Tuesday, May 27, 2008

dexter (season one)

Nomadreaderboy and I have finished season one of Dexter. It's absolutely worth watching, as it is unlike any other show on television. It's not brilliant, but it is certainly captivating. The show certainly has the potential to be brilliant, and I hope season two will prove my hunch.

Going in, I heard two things about the show: it's the best show on television and it's about a serial killer. It's not the best show on television. In fact, the first half of the season is better than the second half. The build-up and tension were delightful, but the answers to the questions were unsatisfying, partially mundane and a little silly. I'm more than willing to suspend my disbelief, but I was completely unprepared to do so. The first half of the season was hyper realistic, almost to the point of uncomfortability at times. (It is a realistic portrayal of a serial killer after all).

Dexter
was based on a novel, now a series of novels, and the conclusion of the season-long case seemed like a mediocre first novel with promise. It was a compelling story, but it hit ridiculously close to home for the main character. It seems, in my mystery-reading experience, the first book of a series usually involves a very personal case where the main character's survival is in doubt. Except the reader knows it will become a franchise, and the plot device is predictable.

I'm curious to read the novels as a point of comparison as well as enjoyment. It seems plausible the twelve-episode season could have been a literal depiction of a novel. A novel is a beautiful inspiration for a television show rather than a movie, but I'd like to see the show's writers and producers transcend the novel's influence and fully utilize the genre of television. It's time to transform Dexter into what it could be.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of watching this at times brilliant series was its depiction of women. The show features three female characters: Lt. Laguerta, Dexter's girlfriend Rita, and his sister Debra. All three are incompetent and not nearly as intelligent as their male counterparts. Debra continuously turns to Dexter for advice as she adjusts to working homicide. She's almost comically emotional at times. Rita can't seem to do anything on her own for most of the season, although she starts to realize her own strength and intelligence by the season finale. Every decision she makes includes a call to Dexter. Lt. Laguerta seems to singlehandedly take the blame for police incompetence and exhibits a bizarre combination of media whoredom and unsavvyness; she is the antithesis of Dexter. I find it difficult to believe she is truly the only incompetent member of the Miami police force. I don't mind portrayals of incompetent and unintelligent women outright, but I definitely mind when all the female characters exhibit these traits when none of the men do.

The first season of Dexter lays the groundwork for a much improved and more satisfying season two. All of Dexter's secrets and background have been exposed for the viewer. The supporting cast of characters have been fleshed out. Michael C. Hall's performance was top-notch, and he gets this character in such a complete way I'm perhaps most eager to see his performance get even better.

Rating: 3 stars for the first half (loved it)/ 2 stars for the second half (liked it)
Bottom line: It's worth watching, both for the premise and Michael C. Hall's performance, but it's not the best show on television. Any program as original as Dexter is worth watching.

Monday, May 26, 2008

updike insight

Suddenly I want to read more John Updike:

"When she was dead, I rejoiced, to a degree. Her death removed a confusing presence from the world, an index to its unfulfilled potential. There. You see why I am not given to introspection. Scratch the surface, and ugliness pops up." - from "The Full Glass", published in The New Yorker, May 26, 2008

movie review: indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull

In my effort to rewatch every episode of Sex and the City before that film comes out, I did not even attempt my goal to rewatch all three Indiana Jones movies. I admit, a few references went over my head, but Spielberg's heavy handed techniques clued me into most references.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is perhaps the perfect summer movie; it is purely entertaining cinema. The script was weak and rather nonsensical at some points, but I didn't stop to think about the plot until the movie was over. My attention was captivated the entire time. A fair share of this credit must go to Shia LaBoeuf, Karen Allen and the surprisingly agile Harrison Ford. It's no secret I think Shia LaBoeuf is perhaps the finest actor of my generation, and he will win an Oscar before he's thirty. There were some cringe-inducing lines he had to deliver, but I didn't actually cringe. He made bad dialog seem natural, as he did in Transformers.

On an unrelated tangent, how weird were the random close-ups of ground hogs?

Is it a great movie? Not really. Was it an absolutely fantastic movie watching experience? Absolutely. Will I see it again? Probably not in the theater, but when that sure to come Indiana Jones box set comes out, I will likely buy it.

Rating: 2.5 stars (really liked it)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

sex and the city, round one

Since the release date for the Sex and the City was announced months ago, I vowed to rewatch every episode in May before I see the movie. I foolishly thought moving would allow me plenty of time to watch all 94 episodes. In actuality, I sat down to officially start this project and watch the first episode last Saturday, May 17. Two weeks is plenty of time for currently unemployed/job-seeking self to do something I enjoy doing anyway. It's worth noting my pursuit is not unique. Emily Gould is blogging her same experience, even more condensed than mine, for Jezebel under the clever tag living viCarrieously

It's generally accepted among fans the show gets better as it goes on. The early episodes are funnier than I remember, but I miss the bittersweetness that develops over time. There are scenes I find so ridiculous (i.e. Carrie freaking out when she farts in front of Mr. Big), I can't even take the episode seriously. It made me take Carrie less seriously too. When she breaks up with Mr. Big the very next episode because he won't say he loves her, it seems silly. She wants to hear I love you, but she can't deal with a fart. Truthfully, I've never been a fan of Mr. Big and Carrie together; I thought she should want (and deserved) better. What I'm realizing as I watch it from the beginning, however, is that Carrie is rather neurotic. Chris Noth's performance is better than I've ever given him credit for. This time around, at least so far, I think Mr. Big deserves, if not better, different than Carrie.

No show is perfect, but even season one is still immensely quotable. My absolute favorite from the season came from Miranda in episode ten, "The Baby Shower."

Maybe it's maturity, or the wisdom that comes with age, but the witch in Hansel and Gretel, she's very misunderstood. I mean, the woman builds her dream house, and these brats come along and start eating it!

Bring on season two.

new yorker movie reviews

One of my favorite parts of The New Yorker are the movie reviews. I don't mean the glowing reviews of art house movies my non-Manhattan dwelling self will finally get from Netflix two years from now. I look forward to reading the fine print in the "Now Playing" section about mainstream movies I know the reviewers will hate, but they still discuss it in a ridiculously high brow manner. Summer blockbuster season is ideal for my viewing pleasure. Here is a collection of this week's gems:

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
"This cinematic burlesque show, in which the baggy pants keep dropping and occasionally fall off altogether, is perhaps the first bottomless comedy---much of the humor, and a fair amount of the nakedness, is concentrated below the belt." Superfluous plot details. "The Harold & Kumar movies, in their slovenly way, mark the transition to a post-racial society in which, as the Salon movie critic Stephanie Zacharek put it, 'no one in real life can say definitively what an American looks like.'"

Iron Man
"Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark, billionaire arms manufacturer and playboy, almost completely dominated this whooshing junk pile."

Speed Racer
"The Wachowski brothers, picking up where they left off with the 'Matrix' trilogy, resume the task of bludgeoning our senses into submission."

"The villain, personified by Roger Allam, turns out to represent big business: an interesting choice of target for a major motion picture."

What Happens in Vegas
"If the title is a question, then the answer is not much."
For what it's worth, I enjoyed Iron Man. It's not a great film, but if one can suspend reality, it's a thoroughly enjoyable film with a good message. Referring to Favreau's good comic book movie as a "whooshing junk pile" displays a gross misunderstanding of what the film is.

I did not love Speed Racer as a movie, but if I were allowed to edit about an hour from it, completely remove the bratty little kid who couldn't act and his monkey, there's something there. It still wouldn't be a good movie, but the visual aesthetics of the film cannot be ignored. It's beautiful, exciting and unique. Unfortunately, the art direction didn't have a script to work with. Still, the visual contribution to the medium of film should be noted.

Ultimately, the reason I adore reviews of less than brilliant movies in The New Yorker so much is their reviewers don't take intention into consideration. These writers don't have guilty pleasure scales. If Iron Man can't stand up to Then She Found Me (described as "an affecting comedy about bright people acting on their emotions and screwing things up"), no comic book escape clauses will be allowed. No points for enjoyment will be given. Thankfully, that's exactly what makes the biting reviews so enjoyable to read.

law & order finale

As a brand new resident of New York state, I admit I squealed when I read the season finale of Law & Order was inspired by the Eliot Spitzer scandal. The episode started off a little dull, but soon high class hookers appeared. The detectives had little screen time this episode, although S. Epatha Merkerson still managed to steal every scene she appeared in. I confess I haven't seen an episode since Jesse L. Martin's departure, so I still can't comment on Anthony Anderson's role as the new detective. Regardless, this episode was written for Sam Waterston.

Despite the silly plot point that only Sam Waterston recognized the governor's voice as the mystery john, the writing was superb. Tom Everett Scott was so deliciously evil as the governor, I hope he acted his way into a regular role next season. In the end, the storyline of corrupt government and seedy dealings that is so unsatisfying in reality is the only ultimately gratifying way to end the episode and set up this venerable series for an even better season in the fall.

Law & Order
has long succeeded on an individual episode basis. With only a partial season to work with this spring, the writers created not just a procedural drama, but a character-driven drama of its own right. A.D.A. Michael Cutter, whom I despised in his first few episodes, was able to show depth and act as a sensible conservative counterpoint to Jack McCoy. A.D.A. Connie Rubirosa was able to have meaty storylines not involving McCoy. Detective Lupo subtly reigned in his behavior as he and Detective Green worked together.

At the end of the season, I believe it's the series best. To be truthful, however, I made the same claim this time last year. The writers took near cancellation seriously and subtly revamped the show without losing track of its center. There was not a single episode in this short season that was not excellent.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

first thoughts: the real world xx: hollywood

I haven't watched The Real World since the sixteenth season set in Austin. Each season, I find myself getting excited for the premiere, and I turn in to watch the first one or two episodes. Usually, I then discover most of the cast members to be either dull or irritating, and find the unfolding events rather elementary. I know the ignorant Southerner will have an awakening one episode. Although I do enjoy the liberalization of anyone, it's not new or usually enjoyable to see the ignorance leading up to the meltdown.

I hoped that this season would be different. The producers caveat was that each cast member has some aspirations of a career in entertainment. Would this season hearken back to the good old days of San Francisco, when Judd was already a semi-successful cartoonist and Pam was in medical school? Hardly, but at least these young people are only partially focused on getting drunk. As many cynics will note, reality television has not historically been a pathway to an actual career in a respectable entertainment field. Consequently, I believe, the cast is made of rather delusional optimists (Kim, Will and Sarah) and those who are grasping at any opportunity because they have so few to begin with (Joey and Brianna). All of the cast members have chosen career connections over alcohol at least once already. Several are cognizant of the short time they have to live in Hollywood for free and make a move.

Over the course of the four episodes, we've discovered that Joey and Brianna, who both mentioned prior addiction problems with drugs and alcohol, are dealing with frighteningly recent addictions. Brianna tells Sarah she has been off cocaine for only a few months. Joey confesses that when he used to have a problem with alcohol and cocaine, he meant four months ago. He admits he replaced those addictions with an addiction to working out and taking supplements. These two, I would imagine, were in the throes of addiction during the casting process. It's a frighteningly real portrayal of addiction and recovery rarely seen outside of programs such as Intervention, whose main focus is dealing with addiction. We all know that addiction is consuming, but more often than not many people around the addict are unaware. Most addicts are functioning, at least initially.

Episode four ends with Joey leaving for rehab. The sad truth is that given his background, rehab would be unattainable if not for MTV. MTV is doing the right thing by getting him help and allowing him to return to the show. Honestly, does the network have a choice? The producers were completely aware of Joey's addiction when they cast him. His problem was so severe the roommates held an intervention during the fourth episode. Can this viewer simultaneously praise and chastise MTV? Absolutely. MTV and Joey exploited one another. The network gets drama and ratings, and Joey gets the help he needs and likely otherwise would not have received.

I'm still tuning in to see each new episode. There is something more honest at work this season; There are some genuinely interesting and seemingly good people in the cast. I would hang out with many members of this cast. I hope the cast continues to deal with issues of realness; it's been enjoyable thus far. Yes, there's still ignorance, but as we've learned during this presidential campaign, ignorance is still a reality for far too many people in this country. I learned my own ignorance once already, courtesy of Sarah, who majored in women's studies. I imagine we were relatively like-minded. When she uttered the phrase, "I've studied women like Brianna in school", I winced. It seems an interdisciplinary cultural education in gender, racial and economic identity is not the litmus test I naively imagined it to be.

The Real World is certainly not the catalyst for change it was in the first few seasons, but I believe it's the closest to true it's been for years.