and one of the first in a long line of movies about why we shouldn’t let our robots think for themselves (because everyone knows all robots will ever think is “Kill all humans!”). In the future the movie predicts, Skynet, an artificial intelligence system built for defense, becomes self aware, creates a nuclear holocaust and begins building robots to kill of the remaining humans who are a threat to its existence. John Connor is the first human to stand up and teach others to fight back, and so the robots send The Terminator back to make sure he never exists.

Beyond simply being a parable about artificial intelligence, The Terminator is also a look at the human will to survive (don’t mistake the fact that the movie looks at the issue for my comparing it to Schindler’s List or arguing that The Terminator is a particularly adept examination, just that this is a part of the movie’s intended themes). Kyle Reese comes from a future where he has known nothing but war and subjugation, yet he still pushes on to free humanity from the control of the machines. And for someone who began the movie as a clumsy waitress, Sarah Connor quickly proves herself to be a survivor, adapting to the death of pretty much everyone she knows, and even dealing out some ass kicking of her own by the end of the movie.

In 1991 James Cameron returned to the franchise with the far superior Terminator 2: Judgment Day in which the machines have gotten even better at figuring out how to kill John Connor, leasing the new, shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick) on the ten year old (played by Edward Furlong), his mother (Linda Hamilton), and their new bodyguard in the form of a re-programmed T-800 (presumably because Schwarzenegger wanted to be the good guy this time. Because the Daddy Warbucks of film knows exactly how to make a blockbuster, T2 follows the standard sequel rule of doing the first movie over, only bigger, but it also further explores the relationship between man and machine, particularly as John and The Terminator bond throughout the course of the film.


The insanely rich fictional character I’ll jokingly call Cameron in this paragraph moves away from his “killer machine” motif in 1994’s True Lies to focus more on human relationships in the face of potential death, a theme which Cameron this time explores with a lighter, and somewhat more realistic touch. While The Terminator franchise tends to be extremely melodramatic when things aren’t exploding and robots aren’t fighting, True Lies actively explores the comedy inherent in watching people on film in life or death situations (making it part of a subgenre of humor I like to refer to as “apocalyptic comedy,” which makes fodder of characters reactions to nearly dying or to the end of the world). The film focuses on the double life lead by Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is a family man and also a super-spy, which leads to marital trouble with his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis). In a (very unethical) attempt to spice up his failing marriage, Harry draws Helen into his life of espionage, which she, like Sarah Connor before her, takes to very adeptly. The two work out their marriage while saving America from terrorists with a warhead, because that’s just how marriage, and espionage, works.

After True Lies, the biggest fucking movie ever to star Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis as a star-crossed couple who find themselves engaged in espionage, Cameron moved on to make 1997’s little heard of, little seen, and little loved Titanic. That movie focuses on a much more attractive pair of star crossed lovers in Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) who fall in love even though he is totally poor, and she is James Cameron-level rich. You know they’re in love because of how often they say each other's names:

But of course, class is soon not the only thing threatening to tear these attractive people apart. There’s also the matter of James Cameron examining the relationship between man and technology again, as man’s hubris at building the giant ocean liner, and his stupidity at crashing it into a giant iceberg throw Jack and Rose into a life threatening situation. The movie quickly turns from a pretty tepid love story into a pretty melodramatic examination of the human will to survive, and Rose’s refusal to share her cushy spot on a floating door with the man she forever loves (you may be getting the inkling that I’m not a huge fan of Titanic. That’s partly because it won 11 Academy Awards in 1997, despite the fact that it was the worst of the five movies nominated for Best Picture, and partly because it’s a really shitty movie. It’s also the reason Celine Dion has an Oscar for “My Heart Will Go On” and Elliott Smith does not have an Oscar for the insanely better “Miss Misery.”). Titanic may not be the best movie (and trust me, it isn’t), but it still has at its center an exploration of two themes that pervade Cameron’s work in its look at the relationship between man and machine, and its focus on how people behave when they are in a fight for their lives (though, for every "Jack and Rose" tribute on youtube, no one seems to have posted any of the scenes of anyone actually struggling to survive. So here's the stupid scene where Jack dies because Rose won't take turns on a door):

In order to make Titanic as realistic as possible, Cameron designed a new form of camera for shooting underwater. It may seem ridiculous to say at this point, but during production of the film, the studio feared that it would not recoup its budget, and asked to cut an hour from the script. Cameron refused, telling them “You want to cut my movie? You’re going to have to fire me. You want to fire me? You’re going to have to kill me!” He may not have been making a very good movie, but he was certainly making his own movie.

Cameron spent the twelve years between Titanic and 2009’s Avatar developing the technology necessary to make the latter film and making documentaries, mostly centered on the actual Titanic (presumably because he was already under water, building himself a lair like Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me), yet his thematic interests have remained the same in the interim. The film focuses again on the evils that can be wrought by technology, only this time it puts a finer point on the human greed that often leads to the technological downfall. It is the zeal of the military to mine the precious unobtanium (I swear, after spending ten years on the script, Cameron still called it that) that leads to their use of technology to create the Avatars of the film’s title, and most of the advanced weaponry on display throughout the film. The technology also leads to man’s downfall as many of the people selected to control Avatars turn against the military in the film’s final battle. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is brought in by the military to control an avatar that will allow him to impersonate the local species, the Na’vi. While undercover, he goes all John Smith and falls for the native Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). The film also explores the reaction of the Na’vi to the impending destruction of their homeland, which in this case, is to kick human ass. The plotline may just be an overwrought, more action-packed version of Pocahontas, but Cameron definitely injects his standard thematic considerations into the mix nevertheless.

In addition to writing and directing Avatar, Cameron spent nearly a decade developing a new form of camera, which he used to mesh live action and CGI environments, as well as film in 3D. He also developed a system for recording the faces of actors so that they could be identically mapped onto their CGI counterparts. Cameron does not have a particularly unique visual or technical style throughout his work, but he is dedicated to transferring his vision accurately to the screen, even if it takes a decade for the necessary technology to catch up.

James Cameron may be richer than God, but he clearly puts more thought into his movies than just figuring out how to make insane amounts of money from them. I don’t think that Cameron is a particularly great director (though I do think that T2 and True Lies are both a lot of fun), but he does make each of his movies his own. He may not examine his themes with the depth or originality of other directors featured in this column, and in fact, when he strays from simple survival as a character motivation, he often comes across as melodramatic and cliché. Yet he has consistently focused on the role of technology in our lives and in the way that survival drives us to do things we would otherwise have not thought possible over an incredibly successful three decades making movies. He is passionately committed to making his movies his own way, waiting years, and even over a decade in the case of Avatar for technology to develop in order to properly translate his vision to the screen, and refusing cuts on any of his movies, in spite of their expansive length. Whatever movies James Cameron makes in the years to come, and whatever variations to his themes he devises to inset into them, one thing is certain: When you go to see one of his movies, you know pretty much exactly what you’re going to get.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

Coming up on Who's Film Is It Anyway?:

11/21: Kathryn Bigelow

12/5: Darren Aronofsky

12/19: Frank Capra

1/2: Mike Myers