TV Episode Review: “Orphan Black” “Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion” (02.02)

Recently, I wrote a rambling little post about the death of the paranoid thriller. Until this week’s episode, I didn’t realize that I had completely forgotten a current example of a paranoid thriller in Orphan Black. I think the show has been headed down the path to being a paranoid thriller since the start, but this episode really clinched it.

The strongest defining aspects of the genre were always the solitariness of the hero and the paranoia that resulted from that solitariness. The hero always had everything she trusted or believed in stripped away, step by step–even when the hero retreated into her past life, friends and family would turn out to be either part or tools of the conspiracy. Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, USA 1975) killed off Condor’s unit, then isolated him from his home, then used an old friend as bait to lure him into a conspiratorial trap, so that in the end the only person he felt could trust was a total stranger he had found at random and ended up kidnapping. (It should be noted that he actually could trust one other person, but he did not know it.)

As we have watched, the same thing has been happening to Sarah Manning in this series–her support system is slowly being taken away, step by step. The only people she thinks she can trust now are Felix and Cosima, and I don’t think she’s entirely sold on Cosima. Her trust in Mrs. S, to the extent that she ever had it, was already gone as soon as she saw that picture back in season one, and Mrs. S turning against people who had turned on her wasn’t going to fix that. She knew that, and when her “old network” failed she finally understood what Sarah has been up against–quite seriously her against the world.

The big question that brings to mind is: What of Felix, the one trustworthy person Sarah has? Since he and Sarah were outside the Dyad’s influence for their childhood, there is logical reason to believe that he is safe, but paranoid thrillers don’t tend to let the trusted best friend stay trusted–that friend is either turned or eliminated one way or another. I suspect Felix has a bad end coming.

Of course, the big news last week was that Helena was back, and now she’s unsurprisingly getting better, back in the hands of the Proletheans, who seem to be undergoing some internal strife that ends with a hole in the head of the particularly luddite Prolethean who has been watching her for years.

Sarah has always really been our lead character, but this episode was the first time in a while that it really felt like Alison and Cosima were in separate, unrelated plot threads. Cosima is full of sarcastic zingers as she finally gets to her lab with Delphine–I’ve never loved her more–but is thrown for a loop when she finally meets Rachel Duncan and finds out that she is another clone. Alison has finally figured out that her husband is actually her monitor and seemingly gained a new friend in the “plus-sized” Sarah Stubbs, but she has no idea what to do about her newfound knowledge.

The title and the ending sequence highlight one of the show’s themes–the conflict between science and religion. As the paranoid thriller elements close in around Sarah, I suspect that this theme will become more central to the story than the themes of trust and alienation that have dominated early on this season.

Overall, I really liked this episode, particularly the last ten minutes or so. As much as I’ve enjoyed the show, I really feel like this is the first time I’ve had a really good handle on it–the way I felt about Breaking Bad for nearly its entire run.

Also be sure to check out our Polar Bear friend’s review again this week. He is definitely faster getting these up than I am.

Notes

  • I’m pretty sure Cosima’s dress is either awesome or absolutely hideous, but I’m not sure which.
  • That grin about Sarah having stolen Leekie’s pass was great.
  • I had missed Maria Doyle Kennedy. As incredible as Tatiana Maslany is, much of the other acting in this show is rather hit and miss, and she’s a hit.
  • Felix has sometimes careened between cartoon character territory and reality (Even in this episode, that painting scene was just silly.), but I think Jordan Gavaris has really stepped up his game this season.
  • They need to be careful about having Kira on screen much–Skyler Wexler is a typical kid actor, which is not praise.
  • “So, you’re gay?” “My sexuality is not the most interesting thing about me.” Cosima is just awesome.
  • “Aynsley wore a scarf in the kitchen!” I love that he doesn’t even bother to say, “She knew the risks!” and yet the point is so clear.

Update: I’ve added a poll about Cosima’s dress. I am only including the two options, because that’s way funnier than including more nuance for a poll this stupid.

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Movie Review: “Draft Day” (Ivan Reitman, USA 2014)

Ivan Reitman is still around 30 years after directing Ghostbusters (USA 1984). In that time, he has directed such other classics as . . . okay, so he’s directed nothing else that anyone should see.

When I first saw a trailer for Draft Day, I really did laugh out loud. I could not believe that someone was actually making this movie that seemed to be a movie about an NFL general manager on draft day and nothing else. Kevin Costner was making the media rounds talking about how his other sports movies were all actually love stories (Which is true of just about all sports movies.), but that didn’t make me feel like it was any more likely to be any good. I thought it might be the sort of laughably stupid, bad film that Trouble with the Curve (Robert Lorenz, USA 2012) was. That sort of horribleness is almost fun, because one can start laughing about all of the obvious beats coming and pure idiocy while cataloging the baseball mistakes. Having Kevin Costner around made it seem less likely to be fun, because his awfulness is so boring and wooden (even compared to Clint Eastwood, and that’s saying something), but I still planned to go watch it to laugh at it.

Then, a weird thing happened: the reviews that came back were, while not great, decent. Costner was getting his usual (and never deserved) praise and critics were discussing the film as a fascinating window into the world of the NFL. No one was even remarking on the borderline-absurd 17-year age difference between Costner and his love interest, which would seem ripe for jokes!

So, now I was going into the film expecting it to be a treacly little family-friendly affair like the mediocre-at-best Moneyball (Bennett Miller, USA 2011) that would similarly get praise for its star for doing nothing at all. It turns out that I was closer to right the first time in expecting the film to be an outright disaster.

The film is the story of a day in the life of Sonny Weaver, Jr., the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, as he makes a series of bizarre moves on the day of the NFL draft to build the team he wants to build while getting the coach and owner off his back. The owner wants Weaver to “make a splash.” The coach wants a running back. He pulls off a series of moves that manage to placate both while reshaping the team as he wants it. Meanwhile, he of course puts his shattered love life in order and makes his mother happy. I’m sure he did something kind to a puppy that we didn’t see, too.

This film defines the word pointless. It’s a film about a guy who supposedly just needs to trust himself but then undermines that point entirely by using a folded piece of yellow paper as a plot point that turns out to say who he wants to and does eventually draft. Clearly he already did trust himself or he wouldn’t have written the note. So, instead it’s really just a story about how Sonny Weaver Jr. is the smartest GM in football . . . proving that a fictional character is the smartest person in a fictional world is not a point strong enough to carry a movie. And that’s where it starts to fall apart.

Then, the story that the film tells is absolutely silly–it’s just a series of football trades to end up trading three second-round picks for the first overall draft pick and taking a guy who apparently might not even go in the first round otherwise. Meanwhile, he’s trying to put together the shattered remnants of a relationship with the team capologist, who is apparently pregnant with his child. Of course, there is never any explanation of how or why their relationship is broken and apparently all he has to do to fix it is want it to be fixed, because he’s Costner the Almighty.

And the film can’t even stay on point with the stories it is telling, because it’s so excited to show us the amazing cameos by Jim Brown, Ray Lewis, Chris Berman, Mel Kiper Jr., and others, many of which are shoehorned into the film with no concern about how they fit the overall story. (“When did you get drafted, Ray?” . . . I nearly left the theater at that.)

As if to add insult to injury, the acting in the film is a mess. Kevin Costner is one of the worst actors in the world, and he doesn’t redeem himself here even though the part is quite simple. The moments in the film that count on him, like his statement to the Seahawks about how he wants their punt returner just because he feels like it, fall flat because of his woodenness. Mercifully, the film mostly has Weaver keep his feelings to himself, which keeps Costner’s weaknesses from being on display too often. Meanwhile, Chadwick Boseman plays a talkative, arrogant linebacker whose character is such an extreme example of every stereotype of african-american athletes that it’s at best borderline offensive, and he plays those stereotypes to the hilt, overacting to the point of being painful. Jennifer Garner and Griffin Newman share comic relief duty, and neither gets the opportunity to to do much else. Denis Leary is also way over-the-top as a neanderthal coach who is apparently based on Barry Switzer, but that’s reasonably appropriate for the role.

Visually, the film was a much bigger effects-fest than it should have been. There was no reason to make such constant use of split-screens and CGI for this film, but that doesn’t stop Reitman and cinematographer Eric Steelberg–they turn the entire film into a bad television segment, and it is not a welcome development.

Draft Day is an abomination. I know I’ve said that a few times lately, but this might really be the film that takes the cake.

Football Minutiae

  • Denver won’t take Bo because they have an “all-pro” QB even though they’re picking fifth in the draft. There are apparently four teams in the top five who don’t need QBs at all. I guess that’s not impossible, but it sure is weird.
  • The $100 bill story is presumably based on an old story (whether true or not) about Randall Cunningham. Supposedly, one of his coaches stuck a $100 bill halfway through Cunningham’s Eagles playbook when he checked it out. When it came back, the $100 bill was still in it.
  • The Seahawks drew boos from the crowd in the theater. That’s what happens in Colorado.
  • A running back is never worth the seventh overall pick. Perhaps in 1960, but not in modern times.
  • One of the many Cleveland Browns to appear as himself is T.J. Ward, who now plays for the Denver Broncos. Another, Alex Mack, came very close to leaving town for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Funny.
  • Obviously, the entire selection process shown is ridiculous. They didn’t notice that Vontae got kicked out of that game before? They didn’t bother to research the top QB in the draft because he wouldn’t be there for their pick? There was no consideration of cap ramifications until after trades? I’m not really upset at those, because they’re adjustments made to reality for dramatic reasons.

Thoughts on the Previews: April 26, 2014

The Draft Day (Ivan Reitman, USA 2014) review will go up sometime tonight/tomorrow morning and Orphan Black will hopefully be up mid-day sometime tomorrow. Since the last “Thoughts on the Previews” post was surprisingly popular, I thought I should write one again.

Commercials

  • The “trivia” is way, way, way too easy in movie theaters, because it’s really just advertising for recent releases.
  • Same M & M commercial as last time . . . still rather funny.
  • The Coca-Cola commercials are horrendous. Who cares about the stupid Coca-Cola Polar Bears? I didn’t even know they were still around or were a national campaign–I thought they were a Colorado thing because of the polar bears at the Denver Zoo!

Million Dollar Arm (Craig Gillespie, USA 2014)

  • I can’t be the only one who felt like this movie made perfect sense as soon as it said it was by Disney–it’s the sort of treacly schlock only Disney trades in.
  • Jon Hamm is one of the more overrated actors in the world (Seriously, Don Draper is not a difficult role.), but that seems like a part tailor-made for him.
  • Is Alan Arkin in every movie now? And always playing the exact same role?
  • Is it supposed to be impressive that someone threw 87 mph? I don’t know how hot the radar guns I’ve thrown in front of before are, but I could get into the mid-80s, and I’m about the most unathletic person on the planet.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth MacFarlane, USA 2014)

  • Seth MacFarlane makes nothing but crap. I was so excited about Cosmos and I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson but it’s nothing but a dumbed-down showcase for MacFarlane’s animation skills. I know he’s the rare celebrity skeptic, but I still wish he would go away.
  • Nothing looked at all amusing about this film.

Hercules (Brett Ratner, USA 2014)

  • This looks like the worst movie ever made. It’s all CGI. And it’s not even good CGI. Ratner doesn’t have a good track record. (It’s not good when your best film is Red Dragon [USA/Germany 2002].) Dwayne Johnson doesn’t have a good track record and he seems to be attempting to set some sort of record for overacting in the trailer. The story of Hercules is really long for a movie. Wow. We may all lose a standard deviation of IQ from being alive while this is released.

Get On Up (Tate Taylor, USA 2014)

  • Apparently Chadwick Boseman got the memo that playing a musician is one of the best paths to winning an Oscar if you just do a decent job. Just ask Jamie Foxx. Playing an athlete does not have the same success rate, even when you do a phenomenal job. Just ask Anthony Perkins.
  • Is Chadwick Boseman also in every movie? He and Alan Arkin should start a club.
  • It must be acknowledged: Chadwick Boseman is a unique and cool name that is fun to say or type.

Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, USA/Japan 2014)

  • A very different trailer than I saw before, and much more effective.
  • It’s still stupid to set Godzilla in the US–it shows a complete lack of understanding of the symbolism.
  • Elizabeth Olsen was a revelation in the utterly brilliant Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, USA 2011). Now she’s doing Godzilla and Captain America. *Sigh* I remember when she was a real actor . . .