Saturday, March 29, 2008

Trailer Curmudgeons: Earth Hour edition

The lights are out, and we're running on battery power. Let's watch some trailers!

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (April 18)


Todd: I'm always grateful to producer Judd Apatow (one of my favorite people in the universe) for putting lots of my favorite people in the universe in his movies, ranging here from Jason Segel, making the leap to leading man status and screenwriter, to Kristen Bell, who is clearly just waiting for me to get famous enough for the two of us to wed (I hope she Googles herself and finds this). Sadly, Mila Kunis is in this as well, though she acquits herself better in the red-band trailer (don't watch this, Mom!). Still, they couldn't have found some other waif-ish brunette? Shiri Appleby's not doing anything, no? Or they could have gone for the Todd trifecta and thrown JAYMA MAYS in there!

Libby: I love naked Jason Segel! I make Todd cry when he's naked all the time.

Baby Mama (April 25)


Todd: Look out, Liz Lemon! Scott Templeton can offer you NOTHING BUT LIES! This sort of looks funny, but I also don't like how every joke is underlined and bolded like they aren't on 30 Rock. When Lisa Miller stoops down to lick could-be-chocolate-could-be-poop off of her kid's arm, do we REALLY need Liz Lemon to say, "What if it had been poop?" The relief on Lisa Miller's face is really all we need for the joke to work. Also, Gob Bluth's wife looks like a feral child while crouched over the sink with her hair all done up as one of the Goonies or something.

Libby: I love Tina Fey, and I like Amy Poehler, but this does not look good.

Standard Operating Procedure (April 25)


Todd: MY summer movie season begins when documentarian Errol Morris' latest sure-to-be blockbuster hits theaters in late April. After all, who WOULDN'T want to check out a searing examination of just what went wrong in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, complete with ruminations on the nature of truth, what we accept as reality and why Americans just didn't really give a crap. Some reviews don't like the film because it doesn't indict Donald Rumsfeld or some such, but at this point, do you even really need to? Morris just might be my favorite living American filmmaker, so I will be FIRST IN LINE to snarf down some popcorn at this one!

Libby: I'm scared and reticent, but I'll be right beside you.

(Morris is the cinematic genius behind THIS.)

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (April 25)


Todd: The good folks at New Line, obviously realizing the sheer excitement surrounding the release of Standard Operating Procedure, have scheduled this more politically pointed (if you can call George W. Bush toking up and laughing at dirty jokes "politically pointed") sequel to the surprisingly subversive 2004 Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (well, surprisingly subversive when it wasn't dealing in pretty stupid dirty jokes). If you watch the red-band trailer, you will see this looks simultaneously awesomer and worser than the 2004 film, but it really could go either way when you have Neil Patrick Harris in your movie and he apparently rides a unicorn or something.

Libby: Legendary!

Iron Man (May 2)


Todd: Ambivalence about America's role as sole remaining superpower? Outright sneering at the military-industrial complex? Boots that can fly? Has there ever been a summer popcorn extravaganza more tuned in to the zeitgeist than "The Adventures of the Man Who Is Iron"? If so, I do not want to see it. The trailer leads me to believe that director Jon Favreau has followed up his underrated Zathura with some cool action and stunts, that Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges ARE all that and a bag of chips and that the soundtrack will consist entirely of hard rock, preferably from the late-'70s/early '80s. I say, more power to you, Iron Fellow.

Libby: More Robert Downey, Jr., less clothes!

Speed Racer (May 9)


Todd: I, honestly, am kind of at a loss as to what to say about this, since it sort of looks like a combination of F-Zero, Osmosis Jones and those Dominos Pizza Noid commercials from way back when (or, at least, how my brain remembers the Noid commercials). John Goodman stars as Mario, and Matthew Fox is, apparently, doing an impersonation of Christian Bale as Batman. The weirdest thing, though, is that Emile Hirsch is in this, considering he must have immediately gone to this after Into the Wild. This is almost certainly exactly what Christopher McCandless had in mind. Men in fast cars racing each other with spike wheels. And, also, monkeys.

Libby: And boy, I thought I hated Into the Wild.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16)


Todd: This is one of those series I always underestimate the popularity of, so I may be overthinking this, but I think Disney should have held this until Christmas. For one thing, Prince Caspian is definitely one of the most boring of the Narnia books, being as it is about the Reformation or Martin Luther or something, except there's a giant dude made out of water instead of 95 Theses. What's more, they have to go up against INDIANA JONES, who's totally down with the family-friendly fantastical. And then he PUNCHES YOU IN THE FACE. I mean, how much better does it get than that? Who knows, though? Aslan's back, and there will probably be inappropriate sexual tension between the two oldest kids again, and Tilda Swinton's in a mirror or something (hopefully holding her Oscar). Maybe that will be enough to drag everyone back into the theater.

Libby: Enjoy your last trip to Narnia, Susan, before you end up liking makeup like a whore!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22)


Todd: Dude. Dude. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude. Actually, there's this guy at work who constantly tells me how this is going to be the biggest movie of all time, because everybody will want to see it. I wasn't sure that was the case, but then I saw this trailer. This looks like fun on a stick!

Libby: I still don't buy into Shia LeBeouf being an action star, but darn if I won't be there opening day.

Sex and the City (May 30)


Todd: I was surprised at how I didn't completely loathe Sex and the City when I finally sat down and watched most of the episodes, but this just looks like a bunch of women who work at an undervisited Great Clips sat down and wrote up some fan fiction about what happened to all of the characters after the show ended, all the while looking to their latest US Weekly for casting suggestions. "That Jennifer Hudson girl won an Oscar!" they would say. "Let's put her in the movie!" If Miranda and Charlotte start to make out, I'll have my suspicions that my hypothesis is correct. *sigh* No Deadwood movies, then?

Libby: I own the complete series of Sex and the City, and there's no way I'm spending one red cent on that pretty pile of shit.

Kung Fu Panda (June 6)


Todd: Do you suppose Dreamworks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg has a big wall covered in note cards that have various vague descriptors on them and then another wall covered in note cards that have the names of animals on them and when he's feeling bored he just starts throwing darts and sees what he comes up with? I'm looking forward to 2009's "Firefighter Pig" and 2010's "Rex Rexworthy: The Squid Who Was Afraid of Clowns."

Libby: That trailer was all build-up for so, so little payoff. I can only imagine the movie is the same.

The Incredible Hulk (June 13)


Todd: Have you ever noticed that Liv Tyler always seems sort of surprised to find herself on camera, as though she's a cat you've disturbed from its slumber by obnoxiously pushing your foot in its face? Check her out here, where all she does is turn in shock toward the camera, as if to say, "Oh, hi! I didn't see you there!" Anyway, other than that, I have virtually nothing to say about this. If this isn't the worst of this summer's comic book movies, I'll eat my hat (like Werner Herzog ate his shoe after Errol Morris finally finished Gates of Heaven)! The Hulk looks like plasticine, and there's nothing here that's going to be as batshit insane as whatever Ang Lee was doing back in 2003.

Libby: I honestly never thought there would ever be a film to make me think, "Man, I really miss Ang Lee's Hulk movie."

The Happening (June 13)


Todd: Look, I hate to give away the twist ending of two properties here, but don't you think M. Night Shyamalan and the folks behind The Ruins could have gotten together and realized their completely implausible villains were EXACTLY THE SAME? Bah. I'll probably still see this. Zooey Deschanel's eyes are so pretty!

Libby: Any society that allows Mark Wahlberg to be a teacher of schoolchildren deserves to be exterminated.

(No, seriously. Check out that long shot where he just stares at the camera and looks frightened and befuddled, like my friend DJ when he listens to Coast to Coast AM. I know he's an Oscar nominee and all, but he should really stick to being the wisecracking pal.)

Get Smart (June 20)


Todd: Movies adapted from TV shows are almost never good (aside from the greatest movie of all time, The Brady Bunch Movie), but this looks entertaining enough. It's never a good sign when the best joke belongs to tertiary characters who probably only exist to deliver that one specific joke, but the joke, at least, IS pretty amusing. It's just nice to see all of the cool and funny actors filling out the cast here from the blink-and-you'll-miss-him Terry Crews to David Koechner to Masi Oka. Also, Anne Hathaway, who's no Barbara Feldon, but is about as close as we're going to get nowadays. Steve Carell also doesn't try too hard to impersonate Don Adams, which is nice.

Libby: Actually, the greatest movie of all time is Maverick.

Wall-E (June 27)


Todd: I don't care that there's a cheeky British guy who's saying droll things about how the robot has developed a personality. I don't care that some people at test screenings have been surprised at how dark and occasionally depressing this is. I DON'T CARE THAT MY WIFE DOESN'T LIKE ROBOTS. This is going to be the greatest movie of all time, and if you don't think so, you can go to Hell.

Libby: I don't like TRANSFORMING robots, Captain Poopypants. I wanna see this right nowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

Hancock (July 2)


Todd: Peter Berg directed this, which is just sort of sad, since I like him. That said, this movie features Will Smith and comedy and superheroes, so I can only conclude that it will make $50 bajillion. That's the state of affairs in this great nation of ours. Despite the involvement of, like, 50 people I love in this, I don't predict great things. Get out the way.

Libby: If I'm gonna watch a Will Smith movie on the 4th of July, there better at least be a damn talking dog.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11)


Todd: I'm one of those people who tries to separate what I'm watching from what what I'm watching is about. But, still, with the first Hellboy, I had trouble just relaxing and enjoying how beautiful the movie was and the stunning direction because I couldn't set aside that it was a pseudo-Lovecraftian movie about a giant red man who fights tentacle thingies. I'm sure that this will be similarly impressive (go, go, Guillermo del Toro!), but I just wonder about anyone handed a blank check by Hollywood after their biggest critical triumph who says, "I WISH TO MAKE HELLBOY II!" "OK," say the studio execs. "AND THEN I WILL MAKE A LOVECRAFT FILM!" Actually, that will probably be pretty cool.

Libby: Oh, son of a bitch.

The Dark Knight (July 18)


Todd: I guess Warner Brothers is kind of sad they decided to center their entire advertising campaign around the late, lamented Heath Ledger and his apparent decision to play the Joker as an insane wino, but I'm guessing the goodwill toward the project from the first film and the early buzz about Ledger's performance being absolutely terrific should help them out. It helps that they took the first installment's sterling cast and creative team and replaced the one thing that didn't work (Katie Holmes) with something that almost certainly will (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Or, if nothing else, it will be good to see Adam West back up on the big screen.

Libby: More Christian Bale, less clothes!

Mamma Mia (July 18)


Todd: Things I learned on a recent trip home to visit my family: My straitlaced, conservative, salt-o-the-earth father? Big ABBA fan. Seriously. I was playing music for the fam from my iPod, and I put on "Take a Chance on Me," and he started humming along and patting his hand rhythmically. It's people like him that have made this musical a huge hit. "I don't want to see a musical!" he might say. "But it has songs by ABBA!" my mom might say. "ABBA?! Well why didn't you say so?!"

Libby: Amanda Seyfried has three dads in this? Shouldn't she be used to that sort of living arrangement by now?

Pineapple Express (August 8)


Todd: Everyone's surprised at James Franco's work as a pot dealer in this, but anyone who's seen Freaks and Geeks knows the kid's got a knack for comedy that somehow was subsumed in the Spider-Man movies. I'm more impressed that David Gordon Green directed this and even managed to work in some of his trademark Terrence Malick-aping shots in between all the people getting their feet stuck through windshields and marijuana gags. This looks like the greatest movie of all time. It's down to this and Wall-E!

Libby: I dunno. He was pretty funny in Annapolis.

Tropic Thunder (August 15)


Todd: Someday, I'm going to have to tell my kids about a long, national nightmare of a time when you would go to the movies in the summer and see NO Robert Downey, Jr. performances, much less performances where he played a black man. Tropic Thunder looks like one of those movies that will either be incredible or awful. There's really no middle ground, like with the previous Ben Stiller writing and directing project, Zoolander, where the film really only took off because it played so well on video.

Libby: So many nights, I've dreamt of Ben Stiller getting his hands blown off, and finally, I get a chance to see it on the big screen.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Smallville catch-up

Six episodes of Smallville have passed since my last recap (I’d apologise, but I doubt anyone cares) and a lot has happened. One new character was brutally killed off, two old faces showed up for one-off episodes, and past plotlines (dating as far back as the pilot) are being revisited. More than anything though, these episodes displayed a shocking lack continuity in story and characterisation, even by Smallville's standards. A quick runthrough follows…

Lets start with Grant Gabriel (Michael Cassidy). His character held a dominant story thread in the first half of the season, yet was brutally killed off a few episodes ago for no reason other than to show Lex’s evil side. (A shocking reveal, for sure.) Since then, he has barely been mentioned, and his former girlfriend Lois has never once been shown grieving for him. I know Smallville has never been good about plot continuity, but its never been THIS bad!

Then there’s Oliver Queen, aka
Green Arrow (Justin Hartley). Returning for a single episode, Oliver managed to find time to moan at Clark about greater responsibility, hook up with Siren (who was lame, lame, lame), mess Lois around a bit, and then shoot off in time for tea. And the point of all that was…?

I have no words fo
r ‘Fracture,’ but to give you an idea, the teaser ended with Lex getting shot in the head. (No worries, he’s fine now.) The episode involved Clark journeying into Lex’s mind to save his life, and coming across Lex’s good side, represented by a cute little kid. Even for Smallville, the whole concept beggared belief.

A slight upturn came with ‘Hero,’ the triumphant return of Pete Ross (Sam Jones III, who originally departed the series at the end of the third season). Pete was always a dull, pointless character, and was thankfully dismissed once the writers realised they hadn’t given him anything to do for two seasons. Still, his character was effectively used here to open Clark and Chloe’s eyes to the senselessness in trusting Lionel and continually bowing to Lex. Pete himself remains a waste of space, as illustrated by his storyline in ‘Hero,’ which was precisely identical to his arc back in season three. (Apparently four years wasn’t long enough for the writers to conjure up a new direction.)

The impact of Pete’s sentiments has been clear to see in the latest two episodes, ‘Traveler’ and ‘Veritas,’ which form one (still continuing) story arc. No, I’m not using the phrase ‘story arc’ ironically – this is the real deal. After six and a half seasons worth of messy plotting, abandoned ideas and outrageously forgetful characters, Smallville has suddenly set to work establishing a proper mythology. ‘Traveler’ informed us of Veritas, a secret organisation which foresaw the coming of Clark Kent, or as they then termed him, the Traveler. Its members included the Teagues (privileged parents of season four’s late Jason Teague), Virgil Swann (the late Christopher Reeve) and Lionel Luther. Lionel is the only surviving member, and its been heavily implied that he murdered the others. On top of that, everyone believes Lionel ordered the death of Patricia Swann, Virgil’s daughter.

In ‘Veritas,’ however, Lionel protests his innocence, insisting to Clark, Lana and anyone who will listen that he is a reformed man. No-one’s having any of it though, not even the eternal optimist Clark, who has finally concluded that the Luthors are a lost cause. John Glover is acting the hell out of this material, selling Lionel’s various freak-outs with glorious pizzazz. Of course, dramatic irony soon rears its predictable head – Lionel is telling the truth, and the real culprit behind Patricia’s murder is revealed to be Lex. Based on the spoilers I’m reading, Lionel’s prospects aren’t looking too good. ‘Veritas’ also involved the return of a powered-up Braniac (James Marsters, enjoying himself), who took control of Lana for reasons as yet unexplained.

All of this is fairly exciting, and ‘Veritas’ definitely counts as the best episode of the season so far. The essential problem, however, is that it should have happened a long time ago. The next episode, ‘Descent,’ is apparently the official ‘Lex goes evil’ episode that viewers and non-viewers alike have expected for years. While I’m glad its finally arrived, for most viewers (including myself) it’s three or four years too late.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

"No more secrets." - Lost

When Locke says the above line, it’s sort of a joke, isn’t it? Secrets are Lost’s bread-and-butter. Thus, even the proposal that the castaways will start being completely open with each other is a bit on the absurd side. Locke himself doesn’t get very far, as Sawyer points out that he neglected to mention that Miles is trying to bribe Ben in exchange for his silence. Locke explains it away by claiming that because Ben has no access to money on the Island, the bribe is irrelevant, but we’ll see just how long they can go before keeping essential information from each other.

Now, let’s move on to the big reveal of Meet Kevin Johnson. No, I’m not talking about Michael’s flashback, how he did indeed manage to make it to the mainland with Walt, only for Walt to hate him when Michael tells him that he killed Ana-Lucia and Libby in order to do so. Or even that he was placed on the freighter by Ben to eventually kill everybody (except the “innocents”) on the boat. No, I’m talking about the dearly departed Tom being gay! I guess that it’s been hinted at; he told Kate “you’re not my type” and seemed to be trying real hard to cozy up to Jack, making small talk and playing football with him. However, I’m still not sure what the point in that little scene was. Perhaps the writers realized that for all their multi-culturalism, they did not have a homosexual character and wanted to rectify the, even if it was a villainous, tertiary character. Or maybe it’s a way to imply that one’s sexuality isn’t necessarily a defining characteristic, anymore than, say, Miles being Asian-American is. By the way, has anybody else noticed that Miles’s last name is Straume? As somebody whose heritage is primarily Korean and Hawaiian but has the last name McCluer, I can appreciate that.

But I digress. On to the episode at hand.

This episode was unique in that its flashback was continuous. Other episodes had done this before, such as The Other 48 Days, which was entirely a flashback, and Flashes Before Your Eyes, where Desmond suddenly found himself in the past. But this was a conventional flashback, just told continuously, as opposed to parsed out throughout the episode. It made sense in context; Sayid forces Michael to talk, and he does, giving us the flashback. I half expected Michael to give voice-over, complete with an “It all started when. . .” Having said that, it wasn’t a horrific flashback. After all, it was consoling to know that Michael has spent his entire time since murdering two people wracked with guilt over it.

That isn’t to say that some of it was absurd. It was full of all these little moments that were entirely ridiculous, like when Michael pulls Tom’s gun to his head or when he throws his cell phone into the water (nobody else noticed that?). The whole thing with the bomb might have been too much; it was another in a long series of instances on the show where somebody would go through an insane amount of effort, only to make a minor point. The notion that Ben would risk having Michael exposed by trying to plant and activate this bomb only for it not to go off harkened to Ben pretending to implant a killer pacemaker in Sawyer’s chest.

It was sort of sad to see Michael bare his soul and admit how much of a broken man he was, only for Sayid to wrench him in a hammerlock and take him to Captain Gault. I can only assume that Sayid plans on using him as a bargaining chip to earn rescue, but if you know how the average Sayid plan goes, this will probably only make things worse.

Now, as for the episode’s finale. . . I don’t know if Karl and Rousseau are, indeed, dead (well, Blake Bashoff is off to star in Spring Awakening, so he’s probably dead). I’m not too attached to either character to get my hopes up, though this is sort of a bathetic way to get rid of Rousseau. Honestly, I sort of wish that the hiatus had come after Ji Yeon (and not just because I didn’t really have time to write this article next week), simply because it would have been a more satisfying, titillating conclusion for us to ponder until new episodes crop up again. I had harped about the Others essentially being written out of the show and it looks like they’re set to return, but this wasn’t quite big enough of a bang for them to make their reappearance.

Is it a set-up for something more interesting? Will people really care about the Others now that we’re so entrenched in both the inevitable rescue of Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sayid, Sun and Aaron as well as the intrigue involving the freighter folk? I don’t have the answers, but if you do, feel free to let me know in the comments section.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Treatment - Goodbye, Sophie

The last "Sophie" episode of HBO's In Treatment has just concluded, so it's time to say goodbye to Mia Wasikowska. The young Australian actress was not only the show's most appealing character, but also gave the best performance on TV so far this year.
In Treatment is insanely watchable; who doesn't love hearing about the hidden neuroses and melodrama of other people's lives? At the same time, I think the show has been somewhat overrated. I've never been in therapy but I suspect (as others have pointed out) that each session is much more awkward than what In Treatment depicts. Every 50-minute hour doesn't have the arc of a well-constructed one-act play. But hey, it's TV. A bigger problem for me is that the patients (with one exception) exist only to draw out the issues of Paul, the moody therapist played by Gabriel Byrne.

In the very first episode Paul is confronted with Laura (Melissa George), a crying young woman who announces she has just gotten engaged, describes a sexual encounter with a stranger in a nightclub, and tells Paul she's in love with him. Paul (we find out later) has feelings for Laura, although they may be merely a function of his stagnant relationship with his wife Kate (Michelle Forbes, very good). Laura is the main topic at Paul's weekly sessions with HIS therapist/rival Gina (Dianne Wiest). Things get complicated when Laura meets and beds another patient - fighter pilot Alex (Blair Underwood). Alex's backstory is loaded: he was responsible for the deaths of innocent children during a bombing run in Iraq, he's unhappy in his marriage, and he may be gay. Underwood strips away his usual glossy sheen and does great work here, but there's not enough time to unravel all this and Alex's plot ends abruptly when he dies in an (apparent) accident during a training mission. Alex's final episode (after the funeral) is devoted to a bravura performance by Glynn Turman as Alex's bitter and angry father; but this strand of the show seemed merely to inflame Paul's jealousy. Alex made progress, but seemed to regress in his last session and we never found out why.

Don't get me started on the terminally boring Jake and Amy (Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz), who come to Paul while deciding to abort the pregnancy they've been waiting years for (huh?). After Amy has a miscarriage in the second episode their sessions turn into a by-the-numbers workout of infidelity and bitterness. I'd prefer to remember Sophie, the only one of Paul's patients who brings him out of himself and lets the audience know he's really capable of helping another person.

Sophie enters with casts on both arms, the result of an accident that some believe was a suicide attempt. She's a gymnast in training for the Olympics and doesn't warm up to Paul right away; the first session is devoted to Sophie seeking an evaluation from Paul for a lawsuit against an insurance company. (Though even then she's crying out for help; she wants Paul to ask "shrink-like questions") It isn't until Paul unravels Sophie's inappropriate relationship with her coach and her anger at her absent father (who appears tonight played by Peter Horton) that Wasikowska's raw performance really gets going. Sophie is a mass of self-loathing and guilt for things that aren't her fault; and while I think trying to come up with adjectives to describe great acting Wasikowska's work here is entirely alive and real, and ultimately heartbreaking. I won't give tonight's episode away for those who haven't seen it, but it delivers the long anticipated confrontation with Sophie's father and an inconclusive but optimistic resolution. I'll give Sophie the highest compliment one can pay to a character on an ensemble show - she (and Mia Wasikowska) deserves a show of her own.