Saturday, April 20, 2013

Community: Intro to Knots (2013)

For several years, Community has been regarded as one of the best things on TV. I've been addicted since I checked out the first few holiday episodes. The most recent (and almost certainly the last) season of Community has been rocky. The show's creator, Dan Harmon, was fired last year, and a number of writers and directors left in solidarity. The network brought in some new writers to run the show. Overall, they've done a better job than most people expected, but they're certainly no substitutes for Harmon.

"Intro to Knots" should have aired in December, but the entire series got pushed back and it aired last Thursday. This episode was less driven by a gimmick than the last two Christmas episodes: no songs or animation. It was, according to Wikipedia, intended as an homage to "Rope," one of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Well... I've never seen that. But I certainly recognized elements from other sources.

The plot revolved around the study group (with Chang filling in for Pierce) tying up their history professor (played by Malcolm McDowell) and trying to force him into giving them a passing grade. All of this occurred at the group's Christmas party. The Christmas tropes and gags kept the tone on the holidays, though it felt more like something set at Christmas than something about Christmas. All three of the previous Community Christmas specials felt like they were about the holidays: another reminder that Harmon's not around anymore.

All in all, it was a pretty decent episode - probably the best of the season so far. A lot of the credit goes to McDowell, who portrayed his character like a classic villain. Abed fell into the role of an observer and got a handful of great lines. Everyone felt a little out of character, but that's been an issue at least since the start of season three.

But I did find the jokes funny, and the situation was interesting. McDowell was great as a villain, though I found his reversal at the end cloying. It was flawed, but solidly entertaining. If you're a fan of the series, it's worth checking out. If you haven't seen any Community yet, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

"Chapter Two: The Lady in the Lake." "Chapter Three: The Little Sister." If you're already intrigued, then you'll probably like this movie the way I do.

If you're here, you probably realize that Erin and I are rather fond of Christmas, or at least Christmassy things. You've probably picked up that we both enjoy fantasy and science fiction. You may not know that I'm also a huge fan of noir. So a noir-themed dark comedy set at Christmas? Yes, please!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has a fairly amusing pedigree. It's known as the movie that restarted Robert Downey Jr's career. It's one of Shane Black's films, so like several others, it takes place at Christmas. The title comes from European slang description for James Bond movies. And as alluded to above, all the chapter titles within the movie come from Raymond Chandler. It’s either a noir-style mystery-thriller that is also really funny, or the kind of loving parody that fully embraces its subject. Or both, I’m not picky.

Is it any wonder that I really enjoy this movie? But let's actually get to the plot.

Harry Lockhart (RDJ) grew up to be a bit of a loser. When he ends up in LA under somewhat false pretenses, schmoozing at Hollywood parties, things are likely to go south. Add in his childhood dream girl Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), a private detective known as Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), a murder mystery, a lot of thugs and a tangled mess of secrets and we're really in for a ride.

Everyone in this film is broken. Harry's a big-mouthed asshole and a fraud, Harmony's both flighty and jaded, and Perry's basically a self-serving jerk. They're noir protagonists, though, which means they also try to stand up for what they believe in, when the chips are down they try to help each other, and the bad guys, while complicated, are much worse.

Did I mention there's narration? Robert Downey Jr's snarky, stylized narration is a big part of what sells the whole thing. And the holiday theme: it's mostly in the background decorations, however some of those decorations are people in ridiculous costumes at ritzy parties. A topless woman in a reindeer costume really enhances the surreal vision of Los Angeles where the movie takes place.

The movie's not perfect, there are a few sequences I find awkward or a little gross. For the most part, though, I highly recommend this one. (Maybe not back-to-back with The Long Kiss Goodnight, though, as a couple jokes are repeated.)