Thursday, June 04, 2009

May: The Month of Entertainment That Was

For better or worse, May has become the most competitive month in the entertainment landscape. More and more summer movies are pushing their release dates forward into May, competing both with each other and with sweeps month television. Oh, and there are NBA playoff games EVERY night, which is mind-blowingly awesome. Anyway, for whatever it's worth, here are my takes on what I was able to watch in May... (BTW, extra bonus points for anyone who actually reads this gazillion word monstrousity)

The Office
This was a really up and down year for the office. I think some of the best moments in the series' history are in this season, as well as some of the worst. In fact, it almost felt like 4 separate seasons, with very little tying it all together. Someone needs to get their writing staff together and maybe think through the season as a whole a little better. With that said, the Michael Scott Paper Company saga might be the best stretch of episodes yet, and "Broke" may just be the best episode of the series. On the flip side, the Pam in art school story arc was a disaster not just for her, but from a writing perspective, and was torture for the viewers. Anyway, I felt like the season finale was a microcosm of the entire season. It felt rushed (it was the first season finale since the first season that was regular length), there were actions with virtually no consequences, Jim was poorly written (a theme this season if you ask me), and they wrote themselves into a corner (I hope they have a plan for this baby). All in all, the episode was, well, OK. I think that if you liked the Jim & Pam moment at the end, you probably liked the episode, and if you didn't, you didn't. I thought that moment, that one moment, was well written and well played, but it definitely has me concerned about the future of the show (it is generally a very BAD sign when they introduce a baby onto a show. But then again, they did this at the end of last season too).

What an interesting season this was. I'm very interested to see what they would have done with this season had it not been for the writer's strike. I mean, there is a very obvious "season finale" about halfway through the season, which I'm sure was put there in case the season didn't resume after the strike (there was an episode like that in Season 1 as well). And while the first half of the season was very tightly written and well thought out, the second half seemed very assembled on the fly from parts of other seasons. That is, until the season finale, which I thought was great, but felt to me to be a series finale, which I know it's not. There are so many interesting things going on at the end here. My mom asked me if Tony is a bad person now or a good person doing very bad things. I don't think it's either. I think Tony Almeida was we know him died in that explosion with Michelle. The person named Tony now is not a real person, but simply the embodiment of hurt and loss. You can't judge his actions as good or bad or anything else, as his actions are strictly a manifestation of hurt and loss. That is the ONLY thing that he is about. He is now built for one and only one purpose, and that is to avenge, even find "justice" for that hurt and loss. This makes for fascinating possibilities on a go-forward basis, as Tony is now a purpose driven person whose purpose no longer exists. How are they going to write him, if they continue to include him at all? I hope they do, because there is a lot of interesting character there to explore if they have it in them. And speaking of how are they going to write him, how on earth are they going to write Jack Bauer next year? I though it was going to be difficult to write Jack even this season after the way the pervious season ended. I thought the events of that season had changed him, and I think the way they started this season, and from the 24:Redemption show, that Jack had changed, or was trying to. But I think the writers just don't know how to write Jack as anything other than "Jack Bauer," who at this point is almost a charicature. Well, as far as I can tell, Jack Bauer died onto himself at the end of this season. He had a real and true spiritual experience, found forgiveness and healing, and died. From his perspective, it is only going to complicate things that he is going to, in fact, live. So how do they write him now? Surely he can't just go back to doing Jack Bauer things, right? But I can't imagine the show is going to turn into a 24 hour chronicling of a silent man living his days peacefully at a monestary washing dishes either. I am excited to see what they do and terrified of it at the same time. And on to terrifying, Agent Walker sure did turn into something terrifying there at the end. But the great question is what, if anything, did she do in that room? It seems obvious that there are other federal agents on their way to get that man, so whatever she was planning to do, she needed to do it fast. Was it torture? Did she just kill him and be done with it. Was she able to do anything at all before she got stopped or could she even go through with it? Alas, all of these questions remain tantalizingly unanswered.

Once again, I find myself very interested in how they wrote and are going to write her for a very convoluted reason. It was obvious from the very beginning of the season that they were writing Agent Walker as a potential next Jack Bauer in the making, but someone who fought against that side of herself, which did not appear to be something that Jack ever did. But as we learned in the finale, Jack did (and does) fight against that part of himself, but, as he indicated, when there are 15 people on a bus with a bomb, he will do ANYTHING to save them, even betraying his better values. In 7 years of this show, we have seen Jack do horrible things to save people, but we have never seen Jack do anything even remotely questionable in any context that does not involve a direct, imminent threat. This is where Agent Walker, in taking what was her first baby step into the world of horrible things, actually went farther than Jack ever has. When she went into that room to do whatever it was she was going to do, the imminent, direct threat was over. There weren't 15 people on a bus with a bomb. There was only a prisoner who seemed very sure he would be able to get out. She let her emotions carry her to a place that Jack Bauer never went- a scary thought indeed. So how are they going to write her? She better borrow a horcrux, because it seems as though she has rended her soul in two.

In all, a good season with a GREAT finale.

Star Trek
So let's just get to the brass tacks with this movie... was the time travel device used to reboot he series a good idea and well executed, or is it paramount to Star Trek blasphemy? To be sure, it was supremely clever. I can't think of any other way to fully acknowledge and honor the previous continuity while at the same time completely blowing it up and starting from scratch. I'm still not completely sure what I think. I can say for sure that I loved JJ Abrams' take and the way he imagined that universe and those characters. It most definitely breathed new life into that franchise, and I very much look forward to seeing more of That, whatever that was. But I think my biggest problem isn't that they are now in an alternate reality, but that they are different people, especially Kirk (and Spock, but for different reasons). The Kirk that was have spent the last 40 years with grew up with his father, but the Kirk in this movie was denied that relationship and it turned him into an even bigger rebel. So this is NOT the same person. It might as well be Jean-Luc Picard or Captain Ahab or someone named Billy-Bob, because the only thing they have as much in common with the old Kirk as this new Kirk does. Spock, on the other hand, is ostensibly the same person, inasmuch as his continuity does not appear to have been altered at all until he gets to Starfleet and meets Kirk (you could argue that until Kirk's trial Spock's continuity was completely unaltered from the original). Yet I find this Spock to be a radically different character. This Spock struggles with all the same things the old Spock did, like accepting his duality and learning to accept and control emotions, but he seems to have all of the old Spock's emotional life experience at a much younger age. In the original series and movies, Spock was learning about emotions very slowly and methodically. He was much more vulcan than human until after the events of Wrath of Khan. But this Spock seems to be emotionally out of control. His emotions are only just barely under the surface, and in many instances not under the surface at all. The movie wants you to believe that new Kirk and Spock will be able to grow together like old Kirk & Spock, but I don't see it. Old Spock was like Data in TNG, experiencing emotion one little bit at a time over many, many years. But new Spock has experienced more than his fair share of emotion, he just needs to learn what to do with it. To be sure, that can be an interesting take on that character, but it is radically different, when the story doesn't suggest any reason why it would be. Anyway, to wrap this up, I have to say that despite some of my problems with this movie, it was exceptionally well done and incredibly entertaining. If you are willing to throw out literally everything that has happened in the original series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the 10 movies that came before it and accept this movie on its own merits, then you will have a great time, and I really recommend it.

Terminator Salvation
I have a thing for killer robots. I have always loved the Terminator movies (even the seemingly ill-fated TV show which I really hope gets renewed for next year, but it doesn't look good), and have been a Transformers freak since I was a little kid (more on that later this month). I think that Terminator 2 is one of the finest films ever made, and the original Terminator is campy but relatively thoughtful and a lot of fun. Terminator 3 is seriously flawed (mostly in how they wrote John Connor) but I liked it anyway. I love the time travel elements and the absolute ridiculous stupidity of the super-intelligent killer robots. So I was REALLY excited about this movie. The previews looked incredible. Christian Bale as John Connor! Finally, an entire movie after Judgment Day! What could go wrong?


Don't get me wrong, there are a ton of individual moments in this movie that I really liked, but this script is so bad that the movie just can't recover from it. I won't go into it here, but it is now well known that they had to radically change a potentially really interesting idea to accomodate the actor and the studio. They had a fully developed script that was the basis for this story, but had to have certain elements grafted onto it, and it really shows. And most people know of the leaked ending that was changed due to the leak. Now, I wouldn't have gone with the original ending either, but it at least made sense in the story and was gutsy (to say the least). This ending seems to have been obviously filmed AFTER principal photography ended and was apparently written by a four year old. They ignored the well established language of film. When someone has a metal bar penetrate through the middle of their chest and come out the other side, that person dies. Both in real life and in film. But not in this movie. Despite the fact that when they filmed that scene, I think they all thought he WAS going to die.

Anyway, the other Terminator movies had very appropriate and identifiable themes that persisted throughout the movie. These are themes of fate versus choice, free-will versus destiny. For three movies, they pounded out this theme, and it was this thematic element that set Terminator movies apart from other mindless sci-fi. But Terminator: Salvation goes in a different direction thematically, and I still cant' figure out how it makes sense. The there here was "what does it mean to be human," which is a potentially interesting question, I guess. But I'm not sure how that theme really fits into the series, and I can't even imagine how they can further develop that coherently in more films.

Still, I'm a fan. I enjoyed myself more than I should given the fact that I have many more problems with the movie than I even mentioned here, and I will undoubtedly add it to the collection. But I can't really say that I would recommend it as a quality movie.

This movie is brilliant. I have more respect for the work they are doing over at Pixar than any other creative body. I love that they are not afraid to take chances with their material and that they don't underestimate the intelligence of their audiences. WALL-E is in my top 3 favorite movies ever, and it was probably the bravest movie I've ever seen (a Disney cartoon that was a blistering, scathing attack on American consumer culture and over-consumption set to the soundtrack from Hello Dolly... what could go wrong there?). With the possible exception of Cars, Pixar has aperfect track record of imaginative & fun, yet thoughtful movies that can be enjoyed, if not fully appreciated, by people of all ages.

Much like the first 30 minutes of WALL-E, the first 10 minutes of Up are largely silent and the story is showed, not told. I didn't think it was possible to grow so emotionally charged so fast in a cartoon, but I definitely did. How they transition from the raw emotions of those moments into the fantasy whirlwind that is to follow is quite an accomplishment.

I would love to go in depth about this movie, but it only just opened, so I will save spoilers for a later time (I have some interesting theories that I haven;t seen out there yet that I would love to discuss). Normally, I am all about spoilers, but I want people to see this movie unspoiled. So if you haven't seen Up, go see it. Bring a senior citizen and bring a kid. They'll both love it for completely different reasons.

I do have one small nit to pick. Steven Spielberg has often said that his biggest filmmaking regret is that in E.T., the police chasing Elliott and ET have guns drawn. In fact, in later versions of the film he has digitally changed those to flashlights. In Up, there is on scene near the end that briefly involves a gun, and while it fits perfectly in the story, I wonder if Pete Docter will eventually come to regret introducing a gun into this movie. I certainly noticed it and felt uncomfortable with its presence in this film, but I'm guessing most people didn't think anything of it. In any event, it certainly doesn't ruin the movie by any stretch, so go see it! I'm done writing, so get up and go see it!


Dan & Nancy Erickson said...

I totally forgot about Angels & Demons and Night at the Museum 2. Maybe I'll get to those later...

Amie Vaughan said...

i agree with you on star trek... great fun, but i'm not sure how i feel about the changes. and i'm trying to decide whether it's worth going to see terminator, and waiting for up to open here. =)