Saturday, February 26, 2011

10 Best Films of 2010

Alright, I'm extraordinarily late on this but was trying to wait until I'd seen more. This only covers movies I've seen! I've still not seen Winter's Bone, so it is possible that it belongs here. I don't know. But rest assured The Social Network did not make this list. Unlike last year's list, this one is ranked.

Honorable Mention:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- I felt weird including this in the official final list since I haven't seen the other films in the trilogy yet. But I saw this one, and it was good. The Swedes still make good films, and Noomi Rapace is fabulous. The original Swedish title, "Men Who Hate Women" actually is much more accurate though.

Toy Story 3 -- It's not that the movie is bad. It's perfectly fine. But it isn't great like you'd expect it to be. In the end, it's a half-hour of good material padded out. It's amusing and enjoyable, but the world of Pixar has changed since the first one came out. The animation has been refined so the humans all look better, but different. The characters are almost too detailed now. Woody's hat, which used to be plastic, now flops about in the wind. Not to mention the sentiments in the film's plot are lifted directly from Toy Story 2, so it feels like a rehash. Where the first sequel built on the original, this one coasts on nostalgia. Like a Buzz Lightyear toy, it amounts to being enjoyable but overrated.

Okay, now to the official list!
10. Inception -- I was very undecided about whether this made the cut. Ultimately, it's well-crafted enough to be a notable film of the year. There are good elements to it, and if you go with the premise it mostly pays off. Marion Cotillard continues to be a joy onscreen, and DiCaprio continues his string of intense characters losing their grip. Ellen Page looks weird in a neckerchief. The zero-gravity stuff was cool. Unfortunately, the script is also too cute for its own good, muddying itself with too many elements and ending on a frustrating note of ambiguity just for the sake of doing so. Christopher Nolan is hailed as a genius, but his popular works continue to be ambitious frenetic jumbles that fall apart on close inspection. Still he's competent enough to make me curious for The Dark Knight Rises. ...I've recently begun questioning though whether any of us ever really "dream within a dream". If we don't, then the entire movie falls apart.

9. How to Train Your Dragon -- When judged against the usual Pixar fare it might seem to fall short. However, viewed against DreamWorks' previous efforts, this is their best film to date, at least rising to the level of The Prince of Egypt. It's success is due in no small part to the team of Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, two highly creative story men from Disney. They were responsible for Lilo & Stitch, and you can see a lot of that in the animation of Toothless. While the plot at times meanders or makes no sense (why are the Vikings all Scottish?), and adds characters who have little to do (Astrid), the scenes with Hiccup and the dragon really call back to the kind of wordless marvels of animation that we used to see in the 1940s from Disney, or still come out of Japan. I also really liked that all the text in the film is in runes, that seem to be accurate. Jeffrey Katzenberg has announced several sequels in the works; I hope that they don't follow the Shrek model and dilute the franchise. If they can improve on what was already here, DreamWorks may finally be an animation studio to take seriously.

8. Skirt Day -- It may be a bit of a cheat to include this film, since it debuted in France over a year ago. However, it only hit our shores in 2010, and I just saw it a week ago. Journee de la Jupe as it is known in France follows a high school drama teacher in a rough urban school. She wears skirts, so the students harass her; it has become school policy that all females must wear pants, lest they be taunted as sluts or worse. In a bizarre series of events, she ends up holding her class at gunpoint to gain some respect and teach her lesson on Moliere. The film has a lot to say about the way we approach race and sex in modern education. The principal, who at first seems to blame soon becomes sympathetic. We are treated to the no-win scenario of public education. Along the way there are issues of bigotry over religion (a number of the students are muslim, at least nominally). It felt very much like something out of Boston Public. Unfortunately, the film doesn't want to glorify the idea of violence solving problems, so it goes a few steps too far toward the end in wrapping things up. Though teetering between didacticism and social commentary, and never quite sure whether guns are good or not, it's a gripping movie. The way things are left though, you wonder if there's any way to hold any control in a situation like this, or will things always get out of hand?

7. True Grit -- It's a rare thing for a remake to stand out on its own, but this one does. The Coen Brothers have made another fine film. The cinematography is gorgeous. While there are bits that don't always work as they might, it's never uninteresting. Hailee Steinfeld is a real find, and though I think she's still a bit green here, she will be one to watch in the future. I especially enjoyed the score, culled from hymns of the period, primarily "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms". Oh, and that ending... Well, let's just say it's nice that a movie acknowledges firearms have a kickback to them. It almost approaches a farcical level, but manages to sidestep that, and maintain suspense.

6. Tangled -- My favorite animated film of the year. I saw it three times, and every time it was fun. While I'm still not sure of the title, this is certainly the strongest of the CG Disney efforts. What I enjoyed most were little touches of the lighting; when the light is refracted through the jewels in the crown, that's great stuff! Alan Menken's music score is more folksy this time around which doesn't always work with the power some of his prior scores had, but there are still sparks of brilliance, and a uniqueness about it.

5. Waking Sleeping Beauty -- Can you tell I like Disney? This documentary feature chronicles the Disney Animation studio from its shaky status in the 1970s after Walt's death, through the success of The Lion King. The film is composed almost entirely of footage shot at the time by Don Hahn and his pals. We see glimpses of John Lasseter and Tim Burton. We follow Glen Keane and Andreas Deja. But we are also taken behind the curtain to some of the strife involving Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney, when men who came in to save the studio began to make things more difficult. It's a fascinating and pretty candid look at things. I only hope someone makes a film similarly covering the later years someday (1995-2008 or so) when things were just as tumultuous. Also of particular value is the film's sentiment for lyricist Howard Ashman, and how his death disrupted things. It's a shame this film wasn't nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

4. Blue Valentine -- This is by no means a fun film. But it's harsh and real. It follows a couple whose marriage is falling apart, intercut with flashbacks of how they got together. They were mostly brought together through her pregnancy (it isn't his, but he offers to marry her anyway). But things descend as they fight all the time. He wants to be with their daughter, she thinks he's not serious enough about anything. He wants to rekindle their romance, she wants to be "realistic". In the end, I feel like she comes off meaner. It's a sad movie. But you also recognize why each one feels the way they do about the relationship because of the flashbacks. We know the relationship each one had with their parents, and in the end both want what's best for their daughter, though from vastly different perspectives. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give performances that transcend normal dramatic acting. The movie feels voyeuristic; it has a reality. It's pretty much summed up in the little song he sings with his ukelele: you always hurt the ones you love. This is the most adult film I've seen all year.

3. The Fighter -- I love movies that have an authentic sense of time and place. Watching The Fighter really does feel like being in Lowell with these people. This is due in no small part to its location shooting. The entire cast is great, and there are moments of humor that are very real. Not the comedy of a Hollywood screenwriter; the comedy of "types" and the way they behave. Christian Bale pulls no punches in his performance as a crack-addict washed-up former boxer. In fact, one of the few reasons the film isn't higher on this list is that he almost steals the movie for the first half. But the film levels off and gives Wahlberg his time to shine as well. I like Amy Adams in most things, and she is great here. In prior films she was playing "sweet", but here she gets to be undeniably hot. Many "true story" sports movies get treacly and maudlin, but The Fighter avoids much of this. It hits some familiar notes, but never feels too formulaic to me. It doesn't have the artificial feeling that The Blind Side did.

2. The King's Speech -- A movie that's been pretty universally praised, and deservedly so. It looks at the fragility of the royal family, humanizing the figureheads. It tells us about the goings-on behind Edward's abdication and such. But its primary focus is on Colin Firth's portrayal of a stuttering man trying to get by in a public arena. It feels very much like a stage play, in that it's dialogue-driven, but also is shot and cut in such a way as to prevent boredom. It's part costume drama, part buddy movie, and it works. It will very likely win the Best Picture Oscar. And unlike some in previous years, this one's actually good.

...and now finally, my pick for the best movie of 2010...

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World -- Scott Pilgrim was easily my favorite movie of the year. Whether or not other films had more dramatic or technical merit, this one is like an old T-shirt that just feels right. Maybe part of appreciating it comes in being someone of my generation. But I loved it. I loved the humor and the effects and the brilliant touches of music and sound throughout. Truly, this film has such a dense and varied sound design it was robbed of an Oscar nomination. It's well-cast and maintains its Canadian sensibilities. I think it's Edgar Wright's best movie so far. While it could have used a bit more of the Scott/Kim backstory, it succeeds pretty well. There are a few things I might change, and I'm glad they went with a different ending from the one planned, but on the whole, it's a great experience. I hope it becomes a cult favorite worthy of midnight screenings. This movie deserves it. I heart Scott Pilgrim so much.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Feel the Earth Move

For any readers out there who care, yes I will be posting thoughts on the past two episodes of Glee. I just haven't been in the frame of mind to do so. A lot of crud is going down right now, and I don't have the time or inclination to wax on about Ke$ha music.

However, the metaphorical destruction of my world cannot compare to the literal destruction brought by the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand this week. It seems amazing since I was just discussing New Zealand on Sunday, saying it was a great place to be right now. The earthquake has left many dead, and caused significant damage. With a name like Christchurch, wouldn't it be great if the Christian Church did indeed help out significantly? If nothing else, let's pray for the people of New Zealand, and those visiting. If you are able, consider donating through the Red Cross to earthquake relief, or perhaps other efforts for the Kiwi people if you can.

As for me, I can't help hoping now that the earth swallows up some of those who've made my life so miserable recently. Oh well. In times like these I try to reassure myself that though I am poorer than many, I am richer than most.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Small Sparks, White Woods

For anyone still wondering the origin of macaroni waffles, more information (in a way) is in the following poem. I wrote it in college in two forms; this is a third re-write, but relies heavily on the first version. If some of the sexual imagery offends you, I trust you'll take it in the spirit it was meant. It was college. The title came rather fortuitously. I was shelving books at the library, and happened to have in my hand four books: one each by Bertrice Small, Nicholas Sparks, Stephen White and Stuart Woods. I thought it an excellent title, and found imagery to match it.
As before, may it be known that this poem is my intellectual property and should not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without my express wishes. You may however link to this site, should you want to share it.

Like most of my work at the time, this was written for Kate Horrigan. If you should stumble upon this, Katie, I hope it brings you happiness.

Small Sparks, White Woods
for my muse

She stepped in right behind me,
Into the woods, my little red
-haired soulmate, and there we stood
In the Forest of Touching Souls.

These were my woods, where words were a whispered
Secret shared in paperbark.
"Welcome to my birch society," I told her, and she smiled and nodded.

I led her to where the trees open
To nature's hidden pleasure...
We saw it — the Giving Tree, now but a Stump
And Silverstein doesn't come around anymore
(that hypocrite).

Slowly we danced in a walk sort of way
To rest on the beautifully beheaded tree.
As we sat on that Stump
The wind blew in hard around it
In nature's cunnilingus
And we heard the Stump moan, so we shifted our weight
And she sighed again for us in joyful silence.

I sat with red-haired Aikika there.
Aikika I called her, for it suited the young Hor-
rigan, and I tapped her shoulder
Like a maple for her syrup.

The wind blew in hard around her.
She took in the wonder I already knew
While we stroked our noses methodically
And frivolously upon the Tree.
Time blew on,
And we spoke of diverse and fantastic things;
Of Billy Joe's hair, of cookies and sex,
Of Chaplin, and macaroni waffles,
Always with a friendly smile that knew more
Than it told or understood.

Entwined, we sat in my woods
And wasted precious time
As closeness demands.
We had to hold on to these simpler times
Before the wind blew one of us

For Valentine's Day (though the silliest of holidays)

Mine eyes he clos'd, but op'n left the Cell
Of Fancy my internal sight, by which
Abstract as in a trance methought I saw,
Though sleeping, where I lay, and saw the shape
Still glourious before whom awake I stood;
[...]Under his forming hands a Creature grew,
Manlike, but different sex, so lovely fair,
That what seem'd fair in all the World, seem'd now
Mean, or in her summ'd up, in her contain'd
And in her looks, which from that time infus'd
Sweetness into my heart, unfelt before,
And into all things from her Air inspir'd
The spirit of love and amorous delight.
She disappear'd, and left me dark, I wak'd
To find her, or for ever to deplore
Her loss and other pleasures all abjure:
When out of hope, behold her, not far off
Such as I saw her in my dream, adorn'd
With what all Earth or Heaven could bestow
To make her amiable: on she came
Led by her Heav'nly Maker, though unseen
And guided by his voice, nor uninform'd
of nuptial Sanctity and Marriage Rites:
Grace was in all her steps, Heav'n in her Eye,
In every gesture dignity and love.
I overjoy'd could not forbear aloud.
[...]She heard me thus, and though divinely brought,
Yet Innocence and Virgin Modesty,
Her virtue and the conscience of her worth,
That would be woo'd, and not unsought but won,
Not obvious, not obtrusive, but retir'd,
The more desirable, or to say all,
Nature herself, though pure of sinful thought,
Wrought in her so, that seeing me, she turn'd;
I follow'd her, she what was Honour knew,
And with obsequious Majesty approv'd
My pleading reason. To the Nuptial Bow'r
I led her blushing like the Morn: all Heav'n,
And happy Constellations on that hour
Shed their selectest influence; the Earth
Gavesign of gratulation, and each Hill;
Joyous the Birds; fresh Gales and gentle Airs
Whisper'd it to the Woods, and from their wings
Flung Rose, flung Odours from the spicy shrub
Disporting, till the amourous Bird of Night
Sung Spousal, and bid haste the Ev'ning Star
On his Hill top, to light the bridal Lamp.
[...]yet when I approach
Her loveliness, so absolute she seems
And in herself complete, so well to know
Her own, that what she wills to do or say,
Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best;
All higher knowledge in her presence falls
Degraded, Wisdom in discourse with her
Loses discount'nanc't, and like folly shows;
Authority and Reason on her wait,
As one intended first, not after made
Occasionally; and to consúmmate all,
Greatness of mind and nobleness their seat
Build in her loveliest, and create an awe
About her, as a guard Angelic plac't.
[...]Neither her ourside form'd so fair, nor aught
In procreation common to all kinds
(Though higher of the genial Bed by far,
And with mysterious reverence I deem)
So much delights me, as those graceful acts,
Those thousand decencies that daily flow
From all her words and actions, mixt with Love
And sweet compliance, which declare unfeign'd
Union of Mind, or in us both one Soul

—John Milton, Paradise Lost Book VIII

Friday, February 11, 2011

GLEE: "Silly Love Songs"

Please excuse the lateness of these reflections (though considering how late most of the others went up, this is downright early). With Top Shot now on Tuesday nights, I wasn't able to post these right after the show. It's proving a lot harder to be consistent with this than it was with Lost. And yes, I do still try to watch as much TV "live" as I can. It's just not the same otherwise.

Why is the series so inconsistent about its use of character POV voice-over? I like when the do it. They did it in the pilot. It's a good way to make internal monologue jokes. But it seems they now only do it once in a blue moon. This episode had three separate character voice-overs. I wish they'd make them more regular. Otherwise, it feels like an odd break of format.

It's Valentine's Day approaching, and Finn is feeling guilty about kissing Quinn last episode. (Did I not mention that? Finn kissed Quinn last episode.) Now that he is the captain of a winning football team, the girls are back on his side and throwing themselves at him (at least, that's how he sees it). But he can't get Quinn to kiss him again. So he devises a plan: a kissing booth. All proceeds go to glee club. The club is not enthused and sees it — correctly — as a shameless attempt to get all the girls in school to kiss him.

Finn also mentions that when he was with Rachel he was thinking of Quinn. This is curious since the whole time he was with Quinn, he was thinking about Rachel. I guess the heart wants what it wants. How long will this Betty/Veronica thing go on?

I am really missing the ponytail on Quinn. Diana's a lovely girl, and her hair looks great all the time, but I just don't understand why once she drops the Cheerios uniform she can't put her hair up once in awhile.

The show has a wonderful self-referential moment in this episode. I love when things that seem like potential annoyances get addressed on the show. This time around, it's Santana and her mean wisecracking. The club calls her out for being nothing but a voice of meanness. Santana responds that everyone loves her because "I keep it real and I'm hilarious." The scene then cuts to Santana sobbing and saying that she's just being honest. I found it really funny, and even though it was VERY cartoonish, it helped remind us that Santana has feelings other than jealousy.

In this episode, the show starts moving closer to real queer romance. Kurt and Blaine find they are growing closer and flirty. Blaine asks Kurt to help him make a big gesture to his crush on Valentine's Day. Like so many in scripted romances before him, Kurt assumes Blaine means him. But he doesn't. Blaine's into a guy at the Gap. Kurt feels so stupid for making it all up in his head.

Kurt shares all this with Rachel and Mercedes at a slumber party. ...I'm sorry, why is Kurt invited to girl sleepovers? No matter how much they want to treat him like "an honorary girl" there comes a point when this is just weird. Though I suppose I should be grateful that they FINALLY took him outside of Dalton.

The "leaving Dalton" thing becomes a theme of the episode when Blaine with Kurt's help convinces the Warblers to perform off-campus. He wants to use them to serenade his boy crush at the Gap. And they do. But once again I feel like it's a weird song choice. They do "When I Get You Alone." At least this time there's a story reason for Blaine to be singing lead, but why does he get EVERY solo? Furthermore, he's singing to a guy, but they keep the lyric like he's singing to a girl. Is this just for discretion? There doesn't seem to be anything discreet about Blaine's actions. The way the number is staged though is pretty good. It got me thinking though that if anyone tried this in real life, boy or girl, they would be seriously accused of harassment.

...And thankfully the show doesn't shy away from some of this reality. There's no harassment allegation, but the Gap guy tells Blaine off, saying that the little stunt almost got him fired. He also says that he's not "out" at work, and can't be Blaine's boyfriend because Blaine is too young. Blaine is devastated, realizing it was mostly in his head. Though I do sort of wish the Gap guy HADN'T been gay. This mythical "gaydar" thing is annoying after awhile. Kurt even makes a crack that the guy's orientation was obvious from his haircut. This sort of stereotyping is dangerous after awhile.

Meanwhile, Puck is wrestling with amorous feelings for the new wrestler girl in Glee (sorry, I have trouble remembering her name). Mr. Shuster has assigned the group to take turns singing what they think is the best love song. To woo his lady fair, Puck chooses Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls". I like the song, and this version was very nice. The humor of reaction shots played just right during the performance. It was story-relevant and a rocking tune; great choice. Santana is terribly jealous now, and the new girl was somewhat offended by the song.

Throughout the episode, there's this clumsy and charming courtship stuff as Puck tries to earn the girl's respect and love. I thought it was very nicely written. Some of it reminded me of things on Popular. He offers her a Ring Pop and asks her to a pre-Valentine's date. She accepts, but then stands him up. There's also a laugh-out-loud catfight when Santana tries to take her on for stealing Puck. As you can imagine, Santana gets tossed around like a ragdoll, but keeps coming, never letting herself be beaten.

Mike Change and Artie team up, congratulating themselves on being football players with the hot girlfriends. Nothing conceited about that thinking, right? Their choice of song is Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." And it doesn't work at all. All the Mike Chang dancing in the world can't save it. It was wrong when Justin Guarini sang it on American Idol (and that image kept blasting through my mind during the episode), and it's wrong here. It's in no way one of the best love songs ever (seriously, "Fat Bottomed Girls" is better). It's one of the weaker tracks on Thriller. It's a decent dance track, but they just did Michael last episode and so much more effectively. I hope this doesn't mean we'll get Michael songs peppered through every episode. Lay off him for awhile. (Though if they do any more songs from Thriller, I vote for "Human Nature".)

Finn has set up his Charlie Brown-looking kissing booth. He has a line running down the hall of girls to kiss him. At one point, Rachel comes for a kiss claiming to be over him, but she's really not. Finn gives her a Christmas gift he had bought her before they broke up: it's a necklace with a gold star. That is just the sweetest thing ever. Knowing Rachel's affinity for gold stars (which unfortunately gets more and more left behind), it's the best thing he could give her. This doesn't help her feelings subside at all.

Quinn refuses to visit the kissing booth for fear it will make Sam jealous and stir up new feelings. But ultimately she buckles. Sam sees them in proximity (but doesn't see any kissing) and does indeed get jealous. Finn and Quinn begin meeting secretly. Santana knows this and decides to get some justice. She contracts mono from a boy in the nurses' office for the express purpose of giving it to Finn via his kissing booth. Finn then passes it on to Quinn. Apparently, Santana has has mononucleosis so many times she's built up some sort of immunity.

This is just one more television series to continue the "kissing disease" thing about mono. I've never known anybody who ever contracted the disease this way, though I'm sure it happens.

It's Tina's turn to perform the best love song. Her choice is "My Funny Valentine". I suppose no Valentine's Day is complete without this obvious choice. But can I just say that I hate this song? I don't get its appeal at all. And I'm big into classic 1940s-era love ballads and show tunes but this song does NOTHING for me. So I was glad to see that it got a somewhat comical treatment in that Tina is so overcome with love for Mike Chang that she starts sobbing harder and harder until she can't finish the song. It's funny and leaves the song as a cast-off. Unfortunately, it also does Tina a great disservice because she almost never gets to sing solos on this show.

Kurt finally comes out and tells Blaine that he thought the Valentine's crush was him. With this out in the open, the two move one-step up in their relationship. They sort of acknowledge that they will be "friends" but keep it on the down low. It's left with a sort of ambiguity, but it's more than the audience going "wait, are they an item?" every week.

Rachel performs "Firework" as her choice. Why? That's not really a love song! And anyway, she's got better taste than that. Really, it's because Finn says when he kissed Quinn there were fireworks. But why should that mean we are subjected to yet ANOTHER Katy Perry song?? Of all the great love songs in the world, you give us THIS? That's three Katy Perry songs just this year! Despite the fact that I hate the song, and it's bizarre "plastic bag" lyric ripped right out of American Beauty, I was glad to see the show get back into the style of the first season. The song is done with cuts and sort of fantasy elements that they've started getting back to this year, but not enough I think. Not that every episode needs to feel like a music video, but I like that element. It also made this song a bit more digestible.

In the end, the couples and the singles all go to Breadsticks, where the special entertainment is the Warblers performing Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs". Now this is more like it. Admittedly, it's not a fantastic song, it's sort of silly. But that's kind of the point. Paul KNOWS it's silly. He admits its silly, but says there's a place for silly love songs. And it's a song I like. The best thing about the song is the overlap of lyrics and the arrangement for the Warblers hit this bit perfectly. I also love that they vocalize the "ba da da da da" when the brass usually comes in.

The Valentine's Day episode was definitely the best of the three holiday shows this year. While not quite as good as the Super Bowl episode, it maintained many of the stronger elements of the show and continued to be funny. Surprisingly, Sue Sylvester was completely absent from the show and I didn't miss her. The love pentangle of Sam, Rachel, Quinn, Finn, Puck, etc. continued to develop new permutations. The audience got to feel that Kurt and Blaine were headed somewhere. And there was some decent music. In case you were wondering, I started thinking about what I might consider one of the greatest love songs ever to sing in glee club. I came up with Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love", John Lennon's "Love" and "Woman", and "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. There are so many, and I hope they do more shows where they can explore a variety of songs. How about when Mr. Shue gives an assignment, they actually do it for once instead of singing about whatever they think is relevant (you hear me, Rachel? Do you really think "Firework" is the best love song of all time??).

Songs in tonight's episode:
Tell Him (actually this was just playing at the sleepover, but I like the song and the fact that it was an LP. Yea LPs!)
Fat-Bottomed Girls
P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
When I Get You Alone
My Funny Valentine
Silly Love Songs

Next Week's episode: Sue Sylvester is in a funk after losing, and the only thing to cheer her up is... joining glee club. I hope this comes off better than it sounds.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

GLEE: "The Sue Sylvester Shuffle"

The post-Super Bowl episode of Glee was surprisingly one of the best episodes of the season. I went into it expecting spectacle, retreads of storylines we were tired of, and an overindulgence, but instead we got an episode which recalled the best of season one.

It opens with a Cheerios rehearsal. Remember when Glee used to use the cheerleaders a lot more? I've been really missing that, and was glad that they opened the episode this way. Granted, it was Katy Perry, who I have no respect for at all. But her music is just the sort of thing trashy teenage cheerleading was made for. The girls do "California Gurls" complete with bikini tops on some of them, megaphone bras that shoot confetti and blue Katy Perry wigs. There are guys doing motocross stunts while girls hula hoop with rings of fire. But Sue finds herself bored by it. That's interesting because I also think that ultimately if there is nothing but spectacle it will eventually bore. Anyway, Sue is now on a quest to top herself for competition so she can feel that rush again when they win for the seventh consecutive year.

And Sue finds that rush in... a human cannonball. She's so intrigued by the idea of firing a girl out of a cannon that she buys one. The girls are not keen on this idea. Sue tries to get Brittany to agree to being shot from the cannon, but she fears dying. The Cheerios are not convinced that it will be safe. Sue is reprimanded by the principal, and she responds by saying she will get consent from the girls. So in case you were wondering where the line is drawn when it comes to endangering cheerleaders in a public school, hoops of fire are okay, cannons are not.

The show also returns to the football team. And not just in a "we're on the football team" way, but actually with games and such. This seems an obvious choice with it being post-Super Bowl and all, but it's also something we haven't seen since early this year. Karofsky is making things difficult for Finn, and the guys in general who aren't in glee club don't get along with those that do. This all feels very much like season one. Although there's a nice nostalgia to it, there's an element that feels like a retread of that "Single Ladies" episode. What happened to all of last years players? Anyway, Coach Bieste and Mr. Shue try to join forces to get the team cohesive. Bieste knows cohesive teams win championships.

After the encounter with the principal, Sue Sylvester has a fabulous, destructive tantrum destroying everything in her path. And then just when you think it's over, she's in the locker room still destroying things!

Coach Bieste makes it mandatory for all the football players to join glee club (like I said, it's a bit of a reverse on the "Single Ladies" episode). This doesn't sit well with either group. Rachel objects to the presence of Karofksy, "a known homophobe". At first I thought this point was being made too hard, but when I remembered that Rachel has two gay dads, it made more sense coming from her. To unite the men on the team, Mr. Shue proposes that the glee club performs at half-time of the big game. What will they be doing? Michael Jackson's "Thriller", the grand-daddy of spectacle song and dance numbers. I knew this was coming as it had been rumored for months. I was very glad however that they didn't try to do an all Michael episode. They also didn't just stick with "Thriller", which has been done. Instead, they put a Glee spin on it by mashing it up with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Heads Will Roll". I loved this idea. I haven't heard a lot of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' stuff, but I remember seeing them no Conan years ago and liking it a lot. The team still has some reservations about glee club not being cool.

Rachel and Puck perform a song for the group, and it seems to go down okay with them. I didn't think it was the best choice to showcase that glee club isn't gay, but it was nice and I dug the Puckleberry vocals which we don't often get.

It did start to bother me though that glee club was still seen as the height of uncool even after the Britney Spears episode where they incited a riot (and orgy?). It also proves that they should do more performances of relevant music for the school, and more of this stuff at competition instead of just classic rock and showtunes. Their performance at sectionals was a step up, but it can get better.

This has nothing to do with the episode, but there was a special Chevy ad with a Glee performance in it. It was a lot of fun and made me think how awesome it would be for the show to do an episode where all the music is classic American ad jingles.

Sue decides to fight back against Mr. Shue by moving the Cheerios' slot in competition to the day of the big football game, thus making the cheerleaders in glee choose one or the other. Again, this is terribly similar to when the football players in glee had to choose last year. But it's organic to Sue's character so I'm okay with it. Quinn is still concerned about her popularity and after missing so much of the Cheerios last year, she reluctantly drops out of glee club. Santana and Brittany follow.

It turns out Karofsky is sort of talented, and starts getting into the glee thing. The show teetered dangerously on a television cliche here where bullies are all turned into nice guys through song and dance. But it didn't go quite that far. Karofsky does suggest to Finn that the guys do a kind of warm-up number to prepare for the game. So they perform (in their zombie make-up for "Thriller") a song by, who else, The Zombies. It was a good song choice, and pretty fun to watch. I like when the guys are allowed to perform themselves every now and then.

Now that the football team isn't throwing slushies in everyone's faces, the power in the school shifts to... the hockey team! There's a hilarious moment when the school's as yet unseen hockey team show up and slushy all the football players. The hockey kids all have stereotypical Canadian Wayne Gretzky-looking hairdos. It was very funny. The sudden jolt of unpopularity is too much for Karofsky, and he quits the team. The other non-glee football players join him. They don't believe Bieste will prevent them from playing the big game because she has no team with just five guys.

At this point the show shifts back to Dalton Academy, where the Warblers are hard at work on another song. It was a bizarre choice this time around, and I didn't like it so much. Certainly not as much as their previous ones. I was watching realizing I hadn't missed Kurt at all in the episode. Why did we need this scene. Then I thought that perhaps at least this would be a chance to see him in his element, just to remind folks he's there, and not have him interact with everyone else. You know, like I suggested in one of my reviews a few weeks ago. This was not the case. After the song, Blaine and Kurt have lunch with Rachel and Mercedes and discuss the football situation. I would have much rather not seen Kurt at all in this episode. The Warblers did make me wonder though why New Directions never perform anything a capella. That would be really cool, and better than having to find crazy reasons for those band people to always be around and always know how to play every song.

Kurt is surprised by the news and wonders why Finn doesn't tell him any of this, since they now share a house. This is a VERY good point. Up to now I hadn't thought of it, maybe assuming Dalton was a boarding school. But since it's clear that Kurt and Finn do live together, why DON'T they discuss this stuff? And as a corollary, why don't we just see Kurt at home instead of constantly having to come up with reasons for him to run into people at Dalton???? On a similar note, I miss some of the home-life in general of the group. We got more of that in season one. I really miss Mr. Shue's private life. And Terri. Anyway, Blaine points out that regulations for high school football are less strict and that they only need a few more players on the team to be able to play. Kurt says they will both be at the game since "we love football. Well, Blaine loves football. I love scarves."

The girls get a wacky idea: they will be the needed extra players. Bieste is against it, as is Mr. Shue. But they are insistent, saying that they don't really have to play, they'll just lie down on the ground during plays so they don't get hurt. Now, the new girl is a wrestler, so she can play football no problem. But I was concerned about Tina getting hurt. Anyway, they begrudgingly allow it since they have no choice.

And it was a stupid decision. All the good players on the team are gone, so McKinley is losing. Finn, Sam and Puck can't win by themselves (sorry Mike Chang). Tina decides she's tired of just lying on the ground, and when one of the opposing players fumbles the ball, she grabs it and makes a run for the end zone. It's a good play for the team, but she gets sacked pretty hard. She's ultimately okay, but it worried everyone. This plays to some very interesting ideas regarding feminism and such. Even after all the "girls can do whatever boys can" stuff the modern society likes to feed us, there is still this fear factor about girls and football. It also made me wonder why there is no girls' high school football. Doesn't Title IX sort of dictate it needs to be offered? If it was girl on girl and not giant guys going to sack them, might it be okay? I'm just thinking out loud here. Girls play hockey with no problem. But for some reason football seems to maintain this great American divide where boys are jocks and girls are cheerleaders. I don't know why that is or whether it should be changed. I'm just thinking out loud.

Half-time is coming, and the team is getting creamed. So Finn tells Puck to convince their AWOL players to perform the song at half-time, while he tries to get the girls back before they leave for cheerleading. Finn convinces Quinn that she's awesome and the other girls that they love glee club, and they don't go with Sue. Sue is mad. I wonder who she plans to shoot off in a cannon now? I was so hoping that she would do it herself, but that didn't happen.

Puck assures the group that Bieste will let them play the second half if they get out and perform. The guys all don't want to see the team lose anymore and agree. All except Karofsky. He just can't bring himself to risk public humiliation. Everyone else goes to put on their zombie make-up. Okay, gotta say something about that zombie make-up. It looks awesome, and I will forgive these points because it's TV, but there's logical problems with it. First, everyone is doing their own make-up, and I don't believe that those football players would all be skilled at it. In reality, the girls would be doing some of their make-up. Second, it's pretty involved detailing and some of them have latex appliances. That stuff takes TIME. Even with everyone doing their own make-up, I've gotta think it would be at least a twenty minute job. That is all.

The "Thriller" number goes spectacularly. As the girls open with "Heads Will Roll", the crowd gets really into it. As Karofksy starts back to his seat, he is overcome by how awesome it is and and wants to join in. So he throws on his jersey and does. It's good to see him smile in this episode. Everything goes fantastically. Coach Bieste even tells them to leave their zombie make-up on to intimidate the other team. They play a good second half, and when it comes right down to the wire, Finn concocts a plan to distract the quarterback so he'll fumble the snap. The players start chanting "brains.... brains...!" The girls join in, then Coach Bieste, and soon before you can say "Quack quack quack" it's a Mighty Ducks moment where it seems everyone is chanting "Brains!" The quarterback's concentration is blown and McKinley wins the game. ...On a totally unrelated note, why do zombies always want brains? There must be zombies somewhere that prefer heart or pancreas, right?

Things did not go so well for Sue Sylvester. She loses the competition and is chastised for even entertaining the notion of endangering a student's life with that cannon stunt. We learn all this in an interview Sue has with Katie Couric. We don't get to see any of that competition. We don't know what exactly happened. Were they disqualified? I didn't like hearing about it this way, and the scene felt very artificial. Admittedly, it is the sort of flimsy news story Katie Couric WOULD cover, but it just didn't feel relevant enough to have her in the show. This scene was easily the weakest of the show, and I kept expecting it to be a dream but Sue never woke up.

That scene aside, the episode was pretty spectacular. Good performances, great character moments, some of that witty humor. The "Thriller" number was great, and they should do more things like that at regionals this year. Karofsky is still his mean old self at the end of the episode. Finn expects he will join glee club, but he refuses. He also suggests Karofsky apologizes to Kurt, which he refuses to do. While it still makes him a jerk, I liked that they didn't try to suddenly change things in one episode. This episode was good though for the redemption of his character; he's been a horrible one-note stereotype for too long. We got to see a lighter side of him, which I liked. But I'm also really glad he didn't just stay friends with them all right away. I'm hopeful now that they will write this storyline more organically and it will be more enjoyable. Also, it was great to not have to watch The Let's All Love Kurt Hour for a change.

Songs in tonight's episode:
California Gurls
Need You Now
She's Not There
Bills Bills Bills
Thriller/Heads Will Roll

bonus: See the USA in Your Chevrolet

Next episode:
It's Valentine's Day! And there's a kissing booth set up. I ask you, have you ever seen a kissing booth outside of television?

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Joke on Nielsen

Super Bowl Sunday is fast approaching. It is generally one of television's highest-rated nights of the year. But how exactly do ratings work? Simply, they take a tiny group of people and claim that whatever those people are watching can be logically applied to everyone. That ultimately the same proportion of people are watching those things too. While this makes sense in a kind of theoretical statistical sense, it has always bothered me that... what if it wasn't?

For example, let's say you scan a high school cafeteria and choose one table to represent the population. And you just happen to pick the nerd table. You might come to the erroneous conclusion that most Americans wear glasses or study during lunch. Is it likely? Maybe not. But is it POSSIBLE that all the people who are watching Perfect Couples are the ones without Nielsen hook-ups? Or that the reason Two and a Half Men is still on the air is because like thirty people in America are the only ones watching it? Yes. That is possible.

So this year I am making a proposition to anyone who is a current Nielsen household. Don't watch the Super Bowl at home, or on any TV with a Nielsen hook-up. For just one year, let's try a little experiment. Go to a friends' house. Have a party. We know that all over America people will be watching the game. So please do watch it, but don't let Nielsen know you are. Let them think you aren't. Perhaps when Monday comes around and everyone is discussing the game, the commercials and the half-time show, but the ratings are almost non-existent, the flaws in the system will be made obvious. If nothing else, I think it's a great joke to play on them.

If you like the idea, pass it on!