The Morning After: October 17, 2011

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post an individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Top Hat

Like many musical features of the period, Top Hat seems to be a series of well choreographed dance sequences strung together by a loose, uncomplicated plot. This is an amusing, if rote, story of mistaken identities starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, two of the most popular big screen dancers in film history. Despite some easily superficial, Vaudeville-style performances from the supporting cast, much of the charm and verve of the film sits on Astaire’s light footwork. And if his witty, chipper attitude doesn’t make you smile, it would be surprising. Rogers is no slouch and provides a strong central female performance that anchors the film’s weightier elements. She’s as graceful as Astaire and her frocks are heavenly creations by designer Bernard Newman whose frilly formal gown featured in the latter third of the film flows magically around Rogers almost becoming a character of its own. The art direction and Hermes Pan-crafted dance sequences are all stunning. Even though you can easily tell where one London set was transformed into another Italian set, they are such stark and beautiful creations that even on a sound stage they look impressive, especially the Venice-inspired hotel and dance locale featured in the last third of the film. I’m not a fan of the old style musical as much of the action seems haphazardly constructed around simple, catchy ditties, but this one works for me better than I expected, though the stop-start style seems as disjointed as it does in modern musicals.

Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

This absurdist comedy goes to extremes in order to make audiences laugh at the elements that aren’t too horrific to contemplate. Although the film isn’t in the least bit scary, the idea of a mutant plant who feeds on human blood is a terrifying idea, which gives us pause when contemplating the utter viciousness of nature outside our own clean cut worlds. That Seymour Krelborn’s mother would be more concerned for her health and using her junk science recipes to stave off a sickness her mind never gets past, sits in stark contrast to the carniverous aberration of nature that isn’t so far fetched as to be impossible. Well, the “talking” part of the plant is probably not that possible, but blood-eating plants deep in the rainforests do exist as the Venus flytrap, one of the plants Krelborn used to create his hybrid Audrey Jr., exemplifies. The performances are downright outlandish, which only fits the over-the-top nature of the plot and spotting an extremely young Jack Nicholson is one of the rare treats. While not as good as the musical adapted from this source, the film has its charms and should be watched for historical context if anything.

Community (Season 2, Episodes 19-24)

The final episode of the season isn’t as impressive as I would have liked, but its preceding episode (part 1 of the finale) more than makes up for that fact. In these final six episodes, many of the season’s craftier plot devices are finally brought together as the students of Greendale Community College become a stronger group in their exclusion of the increasingly temperamental Pierce (Chevy Chase). Two episodes (well, three if you count the final two-parter as separate entities, which I do) stand out from this final quarter of the second season. The first is an episode called “Paradigms of Human Memory” where the frequently arguing study group finally reach a head and begin remembering back to a seemingly-coincidental series of events that mirror every single argument and conflict the group has had across the season. We flash back to an atmospheric camp out, a dusty ghost town, a haunted estate and several other comical scenes.

What sets this episode apart is that they use the antiquated flashback motif that has shown up all too frequently in many television series in history (something we often blame lazy writers for) is given a fresh twist. Instead of looking back at scenes from various episodes from the first two seasons of the show, the writers craft believable, but entirely originally conceits for every single memory. At first, you’ll be wondering if you somehow missed an episode or two of the show, but as you come to realize that none of these seasons have been done previously, you relax into the creativity of it all, becoming more saddened that a lot of these settings and events hadn’t yet been built into episodes. Attempting to confuse matters further, they even pull in scenes from the Claymation episode, hoping to try and trick your memory into believing these episodes have indeed happened, yet the clever observer will note that these sequences aren’t even in that Christmas-themed episode.

But the true crowning achievement of the season, much like the best episode of Season 1, is the two-part paintball-themed episode that styles itself after two hallmark genre styles. The first part, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is a western themed affair setting up another iconic paintball competition for $100,000 sponsored by a local ice cream company for a year-end bash on Greendale campus. Dean Pelton hopes that the destruction from the first competition won’t be repeated, but as the prize is announced, the campus once again becomes a war zone where one study group member after another forms alliances and attempts to eke out their own victory. What’s so fun about this episode is how brazenly it pulls in the spaghetti western genre and blends it with its otherworldly wit to create a fun and exciting episode of attacks, betrayals and unions formed. No one does snarky social commentary like the writers of Community and this episode is probably the crown in their cap so far, barely topping the first paintball episode and the Dungeons & Dragons episode earlier in the second season in terms of creativity.

And were it not saddled with the Star Wars-esque second half, it might have been an all-time great television episode. In the second half, it is revealed that several professional players who’ve infected the game are indeed plants for a maniacal plan by an enemy whose identity is revealed early in the episode, but provides one of the real shockers, so I won’t spoil it. The sci-fi elements are clumsily structured and the constant references to Abed as Han Solo stretch credibility. The final conclusion is fairly predictable, but there are some great individual scenes worth enjoying. The cliffhanger is a bit unexpected, but it sets up a third season that I’ll watch even if the prior season-ender is a bit lackluster.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The City on the Edge of Forever

There’s a reason this episode is often cited as one of the best ever written for any Star Trek series and quite possibly for any science fiction production. At a gateway into the past, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock must chase after a deranged Dr. McCoy who has leaped into the past and somehow changed history, causing the U.S.S. Enterprise in orbit to disappear and possibly eradicate the universe as they knew it. Kirk and Spock must go back in time to a point before McCoy altered the timeline and right whatever incident he managed to wrong. Each time I’ve seen this episode, I have gotten shivers from the conclusion and that’s not because it’s a shocking ending, which it is, but it’s the content to that point that makes it so powerful. If you haven’t seen the episode, I won’t give anything away, but it is one the greatest of Star Trek original series episodes and could easily top most of what came in subsequent series.

Star Trek (The Original Series): Operation: Annihilate!

Ending the first season of a series on such a sour note is disappointing. The story seems crudely crafted with no high aims. I can’t fathom the purpose of this episode other than to perhaps please those just looking for a bunch of technobabble and pointless science. It’s almost on a grade school level of intelligence, asking us important questions about what unique properties a sun possesses. The performances aren’t terribly exciting and the minimal emotional gravity of the episode is almost non-existent. At one point, Kirk discovers his dead brother, but there is no sorrow or lengthy pondering the death. Likewise, when Dr. McCoy blinds Spock, his remorse is tangible, but short-lived.

Star Trek (The Original Series): Season 2

Star Trek (The Original Series): Amok Time

A fascinating look into the ancient ritual customs of the Vulcans, this episode doesn’t need a pointed social commentary to succeed. Mr. Spock must return to Vulcan to mate with his betrothed or risk physiological death. His violent outbursts give Leonard Nimoy a chance to shine in a role so frequently trapped in stoic logic. The set design was terrific, the costumes interesting and the makeup was exceptional. From a craftsman standpoint, this is one of the finest episodes in the original series thanks to an obviously-increased production budget.

Star Trek (The Original Series): Who Mourns for Adonais?

An interesting episode calling up memories of Greek culture and explaining the origins of the Greek mythos: a powerful alien race seeking to be worshipped. The strong Apollo, the last of his race, hasn’t given up on human civilization, but has been living alone on his home planet waiting for his “children” to return to him. Kirk and company arrive and are immediately ensnared in his self delusions wanting them to worship him even though they are unable. Considering the period the show was written, some of the statements are a bit advanced, but not sufficiently. This could have been an interesting anti-religious comment, but expecting such would have been a surprise. Still, there are some interesting and original concepts here, including the idea that human civilization will outgrow its need to worship and be adored by higher powers because we are not beholden to anyone, not even a race of intergalactic being that once promised us and showed us the world.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Changeling

A compelling look at the power of scientific creation bastardized through an encounter with an alien probe. An ancient Earth probe seeks to sterilize all imperfections wherever it goes, only by mistaking Capt. Kirk for its creator is the crew of the Enterprise saved. As the origins of the creature are explored, we are given information about its mutation altering it to be one of the most dangerous objects imaginable, a device set on destroying humanoid life which it considers an imperfection. Doing what science fiction is intended, we are given a plausible scenario tinged with a fictional impetus that gives us the idea that even our own creations could one day turn on us, but it is our capacity to reason and think outside the confines of our programming that allow us to triumph over that which cannot.

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