Doesn't matter what reality show we're talking about — it's the simple challenges that are always the most memorable ones. Survivor has gone through probably 500+ challenges at this point in its lifespan, many of them with elaborate Rube Goldberg construction, but the one that stands out most to me remains "keep your hands on this pole the longest." Simple! Or in The Real World, "who will get naked first in or around the hot tub?" Shelve the Dungeons & Dragons rule book; all you need is a little sex, a little grossness, and a lot of great reaction shots.
Now, "challenge" might be a stretch in the case of James and Abba's Fast Forward, but for sheer simplicity? "Fill a bag with dead rats" has to rank among The Amazing Race's most perfect to-the-point activities ever. Literally everything you need to know about this Fast Forward was contained in the instruction above! And in all likelihood the clue the guys received actually had less information — just a picture of a garbage bag with an arrow pointing to a dead rat, stink lines emanating from its body. With no competition, James and Abba rocked (you get it) rat collection and rolled (guitar solo) well ahead of the other teams, straight to the finish line. Which, by the way, was in Bangladesh. This leg was in Bangladesh.
Earlier that day all 9 remaining teams arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, after one of those table-clearing flights that's nice this early in the race but so annoying in later rounds. Who wants their hard-fought lead so quickly erased? But this is travel, one realizes, and these things happen. The Amazing Race can impart some pretty practical life lessons!
Dhaka is introduced to us as a city practically fit to burst with cars and traffic, and by the experience of the racers this seems mostly true. "Third world Grand Theft Auto," says one of the twins, endearing herself to me as much as anyone can before she'd so bluntly strip it away with ALL THE TALKING. That's the main takeaway of this episode, in fact — that Natalie and Nadiya (commenters would be great to help me distinguish between the two!) will just never shut up. In the Road Block, which required teams to plaster then smooth a bus surface before hauling some dilapidated furniture, the twins' vocal enthusiasm practically drove everyone else to insanity. James and Jaymes jokingly asked the locals hanging around the buses if they'd consider dating the girls (not really). Lexi rolled her eyes. Annie and Ryan mimed suicide. You can hear the twins ("TWINNIES!!"… wait, #twinnies) jabbering in the background of shots taking place nowhere near them. I'm half-convinced I heard one in Alex Smith's Homeland recap.
Even with all teams making their way to Dhaka and this #Roadblock (be sure to tweet #roadblock any time you encounter and overcome one of life's obstacles!) at the same time, Gary and Will still somehow managed to work their way into last. They're just very good at it! To diminish expectations, they made a bigger and bigger point of calling themselves "fans" of the show (as opposed to… active cast members?). Like all of us, they could see the writing on the wall.
Not that they were the only team to struggle through the Road Block. Top to bottom, teams had a difficult time completing the first segment (plastering a bus) to the liking of the Bangladeshi assessing it. Hell, James (the one who isn't JaYmes) nearly had a panic attack. Much of this, again, was caused/aggravated by #twinnies screaming on end about "being the first women to do this." Paint a bus? Find yourselves on reality TV with men? Sandra Day O'Connor never got this excited about the Supreme Court.
Next up was the episode's Detour, in which teams could "Pound the Metal" or "Pound the Cotton" ("just let me pound something!" said the Frat Guys/Lifelong Friends not selected to be on this season of The Amazing Race), neither of which posed too big a challenge. Abbie spent a year at FIT or somewhere so you knew she would tackle Cotton, which forced teams to stuff and sew a simple mattress. This, to this day, is my favorite part of any episode: when a racer uses skills from the past to complete a task in the present. "I spent a week on a farm once in college," I might say, "so I think I'm well prepared to eat those gazelle intestines." Definitely!
The only possible drama this leg came from a misreading of the Pit Stop Clue. Before stepping on the mat at Shamabazar Chan Mia Ghat (I paused to make sure I spelled it right), teams had to first navigate their river boats to a halfway destination. Rob and Kelley, true to form, failed to notice this detail and were forced to redo the entire course. A commercial-break-cuing mistake! Not that it really mattered — they were fifth the first time they stepped onto the mat, and fifth when they came back around. Gary and Will, of course, didn't fare so well. It strikes me that "David and Goliath" (Rob and Kelley's nickname for them) were already last before they, too, messed up the designated stopping order. What can you say? They tried hard, with a mostly good attitude; they did right by both substitute teachers and best friends. But I'd be lying if a small part of me wasn't relieved to learn this was not a non-elimination round. There are only so many second-to-last place finishes an audience can watch.
And with that, seven teams remain on this season's race around the world. Who is everyone pulling for? Who do you think will win? Sound off in the comments below, and we'll see you again next week.
[Image Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Scooby and the gang at Mystery Inc.--Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) Velma (Linda Cardellini) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard)--are at the top of their game and just about everyone in Coolsville loves them. Even the Coolsonian Museum is honoring them with an exhibit--a costumed display of Mystery Inc.'s former foes such as The Pterodactyl Ghost The Black Knight Ghost and The 10 000 Volt Ghost. Yet at the museum's gala opening the team's stellar reputation is put in serious jeopardy when said monsters come alive re-created by a masked villain who vows to bring Mystery Inc. down. Under pressure from relentless reporter Heather Jasper-Howe (Alicia Silverstone) the gang launches an investigation into the monster outbreak but as the mystery deepens Mystery Inc.'s members end up questioning their roles within the organization. Can macho leader Fred and image-conscious Daphne look past the superficial and find the identity of the Evil Masked Figure? Will brainy Velma let her feelings for Coolsonian Museum curator Patrick Wisely (Seth Green) blossom even though he is a key suspect? And finally can Shaggy and Scooby stop cowering--and eating--long enough to prove they can be detectives? These are tough times for the gang but they've got to pull it together so they can solve the mystery and save the day.
Even though it seems a little ridiculous that Scooby-Doo 2's fleshed-out cartoon characters would try to dig deep to find answers within the returning actors continue to have fun exploring their alter-Scooby-egos. Prinze's Fred has a hipper haircut this time (the original matted blond 'do had to go) and isn't quite the braggart he once was. He is still unquestionably the "face" of the group until he is made to look foolish by the ruthless Heather played with relish by Silverstone who shines in the bad-girl role. Gellar has definitely dropped Daphne's "damsel-in-distress" routine getting all Buffy on the monsters but is still worried that its her looks not her skills that get her attention. Cardellini's Velma on the other hand gets a love interest--and even all dolled up at one point--but can't get rid of her inherent geekiness. It's Shaggy and Scooby who experience the biggest revelation realizing they really are nothing but giant screw-ups. Lillard actually turns in some (and I can't believe I'm actually saying this) poignant moments as Shag grapples with his inequities. They all realize in the end though that for the good of Mystery Inc. it's best to be true to yourself. Thank god.
Director Raja Gosnell goes full throttle in his second Scooby effort with more action and more elaborate theme-parky sets than the original. Even as the characters pause to reflect on their faults these moments are thankfully short-lived before the gang is thrust into another wild chase or fight sequence keeping the kiddies' minds occupied--and allowing the adult fans to laugh at all the monsters they remember from the TV show. One of the criticisms from the first Scooby-Doo was that it didn't provide enough "inside" jokes for the grown-up enthusiasts (and face it there are probably more of them than kids). But Scooby-Doo 2 harkens back to the good old days and even pokes fun at all those criminals whose evil plans and ghost disguises were foiled by the meddlesome quintet. They all gather at their own watering hole called the Faux Ghost where they can throw darts at pictures of the Mystery Inc. gang. Funny stuff. Overall the sequel provides the same madcap fun the original did without requiring the use of too much brainpower.
Go ahead and throw logic out the window on this one folks. A mysterious Tibetan monk with no name (Chow Yun-Fat) has spent a lifetime protecting an ancient document known as the Scroll of the Ultimate--a parchment that will yield unlimited power to anyone who reads it. After running around the globe for 60 years the Monk knows it's time to hang up his robes and find a new guardian but spotting a successor isn't easy in the hustle bustle of the 21st century where Tibetan traditions and rituals are almost non-existent. Maybe the next protector should be the crafty rebellious pickpocket Kar (Seann William Scott) who learned martial arts from watching kung-fu movies; after all Kar helps the Monk escape from the scroll's most avid pursuer Strucker (Karel Roden) a sadistic old Nazi who wants to use the its power to rid the planet of inferior races. Or maybe the Monk's successor is the elusive but beautiful bad girl Jade (James King) whose skills are numerous and who seems to pop up to help Kar whenever he gets in a jam. Whomever the Monk eventually chooses they must first unite to battle the ultimate enemy--and keep the scroll safe.
If it weren't for Yun-Fat Bulletproof Monk would be pretty hopeless. The charismatic actor finds a nice balance no matter what he does and in this case he resists the obvious temptation to play the Monk as a fish out of water in the big city. Since he's long been one of Chinese cinema's most well-known action heroes he's definitely in his element in Monk standing on top of a car with guns blazing and the Zen master persona he discovered in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon serves him well here too. The script requires him to spout off fortune-cookie mumbo jumbo but he manages to do it without sounding ridiculous. The petite King actually holds her own as the brawny-yet-brainy tough chick but the wisecracking Scott is completely out of his element for the first time in his career. He handles the little comedic tidbits well but in no way is it possible to believe that the "Dude" who couldn't find his car and the jackass who drank someone else's bodily fluids in American Pie can be a martial arts hero who saves the planet. It just isn't going to happen.
Bulletproof Monk relies on the ghosts of movies past including Crouching Tiger and the 1986 Eddie Murphy stinker The Golden Child for its plot which results in a film that's chock full of cliches especially the evil Nazi who has spent 60 years chasing after the scroll using his tow-headed granddaughter whose cover is an organization for human rights to do the dirty work. A few bright moments with Yun-Fat coupled with director Paul Hunter's good use of fast-paced martial arts action make the rest of this unimaginative movie somewhat palatable--even novices Williams and King look good doing the moves--but all in all Bulletproof Monk is shooting blanks.