Monday, July 11, 2011

Top 5 Shows of 2011 (so far)

I'm probably ten days late for this post. Considering that July 1st marks the half way point of the year.  But that date also coincided with the July 4th weekend which is a pretty busy time for my household.  Over the next week, we will be seeing the premieres of the final season of Rescue Me and the return (finally!) of Breaking Bad, aka the Best Show of 2010.  So this is probably the best time to look at the best of this year's best new and old programs.

1. Parks and Recreation (NBC).  Honestly, every time I think about making a list of the best TV shows I usually bypass the comedies.  Since the debut of The Sopranos, we have experienced a golden age for dramatic television.  However, during that same time we have entered into a new age for the more sophisticated comedy.  And while the mockumentary style that Parks N Rec. uses may seem ubiquitous and even a cheat (see The Office and Modern Family), it is still the funniest and deepest comedy on the air right now.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Batman 3 is now 'The Dark Knight Rises'

Yes, The Dark Knight Rises, is the name of Christopher Nolan's third installment of the Batman franchise.  Obviously, the title is pretty similar to Frank Miller's graphic novel 'The Dark Knight Returns,' but we all know the plot will be quite different. 

Nolan had already confirmed that The Joker wasn't going to be recast appear in the new movie.  And today, in addition to announcing the the movie's title, he also confirmed that The Riddler would also NOT be making an appearance.  I see that as a good thing even though the idea of Joseph Gordon-Levitt portraying Edward Nigma did sound like the perfect casting.  But I want to be surprised with this movie and would rather have a lesser know villain. 

Oh yeah, the Inception director also convinced Warner Bros. that they don't need the unnecessary element of 3-D.  Instead he will continued to use IMAX and HD technology.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Modern Family: Showing Glee how to Tell a Story (about God)

I would like to open this post with a couple of funny lines from the episode.  I am doing this because I am actually only going to discuss the Jay, Gloria, and Manny storyline.

"No, ma'am.  I'm not stepping into that one.  We're not going to play good cop, mom."--Phil

"I want to go the museum of tolerance."--Alex
"Fine, how far in tolerance?"--Haley

"Double it again and make it ten weeks"--Haley
"Oh my god! Do you not hear how much you need to study?"--Alex

"I was going to bring you wine but you finished the big bottle last night."--Luke
"Okay, off you go"--Claire

"You know what you are.  You're like a mob wife.  You look down on me an my ways but your happy to wear the mink coat that fell of the truck"--Mitchell

Two shows from the 2009-2010 TV season showed that the networks could still launch critically and commercially successful programming.  Of course they were in the genre which the networks do just as well as cable: comedy.  The two comedies, Glee and Modern Family, won the Golden Globe and Emmy for Best Comedy, respectively.

This week, the shows dealt with the issues of God, atheism, and skepticism.  After watching Fox's promos for the episode of Glee I decided I wasn't going to watch it.  I made this decision not because the episode was going to deal with God but because it was going to overdo it this week and then never bring it up again.  Glee is a show of themes.  That is, every episode deals with one specific theme that gets mentioned an infinite amount of times in that hour and then never gets brought up again in future episodes.

Now, I don't want to dwell on Glee too much.  After all, after everything I've heard and read about the episode, there is no possible way I can bring myself to watch it without thinking about all of the politics regarding the issue of Church and State.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Terrence Malick Tonight

This is a good week for fans of Terrence Malick films.  No, Tree of Life is still not scheduled to be released until sometime next year (hopefully early in the year).  But his 1978 classic Days of Heaven will be airing on TCM tonight at 8:00 pm EST.  The movie will be followed by other films that center around migrant farm workers.

Also, on Tuesday, Malick's 1998 Best Picture nominee The Thin Red Line was released on Blu Ray as part of the Criterion Collection.  Heaven and 2005 The New World are also available on Blu Ray.  The only movie of his not to have been released yet is Badlands.  Hopefully it will be out soon because this director's films were made to be seen in HD.  Maybe that is why he has gotten back in the game over the past decade.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Review: 'Ape House'

Sara Gruen's first novel since her immensely popular Water For Elephants opens with two quotes that set the tone for the rest of the novel.  The first quote is from Nim Chimpsky, a young chimpanzee in the 1970s, and it is, "Give orange give me eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you."  And the second quote reads, "Gimme gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme more."--Briney Spears, 2007. 

I laughed a little when I first saw those two statements.  But as I continued to read the novel I was finding myself thinking that this book must be designed to be a satire.  The Bonobo apes are often portrayed as being intelligent with their ability to use the American Sign Language (ASL), while the adult humans are some of the most immature characters that I have read in recent memory.  From the opening quotes, to the last page, it seems that human beings are not much more evolved than our ape cousins.  Whether or not the novel is supposed to be a satire, it still falls short on having complicated or likable characters.

Two of the primary male characters in the novel are journalist John Thigpen and Dr. Peter Benton.  There is absolutely to ambiguity in either of their personalities. John is one of protagonists while Benton is a secondary character.  Gruen paints John Thigpen (who is sometimes called Pigpen, which is not funny at all) as the sweet, sensitive male whose main goal in life is to make is irritating wife, Amanda, happy.  Peter Benton, on the other hand, is a jerk is every possible way.  He does everything from cheating on his fiance (Dr. Isabel Duncan), to not showing compassion to the apes, to selling both her and the apes out for money.  The two characters come off as some sixteen year old's view of what men are like.  They are either completely good or completely evil.  

The female characters are only slightly better written.  Isabel Duncan is definitely sympathetic as she experiences at least a couple traumas in early parts of the story.  Yet, her personality does not come off as someone who has earned a doctorate of any kind.  He behavior in certain situations is unacceptable for a person of her intelligence.  However, compared to Amanda Thigpen, Isabel is full of wisdom beyond her years.

Amanda Thigpen . . . well what can I say.  I can't identify with a man like John when he is in love with a woman who breaks down every time someone says something off putting to her.  If I were him, I would be hesitant to have child with her as well.

So satire or not satire, that is the question.  I didn't even describe some of the more inexplicable moments in the story that made may laugh when I guess I shouldn't be laughing.   I can confidently say that there is definitely some meta commentary on our current society happening here.  But in order for it to be enjoyable, characters can't be game pieces for the real stars of the books, the apes.  I have yet to read any other work from Sara Gruen, so I don't know if she is a good writer.  But if Water for Elephants is anything like this, count me out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: 'The Fall'

There are a vast number of online readers out there who seek out reviews of movies, TV shows, and books that simultaneously expect those reviews to include a SPOILER ALERT!! when divulging into more specific realms of the plot.  I plan to include such a warning towards the end of this review.  Nevertheless, anyone who has read The Strain probably knows what the word "Fall" is alluding to in this particular novel. In the second book of The Strain Trilogy--the modern day vampire epic from film auteur Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (author of Prince of Thieves)--the human race finds itself in no position to battle the unprecedented plague that threatens the extinction of their species.  The time for any "Rise," if that time ever comes, will have to wait until the third and final chapter of this series that will be titled The Night Eternal

The plague in The Fall is vampirism.  The creatures that are referred to as vampires in this series, the strigoi, are very different from the vampires that have been populating popular culture in the past few years.  They do not have sex, they do not dare step into the light, and none of them have anything close to resembling a human soul.  They are more Zombie-like in nature.  The big difference is, is that there is a hierarchical structure among the vampires.  Behind all the struggles that are protagonist are encountering lies a dispute between the oldest of them, the Ancients.

The mythology of the Ancients, while a driving force in the plot, is not at the center of the story.  Instead we continue to follow an unusual resistance of humans made up of the Eph, Nora, Zach (Z), Abraham Setrakian, Fet, and Gus.  Setrakian, or the professor, is one of the few humans who is aware of the history of strigoi, along with billionaire Eldrich Palmer.  He is a holocaust survivor who has witnessed the horror of both humanity and the supernatural throughout his years.  Ephraim (Eph) Goodweather and Nora Martinez are doctors who used to work for the Center for Disease Control.  Zach, Eph's son, has just lost his mother to the vampire virus and now the evil that possesses her is doing all it can to turn Zach (or her Dear One).  Fet is New York exterminator whose knowledge of rodents and the city's underground makes his an extremely useful ally.  And finally there is Gus, who currently finds himself as part of another branch of the resistance.

Guillermo del Toro has said that if there was ever an adaptation of the The Strain, he would like to see it be made into a miniseries.  I think that is the perfect medium as well.  The action in movies often has to be hurried up compared to books.  But part of what makes this series different is reading about the metamorphosis that are characters, the infected humans, and society as a whole is going through.

Honestly though, right now I am really enjoying the hell out of this ride and can't wait for the very thing that Ephraim Goodweather and the other characters are dreading . . . The Night Eternal.


I am pretty sure there is a mistake in the beginning of copy of the book that I read.  If I remember correctly, the first book begins in late September.  And that is supported by Eph's journal entry and the beginning of this book when he states that is has taken sixty days for human society to fall (entry dated Friday, November 26, 2010).  Yet, the beginning of the present story begins Thurday, November 4th (which is said to be one week since the 777 landed at JFK).  I either misunderstood something or this is an error on the printer's or authors' part(s).

Modern Family: "The Old Wagon"

There is one and only one way that I critique a comedic episode of television: by how many times I laugh.  If there are plenty of laughs around an average or even poor story than it is still a good episode.  The quality of the story is what pushes the episode into great territory.  That is why I found last season's iPad episode to be good instead of great.  There were a lot of great quips in a segment that also served as a 22 minute commercial (compared to the actual iPad commercials, the episode feels like a masterpiece).

I say all this because the season premiere of Modern Family was an okay episode.  It had some funny moments but the situations leaned a little too close to the cute and sentimental side.

  • The Dunphy clan sharing old memories of the station wagon.
  • Jay, Cam, and Mitchell building the princess' palace.  Jay coming over to prevent Mitchell from possibly hurting Cam was the only crossover among the families in the episode.  I know they can't do crossovers every episode but the Jay-Mitchell combination seems to be played out the most.
Jay: "That was my Vietnam . . . and I was in Vietnam"
  • Gloria and Manny rehashing what I think we have already seen before.  Well, maybe we haven't seen this exact situation before but it sure emphasized aspects of their characters that have been repeated several times now:  Manny's main goal in life right now is to find a girl that he loves and Gloria has mixed reaction to that girl.

Maybe I am being too hard on the episode as a whole.  But these are the two characters (two of my favorite on all of TV) that deserve to do more than just sit around and say and do things that the audience is expecting.

However, the more I think about what the writers decided to do, the more I realize that this episode was designed to attract new viewers.  Last year's pilot episode was a great piece of TV and the show won Emmys because of it.  So I have feeling ABC has significant say it how the episode would be structured. For that reason, I am confident that this fantastic family comedy will be back on the best of tracks in the weeks to come.