What We’re Watching – 8/31/11
What I’ve Been Watching
Captain America was a lot of fun. After everyone’s initial trepidation, it turns out that Chris Evans filled Cap’s boots admirably. And casting-wise, the big highlight was Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. He is carving himself quite a career as a menacing figure with a rich voice behind it. The young comic book geek inside of me is getting awfully excited about all of these pieces for the upcoming Avengers movie continuing to come together. Does it all make for groundbreaking storytelling? No. But it is smile-inducing.
The Lincoln Lawyer is a serviceable legal drama. Matthew McConaughey is engaging as the title character defending Ryan Phillippe against rape charges. For once it’s nice to see a lawyer movie that’s not about a murder case but still has high personal stakes for everyone involved. And this story really takes seriously the ramifications of the lawyer/client privilege. Much of the drama surrounds that particular rule. Overall this has the feel of a bleak 1970s production akin to And Justice For All or The Verdict (which is technically an early ’80s movie, but you get the idea).
I finally saw The Adjustment Bureau. I hadn’t realized it was based on a Phillip K. Dick story until the end credits. Once again his oeuvre provides a reality bending premise. This Matt Damon vehicle was interesting and fun. I wouldn’t necessarily call it groundbreaking. It’s not on the level of The Matrix or Dark City, but it does share their elements of a world behind ours that is influencing how we live. All of the running from door to door for transportation had me joking this was Monsters, Inc. for grown-ups. However, another close comparison came to mind. The SciFi channel back before it was SyFy had a miniseries called The Lost Room that was similar to this film. Peter Krause was the main character in that, and it was also about going through doors as a method of travel. My only problem with The Adjustment Bureau is, for omniscient agents who influence daily behavior, the crew headed by John Slattery seems to make a lot of mistakes. I know part of the point is the persistence of creating one’s own destiny. But it just seems a bit sloppy on the part of the cosmic figure that’s supposed to be controlling Matt Damon’s reality.
With my daughter, I finally finished all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yay! So, here’s what I loved after finishing it all (SPOILERS): Oz; Spike; seasons three through five; Giles; “Once More With Feeling”; the silent episode; the cool red scythe/ultimate weapon; Andrew; the episode that Andrew narrates to the camera called “Storyteller”; Willow and Tara’s relationship; the episode “The Body” (when Mom/Joyce dies); Nathan Fillion kicking ass, Warren getting his skin ripped off; the surprise of Angelus killing Giles’s love; Joss Whedon’s pop culture references. Here’s the things I didn’t love: the Potentials kinda sucked; the seventh season; my daughter felt Dawn was a big whiner; I’m guessing due to tight budgets that sometimes episodes felt like they were stretched a bit by characters restating things a few times; the fact that while the Bronze was cool that they booked a lot of bands for an all ages club that college kids also seemed to hang out at; the occasional stunt double that didn’t look close enough to the actor; the fact that Wesley was an adult who was hitting on Cordelia who was a minor; Spike doesn’t breathe but smokes and is threatened by drowning; why Spike and Drusilla still have their European accents though Angel and Darla dumped theirs; my complete lack of understanding of how anyone but Xander would pay for things since he was the only one with a job. Overall, I totally get why Buffy was a cultural phenomenon. It was funny, sometimes scary, pithy, and mostly very fun. I’m convinced that Stephenie Meyer ripped off this show a lot when concocting her Twilight saga (a much inferior product). The actors really did sell this show, and between this and Firefly Whedon is my Jedi Master now, too.
On the other hand, we are in the middle of the last season of Angel right now. I’ve got to say, the fifth season may be my favorite year of Angel yet. His crew is finally in charge of Wolfram and Hart now and it makes for some truly hilarious episodes. But even before that, most seasons of Angel have been pretty solid. My definite favorite episode has to be “Awakening.” This is the one where it’s decided that they need to revive Angelus to fight the Beast so Wes gets a Shaman to probe Angel while he’s locked in a cage. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but a lot of how that hour unfolds is similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light,” with an alternate reality. I was genuinely surprised by the end. My biggest complaint is probably Connor. Played by Vincent Kartheiser, who went on to be featured in Mad Men, Connor as written was a bit annoying. I liked how he is damaged and turns on everyone. But there are too many scenes of him just brooding, and he keeps falling for the same kind of tricks. First he mistakenly follows Holtz, then Cordy, then Jasmine. It gets repetitive. However, the big bad in the guise of the Beast leading up to the Jasmine story is pretty great. I love how he is just a badass who has no trouble taking everyone out. Also, Gunn has finally grown on me. Now, in the last season with his brain upgrade, I find him much more interesting. I love that Lorne is finally in the opening credits (why didn’t Tara ever make it into the Buffy opening credits?). All of the flashbacks and tie-ins throughout this series are pretty great. Angel is kind of an unsung gem and I look forward to finishing it.
Can I give a giant, tremendous shout-out to Louie? The second season is in full swing and I believe it to be amongst the best comedy TV shows ever. Aside from Louie C.K. being a brilliant comedian, I love the balance of uncomfortably real and frank moments peppered throughout the series. My favorite moment in the first season was a pre-credit opening where Louie and his comedian friends are playing poker. The middle-aged gay man in the group relays an anecdote about the very grim root of the derogatory term for homosexuals. Everyone at the table pauses to absorb it, and then goes back to joking amongst themselves. The way it plays out is both moving and hilarious. This season has been no different. I recommend watching a recent scene where Louie’s five-year-old daughter would rather be at mommy’s house. It’s funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. A lot of this series plays like a less stuffy version of a Woody Allen movie: very New York and very self-reflective. Great TV.
This fall an American remake of the British TV series Prime Suspect is due to come out. When I read that I figured it was about time to finally work my way through the original, starring Helen Mirren. So far I’ve seen the first two series (that habit of calling British TV seasons “series”). I can clearly see how this show had been award-winning throughout the years. Mirren is terrific as DCI Jane Tennison. Working in a mostly male profession and having to prove herself all the time, she is both hard and driven. Yet, she also seems to listen better than her male counterparts. The Tennison character seems to be the forerunner of many of the women in police procedurals we have currently, like Mariska Hargitay on Law and Order: SVU or Mary McCormack on In Plain Sight or Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer. What I like the most about Prime Suspect is that they don’t mind showing Tennison making mistakes. In the first series, there are times when she pushes both co-workers who have lost valued partners too far or questions a grieving mother too vigorously. While one of the points is illustrating how a woman doing this job needs to be strong and persistent, they also show that even she can be ambitious enough to be insensitive at times. It’s good that they show a strong woman as complex in these terms. The show respects its female protagonist enough to make her a full character. And in series one, has Ralph Fiennes ever looked younger? I kept wanting to shout at the screen that Lord Voldemort’s standing right there! He must have committed the murder, get him! But what do you know, they didn’t listen. (He wasn’t the killer anyway, so forget that theory.)