Archive for December, 2010

December 28, 2010

Queue Up Some “Weeds”

Weeds has been one of the best shows on television since its inaugural campaign in 2005.  It combines outrageous stoner-humor with “high” tension wonderfully.  I honestly don’t know how the creators of the series have kept it as funny and fresh as they have for this long when most shows have three or, tops, four good seasons as a shelf-life.  The acting is simply great.  Mary-Louise Parker is stunningly gifted and gorgeous as Nancy Botwin.  However, the comedy is mostly provided by the side-splitting sarcasm of Justin Kirk, who plays Parker’s brother-in-law, Andy.  Nancy’s two sons do an admirable job as well (Silas will provide you girls out there with something to look at, while the rest of us gape at Parker).

The premise of the show is this: Nancy’s husband tragically died some time ago, leaving her alone to raise two sons.  In order to maintain their upper-middle class lifestyle, Nancy takes to dealing marijuana in her suburban Los Angeles community.  Especially early on in the series, many of the main conflicts are sparked because men in the drug trade try to take advantage of her.  Andy is in tow to help out with the kids as they develop through grade school.  Kevin Nealon plays a local, Doug, who is one of Nancy’s best customers and friends.  And Elizabeth Perkins portrays Celia who is kinda, I guess another one of Nancy’s friends.

The most intriguing part of the series is that the audience is really challenged at times to sympathize with the main character.  We love Nancy because she is charming, hip, good-natured, (fucking hot) and ultimately is doing all of this for the benefit of her children.  However, I for one, see her get into many sticky situations and find myself wondering if she shouldn’t have just sold their huge house and gotten a normal job in the first place.  As the show progresses, her life choices glaringly and detrimentally affect her sons.  And the rising sexual tension between her and Andy create more confusion for her already wracked brain.  Regardless, if nothing else, the trials she experiences are quite thrilling and smile-inducing.

So get on Netflix right away and thrust Weeds Season 1 to the top of your queue and you’ll agree that this show has not gotten nearly enough attention as it deserves.

December 28, 2010

Amendments to “Inception” and “Coen Bros.” Posts

My Previous Coen Bros. Post

Inception Part II

I got a chance to see Barton Fink and Blood Simple – the other two Coen Bros. movies that I conveniently left out of my post on their canon.  Barton Fink, in my opinion, is a film that you, like I did til last week, can skip.  It was a decent movie, relatively speaking, but by far the worst work of the Coens.  However, as it also turned out to be the case with True Grit (I Told Ya So), Barton Fink too falls within the observation I made about the Coens’ running theme of the consequences of excessive desire.  In this film, the title character seeks to have commercial and financial success as a writer while maintaining artistic integrity.  With that set up, the Coens state their gripe with Hollywood and the idea of selling out through the film.  Again, not a bad film, but this has been said quite a few different ways in quite a few different places.  With Blood Simple, the Coens’ first feature-length work and breakout release, all four major characters suffer from overzealous want.  Ray wants a married woman, Abby.  Abby wants Ray, but is married to Marty.  Marty wants Abby to continue to be his trophy wife.  And the P.I. wants money for a job he is unwilling to do.  With multiple Macbeth allusions, madness ensues.  This is a must see.

A couple of things have been brought to my attention about the Inception posts.  The biggest one being that Miles is, in fact, Mal’s father, not Cobb’s.  The plot synopsis on says as much, though I don’t know how that is made terribly evident in the film itself.  It is also strange considering that seemingly everyone in the film thinks it was Cobb’s fault that Mal “committed suicide.”  Yet his father-in-law would not, even after Cobb flees?  My feelings on the film working better as a miniseries are still maintained.  However, I’ll say that some tweaking to the new story lines in the early episodes that I presented is due.  Perhaps Miles becomes acquainted with Cobb in the military and takes a liking to the boy; there’s something innocent and pure about him.  Then, obviously, this makes way for Cobb’s relationship with Mal.  The other oversight in my posts was that Yusuf was a new addition to Cobb’s network.  Still, the point I was trying to make was that over the course of the 13 episode miniseries, the audience would have a chance to have greater sympathy towards all the characters, thus building tension and excitement as the plot progresses.  If Yusuf were introduced earlier, then this would hold up for his character, along with Eames, Arthur, and the like.

December 23, 2010

True Grit – I Told Ya So

The latest of the Brothers Coen was released nationwide today and it did not disappoint.  True Grit had a lot in it that was expected, but some very pleasant surprises as well, the first being Matt Damon’s performance.  The LaBoeuf character presented a lot of challenges for him; there’s a paradoxical confidence about him, trimmed with an awkward dorkiness due to his pride in being a Texas Ranger.  But Damon pulls this off wonderfully.  If you see the film, you’ll find it shocking that I’d list Damon’s part here over the newbie Hailee Steinfeld’s offering as Mattie.  She is perhaps more impressive than Damon considering, obviously, her age and the fact that she took on what is essentially the lead role in the film.  However, Damon’s character could have easily been a throw-away and he saw to enrich the piece as much as the script would possibly allow with a high degree of success.

Then there’s Bridges.  He is the main reason why viewers will call this movie “character-driven.”  He won the Oscar for his role in Crazy Heart-a great performance in a not-so-great movie-just last year.  I wish the Academy had waited 12 more months though.  I doubt they will give him back-to-back statues and I argue that he would be more deserving of one this season as opposed to last.  Bridges masterfully mixes subtle movements and one-eyed looks with blatant comedic timing, bringing Cogburn’s flawed, yet heroic character to life.  I’ve heard some commentary on how well-written the film is, but that Bridges delivers a lot of great dialogue with an excessive garble.  Not so.  Just pay attention and you’ll catch some lines that could turn out to be legendary.  And Bridges’ speech patterns are there for a reason: to characterize Cogburn, which he does most deftly.

Lastly, as anticipated, and without giving too much away, Mattie’s character (maybe all the characters, come to think of it) certainly does find herself embattled with excessive desire.  I was in awe of her strength of character (again, incredibly well-delivered by the actress).  The Coens make this overtly apparent in the opening sequences of the film.  This made me a bit anxious to see if my prediction from my previous article on this film and filmmakers would prove correct.  I’ll simply say that it does.  To find out how, go see the flick.  I would strongly urge you to do so.

December 23, 2010

Are You A “RepliCAN” Or A “RepliCANT”?

Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner has gotten more critical talk in the near three decades since its release than maybe any other box office flop in that span.  Not counting the multiple subsequent re-releases, the film lost $9 million for the studio, falling short of $20 million gross (Box Office).  I’ve heard that it initially wasn’t well-received because audiences anticipated and yearned for another Harrison Ford, Star Wars-esque sci-fi action flick that would hold them over until Revenge of the Jedi (A handful of you know that’s not a typo.).  What found its way onto the big screen in 1982 was a less-than-moderately paced look into a gloomy future of planet Earth, where rain is constant and most are looking for ways to flee to the “Off World Colonies.”  The film has mere pockets of action, but is rich in themes that are now more recognizable and appreciated as technology races forward, becoming an increasingly integral part of our lives.

The movie crept onto, count ’em, three syllabi in my graduate school study…of English Literature, no less.  And what would inherently come up (By the third time, weeks in advance of actually viewing the film, I’d already begun organizing a mental pool on which of my peers would mention this first in class.  It, most unfortunately, wound up being the super-cute, pink-haired feminist who sat across the semi-circle from me.) was the question as to whether Rick Deckard is a Replicant or not.  The first time I’d seen it, I completely missed that as a possibility altogether (You too, eh?).  After that, I picked up on what really is the only shred of evidence that the protagonist could be a Replicant: the unicorn.

When Deckard does research on the Replicants that he has been asked to come out of retirement to hunt down and “retire” as well, he finds himself testing Rachael, a new Replicant creation of the Tyrell Corporation to see if she is one of them.  Rachael actually thinks that she is, in fact, human.  How was Tyrell able to gain this desired effect?  By encrypting memories into the robot’s system.  In trying to come to grips with the reality that she is not a real person, Rachael soon seeks the council of Deckard, falling for him in the process.  Deckard somehow feels compelled to requite this affection as well.  Later, he is seen contemplating his current case at his apartment when the screen flashes a quick shot of a unicorn.  A shift in gaze tells the audience Deckard is thinking of the mythological animal that could have quite possibly been “invented” by then.  After all of the Replicants have been vanquished, Deckard chooses to flee with Rachael because he fears for the “life” of his new love.  However, his partner in blade running, the origami master, Gaff, has left a tiny paper unicorn close to his front door, hinting at the notion that Gaff knows of the implemented, manufactured memories of the Replicant Deckard and that other law enforcement will be looking to retire the new lovers as well.  The screen turns to credits, creating an air of ambiguity around the film’s conclusion.

Though the famed unicorn is an exhibit of evidence pointing to Deckard’s identity as a Replicant, there are other things that need to be taken into serious consideration before coming to a conclusion on this matter, my fine, committed reader.

Let’s say just for shits ‘n’ giggles that the police force powered this Deckard up to track down and retire these other four Replicants.  That might explain the very odd fact that Deckard has not been on active duty for some time, yet has been able to maintain the lifestyle of a person with a full-time job (and he does seem to be a bit on the young side to be collecting a robust enough pension that would support his means).  However, what is infinitely more important, and, perhaps, puzzling, is that the Replicants Deckard has been charged with finding are new, elite models: The Nexus-6’s.  He’s nearly choked to death by Zhora. (Fearing her identity being unveiled by witnesses to a murder, Zhora instead flees her busy dressing room and is shot in the back by a trailing Deckard.)  He should have been killed by Leon, but was bailed out by Rachael.  He’s lucky to have killed Priss (Let’s be honest).  And Batty is clearly capable of killing Deckard with ease.  We see him toying with Deckard for quite some time and Batty grabs his arm before Deckard falls off the side of the building to his certain death.  Why would the blade runner unit use an inept, perhaps outdated Replicant model to hunt down others of a superior quality?  That would lead to certain failure.  It makes much more sense to explain Deckard’s near inability to kill these Replicants on the fact that he is merely a human being who, yes, has much experience as a Blade Runner, but little of late, and absolutely none in facing Nexus 6’s.

Another point that easily deposes the idea that Deckard’s true identity is that of a Replicant, and is closely related to the previous one, is that Deckard does not know he is a Replicant, which is a feature that Tyrell specifically touts as one of a brand new model of these droids that is of an even higher quality than the Nexus 6’s!  Add all this shit up.  Now the argument for Deckard being a Replicant is that Tyrell made a model that is better than the Nexus 6, would not be self-aware, but also not be able to take a Nexus 6 in a fight, which is what the fucking police force hired it to do…Yeah…right.

One of the film’s main themes that emerges from Batty’s speech towards the end, aimed at Deckard, is that as technology grows and people become more dependent upon it, the humanity of mankind will wither away.  As Deckard (or is that Indy?) perilously holds onto the steel thingamajig that hangs off the side of the building, Batty says to him, “Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it?  That’s what it is to be a slave.”  Tyrell and Co. (TYCO?) created these self-aware machines only to be oppressed laborers.  They have no freedom and a very finite lifespan.  Man has no sympathy for these machines that do possess real feelings.  Throw in all of the obvious Jesus allusions (that huge spike through the palm, while Batty tries to stay alive to convey said theme) and symbols of purity (his incredibly light hair and the grasped dove that comes out of fucking nowhere) and you have a being whose mission is to deliver a message, a new truth to those who persecute him – a message that Tyrell couldn’t comprehend or “see,” hence the Coke-bottle spectacles and the manner unto which Batty murders him (crushing Tyrell’s eyeballs back into his skull).

The director’s goal to communicate this theme about a potential loss of humanity would not be properly executed if Deckard were a Replicant because there would then just be two robots in love, which was already possible with earlier versions of the Replicants anyway, like the Nexus 6’s.  So there’s no need to tell this story with updated machines.  On the flip side, with Deckard being a certified human, and having him fall in love with a robot, the lesson rings true because the lines have been so blurred between what is natural and what has been fabricated by man.  With Deckard, “the real,” standing next to Rachael, “the manufactured,” and the viewer not able to see any actual differences between the two, then a loss of humanity is observed in Deckard, while a more palpable humanity surfaces in Rachael.

Plus it’s incredibly obvious in the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” which the movie is based on, that Deckard is clearly a man.

December 21, 2010

“Inception” X 13 = Quality + Quantity (Final Installment)

***Be sure to have read Part III of this post***

Episode 12: “Security Breach”

One of the most important plot points of Inception is almost completely glossed over by Nolan.  When the team finally infiltrates Fischer’s dream, they are met with resistance.  Why?  Cobb explains in their hideout that Fischer had undergone “training” to protect his mind.  And Arthur had failed to uncover that fact.  This sets up the violence that persists throughout the rest of the film, yet its genesis was relegated to about three lines of dialogue.

In this chapter of the miniseries, the much anticipated abduction of Fischer’s mind will begin.  Tension is built as they all board the plane separately.  The sedative is added to Fischer’s drink (If they bought off the first class stewardess, then why did Leo have to poison the drink?).  Fischer and the team fall asleep.  Then, BOOM.  Halfway through the episode, Fischer’s mind security shows up.  The team is woefully unprepared.  The audience is stunned and has some serious doubts as to whether or not they can actually pull Inception off.  Little-to-no mention of infiltration defense has occurred in this miniseries since Episode 3.  To bring this back into the viewer’s mind at this point in the story would be an enormous shock.

This episode ends with Cobb’s team trying to get out of their hideout as they are surrounded by Fischer’s defense.

Episode 13: “Home”

See the last hour of the film.


Now, imagine the impact it would have on you, the viewer of Inception: The Miniseries if you saw that top wiggle a bit, but still precariously spinning, on Cobb’s dining room table, and the screen cuts to black…

You watched 13 hours that was prolonged over 13 weeks of your life (That’s a trimester!).  The discussions you had with your friends and family about how original the story was, how incredible the visuals were, how unparalleled in the history of television it had been to watch the best American writer/director bring his talents to the small screen, and have the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levett, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Tom Berenger, and Cillian Murphy, established stars and actors, show up at different points in the show, not all at once in the first episode…Then…credits…

The response in the media and society would make the finale of The Sopranos seem like the finale of M*A*S*H*.

The discussion as to whether or not Cobb actually made it back to his real home or a home somewhere in limbo would be relentless.  It would be inescapable.  Fights would break out over it in Lower East Side taverns.  Television critics would have filler for weeks.  Both Jesus and Elvis would return and immediately subscribe to Netflix in anticipation of the DVD release.

None of this happened because Christopher Nolan and Hollywood decided to make this a summer blockbuster…a damn good one, but not an all-time great that would have radically changed the possibilities and expectations of film making.  After all, Inception is only number 40 on the all-time list.  Toy Story 3 is number 9.