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Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 2

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Star Trek TNG begins to hit its stride.  Though this is still quite campy, we at least don't have to deal with the horrendous "let's just do the old Trek again" writing of some of the episodes of the first season.  Data and Picard are starting to really come into their own in this season.

This is the season where they throw Pulaski in.  I remember not liking her much, and I definitely didn't feel like the script writers gave her much leeway at the beginning of the season.  By the end, she was starting to loosen up, but they brought back Crusher.

I still find it kind of amazing how much I am enjoying these episodes despite the frequent eyerolling that I'm doing.

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Two Days in April

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The NFL draft is an orgiastic media frenzy.  We get Mel Kiper hyperanalyzing every selection, with day-by-day draft boards, and media making speculations based sometimes on nothing more concrete than other media speculations.  The NFL feeds into this by extending the draft out to two days.  Largely lost in this is the actual players.  This is a meat market, where players are measured, graded, and ranked.  It's the pinnacle of the NFL season's emphasis on quantification over humanity.

Two Days in April is not the first item of media to point this out, but it is one of the starkest, and most in-depth looks at it.  The idea behind the film is quite simple: Follow four draft prospects during their preparations and through draft day.  Think Hoop Dreams for the NFL draft and you'll have a pretty good idea.

The movie's most effective statement is one of basic humanity, where players are real people with real hopes.  The NFL draft is engineered to take these people, chew them up, and spit them out.  If you have a draft-following friend who is getting on your nerves with platitudes, this is a good wake-up call.

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Lincoln Redux

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When I was back in Sauk Centre, I was looking for a way to get out of the house, so we decided to see Lincoln again.  This is still one of the best historical films ever.  Yeah, it's corny, but it is SO good.  If you want more on this movie, I'd recommend seeing the first review I wrote.

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Trail of the Pink Panther

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The last film in the Pink Panther box set that I have?  Was it The Return of the Pink Panther, the second one with Peter Sellers?  No, that one is stuck in licensing hell, so the last one was The Trail of the Pink Panther, a shameful cash-in that was produced using excess footage from the prior Pink Panther movies.  You know, the one that Peter Sellers died before filming, so they decided to issue a movie clip-show from his old, lightly used footage.

And yes, that footage is lightly used, not unused.  Many of the shots in this movie were already present in the other films.  As a result, this is extremely hackneyed, and it's filled with other actors pretending to be on the search for Clouseau.  Of course, as Sellers is dead, they couldn't possibly find him.  Perhaps the effort was to make a great eulogy for Sellers, but it comes across as a shallow cash grab instead.  I can't imagine how this must have been received in theaters.  I would be sorely tempted to walk out and demand my money back.

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Les Miserables

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This remarkably faithful screen adaptation introduces the musical to Hollywood.  More than that, it is the first non-animated musical film in many years to get any kind of significant traction.

It's pretty clear that you're going to feel about this movie the same way that you feel about the musical.  The themes, music, and script are all completely unchanged.  I love the musical in all its moralizing and bombast, and so the movie was perfect.  The actors all do a good job, with Anne Hathaway stealing the show as Fantine. Russell Crowe is the only actor that stands out, mostly because he's playing the film like film, and not like the musical.  His introspective take on Javert would work with a different directorial style and cast, but as is, he feels timid by comparison to the over-the-top performances by the rest of the cast.

This movie continues the roll that Hollywood has been on recently, what with Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, The Hobbit, and several other movies that I have been hearing very good things about, including Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained.  This is the best year for movies that I can remember.

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Silver Linings Playbook

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Silver Linings Playbook is the movie that was written, created, and produced just for me.  It's an indie-style drama from a well-regarded director with themes of sports, mental illness, and dance.  Just one of those themes would be enough for me to see the movie, but the fact that the movie exists means that a) I'm somehow exactly the perfect microcosm of Hollywood's data mining operation, or b) there's an amazing coincidence.

The movie is good, though I admit it was such a trip for me to personally watch it that I had difficulty focusing on the movie and establishing any kind of objective view.  It was a very good movie, possibly even a great movie.

Relatedly, Hollywood has been on a roll lately.  Perhaps it's just the Oscar season coming to a head, but there's been a lot of good stuff.  Les Mis, The Hobbit, Lincoln, and this have all been winners, and I've gone to see more movies in the last two months than I have over the previous part of 2012.  I only hope that somehow this keeps up.  Maybe that data mining operation is real after all.

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2012: Best of Movies and TV

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As always, this list will focus on the best movies and TV that I saw in 2012. I don't keep up enough with current releases to make a pure best-of-2012 mean much. 

Best Movie

Lincoln (2012) - Full review here

Not too much of a surprise here.  Given my now firmly-entrenched penchant for history, of course a historical drama is going to fare well.  And Lincoln does just about everything well, from Kushner's amazing script to Day-Lewis' wonderful acting, to crisp directing by Spielberg.  This is the movie that has an amazing pedigree and amazing expectations and nails it.  It feels fresh, it feels relevant, and it has good history.

The movie proves that I can make nice-nice with Spielberg when he decides to tackle something of substance, and not do yet-another puff film.  Schindler's List is a masterwork, and Saving Private Ryan also does a wonderful job of crystallizing the nationwide and emotional struggles of the WWII generation.  Lincoln is destined to be the same definitive look at this period of history.


Best TV Show

The Wire: Seasons 1-5 (2002-2008) - Season reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

I would say that I'm late to the party, except that I think The Wire is the best show that nobody watched while it was on.  I don't remember hearing a thing about it while it was being broadcast.

And what a show.  Though the first couple episodes seem like this might be a typical cop drama, it quickly proves that it's wildly more complex.  The writing here is top-notch, and willing to tackle actual issues.  This is a show that is more about the modern American city, and less about the crime or the cops.  There's old fashioned nail-the-bad-guy drama, but it is set in scenery where we see why the crime happens, why drugs are epidemic, and why we as a society can't find the political capital to truly deal with these problems.  

This might be the best show I've ever seen.  It's not a kind show, but it is a powerful show, and it is a realistic show. It will probably even teach you something about yourself.


Honorable Mention (Movie and TV)

Alien (1979) - Not actually new to me, but the first time I'd seen it it a long time, and I gained new appreciation for the slow, contemplative pace of older science fiction films. (Full review)

Renee (2011) - Part of the 30 for 30 series, I was shocked that I had never heard this story.  It's a compelling documentary on the real-life impact of sport, and a good portrayal of a complicated person to boot. (Full review)

Portlandia: Season 1 (2010) - I hope that this foreshadows a boom in quirky sitcoms.  "Put a bird on it" and "Ugh, lofts" have entered my vocabulary. (Full review)

Sherlock: Seasons 1&2 (2010-2012) - Made me care about the Sherlock Holmes mythology in a way I never had.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are amazing in this. (Season reviews 1 & 2)

The HobbitThe Dark Knight Rises, and A Game of Thrones: Season 2 (all 2012) - Making a good redux of a great movie/series is not easy, and all of these are worthy sequels that don't mess too much with the formula. (Reviews: HobbitBatman, AGoT)



Zeitgeist (2007) - Propaganda without regard for fact, but dressed up to look convincing.  One of the best examples of the worst things movies can do. (Full Review)

Step Up 4: Revolution (2012) - I expect dance movies to have bad plots, but this one set new lows.  Dancing is also mediocre, and the direction is terrible. (Full Review)

MXP (2004) - I didn't come close to finishing this, but I want those 20 minutes of my life back.  Worst kind of children's movie. (Full Review)

Prometheus (2012) - The worst of science fiction combined with the worst of action movies and the worst of thrillers.  Nothing more than a cynical cash-in. (Full Review)


Full list of movies I saw this year:

30 for 30 reviews: The Two Escobars
30 for 30 reviews: Into the Wind
30 for 30 reviews: One Night in Vegas
The King's Speech
30 for 30 reviews: Marion Jones: Press Pause
Pina 3D
30 for 30 reviews: Once Brothers
Surviving Progress
Men in Black: Returning to the Source
Prometheus: Bringer of Stupidity
Sherlock Season 1: BBC does it right
Portlandia: Season 1
S. Darko: Sequelitis
Alien: And Prometheus did bring down a great movie
Reno 911
Robin Hood (2006 BBC): Another failed attempt at everybody's favorite outlaw
Men in Black 3
Chapelle's Show: The most difficult to pronounce possessive in the history of TV
Bubba Ho-Tep
A Game of Thrones: Season 2
The Dark Knight Rises
Food, Inc.
Step Up Revolution a.k.a. Step Up 4
The Conspirator
Ken Burns' Thomas Jefferson
The Wire: Season 1
Smoke Signals
The Wire: Season 2
Winter's Bone
The Wire: Season 3
Cheers: The Pilot
30 for 30: Renee
30 for 30: 40 Minutes of Hell
The Wire: Season 4
Zeitgeist: The Movie
The Wire: Season 5
Sports Night
30 for 30: The Real Rocky
The X-Files: Season 8
The Pink Panther
A Shot in the Dark
Revenge of the Pink Panther
The Pink Panther Strikes Again
The X-Files: Season 9
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 1
The Hobbit
Young Adult
Sherlock: Series 2
The X Files: I Want to Believe
The Hobbit: The Second time
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Going Cardboard
Lord of the Rings Trilogy

A Game of Thrones: Season 2

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I somehow missed reviewing this when I watched it, so here's my best recollection about 8 months late.

This continues where the first series left off, which is a very good thing indeed.  The second season tells the story of Tyrion as hand, and how he manages to defend King's Landing.

The series is notable for the Garden of Bones episode, which spurred a true revulsion, the first time I've experienced that from a television show, and something which has rarely happened even with movies.  The acting, costuming, and sets continue to be top-notch.  I'm just kinda getting tired of the Catelyn and Rob and the North, just like the books.

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Lord of the Rings Trilogy

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It's become tradition to watch the extended editions of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the holidays.  Although previous tradition has been to watch them over Thanksgiving, we didn't do it last year because I was a little bit tired of it (though Tara was at least minorly heartbroken) and this year we opted for a series of Pink Panther movies instead, as they seemed a bit more friendly to Dad.

So, over Christmas in New Mexico, we watched these movies again.  A full review is not really necessary, as I've already gushed about them in the past.  It did make for a nice pairing with The Hobbit, I will say.  And it did solidify my change of heart from the last to the first as my favorite of the trilogy.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol

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I had seen this long, long ago, when I was a child, and didn't think much of it then.  Being trapped in a small town for Christmas leaves little to do, and so I watched the last three quarters of this when it was on.

This might be a good children's movie, but it is staid, static, and boring for adults.  With the rise of Pixar and with many nods being made to adults in most modern kids movies, older simplistic movies like this seem out of place.  The movie has its moments, but by and large, it made me wonder why any adult would watch it unless they were really into puppetry or had children.

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