As a big-time fan of the British version of The Office, masterminded by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant, I was, like many, extremely dubious at the prospect of an American interpretation of the show. The Office was so magnificent, so brilliant and so unique, how could an American remake be anything other than a disappointment?
Mostly out of curiosity, I watched the six-episode first season of the American version of The Office, and I was not impressed. The pilot was a direct remake of the first episode of the British version, and it was a real clunker, nothing more than a homogenized, watered-down version of what had been a great TV show. The remaining five episodes, while featuring original stories, still felt highly derivative to me of the British original.
I didn’t watch the show when it returned for season two, but a few months later my sister convinced me that I had to give the show a second try. I grudgingly agreed, and was immediately shocked by how great the show had become. I was quickly hooked, and relished the chance to catch up on the beginning of season two when the DVD set was released. I have been following the show ever since (with only one exception which I’ll get to in a minute).
The makers of The Office made two extremely canny changes, between seasons one and two, that in my mind were critical to the show’s longevity. One, they shifted the show’s tone. Season one had attempted to imitate the British version’s uncomfortability. Ricky Gervais’ version of The Office was often absolutely unbearable to watch, in the very best possible way. He made an art of mining the worst sorts of awkward, uncomfortable moments for the show. Those terrible-to-watch moments are really what the British version were all about! The first season of the American version did the same thing, but not as successfully. But with the start of season two, the makers of the American version seemed to me to shift their focus, slightly, from the uncomfortable more towards the funny. The show became a little gentler, the edges of the characters (especially Steve Carell’s Michael Scott) were softened just a little, and the show became a LOT funnier. Not that the show didn’t continue to mine the awkward and the uncomfortable. (I know some friends who detested season four’s “The Dinner Party,” but that episode’s depiction of a nightmarish dinner hosted by Michael and his then-girlfriend Jan is one of my very favorite episodes.) But it seemed to me that the show regularly focused more squarely on just being funny, and my goodness were the show’s writers able to be successful at that.
The … [continued]
I enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot (click here for my review), though not nearly as much as most of the rest of the world seemed to. I loved seeing Star Trek brought to life, finally, under the big-budget it always deserved, and I was incredibly impressed by how successful they were at recasting the iconic roles, something which I had believed to be impossible. But the script was a mess, full of plot holes you could fly a Constitution class starship through.
Star Trek Into Darkness is more of the same. The film is gorgeous to look at, epic in scale and realized with extraordinary skill and craftsmanship. The cast is terrific, every single member of the ensemble is great, and getting to once again watch Spock and Bones bicker and a million other little moments of interaction between the members of the classic Enterprise crew is a delight.
Sadly though, this film’s story is even more nonsensical than the previous film’s was. It’s catastrophically bad. Star Trek Into Darkness is not only hugely inconsistent with Star Trek canon (even when you taken into account the “alternate universe” setting of his rebooted film series), but it is also inconsistent with it’s own story-telling and narrative logic. Even when you forget all previously established Star Trek lore, and only consider this film’s story on it’s own, it is wildly inconsistent and contradictory.
I am not going to reveal every beat of the movie in this review, but I will be heavy with SPOILERS as I dig deep into the film’s problems. So if you’re going to see Star Trek Into Darkness, I suggest you hold off on reading this review until you’ve seen the film, then come back here and we can see where we agree or disagree.
The film’s opening sequence encapsulates much of what works and what fails in J.J. Abrams’ two Star Trek films. The Enterprise crew is attempting to contain a volcano explosion that threatens to wipe out the pre-industrial inhabitants of an alien planet. Things go wrong immediately, with Spock trapped inside the active volcano while Kirk and McCoy are being chased by the angry natives. Things quickly build to a classic Prime Directive conundrum in which the only way to save Spock is to break the Prime Directive and reveal the existence of the Enterprise to the natives. This is an extraordinary sequence, as beautifully realized a Star Trek action scene as I have ever seen. It’s incredibly fast-paced, as we bounce between the Kirk/McCoy chase scene to action inside the volcano with Spock and Sulu/Uhura on an Enterprise shuttlecraft. The visual effects are gorgeous, the action and suspense are compelling, … [continued]
I’ve enjoyed reading Howard Kurtz’s writing — about politics, and about media — over the years. He screwed up big-time in his reporting about Jason Collins’ coming out as gay. But hoo, boy, this video of him getting mercilessly grilled — on his own CNN show — about the incident is pretty brutal. Click here to see a very uncomfortable fifteen minutes. I was like a deer in the headlights — I couldn’t look away.
Another great season (thank goodness it’s not the last!!) of Parks and Recreation has recently wrapped up, and so once again Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall has another great post-season wrap-up interview with Parks & Rec’s show-runner (who also has been playing Dwight’s cousin Mose on The Office for the better part of a decade). Click here to read the full interview. (Fortunately, soon after that interview was conducted, the news broke that Parks and Rec has indeed been renewed for a sixth season.)
Is Star Wars the most over-rated franchise ever?? Click here for another fantastic opinion piece from Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci. One fantastic film and one very good film out of six? It’s sort of hard to argue with that…
If you’re a comic book fan and you don’t know who Len Wein is, it’s time to learn. Click here for a wonderful interview with the man who had his hand in creating the All-New X-Men back in the ’70s.
I’ve been waiting for Alfonso Cuaron’s next film for a while (I think Children of Men is pretty much a masterpiece), and this first look at Gravity has me drooling:
Jack Bauer might return — but not in the long-talked-about movie, but rather in a new 24 TV series? That is a wild idea! I loved 24 when it began, but the series’ formulaic story-telling caused me to lose patience by the end, and I didn’t actually watch the last season. But with better writing, I definitely think there is still life in the character and the franchise. I am bummed the movie never happened, but I’d definitely check out a new 24 TV series. It’ll be interesting to see if this goes anywhere… UPDATE! It’s happening! 24: Live Another Day will run 12 episodes and premiere next May. Wow. Could it be good? (That spin on the Die Another Day Bond title doesn’t impress me.) Chloe, open a socket!
So they’ve finally made a movie of Ender’s Game? Feels like this … [continued]
OK, I thought this would be the trailer-for-an-upcoming-TV-show that I would be most excited about today:
But then I saw THIS:
It’s the final countdown!!… [continued]
I immediately fell in love with Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, the first time I saw it in theatres in 2007. I’ve seen it several times since, and after watching it again a few months ago, I was surprised to realize I’d never written about the film on my site!
The film, adapted by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard from the novel by Dennis Lehane, is set in Dorchester (a neighborhood of Boston). A young private eye couple, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Amanda McCready. The first two-thirds of the film covers their investigation over the next several days, looking for Amanda. Patrick and Angie eventually learn that Amanda’s mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), was involved in an attempt to scam drug money from a local drug lord named Cheese. Working with the police detectives assigned to the case, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), Patrick and Angie set up up a meeting to trade the stolen money for the kidnapped Amanda. But the deal goes badly, and the panicked criminals throw Amanda into the water, where she apparently drowns.
That feels like the end of the story, but in fact it’s all just set-up for the film’s third act, in which Patrick and Angie are faced with an impossible moral dilemma.
I absolutely adore this film. It’s extremely well-made. The story by Dennis Lehane is extraordinarily compelling, and Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard have crafted a phenomenal adaptation, one that is sharp in all the right ways. I can’t believe that this film is the work of a first-time director, as Gone Baby Gone looks like it was crafted by someone extremely confident in their abilities. The movie is tense from start to finish, and Mr. Affleck brings a rich emotional depth and a taut narrative intensity to the whole film, both the scenes of action and violence and the scenes of conversation. The film is gorgeous, with a rich color palette and beautifully composed shots. More than that, the story is put together with exquisite skill, as Mr. Affleck takes us through both a complex narrative and a deeply-felt, emotionally harrowing journey without ever losing complete control over his audience, what we are thinking and feeling. And then, at the end, he leaves us to ponder the film’s ending and to make our own decisions, rather than directing us to what he wants us to think. I’ll talk more about the film’s powerhouse of an ending in a moment, but for now I’ll just say that it couldn’t have been pulled off by anything less than an exceptional … [continued]
Last year my wife and I discovered the brilliant HBO series Bored to Death… just as the news broke that it had been cancelled. Aaargh! We tore through seasons one and two on DVD (click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two), and then had to wait impatiently for season three to be released on disc. I am pleased to report that season three is just as terrifically entertaining as seasons one and two!
The lamentably now-cancelled Bored to Death was an HBO series starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson as three Brooklyn-dwelling friends. Jason Schwartzman is Jonathan Ames (named after the show’s creator and show-runner), a lonely not-that-successful writer who finds that he has tremendous passion (and a surprising amount of success) as a private eye. Zach Galifianakis is his friend Ray, a socially awkward (even more than Jonathan) comic book artist. Ted Danson is Jonathan’s other close friend and father figure, the wealthy, pot-smoking, good-times-loving George Christopher. All three actors are phenomenal in their roles, but it has always been the incredible joie de vivre that Ted Danson brings to his performance as George Christopher that I have loved the most. It seems sacrilegious to say this, but despite Mr. Danson’s so famously playing Sam Malone for a decade on Cheers, I think George Christopher might be his very best role. That Bored to Death, starring these three comedic masterminds (all of whom are pretty big stars in their own right), did not attract a wider audience is something of an enigma to me.
The chemistry between these three men has always been the strength of Bored to Death, and one of my favorite things about season three of the series is that the writers no longer had to concoct convoluted reasons for Ray and George Christopher to get involved in Jonathan’s cases. No, at this point in the series, both Ray and George Christopher know all about Jonathan’s private eye work, and they both get the same thrill out of being involved in his on-the-edge-of-dangerous cases as Jonathan does. So the three main characters are all able to be involved together in Jonathan’s cases this season, which leads to a whole lot of fun with the characters. Bored to Death is at its best when the three leads are together in scenes, bouncing off of one another, and season three has plenty of opportunities for that.
There are some great new story-lines in this final season. George Christopher decides to open a restaurant (shades of Ted Danson’s involvement in opening a restaurant with Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s season three!) … [continued]
I’ve been re-reading Grant Morrison’s long run on Batman (click here for part one, and here for part two of my notes on my re-reading project), and I will be back soon with my next installment of commentary on that complex, years-long run. But last year, while winding down his run on Batman, Grant Morrison also began writing DC Comics’ other biggest hero: Superman.
In late 2011, DC Comics rebooted their entire universe, ending all of their comic-book series and re-launching 52 titles with new #1 issues, in what they called “The New 52.” (The number 52 has significance in the DC Universe, too complicated to go into here, but suffice it to say that number wasn’t chosen by accident.) I’ve written about this universe-wide re-launch before (click here and here for some of my comments from last year). The re-boot of the universe was a little bit uneven. The Batman and Green Lantern books, though they re-started from new issue number one’s just like all the other DC titles, picked up their storylines seemingly uninterrupted from the pre-”New 52″ re-launch. Other series more dramatically wiped away all of the previous years’ worth of story-lines and continuity. Most dramatically, this was done with Superman.
When Action Comics re-launched, we were presented with a young, inexperienced version of Superman, one who had just recently arrived in Metropolis. This Superman was crafted, intentionally, to more closely resemble Superman as he was when he was originally created back in the ’30s. Rather than the immensely super-powered Superman of recent years, this Superman — while still super-powered — is more limited. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he can’t fly. He can be beaten and bloodied. Young Clark Kent doesn’t work for the Daily Planet, he works for a much smaller newspaper called the Star. The whole Superman story was re-started from the ground floor.
Grant Morrison took over Action Comics with the new issue #1, and proceeded to write the series for nineteen issues (issues #1-18, plus an issue #o that was published between #12 and #13). Now, Grant Morrison had already written what I would consider to be possibly the greatest Superman story ever written: All Star Superman. In that twelve-issue run from a decade ago, illustrated by Frank Quitely, Mr. Morrison told a tale set outside of the regular DC Universe continuity, cherry-picking various aspects of Superman’s presentation from the half-century of Superman stories that had been told, in order to present a sort of “ultimate” version of the Superman character. This version of Superman contained aspects of the modern version of the character, mixed with some of the more far-out aspects of earlier … [continued]
Iron Man was a magical film, a movie that caught a very specific, crazy sort of lightning in a bottle. I remember seeing it in a theater that very first time and realizing immediately that it was something special. It was intense and bad-ass but also incredibly funny and light-hearted. The special effects were terrific, the character arcs were compelling, the ending was magnificent and the post-credits epilogue blew my mind, promising a whole new universe of possibilities (one that I still find it hard to believe came to such spectacular fruition with The Avengers). Yes, I remember seeing Iron Man for the first time (click here for my original review), and I also vividly remember seeing it for the second time, about 24 hours later, because it was a movie I just had to see again, immediately.
The filmmakers stumbled with Iron Man 2, a listless film that seemed to re-tread a lot of the same ground the first film had covered, while at the same time promising us hints at other story-lines and characters (S.H.I.E.L.D., the Black Widow, Howard Stark) that would only come to fruition in future films. (Click here for my original review of Iron Man 2.) But I am pleased to report that Iron Man 3 (or Iron Man Three, as written in the closing credits — and good god do I love that) is a triumphant return to form, a thrilling, action-packed romp that is a true sequel to the first film and a rollicking, riveting start to the Marvel movie universe’s Phase Two. It’s not as perfect as Iron Man — there are a bunch of niggling plot holes that bug me, which I’ll discuss at the very end of this review — but it’s a pretty terrific super-hero adventure film, one that I hope to see again very soon.
Although the heroes won the day in The Avengers, Tony Stark is shaken by how close he came to death during the big battle in New York City. Faced with the existence of aliens, not to mention super-soldiers, gamma-irradiated behemoths, and Asgardian deities, Tony has had to face the brutal truth that he’s just a mortal human being in a metal suit. He’s tried to find solace and comfort by building new Iron Man suit after new suit, trying to prepare himself for any eventuality, to give himself some sort of guarantee that he’ll be able to protect himself and Pepper, the woman he loves. When his buddy Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, returning to the role of Happy even though he’s no longer behind the camera as the film’s director) is injured by a terrorist attack by the mysterious … [continued]