There’s Always Comedy in the Bluths – My review of Arrested Development Season 4

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So it finally came – the long-awaited season 4 of Arrested Development, the show that FOX cancelled 7 years ago. And to a lifelong fan (well, the “lifespan” of the show – I watched the pilot when it aired and followed the show religiously during it’s FOX run) the revival season on Netflix did not disappoint. I’m not an in-depth TV reviewer that took notes during every episode I watched, so I’ll stick with my general thoughts and bullet points on things I enjoyed about the run of 15 half-hour (plus) on-demand episodes.

First off, let’s talk about the new format. As a student of television, and television writing in particular, I had a strong curiosity about this new format. How will it work? Will it be confusing as a viewer? Will it work at all? To me, focusing each episode on one character is a very novel/book-like approach. And it’s not unheard of in TV land – it is essentially what Game of Thrones does, since it is adapted from the books, although they will include a handful of character scenes/chapters to fill out each episode. I think what gets a lot of people confused, or at least what I’ve read from reviewers and from friends in social media, is that it takes a while to get used to. It took me about 3 episodes until I was starting to enjoy and look for hints and setups/jokes for other episodes. That added to my enjoyment during my first viewing of these episodes. I haven’t re-watched any of them yet, but I am sure knowing the full range of story arcs and jokes will give me an added dimension on second viewing. But that’s something that had always been the case with this show. The writing, production and editing was always so dense that each episode was filled with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes and gags – references to previous episodes or hints at major plot points (think all the “hand” jokes hinting at Buster’s impending doom). The new format throws us as viewers for a loop because the narrative isn’t laid out for us on a sliver platter like we’re used to. But I think if you accepted that what you were currently watching may have jokes that won’t land until later, and trust Mitch Hurwitz and the writers’ vision, the whole character-based/pulp-fiction-esque chronology was worth it.

Okay, now let’s get into story. I guess here I can do the all-important *SPOILERS AHEAD* warning.

Looking back on the season as a whole, I was very engaged and pleased with the major story lines. A lot of them at first felt dark and depressing, seeing how far some of our favorite characters had fallen in the last 7 years, however I can appreciate some good dark humor. It’s something the show originally had a hint of, especially with the later episodes. In season 4, GOB’s and Tobias’ story lines come to mind as the more depressing ones – Tobias falling into drug issues (methadone, or should I say Method One) and GOB falling in with a Hollywood posse, never understanding his true role. I found both scenarios hilarious, especially Tobias’. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have comedic genius Maria Bamford assisting. Great to see two incredible stand-ups working together as actors in such a dysfunctional and ridiculous way. Throwing Tobias into constant health, and this time, legal peril is something the AD writers have always loved doing with the character, and the stakes get even higher in Season 4. Jailed numerous times while attempting to illegally impersonate Fantastic 4 characters out on Hollywood Blvd (a smart “in-joke” reference to struggling actors in this industry) and eventually having him arrested as a sex-offender whilst mistakingly attempting to meet with his daughter at the old model home. He’s not coloring himself blue anymore, but is still just as clueless and eager to both pursue an acting career and reconnect (or connect at all) with his daughter. I guess it was inevitable Tobias would end up as a registered sex offender. The scene at Cinco de Quatro where he repeats “I’m a registered sex offender” to passing children was great. And everything about the Fantastic 4 musical was great. One of my favorite new characters (at least in name) was Lucille Austero’s brother, Argyle Austero (whom we first meet wearing an argyle sweater, naturally). And the storyline culminating in Tobias once again getting on the wrong boat, a nod to the very first episode of the series. I loved how Tobias and Lindsay’s storylines followed each other and were interconnected. The whole conversations throughout the huge house scenes were among my favorite of the new season. And Tobias following Lindsay to India reminds us of season 2 when he was following her attempts to see other people. And ironically, in season 4 they both “successfully” find other people, only to find more trying circumstances. And more hilarity. Also, I’m trying really hard not to mention Portia de Rossi’s new “look” (commonly the only complaint I heard from friends in the past couple weeks.)

Onto GOB. First off, loved the Entourage parody of his episode, all the way through their favorite club – “And Jeremy Piven.” We got a new recurring/repeating GOB ringtone in his “Getaway Getaway” song, GOB’s bees are back, and the new motif of GOB’s slow-motion thousand-mile stares while Simon and Garfunkel play. Not to mention another epic, elaborate, failed “illusion” disguised as an ingenius way to avoid another marriage. Glad they didn’t forget about Ann (her?) although I will admit, still odd to actually see and hear her speak (felt that way as her original storyline progressed through seasons 2 and 3). His later “gay” bromance storyline with Tony Wonder was also great – both men pretending to be gay in order to get back at each other, but simultaneously struggling with feelings sparked for each other during the budding friendship. Also great to see Wonder with Sally Sitwell – obviously the two actors are married in real life (sadly unlike GOB’s original significant other both on the show and in real life, Amy Poehler and her seal-training wife character). Tony over-explaining his intentions as a cheap ploy to give backstory was also great, calling himself out on doing it. And the reveal that HE is the “sort of famous” person GOB was dating, tying in with the Michael storyline of finding out who the “other guy” in Rebel’s life is.

That brings me to Michael – one thing I think Season 4 did awell was revealing to us is that Michael, always deemed the “best” Bluth, is actually no better than the rest of them. And when you think back on the first 3 seasons, that still rings true to a point. Season 4 shows us that even he couldn’t manage to make Sudden Valley a success, (although it certainly was a perfect living situation for Tobias and the other sex offenders) he overstays his welcome with his son at college, and eventually resorts to pulling favors from the family to get a movie about them made ALL to impress a girl. Oh and the kicker – withholds the knowledge that he and George Michael are dating the same girl in an attempt to drive Rebel away from his son, so he can win her. I mean, Isla Fischer is attractive – but pulling the rug out from your son’s seemingly happy relationship so you can reap the benefits? (Her!) Shameful. But if you’ll remember, It’s a character trait we’ve seen from him before when it was brother vs. brother for the same girl – Marta. GOB and Michael always had a healthy(?) competition with the same women, and the red herring of Season 4 was that history was repeating itself. But to Michael’s surprise, it was George Michael (or should I say George Maharis) who was sharing the same woman. I found the drastic change in GM and Michael’s relationship was a very compelling part of Season 4. This was a relationship that always had a strong, wholesome core that was the emotional foundation for the show (and why we still rooted for this family). And now as their lives move in different ways, the relationship gets strained, and one party hurts the other (anonymous eviction vote that goes awry) and then the other party tries to distance himself, only to seek his emotional revenge once they begin to reconnect. I think it was brilliant storytelling, and if you watched the first 3 seasons (over and over and over and over like I did) this change in relationship affects us as viewers the most, since it had always been the moral fabric of the show. We’re left with a relationship that’s more like the one George Michael had with GOB, after stealing Ann from him (and hitting him in response to learning about it). And it sets up a potential major plotline for the upcoming movie (or more Netflix episodes? Hey, I know as little as the rest of us do about what’s really happening). If the Bluth mantra of “family first” was the glue that held the family together in seasons 1-3, 7 years of wear and tear has started to rip a hole through that philosophy. Clearly, we’re not done yet.

Apart from the George Michael conflict, Michael’s episodes brought some great comedy involving his attempt to “produce” the movie about his family. We got the “B Team,” consisting of Andy Richter, Warden Gentles (James Lipton and his iPad) and of course Carl Weathers. Great cameo by Conan in that episode, with the dig on Andy’s failed TV career and the joke about how he treats his women “writers.” Also the season-long recurring joke of the returning Richter “quintuplets,” all being mistaken for each other and all having important roles in various points in the season. One of the better ones being Andy’s brother Rocky(?) getting “Andy’s biggest laugh of his career” while impersonating Andy on Conan’s show. We got the recurring jokes about Ron Howard and Imagine – Ron’s moon-lander prop from the fake moon landing, the rivalry with cross-the-street Bruckheimer productions, the various Opie/Andy Griffith references, how Ron never recognized Michael whenever he ran into him. Then of course, we are left with the scene of Ron and Brian Glazer watching the news report of Lucille 2’s murder and Buster being the prime suspect – excited by the fact that Buster was the only remaining Bluth family member who’s contract Michael hadn’t ripped up (“you’re OUT OF THE MOVIE!”) Another jumping off point for the next chapter(s) of this revival.

All in all, I was very please with my first viewing of Season 4. While at time it felt odd or out-of-place watching these familiar characters in unfamiliar situations (one scene in particular – when Tobias goes with Michael to Ron Howard’s office, screamed “Funny or Die” video to me. Not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing.) I enjoyed the watching experience and look forward to re-watching these episodes to find the easter eggs and additional setups/punchlines I missed on first viewing. And at the end, I am very eager to see where they go next – be it a movie, another Netflix season, or the combination of both. I’m just glad we get to see more of this crazy family, and I’m glad they didn’t “ruin” the franchise I’ve always considered my favorite comedy of all time.

Some additional thoughts/favorite bits during the season (to steal a formatting choice made by EVERY OTHER TV REVIEWER ON THE INTERNET) :

  • Michael’s Google “Something” street-view car “The Ostrich”
  • TV news anchor John Beard’s career arc – he was the news anchor during the first 3 seasons on FOX, as he was (still is?) the actual local FOX news anchor for Orange County. This season, since they were making an effort (all shrouded in jokes) to distance themselves from FOX – his TV career takes him to different venues up until the newly-minted “Imagine News,” a great way to get him on a production company-named entity again. That’s one thing I’ll be looking closely at when I rewatch – if he is in fact on a different network every time we see him on TV.
  • George Michael and Michael’s voicemail phone-tag bit – pretending they were in the same traffic jam, but both coming up with reasons why they couldn’t prove to the other that they were in fact, in traffic. It eventually becomes a veiled allegory for their strained relationship.
  • Michael’s trouble with technology, specifically his iPhone calendar being stuck in 2006. (When the show went off the air! Get it??!?!?)
  • Buster dancing on the security cameras. More Buster dancing, please.
  • Jeff Garlin getting stuck through a window with the “Curb your Enthusiasm” music playing.
  • All those cameos – John Slattery! John Krasinski! Mary Lynn Rajskub! Lennon Parham! Ben Schwartz! Zach Woods! (UCB ftw!) And great casting for young Barry Zuckerkorn by getting Henry Winkler’s actual son, Max! “Take to the sea!”
  • Maritime Law being a real thing, and Lucille’s trial being held in a clam shack before happy hour.
  • The eventual reveal that NONE of the Bluth’s made it to the trial, except for too-late-arriving Buster, who gets one last earful of motherly love from Lucille.
  • I did remember enjoying the George episode, but aside from the Slattery/Rajskub cameos, can’t pick out any good bullet point from it. But after the 1-episode new format baptism of the first episode, George’s provided some much-needed laughs for me, helping me realize that everything was going to be okay. I just needed some lemonade.

I’m sure there’s stuff I missed. I’ll maybe add more tidbits on my second viewing. Let me know what you thought, if you so choose, in the comments! That’s still a thing!

If this post inspired you to watch some Arrested Development, be it the new ones or old, and you’re too lazy to make the extra effort yourself – here’s a quick Netflix link.

Best of 2010: Movies

As always during this time of the year, bloggers, critics, reviewers, and the general entertainment-loving public reflect on their favorite of the past year. I did it last year, and am attempting to quickly do it again for this year.

First up on my list is my favorite movies of the year. I’m not going to put a number or ranking on them, this is just a spattering of movies I enjoyed from the past year, and why I liked them. Simple enough.

The Social Network David Fincher

I reviewed it after it came out, or at least blogged about how I felt about the movie itself, and how Facebook has changed over the years I’ve been using it, and how much a part of my generation’s online life it holds. The movie itself was well-written, directed, shot and of course, acted. Jesse Eisenberg uses his strength as a fast-talking, nerdy-looking lead and put on his jerk-face to create a character that while not necessarily true to the real Mark Zuckerberg, carried the movie with a headstrong passion. Eisenberg really captured Zuckerberg’s drive to create a revolutionary enterprise in Facebook, and helped solidify the movie’s non-stance on the creation and subsequent litigation surrounding Facebook. The cinematography was also great, in particular the tilt-shift focused crew race sequence. I found myself glued to the screen, mesmerized by the sights and sounds projecting from above. We’ll see how the movie fares as we inch closer to the imminent award season, but if I were a voter, it would definitely be on my list.

Toy Story 3 Lee Unkrich

The emotional and cathartic conclusion of Pixar’s amazing franchise, Toy Story 3 was timed perfectly with the generational change occurring in both the film’s main human character Andy, and it’s audiences. When the first Toy Story came out, aside from being wowed by the technological prowess that Pixar provided with an entirely computer-generated film, the idea of having toys come to life and experience real human emotion with their owners was something every kid wished for. Now, 15 years later, my generation, like Andy in the film, is growing up and no longer play with those childhood toys we all loved so much. The movie captures the emotion that comes from growing up and letting go of your childhood, and while many of us painfully let our parents give away our favorite toys, and left it at that, Toy Story 3 gives us as sympathetic viewers, closure as Andy plays with Woody and friends one last time before giving them away to a young girl. It simultaneous gave us closure with the franchise’s end, and also with our own childhoods, and I applaud Pixar for achieving that near-impossible task.

Inception Christopher Nolan

I also blogged/reviewed this when it came out, and I was in the “wow that was amazing” state coming right off the movie. In the months since it came out, there has been a good deal of criticism of the movie, mostly calling out the logic flaws and lack of original plot, some going as far as saying the only real value of the movie was its visual effects. While all of these criticisms have their strong points, I simply go back to how I felt about the movie right after I saw it, and know that I enjoyed myself during it, and it left me thinking – whether it be specifically about the top spinning at the end and if it drops or not, or even just about the concepts of , and the rabbit hole that brings me through. It was exciting throughout, and like many of Christopher Nolan‘s films, leaves you guessing. I bought into it, and perhaps after another couple viewings it may lose its luster, but I still believe it belongs on this list.

Black Swan Darren Aronofsky

Just saw this, and was mesmerized by it throughout, especially watching Natalie Portman‘s psychological transformation. I always liked her as an actress, but I think this movie especially allowed her to show some real range as a sweet, innocent and driven ballerina, into an aggressive, sexually experimenting, paranoid, hallucinating ballet star, striving for perfection. Shot very intimately, the film-making allowed the viewer to watch this transformation, and Portman makes us believe every bit of it, even the horror-esque sequences. A real cross between Darren Aronofsky‘s “The Wrestler,” and “Requiem For a Dream,” both director and lead actress take us through a thrilling and emotional psychological journey. All in a movie about ballet.

The Fighter David O. Russel

Also just saw this, so it too is fresh in my mind, but I really enjoyed the gritty look at a struggling boxer caught between his career aspirations and his family. While everyone was great in it, I think that Christian Bale took the film, having lost 20 pounds and starving himself to portray a scrawny, crack-addicted has been boxer, trying to make a comeback by training his brother. A notorious method actor, Bale nailed the performance down to the last dropped r, (or should I say “ahh”), and this was especially evident after seeing the real life Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, giving a sign off to the crew after having been a part of the production process. The movie was half a boxing movie and half a family drama, and the boxing didn’t really show itself until the third act, where Micky is finally getting his shot and fighting toward a title shot. One of the more emotional parts of the movie occurs when the HBO documentary about crack-addiction airs, and the entire cast of characters huddles around their respective TVs, even Dicky in a large viewing in prison, hamming it up for the crowd of convicts. When they realize it is more of a tragic story than a triumph, the emotion of the family, and especially Dicky himself, brings down the excitement, and I think David O. Russel and the cast did a great job of capturing this quick emotional turnaround. Dicky says it best when he yells at his co-habitants to stop laughing, “my kid is crying and wants to be with his father, but he can’t because I’m in here with you all!” *may have gotten some of that quote wrong. As a coda, living in LA, across the country from my hometown, I love any movie that is spoken primarily in Boston accents. It’s a full-proof reminder of home. You may find me subconsciously dropping my r’s after seeing a movie like that.

*Honorable Mention – The Town Ben Affleck – Another Boston movie, this one showed Affleck’s ability to direct an action flick with some great sequences, including a European-style car chase through the narrow streets of the North End, and also a huge climactic shootout in Fenway Park. Great performances by Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively, both nailing a tough accent to grasp.

Feel free to comment on what you agree, disagree, or would like to add to this list. Stay internet-dialed to Josh Glass Online for more Best Of 2010 lists in the next day or two.

“Drop the ‘The.’ It’s cleaner.” Reminiscing about old Facebook, my sort of review of “The Social Network”

After seeing “The Social Network,” the story about how the originally programming and company of “Facebook” came about and succeeded, I couldn’t help but be reminiscent of “The Facebook’s” early days, when I first joined in 2005.

One of the major pluses t0 being accepted into a college was getting your “.edu” email address, which meant you could sign up for “The Facebook.” When I joined, it had expanded a good deal from its Harvard-only exclusivity, but nowhere near as open as it is nowadays. It was a couple of years before they let high-schoolers sign up, and then eventually everyone. It was a part of my college experience even before I got to college. I “met” and talked with people who were on my freshman year floor, some of which I would actually become friends with. In REAL life. Although, there was always the awkward “This person is being a little stalkery,” even in the early days. After seeing the movie, at least in the view of the filmmakers, the idea behind the social tool was to be able to find out information about people you knew, or kind of knew, without necessarily having to speak with them directly. This dynamic was already present in existing social networks, especially in Myspace’s case.

Not only did Facebook coincide with my college experience, it really came into my life when I first got my own computer. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this milestone, and it’s an interesting insight into the simultaneously privatized and publicized lives of young college students 5, 6, 7 years ago. We became independent with our own computers, moving away from home into our new lives, which allowed us a more private computing use – no need to worry about sharing a computer with family members, everything you did on your laptop was yours. But at the same time, we began expanding our online lives, sharing various bits of information about ourselves – our interests, our relationships statuses and sexual preferences, who we associate with, what we say to each other, etc.

Once pictures came into the mix, it became a whole new scenario. Suddenly you had to be careful what was posted of you and how you were shown in pictures – underage drinking at college parties, drug use, being in photos with members of the opposite sex when you had a significant other stalking your page. Very quickly, the freedom we had to express ourselves and share our lives with peers online had a shadow cast over it – there were consequences to our online actions, oftentimes dire ones – relationships ruined, jobs lost, parents upset.

Speaking of parents, once Facebook was opened up to the general public, where anyone with an email could join, many of our generation’s parents started joining, as they had obviously heard so much about it from us, because it was as much a part of our lives as college and high school kids as music, movies, comedy, fashion, drinking, partying – any and all of our interests.

Through the whole time, Facebook was expanding and quickly becoming the biggest social network out there, and making Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in the world. This is where I found “The Social Network” very interesting. Having been on Facebook from its earlier stages (not the earliest obviously, but within a year or so of its inception), it was interesting to see what was happening behind the scenes with Zuckerberg and his business partners throughout my own personal experiences with Facebook. I remember when they dropped the “The” from the title. I remember when it expanded worldwide, and when it reached 1 million members, and it’s so amazing to think that now, only a few years later, they’re at 500 million members and still growing.

A good way to conclude this pseudo-review would be to imagine what life through college would have been like without having this social tool to help us through it. Sure, there would have been other venues of communicating with each other – perhaps AIM or G-Chat later on would continue to carry online communications between college kids. Perhaps texting would have taken off a few years earlier. Of course, another new thing would eventually have to come along, clearly the idea was thought of in similar senses in similar circles, had Zuckerberg not created what he created. But despite all those “what-ifs,” the fact remains that Facebook exists, and is pretty much in everyone’s lives, whether they use it every day, or just check it every so often. It’s helped college kids make new friends freshman year, it’s helped people find former high school and college classmates, years after they’ve lost touch. It’s allowed us to share anything and everything with each other, its helped craft both the course of our personal lives online, and also the course of social media in general. Now, you can log in to almost any site with your Facebook profile, there isn’t a site out there that doesn’t allow you to share things on Facebook. “Facebooking” and “Friending” are in our collective vernacular, (and in our dictionaries, at least in the case of the latter). Facebook is as much a part of our lives as television or movies are, it’s even social water-cooler talk – “did you see what Jim said on his Facebook? He caught a foul ball at the Sox game yesterday, and was on TV!”

I was thinking a bit about brand loyalty while watching “The Social Network,” and I came to this conclusion – there are very few companies that have such a strong hold on their consumer base as Facebook does. Apple comes to mind, but it’s slightly different, because Apple creates tactile products that cost money. Facebook is a free, extremely useful tool, and I think it may be safe to say it goes beyond seeing Facebook as a brand. I really think that it’s clearly not a fad, and may even overtake our use of email as the primary source of online communication. If not Facebook specifically, than the various social networks that exist – Facebook for primarily social forms of communication, Linked-In, or something similar for our business networking, Twitter for real-time updates on news, events, traffic conditions, whatever.

It’s an exciting time we’re living in, in terms of technology and social media – things that haven’t always garnered such strong attention, and in the case of social media, didn’t exist a decade ago. Just look at the box office numbers for “The Social Network” after this weekend is done. The movie isn’t even necessarily an entirely fact-based account of the beginnings of the Social Media giant. But everyone is going out to see it, because everyone is on Facebook, and everyone is interested in its story. And it’s a good story to be told.

Feel free to Facebook your comments.

Oh yeah, and my quick review of the movie itself – Aaron Sorkin wrote a great script, extremely well-shot and directed, thanks to Mr. David Fincher and his DP, Jeff Cronenweth, and the interpersonal drama between the main characters, despite being almost entirely based on legal issues and testimony, which many find tedious and boring, was compelling throughout. While no one actor really shined off the screen, perhaps Justin Timberlake could be mentioned just for the fact that he’s proving himself to be more talented than any of us thought from his “Bye, Bye, Bye” days with *NSYNC. While Facebook may or may not have started in exactly in the way that the movie portrays, the tension sifts throughout the heavy dialogue and business/legal jib-jab. You leave the movie not really sure whose side to be on, aside from maybe just Facebook’s side. We use it. We like it. We’re addicted to it. We don’t necessarily care one way or another whose original idea it was, or who screwed who out of the company. I for one, am content with simply clicking the big “like” button on “The Social Network.”

The Social Network 2010
I have 660 friends – how many enemies does that mean I have?

If I were reviewing the character Hurley, this would be an easier job – My Review of Weezer’s “Hurley”

Another year, another Weezer album as it were (these past 3 years they’ve turned into Woody Allen in terms of being prolific and consistency). Unfortunately, it seems the trend from 2008’s Red to 2009’s Raditude to 2010’s Hurley has gone slightly downhill, after coming back up from 2005’s Make Believe. The three-year hiatus did River’s and crew good as they found their Pop Rock roots and returned more to form with Red. Raditude wasn’t as strong an effort, but I for one did enjoy the album as a whole.

With Hurley, while there are some good songs I do enjoy – “Trainwrecks,” “Hang On” and “Brave New World,” I was and still am quite disappointed with the album’s first single “Memories,” as I am with the slower, softer songs on the album; I’ve primarily enjoyed River’s softer forays – from the classic “Butterfly” to Raditude’s “Put Me Back Together” and “I Don’t Want to Let You Go.” Hurley’s “Time Flies,” and “Unspoken,” are a little boring for my taste.

As a whole, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in Hurley, especially after how excited I was to hear about the album title. There are some good tracks on there, but where Red and Raditude had a more classic Weezer album feel, even if the songs themselves weren’t as good as Blue through Maladroit (yes, I’m including Maladroit). I’ve defended both Red and Raditude by saying that River’s stuck with what he was really good at – writing a perfectly crafted pop rock song, and after trying and failing to step away from that with Make Believe, did a good job returning to form with those two. Hurley almost seems like he coasted through the process, because he was back in his song-writing wheelhouse.

That being said, I do feel obligated to support the band, as they have been among my favorite ever since I got into music. I even got the deluxe edition, with the bonus tracks, including a pretty decent live cover of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” which is a song I (and probably a good deal of America) got tired of when it was a big single, but enjoyed hearing from another big act. Not as cool a cover as their “Kids/Poker Face” from Raditude, but I’ll take it. Also, the short-but-sweet “All My Friends Are Insects,” seems to me, at least on the basis of bugs being in the title, a little tribute or homage, or even just a call back to the aforementioned “Butterfly,” an unappreciated favorite of mine, which starts out with a nice piano introduction – a change of pace to the always guitar-heavy hooks of the previous songs on the album, then tells a little story of a guy who enjoys Earth’s little creatures. I can’t say that I relate – I refuse to befriend insects. Also in the bonus tracks, their Unofficial U.S. World Cup Team Anthem – “Represent,” which didn’t get much notice during the tournament, but I enjoyed nonetheless.

I’m not much for grades or ratings, because if I like something I’ll usually just give it my non-patented Thumb-Up-Of-Approval, but in this case I’m going to stick with a 5 star scale, of which I’ll give Hurley 3 stars. For reference and comparison, Blue and Pinkerton get 5 stars, Maladroit and Green get 4.5 stars, and Red and Raditude get 4. Make Believe gets a 2.

P.S. I give the Album Artwork 5 stars. Hurley’s the Man.

Hurley

He's such a happy guy, how can you not smile when you see this?

Way Better than Counting Sheep – My Review of “Inception”

"Inception" 2010

“Inception” is the kind of movie where the previews don’t tell you much, but something about the presentation, and the fact that its a Christopher Nolan film, makes you know you’ll be in for something amazing. Before going to a movie, I like to keep my expectations in check, because my initial thoughts on movies always relate to how well they meet my expectations. For Christopher Nolan films, I have no qualms about letting my expectations run wild, and once again, like “The Dark Knight” in 2008, he did not disappoint.

The main plot of the movie focuses on Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb, a thief who enters people’s dreams to extract ideas. If you bare with me on these details, like the viewer does while immersed in this film, the specifics won’t bother you. In fact, they’re presented in such a way that it makes complete sense. That is another thing Christopher Nolan does well – in dealing with fantastical plots that require a suspension of disbelief,  we as viewers never question the premise, because it’s presented in a way that raises no doubts. It’s explained as well as humanly possible. In the case of “Inception,” it’s understood that these are people who have been taught how to share dreams, and are hired to use this method to invade a subject’s subconscious and take ideas or secrets.

Cobb is the leader of this team, hired by Ken Wattanabe’s Saito, a wealthy businessman, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Cobb’s right hand man and a series of other characters with different responsibilities – Tom Hardy as Eames, the Forger who can morph into someone else’s identity in the dream, and Dileep Rao as Yusuf, the chemist who creates the concoctions that allow the dreamers to stay in a deep enough sleep to pull off their heist.

Saito hires Cobb for a special job, one that requires a great deal of preparation and execution, and since his previous team member, Architect Nash (Lukas Haas) failed on a previous mission, Cobb goes to his father-in-law, (Nolan film regular Michael Caine) who taught him everything he knows about shared dreaming, to recruit a young, genius architect – Ellen Page’s Ariadne. Together, the team must perform an “Inception,” the act of planting the seed of an idea into someone’s subconscious, as opposed to stealing one. Saito’s mark is Robert Fischer Jr., (Cillian Murphy), who’s the heir to a business rival of Saito’s , who wants the team to convince Fischer to take down his dying father’s empire.

Hope you’re still with me. Cobb and Arthur teach Ariadne the ropes of shared dreaming, and creating a realistic-enough dream world where their mark will believe it to be reality – the catch of shared dreams is if something within the dream is too out of the ordinary, the subject will point it out through their projections – the masses of “extras” within the dream, that fill out the realistic world – unnamed co-workers, passersby, the general public, etc. Once the dream gets too out of control, the projections will attack the dreamer who’s changing things – much like white blood cells attack foreign objects within the body. Ariadne takes to her task with ease and a sense of enthusiasm, to the point where Cobb is forced to warn her of the negative effects of using her new-found powers too creatively. Her curiosity causes some tension between her and Cobb, as she finds out about his disturbing past and how it constantly affects his dreams and subconscious. Aside from confiding in Ariadne, Cobb keeps these issues to himself, but because of the shared nature of the task at hand, threatens to destroy the team’s entire plan.

I’d better stop there, or I’ll delve into spoiler territory.

Christopher and Jonathan Nolan do many great things with this script, but what really is apparent is the strength of their reasoning and scientific explanation of this fantastical premise. Every bit of explanation makes sense in the realm of real life – for example, waking up from a dream thanks to a “kick” i.e. the feeling of falling. Also, if you’re killed in a dream you wake up from it. (unlike how if you’re killed in the Matrix, you die in real life. This is not 1999 science-fiction people.)

Once the specifics of shared dreaming are covered, we’re treated to some visual and psychologically stunning film-making. One of the things I loved about this movie was that none of the special effects were considered showy – sure, they were breathtaking and awe-inspiring, but all of them had purpose and were never like “hey, check this shit out!” Psychologically, due to the mysterious nature of dreams, you’re left with both the wonder of whether something like this could actually be possible, and the recurring thoughts of what your own subconscious is telling you in your dreams.

The pacing of the film is great too – there isn’t a dull moment, and it’s not completely covered by tension and action, like it was in “The Dark Knight,” (not a knock on Dark Knight, they’re just different kinds of movies). The nature of the film and its premise keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats – it helps that dreams are inherently a fascinating subject to wrap your mind around. Nolan does a great job of both confusing and immersing the viewer in the action. The confusion is never to the point of giving up, its enough to keep you guessing until the very end, which is exactly what Nolan does.

Writing and directing aside, the film is wonderfully cast and the main actors, especially Leo, provide incredible performances. Thank God Martin Scorsese let Nolan borrow his muse for a film. Not sure who else would have been better in that part (although I have to admit, parts of his character’s emotional struggles reminded me of his “Shutter Island” performance). I’ve always liked Ellen Page, and she’s great as a young and enthusiastic addition to this team of professionals – adept at her job, but curious enough about her leader to bring about a good level of character drama that really solidifies the dramatic tension of the film. Marion Cotillard, who plays Cobb’s wife Mol, does a great job of toying with Cobb’s emotions throughout. I found myself locked in on her character whenever she would show up. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand why. If you haven’t, seriously – stop reading this and go see it now.

My only criticisms of the film is that during the main action sequence of the triple-deep-dream, the dramatic tension follows the characters down through each level of dream, but the previous dream levels remain the same until one big culminating moment that makes up for this. Also, I had a bit of an issue with Saito’s character getting injured during this sequence – to create more tension they could have played up the consequences of this injury more, which would make the resulting payoff between Saito and Cobb hit a bit harder.

It’s been said a bunch, but this is definitely the kind of movie you’ll have to see again, which fits right into the trend of recent Christopher Nolan films. You’ll read it over and over about how great the film is, but a review like this really can’t do it enough justice. I’ll go see it again with you, just so you can see it for yourself. Seriously.

The Countdown Ends at Zero- My Thoughts on the “24” Finale

For a long time in my television watching career, I did not care much for dramas. Sure, I was into the X-Files, but more for the sci-fi of it. But my favorite shows had always been comedies.

Until 2001-2002 rolled around, and my friend Trevor (more affectionately called “Goose” in our circle of friends) turned me onto this ground-breaking, political action drama “24.” I started a bit late, watching season 2 when it aired, while catching up on the Season 1 DVD. Granted, some big plot points were already spilled, but the show didn’t need much to grab me. I had never before followed a show where you had to watch every single episode or nothing would make sense. Sure, some episodes would be better than others, but the show’s bold format took me along for the ride. I enjoyed every day, every hour, every minute of the drama that unfolded for one Jack Bauer and his ever-changing cast of heroes and villains throughout the series. Well, maybe not EVERY moment of the show, and certainly not every season. But with the obvious exception of Season 6, which was bearable to watch because of James Cromwell (aka the farmer from “Babe.”)

This series, which officially became the final season a few months ago, had a surprising promise like last season. They changed up the setting and scenarios a bit, as there seemed to be only so many times Jack could save Los Angeles (or would want to save Los Angeles). Season 8 struggled in the beginning, but picked up once the writers knew they were writing their last batch of episodes ever.

Dana Walsh as the CTU mole was the catalyst in my eyes, for what ended up becoming a great 24 season, and a fitting 24 finale. Using up their last tired serial plot point, the season began to pick up when we not only started getting the sense that were more than Islamic Extremists behind the impending terror attacks, but that the conspiracy rose higher up, and involved another party – The Russians.

Action-wise, it gained steam when we lost Omar Hassan to the extremists in one episode, and then poor Renee Walker in the next. One silent clock to end an episode is poignant and touching enough. Ending two weeks in a row that way hit me hard, and helped solidify the idea in my mind that the show was ending.

The next weeks may not have been home runs on every episode, but they kept the drama and suspense going until this week’s 2-hour, series finale. Before I get into the episode, I need to mention the awesome destruction that was Jack in full body armor, taking out President Logan’s caravan. He became the superhero vigilante we always saw him as. He was like Batman with a gun. Or like Jason Vorhees with a gun. Logan’s scared-shitless “That’s Jack Bauer!” exclamation further exemplified this comic book sensation this scene portrayed. And then to later find out why Jack didn’t bother killing Logan, when he planted the bug on his shirt collar in order to find out who’s really calling the shots for this Russian conspiracy was a great twist and perfect setup for the finale.

Now, onto the main event.

Going in, I kept in mind that 24 is a show where each season stands alone plotwise and the only series-arching elements had to do with Jack himself. I figured the finale would still only seem like a season finale, because there wasn’t any bigger plot than what needed to wrap up in this season. What I was expecting was some sort of cathartic, emotional ending where Jack “left” with a big impact. I knew in the back of my mind he couldn’t die, because of all the 24 movie chatter in recent months, but I kind of held out hope that maybe they could still kill him off to end the series.

I’m glad they didn’t, and I was extremely pleased with the final scene. Jack still attempted to go down fighting, as up until the phone call with President Taylor, he was still trying to fight for justice and stop the fraudulent peace treaty, as he called it in the video that essentially changed Taylor’s mind on signing the treaty. Taylor dug herself a deep hole she couldn’t get out of, and almost managed to take down Jack with her, but in her last act of humanity toward him, she lets him go to flee the country, before both the Russians and the US went looking for him.

That brings us to the best part of the episode and the moment I was looking for in this finale – Jack’s phone call with Chloe. Since she is the only other recurring character remaining in the series (Aaron Pierce neglected to show up to my dismay), Chloe is the one loose end that needed tying up. Jack said exactly what he needed to say to not only summarize his relationship with Chloe, and express how important she was to him over the years, but also to bring a tear to her eyes, something that we haven’t seen much of from Chloe (Edgar’s season 4 death maybe…) And what brings tears to Chloe’s eyes brought tears to mine – I’ve always liked Chloe, and was glad she ended up as the sole survivor of 24 supporting actors. Mary Lynn Rajskub did a fantastic job with Chloe – she was an awkward but savvy tech genius that always had a way around things, and brought a sense of wry humor (Mary Lynn is, by the way, a comedian, and a great one at that) and persistence that somehow managed to always help Jack and contrast him at the same time.

Jack tells Chloe he never thought she would be the one to always have his back, and thanks her for that. As viewers, we feel the same way. Each season Chloe grew on us and this relationship became more clear. Just like Chloe’s rise through the CTU ranks this season, she became Jack’s number 2, the person he knew he could trust, after everyone else who filled that role were taken out (Palmer, Tony, Bill Buchanon, Renee). Jack looks up to the sky to find a way to connect with Chloe as he opens up to her. Fittingly behind the technology she knows her way around so well, they share an emotional moment, which I thought was a perfect way of ending the show. The feed goes dark after Chloe says “shut it down…” and our famous countdown finally reaches its end –

Some shorter tidbits about the episode itself that I enjoyed –

  • Chloe invoking Renee and her death to stop Jack from shooting President Subaroff – “Don’t start a war in her name.” Again, shows how strong an influence Chloe has on Jack. No other character could have stopped him in that moment, it had to be Chloe. I was especially fascinated with how soft and caring Mary Lynn’s eyes looked during this scene (maybe it’s just the HD).
  • Jack’s video convincing President Taylor to back out of the treaty – “Lasting peace cannot simply be political. it has to be born out of trust and honesty and understanding and most importantly a will on both sides to move forward. currently that will does not exist and this peace is fraudulent.” We rarely get to see a political side of Jack aside from his obvious pro-torture stance. He’s always been all action and not much talk. It was good to see him explain his stance on the issue, and in a similar scenario to the previous bullet point – Jack was the only one in that moment that could convince Taylor to change her mind. Like I said before, she dug herself into a huge hole and Jack was the other unfortunate casualty of her actions. Her guilt in the matter, coupled with the great guilt-laden gift of Omar Hassan’s pen as Taylor’s apparatus to sign the treaty, stopped her from putting pen to paper and going along with the conspiracy/fake peace.
  • Bringing back the “Events occur in real time…” disclaimer at the beginning (although I’ve still been waiting for the “On the day of the California Presidential Primary” after every hour)
  • The countdown to 00:00:00:00 to end the show. The only thing that would’ve been better is if they did another silent countdown, to signify that the show was done, although my guess is that since there’s a movie in development, the writers/producers don’t see the 24 story as being completely finished.
  • Just a quick comment on how well Kiefer plays this character. It’s a cliche to say an actor inhabits a role, but it’s very true with Kiefer and Jack. The show helped revive his career, and you can tell from his performances for the past 8 seasons that he’s been eternally grateful for that. Jack Bauer remains the most bad ass character on television.

My last question I pose to myself is how I feel about a 24 movie…

I know it’s been talked about and in letting Bauer live through the Finale, sets up for a  potential movie. However, in the discussions about the film, it seems they may drop the real-time format and condense 24 hours into a 2-hour film. This would make the movie more of a Jason Bourne-type action spy drama, which would be entertaining, but aside from starring Jack and whoever else shows up, is not essentially what 24 is all about. I’ll still go to the theaters and check it out, as by that time Jack will have been absent from my television set for far too long, and I’ll need my makeshift torture technique fix – a la the lamp plug shock treatment or the neck and ear biting.

I am really sad to see this show go. It was the one television constant that preceded my desire to get into television, and shaped how I watch (or would like to watch) TV dramas (sorry procedurals, you don’t cut it anymore). The show has meant a lot to me, I’ve shared a lot of great moments with it, and with fellow 24-fans. I’ve even participating in converting friends into 24 fans themselves (It’s amazing what owning DVDS can do to your popularity). I know we’re all sad to see it go, and I’m sure we’re all moved by how it went out. Thanks for the entertainment 24.

Top Movies of 2009

Like with my music list, I’m not gonna number these, and there isn’t a specific number I’ve chosen. These are just the notable movies from the past year, and what I thought about them.

Here we go –

Adventureland
A movie that exceeded expectations and sat with me a for a few days after seeing it, “Adventureland” was the coming of age story that came out of nowhere. Marketed as a a la Superbad (from same director of) and staring Bill Hader, it did have comedy and it did have Bill Hader, but most of the comedy stemmed from Hader and his comic relief boss role, probably only 10-15 minutes of screen time all together. The real movie follows James (Jesse Eisenberg) and his quest to find a summer job after leaving school. He gets a job at an amusement park, and meets an interesting cast of characters, including Kristen Stewart’s Emily. After they start hanging out, he falls for her, but she’s involved in a secret relationship with Ryan Reynolds’ Mike, who’s the cool guy “veteran” of Adventureland. So there’s a love story, a lot of drama and a well done, set-in-the-80’s movie (that’s not an 80’s movie) in there, which all make it a great watch. After seeing it in theaters, I was convinced I wanted to write a coming of age romance.

500 Days of Summer
I picked the soundtrack in my music list, but the movie itself was one of the movies that stayed with me the longest this year. It was one of those movies that shatters the viewer’s expectations of storytelling and love stories in general. As the voiceover in the beginning says, it’s a movie about boy meets girl, but not a love story. And it’s true. The time-jump storytelling may confuse at first, but is presented in such a way that you come in at important parts of both the initial meeting and hook-up of these two characters, and the turning point/big break up, then moves forward from one point, and backward from the other, then forward again. Actually, that does sound confusing, but the movie makes it work. Also, the editing is great, from the look of the days countdown, to the flashbacks and intercutting stories. Good example is the “Expectations vs. Reality” scene. After seeing this, my “Adventureland” inspired romance story went in the can. I was convinced love stories are stupid. It’s amazing how one movie’s message can completely destroy another’s message, while not taking anything away from the previous movie.

Zombieland
Another Jesee Eisenberg movie ending in “-land,” this one was great comedic take on the zombie movie. Eisenberg’s “Columbus” narrates the film, introducing his rules for survival in a zombie apocalypse. He runs into 3 other survivors – Woody Harrelson’s “Tallahassee,” Emma Stone’s “Wichita,” and Abigrail Breslin’s “Little Rock.” Everyone’s named after where they’re from, because one of the rules is to not really trust anyone in this apocalypse. Best part of the movie, aside from the general comedy stemming from the character interactions (especially Eisenberg and Harrelson) was the cameo from Bill Murray, and the hilarity that ensued from that – Harrelson dressing up like the Ghostbusters, he wearing the real outfit and gun, Murray using a vacuum cleaner. Heard that the writer’s originally did not have him in the script, but Harrelson pulled some strings and he was on board right away. He even came up with the idea of pretending to be a zombie, but not actually being one.

District 9
An independant, seemingly big-budget movie produced by but not directed by Peter Jackson, from South Africa, this movie stunned millions when it came out. An alien story with a strong Apartheid allegory not so subtly dipped in, it follows a field operative nacmed Wikus van de Merwe, as he heads the project of informing the alien “prawns” that they will have to evacuate their current living situation, in “District 9,” into a heavily secured concentration camp. He gets in over his head when he runs into a more intelligent prawn named Christopher Johnson, who’s spaceship chemicals spray onto Wikus, and start to change him into a prawn himself. A well-done film with a compelling storyline and great visual effects, I really enjoyed the out-of-the-box take on the alien invasion story. Not only are these aliens not on earth to take over, but the humans are in charge and forcing the aliens around. The marketing for the movie was very innovative as well – placing “humans only” warnings on billboards, bus stop benches, etc.

The Hangover
Probably the most outrageous, if not the best comedy of the year, it follows 4 friends on a Vegas bachelor party went awry. The best part of the movie is that we don’t see the actions of the night, because our main characters have forgotten all about it – we follow them as they piece together the ridiculous puzzle of their out-of-control night in Vegas. Anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and in the most bizarre of ways – Asian gangsters, bengal tigers, tooth pulling, marrying strippers, and of course some card-counting and gambling. This is one of those “only in the movies” type stories, and we’re all thankful for that denotation.

Inglorious Basterds
A Quentin Tarantino World War II movie about Jews who kill Nazis? Where do I sign up? I read the script last year, and although it took about 3 1/2 hours to read, it was a compelling and exciting. The movie was even more so, with great performances by Christoph Walsh as Colonel Landa, and Mélanie Laurent as Shoshana, the jewish girl who escaped from Landa’s grasp in the first scene of the movie, now disguising as a French theater-owner, and great action sequences that only can be the work of Mr. Tarantino. Another Tarantino-esque aspect of the film is the intertwining storylines – these Nazi-killing “Basterds,” and Shoshana,  both plan to destroy the Nazi party by blowing up Shoshana’s theater, where a German Movie night is planned by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propanadist minister. Needless to say, it has a great payoff in the end, and hopefully gives all Nazi-hating theater-goers a big smile on their face as the final minutes of the film play out.

Avatar
Just saw this last night, I was blown away by the visuals – especially in IMAX 3D. The story was compelling and kept you interested the whole time, but the real story was the technology and the CGI imagery used throughout. It is definitely the future of movie-making and viewing, however cost, availability and delivery methods will be make the transition a bit slower. I loved how realistic the Na’vi’s were, especially in facial features. The 3D looked amazing, but especially on some shots – the strong perspective of the sleeping chambers at the beginning, the pop up computer screens on the ships, and even Jake Sully’s video log. You can tell James Cameron put ever bit of hard work he and his company has into the 15 years this movie had been in the making. A visual masterpiece, and definitely the most mesmerizing movie-going experience I had all year.

Also wanted to say a quick thanks to everyone who’s visited the site over the last couple months. It’s already at over 900 views, and I’ve gotten some great responses from a handful of family and friends. Look for more reviews and more personal essays in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!