Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Television 09/30/12: The Emmy Champ is Back


'Homeland' had such an tightly plotted and thrilling first season that after the immensely climatic finale, there was always the question of what they would do next. And the Emmy sweep the show experienced on Sunday didn't really help to lower the expectations. After watching the second season's first episode, I really couldn't say I've figured out where creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa are going with the season, but I feel comfortable enough with a couple of guesses. 

In many ways, 'Homeland' season two starts in the most predictable way possible. Just when Carrie (Claire Danes) thought she was out of the game for good, they pull her back in for a job only she can pull off. Which feels a little expected, but is something that I will not hold against the show having only seen little development of the plot-line they're going for. And also for getting that out of the way almost entirely in the first episode instead of unnecessarily stretching it out. By the end of this hour, Carrie is getting enemies out of her way and enjoying it. It's a nice little moment to remind us that Carrie is very well-fitted for her job and also extremely good at it (I wonder if Aaron Sorkin watches this show). 

Plot is not the only predictable way this season is starting out. Because, like I said, the first season relied on plot so much and because the writers are in for the long haul, I was assuming the show would be more character-focused on its second year. And it seems like they are. Especially in regards to now Congressman Brody (Damian Lewis). 

The season opened with muslims protesting at the U.S. embassy in Beirut with a note that feels incredibly well timed in mirroring real life events. With it came the show asking some heavier questions in the field of morality. Now, the first season had some of these questions, but it seems like they are really getting into it now. Let's think of the scene with Brody's daughter Dana at the school, in which she stands up against the Iran bombing and accidentally reveals that her father is a muslim.

Nobody takes it seriously, of course, but the show does this to start asking questions. They spend a good chunk of season one developing the relationship between Brody and Dana and it seems a good idea to me to set out to explore it now. This kind of relationship is the stuff good drama is made of. Dana speaks for finding a humane solution and understanding for the "muslim problem", a point of view inspired by her muslim father. But her father, at the same time, is a terrorist. 

I don't think the show is leaning on any side of the political spectrum right now and I hope it doesn't in the future. A lot has been said about how 'Homeland' is basically a more high-brow version of '24', which Gordon and Gansa worked for. It was a fun show, but a pretty dumb one. 

What could really set 'Homeland' apart, is if it took a more nuanced approach to politics than '24's outright conservatism (but also not falling for outright liberal views). Here's hoping it achieves this in its sophomore year. 

What Else Was On?

The Simpsons: "Moonshine Fever"
Season 24 kicked off with Zooey Deschanel dropping by Springfield to play Mary, Cletus' daughter and Bart's love interest. In order to prove there are girls who like him, Bart and the family return to New York to look for her. The episode didn't really have a coherent story to it, feeling more like a collection of jokes and Cletus is one of my least favorite characters, but damn did I laugh with this episode of television. I wonder if the laughs are enough to justify watching 'The Simpsons' nowadays. It is nowhere near its glorious days back in the 90s, but it is still capable of delivering some pretty smart commentary on modern culture. This episode didn't do that either, but like I said, it was funny. The real reason why I'll probably end up watching a lot of episodes of 'The Simpsons' this season is because of the show it is paired with. 
PS: As someone who just moved to New York I could relate to Marge and Lisa's budgetary problems trying enjoy the city. 

Bob's Burgers: "Ear-sy Rider"
You probably can't imagine how happy I was when I learned this show was returning this week. Slowly but steadily it has become one of the most delightful shows on television. It sports an incredibly bizarre line of humor and like 'The Simpsons' in its better years, it all comes from a line of incredibly well drawn characters. And none of those characters is as hilarious and surreal as young daughter Louise (voiced by Kristen Schaal). Tonight someone stole Louise's signature bunny ears and in true Bob's Burgers fashion, it was a biker gang that helped her get them back. You tell me if that doesn't sound awesome.  

The Good Wife: "I Fought the Law"
This show is probably the closest network television will get to something like 'The Wire' for the foreseeable future. You know, being a realistic show about how the system is rotten and nothing works. It feels tame in comparison to the bleaker cable shows, but it remains a solid and consistent show. 
Tonight's episode wasn't really a stand-out for me. As usual, it was reliable for a good hour of television, but one of this show's weakest aspects is the teenage characters and so having Zach at the center wasn't that thrilling for me. Also, I've really enjoyed Kalinda's sexy adventures in the past, but we might be reaching over saturation. The whole thing with her ex-husband felt ridiculous. 

Disney Canon: Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

This is going to be another short entry. I know, I know, but this is a particularly bumpy part of the Disney Canon. Don't worry faithful reader, we will soon get to more Disney Classics, just a couple more package films to go. 

This week, it's 'Fun and Fancy Free'. Since most of the ideas the studio had for feature films were used to make up the segments in 'Make Mine Music', this film only has two segments (although each are relatively long, to give the movie a total running time of 1:10). Both segments have a framing device involving a surprisingly pale Jiminy Cricket wanting to cheer up a doll with a couple of fanciful tales. 

The first story, narrated by Dinah Shore, is called 'Bongo' and is about a circus bear called, obviously, Bongo, who answers the call of the wild and decides to leave the circus to have a more bear-like life. He has trouble adjusting to the wild until he falls in love with a cute female bear. Bongo, as a character, is particularly well designed (at least in my opinion) and I am kind of sad he didn't have a more successful and memorable run as part of the Disney family. Then again, the short itself is a little too-cutesy and not that original or impressive, which makes it a very fun sit for children (I asume), but not as enjoyable as other Disney outputs are for adults. 

The second segment is a far more popular one. 'Mickey and the Bean Stalk' casts Mickey, Donald and Goofy at the center of the fairy tale of similar name. This segment shows some of Disney's experiments of combining animation and live-action in the framing device, which has Jiminy crash child-actress Luana Patten's birthday where actor Edgar Bergen, with the help of puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd is telling the titular story. 

In our Disney Canon Detour entry on Mickey Mouse Shorts, I mentioned Mickey's greatest short subject called 'The Brave Little Tailor' as well as his most comedic shorts in which he is accompanied by Donald and Goofy. 'Mickey and the Beanstalk' is kind of a combination of both types of shorts. 

It has a very well-written and clear storyline based on a fairy tale (like the 'Brave Little Tailor'), but at the same time benefits by having Donald and Goofy as sidekicks. The 'Brave Little Tailor' showed how effective and compelling Mickey could be as a lead character and this segment shows how amazing the three characters are when you have them working together. What keeps this from being the bets short featuring the trio is, at least for me, the narration. I don't know if it was Walt's insistance that made all shorts in the package films have so much narration, but it I think it gets in the way of the story most of the times. 

'Fun and Fancy Free' is probably the most entertaining and easy sit for children and adults of any of the package films we've covered so far. A lot of time is lost in the framing story which is not all that amusing, but the fun segments make up for that. Because it was fairly cheap to produce, it made some good money for the company upon its release. Money that would help finance Walt's return to full-length features a couple of years later. 

Next Time: Just two more "package" films to go. The firs of which is called 'Melody Time'. And yes, it has more similarities with 'Make Mine Music' that just the name. On the meantime... Well, it's hard to pick out clips from a feature made of two half-hour cartoons. So here's Mickey and the Beanstalk in its entirety (Albeit in a re-release version narrated by Ludiwig von Drake).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Looper: Back in time, with a Vengeance


Director Rian Johnson broke out as a name to watch in film circles with his 2006 movie 'Brick'. An amazing film noir with a high school setting. His film debut was so assured, he quickly topped the list of most exciting new directors around. His sophomore effort, 'The Brothers Bloom' was   widely considered somewhat of a disappointment (I personally didn't watch it). But now, judging by the critical reaction, Johnson is back to the top with his third feature. 

In 'Looper', Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a guy named Joe who has the titular job of killing men from the future. You see, in Joe's time time-travel hasn't yet been invented. But it will. And it will be immediately outlawed. The bad part is in the future forensics are so advanced that crime organizations can't dispose of the bodies of their victims. So they send the people they want to get rid of back in time so that good old Joe and other "loopers" like him kill them. The movies' plot-point (which is not a spoiler if you've seen the trailer) is that Joe's older self (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to be killed by ... himself (I guess that would be the correct wat to put it). 

'Looper' made me think a lot of Christopher Nolan's 'Inception', a film it has many similarities with (I don't know how much money 'Looper' will end up making, but I think in the right hands it could be a hit of 'Inception'-y proportions). Both are very exciting, well made action movies. And Both movies have a rather complex science fiction premise at the center and must deliver a lot of information about the mechanics of the situation. But whereas 'Inception' had constant explanations of what was going on by its characters, 'Looper' presents a more effective, integral way of explaining its premise. Which is to say, it has what I think is an objectively better screenplay than 'Inception'. It somehow avoids the constant paradoxes about time travel that movies have to deal with. It establishes quite quickly how this way of time travel works and runs with the premise. 

At the same time, for those who think it is a movie about Gordon-Levitt and Willis chasing and trying to kill each other, I have to tell you it's much smarter than that. Once a character played by Emily Blunt enters the picture gets really interesting. What filmmaker Rian Johnson has done here is take a concept and make a very effective movie out of it. Without getting into too many spoilers, the movie ends up bringing up some of the classical (and always interesting) questions about time-travel. 

More specifically, it gets into the great discussion about going back in time to do something that would prevent a greater catastrophe. Would you go back and kill Hitler seems to be the most popular of these questions. As an action movie, 'Looper' doesn't really explore or analyse the questions as much as bring them up as lining for its well-executed cake. And it is a better movie for it. I wouldn't have liked to sit and watch two hours of Butterfly-effect-like half-baked philosophical ideas. What I got was an extremely well made action movie with a clever premise and a couple of fun questions to ask yourself and your friends once you leave the theater. 

As I've said throughout, 'Looper' is an incredibly well-crafted movie. From its script to its production values. I doubt anyone who goes to see it will walk out disappointed. Still, somewhat oddly, the best thing about the movie isn't anything in it, but the promise of what director Rian Johnson might do next with his abilities. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday Television 09/27/12: Louie Finale

In 'New Year's Eve', Louie spends some truly bittersweet christmas and, you guessed it, new year's eve in an episode that functioned as a great cap for Louie's journey this year. From the beginning of the season, it seemed like this time was all about Louie looking for that something special that will fill up his life. From the first episode in which his girlfriend has to break up with him all the way to this carpe diem-ish finale.

The biggest difference between this and previous seasons was Louis C.K.'s embrace of continuity. Whereas in the previous two seasons there were very little aspects of the show that continued from week to week (mainly Louie's job and his daughters), this year we got things like Louie's motorcycle as well as his more active than ever pursue for a love interest. This change of mind about continuity allowed Louie to make storie stretch out through multiple episodes. 

Louie's genius was as present as ever, but it was novel and interesting to see him tell longer stories for a change. It was not only something that worked for the show to remain fresh, but for the stories themselves. Had we not seen the setup and the motivations for Louie asking out the Parker Posey character had 'Daddy's Girlfriend (Part Two)' (heralded by many as the best episode of the show's history) worked the same way? Similarly, we wouldn't have felt the epic element of Louie's struggle with self-realization in the Late Show Trilogy. And all of that made his trip to the Yangtze river all the more meaningful.

At a point where the show was no longer as big of a novelty as in its first two years, the build up of an arc with such a powerful pay-off made the season shine as bright as the two that came before. 

What Else Was On?

The Office: "Roy's Wedding"
Pretty much like last week, the story involving Jim and Pam felt pretty interesting. I watched 'The Job' earlier today and watching this episode tonight made me think even more about Jim and Pam's journey from cute office crush to actual husband and wife. The rest of the episode, however, felt too broad and most characters just felt too dumb. Case in point: The chore wheel and Erin's fake interview. (Having said that, I absolutely love Ellie Kemper and hope she gets a great role once this show's over).


Parks and Recreation: "Soda Tax"
After its trip to Washington last week, 'Parks and Rec' has gotten kind of political. In this episode Leslie comes up with a tax on soda that mirrors New York Mayor Bloomberg's similar taxation plan. The sub-plot regarding Ben having to suck up to his well-related interns is also up the political ally. These aspects were amusing, but didn't elevate this outing above a standard 'Parks and Rec' episode. But hey, a standard 'Parks and Rec' episode is still a very good episode of television.
I complained about the broad and dumb characters in 'The Office'. This show has similarly broad and dumb characters. The difference is that the broadness of the 'Parks and Rec' players has been well established from the beginning and the silliness in behavior always comes from a place that feels true to the characters.

Up All Night: "Home/Office"
Sean Hayes dropped by tonight, to keep Maya Rudolph busy with a musical storyline (which incidentally produced some good laughs). The rest of the episode focused on the new status-quo of Reagan taking care of Amy and Chris working right at home. The chemistry between Will Arnett and Christina Applegate is still pretty good, but the show just doesn't work as well as it should. In this case I can only say the situations feel tired and the comedy isn't quite there. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday Television 09/26/12: Modern Family Season 4 Debuts

Triple Emmy winner 'Modern Family' is back for its fourth season. I think I've mentioned I grew exhausted of 'Modern Family' during its third season, which suffered from a case of lazy storytelling. Never was the writer's contempt to use tired sitcom tropes and recycle story lines more apparent than in the show's last season. However, I had somewhat of a surprise last may, when 'Modern Family's season finale proved to be one of the most enjoyable episodes of the season. It brought me back to the best moments of season one and closed with a big promise for this year: Gloria is pregnant. 

Season four of 'Modern Family' picks right up where we ended season three. It's Jay's birthday and Gloria is worried about having to deliver the news of her pregnancy because of Jay's well established enjoyment of piece and quiet. There's also a history of Jay reacting badly to any kind of surprising news. At the same time, Mitch and Cam have to deal with the fact that they can't adopt a baby. 

For the most part, this episode didn't give me any indications that the show was planning on getting dramatically better. The storylines, as usual, weren't very original and the jokes didn't really land with me. The biggest problem, I think, was that the characters have become too broad and unbelievable in their behavior. For example: Manny's ever more exagerated old-man antics, Claire's reaction to Gloria's news, Hayley don't knowing what 'sarcastic' means, and especially the whole bit with Jay and Phil in the lake. All these moments made me groan. 

But then came the ending of the episode. It ended first with Jay reacting great to the news of the baby, and then, with a jump in time to the middle of Gloria's pregnancy. The final moments of tonight's show mirrored the structure of the great first episode of the series and made me remember what was so compelling about 'Modern Family' in the first season. These performers are very talented and could do wonders with just the littlest improvement in the writing department. 

And there is sign for improvement, because this episode at least stayed away from some of the tired situations the writers constantly pur certain characters in. Basically, Cam wasn't whiny and Gloria didn't yell. It's not much, but it's something. Also, pregnancy is sometimes a good motivator for great seasons of television. Just remember how in the middle of its roughest years, the season of 'Friends' in which Rachel got pregnant was one of the best the show ever did. 

Of course, the promise of a good season ahead of us comes with a lot of caution. That ending, the very same thing that made me hope for an improvement made me dubious of the probability of such improvement happening. The jump in time led us to the middle of Gloria's pregnancy. To a point where Cam and Mitch have gotten over the impossibility of their adoption and Claire has kicked Dillon out of her house for good. The one character ark for the rest of the season is Gloria's and that could turn out either great or with a lot of episodes of Sofia Vergara yelling about anything that ails her during her pregnancy. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Television 09/25/12: FOX Comedy Night

Tonight, FOX premiered 'Ben and Kate' and 'The Mindy Project', which so far are the two best new comedies of the season. Neither of them are perfect, or even great shows, but they are the ones that show the most promise and the one I think I'll stick around with for the season. 

On 'Ben and Kate' Oscar winner Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson play the eponymous characters, a pair of siblings that had it rough growing up so they grew very close. Whereas Kate had to mature at a very young age to keep going in live, Ben never grew up. Now, in search of sticking together and making a better life for themselves, this man-child brother is moving in with Kate and her young daughter Maddie, played by Maggie Jones, who you may have seen playing Matt Damon's daughter in 'We Bought a Zoo' where she was every bit as adorable and funny as she is here.

As you might have guessed from my description of the show; the story, premise and characters of 'Ben and Kate' are not all that original. But here's the thing: Number one, the pilot is really funny. I laughed a lot. Number two, the chemistry between the actors is really good. With their sweet interpretations, Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson really made me want to spend more time with Ben and Kate. And number three, what really sold this show to me, it has an undercurrent of sweetness  that just made me smile throughout the whole episode. Good characters and sweetness is always a sitcom's best combination. 

You see, for a sitcom to work, at least for me, it's necessary to find some warmth and affection between the characters. The American version of 'The Office', for example, started to work once they differed from the much more cynical humor of the british original. Similarly think of how much better 'The Simpsons' worked at its best than 'Family Guy' ever did. From the character moments we get between Faxon and Johnson (Kate showing Ben how to stop his ex's wedding, for example) I get the impression that 'Ben and Kate' is willing to explore the affection between its characters, instead of just being sweet just for the sake of it. 

Now, on to the 'The Mindy Project', where we get creator Mindy Kaling playing an Ob/Gyn disappointed with the fact that her life hasn't turned out to be like a romantic comedy. The pilot for this show wasn't as good as 'Ben and Kate', but still showed a lot of promise.

This pilot was funny in parts, but we didn't really get to know much about any of the supporting characters (which include Chris Messina and Stephen Tobolowsky). What sells me on this show is mainly the promise of Kaling herself. Her work on 'The Office' and her comedic books are proof that she is a very good writer. And she is a very talented performer, her character already feels rather unique and interesting to me (except for her blind date scene in which she comes off as a little unrealistically crazy). I'm hoping the show becomes something great. 

What Else Was On?:

'New Girl' began its second season with two new episodes between the premieres of the two new FOX comedies. 'New Girl' is a good example of a show like the two that premiered tonight. When it debuted, it didn't seem particularly interesting, although it showed some promise. And once it didn't focus so much on the premise of having adorkable Zooey Deschanel live with three guys and started studying its other characters' personalities to become more of an ensemble piece, it started to soar.

The second season begins with a couple of plot developments that feel very familiar (C.C. has a new boyfriend, the sexual tension between Nick and Jess), but they work thanks to the performances and the good work the writers and performers have made of developing these characters (although they haven't cracked Winston's personality just yet). Moments like the whole juggling fire thing were effective and hilarious, because we have come to know Schmidt and we can picture him doing such a ridiculous thing. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Television 09/24/2012: CBS Monday Comedies Premiere

I don't have much to say about any of these shows, so here's some quick thoughts on the disappointing first night of CBS' Monday comedies.  

How I Met Your Mother - "Farhampton"
Every time I watch this show now, I just get sad. I used to outright love this show. This used to be the most likable group of characters on television. You know, the ones you want to hang out every week with. On its eight (and possible last) season premiere, the show is more than ever nothing but a shadow of its former self. I say this because the story lines in this episode felt like 'How I Met Your Mother' episodes, just a not very good one.

On the emotional side, the story with Barney and his fiancee (played by Becki Newton) felt veyr been-there-done-that. And on the comedic side, Ted interacting with the Victoria's German broom and Marshall and Lily suffering sleep depravation for having a newborn were too far away from the show's original cleverness. (The one bright spot of the episode was Barney quickly summarizing everything that happened on the show in one minute).

The endless teasing towards the meeting of the mother has become the most annoying aspect of the show. This is supposed to be the last season of the show (unless the actors sign for a ninth year), so I'm sticking with it just to see how it ends. Even if it makes me long for the show it once was.

Partners 
There's a moment in the first ever episode of CBS's new comedy 'Partners' about two friends, one straight (David Krumholtz) and one gay (Michael Urie) working together, where Michael Urie's character is told something along the lines of: "it seemed like part of you schtick" To which he replies: "I am my schtick. And it's true. This show, by the creators of 'Will & Grace', tries to make you laugh by giving you the most tired funny gay man schtick you could possibly imagine.

Michael Urie did a very good job playing a (on paper) similar character in 'Ugly Betty', but he can't do anything when he is playing a shell of a person defined by a tired sitcom schtick. It doesn't help that the creators want him to carry the show on his own, since by the end of the pilot I couldn't tell you anything about any of the other characters' personalities. This is probably one of the worst new shows of the year.

2 Broke Girls - "And The Hidden Stash"
Starting with the horrendous first scene involving a woman breastfeeding an eight-year-old, it was clear '2 Broke Girls' wasn't doing anything to adress its first season problems. The humor remains offensive without any point to its offensiveness and all characters except for the two leads are  such big stereotypes they just aren't believable as human beings. Even the guy that they meet at the auction was a gay stereotype. Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs are two talented comedic actresses. When they are in a scene on their own, the show is not as terrible as in the diner scenes. I even laughed at some of their deliveries. They deserve better than this show. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

2012 Primetime Emmy Awards Live-Blog

Here we are, the night of the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards. I must say two whole months between nominations and the actual show is a little too much. I am feeling unusually high Emmy fatigue. Of course, it's nothing compared to the fatigue you feel when the Oscar awards season is finally over.

Let's start with this thing. Our host is Jimmy Kimmel, and I must say right out the bat, I'm not a big fan of his. I haven't watched much of his show and usually prefer other late night hosts, but I'm open to him doing a good job tonight. Let's see what he's cooked up.

20:00 And so it begins... I am digging all those ladies in the restroom, but then Jimmy Kimmel's votox... Like I said, I don't know why my mind just doesn't accept Jimmy Kimmel. Well, this little video was amusing, but not that memorable when compared to Conan's and Jimmy Fallon's opening videos.

20:05 Kimmel begins his monologue. He is actually quite good. He mentions the Downton Abbey gang. So weird to see them all there in contemporary fashion. He jokes telling Jon Hamm he is sorry he hasn't won tonight and makes me sad thinking Hamm will probably never win for playing Don Draper. That's just unfair, Emmys!

20:08 They are dividing the show into genres again. This is a good idea on paper, but I it also makes the Movie/Miniseries section of the show incredibly boring. First up is Comedy, let's see if 'Modern Family' dominates like it did last year.

20:11 Amy Poehler and Louis C.K. (who I hope win something tonight) present Supporting Actor in a Comedy. They're funny, Louie does his Louie thing. They don't have clips, I don't like that. And the Emmy goes to... Especially long pause. The winner is Eric Stonestreet. He is far from the best thing in 'Modern Family' these days, but like I said in my predictions, he sure did benefit from his co-stars submission tapes. He mentions Jesse Tyler Ferguson in his speech: "There would be no Cam without Mitch". That's Sweet.

20:18 Jim Parsons and Zooey Deschanel present Comedy Writing. The nominees are so good in this category, I will be happy no matter who wins. The montage of comedy writers answering how they think their high school teachers would describe them is really funny. The winner is Louie! Wow, the episode nominated was 'Pregnant', which wasn't really the best of the season, but Emmy voters sure like this guy. I wonder if he wins something else tonight. Louie thanks Pamela Adlon and his kids.

20:22 Mr. White and Jesse in The Andy Griffith Show is really funny. I am liking the comedy in this show so far. Hope it sticks around for the rest of the show.

20:24 Kat Dennings anD Jon Cryer present Supporting Actress in a Comedy. The winner is Julie Bowen. The first category of the night I got right on my predictions. She repeats after winning last year. Bowen is very insistent on thanking people for making her wear nipple covers while shooting the show. Make of that what you will.

20:30 Matthew Perry is onstage now. He likes attention and that's why he announces the winners of guest acting in comedy, which where actually announced on Saturday's Creative Arts Emmys (got that?). The winners on Saturday were Jimmy Fallon and Kathy Bates, they are here to present  Directing for a Comedy... The winner is Steve Levitan for 'Modern Family', which proves these guys keep on loving that show despite the fact that there are like thirty-four better comedies on television. I don't anything against Levitan personally, but I don't know how an ordinary episode of 'Modern Family' could beat Louie's wonderful 'Duckling'.

20:36 A video of new Lily being hated on the 'Modern Family' set. Like I said, these comedic bits are being pretty funny. Ken Jeong as new new Lily would be a nice addition to the show.

20:37 Mindy Kaling and Melissa McCarthy present Comedy Actor... The Emmy goes to Jon Cryer in 'Two and a Half Men' and I just cringed. I just.. I... just.. "Something has gone incredibly wrong" he says. I agree. Jon Cryer now has two Emmys. Steve Carell and Amy Poehler, zero. How's that for awarding greatness in television?

20:44 Stephen Colbert is now presenting, he is really funny, as usual. He's presenting Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The winner is... Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 'Veep'. Another right prediction. I can't say she's bad in the show, but she already has two Emmys and I really wanted to see Amy Poehler win tonight... Oh wait, she's reading Amy Poehler's speech. Poehler continues to make little gags in the categories she's nominated in and just for that the Academy should make her win soon.

20:48 Now it's time for the second section of the show: Reality. I suppose they have these on the show for ratings purposes, but 'The Amazing Race' wins every year and makes it really anticlimactic. James Van der Beek and Damon Wayans Jr. present. The award goes to... you guessed it, The Amazing Race. It's now won nine times. You know, it's probably one of the better reality shows on the air, but nine seems like more than enough.

20:57 'The Big Bang Theory' provides a pretty funny way to present the accountants, which is usually one of the most boring parts of the show. Nicely done, so far, production team.

20:58 Seth McFarland now presents Reality Host. Do they really need a category for Reality Show Hosts? Anyway, the winner is Tom Bergeron for 'Dancing with the Stars'. I don't watch the show, so I'm not really familiar with his work. He is pretty funny in his speech, though.

21:01 It's now time for the third section of the night: Drama. It's also time to see if this is  going to be a 'Downton Abbey' love-fest like I predicted.

21:04 Claire Danes is up for presenting Supporting Actor in a Drama. The Emmy goes to... Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'. The first actor to win this category twice since 1995. I was predicting Giancarlo Esposito, but Paul is certainly great in the show. A well deserved win. He is truly moved. I really like this guy, I'm glad he won. Although we are having a lot of repeating winners. So far all acting winners have been previous Emmy winners.

21:14 I got distracted for a moment. I think something with Tracey Morgan happened. Connie Britton and Hayden Panetierre are presenting. It's time for Writing for Drama. The Emmy goes to the Homeland pilot. Pretty good choice. Pilots do have an advantage in this category so don't think Homeland will win 'Downton Abbey' for the Drama Series Emmy just yet.

21:17 They are now presenting Supporting Actress in a Drama. The winner is Maggie Smith in 'Downton Abbey'. I was hoping so hard for Christina Hendricks, but I see why they voted for Dame Maggie. I just wished she'd be there to accept the award, I bet she kills it at giving speeches. And did Hayden Panettiere just call her "Maggie"?! It's DAME Maggie Smith to you, missy!

21:22 They take Tracey Morgan off the stage. And Jimmy Kimmel introduces Giancarlo Esposito. He introduces the winners for Guest Acting in Drama. The winners were Martha Plimpton for 'The Good Wife' and Jeremy Davies for 'Justified'. They are here to present Directing for a Drama Series. The Emmy goes to Tim Van Patten for 'Boardwalk Empire'? Wow, I thought everyone was over that show. He didn't even show up!

21:25 It's an In Memoriam for Jimmy Kimmel featuring Josh Grobin playing One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful". Is this in bad taste?

21:27 Julianna Margulies presents Lead Actor in a Drama. The winner is Damian Lewis! He is the one to finally beat Bryan Cranston for this award. He did have a wonderful tape. Are we in for a 'Homeland' sweep tonight? Lewis if funny accepting his award. Very classy. Maybe he's just british. Cranston's reaction shot makes him the McKayla Maroney of the Emmys.

21:35 We're back. Jon Hamm and Tina Fey are very funny at presenting Lead Actress in a Drama Series. The winner is... Claire Danes for 'Temple Grandin', I mean, 'Homeland'. Very deserved, she was the best in the category by far. 'Homeland' is having a pretty good night. At this point nobody would be surprised if it beats 'Downton Abbey' and 'Mad Men' for the top award.

21:40 It's time for the next section of the show: Variety. Like 'Amazing Race' in reality, this is where 'The Daily Show' wins its thirteenth Emmy.

21:42 Aziz Ansari pretends to be british. He's funny. He presents Writing for a Variety Special with the lovely Jane Levy... The winner is Louis C.K. for writing his special "Live at the Beacon Center". I like to watch him winning awards. Why can't we have more of this and less Jon Cryer?

21:50 Ricky Gervais is here to present the big one: Directing for a Variety Special. The winner?...  Glen Weiss for the Tony Awards and, thus, Louis C.K. is not a better comedian than Ricky Gervais. Weiss is directing the Emmys themselves, I wouldn't know if he is deserving (don't know a lot about directing award shows), but it seems a little suspicious. Also how ridiculous is to award awards shows on an awards show?

21:54 Gervais now presents Variety Series. The winner is... The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This is their tenth consecutive win and the part of the night when I become a snobby commenter and say I actually prefer Colbert. "When the earth is a burning ball and aliens come they will find a box of these and find out how predictable these #$%& award shows are" Stewart nails it.

22:05 It's time for the Movies and Miniseries part of the show. Also known as time to check Facebook, take a shower, make some pancakes and come back for the end of the show.

22:07 Steve Buscemi is up first to present Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. The winner is... Jessica Lange in 'American Horror Story'. This is when I go on a rampage over the injustice of 'American Horror Story' being able to submit itself as a Miniseries when it so obviously is a regular series. Expect more of this if they keep winning tonight.

22:14 Kerry Washington is up and she reminds us that she should be in more things. She presents Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. The winner is... Tom Berenger for 'Hatfields and McCoys'. I expect 'Hatfields' to dominate the awards tonight due to its huge ratings success.

22:16 Ron Howard is up to talk about Andy Griffith and presents the true In Memoriam. Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Clarke Duncan, Lupe Ontiveros, Gil Cates, Albert Freeman Jr., Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Tony Scott, Kathryn Joosten, Frank Pierson, Mike Wallace, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Morgan and Dick Clark are amongst the great talents we lost this year.

22:26 Lucy Liu and Kiefer Sutherland present Writing for a Miniseries or Movie... It goes to Danny Strong for Game Change. Who turns out to be THAT Danny Strong. Is this a make-up award for not winning for 'Recount' (which was a far better movie) or is 'Game Change' going to win Movie/Miniseries?

22:28 Now they present Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie... And it is Julianne Moore for 'Game Change'. She was only fine as Sarah Palin in the movie, but it is SO GREAT to finally see one of the best actresses in the world get an award for her amazing work. And they still dare play her off. Oscar better be next.

22:35 Ginnifer Goodwin and Emily Van Kamp present Directing for a Miniseries or Movie... The winner is Jay Roach for 'Game Change'. I am still thinking 'Hatfields and McCoys' takes the big one.

22:38 It's time for Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. The winner is Kevin Costner in 'Hatfields and McCoys'. I almost predicted him. I do like Kevin Costner. Have you seen 'The Upside of Anger'? He's great in that movie. So they cut off Julianne, but let Kevin Costner ramble about the olympics? Come on, Glenn Weiss, earn that Emmy.

22:45 There's only three awards left. First up, Andre Braugher presents Best Movie or Miniseries... It goes to Game Change, which by far isn't the best of the nominees, but at least is a Made for Television Movie or Miniseries. Actually, rewarding 'Game Change' is like rewarding 'The Newsroom'. They shouldn't have done that.

22:47 Julianne Moore will present Best Drama Series... The winner is Homeland! Wow, they did love it way more than I thought they did. I really thought it was going to be 'Downton Abbey'. It is a very well deserved victory. And they break the 'Mad Men' four-year streak. Aaand the second season is premiering next Sunday, so kind of perfect timing on that front.

22:55 Michael J. Fox is the one to present Comedy Series... The winner is Modern Family, not a good choice, but an expected one. I'd much rather have them end the show with a 'Homeland' win, but whatever, they're being telecast on ABC.

Aaand it's over. The Emmy race is done, let's start predicting the Oscars!

Disney Canon: Make Mine Music

During the year of War, as you might have known from previous posts, the Disney studio wasn't exactly in the best situation. They had had problems making a profit out of their previous animated features, a lot of animators were going off to the war and the rest was mostly working on making propaganda films for the American government. In order to keep releasing feature-length films, Disney took stories that hadn't been developed enough to become features on their own and presented them alongside other shorts in what are called his "package films".

'Make Mine Music' is the first of these "package films". And it seems like every short on this film (except for one obvious exception showcased in the image above) reflects some aspect of American popular culture and music of the time. Upon its initial release it featured 10 original shorts set to a musical background. (In later releases, including the ones available today, the 'Martins and the Coys' segment, that featured a Hatfields and McCoys-style feud, has been cut due to comic gunplay). Like many of the films of this era, 'Make Mine Music' is seldom remembered as a unit. Most modern audiences are only familiar (it at all) with some of the shorts that have been broadcast or released on their own. 

I am one of those modern audiences, never having seen the movie on its entirety before. I decided to take a look at the shorts that make up the movie one by one. 

Blue Bayou
This first segment is presented as a 'Lone Poem' sung by the Ken Darby Chorus. With the opening long take of the moon-lit sky seamlessly transforming into a swamp we know these "minor films" still have beautiful animation to boost. This one feels a lot like 'Fantasia', showcasing the beauty of the flora and fauna of the nightly bayou landscape. It features beautiful images, but the absence of classical music make it a rather dull short. It's a very short, which helps to answer why it's been forgotten all these years later.

All the Cats Join In
Is presented as a Jazz Interlude featuring Benny Goodman and his Orchestra and me makes me wonder why I haven't seen this segment as a short before. It has a meta style to it, with an animator's pencil drawing what is needed to tell the story of teenagers hanging out in the late 1940s. The jazzy score and the playful animation make it a very amusing short and one that I would have enjoyed as a kid, so as I said, I wonder why it wasn't paired up in some of the short packages I watched back then when other segments from this films were. 

Without You
Is a Ballad in Blue with Andy Russell singing "Without You". This one goes back to 'Blue Bayou' territory, featuring some abstract, yet beautiful animation to accompany the songs. I just don't know if a song about heartbreak and abstract animation is what people like to see in a Disney movie. The good thing is it doesn't go on for too long. 

Casey at the Bat
A musical recitation by Jerry Colonna. The subtitle is fitting, since it is a more traditional short, with a narrator shifting from singing the titular song to outright tell what is going on. I have to say I just don't get this one. It's not the baseball-setting, since I understand the game's historic position as the all-american sport. I love a lot of movies about baseball and Ken Burns' documentary on the subject, so it's not that. There's something about the characters in the short, there's just no one to sympathise with. Usually I wouldn't mind that so much, but for some reason I do here. I guess this baseball humor just isn't for me. 

Two Silhouettes
Features Tania Riabouchinska and David Lichine dancing and Lina Shore singing. At this point I have officially decoded the structure of this movie, interspersing funny cartoons and more romantic ones. This one is pretty self explaniatory, it has the two dancers featured as sillhouttes in a cartoon background. I guess the technology to do such a thing might have been rather impressive back in in the day. Today, it's just an ok segment that foreshadows the great work the studio would do making actors interact with animated characters in films like 'Mary Poppins' and 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'. Actually, the studio had some of that in 'Song of the South', a movie released the same year as 'Make Mine Music'. 

Peter and the Wolf
Is presented as a fairy tale with music by Serge Prokofieff told by Sterling Holloway and is by far the most famous segment of the film. It has been released packaged with other musically-themed shorts and has been broadcast on television many times. It's the first of the segments in this movie that I have seen before and one that I remember having liked very much as a child. It is also the longest of the segments and the one that doesn't blend as well with the rest of the film's shorts. It maybe was planned as a stand-alone longer feature whose production was interrupted by the war. 

With its interactive, every-character-has-a-different-instrument composition, Peter and the Wolf is an incredibly effective approach for introducing young children to classical music. I do sometimes wish there were less narration in this segment, to just focus on the music and the animation. I guess uncle Walt was still a little pissed off by the failure of 'Fantasia'. As it is, Peter and the Wolf is still a very good short. I know the original composition is kid-friendly enough to be presented on its own, but this cartoon is a worthy companion. 

After You've Gone
Presented by The Goodman Quartet, 'After You've Gone' features surrealistic jazzy animation depicting a group of marching musical instruments that dance and morph into different shapes including a boxing match between a clarinet and a bass and a pair of piano playing hands turning into ballerinas. I bet many people will appreciate the surreal quality of this cartoon, as well as the very good music.


Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet
Now this one is sung by the Andrew Sisters and that is, at least for me, reason enough for excitement. Sadly, it doesn't feature the trio's full vocal talent except for a little bit at the very end. It is however a charming story about two hats falling in love. It sounds very safe and 1940s, but Johnny Fedora does go to some pretty dark places in the search for his beloved Alice.

The Whale That Wanted to Sing at the Met
Nelson Eddy does all the voices to this tragic story, which is the second best part of the movie. The premise is pretty wacky, but whales do sing or emit some kind of musical sound, don't they? The operatic lyrics to the story are also pretty clever and the story to Willie the Whale is an incredibly effective one with a tragic ending fitting to the story of an opera singer, but a little downbeat for the last segment of the movie.

Well, as you can see, every package film, because of their very nature, is rather hit and miss in its shorts. Some are wonderul (Peter, the Whale), some are forgettable (Blue Bayou) and some are just not that good (Casey). Still, I do think this is will be a good watch for kids. They'll surely find something to like here. You see, the film works pretty well because no segment goes on for too long, like it was the case in some parts of 'Fantasia', which granted was a much more ambitious film than this charming but silly collection of shorts.

'Make Mine Music' is posted on YouTube on its entirety as of this writing, so go ahead and take a look if you're interested. 

Next Time: A feature made out of two rather popular cartoons in 'Fun and Fancy Free'. For the meantime, here's the Whale that wanted to sing at the Met. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Perks of Being an Adaptation

Before being a movie, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' was a young adult novel written by Stephen Chbosky. You must be familiar with young adult novels. Those in which the hero is a lonely kid going to a new school, finding new friends, feeling like he belongs, falling in love with his best friend, then something dramatic happens and eiher he does or doesn't end up with his best friend becoming his girlfriend. I have read many of these, especially throughout my high-school years. Most of them are not very good (especially on hindsight), but your teenage self does connect with some on a level that just makes you cherish the book for years to come. Not that man years have gone by since my first year of high school (it already been five!?), but back then I read John Green's 'Looking for Alaska' and have kept it by my side ever since. 

As a novel, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' was published in 1999. I was just beginning elementary school in 99, so I am unfamiliar with the novel. From the information I can gather, it was very popular. I asume many people of that generation felt for this book what I felt for 'Looking for Alaska'. As a movie, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower', adapted for the screen and directed by Chbosky himself, can't really escape its historical situation. 

The movie stars Logan Lerman as a lonely boy with a sad past named Charlie. He doesn't have any friends as he enters his freshman year of High School, but he is lucky enough to find a group of eccentric friends led by manic pixie dream girl who he has a crush on Sam (Emma Watson) and flamboyant Patrik (Ezra Miller). -Let me pause a second to say that Ezra Miller is by all definitions the stand-out in this movie. He is by far the one to bring the most realistically human personality and raw emotion to his character, despite the fact of being the flashiest, easiest role to overplay- Now, back to the review; The movie follows Charlie and his friends throughout the year in their many misadventures following pretty much the expected pattern from a young adult novel. And as such, the movie displays both the best and worst of the genre. 

Because of the nature of the book, it feels very episodic. Because at this point there's been hundreds of novels like this one, the plot feels predictable. We also have Charlie's dramatic backstory, which I felt was mishandled, as it is saved for the last portion of the movie and consequently doesn't feel as integral to Charlie's character and the story as it ends up being. It also features some young adult cliches that I can't take at this point. It might be a personal thing, but the love for The Smiths, Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Beatles as especially original? Well, it helps that the movie is set in the nineties. But still, when Emma Watson's character refers to their group of friends as the "islands of misfit toys" I just cringed. 

But, hey, don't be discouraged by all these things. They are all features that the adaptation of a 1999 young adult novel just couldn't escape. It's not its fault that so much of it feels unoriginal in 2012. The strengths of 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' don't lie in its originality, they lie in its earnestness. Something in the performances makes the feeling of friendship between these characters feel genuine. And they play the dramatic moments with in realistic teenage fashion. 

Chbosky clearly has great affection for his novel and his characters and it shows. I don't know if it was his intention to highlight the feelings of friendship and belonging over the plot, but that decision made the whole movie work for me. The same script, handled in any other way might have made me hate this movie. As it is, I actually liked it enough to recommend it. 

Yes, it is flawed. It's not a groundbreaking piece of cinema or the best movie of the year. But, hey, if you are a teenager going through high-school right now, then you will probably love this movie. And if you are someone who has gone through high school, you might not love it, but it will bring back the fond memories of your high school friends. Of being young and in love. Of maybe not being in love with the right person. Of all the high-school teenage drama. You will certainly find something to like here. I know I did. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Television 09/20/12: Returning shows for three hours of Comedy

Tonight was the 30th anniversary of Fonzie "jumping the shark" in the 'Happy Days' episode that in turn inspired the now well-known phrase. That might be a now infamous moment in television history, but tonight was a pretty happy night of tv for me. You see, I love nothing more than a night of three hours of comedy. Tonight, three of NBC's returning comedies had their season premieres: Up All Night, The Office and Parks and Recreation. Later, I flipped to FX for a dose of 'Wilfred' and 'Louie'. 

Up All Night
During the first season they had trouble balancing the family show about Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chis (Will Arnett) raising their baby and the workplace sitcom about Reagan working on Ava's (Maya Rudolph) television show. In this first episode of the second season, the writers decided to adress that problem by changing the basic dynamic of the show: Ava's show got cancelled and we end up the episode with Reagan now being the stay-at-home parent while Chris decides to start a business with Reagan's brother (played by Luka Jones).

Because of these changes, the episode felt like a second pilot for the show, a transitory episode to get to the new status quo. As such, it wasn't really a laugh-riot. Actually, there weren't many laughs (that woman on the playground fight was awful). Still, I like the actors on the show. Especially Will Arnett in such a subdued and down-to-earth role. I stopped watching the show midway through last season, but the new balance to the show will have coming back (the fact that it will air between '30 Rock' and 'The Office' will help too). 

The Office
I bailed out on 'The Office' pretty early last season. The show had been on decline for a couple years already, and without Steve Carell, it didn't seem to know what to do. I am back, however, for this last season, because of the return of Greg Daniels. The show's first show-runner (not to mention one of the finest sitcom writers in America) is back for the farewell season of the show and his return sounds promising. 

Watching the show again after almost a whole year make me feel a little nostalgic of the good old years (It also made me remember how much I love Ellie Kemper as Erin). Coming back was also eye-opening to how much the show changed since its beginnings, especially on how the supporting cast has come to the fore-ground. As for how good was the actual episode... On the comedy side of things, it wasn't at the top of its game. I don't get the Andy-Nelly hate relationship (perhaps I didn't watch last season, but it seems to me like a poor man's version of the Michael-Toby dynamic). Dwight has become a character who is just too ridiculous and doesn't seem to be coming back to his more grounded first years. That also seems to be te case with Kevin (that turtle thing was dreadful) and Creed (his final speech was also too much). 

That being said, this episode is a promising start to the season. The writers are establishing the season (and the series) as a journey for Jim and Pam. On this episode, with the arrival of the new young guys, Jim realizes he doesn't want to stay on this job forever and decides to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in Philadelphia. Focusing the narrative on character is almost always a good thing, so here's hoping for a good last season for the show. 

Parks and Recreation
The premiere for this season was titled 'Ms. Knope goes to Washington' and it has Leslie visiting Ben in his new DC job while at the same time being frustrated by government bureaucracy and her new long-distance relationship and.. Ok, enough. The plot doesn't really matter. 'Parks and Recreation' being back just made me incredibly happy. Thirty seconds into the episode, I was already smiling. 

I mean, we got Leslie and Andy touristing in Washington, Ron Swanson being awesome (and having a deep storyline too! in which we see a not-so-perfect side of Ron). We also got Andy and April being the cutest couple ever. And if it weren't enough we also finally got rid of the terrible idea of Ann and Tom as a couple! 

Wilfred 
This was the season finale for 'Wilfred'. A show that started out as an amusing show about a guy who interacts with a stoner guy in a dog costume who might or might not be a hallucination, but has now injected its initial raunchy humor with a dose of psycho-drama. On this second season, especially tonight with the freaky twists at the end regarding Amanda's sanity and the picture Ryan supposedly painted as a child, has gone into some very disturbing level. Not unlike what 'The United States of Tara' was doing towards the end of its run. 

The difference between 'Tara' and 'Wildfred' so far is that the latter still has episodes largely dedicated to the ridiculous, raunchy, almost crass humor that a guy dressed in a dog suit provides. The mix of comedy and darkness might not always work, but 'Wilfred' deserves some extra points for trying. 

Louie
This was the conclusion to the 'Late Show Trilogy', which had Louie trying out to replace David Letterman in an unusual (for the show) multi-episode quest of epic proportions (for the show) that showed, in my opinion, just how amazing a story-teller Louis C.K. is. The mix of surreal showbiz antics (led by David Lynch as Louie's trainer for the job) and genuine heartfelt moments about what the pressure of trying out for a life-changing job would do to a guy. And the bittersweet payoff to the story was one of the finest moments for the show. If Louis C.K. can submit all three parts of the 'Late Show Trilogy' for Emmy consideration next year, I think he could win it in a cakewalk. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Final 2012 Emmy Award Predictions

Here's a compilation of the awards we've covered on the site. Plus, predictions on who will win the other awards to be presented Sunday night.

Comedy Series: Modern Family
Lead Actor in a Comedy: Louis C.K. for "Louie"
Lead Actress in a Comedy: Julia Louis-Dreyfus for "Veep"
Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Ty Burrell for "Modern Family"
Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Julie Bowen for "Modern Family"
Directing for a Comedy: "Louie" - Louis C.K. for episode "Duckling"
Writing for a Comedy: "Girls" - Lena Dunham for the Pilot

Drama Series: Downton Abbey
Lead Actor in a Drama: Bryan Cranston for "Breaking Bad"
Lead Actress in a Drama: Claire Danes for "Homeland"
Supporting Actor in a Drama: Giancarlo Esposito for "Breaking Bad"
Supporting Actress in a Drama: Joanne Froggatt for "Downton Abbey"
Directing for a Drama: "Homeland" - Michael Cuesta for the Pilot
Writing for a Drama: "Downton Abbey" - Julian Fellowes for "Episode 7/Christmas"

Made for Television Movie or Miniseries: Hatfield and McCoys
Lead Actor in a Movie or Miniseries: Idris Elba for "Luther"
Lead Actress in a Movie or Miniseries: Julianne Moore for "Game Change"
Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries: Ed Harris for "Game Change"
Supporting Actress in a Movie or Miniseries: Jessica Lange for "American Horror Story"
Directing for a Movie or Miniseries: Jay Roach for "Game Change"
Writing for a Movie or Miniseries: Danny Strong for "Game Change"

Variety Series: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Reality/Competition Program: The Amazing Race
Reality Host: Betty White for "Betty White's Off their Rockers"

2012 Emmy Award Predictions: Drama Series

This is it. The last entry in our predictions' circle. First, let me remember you that we are live-blogging the awards ceremony on Sunday. So tune in if you want some comments on the awards, which by the way will be airing on ABC.

Like I said on the previous post, in the series races, voters don't tend to pay that much attention to episode submissions, so shows with a lot of buzz and love across the board are usually the winners (Or at least have been so far). Here are the nominees...

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Homeland (Showtime)
Mad Men (AMC)

Will Win: The big question this year regards the reigning champ. Last year, 'Mad Men' won its fourth trophy in this category, tying up 'Hill Street Blues' and 'The West Wing' for the most wins in the category. If it wins this year for a fifth consecutive year, it would break the record. The win is certainly likely, but considering the previous wins and a season that has divided audiences and critics, voters may experience 'Mad Men' fatigue, I say this time, someone else wins. 

'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Game of Thrones' are out. They just are. The three legitimate contenders for the crown are as follows: There is a case to be made for 'Breaking Bad', its last season was certainly flashy and it was airing new episodes during the voting period, so it was very much in the cultural zeitgeist. I think the violence and dark theme of the show will prevent it from the win, though. Then you have 'Homeland', the breakout show of the season and a terrific one at that. It may very well be its year and I would predicting it for the win, except...

There's 'Downton Abbey'. The Emmys went gaga for the show last year when it competed as a miniseries, then the whole world (in no small part thanks to Patton Oswalt twitted watch of the show) caught up to the pleasures of 'Downton' and anglo-fever broke lose. Suddenly, everyone was talking about the british show. If the popularity and 'cool-factor' of the program weren't enough, you just have to take a look at how many nominations the Emmys threw in the show's direction. I am expecting a 'Downton'-fest on Sunday. 

Should Win: If you asked me, I really couldn't choose between 'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men', which both had terrific seasons. Considering 'Mad Men' has won this award so many times already, I'd go with 'Breaking Bad'. 'Homeland' is a very close third place.

Trailer Watch: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A lot of people on the internet, myself included, have reacted to the news that Peter Jackson is now planning to turn The Hobbit into a trilogy with a loud groan. 

I particularly am not that interested in returning to Middle Earth, much less if it's going to be with Peter Jackson yet again at the helm (I liked the idea of Guillermo Del Toro as director better, but we know how that just didn't work out). I think Peter Jackson did an amazing job with 'The Lord of the Rings', one of the greatest cinematic saga of all-time and one of the defining moment of film in the last decade. I just don't want him to burn this franchise to the ground. Just look at what happened with 'Star Wars' and 'The Matrix'. 

I have been unenthusiastic about all the news surrounding the production of this movie and the fact that they are now doing the Harry Potter trick of stretching a book into numerous movies is making me angry. You see, 'The Hobbit', as a book, is a little story about an adventure. It is not an epic multi-volume-spanning saga of the battle between good and evil amidst the shadow of war. It's just a cool adventure. I don't see (no matter how much extra stuff Jackson is planning on cramming up into the film) how this story is three movies.

That being said, the trailer gives me a little hope. I know, it's so weird for a trailer to look good nowadays, but this one made me feel like I could go back to Middle Earth to hang out with Bilbo and Gandalf a little more. Watching it I realized I would love to go back on an adventure with them. I would be absolutely fine with that if it was just one film. I even tolerated that it was going to be two. But three is just too greedy. The strong comedic tone of the trailer suggest the tone I was expecting from the book, but it also looks like it's going to be all set-up and no payoff. And I hate that. Also, the second movie is going to be called 'The Desolation of Smaug' which is the worst title in the history of ever. 

Anyway, watch the trailer and judge for yourself. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Television for 09/18/12: All NBC, including 'Parenthood'

On 'Go On', the members of the grief therapy group turn on Ryan (Matthew Perry) when he doesn't introduce them to his coworkers. Ryan being ashamed of going to therapy and hanging out with the "weirdos" that go there with him is still a rather typical storyline for a show with this premise. So, on the originality part, the show is still on uninspired ground. There was also a sub-plot regarding Ryan's worklife, in which John Cho wants to be good at comforting Ryan in his grief but ends up doing silly stuff to do it. 

Regarding that, the show is doing a pretty good job balancing Ryan's work life and the therapy group and has now has officially introduced John Cho's character to the therapy group. It remains to be seen how it is handled going forward. The episode also had yet another touching moment at the end. I initially didn't like the way the show was treating the mexican gardener character, but the payoff was effective. Sadly, on the comedy side, the jokes are not landing. I just didn't laugh.  

Then, was time for 'The New Normal' and... ugh. At this point, the show is trying to have its cake and it eat too and it's not working. On one side, we have Andrew Rannells' character standing up for gay parenthood and on the other, it has him overreacting to the fact that his baby might have red hair. Like I said in my previous review, just because the show has an earnest subject matter does it mean it's hilarious every time there's an offensive joke. The writers seem to think so, though, 

This means I've now given both these shows three episodes and the way things are going, I'm not going to be watching them going forward. Expect to hear from FOX's new sitcoms 'Ben and Kate' and 'The Mindy Project' as well as the returning 'New Girl' next week and maybe I'll catch up with 'Go On' and comment on it. 'The New Normal', I'd rather not watch again, but who know what tricks my mind could play on me. 

Now, tonight I also watched 'Parenthood' which is on at 10pm on NBC. I had never seen this shows before, but had heard very good things about it. I am not usually one to just start watching a show mid-run, but there's nothing else on at this hour and I thought it would be fun. And fun it was. Now I've only seen one episode, so take this with a grain of salt, but I really liked the vibe of this show. It is very character driven, relying on small moments instead of big plot developments.  Well, there seemed to be a pretty big plot thing towards the end, but it still was very character-driven. It made me remember 'Men of a Certain Age' (which makes me say Ray Romano is a very good fit for 'Parenthood') and the way it was just delightful to hang out with those characters every week. I'll definitely be coming back. 

2012 Emmy Award Predictions: Comedy Series

We're entering the home-stretch of our Emmy Predictions (finally!). The actual Awards Show is airing this Sunday and, as you may already know, I'll be live-blogging in case you're up for that kind of thing. You can also check in the next day to read my opinions if that's your thing. Anyway, let's start with this one.

In the series categories, shows submit three different packages made out of two episodes of their season. However, it is well-known that the episode submissions are not as important to winning a series emmy as in the acting categories. Usually, you can pick the winner out of buzz, like in most award shows without having to watch the submitted episodes. The nominees for Comedy Series are...

30 Rock (NBC)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Girls (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
Veep (HBO)

Will Win: The most obvious and probable winner is 'Modern Family'. Yes, the show has been on decline since its debut and this third season was without a doubt the low-point, but Award Shows (not to mention America) seems to love the show no matter how generic and uninspired it has become in its storytelling. It doesn't really belong in a list of the best six comedies on television, if you ask me, so you can guess what my opinion is on it winning again. The thing is, there is really nothing to challenge it in this list of nominees.

'30 Rock' has passed its prime and its awards-caché is diminishing. 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' has been here a million times already and has lost in much more buzzed-about seasons than this one. 'The Big Bang Theory' is very popular, but you can count it out as an Emmy-winner. And 'Veep', without any directing or writing nominations doesn't seem to be in a position to become the spoiler. 

The only show who could take it away from 'Modern Family' is 'Girls'. Lena Dunham has become the new 'it-girl' of the television landscape and the show was the talk of the town back when it was airing. As much as I would like 'Girls' to take the award, it just doesn't seem like the kind of show that older, more traditional Emmy voters would vote for. 'Modern Family' it is. 

Should Win: It is a joke and a pity that the best Comedy Series on television went unnoticed in this category. Where are 'Community', 'Louie' and 'Parks and Recreation'? That last one was nominated last year and couldn't come back to the list! Thankfully, Lena Dunham's long-maligned but delightful 'Girls' did get a nomination, and for being such a personal and assured show in only its first season, it easily gets my vote. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Disney Canon: Slaudos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944)

The Disney Canon is back! And with a double feature. You see, it is almost impossible to think of 'Saludos Amigos' without thinking of 'The Three Caballeros' or vice-versa. Actually, 'Caballeros' is a somewhat of a sequel to the first film. They share characters, settings, themes and even have very similar structures, so I saw it fitting to pair them up in just one post. Also, had I written two different posts for these films, the second one would be one paragraph long. There isn't much to say about the other once you've said something about the one, really. 

'Saludos Amigos' and 'The Three Caballeros' are not that well remembered today and go largely unseen by most audiences (except for Disney completists like myself). Probably because of their production history. You see, by this time in Disney's career, he was a little disappointed that his latest films (particularly his very ambitious 'Fantasia') had failed to live up to the enormous success of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'. Also at this time, the United States had just entered World War II. Given the circumstances, the United States' government contacted the hugely popular Disney to make a series of films for the war effort. Most of them were propaganda shorts and films used for training purposes. However, Disney was also approached to take a tour of South America to make a film that would strengthen the U.S.' ties to its neighbors south of the borer as part of the Good Neighbor Policy and to prevent the countries to side with Germany during the war. 

Disney accepted, probably not only because he was highly involved in the war effort, but because government cash would also be a good thing for a studio that was failing to make a profit out of its theatrical releases thanks to the closed European market. It's in this fashion that 'Saludos Amigos' and 'The Three Caballeros' kicked off the second phase of the Disney Canon. During the following years, Disney would not release proper feature length films, but rather a series of compilations of shorter cartoons. This happened, in part, because of the already mentioned financial inefficiencies of producing movies as ambitious as the ones that came before. These are all mostly forgotten films in Disney's filmography. With the exception of some of the segments produced for these films, most of them remain largely unwatched. 

We've already mentioned Disney's trip to South America and that is precisely the framing device for 'Saludos Amigos'. The narrator tells us about the expedition in which Disney and his animators traveled through South America apparently looking for inspiration for new shorts. The real reason why they traveled is never mentioned, of course. 

The movie is divided into four segments. The first has Donald Duck dealing with a temperamental Llama at the shores of Lake Titicaca, in the border between Peru and Bolivia. We then go to Chile, where we meet a little messenger plane called Pedro, who has the dangerous mission of crossing the Andes in order to deliver mail in Argentina. Talking about Argentina, the third short stars Goody as an American cowboy trying to become an Argentinian Gaucho. Finally, the last short has Donald Duck meet José Carioca, a brazilian parrot who introduces him to samba dancing. Between segments, we see documentary footage of the animators' trip. The narrator is heard throughout the film commenting, mostly informatively, about the cultural aspects of South America. 

This latter part is the primary goal of 'Saludos Amigos'. It is amusing at parts and somewhat educational about certain aspects of South American culture of the time, but it feels as if the film is just pandering to South American audiences, hoping that they will like what they're seeing because it features familiar stuff. As a matter of comparison, imagine how much american audiences would automatically like a film made in Bolivia just because it features cowboys. It's just not enough and that's the main reason why 'Saludos Amigos' doesn't really hold up as an entertaining movie.

The biggest historical significance of 'Saludos Amigos' is the introduction of José Carioca, who became a fairly popular character in Brazil appearing alongside Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in local comic strips. Another big significance, at least in South America, is that it inspired Chilean cartoonist Pepo, who believed an aeroplane wasn't all that representative of Chilean culture to create the popular comic-strip character of Condorito. 

I couldn't find information on the internet whether 'Saludos Amigos' had a successful run on South American (or American) theaters, but it couldn't have done that badly, since two years later, it was followed by 'The Three Caballeros'. 

This time, the framing devise of the film has Donald Duck opening birthday presents from his friends in South America. We see the stories of Pablo, a penguin who wants to leave for warmer climates, and a little Argentinian gaucho boy and his flying donkey before José Carioca comes back to take Donald into a samba musical number. Later, they are joined by Panchito, a Mexican rooster that makes the three feathered characters into the 'Three Caballeros'. 

I have to say that 'The Three Caballeros', despite being very objectifying of the Latin American actresses featured in the film, works better than 'Saludos Amigos'. Without the documentary framing devise and the constant narration of the former film, it feels less pandering and more like a continuing film, having Donald as an active character reacting to what is happening and recurring jokes like the presence of the eccentric Aracuan Bird. Stories like Pablo the Penguin's and less straightforward information make it a better mvie, but still nowhere near the full-length stories of the previous films. 

I would like these films to be better. Coming from South America, I think a lot of great stories could be told based on the cultural elements of the region. They could have made a true classic (at the very least for South American audiences). As it is, the films are just a couple of anecdotes in a larger, richer, filmography.

Next Time: Disney first "package" film not based on the southern part of the continent, 'Make Mine Music'. For the meantime, here's the titular song of 'The Three Caballeros'.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

World Cup Predictions?

I know most of you readers live in the US, but I can't bring myself to call this game 'soccer'. I know to you the name 'football' refers to a game that doesn't really involves one's feet very much, but please bear with me on this one. I've tried to avoid mentioning the actual name of the game, but I apologize for my rude 'south-americaness' anyway. 

This past week my home country team of Peru played a couple of World Cup qualification games against Venezuela and Argentina that got me into some kind of (very) early World Cup Fever. Back in Peru, the way people see the Peruvian national team could be summed up by saying that when we win we are the best team in the world and when we lose (which has been most of the time for the past years), we are the worst team in the world. 

This past week we actually defeated Venezuela and tied with Argentina, which got us out of last place of South America and had all peruvian fans taking out their calculators to see who we had to beat in order to qualify. I may have started to do just that, but I'm not a huge fan of math. What I am, as you may know from my love of award shows, is a fan of prognostication. I started to ponder which 32 teams we are going to see play two years from now when Brazil hosts the World Cup in South America for the first time in 36 years. 

Brazil, as host, is obviously automatically qualified (this is a good thing for peruvians, because it means Brazil's usual qualification spot is open). From what I've read about the brazilian state of mind regarding the world cup, it seems to be divided by those who claim they will absolutely win the cup no matter what and those who think Brazil will make a gigantic fool out of itself and lose terribly. This latter group, ailed by the memory of the loss to Uruguay back when they last hosted the cup in 1950, seems to be the majority. 

It is true that after dominating the World Cup landscape for roughly ten years (winning in 94 and 02), Brazil didn't quite live up to expectations, which let's be honest, are always terribly high. Every four years Brazil are inevitable favorites for the win and right now almost the whole world is awaiting a final game where Brazil plays Spain for the cup. So let's take a look at the confederations one by one to see who'll qualify.

CONMEBOL (South America)
Brazil leaving the spot open means four teams qualify and the fifth-ranked team goes on to an international play-off agains an asian team. South American football is getting kind of crazy lately, so I'd say the only sure-thing for the qualification is Argentina. They've had a couple of lackluster years lately, but can you imagine a world cup without them? The other usual suspects are Uruguay (who placed fourth at the last cup but seem to be having some trouble lately) and Chile (who are also having some minor troubles, but seem poised for a qualification). For the fourth team I'm pretty confident in picking Colombia, who are playing some impressive football and have just beaten Chile and Uruguay at their own countries. 

As good as Peru has been in the last two games and much as I'd like to see my country get some world cup action for the first time in decades, that fifth-place play-off spot seems to be going to Ecuador right now.

CONCACAF (North and Central America)
Here you have three qualifiers and a fourth team going to a play-off against the Oceania confederation winner. The big guys in this confederation are, obviously, Mexico. Despite being a recurrent world cup player and famously "footballistic" country, they have yet to win. You can also expect the United States to qualify. Right now the best bet for the last spot seems to be Panama. The fourth spot could go to Jamaica or Honduras. 

AFC (Asia)
For some reason, I guess because the Oceania confederation must be relatively new, Australia plays in this confederation. From what Wikipedia tells me, they aren't doing that well right now, but I expect to qualify anyway. The asian countries that you can absolutely count in for a qualification are Japan and South Korea. The favorite for the fourth place is Iran. The fifth spot gets to play the South American number five in the play-off and it will probably be Qatar, who seem to be stepping up their football for when they host the 2022 World Cup.  

CAF (Africa)
Africa gets five immediate qualifiers. Ivory Coast (with its international stars, although Drogba is in his thirties now) and Ghana (with an impressive 2010 run) are the safest bets for a confederation where it seems like anyone has a chance of getting through. I don't really now what to predict so I'll go with what the football history of the country tells me. I'll go with Senegal (who surprised the world in 2002), Nigeria (who surprised at the 1994 Cup) and Egypt (who have won the African Cup more than any other team). 

OFC (Oceania)
There is really no question that it's going to be New Zealand that will play the CONCACAF number five at the play-offs.

UEFA (Europe)
And now, the big one. Europe gets thirteen countries to qualify. Let's get the big ones first.  Spain is the big favorite to become the first country to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1962, so count them in. Despite lackluster performances in previous cups (Italy, France) or lackluster performances at the European Cup (Netherlands) or just not being able to win (Germany) expect the following to go through: Germany, Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, France, and England. 

That leaves seven spots. The UEFA qualification takes place in groups of about six teams, so let's take a look at who has the biggest chance in the teams where the big teams aren't present. [goes off to look at Wikipedia] Ok, it seems like Croatia and Switzerland have a nice chance of getting  in. And, surprisingly to me, so does Bosnia and Herzegovina who are doing pretty well and didn't reach the 2010 only because they didn't beat Portugal at the play-offs in a very tight game. From the other probable qualifiers, I'd say Russia (who somehow didn't get off the group stage at the Euro2012 despite playing very well), Sweden and Greece.

Whew, that was a long one. Come back in roughly a year's time to see how I did predicting the qualifiers. And in two years, when the actual cup takes place to see me try to predict who'll win. Nothing is is sure about the outcome of sports, but I bet we'll all be sick of samba music by the time the 2014 World Cup is over.