Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Turner TV update

NOTE: possible spoiler alerts!

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains ended over a week ago, but the bad taste lingers in my consciousness. Russell should not have won, but Parvati should have won instead of Sandra. It was an intense season - perhaps too intense - and I hope that most of the players are now "retired" from Survivor. I'm looking forward to next season in Nicaragua, and I am still holding out hope for a "second chance" season in which they bring back players who did not make the jury on their season.

John Doyle's thoughts on Glee sum up what I've been thinking: the magic might be gone. The episodes since the show's return have showcased much of the worst about the show, and much of the quirkiness that made the first thirteen episodes endearing has vanished. The past few episodes have featured too many awkward guest stars, too little character development, and and too much "fandering" (pandering to fans). I hope that Fox's recent announcement of a third season pickup means that Ryan Murphy can relax and focus on the show as a whole, rather than the ratings and spectacle of each episode.

Community ended fantastically in its final few episodes, in which the show paid homage to Goodfellas, Good Will Hunting, Animal House, and pretty much every action movie ever made in the best episode of the season, "Modern Warfare", which also included some timely mockery of Glee ("get some original songs!"). I hope that the show can gain momentum in Season 2, but it may be its last against new schedule rival The Big Bang Theory.

30 Rock has been as sharp as it ever has been, but I tuned out of The Office after Jim and Pam's wedding. I'll probably catch up on the season sometime, but it's starting to get old.

Chuck's season finale was amazing! I was very glad to see that they wrapped up the big storyline (The Ring and Shaw), that Jeffster was back for an epic action sequence, and that the show continues to reveal more of the back story behind the Bartowskis. It is still one of the smartest, most fun shows on TV, and I'm excited to see where it will go next season. The last six episodes did feel a bit rushed, but I think might be due to the fact that nine episodes' worth of material (the usual back order for a show) was crammed into six after the show got a further order due to the Leno debacle. Despite that small issue, this just might be my favourite show on TV right now.

Shows I'd like to catch up on: Friday Night Lights Season 4, Treme

Shows I'm excited to see in the fall: $#*! My Dad Says, starring William Shatner; No Ordinary Family, a superhero drama starring Michael Chiklis; Running Wilde, with Will Arnett back in a Fox comedy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: Iron Man 2

To date, there have been very few superhero movies that have built on their predecessors: Spider-Man 2, X2, and The Dark Knight. That's it. Those movies have, for the most part, not succumbed to the temptation to overload the viewer with more villains and bigger scenes, and have focussed more on developing the storylines initiated in their series' debuts. I wondered what would happen with Iron Man 2 after a lukewarm predecessor. Thankfully, I was not disappointed; granted, I did not enter the movie with great expectations, but it was good to see that this movie perhaps even marginally improved on the first.
This sequel picks up where the first movie left off: Tony Stark has just revealed to the world that he is Iron Man. Of course, the plot thickens considerably in this sequel, and protagonists and antagonists abound. There are still the principal good guys: Robert Downey Jr. as the title character; Gwyneth Paltrow as his plucky assistant Pepper Potts; Don Cheadle (replacing Terrence Howard) as Col. James Rhodes, Stark's buddy in uniform; and Jon Favreau supplying comic relief (and giving himself some of the best lines of the movie). Added to the good side is Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, Tony's new assistant, who may have more to her than previously imagined.
Now, enter the antagonists: as before, Stark's biggest threat may be his destructive behaviour, but now he realizes that his core is actually poisoning his blood. Add to that a Senator who is desperately trying to corral the suit for the U.S. government, a rival weapons dealer named Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who is trying to dethrone Stark from his cushy position, and a mysterious Russian named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who has a hatred for all things Stark. The plot swirls and mashes together quickly and somewhat effectively, despite all of the distinct presences, and manages to come together in a mostly satisfying conclusion, which was surprising. There were only a couple of points at which it seemed forced or cheesy (cue Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury), and the movie was well-paced. It's not brilliant, but it was definitely serviceable, if at times a tad too full. Jon Favreau is learning how to pace these types of movies well, and it is certainly a stronger effort than the initial offering.
As in the first movie, the pedigree of the actors helps bring the movie to life. Almost all of the principal actors have had critical recognition in previous roles, and their methods show. Downey Jr. again shines as Stark, though a little less brightly than before, bringing his blasé suavity to life with considerably more angst and vitriol. Paltrow, Cheadle, and Rockwell do well with limited roles, and Johansson fills out her duties with no lack of notice from the camera. The pleasant surprise is Rourke, who succeeds in bringing both a sense of humanity and a detachment from reality to Vanko. Much press has been given to how Rourke sought to bring more depth to his villain, and it showed.
Iron Man 2 continues to develop many of the themes of the first movie, and Favreau is helping it walk a fine line between reality and fantasy. He has indicated that he initially envisioned an Iron Man trilogy, so it is likely that the next edition will be the last to focus on Stark. The plots and character may have run their course by then, especially if the next movie succumbs to the curse of the superhero trilogy. Of course, that won't stop Marvel from bringing him back repeatedly to guest star in their other superhero movies. In all, Iron Man 2 is not a great movie, but it is an enjoyable popcorn flick and a sequel worthy of attention for those who enjoyed the first movie or are fans of the genre. 7/10

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