Thursday, September 24, 2009

Honest-To-Blog, a Diabolic Review of JENNIFER'S BODY, Plus: Modern Family, Cougar Town, and More!

So I've been back in LA since Monday night, and it's already been a crazy couple of days. Monday, for one thing, was a loooong day of travel. I boarded a Southwest flight out of Bradley Airport at 2 pm Monday afternoon, east coast time, and arrived in Burbank at 9 pm, west coast time. In between, I stopped in Chicago and Phoenix (always weird, because both are cities I'd love to actually *visit*, but have only been to due to stopovers in their airports). The flights themselves weren't too bad. I did some sleeping, some reading (I made a solid dent in The Yiddish Policemen's Union), and even, finally, watched some of the stuff I've had loaded up on my iPod for months now (yes, I finally watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, all my Whedon-obssessed friends should be proud of me). But yeah, by the time I got back to CA, I was wiped. I thought the rest of this week would be easy by comparison, but then Tuesday happened. I went in in the afternoon for one of my twice-weekly physical therapy sessions for my ankle, and somehow, one of the excercises I did that afternoon really did some damage. They had me do this thing where I stood on a bar on one leg and kept going up and down on my toes over and over. Maybe it was stiffness from sitting on an airplane for several hours the day before, I don't know. But whatever it was, I woke up on Wednesday to find my right leg cramped up, bigtime. Like, I've had cramped muscles before, but this was crazy. And it kept getting worse throughout the day, to the point where some point in the late afternoon, I could barely stand up out of my chair at work, and was unable to keep my right leg fully stretched out. I hoped by today it would be substantially better, but instead I'm in Day 2 of crazy pain. I'm limping all over the place and my right calf is in bad shape. And I'm sure I'm not doing myself any favors by sitting hunched over a desk at work most of the day. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. As a wise man once said: dammit all.


- Well, I have some catching up to do with TV, but I will say this: Thursdays are just crazy now. Especially if Flash Forward turns out to be good. That would mean that you've got The Office, 30 Rock, Flash Forward, and Fringe (!) all airing on one jam-packed night. At least Flash Forward is on at 8 pm and not 9 ... but ... I wonder if Fringe will eventually move to a different night in the winter? I mean, how can you have Fringe and Lost on at the same time? That's just insanity.

- I've been singing its praises for a while now, but I think it's safe to say that MODERN FAMILY is probably my overall favorite pilot for this Fall. Not only does the show have a lot of great potential, but the pilot episode is just a great half-hour of TV, and one of the better comedy pilots I've seen. Traditionally, comedies have a tought time establishing themselves in their premiere episode. Great shows like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and The Office took a whole season to really find their footing. But Modern Family really impressed me with how well the pilot introduced the cast of characters, established the show dynamic, and did so with a sort of twist ending to boot. I'll say this: when I first saw the pilot a couple months back, I honestly thought for most of the episode that Modern Family was about several different, unrelated families. The reveal at the end that all of the character were related actually took me by surprise, and was a very clever twist, especially as far as comedies go. Most importantly though, the show is funny. No, it didn't have me rolling on the floor the way an Arrested Development did, but there were several legit laugh out loud moments. And the cast really sold it, top to bottom. Special mention has to go to Ed O'Neal, if only because it's great to see him back on a funny TV show. Anyways, I am really high on Modern Family thus far. Very curious to see if the next couple of episodes maintain this high level of quality.

My Grade: A-

- On the other hand, I am not very big on COUGAR TOWN. I liked some aspects of the show, and I thought there was a certain sharpness to the writing. I also think the cast is generally talented, and really want to root for Dan Byrd since I loved the underrated Aliens In America. But, I just thought that the overall tone was off-putting, and I also felt like there was a mismatch between the premise and the star. The show is supposed to be about an aging woman in her 40's struggling to deal with the impending onset of middle age. But it stars Courtney Cox, in full-blown sex-bomb mode, who never comes across like a woman who would ever have to struggle with much of anything. In fact, most women in their 40's would probably kill to look as good as Cox does on this show. I don't know, there just seems to be a weird disconnect on this show, where it seems to be simultaneously making Cox's character into a "woah-is-me" type of character, yet also shows that she is take charge, gets what she wants, and says whatever's on her mind. It makes the whole thing feel kind of obnoxious, like listening to a supermodel complain about breaking a nail.

My Grade: C+

- I thought Monday's episode of GOSSIP GIRL was a lot of fun, definitely more entertaining than the season premiere. I loved the fish-out-of water element of Blair and Dan at NYU, with Blair suddenly the snobby outcast. A lot of hilarity ensued as Blair's high-end sushi party lost out to Vanessa and Georgina's movies-and-pizza hang out. I also just enjoyed Georgina's presence in general. She is kind of a crazy wild-card in the whole Gossip Girl mix, and I love her little secret war with Blair. Anyways, I thought this ep was pretty solid.

My Grade: B+

- Okay, so yesterday, despite my semi-crippled condition, I hobbled over to the movie theater to check out Diablo Cody's latest ...


- Jennifer's Body, for its entire duration, walks a VERY fine line. It constantly teeters on the edge between witty and overbearing, between campy and cool, between winning horror-comedy and would-be wannabe. In the end though, I am willing to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. There was enough that I liked about it that in the end it mostly won me over. For every line of dialogue that made me cringe, another struck me as being pretty cool. For every attempt at too-cool-for-school humor that fell flat, there was a moment of punk-rock craziness that made me love the unique sensibility that the movie brought to the table. I know that Diablo Cody elicits strong emotions from people, but in this case, I think she's helped to create a movie that's flawed, but at the same time, very entertaining and well worth checking out.

As I've talked about before, I was a huge fan of Juno. I thought it was a seminal movie, and was surprised at the immense backlash that threatened to overpower the critical and commercial adoration. I don't get the criticisms about the hyper-stylized dialogue - to me, the unique cadences and oddball phrases fit in perfectly with the unique and oddball world of Juno and its characters. But, with Jennifer's Body, I began to look at Cody's signature dialogue in a different light. Because while it seemed a perfect match for Juno, that same style of overly-playful and fanciful dialogue often just feels forced in a movie like Jennifer's Body. It made sense that a quirky, smart teen like Juno would talk in this unique manner. But it makes a lot less sense that the main characters here would talk in the exact same way. And I give credit to Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, and the rest of the talented cast - they do well with the material and make it work. But at the same time, when the bursting-with-bad-attitude Jennifer tells Seyfried's character, mousy Needy, to "move-on-dot-org", well, sorry Diablo, but that's just too much. There are several dialogue exchanges like that that just do not work. At all. But sometimes, Cody does strike gold, and has some genuinely inspired, Sam Raimi-like moments of horror-comedy coolness. (And by the way, the movie makes no secret that it is inspired by Raimi's Evil Dead flicks - there are about 500 homages to Raimi's iconic films throughout Jennifer's Body).

I've talked a lot about Diablo Cody, and I think part of what hurts this movie is that it lacks a great director to counterbalance Cody's script. I don't know, I think Karyn Kusama is an interesting director. But her movies seem like they have moments of visual inspiration sprinkled among many more scenes that are just sort of bland. It was that way with Aeon Flux, and it is that way here. There is some great imagery in the movie, some real iconic horror movie shots. Some nice, creepy, atmospheric stuff. But there's also the sense that the movie doesn't live up to its full visual potential. It almost reminded me a bit of Twilight in that regard, in that I liked the creepy atmosphere but also wished there was some additional visual flair, and action that had a bit more, well, bite. I think Jennifer's Body also suffers a bit in comparison to this summer's Raimi-directed Drag Me to Hell. That movie was such a pitch-perfect, awesomely-directed horror-comedy, that this movie, being a sort of grrl-powered homage to Raimi, can't quite live up to the great movies it's paying tribute to.

But again, I do really like the cast. Megan Fox is actually really good here. She shows a previously unseen ability to chew up scenery and deliver one-liners with evil aplomb, and to look good doing it (okay, well, that last part was a no-brainer, but still ...). And while Fox does a nice job and gets top billing, I think it's the uber-talented Amanda Seyfried who ultimately carries the movie, as the memorably-named Needy Lesnicky. Seyfried pulls off a feat similar to Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell - she recites her lines and carries herself with conviction and 100% commitment to the material, but at the same time knowingly winks at the audience a bit, with jsut the right amount of deliberate campiness. It's a great acting job, to be sure. A couple of other actors have memorable appearances in this one as well. Adam Brody is fun as a lame-o emo rocker who instigtes the demonic ritual that turns Jennifer from plain-old high school badgirl into flesh-eating succubus. And JK Simmons, fresh off Extract, is hilarious as an overly-sincere teacher who happens to have a hook in place of one of his hands. Also, the fanboy in me must point out that the great Lance Henriksen makes an uncredited cameo that is pretty random but nonetheless awesome. Given that Henrisken is an icon of horror (and star of one of my all-time fave TV shows, Millenium), it pretty much ruled that he shows up here.

As far as the plot goes, it is sort of loose, and some of that is probably deliberate. But you also never get 100% invested in the movie just because there's not all that much rhyme or reason to what's going on. Megan Fox becomes a demonic flesh-eater, kills some guys, etc. But there's never all that much explanation of why she has to seduce 'em before she eats 'em. And that's justo ne example of how the movie tends to do stuff just for the hell of it. Like the much-vaunted make-out session between Fox and Seyfried. No, I'm not complaining about it, just naming it as an example of another moment that is there for no particular reason, except to sell millions of copies of "unrated" DVD's in a couple of months.

At the same time, I do kind of dig what Diablo is going for beneath the surface. There's a fun, not-so-subtle subtext here that high-school is just an earthbound layer of hell, with the delicious irony being that post-demonic transformation Jennifer is really not all that different from pre-demonic transformation Jennifer. The whole succubus thing really just calls attention to all the worst instincts of the at times all-too-demon-like beings known as high school girls. Jennifer's Body may falter a bit on the details (like some cringe-worthy bits of dialogue or some pretty random plot-points), but the overall package is a lot of fun. The soundtrack is excellent and sets the perfect mood (loved the use of 90's-era Hole to close out the movie). There is some really creepy-awesome imagery. And the cast does a great job. Plus, without spoiling anything, the ending is just plain badass. Give Cody and Kusama and the cast a lot of credit - for all its flaws, Jennifer's Body is unlike any other horror-comedy you've seen.

My Grade: B+

- And I'm out. Until next time ...

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