Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TV Episode Review: Fringe “6:02 AM EST”

Fringe tends to depress the accelerator all the way to the floor once they hit the final stretch.  Last season’s final few episodes found the two universes intermingling with characters from both sides and stakes higher than we’d ever seen them before.  Those last few episodes were filled with images and moments which still stand out even with all of the great episodes and moments we’ve been given in the time between.  This season looks to be shaping up the same way:  Tonight was a teaser-y hour of sound and vision where more was hinted at than seen—the ominous sounds of The Machine warming up and the off-screen flashes denoting destructive vortexes swallowing entire swaths of our universe are all foreboding hints of the chaos to be unleashed these last few episodes.  That’s not to say that nothing happened tonight; it was, in fact, an incredibly dense and eventful episode.  It’s just that Fringe has raised the stakes so high that they can stuff an episode full of revelations and game-changers and still leave us at the end of the episode pulling our hair out and shouting “Dear GOD, I can’t wait for next week!”  Not that I actually do that, because I have some dignity, but I know you people—you’re crazy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community “Paradigms of Human Memory”

Community isn’t the first show to ever try and tweak the lazy staple known as “the clip show”, but without having watched every TV show ever, I’m going to go ahead and declare with certainty that it’s the only show to take a clip show and use it to reveal a “history” of “clips” which actually serve to document an entirely new set of adventures the group has had in our absence.  The Simpsons cleverly used old clips to reimagine the characters as actors inside of the comedy itself, which played smartly, but that was mostly due to the clever story structure of the “Behind the Music” parody of the episode (entitled “Behind the Laughs”).  Which means that Community has probably succeeded in going meta yet again (“Meta Yet Again” would make a good album name), this time to imagine a sitcom world where we don’t actually spend every waking hour with the characters.  Though Community isn’t the first show ever to point it out, it’s important to realize that most shows do operate under the assumption that we do witness every relevant event of the characters’ lives:  There are references to off screen occurrences, but they are either largely irrelevant, ancient history, or else clear inventions of dialogue meant to help shape and structure the current events of the proceedings we are witnessing.  Tonight, Community throws that notion away in favor of scene after scene of “adventures” the study group went ahead and had without us. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TV Episode Review: Justified “Full Commitment”

This week was one of “full commitments” indeed, though some developments might be better described as fallout or deterioration.  Relationships crumbled left and right tonight in terms of both their stability and their equilibrium.  Raylan rocked the boat with pretty much everyone but Wynona and Boyd, and I’d imagine he’ll get to the latter next week.  Raylan started to work on losing Tim as an ally in the marshal department tonight and seemed to have pretty much completed the job by episode’s end; Tim seems to understand somewhere inside that Raylan’s probably doing what’s best, but he’s also wary of him and more than a bit adversarial about the whole ordeal (as he has every right to be).  Meanwhile, the Bennetts have made enemies of everyone, with Doyle making especially certain Raylan knows where they stand, and Dickie only needs one button-pushing from Boyd (granted, quite a button pushing) to start stacking up bodies and restructuring some of his own relationships with the big players in town, including, tragically, poor Helen, who stood by the insufferable Arlo for one too many outings, at long last.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”

I really liked the opening of this week’s episode, which found Colvin in a hot seat even more uncomfortable than the one a police superintendent would normally have to sit in:  the interview chair of a radio talk jock/moron named “Man Cow”, if I heard him correctly, who clearly runs one of those shows where people who are angry and uneducated get to call in and berate the guests and other listeners with their ignorance and rage, completely unchecked by any standards of honesty, accuracy, ethical boundaries or common sense.  The scene didn’t play as entirely believable—radio stations don’t generally take calls from “anonymous” since it would encourage callers coming on and breaking FCC rules of decency, and even a jag like “Man Cow” would not cut high profile guests off from responding to personal attacks against their jobs before a commercial break if he expected to ever have guests sign on to do his show again (speaking of which—why would Colvin agree to an interview on a show like this?  It seems more like shock/schlock radio than news/opinion.).  Nevertheless, it played to the intriguing subject of populism ruling a city or an organization and why it’s a bad idea. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

TV Episode Review: Fringe “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”

Fringe wasted no time steering into risky and uncharted territory once they had their renewal papers for another season.  Tonight brought our first animated scenes of Fringe, which managed to stay interesting even though they didn’t always “work” in terms of engaging the audience (I felt like every actor’s performance became flat as soon as they were reduced to a voice).  I’m sure the episode was planned long before the show was renewed, but I like to imagine the production team waiting for Fox execs to sign the final paperwork greenlighting another 13-episode season and then declaring “Cool, thanks.  By the way, we’re going to be doing an animated episode in a few weeks.  See ya!” 

TV Episode Review: Justified “Debts and Accounts”

Another powerful episode of television was placed before us this week by the team behind Justified, who seem increasingly confident in the directions they’re taking the show’s growing cast of characters (which is not to say they ever lacked confidence, but the show’s sure-footedness seems more bold than ever given the past three entries).  The episode represented advances on all fronts of the brewing war between more factions in Harlan County than I care to take reckoning of.  Some developments hold a lot of promise, others can mean nothing but trouble, and in the case of Raylan and Art they may be the foreshadowings of regrettable endings (I’m not too sure Raylan and Wynona are bound for a happy ending either). Collectively they made for one powerful night of television.

Friday, April 15, 2011

TV Episode Review: Community “Competitive Wine Tasting”

A friend of mine sent me a message right after this week’s episode making it quite clear that if I failed to give due credit to the all-black-cast production of Fiddler on the Roof starring Troy then she would no longer be reading this blog.  I would’ve done it anyway, because Fiddler, Please might be one of the most inspired pop-culture jokes this show has ever done, but I was glad to see that my fellow viewers thought as highly of it as I did.  Troy doing an ethnic Russian dance while singing/rapping about how hard it is to be a Russian Jew is probably in the top three laugh-aloud moments this season has offered.  It was a nice touch to redeem an otherwise shaky subplot tonight involving Troy faking a history of being sexually abused in order to win over a group of thespian classmates who are a bit hard on him for being a football star.  It was also the highlight of an episode that was good but not quite great.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Movie Review: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”

Fans of Oliver Stone’s classic “Wall Street” will inevitably cite Gordon Gekko’s famous speech about greed as the quintessential moment of the film—it’s a vicious diatribe delivered by the silver-tongued, ethically indifferent 80’s anti-hero.  The speech perhaps represents a work of art encapsulating the zeitgeist of a decade more perfectly than any film of the past 30 years.  It also makes it no surprise that Stone’s interest in revisiting the character was stirred by the financial panic, instability, and controversial recovery of the past five years.  As a sequel to his landmark film (some would argue his masterwork, though it’s hard to ignore “Platoon”), WS:MNS is little more than a shadow of former glory, though in its best moments Stone is able to recapture the raw energy and intensity of the original film’s unforgiving and intimidating look at life on the most unforgiving street in America (I mean that figuratively; no need to fill the comments section with your thoughts on my insensitivity to inner city strife). 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code “Wild Onions”

This week’s episode opened with another great series of shots and scenes embedded nicely in the cityscape of Chicago, most notably a nicely off-center shot of Jarek calling in a suicide in the street while the L train passes by above and behind him.  The show is at its best in these moments; it seems to know how to do certain little things really, really well, and it was doing some of them tonight—there was also another nicely shot chase scene which started off with some fast paced, high angle shots of the action followed by a very tensely filmed walk down a blacked out hallway in a poor neighborhood apartment complex where it seems highly likely Vonda is looking for her partner Isaac’s body and maybe walking into an ambush.  Unfortunately none of it quite carried the intensity of the Chicago heat wave the action all played out against—for all of the voiceovers and radio hosts reminding us how ca-razy people in Chitown get when the thermometer starts to rise, the whole episode felt mostly constrained and almost annoyingly slow paced despite a few nice moments.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It’s important at the outset of this review that I make it clear that I’m not one for “young adult” fiction.  For the most part the phrase is used as an indicator that the book in question will contain supposedly “relatable” material for teenagers and preteens, which in translation inevitably means insulting reductions of the experience of the world to improbable morality tales and life lesson stories which have been safely cleansed of all the ugliness that the rest of us would define as “real life”.  There are a handful of exceptional authors who defy this stereotype, but I couldn’t name a one of them to you because the whole genre tends to push those of us who are well read and interested in great literature to arm’s length with its sanitized plots and characters and its tendency to resort to simplistic diction and dull, repetitive syntax which insults even average “young adult” readers right out of the library because someone decided they should pass through this gauntlet of a genre before being handed something interesting to read. 

My point in spouting angry bitterness is this:  Zusak’s phenomenal, devastating The Book Thief has been unfortunately categorized as a work of young adult literature, which I have to think at this point has kept it out of thousands of adult hands who would likely name it the best book they’ve read in the past few years and possibly add it to that more significant list every devoted reader makes--the list of books you insist everyone you know simply must read.  It’s sensible enough that a publisher would want to toss the book into the category; the protagonist, Liesel, is a beautifully relatable young girl whose relations with the other children on her street in the shadow of Hitler’s Third Reich make for mesmerizing snapshots of childhood, which tends to look somewhat the same regardless of where it grows—somewhat the same, though not completely.  Liesel’s adoptive father and mother take in a jew, a young man named Max with a wild head of hair and wilder imagination.  His interactions with the little girl who can’t help but peek down the stairs at such vibrant humanity slowly wasting to skeletal form (if not spirit) sets the stage for a remarkably open and honest story about the horrors and miracles of what we call “humanity”.  Their relationship roams uncertainly through the time period and through the stages of childhood and slow death; courses of progress which Zusak portrays with a confident certainty which carries the tale. 

TV Episode Review: Justified “Brother’s Keeper”

The horrors of the Bennett clan were fully revealed tonight with monstrous and disturbing clarity, providing reassurance that this is ultimately their season on Justified.  Revolving around their dark center are Boyd (now dragging Ava along for whatever is to come), Carol Johnson (who becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character when dashed against the rocks of Mags’ unforgiving will and resolve) and the rest of Harlan County.  The “Big Whoopty-Doo” Mags promised last week at the town meeting was the centerpiece this week, and at the end of the night I don’t know that you could put a more fitting name on the affair.  Mags sits back enjoying it all over a masonry jar of that Apple Pie drink she’s so fond of, until Carol asks for a palaver and gets told politely to take a walk.  Carol takes a pleasantly firm stance with Mags, pointing out that the company will blow the top off the mountain no matter how many times Mags dismisses her as a “carpet baggin’ shit stepper” so she might as well listen to the offer.  To her surprise, Mags is suddenly responsive—turns out she just hadn’t heard the right price offered yet for the whole of Harlan County.  It isn’t any surprise that Mags’ speech last week was less about protecting her little town and more about playing an angle, but the boundary between righteous indignation and personal interest was blurry at best.  As she quickly reveals to Carol, the only thing that matters is taking care of the Bennett family interests—the town will weather the storm of “the spoil” that she preached as an apocalypse of sorts last week.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

TV Episode Review: Justified “The Spoil”

Justified this week finally went exactly where we’ve been hoping it would go after all of these weeks of buildups, asides, and unfortunate developments (unfortunate for the characters within the plot and occasionally unfortunate for the show’s overall trajectory—Wynona money theft subplot, I’m coughing and nodding in your direction here).  It proved yet again that the writers ultimately know exactly how to slow-burn a season like a loooong dynamite fuse.  Tonight the dynamite went off, and as usual the TNT Justified uses makes for one damn entertaining explosion.  Coover gives Raylan the beating of his life (or at least of the show—we haven’t seen him take a roughing up half that vicious in all his other scuffles combined), Mags gives a little speech that seemingly buries Carol Johnson’s hopes of winning the hearts and minds of Harlan County to Black Pike’s side, Art tips his hand just enough that Raylan knows he’s onto what they did with the money, Boyd is in it up to the top of his three-inch-tall haircut with both Black Pike and the Bennetts whether he likes it or not (I still get the impression he does not, and am looking forward to another redemption at some point on the horizon), and on top of all that, Raylan finally has justified reason to pull his firearm when one of those pesky Kirbys shows up at his dad’s place with a sniper rifle trying to finish off Carol.