Monday, February 24, 2014

Review of Arrested Development Season 4 Episodes 4-7

More Episodes Reviewed….
Episode 4: The B. Team (Featured character: Michael Bluth)
So far, Michael’s episodes have been the strongest. I am having an internal debate about that however, because I still question whether I feel that way because the two Michael episodes have felt the most familiar and in-line with the first three seasons. Inserting Ron Howard into the story itself (going beyond narration) again shows that Season 4 takes steps outside of boundaries Season 1-3 set up. With Chachi and the Fonz already I guess it’s not too much of a leap to take. The jokes (some of them inside jokes?) involving Imagine Entertainment and Ron have been some of the best in this new season so far. Isla Fisher plays a new love interest for Michael, and again Michael finds himself misunderstanding who he’s dating. It’s funny, but not an instant classic like Julia-Louis Dreyfus’ and Charlize Theron’s turns as Michael’s love interests. Overall, a solid episode, with some good cameos, both old and new (John Krasinki among them) Grade: B+
Episode 5: “A New Start” (Featured Character: Tobias)
This episode really builds from Episode 2 of this season, and rewards the viewer patient enough to sit through that episode that lacked a lot of laughs. There are some new classic Tobias moments, although again, they drew attention to a running joke that Tobias previously was oblivious too. It seems they’re intent on making the same transition the Simpsons made, where Homer’s buffoonery went from being accepted by everyone in the Simpson universe, and then having Frank Grimes call out how dumb Homer is. That episode of The Simpsons represented a shift that seemed awkward at first, but that episode is now easily in my top 10 for that show. I’m not sure that all the new-found awareness on the part of the characters in AD will result in the same way, but I can say that I did enjoy going through some of the same events in Episode 2, this time through Tobias’ eyes, a more enjoyable experience. Debris seemed too awkward in Ep. 2, but with this episode you start to get that character a bit more. I always enjoy Tobias’ misuse of words that cause confusion about his sexual identity. There is no shortage of those in this episode. I also always enjoy making fun of “To Catch a Predator”-style shows. Grade: B
Episode 6: “Double Crossers” (Featured Character: George, Sr.)
Although George Sr. is the featured character, this episode felt more like an ensemble piece. There is a scene (or two) where Michael and Gob meet again for the first time in years, without George Sr. in the mix. Part of the problem I have had with the George Sr. episodes is that they have spent a lot of time explaining the plot of the season. The scheme of building a wall on the border is a bit too complex and takes a bit too much time away from the comedy. The plot shares characteristics of the plot that drove the first three seasons- the Bluths building housing developments in Iraq. Yet it feels like they’re trying to fit in 3 seasons worth of this “plot” into this one season; and even more than that, just George Sr.’s episodes. But there are some funny moments, and the final gag of this episode was brilliantly set up, surprising you in a way that is not unlike many setups from earlier seasons. Also, the Episode 4 introduction of Isla Fisher’s character begged the question as to why Dallas Bryce Howard wasn’t cast in that role. This episode drolly addresses that question. Grade: B-
Episode 7: “Colony Collapse” (Featured Character: Gob)

“Now, you’ve….got some mice to scoop out of the sea.”- Gob
“And As It Is Such, So Also As Such Is It Unto You”- Religious TV Show Host
And so many other lines. Gob has always been my favorite, and so far his episode is my favorite. From the Entourage parody, to the Wedding Magic Trick, to the show “Pop a ROTC,” this episode didn’t disappoint. A lot of the laughs as always comes from Will Arnett’s delivery. The episode contained another element of self-awareness, but in staying true to Gob’s character, Gob never really gets a clue, or not as much as the other characters have. I would have featured Gob a little earlier in the season, but perhaps it’s better to be left wanting more than to get too much.
Grade: A-

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Arrested Development Season 4: Better Late

One aspect of Netflix that I haven’t really had time to take advantage of is the abundance of television shows they have available. I’ve caught random episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, watched the pilot for the original Star Trek (in which William Shatner was nowhere to be seen), and watched about six or seven episodes of Sons of Anarchy before life got too busy (I do plan to get back to that one later).
I’ve been accused of watching too much television, but thinking of the shows I currently watch, I don’t put too much on my plate. This is partly due to some shows I was following that ran their course (like Lost, Fringe or Breaking Bad, all available on streaming last time I checked), and some others being on HBO, which I decided to cancel because the cost was too much and some of the shows were really starting to disappoint (such as everything but Game of Thrones). I do watch and really enjoy American Horror Story and The Americans. I have watched Mad Men, but that seems to have a new season only every 2 or 3 years. I still am holding on to The Walking Dead for some reason. I am wondering whether the 2 or 3 first rate episodes that they have each season is worth the mediocrity you have to endure for the other episodes.
Speaking of mediocrity, here we have Arrested Development: Season 4. If you ask me what some of my favorite television shows of all time would be, that might be a long list, but ask me about my favorite comedies, and I will immediately say Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and Arrested Development. I’m reviewing Season 4 so late because I decided I wanted to watch Arrested Development (hereafter referred to as AD) from Episode 1. I started this back in the summer a short time after the season 4 episodes premiered on Netflix. Needless to say, it took me awhile, but I enjoyed watching some classic episodes. The series was as solid as I remembered it. So this week I finally got to season 4. I’m going to review each episode separately, and with a letter grade, just to be different from my movie reviews. Besides enjoying reviewing the first 3 seasons, I also don’t feel compelled to avoid spoilers, as these episodes have been online for quite some time now. So if you haven’t watched the episodes, I may or may not give away things.
Episode 1- The Flight of the Phoenix  Grade: B+ (Featured character: Michael)
The first episode thankfully rewarded me for refreshing my memory of the first 3 seasons. There are several jokes and guest appearances that will make fans of the original series laugh. This episode is the best of the first three episodes, but there are still some awkward jokes that fall a little flat. I’m not sure why Michael seems likes he’s gone beyond his naivete about certain things (such as his relationship with his son, George Michael) to outright stupidity at times. His attending the University of Phoenix while rooming with his son at UCI, and hoping that being featured in an inflight magazine will get his career back on track, feel like the old AD (his exchange with the airline staff is great). Michael getting into the shower with his son just felt like too much (unlike the hilariously awkward “Afternoon Delight” duet with his niece in the original episodes). The voting out the roommate scene was also well done, and I enjoyed Romel de Silva as George Michael’s roommate. Also fun to see were the cameos from Kirsten Wiig and Seth Rogen as the young George and Lucille Bluth.
Episode 2: Borderline Personalities   Grade: C  (Featured Character: George Sr.)
This episode didn’t really connect with me. There was a lot of “plot” going on. I’ve heard from previous reviews that the early episodes set up the payoff that comes in the later episodes. I certainly hope so. Other negative reviews complain that the timing seems off, and I would have to say that they would be right when it comes to this episode. The biggest laughs came from Karen Maruyama’s ex-con named China Garden. John Slattery had some good lines as well, but I don’t think Mary Lynn Rajskub’s character really hit the mark the writers were trying to hit. The George W Bush gag was good. But overall it seemed like it was trying to hard and not delivering much in the way of laughs. It remains to be seen if there is a payoff later.
Episode 3: Indian Takers Grade: C+ (Featured Character: Lindsay Bluth)
Again, the timing seemed a little bit off. There was a bit more here than Episode 2 to like. I appreciated that a good deal of the jokes that work come from knowing Lindsay’s character really well. Ed Helms makes an appearance as a real estate agent who makes some hilarious sales pitches to Tobias and Lyndsay in order to get them into a home they can’t afford. Lyndsay actually hooks up with someone else, which kind of ruins a long running joke of Lyndsay misunderstanding men’s advances and not being able to cheat on her husband even though she wants to. Her sleeping with another man does however provide the set up for another joke, but I’m not sure that it was worth it.
Overall, I’m leaning towards not enjoying this as much as my old AD. But I’m still optimistic, and I realize in some ways it has to be a different experience being created for Netflix.
Reviews of the following episodes coming soon.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Try Hard(er): B movie Bruce Willis: Fire with Fire Review

So after watching so many movies that demand your attention, and make you think, I thought I’d watch a movie that would let me turn off my brain. I made a good choice. I also discovered that my instant queue is full. I guess there is a limit, it is 500 movies. I had to make room for something that might be good, so rather than just deleting a title from my queue, I chose the road of the true sadomasochist and looked for something awful.
Fire with Fire (2012) is one of those films that doesn’t captivate you with how terrible it is. You just slowly lose interest, get distracted by other things, including all the actors in this film that have been in much better, every once in awhile checking in to see what’s going on with the movie. It stars Josh Duhamel, which is the movie’s first problem. He brings out as much emotion in a character as a Ken Doll does. On the other hand, the first CLUE that this movie will be bad is that it stars Bruce Willis, yet it received no theatrical release here. However, IMDB will tell you that there were 9,941 admissions in Portugal (which surely was just to fulfill some clause in a contract that the movie must have a theatrical release).
Yet, I still had hopes for the film. It starts with Duhamel witnessing a double homicide hate crime committed by an overweight Vincent D’Onofrio as the leader of an Aryan brotherhood. He looks and dresses more like an accountant, but OK. Duhamel escapes the scene. We then are treated to a tight close up of the Long Beach Police Department building. “Hey, I live in Long Beach!” I thought. “Maybe I’ll see some places I recognize!” I am first treated to some laughable scenes where we meet Willis as a police detective who has been wanting to catch D’Onofrio on previous charges but couldn’t make them stick. If you know the LBPD, this should make you laugh, as Willis takes his role too seriously in this film to be a LBPD detective. D’Onofrio discovers Duhamel’s identity (who is a firefighter, so that’s why it’s called FIRE WITH FIRE, get it? Get it?), and Duhamel has to enter the witness protection program.
We then end up in New Orleans. “Hey, I’m wearing a New Orleans shirt!” I thought. “And I’m living in Long Beach!” I thought. How exciting! It’s like I was in the movie itself. Duhamel has somehow hooked up with Rosario Dawson during the course of the opening credits, and they trade lame anecdotes about how it is to be a firefighter versus her being a police officer. They are attacked by D’Onofrio’s hired henchman, Dawson gets shot in the head, but somehow is OK. Duhamel then decides the only way to be safe is to go back to Long Beach and confront D’Onofrio.
We then are told that Duhamel is at 14th Street and Cherry in Long Beach, which looks like this, but looks like someplace else in the movie. Having been to New Orleans, I suspect that Duhamel is still in New Orleans, and looking at the filming locations, I’m right, as there was only one location listed on IMDB. So Duhamel is terribly lost and has not left New Orleans at all, but everyone in the film humors him and tells him he’s in Long Beach. But seriously, name dropping Long Beach more than any film I’ve seen recently doesn’t help if I know it’s not Long Beach, THE LBC! So I’m looking up the filming location while watching the movie of course, and slowly lose interest in what is a lame vigilante film (thus the FIRE WITH FIRE title having another layer to it. Get it? Get it?), and get distracted by other shiny things on the internet.
There isn’t much else to say about the film. Things happen, none of them memorable or executed particularly well. I already have said that Duhamel doesn’t have the chops to carry a film, so at least he’s starring in a film that wouldn’t have been any good in the first place. Willis is collecting a paycheck. Dawson does her job and looks good doing it. Vinny Jones is in the film to make sure it sucks. There are other recognizable people that you could look up and wonder why they are bothering to do this film. I would guess it’s because 50 Cent produced the film, and he payin’ more den fitty cent to be in his movie. Mr. 50 also has a cameo role in the film.
So why am I blogging about this? One reason could be that I generally give good reviews to everything here, but that’s more a function of having decent taste than thinking that every movie is good. I guess partly because I don’t want to look like a movie snob as well, with a lot of documentaries and heady stuff. I’m not above watching a brainless well-done action flick. But this is not the film you’re looking for.
IMDB rating: 3 out of 10 stars
Netflix rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dirty Wars: Netflix Oscar Documentary Challenge, Entry #2

So, if your country kept you in solitary confinement for 17 months without even charging you with a crime, and after that confinement you spoke against your country, which led your country to target you for assassination, how would that make you feel? That should have been the lead for the next entry in my Oscar documentary challenge, but unfortunately, the plot was lost…
Of the five nominated documentaries, Dirty Wars seemed to be the entry that is not as shocking as it thinks it is. I’ve pulled some quotes from the movie, and if these comments on the war on terrorism indeed are surprising, then Dirty Wars may be what you need if you have just come out of a coma:
- After Jeremy Scahill, the investigative reporter at the center of this film (and who you may have seen on talk shows and cable news outlets), asks a question about lethal operations (aka drone strikes) to a government official, another government official off-camera says:
We can’t acknowledge that a lethal operation outside of a war zone has occurred.
The on camera government official eventually says the following (paraphrase):
There are almost like there are two laws… Americans would be extremely surprised if they knew the difference between what they believe a law says and how it has been interpreted in secret.
Scahill bravely goes to Somalia to find more information, describing Somalia as a testing lab for the future of war, and the future looks bleak. He interviews a Somali warlord, who has been used by the American government to interrogate “suspected terrorists”:
America are the war masters. They know (killing) better than me. They are teachers. Great teachers.
Scahill also says that “America has been trying to kill its way to victory” in the war on terror, but they have created more terrorists in a self-fulfilling prophecy. He also ponders on when a war on terror ever ends. Again, not revolutionary ideas or questions.
All this makes for a weird viewing experience. Everything you see should make you enraged, sad, and completely fed up with our government and its lack of respect for the laws and the Constitution it purports to uphold and protect. Scahill briefly returns home to the United States, and describes how unfulfilling “normal” life is after being out on “the front” of the war. But perhaps he and the director should have spent more time in his home country. He touches on the complete unresponsiveness of our Congress (again, no surprise there), and that the shows he goes on to discuss issues are more about being combative than actually thinking through the issues being discussed. But what about the outrage deficit, or is it outrage fatigue, that informed Americans have to be feeling? And that they have to be feeling when watching this movie? Our government and military has targeted innocent civilians in foreign countries where we haven’t officially declared war, and done their best to cover atrocities up or create suspicion about who they killed (kind of hard to do when it’s women and children). There seems like there is nothing to be done about a government that is creating its own problems, and has no problem crossing the line for “the greater good.” We sit helpless while our government targets and kills its own citizens with drone strikes in foreign countries without so much as a trial or even a specific description of the charges justifying his execution. Dirty Wars isn’t the first place I’ve heard of these things, and the problem with the documentary is that is doesn’t give the viewer something they can focus on, so that they can maybe get beyond the outrage fatigue, and feel like they or someone will be doing something about all of this. It is like Scahill and reporters like him are in a bubble where to them this is all news, because it should be, but the populace greets such news with a shrug and a “What can you do?”
This is not to say that Dirty Wars is a bad film. It finds its stride a little too late, with the last 25 minutes being what the director and Scahill should have spent more time on- how the killing of Bin Laden turned everything on its head, and what was once in the darkness became celebrated in the light, and created an expansion of the war on terror. The true heart of the film is the transformation of Anwar Al-alawki from moderate to extremist. Al-Alawki was a US Citizen who imprisoned for 17 months in solitary confinement without any charges being made against him. I would have started the film with him and ended it with him as well. I won’t go into too much detail, but what happens to him and his family truly is shocking and surprising. And for every US Citizen, it should sadden and frighten you as well.
My IMDB rating: 7 out of 10 (7.5 if that existed)
My Netflix rating: 4 out of 5 (3.5 if that existed)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Netflix and Net Neutrality

Anybody who cares about their pocketbook, and freedom to use internet sites as they wish, should be interested in this issue. I find it ironic that these companies want to charge web sites practically a la carte, but they don't offer consumers that option when it comes to choosing channels, and not being stuck with 300 channels you don't want.