By Chauncey Telese
Hello everyone and welcome to Part Two of my Welcome to Summer column. For those of you who didn’t read Part One, that covered the last three weeks of “Mad Men.” Part two is devoted to the first five big summer blockbusters that have been released thus far.
Before we get to that though,I’d like to recap the week in TV because this week was Up Fronts, where networks roll out their fall schedules and announce the series that are returning and introducing the new shows they’ve picked up.
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For Fox, this meant announcing that “New Girl” (who completed a rocky but overall good rookie season) will anchor their Tuesday night line up (“Glee” will now be on Thursday backing up “The X Factor” which will now have Britney Spears and Demi Lovato as judges) along with “Raising Hope,” Mindy Kaling’s new series and other rookie “Ben and Kate”. ABC thankfully renewed “Happy Endings”, “Suburgatory” (which also just finished a shaky but satisfying rookie campaign), and “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.”
Leslie Knope not only won a city council seat over Bobby Newport but also won a full fifth season for “Parks and Rec.” NBC also renewed “30 Rock” for a final season and even gave “Community” a fifth season (though it’s in the dreaded Friday spot with “Whitney” so the dark timeline is still in play). Those were the big developments and I didn’t have to mourn any shows that were axed too soon (mainly because TBS saved “Cougar Town”). I’m not sure how most of these pilots will do (I will pull a Mitt Romney and bet $10,000 that JJ Abrams show will be cancelled along with Dane Cook’s midseason replacement, Matthew Perry’s new show, and “Mob Doctor”).
Will Ferrell (who looks older then his mom, apparently) made up for Eli Manning’s stink bomb on SNL and I was pleased that he brought back Bush and the Culps (along with Ana Gasteyer), and Will Forte even made an appearance. I loved the 100th Digital Short (very well done), Liam Neeson’s spot on “Get in the Cage” and thought Usher did a good job as musical guest. The season finale was interesting. On one hand the music was AWESOME (Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, and Jeff Beck played with Jagger). On the other the sketches were meh (except for the opener with Jon Hamm) but the final one while not funny proved that I’m not made of stone. I’m not going to lie; I got a little choked up when everyone danced with Kristen Wiig as she said good-bye to the show. She will be missed but I’m sure that she will be a success and that Vanessa Bayer will be a worthy successor. I don’t know if Samberg is gone but if he is, the sequel to “Lazy Sunday” will be an adequate farewell. Also, I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last of Sudekis because with the election heating up I’m sure we’ll get plenty of Romney and Biden.
The Lakers fought hard in game two but it’s clear that OKC is the wave of the future (or as Bill Simmons and Molly Lambert tweeted, OKC is Michael Ginsberg and Kobe is Don Draper in 1966). My friend Armando and I were in the house for game three where they gutted out a win and then proceeded to squander it a night later. They are most likely done (this was written before game five) so I’d like to offer a few suggestions that could help them out next year.
Fire Mike Brown. I know he took over in a lockout year but it’s clear the guy isn’t fit to coach Kobe (Cavaliers fans can now nod glumly). If they don’t bring in Howard I suggest hiring Stan Van Gundy. If they do bring in Howard, why not make things right and hire Brian Shaw?
I suggest exploring trading Andrew Bynum because his childish act is wearing thin and though they won on Friday, I don’t remember him doing much outside of free throws. He’s been a pain in the neck since he got to LA. I don’t like Dwight Howard much either, but I’d rather have an indecisive guy that brings it every night then a baby who shows up when he feels like it.
Amnesty Ron Artest (because who in God’s name would trade for him?) He’s erratic and while his defense is good, he’s a liability offensively.
Find some outside shooters. When Steve Blake is your number two perimeter shooter, you’ve got problems.
Start building a young bench and stop trading draft picks.
Okay, it’s movie time. I held off submitting this on Friday because I wasn’t able to fit in all the movies I needed to see (I forgot that “What to Expect” didn’t open until Friday, not Wednesday). None of movies released since “The Avengers” came out made a lot of money but they’re worth talking about for reasons outside the actual movie (in other words don’t expect me to do much critiquing of the plots).
“The Avengers”: Marvel’s Four-Year Plan Comes to Fruition
Do I need to go into how brilliant Marvel is? Do I need to review how carefully they worked to make this movie happen? Do I even need to tell you why it’s awesome? I doubt it because I’m sure that there can’t be any more than five people in this town that haven’t seen it. I will anyway because I’ve been waiting to talk about this movie for four years but I’ll skip the usual blah blah blah of what the movie’s about because like I said we’ve all seen it by now. I’ll just spend the next couple paragraphs gushing about why it’s worth seeing over the rest of the movies in this column.
Joss Whedon is a geek god to most. My buddy Bryan, for instance, is a huge fan of his because of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” “Serenity” etc. I don’t have a lot of connection to any of these shows nor to Whedon so I didn’t really care about the decision to hire him to write and direct. It is only after seeing the movie did I understand why people love him because he loves these characters like Agent Colson does in the movie (major ups to Clark Gregg for being the connective tissue in all these movies and being great at it). Nobody is slighted in the movie and everyone gets to shine on multiple occasions.
I also commend him for doing something that nobody’s been able to do. He did the Hulk justice. We’ve had failed attempts to make the Hulk work and it seemed like the Mojave desert of superhero efforts. I give some of the credit to Mark Ruffalo, an actor I’ve never liked all that much. Here, he allows Bruce Banner to both be intelligent (so much so he impresses Stark) and make light of his anger issues. Whedon also allowed the Avengers to fight each other throughout the movie. This was beyond amazing because not only did we get to answer age-old questions (like could The Hulk beat Thor, let alone pick up his hammer) and who’d win, Stark or Captain America? These scenes also went a long way towards externalizing the internal conflict. The last act of the movie was worth the price of admission alone (seriously if you’ve seen it you can nod in agreement) and exemplified the best parts of the movie. I’ll stop gushing because you guys know how great the movie is. I hope you guys stayed for the middle of the credits (featuring Thannos and the end featuring the tired Avengers quietly enjoying shwarma). The point is, until further notice, this movie will own the summer.
“Dark Shadows”: The Burton/Depp Relationship Needs Counseling
As stated above we’re not going into too much plot this week because the movies have already come and gone (especially for the movies released this weekend). Instead, I will just go into the aspects of the movies that intrigued me. In this case, the part of “Dark Shadow” that clicked for me had nothing to do with the product on screen. Instead, I saw one of the most successful director/actor relationships stall out and in reality the signs have always been there. In the 90’s their relationship was the most unique thing out there that had nothing to do with Tarantino or the Coen Brothers. They both pushed each other to create some amazing work but after a while, people get complacent in a relationship. In the 00’s, Depp found someone who challenged him the same way Burton did but better. Gore Verbinski challenged Depp to not only create Jack Sparrow but also with “Rango” (and next year “The Lone Ranger”). Burton never found that other muse. 2002 saw the release of “Big Fish” which marked the last time he had anything to say and allowed him to tweak his style (unfortunately people forget how good this movie was). Since then though, he’s been content to just coast on his reputation and hope that with each new crop of teenagers that embrace his movies, he can still remain a genius.
I can’t explain what happened to Burton but it’s clear that he doesn’t really know what he wants to do anymore. On one hand, his movies still make money, but on the other hand, he’s lost his ability to tap into his darkness and coax other actors to do the same.
In “Dark Shadows” he’s given a great cast and wastes most of them. Chloe Grace-Moritz is the next Jodie Foster and is amazing in anything she does. Here, her gifts are wasted, which is a shame because Burton could’ve found his new Winona Ryder. Depp does what Depp does and his Barnabas Collins is great. The movie’s problems stem from the fact that it doesn’t know if it wants to be homage to the campy soap or not. Maybe that’s not Burton’s fault so much as Seth Graham-Smith (who wrote “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”). His first major screenplay is deeply flawed and makes me question his future prospects (then again he’s been adopted by Burton and his European counterpart Timur Bekmembatov, so he’ll work for awhile).
The point is, Depp and Burton love each other but perhaps they shouldn’t do any movies together until the right project comes along. Hopefully Burton’s stop-motion movie “Frankenweenie” (based on his original short film) can reinvigorate his career because at this instance the “South Park” guys’ assessment of Burton is accurate. It’s a shame because aside from Disney, Spielberg, Lucas, and Zemekis, Burton was a major part of my childhood and I want him to succeed.
Okay, moving on to the movies that came out this weekend.
“The Dictator”: Sacha Baron Cohen Needs a New Groove
It was six years ago that English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen brought us the film version of “Borat” based on the character from “Da Ali G Show.” “Borat” was hilarious and provocative because he exposed the racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and other aspects of society that we choose to gloss over. He followed that up with “Bruno,” which, aside from exposing some of the same things “Borat” did, it also put fame and our desire for it under the microscope. My chief criticism of “Bruno” though was that it at times tried way too hard to be provocative.
In his latest effort, he decides to let everyone in on the joke. “The Dictator” is an entirely scripted affair but it features the same issues that his previous works have. His new creation General Aladeen is a “benevolent” dictator that loves his country so much he wants to protect it from democracy. He goes to the UN to plead his case for having nuclear weapons and gets humbled by having to work with the owner of an organic store (Anna Farris). The jokes fly a mile a minute and they are more miss then hit and to me the whole effort showed the best and worst of Baron Cohen. On one hand, I give him credit for committing to all of these characters but on the other, he tries too hard to be outrageous. While I commended his level of commitment to characters the downside of that is when he appears on “SNL,” “Jon Stewart,” “Kevin and Bean” etc, he tends to wear out his welcome before the movie comes out. Don’t get me wrong the movie isn’t terrible but it is clear that he needs to try something else. He was great in “Talladega Nights”, “Sweeney Todd” and “Hugo” and it’d be interesting to see him in something that didn’t require him to be hidden behind makeup and a heavy accent. True, Peter Sellers never really played anyone but outlandish characters either but I still think Baron Cohen should give it a spin.
“What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Doesn’t Feel like Labor Pains but isn’t Painless Either
Due to the fact that I’m 23 and single (that’s right, ladies), I don’t relate to movies about pregnancy. That doesn’t mean that they’re not good, in fact “Juno” and “Knocked Up” are great but that mainly derives from the fact that they were about more then pregnancy. Those aren’t the norm though, as most pregnancy movies sort of rely on relatable but hackneyed jokes about changing diapers and wanting the epidural. I figured I’d check this one out though because my friends Wes and Katie wanted to go (they’re baby is due in August) and who knows, with Chris Rock and Thomas Lennon, it could be good.
I’ll admit that it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting (see what I did there) and while it doesn’t offer any new insights, it does offer some laughs. I loved the daddy group and the various moments of on-the-fly parenting (I won’t judge because that would be violating the rules). I liked the idea that the movie tried to touch on various types of pregnancy experiences and made use of the book from which it takes its name. Katie liked it, so I guess the movie plays to its target audience. I don’t have much else to say except that if guys find themselves seeing this on a date night, they could do worse.
Okay, let’s bring it home and discuss the noisy epic fail that is “Battleship”.
“Battleship: A Board Game Movie that Deserves to be Sunk”
Hasbro struck gold with “Transformers” in 2007 and decided to option whatever toy or game it had. Due to the fact that comic books have been played out, this represents the last bastion of adaptation. They had at one point an “Ouija” movie, a “Magic 8 Ball” movie, “Monopoly”, and “Candyland” (which is now starring Adam Sandler….uggg). I get it; we live in a different world cinematically. Studios want property with name recognition and we’ve rifled through comics, video games don’t translate well, and books are just as hit or miss (Universal will regret paying a king’s ransom for “50 Shades of Gray”). This represents a rock bottom for movie studios and maybe a necessary one. I’m not saying that we’ll return to a time where studios let loose like in the ’70s (they are part of conglomerates, after all) but at least a return to common sense. Just because you can make a movie about “Battleship” doesn’t mean you should.
I feel sorry for Universal Studios. Over the last decade they haven’t been able to compete with Disney and Warner Bros. and can’t seem to get anything right. They’ve been taking risks (“Scott Pilgrim” for instance) that have failed and are trying to copy everyone else. This is yet another example as they try to copy Paramount with their board game franchise. Unfortunately, they have another bomb on their hands (it was SUPER expensive and while it did okay overseas, it failed here). The movie is about a Naval team headed by Liam Neeson (which should’ve made this awesome on that alone) and features Taylor Kitsch (man, does Tim Riggins need help), Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna (who’s catch phrases were ruined in the commercials), and Brooklyn Decker (because, why not?). The movie tries to be “Armageddon” mixed with “Pearl Harbor” and “Transformers” and while it succeeds to a degree, the results aren’t exactly positive.
I tried to enjoy it as a loud, fun, action movie but it isn’t fun. What made “Transformers” work was Shia La Beouf and how much affection people have with the Autobots. There is no mythology to the Battleship game so the writers (yes, it had them) had to start from square one so they went the obvious route and had us being invaded by aliens. Like most movie alien invasions, their tactics are conveniently flawed. If I were an alien race I would just wipe out the human race rather then bubble off one part and fight one battleship but that’s just me. Outside of “The Avengers” this summer hasn’t gotten started yet but I have a feeling that with “Snow White and the Huntsman” the summer season can finally get rolling. I’m sorry if this didn’t sound like the most optimistic of columns but did I mention that “The Avengers” was beyond AWESOME?!
Thank you for reading and stay tuned as we continue to discuss “Mad Men” and my childhood is on the line with “Men in Black III”.