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New Around the Net!

So, holy shit, I am seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens a week from today!  That a new Star Wars film, featuring the cast of the Original Trilogy, is so close to being a real thing that I can see, is incredible.  I expected that someday there would be new Star Wars movies, but I never really thought we’d see any of the original main cast back onscreen in their roles.  Is the film actually going to be good, or will it be a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull level catastrophe that we’re all going to regret?  I’ll know soon!!  I’m very excited.  I’ve been saying for years that I would love to, in my lifetime, get to see another great new Star Wars movie on the big screen.  Let’s see what happens.

In the meanwhile, in Star Wars news, here is a phenomenal short interview with Oscar Isaac, who has become one of my very favorite actors (in killer roles in Inside Llweyn Davis, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, and Show Me a Hero) and who plays X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron in the new film.  (I have successfully avoided spoilers in learning anything other than that about the character!)

The first trailer for Captain America: Civil War came out a few weeks ago, but I don’t think I’ve written about it yet.  For a first teaser, it’s a hell of a thing:

I love that trailer, and I am really pumped for this movie which really seems like it could be called The Avengers 3.  But what I love about the trailer is the way that, despite all the huge number of Marvel characters who will be popping up in it, this film really does feel like a Captain America film, with Cap front and center and the Bucky story-line (begun in The Winter Soldier) moving forward.  I love how it looks like they’ve taken Bucky/The Winter Soldier and used him as the crux point for the Civil War storyline (from the terrific Marvel Comics mini-series written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Steve McNiven in which Cap and Iron Man split the Marvel universe heroes over their differing opinions on a law requiring that all superheroes give up their secret identities in order to be trained and regulated by the federal government).  The trailer looks amazing.  It’s yet another way in which we can see the enormous richness and complexity that has developed in the Marvel cinematic universe so many years and movies into it.  I continue to be thankful that this incredible cinematic undertaking — a sprawling universe of interconnected films — exists.  A film like Civil War can exist … [continued]

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The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013 — Part One!

I hope everyone enjoyed my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013!  Click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

And now, on to my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2013!

As always, a caveat that, while I watched a decent amount of TV in 2013, there are a few shows that I am either way behind on or haven’t gotten to see any of yet.  I’m only in season 2 of Breaking Bad and season 1 of Boardwalk Empire, and while I hope to dive into them soon, so far I haven’t seen a single episode of either Community or Justified or House of Cards.  So if you’re wondering why those shows are not represented on this list, well, now you know!  OK, here we go:

Honorable Mention: Louis C.K. “Oh My God” — The great Louis C.K.’s hour-long HBO special was, as expected, a hilarious, genius-level comedy performance.  For the last few years, C.K. has been in an amazing groove, and I think he is the most consistently funny — and clever — comedian working today.  This special had several stand-out moments, most particularly the outrageous, good-taste-testing “oh course… but maybe” routine at the very end.  If you haven’t seen this, go visit Louis C.K.’s web-site and, for five measly dollars, download the extended version of the special.  You can thank me later.

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10. The Office: “Finale” Pt. 1 & 2 (season 9, episodes 24 & 25, aired on 5/16/13) — In its last few seasons, The Office had become a sad, unfunny shadow of its former self.  (I think seasons 2-4 of the American version of The Office rank among the best seasons of a comedic TV show ever.)  But I was lured back for the final season, and I quite enjoyed the sweet series finale, which provided a very satisfying wrap-up for all of these characters I had come to love over the almost-decade the show had been on the air.  (Even Mose made an appearance!!)  I was delighted (and very pleasantly surprised!) by the return of Steve Carell, and his final “that’s what she said” moment was absolute perfection.  (Click here for my original review of the series finale of The Office.)

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9.  30 Rock: “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” (season 7, episodes 12 & 13, aired on 1/31/13) — The Office wasn’t the only long-running NBC comedy to take it’s final bow in 2013, and this hour-long finale to 30 Rock was also a strong ending to a great series.  We got some great call-backs to earlier episodes (“The Rural Juror,” the strip club Liz and Tracy visited in … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to The Office

May 20th, 2013
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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]

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News Around the Net!

Raiders of the Lost Ark is being re-released to theaters!!  IN IMAX!!!  I am so there.  Here’s a trailer!

My mind is reeling with the possibilities of Days of Future Past, the newly-announced upcoming X-Men film.  I agree with every suggestion on this list of 10 cameos that would be great to see in the X-Men sequel.

They’re really making Kick Ass 2?? And they’re courting Jim Carrey to appear in the film??  I am so happy.

While I’m on a role with super hero movie sequel news, this is a great idea.

I loved the early seasons of The Office, but I’ve been dissatisfied with the last few years and I finally gave up on the show about halfway through the last season.  But with the recent news that this coming season will be the show’s last, I’m considering tuning back in to see how things wrap up.  We’ll see…  (Here’s some more info on the end of the show.)

Looks like Ron Howard’s proposed TV-and-film adaptation of The Dark Tower has hit another snag.  I have nervousness about the idea of Akiva Goldsman being involved in the scripting, but boy would I love to see this incredible property done right.  I agree 100% with Devin’s opinions in that piece (both about wishing fervently that Viggo Mortensen would take the title role, and feeling that a  cable TV series adaptation is the best way to go, rather than a film trilogy…).

Sad news that actor William Windom, who played Commodore Matt Decker on the Classic Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine,” has passed away at age 88.

“Meanwhile, at the Legion of Doom…”

Wow, that is targeted exactly to my funny bone.  Can’t wait!… [continued]

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Working in “The Office” at Camp Ramah!

December 25th, 2009
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Back in October I posted a parody of Lost that we put together this past summer at Camp Ramah in New England.  I mentioned that it had become something of a tradition that we’d kick off our Staff Week at the beginning of each summer with a silly video parodying various TV shows.

Back in summer 2008, we took on The Office.  As with the Lost video, this short movie served as an introduction to our first big staff program.  There are a number of Ramah “in-jokes” (one of our division heads, Ethan Witkovsky, voiced National Ramah Director Mitch Cohen, who of course stood in for Michael Scott’s perenially frustrated-on-the-phone supervisor David Wallace), but I thought y’all might get a kick out of this:

Next week I’ll post our 2007 video, which was our version of 24![continued]

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“Sorry, we’re closed” — Josh’s Favorite TV Series Finales!

As I prepare for this weekend’s series finale of Battlestar Galactica (and contemplate life without that brilliant show, one of the greatest of the last two decades), I’ve been thinking about some of the great series finales of the recent past.  Here are some of my favorites, counting down from ten!

10.  Cheers — “One For the Road” — Diane Chambers (Shelly Long) returns in an attempt to re-kindle her romance with Sam (Ted Danson) in this extra-long finale.  To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve seen this one, but my recollection is of really enjoying it.  Bringing back Shelly Long, who was pretty much the star of the show (along with Danson) for the first half of its run, was a brilliant idea.  And the final scene is perfect — Sam waving away a customer while saying “sorry, we’re closed.”  Sniff!

9.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — “What You Leave Behind” — I am giving props here to the entire 10-hour, 9-episode “final chapter” of this, the greatest of the Star Trek series.  The show finally becomes what it has always flirted with: a true serial, as seven seasons worth of storylines come to fruition over the course of this magnificent final epic run of episodes.  The Dominion War escalates, a secret section of Starfleet’s complicity in attempted genocide is revealed, and Captain Benjamin Sisko must finally fulfill his destiny as Emissary of the Prophets (a story thread begun in the series’ pilot episode). The show was notable for its enormous cast of recurring characters, and everyone gets his/her due here (with quite a number of popular characters meeting their demise!).  The show gets bumped down a bit on my list because the actual final two-hour episode isn’t quite as great as the episodes leading up to it (it looks like they used up their special effects budget, as one of the major battle sequences is composed almost entirely of recycled footage, something that eagle-eyed fans like me noticed).  Still, the melancholy tone (so unusual for a Trek series) and the sad, final shot of Jake Sisko looking out the window for his lost father as the camera pulls back and the station slowly fades away into the blackness of space is just perfection.

8.  Justice League Unlimited — “Destroyer” — Classic DC Comics villain Darkseid launches a full-scale invasion of Earth, and even the combined might of practically every character (hero & villain) who ever appeared on this amazing animated show are powerless to stop him.  In an epic battle atop the ruins of the Daily Planet building, Superman ultimately falls before the might of Darkseid.  (That sequence, by the way, is a showcase for the … [continued]

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Season Finale Round-up

Well, its been a somewhat bizarre strike-interrupted TV season. The most exciting new program I watched this year was The Wire which, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, is what got me through the months-long writers strike. But there was still a lot of fun TV-watching to be had, and these past few weeks of season finales was no different.

30 Rock — In a show that has had no shortage of terrific scene-stealing guest-stars, Matthew Broderick’s appearance as “Cooter” (so nicknamed by President Bush) was one for the books. Jenna’s concept of “backdoor bragging” as well as the explanation as to the cause of Liz’s pregnancy scare were also highlights. A hilarious end to a terrific season.

The Office — Speaking of guest-stars, The Wire‘s Amy Ryan was absolutely terrific as Toby’s replacement, and the genius notion of her thinking Kevin has “special needs” had me howling with laughter. I was a bit put off by the somewhat glum Jim-Pam story, which seemed like a bit of a transparent way to extend their courtship…but that was somewhat redeemed by Andy Bernard (Ed Helms)’s antics as well as Angela’s perfectly-played response to his proposal. “I SAID OK!”

Scrubs — This imaginary fairy tale was pretty terrible, sadly. I can’t totally blame the show’s creators, as NBC made the poor decision to run the episode out of sequence (the show was meant to have taken place earlier in the season), resulting in such oddities as Bob Kelso still working at Sacred Heart despite his having left earlier in the season. Guess NBC assumed that we stupid TV viewiers wouldn’t notice. Still, I can’t imagine this episode would have seemed much funnier even in its proper spot in the season.

Lost — While not quite on par with last season’s phenomenal flash-forwarding season-ender (“we have to go BACK!”), this was a very solid ending to what has been, in my opinion, the best season of Lost since the first. We got some definitive answers to some burning questions (Why is the island so hard to keep track of? Who was in the coffin we saw in last season’s finale?), while also lots of new questions were posed — specifically, about what has transpired in the 3 years since the Oceanic Six were rescued…and about if/how they’ll be able to get back to the island as Ben wants them to. It was a particular kick seeing Walt again — I only wish his scene with Hurley had been longer. Hopefully we’ll see him again next season. I was pretty convinced it was going to be Ben in that coffin…but I was intrigued by the person it was. Can’t wait for next … [continued]