Finishing up some series—THE AMERICANS was FX’s take on the sleeper-agent concept (which I wrote about a lot in Screen Enemies of the American Way): It’s the early 1980s and Keri Russell is one half of a Soviet couple who’ve been posing as married Americans for the past 20 years. With Reagan heating up the Cold War, their jobs have never been more crucial, especially with the administration working on a missile defense program that could render Soviet missiles useless (it’s a few years too early for that to be an issue, but as my friend Ross says, it makes such a good McGuffin). This is a solidly entertaining show (though right-winger Jonah Goldberg claims I should hate it because it undercuts my liberal beliefs. Umm, no) where everyone on both sides is constantly surrounded by mistrust and deceit and forced to do stuff they shouldn’t. Looking forward to season two.
ONCE UPON A TIME‘s second season is set, like the first, in a town in our world to which Snow White’s evil stepmother Regina (Lana Parilla) banished all the fairytale characters so that they’d never know a happy ending again. Only at the end of last season, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) broke the curse: magic works in the town, everyone knows who they are and very few of them are happy with what Regina did. I found this season thoroughly enjoyable, though given Regina’s history as a murderous tyrant, they seem awfully soft on her at times (something I’ll discuss in depth soon).
ARROW is the CW’s adaptation of DC’s Green Arrow (whose strange history I’ve covered before). As in the comics, Oliver Queen is a shallow playboy transformed by several years on a desert island (though a much livelier one than the print version). Returning home, he carries out his father’s wishes to root out the corrupt businessmen strangling Starling City, not hesitating to murder if it comes to it. However, millionaire Merlyn (John Barrowman) has a plan, and the skills to carry it out without letting “the Hood” (as the press have labeled Ollie’s alter ego) get in his way (curious trivia point: The comic-book archer Merlyn was never really a Green Arrow adversary, just someone who engaged in an archery contest with him once and later crossed paths in a couple of JLA adventures, the first of which is shown here. Art by Neal Adams, rights with whoever currently holds them). It ain’t great art, but it’s a fun show.
The Coen Brothers’ neo-noir THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) has a lot of similarities with Fargo in that like William Macey in the earlier film, barber Billy Bob Thornton is fed up with working for his in-laws and determined to change his life by financing a business opportunity through crime (blackmailing wife Frances McDormand’s employer/lover James Gandolfini)—which, of course, spirals into Horribly Wrong territory almost at once (reminding me of wrter John Roger’s view that the underlying theme of neo-noir is that you’re not as smart as you think). Unfortunately instead of Macey’s desperate, frantic schemer, Thornton is far too phlegmatic: He may not like his life, but he’s resigned to his fate and never struggles more than he absolutely has to. Despite the striking black-and-white photography, that makes this ultimately too uninvolving to hold me. With John Polito as an entrepreneur, Tony Shalhoub as a fast-talking lawyer and Scarlett Johanssen as a young pianist. “That helps—not that she didn’t do it, but that she hasn’t confessed.”
IRON MAN III (2013) has Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) PTSDed by his experiences in Avengers (“Gods, aliens—I’m just a guy in a can.”) which leads to some bad decisions when tackling a terrorist campaign by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in alliance with scheming CEO Guy Pearce (“I control both terrorism and counter-terrorism.”). They obviously decided Robert Downey Jr. was way more interesting out of costume as he stays as Tony almost all of the film; Kingsley turns in a terrific performance though I’ll be saying more about the yellowface aspects in my next post. “Jarvis, it’s time for the house party.”
AMERICAN WEDDING (2003) is the third installment wherein Jason Biggs pops the question to Alyson Hannigan, resulting in the usual problems of wedding jitters, wedding-party romances, obnoxious relatives and various leftover elements from the previous movies. Surprisingly charming; with Fred Willard as Hannigan’s dad and January Jones as a cute bridesmaid. “I need help with my wedding vows, not my period.”