On JJ Abrams and Star Wars

Yesterday, the word came out that JJ Abrams would be the director for the new Disney Star Wars film, which has been called Episode VII since its announcement. Having read nothing other than headlines on the topic, here are a couple of thoughts on what Abrams is working with and what he might bring to the franchise.

First, a few thoughts on Abrams. I’d consider myself something of a mid-level fan of Abrams work. I’ve enjoyed most of his TV work (that I’ve seen), including Lost, Alias and Fringe. Abrams does have a habit of handing off his creations to other showrunners who make it their own thing, so it’s hard to tell how much credit he deserves for making Lost awesome, or how much blame he deserves for the decline in quality of Lost and Alias. Still, he puts a unique stamp on his work and he’s given some new life to genre TV.

I’m a fan of his debut film, Mission: Impossible III, though I’d still rank the original and M:I-4 above it. I’m not as keen on Super 8, which worked fine (for better and worse) as a Spielberg homage and featured talented child actors, but was hampered by sappiness in the last quarter of the film. Star Trek falls somewhere in the middle for me. Continue reading

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In Case You Do/Don’t Decide to Watch The Following (and you probably don’t need to)

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I had pretty high hopes for the new FOX drama, The Following. Most of those hopes rested on the fact that it meant Kevin Bacon would be on network television. I’m not a huge Bacon fan, and I haven’t really watched AND enjoyed a network drama since Lost and 24 went off the air (and even the last seasons of those shows were pushing it). I figured The Following might be a chance for me to get back into a network drama (my soon-to-be-completed dalliance with Last Resort just didn’t work out, for either of us).

Perhaps I should have been a bit more wary knowing that this was a show with a serial killer as a second lead (at least that’s what the marketing suggests of James Purefoy, though he gets the “and” credit). Showtime has more than filled my serial killer quota for a while, and though I wasn’t expecting The Following to be Dexter (it really isn’t), maybe a killer wouldn’t hold my interest. Also, this is a cop show at its core, and if it goes for any extended length of time, I assume it’s going to become somewhat procedural. I don’t really watch procedurals (so any comparison you make to CBS’ stable of dramas will be lost on me, the same goes for the Law & Order franchise). Lastly, I didn’t realize that this show was created by Kevin Williamson (he of Scream-writing “fame”) until about a week before it premiered. I can respect Scream for what it did for the horror genre in 1996, but I can’t say I’m a fan of any of Williamson’s work.

The few reviews I’ve seen and heard about The Following haven’t been good, so I was prepared to not like this show for which I initially had such high hopes. What’s the verdict? If you couldn’t tell by the title of this post, well, go back and look at it. However, if you want the long story, keep reading.

SPOILERS ABOUND! Continue reading

Lincoln

Beth and I finally saw Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln last night, something we’ve been planning to do at least twice a week since the film opened three months ago. Anchored by a strong lead performance and solid supporting work from a sea of recognizable character actors, Lincoln is Spielberg’s best film in a decade.

I know a few people who can’t stand Spielberg films because of their overt sentimentality. The director artificially elevates scenes, characters, events and moments to the point of head-shaking unreality through his use of music, lighting and the camera. He also highlights stilted dialog in moments of grand pomposity designed to tell a viewer to pay attention because This Is Important. But by golly if it doesn’t work much of the time. Spielberg is a master manipulator and while I often recognize these heightened moments–thankfully Spielberg gets one of the “worst” out of the way in the first five minutes of Lincoln–I find myself looking past or even being swept along with some of them. I have no trouble enjoying a movie with a beating heart, even if that heart is sometimes pumping sugar syrup.

As I watched Lincoln, one thing that stuck out to me was the set decoration. The world of the film is incredibly detailed, but something felt just a bit off to me. Continue reading

The Bird Bowl

I know it’s premature to write about the Super Bowl when the Conference Championships have yet to be played, but I couldn’t resist posting about this topic, particularly since sharing it with you almost justifies the time I wasted looking all of this stuff up. I don’t promise 100% accuracy, but I should be pretty close on my numbers and dates. Against scholarly standards, I relied almost entirely on Wikipedia for research.

With the NFL Conference Championship games set (49ers/Falcons, Ravens/Patriots), my friend Ben sent me a text message reminding me that possible matchups for the Super Bowl now include the Harbaugh Bowl (or Har-Bowl as I like to call it, featuring 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh vs. his brother John, coach of the Ravens) and the Bird Bowl (it’s obvious, nothing clever there). Sorry Patriots, but here’s hoping it’s not your year. That got me thinking: How unbearable is the media coverage going to get if the Har-Bowl happens? More importantly, it got me thinking: there are a few NFL teams with bird mascots, have we ever had a Bird Bowl before?

The bulk of my research is concerned only with the Super Bowl era, after all, it wasn’t a Bird Bowl if it wasn’t even called the Super Bowl. The actual name “Super Bowl” was apparently mentioned by Lamar Hunt during AFL-NFL merger meetings in 1966. It was picked up by the media and became the official name of the title game for the third AFL-NFL Championship Game. The title was retroactively applied to the first two AFL-NFL Championship Games.

I started my quest for Bird Bowl info by considering the number of bird teams in the NFL during the Super Bowl era. Continue reading

Some Post-Golden Globes Thoughts

First, a couple of admissions:

1. I did not watch more than 15 minutes of the Golden Globes ceremony on January 13. Why didn’t I watch more? Maybe because I needed to clean the kitchen. Maybe because I couldn’t bear to leave my TV on after the New England Patriots advanced to yet another AFC Championship Game. Maybe because…

2. I just don’t really care all that much about the Globes. I’ve already said a little about my opinion on the value of the Academy Awards in my Pre-Oscars and Post-Oscars posts for 2011. For as little as I claim to get out of the Oscars, I feel like I get even less out of the Globes. I do think it’s fun to combine awards for TV and Film. Also, I certainly spend more time watching TV than movies, so I enjoy that part of the Globes a little more (why didn’t I write about the Emmys though?). Plus, the Globes are not nearly as self-important as the Oscars. I love myself some Hollywood prestige/nostalgia/history, but the Academy Awards take themselves way too seriously sometimes. That said, the Oscars award fun stuff like Cinematography and Editing, which you don’t see at the Globes (but you do at the Emmys). Still, the shady “Hollywood Foreign Press” and the sometimes lower quality of the nominees (I’m looking at you, Musical/Comedy film category) keep me from tuning in or caring. Much.

Now, just a few brief thoughts on the nominees and winners. It’s nice to see a decent degree of difference in the nominees when compared to the Oscars, though I’ll probably have plenty more to say about movies when the Oscars roll around next month.

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My Thoughts amid a Downton Abbey Binge

Until 4 days ago I had actually heard very little about Downton Abbey. I knew it was a Masterpiece Classic show about a rich family and their servants, set in WWI-era England. I knew it was supposed to be sort of a soap-opera. I knew it was stealing Emmy nominations from shows I actually watch and like. I knew that it seemed incredibly and inexplicably popular. So maybe I knew more than I thought. Though I was somewhat reluctant to put it on my “to watch” list, as the following/fandom it had reminded me too much of a show I will probably never go back to (Glee), I decided I would be open to giving it a try eventually, if only because it was easily accessible on Netflix.

Well, in the post-holiday hangover of January 3-5, my wife Beth and I plowed through the first 12 episodes of the show like Edith behind the wheel of a tractor. We haven’t watched any episodes today, and we’re still 3 episodes and a Christmas Special away from being caught up (to US airings, anyway), but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re up to date by this time tomorrow. With season 3 (series 3, if you want to be a nerd about it) premiering tonight, I figured it was a good time to share some of my thoughts on the show.

The Good

The show is ridiculously watchable. RIDICULOUSLY. There are very few 1-hour shows of which I could watch 4+ episodes in row without getting tired or just needing a break. This has proven to be one of them. I think the aforementioned soap-opera quality has something to do with it. Half of these characters are in some form of unrequited, unspoken, forbidden or unfulfilled love. The others are either scheming, providing laughs or just being excruciatingly upper-class. The upstairs/downstairs dynamic, combined with the period setting make this a fascinating look at a place, a time, and a type of people that don’t exist anymore, at least in the way portrayed on the show.

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