Just Finished Dexter Season 4 (2009)

dexter season 4 Never let it be said that I abandon a show I enjoy. I reserve that kind of treatment for programs that turn a corner I just can’t abide (Weeds and Desperate Housewives, I’m looking at you). Still, it’s been quite a while since I’ve watched a season of Dexter. Way back in 2009 I reviewed the first and second seasons of this Showtime series about a serial killer who only kills killers. At some point I also watched the third, but apparently didn’t write about it. I’d been thinking about catching up, especially since the series is over now, and then it appeared on Netflix Instant!

I was pretty jazzed and started burning through the season, but slowed way down as I got closer and closer to the finale because, at that point, it was the last one on Instant and because the end of an episode of Entertainment Tonight or something spoiled the surprise death at the end of the season back in 2009. Not wanting to stop on such a crazy, sad cliffhanger, I held back. Then Netflix shifted a bunch of things around in the beginning of the year and I found myself able to watch all eight seasons. It seemed like the perfect time to get back on that horse!

Because it’s been a while since I actually started watching this season, I almost forgot about how funny that first episode is. Dexter’s a dad now and lives with his wife Rita and her two kids which totally puts a damper that whole sneaking around and murdering bad guys thing he’s into. Obviously, that’s a crazy thing to relate to, but I think all parents have a thing they wish they could devote more of themselves to while struggling to deal with the normal problems of their day.

In addition to being funny, though, this season was super intense. This time around Dexter found himself tracking Trinity, a killer with a very specific cycle of murders he’s been committing all over the country for decades. As it turns out, season two guest star Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) has been hunting this killer for a while, which brings him back into everyone’s lives, especially Deb who falls for him all over again.

But, things don’t work out so well for them and soon enough we find out that John Lithgow is Trinity. How great was the casting on this part? For a whole generation of people, Lithgow is just the silly dad from Third Rock From The Sun. So, seeing him as this wildly complicated, emotionally devastated human being who seemingly keeps it together enough to lead a relatively normal life — wife, two kids, job, charity participation — but really has this insane monster living inside of him. Oh man, and everything that happened with the reporter Christine? Man, that was bonkers.

Speaking of Lithgow’s greatness, I was surprised by a lot of the guest appearances big and small in this season. I recently wrote about how huge of an Arrow fan I am, so seeing David Ramsey was a nice surprise. It’s been so long since I watched season three, I completely forgot about his character altogether. I also must have looked up Christine actress Courtney Ford a half dozen times because I knew she looked familiar, but could not remember why. She appeared on one episode of How I Met Your Mother and also spent some time on Parntehood. She’s strangely transfixing. And finally, Jake Short from Disney’s A.N.T. Farm played a potential Trinity victim towards the end of the season. That’s one of the Disney shows I kind of hate, but I thought he did a great job.

One of the biggest thematic questions this season, one that Dexter struggled with by way of his talks with his dad Harry, was how similar he is to Trinity. Both have families, but as Dexter learned, Trinity doesn’t actually treat them very well. What Dexter learns by comparison to someone so like himself is that he actually does love his family. He wants to be a good dad and does care about his kids, though it might be a bit twisted around in his also-damaged brain.

All of this comes to a head in the last few episodes when Dexter finally gets Trinity to crack and basically unleashes the wild dog inside. Dexter doesn’t exactly handle himself with the kind of rigid formality that Harry taught him and, guess what, the poo really hits the fan. Not only does Trinity figure out who Dexter really is, but his attempt to frame a guy for the Trinity murders falls apart, putting the cops back on the case. With so many groups and people hunting each other, you just know someone has to get hurt and that’s exactly what happened. I won’t spoil the victim here, because I don’t want to continue the cycle, but it was a biggie.

Actually, I will get into SPOILERS, but only for this paragraph and because it’s kind of a funny story. So the big bit of craziness at the end of the season is that Trinity actually murdered Dexter’s wife Rita before Dexter dispatched him. I actually started thinking that the big spoiler I knew — that Rita was going to die — might happen at the end of the fifth season and that I had put all this extra dread on this season myself. I mean, there was five minutes left and she went on vacation, right? Wrong! Bam, they got me even though I knew what was gonna happen. Well played show, well played.

Dexter offered yet another emotional roller coaster of a season that I strapped in for and really enjoyed. Plus, the writers really set things up for the show to hit a lot of different points in the coming seasons. I’m guessing everything moving forward will be about family, Dexter experiencing his from a different angle and Deb trying to figure out if something’s wrong with her brother. For me, the beauty moving forward is that I don’t know ANYTHING about what happens in the next four seasons, so it’s all spoiler-free from here! Unless you spoil something in the comments, which would not be cool. Don’t be jerks, gang!

The Chronological Spielberg: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

twilight zone the movie

I have a few distinct memories of Twilight Zone: The Movie. When I was a kid, I have a very clear memory of watching the beginning of this movie with my dad, who does not like scary movies by the way, and being completely freaked out by that Dan Akyroyd bit in the beginning between him and Albert Brooks. That was well before I got into horror movies myself and I must say it stuck with me.

The other memory is that it’s not very good. My memory didn’t go much further beyond that, but I think it had something to do with the fact that, aside from the initial segment by John Landis, the movie didn’t do too much in the way of newness. But upon watching the full thing again recently in my attempt to go through all of Steven Spielberg’s major film efforts, I didn’t have that same problem.

In fact, the only segment of the film — four parts each directed by Landis, Spielberg, Joe Dante (who I recently realized I’m a huge fan of) and George Miller of Mad Max fame — that I didn’t like is the one by Spielberg which was pretty disappointing.

Called “Kick The Can,” the second part of the film finds The Shining‘s Scatman Crothers playing Mr. Bloom, a recent addition to a nursing home who riles up all the other old folks with talk of youth. That night, they all go out to play and actually become young again. I’m not nearly as familiar with this episode from the original TV series — which I absolutely love watching in marathon mode every New Year’s — but I can’t imagine that one is as schmaltzy and sappy as this one. Spielberg just goes overboard with the cutesy stuff and winds up undercutting his own fairly poignant story about not wanting to lose yourself to age. It’s too bad considering the other filmmakers created much more balanced offerings and Spielberg had just nailed well crafted, earned sentimentality with E.T. the year before.

Since I’m probably not going to circle round back to this movie for a while, I might as well review the other three segments. Landis’ piece about a bigot who winds up surviving violent encounters while looking like the various groups he hates was a really solid piece of craftsmanship unfortunately tainted by the real life tragedy that went on while filming. Still, I thought the whole film should have been more in line with this part which deftly recreated the feel of the old series while telling an all new story.

Dante did a lot with his part, “It’s A Good Life” about a little boy with intense reality warping powers who brings a traveling teacher into his incredibly strange house. He does a great job of slowly revealing what’s going on and also lacing the entire thing with cartoons to not only explain what’s going on without smashing you over the head with it, but then become much more a part of the proceedings as the segment progresses (poor Cousin Ethel). There’s something awesomely grotesque about how the toons look when they come into the real world. Since we’re inundated with cartoons, it makes all the more sense that some of the house’s hallways and rooms look like they’re straight out of Tom and Jerry or one of the Warners cartoons seen in the film. Actually, the set design of this movie reminded me quite a bit of what Dante did once the kid went in the deep, dark pit in The Hole.

This segment is also the one I want more of after it’s over. All four portions feel like complete short stories, but there’s clearly a lot more going on here that could be explored more fully in a longer form story. Plus, damn that kid and the mutant bunny are creep-city. Oh and it’s pretty crazy seeing Nancy Cartwright as Cousin Ethel because you can hear her Bart Simpson voice even back then.

Finally you’ve got Miller’s take on “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet” starring John Lithgow in the William Shatner role. Of all three recreated episodes, this is the original I’ve seen the most. This is the one where an airplane passenger is convinced that a gremlin is on the wing of the place tearing it apart. Everyone around him thinks he’s nuts, but, being the Twilight Zone, we know that’s not what’s up. The key to this one is Lithgow’s excellent performance as the flier who starts off already terrified and then skyrockets into anxiety when he starts seeing things that shouldn’t be there. Since he nails it, the whole thing comes off as a more intense journey than you might expect. Of course, it helps that the gremlin looks a lot better than a dude in a carpet suit.

Oddly, as far as anthology films go, I’d give this one a thumb’s up, something I rarely do. Overall the quality’s solid, with great storytelling, acting and direction. As a Spielberg offering, though, it leaves much to be desired. With Twilight Zone out of the way, I’m moving on to Temple Of Doom, which I love, and then a few episodes of Amazing Stories that I believe are on Netflix Instant. After that I’m getting into some pretty new territory with his more dramatic efforts of the 80s and 90s starting with The Color Purple and Empire Of The Sun. I’m hoping to stay a bit more up to date on these posts. Looking back I only did two all year, this being the second. Hopefully I can at least get up to Purple by year’s end, but it would probably be foolish to make any promises.

Great Apes: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)

Planet Of The Apes is a franchise that I absolutely love, but haven’t talked about much here on the blog. I don’t think there’s any question that the original film is a classic worth celebrating, but what really hooked me about the franchise was the strange and wonderful continuity that flows through the first five films. You’ve got astronauts traveling forward in time, more coming after them, a nuclear bomb going off, apes traveling back to the original time period and having a baby who eventually leads the ape uprising. It might be a bit confusing to some, but I started learning about it at the height of my interest in comics which was heavily based on the history within the stories I was learning about.

So, when I heard that a new Apes film was being worked on that wasn’t really in the continuity, I wasn’t super interested. But, as time went on, the cast formed and I heard lots of liking the film, I figured I’d give it a shot. There’s a time when this movie’s lack of continuity with the others would have really bothered me, but I think I’m past that part of my fandom. Now, I can easily appreciate a story spinning off of another story I like especially if it’s as well done as Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

The movie follows James Franco, a scientist working on an Alzheimer’s cure that’s being tested on apes. It turns out the drug is also making them smarter, but when one of them flips out and starts attacking people, they’re all put down. One of the babies, Caesar, gets spared, however, and Franco decides to raise him in his house. He also tests the drug on his dad (John Lithgow). Everything goes well for a while until Caesar flips out (apes do that, it’s why they make bad pets) and gets sent to an ape house run by Brian Cox and Tom Felton (Malfoy from the Potter films, that dude always plays someone awful). While there, Caesar learns some of the harder truths about the world and winds up first dosing his fellow apes and then leading a revolution to free them as well as apes in the zoos and labs.

It’s a great story, but most importantly it was handled really well. Director Rupert Wyatt really allowed for the special effects to do their work, and they did a lot of good work in this film, though I’ll get more into that in a bit. Whole scenes work out between Caesar and the other animals where not a word is said. There’s a clever use of sign language between him (Franco taught it to him) and an orangutan who used to be in a circus, but even that isn’t overly used. It might sound strange, but the digital apes really get a chance to show what they can do and they do very intense, emotional work.

On the subject of the effects, I kept thinking about one of Penn Jillette’s Penn Point podcasts from last year where he quickly spotlighted this movie, saying that he liked how the digital apes actually looked a little cartoony and unreal. I didn’t really get what he meant until I saw the movie, but I think he’s right on with his assessment. The apes are clearly digital, but not in a bad or sloppy way. They’re very well done and could have probably been made more realistic, but I think it’s good for them to be a bit cartoony because it lets your brain relax on that subject for a bit. You’re not constantly trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not (even if that’s an unconscious struggle), which allows you to enjoy the film more and get further into its reality.

Finally, I dug how the film ended. The apes get what they want, but there’s obviously a lot more story to be told both because humans aren’t going to just give up any of their territory like that AND because of the cool credit presentation of the spread of the human disease caused by unneeded exposure to the drug Franco helped create. For a film I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to see, being excited about a potential sequel is a pretty big deal. Can’t wait to see where they go with this franchise next!

Quick Movie Review: Footloose (1984)

It’s very rare that the missus and I can decide on a movie from the instant queue to watch. It’s not that our general movie tastes are so wildly different, but that the queue is full of movies I chose, mostly horror and action movies. Well recently Footloose became available for instant watching and I added it because I had never seen it. As it turned out, neither had she, so we watched it last night while a perfectly good, brand new episode of SNL was on with Jon Hamm. Ah well, we both really enjoyed the movie, so it was worth it.

I’m sure everyone already knows the plot: Kevin Bacon moves into a small town where dancing has been outlawed thanks in part to Jon Lithgow’s Reverend Moore whose daughter is kind of a slutbag. As you might expect, Bacon falls for her and has to deal with small-minded country folk while also making some friends in the form of a young and thing Chris Penn. I was surprised with how emotionally invested I got in the movie. It’s clearly meant to play on every young person’s sense of helplessness at the hands of adult overlords, but then flips the script and gives them power to do something as simple as dancing. I’ve also got to give it to Lithgow for playing his role very evenly, not making his character too one-sided. You can understand why a man would try and outlaw the thing that contributed to the death of his son, but he at least listens to Bacon and reason and, of course, the movie ends with a dance (and a very cathartic fight right before that). The script by Dean Pitchford was written very well, leaving room where it was necessary to and creating some wonderful characters and director Herbet Ross directs the whole thing very masterfully, getting very real performances from a cast that could have easily veered into campiness. And, of course, you can’t talk about Footloose without talking about the awesome theme song played by Kenny Loggins, the master of 80s movie theme songs. I was actually dancing around the room after the movie finished, playing the song on my iTunes (I bought his greatest hits last year and it was worth every penny). The alcohol may have contributed to all that, but I’m pretty sure I’d be dancing even if hooch wasn’t involved.