Monday, May 31, 2004

From the Far Ends of the World to the End of the World in 2 Days (Vol. II)

What else can I say about The Day After Tomorrow, other than that it is quite possibly the most colossally stupid and nonsensical movie ever? Oh, and that I enjoyed it immensely.
Troy and Van Helsing may or may not have made more sense (I'm not sure), but they weren't half as much fun.
Here’s a neat game. Try to pick your favorite awesomely inane, forehead-slappingly ridiculous moment. Betcha can’t chose just one, not without slighting some other equally deserving gem. By a slim margin, mine would probably be when Jake and his homeboys are literally outrunning “cold,” but seriously, ask me tomorrow and I’ll have another favorite.

From the Far Ends of the World to the End of the World in 2 Days (Vol. I)

Saw Troy the day before yesterday and The Day After Tomorrow the day before today. Bad word of mouth had tempered any previous hopes I’d held for either.
Troy reminded me in several ways of Pearl Harbor. First, both movies were based on historical concepts that would seem to be perfect for summer movie adaptation. However, after seeing each movie, you realize that there are fundamental flaws in the events they’ve chosen to depict that would preclude even the greatest filmmakers from making a movie that works. In Troy, the only solution I could think of would be to shift the point-of-view entirely to Hector and the Trojans (although that would require a too-brave studio-exec signing off on turning one of the most legendary heroes in Western civilization into the bad guy, not to mention having an even bigger downer of an ending). There are a number of other inherent problems with a 2004 adaptation (I’m sorry, inspired-by-daptation) of Homer, but none of them really matter because…
Troy is a bad movie.
Plain and simple.
Some of the dialogue is atrocious. The rest is just bad. The acting is bad. The liberties taken with the plot of the original story don’t help anything. And yet, I found myself kinda going along with the ride. In these ways, I was also reminded of Pearl Harbor. As with that failure, I knew it was bad while I was watching it, but I liked it anyway. With most bad movies I either get angry or giggly. Not with Pearl Harbor and Troy.
The one tragic deviation between these two movies is that Pearl Harbor looked amazing. The cinematography was beautiful and say what you will about Michael Bay, but the man can shoot an exciting action scene (not necessarily appropriate for a film about a tragic day that will live in infamy, but exciting nonetheless). I was shocked by how dull Troy looked. In a setting and genre that would seem to be impossible to make appear flat and unspectacular, Wolfgang Peterson and his crew rose to the challenge and defied expectations. Now, I’m no fan of editing-by-blender, but for eighty percent of the movie, Peterson just set the camera on a tripod for a generic master shot and never bothered to switch things up with visually-dynamic angles or movement, while the lighting lacked any of the artistry of Gladiator or The Patriot.
Oh, and just when I thought the worst had passed, that song came up over the end credits. I’ve heard Gabriel Yared’s original closing song, and all I can say is “What were they thinking when they replaced it with this abomination?” Ugh.
Still, I didn’t hate the movie.
My thoughts on The Day After Tomorrow will be up sooner than that…

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Blogging...

When did the Chinese Theatre start digitally projecting movies?
It seems to be a slightly major (relatively, within the world of completely inconsequential triviality that is Hollywood) turning point when the most famous movie theater in the world switches projection formats. I was surprised (and more than a little dismayed) when the digital projection logo popped up on the ginormous screen before Troy. I remembered that the theater equipped itself back when Lucas threatened to only show Episode II in ones and zeroes, but last summer I saw both X2 and The Matrix Reloaded there in glorious celluloid. So has Grauman’s completely crossed over now?
While the quality was better than the last time I saw a movie in digital, there was still something noticeably… off about the picture. I’m not one to cling to old technologies for the sake of nostalgia, I just prefer superior quality.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The One That Got Away

In compiling my reactions to May TV, I’ll start in the same place I started when I got home at one a.m.: Friends.
Before I get into it, some personal background to show you where I’m coming from:
First, I take series finales very seriously. The more I loved a series, the more critically I judge the finale. Wrapping up a long running, constantly evolving piece of art (which a television series is, to me) with satisfying closure is incredibly difficult, as evidenced by the sparse number of finales truly worthy of their series. With all the expectations that build up over the run of a show, it’s no wonder that ninety-nine percent of the finales disappoint on some level.
Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few that I would give the thumbs up to, and even those were somewhat disappointing (I wasn’t alive or wasn’t watching live-action shows when such classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Newhart and M*A*S*H signed off). I remember liking the Cheers finale, though at the time I had seen only a handful of episodes, so I wasn’t fully invested in the characters. I’m one of the few people that really liked the Seinfeld finale. It wasn’t perfect, and perhaps it deviated too much from the brilliant format of the series, but thematically and tonally it was just right.
The only other sendoff I can think of right now that worked for me (prior to this season) is that of Dawson’s Creek. I’d only watched it sporadically since the third season, but the conclusion was, much to my surprise and embarrassment, emotionally wrenching and satisfying. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
This summer, Futurama had a surprisingly poignant farewell (if you even knew it was on) with a strong sense of closure considering the writers didn’t know if it would indeed mark the end of their underrated series.
In February, I had mixed feelings about the Sex and the City goodbye. It was well written and well acted and it struck the right emotional chord, but it wasn’t an episode of Sex and the City. The final two episodes completely neglected the most important element of the show: the friendship of the four women
Second, you should know how I feel about Friends. I’ve been there for them (and they for me) since the first episode I watched, which was their fourth (and the first not airing opposite My-So-Called-Life). While each one of the Friends was at some point during the show’s run my favorite (and my least favorite), the series was always one of my favorites. Even when I felt frustrated with the quality of the show or the direction the characters were going in, I was obsessed. A few years ago, when Entertainment Weekly’s Friends Episode Guide arrived in the mail, it helped me appreciate the many brilliant story arcs even more. I own all the seasons released on DVD so far, and will probably keep on buying them, despite the fact that I think the show started going downhill after everyone found out about Monica and Chandler (with an all-too-brief renaissance at the front of the eighth season when Rachel got pregnant). The characters all seemed to become either parodies of or nothing like themselves. I grew tired of Monica and Chandler stories (and they were rarely paired with anyone else, seriously limiting the mixing and matching possibilities) and felt icky through the whole Joey & Rachel fiasco (like the characters and the writers, I like to pretend it never happened). Yet, as the hype machine started rolling and the final episodes began airing, I found myself caring more than I thought I did. Although it sprung up a little too suddenly, the rekindling of the Ross and Rachel romance really got me (I think this is where the final season was hindered by the abbreviated number of episodes). And knowing how the creative team always conjured up great season finales, I psyched myself up for a very special farewell.
I was on an airplane on May Sixth, and didn’t get to watch “The Last One” until May Twenty-Fifth. I had been eagerly anticipating it throughout my European vacation (even suffering a TiVo-anxiety dream related to it). Needless to say, I was disappointed. It’s not that it was a horrible episode or an affront to the show I loved (it wasn’t Roseanne). It just wasn’t anything special. Joey and Phoebe had nothing to do (which I guess would be in keeping with the show’s format, something I look for in a finale). Another thing I like in a series finale is a sense of history, of moments from throughout the run. Friends had this in spades, but every one of the references (the chick and the duck, the foosball table, the “break” comment) felt shoehorned in.
As if the series hadn’t had enough births over the years, it seems like we’ve heard about nothing but Monica and Chandler wanting a baby since… I think since Rachel had her baby, so that whole part of the finale felt tedious (maybe people who don’t hate M&C weren’t as bored). Leaving the Ross and Rachel “story,” which didn’t have much tension, though I was moved in the end and sad to say goodbye to the lot of them.
I’m not sure how I would’ve improved the send off, except to suggest to Marta Kaufman and David Crane to heed their own words. On every DVD commentary, they talk about how their best episodes are the ones where they get all six of the Friends together in a room. While an hour of that might not provide enough scope for a series finale, a little more of it would’ve helped (just as with Sex and the City). I will give them this, though: the final scene was just about right.
That’s all for now. Is it bad that by the time I finished the epic prologue, I realized I didn’t have all that much to say about the actual show? Stay tuned for my thoughts on the finales of Frasier, Angel, Alias, 24, The West Wing, The Gilmore Girls and The Sopranos.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

A Whole Sack of Couch Potatoes

Having been out of the country (though not totally out of the American popular culture atmosphere) for two and a half weeks, I’ve spent the last four days recuperating from jet lag and playing catch up with all that I missed (an on-going process on both counts). Some people return from long vacations to piles of mail and dead houseplants; I was greeted by an overflowing TiVo and a long list of movies to see.
For television junkies like myself, there’s no worse time to travel than the height of May sweeps, particularly one as jam-packed with series’ swan songs as this. Watching this many hours of my favorite programs in such quick succession has been exhausting, exhilarating and occasionally revelatory. Over the next several posts I’ll be unleashing my thoughts on some of these series’ final episodes and seasons-as-a-wholes.

The Shoulders of Giants

Before I begin posting in earnest, a word about my influences in writing this column (and requisite reading if you are to study in my lab). First and foremost, David Poland’s exceptional Hot Button site. I’ve been a faithful daily reader since his Roughcut days in 1997. If there’s a more forthright, insightful and evenly opinionated daily analysis of the movie biz out there, I haven’t found it.
More recently I’ve become infatuated with TV Gal – my imaginary girlfriend whom I imagine looks like Tina Fey (whom I’m also imaginarily in love with, and continue to grow more so in spite of Weekend Update’s declining quality). I often doodle the name “Mr. TV Gal” over and over in my diary while dreaming of our Trista & Ryan-esque nuptials and thinking about how well our TiVo’s will play (and pause) together.
Finally, I must acknowledge a stylistic debt to my glossy bible of the last eleven years, Entertainment Weekly. It has molded my voice in the discourse on popular culture.
I absorb many other outlets, on-line, on-the-tube and on-the-page, however these three are my primary sources of tonal inspiration at the moment (that I can think of).

I've Created Lutherans!

Beginning anything is hard to do. Ending something well may be harder, but beginning it is tough regardless of quality. This is true of relationships, movies, television shows, writing, creating the universe and, I imagine, weblogs. Although an online junkie, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this corner of the world wide web. The only blog I’ve perused with even a hint of regularity is that of the purported movie-star Rance.
Yet my mind had been overflowing with inconsequential pop-cultural observations and a blog seems the perfect outlet. I have several hopes for this page. I hope that I maintain it with some degree of consistency. I hope that what I write is of interest or amusement to anyone other than myself. On that note, I hope this site finds an audience (or vice versa… I’m not really sure how that process works in the blog community).
At the outset, I intend to focus entirely on the magnificent pop-culture landscape without delving into the real world (ours or mine). However, as art and life are so often interchangeable and/or complimentary, that may prove to be impossible. But if you want to know what some face-less stranger had for breakfast, click the “Back” arrow.
At a later date, I intend to expound upon the importance of pop-culture and my philosophy toward it, but neither Rome nor the Universe (Big Bang Theory aside) were built in a day.
And so it begins…