First, let's start with the bad news: The Mayan calendar (and, more importantly, a stellar John Cusack movie) have confirmed that the world is ending in a few weeks. I know, right? And we were all totally going to lose those 15 lbs and start journaling in 2013. Then there's the even worse news: You missed a lot of really good TV in 2012. So much good, in fact, that you have no hope of catching up before the end of days. That's where we (and the good news) come in — we've rounded up the best TV spoilers of 2012, so you can spend your remaining days with your family, or whatever. SPOILERS AHEAD, but sorry — no one will ever know who actually killed Alison DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars.
Let's start with the little guys:
How I Met Your Mother: Drama! It was eventually revealed that Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) is marrying Robin (Cobie Smulders). Also, Victoria (Ashley Williams) left her future husband at the alter for Ted (Josh Radnor), but they broke up afterwards because Ted wouldn't stop being friends with Robin. Those crazy kids!
The Office: Angela (Angela Kinsey) found out that her husband was cheating on her with Oscar (Oscar Nuñez). Way to be a good coworker, Oscar.
Parks and Recreation: Speaking of workplace comedies, Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) finally became engaged! It was adorable.
You still with me? Good. Because it all goes downhill from here. Time for some suicides and martyrdom:
Sons of Anarchy: The universally beloved Opie (Ryan Hurst) was brutally murdered early in the show's fifth season — sacrificing his life for the club in the most horrendous way possible (he was beaten to death with a lead pipe).
Mad Men: Then there was the tragic tale of Lane Price (Jared Harris), the British sap who hung himself in his office after he found himself in financial trouble, and was fired by Don. Not a dry eye in the house.
But not all major deaths on TV this year were via suicide — 2012 was huge for killing, or being killed by, children. Let's explore, shall we?
Breaking Bad: In the former category, the artist formerly known as Landry (Jesse Plemons) from Friday Night Lights (now known as Todd on Breaking Bad) murdered a small child after said child witnessed Todd, Walt, and Jesse robbing a train. It was probably the most disturbing moment on TV this year, which says a lot, given our next spoiler.
The Walking Dead: This one sounds horrific, but it actually made a lot of people happy — Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) died via C-section childbirth during a Walker attack on Walking Dead. Doc Herschel and the rest of the Grimes Gang were busy fighting Walkers in the prison, so Lori's son Carl (Chandler Riggs) had to watch while Maggie (Lauren Cohan) tore out her baby with a dirty knife. Then Carl shot her, before she rose again. It was a classic mother/son coming-of-age moment.
Downton Abbey: This one really hurt. Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) from Downton also died during childbirth — but she didn't become a zombie, so she should just shut up and count her blessings.
Those were all really depressing, so let's move on to justice — quite a few criminals were caught in 2012:
Breaking Bad: First and foremost there's Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the drug kingpin currently known as Heisenberg . We haven't yet seen the aftermath, but the first half of Season 5 ended with Walt's brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) learning his dirty, methy secret. Dun dun dun.
Dexter: This was a long time coming — Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), the brilliant Miami Metro detective, finally learned that her brother is a serial killer. So far, she's been taking it surprisingly well.
The Killing: Oh, we finally found out who killed Rosie Larsen. It was her Aunt Terry, sort of. Then the show got canceled.
Homeland: Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) was found out and captured by the CIA much, much earlier than anticipated. He's now working with them as a double agent, which is never easy when your other agency is TERRORISM.
Enough with all the humans. Supernatural spoiler time:
The Vampire Diaries: Elena (Nina Dobrev) became a vampire at the end of the third season's finale. This season, she totally dumped Stefan (Paul Wesley) and slept with Damon (Ian Somerhalder). Bad girls do it well.
Fringe: Peter (Josh Jackson) willingly turned himself into an Observer after his daughter, Etta (Georgina Haig), was killed. It was horrifying. He's going bald!
True Blood: The newly single Bill (Stephen Moyer) willingly drank the blood of the ancient, evil vampire Lilith at the end of last season — rising as an evil entity, and effectively earning the nickname "Billith." Run, Sookeh!
Now let's move on to family drama:
Revenge: Season 1 of ABC's new(ish) hit ended with Emily (Emily VanCamp) learning that her long-lost mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was still alive, while everyone else thought that Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) had died. She hadn't, and Emily's mother ended up being very, very boring.
Revolution: Meanwhile, over on NBC's latest hit, good-guy Miles (Billy Burke) was revealed to have started the evil Monroe Militia — the same militia that recently kidnapped his nephew. (And they still haven't turned the lights on.)
Game of Thrones: In a case of outright family treachery, Theon (Alfie Allen) betrayed the Starks by storming Winterfell, pretending to kill young Bran and Rickon, and slaughtering many of their people.
Oh, and Klaine broke up on Glee. Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna [PHOTO CREDIT: AMC, Showtime] MORE: Leanne's Spoiler List: 'True Blood' Wants Fresh Meat, 'Parenthood' Heads to Court, & More! Leanne’s Spoiler List: 'AHS: Asylum' Mommy Issues, Love and Loss on ‘Dexter’ Leanne’s Spoiler List: Love is Shaky on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,' ‘Vampire Diaries’ Gets Darker
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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Douglas McGrath’s new movie I Don’t Know How She Does It is based off of Allison Pearson’s wildly successful novel of the same name that was on The New York Times’ hardcover bestseller list for 23 weeks. Both mediums focus on the complicated life of Kate Reddy (played by an I'll admit it enjoyably perky Sarah Jessica Parker in the movie) who is the woman all working mothers want to be: smart determined and fiercely passionate about doing everything she can to balance her family with her high profile job at an investment banking firm. She’s the mom who’s thoughtful enough to try and distort a store-bought cherry pie with a rolling pin so it looks more homemade for her daughter’s bake sale and the one who finds joy in searching for a clean blouse that doesn’t have the marshmallows from her son’s Rice Krispies Treats soaked into it. Of course Kate dreads leaving her children each day but she loves her job very much and allows herself to part ways with them by concentrating on the belief that one day they’ll understand how much she genuinely wanted to go to work. And while it’s clear the movie’s goal is to humorously depict the lives of women who work and have families it shockingly shies away from ending the still-popular belief that women are best "pregnant barefoot and in the kitchen."
Within the first minute of the movie the fourth wall is broken -- and continues to break throughout the movie -- and several of Kate’s colleagues and friends verify that Kate is an outstanding mother and a supremely productive member of the work force (which was pretty unnecessary considering how we were just going to see all of Kate's talents anyway). Her friend Allison (played by Christina Hendricks) opens up a bit more than the others and unveils that even though Kate's totally great she really wasn't doing very well with her responsibilities last winter. Then we flash back three months and watch as Kate goes from being an unnoticed employee at her Boston firm to writing a proposal and catching the interest of Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan) at the branch’s New York office. Jack is enthusiastic about Kate’s ideas and decides he wants to take the proposal and present it to a major client which excites Kate because it would be great for her career. However the problem is the proposal needs a lot of work before it can be shown to anybody and Jack is careful to ask if Kate is comfortable traveling between Boston and New York and working day and night for two months until the whole thing is finished. In the back of her mind she knows she should be spending heaps more time with her family instead of agreeing to take on more responsibilities at work but she decides to do it anyway because as the saying goes “if it ain’t hard it ain’t worth it.”
So Kate and her assistant Momo (played by a finally enjoyable Olivia Munn) begin working overtime. She spends three days a week in New York and the other four days glued to her computer in Boston. When she does make plans with her kids to do something like build a snowman she ends up flaking out because something happens at the last minute regarding the proposal and she needs to drop everything to go work on it with Jack in New York. As angry as the kids are with their mom Kate’s husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is even angrier because since his wife is away and working all the time he becomes the caregiver by default.
Now here’s where things get a little dicey: Richard is an unemployed architect and so I was surprised to watch him give his wife so much grief for working to keep their cute children fed. However the audience is supposed to understand where he’s coming from: we’re supposed to applaud Richard’s courage to make Kate feel guilty for being with Abelhammer instead of with her kids and we’re supposed to take his side as he repeatedly tries to convince her that she should be ashamed of putting her work ahead of her family. We're supposed to figure out that Richard feels bad for not working and understand that when he's screaming at Kate for having a job he's really just venting about how frustrated he is that he's unemployed. And here’s where the movie has the opportunity to open up and blossom and be symbolic of how a woman should never have to apologize for having a career. Exactly here is where the movie should have stretched out its wings and showed Kate yelling from the top of her lungs about how unfair it is that women are frowned upon for having a job and a family whereas it’s completely fine for men to have both. But instead of defending herself like that Kate responded to her husband’s grievances by bowing her head down and acknowledging that she’s wrong for working so hard for being away from her children for making bad choices and for making her husband’s life harder. But the thing is that she hasn’t made bad choices! She’s made all the right ones because her husband doesn’t work! The point is McGrath had the opportunity to really emphasize how men with families and women with families are treated differently in the workplace -- but he ended up depicting how dangerous it is to be a woman with a job because it means that one day her husband might resent her and make her apologize for it. And so instead of significantly expanding upon Pearson's efforts to level the ground for women with children in the workplace McGrath (rather confusingly) stopped just short of following her lead.
Much as I enjoyed X-Men: First Class Fox’s exuberant prequel/reboot (preboot?) of the fabled Marvel Comics series I was a bit disoriented by its opening sequence in which a Mengele-esque Nazi scientist played by Kevin Bacon attempts to coax a terrified young Erik Lensherr a death camp inmate into demonstrating his newly discovered mutant powers. As the interaction transpires the camera does something odd: It remains static holding its gaze on the characters’ faces affording us the rare treat of being able to scrutinize their expressions without the distraction of rapid-fire cuts or circling dollies or palsy-cams or any of the other myriad tools preferred by Hollywood’s increasingly ADD-addled action directors.
Restraint? In a comic book film? Strange but true. Even stranger is that it comes courtesy of director Matthew Vaughn whose previous comic book adaptation Kick-Ass was so over-adrenalized it should have come with a complimentary shot of insulin. Here Vaughn shows greater confidence in his material his actors and most admirably his audience letting the story hold sway unhindered by gimmicky enhancements. First Class is hardly a throwback mind you – it features all of CGI accoutrements one expects from a proper summer blockbuster – but it has a stylish retro sensibility to it that is as refreshing as it is unexpected.
In fact were it not for all of its superhuman characters one might not be able to tell that it’s based on a comic book. Whilst devising an approach suitable for his film’s early ‘60s Cold War setting Vaughn a Brit clearly found inspiration in his country’s most enduring film franchise. First Class bears far more in common with The Spy Who Loved Me than with any of the previous X-Men installments or any other comic book flicks for that matter and is all the better because of it.
Playing Vaughn’s Stromberg is Bacon whose character has graduated from death camp atrocitier to swaggering supervillain in the intervening years since the war’s end. Ensconced in his underwater lair aboard a well-appointed submarine Sebastian Shaw as he has re-christened himself (only in the comic book world does a fugitive Nazi war criminal choose an alias with the initials “S.S.”) is secretly conspiring to ignite a fatal MAD-provoking nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
No Bond-inspired film would be complete without a dose of benign sexism embodied ably by Mad Men’s January Jones in the role of Shaw’s right-hand woman Emma Frost. A mutant who can read minds and manifest diamond-plated armor Emma’s greatest gift the filmmakers make abundantly clear is her superhuman rack which when activated turns her into a walking honey trap no soldier or government official can resist. (It’s also the movie's most potent marketing weapon.)
Even our hero Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has got a bit of 007’s DNA in him. Cheeky rakish given to funneling beers and hitting on Oxford co-eds McAvoy’s Xavier is a far cry from Patrick Stewart’s stuffy avuncular version of the character. Though his mutant telepathic abilities are highly developed his human intuition isn’t as he scarcely notices the insecurity metastasizing in his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) a blue-skinned shape-shifter in desperate need of validation.
She eventually finds that validation in Lensherr (played as an adult by Michael Fassbender) whose cynical view of humanity bred by prolonged exposure to its more sinister aspects places him at odds with Xavier’s vision of peaceful co-existence between mutants and their unenhanced counterparts. Nevertheless Xavier and Lensherr become fast friends and they agree to collaborate in the recruitment and training of a clandestine force of superhumans capable of stopping Shaw. Shortly thereafter the first-ever mutant all-star team is born.
Anyone vaguely familiar with the comic book knows how this relationship turns out. But Vaughn’s fresh approach to the characters and their underlying motivations helps ameliorate some of the predictability of film’s plot and its inevitable resolution. Like Batman Begins First Class is bound to pursue a pre-determined outcome but it makes brief detours here and there that refresh the franchise without jeopardizing its sacred canon. Vaughn takes great care to appease the film's fanboy base without alienating the broader audience. Though I couldn’t care a whit about Torso-Beam Boy Winged Stripper Girl or a handful of other extraneous characters devotees of the comics will no doubt rejoice in the screen time allotted to their respective backstories.
There are a handful of moments when Vaughn’s ambitions exceed his effects budget but for the most part he proves a dexterous purveyor of popcorn theatrics. Some of the best bits including a spectacular sequence in which an anchor tears through the deck of a luxury yacht have been spoiled by the film’s trailers but they still impress when writ large on the big screen. And there are a few surprises in First Class that remain thankfully unspoiled. Better see it quick before the next ad campaign debuts.