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May 2011

Season's Leavings, Part Two

More finales! And still no Smallville in sight. All of you keep rooting for CultureGeek Jr. to clean his room, because pretty soon the adults are going to declare defeat and watch the two-hour finale without Superman's biggest fan.

SPOILERS throughout! Onward to the bloody explosions marking the May finales! I love TV.

Law & Order: SVU. Our good friends in SVU wrapped up a strong season with an above-average episode in which a rape victim is murdered a week before her trial was to begin. We have all the usual: a he-said-she-said GHB-induced rape, a particularly vicious on-camera murder, a traumatized daughter who witnessed it and the usual collection of scumbags, including the poncy rapist, a homeless psycho and a weaselly cop. We have gun-smuggling and cigarette fraud, jurisdictional armwrestling and everyone knows more than they're saying.

SPOILERS! The last five minutes takes a screaming turn for the darkness, and it is awesome, cathartic and awful all at once, even if it was badly telegraphed. But here's the flaw: Where was everyone else? For years now SVU has pretty much been the Stabler-and-Benson Show, and that's okay, because those two characters are pretty strong and the actors carry the show well. But here was a chance to remind us all that there's a whole squad full of cops, including the eternally underused Ice-T and Richard Belzer.

Where were they when the bullets started flying? Where was Capt. Cragen? Where were the three extra cops I saw in the background thirty seconds earlier? It would have taken only seconds to rearrange the blocking so we could see all our heroes in the firefight, and still it would be Stabler who made the kill shot.

And at that, I almost wish he hadn't. As a writer, knowing it's the season finale, I'd have written that Stabler hesitated, or even missed on purpose. It's not the sort of thing that would come back to bite him, because he believed the creep deserved his death. Hell, even I was rooting for the girl with the gun.

Next year will be crucial for SVU. Mariska Hargitay has just adopted a child and requested a lighter workload, so after the first 13 episodes Benson will be promoted and Hargitay will step out. An even bigger change: Christopher Meloni is stepping out after 12 seasons, having failed to come to terms with NBC on his contract.

The Law & Order franchise is no stranger to casting changes, but SVU has often been the exception, with four of the six regulars original to the beginning. While they may play Musical ADAs, it can no longer be the Benson & Stabler show if they're gone. Who will replace them? Do Tutuole and Munch become our central characters, or do the writers need to find new leads?

It's the last survivor of a franchise that saw the end of Original Flavor and the awful Los Angeles spinoff within a year of each other. Criminal Intent just began its final season and Trial By Jury died with Jerry Orbach, bless his soul. Can SVU carry forward, or will next year be the last "these are their stories"?

• The Chuck writers were in a tough spot: how to write a cliffhanger that might end up being the series finale? Their answer was to pretty much chuck (heh) the second half of the season into a blender and guzzle whatever came out. Timothy Dalton played the third personality of his character thus far, Vivian was dealt with, all the secondary characters got to take a bow and Chuck himself got to be remarkably heroic in his quest to save his blushing bride.

Extra credit for a captured Mama Bartowski doing Sarah Connor pull-ups in her cell. That amused the hell out of me. Very little else about Chuck is amusing me these days - it really has been treading water this season. I'm almost glad next year is going to be the final half-season; I'm hoping the writers really pull out all the stops.

The bright spots included Jeff being human for the first and only time in the history of the series; Casey shows his true personality at last (both intensely loyal to his team and discomfited by "Russians… lots of Russians…"); the doctors actually do some doctoring (though who's babysitting the infant?); and the CIA is at last just a minor annoyance.

Minuses include a Big Bad CIA agent we've never met before and of whom we are supposed to be instantly afraid; the constant jerking around of Vivian Volkoff; the magic DNA gun that instantly kills everyone else it touches except Sarah, who needs to linger for 48 hours so we can have an episode; the Charlie's Angels who are missing one of their members and we're not supposed to notice…

And the structure itself. I wish they had faded out in Sarah's hospital room and left us with the cliffhanger, and I guess they felt that would be monumentally unfair given that the series was on the verge of cancellation. But better that than this bizarre wrap-up. Chuck and Sarah's wedding: Aw. Happy applause from the entire cast: Aw. Chuck and Sarah buy the Buy More: Aw.

Morgan is the intersect and now they're freelance spies? Um. Let's see how that one bounces. You've only got a half-season order, guys. Maybe we should have left them at the altar.


• Unlike other viewers, I both loved and hated the first part of the Supernatural finale. I loved that Dean actually had some emotional connection to someone who isn't his brother, and I liked that he is still willing to drop everything and run to rescue Lisa and Ben. Let's take bets on whether the demon was lying about Ben really being Dean's son, shall we? Because I think he is the father, and to then decide to have their memories wiped was pretty harsh on himself.

However, it goes right back to my biggest complaint with the Lisa-Ben storyline and one of my major complaints with the series: somehow having a life and/or relationship is seen as incompatible with hunting, and I don't think it's about the nature of the job: it's about the show's beliefs as to the nature of women. As unevenly as Lisa was written, when she was allowed to be herself, she was brave, capable, strong, intelligent and loved Dean despite all reason. If there was anyone left alive that Dean could be with, it was Lisa (since Jo is dead).

But because Supernatural has major issues with women, the boys can never be with anyone, because it would mean some helpless female to protect, because she'd never get the job, because it would break up this ongoing theme of "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Women are either evil, helpless or a distraction from The Work. So even though Lisa herself said time and again that Dean could hunt and be with them on his days off, in the end, the writers and Dean himself made it impossible.

Also, Sam was right. Wiping Lisa's memory without her permission is about the most awful thing Dean has ever done. Kudos to Jensen Ackles for playing it well, but wow, I really want to deck Dean.

Speaking of things that made me mad: what the bleeding FUCK was with the repeated digs at horror fans? There were about four references to "people who read H.P. Lovecraft" as "unable to get laid." It was worse than the running gags against Ren Faire I've seen all season on other shows. Dear Supernatural: you are a freaking horror show! Your viewers are horror fans! Why do you insist on mocking and alienating your core viewers?? Guess what? They don't need you to tell them who Cthulhu was, and if you make one more wisecrack about "you must be catnip to the ladies" they will introduce you to its tentacles.

Onward to Multiple Sams, which wasn't fun when it was Capt. Jack Sparrow either. Sam fought himself and then disappeared for half the episode, which I guess was supposed to make us forget that he existed until he showed up at the end. Wrong. And dull. The first half was written by showrunner Sera Gamble, which is how it managed to be emotionally compelling while annoying; and the second half by Eric Kripke, which is why the plot is strong but the only women are a dead plot device and a demon ex-girlfriend. (I don't count Raphael - she's only strong because she's possessed by a male angel. Kripke, you make me crazy.)

Finally, we have Castiel taking God's place as ruler of all the earth. Somehow our gentle angel has defeated Raphael (approve) and Crowley (approve) and healed Lisa (approve). Unfortunately, it seems that whole "power corrupts" thing works pretty fast, because he's already a pretty jealous God. Setting aside the theological issues (because, come on, ever since they brought in the angels four seasons ago the theology of Supernatural has been wonky), it is hard to believe the angel who single-wingedly stood for the only pacifism and protection of life on any side of the cosmos has suddenly become Daddy Dearest.

Also, Misha Collins isn't going to be a regular next season. Trenchcoat fans are already in mourning. io9 has an interesting take on it: "This is a cliffhanger that leaves you wondering whether next season's big bad will be God himself. But at the same time, I still have to wonder if perhaps it isn't simply in the nature of a new Judeo-Christian God to behave exactly the way Cas has. Maybe Heaven can never be a democracy, and God is inevitably an authoritarian military dictator. There's a lot to ponder, in terms of plot and philosophy, over the long summer as we wait for season 7."

Here's one for you, long-time fans: when was the last time the Brothers Grimm managed to stop an apocalypse without making things worse?


Season's Leavings

'Tis the most bloodthirsty time of the year, when our favorite shows bid farewell for the summer, usually with a bang.

In more than one way, at least this year.

SPOILERS THROUGHOUT, you were warned!

Bones wins the fwump award for most-telegraphed "surprise" ending of the year. On one hand, they kind of had to go there someday - the Moonlighting dance can only go on so long before we get cranky. On the other hand, Bones got major points from me in their 100th episode when they brought it to a head and then let it go. They made the conscious decision not to go there. It was powerful and emotional and real, and both Emily Deschanel and David Boreanz played it so beautifully...

Look, I know Deschanel is pregnant in real life. I know they wrestled with what to do about it, because the fall shoots begin about halfway through her second trimester. And they could have gone the cute way, having Brennan hide behind a microscope or hold her clipboard in a creative manner - it could even be a running gag. Even Deschanel herself said writing the pregnancy into the show would be difficult - a total game-changer, what one of the showrunners called, "jumping off the cliff."

Because I'm sick, evil and wrong, I would have written it differently. Not pregnant - kidnapped. Missing. Somehow in danger. That's your cliffhanger. Beginning next season, we get to follow Booth on a tense and difficult mission to find her, whatever's happened to her, a multi-episode arc that gets us through Deschanel's pregnancy without her on camera (or on videotaped messages, proofs of life, things that would allow her to work without her abdomen on camera). It could be fun to watch how Bones manages to get clues to her crew without her captors realizing it.

Instead, we have the senseless and emotionally deadened shooting of an Intern of the Week, and not even the one(s) I wish someone would shoot. The British guy with the pointless trivia takes one for Booth and dies on the floor of the lab, and none of us wept for him. Except Brennan, who didn't even weep for Zack, and is so distraught by IotW's death that she falls into bed with Booth two episodes before the end of the season with no buildup. And suddenly she's pregnant. Sigh.

Even without knowing Deschanel was pregnant, could they have forecasted it more with her comments through the episode? An utterly uninteresting finale-murder in a bowling alley, Brennan in the worst hairdo since Working Girl, and they even managed to make the birth of Angela's baby annoying. Seriously, enough with the snappish bitchy woman in labor, because that's not Angela at all and the "Hodgins is nervous" gag got old four episodes ago. Out of character and emotionally deadened, that was this whole episode. I sure hope they do better next season, or this wonderful show just jumped the shark in a big way.

Wow, I didn't intend to spend the whole column on Bones, not when we've got other fish to fry. So let's get them on the grill.

Criminal Minds amuses me so. Well, not so much with the whole sex-torture-murder thing, I'm not that twisted. Yet. Give me another season of American Idol running over its time on my Tivo and we'll talk. But it's been a year since the geniuses at the network canned the two female regulars and added a pale imitation of J.J. in an effort to "shake things up." Sure did - they made it into a boy's club with Garcia to provide snark, and the best thing that happened all season was Paget Brewster's exit arc.

Now the spinoff has been sent to that great Tivo in the sky (yay!), the good writers are coming back, and so is J.J. There are hints to a shakeup in the unit, which always makes us nervous considering that we lose the good ones each time. To be sure, I got a little nervous with Morgan getting beaten up (!!) by a psycho behemoth (and razzed about it later, hee) and later with a gun pulled on Rossi (from where? Skinny girl was in a tank top and shorts and was playing victim. Rossi missed the revolver in her... bra?)

The story? Eh. We could have done a better job with the very real and horrifying issue of domestic human trafficking than this. Cardboard, predictable and not terribly emotional.

But nobody died, and while Thomas Gibson may or may not be back depending on contract negotiations (cute, leaving that vague), J.J. is back and rumor has it Paget Brewster may return since her sitcom didn't get picked up. Odds look good that the best procedural on television may be back on track next year. Extra credit to the actresses who played Andi (Cop-of-the-Week) and Renee (agent in jeopardy). Either would be a good addition to the cast next year, I think.

(CBS: Even if they're GIRLS.)

• Best Finale So Far: Castle. I had to watch it twice to get over the whoa, and that isn't even from Castle's little admission at the end. Captain Montgomery was the third cop in the conspiracy behind the murder of Beckett's mother? Holy carp. I mean, if you're going to kill a character, that's one hell of a way to do it. That, and the way Montgomery said goodbye to his family - they thought it was just for the day, but he knew he was saying goodbye forever. And because he knows, so do we, which made his funeral that much more intense.

Even more intense: watching the reactions of the others as each comes to the realization that Montgomery is allied with the bad guys, while still being a good guy. Ryan and Esposito take it out on each other like the married couple they are at first, then turn to the greater good. Beckett is a cop first and a human being second.

Still, kudos upon kudos to Stana Katic for her acting throughout and especially in that scene. You see every layer of conflict, from betrayal at discovering her mentor's secret to the burgeoning grief as she realizes he intends to trade his life for hers. Even if we didn't love Montgomery, even if we hadn't watched him kiss his family goodbye, we'd still be crying for him as he gave his penance, because when she grieved, we grieved with her.

Dear Bones, Criminal Minds and all other television: That is how you kill a secondary character. THAT is how you make us cry.

Okay, I saw the final moment coming. The shooting and Castle's declaration. That didn't make it less intense. Much speculation has run rampant, but of course they're not killing Beckett. I'd like to think she was smart enough to wear a vest. But even if she wasn't, they can't kill her - she's half the show. Someone speculated that they'll fake her death to us and to the world in the hopes of catching whoever was pulling Lockwood's strings, but since Bones just did that a couple of seasons ago, I'm hoping they do something unexpected.

Still, it was complex, exciting and emotional, with a few twists you didn't see coming and a moment of emotional catharsis for everyone who's been 'shipping Castle and Beckett for years now. Bravo, Castle.

What? Smallville? Still on the Tivo. The kid has to clean his room before I let him watch it, so we're waiting. At this rate, look for the review sometime around the Fourth of July.


YouTube Thursday: In memory of Jim Henson

This amazing moment comes to us from Jim Henson's memorial service. Henson left us 21 years ago this week, and we're all still hugging our Muppets. I think what's even more amazing than watching the puppeteers singing is the way they're all breaking down crying while they do it. Few people in this world are as loved as Jim Henson, and his legacy continues today.

 

 

 

The long version can be found here. I dare you not to sniffle.


Pod People running the country!

I'd like to show you a couple of images, and you tell me if you recognize these folks, okay? It won't be too hard. You've seen a lot of them, especially the last few years, right? It's hard to miss someone this famous, whose face has been in the camera's eye so many times over the years...

Mccainharris

 

Julianne-moore-300 They are not the people you think they are.

Relax. They're not Pod People either.

At least, we're pretty sure.

That's Ed Harris up above.

The lady to the left is Julianne Moore.

It's freaky how exactly the hair and makeup crew has managed to make these two look like John McCain and Sarah Palin.

They will co-star in an upcoming HBO movie titled Game Change, based on a book that actually chronicled the 2008 election from primary to general on both sides. It looks like they decided to focus solely on the Republican side for the movie, however.

I'm not sure why. I'd bet Amy Poehler would love to do Hillary Clinton again. I'd nominate Denzel Washington for Barack Obama, as he's only about seven years older than the president.

 

Still, I think the Secret Service should be concerned about this. Ninja hair/makeup artists can work wonders. They're BETTER than the Pod People. How do we know Congress isn't filled with Pod People right now?

*crickets*


CultureGeek Final-ish TV Roll Call!

The news that Criminal Minds: The Sucky Version has been canceled is not only good news for fans of Criminal Minds: Original Flavor (the writers will come back!), but prompts a revisit of our TV Roll Call! From Mostly Alive to Mostly Dead, most shows now know their fate.

Hallelujah: @$#! My Dad Says walks the earth no more! Less amusing: Law & Order: The Sucky Version also died, which means Law & Order: Original Flavor died for nothing. NBC, you are on notice. Also, we'll never see what happened after the cliffhanger ending of V, as it has now gobbled its last hamster.

 

 ALIVE

The Big Bang Theory

Body of Proof

Bones

Castle

Chuck (final season)

Criminal Minds

Fringe

Glee

The Good Wife

House

Law & Order: SVU

 Nikita

The Office

Parenthood

Supernatural

30 Rock

 

ALIVE, UNFORTUNATELY

Cougar Town

Family Guy

Raising Hope

Two and a Half Men

The Vampire Diaries

 

ALL DEAD 

America's Most Wanted (in favor of reruns. Boo, Fox.)

The Cape

The Chicago Code

The Defenders (nooooooooo)

Detriot 187 (rats)

The Event

The Good Guys (yay!)

Human Target

Law & Order: The Sucky Version

Lie to Me

Life Unexpected

Medium (finally)

No Ordinary Family

Outsourced (yay!)

Smallville (ditto) 

@#$! My Dad Says (double ditto)

 

The Firefly Memorial Dead Before Its Time Award: Some of you may say V, but I must declare the "winner" to be The Defenders. It was a lawyer show that made you like lawyers. Unlike this stupid new lawyer show Franklin & Bash, in which one of our heroes makes out with his client while she's on the stand IN COURT, The Defenders aimed for a touch of realism with great work by Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell defending the occasionally sinless in Sin City. It was fun, well-paced TV that suffered only from a touch of predictability. It deserved to stay alive, particularly in a TV world where Raising Hope continues to roam the earth with its sidesplitting jokes about driving around a baby without no car seat. I hope Belushi and O'Connell land another gig soon, hopefully together, as they made a great team.


Thanks to Entertainment Weekly, which keeps track of these things so I don't have to.


Commander William T. Hogg

The Dukes of Hazzard was so cheesy it needed crackers. Ordinarily I wouldn't inflict this goofy collection of Southern stereotypes on you, but the guest star in this particular episode, "Mrs. Daisy Hogg," deserves special notice.

Helpfully condensed to nine minutes for you by the denizens of YouTube, here's proof that those paycheck jobs an actor takes early in his career will follow him FOREVER.

 

 

 

It also proves that while Jonathan Frakes always played the mack daddy, he can't do a Southern accent to save his life. See you on the bridge, Commander!


Old Flames by Jack Ketchum

It's rare that I read all the way through a book and still end up not liking it all that much, but Old Flames is that rarity.

At first I was going to just set it aside; I usually don't do negative reviews, especially not for authors I've met personally. Ketchum's work generally ranks among my favorites, too. His novels The Lost and Off Season are harsh, vicious, gruesome and terrific.

And frankly, if Old Flames had been a chapbook novella, I probably wouldn't have minded all that much. But in reality, there's only enough story in Old Flames for a longish short story, and a novella was pushing it.

It is the story of Dora, a woman with, shall we say, relationship issues. Spurned by her latest lover, she goes in search of her college sweetheart. Turns out he's married with two kids, but she isn't going to let a little thing like that stop her.

It's compelling enough, but there seems to be little depth to the story. We see the nasty stuff coming from space, and while it gets pretty nasty, there isn't a surprise in the clockwork plot. Dora herself is neither charismatic enough to be enjoyable or pathetic enough to engender sympathy. Her targets are pretty much cookie-cutter from Central Casting, so we don't feel all that much for them, either.

Most surprising is that the story ends about three-fourths of the way through the book. Then you find yourself reading a second novella, presumably added as a bonus padding for a novella bumped up to a novel.

This second piece, Right to Life, is a good bit more chilling if only because the sexual violence is so explicit and awful. A pregnant woman is kidnapped from the sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic. Amazingly enough, nobody sees anything and nobody really seems to look for her very hard, not even her lover who was dropping her off. One would think such a woman was a hermit-like social misfit, but that's not Sara, and therefore something of a plot hole.

Still, the couple that kidnaps her seems to have the literal luck of the devil, what with multiple kidnappings and long-term incarceration while not possessing very much in the way of functional brain cells. The mental torture they inflict on Sara is pretty lightweight compared to some of the physical and sexual torments, and some of it is hard to read.

In the end, though, it's as unsatisfying an ending as the first novella, as though both stories were missing some extra depth or twist that would elevate them from the standard horror fare into the brilliance for which Ketchum is quite rightly known.

I seem to be alone in this feeling; other reviews published three years ago when this book came out were glowing. But I've read Off Season. I know what this man can do. So if you're looking for gruesome horror, start there instead of Old Flames.


Circumnavigating Fairyland

In the previous life of this blog, we ran the CultureGeek Awards for the Aughts, rewarding the best work of the 2000s. That was before we got cancelled, went independent and started using four-letter words.

They were readers' choice awards, because y'all have read and watched a lot more than I can manage unless I want to live on my couch. At the time, all the sites were running these utterly lame lists of the "best of the century so far" and I knew we could do better. I mean, this was a decade that created Bratz: The Movie.

So on Jan. 15, 2010, I declared the winners. And with more than 40 percent of the vote, Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making beat both Dr. Horrible and xkcd for best web fiction. At the time, Fairyland was only available online.

I understand this week Fairyland has been released to the world in a beautiful hardcover edition, lauded by Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, among others. And we are extra tickled that the CultureGeek Award made the cover.

For those who wonder, the original CultureGeek posts are gone, having been deleted from the interwebs by the newspaper upon our cancellation. Here's an excerpt from the original post:

This was a tough category, with Joss Whedon’s writers-strike summer project up against indie webcomics and Valente’s brilliant experiment: a novel published chapter by chapter directly online, funded by donations. I was frankly astonished at the ferocity of her readers, drowning out the acknowledged frontrunner of Doctor Horrible (who even made a guest appearance at the Emmys)...

The tough choices just show that even in the morass of swill that Hollywood sends us, there are bright spots of smart, funny, touching and even grotesque fiction that still qualify as art.

Why should we care? Because what we term as "pop culture" matters. A hundred years from now, what will they remember of the turn of the century? What legacy do we leave in the stories for our descendants? These are not small, stupid things sandwiched between commercials. Regardless of their form, electronic or on the printed page, the stories we tell are one of the key measures of our civilization. It is the study of that measure, of the reflections of our civilization in the camera's eye, that spurs me to keep writing this blog and seeking out new and different things to feature here.

Congratulations to our winners, and here’s to many more strange, beautiful and fantastic worlds to conquer in the next decade.

 

Congratulations to Catherynne Valente on her beautiful new book, which you can purchase here. You can bet I'll be picking one up.


A Thor-iffic Ride

This one's a thight for Thor eyes.

Oh shush. If you can't make bad puns about superhero movies, it's time to get out of the review game.

Seriously, the visuals alone make Thor worth the price of admission. I didn't go to the 3-D version because I'm averse to crushing migraines, but even in 2-D the visuals were astounding; a glittering bridge, planets/realms/whatever with their own set of gravity, a snow-covered realm of frosty bad guys crossed with an Asgard that puts Lord of the Rings to shame. Set aside a fun plot and plenty of explosions to keep the short-attention-span theater alive: the images of the realms and of Thor himself will captivate you.

(No kidding, Chris Hemsworth is a physically lovely human being, and the director uses it well. Not just the abs and the muscles for eye candy, but the lighting and costume design make full use of his physical form in such a way to make you believe he's a Norse god. That, and he's not a bad actor, with what he's given to play. If they'd used him as Conan, we might not be so sure that movie's going to flop.)

I went into the movie with very low expectations; last year's comic-book movies were a stark disappointment, from Iron Man 2 to Wolverine. And Thor is not without its Thor thpots (I said, shush about my puns). But we'll get to them in a bit.

Pluses:

• Actors! Hello to Sir Anthony Hopkins, who brings the SIR as Odin. Bravo to Idris Elba as the sentry Heimdall - can this guy get his own movie? Because he was awesome. Extra extra credit to Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who played a conflicted and intelligent younger brother - a comic-book character who actually seemed like a real person, separate from the good-guy bad-guy cookie cutters. He lifted this movie out of standard fare and into something I might want to buy on DVD. And Natalie Portman can act. No, really, as my friend Mari Adkins points out and Oscar noted this year, Portman has serious chops when she's away from George Lucas.

• I was happy to note that for a heavily testosterone-laden movie, Thor passes the Bechdel Test in the very first scene. It has two women, and they talk to each other, and it's about something other than a man. That right there is awesome, considering how few comic-book movies can pass Bechdel even when the main character is a woman. (Elektra, I'm lookin' at you.)

• Cameos! Okay, Stan Lee shows up every time, and I noticed they're doing the same thing with him as they did with Hitchcock - they put him near the beginning so people aren't distracted with the modern version of Where's Waldo? Lee's cameo made me laugh, but you had to look harder to find J. Michael Straczynski and Walt Simonson, famous comic writers. That was a thing of beauty.

• More cameos! Did you notice the guy balanced above the government complex with an arrow aimed at Thor? They called him Barton, but he was played by a shadowy Jeremy Renner… who will play Hawkeye in the Avengers movie. "I'm startin' to root for this guy," he mutters, and we know why!

• Meanwhile, Thor's gang was the usual collection of Comic Central Casting, but the comic fans tell me they were mostly true to themselves on paper. Thanks to the writers for (nearly) burying Sif's crush on Thor; I know it's that way in the comics, but I was glad to see at least one woman working with a man in a comic-book movie without falling in love with him. Also, she was awesome.

Minuses:

• Dear Hollywood scriptwriters: It is possible to indicate that a woman finds a man attractive without turning her into a tongue-tied idiot. I loved most of Natalie Portman's character, but the moment where she's alone in her trailer and suddenly goes weak-kneed and puts the cereal in a cabinet because she's all flibbertigibbet… it's just embarrassing. Seriously, a woman can find a man attractive and still maintain higher brain function. And an actress of Portman's Oscar-winning caliber can indicate her appreciation of Thor (and thus her possession of a pulse) without your "help."

• Likewise, Rene Russo is totally wasted as Queen Frigga (really? That was her name? I had to look it up). Russo has a long history of kicking ass, and I was hoping to see her do something besides stand beside her husband wringing her hands. SPOILERS! Therefore I was thrilled to see her raise a sword to defend her helpless husband when the bad guys came roaring in, and horribly disappointed when she was backhanded aside without so much as a single strike. Really? We couldn't have spared ten seconds - even fifteen! - for the Queen to put up some kind of resistance?

Now, for my two real beefs with this movie. The first is the problem with all these Marvel movies, and be prepared for this rant several times: Enough already with the Avengers buildup. Each of the movies since Iron Man has felt like a prequel, and more of the Lucas style than I care for.

It's not that I mind the winks and nudges to the fans - witness my giggles above at seeing Hawkeye before he dons purple leather. It's that each movie needs to stand by itself, a complete story arc without requiring us to watch all the others in order to feel some closure. It's starting to feel like the cinematic equivalent of the Crisis on Infinite Crossovers that has so destroyed Marvel and DC comics and led many (including me) away from the major superhero comic lines altogether.

This one's better than Iron Man 2 in this regard, which was essentially a placeholder movie. But it still feels incomplete, like it's just another Origin Flashback leading up to Avengers. And I know it doesn't have to be this way. Superman and Superman 2 were written and (originally) shot at the same time, and yet the first Superman feels complete in one whole story without a requirement that we stop by for the next movie to watch Zod tear up Manhattan. We will, and we did, but that was in part because the first movie was so awesome.

SPOILERS!!! In this case, the entire arc was - and should have been - the evolution of Thor from a spoiled warrior princeling into an actual leader. He was supposed to learn that war should never be sought, because it carries a heavy price tag. That is something a real warrior, such as Odin, learns at a terrible cost. In that sense, Odin's decision to cast Thor to Earth makes sense, and not just so we can have fish-out-of-water jokes with coffee cups. He was not truly banishing his son, but hoping to teach him the most important of lessons.

SPOILERS!!! But the problem is, Thor doesn't lose anything. Oh, he's separated from Jane at the end, and that's sad enough, but we know he's going back to Earth for his next movie, so it doesn't have any real emotional resonance with us - not even as much as it did when Daredevil held Elektra's dying body. In order for Thor to learn his lesson, he needed to lose something, to suffer some loss. Instead, he suddenly became worthy because he was willing to die for his friends. That's not the lesson he needed to learn - we knew he was physically brave already.

That, for me, was the real flaw in the movie. And it's pretty much a structural quibble. As comic-book movies go, it was still head and shoulders above anything we got last year, and bodes well for the guys working madly on Avengers.

Unfortunately, the buildup to Avengers has been so huge and taken so long, at this point it can only disappoint us. Much like Lucas' prequels, you can only hype so long before you have to make good - and at this point, I just don't see how it can possibly live up to our expectations.

But it'll be fun watching them try.


TV Roll Call!

Since we here at CultureGeek pretend reality TV doesn't exist, here's a roundup of the shows we (or you) actually care about and whether or not they're likely to be back. With Fox canceling five shows just today, they're dropping like flies...

 

  ALIVE

Bones

Castle

Criminal Minds

Fringe

House

Law & Order: SVU

Supernatural

The Big Bang Theory

The Office

 

ALIVE, UNFORTUNATELY

Cougar Town

Family Guy

Raising Hope

The Vampire Diaries

Two and a Half Men (roh?) 

 

MOSTLY ALIVE

Body of Proof

Criminal Minds: The Sucky Version

 Nikita

Parenthood


AILING

Chuck

The Defenders

Law & Order: The Sucky Version

$@#! My Dad Says

 

MOSTLY DEAD

Detriot 187 (nooooo)

Outsourced (yay!)

The Event

V

 

ALL DEAD 

The Cape

The Chicago Code

Human Target

Life Unexpected

Lonestar

The Good Guys (yay!)

Medium (finally)

Smallville (ditto) 

 

The Firefly Memorial Dead Before Its Time Award: No candidates yet.

 

Thanks to Entertainment Weekly, which keeps track of these things so I don't have to.