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I saw Aziz Ansari on an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, liked him, so I thought I'd give his show, "Parks and Recreation" a whirl. Well, I haven't watched any of it yet, but I'm going to watch the pilot perhaps tonight, and I didn't want to lose all this title-tag information, so I'm posting now, will edit later. BTW, I don't summarize plots - just as I didn't with my Complete! Series! Of! Night! Gallery! Commentaries! I write these both as a (hopefully entertaining) supplement for people who have either just watched the episode, are in the middle of watching it, or are simply trying to refresh their memory in the future (that's why I include pictures that I think are representative of each episode); these are definitely not "reviews," and are just as much for my own future reference as for other people's benefit (I figure, if I'm going to spend five minutes jotting down notes for myself, why not spend seven minutes making things enjoyable for others?) Halfway into the third episode, I see no reason not to continue watching Parks and Recreation (I really like it!), so let me know if you want to see anything more than what I'm already doing (there is no better "guide" than watching the episode itself, and these commentaries aren't unlike reading the morning paper after you've already watched the Monday Night Football game). *** SPOILERS *** List of Characters in Parks and Recreation which contains look-ahead descriptions of what they end up doing. Season One 1. "Pilot" - Apr 9, 2009: <--- Leslie falls into the pit. Written by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, Directed by Greg Daniels [Notes: I'd never even heard of this show before this evening. From what I can gather from the pilot episode, this is very much of a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware farce, somewhat along the lines of "Arrested Development," but in a pseudo-documentary manner, as if the whole thing is being filmed like the live episode of "ER," "Ambush." Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) takes her mid-level bureaucrat role very seriously (and I suspect this series has more than its share of bloopers from the actors laughing when they shouldn't), Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) is a cocky, lackadaisical, skirt-chaser as Knope's underling for the Department of Parks and Recreation in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, and Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) is a parody of a serious, concerned citizen. I can tell after ten minutes that the fourth wall is broken perhaps more often than I'd prefer - time will tell whether or not this gets to be too much. Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) is a funny satire of a "go-getter" - a friend of Leslie's (who slept with her five years before and briefly forgot he did) - and Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) plays the hilarious injured musician-boyfriend of Ann's - he hurt his leg falling into the pit, and uses a robotic clamp to grab beer bottles, etc. (his opening scene is really very funny). Summer intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) is a archetypal gum-chewing, disconnected teen, and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is the seemingly Libertarian boss whom Leslie needs to ask for permission to turn the pit into a park. Seven major characters were introduced during this half-hour in a very easy-to-digest fashion, and I loved this pilot episode.] 2. "Canvassing" - Apr 16, 2009: <--- The team studying canvassing brochures written by (who else?) Leslie Written by Rachel Axler, Directed by Seth Gordon [Notes: I don't know if I'm going to get tired of this, but so far it's pretty darned entertaining. I read that before the Pilot was shown, Leslie was written to be a less-likable character, and I think it was a really good idea making the audience like her more; otherwise, it would have been a chore to get through this. I'm writing this as I'm watching (going back-and-forth), and so far my least-favorite character is Mark Brendanawicz because he's just so blatantly chill, but maybe that difference - which is standing out a little too much right now - will make him grow on me going forward. The sex-offender scene was a riot, and fortunately not too overplayed (that's a good sign, although it could have been even more subtle). Subtlety will be so important in this series - the man who stood up at the town-hall meeting, complaining about the loud guitar playing, overacted his role at first, and it's little things like that which can ruin a series (although his "You suck!" comment was funny) - I'm writing this, turning a blind eye to the fact that it ran for seven seasons. Oh, this show is shaping up to be quite amusing.] 3. "The Reporter" - Apr 23, 2009: <--- Shauna Malwae-Tweep talking with Leslie. Written by Daniel J. Goor, Directed by Jeffrey Blitz [Notes: Yes, this is a *lot* like "Arrested Development" in that there are humorous scenes that are less than one-second long (I'm thinking now about the online Scrabble move FISHING -> IS). Oh, how I love the little moments like when Mark walks out with his arm around the reporter, Shauna Malwae-Tweep (Alison Becker) - the entire scene takes about one-quarter second - it's this rapid-fire, 50-funny-things-in-30-minutes, slapstick-like, machine-gun comedy that I liked about Arrested Development (although that show may have been a touch *too* subtle for mass acceptance). I wonder if "America's Funniest Home Videos" with Bob Saget was the precursor of this type of humor. In a 30-minute show, 26 minutes of it would be either commercials or Bob Saget yucking it up, and all you wanted was for Bob to Shut! Up! and play the next videos in rapid succession. You have to love the allophone (with "t" and "d") when Shauna comes trotting out of Mark's pick-up truck: "Hi! Sorry I'm late!" ... "Do ... you ... live near Mark?" "No, not at all." Yeah, Mark is growing on me, all right. And Leslie's subsequent seat-recline was laugh-out-loud funny. Does anyone think that Leslie looks like "someone we all know?" (And to a lesser degree, same with Mark? I can think of people I've met in my past who look a lot like them.) Through this episode, the director appears to be breaking the fourth wall with restraint, so it's actually a plus at this point rather than an annoyance. Andy's off-camera "Men are dawgs!" type of comments are uproarious. I had an audible "Oh no!" when Mark said, "I wouldn't say ... *romantically* involved ...." How did I not know this show existed?] 4, "Boy's Club" - Apr 30, 2009: <-- Ann and Leslie crashing the "Boy's Club" Written by Alan Yang, Directed by Michael McCullers [Notes: Dog-poop fights: If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. During the "apology video" to women politicians, I looked at the timer, and realized I was almost halfway through the episode - without commercials (on Amazon), this show *flies* by. One thing that can slip by the viewer in these episodes is the cinematography - the camera work is remarkable, and I have to think it's as much directorial skill as camera work because the timing is just so awesome. Leslie remarks on Ron's "full moustache," and in the next quarter-second, the camera moves in for a droll close-up; then it's over. And I love the allegory of dog-poop fights with Leslie's personal Watergate (because she opened a gift basket from a potential contractor). I kind of wish I wasn't writing these notes because every time I laugh out loud (like during Leslie's tearful filmed confession), I cut over here to write something. Hmmm ... The chase down the street on crutches and without pants! Writing detailed commentary about this show is like reviewing individual dishes at Minibar - it just doesn't work, but man oh man I'm loving this show so far.] 5. "The Banquet" - May 7, 2009: <--- Leslie sporting a mannish do. Written by Tucker Cawley, Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller [Notes: They're really making the most out the murals on the wall of the Parks and Recreation building which, in case anyone doesn't already know, were ubiquitous things from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Works Progress Administration" - we have some here in Washington, DC. If anyone has a chance to go into the impressive Ariel Rios Federal Building on 11th and Penn (where the EPA is headquartered), make sure to walk up or down the awesome spiral staircases (where hangs a Foucault Pendulum): On each floor (on both sides of the building), there are WPA murals which look a *lot* like the ones in Parks and Recreation. If you know any EPA employee, ask them to give you a tour of this amazing building - it's worth a special effort just to see the staircases and murals. I swear, so far my favorite character in this show is Andy (the injured husband) - every single thing he says, or slight move he makes, causes me to giggle. I am so glad I'm writing this show up because if I wasn't, I could go through the entire series in about four days - I don't think I've yet seen a minute-long slice without it being funny. "The Banquet" may be my least-favorite episode of the first five, but it was still a winner - how did this show not have ten-million viewers?] 6. "Rock Show" - May 14, 2009: <--- Andy gets his cast off (and gets cast off by Ann) Written by Norm Hiscock, Directed by Michael Schur (2) [Notes: Finally! Some character development! And some plot advancement, but they had to wait until the season finale to do it. The one major storyline here is Ann throwing Andy out of the house after learning that he waited an extra two weeks before having his cast removed (because "he liked her serving him dinner"), and the two minor storylines are Leslie and Paul nuzzling (after hooking up once about five years ago), and Paul subsequently falling into the pit like Andy did, apparently hurting himself (but we don't really know since the season ended). This was refreshing, having some degree of continuity to the series other than "The Pit" (which is featured in one of Andy's awful rock songs in this episode - his band is just terrible. Rather than having this be "a show about nothing" like Seinfeld (or, should I say, "a show that deeply examines one seemingly unimportant construct, like "a meeting, or "a canvassing," etc. which is what Seinfeld did), it's refreshing to have the characters change (even a little bit) and grow, so the viewer feels they're investing something into the series, rather than simply watching random episodes and not missing a thing if they don't. Leslie's date with the older bureaucrat made me shiver - that was *really* creepy, in a very amusing sort of way - that man (Ron Perkins) played his role perfectly. One other thing: When Andy got his cast off, it was *gross*! And, Season One is a wrap and a thumbs-up. Note: All six shows had different directors and writers (eleven people total) except for Michael Schur, who worked on two episodes.
I'd never before seen "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), and only knew - or thought I only knew - that it was about what the U.S. did with captives suspected of Al Qaeda involvement, so I went in with a very clean slate. Note this thread about torture (and feel free to comment there), which does *not* reflect my personal views on anything, much less torture - I only mention it because it's probably related to this film. In my opinion, this is very much related to our thread about Lt. William Calley as well. "The Saudi Group" is mentioned prominently at the beginning of the film, and I'd never even heard of the term before (and I've always considered myself pretty well-informed about current events, especially things such as this). Some important (real-life) names you may want to familiarize yourself with - or at least have the Wikipedia links handy while watching the film), aside from the obvious, are: Ammar al-Balauchi (brilliantly played by Reda Kateb), Hazem al-Kashmiri, Ramzi Yousef, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Hamza Rabia, Khabab al-Masri, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulai al-Balawi, and Abu Ahmed (I'm writing as I watch, trying not to pause the film, so I'm bound to make some typos, and will also probably miss some key people). You should also know about the general concept of "Black Sites," and what "ISI" is. Note: It's not at all essential to the plot of the movie to know who these people are - in terms of the film itself, most of them are "mix-and-match" high-level Al Qaeda operatives, and that's more than sufficient to watch Zero Dark Thirty - if you hear a name mentioned multiple times (for example, Abu Ahmed (pronounced "Ahkmed")), then you can make a stronger mental note. When Mark Strong (George, the senior CIA supervisor) was chewing out his group for not eliminating more Al Qaeda personnel, I was thinking to myself, "Well, who's in charge of the group, you brain-dead dork?" Mark Strong also played Maj. Gen. Stewart Manzies in "The Imitation Game," who was the man that made Alan Turing's life (more) helllish, so he's good at playing power-hungry authority figures, and these are two pretty huge roles in a short period of time. Jessica Chastain is a terrible choice to play Maya, the quiet, passive girl who becomes psycho-edgy the longer she stays in the group - her acting is terrible, and she's about as believable as watching Geena Davis playing Ronda Rousey (of course, Ronda Rousey isn't very believable playing Ronda Rousey, either, so ....). Ninety more minutes have passed since I wrote the previous paragraph, and the film is almost over. While lauded by both critics and the public, I'm taking a dissenting view and saying that "Zero Dark Thirty" is a stupid, Hollywood rendition of something that could have been made into a great film. Jessica Chastain was laughably bad in her role - she was miscast, plain and simple, and carries about as much gravitas when she uses big, aggressive words around high-up CIA operatives as an Englishman prancing his French poodle around in a dog show. Furthermore, she was a completely fictional character, and the producers had a chance to make her into anything they wanted - and they chose *this*?! In a way, the film is like the absolutely abysmal "Airport '77" in that the ending is terrific - the final hunt for UBL is brilliantly filmed, believable, and dripping with tension even though we all know what's going to happen. It was the same way in Airport '77 with the rescue, which was filmed using actual military techniques, and was the only good part of the movie. This film is like a wrapped piece of toffee - it's really strong at the beginning, and at the end, and there are nearly two hours of Hollywood tedium, over-acted dreck, and God-awful Jessica Chastain who, inexplicably, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress - I can certainly see "Zero Dark Thirty" winning awards for lighting, editing, sound and the like, but acting? Not unless it's either Reda Kateb or perhaps even Jason Clarke, but nominating Jessica Chastain shows just how much the Academy Awards are dumbed down for the masses, and should never be taken as anything more than "notoriety." Go to Rotten Tomatoes, and you'll think this is a great movie - a can't-miss movie - but to this viewer, it was "okay" at best, and very typical Hollywood: big, bold special effects, and story-driven rather than concerning itself with character development, nuance, or subtlety. If anyone thinks Jessica Chastain was successful in her role as Maya, please offer up your opinion - I'd like to know what you think.
A movie directed by a widely-respected cult director about a bunch of comic book heroes no one has ever heard of just broke a bunch of box office records. The reviews have been nearly universally positive. It has inspired a bunch of articles about how this is possible and what it means (e.g., this & this). Anyone here seen it?