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The Pink Panther Strikes Again

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Went backwards to watch the fourth film in the series.  This one is much more slapstick than the other two good ones thusfar, but still very good.  Sellers' acting is inspired, and the series goes over-the-top with Dreyfuss as the Bond-style megalomaniacal villain.  The jokes are not as tired and flat as they get later, and the movie shines.

This is not the deepest movie, but it's definitely good for a laugh.

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Revenge of the Pink Panther

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We accidentally skipped to the last of the Peter Sellers' Pink Panther movies by watching this one.  We're planning to go back and watch the other two.  Whether we'll watch any of the rest is questionable, as I have a feeling I'll be burned out on The Pink Panther after watching all of these.

This is not a good film.  At this point, we're moving along from Clouseau disguise to bad action scene to uncomfortable racist gag and back again, over and over and over.  There's a few moments that are funny, but Sellers is so over the top with his accent that it's becoming the entirety of the joke, and it can't carry scenes on its own.  What's more, the physical comedy that's so excellent in the first two films is of much lower quality here, with much more tired gags like fireworks-down-the-pants.

The heavy racism in this movie is also very hard to take.  The plot revolves around Hong Kong, which gives the movie an opportunity to make fun of Asians for every racist stereotype you can think of, including brothels, eye shape, fireworks, fashion choices, martial arts and other cliches.  Throw in a little Italian mobster characterization, and this movie is extremely awkward.

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A Shot in the Dark

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The second of our Pink Panther marathon, A Shot in the Dark follows in the footsteps of the first film.  This again is a caper, this time a murder caper.  There's similar formula here, including musical number in the middle, an ensemble cast, and a significant amount of whodunit.  There's also a theme to Clouseau's bumbling here, which seems to be that he gets wet, a lot.  It's startling to see how many ways they get him to fall into a fountain.

This, like its predecessor, has aged pretty well.  It feels like an old movie, but it doesn't feel like a movie that has lost its relevance.  It's age is shown mostly in style, and the content is still pretty strong.  The billiards scene is a particularly wonderful piece of physical acting on Sellers' part.

Also, Shadows of Paris, the musical theme for this movie, is fantastic.  The composition is amazing, and the performance is just so haunting.  I don't know why this hasn't become a jazz standard, because it really is one of the best of its type.  If only I could buy a copy of this recording -- the only recordings I can find are other versions.

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The Pink Panther

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I've seen a few of the later Pink Panther movies, and I enjoyed them in all their ridiculousness back in junior high and high school.  Mom and Dad gave me a box set for Christmas last year of all the movies, and we've been watching them together over Thanksgiving break.

I hadn't seen either of the initial two 1960s movies, and so this was a new item for me.  The later Pink Pather films are much more slapstick, and much more focused on the ridiculousness of Sellers. This first film is much more subtle, and is much more of an entourage film.  Sellers' Clouseau is not even that central.  Long stretches of the movie go by where we don't see them.  It's fascinating to see how much different in form and style this movie is.

It's a pretty good movie, regardless.  It's aged well, and many of the scenes hold up today.  Sellers' physical humor is good, but there is also plenty of physical humor by other players as well, and it is also done well.  This is a visual treat even for our modern eyes, an unusual thing for an era of filmmaking that has to get around low film quality and washed-out color.

The plot is somewhat confusing, particularly in the beginning of the movie, but given that this is a lighthearted caper, it's not too big of a detraction.

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The X-Files: Season 8

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... A.k.a. The season where David Duchovny transitioned away from the show.

The X-Files is one of those rare shows that peaked late in its run, in Season 6.  Season 7 was a bit worse, but still respectable.  Season 8 is a slow decay.

I don't really think the show suffers much for losing Duchovny.  I know that saying so is sacrilege, and it's a shame to lose his often dry wit, but I do think that Robert Patrick's Agent John Doggett is an interesting character in his own right.  The writing for Patrick is occasionally a bit flat, but his acting is quite good.  Unlike some of the other characters (Hello Skinner!), Dogget's character is well-acted and believable.

The other new character, Monica Reyes, is unfortunately not even close.  This is an unbelievable character with a bad actor.  Scully and Mulder's flights into religion, E.S.P., and new-age spirituality are frustrating enough, but Reyes' character seems to exist for nothing else.  Mulder, at least, usually grounds the case in a historical myth, Reyes seems completely comfortable with just doing what she feels.  This crap of "playing a hunch" makes for bad law enforcement, and I don't buy it, even within the context of The X-Files.

As a final note, between watching this, watching snippets of Sports Night, and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, I am coming to a new realization of just how much the shift to DVD season packages and streaming media have revolutionized television dramas.  Old shows were much more bound to the episode as a discrete unit, with the status quo restored at the end of it.  After all, viewers didn't have the luxury of watching the show on demand, and so any major plot point would have to either be reinforced in every episode.  This, of course, gets tiring to the viewer, and makes for repetitive TV for the hardcore fan.  

Now, it is almost expected that people consume shows in this fashion.  Imagine catching a single episode of A Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, or The Wire in the middle of its run.  These shows demand watching one episode after the next -- there's no catch-up for sporadic viewers here.  You can still find bite-sized episodic TV, but by and large it's confined to comedy.  

I'm not complaining.  Television drama has soared in quality in the last ten years, and this is a large reason for it.

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Somebody actually went out and made a movie called Most Extreme Primate.  I couldn't help myself.  I had to see if it was real.

It was.  I stopped watching after 20 minutes.

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Sports Night

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Back before Aaron Sorkin became a TV megastar and liberal sweetheart by creating The West Wing, he came up with an ESPN send-up sitcom called Sports Night.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Social Network, though with some reservations, and I've had friends talk about how different Sports Night is from other sitcoms.

I gave it seven episodes, and kept waiting for it to fulfill some promise.  There's some crisp writing, and it's fast paced, but mostly the jokes are lame.  The accompaniment of a laugh track certainly isn't doing the show any favors.  Mostly, this is just the stuff that's better left behind in the 90s.

There are flashes of real feeling, the stuff that made Sorkin famous.  Sorkin can paint characters that can get away with saying sappy stuff, that bring a certain amount of self-awareness.  This is what makes him a talent.  This show has flashes of this, several times with a good monologue at the end, but even those don't fit particularly well with the cupcake-light jokes that litter the episode.  When the character's only act like real people 10 percent of the show, then the show only works 10 percent of the time.  You can't just slip in something with feeling and expect everybody to forget how flat these characters usually are.

The episode that finally killed my interest was the bizarre "Letter to Louise" episode, which must have been originally written when Sports Night shifted to a new time slot, because it is a thin excuse to showcase each of the characters as if we hadn't already met them.  This might have been buyable when it was first broadcast, but in series with the rest of the show, this is a waste of time.

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The Wire: Season 5

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There's a certain amount of dissociation in Season 5, but it ends in a strong fashion.  Some characters become truly loathesome, which is highly jarring, yet completely appropriate given the theme of the show.  After all, because the character with the most control is ultimately The System, it is natural that even our white principled white knights like Freeman, McNulty, and Daniels ultimately capitulate.

What's more, the series doesn't end feeling unfinished, but neither does it wrap things up unconvincingly, in a neat little package.  The sense that the viewer gets is that there is more story, but it doesn't need to be told because it has already been told.  Sure, this is a common literary trick, bringing everything back to the beginning, and one that The Wire has used before in Season 1, but it is very effective in the last season of a show in particular.

This is probably the best final season of anything I've seen.  If you haven't seen this show, this is absolutely one you should watch.  This is clearly one of the best TV shows ever.

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Bill Maher tries his hand at Michael Moore style confrontational social commentary in Religulous.  Just like Moore, Maher finds a bunch of people who don't agree with him to set up a straw man argument.  Then, he ridicules them on camera to prove his point.  To paraphrase The Big Lebowski, he might be right, but he's still an asshole.

That said, it's fantastically hilarious.  Really, really funny, and usually less awkward than Moore.  Highlights include confrontations with Mark Pryor, the (crazy) senior U.S. Senator from Alabama, and some priests at the Vatican.

The movie is actually most convincing when Maher gets out of the way.  Tara brought up the old saw "Give these people enough rope, and they'll hang themselves."  Most of these people are well and truly crazy, and it doesn't take much by Maher to make them sound crazy, like the guy who thinks he is the literal reincarnation of Jesus, or the director of the creation museum that has people riding around on dinosaurs.  

Because Maher is trying to make an entertaining movie at least as much as a convincing movie, I'm willing to cut him slack for rhetorical shortcuts.  The movie is worth watching, but it's unlikely to change your mind.

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Cheers: The Pilot

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The oddly compelling GQ article released for Cheers' 30th anniversary made the show seem so influential, so unique, so crisp.  I've seen episodes of Cheers here and there, as has anybody, but it seemed the least I could do was watch an episode and reevaluate it.  A list that accompanied the article suggested the pilot as one of the best shows, so off I went.

That pilot was so hackneyed and so filled with everything that makes me frustrated with sitcoms that I gave up immediately after that episode.  Not only were the characters extremely simple, the writing was obvious and the themes awkward.  Decent delivery doesn't save a script from hell.

And influential?  I don't really buy that.  This doesn't feel significantly different from Taxi, Welcome Back Kotter, or Alice.  Maybe this gets better, but I am guessing that this is more about being the biggest show on TV for a long time.  Being #1 does not make something a good show.  See Home Improvement, Friends, and the current darling Big Bang Theory for some other examples of schlock that made it big.

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