Arrested Development: Season 4 Review

            After seven long years, Arrested Developmenthas returned in what might be one of the most anticipated television events in history.  Therein lies a problem though.  With so much anticipation people seem to be forgetting that this series (while always one of the best on television during its initial run) was never perfect.  So while this new incarnation has its problems, Arrested Development is still as good as ever.  The new way in which the show decided to harness its ambition (this season follows a Rashomon-styled storyline) may create problems but also allows new avenues for Arrested Development to bring enjoyment.

            Arrested Development follows the continuing adventures of the Bluth family.  Season 4 centers around the events that transpire after Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter)’s maritime arrest and leads up to a Cinco de Cuatro (a holiday Lucille made up in protest of the Mexicans getting their own holiday) celebration that goes haywire.  Mitchell Hurwitz returned as showrunner and also directed all of the episodes along with Troy Miller (acclaimed TV comedy director).

            Let’s begin by saying that the Rashomon plotline works for the most part.  It was an ingenious idea by Mitchell Hurwitz and company to use the format as a way to inject freshness into the show.  However, the format does bring its own set of problems.  The early episodes (such as “Flight of the Phoenix”, “Indian Takers” and “Double Crossers”) tend to have major pacing problems as there is just way too much exposition and far too few jokes.  It also creates a bit of disappointment when the season finale, “Blockheads”, doesn’t wrap everything up.  Some of that has to do with the fact that this season was purposely left open-ended for the possibility of another season (which the finale seems to be hinting at) or the long discussed movie but it also has to do with Hurwitz and company not wrapping up all of the arcs in a perfect crescendo.  That being said the format also allows for some of the best episodes in the series’ run (such as “Colony Collapse” and “Senoritis”) as timelines criss-cross at an unbelievable rate and the jokes zip by just as fast.  The format also should allow for even more fun on repeat viewings as there is just so much going on you won’t be able to catch everything in one viewing.

            The cast is just as good as it once was but the change in format (from an ensemble comedy to a single character-centric comedy) makes some of the home run hitters a bit annoying while making some of the more annoying characters the home run hitters.  For example, there were a few times in the first three seasons where David Cross as Tobias suffered in comparison to the rest of the cast but as the star of two episodes in this season he is able to use his comedic tools to masterful effect.  Yet Portia de Rossi proved to be one of the better ensemble pieces in the first three seasons while she seemed to suffer in season four without enough people to play off of in her episodes.  Then again some of the home run hitters remained home run hitters no matter what format was used.  Will Arnett is the best example of this as he continued to make GOB the scene-stealer of the entire series.

            While this is probably the weakest season of Arrested Development’s run, season four is still able to capture the magic of previous seasons. 


Behind the Candelabra Review

            For a movie that might be one of the most buzzed about TV movies of all time (considering months of positive buzz and a highly publicized in-competition Cannes debut), Behind the Candelabra is surprisingly a lot of style over little substance.  Yet the movie still works.  It’s an incredible display of directing and acting, but with such a hollow script, Behind the Candelabra can never reach greatness.

            Behind the Candelabra follows the love affair between Liberace (played by Michael Douglas) and Scott Thorson (played by Matt Damon), and the relationship’s aftermath including a messy legal situation and a major health problem.  The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh (in what he is billing as his last film) and is written by Richard LaGravenese (an Oscar nominee for The Fisher King).

            This is quite a weird project for Steven Soderbergh to choose as his last film.  First of all, it’s a TV movie.  I know Soderbergh claims that the film was too “gay” for it to find major distribution, but the only thing that’s in this TV movie that hasn’t been seen in a major film before is a 5 second (or so) explicit sex scene that offered nothing other than making the actors’ performances seem more brave.  So I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Soderbergh’s interest in working in TV had more to do with it than distribution problems.  Second of all, this film’s script is not good.  The entire script tries to survive on the thinking that a gay relationship is enough to make the film seem new and risky, which is completely untrue.  There is no deeper meaning that this script is going after and the second-half of the movie devolves into a bunch of arguing matches between Liberace and Scott.  Then again Soderbergh’s career has always been weird as he tries to find every opportunity to go against the current. 

            The format and script also allows his directing to take center stage, which only reinforces him as a talented individual.  Soderbergh is able to make his actors work at the top of their game and keeps the film going at a brisk pace (despite most of it being composed of repetitive arguments and interactions).  He also brings a lot of visual flair to a story you would be surprised to see any in.

            While supporting players like Dan Aykroyd (probably the worst of the supporting turns by process of elimination), Rob Lowe (a performance greatly helped by a lot of silly makeup and an interesting hairstyle), Debbie Reynolds (great in maybe two scenes of screen-time) and Scott Bakula (almost unrecognizable) don’t get enough screen-time to make an impression, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are stunning in this film.  Damon is surprisingly adept at being able to bring a lot of youthful energy to his performance and (until the film finds an emotional center around Douglas’ Liberace in the final act) proves to be the highlight of the film for most of its duration.  Meanwhile, Michael Douglas delivers one of the best performances of his career.  He never allows his impersonation to delve into caricature and brings some real humanity to the performance.  However, it is in the final minutes of the film that Douglas brings his performance to the next level.  One of his final scenes is what Oscars are made of as he delivers one final speech that is easily one of the best-acted scenes of the year on any medium.

            Behind the Candelabra doesn’t bring TV movies to a new level but it is a solid film that allows directing and acting to take the front stage.


The Office: Season 9 Review

            Ever since Steve Carell left the show, The Office has been a shadow of its former self (and it was even showing major signs of weakness in Carell’s final seasons).  So this show would need a miracle to make its final season worthwhile.  While it is evident that the cast and crew tried their hardest, there was no miracle here.  The ninth season of The Office was a show that tried to clean up as much of its mess as possible only to discover that there was too much garbage to begin with.

            The ninth season of The Office followed multiple plotlines around the office.  The most major ones included Andy (Ed Helms) and Erin (Ellie Kemper)’s relationship falling apart after Andy leaves on a boat trip and Erin begins to fall for new employee Pete (played by Jake Lacy), Jim (John Krasinski)’s new sports marketing job putting a strain on his and Pam (Jenna Fischer)’s relationship and the continuing troubles of Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Angela (Angela Kinsey)’s problems.  Greg Daniels (who shepherded the best seasons on the show before leaving to run Parks and Recreation) returned to run the final season and the directing team included such high-profile names as Bryan Cranston, John Favreau and Daniels himself.

            The return of Greg Daniels brought hope that this show could be saved in time for the finale.  However, that was not the case as Daniels and company found a way to make the characters of the show even more annoying.  The Jim and Pam marital problems storyline was the definition of a waste of time as there was no way that the show was going to end that storyline with them breaking up.  Yet the show made these two characters go back and forth multiple times just to keep the story running throughout the entire season.  Also one of the saving graces of these past seasons (the Andy and Erin relationship) was completely demolished just to give one of the new characters (why were new characters being introduced in the final season?) more screen time. 

            Surprisingly, the show found some way to make Dwight (whose antics in previous seasons delved into insanity at multiple points) the emotional center of the show.  A lot of this has to do with Rainn Wilson’s strong work throughout the course of the season, but it is amazing (and a sign of how badly written the other characters were this past season) that such a crazy character could become the heart of the show.  Anytime, his character became the focus of the show (and especially towards the end of the season where he interacted with Jim more), the show actually became tolerable.

            Ultimately, this show concluded with an arc that included way too much time spent on arcs that began in the later seasons and montages of clips from the first few seasons.  A Steve Carell cameo was fun but it was not enough to save a show that was probably beyond saving.  At its best The Office was a show that was somehow better than the series it was based off of but at its worst (like this past season) it was one of the worst shows on television.


Star Trek Into Darkness Review

            While advertised as a reboot, J.J. Abrams created a new way to reinvent a failing franchise with 2009’s Star Trek.  While working as a sequel to the original series and the subsequent films, Abrams also found a way to make his film completely new.  While the film easily could have been confusing it turned out to be one of the better blockbusters in recent memory.  Star Trek Into Darkness continues Abrams’ reboot-sequel series.  While it isn’t as structurally sound as its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is able to make it worth your while by allowing its talented ensemble to carry the weight of the film.  While the logic may become a little sillier and the action sequences a bit repetitive, the film saves itself by allowing the characters to go to a more emotional place.

            Star Trek Into Darkness follows the USS Enterprise crew as they are told to launch weapons of mass destruction of a mysterious nature at a rogue Starfleet agent (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) who is hiding in Klingon space.  As the crew gets closer to their target, they learn that not everything is as it appears (especially in regards to the rogue Starfleet agent).  The film is directed by J.J. Abrams and is written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof.

            J.J. Abrams had a tough act to follow after the success of the first film in Abrams’ (soon to be short?) tenure as director of the Star Trek franchise.  Abrams and his creative team’s solution to this problem seems to be just throwing everything that Trekkies love onto the screen.  Everything that Trekkies complained was missing from the first film is present here to the point that this film acts as much as a sequel to a certain Original Series film as it does the 2009 Star Trek.  Surprisingly this never seems like fan service (other than in one scene where a cameo is wasted with a bunch of exposition), and the film is even able to make two big homages in the third act seem natural.

            Yet it’s not this fusion between fan service and plot that makes the film work.  Through two films the Abrams Star Trek series has proven that it is presently the best franchise when it comes to character development and interaction.  Chris Pine and (especially) Zachary Quinto go even further than they did in their first film with their portrayals of Kirk and Spock respectively.  We are lucky to get just one well-developed character in a summer blockbuster, but with this film we get two.  Supporting members such as Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin and Simon Pegg also get at least one moment to shine each.  However, much of the promotional focus around this film has been around Benedict Cumberbatch’s mysterious villain.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t get as much screen time as he probably deserved (he disappears for a large chunk of the film early on and the film doesn’t conclude his arc by the time the credits roll).  However, Cumberbatch is brilliant as the character.  Growling lines such as “I am better at everything than you”, Cumberbatch is able to combine the skills he deftly displays in his breakout performance as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlockwith a physicality that I didn’t know he would be able to pull off.

            While not as good as its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is a solid blockbuster that is able to find just as much room for character development as it does spectacle.


Manhunt Review

            This past winter Kathryn Bigelow’s hunt for Osama bin Laden film, Zero Dark Thirty, was receiving a lot of buzz (both for its critical acclaim and the torture controversy surrounding the film).  So much so that it proved that there was only enough room for one hunt for bin Laden film on the market at the time as Manhunt (this time a documentary) made an under-the-radar debut at the Sundance Film Festival.  It had its television premiere on HBO this past Wednesday.  Ultimately, Manhunt is able to evade the trashiness of Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden but isn’t able to rise to the heights of Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Award winning thriller.

            Manhunt follows the CIA’s decades long hunt for Osama bin Laden with special focus on a group of women who focused on the man before the attacks on 9/11.  The film is directed by documentarian Greg Barker.

            It is difficult to not make comparisons between this film and Zero Dark Thirty.  Both cover most of the same ground and even feature similar characters.  However, the difference between the two is that Zero Dark Thirty is a sharply edited thriller interested in making a compelling story out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden whereas this film is a documentary interested with getting to the bottom of every single element of the hunt without having all of the information resulting in an oddly edited mess. 

            Manhunt is a much more wide-ranging film than it’s Oscar winning cousin as the starting point for Zero Dark Thirty is about halfway through this film.  However, with a film that is very interested in talking about how Osama bin Laden was captured it never actually really shows how he was captured.  The film opens with a shot of the now infamous compound in Abbottabad and explains how this film is going to show the entire process of capturing bin Laden.  Yet the film pretty much wraps it up with the death of Jennifer Matthews at the hands of an Al-Qaeda triple agent in what is the film’s most horrifying and effective sequence.  Missing almost completely is how the CIA was able to get to the courier and then to bin Laden.

            Manhunt is a seemingly well-made documentary.  However, all the CIA talking heads and ominous footage of actual terrorist attacks and propaganda can’t hide the fact that this is a film that laid out its thesis clearly and then didn’t deliver on it.


Iron Man Three Review

            The Marvel Cinematic Universe all began with the 2008 release of Iron Man (which is a film I don’t think any other in the series has eclipsed yet) and so for the beginning of the MCU’s Phase Two it just seemed right that they would turn back to the big metal guy and the lovable narcissist behind him to kick it all off.  Iron Man Three (as it is written in the film) may not reach the heights of Iron Man but it is a strong conclusion to the Iron Man Trilogy.

            Iron Man Three picks up with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the aftermath of the events of The Avengers.  Tony is a mess as he is suffering from PTSD from the battle with the Chitauri (the aliens from The Avengers).  Matters only get worse when a scientist from his past (Guy Pearce) tries to court Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a terrorist going by the name of Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins to orchestrate bombings.  Barely hanging in, Tony tries to find out how the Mandarin is orchestrating all of these attacks in order to stop him.  The film is directed by Shane Black (who helped kick start Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and is written by Black and Drew Pearce.

            Kevin Feige (the mastermind producer behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe) once said in an interview that Phase Two is going to be about taking the characters we already know and putting them in different genres.  While Iron Man Three is still a blockbuster action film in line with its predecessors, this is definitely a film that is a large step away from the norm for Iron Man films.  Shane Black does a fantastic job in bringing a sense of freshness to the series without losing the things that make Iron Man great (funny banter masking the horrifying events that are only a step or two away from being from real life).  Not only are these attributes amplified under the direction of Black (the film somehow finds a way to be the funniest and darkest of the trilogy) but they are added with the usual zaniness and crisp plotting of a Black film.  Even when the plot doesn’t work (which only really happens in the third act where the film gets a bit bogged down in the Extremis plotline), Black is able to pull out all of the stops with the best action sequences in the entire trilogy (a mid-air evacuation of Air Force One and a final battle featuring multiple Iron Men are the highlights).

            It has been obvious ever since he first appeared onscreen in the suit that the defining role of Robert Downey Jr.’s career would be Iron Man/Tony Stark.  Here he takes his performance to the next level.  Downey Jr. brings a sense of vulnerability to the role that we have never truly seen before in the character and the film’s idea to strip Tony Stark down to what he really is does wonders for Downey Jr.  It is one of the best performances of his career, let alone the Iron Man series.  Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, (the criminally underrated) James Badge Dale and (especially) Ben Kingsley do great work as the film’s antagonists while Don Cheadle does his best work yet in the series.  The most surprising performance in the film, though, belongs to Ty Simpkins who is able to evade the problems normally associated with child performances.  The one weak link of the cast turned out to be Gwyneth Paltrow, who can’t quite handle her upgraded role.

            Iron Man Three concludes with an odd sense of finality.  I doubt this is the last we’ve seen of Tony Stark (in fact the credits say as much), but this film is a fitting conclusion to the character if it is.


AllTrail's Connecticut Top 10

If you ever want to get into hiking there is no greater app that I could recommend than AllTrails. Due to a large user base, AllTrails has o...

Popular Posts