The only people that must enjoy cash cow holidays like Valentine's Day, Halloween and Christmas more than retailers have to be sitcom writers. Not only are their viewers well into the holiday spirit and gobbling up anything and everything holiday-related, but it provides easy plot points and the chance to dress their sexy stars up in costumes. Everybody wins.
Sadly, not everybody was a winner on last night's Halloween-themed episode of New Girl. Not Cece's sad trombone of a boyfriend Ronnie (guest star Nelson Franklin) who is more or less around to be comedy fodder for Schmidt, not Winston who came to a crossroads with his occasionally-seen-on-screen girlfriend Shelby, not Nick who found out the hard way that sometimes crushes are meant to stay crushes, and definitely not Jess who got rejected by Sam (David Walton) and accidentally punched in the face by Nick.
While it would have been easy for New Girl writers to go for a more fun and festive episode last night, I actually appreciated that the whole thing was — as overhyped, high expectations holidays tend to go —a series of depressing disappointments.
First let's talk about Nick, who continued to be a series of depressing disappointments when he finally got to hook up with his college crush Amelia (played by Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Maria Thayer), a woman who ping-ponged between certifiable (she made a pumpkin that resembled her and Nick's likeness) and poetic ("I'm not an idea of a person, I'm an actual person"), only to screw things up with her and then accidentally attack one of his best friends.
Quick sidebar: the only thing that must bring sitcom writers more joy than holiday themes is the opportunity to use college flashbacks. They all use the same comedy crutch that apparently in college, everyone gets terrible facial hair and was lame. See: Nick, Ross in Friends, Ted in How I Met Your Mother. End sidebar.
So did the perpetually effing-up Nick punch poor Jess in the face? Well, he's scared of haunted houses, both literally and metaphorically. Literally, Jess was spending her weekends working at a haunted house and when he braved it to warn her about Sam, she jumped out and scared him (as one does in a haunted house) and as a reflex, he clocked her right in the eye. Metaphorically, haunted houses are like relationships because, according to Nick, "you walk in all confident and then once you get in its not what you thought it was gonna be and its scary."
Since both Nick and Jess are scared to walk through the haunted house of relationships together, they continue to go through them with other people. Nick (who had the best costume of the episode as "Bee Arthur"), temporarily with Amelia, and Jess with Sam. While Jess has been keeping it light and loose with the dopey Sam, things changed on a dime once she discovered that he is a pediatrician. That was the scariest thing in this entire episode, actually, that the same guy who professed his non-ironic love for Creed a few weeks ago, is supposed to be taking care of sick children. Well, that and he did Patch Adams-related humor when he put on a clown nose. If that didn't make Jess run for the hills, nothing would.
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Jess, she had every right to run for the hills when it was revealed that FWB Sam was sharing his, er, talents with other girls in the Los Angeles area. After Jess had invited Sam to come see her at the haunted house in costume, which he obliged, Jess decided it was time to tell him how she really felt. When Nick's attempts to warn Jess were thwarted, Jess confessed her feelings and was promptly turned down. It wasn't much of a hit for viewers to watch Jess endure this split (we didn't grow as attached to Sam as we did Paul), it did open the door for the show to dangle Nick and Jess in front of us again as Nick, with his arm around her, iced her eye and told her she deserved someone who is crazy about her. Trick or treat? I'm leaning more towards trick on this one.
They did a similar thing with the inevitable reunion of Cece and Schmidt. Cece tried to deny her lingering feelings for her ex as he did everything in his power to show how just how much he wants to be around her. Schmidt, who dressed up as Abe Lincoln (as everyone seems to be doing these days), begrudgingly befriend Cece's future ex-boyfriend and forgettable nice guy Robbie. And while Cece and Robbie are on the road to future Splitsville, Winston and Shelby (yep, they're both still there) arrived during last night's episode. Apparently these two weren't having much sex and were on different wavelengths, but since we rarely saw them on camera together, we'll just have to take their word on it.
"Halloween" episode highlights:
- The gang's exchange about Zombie Woody Allen. ("These brains are terrible and such smawl portions," "On Christmas I like to eat Chinese people's brains, they're the only ones that are open.")
- Winston's line "I have nothing to add to this." If that doesn't perfectly incapsulate Lamorne Morris' character and the actor's place on the show, nothing does.
- Nick's girlish scream. "This is my nightmare!"- Shelby's inspired Halloween costume Reigning Cats and Dogs.
- Schmidt's various brilliant one-liners: "Those costumes are for Purim!", "The guy who shot John Lennon is dressed as a Ninja Turtle," "I witnessed the emancipation of one black guy tonight." And, of course, Schmidt dressed as Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike. Alright, alright, alright, alright!
Okay, so this wasn't the best episode of New Girl by a long shot. It was mildly amusing, at best. But, isn't that most things around the holidays? What did you think of the Halloween episode of New Girl?
[Photo credit: Greg Gayne/Fox]
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.