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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy occupy such a pinnacle that it's impossible for the new movies to reach the same heights.  But they're still very good.  The length is still very over-the-top, as the movies have still yet to justify splitting one pretty simple caper tale into three books.  But overall, this movie is better than the first one.  The meeting with Smaug, including his golden coating, is visually incredible.  The river chase scene is also rollicking fun, including the first time that I've ever laughed at a Lord of the Rings movie.  The changes from the books are generally good, if overblown.  The new female elf character is good, as is Gandalf's showdown at Dol Guldur with the Necromancer.  I'm more pleased with this one than the first one, though I have a feeling I'll gladly continue to lap up as much of Peter Jackson's reimagining of Tolkein as he'll ever make.

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Girls: Season 1

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God, I want to like this show.  It's a female-dominated show with real characters who are navigating real problems, yet it feels just exaggerated enough that it is still frequently funny.  In that respect, it's the feminist comedy I'm always clamoring for.

But ay yi yi, I can't watch it, because it affects me too much.  It's that particular kind of train-wreck humor where I empathize with the character, but I can't handle watching them mess up.  It's the same feeling I get watching George Costanza in Seinfeld.  It's a horrible pit-of-my-stomach pain, almost a too-real empathy that makes the show seriously uncomfortable for me.  I watched about half a season, and that's as much as I could handle.

But the writing is great, the show is crisp, and if you don't have weird hangups like me, you should absolutely watch it.  I'll just have to remain a distant admirer.

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Flight of the Conchords: Season 2

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Yeah, yeah, this was the shit back in 2007.  I'm a little slow, okay?

With our brand spanking new subscription to HBO, we finally polished off the second season, which we (like cheapskates) refused to buy.  The charm isn't quite as strong on the second season, and the songs aren't as laugh-out-loud funny.  It sinks the show, and made me long for the first season's quality.  Not that the second season is bad, it just suffers from the lack of new ideas and new songs.  It's classic second season syndrome.

If you haven't seen Season 1, go do it.  Season 2 is missable.

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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The Potter movies continue apace.  At this point, the series is moving on pure inertia.  Harry has mysteries, Voldemort is evil, how are they ever going to do it.  It's getting old how they are repeating the showdown with Voldemort, and he's doing slightly more evil things every time, but yet Harry and Voldy never quite manage to finish each other off.  It's a lot like a video game end boss progression: "Hi, it's me! I'm the end boss.  It's important for me to show up now so that the narrative is established.  Because all RPG heroes are sociopaths, the way that you interact with everything in this universe is to fight it.  Thus, we must fight now.  Here are the ground rules. 1) I will hold back my full powers and inexplicably not fight to the best of my ability, because you need to level up before you get to the end of the game, and I must still be challenging then.  2) Unlike everything else in this game, you will not kill me, but rather wound me, or be interrupted by Deus ex Machina.  Ready?  Let's begin!"

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Life of Pi

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I don't think humanity is every going to get tired of the shipwreck story.  It makes humans so isolated, in an environment so foreign, and with such high stakes that it is something we come back to, again and again and again.  Life of Pi is a neat iteration on the basic idea, where there's one human and one tiger on the boat.  It isn't a stuffed tiger, either.  Even though the tiger's behavior strains believability (as it's supposed to), this is a real-ish tiger.

Visually, the movie is a treat.  The special effects are completely convincing, particularly the tiger.  The main actor, Suraj Sharma, is particularly amazing.  It takes a special kind of actor to take us through almost the entire movie without any other humans, and Sharma pulls it off.

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Crooked Arrows

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Ryan did the music for a movie!  It was about lacrosse and what it means to be haudenosaunee and how to interpret that in the scope of modern athletic competition.  The movie is not high-budget.  It has the type of storyline that feels like the script aimed to be picked up by Disney, but fell a bit short, but then another studio picked it up.  It's definitely not the kind of movie I'd usually watch, but I got a kick out of seeing Ryan's name in the credits.  Hey, despite the tried-and-true storyline of individuals overcoming adversity through hard work to become great team, it has a more nuanced view about being native than I expected.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

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What a fantastic movie.  Magical realism is perfect when applied through the eyes of a child.  It was profoundly affecting, and just incredibly good depiction of what it means to be in extreme poverty.  Not a perfect movie, but a very powerful script, and one that I watched raptly, the entire time.  See this movie.

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Eastbound and Down

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Eastbound and Down is dumb, and it plays it up.  I finished two and a half seasons and may yet finish the last season and a half.  It's easy to watch and entertaining.   It lives and dies on its writing, which varies wildly from episode to episode.

Danny McBride as Kenny Powers is amazing.  The womanizing and fast living gets a little old at times, but I'm amazed at how they manage to keep it fresh, even though it's essentially a one-joke show.  The worst parts of the show are when McBride isn't driving the scene, such as when Will Ferrell's car infuriatingly boring recurring character comes back on.

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Bernie and Ernie

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I remember very little about this other than that it was a regurgitated tale of a white guy being friends with a black guy and them being great friends and teammates.

It wasn't even the best movie I saw this year with the word "Bernie" in the title.

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30 for 30: This is What They Want

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The 1980s sounds like a really bad time to be a men's tennis fan.  The country club sentiments of players like Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg was long gone, and the single-minded game focus of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer weren't around yet.  The two dominant American players of the decade, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were both me-first jerks who would do anything to get ahead -- perfect microcosms of everything that was wrong with the 1980s.  It would be as if your only choice was rooting for the Patriots in the NFL today.

As for the movie, it's about Jimmy Connors being a jerk.  And being a jerk in such a way that he made the fans like him anyway.  This is apparently a very important tennis match for tennis history, but as a person with only a passing interest in tennis, it was unfamiliar to me.  I think hardcore tennis fans will get more from this movie than I would.

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