Jack Ryan (Season 1) Review by Case Wright


There are two types of streaming television series: Get a sitter and watch in rapt silence with your SO and friends and Elliptical and/or Hangover Television.  Jack Ryan is in the latter category.  It’s a solid: NOT BAD.   Ok, it was a little weird seeing Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) put Osama Bin Laden’s AK-47 in a Jello Mold, but I thought it was a nice call back.  JK!

Jack Ryan has been a staple for nerds who like action for decades.  Jack Ryan is a data analyst badass who defeats terrorism and rogue commies, in other words, fictional.  He’s been in countless books, films, and video games.  The only other character that gets this much media has to use The Force.  In this iteration, Carlton Cuse of “Lost” fame takes a crack the characters.

Jack Ryan is a young Marine Vet turned CIA officer with PTSD.  He is teamed up with Greer who in the books and previous iterations was a tough talking Admiral with shitty dialogue; whereas, in this version, Greer’s a down and out muslim CIA officer whose career is in decline after killing a Pakistani asset.  They are on the hunt for the big bad: Sulieman.

Sulieman is the product of the American intervention in the Lebanese civil war in 1986, which…checks out.  He is hell bent on causing all kinds of mayhem in America and abroad.  They make a big show about how he was treated badly throughout his life-  Boo hoo.  I guess it was supposed to make him more human. I thought it made him really really whiny.  So what, you didn’t get your dream job that gives you the right to blow everybody up?!

The big question most of my readers have: Did John Krasinski – Jim- have a passable performance as a super spy?????  KINDA. He was pretty close at times, but was he held back by some purposely slowed down plot points.  I will get to the derpy derp moments later, but really the season should’ve been 6 episodes instead of 8 because there were too many contrivances, which inhibited John’s performance.  I have to write that he was in fact believable.   I did not know what to expect, but he delivered a good performance.

What they got right:

Sleepless nights with PTSD and drinking too much.  They portrayed that spot on.  I thought, I’ve had those late nights.  Ok, Pass!

The SEAL/Ranger team: I’ve known many Special Operators over the years and they are all real salt of the Earth types.  They played those matter of fact tough guys perfectly. Ok, Pass!

The inherent turpitude of civilian government officials: Very good, they’re all presumptive Dirtbaggus Americanus.  Ok, Pass!

The director building suspense? Yep, the direction was done quite well.  No complaints.

What was so very dumb?  NO F#@#!NG Way!!! NFW!!!! NFW!!!

1.  They portrayed Jack Ryan as dealing PTSD, giving him pause to shoot his weapon.  I get that, BUT he’s still a Marine.  There’s a scene where he makes the decision to shoot and misses by a mile just so they could have fight scene later.  This is just dumb.  Marines are ALL crackshots.  If you are in a Marine’s line of fire and he’s got a clear shot, you’re dust.  When you see it, you’ll roll your eyes.

2.  There’s a terrorist strike by Sulieman and he claims responsibility.  They show his face being plastered on all television networks. He’s on tv more than Anderson Cooper. Then, with no face disguise, he’s NEVER recognized.  We’re not talking just one time, but FIVE times at least.  His face would’ve been burned in everyone’s memory.  It was just dumb,  lazy, and contrived to keep the villain the in the action.

3.  A CIA Officer meets Sulieman’s wife and he just lets her walk away the same day as a major terror attack: NFW! Anyone who said that they knew an Osama equivalent would be sequestered and interrogated immediately, but it was obvious that they needed to pad the plot to squeeze three unnecessary episodes for story arc.

4.  There’s a duo who are drone pilots that are just sort of shoehorned into the story for no reason at all.  I couldn’t even figure out the message if drones were supposed to be good or bad.  I left thinking… Man, drones work really well.  Then, one of the drone pilots gets all guilty about a mistargeting incident and flies to Syria because ya know Active Duty Soldiers just get to go anywhere they like on leave…. NFW!!!!!!! Just think about it…we shouldn’t just get to go wherever we like.  It’s dangerous for us and could lead to a Soldier getting compromised.  NFW!

5.  There’s a plot point where a doctor becomes aware of a biological threat and just sends an email.  WHAAAA?!  She would be calling everyone and their brother to report that because she’s supposed to be smart.

Is it worth watching?

Yes, yes it is.  It’s got real problems in terms of story holes, but my hope is that Carlton Cuse learns from this.  He can DM me if he likes.  I’ll consult or script doctor for a very reasonable rate.  Jack Ryan is great for watching on the Elliptical at the gym or if you’re hungover or something.  It is NOT at this time get a babysitter and everyone be quiet television, but it is …. fun.


4 Shots From 4 Shows: Degrassi, Lost, Community, Ringer

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Welcome to a special TV edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films!

4 Shots From 4 Shows

Degrassi: The Next Generation: Time Stands Still Part One (2004, dir by Stefan Scaini)

Degrassi: The Next Generation: Time Stands Still Part One (2004, dir by Stefan Scaini)

Lost: The End (2010, dir by Jack Bender)

Lost: The End (2010, dir by Jack Bender)

Community: Modern Warfare (2010, dir by Justin Lin)

Community: Modern Warfare (2010, dir by Justin Lin)

Ringer: Pilot (2011, dir by Richard Shepard)

Ringer: Pilot (2011, dir by Richard Shepard)

What Lisa Watched Last Night: Terra Nova Episode 1.1 — “Genesis”

Last night, I actually put off watching Dancing With The Kinda Stars so that I could catch the first episode of Fox’s much-hyped sci-fi series, Terra Nova.  This show was produced by Mr. Mainstream himself, Steven Spielberg.

Why Was I Watching It?

I was beaten into submission by the nonstop commercials.  Now, I have to admit that the commercials seemed to represent everything that I traditionally dislike in my entertainment: political subtext, “inspiring” speeches, and Stephen Lang.  However, it also had dinosaurs and seriously, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

What’s It About?

Okay, we’re several years into the future and the Earth looks a lot like Blade Runner.  Why?  It turns out that Al Gore was right and ManBearPig has basically messed up the entire planet.  However, there is hope!  There’s some sort of tear in the whole space-time continuum and stepping through it allows a few lucky citizens to go back to the Island from Lost.  However, since this is the FAR future, nobody remembers Lost so they think they’ve actually gone back to the prehistoric past.  In the prehistoric past, time travellers are living in a small community that is overseen by a vaguely menacing guy who we suspect might secretly be evil because he’s named Nathaniel and he’s played by Stephen Lang.

Anyway, there’s this family that has issues in the future and since Jeremy Kyle is long dead (we can only hope), they can’t go on TV to work it out.  So, they go through the time portal.  The father — who is a fugitive from future law — quickly becomes a part of Nathaniel’s security force.  Meanwhile, the teenage children get all rebellious and there’s these guerillas who live outside the compound and they’re led by a woman who might as well have been played by Michelle Rodriguez but wasn’t.

Oh!  And there are dinosaurs!  Yay!

What Worked?

The show is filmed in Australia and, as a result, it’s really pretty to look at. 

I make fun of Stephen Lang a lot because I honestly believe that he gave one of the worst performances in cinematic history in Avatar.  (Fortunately, he was acting opposite Sam Worthington, who can make anyone look like an Olivier by comparison.)  But, I have to admit, Lang is well-cast here and comes the closest to anyone in this episode to actually being memorable.

The dinosaurs are impressive and fun to watch.  Unfortunately, the fake dinosaurs often displayed more personality than the living actors but still, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?  Hopefully, in a future episode, the annoying and way too English talk show host Jeremy Kyle will come through the portal and get devoured (in slow-motion) by one of the dinosaurs.  I may start a letter-writing campaign.

What Doesn’t Work?

A lot.

My biggest complaint with the show was that this episode really put the sloth into the giant sloth.  Seriously.  Lost took its time as well but the show itself was never boring.  Terra Nova, at least in this episode, seems to feel that elaborate special effects are a proper substitute for interesting characters, witty dialogue, and anything else that might organically create narrative momentum.  I actually ended up falling asleep during the final 30 minutes of the show and had to watch the finale off of the DVR.

The dinosaurs were impressive but the rest of the show’s special effects were rather predictable and a little on the bleh side.  The time portal looked like every other time portal in the history of science fiction and the dystopian future looked a lot like Blade Runner but without any of the small details to make it feel like anything other than CGI. 

I am officially bored with shows that use global warming as a plot point.  Seriously, they’re always so smug about it. 

This show is being compared, by many people, to Lost.  Like Lost, the scenery is beautiful and the plot has the potential for a lot of secrets and mysteries to be uncovered.  However, Lost also had a lot of quirky, interesting characters and that’s something that Terra Nova, on the basis of this episode, is lacking.  The first episode of Terra Nova felt a lot like Lost if Lost had only focused on Jack Shepherd and Michael Dawson.  Terra Nova needs its own Sawyers, Hurleys, and John Lockes. 

Now, I want to make clear — my comments here are strictly based on seeing Genesis and a lot of my criticisms could be due to the fact that it’s just the first episode.  Hopefully, as a series, Terra Nova will — much like Lost and Fringe and other comparable shows — evolve beyond the strengths and flaws of the first episode.

“OMG!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Nathaniel’s rebellious daughter, I would also go a little stir crazy if I was stuck in that highly regimented, socialistic commune.  Seriously, the commune looked like a really bleh place to live.

Lessons Learned

Dinosaurs are neat and global warming is tedious.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 08 “The Pointy End”

Okay, this is my third time to review an episode of Game of Thrones for this blog.  I previously reviewed episode 2 and then episode 6.  I always seem to end up reviewing episodes in which Drogo does something really brutal and makes me go, “Agck!”  And tonight was no different.

So, when we last left Game of Thrones, the king was dying and Nedd had been appointed protector of the realm.  Nedd was ordered to bow down to Joffrey Beiber but Nedd refused, saying that Joffrey was not the heir to the throne.  This led to the creepy little brat demanding blood and suddenly, Aiden Gillen was holding a knife to Nedd’s throat and saying — in this wonderfully evil way — “I did tell you not to trust me.”

Last week’s episode ended with the promise of violence and the beginning on tonight’s episode delivered on that promise as the Lannister guards came for Nedd’s two daughters — Arya and Sansa — and cut down anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way.  By this point, we expect the violence in this show to be brutal.  Indeed, I think we almost demand it because each drop of blood shed onscreen serves notice that Game of Thrones isn’t just a “sword-and-sorcery fantasy.”  Instead, it’s a show about real people, all of whom have their own motivations, personalities, and individual complexities.  This show is a fantasy that feels real and that was especially evident tonight.

The casual and needless brutality of the Lannisters was emphasized by the fact that they were clad in anonymous armor and carrying metal swords while the majority of their victims were both without weapon and armor.  If nothing else, this sequence left little doubt who the bad guys are and who the good guys are.

Speaking of good guys, I have to admit that I hadn’t given much thought to Syrio until tonight’s episode but I still had to hold back a tear as I watched him knowingly sacrified himself for Arya.  There was something so incredibly poignant about the sight of him standing there with his broken wooden sword, facing down that faceless, armor-clad giant.  For all the respect I give this show for not shying away from the brutality of violence, I was thankful that we didn’t see Syrio struck down.  It allowed the character to go out with the respect that he had definitely earned.

From the moment this show began, I’ve been aware that Arya and (to a much lesser extent) Sansa are two fan favorites and this episode — perhaps for the first time since we saw Arya dealing with Joffrey Bieber in episode 2 — gave me some clues why.  Though Arya was only in the first ten minutes of the episode, she also provided tonight’s most shocking moment when she killed a young boy with “the pointy end.”  It was a well-played scene and one that once established that this is a fantasy with a very human dimension.

Arya escaped the Lannisters but Sansa — not surprisingly — didn’t.  Instead, she was taken into custody.  I have to admit that it’s easy to dislike Sansa.  Previously, I’ve always thought of her as being the equivalent of those silly girls who go on twitter, change their last name to Beiber, and spend all of their time hating on Selena Gomez.  It didn’t help that every time we saw Sansa, she was chasing after that little creepy Joffrey.  However, at the end of tonight’s episode, Sansa partially redeemed herself by begging Joffrey to spare Nedd.  I say partially because she still felt the need to say that she understood that Nedd must have done something wrong.  Obviously, that was probably a diplomatic move on her part but I still found myself wishing that Arya had been there because she would have just ripped the little brat’s throat out.  Still, this final scene was very well-played by both Jack Gleeson (as Joffrey) and Sophie Turner (as Sansa).  Though it ended on a much quieter note than last week’s episode, the end of tonight’s episode carried a lot more emotional weight.

I think one reason that Arleigh wanted me to review this particular episode is because some much of it centered on the two sisters and the different methods they used to deal with the situation they found themselves in.  Just by coincidence, I ended up watching tonight’s episode with my own sister, Erin.  As usual, Erin and I both started to discuss which sister I was like and which sister she was like.  And, as usual, we both wanted to be Arya.

Erin’s argument for being the most like Arya comes down to the fact that, like Arya, she’s athletic, not given to vanity, and has little use for the silly and superficial.  My argument was that, like Arya, I’m the youngest.  Yes, I’m afraid that’s the only argument I could come up with.  As I watched tonight’s episode, I finally forced myself to admit that I’m not Arya.  No, I’m just silly little Sansa, constantly flirting with the wrong guy, getting my entire family into trouble but, if nothing else, always looking good while doing so.  That’s hard to admit because, ultimately, who wouldn’t rather be Arya?

After watching tonight’s episode, I can say that even though I would still rather be an Arya, I can at least be a little less embarrassed about actually being Sansa.

Though this episode was pretty much dominated, for me, by the two sisters, there was actually a good deal else going on.  A few quick highlights:

1) In reaction to the imprisonment of his father, Robb Stark is gathering an army to lead a counter attack against the Lannisters.  I have to admit that Robb hadn’t previously made much of an impression on me but tonight, he came into his own a bit.  I’m still not really sold on him but he did show that he’s not quite as much of a cipher as I originally suspected.  As well, Robb Jon Snow had a great fight scene with a truly creepy assailant.  (Yes,turns out that wasn’t Robb fighting with the assailant, that was Jon.  Sorry, to be honest, neither Robb nor Jon have made a huge impression on me up to this point in the show. — LMB)

2) It was nice to the see the surviving dire wolves pop up on tonight’s episode and actually get to do something.  I’m still angry about that wolf that was put down in episode 2.  Hopefully, one of them will get another chance to bite Joffrey before the season ends.

3) Sometimes, when I think about Peter Dinklage and Game of Thrones, I’m reminded of how I originally assumed that Lost would be the Dominic Monaghan show.  Once the show actually started, it quickly became apparent that Monaghan was just a distinctive member of an ensemble and one reason that I knew Lost was special was because this didn’t bother me.  Monaghan, himself, was so good in his role and such a charismatic presence that you often times found yourself assuming that he had been in more episodes than he actually was.  I often feel the same way about Dinklage.  Even when he only has a few minutes of screen time, Dinklage’s performance dominates.  Dinklage had some strong moments in tonight’s episode and I hope that Emmy voters will take note of how effortlessly he went from providing comic relief to showing some very real and genuine emotion when he heard that Robert was dead. Week after week, Dinklage is such a compelling presence that he almost gives the Lannisters an appeal that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

4) Okay, I’ve said in the past that Drogo is sexy and I’ve had a lot of people give me a hard time about that.  Here’s my argument — yes, he’s a brute and yes, he does occasionally look like he should be sacking Rome in a 1960s biblical epice but he’s also a strong, powerful man who sees what he wants and takes it.  And, sorry, that’s sexy.  Add to that, his clear devotion to Danys and…oh my God, where to begin?  But anyway, the fact that he’s hot doesn’t make it any more appealing to watch him rip someone’s tongue out of their mouth.  Then again, how many men do you know who are capable of actually doing that?  So, tonight’s episode left me conflicted on Drogo but, in the end, he and Danys remain two of the most unpredictable and complex characters that have ever appeared on a television screen.  I don’t know that I’d trade places with Danys but … well, I probably would.  Maybe just for a night…

5) Speaking of disturbingly sexy, Aiden Gillen (playing Littlefinger) may just be one of the great villianous character actors of the 2010s.  He has the wonderfully perverse glint in his eye and he delivers every line with just the right amount of arch contempt.

6) Ironically, the original and interesting and compelling Game of Thrones is followed every Sunday night by its exact opposite, an aggressively hyped and overrated show called Treme.  If I ever have to explain why Game of Thrones is one of the best shows on television, I’ll start by comparing just how real the people of fictional King’s Landing feel when compared to Treme‘s portrayal of the people of the very real city of New Orleans.

Now, as I’ve admitted in the past, I was a Game of Thrones virgin when this series began.  I haven’t read George R. R. Martin’s original novel — though I plan to this summer — and what I know about the eventual direction of the series is pretty much limited to what I’ve read on Wikipedia.  (If some total stranger put it in Wikipedia, it’s got to be accurate, right?)  As such, I know — in the vaguest sense — some of what is going to happen if this series stays true to Martin’s source material.  As such, watching these last few episodes have been a bit like watching a cryptic prophecy steadily start to make sense before your eyes.  I’m now eagerly waiting for the final 2 episodes to see if the prophecies come true.

10 Things To Be Thankful For In 2010

It’s the Thanksgiving season, that time when bloggers everywhere come up with lists of things that they are thankful for.  Here’s just 10 of the many things that I’ve been thankful for in 2010.

1) The fifth season of Dexter

I have to be honest.  I’ve been a fan of Dexter since the show’s 1st season but I wasn’t sure if the show would be able to survive after the fourth season ended with Rita (Julie Benz) dead in a bloody bathtub.  However, season 5 has been a triumph.  Yes, a little too much time has been devoted to the domestic troubles of LaGuerta and Batista (Lauren Velez and the always intriguing David Zayas) but Michael C. Hall (as Dexter) and Jennifer Carpenter (as Deb) have done some of their best work this season.  Even better, this season has featured two brilliant performances from guest stars Peter Weller and, especially, Julia Stiles (who really deserves her own spin-off).  Still, you have to wonder if any murder has ever actually been solved in Miami…

2) Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. 

In three films — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, Rapace created one of the first truly iconic film characters of the 21st century and that’s an accomplishment that will stand regardless of any attempts by the Hollywood mainstream to steal her accomplishment through any unnecessary remakes. 

3) Lost

As more time has passed, the more I’ve come to admit just how dissatisfied I was with how the creators of Lost decided to end their show.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that, for several years, I scheduled my life around when the next episode of Lost was going to air.  I may not be thankful for a series finale that left way too many questions unanswered (why couldn’t children be born on the island?  What was the sickness?) but even the final season featured some of the show’s best moments.

4) The Walking Dead

I’m not a huge fan of Frank Darabont (sorry, but The Shawshank Redemption sucks) but I’m happy to say that he didn’t fuck up The Walking Dead.

5) Kathryn Bigelow broke the glass ceiling.

I’m still not a huge fan of The Hurt Locker but I am definitely a fan of Kathryn Bigelow.  As bad as this year’s Oscar ceremony was, it was worth watching just to see Bigelow become the first woman to ever win an Oscar for best director.  In many ways, it almost felt like a fantasy come to life — not only did Bigelow win a historic victory but she did it by beating her ex, James Cameron (who, to judge from his films, has never met a woman to whom he wouldn’t condescend).  The fact that she then gave one of the only genuine acceptance speeches of the entire ceremony was a wonderful bonus.

6) Blue Valentine was rated NC-17.

The upcoming film Blue Valentine (which I have yet to see) was reportedly given an NC-17 rating on account of scenes featuring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams having sex.  That the film would feature characters played Gosling and Williams having sex makes sense when you consider that the movie is specifically about their marriage.  However, despite this, Blue Valentine was rated NC-17 while films like The Expendables, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Saw films — in which thousands of people are graphically killed and tortured on-screen — are given an R rating as a matter of routine.  If Blue Valentine had been about Ryan Gosling murdering Michelle Williams (as opposed to fucking her), the film probably would have an R rating and would be considered appropriate viewing in malls across America.  I’m thankful for this rating because it serves as a reminder that it’s okay to show a woman being humiliated, tortured, or killed just as long as you don’t show her actually enjoying an orgasm.

7) Exit Through The Gift Shop

The rest of you mainstreamers can talk about how much you love the Social Network for the rest of eternity, if you want.  Exit Through The Gift Shop is still the best movie of 2010.

8 ) Lisa Marie finally figured out how to work her DVR.

Yes, yes, I know.  DVR has been around like forever and it’s all old news and I’m sure there’s something even better than DVR that everyone but me is raving about and using right now but — look, shut up, okay?  Yes, I’ve had DVR forever but I just figured out how to actually make it work a few months ago.  And I love it!  Now, if I want to sit down in the living room at 3 in the morning and watch old episodes of Project Runway, there’s no way anyone can stop me.

9) Joseph Gordon-Levitt floating through a dream hallway in Inception

Inception was a film full of excellent set pieces and memorable images but whenever I think about the movie, I will always see Joseph Gordon-Levitt floating through that hallway in a suit and looking rather adorable as he does it.

10) Cthulhu on South Park

Well, of course.

That’s just ten things I’m thankful for and I didn’t even start to talk about Scott Caan on Hawaii 5-0, James Franco in 127 Hours, or movies like Fish Tank, Winter’s Bone, and Never Let Me Go.  What are you thankful for?  Leave a comment, let the world know.  The best comment wins a renewed sense of peace and a happy new year.  (Please note that this is not a legally binding document.)

Film Review: The Town (dir. by Ben Affleck)

Before I get to my review, you should understand that I nearly didn’t see The Town last night.  Earlier, on Friday morning, I had to leave work early because I was so sick and nauseous that I was on the verge of passing out.  Once I got home, I had to 1) convince my aunt that I wasn’t pregnant (“Are you sure?” she said after I reassured her) and 2) had to convince myself that my appendix wasn’t about to burst (and it’s not so don’t worry).  After all that, there was a part of me that said, “The Town can wait.  I’ll go on Saturday or maybe even later in the week.”

But I ignored that part of me and I went and saw the movie anyway.  Why?  Well, I wanted to review it for this site.  (That’s dedication for you!)  Plus, I knew my friend Jeff wanted to see it with me and I wanted to see it with him and since when has a little thing like a ruptured appendix ever been an excuse not to have a good time?  Last but not least, The Town is Ben Affleck’s second movie as a director.  His first was 2007’s Gone, Baby, Gone.  Personally, I think Gone, Baby, Gone is one of the best crime films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite.  I was curious to see if The Town would be a worthy follow-up or would it just prove Gone, Baby, Gone to have been a fluke.

The Town takes place in the Charlestown section of Boston.  At the opening of the film, we’re told that Charlestown apparently produces more professional armed robbers than any other place in the entire world.  It’s a practice that is handed down from father-to-son.  (Or, in the case of this movie, from Chris Cooper to Ben Affleck.)

Affleck plays Doug, a former hockey player who is now the head of a gang of Charlestown bank robbers.  His second-in-command is Jem (played by Jeremy Renner).  Over the course of the film, we learn Doug’s father (Chris Cooper) is a career criminal who is currently serving a life sentence in prison.  When his father went to prison, Doug was taken in by Jem’s family.  Doug even ended up dating Jem’s sister (Blake Lively) and might be the father of Lively’s daughter.  For this reason, Doug and Jem are fiercely loyal to each other despite the fact that Doug is essentially a nice guy and Jem is not.

(As a sidenote, why is it in the crime films that people are always shocked when the psychotic supporting character ends up doing psychotic?  I mean, have these people never gone to the movies before?  Have they never checked out Goodfellas from Netflix?  Did they miss the whole Joe Pesci “How am I funny?” thing?)

At the start of the film, Doug, Jem, and the gang rob a bank.  Doug is a model of professionalism.  Jem goes a little bit crazy and beats one bank employee nearly to death.  This gives the bank manager, Clare (Rebecca Hall), just enough time to set off a silent alarm.  Realizing that the police are on the way, Jem responds by taking Clare hostage as the gang flees.  Clare is later released on a desolate beach.

However, there’s a problem.  Before releasing her, Jem stole Clare’s ID.  Looking at it after the robbery, he discovers that Clare lives in Charlestown and, as a result, there’s now a risk that she might simply see one of the gang on the street and identify him.  Jem wants to kill her but Doug says that he’ll take care of her himself.

By “taking care of,” Doug means that he’ll follow her around town, eventually strike up a conversation with her, and then end up pursuing a romance with her (while declining, of course, to mention that he already knows her).  Jem, however, was under the impression that “taking care of” meant to kill.  So, needless to say, he’s a little bit miffed when he stumbles across Doug and Clare having a lunch date.

Soon, Doug finds himself trapped in the life he’s created for himself.  In love with Clare but torn by his loyalty to the increasingly unstable Jem, Doug agrees to one more big job.  All the while, he is pursued by two relentless FBI agents (Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver) and he has to deal with an Irish mob boss (Pete Postlewaite) who has an agenda of his own.

The Town works largely because Ben Affleck has, unexpectedly, turned out to be an intelligent, no-nonsense director.  The movie features three robbery scenes and, in each one of them, Affleck creates genuine tension and excitement without ever once resorting to outlandish stunts or random slow motion.  Unlike a lot of (bad) actors turned director, Affleck never seems to feel the need to toss in any showy (but ultimately empty) tricks to try to convince us that he’s a director.  This is a confident movie that shows that Gone, Baby, Gone wasn’t a fluke.  (That said, Gone, Baby, Gone remains the superior film for reasons that I’m getting to.)

Also, as with Gone, Baby, Gone, The Town benefits from Affleck’s obvious love for the city and people of Boston.  Shot on location and featuring a number of local actors, The Town has a wonderful sense of place to it.  By the end of it, you feel as if you know Charlestown even if, like me, you’re just a country girl from Texas.

Ben Affleck the director also manages to do something truly surprising — he gets a good performance out of Ben Affleck the actor.  In the past, I’ve always enjoyed looking at Ben Affleck on-screen but I never really wanted to hear him talk.  Because as soon as he would open his mouth, whatever appeal that Affleck possessed would immediately dissolve.  In the past, as an actor, Affleck often epitomized that whole concept of “there’s no there there.”  However, in this film, he gives a low-key, subtle performance that really helps to hold the entire film together.  I still wouldn’t call Affleck a good actor.  Instead, he’s one of those rare directors who (like fellow bad actor Quentin Tarantino) knows how to get good performances even from the most unlikely of performers.

Affleck is well-supported by Hall, Lively, and Renner.  Hall has a difficult job because she’s not so much playing an actual human being as much as she’s playing an idealized concept.  Her character really doesn’t have any purpose beyond offering Doug a chance at redemption and (this is obvious more in retrospect than during the actual film) really doesn’t have much of an identity beyond how her life touches Doug’s.  Hall, however, is so vulnerable in the role that, while you’re watching the film, that none of this really becomes obvious until a few hours after the movie ends.  Lively (better known for her role on Gossip Girl) is only in a few scenes and, in many ways, her character is even less developed than Hall’s.  If Hall has to represent the Madonna part of the Whore/Madonna complex, guess what Lively represents.  Still, Lively brings some much needed humor to the role and to the film.  She’s having fun playing her drunken, drug-addled character and she steals almost every scene that she’s in.

However, the film is ultimately dominated by Jeremy Renner.  With his angelic voice and deceptively soft voice, Renner is the psychopath that you can’t help but love.  Movie psychos are a dime-a-dozen so when an actor comes along and actually finds something new to do with the role, it’s impossible not to be impressed.

So much works in The Town that I almost feel guilty talking about what doesn’t.  For all its strengths, it also has three rather glaring flaws.  As with all things, the final verdict on this film depends on just how willing the viewer is to overlook these flaws.

First off, Ben Affleck proves himself to be a better director than writer.  The Town’s story is well told but the majority of it will still be awfully familiar to anyone who has ever seen a heist film.  Unlike Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, or Michael Mann, Affleck doesn’t embrace the conventions in order to deconstruct them.  Instead, he uses the conventional storyline as an excuse to explore the Charlestown culture.  As a result, this flaw arguably works to the film’s advantage.  Still, those viewers who are expecting to be surprised by the film’s plot should consider themselves warned.

As well acted as the movie is, there is one big exception in the cast and that is Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.  Hamm plays the FBI agent who is determined to capture Affleck.  He’s the Javert to Affleck’s Valjean.  Unfortunately, as played by Jon Hamm, he’s also a cinematic black hole.  Hamm may be an excellent television actor but, playing a key supporting role and surrounded by actual film actors, it’s obvious that Hamm has no idea how to act for the big screen.  As a result, he never comes across as a worthy or even dangerous adversary and his pursuit of Affleck never becomes compelling nor do we ever worry that Affleck might not be able to outsmart him.  There’s a scene, towards the end of the film, where Hamm yells something like, “Drop your weapon, asshole!”  I have to admit that I stunned just about everyone in the theater when I burst into laughter at the sound of Hamm shouting “asshole” and sounding, more or less, like an overgrown kid on a playground.

(Hamm’s sidekick, by the way, is played by another tv actor, Titus Welliver.  Welliver is probably best known for playing the Man In Black on the final season of Lost.  Though he gets next to nothing to do, Welliver dominates every scene that he’s in.  Unlike Hamm, he knows how to act on a big screen.)

The most glaring flaw with The Town, however, is that the entire plot pretty much depends on the viewer accepting that Hall’s character, just days after being traumatized by being held hostage and seeing one of her co-workers nearly beaten to death because he attempted to protect her, would so easily trust and open up her life to a stranger (even if that stranger is Ben Affleck).  Never mind the fact that we are then expected to believe that she would stay loyal to Affleck even after learning the truth.  Realistically, this would seem to indicate that the character’s something of a sadomasochist but the film really doesn’t explore that (or really anything else that might make Hall’s character anything more than just an idealized Madonna figure).

I mean, I’m always open to experimentation in a relationship.  Different people enjoy different things and I’ve never been one to judge anyone else’s particular fetish.  However, just speaking for myself, the day that you stick a gun in my face, put a blindfold over my eyes, and then abandon me out on the beach is the same day that I decide that there’s probably not going to be a long-term relationship there.

So, once again, it’s all a question of whether or not you can accept these flaws.  I have to admit that, as I watched the film, I occasionally had a hard time doing so.  If you can agree to overlook the flaws, however, then The Town is an entertaining, well-acted crime thriller with an authentic sense of place.  And if you can’t overlook those flaws, than The Town is a good but imperfect movie that still indicates that Ben Affleck has got quite a future as a director.

Lost Final Season: Sink or Swim?

February 2, 2010 marks the date which begins the final season of one of TV’s biggest pop culture phenomena of the past decade. I will begin by saying that I was never into Lost not because I didn’t like the show or even thought it was bad. I never got into it because I missed the entire first season. While I heard people gradually get into the show by the time season 2 rolled around and it had become the water-cooler show I knew I was too late.

Shows like Lost is the kind of show which is never easy to get behind even from the get-go with it’s over-encompassing mythological story arc not to mention several running subplots which bisects and even joins the main story. I knew that I couldn’t give the show it’s proper due  by rushing into watching the first season. It’s the same reason why I hesistate to recommend the best show on TV ever to people who never watched it from the beginning. I speak of HBO’s The Wire. These kinds of shows needs and requires an almost slavish like attention and loyalty from it’s early adopters.

While I may not have adopted and watched Lost I have bought all the DVD sets and will buy the 6th season as well. I do this so I can watch the show once it is done using my own timetable and also giving it the attention it deserve. Some would say that the show will have lost some of it’s mystery since people have been talking about it to me or I have read thing about it on the internet. To be honest I have a knack for tuning out such things if I have to. All I know about the show is that people on a plane crashed on an island with a polar bear and a smoke monster. So yeah, the show hasn’t been spoiled for me.

Now, with this 6th season about to begin I can see the anticipation building amongst people I know who literally love this show. It is all they can talk about. It is this kind of devotion I wish other shows whose run ended too soon would’ve gotten (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dollhouse, Firefly, Jericho and many more). I haven’t seen this kind of devotion to a TV show by so many people since Chris Carter’s The X-Files. That was another show which gradually became a pop culture sensation after the first season and just kept building and building until it reached its final season.

I see many similarities between the two shows. Both have labyrinthine mythologies which comprise the bulk of its main story. Both shows have a small core of characters whose motivations are clear but everyone else around them steeped in mystery. Pop culturally both shows have ingrained themselves in the mass audience’s TV watching habits. Both shows have been well-written with some of the best characters on TV of the this generation.

With this final season of Lost I bring up one thing that may distinguish it from Carter’s long-running serialized show. J.J. Abram’s show has a chance to go out swimmingly. It has a chance to deliver on it’s legions of fan expectations. Many are already expecting this final season to be the best of the whole series and will want nothing less than a “big bang” of a series finale. While I think it would be great if Lost went out with a bang and not a whimper the way The X-Files did in its final season, I still caution people to temper their excitement and expectations. A show with this much hype throughout its time on TV almost seemed destined to underwhelm and disappoint a large portion of it’s fans. I use the series finale of Battlestar Galactica as a prime example.

That show from Ron D. Moore was another show which built a loyal and fanatical fanbase with its complex storyline which reached an almost religious myth level. When the finale finally aired there were equal amounts of satisfaction and major disappointment. The ending of that show, for some, just didn’t satisfy their expectations and certainly left questions unanswered.

Will Lost avoid this pitfall? Only the next couple months will answer that question and for Abrams’ and his team of writers they better hope that the ending they have for the show will not sink the series in the end, but let it swim into TV legend.