Shorties #14

Fall is in the air! There are pumpkins to carve and seeds to roast. There is candy to buy for trick-or-treaters and then eat a week before Halloween and then replace. There are costume components to purchase. All of that takes money, so instead of heading out to the theater, I've been giving Netflix a good workout. And giving Netflix a good workout means...Shorties!

#1: Awake - Season 1: This 2012 show only lasted a single season, but after I heard it talked up, I thought it sounded like it was worth a binge watch. It revolves around a cop who gets into a car accident while driving around with his family. His reality then fractures in two: In one, his wife survives the accident, but his son dies. In the other, it's reversed. In both universes, he is sent to a shrink, both of whom assure him that THIS reality is the actual one, and the other is a dream world. They encourage him to process his feelings so that the "false" reality goes away, but he actively does the opposite. If there's a way he can remain with both of his loved ones, even if it's in a patchwork existence, he's going to do it. That is a fantastic premise, and the show was acted well (Jason Isaacs is the main character, and B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones as the two psychiatrists are also standouts). The differing color palettes between the two worlds helped distinguish plot threads without being excessively intrusive. All that was great, but the show was weighed down by some formulaic case-of-the-week storylines, and a blatantly unnecessary conspriacy theory surrounding the accident. In the final analysis, I'm glad I watched it, but I can also see why it got cancelled. (Grade: B-)

#2: Grand Piano: I'll never get tired of telling people this 2014 movie is Speed on a piano, and watching their reactions. Elijah Wood plays a concert pianist who choked during a previous performance, and is only now returning to the stage after many years. As he begins to play, he sees a note in his sheet music that if he misses a single note, he'll be killed by a sniper (John Cusack). This, as you can imagine, does not do wonders for his concentration. The best thing about this movie is that it knows exactly what it is, and isn't clouded by a heavy sense of self-seriousness. All that's asked of the audience is to kick back and enjoy the ride. It's a very slight movie; not much actually happens. But it's got a good sense of fun, and I'd definitely recommend that people watch it. (Grade: B+)

#3: Assault on Precinct 13: It's very important that I note that this is the original 1976 film, and not that unnecessary remake a few years back. This movie could have easily fallen into the Pop Culture Homework Project, but I feel like one assignment about the crime-ridden streets of the '70s is plenty. The movie establishes its stakes early, gunning down an adorable blonde girl with braids. You won't be too upset by her murder; the actress is on one of those abominable Real Housewives shows now. Her father tries to get revenge against the gang that killed his daughter, but is forced to run to a police station that is slated to close soon. There is just a skeleton crew left, and a couple of prisoners are dropped off for [blah blah plot reasons]. The gang, hot on the nearly-catatonic father's heels, lays siege to the station, and gun battles ensue. Minimal time is devoted to character development. This is simply a group of characters flung together and trying to survive the night. I kind of miss action movies like this that didn't do a lot of moralizing. It just throws us straight into the action. (Grade: B)

#4: Exam: That's two action-packed movies, so why not throw some character-based intellectual dramas into the mix? I watched this 2009 one based solely on an intriguing premise: A group of applicants, all desperate for a job, are put into a room with a slip of paper on their desks, and told that whoever answers the sole question best in the time limit will be given the position. They flip the papers over to find they're all blank. Psychological torture...go! Some applicants want to depend on their own skills to pull themselves through. Some want to cooperate. Some want to eliminate the competition. It's sort of a corporate version of The Hunger Games. The execution is a bit off, as the characters' actions are somewhat hackneyed and predictable. Still, it was a very interesting movie, and I'm always going to want to watch those, even if they're not quite able to capture lightning in a bottle. (Grade: B-)

#5: Populaire: Let's wrap up with this 2012 French romance, in which a stodgy boss hires a klutzy secretary, solely because she's a fast typist. He wants to vicariously grab some glory by entering her in speed-typing competitions, and from there, you can pretty much guess every story beat. She gets progressively better. She suffers a setback. They fall in love, but don't want to admit it. Then they admit it, but there's a misunderstanding that drives them apart. Then they get back together and triumph. So, it's Girls Just Want to Have Fun. But here's the thing: I fucking love Girls Just Want to Have Fun. No matter how well-worn this territory is, this movie is so charming that it's impossible not to like. It won't win any originality points, but it's a perfectly cute movie that is worth the watch. (Grade: B)

Fall Television 2014

Now that we're firmly entrenched in this year's fall television season, I've begun to get a better idea about what I'm likely to watch, and what's worth our time, and what won't be sticking around much longer. It's one thing to like or dislike a pilot, but it's the episodes that immediately follow that really shape a show's destiny. Ready for some categorization? I knew you would be!

I'm In!

First of all, I should mention the returning favorites that I'll obviously be sticking with: Bob's Burgers is back for Season 5, and you should make an effort to watch, even though knowing when it's airing will be a challenge; Fox is being a dick by messing around with the schedule. It's only aired one episode so far (featuring an incredible mash-up of musical versions of Die Hard and Working Girl), and the next one won't be until November 2. Pull your shit together, Fox. And speaking of Fox, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has begun Season 2, and while we haven't yet gotten an episode that has reached the peaks that Season 1 did, it's not in a sophomore slump, either. The only other returning show I'm watching as it airs is Top Chef, which I'll hopefully be able to keep up with as far as reviewing, so if you're keeping up, let me know so we can chat about it.

As far as new shows go, nothing has blown my mind, but there are definitely a couple of shows that I'm pretty comfortable committing to. If you'd have asked me last week, I don't know if I'd have included Black-ish among them, but this past week's episode ("Crime and Punishment") may have been the best episode of a new comedy I've seen so far this season. If that's the direction this show is heading in, I'll be a devoted fan. Similarly, David Caspe's new show, Marry Me, has only aired two episodes, but I'm on board. The second episode was a big step up from the pilot, I like everyone in the cast, save one*, and Happy Endings was so great that this one warrants some trust up front.


There are a couple of other shows that I'm also enjoying so far, but are not as cemented as the ones above. I have minimal interest in the backstory of The Flash, but after seeing some very positive reviews, I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm glad I did, because unlike something that shall remain nameless - but rhymes with Botham - it actually strikes a consistent tone and is mostly well-written. Grant Gustin strikes the perfect balance between confusion at his newfound powers and a yen to help others, and Jesse L. Martin is note-perfect as his adoptive father. The women do not fare as well in this show (Caitlin has some promise, but needs a mode besides humorless scold, and Iris is a shallow, dopey drip who everyone is in love with for no particular reason), but aren't beyond hope. I wouldn't call it one of my favorite shows ever, but it's definitely worth keeping up with, for now.

As is A to Z, a romantic... Well, I guess we have to categorize it as a comedy, though it's not very jokey. It's kind of a mix between When Harry Met Sally and How I Met Your Mother, and is about the burgeoning relationship between Andrew and Zelda. A to Z, get it? GET IT? And every episode starts with sequential letters of the alphabet. It's not the worst gimmick in the world, and stars Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti have good chemistry. There's also some funny corporate culture satire in the background that won't give Better Off Ted a run for its money, but is still enjoyable. The only people left to mention are Andrew and Zelda's best friends*. Yeah... They sure are characters on this show! I don't know that I've ever been so evenly split on a show before. For everything funny and charming that happens, something bad and irritating balances it out. If nothing else, I'm going to keep watching just to see which side of the fence this thing eventually falls on.

Not As Promising!

These would be the shows that I wouldn't classify as "bad", but that I'm unlikely to continue with. So, with apologies to Viola Davis, who is a wonderful actor, and completely awesome in How to Get Away With Murder, I doubt I'll be watching any more. If she were a bigger part of the show, maybe, but it seems to mostly be about a group of photogenic, morally-bankrupt law students who are about one-twentieth as interesting as she is. I appreciate the gay sex, Shonda Rhimes, but it's just not enough to keep me on the hook. I also caught a few episodes of Forever on a friend's recommendation. It stars Ioan Gruffudd as a medical examiner who resurrects naked in the nearest body of water every time he dies. The show, shall we say, borrows liberally from the Sherlock template, and while it's a decent-enough procedural, it's just not gripping enough to be appointment television.

Bye, Felicia!

I tried, Gotham. I really did. And look, I like Christopher Nolan too. But just making your heroes and villains grim and gritty isn't enough. This show is a complete mess, from its inability to settle on a tone (is it supposed to be dark and disturbing or wickedly camp?) to its over-reliance on winks to the audience (She likes to be called "Cat" and she drinks milk! Eh? Eh?) to weak casting. I could only put up with a few episodes before dumping it in disgust. If it somehow manages to right itself and becomes watchable, someone let me know.

*The Season's Dumbest Trend

Are you a white, fat, bearded actor? Want to play an obnoxious best friend? Good news! 2014 is your time in the sun! Though it's early in the season, the white, fat, bearded best friend is easily the worst thing about both Marry Me and A to Z so far. I'm told that there are plenty more of these annoying hirsute gentlemen running around on other shows, too (Mulaney, for example). I'm not sure why the entertainment industry is suddenly so enraptured by this trope and is dumping these dudes on us by the truckload, but I'm not a fan.

Weekly Schedule

So, we've got a pretty manageable slate here. Sure, other shows will soon be along (Downton Abbey, Parks & Rec) to wreck our schedule anew, but for now, there's plenty of entertainment to be wrought, with time left over to... I don't know, clean your house or spend time with your loved ones or WHATEVER.

Sunday: Bob's Burgers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Tuesday: Marry Me, The Flash
Wednesday: Top Chef, Black-ish
Thursday: A to Z

Turn the Page

It's been a while since my last post in the Books category, so that must mean I've abandoned the library for the lure of television and video games, right? WRONG. STEP OFF, YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE. I've actually been plowing through books at a pretty good clip; I've just been unforgivably lazy about posting them. Fortunately, you haven't missed much. Plenty of my recent reads have been decent enough, but none of them have blown me away. At least, not in the way I'd like. Still, most of them were definitely worth the read.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories - B.J. Novak (2014)

Though he's best known for his involvement in The Office, I was excited to read B.J. Novak's collection of short stories. He's a wry, funny guy, and I figured that even if I didn't like some of his stories, none of them would require much of a time commitment. I was more right than I could have known; some of the stories in this book are about two lines long. Most of the chapters are more long-form jokes than actual stories, which is what I was expecting. So if you enjoy his type of humor, then you'll no doubt get a kick out of "The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela", or the story about the work that one would need to put into actually making a profit from one of those "If I had a nickel for every time..." proclamations. As with many jokes, I enjoyed it as I was experiencing it, but it's unlikely to stick in my head for long.

Longbourn - Jo Baker (2013)

As you've seen strewn throughout my reading list, I'm a big fan of the English romantic novel genre. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, I own The Complete Novels of Jane Austen, and I was pretty blown away by Wuthering Heights. So when I saw a review of Jo Baker's novel Longbourn that mentioned it was Pride and Prejudice, but from the point of view of the Bennet family servants, I was immediately on board. The servants of Pride and Prejudice are scarcely seen in the original novel. More time is given to the dresses the Bennet girls wear than to the humans who share their home. Longbourn relegates the family to the back burner, focusing on Sarah the housemaid instead. It's a brilliant conceit, and a great way to explore some of the trials that the serving class endured. Sarah has to have realistic expectations about her life and her romantic prospects, and looking after a melodramatic mother and her five daughters keeps her hopping. Her burgeoning relationship with James, the mysterious footman, is well-written and realistic. And then, the novel shifts to James' perspective, and a huge chunk of the back half of the book is dedicated to his time in the army. I don't know if Baker did this to pad out the book or if she really thought readers would be interested in war tales in the middle of a period drama about servants. If it's the latter, she was dead wrong. This massive tangent wasn't bad enough to spoil the book, but it was confusing and off-putting. The story does manage to get back on track, and in the final analysis, the good parts outweigh the bad, but this is a book that could have used some heavy trimming.

Hollow City - Ransom Riggs (2014)

I don't dismiss series out-of-hand, but let's be honest with ourselves. There are far too many properties that don't warrant multiple books (or movies) overstaying their welcome. I very much enjoyed Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, but that book should have been the end of the tale. So why did I read the second book, Hollow City? And why will I no doubt read the third? Well, I'm too invested in what happens to the characters now to give up. And it's not as if Hollow City were badly-written or a total waste of time. It's neither of those things. It's a perfectly capable continuation of the adventures of Jacob and his talented friends, and the odd photographs are as welcome and haunting as they were the first time around. By all means, there have been far worse book series, so if you're enraptured by this universe, dive in. But as with The Hobbit being spread into three tortuously thin movies, Hollow City could easily be the literary poster child for unnecessary sequels.

Missouri - Christine Wunnicke (2006, translated in 2010)

What a strange, charming little surprise this book was. It's a extremely brief story at only 134 pages, but manages to pack in a vast, panoramic picture of the Old West. It was originally published in German, but tells the tale of the love that dare not speak its name between an English poet and an American outlaw. When Douglas Fortescue (the poet) tires of his fame and the whispers about his fondness for fresh-faced young men, he travels to America, where he encounters Joshua Jenkyns, a psychotic, half-white, half-Native American criminal who has been terrorizing towns in the Midwest, and who by chance, is Douglas' number one fan. He's also fighting some confusing urges that Forescue brings out in him, and not very successfully. A lot of gay stories cover the same ground: Coming out, societal disapproval, gay bashing, etc. So it was extremely refreshing to see gay fiction merged with the dire, grim violence of America's untamed frontier. Missouri is a short and brutal story, and while I wouldn't want to read a lot of books in the same vein consecutively, it was a fascinating departure from the norm.

Astonish Me - Maggie Shipstead (2014)

Sometimes, I'll read a book because I see a positive review. Sometimes, I'll read a book because it has a gimmick that appeals to me (see Longbourn up there). Sometimes, I'll read a book because someone whose tastes I trust recommends it to me. And sometimes, I'll read a book because I've read the author before, and loved their previous work. WARNING: This last method does not always pan out. See? And yet I felt pretty comfortable picking Maggie Shipstead's new novel Astonish Me up from the library without knowing much about it, simply because Seating Arrangements was one of my favorite books of last year. Astonish Me has a similar style, in that the perspective shifts between characters of wildly varying personalities, all of whom are somehow tied to the world of professional ballet. Shipstead proves she is no one-trick pony when it comes to fantastic writing about characters' internal monologues (holy cow, does she nail people with rampant senses of entitlement, who would be insufferable in real life, but are understandably relatable in their own minds). Plot-wise, however, this was a step down from Seating Arrangements. Drama around paternity is one of the least interesting tropes that artists consistently rely on, and I wish they'd find a different way to develop their stories. This was still a very engaging read, though, and I'm eagerly looking forward to whatever her next book brings.

Lexicon - Max Barry (2013)

Ah! Another trusted author! The only book of Barry's that I've mentioned so far on this blog is Machine Man, but I wish this page had been in existence when I read Syrup, Jennifer Government, and Company, all of which were great. For some reason, last year's Lexicon slipped under my radar until someone mentioned it to me a few months ago. Barry excels at creepily intriguing premises, and Lexicon is no exception. In this universe, a clandestine, underground group has discovered the keys to persuasion. And not just gentle persuasion, like "Are you sure you don't want to help me move my piano this weekend? I'll buy you beer!" but persuasion so strong it's indistinguishable from mind control. A struggle for power erupts among the group and the expelled young woman who may be the most gifted among them. A normal Joe kind of guy who is immune to their powers of suggestion is trapped in the crossfire. It's an extremely well-written book, but has a couple of issues, chief among them that the fighters on both sides of the struggle are terrible people. The reader is asked to be invested in which of these superhuman puppet masters is going to emerge victorious, while no real attention is paid to the poor saps who are being domineered and slaughtered in their wake. In a way, it's akin to the big problem people had with Man of Steel. It's all very well to see Superman and Zod pound away at each other, but what about the thousands of people in those office buildings that are tumbling to the ground? Between that and not quite being able to stick the landing, Lexicon is far from my favorite Max Barry book, but it was still plenty entertaining. It definitely had me turning the pages faster than any other book in this post, and I could easily see it being adapted into a pretty exciting movie.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline - George Saunders (1996)

George Saunders is obviously an extremely gifted writer, but holy shit, are his stories depressing. If you thought Tenth of December was grim, you'll need a wheelbarrow of Paxil after this one. Each of the stories is extremely compelling, and all of them put their characters through the wringer. Whether it's death, financial despair, or just good ol' societal ridicule, nobody makes it to a happy ending in this book. That doesn't mean I didn't like it, though I probably should have parceled out the stories more. In CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, America is nothing but a rotting, soulless machine of greed and corruption. The book concludes with a similarly unhappy novella called "Bounty", which has aptly been compared to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn...except with mutants. If you've got the fortitude, it's a riveting book. Just make sure you're well-stocked on ice cream before you start.

The Imperfectionsts - Tom Rachman (2010)

The death spiral of print journalism is an utterly fascinating topic that I'm surprised more people aren't incorporating into fiction. The Imperfectionists gives it a whirl, devoting each chapter to a different character connected with a struggling English-language newspaper published in Italy, while occasionally dipping into the past to describe how the paper was originally founded. Sounds pretty good, right? Nope. Despite its strong premise, this book went beyond poorly-executed into out-and-out bad territory. None of the characters are compelling people. Their problems are either cliched or exploited for cheap sentiment. The story of the paper's inception is boring, and the story of its ending peters out with a weak sputter. If there is a single accomplishment to be found in this awful novel, it's that I usually toss aside books this bad before finishing them. At least I made it to the end of this one. So...yay?

Arts & Entertainments - Christopher Beha (2014)

God knows the world of reality television and celebrity culture is ripe for skewering, and Arts & Entertainments is a pretty realistic take on a guy attempting to navigate its dangerous waters, and trying to deal with the fickleness of public opinion. When Eddie Hartley finds himself in dire need of money so he and his wife can pursue in vitro fertilization, he considers selling an old sex tape he made with an ex-girlfriend who went on to become a famous television and movie star. When he does so, his life is thoroughly upended, and no matter how hard he tries to get things back to normal, the fame-hungry sharks circling him won't allow that to happen. It was a fun read, though I don't agree with its presupposition that everyone is into things like Kardashians and TMZ. There is not a single character who doesn't monitor celebrity gossip as if it were an EKG, and that kind of took me out of the story a bit. But although the book is almost as slight as the tacky world it satirizes, it was a quick and amusing read.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories: B
Longbourn: B-
Hollow City: B-
Missouri: B+
Astonish Me: B
Lexicon: B-
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: B
The Imperfectionists: D+
Arts & Entertainments: B

The Turn of the Screw

Book-to-movie adaptations are a tricky beast. Stick too slavishly to the source material, and the film may come off as stiff and unwieldy. Stray too far from the source material, and you'll upset the fan base that made the original work popular in the first place. It's a tight line to walk, especially when the author of the original book writes the movie screenplay as well, which is usually a sign of disaster to come. In the weeks leading up to its release, plenty of internet ink got spilled over how Gillian Flynn and David Fincher would be handling the screen version of Flynn's smash novel, Gone Girl. The answer? Pretty damned well!

For the four people who haven't heard of it, Gone Girl follows the story of a couple in the midst of some tough marital problems. Nick and Amy Dunne have been hit hard by the recession, and have moved to Nick's small Missouri hometown. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy vanishes from the couple's home, and there are signs of foul play. Is she dead? Has she been kidnapped? Is Nick involved? He protests innocence, of course, but when Amy's diary is discovered, it seems to implicate him even further.

And then everything goes bonkers.

Aside from the plot, there are plenty of deeper themes explored. I've been reading some interesting articles and reviews about how this movie represents the institution of marriage, the destructive culture of media outrage, and lots of issues regarding feminism. It delves into these topics in a very intelligent way, but we shouldn't forget that at its heart, this a pulp story, full of devious people and totally crazy situations. No need to hold a degree in social sciences before heading to the theater; it works quite well as a thriller. As far as performances go, most special mentions have to go to the female contingent. Rosamund Pike gives Amy a cool, competent air, but still conveys the emotion bubbling underneath. Carrie Coon is Nick's twin sister who does her damndest to be supportive, even as her brother makes what she feels are all the wrong decisions. Kim Dickens is marvelously understated, but forceful as a detective trying to unravel the mystery of Amy's disappearance. And hey, let's not leave out Missi Pyle, who plays a Nancy Grace surrogate as nasty and irresponsible as you could ever want.

I kind of wish I could have seen this movie with fresh eyes (that is, not having read the book). The plot has so many twists and turns, but I was able to anticipate all of them. In a way, though, that freed me up to concentrate on other things, like performances and atmosphere, both of which are terrific. I've heard some over-enthusiastic chatter about Oscar nominations for this movie, and while I wouldn't be mad if that happened, it's not that great. I don't need it to be Oscar-caliber work, though. It's a highly-enjoyable, well-acted, tense thriller, and that's good enough for me. Now all I want is to see it with someone who has no idea what's about to happen.

Gone Girl: B+

Save the Date: Dragon Age: Inquisition

Event: Dragon Age: Inquisition release date
Date: Tuesday, November 18

For some reason, games of interest tend to take over Save the Date. It's not that there aren't movies or TV shows or books I look forward to, but video games have a strong advantage in building my enthusiasm in the days leading up to release. Today's Save the Date title has a bit of a history, being the third game in a series. It's tough to tell how it's going to land, because the first two vary so wildly in quality. Dragon Age: Origins is one of my favorite games, and I replay it often. Dragon Age II was a disappointment (it's one of the few things I'd go back and slightly revise a grade to a lower one). So who knows where on the scale this new one will fall?

I'd like to believe that after some pretty strong blowback from the last game, the developers learned something. The few articles and videos of gameplay that I've seen make me think they have. Everything I've encountered has been gorgeous. It's rare that I'll buy a game at release; normally I wait to hear some player feedback and for the bugs to get worked out. But I might have to make an exception for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Or if not, I'll at least play through Origins for the thirtieth time until I'm assured the new game will be worth the sticker price.

Reluctant Companionship and the Astonishing Pepper Gradient

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 9

Well, damn! I got so excited about the change in the season and its attendant food, and so busy inhaling the scent of autumnal spices, that I forgot to mention that we just released an episode about it! Other fans of the cooler months of the year will find much to like in these next few editions of the podcast, so to kick it off, go give Episode 9 a listen.

Topics include Eleven Eleven Mississippi, the Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, the fruits and vegetables of autumn, and the ups and downs of communal dining. We wrap with Andy's befuddlement over the omnipresence of a particular fruit, then head back outside to soak up the cool breezes. Please enjoy, and feel free to drop a line to fourcoursespodcast@gmail.com with any questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions!

The Walking Dead

How much does a finale affect your perception of a television show? That is to say, does a poor ending retroactively taint all the time you've spent enjoying the series? When a show goes out on a high note, the series can more easily be remembered fondly as a whole. Shows like Six Feet Under and The Golden Girls wrapped up their stories in believable, tidy ways that left their audiences satisfied. Shows that have messier, more controversial finales can hang onto their reputations if the preceding episodes were strong enough; nobody will ever question the contribution that The Sopranos has made to the television landscape. But what happens when a show's ending undoes the work that was put into getting to the conclusion? No matter how fascinating people found Lost, its legacy is now one of maddening disappointment. At least it has good company, because How I Met Your Mother has now finally pulled into the station...whereupon it crashed.

I'm bummed that all my posts about How I Met Your Mother on this blog have been about my frustration with the series, because back before the Slice of Lime was started, this show counted among my favorites. There was no denying it was running on fumes by the end, but at least they got the opportunity to tie up all the loose ends, complete all the unfinished stories, and finally give both Ted's children and the audience the conclusion we were all awaiting. It was time to meet the Mother.

The vast majority of Season 9 takes place over a single weekend, during which Robin and Barney get married. That's a bold plan for episode structure, and it paid off. Given that the show is as much a comedy as a narrative, it was plenty amusing. Interesting and clever things were done once the Mother (Tracy, played by Cristin Milioti) entered the picture, such as an episode told from her point of view. So overall, Season 9 was far from a disaster.

But... Come on, you knew the "but..." was coming. First, let me issue a blanket SPOILER WARNING for the rest of Season 9, including the finale. If you haven't seen it yet, and would like to be disappointed in your own good time, stop reading now!

What on Earth was that piece of shit finale? OK, if you told me that within the show's universe, Robin and Barney discovered their marriage wasn't going to work, and that Barney would find happiness in fatherhood, and Ted met the woman of his dreams, but was only able to share a short amount of time with her before she got sick and passed away so that he and Robin would end up together, I could accept that. I could accept that IF the show had put any time into justifying those things. They didn't, though. We're not in the show's universe - we're in our own. And in the audience's universe, a wedding that was twenty episodes in the making (plus all the time spent on Robin/Barney in previous seasons) was undone in five minutes. All of Barney's character development disappears, and he regresses to Gross Barney until a magical baby with a woman who isn't even given the dignity of a name turns him around again. Ted gets married to Tracy, she lies in a hospital bed, and Ted is off to fuck Aunt Robin with his kids' enthusiastic support and a romantic gesture that has failed multiple times already within three minutes. Nine seasons of work. Nine seasons of stories and remembrances and false leads and hints and promises of a grand romance crumpled and thrown away in less time than it takes to scramble an egg.

Again, if they wanted to avoid the obvious happy ending that would pair Marshall/Lily, Robin/Barney, and Ted/Tracy, and go with a Ted/Robin ending instead, I could accept that (begrudgingly, but still). So it's not the concept I object to, but the monumentally sloppy, inexcusably poor execution. And in answer to my initial question, I'm afraid that yes, it does somewhat retroactively taint the show as a whole. I'm sure I'll still be able to watch and enjoy episodes like "Slap Bet" and "Swarley". I'll still get a giggle from the doppelgangers. But from now on, every time I watch an episode... Every time I see that blue French horn... I'll know how these characters wind up, and think about what might have been.

How I Met Your Mother - Season 9: C
How I Met Your Mother - The Series: B-

Save Point

I'm to the part of the calendar year that I should be seeing a lot more movies. It's prestige season! For some reason, though, TV and books have taken over the larger part of my cultural consumption lately. I don't yet know if that's just a hiccup or a trend or a seismic shift in my tastes. For now, it means I'm lagging behind in the films people are seeing and talking about. The only one I've seen recently that would still fall into the 2014 conversation is a little-known action flick called Edge of Tomorrow.

I'm kidding, sort of. How could a Tom Cruise movie with aliens and explosions be little-known? There were plenty of trailers and ads for it; it was as fully-marketed as any other movie of its stripe. But something strange happened. Whether it was because the filmmakers still can't seem to settle on a title (it's also known as All You Need is Kill and Live. Die. Repeat.) or because Tom Cruise gives a performance that is outside of the norm, I'm not sure. But oddly, this movie that should have been a blockbuster landed with a bit of a thud. And I never thought I'd say this about a Tom Cruise action movie, but you know what? It deserved a better reception.

Edge of Tomorrow is about Cage (Cruise), a military officer in charge of selling a war to the public. A war against invading aliens that humans are increasingly losing. He finds himself unwillingly pressed into service as an actual soldier, and though he manages to take out one noteworthy foe, he dies five minutes into his first battle. But it turns out there was something special about the alien blood he got soaked in. Every time he dies, he wakes up the day before that battle. The day resets, and the advance knowledge he has about the events that will take place is his only advantage. It's a very video-gamey premise, and I mean that as a compliment.

Eventually, he meets up with Rita (Emily Blunt), a war hero and symbol of humanity's resilience. She's basically Elizabeth, is what I'm saying. She understands what Cage is going through, and as the more skillful and experienced person, trains him to be a serviceable fighter so that they can actually have a fighting chance against a seemingly invincible foe.

Despite its action-movie trappings, this movie manages to break quite a few molds. Cruise plays a smarmy, weak-willed coward - a far cry from the usual noble, All American Hero he usually portrays. Rita is a total badass, and never wilts into a shy violet now that a man has come around to take care of all her problems, nor is she relegated to a background presence that only exists to motivate the main character. There are moments of pure comedy studded into intense battle sequences.

This movie struck me as something I'd call a mature blockbuster: Sure there are fights and aliens and stuff blowing up real good, but there's actual thought put into the writing and characterization as well. This type of movie is rare, and I wish it would have been rewarded for its intelligence. Instead, another Michael Bay crapfast soars to the top of the box office, while films like this that actually succeed at bending the conventions of action are mostly ignored. Hey, maybe that's why I've been avoiding the theaters lately!

Edge of Tomorrow: B+
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