Wednesday, September 26, 2012

#462. The Casual Vacancy, Fall TV 2012 Continues

Tomorrow sees the release of The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling's first book for adults.

I became a fan of Rowling's other books perhaps slightly ahead of the curve.  Though not from the very start,  then only a few years into the series.  I remember Prisoner of Azkaban being featured on the front page of USA Today's Arts section when it was released in 1999.  While I was attending Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA for my freshman year in 99-2000, I saw Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets available at CVS, where I regularly visited (because I always need some kind of store to frequent, preferably one that has books and magazines in it).  I began reading them, and by the time I transferred to the University of Maine for my sophomore year, my parents gave me Azkaban for my birthday.  I was my first hardcover Rowling.  It was also her first book that I truly loved.

There were four other books, and I joined everyone else (which was pretty much everyone else) in the mass midnight release parties.  I suspect Vacancy won't have that kind of release, and yet I'm just as excited now as I was in 2007, when The Deathly Hallows rounded out the adventures of Harry Potter (and I finally succeeded in reading one of them in a marathon session).  Though she kept writing books starring young characters and almost all of them centered in academic experiences (littered with fantastic developments), Rowling had more than established her ability to tell a story, particularly within the last hundred pages.  I don't read a lot of books that are page-turners, so far any author to get me ramped up for the conclusion a hundred pages before it comes, that's a sign that they're doing something right.

Though I doubt Vacancy will be doing that, either.  It seems like the kind of intimate human drama that was always at the heart of her previous works, which became most clear in Azkaban, when Harry meets the twin surrogates of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, father figures who for a time fill in for Albus Dumbledore, who of course substitutes for Harry's deceased dad.  In the later books, when the story of Tom Riddle becomes clear and we start to sympathize with Severus Snape (well I did, and well before we learn that he was a good guy all along), and the romance between Hermione and Ron becomes real, the true depth of Rowling's vision becomes clear.  I expect that sort of thing in Vacancy.


As the new TV season continues to unfold, I see other things unfold.  In Survivor, Jonathan Penner continues to elevate his game, sort of a new Boston Rob (given that they both have distinctive accents, it only figures), and becomes my improbable favorite to win, if he can finally figure out how to play with others.  As he notes, possessing individual immunity is nearly always a good thing.  Mike Skupin, the other veteran likely to have a shot at winning, either has his fledgling alliance starting to fall apart, or perhaps on their way to figuring out why they need each other.  Time will tell.  Malcolm and dingbat Angie are ones to watch, even if they go the full Ulong.

I watched half the pilot for Vegas, which has some great stars, including one of my personal perennial favorites in Jason O'Mara, and figured out that CBS has turned a perfectly good period drama into another procedural.  Still, it has time to figure out what it actually has working for it.

The Neighbors is brilliant!  Even I didn't see that coming.  Brilliant!  The series has been in development for a while, and it shows.  It knows its own mythology, which is like a sitcom version of Pushing Daisies.  Star Simon Templeman, now that I can finally put a name to a face, has always been a favorite of mine.  He first showed up on my radar as Lord Nor in the fourth season premiere epic of Lois & Clark (the last season, for the record).  He also popped up in my sister's favorite show, Charmed.  And now here he is again.  He's so awesome.  His signature locks looked silly as Nor.  But he figured out how to rock them long ago.  Now he's 100% awesome.  Reason enough to watch?  Reason enough to watch!  But the rest of the show is pretty great, too.

I figure I'll be watching a lot of the season on the Internet.  Caught the season premiere of How I Met Your Mother.  Still classic.  (But what else could it be, o cynical muse?)  CSI I've grown to love again because it's reclaimed, or perhaps simply gained, a sense of urgency, driven by new stars Ted Dansen and Elisabeth Shue, along with giving George Eads perhaps his best work yet.

And the season only begins... 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

#461. Here There and Everywhere

After such a chaotic TV season last year, I'm fighting to remember to watch when I have the opportunity as the new one unfolds.  Mike Skupin is the opposite in 2012 to what he was in 2001.  That's Survivor for you.  SNL has some new talent worth watching.  I have no idea how long they've been around.  Some of the stars of Private Practice are definitely aging, and I'm actually sad that Tim Daly didn't get to return, even though I thought he sleepwalked through his tenure.  The Mindy Project may not be so different from Mindy Kaling's Office after all.


I'm finally watching Flashforward back.  It was a one-season wonder from 2009-2010, probably inspired as much by the Robert Sawyer book as Lost's famed fifth season (aired in 2009).  (Oh, and I get the message.  I get no interest when I talk about Lost here.)  I loved Flashforward at the time.  It had brilliant characters with defined arcs and a fascinating premise.  Sawyer's involvement was minimal, but he wrote one of the last episodes (which was obvious, because it was the one most like what he wrote in the book, which I tried reading throughout the season as something like a companion experience), which was a standout.  It's still brilliant.  I think it'd do better now than at the time, when people were still obsessed with Lost and dooming every other similarly ambitious project because it wasn't Lost (and dooming Heroes because it had the bad sense to outlast its welcome), especially as it's similar to what The Walking Dead has become.  I guess it was originally developed for HBO, and maybe it would have done better as a cable show, probably last longer anyway, even if the cast would not be the same.  Even at a single season, though, it's well worth remembering and watching again.


The Emmys were held on Sunday, and Homeland was a big winner.  It's the latest show the critics love, so of course it was.  I haven't seen any of it, but I would still be surprised if it's anywhere near as brilliant as Fringe.  (Thankfully Fringe has fared better than Flashforward, because Fox has been unusually lenient toward a cult favorite.)  I didn't particularly care for any of the actual nominees.  Breaking Bad, even though everyone who cares about its existence loves it, is particularly embarrassing, now becoming a parody of itself.  As much as I love Bryan Cranston, he deserves better than a caricature.  TV critics love antiheroes, and this one's the least plausible, and the most deserving of a far better and lucid exploration than this show is capable of delivering.  But the majority of cable programming is riddled with poorly-conceived premises designed to shock.  Mad Men is a bad soap opera in a period setting.  The Sopranos was a bad mob movie in a serial format.  Need I go on?

Monday, September 24, 2012

#460. RPG Personality Test

Dan Head is someone I've known since my days writing for Paperback Reader (you can find out what happened there by searching my comic books tag archive, if you so choose).  Recently he blogged his RPG Personality Test results, and I found out I could only view mine by copying the resulting code.  So now we'll find out together.

...Incidentally, I do not participate in role-playing games.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#459. PWI 500, Revolution, Avengers, 11/22/63

Commenting on Pro Wrestling Illustrated's annual PWI 500 list of the best wrestlers in the world is an equally annual event here at Scouring Monk (last year it ended up at Fan Companion, for the record).

This year's list was topped by CM Punk, and really, it couldn't have been anyone else.  Last June he unleashed a pipebomb heard 'round the world, ranting about a lack of respect from WWE and the backstage politics that'd kept him down.  Then he beat John Cena in Chicago, walked out, and made a surprise return.  Last November he defeated Alberto Del Rio for the heavyweight championship he still holds today, defeating the likes of Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan, and Mark Henry during the grading period, roughly July 2011 to July 2012.

Yes, it's all scripted, but Punk has been the man for more than a year.  Cena's the company man, but it's Punk who's managed to steal enough of the thunder that when they clash, it's not guaranteed that Cena will win.  In fact more often than not, Punk wins (including at last weekend's Night of Champions).

TNA's Bobby Roode came in second, and that's fair, too.  After last year's controversial loss to Kurt Angle at Bound for Glory (TNA's WrestleMania), Roode completed his journey to the top by defeating his own Beer Money tag team partner, James Storm, adding two homegrown stars to the main event scene.  Roode has frequently been questionable as a personality, but he embraced, much like John Bradshaw Layfield some seven years earlier, the chance to be champion, and only lost the title a few months ago.

Cena came in third, because he's John Cena and can't help but be in the spotlight, even when he isn't champion.  Daniel Bryan, the unlikeliest of superstars, raised his pointer fingers and shouted "Yes!" all the way to fourth, while Sheamus, the man who humiliated him at WrestleMania this year, came in fifth (I'd argue that these positions could easily be flipped, but won't protest too much).

Jun Akiyama is the token international finisher in the top ten at sixth, and his entry is fairly impenetrable for anyone who doesn't follow Japanese wrestling closely.  Davey Richards, meanwhile, is the ROH representative.  Considering that when Daniel Bryan (then known as Brian Danielson) and Punk were in ROH they never made the top ten, it stretches credulity to claim Richards belongs ahead of them as far as legacies at this level go.  Come back a few years from now and compare where his career stands versus where Punk and Bryan are now, and still try to defend this ranking, PWI.

Kurt Angle, the warhorse of professional wrestling, comes in eighth, representing TNA, which seems a little generous, but PWI has a habit of exaggerating the year of veterans.  Mark Henry is equally exaggerated in ninth, because everyone went bonkers when he won the world championship last year, even though the only thing he did differently was get the company blessing for the first time in fifteen years.  Parable about patience, I guess.  I always liked the guy, but it was funny to see everyone else finally like him, too.  Alberto Del Rio rounds out the top ten at tenth, mostly because he missed some time.  Otherwise it was his destiny to rank higher.  Because he won't have had nearly as good a year in the current grading period, otherwise known as what the 2013 PWI 500 is shaping up to be.  (Hint: Punk will likely take the top spot again, unless he somehow screws up all the momentum he's still riding.)

And there are four hundred ninety other wrestlers.  I have not read the rest of it, but PWI did acknowledge and attempt to retroactively correct some glaring mistakes, which I appreciate, including the omission (and subsequent inclusion) of Hiroshi Tanahashi, a Japanese star who actually does transcend his scene.  He's worked to a very limited extent in TNA and has been compared to Shawn Michaels.  If WCW were still in business, there's no doubt that he'd have more exposure today.


Anyway, watched the debut of Revolution last night on NBC.  I think NBC finally figured out how to do a genre show that might last for longer than a season.  But we'll see.  I'll be watching.


I'll be going to see The Avengers today, a second viewing of a movie I've been conflicted about all summer. Hopefully I'll better know what I think of it by this evening.


I'm writing about the PWI 500 because I got my copy in the mail yesterday, along with the 2012 Wrestling Almanac & Book of Facts, another annual release from PWI that I regularly find myself consulting.  I also got my order of Stephen King's 11/22/63 (plus a hardcover of Grant Morrison's Batman R.I.P., which ended up being free because of a previous order).  Being a very amateur obsessive of the JFK assassination, I had at least two reasons to be interested in King's latest book, plus the fact that "Castle Rock" is finally allowed to be Lisbon Falls, ME, which is my hometown and direct neighbor to King's (Durham, for the record).  It's home to Moxie, a disgusting (but getting better!) holdover of the original soft drink phenomenon from the 19th century, and subject of an annual town festival, thanks in part to Frank Anicetti, the sage of Main Street, who appears as a character in the book.

I think, without even having read it yet, King's effort has already changed my mind on the famous conspiracy, thanks to an included quote from Norman Mailer, which basically states that some people refuse to believe Lee Harvey Oswald could have acted alone because he's just so random an assassin that it doesn't ken to what we want to believe must have been necessary to pull off the murder of a giant like JFK.  Shakespeare's Brutus he was not.  And yet, it does make sense.

Doesn't particularly mean that the official story really is the true story, but I can begin to swallow it a little more easily now.

Monday, September 17, 2012

#458. Rewatching Lost

For the past few weeks, I've been watching Lost over again.  It's okay!  My sister's trained me on this sort of thing, with her regular marathon sessions of the eight seasons of Charmed, which I've sometimes participated in, so I'm an old pro.

Lost was originally broadcast from 2004 to 2010, and spans 121 episodes and six seasons.  It is a cult show that became a huge sensation and then a cult show again that notably disappointed probably all the people who started watching it because of the "huge sensation" thing.

The premise begins with the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 finding themselves deserted on a mysterious island.  Originally fans believed they were simply going to follow these characters until they got home, but then started to wonder if the point was to answer all the riddles.  Eventually the show itself got the characters home, brought them back, and attempted to satisfy the curiosity all those riddles excited.

Well, let's have a breakdown of the series in slightly more (but not too much!) detail:

Season One
The main body of survivors from the crash include Jack Shepherd, Kate Austen, John Locke, Sawyer, Hurley, Michael Dawson, Walt Lloyd, Shannon Rutherford, Boone Carlyle, Claire Littleton, Charlie Pace, Sayid Jarrah, Jin-Soo Kwon, and Sun Kwon.  (Yes, it was a large cast.)  They were all trying to figure out what had happened, where they were, and how they were going to get back home.  Claire was pregnant.  Everyone had complicated pasts.  Locke was in a wheelchair before the crash.  By the time Claire and Charlie were kidnapped by Ethan, whom Hurely figured out wasn't a passenger on the plane, they realized they weren't alone.  Michael built a raft.  It was burned down.  He built another one.  He and his son Walt, Jin, and Sawyer set sail.  The so-called Others sunk it and kidnapped Walt.  Oh, and there was a crazy French chick, Danielle Rousseau.

Key episodes:
"Pilot" (for obvious reasons)
"Walkabout" (revealing Locke's paralyzed past)
"Confidence Man" (my personal favorite, featuring Sawyer's basic conman story)
"Exodus" (season finale)

Season Two
Now knowing with absolute certainty that they were not alone, the survivors have been sent scrambling.  Locke discovered a hatch last season, and the big reveal of what was inside turns out to be Desmond Hume, last working stiff of the Dharma Initiative, the embodiment of the show's own efforts to explain what's so special about the island.  We also meet a separate group of survivors from the crash, who were in the tail section, all of whom are dead by the start of the third season.  My favorite's Mr. Eko, who pushes Locke to grow (but Locke always follows the beat of his own drum).  The biggest things to happen this season are Michael's obsessive quest to regain Walt from the Others, the appearance of "Henry Gale," who turns out to be Benjamin Linus, leader of the Others, and everyone trying to figure out if pushing the button inside the hatch is a worthwhile use of their time.  By the end, we learn that it was.  Turns out the one time Desmond failed to do so, the resulting electromagnetic disturbance caused the plane to crash.

Key episodes:
"The Other 48 Days" (the tale of the tail section)
"The 23rd Psalm" (the contrast between Locke and Eko)
"One of Them" (the debut of Ben)
"Live Together, Die Alone" (season finale, Desmond's journey)

Season Three
Think you know the Others?  Well, think again.  The season begins with Jack, Kate and Sawyer their unwitting captives.  In contrast to Ben, we meet Juliet, who at first does a terrible job of engendering the Others to us as she interrogates Jack, but eventually reveals a very endearing backstory.  Desmond, meanwhile, sets Charlie on a season-long march to his death thanks to the after-effects of blowing up the hatch, which allows him to see the future.  Locke marches ever closer to his destiny as he attempts to join the Others, and that rescue I was talking about begins to happen as we receive our first independent voice from off the island in the form of Naomi.  Also, we meet Richard Alpert for the first time, and Jacob is referenced!  Who's Jacob?  Only the driving force of everything that happens on the island...

Key episodes:
"Not in Portland" (Juliet's past revealed)
"Flashes Before Your Eyes" (Desmond's peculiar condition explored)
"The Man Behind the Curtain" (Ben's past revealed!)
"Through the Looking Glass" (season finale; march towards rescue; big Jack reveal at the end)

Season Four
The season known as the game-changer, in which the format officially shifts away from heavily focused on the survivors looking to get home to the survivors heavily looking to get back.  Previous seasons featured flashbacks while this season featured flash-forwards (a concept that helped a book become a short-lived TV series) in which the survivors who got home try to figure out what that means.  We also meet folks from the freighter everyone thought was going to get everyone home.  They're actually pawns in a long-standing conflict on the island that reflects the even longer-standing conflict that exists between Jacob and his brother, the Man in Black, but more on that later.  Production of this season was affected by the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike, so that's why it's shorter than even the short short seasons that follow, because the writers at this point had surprised everyone by outlining just how much was left of the series.

Key episodes:
"Confirmed Dead" (tales of the freighter team)
"The Constant" (everyone's favorite Desmond episode)
"Meet Kevin Johnson" (the further adventures of Michael Dawson)
"There's No Place Like Home" (season finale; or, there and back again)

Season Five
Locke makes an unexpected push towards destiny, finally discovering his true purpose in getting everyone back to the island, and all it takes is sacrificing himself!  Half the survivors are sent on a rollercoaster ride through time on the island, a result of tapping directly into the island's energy (which got Ben and Locke off the island, by the way), while the other half completes a complicated journey back.  Then the second half of the season has another split, with half of the survivors stuck in 1977 making everything happen that will get their plane crashed and allowing Jacob to get his candidates, and the others ironically in the clutches of the Man in Black, who only wants to sabotage Jacob's efforts and get off the island...I swear it all makes sense! But this is easily the season where you either figure out what's going on, or begin to throw your hands up, because all of this is relevant both to what's happened and how it all ends.

Key episodes:
"316" (how those who left came back)
"The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" (how Locke dies)
"The Variable" (freighter vet Daniel helps make sense of the time jumps)
"The Incident" (season finale; otherwise known as the secret origin of the hatch)

Season Six
Everyone still on the island is now picking sides, and the Man in Black doesn't play fair, constantly manipulating things, while flash-sideways through the season attempt to explore how things would've turned out if the survivors had had a little more luck on their side, and the plane failing to crash would be one of them.  We learn by the end ("The End" is also the name of the final episode) who Richard Alpert is, the exact conflict between Jacob and his brother, and what kind of happy ending is possible from all this.  The flash-sideways turn out to be the afterlife, by the way, the survivors reconciling their lives and eventually coming together, while the island at last finds a little peace with people running it (Hurley and, believe it or not, Ben) who only want what's best and are done with all the manipulating, which as you may or may not recall from all those flashbacks and shenanigans on the island, is exactly what everyone was previously doing with their lives.

Key episodes:
"Lighthouse" (Jack figures out Jacob's game)
"Ab Aeterno" (Richard Alpert's secret origin)
"Across the Sea" (Jacob and the Man in Black's secret origin)
"The End" (the end)

So many fans like to claim that there was no satisfaction to everything they'd watched.  I have to question how much of it they watched, because it's all there.  Walt, for instance, like Locke, was a prime candidate to replace Jacob, if the timing had been right.  It wasn't.  The plane crashed because of the electromagnetic activity that was at the center of the island and unbalanced by the Dharma Initiative, much as the balance between good and evil was offset by the Man in Black's jealousy of Jacob.  Everything that happened was a result of these two elements, obsessive quests to figure out what would happen (much like the fan reaction), and a bunch of characters who both were and were not defined by these things, but rather by the tragedies of their own lives, which were all directed by events on the island because that's what Jacob needed, to find a replacement who would keep the island safe, because of the old adage, power corrupts.  People who died before the end, who were killed by the Smoke Monster (the Man in Black) had made their peace, and thus didn't need to continue worrying about everything else, no longer had a vested interest in it.

Some fans have apparently wondered why Jack was so emotional.  Did you ever hear the anecdote that in typical J.J. Abrams fashion he was supposed to die in the pilot?  He was the audience surrogate, the first and last person you see.  The show was about big dramatic things.  If Jack wasn't emotional, the show would never have worked, just as if Locke had been able to figure things out sooner and been more effective.  The things you think about changing are the things that defined the series.  The characters were full of regrets.  The whole point of the show was to let go, stop overanalyzing everything.  It's not surprising that the fans who don't understand the ending don't get that.  Sure it was about big mysteries, but not in the way the unsatisfied fans thought.  The big mysteries had nothing to do with the island.  Yes, in the show, the island did not turn out to be an allegory.  But it was.  That's what it was all about.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

#457. 2012 Fall TV Season


Once Upon a Time (ABC; returns 9/30)
I only ended up watching a handful of episodes last season, but it's amusing enough to keep an eye on.  This season everyone knows that they're fairy tale characters, past and present.  Still features excellent actors like Lana Parrilla and Jennifer Morrison, plus Emilie de Ravin becoming a regular, so arguably the strongest female cast presence since Desperate Housewives, which was also a Sunday staple.

The Simpsons (FOX; 9/30)
I'll always try to catch it, even though my batting average lately has been lousy.

666 Park Avenue (ABC; premieres 9/30)
Stars Terry O'Quinn (John Locke on Lost) alongside Vanessa Williams, so I will at least have to check it out.


How I Met Your Mother (CBS; 9/24)
One of my all-time favorites, so of course I'll be tuning in again.  There's a chance this will be the final season,  but we're inevitably closer than ever to answering the riddle of the title.

Revolution (NBC; premieres 9/17)
Another show from JJ Abrams, and looks to be trying for the Hunger Games crowd.  NBC has a lousy track record with genre shows, meaning it's a safe bet to count on a single season.  But that season should be interesting!


The Mindy Project (FOX; premieres 9/25)
Mindy Kaling already seemed like she was in her own show on The Office.  This just makes it official.

NCIS (CBS; 9/25)
After regularly watching it with my sister last season, I will probably pop in for some visits, see how the agents are doing, if Ducky recovers from his heart attack well.

Raising Hope (FOX; 10/2)
I caught maybe one episode last season, so I'll try to remedy that with its third season.  Was easily one of my favorite new shows two seasons ago.

Ben and Kate (FOX; premieres 9/25)
A show about a brother and sister is something I'm up for, considering a lot of my life has been defined by my relationship with my sister.

Go On (NBC; premiered 9/11)
The new Matthew Perry show looks like it has potential, some good casting, and maybe the right amount of absurdity.

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS; 9/25)
C'mon, who doesn't want to know if the evil Comescu clan will menace the other NCIS agents again?

New Girl (FOX; 9/25)
Didn't get to see too many episodes last season, but I adore Zooey Deschanel, so of course I'll be watching when I can.

Don't Trust the B--- in Apt. 23 (ABC; 10/23)
Haven't caught an episode yet, but James van Der Beek seems to have settled nicely into subverting his previous image, so I will probably watch one at some point.

Private Practice (ABC; 9/25)
It's odd that Kate Walsh will be walking away from the show after this season, because she's the reason it exists in the first place, but in a lot of ways, the ensemble around her has been at least as important as her since the start.  If the show lasts beyond that, it'll be fine.

Vegas (CBS; premieres 9/25)
Please, Dennis Quaid and Carrie-Anne Moss in a TV series, plus the always-welcome Michael Chiklis?  I'm so there.


Arrow (CW; premieres 10/10)
Based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, so I have an obligation to be at least interested.

Survivor: Philippines (CBS; 9/19)
The 25th season of one of my favorite shows features three returning players (welcome back Mike "Burn My Hands" Skupin, Jonathan "A MILLION Dollars" Penner, and Russell "Not Hantz" Swan!), and hopefully Jeff Probst (who's also just launched a daytime talk show) being more typically invested than last time.

Criminal Minds (CBS; 9/26)
Another show my sister got me watching; I will probably pop in on occasion.

Modern Family (ABC; 9/26)
I didn't see any episodes last season, so I'll try to remedy that.

Supernatural (CW; 10/3)
I'm always trying to catch this show, and so I'll continue trying this season.

Suburgatory (ABC; 10/17)
Didn't catch any episodes from its debut season, so I'll try to remedy this one.

CSI (CBS; 9/26)
Last season's explosive finale made me instantly interested in the long-running show's next batch of episodes.  A rare series that has finally managed to successfully replace iconic characters.


Elementary (CBS; premieres 9/27)
Sherlock Holmes, Johnny Lee Miller, and Lucy Liu.  For me, that's more than enough.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS; 9/27)
Got to remain true to another favorite.

The Vampire Diaries (CW; 10/11)
Another show I've tried to catch, and will try again this season.

Two and a Half Men (CBS; 9/27)
Will continue to pop in for a visit.

Up All Night (NBC; 9/20)
Another show where I missed the whole first season, and so will try to make up for that this one.

Beauty and the Beast (CW; premieres 10/11)
Kristin Kreuk will get me to watch at least once.

Grey's Anatomy (ABC; 9/27)
I'm pretty sure my reasons for watching ended a few seasons ago, but I might still stop by for a visit.

Person of Interest (CBS; 9/27)
Last season's best new show will have me watching again.

Last Resort (ABC; premieres 9/27)
The new season's most intriguing new show involves an unlikely mutiny and dozens of questions on how it's going to last in an ongoing format.


Fringe (FOX; 9/28)
The final season of one of my favorite shows.

Last Man Standing (ABC; 11/2)
Didn't get to see too many episodes last season, so watching again will be like sampling all over again.

Touch (FOX; 10/26)
One of the more ambitious TV shows, hopefully something I get to catch to figure out if it works.

Community (NBC; 10/19)
Brilliant show I caught embarrassingly few episodes of last season, so of course I'll try to improve on that.

Nikita (CW; 10/19)
Another show I'm always trying to catch.

Blue Bloods (CBS; 9/28)
A favorite I will continue to watch.


Saturday Night Live (NBC; 9/15)
About the same batting average as The Simpsons, but I'm always trying.

Now, who knows what i'm actually going to watch?  I may try to keep you posted!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

#456. Hugo

Last year's Hugo was the first time Martin Scorsese made a family movie, but Hugo is very much the rest of his films.  it's all about figuring out how a system works (even if system doesn't work).

There's a lot to recognize about Hugo even if you don't know Scorsese.  It's the movie Robert Zemeckis has been trying to make with his motion-capture work for years.  It's Inspector Clouseau.  And as I said, it's got Scorsese written all over it, even if it looks like nothing else he's done.

Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, it's the story of an orphan who's desperately tryng to find his way in the world.  It looks like it's set in 19th century England, but it's actually set in 20th century Paris (and yes, that's another of the deliberate quirks Scorsese employs to help the audience work its way into his fable). 

Hugo (the orphan) is a pickpocket caught by Ben Kingsley (who was also exceptional in Scorsese's Shutter Island), an old man running a toy shop at a train station.  Kingsley doesn't take kindly to the boy's activities, and confiscates a notebook filled with intricate designs.  This leads to Hugo's desperate attempts to reclaim the notebook, and his meeting Kingsley's adopted daughter, Chloe Grace Moretz (a wonderful young actress discovered in of all things Kick Ass). 

We learn that Hugo is mainly motivated to restore an automoton to working order, because it was something his father (played by Jude Law) helped him with before his death.  Moretz has the last piece of the puzzle, a heart-shaped key, that will get the automoton working, which will get it to write, which Hugo hopes will reveal a message from his late father.

Instead it draws a depiction of the famous rocket-in-the-face image from A Trip to the Moon, one of film's early classics.  We learn that Kingsley is the filmmaker Georges Melies, who abandoned his calling after the devastation of WWI, which also had an impact on the life of station agent Sacha Baron Cohen, left with a bumb leg and an obsession with order, which includes scooping up meddlesome orphans.

It's all very clockwork, the way the movie unfolds, which is a part of how it's a family movie version of a Scorsese film.  As Kingsley discovers, happy endings are still possible.

Well, as I said, it was a fable.  It's good that Scorsese believes in such things.

Monday, September 10, 2012

#455. Dark Knight Rises and Lawless

On Saturday I went to see The Dark Knight Rises in theaters again.  Back in 2008, I saw The Dark Knight half a dozen times, so it was a requisite for me to see Christopher Nolan's third Batman opus at least twice, so I finally accomplished that.

While I loved Rises the first time, it wasn't the same kind of love that I'd had for its predecessor.  It's not the same kind of film.  In many ways, Rises has more in common with Batman Begins, the same basic structure, the same basic plot, the same basic villain.  No, it's not the same movie.  I've struggled with my appreciation for Begins since its 2005 release.  I always thought Nolan could have done more with it.  I loved that one, too, but not in the way I've grown to love its sequels.  At the time, Nolan was still the director of Memento for me.  I loved Memento, in a one-of-my-favorite-movies kind of way.  (He has since also directed The Prestige and Inception, as well as the earlier Insomnia and Following.)

What Rises does better than Begins is create a complete and satisfying arc.  In Begins, everything is authentic to Nolan's vision except for a somewhat copout ending, in which Ra's al Ghul has done everything perfectly except survive his own plans.  He just sort of gets everything he wants and then dies, leaving Batman to be a nominal winner in their little war.  Dark Knight figured out that a complete story was absolutely necessary, not just having all the right elements work phenomenally.  Rises knows exactly what it needs to accomplish, and to telegraph that, Nolan explains everything that's going to happen right from the start, and he uses as always Alfred to do it.  Alfred has always been one of the key elements of any Batman film.  He was the best element of Batman & Robin, the truly redeeming one, where it mattered that Michael Gough had stuck around since the Tim Burton films.  Michael Caine does the same thing.  He has a diminished role in Rises, but it can be argued that his impact is expanded in his absence.  What Nolan learned in Inception is that the story explains itself.  He's been trying to work on that since Memento.  I think he finally reaches his apex in Rises.  The best creators know that the best story is cyclical.  The end matches the beginning.  That's what Nolan does in his final Batman film, on a number of levels, both in mirroring his first effort, and the structure of the last.

Lawless, like Rises, features Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman.  For me, it's the conclusion of a Southern trilogy that features O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Cold Mountain.  O Brother was a Coen Brothers comedy that spoofed The Odyssey and gave George Clooney one of his first truly iconic performances.  Cold Mountain was one of the most unusual Civil War stories ever put to screen.  Lawless is about Prohibition, but like The Proposition (another movie penned by Nick Cave) is really a Western.  Hardy is one of three brothers trying to make a living.  The only problem is surviving.  His character becomes something of a legend by being able to survive, actually.  (Besides Hardy the other big acting draw of this movie is Jessica Chastain, who has in very short order become one of my favorites.)  There are gangsters in this movie (that's where Oldman comes in), but this is a Western, as I've said.  The arc of a Southern narrative from its past to the modern age can be traced throughout O Brother, Cold Mountain, and Lawless.  Chronologically, the order would be a little different, but the release order (as I've sketched) helps establish a fine narrative.  O Brother is the South's impression of itself.  Cold Mountain is what the South struggled to overcome.  Lawless is the struggle to enter the present.  Makes sense to me, anyway.

Post Script: Lawless is based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of the youngest brother in the story.  I came across it at a bookstore today.  I figured it was a sign that I ought to have the book, having enjoyed the movie so much.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

#454. Love What You Love (But Don't Dismiss Everything Else)

When I was attending Mercyhurst for my freshman year of college back in 1999-2000 in dear old Erie, PA, Rescue 911 actor Damien Ettere tried to get me into Doctor Who.

For those who don't know, Doctor Who is a long-running British science fiction TV franchise, long-running as in having launched in 1963.  There have been eleven actors to play The Doctor, perhaps two of the more famous also being two of the more recent, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant (Matt Smith is the current incarnation).

Damien was not successful.  Throughout my college years I was very much busy pursuing my own interests, which may have made it difficult to assimilate into the Mercyhurst collective (it was murder at the University of Maine).  I wrote a lot of Star Trek stories.

Now, Star Trek was not the reason I didn't get into Doctor Who.  They're not really very similar at all.  (Maybe Gary Seven is Star Trek's Doctor.  I mean, as in Doctor Who, because every incarnation of Star Trek has some notable doctor, just not Doctor.)

I did watch a few episodes of Eccleston's 2005 revival, when they aired on what's now known as the SyFy Channel (they now air on BBC America, which to my mind necessarily severely limits stateside exposure).

Anyway, I mention Doctor Who now because of Shada.  This is a Doctor Who book written by Gareth Roberts.  There are a lot of Doctor Who books by Gareth Roberts, but this one is particularly notable because it's based on a story by Douglas Adams.  Adams, as you may or may not know, is sci-fi royalty, having created the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (his entries amount to significantly more words than "Mostly harmless").  He is also dead.

Adams first entered the pop culture scene as a writer of a few episodes of Doctor Who.  It might even be said that in every way, we wouldn't have the Hitchhiker's Guide without Doctor Who.  The episodes Shada is based on, however, were scrubbed (eventually released in a bastardized version on home video, however), which is another reason we got the Hitchhiker's Guide.

I have no idea why the release of Shada was not a bigger deal.  Unless Barnes & Noble shelved it somewhere very strange, they didn't get it.  It was released this year.  I haven't read all of Douglas Adams, but he's a writer I think is somewhat essential reading, no matter what form he takes (it should be noted that I have mostly not read his nonfiction work, but I will correct that at some point), even if the words are not actually written by him.

(I obsessed over Starship Titanic for years.  It is not written by him.  It is also based on Douglas Adams material, but it is written by a parrot.  Or a half-dressed snake.  One of those.)

As the title of this post suggests, Douglas Adams is someone I love to love.  I'll read Shada not because of a deep abiding love for Doctor Who, but for Douglas Adams.

I also love the actor Colin Farrell.  I'm one of those people converting parts of his VHS library to DVD in 2012.  Recently I converted The Recruit, Phone Booth, and S.W.A.T. to DVD, which other than The War Zone makes my Farrell collection a straight DVD set now.  Farrell has an incredible amount of depth to his acting.  He's a performer who makes everything real.  All three of the movies that I just converted were originally released to theaters in 2003, and they don't even represent everything he did that year.  It was inarguably the last year anyone believed he was going to become a new blockbuster star (though the makers of the new Total Recall are among those who still believe it's possible), after his 2000 breakthrough with Tigerland.  Phone Booth is my favorite of the three.  It's short, and in many ways it's like an episode of The Twilight Zone, as Farrell finds himself targeted by a twisted moralist forcing him to confess his sins in the sights of a rifle.  In a career of great acting, this movie features exceptional acting from Farrell.  He happens to look like Freddy Rodriguez for the role.

S.W.A.T. has such a fantastic cast.  It's got Samuel L. Jackson.  It's got Jeremy Renner.  It's got another Rodriguez (Michelle).  It's got LL Cool J.  It's got Brian Van Holt!

The Recruit, by the way, is almost like a precursor to Total Recall at this point.  You don't know what's going on, unless you follow the logic explained in the movie.  Then you do.  Farrell has Al Pacino to work against in this one.  He's also got Bridget Moynahan!

Recently I went to see The Hunger Games and The Amazing Spider-Man at the local dollar theater.  The Hunger Games  has officially become the new Twilight Saga.  Some time ago I was bamboozled into reading the first two books of the trilogy.  The same flaws that exist in the books exist in the movie.  People went to see the movie in droves.  After The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, it's the year's highest grossing film.  It stars Jennifer Lawrence, who became Hollywood's new "it" girl after the release of Winter's Bone in 2010.  She had a notable supporting role in X-Men: First Class last year, and to complete her transition into stardom, she took the lead in The Hunger Games.

As an actress, she has about as much nuance as, well, The Hunger Games.  But I can't speak too poorly of either Lawrence or The Hunger Games.  Despite having read the book several years ago, I realized I still know every beat of that story, and the movie followed them faithfully.  It's an unusual successful story, an action movie starring a female lead.  Lawrence is worth supporting for being unusual herself.  She projects integrity, if nothing else.

The Amazing Spider-Man, meanwhile, is the controversial reboot of a comic book character whose last franchise launched a decade ago and only ended five years ago (perhaps it's an easy ending to overlook, since it's the entry in the trilogy one fans don't like).  Spider-Man has been a favorite of mine since early childhood.  (Significantly, the only character with comparable duration is Robin.)  Yet when I started reading comics, I didn't really read Spider-Man comics.  (I didn't read much Marvel at all, in fact, and maybe that has something to do with it.)  After "Brand New Day" launched Spider-Man into a bold new era in 2008, I read the character regularly for the first time.

Unlike everyone else, I wasn't enamored with Sam Raimi's films.  I thought they were a little nerdy, which was weird, because the films were accepted as cool.  To me, it was a giant neon sign to the public that loved them that comic books really were essentially nerdy.  I liked the third one, because it broke all the rules.

When Amazing Spider-Man was announced, I was happy.  When Andrew Garfield was cast as the lead, I was very pleased.  Director Marc Webb previously made (500) Days of Summer, and there's a lot of that in Amazing Spider-Man.  (500) Days of Summer is one of the great romantic movies of our time.  It is horribly heartbreaking (and stars two of our film treasures, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel), but it is fantastic.

The new Spider-Man is snarky, just like in the comics.  He looks a lot like Kick-Ass, too, all skin and bones.  His story is appropriately about family and obligations and science run amok.  It's everything Raimi got wrong (but everyone thought he got right).  It's not perfect, but it's better than the response it's gotten.

Well, people did love Raimi's version.

What I've been trying to say in this post, as the title implies, is that you should absolutely love what you love, but don't dismiss what you don't.  There are so many reasons to still acknowledge things you don't love.  Some people seem to think that you must hate what you don't love, or simply ignore it with apathy.  But there are so many reasons to acknowledge what you don't love.  There are reasons to like or respect or even simply appreciate things that don't directly speak to your sensibilities.  There are connecting threads.  Everything's connected.  The more easily you identify what connects everything else to what you love, the sooner you'll realize that there are so many more possibilities than you've ever considered.

I'm not meaning to suggest that you will no longer be able to hate or dismiss things.  But that the more you limit your limitations, the happier you'll be.  There's a lot to like in the world.  Sometimes it seems like most people, especially on the Internet, believe that there's a lot to hate.

If you want to know how to be more positive than negative, just try and see the worth in something before you decide to ignore it.


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