The Morning After: July 25, 2011

Here is what I watched this weekend:

Captain America: The First Avenger

While I dislike Iron Man 2 and found Thor the weakest of the remaining Avenger movies, choosing which of The Incredible Hulk, the original Iron Man or Captain America is best is a challenging ordeal, worthy of a superhero’s conviction. Chris Evans manages to be a potent addition to the Marvel universe. His unflinching patriotism, desire to serve and protect, and boyish naivete make him one of the more credible and cheer-able creations the franchise (and indeed the genre) has yet produced. The story, although centered heavily in fiction, has the feel of a period drama. Set during World War II, only the red-faced menace and his mythical power source keep the film from feeling rooted in reality. There is part of me, the cynical part, that is frustrated by the overly patriotic thrust of the narrative, yet certain sparks within the story show that Cap, regardless of nationality, may be a more exemplary individual for the human race when taken outside of his trademarked red-white-and-blue costume. For he represents an ideal that we too often forget. We should not be the aggressors. We should stand up for the bullied and the meek. It is the selfless who deserve our admiration regardless of what nation they call home.

Inherit the Wind

What makes the man? The ability to regurgitate what he is told or the man who thinks for himself? Fitted with two fiery and equally laudable performances by veteran thespians Spencer Tracy as Darwinian defender Henry Drummond and Fredric March as firebrand lawyer Matthew Harrison Brady. Drummoned and Brady face off in a small Tennesse courtroom respectively defending and prosecuting a teacher who dared teach the Theory of Evolution in his science classroom defying state law prohibiting such curriculum. That recognizable faces Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan and Claude Akins have prominent roles in the film and although each give solid performances, you can’t take your eyes off March and Tracy whose performances are astounding feats. While the film has a few narrative flaws and ends up a bit murky in places doesn’t diminish their achievement. You will be hard-pressed to find a better adaptation of this seminal stage play, nor one as compellingly acted.

True Blood, Season 3 (episodes 5-10)

This is the return to creative drama that I had missed in the second season. The first season saw a number of diverging storylines that didn’t seem at odds with one another. They worked fairly well together, pulling the various characters into a compelling world of vampires and shape-shifters, franchises like the Twilight films and Underworld were only superficially able to convey. Here we have the viciousness and sexuality amplified from classic stories. Dracula, the forebear of all vampire tales, was at once charismatic and terrifying. Getting into the specifics of that character would take a great deal of examination of the vampire mythos, which is not my intention here. Suffice it to say, what I would hope for in such a genre was embellished by Alan Ball’s creative series. In the second season, the series mixed in the Greek myths, which put some of the more exciting elements of the series into the background. While it wasn’t a terrible season it was a bit of a reduction in quality over the first.

This third season has, after 10 episodes failed to fall into the trap of the second. There, several plotlines seemed completely divergent from the primary story arcs. They meandered for much of the season before finally piecing together in the final episode. Now, we get several stories that feel tonally balanced and emotionally connected. While they may be more disparate than the first season, they interlock a little more fluidly. And if the first season showed us how sexy the series would be and the second season somewhat muted that excitement, the third season brings much of that back and boosts it. While the style may be just shy of a religious man’s distinction of pornography, it inebriates the mind with its palpable sexual tension and keeps the audience drawn into the characters without making them feel wholly lascivious. And while the sexuality may be one of the more pleasing aspects of the show, there is no diminution of plot elements. This is a series that’s just as interested in its characters’ motives, intentions and actions and their relation to the overriding plot as it is to the carnal pleasures enjoyed by them. This is not a show for every one and were it to cater to a broader audience, I think it would falter under the weight of propriety. With only two episodes left, I am thrilled and excited to see what happens next and to discover what shocking cliffhanger Ball and Co. have in store.

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