Tag Archives: reviews

Lights Out: How Many Boxing Metaphors Can I Cram Into This Review?

You can’t go so far as to say that Patrick “Lights” Leary is washed-up. He bowed out of the sport after losing the heavyweight title, and has spent the five years since then doing interviews, running a failing gym, and letting his brother shuffle around all the money he made so that it doesn’t look like he’s hurting as much as he is. Leary isn’t begging for interviews (although he’s not above hosting the odd bingo tournament here and there) or appearing on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ He’s not a drunk. He loves his wife and his three daughters and does his best to do right with them. So early in the pilot episode I wondered if maybe the show wasn’t as complex as I was hoping for. Leary’s hurting for money — he’s got the IRS on his back — so there are definitely things he’s hiding from his family, but all things considered, he seems to float pretty close to the surface.

It turns out I was wrong, and what I mistook for being shallow was more akin to a snake, coiled and ready to strike. Leary doesn’t like doing bad things, but his desire to provide for his family overrides all that, and the pilot gives us a small, yet very satisfying, glimpse of that.

I guess I’d be wrong in saying that the desire to be a good husband and father is the only driving force behind Leary. The fight that lost him the heavyweight title five years before was controversial, and the fighter to whom he lost is on TV, asking for a rematch. He left the sport mainly due to his wife, who after the fight told him that if he couldn’t leave the boxing world behind, their marriage was over. Since then, Leary’s had something to prove, although who he has to prove it to is a question Leary himself may not have the answer to.

You may recognize Leary, actor Holt McCallany, as that guy from Fight Club. He also did a stint on ‘CSI’ and a few other shows, but yeah, he’s that guy from Fight Club. And he really brings a sort of childlike fascination to the people and events happening around him. I guess being famous for beating the hell out of people will do that to a person. The ensemble the show surrounds him with does a pretty good job, too. What I like most about Leary’s family is that none of them are boozers, hooked on drugs, or out until all hours of the night fornicating. Well, his oldest daughter is out until all hours of the night. The fornicating thing, we’ll just have to wait and see. All of that could come out in later episodes, it just hasn’t in what I’ve seen so far.

FX hasn’t been doing much in the way of bad TV lately, and judging from its first episode, ‘Lights Out’ looks to be another notch in their belt. Unlike the ill-fated ‘Terriers,’ the show’s commercials are pretty clear on what the show is, so here’s hoping it’ll have that much more staying power. Still, you have to ask what the sell-by date for a show like this is. From what I’ve seen so far, the first season deals with Leary’s comeback into the boxing world. So, he either makes it or he doesn’t… and then what? I definitely don’t see Leary as a saint, but I also don’t see him sinking as deep as Walter White. But wherever the show goes, I can’t wait to see it. Showrunner Warren Leight’s already done such a great job right out of the gate that I’m more than willing to see where he takes us. I guess you could say, ‘Lights Out’ delivers a knock out punch!**

**One. One boxing metaphor.

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The Year End Review: Movies

Let me start off by saying that, if you don’t read this, I won’t hold it against you. I know this list is almost too small to even justifying being written, but I’ve been doing it for a few years now, and as the musical says, “Traaadiiitiooooon!!” I’ll say that I really enjoyed all three of these films and thought they were a cut above the standard A-Team crap we have thrown at us all year long. But still, this list feels a little like it looks the way it does more because of the movies I didn’t see this year rather than the ones I did see. Anyway, keep reading, if you dare!

Inception. It’s nice to see Hollywood taking a chance on an expensive sci-fi flick that actually makes you think, although they probably wouldn’t be if someone like Christopher Nolan weren’t in charge of the whole thing. This one also scores points because it managed to keep Leonardo DiCaprio out of a falling tank, shooting planes out of the sky. It was also one of Ellen Page’s first films that didn’t make me want to hit her. But seriously, folks, although the first half was a little exposition heavy, it was a great story that did a better job of incorporating its action scenes into it than most films. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Tom Hardy.

The Social Network. Everything Aaron Sorkin writes takes place in a sort of heightened reality where people have mountains of raw data and statistics at their fingertips, and almost everything they say is quotable. And if his cocaine habit is the price we have to pay for that, then I’m more than willing to make the sacrifice. I think we all understand that his version of Facebook’s creation was embellished just a little bit, but who cares? We expect that sort of thing, right? Major props to Jesse Eisenberg for snapping out of his Michael Cera funk, and Andrew Garfield, who just might make a proper Spiderman yet.

True Grit. I reviewed this one just a few days ago, so I’m not sure what else I could really add here. I’ll just say that nobody does it like Jeff Bridges. And nobody really does it like Jeff Bridges wearing an eye patch. And why haven’t we seen Matt Damon in more westerns?

I admit that this is a pretty generic list. But it does represent the best of what I saw this year. I don’t get to watch as many movies as I’d like, so some, like The Fighter, Winter’s Bone and Toy Story 3 passed me by. I’d apologize, but none of you are here to read my movie reviews. You check back every week in the vain hope that I’ll start LOSTWATCH!! back up. Well, who knows what 2011 will bring. More movies, definitely. More LOSTWATCH? Definitely maybe.

“I can do nothing for you, son.”

I feel like the Coen Brothers making great movies is one of the few constants in my life. That, along with death (although I’m not throwing in the towel on that one), taxes, and vacation constipation. Sure, every now and then they throw a Burn After Reading at us. But they make up for it with a Big Lebowski, a Fargo, and a No Country for Old Men. Yes, what a time to be alive.

And before you ask, you can go ahead and add True Grit to the pantheon of Coen favorites. As the last film I’ll see at the movies in 2010, it more than made up for the bitter disappointments the year opened with, with films like Daybreakers and Legion kicking me in the balls and leaving me curled in the fetal position.

The film — the second adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel — is narrated by Mattie Ross, a 14-year old girl whose father was murdered at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. After some questioning around town, Mattie seeks out Rooster Cogburn, whom she believes possesses the titular true grit to track Chaney down and bring him to justice. Accompanying them on their trek is Texas Ranger La Boeuf, who’s after Chaney for separate crimes. Together, the three learns lessons about each other, life and each other.

Those of you going into the theater expecting another No Country may be a little disappointed, as True Grit is a much more straight up western than that previous film, but at the same time it’s no less good. It’s superbly acted all around, which should come as no surprise. Tron notwithstanding, since when does Jeff Bridges not bring a healthy dose of badassery to the roles he plays? Matt Damon was a big surprise here. His portrayal of La Boeuf seemed to be one part Jason Bourne, two parts Mark Whitacre and Linus Caldwell. What was so great about it was that it was funny without trying to be funny. And oh, how wrong things could have gone there. I mean, how tired are we of the snarky sidekick who’s only snarky to be snarky?

But the real showstopper here is Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross. She’s come out of obscurity and proven in just two short hours how capable she is of rolling with the big dogs. Now, if you’re asking who Hailee Steinfeld is, I don’t imagine you’re much different from the rest of the world, and that’s including her parents. But fear not, because you’re probably going to be hearing her name much more in the future.

True Grit is definitely one of those the-journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination films. The relationship between Mattie, Cogburn and La Beouf and how it develops is what keeps you glued to the screen. The actual resolution to their journey, the reason they’ve all banded together in the first place is over so quickly you daren’t (DAREN’T!) blink for fear of missing it. And once it’s all over, the film peters out a bit, with its coda feeling more like a, “Well, we sure had some fun, eh?” than anything that really adds to the story. I’ve never read the book, so I couldn’t say how faithful this is to that, although I’ve heard that the film as a whole toes the line pretty close.

I really liked this one. The chemistry (as we say in the hard sciences) between the leads is more than enough to make up for whatever small shortcomings the story has. And at two hours, the whole thing goes by pretty fast. As westerns go, this is probably one of the purest we’re going to see in a while, which is a credit to the Coen Brothers and the tone they’re able to set in their films. Tickets cost about, what? $30 apiece now? Go out and spend it. It’s completely worth it.

“Watch the way she moves.”

For all of its weirdness, I really liked the The Fountain. And even though I’m still trying to wash off the ick after seeing Requiem for a Dream, I recognize it as a piece of art. Both of those films are really over the top in their own ways, so when I settled in to Black Swan, I have to say I was expecting something similar.

For those of you not in the know, the film follows Natalie Portman, a dancer in a NYC ballet company, who’s trying to get the lead role in an upcoming production of Swan Lake. Her director, played by Vincent Cassel (also known as the Night Fox), thinks she’d make a great White Swan, but is worried she lacks the raw sensuality and abandon to play the titular Black Swan. Portman, much like an actual ballet dancer, is slowly going bats**t crazy preparing for the role, with her transformation having surprising and unexpected results.

Darren Aronofsky is a man who knows his business, so I won’t say that after several years he’s learned to reign in and refine his style. Still, I found Black Swan to be somewhat understated, but only in comparison to his other films. Even when Portman is in the depths of her insanity, we’re only given a taste of her madness before the film pulls away and snaps us back to reality.

Still, Aronofsky returns with many of his usual tricks. Throughout the film, we’re given several closeup shots of dancers cracking knuckles, stretching, warming up. These are all accompanied by über loud and bassy sound effects, and really show how the body can be used as a tool, a piece of hardware.

While there are a lot of faces on the screen, the story is told principally through Portman, Kunis and Cassel. And even then, Kunis and Cassel only serve in auxiliary roles, one pushing while the other pulls Portman into a transcendent level of commitment to the role she’s trying for. After her time on ‘That 70s Show’ and ‘Family Guy,’ Kunis will probably be forever written off. I wouldn’t go that far. She can act, but for the most part this film doesn’t really give her anywhere to go. She’s a party girl, trying to get Portman to loosen up and live a little, which she does in one scene that’s guaranteed to have indignant girlfriends/wives walking out of theaters all over the country. And for those of you wondering about that, Aronofsky uses a few clever camera angles so that there’s never any actual nudity in the film. The film could probably have done without it, but it serves its purpose and isn’t dwelled upon. So…*cough.* What was I saying?

The entire film is psychologically tense, and that’s due entirely to Portman’s performance. You feel like you’re stretched taught throughout the entire thing, and never really let go of until the credits start to roll. Her character is so nervous and timid, and never quite figures out how to react to what’s happening to her.

Black Swan wasn’t the blowout I was expecting walking into the theater, but it may be the most solid film I’ve seen all year, and probably Natalie Portman’s best. She’s definitely done her part to make up for those horrible Star Wars prequels. So that’s good. I have a feeling this is the one that’ll go up against The Social Network at the Oscars next year, but will be handily beaten when James Cameron brings Avatar back, because there’s no stopping that bastard.

It’s Always Sunny, “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” and “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods”

“Gatsby believed in the good joke, the kick-in-the-nuts future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And one fine morning —- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the MEH.”

This altered quote was one of my first brushes with literary depth when I was 13 years old. The Great Gatsby opened the door for a year of reading One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn and some accompanying bleak short stories that would reaffirm my cynical world view and remind that I am not the first person to think people are inherently disappointing and terrible. My father had done his best to remind me to cultivate a basic mistrust of people outside our inner circle, but to know that Mark Twain agreed people sucked was a powerful thing.

For some reason, as I sat through a long backlog of recorded shows after the Thanksgiving holiday, the altered quote above kept rushing back. I prefer TV comedy to any other option (sorry zombies, vampires, crime procedurals and Two and a Half Men), but want to have at least 2-3 wow/lolz moments per 30 minutes invested. This can be as simple as a wiener in a mousetrap or as elaborate as hiding $200,000 in a banana stand – just bring the funny.

As low a bar as this sounds, you’d be amazed how often TV fails to reach it. The last two episodes of Sunny left me with a few laughs, but, when combined with the other dross clinging to my DVR, just left feeling like I would spend most of my TV time borne back ceaselessly against the meh.

So, now that I’ve journaled my feelings, let’s look at two exciting episodes of Sunny…together. Two weeks ago, Charlie killed a bunch of rats and went into a depression. I enjoyed his funk because it reminded me of my friend who reminds of Charlie getting depressed, well at least until I felt bad for everyone involved. Anyway, the gang decided they should be nice people and plan him a birthday party – but not really try – and then a bunch of boring crap happened that proved they weren’t really nice, which is totally shocking six seasons in. There was a friend who lives under a bridge and smokes crack and just made me feel dirty about myself who was on screen for awhile and something about a gifted shirt that was quickly returned and replaced for a better shirt. Oh and Charlie and Dee decided to go to a spa together (more on that later.)

It wasn’t bad or anything, but it just never resonated with me. I did laugh out loud when Dee asked Charlie to go to a spa with her. His response: “What is this word ‘spa?’ I feel like you’re starting to say a word but not finishing it. Are you trying to say ‘spa-ghetti?’ Dumb Charlie will always have a special spot in my heart, which is why the end of the episode made me at least end happy.

After an episode of teasing references, we got to see Charlie’s “Dram Bok” (or dream book.) This contained everything that goes on in his head between when he sniffs glue before bed to when he wakes up again the next day with cat food breath. Charlie’s book shows us ridiculous sketches for his denim chicken, teeth bird and worm hat. Sunny has always had the market cornered on denim comedy (remember the work out episode where Dee wears jeans to work out), but the idea of denim chicken really spoke to me. I would like to put one on my desk tomorrow. If you’re a coworker reading this, there are now 19 days until Xmas (Futurama, whaddup!?) Still, the meandering of the rest of episode cannot simply be redeemed by a bunch of teeth glued to a bird or a rat stick.

The next episode was going to be even ZANIER. You see, the commercial said the gang was going to get lost in the woods! Can you imagine those crazy kooks trying to survive a night in the wilderness? How would they find food, shelter and beer (because they like to drink!!!!!)? How would they escape? It’s all so darn zany!

So yeah, my attitude wasn’t the best at this episode and the part in the woods pretty much went how you would expect – except for the bunny. Dee, Frank and Mac decide to capture and kill a bunny, but they soon become convinced it is stealing their souls and grow to love – even worship it. Dee even names him Peter Peter Nickel Eater (which I imagine I will enjoy referencing later around small animals.)

Meanwhile, Dennis and Charlie are paired up to hitchhike to safety away from the wilderness and deliver a pretty good A Plot. I’m too lazy to look back on this, but I feel like it has been way too long since we’ve seen a good Dennis and Charlie pairing. They gave us Day Man – why not keep them around each other more? Anyway, they hitch a ride with a man-loving Tom Sizemore (add cock to his many addictions) who thinks they are “lot lizards.” Their goal is to get to Atlantic City for an animal rights fundraiser Frank donated money to so he could tell off the people running it.

As an aside, sometimes the use of money on this show drives me insane. Are they poor? Do they live off Frank’s riches when needed? Does the bar have customers? Every time I see someone bad with money, I blame TV. I’m not asking for a shot of their bills the way Roseanne did, but at least give me a framework.

Anyway, Dennis and Charlie escape Tom Sizemore and make it to the casino. Dennis convinces Charlie that he needs to start saying yes to life more, and he quickly wins $15,000 in roulette, tries asparagus and delivers a speech to the audience. Then, they get to hang out with their favorite Philadelphia Phillies ballplayers – Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. I was kind of hoping they’d pair up and hit the town for a bit, but the image of them wrestling homoerotically on the floor drunk while the two professionals watch dumb-founded worked for me, too. Before the night ended, they made sure to text photos with the ballplayers back to the gang in the woods to taunt them for missing their heroes.

The episode gave Sizemore one more appearances to pick up the rest of the group in the woods before the credits rolled and then I happily moved on to watch The League and drool over another Archer promo. Maybe I’ll get a chance to review THAT show two weeks too late in the middle of winter. After this handcrafted nearly 1,200 word masterpiece, how could I be asked to stick around and help drive traffic?

The Walking Dead, “Wildfire”: I’m okay!

I spent years working as a substitute teacher, then as a teacher, then as that creepy guy who kept showing up to high school football games, so if there’s one thing I know, it’s high school kids. And I’ve seen my share of kids freak out, start crying, or cuss someone out, because mister, I just can’t deal with this mess today. It’s stupid and I have about zero patience for it, so when Andrea sticks her gun in Rick’s face because he had the audacity to tell her that her dead sister is about to turn into an effing zombie, and they need to put a bullet in her head quick, I found myself grinding my teeth.

But everyone backs off, because hey, she’ll do it! And eventually Amy opens her eyes, takes a few ragged, shallow breaths and begins grasping for Andrea’s BRRAAAAAINNNSSS!1! Andrea says her goodbye’s, cradles her baby sister’s head in her arms, then proceeds to blow it off. Good thing she was wearing protective gear, shooting that Desert Eagle or whatever the hell it was off six inches from her own head.

Like the zombie attack in the episode before it, “Wildfire” was able to get rid of a few useless characters, chief among them the Mexican stereotype and his family. I believe his character was listed as Juan Sanchez-Gomez on IMDB. Of course, the big revelation was that Jim got bit in the attack, and doesn’t have much longer himself. Now, him I will miss. Because one, Andrew Rothenberg is a good actor, and two, I felt Jim actually brought something to the group. His heat stroke induced grave digging, his mindless, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” Every group like this needs at least one crazy person around. But it looks like we’ll have to turn to Shane for that, at least for the foreseeable future. That look on his face as he tracks Rick down the barrel of his shotgun was truly maniacal.

At this point it’s obvious that the Shane/Rick blowout isn’t going to play the same as it did in the comic. It’s a pretty big card to play so I can understand why TPTB would want to hold off on it, but I feel like the story needs to take a bigger leap than it has so far. That may be me fooling myself into thinking ‘The Walking Dead’ is a show that it really isn’t. This is a character drama, but the zombies and blood and guts have me treating it like a genre piece. I may half expect the Smoke Monster to fly out of the woods and kill all the zombies before they can hurt any of the survivors, but it just isn’t gonna happen.

After some tearful goodbyes, everyone jumps in their cars and takes off for the CDC in Atlanta in a nice little driving montage with some great scoring by BSG-alum Bear McCreary. When Jim gets worse, he asks Rick and Shane to be left on the side of the road. His thinking is that, once he becomes a zombie, he’ll be able to be with his family again. I understand that people in zombie movies have never seen zombie movies themselves, but man, Jim’s just an idiot. I know that Jim doesn’t really think he’ll be rejoining his wife and kids, but who would want that for themselves? What sort of weird fulfillment would it bring? My wife and I have already pinky-sworn to kill each other in the event one of us is ever bitten by a zombie, and waste no time getting freaky with the other’s attractive best friends. Double tap. Get freaky. That’s the plan. None of this quasi-spiritual BS about being reunited after being bitten ourselves. That stuff’s for the birds. And by that, I mean the Hitchcock movie.

So Noah Emmerich is the last man in any sort of official capacity who may know what’s going on with things. When Rick and the gang start asking questions about what’s happened, I bet he pops up with some brews and starts talking about high school, just to make sure they don’t notice all the cameras filming them, or how none of them have actually ever left the city. It’s always more realisitic to have characters in these sorts of situations seek out answers when some seriously crazy stuff is going down. We all remember how frustrating things got on ‘Lost,’ when everyone was stuck on this island with Others and polar bears and French women and didn’t really seem to care what it all meant. But, this could also be a serious misstep for the show. Introducing this sort of authority into a show with genre elements (even if the show isn’t necessarily genre itself) is almost always never good. And if they were ever to introduce the president, I think I might tune out entirely just on general principle. We’ll see what secrets are revealed in the finale.

A stunning, sometimes disappointing first season. And it’s all been building toward, what, we’re not really sure. But we can definitely say that we’re going to find out. Yep. We suuure are.

The Walking Dead, “Vatos”: I’m glad that’s over.

I think most will agree that it’s a good thing ‘The Walking Dead’ is taking departures from the comic. It keeps things fresh and exciting, and keeps the fans guessing what’s coming next. So let’s see those new characters. And let’s see that horde of zombies bring God’s swift judgment upon their heads, because man, were they annoying. I mean, I can’t be the only one who thought the last ten minutes of the episode were the best part, can I?

Four episodes in, and I’m still waiting for the show to click. It’s doing so many things well that it hurts that much more when it does things wrong. “Vatos” touched on several ideas that felt like they sounded great in the writers room, but came out half-baked. Let’s take a look. ISSUE THE FIRST: The Mexican gang. These guys would have worked so much better had they been either a straight up gang or just a group of nurses, doing good, helping the sick and afflicted. There’s a really interesting idea that was touched on in “Dirty Hands,” an episode of ‘Battlestar Galactica’s’ third season. And that was, in a post-apocalyptic society, when the job you’re given is usually where your skills are strongest and where you’re needed the most, do you really have any freedom to move around, to eventually do something different? On BSG, you could see these people doing a certain job year after year, and got the sense that their descendants, years and years later, would be doing the exact same thing. On ‘The Walking Dead,’ I thought it would have been much more interesting to see the foundation being laid down for some sort of Canticle-of-Leibowitzesque guild of healers. All the guns and tough talk kind of ruined that.

If, on the other hand, they hadn’t been nurses, but just a group of Crips, it would have brought up questions of how different groups of survivors are beginning to govern themselves. Questions that the comic has raised already, and I imagine the show will eventually. Speaking of the gang, how much cooler would things have been if the leader was played by Ludacris? I imagine it would have gone something like this…

Rick: We came to get our man back.

Luda: I be that ni**a named Luda, A.K.A. L-O-V-A L-O-V-A, f**k that s**t, ni**a what you wan say one time, Southside let’s ride. And if you love what you do, do what you feel. Then I know you gonna mark my words. Y’all drop s**t like birds. Then it’s about the time for yo ass to get served. Just lay it on down. Just lay it on down, while we relax to the tight raps and the phat tracks that that ni**a Timbaland put down.

He was great in Crash. No reason he couldn’t work the same magic here. Anyway. ISSUE THE SECOND. I understand Rick is a tough guy who needs to show his mettle in front of the gang, but can we please stay away from these gruff platitudes about having blood on your hands? Who talks like that? I guess it should also be noted that “Vatos” was written by Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic. Taking that into account, I feel like the episode would have worked much better in that format. At least it would have given Kirkman a reason to parse down some of the dialogue. It would have made things a lot tighter.

ISSUE THE THIRD. Jim’s “Aha!” moment at the end of the episode. That’s why he was digging all those holes; to bury all the dead people! This one is kind of a cop-out on my part, because I don’t have a really good excuse for why I took issue with it. It just seemed like the show was trying to be a little edgy and ended up falling flat. It’s like in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ where every character has found an excuse to flip through a popular book that’s somehow thematically tied to the episode. After the fifth or sixth time, it was just like, alright already, we get it. So anyway, there’s that.

It wasn’t all bad, though. One thing the episode did unquestionably well: Killing off half of the survivors. It was necessary. Eventually the group is going to have to move on, and I don’t think it would have served the show very well to keep such a large group around. Although, on the other hand, there was always a pretty big group in ‘Lost.’ You just had a lot of background players who never had any lines. They just hung out, surfed and cooked ribs while Jack, Kate and Sawyer ran around the island, carrying out all their clandestine BS. Although here it seems that everyone is getting their own time to shine. The downside to that being, when a character doesn’t click, or feels like they’re falling a little flat, it’s that much more noticeable, stacked up against the other characters. Case in point, the Mexican guy and his family. After he compared Dale to a village priest, I knew it was time for him to go.

I really feel like the show is almost there. And I’m wondering if, with only a 6-episode first season, it’ll pull a ‘Parks & Recreation’ and really come together when it returns next year. We’ll have to see. We just found out today that Frank Darabont fired the show’s entire writing staff, so who knows how that will affect things next season. We’ll be waiting with baited breath, I’m sure. That, or ‘The Event’ will get really good and we’ll all start watching that instead.