Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Keep 30 Rocking On

          On Thursday January 31st, NBC will air the last 30 Rock episode ever. In many ways, the Tina Fey/Alec Baldwin comedy has become easy to take for granted. What was once an edgy and trendy, albeit niche, show has, over seven seasons, evolved into as much of a sturdy, comforting bedrock for NBC as its more awkward and popular cousin, The Office; no matter what else was going on, you could count on seeing the show somewhere in NBC’s Thursday night comedy lineup. This isn’t to say that 30 Rock has lost its edge. Though it has undoubtedly passed its peak (which occurred during seasons two and three) and is much more hit-and-miss than it used to be, it still produces laughs at a reliable rate. However, with more and more quirky sitcoms – from Parks and Rec and Community to Happy Endings and the experimental Louie – picking up audiences and cultural cachet, it’s easy to forget just how damn good 30 Rock is.

            As the end nears, I’ve begun to realize – to remember – how much I truly love this show and how much I’ll miss it when it’s gone. Unlike for most of my other favorite shows, I can’t quite recall when I first started watching it. My parents followed it, so between that and reruns that popped up on various channels, I saw more than a handful of episodes every now and then before I finally became a regular viewer at some point during the fourth season. As often seems to happen with me, this was just past when the show was at its best, though I only really noticed the difference in quality after running through the first three seasons on Netflix last year. Still, back then, I wasn’t nearly as immersed in the communal aspect of entertainment – the blogs, social network sites, Internet message boards and all that – and couldn’t care less that 30 Rock was starting to get that weird, groupthink backlash (the result of a slight dip in excellence and people tired of it winning so many Emmys) that every show experiences if it runs for long enough. All I knew was that I really enjoyed watching it and looked forward to a new episode each week.

Monday, January 28, 2013

2012: The Year Movies Went Rogue


                Question: What does film have in common with fashion and politics?

                Answer: They all follow trends. Even in our contemporary world of subcultures, niche audiences and infinite choices, where studios tailor their products to encompass a gamut of genres and tastes, gracing us with everything from micro-budget indies to titanic blockbusters, you can often find common threads running through movies released during a given time period. Some trends, like the patriotic/anti-Communist films of the 1950s and the reactionary female-psycho thrillers that dominated the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, make an enduring impact on the pop culture landscape, often reflective of the current social and political climate. Others simply occur when two different studios happen to release two different re-imaginings of the Snow White fairy tale within two months of each other (pure coincidence, right? Right?). It’s all pretty arbitrary, of course; you don’t need a PhD in calculus to be able to select a few random, tangentially related movies and say, “Oh, look, they all revolve around x! This must mean something!”, which is essentially what critics get paid to do.

                Still, as we venture into the great unknown that is 2013, I thought it might be interesting to look back at the styles, subjects and themes that captured the cinematic zeitgeist of 2012. And yes, I do know that it’s almost the end of January and way past the appropriate time for reminiscence. No, I don’t care.

                In 2008, superhero blockbusters were “in” (see: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight), though to be fair, superhero movies have been “in” every year since then. 2009 had dystopian/apocalyptic sci-fi (see: District 9, The Road, Terminator: Salvation, 9, etc.), and in 2011, it was nostalgia (Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Artist, pretty much everything else). 2012, I think, was epitomized by two rather encouraging trends: 1) strong female characters and 2) ambition. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Very Favorite Thing: A Fringe Farewell

        You probably can’t tell by reading this blog, but I find it hard to write about things I love. When writing about something you despise or don’t feel strongly about, it’s easy to just spew out some words and never think twice about it; perhaps that’s why irony and vitriol are so prolific on the internet. When it’s something I love, though, I feel a responsibility to not just describe it or share my opinion, but to convey an experience, to make readers fully understand my devotion and to maybe pass some of that emotion onto them. I want to do the movie/TV show/whatever justice, but I lack the mastery of writing needed to do so. No words seem to articulate my thoughts and emotions as effectively as keyboard mashing, hysterical and incoherent babbling and, most of all, this gif. Such is the case with Fringe.

       It started with “The Box”. For those that don’t know, that’s the second episode of the third season, so obviously, I’m not one of those blessed few who can claim that they stuck with this show from the start. I didn’t know much going in, just that there were parallel universes involved, that John Noble had been egregiously snubbed by the Emmys the previous season and that, at one point, they had a noir-musical episode. Though I didn’t understand what was going on in “The Box” (I chose this episode to jump in simply because it was the earliest one they had available on Hulu), something about it hooked me almost instantly. I wish I had some really poignant and personal story explaining why I was able to connect with this particular show, but I don’t. Suffice it to say that I was still suffering from some pretty severe Lost withdrawal, and I suppose Fringe was the most natural successor to that landmark show, with its blend of sci-fi escapism and more intimate drama. What I saw in that first episode was promising, featuring characters that seemed likable and interesting and a nice balance of fun and more serious, emotional moments.

 After all, when the cold open features this and people’s heads exploding, how can you not want to watch more?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty review: Geronimo!


                You know right away that Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s controversial, top-secret account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, will be intense. The movie opens with a single, unmistakable date printed across an otherwise blank screen – September 11, 2001 – followed by a spine-tingling medley of interlinking, sometimes overlapping voices, ostensibly calm and unremarkable yet loaded with ominous subtext, the sound of those final, fatal moments before the World Trade Center collapsed into oblivion and left a nation and its citizens permanently scarred. There’s nothing to look at, no archived footage of smoke leaking from ruined buildings or people screaming in anguish amid ash and smoldering debris, and it makes for a deeply uncomfortable experience.

                Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a 9/11 movie, per se, but the memory of that horrific day lingers below its surface. On several occasions, various characters refer to the 3000 people who died in the terrorist attacks, as if to remind themselves – and, by extension, the audience – why the mission is so important. The cold, hard truth is that finding bin Laden was not about “protecting the homeland,” as Joseph Bradley, the CIA station chief arrestingly portrayed by Friday Night Lights’s Kyle Chandler, says, although that was certainly a factor. No, more than anything, finding (killing) bin Laden was about revenge. Even as the years trudged by, and attitudes toward the so-called War on Terror morphed along with the ever-changing political landscape, the sense of righteous anger sparked by 9/11 remained. Many directors would have turned Zero Dark Thirty into a straightforward retribution flick, complete with blood-splattered shootouts and ‘80s-era tough-guy one-liners, but Kathryn Bigelow is subtler than that. With the same precision and vigor she displayed in 2009’s masterful The Hurt Locker, the Oscar-winning filmmaker delivers a taut, provocative, fearless procedural that plunges viewers right into the nitty-gritty of one of the most fascinating and enigmatic chapters of modern history. The trick is that she does so without sacrificing the film’s integrity or resorting to simplistic gung-ho patriotism.