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Friday, March 28, 2014  

The Amazing Race: "Can't Make Fish Bite"

So what have you been up to?

As you may have heard, I used to do some writing at a website that's closing down shortly. When I got the news, I was nearly done with the recap for this week's The Amazing Race. So I figured I might as well finish it. And here it is.

To quote my esteemed predecessor Linda Holmes, BOMP.

As usual, we're starting off with some shots of the local skyline, which somehow seems like it should be instantly recognizable. Strangely, though, I can't quite seem to place it…oh, right, there are the Petronas Towers. I remember where we are now. It also helps when Phil reminds us, "Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia's financial and cultural and center." And they've still got the go-go dancers to prove it, looks like. Phil adds, "And high above this modern metropolis, Batu Caves." There's last week's Pit Stop, as Phil tells us, "This ancient Hindu shrine is now the start of the fifth leg in a race around the world. "Oh, man, I wish he'd said it was a shrine last week, before I called it a sculpture garden. We now get to see it in daylight as the winners of the previous leg, Jet & Cord, start off at the dismayingly reasonable hour of 2:26 PM. The clue is telling them to fly 1500 miles to Colombo, in what Phil calls "the pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka." When they land in the capital, they will be expected to find Gangaramaya Temple, which Phil says is "this city's most important place for Buddhist learning and worship." The monks certainly look busy there. After receiving a blessing from them, the racers will get their next clue. Sometime it might be interesting to make the blessing both optional and after they receive the clue, just so we can see which teams stick around for it and which teams bail. The cowboys hire a cab to get them to "Triways Travel Café and Boutique." Cord interviews that it's nice to be leaving the mat first, but after seeing Brendon and Rachel drop from first to last recently, they know that can change. Didn't that also happen to the cowboys themselves in the second leg? Well, I suppose that was a long time ago.

Dave & Connor are leaving in a pretty distant second place, at 3:13 PM. Understandably, their minds are on how the fifth leg is when they bowed out of their first race due to Dave's injury. Dave felt guilty about it ever since, but now assures us, "Don't have any plans to self-eliminate this time." Good strategy. Not self-eliminating should increase their chances of winning.

The Afghanimals are leaving in third place, at 3:40 PM. "The Twinnies' motherland!" Jamal whoops upon learning they're going to Sri Lanka. Would have been interesting to see how Natalie and Nadiya would have done there, but their implosion on the first leg was nobody's fault but their own. And if it hadn't happened, there's no way they would have lasted this long anyway. Not that anyone on the show mentions that. Once they're in a cab, the Afghanimals ask where the airport is and are told it's 90 kilometers, or about 55 miles. Shit, man, Kuala Lumpur is a big town. The driver advises them to go to the airport rather than bothering with the travel agency. "Hopefully there's a cute stewardess or flight attendant we can hit on," Leo says grossly to his married cousin.

The cowboys are unsurprisingly the first team to reach the travel agency that's mentioned in the clue, and are soon sitting across from an agent looking for the quickest flight to Colombo. I don't know how she isn't distracted by the way Jet hangs his sunglasses across the front of his neck, but she soon finds them a flight that will reach Colombo around midnight. The cowboys press her on whether there's anything earlier, and she says there is one flight that transfers in Singapore but gets them there around the same time. And why transfer if you don't have to? "Two cowboys," Cord requests as they decide on the direct flight.

Caroline & Jennifer leave at 4:10 PM, in fourth place. That Detour really spread people out last week, didn't it? Caroline interviews some big talk about how they're not intimidated by the four all-male teams (three of whom are ahead of them right now), and then they ride in the cab promising to carry the spirit of the Twinnies with them through Sri Lanka. This is the last time anyone mentions the Twinnies.

Jessica & John are leaving not far behind, at 4:12 PM, and then the Globetrotters are off at 4:40 PM, in sixth place. Flight Time interviews that they've won a lot of legs before, but not this time for some reason. "We going to meet the monk for some blessings!" Big Easy says forcefully in the cab. Buddhism might not be his thing.

At the travel agency, Dave & Connor get on a flight leaving at 11:00 PM. So do the Afghanimals at the airport, and back at the travel agency, that's also going to be the flight for the country singers, Jessica & John, and the Globetrotters. Then Margie & Luke start their leg at 5:12, meaning they were scarcely a half hour behind the Globetrotters when Luke threw his shit-fit last week. Margie interviews, "Today our game plan is to try not to let the stress get to us. I think a lot of my stress comes from Luke's stress." Better not let him hear you say that. Luke interviews that he wants to win the money for his mom, to say thank you for all her hard work in giving him a good life. Soon they're both in a cab, heading for the travel agency and optimistic about catching up with the other teams. Staying ahead of Brendon & Rachel would be good enough for me.

Speaking of whom, the last team to depart, is doing so nearly an hour behind. It's 6:08 PM when Brendon & Rachel open their clue and go running for a taxi. Rachel reminds us that they're not only far behind, they also have a Speed Bump this leg, as though that's ever the only thing that messes people up. Still, she's keeping positive, saying they can do anything. Then we're back in the taxi with Margie & Luke, whose driver appears to be lost. "He said he knew where we were going but obviously he did not," Margie says right behind her driver. She tells him to go straight to the airport if he can't find the agency, so it looks like that's what they're doing. Margie is confident that this is their best course of action anyway. We shall see about that.

Meanwhile, Brendon & Rachel reach the actual travel agency and try to get on the same flight as the other teams. The agent tells them that everyone's leaving at 11:00 PM, but that flight is already closed for booking so Team Big Brother is out of luck. They look pretty upset about this, and soon there's an older agent in on the conversation as they ask about standby or any other options. The first agent mentions the flight through Singapore, but the older agent warns that it's only a thirty-minute connection and there's no way they can make it. Brendon agrees with the agent, but Rachel insists that this is their only option. And Rachel generally gets her way or we all hear about it.

Margie and Luke aren't getting any better news now that they've reached the airport, after dark. Margie finds out that the flight to Sri Lanka is full, so she pleasantly explains the situation and asks to be put on standby. "Hopefully you can get a seat," the agent obligingly says, as she smiles in a way that indicates there is no way in hell they will get a seat. And back at the travel agency, Brendon & Rachel are making the desperation move. "We're dangerous racers right now," Brendon says. "We've got nothing to lose." I've heard that expression, but I'm not sure it applies here the way Brendon thinks it does. As they get in their cab to proceed to the airport, Rachel says this is a chance to go from the back to the front, but they can't make any mistakes during the transfer. Why, what could go wrong?

At the airport, Margie approaches another ticket counter to try and arrange passage though Singapore like Brendon & Rachel have done. They also get some help from a guy with a laptop, though how he can read anything on his blurred-out screen is beyond me. I bet it would be a lot more legible if he were using Travelocity. Margie says if this doesn't work out they'll be ten hours behind the other teams, but she's also skittish about that Singapore connection. So they decide to play it safe and hope for standby on the direct flight. Margie is now regretting not going to the travel agency in the first place. As she should, but she is not done regretting things for the day.

Brendon & Rachel arrive at the airport and, while looking for their Singapore flight, encounter the Globetrotters. Who are a bit surprised to see them, and conclude that their continued presence is the result of the previous leg being a non-elimination leg. Team Big Brother boards their Singapore Airlines flight, which lifts off shortly thereafter. Then it's 10:35 PM, and Margie is trying once again to wheedle her way onto the 11:00 PM flight with everyone else. An agent says that if everyone turns up, they're out of luck, and can make them no promises. Meanwhile, the Globetrotters begin spreading the word about Brendon & Rachel's survival, starting with Jennifer and waking up Caroline, so that the country singers can tell Dave & Connor, and the Globetrotters can tell the Afghanimals. While everyone is talking about them, Brendon & Rachel's flight touches down in Singapore and the next thing we see is the two of them running in a panic through that airport. A voice on the PA keeps repeating, "Final boarding call," and a monitor says the gate is closing. Suddenly the Amazing Purse falls off of Brendon and he has to go back for it. "We don't have time!" Rachel bleats. "Oh my GAAAHD!" Not that they'd be racing much longer if they left their passports on the floor in Singapore. Which this race isn't even officially visiting so far.

Somehow, though, they make it to the gate after the ads. Which I'm sure the production had nothing whatsoever to do with. "I can't believe we made it," Rachel says as they board the plane. I can't either. And now they're in the lead, unofficially at least.

This also probably means the end for Margie & Luke, who are still having no luck with their standby thing. "Do they ever check in and then not show up at the gate?" Margie asks an agent. Who tells her that even if someone doesn't, the flight is closing shortly anyway and there's no way they'll be able to get on it. So a plane with six other teams takes off from Kuala Lumpur without them, leaving Margie & Luke stranded there overnight. Margie says they should have gone to Singapore, "But you know what? Anything can happen." That doesn't mean it always does, though.

What happens now is the Amazing Blue Line, having jinked back southeast to Singapore, is now zooming northwest across the Indian Ocean, trailed by the Amazing Red Line, as Phil says, "Teams are now making their way to Colombo, Sri Lanka." Notice how he didn't say "all teams." There are some shots of the busy city, and the first flight arrives with Brendon and Rachel, who has swapped her green sequined shorts for some more Sri Lanka-appropriate black leggings. They're soon in a cab, happy to be the first team on the ground. The second flight lands, apparently shortly thereafter. In the cab to the temple, Connor mentions that the last time they got blessed during the race, they ended up with three functioning Achilles tendons between the two of them. Lesson: blessings suck. The other teams are cabbing up, and Brendon & Rachel arrive at the temple, only to learn that it is closed until 5:45 AM. Which, oddly, is the first time something like that has happened this season. Plus, 5:45 is a lot earlier than the usual 7:00 or 8:00, but Team Big Brother is pretty pissed at the Buddhist temple, because this means that the other teams are all going to catch up. Which they do, except of course for Margie & Luke. Who are still back spending the night in Kuala Lumpur with nothing to do but wait. Eventually, the sky starts getting light in the even-further-east, and the temple gates are opened to the seven teams waiting outside. They walk in, and we hear a lot of voice-overing respectfully about how beautiful the temple was as they remove their shoes and are wrapped in white drapes for the blessing. Brendon, always the know-it-all, tells us how he has studied Buddha and how enlightenment comes from letting go of the material world, which has pretty much been their last two legs. Like that was their plan. They and all the other teams accept the blessings of the monks, in the form of being sprinkled with lotus water, and then accept their clues. Jessica interviews that it was a nice break from the stress of the race, but it's a short one; the next clue is telling them to take a train to a city called Galle and take a three-wheel taxi -- what the show used to call tuk-tuks -- to a coconut stand where clue envelopes are hanging amid the fruits. Under the lightening sky, the teams take taxis to Fort Train Station (which is a train station named Fort, not a fort named Train Station) and all seem to get on not only the same train, but the same carriage. On the train, Caroline gets all flirty with the cowboys, saying they're trying to stay close to them so their magical power will rub off on them, a concept she demonstrates by leaning over the back of her seat and rubbing them both. The two married men don't look completely comfortable with this, but Caroline interviews that one of their goals on the race was to become best friends with the cowboys, because they're so damn cool. Hey, you already got an Express Pass from them, what else do you want?

The train ride ends up being pretty spectacular, what with the tracks going along the shore and through towns and the jungle. Racers taking turns leaning out the train door to marvel. Except for Margie & Luke, of course, who are just now boarding their flight out of Kuala Lumpur in full daylight. "We're gonna race like we're still in it," Margie vows. Rather tellingly, if you ask me.

The train with the teams who actually are still in it pulls into the station at Galle, and everyone scrambles off it and runs for three-wheelers. The drivers appear to be taking the racers at their word about wanting to go fast, as they weave through cars, buses, and oncoming traffic in what looks like an absolutely terrifying ride for all involved. Dave & Connor are the first to screech to a bone-jarring halt in front of the coconut stand, and open up a clue for a Detour. Cut to Phil standing on a beach, with numerous human figures perched on stilts just offshore behind him, as he says, "This Detour gives teams the opportunity to take part in a type of fishing invented here in Sri Lanka, or celebrate with local dancers who spin the raban." For the Detour called "Fishing Pole," the teams will have to wade into the water, climb onto a set of "fishing stilts" that will hold them suspended uncomfortably a few feet above the breaking waves, and stay there until each of them has caught a fish using a rod and line. Then they'll carry the fish over to a nearby hut to exchange those fish for their next clue. For "Spin Control," they need to join the folk dancers on the grass nearby and join in the dance. Which doesn't sound that tricky, except for the part where it includes plate-spinning. They aren't actual plates, but what Phil says are "drum-like instruments called rabans," which are more like tambourines with a hole through the bottom. So it's not as hard as it looks at first glance, like say if they were actual plates. If they do it well enough, they'll get their next clue from Damika, a lead dancer. Dave & Connor are going with "Fishing Pole," the Globetrotters with "Spin Control," the cowboys with "Fishing Pole," the Afghanimals with "Spin Control," Jessica & John with "Fishing Pole," and Brendon & Rachel and Caroline & Jennifer with "Spin Control." That's everyone, right?

Over at the dancing area, the locals are cranking out percussive music and tossing those spinning disks high in the air like literal flying saucers. Soon the Globetrotters come out of the changing area dressed in white drapes with red bustles around the waist and headscarves knotted over their foreheads, so presumably they have to dress like that. One of the leaders starts guiding them through the fairly simple steps, while others teach Brendon & Rachel and Caroline & Jennifer. Jennifer interviews that the dancing part was easier than the part where they had to spin plates on sticks. Meanwhile, down at the shoreline, Dave & Connor, Jessica & John, and Jet & Cord, all dressed in sarongs and turbans, wade out to their chests to where they can each climb up onto a fishing perch. Jessica has a little trouble getting into position on the tiny little seat, but most of the other racers seem to get set up okay. The Afghanimals have joined the dance lesson, and like everyone else are facing the challenge of spinning the disks on the sticks. For added difficulty, one member of each team has to spin three on a forked stick, and Brendon gets a little owly with Rachel when she offers to take that part over for him. Flight Time says it's like spinning balls with the Globetrotters. Until he drops one, that is. The good news is that rabans don't appear to be very fragile.

Out on the water, Jessica is now having trouble keeping her bait on the hook. Some of them are starting to get nibbles, but Connor is the first person to actually land one and take credit for it. "And I will take credit for having taught Connor how to fish," Dave interviews. Back at Spin Control, teams are starting to attempt the dance, but Caroline & Jennifer and then Brendon & Rachel both drop disks on their first attempts. The would-be fisherpeople are losing hooks and bait port and starboard, and John has one fish out of the water that wriggles free just before he drops it in his bag. Dave is the next to actually catch one, which means he and Connor are the first to finish this Detour. After they bring their two fish ashore and dump them on the ground, the local hands them a clue that's sending them to the "Trendy Connections Garment Factory." Sounds trendy. Out over the water, Jet is asking Cord if he's got a bite. "Can't make fish bite," Cord says. Jet tries anyway, with a call of "Heeere, fishy fishy fishy." Which is ridiculous, because Sri Lankan fish probably don't understand English.

Flight Time & Big Easy make their first attempt to officially perform the dance, and loudly count out each step while "Sweet Georgia Brown" plays in a totally different tempo. But they've succeeded, and they get their clue in second place. Team Big Brother, the country singers, and the Afghanimals are all on their third attempt, but only the Afghanimals succeed this time around, so they're out of there in third place. We get to see Brendon dropping a plate on his first attempt, so they won't be all that close behind.

Out in the water -- or over it, perhaps -- Cord catches the cowboys' first fish, and then Jet catches one, leaving Jessica & John out there alone without even their bait for company as it keeps getting stolen off the hooks. Jet interviews that he's only fished a handful of times in his life, which may explain why the fish he caught is considerably less than a handful. Jet and Cord are off to the next stop in fourth place. Behind them, John wonders aloud if they should switch Detours, but Jessica is ready to hang in there. Other teams did it, after all. Which is of course no kind of proof that she and John can.

Caroline & Jennifer get through the dance, and get to leave in fifth place. Whereas Brendon is still dropping disks on his sixth and seventh attempts, and getting kind of defensive about it even though Rachel doesn't seem that bothered. Brendon interviews that he thinks they've switched roles, because he's getting stressed out and Rachel is keeping them motivated. Which is Brendon giving himself a little too much credit for their previous run, because I seem to recall Rachel being a total non-functioning stress-monkey and Brendon doing nothing helpful whatsoever about it.

Margie & Luke finally land in Colombo, where they take a leisurely stroll to a cab to get to the temple. Up ahead, at the detour, Brendon & Rachel take another crack at the dancing and are finally successful, which puts them in sixth place. And which also means that Jessica & John are the only team who have started this Detour but haven't finished it. John again suggests to Jessica that they switch Detours, but Jessica thinks they need to keep going. Which is why it's interesting that John interviews that the last time they switched, they got eliminated that leg, like he was the one making the decision to stick to it this time. "This is starting to become a nightmare," he says from his high perch. Not for me.

But after the ads, his third suggestion that they switch finally gets through. John interviews that the longer you stay at one Detour, the less sense it makes to switch. Jessica agrees, and they finally jump off their fishing stilts and go running up the road to the other Detour. Jessica interviews that this means they might end up fighting for dead last. Don't worry, it'll be a short fight.

In fact, Margie & Luke are only now at Gangaramaya Temple to get their blessing. In their cab to the train station to get to Galle, Margie says that it would be nice to continue racing for a little longer. Well, the leg isn't over yet. Yet.

The Globetrotters show up outside the clothing factory just ahead of Dave & Connor, and read the Roadblock question, "Who wants to put the treadle to the metal?" Suddenly Phil is strolling along a factory floor filled with humming sewing machines as he says, "Sri Lanka's apparel industry is this country's number-one money earner." The Roadblock, which is apparently called "A Stitch in Time Saves Nine," calls for one member of each team to stitch a shirt together. Not a simple two-piece t-shirt, either, but a short-sleeved bowling shirt with buttons and a collar and two different colors. It's not a Gordon Gartrell, but still. When it's good enough for the floor manager, the teams can take it over to a heat transfer machine to have their next clue applied to the breast. In the form of a logo, that is, not a big yellow envelope. That would make the shirt rather uncomfortable to wear in the long term. Connor, Big Easy, and now Jennifer decide to this one. On their way up the stairs, Connor reads from the clue, "There will be an ongoing demonstration for your reference." That'll be handy. Upon the way to the factory floor they spot the unmissable sign indicating Brendon & Rachel's Speed Bump, then come around the corner to observe what looks like an all-Sri Lankan production of Norma Rae. Connor and Big Easy hunch over the workstation of an older woman who's churning out shirts, and Connor soon realizes, "This is gonna be a rough Roadblock." He says he took sewing in junior high, which coincidentally was the last time I operated a sewing machine as well, though I suspect it was less recent for me. Each racer will be supplied a set of precut fabric sections to sew together: front, back, sleeves, and collar. Big Easy interviews that deciding to take the Roadblock was the "worst decision ever." Worse than deciding to quit the Roadblock in Prague several years ago? I would have to disagree with that statement. He calls back to Flight Time, "Mission Impossible! But I'm Tom Cruise." Two Tom Cruises, height-wise.

Back at the dance Detour, Jessica & John are on their first attempt, and Jessica interviews that based on what she's seen at weddings, John is not the greatest dancer. That seems to be the case here, as after their first attempt, their leader politely suggests, "Shall we try again?" So that's probably not worth a clue then.

Up at the Roadblock, Connor and Jennifer are learning how quickly an industrial sewing machine operates when the Afghanimals show up and Leo takes this one. Then the cowboys arrive, and Cord tells Caroline, "Jet's a sewin' machine." "He is?" Caroline asks. Jet: "No." Leo's feeling good about this, because it's yet another skill he's seen his mom do plenty of times. Whereas Jet is in way over his head for what is his first time sewing. "It's worse than a puzzle," he says, because all the puzzle pieces are moving. Which is my issue with all textile-based crafts. I can't sew, knit, crochet, weave, tat, or even tie a decent knot because everything won't hold still.

Jessica & John take a second stab at Spin Control, and get their clue in seventh place. Jessica tells John he's a bad dancer, and John in turn tells Jessica she's an amazing teacher. But are Margie & Luke closing in? Well, they just boarded the 2:25 train to Galle, so they're still hours behind. But racing like they're still in it! Margie interviews afterward that she's proud of Luke for staying calm this time. Maybe it's not the frustration that normally gets to Luke as much as the hope, and in this case there certainly doesn't seem to be much of the latter.

Brendon & Rachel arrive at the factory and see the sign for their Speed Bump, which is this: in another part of the factory floor, they'll use a classic silkscreening technique to complete a t-shirt with the Sri Lankan flag on it. Each shirt will already be printed with the gold, green, and saffron parts of the flag, so all they'll need to do is add the dark red part to fifteen shirts. As they get to work, Rachel admits that she hasn't silkscreened for a few years. My last time was a few weeks before the last time I operated a sewing machine. She says it's fun, but it's time-consuming to do it right, as Brendon is quickly learning.

Jennifer is bit lost on her sewing task, so Caroline suggests from the sidelines that she partner up with someone. One might think that would be Jet, but Connor has been here longer and is further along, so Connor it is. He interviews that they've been allies all along, so now at least they can be lost together. Brendon & Rachel are still trying to get more shirt colors lined up, while Big Easy is having to tear out seams. Jet and Leo are also having problems, as Leo says it's not as easy as it looks. Jet's watch, not for nothing, reads 13:22, so if that's correct then Margie & Luke aren't even on their train yet. Brendon & Rachel have completed their Speed Bump to the judge's satisfaction, so they get to move on to the actual Roadblock, which Rachel assigns to Brendon. "I have more faith in you than I have in myself," she says. He seems pretty uncertain about this himself. Leo, just to be hilarious, hollers out in a silly fake accent, "I geeve one thousand rrrrupees for someone to do this for me!" There are no takers, either because they know it's against the race rules, or against shop rules, or against their own dignity to take the equivalent of $7.65 for what he's asking. Even if that may well be a full day's salary for some of them.

Connor has brought his possibly completed shirt over for inspection, and is standing there hopefully with his hands clasped in front of him as if in prayer while the boss looks over his work. It takes a while, but the manager finds a gap in Connor's collar seam and sends him back to his machine. "Close but no cigar," Connor says. Jennifer brings her shirt over, and appears to be missing the bottom hem. "He's a stickler," Caroline remarks of the inspector. Or maybe he just doesn’t want people showing up at the Pit Stop wearing shirts from his factory that are falling apart.

Jessica & John show up, and she's taking this. As she starts getting herself set up, John calls out to her that this is going to take a while and not to freak out, because all the other teams are still here. "Can Jessica sew?" Caroline asks him. "No," he says. In fact, Jessica's ignorance of sewing machines is even greater than mine, as shown by the fact that she asks the person doing the demonstration, "You have to press a pedal? Are there any needles?" John says their only hope is that Margie & Luke are so far behind. But Flight Time seems pretty sure that by the time Team ASL arrives, half of the rest of them will still be here. Lucky for him, he's just guessing.

They are in fact still on the train to Galle, and having a rather less pleasant experience than the other teams did, what with the greater crowds, midday heat, and redolent local delicacies being purveyed up and down the train. But they're happy about getting to be in Sri Lanka, and Margie says that it's wonderful to be traveling the world with her son so they have to stay in the race. Maybe take that up with Phil if you ever reach him.

Big Easy is announcing that when he returns home, he will leave all sewing to his fiancée and his mother. There are all sorts of things on this race Big Easy never plans to do again, aren't there? I wonder if he quit answering phones after TAR 15. Connor and Jennifer think they're almost done, and Jet remarks, "You really don't realize how much goes into making a dadgum shirt until you've had to make one." So maybe now he'll be willing to pay more than 20 bucks a pop for them. Connor takes his shirt over for another check, and this time it is indeed good. He and Dave got here in first, and they're leaving in first. The floor manager sends them over to the heat transfer machine as a couple of the sewers and other racers call out encouragement. "I love you Connor!" Leo says, and then tells the workers around him, "I'm kidding, I don't love him. He just beat me." I love anyone willing to beat Leo. Connor's shirt is spread out on a table and a big stamp comes down on it. When it comes back up, the shirt has a logo for the Colombo Rowing Club, which Phil says was established in 1864 and is "Sri Lanka's premier social club." It's also the Pit Stop, and the last team to check in may be eliminated. Dave & Connor exit and go running for the bus station. Inside, Caroline proudly hopes for Jennifer's shirt to meet the quality standard, which it does, so they're on their way. Dave & Connor have to flag down a bus on the busy street, but soon they're boarding one to the Colombo Rowing Club, as are the country singers. This could be close.

Leo is goofing off as usual, pausing to show off the one sleeve he's attached so far and boasting that he'll sell it for a thousand rupees. His one-shirt microeconomy has been completely inverted. Jamal notices that the workers are laughing, and wonders if it's because Leo is doing this wrong. Maybe they just have a low laugh threshold. Meanwhile, Brendon is working with Jessica in hopes that they'll both get this done faster. However, their partnership isn't enough to get either of them finished before Jet, however, which means the cowboys are leaving in third place. Even better? The shirt fits.

Connor & Dave get off the bus back in Colombo. Which seems like it would have been a long bus ride, given that it's about 75 miles from Colombo to Galle, but Trendy Connections is most of the way back to Colombo if I'm using Google Maps correctly. The country singers are also off the bus and hoping they have a shot at first place. Both teams have to search around and ask for directions a bit, but soon we're looking it the rowing club's grounds -- and its waters, as shells ply a small lake out back. Phil is standing on the back lawn in front of the mat next to possibly the largest man in Sri Lanka, who's decked out in a polo shirt and shorts. In other words, the first greeter wearing clothes from the last few centuries. And the team who runs up to them first is…Dave & Connor, winning their second leg of this season. They each score five grand, and Connor seems to have gotten a nice new shirt out of the deal. Phil remarks that it's their fifth leg, and they're staying. "We're staying and we're winning," Connor amends. They're certainly doing better than most parent/child teams have historically done. Especially one particular parent/child team I'm thinking of right now.

Caroline & Jennifer are next, becoming the second-place team and pretty proud of each other about it. If that's not their best finish ever, it's certainly tied for it.

Leo slips on the shirt he sewed, acting all impressed with how cool he is. In fact, it's good enough to take to the heat transfer station. But not before picking up the task judge and spinning him around, again as usual. This is a discouraging development for Brendon, but Flight Time remains positive on behalf of Big Easy, promising to wear whatever he makes. He'll just need to paint some red stripes and a Globetrotters logo on it first, is all. Rachel says that Margie & Luke's continued absence isn’t making her feel better, because Margie might turn out to be a "super-sewer." Sure, assume the mom can do it. As we see Team ASL getting off the train and hiring a three-wheeler in Galle, Flight Time speculates, "I think they'll be here in the next hour, and I think I'll be here too." Right now, Margie & Luke are glad just to be off the train, but they still have a Detour to get through before they're catching up with anyone.

The music is downright mournful when we return to the factory, and the three teams still trying to finish this Detour: Big Brother, JJ, and the Globetrotters. Flight Time figures he might as well get his ball out for a little practice, so that's what he does, going up and down the aisles doing tricks. That's enough to boost Big Easy's morale. That's actually pretty amazing; who knew they had room in their backpacks for regulation basketballs? You've got to carry three weeks with of clothes, toiletries, and supplies and you find space for 455.9 cubic inches of air? Things are looking up for Brendon, too, as he's finally gotten his collar attached. He appears to be trying to stretch his good mood out by talking about it rather than getting back to work and facing more failure.

At the rowing club, Jet & Cord seem to be racing each other to the mat. "Yee ha," Phil deadpans, and checks them in as team number three.

Jessica takes her shirt over for inspection, calling this the longest day of her life as she's waiting. Yes, she's had a regular Jack Bauer, hasn't she? The boss says it's good, which leaves Brendon & Big Easy alone at the factory. Leo & Jamal are team number four. Meanwhile, Margie & Luke appear to have finished the fishing Detour, the dancing one probably being ruled out for them given that it's another one that was music-dependent. They get back in their three-wheeler. Brendon's shirt is declared "Good, very good," so he and Rachel are off in sixth place. Big Easy is also finished, which puts the Globetrotters in seventh as they get their next clue. He starts to try on his shirt, only to get trapped in it. Flight Time has to help him, laughing the hysterical laughter of someone who is completely worn out. "Gotta laugh to keep from crying," Big Easy explains. Otherwise they would probably find that bit only mildly amusing, like the rest of us do.

Jessica & John happily check in as team number five. Brendon & Rachel get into a three-wheeler to get to the Pit Stop, whereas the Globetrotters take a bus and Big Easy bribes the conductor with a thousand rupees to take them to Colombo with no further stops. I don't know if that even works, but it appears to, because Flight Time and Big Easy are soon running up to the mat, ball in hand. Phil calls for a "good pass, now, no bouncy pass," and they toss it back and forth to him on their final approach to the mat. When they reach it, Phil tells them they're team number six. Big Easy's shirt seems to fit Flight Time a lot better, though the buttons are still straining a bit. And then Brendon & Rachel get to the mat in seventh place, and are happy just to still be in the race. Rachel self-congratulates that they never give up, and Brendon says they're done being at the back of the pack, vowing to turn it up a notch or ten. "And we're never stopping until we win." Or get Philiminated. If that's even possible at this point. Me? I'll be stopping. Sorry.

Finally the sun goes down, and it's dark by the time Margie & Luke make it to the mat, having presumably completed the Roadblock off-camera. Neither of them is wearing a rowing club shirt, though, so it's hard to tell. Phil looks pretty grim, telling them, "You know what I'm going to say." Luke signs and sort-of-says, "Last team here." Phil confirms it, and tells them they have been Philiminated. Which he doesn't appear to know the sign for, but Margie translates it for Luke before they hug. I suggest that the sign for "Philiminated" should be a single raised eyebrow combined with a dismissive head-cock. Phil notices that Luke doesn't look sad, and he philosophically says that they're one of three teams to go on the Amazing Race for the third time. Well, three and a half. He thanks Margie for everything she did for him, and she thanks him right back. She interviews after the leg that they now appreciate each other more, which is worth more than a million dollars. So they wouldn't trade for the cash then?

Well, I wouldn't. If I told you how much money I've earned over the years writing for Television Without Pity, you would be amazed at how tacky I am. But I also got to enjoy the experience, and the opportunity, and you lovely people. Thanks for everything, you guys. I'll just be walking away from the mat with Margie & Luke now. Metaphorically, I mean.

posted by M. Giant 9:01 AM 12 comments


I headed over here as soon as I heard about the site shutting down. I've been reading you over there for... probably half my life. I don't have your way with words, but I'll just say: Your intelligence and humor has been a bright spot in my life for a very, very long time, and not getting a weekly fix is going to suck. Hope you'll still be writing around here. Wishing you great things!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 28, 2014 at 9:10 AM  

Thanks so much for posting this. I've so enjoyed your writing over the last several years. If you keep blogging at Velcrometer, I'll be reading!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 28, 2014 at 2:54 PM  

Thank you so much for posting this. I too, have enjoyed your writing for years. I'm hoping you will find another recapping gig, many of us are heading over to previously TV. I hope they scoop you up for the great hire that you are. Thanks so much!

By Anonymous kathleen (honeycocoa), at March 28, 2014 at 11:30 PM  

Reading here is better than on TWoP, just one page! :)
Will you be recaping the rest of the season?

By Anonymous Lemon98, at March 29, 2014 at 12:30 AM  

I'm also a big fan of your writing and will very much miss your great recaps. I'll continue to come here to read your posts which are always so interesting.

It's such sad news about TWOP, it's been a constant diversion for me for the last five years and I'm going to have to look hard to find a site that entertains me as much.

Thanks for such excellent recaps over there throughout the years!

By Blogger Small Efficiencies, at March 29, 2014 at 5:05 AM  

Chiming in with the thank you for posting this, and add me to the list of people who will miss your recaps. I also just wanted to say thank you to both you and Miss Alli - I "re-watched" TAR via the recaps while my son was in NICU, and they kept me laughing through some of the late-night expressing. I'll really miss reading them.

By Anonymous lsn, at March 29, 2014 at 11:38 PM  

Thanks for posting this. The end of TWoP is too abrupt, I've got the bends. I always looked forward to your recaps. Your TAR and Cindy McLennan's Once Upon a Time recaps are what I'll miss most.

By Blogger Mam58, at March 30, 2014 at 4:14 PM  

I will be spending the last days of TWoP re-reading your 24 recaps. It has been about ten years since I've either seen the Season Three finale or read your recap, and yet last night I found myself laughing so hard tears came to my eyes. That is some good work. I hope to keep following your writing here.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 30, 2014 at 9:15 PM  

I've been lurking around this blog for a long time, having found it through your TWOP recaps, and I'm coming out of hiding to tell you how much TWOP meant to me. When I found it I was a stay-at-home mom struggling to make friends in a new place, and finding a site where people loved television as much as I did and wrote such funny, funny things about--that was life-changing for me. It's amazing how a site dedicated to snark and pop culture can have a real impact on people, but TWOP did, and I just wanted to say thank you.

By Blogger Leigh, at March 31, 2014 at 8:16 AM  

Thank you so much for posting this. I am still in shock about losing TWoP...and I'm not sure if I'll even be able to watch TAR anymore without your recaps (I've been reading and loving these recaps since the show started back inthe Miss Alli days!) and....I just don't understand why I feel so bereft at losing a website... I don't know you--but as a great writer you make sure I hear your voice in my head every time I read your recaps, thank you so much for making me laugh, and think...and just, thanks.

By Blogger Nicole, at March 31, 2014 at 8:40 AM  

Thank you for posting this recap, and for all of your Amazing Race recaps over the years. The Amazing Race won't be nearly as fun to watch now without your snarky commentary.

By Blogger Nadine, at April 1, 2014 at 4:56 PM  

"I geeve one thousand rrrrupees" to keep writing recaps here. Please?

By Blogger kjax, at April 15, 2014 at 7:52 AM  

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Saturday, July 13, 2013  

We Could Be Brothers

So I'll start by telling you what happened and then I'll tell you what I hope you'll do about it.

A couple of years ago, our basement flooded. It's not as bad as it sounds; only an inch of water or so, and it didn't even cover the whole basement, and we don't generally keep water-soluble items on the bare floor down there anyway, as a lingering result of some long-since-resolved drainage problems. But it did force me to clean out the space under the stairs, which is really the only tiny pocket of hoarder-ism in our entire house. I found some things I had no idea were in there. Like, for instance, a guitar. To this day I have no idea where it came from.

It was a smallish acoustic, and Trash wanted to learn how to play it. She's always wanted to learn to play guitar, and while it may not make much sense that I'd never taught her how in two decades of marriage, there had been two seemingly insurmountable obstacles to this. One was that Trash has tiny little Kristen Wiig hands that make it difficult for her stumpy fingers to reach any but the easiest chords. The other is that I'm a lousy teacher.

But this smaller guitar seemed to help with the first problem, and the second solution presented itself in the form of M. Edium's karate instructor, who we already knew was an excellent teacher but also turned out to be a talented guitarist. He started teaching her how to play, much better than I ever could have. And a weird thing happened once she knew a bunch of chords: she started putting them together. In order. In the right order. And with words.

A visit to Guitar Center later, Trash switched to a new acoustic-electric guitar made to be played by what she calls her "Muppet-hands." Before we knew it, her "guitar lessons" had become band rehearsals, with me sitting in on bass and running Garage Band on the iPad. We were playing, recording, and improving Trash's songs. Which are remarkable in their melodies, harmonies, lyrics, variety, and sheer number. Don't believe me? The ones you'll find here only represent a small fraction. And we've got more and better ones that we just haven't gotten around to finalizing yet.

We started playing open mic nights here in Minneapolis, and took part in a couple of acoustic performance festivals organized by local rock & roll bodhisattva Mike Michel, whom we'd invited by for a listen and who was quite impressed. And Trash came up with the only possible name for a trio composed of a large, powerful black man; a smart, hot blonde; and me: We Could Be Brothers.

But we haven't gone fully public yet. Until now.

Because our first gig is coming up. And so is the call to action.

On Thursday, August 1, we're playing our first full live set. We're playing at Veterans' Memorial Amphitheater in St. Louis Park. That's at 3700 Monterey Drive, in the park behind the Trader Joe's on Excelsior Boulevard. More good news: we're playing at 7:00 PM, so you can bring the kids or anything else you'd normally need a sitter for. And there's no admission fee. Bring a camp chair or a blanket and you're all set.

Trust me: we're good. Trash is an amazing songwriter whose music comes from even she knows not where. Jefe Dos is an ingenious all-around musician whose guitar, vocals, and piano bring the songs alive, and their intertwining harmonies are reminiscent of the Indigo Girls or the Civil Wars. If you've been to one of The Question's gigs lately, you know about half of what I can do with a bass. Trash has even mastered all her guitar chords. And don't worry; we'll also play some songs you know, even if you've never heard them done quite the way we do them.

So there's the push. Come out on the first of August and enjoy some good music on what we hope will be a great evening outdoors. We'd love to see you there!

Seems like we should get something good out a flooded basement.

posted by M. Giant 2:16 PM 1 comments


Yet another reason for me to move back to Minneapolis. Wish I could be there.

By Anonymous Tempest, at July 16, 2013 at 11:03 AM  

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013  

M. Ovie Reviews: Monsters University

When James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) shows up at Monsters University, everyone assumes he's destined for greatness because of who he is. He's almost literally the proverbial 300-pound gorilla with the famous name who apparently doesn't even have to try hard to get great results, even as he's surrounded by lesser creatures who are doomed to failure despite working their asses off.

Kind of sounds like Pixar, doesn’t he?

Let's face it, the institutional genius that created Wall-E and Finding Nemo is kind of coasting when its 2013 slate consists of not one but two sequels. It's still head and shoulders above most of the other animation shops, like DreamWorks or Blue Sky or Sony, who may work as hard as Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) but are never going to be great because it's just not in them. As much as kids love Scrat from the Ice Age movies, they luuuurve Woody and Buzz.

The plot of Monsters University is lifted almost wholesale from Revenge of the Nerds, if Ted McGinley had been ousted from the cool frat early on and joined the Tri-Lams. It's more interesting thematically, though. And by "interesting" I mean "problematic." As long as I can remember, our culture has been telling kids that they can grow up to be anything they want to be. Monsters University tells them, "Not so fast, champ."

To be fair, the movie spends a lot of time finding the strengths of the band of misfits that the cool kids have written off as losers, to the point where the cool kids start acting pretty threatened. But mainly we're teaching kids the value of futility. As if Pixar is saying to its rivals, "Aren't you cute?" Yes, the Ice Age franchise is cute, but I'd put Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs up against half of Pixar's catalog, not least of all because it's the kind of movie Pixar will never deign to make.

As the saying goes, some are born to greatness, others achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. Not to give too much away, but this is a prequel after all, and if you remember the ending of Monsters Inc. you already know how Mike eventually finds his. The other two routes are closed off to him in this movie. So I'm not sure it stands alone so well, even if it avoids including too many callbacks to the previous movie (in fact, it includes the exact right amount). And there are some decent jokes and sight gags and a very satisfying moment near the end that almost makes it all worth it.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has tried to quantify whatever it is that sets most Pixar features apart from other animated films. I still haven't figured it out. But Monsters University, alas, doesn't have it.

posted by M. Giant 1:17 PM 0 comments


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Monday, July 08, 2013  

M. Ovie Reviews: Man of Steel

Some people were nervous about Zack Snyder directing the new Superman movie. I suppose the question was which Zack Snyder it would be: the Zack Snyder who directed 300, a somewhat controversial but generally successful stylistic experiment? Or the one who directed Watchmen, another superhero epic but one that slavishly recreated dozens of panels from the graphic novel in the process of getting almost everything else wrong? Personally, I was holding out for the Zack Snyder who directed Dawn of the Dead, my favorite modern zombie movie (yes, even in a world where 28 Days Later exists). Alas, we got the worst-case scenario: Man of Steel was made by the Zack Snyder who directed Sucker Punch.

If one prefers to think of Sucker Punch not as a single narrative but as an anthology of over-the-top action sequences, it's not nearly as bad. However, that approach isn't really going to work for a Superman film, origin story, reboot, remake, or whatever this is. Look, comparisons to the best superhero movie of the twentieth century (yes, even in a world where Batman exists) are going to be unavoidable here, especially given that they both feature a prestige cast surrounding a little-known pretty boy in the title role. But that doesn't prevent Snyder from trying his best to avoid those comparisons. And being Zack Snyder, his primary strategy is to turn every major story beat into, you guessed it, an over-the-top action sequence. Which backfires.

Like, the 1978 version of Krypton made it look like the entire planet was some kind of new-age church. Whereas Snyder populates Superman's homeworld with steampunk Time Lords and tasks his Jor-El (Russell Crowe) with feats of derring-do that would have killed Marlon Brando several times over. A simple race up the driveway from Richard Donner's 1978 film morphs into a scene from Twister. Clark can't even discover his Fortress of Solitude without getting into a fight with a flying robot.

This is not to say there weren't things I liked. Most of the effects were pretty good, although the technology to make super-speed look anything other than totally dumb on film remains frustratingly elusive. Henry Cavill looks good in both The Suit and his Clark Kent civvies, though I wish less of his emotional range registered as irritation. The story structure is interesting, jumping back and forth through time rather than Superman: The Movie's rigidly chronological take (well, except the end there). I mostly buy the new Clark's story and motivation, as much as one can when talking about an all-powerful alien orphan. And I certainly can't fault the movie for having an unambitious scope or low stakes. I mean, almost literal planet-raping with double penetration? Plus the third act practically rains 9/11s.

Despite its destruction early in the film (sorry, spoiler!) Krypton dominates this movie. Old Kryptonian conflicts spill over onto our planet, along with overwhelming loads of Kryptonian production design. Almost to the point where at times I felt like I was watching Prometheus (another not-terribly-flattering comparison). Fortunately, Kryptonians also have the little-known power of Super-Exposition, an ability that allows them to explain heady interplanetary politics to each other even when one of the parties to the conversation is dead or unconscious.

And then there's the gender politics. The men are all brave and noble and self-sacrificing (even Michael Shannon's General Zod, in his twisted way), but female characters tend to be the object rather than the subject. Actually, the movie does fine with Kryptonian women, as Zod's lieutenant Faora (Antje Traue) and Superman's birth mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) are both pretty bad-ass. But for such an allegedly tough broad, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) spends a lot of time being told what to do, threatened, and physically carried by dudes. And Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is just borderline batty.

Finally we get to the end of the dark, scary, brooding tale and the movie does something really irritating: it starts to get witty. Like, do you mean to tell me we could have been having fun all this time? It's like getting to hear one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's one-liners after you're the one he just beat up.

By complete coincidence, M. Edium is almost exactly the same age I was when my dad took me to see Superman: The Movie. I, however, will not be taking M. Edium to see Man of Steel any time soon.

posted by M. Giant 11:47 AM 0 comments


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Friday, June 14, 2013  

M. Ovie Reviews: Epic and The Purge

You know, if you’re going to name your movie Epic, you’re kind of giving yourself a lot to live up to. But not as much as if you’re setting out to make a gender-neutral animated movie.

Which there’s very little percentage in actually doing. Every kid you know will see every Toy Story and Ice Age and Madagascar movie that gets plunked down in front of him or her. And if the girls in the audience aren’t thrilled that Jessie and Ellie and Gloria are on the back burner, well, their parents’ money spends just as well. Meanwhile, there aren’t that many boys in that demographic who won’t avoid an Arietty or Brave or even Tangled like a pink Barbie Dream House. So it’s actually pretty admirable that Blue Sky has gone to the trouble of making an animated action-adventure movie with a female protagonist and a hippy-dippy natural world setting. Something that will appeal to both, in other words. Even more admirably, they seem to have pulled it off.

There are some great action set pieces here, from vertiginous flying sequences to huge (relatively) battles to a nice exploration of what a heist scene is like when the thieves are centimeters tall. But it also doesn't skimp on the relationships that hold it all together, with a screenplay that leaves the obvious unsaid verbally and facial character animation that rivals Pixar. Yeah, I said it.

Yes, some of the jokes are corny and there's a lot that's never explained and/or doesn't hold up to analysis, but your daughters will love it and so will your sons.

I took M. Edium to see Epic the evening of his last day of school, so for him it probably benefited somewhat from the residual euphoria he was experienced. What a cruel irony, then, that later that night Trash made me go see The Purge.

You know the concept: a near-future America has solved all its problems by the simple expedient of suspending all laws for one night a year, up to and including those against murder. By a remarkable coincidence, the events of The Purge take place on that very night, which I guess is good because otherwise it would have been even more boring.

I don't disagree with those who have lamented that this fertile, high-concept idea ended up as a cheap home-invasion story. In fact, the movie it reminded me the most of was 2011's In Time, which showed a world where time was literally money, and if you ran out of it you died on the spot. Both movies present an alternate world that could serve as a fascinating thought experiment, if only for undergrads to sit around their dorm rooms going "what if?" Both premises are highly unlikely, if only because society would never grant the universal buy-in they'd require. Both situations offer the allegorical opportunity to say something thought-provoking about the way society treats its lower classes as disposable. And both movies MESSED IT ALL UP.

At least In Time was more ambitious, sending its Bonnie & Clyde protagonists on a temporal Robin Hood crusade that led them all over the place and brought them in contact with every manner of characters who would spring up in a time-based economy. The Purge confines the action to one house. In fact, for that reason, it probably would have worked better as a play, because it is a crap movie.

Ethan Hawke, arguably our generation's most punchable leading man, plays a character who seems to have the early potential to be interesting. He and his family don't participate in the Purge themselves, but he's still morally complicit because he supports it, argues its benefits to his kids, and even makes his living off it, selling high-end (yet ultimately useless) security systems that in this otherwise crime-free utopia are only needed one night a year. When circumstances seem poised to force him to become an active citizen in Purge Nation, it should get good. Instead he just turns into a poor man's John McClane, stalking his own darkened house with the contents of his gun safe.

And oh, what crushing, grinding poverty that aforementioned poor man endures. I don't expect a cozy, smug, suburban alpha-douche like Hawke's James Sandin to possess any tactical training, but who waits politely for the conclusion of a florid speech from the armed bad guy announcing his intent to kill you, when everyone knows you shoot that bad guy in the face in midsentence? Who responds to the forced entry of an armed, murderous gang by scattering his family all over the house?

But then look who he's facing off against. Except for one, all of the invaders enter the home wearing masks. To hide their identities? During the commission of crimes they won't be prosecuted for? Against people they don't expect to survive? Or is it because when you enter a darkened, unfamiliar house to kill people defending their own turf, you want your vision to be as limited as possible?

In fact, all of the invaders' actions seem calculated to creep out the audience rather than accomplish any actual Purging. Ooh, there's the missus, stealing quietly down the hall, unaware that a masked killer is right behind her! But he'd rather be all motionless and creepy for our benefit rather than increase his own chances for survival by shooting an armed defender in the back when he has the chance.

Which is the problem with The Purge: nobody behaves the way a person would actually behave in most of the circumstances presented throughout the movie. But maybe that's the point of the Purge: a society that would get behind it clearly has no sense of self-preservation left anyway.

And I paid good money to see it, so look who's talking.

posted by M. Giant 12:21 PM 0 comments


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Thursday, June 06, 2013  

M. Ovie Reviews: May Movies

Obviously I’m pretty behind on reviewing the movies I saw last month, it now being this month and all. So I figured it would be better to do capsule reviews of what I saw in May in all one post rather than a full review of each of them, which I think we all know was never going to happen anyway. Better partial than never, right?

Iron Man 3

I knew this would have to be better than Iron Man 2 (of which I remember nothing but a lot of whining about existential crises and daddy issues), but not as good as The Avengers (last year’s damn-near-perfect movie), and probably not quite as good as the first Iron Man (a revelation, in multiple senses of the word), and I was dead-on. Go me.

Here’s the thing: the comic-book title is The Invincible Iron Man, which makes it a little tricky to come up with the Credible Threat that every action hero needs to face. The first movie solved this by having Tony Stark spending a lot of time and effort getting to the point where he can be sucked through a jet engine and suffer no injuries that couldn’t be healed by a little Bondo. In the second movie, Tony’s greatest threat was from within. Boring. Here, however, events conspire (with Tony, it must be said) to hurl him time zones away from home with a broken suit and no resources, not to mention a whole new, much less boring existential crisis. In short, dude is in a position to take himself a really thorough vincing.

But here’s the great thing. If Captain America’s challenge to him in The Avengers -- "Take away the suit and what are you?" -- remains hanging in the air, despite how effectively Tony batted it away with a verbal response, then this movie is a case study in how actions speak louder. Turns out that even without the suit, Tony's still kind of a badass. 42 suits? Forget about it.

Not to mention, probably the most underrated area of his genius is in usability, because damn.


Based on a true story about one of the most amazing, remarkable, brave, spectacularly stupid feats of exploration ever undertaken. In 1947, Swedish anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove that French Polynesia was initially colonized by Aztecs from Peru, who floated across five thousand miles of the Pacific Ocean on a balsa-wood raft -- by attempting to do the same thing. Most people who know enough about the story to bother seeing this movie already know how that turned out, but that doesn't stop the final reel from being as tense as that of this movie's spiritual sibling, Apollo 13. This isn't an especially talky film, for two likely reasons. One is that it was filmed simultaneously in two languages, so who would want to double an excess of dialogue? And the second is that six Scandinavian dudes, even confined to a tiny space for more than three months, much of which time is spent lounging around in boxer briefs, aren't going to get all that chatty anyway. Heyerdahl's persistent hope and optimism is probably intended as a beacon of leadership, but it starts to come off as infuriating as he insists that what they're attempting succeeded before. Well, maybe, but probably not every time. After all, nobody's ever been able to get an exact replica of the Wright Flyer off the ground, Sunshine.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

People seem to either like ST:ID or get pissed off by it. Here's how you know which one you'll be before you see it. Do you already know who Carol Marcus is? If not, you'll probably like it. If so, it'll probably piss you off, at least during the parts you're not busy liking it.

I have a whole separate, unresolvable issue with Star Trek movies anyway, which is that Star Trek is supposed to be a weekly series, not a big, overblown, two-hour-plus event that blasts onto screens at intervals of multiple years. I'm never as invested in the captain (with the exception of Benjamin Sisko) as I am in the whole ensemble, and the limitations of a movie series by necessity squeezes out any stories that don't center on the top of the chain of command. Like. I want to know more about Sulu, and all he ever gets is a moment or two. Not to mention the movies can't take on a plot that isn't about the very survival of Earth, the Federation, or humanity itself, because when they attempt that we end up with Star Trek: Insurrection and nobody's happy.

That said, this is a big, loud, dumb, fun movie. I've seen a lot of remarks that it's not a true Star Trek movie, as though such a narrowly defined thing actually exists any more. You never see people complaining about something not being a true Doctor Who episode these days, do you? That's because there are lots of definitions, and now we have a new one for Star Trek. It may not be as much of a reboot as a remix, with old elements like Tribbles and Klingons and references to Harry Mudd thrown into a blender with some 24. Yes, 24, and not just because Peter Weller is in it.

That's because both the once-and-future Fox series and ST:ID explore what happens when an open democracy faces devastating terror attacks and responds by becoming violently, self-justifyingly paranoid. That, I've decided is what the title refers to. The refreshing thing is that ST:ID seems to be arguing the opposite side. When Spock is urgently trying to talk Kirk out of a pragmatic but "morally wrong" course of action, one can easily picture Kiefer Sutherland thumping Zachary Quinto on the head and stuffing him in a supply cabinet before doing what he wants anyway. Just like I'm sure he wanted to when ZQ was on the show during Season Three.


With Trash being done traveling for a while, and me being between shows for a while, she's been insisting on having me go see movies some nights even when there's nothing I want to see. Hence Quartet. Here is a redemptive, feel-good tale set in a British nursing home for retired musicians. The cast is headed by Maggie Smith, who for the first time in her long and celebrated career gets to step in front of a movie camera with her actual hairstyle. As you can imagine, there are lots of fragile, wrinkly people drifting about at all times in various states of battiness, and there's so little happening that we spend the first half of the film just waiting for one of them to keel over. Instead, when Maggie Smith shows up, her arrival completes the foursome who decades before gave a triumphant performance of Rigoletto, and the rest of the movie is spent overcoming the entirely tedious obstacles that prevent them from doing a reprise. The most obvious obstacle is, of course, the fact that it's impossible to imagine any of the four (Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, and Billy Connolly fake-aged to look like the current John Cleese) ever having been opera singers, let alone now. So the end is of course a giant cheat, and then we have to see the credits that show photos of all the aged, frail, wizened supporting players in the glory days of their energetic, vital, balls-out youth. Which in most cases were taken after I was out of high school. Yep, it seems I'm one generation younger than people in nursing homes. The only comfort was in imagining the director's deceptively youthful presence behind the camera: Dustin Hoffman (75).

The Sapphires

As for why I saw this, see above re: Quartet. It's easy to imagine The Sapphires as an abortive attempt at a star-making vehicle for Chris O'Dowd that never really got rolling, the problem being that if there's anyone not ready for a starring vehicle, it's Chris O'Dowd. It's set in 1968 Australia and Vietnam and is centered around a singing group composed of four Aboriginal relatives, so you can imagine there's plenty of social and racial injustice to really dig into. Think an antipodean The Commitments if the trailer had been set to the strains of "For What It's Worth." Well, in terms of how this movie tackles the heavy issues, the music's quite good.

Iron Man 3

Saw it again on May 31. Still holds up, mostly.

posted by M. Giant 8:40 AM 0 comments


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Saturday, April 06, 2013  

M. Ovie Reviews: Evil Dead (2013)

I’ve walked out of three movies in my life. The first was The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and her Lover. I would have stayed, but at some point Trash had enough and I left with her. Not that I minded much; it never bothered me enough to go back and see the rest.

The second one was just a few years ago. Chao took me to see a movie called Audition at a midnight showing at the Uptown. I had stuffed myself to the uvula at a Brazilian steakhouse earlier that evening, and some time after this sad, intimate living-room drama veered irrevocably into Japanese torture porn, I pretty much passed out in my seat for a few seconds. Which was in the front row of the balcony. Looking back, I’m kind of surprised I made it out of there alive.

Tonight I walked out of Evil Dead.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, if not a year. I loved the original, both as the scariest movie I’d ever seen as of junior high and as the camp classic I saw it as in my thirties. My personal hero Bruce Campbell had been talking it up on his Twitter feed, a friend of a friend did an uncredited pass on the screenplay, and I’m uncool enough to love a good remake. It was win-win.

I invited a couple of friends to go with me tonight, knowing Trash was going to want no piece of this. But then neither did they. Instead Bitter and Febrifge and I went to dinner, called it an early night, and I got home in time to go catch a late showing on my own. Mistake.

Not because I mind going to movies alone, because obviously I don’t. It’s just not a good movie. Or maybe it is; it’s just not for me.

Call me a wuss if you want. It’s not that I was scared; I had no investment in or concern for any of these asshole characters and didn’t give a shit what happened to a single miserable one of them. Plus I knew all the main beats the story was hitting from the original and pretty much where it was going from here, and I was just…grossed out. I realized that sitting through this movie was going to be a straight-up feat of endurance, and for what? Maybe it was the huge dinner again (Mexican this time) combined with my traditional Coke Icee, but when I started feeling physically ill, I asked myself, why am I here? What am I trying to prove? I wasn’t having any fun, and I didn’t want to get sick, so I left. Fuck it.

Sorry, Bruce. Sorry, FOAF. My friends were right. We didn’t need this shit.

posted by M. Giant 10:41 PM 0 comments


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