Arguably, Argo and The Master are the most buzzed about Oscar possibilities in theaters thus far; I’ve seen them both and I feel pretty proud of myself. After all, I had seen about two Oscar-nominated films at the time of the announcement last year. But last year was a fluke year in which none of the films were that must-see. This year is already different: I’ve already hopped aboard the Argo train. I am stoked for Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions, Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit, and Les Misérables, to name a few. And the early buzz about Skyfall is really, really exciting. So I’m about a million miles a head of where I was last year and jazzed to be there. Also, I didn’t like The Master.
The way that people were talking about the trailer for The Master is the way I talk about the Cloud Atlas trailer. It’s awesome to see Joaquin Phoenix back in the game and Philip Seymour Hoffman never disappoints. So I went in banking on their performances, which of course, were great. But mainly people were excited that it was a Paul Thomas Anderson film and worship the ground he walks on. So I looked into his filmography; I like Boogie Nights, but I haven’t seen Magnolia (except for that frog scene). Did the hero worship really start with There Will Be Blood? Because, sure I liked it, but my main takeaway from that is the milkshake line, so that can’t be a good sign for its posterity in my mind. Okay, Daniel-Day Lewis and and Paul Dano were fantastic.
So people were beside themselves waiting for The Master but watching it gave me a headache. Not in an Inception-y kind of way, but in a why-did-I-just-subject-myself-to-two-hours-of-that kind of way. It is over-stylized and sweepingly grandiose, self-congratulatory in a way that screams “Look, people are giving me money to show you my exact vision” sort of way. Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie is sadly child-like in everything he does, as if he skipped his adolescence in World War II, and unlike how most other boys became men, he decides to live in a perpetual child state when he gets back. The fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cult leader is blatantly making things up the entire time is eerie, in that it should be painfully obvious to those around him, not just his son. By the time Laura Dern calls him on his contradictions, he packs up and moves to another country to continue building his cult. And seems by the end that Anderson just expects us to drink the Koolaid too and follow along without any further explanation. Freddie rides off in the desert, they go to look for him, and magically he is in his hometown, trying to reconnect with an old sweetheart. Next he is summoned to England, and we realize he has been separate from the cult for a long period of time. Oh. I can’t put it better than Owen Gleiberman, who wrote
Paul Thomas Anderson now wants to sever our connection with the people on screen, so that nothing gets in the way of our link to the magnetic pull of his directorial voice. It’s a warped vision of what a movie is. But when a director who, in Boogie Nights, made the humanity of his characters sing now insists on making movies as if he’s “the master,” and is hailed for it like he’s the indie-crossover answer to Orson Welles, maybe it’s not necessary for us to love his films. Maybe worship, in its way, feels better than love.
Argo, though, is well worth the hype. It has a suspenseful premise (the stakes couldn’t be higher), a wonderfully talented cast, and major resonance for today’s world. Ben Affleck couldn’t have known about the tragedy to occur in Benghazi, but it makes for a great parallel to Iran 1979. As the film started I felt like I was fighting tears (although full disclosure, I almost felt like crying when I saw the Cloud Atlas trailer for the first time in theaters moments before, so my emotional head space that day is questionable) but, as someone who wasn’t alive to see it occur, it was jarring to see images so similar to what I see now on CNN.
And personally, as a student of international relations who has entertained the idea of being a foreign service officer, this is scary. But it also appeals to the other side of my studies, the creative peacebuilding side. Tony Mendez, Ben Affleck’s character, is clearly a creative individual. As an exfiltration expert, he was required to envision all the different ways a person could be extracted from a hostile environment. My studies have led me to entertainment as a tool of peacebuilding, and in that way I feel a kinship with Mendez. If I were in that position, I don’t think it would’ve been odd for me to imagine a sci-fi B-movie as a plausible means of cover. So, yes, Argo appealed to me on a higher level than its crackerjack storytelling. It harkens straight to everything I hope to do in my future.
Rounding out the awesomeness is a cast full of “hey, that guy!” actors. Ben Affleck is great, but I would give extra attention (Supporting Actor attention) to Bryan Cranston. We can expect the guy to be great in anything but his greatness still surprises in how…great it is. I mean, he was on 30 Rock this week and just killed it. The man can do anything. Alan Arkin and John Goodman head up the Hollywood portion. But then, there’s Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused…anyone?), Kyle Chander. Titus Welliver, and Zeljko Ivanek. Also, proving that he is literally in everything, there’s Chris Messina, whose starring role in The Mindy Project does not seem to be holding him back.
I focused my attentions a lot on the actors playing the stranded Americans. Along with Tate Donovan, DuVall, and Cochrane, we have Kelly Bishé, recognizable (to me) as Lucy on the last season of Scrubs; Christopher Denham, I had to look up, but I know him mostly from being obsessed with Sound of My Voice, a movie I haven’t even seen yet. I saved the best for last: Scoot McNairy. He gets the juiciest material of the six, but he also proves himself as one to watch. He has been working steadily for years but appears ready to break out, with a role in Brad Pitt’s Killing Them Softly this year as well. I already added what I could find of his on Netflix to my Instant Queue. (I started Wreckage. It is not good, you guys. Aaron Paul got me through the first twenty minutes, and I am counting on Scoot to carry me through to the end. But…eesh. There is such a huge dichotomy at play: fantastic actors like Aaron Paul and Scoot McNairy paired against people who cannot act at all. Ugh.) I hope my Scoot quest continues more smoothly in the future.
Potential award-winning films are releasing now to December. I look forward to seeing how they stack up against Argo and (hopefully) overtake The Master.
If it has Shawn Ryan’s name on it, you are at least guaranteed a fresh perspective and a fresh story right out of the gate. And Last Resort is definitely fresh; with its nuclear missile-equipped submarine, surprising premise, and cast of familiar faces, the show offers a truly unique viewing experience.
It starts with a wounded group of Marines in a lifeboat; cue their rescuers surfacing on top of the lifeboat with a submarine, the Colorado. The crew of the Colorado isn’t getting much info from these guys, and we get a few scenes of the crew interacting with each other so as to establish their characters. There’s Captain Chaplin, Andre Braugher, who’s great. The crew seems to, for the most part, respect Chaplin and his decisions. There’s the XO Kendal, Scott Speedman, also surprisingly good. I don’t want to knock him, but Scott Speedman does not scream military to me and therefore wouldn’t be a first choice sight unseen, but it works. We get a sort-of side story with the women on the crew and potential harassment, but that is sidelined compared to Lt. Shepard’s story, who happens to have an influential Admiral for a father (Bruce Davison). Suddenly, Chaplin gets an order to fire missiles at Pakistan, although it comes from an Antarctica station designed to send out orders if D.C. command is wiped out. It appears that the US is fine and Chaplin questions the orders. Then the show really ups the ante: The US fires on the Colorado, blames it on Pakistan, and an actual strike is started on Pakistan. In an attempt to clear their name and prove the government coverup, the crew takes over a nearby island. Now they have to deal with their country, the local thugs, and mutinous crew members like Robert Patrick’s Master Chief character, Prosser. Oh, and they also fired at missile toward D.C. to avert their own destruction. The missile was designed to miss land, but just barely.
The best word to describe Last Resort is ambitious. By the end of the episode I found myself thinking, I have no idea what an entire season (or multiple seasons) of this show would look like in execution. And this can be a good or bad thing. This show could be unlike anything we have seen on television. Or just like other shows that leave you questioning their long-term viability, it may run its course far too soon and leave us with a rehash of Shonda Rhimes’ failed Off the Map series.
- The names on their uniforms really help. It seems like a lot of names are thrown around a long with the new characters so being able to see the names helped me keep some people straight from the first few minutes.
- I found it surprising that Chaplin and Kendal questioned their orders to the extent they did. It is impossible to know how you would react if the day ever came that you had to “press the button,” so to speak, but the training that you go through must leave you with little doubt that when you are asked, you do not hesitate.
- I also found it interesting that unlike most fictional stories where a country is made-up, Pakistan is used and the US fires nuclear missiles to incapacitate the country.
- I did not need to see a missile coming toward Washington D.C. Between this and Homeland, I am going to develop a complex about going into the city.
- Among the cast we have Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse, Being Human), Omid Abtahi (from Homeland, among many other credits), and Jessy Schram, who will forever be known as the annoying girl who dated Logan on Veronica Mars.
After what seems like a never-ending bout of Lost-imitators that fail to garner the same amount of obsessive followers (FlashForward, Terra Nova, The Event), NBC is trying the formula yet again with Revolution. I can imagine the gimmick sounded good in the pitching room, and with J.J. Abrams attached, it sounds even better. But for me, it really boils down to whether I can get invested in the mythology the show is trying to promote.
The pilot opens with an introduction to the family, Tim Guinee (who is that guy that has literally been in everything) and Elizabeth Mitchell, parents to Charlie and Danny. Tim Guinee (Benjamin Matheson) makes a frantic call to his brother Miles (Billy Burke), warning him of what is soon to happen — the power is out, technology is going kaput. We let anarchy and nature take over for fifteen years and return to the cast, sans Elizabeth Mitchell, who supposedly died “out there.” But now we have grown-up Charlie and Danny, a blonde woman named Maggie who seems to be in the unwelcome position of new mommy, and Aaron (Zak Orth, who you probably know if you watch a lot of David Wain-related things) as the local former techie millionaire.
The militia rides into town, led by Giancarlo Esposito, looking for Ben and Miles. In the aftermath, Ben is dead, Danny captured, and Charlie, Maggie, and Aaron are on the road to Chicago to find Miles. The militia leader (of the Republic of Monroe), Monroe himself, believes that the Matheson Brothers know why the power went out and maybe how to turn it back on. This is given further credence by a mysterious necklace Ben gives to Charlie before he dies.
This show, and pilot in particular, definitely have reason to be on the boastful side: executive producers include J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk, the pilot was directed by Jon Favreau, and the creator/writer is Eric Kripke. Unfortunately, it strikes me as a not fully formed world/not fully realized. When shows like Firefly exist, where a whole new world was created right out of the gate, it is sometimes frustrating to see a show struggle to remake the world in their image. A lot has gone wrong in fifteen years and I cannot decide if I think it happened too quickly, or just not in the right ways. Maybe the show will become a bit more steady with its new world order a few episodes in.
A few thoughts:
- No body, murky explanation: how long before we stumble upon Elizabeth Mitchell somewhere, “out there”?
- I was really impressed with Billy Burke in this; among many unknowns, his acting provides a stabilizing maturity to his scenes.
- Surprisingly, I didn’t catch many telltale signs I was watching something from the Supernatural creator. Except the necklace bit; even Jensen Ackles’ seemingly innocuous necklace turned out to be more than it seemed a few seasons in.
- The use of a downed plane almost seemed like it begged me to make a Lost connection, so I guess it served its purpose. Aaron claims to know where the medical kit is located on board. When asked why, I thought for sure the answer would be something like, “I watched this show before the blackout…”
- On FlashFoward, the new world icebreaker became “so, what did you see in your flash forward?” Apparently on Revolution it’s “What did you do before the blackout?”
- There is a nice reveal by the end of the pilot. Probably not so surprising if you recognize David Lyons before I did. It was the second to last scene before epiphany: “isn’t that the guy from The Cape?!” #sixseasonsandamovie
Easily the show garnering the most controversy this season, The New Normal is not-so-shockingly a very Ryan Murphy show. And unfortunately, it is all the things I currently hate about Glee condensed into a half-hour comedy. Is there room to grow? Absolutely. And the show benefits from Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells, who are both excellent. I have to root for any show that is pushing a “new normal” agenda, but when it makes the agenda so clear, it doesn’t seem like real life. It seems like an after school special about everyone deserving love.
I think it was Ryan Murphy that joked to the One Million Moms group that they should be happy with the show because they are also represented, in the form of Ellen Barkin’s bigot character. While this is technically true, her character suffers from being defined by that and nothing else. She seems like a vacant vessel whose only function is to spew out vitriol aimed at anyone who is not white and straight. More caricature than character. And at the end, when we find out the source of her homophobia (her husband was carrying on an affair with a man), it doesn’t really explain why she is horrible to other groups as well. I thought it would be better if she were a representative of an older generation’s outlook but I guess this story will provide more melodrama.
Besides that, my only other major criticism is that the pilot moves at breakneck speed, almost like no one told Ryan Murphy how to write for a half hour. The storyline wants to pull at your emotional heartstrings by the end, but we simply haven’t spent enough time with these characters to care all that much. In that short time, we see two parallel stories converge: Bryan (Andrew Rannells) realizes he wants to have a baby, and he goes home to convince David, his partner; since becoming a parent is a serious discussion for any couple, this is surprisingly glossed over. And being a comedy, I guess all of the issues that could have been discussed about a gay couple deciding to have kids is too boring. It’s the new normal, but just barely. Meanwhile, Goldie (Georgia King) discovers her husband is cheating and takes her daughter on a spontaneous road trip to California where she divulges that her secret desire is to become a lawyer. She decides to become a surrogate to help fund her dream. At the same time, Bryan and David have already had a terrible surrogate experience. When they meet with Goldie, we get to hear her spiel about how love is love…herself becoming a blanket caricature of what we are told should be the case. At the end, we do get a great scene with Goldie and David, and it may be worth watching the pilot solely for this moment. Ellen Barkin’s character barges in and attempts to stop Goldie; we hear her traumatic history, and NeNe Leakes shows up for what was envisioned as comic relief but is really an awkward distraction. By the end, Bryan and David want to help make Goldie’s dreams come true and they are all one big family. In a half hour.
So far I like the idea of the show much more than the actual execution. My advice: give this show a few episodes to see if it evens out and in the meantime, watch Husbands!
Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project are two of the most buzzed about shows of the new fall season. Out of the comedy pilots I have seen so far, Ben and Kate was the first to actually make me laugh out loud numerous times; it seemed very in tune with my sense of humor. In other words, I LOVED it. Can’t wait for more. The Mindy Project was more conventional, but Mindy Kaling’s voice is very fresh and I think she speaks to contemporary women in a way that is appealing.
Ben and Kate
The titular Ben and Kate are siblings that grew up close, and stayed that way, even though Ben pops in and out of Kate’s life. Ben rushes into Kate’s life this time because the girl he loves is getting married and he wants to stop the wedding. Meanwhile, Kate is worried her brother’s antics will spoil her first real relationship (with Jon Foster) since the birth of her daughter. Ben realizes things are not right with Kate’s boyfriend and comes to Kate’s rescue. Ben and Kate come equipped with best friends that are equally as hilarious and endearing: Lucy Punch and Echo Kellum. By the end of the pilot, Ben decides to move back home to help Kate with her five year old daughter Maddie (the cutest kid ever). Because my notes on this show read only “Love this! Yay!” and a string of quotes, here are some great Nat Faxon-isms and other quotes from the pilot, sans context:
- “I high-fived him…I did not like it.”
- “You’re so naive…you’re only five, but you’re very naive.”
- “Why are you so young right now?!”
- Kate: “Aww man, what are you going to do?” Ben: “I’m thinking about, like, starting on the roof and then rappelling down the the side of the building, and then maybe like knocking through an AC duct and then crawling, like elbows, like this, and then like dropping down into an electrical closet like throw a couple smoke bombs in, and then just kidnapping Darcy, taking her out the back, and maybe like renting a Jeep Wrangler or something and just popping down to Mexico — but, I don’t know. It’s all a little bit up in the air.”
- Ben: “Tommy, what did you think?” Tommy: “I thought it was amazing.”
- “Come on Maddie, this is really important to me. Quit phoning it in.”
- “This is too soon! The bow is a surprise!”
- BJ: “Wait, what’s the fish?” Tommy: “It’s a tilapia. Or sal-mon. I’m not sure exactly which one.” Ben: “Salmon.”
The Mindy Project
“…who I have been is not who I am going to be”
When I say that The Mindy Project is more conventional, I mean it in the sense that the whole show seemed to be laid out in the first 22 minutes: we will get to see Mindy trying to better herself while also (probably) discovering that the caustic frenemy across the office is actually her true love. Clearly Mindy has her priorities a little skewed from the beginning — she looks past the hot Brit doctor and pegs Bill Hader as her rom-com soul mate. I love Bill Hader, but lets be honest, in that situation who would be looking his way? Things follow in the classic rom-com fashion that Mindy has modeled her life after (she gets stuck in the elevator with Hader, they move in together two months later…except in the show’s present time he has now left her for the Serbian merchant who works downstairs). Side note: Thanks to watching the film Blackout on Netflix, I’ve decided getting stuck in an elevator with an attractive man (hello, Aidan Gillen) can actually be the worst event of your life. Anyways, after attending Hader’s wedding, she drunkenly rides her bike into a pool and realizes things need to change. She wants less drama. Cue a date with Ed Helms (awesome) that she has to leave for a patient and a flirty-bonding session with the jackass doctor, Danny Castellano (Chris Messina).
- One critic cited that a potential problem is the amount of pop culture references in the pilot alone and that they instantly date the show. I honestly wouldn’t have thought much of them. I think 30 Rock is great perpetrator of this to the point where I don’t see how many of their jokes will function in a few years. But off the top of my head, The Mindy Project references Downton Abbey (glad Chris Messina gets to be the voice of greater America by being snarky and asking why people keep mentioning it), Michael Fassbender (in particular his penis–honestly, I think this joke’s expiration is way past), Eat Pray Love (a bit I really liked) and Bruce Springsteen/John Mellencamp. It also shows a lot of clips from older romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally. Unless these mentions get egregious, I think they help the image and comedy of the show.
- This may be the lover of Eastern European history in me, but I thought Mindy’s crack about Bill Hader’s new bride potentially being a Serbian war criminal was off the mark. I grimaced.
- I get that Chris Messina is a cynical divorced singleton, but I think his character really needs work. They layered on his abrasive personality a little thickly and I found it very unappealing. Who really wants to be friends with someone that calls you ignorant for saying “Springsteen concert” instead of “Springsteen show”? Eh…They tone him down at the end of the episode to establish some romantic sparks, but I found myself remembering how annoying he had behaved for the better part of the episode.
- Anna Camp plays Mindy’s best friend. For someone who appears in everything, maybe she will finally plant some roots in this show.
I think the secret to approaching this pilot season is low expectations. For me. this outlook is working surprisingly well. At least for NBC. The end of the Olympics furnished us with a glimpse at a commercial-free Animal Practice, and I didn’t actively dislike it. If you like Andy on Weeds, then just imagine he ditches Nancy for veterinary school, and loses his people skills while retaining his ladykiller nature and you have his character, Dr. George Coleman, on Animal Practice. Like Go On, it didn’t cause me to burst into laughter but it also didn’t cause me to roll my eyes.
What I liked: Justin Kirk, of course. This role had his name all over it and is definitely in his wheelhouse. I also liked Joanna Garcia Swisher. I haven’t seen the original pilot where her role was portrayed by Amy Huberman but by all accounts, Swisher improves upon the part. Tyler Labine also seems at home with his character. Dr. Yamamoto (Bobby Lee) for me, has the most amusing character in that he is a people-pleasing, wimpy, downtrodden, yet quip monster with moxy. He is a mess of contradictions and it works for me. This episode also gets points for using my favorite song from Cats, “Magical Mr. Mistoffelees.” It gets double points for making an Arby’s a joke that also implies it is delicious. Which it is.
What I liked less: The balance between humans and their animal counterparts. The animals never failed to steal the thunder from the humans, even when the scene was working for the actors. I found myself thinking that this show would benefit from a truncated season rather than a traditional 22-episode season. Stretching this theme over 6-7 episodes would yield stronger material, I think. I can’t help but imagine how many of these jokes will be recycled ad nauseam by the time we reach February sweeps. I was also not a fan of the Nurse Angela character, who came close to ruining every scene she was included in. My greatest hope for this show revolves around greatly re-evaluating this character.
My first impression is that this is a quasi-Scrubs with animals and without the Bill Lawrence stamp of humor. I am just not as convinced that this formula can work without some sort of tangible quirk (and not just a stable of misfit characters), which Scrubs had in spades.
NBC is officially on red alert: the execs wants more comedy, but not the quirky, niche audience it currently has with the likes of Parks and Recreation and Community. In an interesting move, both Go On and Animal Practice will be showcased during the Olympics, hopefully to drum up some viewers for when the season officially starts this September. If you saw any of the sizzle reels during the network upfronts a few months ago, you know that we are about to be hit with an inordinate amount of network drudge (hey, Guys with Kids and The Neighbors, I am looking at you). Tonight, we got a glimpse at the new Matthew Perry vehicle, Go On, and overall I was more impressed than I expected to be. My bottom line: the show has a lot of built-in promise; it can either realize that promise or fall on its face. I think I might stick it out for a while and see what we get.
As has been pointed out in a few outlets, the pilot for Go On is shockingly similar to Community’s pilot. We have a cynical wiseguy who wants to get back to what he does best in a hurry (for Joel McHale it is lawyering, for Matthew Perry it is his sports radio show) and these guys are presented with obstacles in the form of a hodge-podge group of people. By episode’s end, both guys realize that this group of people could be beneficial to them and they elect to become a part of it.
What I liked: definitely the diversity. Like Community, the group seems more true to life with its inclusion of females, different ethnic groups, and sexual preferences. I think the biggest hurdle we have overcome in the past few seasons of television is presenting these diverse groups as common place (which they are, but television lived in its own bubble for too long) and not as a carefully drawn out storyline. One character is in grief counseling because her partner died suddenly and she is so depressed she doesn’t get off the couch, much to her kids’ chagrin. Her partner was a female, they had kids together, she is grieving = accepted and treated like any other character’s revelation. Brilliant. However, just like Community, these characters seem to live in some heightened form of reality where some of the most outrageous and diverse ways a person can grieve have all been carefully selected for one group, thus is still the nature of television.
I also liked the treatment of grief in general. It is a tightrope walk to deal with such sensitive issues, especially when your audience must have experienced something similar in their lives. A comedy about grief is possible, but one careless joke could alienate a chunk of people. Luckily, I feel like the show can find a balance between the comedy and the sadness, and make poignant comments on their characters in the process (if it fulfills that promise!).
What I liked less: the sports. When it comes to sports, I usually hear white noise. Especially when it comes to football players (for example) that I am probably supposed to know by name as well as their whole backstory. I get it: that is Ryan’s occupation but I hope it doesn’t invade the show toooo much. In this episode, his interviewee helped him realize he needs the counseling, but the player got to utter a joke about fruit, that’s about it.
To conclude, I plan on watching this show for a while as the new fall schedules get underway. It is a 24 minute show so giving it a few episodes to breathe is no problem. I liked many of the quips, they landed even if they weren’t laugh out loud hilarious. It is sink or swim time for NBC; I am looking forward to seeing how all of these shows shake out come mid-season.
Next up is Animal Practice. I ADORE Justin Kirk. But the premise of this show frightens me. Til next time…I will try to have faith in Justin Kirk’s career choices.