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Spoilers for everything that has aired so far.

Thanks to AMC's decision to split the final season, we only got seven episodes of "Mad Men" this year, in what's being called the first half of the seventh season. However, as brief as the run was, this felt like a full season, giving many of the familiar characters complete and interesting arcs, and delivering a couple of major developments worth devoting a full post to by themselves. So as far as I'm concerned, this was the seventh season of "Mad Men," and will be analyzed as such.

The end of the sixth season saw Don Draper hit a low point, disintegrating during the Hershey pitch and being forced to take a leave of absence from Sterling Cooper & Partners. Would he stage a comeback like he had so may times before? Would he wash his hands of the agency and of his failing second marriage and start over again? We got the answer fairly early that a Don unable to work was a Don disastrously disconnected and adrift, out of sync. However, getting him out of bicoastal limbo and back to work took up most of the season. In essence, to get any semblance of the old Don Draper back, he had to grow up and become someone else.

And to do that he had to keep failing and failing miserably for a while. He had to be torn down and brought low, made to realize that Megan didn't need him in California and that the firm was doing just fine without him in New York. Betty and the kids? So busy with their own lives that his absence barely registers. Moreover, being awful to Peggy and Joan last year had big consequences, and his bold move to bring in Jim Cutler and Ted Chaough backfired, with Cutler and the supremely hateable new creative director Lou Avery becoming the season's major villains. Don's most enthusiastic supporter this year was fellow exile Pete Campbell, of all people! And it made Don the kind of fascinating, relatable protagonist that I'd been missing for too many seasons.

Of course, Don wasn't the only one in crisis this year. In the show it's now 1969, with the world about to plunge into the '70s and nobody quite ready for it. Peggy, like Don, didn't deal well with personal or professional situations that weren't going her way. She was downright unlikeable for an episode or two before finally getting past her blocks, which was a development that was honestly a little overdue. Peggy has been so sympathetic for so long, it was good to see the status quo shaken up. Nobody else had nearly as much screen time or emphasis among the regulars, but just about everybody got some of the spotlight in at least one episode to remind us why we love and/or hate them.

More than ever, "Mad Men" felt like a collection of character snapshots - Betty and Roger screwing up parenting, Joan ascending to accounts, Shirley's awful Valentine's Day, Megan meeting Don's niece, Sally in New York, Pete in California, and the disintegration of Michael Ginsberg. Some vignettes were executed better than others, and some episodes were certainly better about connecting all the disparate stories than others, but everything felt consequential and nobody felt shortchanged this year. Thematically, it all fit the end-of-an-era, time of reckoning feel to the season where the unknown future was bearing down quickly on everyone.

Nowhere was this more apparent than the finale, one of the best episodes of "Mad Men" to date, where all the major storylines pay off, and characters take big steps forward. Roger leads, Peggy pitches, and Don helps along both of their victories while securing his own position. On the other hand, Don and the firm are right back where they started and surely only delaying the inevitable. The firm's big new clients are names we know become obsolete. Sterling Cooper was actively trying to avoid the buyout last season. And the signs of generational change are all around, Cooper's farewell the most obvious one.

Despite the more heavy-handed symbols of impending doom being toned way, way down this year, "Mad Men" is as full of ominous portents as ever. I loved the multiple references to "2001: A Space Odyssey" accompanying the threatened technological takeover that doomed poor Ginsberg. I loved Bert Cooper going out on a soft-shoe (soft-sock?) number that all but rebuked Don for his successes. And even as Sally chose the nerd over the Neanderthal, she struck a cigarette-smoking pose so positively Betty, it sent chills up the spine.

As "Mad Men" draws to a close, it feels like Matt Weiner and company are well along in the process of saying goodbye to these characters and this universe. I doubt we're going to see Megan or Ginsberg again. I doubt we'll get much more time with Ken or Stan or Bob Benson. There are several episodes in Year Seven that had scenes that could have closed out the series for good. The fact that we have seven episodes left feels indulgent, honestly.

I don't expect that "Mad Men" will go out with a bang - it's not and never has been that kind of show - but the lead-up to the end has been so strong that I'm certain the finale will be worth the wait. Here's to Year Eight.
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Moderate spoilers ahead for everything that has aired so far.

Like many others, I remain incredulous that the "Hannibal" television series is airing on a national network. It's not just because of the violence and gore, which appears in copious amounts, but because the series so caters to a specific niche audience. "Hannibal" fans need to appreciate elliptical dialogue, artsy atmospherics, ambiguous plotting, and regular jolts of extreme horror movie imagery. It's so driven by aesthetics at times, you could mistake it for an European art film - except when it's also a sublimely macabre gorefest.

I wasn't all that enamored with the first season, though I appreciated what Bryan Fuller and his collaborators were trying to do with the property. I found the plotting too muddled for my tastes, and many of the characters weren't quite where I wanted them to be. Still, I saw a lot of potential so I came back for the second season, and promptly fell in love. Year Two of "Hannibal" is split up into two parts, the first with Will Graham in a mental institution, trying to clear his name after Dr. Lecter frames him for murder, and the second where Will and Jack Crawford are trying to bait Hannibal into revealing himself. The first half is where Will Graham grows a backbone, taps into the darker part of his psyche, and goes toe to toe with Hannibal in playing mind games. It is also much more tightly and explicitly plotted, with a couple of great twists.

And suddenly "Hannibal" was giving me everything I wanted from the show - lots of visceral thrills and chills without compromising the intellectual bent, and it started developing the major characters in the right directions too. Laurence Fishburne's Jack gets more interesting as he has to weigh Will and Hannibal's claims against each other. As Will becomes more self-aware and bolder in his maneuverings, Hannibal is put on the defensive. Their predator-victim relationship gets much richer and more complex with the two of them on equal psychological footing. Last year I watched the show largely for Mads Mikkelsen's take on Dr. Lecter, but now Hugh Dancy's performance is getting very close to the same level. I especially enjoy the recurring instances of role reversal, where Hannibal gets to play investigator or Will discovers his inner puppetmaster. The arc also makes great use of minor characters like Beverly Katz, Abel Gideon, and especially Dr. Frederick Chilton. Raul Esparza is a joy to watch.

Alas, Will Graham had to be let out of the straitjacket eventually, and the show had to move on to the second half of the season where we meet the Vergers, Margot and Mason, played by Katherine Isabelle and Michael Pitt respectively. There's too much story stuffed into this arc, and not enough time to adequately present it. I really got a kick out of the Vergers, but didn't feel we got nearly enough time with them to get the full impact of their twisted family feud. Will's attempts to entrap Hannibal also felt underserved, with too many pieces of key exposition missing. The final run of episodes wasn't bad in any sense, but it couldn't hope to match up to the intensity of the first half of the year, even with a wonderful finale. I'm hoping that next season fills in some of the gaps, and thank goodness there will be a next season.

"Hannibal" has distinguished itself by happily striking out on its own, borrowing characters, concepts, plot points, and imagery from the Lecter books and films, but being beholden to none of them. Characters have swapped genders, been killed off early, and positioned in different roles. Though the series is following the rough timeline of the books, specific events are ordered differently. Some of the dramatic license gets to be a bit much - there have been at least three fake-out deaths this year, possibly four - but the "Hannibal" creators have clearly become very comfortable with the material and are in a good position to start tackling some of the more famous stories coming up.

As always, I have a few reservations. Catherine Dhavernas still doesn't get nearly enough to do as Alana Bloom, and the most interesting female characters like Freddie Lounds, Dr. Du Maurier, and Bella Crawford have had fleeting appearances at best. Abigail Hobbs and Miriam Lass are really little more than plot devices, and Margot Verger's already gone. I'm hoping Clarice Starling is introduced sooner rather than later to help unskew things here. And while I'm all for letting the viewer figure things out on their own, there have been too many times where the writers simply aren't playing fair - nothing on the aftermath of the Chilton situation?

Then again, I'm getting worked up because "Hannibal" has really gotten its claws into me. I continue to adore the mad visuals, not just the death tableaux but the febrile sex scenes and the disturbing dream imagery. Directors like David Slade, Michael Rhymer, and newcomer Vincenzo Natali have been delivering excellent work week after week. The score and sound design have gotten weirder and and more evocative. The set design just keeps getting better. And the cast - even the one-off killers of the week have been landing actors like Amanda Plummer. It's fantastic.

"Hannibal" has survived despite the odds, and I hope it's around for a long time to come. I still find parts of it a little slapdash and problematic, but it's one of the most unique shows airing anywhere right now, and so well executed that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as any other prestige series you could find on cable or premium cable.
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The "X-Men" movie franchise, now up to its seventh film if you count the two "Wolverine" solo adventures, has had a lot of ups and downs over the past fourteen years. Nobody likes "The Last Stand" or "Origins." The continuity has become a snarled mess. The newest installment, "X-men: Days of Future Past," is best enjoyed if the viewer is familiar with the rest of the series, and yet it blithely ignores major developments from those films. Last summer's "The Wolverine," included a mid-credits teaser sequence that set up "Days of Future Past," for instance, but it doesn't actually connect to anything that goes on in this movie.

And yet, "Days of Future Past" makes all that history and all that interconnectivity work for it in ways that the competing Marvel Cinematic Universe films have never managed. I enjoyed "Days of Future Past" more than any superhero sequel in ages, and I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that it's been quite a few years since we've last properly seen many of the characters as they were originally depicted - "Last Stand" in 2006 was the last to feature most of the cast of the original "X-men" films - and in both of the eras that are depicted in "Days of Future Past," a lot of time has passed and a lot has happened to our heroes.

In 2023, we have a dystopian future where nightmarish automatons called Sentinels have nearly exterminated mutants and a good chunk of humanity. Among the survivors are Magneto (Ian McKellan), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), and Shadowcat (Ellen Page). In a last ditch attempt to beat the Sentinels, Shadowcat sends Wolverine's consciousness back in time fifty years to his body in 1973, to stop the Sentinels from ever being created. To do this, he needs the help of the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who we met in "First Class," to stop the assassination and martyrdom of the Sentinels' creator, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), by the conflicted shapeshifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

Despite hardly any of these characters looking like they've aged, the "First Class" gang is now a decade older and more cynical, grappling with the tail-end of the Vietnam War era and the fallout of a lot of historical and personal tragedies. The original trilogy's present-day characters have been flung even farther into the future, eking out their survival in a hellish nightmare world. It doesn't matter if the little details between all the different films don't match up because the "Terminator" -esque story is strong enough, and all the important characters and their circumstances are well established enough that "Days of Future Past" largely works on its own apart from everything that came before.

It's good to have director Bryan Singer back, who is a deft hand with both the action sequences and the melodrama. While "Days of Future Past" does have the large-scale set piece we see at the end of all big-budget superhero films these days, the outcome actually hinges on some very intimate character interactions. James McAvoy and Hugh Jackman in particular shoulder a lot of the weight. I was also happy to see Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique getting a big boost in screen time and narrative importance. The movie is a little lacking in female characters, but Lawrence steals every scene she's in, and at this point she's the definitive Mystique.

The vastly overpowered cast, full of Oscar winners and RSC vets, keep the movie humming along a very human scale, and from becoming too much of a slug-fest. Not that the slugging isn't a lot of fun. There are a couple of stand-out effects sequences, including a jailbreak lead by a speedster mutant named Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and some brawling between the Sentinels and a group of future X-men that shows off multiple kinds of powers being used together. However, it's really the storytelling that makes the film, and I got much more out of the smaller moments of humor and the period touches when Wolverine finds himself back in the '70s.

I've always liked the way that the "X-men" franchise has such a strong sense of history to it, and "Days of Future Past" is perhaps the ultimate expression of this. Unlike other superhero serials that tend to drag their feet when it comes to showing any character progression or disrupting the status quo, these last few "X-men" films have embraced the passage of time. Actions have consequences that echo through the decades. People grow and change and die. The superheroes are not infallible and villains are not always wrong. This version of "Days of Future Past" depends on it.

I've seen some describe this latest "X-men" film as a reboot to some extent, because it negates some of the events that happened in earlier films, but I think that's a mistake. "Days of Future Past" is watchable if you haven't seen any of the past movies, but those who know the series and love these characters already are the ones who will get the most out of it. And they're the ones who will be the most appreciative of the complicated, but compelling time travel fable that Singer and Kinberg and Vaughn and Goldman and the rest are telling here.
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Spoilers ahead for everything that's aired so far.

So much has happened this year on "Person of Interest," I had to review recaps of some of the early episodes to get my bearings. At the end of the second season, we were still in the thick of the H.R. plot, Decima Technologies was still being set up as the next Big Bad, and Root was about to have an extended stay in a mental hospital. The face of Control hadn't been revealed, and Samaritan and Vigilance hadn't even been namechecked. More importantly, Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA were just about to come to light.

And now a year later, we're looking at a very different "Person of Interest," one that has not just undergone cast changes and moved on to new storylines, but one that is now actively grappling with the big issues that have always been at the heart of its premise. Snowden hasn't been referenced directly, though there have been a few minor references to the NSA surveillance programs, but we've definitely seen the position of the heroes shift from an uneasy alliance with the tools of the surveillance state that have made their work possible, to active adversity. Finch, Reese, Shaw, and their allies are now targets of a new and improved government-funded information-gathering system that threatens to create a full-blown Big Brother dystopia.

First, let's go back a couple of months to one of the biggest events in the show's run so far, the death of Detective Carter. Taraji P. Henson left the show, and "Person of Interest" gave her quite the sendoff. Not only did they take the opportunity to tie up all the storylines involving the New York criminal organizations and the corruption in the NYPD, but gave Henson, Clarke Peters, and Kevin Chapman some of their best moments. There were some choices I didn't agree with - throwing in a romantic connection between Reese and Carter so late didn't make sense for either character - but the episode directly following her death was one of the show's finest, with an especially strong final bow for Enrico Colantoni's crime boss, Elias.

All terribly pat, but the resolutions were satisfying enough. And it cleared the board to start pursuing a new set of villains starting at the midseason. Peter Collier (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Vigilance gave us urban terrorists with a sympathetic cause, John Greer (John Nolan) and Decima Technologies embodied evil corporations run amok, and the shady government unit that originally commissioned the Machine got a figurehead in Control, played by a deliciously malevolent Camryn Manheim. It would have been easy enough to leave them as shallow comic-book villains, but what I really admire about this show is that every one of them is given shades of gray. Control is a sadist, but a patriot at heart. Collier is likewise a true believer in his cause. Greer, amusingly, shares a lot in common with earlier versions of Root.

Speaking of Root, she and Shaw got the lion's share of the character development this year since Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi have joined the cast as regulars. I'm a little sad that Root became saner and more reasonable with every appearance under the influence of the Machine, but she's still enough of a rogue and wild card that I enjoy her contributions immensely. It was a good move to make her a largely independent force, often taking care of business for the Machine on separate missions, and only intersecting with Finch's group when necessary. Shaw was a harder sell, since she came off as such a blank in the second season. However, a couple of good episodes played up her emotional detachment as a defining trait, which works reasonably well, and her snarky rapport with Reese and bouts of trigger-happiness can be a lot of fun. If the Nolans have had trouble with their female characters in the past, it's not apparent here.

Accommodating the larger ensemble has meant less emphasis on the personal stories of our do-gooders and more emphasis on the plotting, and "Person of Interest" has always done a great job of it. At this point we've only had about half a season with the Samaritan storyline, where a competing surveillance system without the Machine's safeguards has been pitted against our heroes by Decima, through the manipulation of Vigilance and the government. However, it feels fully developed, exciting, and momentous, despite unfurling over only a handful of episodes. While the treatment of the surveillance issues has been shallow so far, at least the show has successfully introduced a very different point of view to consider, and I expect that we'll see improvements as the Sentinel story goes on. The finale was one of the highlights of the year, completely fleshing out Collier and delivering a game-changing set of events that have set up a promising Year Four.

There were weaker spots, as usual. "Person of Interest" stuck to its procedural format for most of the year, and some of the cases of the week were bland filler. Finch and Fusco got good spotlight episodes, but the ones for Reese felt off. He had a few minor storylines, including a brief leave of absence early in the season, that felt inconsequential. It's clear that Jim Caviezel is getting tired of the role, and the show's creators are taking steps to reduce his screen time so he can take on other work. Though considering his most recent big screen role in that Schwarzenegger and Stallone team-up pic, Caviezel shouldn't give up his day job.

"Person of Interest" remains one of the better action shows on network television, and is as strong as its ever been. In the beginning I wasn't sure it could sustain itself for so long, but a little reinvention and fresh blood has gone a long way toward keeping it feeling fresh and vital. And the timeliness of the subject matter doesn't hurt either.

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Spoilers ahead for everything that's aired so far, and the recent "Captain America" movie.

I still don't like "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." as much as I want to like "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," but there's no denying that it has improved drastically over its first season, to the point where I am happy to keep giving it more chances to prove itself. The most problematic characters, Ward and Skye, have both been upgraded considerably. We finally got a compelling - or at least credibly threatening - villain in Bill Paxton's John Garrett. After weeks of awkward references and name-dropping, the show's storylines were properly integrated into the larger continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, namely the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Oh, and Patton Oswalt and Samuel L. Jackson dropped by too.

When you look back over the whole season, everything that the creators spent all those early, tedious weeks setting up paid off wonderfully in the end. The Clairvoyant, the Centipede project, Deathlok, Quinn, Raina and the mystery of Coulson's resurrection all came into play. The trouble was that "Agents" had a lot of trouble getting the ensemble to mesh right, and its biggest weakness is still the main characters. There was the episode that was supposed to be devoted to Agent May's backstory that mostly consisted of other characters discussing her backstory. There was Agent Ward's traumatic past, conveyed through some of the most unclear, poorly shot flashback sequences I've ever seen. And while it's fine to have romantic pairings in the mix, they need to be well-delineated, or you end up with a mess. Did Fitz have a crush on Simmons or Skye or both in the early part of the season? A lot of the plotting here was downright clumsy.

As a result, there was way too much story to churn through and not enough of the fun, interpersonal team interactions that were necessary to support it. Though there were some stronger early episodes like "The Hub," which paired up Fitz and Ward, I don't think "Agents" really started improving until well into the midseason, with "T.R.A.C.K.S.," and only hit its stride when the big reveals started coming in the wake of the "Captain America" sequel. The show remains plot driven instead of character driven, which I don't think is going to be sustainable in the long run, but they've bought some time to work on their team dynamics. As much as I like Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson hasn't made the transition from secondary character to main character as well as I'd like. Chloe Bennett's Skye is at her best in snarky badass mode (as opposed to wide-eyed newbie mode), and finally getting more chances to prove it. Fitz and Simmons could be better, but have been the most consistently entertaining out of the whole bunch. Agent May and Agent Triplett have potential, but have been stuck in fairly limited, functional roles so far.

And then there's Agent Ward, who was the kind of bland, generic, utterly typical action hero type who we see in way too many of these shows. And thank all the Whedons under the sun that it turned out that he was a double-agent for Hydra all along. Sure, he's got an angsty past and a bleeding heart that means he's going to be redeemed and returned to the fold at some point down the line, but that doesn't take away from the fact that for the final run of episodes he was an evil, murderous nogoodnik, and far, far more entertaining for it. I think that the MVP of the season remains Bill Paxton, though, for pulling off a slimeball who was even more fun to hate. Pity he had to go splat.

The big budget, snazzy special effects, Marvel Universe tie-ins, and a slew of notable guest stars were all meant to help the show distinguish itself from the crowd. I think that all of these elements helped to some degree, but only to a certain extent. The effects work and expensive fight scenes couldn't impress if the writing wasn't there to give them proper context. Tie-ins were only effective once the show really started to commit to them. The guest spots ranged from middling to exceptional. The show got a real boost from the appearance of Jamie Alexander as Sif, for instance, but others like Adrian Pasdar were little more than fun Easter Eggs for Marvel fanboys.

"Agents" does successfully stand alone as a separate entity apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe, but I think it has only just found its footing and there's still a significant danger of backsliding into bad habits next season. And it's important to remember that we're getting a big influx of comics-based shows in the fall with "Gotham" and "Constantine," not to mention Marvel's "Agent Carter," which will be sharing the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." time slot during their hiatus. The novelty factor isn't going to work twice, and "Agents" is going to have to step up to the challenge.
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I didn't know that Richard Ayoade had this kind of movie in him. The British funnyman made his directing debut in 2010 with "Submarine," a poignant, sweet, occasionally weird coming of age story with some Wes-Anderson-y flourishes. With "The Double," he's gone in a different direction completely. Here we have a dark and paranoid adaptation of Dostoyevsky's "The Double" that shares similar aesthetics with Roman Polanski's 1970s psychological thrillers, most notably "The Tenant."

Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a worker drone for a Kafkaesque data collection company, who lives such an anonymous existence that the security guards at his place of employment don't recognize him even though he's been working there for seven years. He pines after the girl in the copy room, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) and tries to curry favor with his boss Mr. Papadopolous (Wallace Shawn), with little hope of success. Then one day a new employee, James Simon, shows up at the office. He is everything that Simon is not: affable, charismatic, and confident. He also looks exactly like Simon, down to their wardrobes, though no one else seems to notice. At first James is friendly with Simon, even helpful, but he soon reveals sinister ulterior motives.

It is a little difficult to categorize "The Double," which looks and acts like a thriller, but is not particularly concerned with behaving like one. Instead, it's better to think of it as a very dark, wry, comedy about a hapless loser who inhabits a particularly strange and alienating universe. I love the way the world of "The Double" has been constructed, with its dark, moody atmosphere and endless bureaucratic frustrations. Nearly all the action takes place at night, or within dimly lit interiors. The technology and the television broadcasts we glimpse suggest that we're some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s, but there's a sense of timelessness to the murky environs, which mix Eastern European utilitarianism with peppy Japanese pop songs. The sound design is wonderful, full of oppressive ambient noises that dog our hero wherever he goes. Are they being magnified by Simon's subconscious?

Jesse Eisenberg delivers two fine performances as Simon James and James Simon with ease. These are familiar types that we've seen him play before, but he does a commendable job of keeping them entirely distinct every moment we see them onscreen, and without leaning on many gimmicks. I liked that there's really no attempt made to explain the presence of James, or delve very deeply into any existential questions about why he exists. Once it's established that no one else takes any notice of the fact that James is a double, his role is to be Simon's antagonist. Larger philosophical questions are not off the table, but they're not the point. "The Double" is primarily concerned with Simon's narrative rather than grappling with metaphysics, as the recent Denis Villeneueve film "Enemy" did.

I think that's why I prefer "The Double" to "Enemy," which is also about a pair of inexplicable doubles who wreak havoc on each other's lives. "Enemy" has more high-minded ambitions, and is full of obtuse symbols that demand dissection and interpretation. "The Double" is a far more straightforward piece of work, but with more nuanced execution. It takes the time to build its characters, acquaint us with their lives, and lets us get deeper into the protagonist's screwed-up head. There's actually a nice little romance that plays out reasonably well, which let me connect emotionally to Simon and Hannah, whereas the characters in "Enemy" came off as utterly cold, flat constructs.

My only quibble with "The Double" is that the story plays out almost entirely as expected, and the stylization makes it feel a little too slick. The movie comes off as slight as a result, a genre exercise that doesn't really pack the kind of punch that it could have. However, it is such a unique bit of filmmaking and Richard Ayoade makes a lot of interesting choices here. When searching for other films to compare it to, I kept pulling up art house obscurities like Kieślowski's "A Short Film About Love" and Scorsese's "After Hours." The aforementioned "The Tenant" is probably the most obvious precursor, with its endless insomniac night scenes and deeply confused hero.

So I suspect that "The Double" is one of those odd little films that only an art house nerd could really love. The subject matter and the style are so far off the beaten path that even with a pair of recognizable young actors like Eisenberg and Wasikowska as the leads, it doesn't have much hope of attracting a larger audience. That's a shame, because Richard Ayoade deserves kudos aplenty for puling this one off. And I can't wait to see what he does next.
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Boy, it's been a crazy week. The real life stuff I was anticipating blowing up went and did just that, eating all my free time and making it impossible to sit down and write anything coherent. I was hoping to have a few more weeks of my regularly scheduled media blogging schedule, but that's definitely no longer in the cards. So, I'm announcing that Miss Media Junkie is going on hiatus early. You'll still get sporadic updates, mostly reviews, for the rest of the month. From June to the end of August, I'll be almost totally incommunicado. And while I anticipate picking up blogging again in September, you won't be seeing nearly the same rate of posts.

So, we're going to adjust how things are done around here more fundamentally. Focus is now going to shift to quality over quantity. Arbitrary word limits and targets are out the window, meaning you might get a 200 word entry, or a 1,000 word one, depending on what I'm writing about. However, I promise I will actually proofread things before they're posted and make corrections as needed. I also plan to go back and update or fix some of the content in older posts - the Great Directors list needs updating, for instance.

This has been a long time in coming, and I admit I'm not sure what this blog is going to look like a few months down the road. However, rest assured that I'll keep writing - because I really don't think I have it in me to stop completely.

Happy watching.

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My SO has been in a spring cleaning mood, and has been purging our household of old electronics. His old laptop was sent packing a few days ago. Old hard drives are up for sale on Craigslist. He's been after my older electronics too, namely a slightly outdated Nikon point-and-click camera that I bought secondhand a few years ago, and my DVD/VCR combo player that hasn't been hooked up to a television since we moved last year. I successfully argued the case for the camera - it works perfectly fine and it's always good to have a backup, but he wasn't so convinced about the DVD/VCR. I understand his arguments, which are perfectly reasonable. It's not a small player, we have at least three computers between us that will play the DVDs, and I have kept a grand total of one VHS tape that I haven't played in years, but I'm hanging on to out of nostalgia. Heck, it's been about five years since I've regularly used the DVD part of the player too. Digitize that VHS tape and we don't need the player at all.

I remain reluctant, however. I can easily imagine that at some point in the future some situation where I'll need a VHS player. Home movies that never got digitized. Obscure movies that never went to DVD or Blu-Ray. There's the lurking fear that once I toss the player it'll be difficult to acquire one again. I understand that the need for a VCR is extremely rare and is going to become rarer in the future, but I'm not ready to let go of the technology yet. I understand how to use a VCR in all the ways I never figured out how to use a DVR or any other digital recorder. I had a little TV/VCR combo all through grad school that I used regularly and became very comfortable with. Yes, the quality is awful. Yes, I really should learn how to use the new technology that's made the VCR obsolete. Yes, at some point, even with adapters, new televisions won't even be able to accommodate devices like mine anymore. But still, there's a certain sense of security in knowing that I have a backup option if all the others fail, so it's very hard to let go.

I remember my mother kept her record player in the closet for at least a decade after we stopped using it. At one point the stylus broke and she never got it fixed. There were only about half a dozen records in the house, and I only vaguely remember her actually playing them when I was very, very young. Disney's "Mousercise" exercise album was my favorite. Cassette tapes and players were the staples of my childhood, which very slowly disappeared from life at some point in the last decade. I think the last cassette player I owned was the one that was built into my indestructible old alarm clock, which was finally junked about two apartments ago. The last cassette tape I remember listening to was a mix tape that a friend made for me in high school, full of Weird Al Yankovic and Dr. Demento novelty songs. I have great memories of me and my brother laughing our heads off at "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." I think I still have it in a cardboard box somewhere, though I have no way of playing it now. It's a nice reminder of good times.

Then again, I'm all too familiar with the negatives here. Dad was a hoarder. Kept all the old computer equipment around for far longer than he should have. He still had a massive CRT from the early '90s monitor when my mother was using a flatscreen. There were always at least three printers, the oldest one an ancient dot matrix dinosaur where the paper still had the perforated edges. At one point we had three VCRs in the house, two that worked, and one that was always going to be fixed when someone found the time. We actually did get some use out of it because it filled in as a substitute tuner for one that broke in the television in my parents' room. Of course, this required a lot of monkeying around with the settings on both devices to actually be able to watch anything, but it did work. So yes, I've seen what getting too attached to your media players looks like, and it's not pretty. And I don't want that to be me in ten years.

I will toss the VCR eventually. I promise I will. Just... not yet. I'll throw out my junior high speech competition trophies, my reams of old notes from college, and the half-finished crochet projects. But I need a little more time to say goodbye to the VCR.
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The Marvel folks have been dominating the discussion of superheroes lately, but I'll always be a DC Comics kind of gal, thanks largely to watching "Batman: The Animated Series" at just the right time when I was a kid. It remains my favorite incarnation of "Batman" and it's high time it got its own Top Ten List. This was one of the harder lists to pare down, and I've got a long list of honorable mentions as a result. As always, entries are unranked and ordered by airdate. And I reserve the right to totally cheat and count two-parters as single episodes.

"On Leather Wings" - The show's pilot episode is also one of its greatest, that sets the tone and style for the entire series. The mad scientist story is straight out of the earliest incarnations of Batman, but the modern sophistication of the writing and the more adult handling of the characters quickly establishes that "Batman: The Animated Series," (Henceforth "BTAS") had far bigger ambitions than most syndicated weekday cartoons.

"Heart of Ice" - Perhaps the best example of how "BTAS" reinvented, added to, and permanently enriched the "Batman" universe. Mr. Freeze was a gimmick villain until Paul Dini and Bruce Timm got their hands on him, giving Victor Fries a tragic, crushing backstory that humanized him utterly. Add the score, the winter imagery, and that amazing Michael Ansara performance - Freeze's cold heart was never a gimmick again after this.

"Feat of Clay" - A two-parter with some of the strongest animation in the entire series. The tour-de-force finale sequence is pure, glorious nightmare fuel. However, it's the villain origin story, which could easily be mistake for an old fashioned '40s or '50s noir mixed with sci-fi horror, that really packs a punch. The shapechanging Clayface was one of several of the Batman villains who I found legitimately frightening in these early episodes.

"Almost Got 'Im" - A collection of our favorite villains gather to play cards, banter, and swap "Almost got 'im" stories about the Caped Crusader. It's a light, funny episode with a lot of great punchlines. The individual stories aren't all that memorable, but the framing device and the character interaction is priceless. I especially love how Two-Face's giant penny story provides an origin for the beloved Batcave fixture. And that he's still got the hots for Ivy.

"Heart of Steel" - I love Barbara Gordon in this, far more than I enjoy her subsequent appearances as Batgirl. Maybe it's the wonderful creepiness of the Rossum Robots (gotta love that reference), patterned off Miyazaki creations of all things, or the paranoid "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" story. Or maybe it's the heightened intensity of the action and suspense. Because the enemies were robots, they got away with much more violence here than usual.

"The Laughing Fish" - My favorite Joker episode, because it's so wonderfully absurd and twisted. The poison gas that leaves its victims with disturbing perma-grins, the copyright scheme, the wacky commercial with Harley singing the Joker Fish jingle, and Batman going up against a shark - it's just one outrageous moment after another. This was also the episode where Harley Quinn really became Harley Quinn, and I love the character to bits.

"If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?" - I always had a thing for The Riddler, having cultivated a similar know-it-all personality as a kid. Riddler's origin story is not one of the better ones the show came up with, but I was always a sucker for the puzzles, and the writers came up with some fun ones for this episode. This was also the first time I remember seeing Robin in the series, who could usually be counted on to lighten things up a bit.

"Harley and Ivy" - Was there ever a pairing of female villains as perfect as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy? Bad girls were never so much fun to watch, and I couldn't help rooting for Ivy's twisted feminist schemes, even though I knew she was in the wrong. I mean, what woman hasn't secretly dreamed of having a bazooka on hand when harassed by a pack of hooligans? Their comeuppance, or course, is poetic justice at its finest - Gotham's Finest, that is.

"House and Garden" - I don't know why, but Poison Ivy episodes always seemed to involve the most horrific monsters and concepts. "House and Garden" has some of the most jaw-dropping. The story starts out innocuously enough, one of several second season episodes dealing with familiar villains' apparent attempts at reforming themselves. Ivy appears to have given up crime and become a suburban mom, but of course all is not what it seems.

"Harley's Holiday" - And finally, we end with a comic romp with my favorite "BTAS" character, Harley Quinn. Unlike Poison Ivy, Harley really does try to reform when she's released from Arkham. Unfortunately she's picked up some bad habits after all that time with Mr. J. I had a touch time choosing between this and the previous Harley episode, "Harlequinade," but this one gives Harley a chance to show what she's like working solo, and I appreciate the hopeful ending.

Honorable Mentions: "Christmas With the Joker," "Robin's Reckoning," "Two-Face," "Joker's Favor," "The Clock King," "I Am the Night, "Read My Lips," "Appointment in Crime Alley," "Eternal Youth," "Trial," "Mad as a Hatter," "Harlequinade," "Second Chance," "Catwalk," and "Over the Edge."
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I realized I haven't written much about the one movie site that I access almost daily and have been the most active on: iCheckMovies. Sure, Letterboxed has been getting a lot of press for its social networking features, and GetGlue/TVTag has its fans, but when it comes to cold, hard, data crunching, I haven't found anything better than iCheckMovies. This is a no-frills, Web 1.0, cinephile-centric site that gets the data I want in front of my eyeballs faster and better than all the rest.

There are two things I use the site for primarily. The first is keeping track of what I've been watching. The second is finding more movies to watch. Plenty of sites use the checkbox approach that let you indicate the movies that you've seen, usually with an option to rate them. IMDB is one example. Letterboxd uses the film diary approach, which insists on tying viewings to specific dates. Film diaries are good for some viewers, but in my case I don't keep track of the dates that specifically. In my own records, I only so go far as to indicate what year I've seen a film. I can usually pin down the approximate month I've seen a film because they're listed by viewing order, but I rarely have any need to know anything more accurate. iCheckMovies keeps track of the particular date I checked a movie, which is often helpful, but doesn't assume that's when I actually watched it the way that Letterboxd does.

More importantly, iCheckMovies allows me to sort everything by various criteria that I don't keep track of myself. For example, if I want to profile a particular filmmaker for a "Great Directors" post, my first step is usually figuring out how many of their films I've seen. iCheckMovies will pull up a list of everything someone has directed and show me which titles I've checked off. It's harder to do this in Letterboxd, which uses an interface that shows you poster icons for each movie - and with older and foreign classics it often takes some work to figure out which poster goes with which title. You can also sort the iCheckMovies lists by year or name or how often they show up on the site's collection of movie lists.

Ah yes, the lists. One of the main features of iCheckMovies is that they offer a collection of Top Lists, such as the IMDB Top 250, the various AFI Top 100 lists, and more ambitious ones like the They Shoot Pictures Don't They Top 1000 list and the BFI Sight & Sound lists. There are country-specific lists, genre-specific lists, lists of highest box office grossers and cult classics, and more. Currently there are 155 official Top Lists, and one of the main metrics for how movies are ranked and sorted is how often they appear on the lists. "Citizen Kane" shows up on 31 lists. "Dumb & Dumber" shows up on three: The Empire Magazine Top 500, The All-Time Worldwide Box Office, and the iCheckMovies Most Checked lists.

It's convenient having all of these various lists in one place, with the ability to sort and order the entries. I've been working on the They Shoot Pictures Don't They list, for instance, and keeping track of my progress is a breeze. I can see the whole list ordered by date or title or popularity or runtime. I can filter out the titles I've already seen, or the ones that I haven't. All the individual movies have their own pages with basic info and links to IMDB. The site may lack visual sophistication, but it's extremely user friendly and useful. It also has a particularly devoted user base that is instrumental in checking for bugs and data errors, alerting people to updates, and creating a wealth of great unofficial lists.

I find the site a great source for recommendations. iCheckMovies not only keeps track of all the movies you have seen, but all the movies that you haven't seen, and will order them for you by how often they appear on the official Top Lists. When I'm at a loss for what to watch, sometimes I'll just open up that "Unwatched" list and scroll through the titles until I see something that looks interesting. This obvious isn't going to work for everyone, and I suspect it takes a certain breed of movie nerd to really get the most out of the site.

And I'm certainly one of them. At the time of writing, there are only two official lists out of the 155 on iCheckMovies where I haven't seen any of the entries. One is a Top 100 Korean films list that doesn't have any entries later than 1970, and the other is the list of winners of the Stallion of Yennenga prize from biannual Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO).

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I feel a little guilty writing this post, because casting news is really pretty speculative stuff, and there's really not as much controversy to talk about the way there was with the "Fantastic Four" cast a couple of months ago, which touched off a good debate about racebending and diversity. But good grief, the newly announced cast of the next "Star Wars" movie seems to be all anybody is talking about. The list of names was released yesterday, along with a picture of everyone gathered together for a script reading. The internet happily went bonkers over the news, so what the hell. I'm as much of a "Star Wars" nerd as anybody. I should get to enjoy this moment too.

And my reaction to the announcement is overwhelmingly positive. I love that the new cast is comprised of mostly unknowns, or at least actors who have been under the radar to the general public. I'm familiar enough with most of them - John Boyega from "Attack the Block," Adam Driver from "Girls," Domhnall Gleeson from "About Time" and many other things, Oscar Isaac from "Inside Llewyn Davis" and many, many other things, and Daisy Ridley as the new female lead who hasn't been in a single feature yet. There's also Andy Serkis and Max von Sydow, beloved cinema veterans bringing years of experience to the table. And returning cast members include Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, and even grumpy ol' Harrison Ford has been coaxed back into the mix.

I'd caution eager "Star Wars" fans that the cast is far from everything. For the prequels George Lucas had a slew of talented actors, including Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, and Ewan MacGregor, and we all remember how those movies turned out. I remain far more heartened at the involvement of Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote for the original trilogy. I remain non-committal about J.J. Abrams as the director. I liked his first "Star Trek" movie fine, but the second one seriously has me questioning his abilities. The fact that Hamill and the other leads from the first trilogy are coming back as major characters, and not just cameos, points to a potential repeat of some of the same problems that franchise reboot suffered under Abrams' watch. However, considering how Disney has been handling the Marvel films, and Abrams' notoriously jam-packed schedule, I doubt he'll be directing more than one or two installments.

But back to the cast. Right now, the biggest talking point that much of the internet has latched on to is that there's only one actress among the new cast members. Add Carrie Fisher, and that's a grand total of two. "Star Wars" always suffered a serious gender imbalance, with Natalie Portman's character the only major female figure in the sequels, but for whatever reason the skewed ratio pinged as more heinous this time around. There have been a lot of opinion pieces about female fans getting shafted. However, J.J. Abrams and others have pointed out that casting isn't done yet, and there is another major female role that still needs to be filled (rumors about Lupita Nyong'o were circulating recently), so any debate of the topic is operating without a complete picture. We can't connect the actors to specific roles either. Adam Driver is probably playing a villain, but we can only speculate about how large or small the other roles are.

Personally, I'm willing to wait and see. Even if we aren't getting more female characters, how they're used will trump how many there are. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the cast reflects some very positive strides in other areas. On the subject of racial diversity, I'm thrilled at the inclusion of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. Boyega in particular is one of those young actors who has been on the verge of stardom for a while, and I'm so happy he's getting his shot. Even if he turns out to only be playing a supporting character, another Lando or Mace Windu, this is going to raise his profile into the stratosphere. We're going to have to see how Daisy Ridley fares, but this is a very strong group of talent, and I don't see any of the youngsters becoming the next Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, or Ahmed Best.

It's finally sunk in that the new "Star Wars" movies are really happening, and I find myself excited about the franchise for the first time in a very long time. I was so disappointed by the prequels, I forgot how much fun "Star Wars" hype can be. While I'm fully aware that this could all turn out badly, today I'm just going to put the cynicism aside and enjoy the possibilities. I can't wait for 2015 and "Episode VII."
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It's been a long time since I ventured into the anime sphere. After going cold turkey since 2008, I thought it was time I took a look at some of the shows that have been getting attention recently. One of the most buzzed about, which will premiere on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim over the weekend, is last year's action series "Attack on Titan." It's been available on Netflix and Hulu and all the usual anime outlets for a while now. I've worked through ten episodes so far, enough to get a fairly good bead on the show. I intend to finish it, but frankly, my impressions are mixed.

"Attack on Titan" is not about the largest moon of Saturn, and not a science-fiction series at all. Instead, it's a post-apocalyptic steampunk show, that takes place in a future with a very medieval European aesthetic. The Titans are giant naked humanoids that have exterminated much of humanity. Their origins are a mystery, but their sole purpose seems to be to hunt down and eat human beings. The survivors now live in a vast walled settlement under a feudal system of governance with very limited technology. One day, after a hundred years of relative peace, the Titans attack the outer wall and destroy a major city, Shiganshina. Three children among the survivors vow to grow up and join the fight against the Titans.

I found the first two episodes depicting the return of the Titans underwhelming. The production values were gorgeous, the design work was fine, and I liked the basic premise of humanity being under the heel of these creepy, brutal fairy-tale giants. But at heart this is a very typical fantasy anime, with all the usual tropes you'd expect - and some particularly grating ones. The chief one was the main character, a hotheaded brat named Eren Yeager whose personality is driven almost entirely by self-righteousness, and is prone to bouts of angry ranting. I've noticed this type of protagonist has become pretty popular lately. Lelouche from "Code Geass" and Light Yagami from "Death Note" are other examples of similarly frustrated young egomaniacs. I find them terribly off-putting.

However, they're common in shows like this that want to establish that they take place in particularly brutal universes. The Titan attacks involve lots of explicit violence and gore. The Titans have no private parts, but they still make for wonderfully disturbing visuals, especially when they're eating hapless humans by the handfuls. Of course, the humans aren't particularly nice either, and the series shows that they're at their worst in a crisis. While the nihilism is refreshing to a point, I wish it were accompanied by so much oveheated melodrama. When people get upset in certain action anime, they have a tendency to start screaming all their dialogue, and "Attack on Titan" is especially prone to this. The first two episodes eventually devolve into so much screaming and crying and carrying on, I hit the mute button a few times to spare my ears.

Fortunately subsequent episodes tone down the most egregious problems. Eren is aged up quickly to become a cadet in training, and his brattiness is turned way, way down. The show transitions to a character-driven military story, following Eren and his friends Mikasa and Armin as they become cadets and then join up with the army. Their primary means of combat is the Gear system, which combines steam-powered grappling hooks, parkour, and big honking swords to let the soldiers become these crazy samurai Spider-men. The action scenes are a lot of fun to watch, and eventually the series builds them up to some great crescendos. There are still intermittent screaming matches, but far fewer of them.

But as entertaining as "Attack on Titan" is, it's not really doing anything new or better than similar series have done before. Its worldbuilding is good so far, but it's starting to lean pretty heavily on the old tournament fighting show formula. The characters, the scenarios, the discovery of game-changing new powers - it's all awfully familiar. There's the female second-in-command with the glasses and the uptight demeanor. There's the sweet ditz with the food fixation. There's the absent father with too many secrets. There's the convenient amnesia. The nice production values, climbing death count, and high intensity count for a lot, but whenever things slow down, the weaknesses of the show's construction are plain to see.

I'm not surprised that anime fans who enjoy shows like this are eating up "Attack on Titan." It's a shiny new variation on a lot of old favorites. However, it doesn't strike me as a classic or a game-changer, not the way that "Evangelion" or the first "Full Metal Alchemist" series were - unless the bar for quality has seriously come down since I took my long break from anime.
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Catching up on some TV here, I recently polished off the most recent season of "Archer," the one where the secret spy agency of ISIS is shuttered and its staff left in limbo with a terrifying amount of cocaine on their hands. So, logically, they decide to form a drug cartel. And the creators renamed the show "Archer Vice," created some nifty new key art, and modified the opening sequence just a bit. According to interviews with "Archer" creator Adam Reed, the only reason the reason they did this is because they were bored. Moderate spoilers for the season ahead, but none of the big reveals from the last few episodes.

So what happens when you take Archer and Lana and the rest of the gang out of their usual roles as ISIS agents and enablers, and introduce them to a life of crime? Well, you get a show that's much more plotty and structured, but that retains its usual level of violent, high octane hijinks and casual obscenity. "Archer Vice" is a more serialized show, with several big storylines driving each episode, and nearly every character dealing with ongoing subplots throughout the season. Most of the year sees them living out of one of the Tunt mansions, coming up with various schemes to sell the cocaine and get rich, ultimately wrapping up with a four-part finale in San Marcos that ties back into the espionage world. Otherwise, they're being the same collection of loons that they always were - just broke, short on resources, and under a lot of new pressures. It's an awful lot of fun.

Without the constraints of the office hierarchy, characters get shifted into new roles and we get to see different sides of them that we haven't before. And surprisingly, it becomes clear as the time goes on that the gang actually does have some attachment to each other beyond the fact that Malory is paying them, or at least promising to pay them eventually. This is not to suggest that the show is getting all mushy on us, but more than any other season we find the ISIS crew banding together in tough times, and that their shared personal history does have an impact on their interactions. Archer has also become less of an irresponsible ass - though he's as thick-headed about some things as ever. It takes a while to notice, though, because "Archer Vice" sees the entire premise of the show rebooted, Carol/Cheryl starts a country music career and renames herself Cherlene, Pam becomes a coke addict, Lana's pregnant, Malory's separated from Ron, and Cyril eventually goes mad with power in circumstances that are far too funny to spoil. Heck, even Krieger gets some pretty compelling new issues to deal with.

I found I didn't miss the spy missions at all, as Archer's cocaine dealing adventures are mostly in the same vein as his work for ISIS, and the new dynamics allow the supporting characters much more of an opportunity to participate in the action. Also, keeping them in close quarters always leads to a lot of good friction. Initially I had my doubts about where the show was going, especially the Cherlene business, which seemed so out of left field that I didn't know how they could integrate it with everything else going on. But integrate it they did, leading to some of the season's funniest scenes with special guest stars Kenny Loggins and Fred Armisen. Now I hope Cherlene sticks around next season in some capacity, because her new schtick is at least as much fun as her old schtick, and there's a lot of mileage left in the concept. In general, it was nice to get a break from the regular "Archer" formula, and I'm a little sorry that the show is going to un-reboot itself for season six and send everybody back to the office.

Of course, there are things that happened this year that can't be un-rebooted, involving Lana and Archer and their relationship. Adam Reed and crew have really set up some promising possibilities for next year. Will Sterling Archer's gradual maturation continue, or will he backslide into his old ways once ISIS is up and running again? What kind of mother will Lana be, and what part is the father going to play in her life? I never thought of "Archer" as having much depth to it, but the hints of growth and change that have popped up in the last few seasons coalesced nicely this year, and I expect we may be moving into ever-so-slightly more serious territory next year.

Well, as serious as you can get on an animated action sitcom where they just devoted a whole season to running a drug cartel, staging coups against foreign governments, and a former HR lady finding ever-more-creative ways to ingest cocaine. Seriously, those cocaine cupcakes looked yummy.
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Michel Gondry made one truly exceptional film, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," ten years ago, and hasn't quite gotten back to that level since. HIs subsequent projects have all been interesting and watchable (with the exception of a certain superhero reboot that wasn't really his fault), but none have had quite the same clarity and resonance of that Charlie Kaufman-scripted love story. "Mood Indigo" isn't quite "Eternal Sunshine" either, but it does get fairly close. It's an ungainly, over-designed, exhausting film to watch because Gondry gives full rein to his usual whimsical stylization, but there is a solid core to it that gives it some real kick.

Based on Boris Vian's surrealist science-fiction romance novel "Foam of the Daze," "Mood Indigo" tells the story of a man named Colin (Romain Duris) who lives a carefree life with his talented man-servant Nicholas (Omar Sy), bibliophile friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh), and a mouse roommate (Sacha Bourdo). After Chick gets a girlfriend, Alise (Aïssa Maïga), Colin decides that he too should fall in love, and soon after meets the lovely Chloe (Audrey Tatou). Colin and Chloe enjoy a whirlwind romance, but alas their happiness is short-lived. Chloe becomes ill, Chick and Alise's relationship becomes strained, and Colin's charmed life is soon beset on all sides by misfortune.

It's always a tricky prospect to make a surrealist film, and Gondry's approach seems to have been to translate every element I imagine was metaphorical in the source material as literally as possible for the screen. Colin appears to live in a Parisian Pee-Wee's Playhouse, where Nicholas consults with a cooking mentor who inhabits the oven, and the doorbell is a bug-like creature who has to be swatted to be silenced. At one point the walls physically close in on Colin when he receives bad news. Some of these conceits work, like a character who literally ages years in days due to worry, but others, like a dance sequence where all the characters are obliged to don cartoonish, elongated prosthetic limbs, do not. Some are too literal or too obviously analogues, so the film lacks the truly absurdist free-wheeling nature of something like Leos Carax's "Holy Motors." And I don't think anything involving the mouse character worked at all.

When I'd first heard that the distributors wanted to edit the film down for international release, I was completely against the idea, but now having seen it for myself, I think it's a reasonable choice. "Mood Indigo" has pacing problems and could stand some trimming, especially in the meandering first half that chronicles new love in bloom. Gondry's wild visual inventiveness is always interesting, and I appreciated his efforts, but they kept getting in the way of his storytelling. I've liked Romain Duris and Audrey Tatou in other films, but here their bubbly love connection is not so much enhanced by all the graphic blandishment, but weirdly disconnected from it, such that it feels like the couple is enduring each new scenario - a flight in a cloud car, a picnic that takes place in the sun and the rain at the same time - instead of embodying them.

The story and visuals mesh together considerably better in the second half of the film when things take a darker turn. Suddenly all the whimsy and delight begins to transition to decay and despair, and the central relationship becomes truly compelling as the pair begin to face hardship and doubt. There's a greater universality to Colin and Chloe's downward spiral, and Gondry is more adept at reflecting them in their surroundings. The performances come into sharper focus, particular Roman Duris's, and the supporting characters become more important and are better defined. I especially enjoyed the arc of Chick, who obsesses over a particular writer to such a degree that he finds new ways to consume his writings by turning them into injections and eyedrops, until his whole life is consumed by them.

For fans of Michel Gondry's work, this is about as Gondry as it gets. Though the production values of "Mood Indigo" aren't as high as those of the films he made in Hollywood, his ambitions are as large as ever, he clearly wasn't working under any studio constraints, and he attracted all the right talent to the project. Though there are a lot of missteps, I found this to be a much more cohesive and successful film than anything else Gondry has produced in a long time. Though the documentaries and smaller projects like "The We and the I" have been all well and good, it's the larger fantasy projects like this that continue to be his most distinctive and rewarding. It's hard to imagine anyone else making a film like this, with such commitment and such fearlessness.

"Mood Indigo" is far from perfect, but there's enough good mixed in with the mediocre that I'm glad it got made. I do hope Michel Gondry keeps shooting for the moon. He may never make another "Eternal Sunshine," but his work is always worthwhile.
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I was going to wait until the US release dates, but screw it. Distributors have been dragging their heels and these features have already hit home media in several other countries, so you're getting reviews of some of my most highly anticipated films from last year now.

I expect that Bong Joon-ho's science-fiction action film "Snowpiercer," is going to be pretty divisive. For one thing, it's one of those social allegory films like "In Time" or "Equilibrium" that has a really half-baked premise that is completely implausible when you think about it. And then there's the dark tone, the two-dimensional characters, and the fairly heavy-handed messages about class and persecution. There are plenty of action sequences to keep the momentum going, but they're not the point of the movie, and the director refuses to follow the usual formulas for the action spectaculars his audience may be expecting.

"Snowpiercer" takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a new ice age has wiped out most of life on earth. What remains of humanity live on a train, the Snowpiercer, which perpetually circles the globe. The elites live at the front of the train and the poorest passengers are kept in the tail compartment, downtrodden and oppressed by the agents of the train's mysterious creator, Wilford (Ed Harris). After some of the tail compartment children are taken away by the cruel Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton), a rebellion is organized by a man named Curtis (Chris Evans). He and a group of the passengers intend to fight their way to the front of the train, seize the engine, and overturn the system. The first step is breaking an engineer, Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), out of prison.

The first thing you'll notice about the film is that in spite of the Korean director and crew, nearly the entire cast is made up of recognizable Western actors, In addition to Evans, Swinton, and Harris, there's also John Hurt as Curtis's mentor figure Gilliam, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer as other members of the rebellion, and Alison Pill as a teacher they encounter further up in the train. Most of the dialogue is in English, though Namgoong Minsu and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung) converse almost entirely in Korean. "Snowpiercer" was clearly intended for Western audiences, and borrows lots of tropes from Hollywood action films. You have the small band of scrappy freedom-fighters rising up against a corrupt system, the loathsome totalitarian thugs, the madman visionary, and snazzy gun battles galore.

That's why the departures from the Hollywood template have more impact here. Ideas and story are given particular emphasis, while the action is a secondary concern. Violence has consequences, usually very bad, and the world of "Snowpiercer" is much harsher and more cynical than the bulk of similar American dystopia films. Bong Joon-ho doesn't flesh out its characters as well as he should, with a few exceptions, but he does a great job with the worldbuilding. If you're willing to suspend some disbelief, exploring the little microcosm of human society aboard the Snowpiercer is a lot of fun. Each lovingly designed train compartment reveals new details of the hierarchy, and helps piece together its history. The visuals are a real treat, incorporating CGI as well as any summer blcokbuster I've seen in recent years.

I was skeptical about Chris Evans in the lead role, playing the gloomy, bearded freedom fighter Curtis who pings about ten years older than Captain America, pre-defrost. However, he grew on me, and delivers a utterly ridiculous monologue in the last act with such sincerity, that he ultimately won me over. He's playing a fairly cliche character in a film full of over-the-top caricatures and larger than life personalities, but grounds him enough to pass muster. Other performances are hit or miss, but I loved the bureaucratic awfulness of Tilda Swinton's Minister Mason, and Ed Harris's benevolent madman. The Korean characters had potential, but they weren't given much to do, and often felt like an afterthought.

For me, the worldbuilding and the simple narrative were enough to keep me entertained and engaged, but I can easily see others being infuriated by the illogical nature of how of the "Snowpiercer" universe is constructed, the lack of depth to the characters, and some of the underlying philosophical ideas. This is sure to be a nitpicker's nightmare, starting with the idea of the train being powered by a perpetual-motion engine that can somehow sustain an entire self-enclosed ecosystem. I appreciate the film being so willing to grapple with big themes and being so ambitious in its scope, but the execution is far from perfect, and I sympathize with those who expected more from the film.

Of the three major South Korean directors who made films for Western audiences last year, Bong Joon-Ho has found the most success, and "Snowpiercer" suggests that he may have more mainstream prospects if he wishes to pursue them.
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I have always been of the opinion that a good movie can be based on any source material. The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" was a lot of fun, and its theme park ride origins were barely apparent in the movie. "Clue" is one of my favorite 80s comedies, despite being based off of a board game. I haven't seen "The Lego Movie" yet, but the raves and the box office success its enjoyed suggest that being a giant extended toy commercial didn't mean the movie couldn't also be fun and entertaining and artistically ambitious too. Time and time again I've come across movies with completely absurd premises that have somehow managed to make the best of them and be great.

Then again... an awful lot of movies with unlikely origins have come out about as badly as you'd expect them to. And there are dozens of announced projects based on more rides and games and toys have never made it off the drawing board. For every "Lego Movie," there's a "Stretch Armstrong" languishing in development hell. Back in 2008, Hasbro and Universal Pictures signed a deal to create a series of board game movies, only one of which was ever made - the disastrous "Battleship." And then there are the Disney rides. Lot of projects have been announced, from "Magic Kingdom" to "Adventureland," but nothing has move forward except a TV project based on "Thunder Mountain Railroad," which didn't get past the pilot stage. In the past couple of days there have been a flurry of announcements for a new crop of these tie-in films. Let's take a closer look at their prospects.

The Barbie Movie - There's been a long-running series of CGI animated direct-to-video Barbie movies for little girls, but this one is going to be a live action theatrical feature. After the success of "The Lego Movie," there's been renewed interest in building franchises around toys. Sony Pictures announced this one yesterday, and their plan for it actually sounds pretty promising. The Barbie character will be a do-gooder polyglot whose overstuffed resume (is there a profession she hasn't tried?) gives her the skills to become "a modern-day Mary Poppins." The script is currently in the hands of Jenny Bicks, the showrunner of "The Big C." Lots of variables are still unknown, but I can see how this could be an interesting project. Barbies were never my favorites, but I did play with them and retain some fondness for them, as I'm sure many women and girls do.

The Peeps Movie - I actually know the world of the marshmallow Peeps better than most because I have a friend who collects them. Seriously, he's got an ever- growing Peeps collection that features all sorts of seasonal variants, stuffed toys, related merchandise, and fan-created work that ranges from the impressive to the somewhat disturbing. But even with a healthy appreciation of the creativity swirling around the beloved Easter candies, I'm having trouble wrapping my head around a Peeps movie. At this point the project is one writer, Adam Rifkin, who optioned the rights and is working on a script for an animated project, involving a Peeps diorama contest. He's certainly got his work cut out for him. Peeps are iconic, but there are no real characters, no semblance of a story, and the point of Peeps boils down to eating too many of them and trying not to feel too guilty about it. I thought "Angry Birds" was iffy enough, but this one really takes the cake.

The "It's a Small World Movie" - Anyone else's eye starting to twitch at the mere thought of That Damn Song wafting out of multiplexes to invade our helpless ears? This is the latest of the aforementioned Disney theme park ride projects, which have mostly been duds after "Pirates of the Caribbean." Jon Turteltaub of the "National Treasure" movies has been attached to direct. No story details have been announced, but I'm guessing there's probably going to be some kind of globe-trotting element, a la "Around the World in 80 Days." I hope that they don't entirely drop the underlying philosophy of the ride, which was to promote peace, love, understanding, and all those other 60s hippie ideals, but that is probably asking too much. I expect this is probably going to be in development for a long time, and doesn't have nearly as good a chance at getting a greenlight as some of the other ride movies currently in the pipeline.

The Mrs. Doubtfire Sequel Movie - Finally, because this came totally out of the blue and there's been such a negative reaction to it, let's talk about the "Mrs. Doubtfire" sequel. I liked the original. It's one of those gentler family comedies that I wish they made more of these days. Fox is behind this one, and is all set to reunite director Chris Columbus and star Robin Williams. Note that neither are at a particularly good point in their careers right now, much like former 90s stars Arnold and Eddie Murphy, who are subjecting themselves to similar head-scratcher sequel projects. My worry is that in trying to modernize the concept, we're in for a more typical, cruder, lazy cross-dressing comedy in the vein of a bad Adam Sandler movie. And we have enough of those.

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It's been a while since I've checked in with the state of internet streaming services. Last time around I was bemoaning the state of Hulu, which has become so user unfriendly and clogged with commercials that I took it out of my streaming rotation. Netflix suffered some setbacks after splitting their service, but they got a boost by successfully launching original content, notably "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black." Amazon, Hulu, and a few others have tried to follow suit, but their series haven't attracted nearly as much attention. Netflix looks to be back on top of the streaming game and entrenching itself ever more firmly into the media landscape while the traditional networks continue to decline.

I'd mostly ignored what Amazon Prime was up to, having concluded that most of the content mirrored what was on Netflix. Their movie selection in particular hasn't been impressive. However, a couple of recent incidents have changed my mind. First, my significant other got himself hooked on FX's "Justified," which just finished its fifth season. Amazon Prime has exclusive streaming rights to the series, and currently offers the first four seasons. He's been marathoning them all month. Amazon Prime is also the only place where you can catch up on "Orphan Black" and "Hannibal," two shows in their sophomore years that are quickly moving up my list of current favorites. Netflix has its own exclusives, notably Disney movies and the AMC shows like "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," but Amazon Prime is quickly stepping up its game in the content arms race.

And then the bombshell hit today. HBO, which vocally refused to have anything to do with Netflix in the past, announced that they have licensed a nice, big chunk of their older programming exclusively to Amazon Prime. Soon you can go binge on all the episodes of "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," and "The Wire" you like. Alas, no "Deadwood," which was the next show on my "To Watch" list. For those hoping for a standalone HBO Go service, no such luck either. New content is strictly off limits, so don't expect the ravenous hordes of "Game of Thrones" fans to flock to Prime for their fix. Still, this is a big win for Amazon, and a clear sign that the studios are becoming more and more willing to do business with the streaming services.

Full disclosure - I still own a couple of shares of Netflix stock, but as a media junkie, I couldn't be happier that they now have a real competitor in Amazon Prime. It keeps both companies healthy and on their toes. I don't expect Netflix is going to make another mistake like Qwikster anytime soon, because the stakes have gone up so high. Amazon will also have more incentive to make some much-needed improvements. Their user interface and queuing features remain pretty atrocious. Just look at the way they've both been handling pricing announcements. Amazon Prime recently bumped up its yearly fee by $20 a year, making it slightly more per month than Netflix currently. And Netflix just announced that their prices will go up a dollar or two per month in the near future, but for new customers only.

I'm happy to continue subscribing to both services, which together cost less than half of what I was paying for basic cable five years ago. I do miss Netflix's streaming and DVD combo plan, but swapping out between one and the other has been working pretty well for me. Keep in mind that I'm still watching mostly films on these services, and most of the big deals that have been coming down have been geared toward securing licenses of television shows, so their impact on me has been fairly limited so far. Ironically, the only time that I've really gotten excited over new content being available through a streaming service was back when Hulu landed a big chunk of the Criterion Collection. However, Hulu's treatment of it has been so poor that I'm now biding my time, waiting for the license to expire and for the titles to go somewhere else when Hulu inevitably folds.

That's the biggest fallout I can see from Amazon becoming a big streaming player. Netflix won't be going anywhere, having established themselves so firmly. Amazon has the ambition and the deep pockets to compete with them on even terms. However, Hulu is owned by a collection of the networks, and they have consistently been unwilling to give their customers not only what they want, but what they have come to expect from online streaming content. The fact that they're not only still running commercials on Hulu Plus, but have increased them to the point where the service is almost indistinguishable from regular television, is maddening. I really don't see them lasting much longer.
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Good grief, it's nearly the last week of April already. As previously announced, this blog is going on hiatus for most of the summer while I take care of Real Life Business, so I'm not going to be around for the bulk of the summer blockbuster season. I'm a little sad about that, because this is definitely going to be an interesting one. 2014 has its share of sequels and franchise movies, but it can also be viewed as the calm before the storm that will be the summers of 2015 and 2016, when the really big franchise showdowns are scheduled. This summer actually features a lot of original projects and a fair amount of lower budgeted titles that could become potential sleepers.

These are the kinds of conditions that could lead to a bust at the box office, where multiple would-be tentpole projects fail one after another. More likely we're going to see the trends from 2012 and 2013 continue, where we get a mix of big hits and big underperformers. 2014 has had one major flop already, the Wally Pfister directed "Transcendence," with Johnny Depp, which doesn't bode well for all the other original science-fiction movies coming our way soon. Most of the expected heavy hitters are frontloaded in May, as usual, but there are also some major franchise films scattered throughout the summer that should keep the momentum going through mid-August. Watch out for last year's bout of mid-summer blockbuster fatigue making a comeback though.

Most of the box office winners are easy to guess. I expect to see the new "X-Men," "Spider-Man," "Transformers," and "How to Train Your Dragon" films at the top of the list. "Guardians of the Galaxy" will be up there too, because of its Marvel pedigree. Though it's been dismissed sight unseen by so many, I think "Teenage Mutant Ninja" stands a good shot at being a hit because the offerings for kids are pretty paltry this year. The absence of a PIXAR feature is noticeable. As a result, the "Planes" sequel is probably going to make a good chunk of change too. Smaller franchise films like "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Expendables 3," "22 Jump Street," and "The Purge: Anarchy" should also at least turn a profit. The only sequel I think has iffier prospects is the long-delayed "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," which is coming in late August, and nearly ten years after the original. Still, the "300" sequel didn't do too badly, did it?

The big question marks are the star-driven vehicles and original projects. Will people show up to see Angelina Jolie play "Maleficent"? Or Melissa McCarthy in "Tammy"? What about Tom Cruise in "Edge of Tomorrow? Adam Sandler's new comedy "Blended" seems like a sure bet, but what about Duane Johnson in "Hercules"? Or Scarlett Johanssen in "Lucy"? If that one does well, does that increase the chances of a Black Widow movie? Does Godzilla still have enough notoriety and cultural cachet to headline his own movie? Does the underperformance of similar kaiju movie "Pacific Rim" last year mean anything? Will pitting Seth Rogen against Zac Efron sell people on "Neighbors"? Is putting Seth McFarland in western spoof "A Million Ways to Die in the West" a good idea? How about the pairing of Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz for "Sex Tape"? And what are we supposed to make of Channing Tatum in elf ears for the Wachowskis' "Jupiter Ascending"?

And then there are the smaller films. There seem to be a lot of non-traditional counterprogramming this year for older and less blockbuster-inclined audiences. Right smack in the middle of May we're getting Jon Favreau's foodie feel-good comedy "Chef," and Disney sports biopic "Million Dollar Arm." Fox is putting out a low-budget romantic drama "The Fault in Our Stars," starring Shailene Woodley in June. Then comes Clint Eastwood's screen adaptation of the "Jersey Boys" musical on the same day as "Think Like a Man Too." In August, filling the traditional feel-good picture for older women berth, Disney has "The Hundred-Foot Journey" starring Helen Mirren. And of course there are a slew of art house pictures to look forward to, including Woody Allen's "Magic in the Moonlight" and Richard Linklater's "Boyhood."

I don't have any particular stake in any of these movies doing well, though I'm looking forward to several. What I'd really like to see is the big franchise films not entirely dominate the top spots this year. I'd love to see any of the smaller films break out, or even one of the star or director driven projects. Ideally, there should be more of a balance among all these different types of films, which would help to encourage more variety at the box office. Otherwise, there aren't going to be many more summers as potentially interesting as this one in the future.
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I never get tired of writing about this show, and as we say goodbye to the fifth season, the big question is, did Dan Harmon and the other creators get away with it? Did they manage to course-correct after that disastrous fourth season and bring back the show that its fans wanted? I'm willing to say yes. Clearly year five was better than year four, and I'd even go as far as saying that it was better than a lot of the third season, when Dan Harmon started getting a little too carried away with the metatextual madness. And yet, despite gaining some vital ground, there are some big problems with Season Five.

The season started out well enough, with Jeff becoming the newest Greendale educator and the whole gang reuniting as the Save Greendale Committee. I thought Troy and Pierce's departures were handled about as well as they possibly could have been, and that the amped up part for John Oliver's Professor Ian Duncan and the introduction of Professor Buzz Hickey, played by Jonathan Banks, were pretty good at helping to fill the void. However, neither are quite fleshed out well enough yet to really be replacements. But then, sadly, nothing was really done with Jeff's new position. We never saw him in a classroom again after the first time and his status as a teacher was never explored at all. More time was devoted to Abed getting a girlfriend and even Hickey's cartooning efforts.

I suspect the limited number of episodes was probably responsible for this. The truncated thirteen episode season meant that there wasn't a lot of space to devote to character development in general. What bits and pieces that we did get just didn't cohere as well as they have in the past. The two-parter ending that explored the possibility of Greendale ceasing to exist felt wholly unconnected to anything that had been set up earlier in the season. Character arcs were set up that didn't really go anywhere, and others have been quietly dropped. At least all the characters feel like themselves again, with the exception of the reformed Jeff, who I'm still not sure about. Annie and Abed benefited the most from this, and Chang has been thankfully de-emphasized. Alas, Britta was sorely underused.

Individual episodes hit some impressive bullseyes. I've already talked about the farewell to Troy in "Geothermal Escapism," that turned the whole school into a post-apocalypse spoof thanks to a game of "The Floor is Lava." However, my favorite of the crazy theme episodes this year was definitely "App Development and Condiments," where a new social netwoking app known as MeowMeowBeenz is tested on the campus, leading to Greendale becoming a '70s sci-fi dystopia spoof with lots of references to "Logan's Run," and Starburns in Sean Connery's outfit from "Zardoz." There was also the entirely animated "G.I. Jeff," that took on Saturday morning cartoons and toy commercials, plus another round of Dungeons and Dragons.

And while they're a little nuttier than they used to be, the regular school life episodes like "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking" and "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing" also did a good job of establishing new group dynamics and making use of the campus setting. I could easily see "Community" continuing in this vein for another season or two, improving on the groundwork that was laid this year. However, like many other reviewers have pointed out, I'm also starting to feel like "Community" has run its course. This year spent so much time getting us back to the old "Community," and then trying to maintain the status quo that it didn't do enough to push forward into new territory. There's a clear sense of the writers trying to patch too many gaps at once, reacting to format changes by doubling down on the old formulas instead of trying to find new ones.

The goal of six seasons and a movie is in sight, and considering NBC's fortunes, there's a good chance we'll get another thirteen episodes next year. However, all the drama and the cast changes and the shuffled creatives have taken their toll on the show, and will probably continue to. Season Five had some similar problems with Season Four, ironically, which is that it was trying too hard to backpedal to the point where the show was at its best. I'll continue to watch it weekly as long as they keep running it, but my enthusiasm for "Community" is starting to go south. I'm having a hard time seeing where the creators can take things from here, with most of the big arcs from prior seasons wrapped up and the new ones sputtering as they try to get off the ground.

There have been more than a few episodes in the last batch that I loved, but I'm starting to think that it might have been better for everyone involved if the show had just wrapped up after three strong seasons and didn't try to push its luck.
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It’s common for profiles of George Cukor these days to start out by declaring that the director, who was known for "women’s pictures," was not limited to directing films featuring and aimed at women. This is certainly true, but why not celebrate him for directing these films? In the current film landscape, there are scarcely any directors with any particular facility for these types of movies anymore. It's difficult to think of more than a handful working in Hollywood who can turn out a decent romance or romantic comedy regularly. It's rare to find director-actress pairings as fruitful as the ones that Cukor enjoyed with Katherine Hepburn and Judy Holliday.

My favorite of his pictures is his most well known and most celebrated, "My Fair Lady," based on the Lerner and Loewe stage musical of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion." I don't consider it the best example of Cukor's work - that would probably be "Gaslight" or "Born Yesterday" - but I am unable to resist the combination of Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, and Cecil Beaton's iconic art direction and costumes. To some degree it's a nostalgia pick, because it's the first of his films I saw, but it's stuck with me over the years and my relationship with it has changed as I've gotten older. I knew and liked it primarily for its music as a kid, but I've since reconsidered. As a musical I find it leaves quite a bit to be desired now - the songs are fun and Marni Nixon dubs Hepburn's vocals just fine, but Rex Harrison speak-singing through the whole film strikes me as more peculiar every time I see it. As a film about gender and class relations, though, it's become far more fascinating.

What I really appreciate about Cukor films isn't just that they tend to feature great performances by strong leading ladies, but that they feature them in such interesting relationships. I commonly see "My Fair Lady" categorized as a romance, and always found this misleading. Romance is certainly alluded to between Eliza Dolittle and Henry Higgins, but that's not really what their relationship is based on. They're strictly teacher and student for the vast majority of the film. Even at the end, there's nothing really more than the potential for a love match between them. Others may interpret romance as the inevitable outcome of this, but that's not what happens in the Shaw story, and I always preferred to imagine that the two became good friends instead of lovers. Eliza and Freddy's pairing is much more explicitly romantic, but it's really more of a complication to Higgins' and Eliza's relationship than anything else.

And fifty years later, I can't think of another examination of a male-female onscreen relationship quite like this. All the other Pygmalion stories I've seen, like "Educating Rita" and "She's All That" insist on making the romance explicit. As a result, the much more interesting gender and class dynamics have a tendency to get downplayed. In "My Fair Lady," Cukor spends no small amount of time poking fun at the upper classes with the Ascot Racetrack sequence, the embassy ball, and of course the antics of Eliza's father Alfred, who is obliged to get married and become respectable once he has money. And poor Eliza discovers that once she becomes a proper lady, there's no going back.

This is easily my favorite Audrey Hepburn performance, because it gives her a chance to really show off her formidable comedic skills, which too often get short shrift. She's perfectly fine playing the swan when the film calls for it, but it's her gawky ugly duckling moments as Eliza that really won me over. Sadly, her worked was panned at the time of the film's release and she didn't share in the kudos heaped on the film. Rex Harrison is, or course, an utter bastard, but is enjoying it so much that it's impossible not to love him for it. And Harrison and Hepburn together are a joy to watch, as they verbally spar and struggle with each other, and it's with the comedic moments that the movie is at its most surefooted.

Compared to the other big musicals of the time there aren't many big set pieces. Dance sequences are almost entirely absent, and the setting is hardly epic. Edwardian London never looked lovelier, and Eliza Higgins' costume changes provided more than enough eye candy, but you could never call "My Fair Lady" a spectacle in any sense. That's what made it such a good fit for Cukor's sensibilities, which were always centered squarely on the interactions of his characters and the chemistry of his performers. And maybe that's what got him into trouble on the bigger projects like "Gone With the Wind." But when he had the right material, there was no one better.

George Cukor remains one of the classic Hollywood greats. And it wasn't in spite of his work with the genres that have become devalued today, but largely because of them.


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