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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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
After a lengthy, rumor-filled back-and-forth between The Hunger Games director Gary Ross and Lions Gate, the studio behind the No. 1 movie in America three weeks holding, news broke late last night that Ross would be stepping down from the director's chair for the sequel, Catching Fire. The shake-up is a mixed bag; Ross was a quintessential part of turning the Hunger Games into a success, from his part in penning the screenplay to the directing decisions that made the final product serve fans and newbies alike. But much like the Potter and Twilight franchises, Hunger Games can find fresh blood — an opportunity to imbue the next installment with unique perspectives and style. And if the producers of Hunger Games are really ready to step up the game of the series, here's my suggestion: hire a woman.
Out of the top 20 highest grossing live-action movies of 2011, exactly zero of them were directed by women. And it's not that the female-driven films of last year bombed at the box office — there was never an opportunity for them to take off in the first place. The truth is, women are underserved in the world of blockbusters — but with Hunger Games being a nearly demographicless franchise, and with a strong, female character at the center of the action, the open director position for Catching Fire seems like the perfect slot to fill with a visionary, female director. The sequel is already a sure thing — without knowing a single thing about the movie, I can already tell you it will pass the $100 million mark within days of opening — so there's little risk in hiring someone to take it outside the box. If you don't think there are any women working in the biz capable of stepping up to the blockbuster plate, think again. Here are five that could easily knock Catching Fire out of the park:
Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, The Namesake)
The India-born director's career has been balanced with intimate indies (Monsoon Wedding) and large-scale dramas (Amelia), all painted with a vivid visual style rarely found in Hollywood or elsewhere. Taking on Catching Fire wouldn't be her first foray into young adult fiction adaptations — she was originally offered Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but turned it down to tackle material that felt more personal. But the Hunger Games sequel is a mature story, even with teenage leads, and tackles some grand, revolutionary ideas. Nair's done sweeping period pieces, and Catching Fire isn't too far off — except for the whole "being in the future" thing.
Jennifer Yuh (Kung Fu Panda 2)
With the jump from animation to live-action being all the rage — recent cases like Andrew Adamson (Shrek to Narnia), Brad Bird (Ratatouille to Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol), and Andrew Stanton (Wall-E to John Carter) — allowing one of the best animated action directors to take a stab at Catching Fire is only logical. Yuh's action choreography in the recent Kung Fu Panda 2 was above and beyond expectations. Exhilarating, funny, and surprisingly poignant, the director took a pudgy Jack Black panda character and made him kick butt with an edge of vulnerability. Imagine what she could in the over-the-top arena of Catching Fire.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.