By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Bad Words
| Directed by Jason Bateman | Rated R

20-bad-wordsMuch like many, many actors before him, Jason Bateman has decided that he, too, wants to be a director.

To be fair, though, Bateman has been understudying as a TV director for several years. But, with this week’s Bad Words, he finally steps up to the bat and makes his first film as a helmer. How does he fare, though, in the job that has made and broken several actors in the past? Pretty good, I must say. At least, so far.

In addition to directing, Bateman also stars as Guy Trilby, an eighth-grade dropout who, at age 40, has decided to enter the National Spelling Bee with an aim to win thanks to a loophole in their eligibility. Taking down kids left and right, he makes his way to the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee aided by reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), his sponsor who, much like everyone else, is trying to figure out just why the hell he is doing this in the first place.

Along the way, he also, begrudgingly, becomes friends with 10-year-old fellow contestant Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), which ends up, mildly, muddling up his plans.

What I truly appreciate about Bad Words is that they make Guy much more than your average asshole. He’s clearly smart, as the film heavily implies that he is an actual genius, or at least well near it, and uses his asshole-ness to its advantage, even if that hurts everyone and anyone else along the way.

But, more than anything, I like that Bateman has finally been able to push himself away from playing Michael Bluth, for once. He really needed a role like this in his career. Thankfully, not only is he up for the task, but he puts in one of his strongest performances to date. What makes his character so appealing is that there is constantly an air of mystery about him, which Bateman successfully adds both behind and in front of the camera and screenwriter Andrew Dodge draws out on the page.

Although Bad Words is constantly funny, it is never truly hilarious, which is something that ultimately hurts it from being a full-out good movie. It has all the elements to get there. Yet it, for some reason, never quite pulls itself together to be anything more than just a pretty good comedy. One that, if it was on HBO or at Redbox, you’d certainly enjoy, but would be hard pressed to remember in the next couple days.

I feel that this is mainly due to Dodge and his inability to stretch the script beyond the stereotypical conventions of this R-rated comedy genre, especially in its third act.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: Dodge has certainly written a good script, and one that is rather clever and likes to pack a punch when necessary. And yet, it also seems to lack the confidence—even though it is more than willing to be as foul-mouthed as possible—to truly push the comedy over the edge into being a full-on black comedy, perhaps in fear that its main character will become too unlikable. A worthy concern, to be sure, and, in the long run, perhaps is in everyone’s best interest. After all, at times, it’s best to play it safe rather than run the risk of making your main character a completely unlikable prick.

There are certainly moments, though, where it starts to go into this territory and, as a result, usually produces some of the movie’s best jokes. One in particular, involving ketchup at the tournament, strikes this balance of mean-spirited foul play and funny shenanigans quite well. Yet, for about the other three-fourths of the movie, it never truly crosses that line that would essentially make it a truly good, mean spirited R-rated comedy.

If, when watching any commercials or trailer for this movie or even just reading the title, you were reminded of 2003’s Bad Santa, you would not be mistaken. Although I have not heard either Dodge or Bateman confirm it in any interviews, it appears that that movie’s foul-minded mentality was a heavily influence on not just the protagonist, if you will, of this movie, but its general story thread as well.

Now, this is not to say that it completely ripped off that movie, because it didn’t, but the comparisons can’t help but bring the movie down a couple notches. Especially since that movie is over a decade old now. Nevertheless, though, Bad Words is still able to create enough spunk and wit around its curiosity in its main character to make this could-have-been one-joke movie work.

As a director, my feelings towards Jason’s work fall in line with what A.A. Dowd wrote in his review of the film for The A.V. Club: it’s “competent but without much flair.” While I would argue that Bateman does have a little more flair than Dowd gives him credit for—his decision to immerse the film in a greenish, yellow-brown color grading, as well as several slow-mo, fast-mo sequences (no, not like the ones in 300 or 300: Rise of an Empire) throughout that are actually pretty well done and nowhere near as annoying as they could have been, represent a filmmaker that has a little more in mind, stylistically, than your average actor-turn-director—he, generally, seems to direct the movie in a typical, if not particularly exciting, manner.

Bateman certainly has a strong sense of pacing, as the movie knows how to get in and get out in a brisk 89 minutes, as well as how to keep the movie’s mean-spirited mentality in balance, but never overboard. But, at least when it comes to camera staging and use of actors, he doesn’t do anything quite outstanding, just, as Dowd said, competent. Which is fine, I will never knock anyone for being competent, but I feel that, in the years to come, Bateman will only grow as a filmmaker.

While only sporadically funny, and not quite as clever and witty as it thinks or hopes to be, Bad Words is still a pretty good little comedy that shows, hopefully, good things to come from Bateman, both behind and in front of the camera. Now, so long as he doesn’t keep milking this Michael Bluth thing, we’re all cool.

Although, looking at his IMDB page, I am reminded that he has Horrible Bosses 2 coming out in the near future…oh well.

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
Captain America: The Winter Solider
| Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo | Rated PG-13
RATING: 3.5/5

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-PosterWith less than ten films as their own company under their belt, Marvel has found a way to master the art of disposable superhero filmmaking.

With Disney’s purchase of the company, they, like all things, have been able to produce their films not just a means of making films, but rather as a way to sell, sell, sell. They get in, market the hell out of their movie, make a solid buck, then move on to the next film. They have a movie or two planned out for the next ten or so years, literally, and this is the best and worst thing that could possibly happen here.

Now, I don’t want to go on a rant here, but Marvel movies are starting to lose their soul a bit. Even The Avengers had a whiff of emptiness in it, saved mostly by Joss Whedon’s whip smart writing and the cast’s great chemistry.

I’m not going to go around moping about the state of the Marvel movies for this whole review—because, essentially, I did that already in my Thor: The Dark World review and my upcoming (hopefully) published column in one of this week’s Post papers—but I will thankfully say this: Captain America: The Winter Solider, the latest marketing gig by Marvel Studios, is their best in the Phase Two sequence. But it’s not quite a great film.

Concluding his adventures with the Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is finally starting to get adjusted to life in the 21st century. Or, at least, he’s trying. But he doesn’t get too much time to do so, as he gets wind of a group of people trying to take over the S.H.I.E.L.D. industry and possess its immerse power for their own personal use. Now, as he tries to stop it, Cap gets made to look like the villain, and everything, including his life and the lives of those he cares about, are put in jeopardy.

What helps save Captain America: The Winter Solider from falling into the depths of average that were the last two Marvel movies is its attention to character. Thankfully, this movie understands Rogers, and wishes to explore who he is a human being. Not just a man in a goofy mask running around throwing a shield. It layers him out, exploring an emotional side that deserves to be told and therefore draws a stronger emotional impact to him than we have developed for any Avenger, save for Tony Stark. The quieter, more character-driven moments are where the movie excels.

Oddly enough, for a movie so jam packed with action, the scenes centered on two characters talking are much more interesting and well done than any scenes involving fisticuffs. It’s weird that, for a blockbuster like this, the scenes where the movie is at its weakest are when they involve explosions and punching and general violence. While some scenes are pretty well done—there’s an impressive shot of Rogers fighting a group of guys on a boat early one, as well as a fist fight between the title characters three quarters into the motion picture—a lot of these scenes suffer from over-use of shaky cam, and a lack of knowledge as to how to shoot close action.

It’s no surprise that this movie is shot by the same man who was the DP of last summer’s Elysium—Trent Opaloch—because both movies seem to have the same problems. They are good at shooting action from a distance, but when it involves characters up close and personal, it seems to be at a lost. The camera shaking, along with the over-use of quick edits, is not only jarring, but near headache inducing trying to get a hold of what’s going on. Where Elysium only had one of these scenes, though, The Winter Solider has about five to seven.

One of the highlights of the film is a supporting performance by none other than Robert Redford. Without getting too deep into the plot, I will say that his character is perhaps the most fascinating of the new players introduced in this game, and he doesn’t get nearly enough scenes to scorn and skillfully play along with the film’s antics.

Also, one of the best aspects of this movie is that it finally gives Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) their due. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is not their movie in any stretch of the imagination. But, for once, they are actually able to expand their characters and, especially for the later, they are given lines that are not just exposition. Although Black Widow has had a couple scenes of character in both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, this is the movie that really uses her the best thus far.

Decidedly, as the Star-Spangled Avenger, this is Evans’ best performance to date behind the shield and cap. Granted, it’s mainly because this is the most weight he has had to pull thus far. But he does it in stride, and helps drive home the script’s attempts of establishing an emotional core.

Not to knock on the script, though, because this is genuinely one of the best they have had in some time. I have a hard time believing that these are the same guys that wrote Thor: The Dark World and Pain & Gain, because Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely have put together one of Marvel’s most sophisticated scripts to date. True, the film does fall back on traditional story troupes whenever it gets the opportunity, but the banter is a lot wittier this time around (I wonder if directors Anthony and Joe Russo helped out here) and the general sense of story structure is a lot more tight and clear.

Plus, it’s not afraid to get its hands dirty at times with a little bit of grit, even if it starts to chicken out towards the end.

Speaking of grit, the Russos are mainly responsible for bring this sense of character to the film. Given their background—excluding You, Me and Dupree—they have generally gathered a strong understanding of character development and use of team building, especially in their work on TV for shows like Community and Arrested Development, and help make this a much more personal film than most of the other Marvel features to date.

While they are good in the character department, though, they lack the understanding to make strong hand-to-hand combat scenes. Generally, much like The Avengers and Iron Man 3, whenever they are showing action for a distance, they do a respectable job. But, when things are shown up close and personal, they rely too much on shaky cam and over editing. It’s not only distracting, but it runs the action, especially considering that the fight choreography in this movie is actually quite good overall, especially in an opening sequence on a boat.

Additionally, while not a bad villain, the title villain doesn’t quite ever get the time to shine. He certainly has some badass moments, but, save for these, he doesn’t really get enough of a back story for us to care that much about him, or really enough screen time to make us invested. As much as people like to hate on the D.C. movies of late, at least they know how to make a strong villain. I felt much more of a threat from Zod in Man of Steel than I ever did for the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 or whoever the hell the villains were in Thor: The Dark World besides Loki or even here. I’m just saying.

Also, just another random side note, the make-up in this movie, especially with one particular scene in mind, is actually really good—much like in the first Captain America movie. I will give Marvel that, they have a knack for finding good make up artists. Though, I suppose when you are buddy-buddy with Disney, they are able to help their kin.

Overall, Captain America: The Winter Solider may not be the great superhero movie that some are making it out to be on social media websites, but it is still a damn fine superhero movie that shows promise for the Marvel franchise to move beyond fast-food filmmaking. Hopefully, they keep on this track and continue to make quality movies with a little more thought put into the characters and their motivations, because this is definitely the strongest one in the “phase two” sequence.

At least, until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out. Hopefully.

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox
Rating: 3.5/ 5

new new yorkGlee is finally out of McKinley and it has drastically improved because of it. This was the best regular episode of the season yet, meaning it was the least nonsensical so far. Off topic, but the episode is called “New New York” and I can’t help but wonder if that’s a Doctor Who reference.

It’s been a few months since graduation, and Rachel (Lea Michele) has done an out-of-town run of Funny Girl and now has her own town car to chauffeur her around as she pleases. Naturally, she starts singing “Downtown” and is joined by all her fellow ex-glee club members as they walk around — you guessed it — downtown New York City.

I loved Lea Michele in tonight’s episode. She really nails playing the diva and has started to make me like Rachel again. Kudos.

Artie (Kevin McHale) does a voice over about how much he loves the Big Apple, until someone steals his backpack right off his wheelchair in the subway. Now, he’s afraid to go back to that treacherous place. I’m not kidding. This is his storyline. If this is a reflection of what the rest of his time spent in New York is like, then I think we should cut the cord now.

Surprisingly, his and Rachel’s storylines are somewhat intertwined. Rachel tells him he just needs to get right back on the subway because being a “real New Yorker” means getting over scary things like that. Artie then yells that she’s not even a real New Yorker because she spent all of a few weeks actually walking around the city before she became the glam diva standing before everyone today. She wants to be authentic so she ditches the town car and promises to take the subway with Artie everyday. Just as natural as the first song, the duo sings “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” as interpretive dancers fill the subway car and station. One, this song isn’t actually about the subway, but nice try. Two, YOU CANNOT DANCE THAT CLOSE TO THE TRACKS. So many accidents could have happened.

One day, they see the mugger on the train, and Artie pepper sprays him and gets his backpack back. Holy unnecessary storylines Batman!

boxersBlaine (Darren Criss) is just still so happy to be living with Kurt (Chris Colfer), even though it’s been a few months now, so they sing “You Make Me Feel So Young” during their morning routine, which I guess always consists of a pillow fight because reasons. Hey, if it means I get to see Criss in his boxers for three minutes; I’ll take it.

However, not everyone is feeling the love as Kurt thinks Blaine is suffocating him. Blaine is in all his classes; they live together and essentially do everything together. He talks with Elliott (Adam Lambert) who reassures him that his relationship is worth fighting for, “but don’t forget to practice with your band.” Cue their performance of “Rockstar.” Transitions matter, people. At least attempt to write them.

Kurt eventually freaks and yells at Blaine, who ends up going over to Elliott’s to tell him to back off his man. Elliott reassures him he doesn’t think of Kurt in that way — even though we know something is going to happen — and the two have a brief acoustic jam session. Sure, why not.

Klaine decide they need to live in separate spaces in order to save their relationship.  “We don’t need this pressure,” Kurt says. Excuse me, you are ENGAGED. If you can’t live together, then how are you going to spend the rest of your lives together? Once again, the show has proved how teenagers are way too young to consider marriage.

I am glad things aren’t just peachy keen for these two. Feeling suffocated by your partner is a very real concept and the show hasn’t really ever dealt with that. I think they did make an important note in saying that Blaine’s moving out wasn’t a step back in the relationship, it was just to let the two be their own people. People in relationships still need independence; otherwise, it becomes a very unhealthy partnership. For once, ya done good Glee.

samSam (Chord Overstreet) laments about his lack of job prospects and just sulks around the apartment all day. Obviously, the best way to cheer him up is to sing “Best Day of My Life” in Times Square. Now, he has the motivation to finally cut his hair — thank goodness! — and gets a gig modeling for some sort of brief that lifts men’s buttocks. Thank you for finally making Chord Overstreet attractive once again. That long hair don’t care look was really unappealing.

He moves into a complex where other models live but has to move out when they start talking about pills and unhealthy habits. Good for you, sir.

They’re all hanging in the apartment when Mercedes (Amber Riley) comes in and announces she’s moving to New York. Sure, why not. Because none of them have any other friends, Blaine and Sam move into Mercedes’ spare room. But that Samcedes spark is gone as Mercedes boldly turns Sam down.

I am thrilled Riley is back, for what I think is for good. Sam and Artie are really disinteresting characters, but Mercedes has always been great. She’ll definitely help a season that would otherwise really be quite dull without her.

And we end the episode with Rachel singing “People.” There are a lot of things I don’t like about Glee, but give me Lea Michele singing any Barbra Streisand song, and I’ll allow it. This was a perfect cover.

I may have sounded snarky throughout this review but compare this episode to the last ten episodes of season five and tell me it’s not the best of those episodes. It is. Lea Michele is spectacular all throughout the episode. I’m really glad Mercedes is back; I’ve really missed her! Sam finally cut that awful ponytail off, and I got to see Darren Criss in his boxers for a solid three minutes.

Is there really anything more I could ask from a show that has been disappointing since its season premiere? Here’s hoping this up-streak continues. As much as I love to hate the show, I continue watching because I’m waiting for that magical moment when it becomes good again. Season one was amazing, and it had me obsessed. I want to be that invested in the show again. Let’s hope the new setting will open up the creative minds of the show.

Fingers crossed.

What did you think of the first New York-only episode? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
The series finale of How I Met Your Mother aired Monday, March 31 on CBS
Rating: 3/5

himym finaleI’m not sure any of what I type will be actual, concise thoughts. Currently, I’m sitting at my desk still shaking from the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, titled “Last Forever.” Let me tell you that I have never cried because of a film or TV show — except for Airbud when I was little but that doesn’t count because how could you not? — but I cried during this finale. It wasn’t some “Omg I’m so sad right now” tearful eyes; it was straight up, full-blown tears running down my face. There were happy moments, devastating ones, scenes that killed me and ones that enraged me. It was a good episode overall in a way, but I’m not entirely happy with the ending of How I Met Your Mother.

I’m happy they showed as much of the gang’s timelines as they did. Before the episode, I was nervous I wouldn’t get to see too far into their future and that I would only see the wedding party and then the moment Ted (Josh Radnor) finally met The Mother (Cristion Milioti). Thankfully, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas gave us much more. Some moments made me laugh but most of them made me sad. After nine seasons of mostly laughing, I would have bet a lot of money on this finale being much happier than it was. The only upbeat moments were throwbacks to old gags, Marshall’s (Jason Segel) white-hot puns, and some of the happy moments we already knew about. The majority of this episode was stuck in the doldrums. Previous flashbacks in “Rally” proved to show us much more joyous moments of the gang’s future than this episode did.

Let’s look at this in timeline form:

Present: Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) tries to have one last “Haaaaaaaavvve you met Ted?” to pair him with The Mother, but Ted insists he has to leave for Chicago. The gang says goodbye with one last “Major” joke, an E.T.-esque goodbye and a high infinity. It’s not hard to see that Lily’s tears are really just Alyson Hannigan not being able to keep it together as they all shot their last scenes.

2015: Ted proposed at the top of the lighthouse in “The Lighthouse,” and now he and the Mother are planning their wedding. Except, the Mother says it will have to wait because she’s pregnant and at least wants to fit into her dress when they get married.

May 2016: At Ted’s home in the suburbs, Marshall discusses how much he hates being a corporate lawyer. Oh, and Barney and Robin (Cobie Smulders) get divorced in Argentina — shortly after the scene we saw in “Rally” when the two woke up with a baby. Both say they wanted it, but Lily makes them all promise to at least be together for “the big moments.”

While I wanted Barney and Robin to get married, I honestly never saw them lasting. Harris and Smulders can have as much chemistry as they want, but I just never believed these two were actually in love. Previous rants may seem as if I’m going back on my old beliefs, but thinking logically now, I can’t imagine the couple lasting like Marshall and Lily. I wanted them together because I thought that was how everyone would get their happy ending, and that’s what I wanted most of all.

lilyIn October 2016: After seeing the cockamouse — a GREAT throwback — Marshall and Lily decide they need to move to a bigger home. They throw one last Halloween party to honor the famed and adored apartment. Ted still dons the hanging chad costume, and Robin is more miserable than ever. The “gang” isn’t what it used to be, she says, and it will never be that way again. They can still be friends but “that part is over.” She leaves Lily, who is in a Moby Dick-inspired white whale morph suit costume, alone in the empty apartment.

Alyson Hannigan was the heart of the show. I’ve been up and down with Lily for a while, but tonight I can see how monumental she is. As I said, I know that was really just Hannigan crying during her scenes, but it made the moments feel that more real and especially that much more painful. Her early goodbye to Ted and the one to Robin in the empty apartment killed me. This was one of her best episodes.

I don’t agree with how Robin was phased out of the gang, whether it was because of her voluntary departure or the unconscious doings of the gang. For nine years, I believed she was included and disagree with how easily it separated. Sure in real life, people grow apart and lose touch, but after watching them for nine years, I don’t accept that for this gang.

2018: Barney argues with Ted and Lily about how late the gang — minus Robin — will stay out tonight. He ultimately gets his way because a “big moment” happens: Marshall is going to be a judge! Barney continues to chase after younger girls, much to Lily’s dismay. Here’s where NPH breaks my heart. He says if there had ever been a chance where he would settle down, it was with Robin, and if not with her, then with no one. “That’s me,” he says. “Can I please just be me?” One of Judge Fudge’s first rulings is to allow it.

If there was ever a Barney monologue that broke my heart, that was it.

Jason Segel was really underplayed in this episode. He popped in a few times to make some jokes and be the lovable Big Fudge, but he didn’t play that big of a part. I understand Marshall was comic relief just as Chandler was in Friends, but at least in Friends, Chandler had a big role in the finale. His story was just as monumental as Ross and Rachel’s. I get this story is about Ted, but Marshall is a huge part of his life and deserved more.

2019: Even though they are all at Robots vs. Wrestlers, Barney is not happy because his perfect month ended with getting girl No. 31 pregnant. With the way he was going, did anyone not see this happening in his future?

2020: Ted is giving architecture fun facts to a young Penny!! My heart melted from the cuteness. On the streets, the Mosbys see Robin, one of the few sightings the gang has had of her apparently since they essentially went separate ways. It’s time for the birth of Barney’s mistake. He is so uncaring up until the nurse puts that baby girl, named Ellie, into his arms. Then, NPH himself takes over. Tears instantly come pouring down my face as Barney tearfully proclaims how this girl is the love of his life and how “everything I have and everything I am is yours forever.”

barney cry 1

barney cry 2





I’m quite annoyed with how quite misogynistic it feels that the writers don’t even feel the need to introduce us to the mother of Barney’s child, especially because this is the event that affects his whole life. I don’t need the story of “how Barney met No. 31,” but I think we deserved more.

Pushing that aside, Barney’s proclamation to his daughter slayed me. I perished. This was one of those moments when full tears were blinding my vision of the TV. As I said with Hannigan, I can see it was the father in NPH that made that scene so raw, real and emotional. This was the best thing I could have asked for Barney.

Still in 2020, Ted decides to re-propose to the Mother because it’s been five years since the first time he did. This time, however, they’re getting married… on Thursday. And that’s what happens! They are all at MacLaren’s, because of course, when Robin shows up as well — only because The Mother persuaded her. They all take a photo just like the famed one in the opening credits. Marshall also says he’s going to run for the state supreme court and must now be called Fudge Supreme. Ted and the Mother get married and are solidified as the kind of couple I so desperately hope is in my future.

Then, we get the voiceover that brought an endless flood of tears. It’s Josh Radnor, not Bob Saget, talking to Luke and Penny about how the lesson he learned was to love their mother through literally everything. Then they have a slideshow of the couple, but I couldn’t even see it because I was crying too hard. That’s not a joke. I honestly missed that so if you know what those photos are, tell me so I can cry again. Why was I crying so hard? Because through my ugly sobbing, I heard Radnor narrate how he kept that lesson to love with him when the Mother got sick.

meetingIn what I think was an attempt to try to cut away from all the sadness, we go back to the present at the Farhampton train station and finally see fate. Ted walks over to the Mother and the two just casually bring up how intertwined their lives have been. He mentions the yellow umbrella and says she stole in from when he left it in Cindy’s apartment. He points to his initials “T.M.” on it. The Mother, however, says those are her initials, for Tracy McConnell. There’s an adorable flirty conversation about phrases whose initials are also “T.M.” — “terribly mistaken” and this umbrella belongs “to me” — as it fades out.

In 2030 (where the show began with the first shot of Luke and Penny on the couch): “And that, kids is how I met your mother.”

endingFolks, this is where the finale just should have ended. But, Penny proclaims how this story was really just about how he loves Aunt Robin because their mom is hardly in it. She states he is just telling them this to see if they are OK with him asking her out. Both she and Luke yell they are completely fine with it because it’s been six years since their mom passed away. “It’s time.” Ted runs over to Robin’s apartment, and just like in the pilot, he holds up the blue French horn he stole for her, showing that they are going to end up together.

Cue the cast credits showing them all in their first scenes in the pilot.

In actuality: NO, IT’S NOT TIME. I am over Ted and Robin. For a period of time, I may have wished for that ending. I always thought their relationship at least felt more genuine than hers and Barney’s, but that’s not what I want anymore. We’ve tried this ship several times, but it’s sunken too often for me to have stuck with it. For nine seasons, I was assured she was just “Aunt Robin,” never thinking about what would happen after he tells his kids this story and how she’s “Aunt Robin” at that moment while they’re in the living room, but she doesn’t have to be Aunt Robin forever. There was too much back and forth, up and down for me to truly want this end result.

To make matters worse, the ninth season was mostly about everyone falling in love with The Mother. Milioti’s perfect performance and the little quips here and there could only do just that. I know she is perfect for Ted. That is what I want. Every time he looked at her in all of the flash-forwards was the way any woman wants to be looked at by their love. They are my OTP — “one true pair” for you non-Tumblr users. They are endgame. That is the happy ending I have wanted since the moment Milioti first appeared on my screen.

In a way, having Ted end up with Robin makes me feel they simply negated the entire series. Here’s the story about how Ted is waiting for the love of his life; he gets it and loses it, and then does a rebound of all rebounds and ends up with the girl who for a long time said she didn’t love him. I just don’t see how that is the ending anyone would want. Sure, HIMYM is thousands of times more realistic than Friends, but this is fiction. You are allowed to make it a happy ending even if that doesn’t happen in real life.

Reference the way Ted always looks at the Mother, how ecstatic Marshall and Lily were Ted chose to stay in New York because of the bass player — fulfilling Lily’s front porch dream well — and the fact that even the random older woman at the train station shipped those two so hard. Technically, they did end up together, but it wasn’t the ending Ted, or the fans, deserved.

Milioti was sparingly used throughout this finale and was the reason for the few joyous moments. She did everything I could have ever asked for on her part. This entire last season was meant to build up to us seeing their relationship and though we did get to see many highlights throughout the years, I felt cheated in seeing their happiness. Because of that, I can understand Penny’s argument. The story began when Ted first saw Robin and a major part of the show focused on their on and off relationship while clues of the Mother were dropped sporadically and then, in comparison to all 208 episodes, she was only given a few minutes of the spotlight. On paper, yes he should be with Robin but not according to anyone’s hearts, especially not after seeing Milioti and Radnor together this season.

Last week, I would have bet my life that I would have walked away from this show as happy as one could be. I never imagined my love for this show would be tainted by harsh feelings for the finale, just like with Chuck. I’m disappointed and still can’t think straight to continue ranting about why this was not the way the show should have ended.

I’m sure I will be ranting more as friends want to discuss the finale in the coming days, but for now I’ll digress. Write to me @buzzlightmeryl or if you’d like to discuss this more because I sure can.

By Will Ashton || @thewillofash
| Directed by Darren Aronofsky | Rated PG-13
RATING: 3.5/5

noah-posterBetween Son of God, God’s Not Dead, the upcoming Exodus and now Noah, it’s kind of fascinating just how much Christianity has been pushing itself into mainstream cinema of late.

Now, I’m going to keep my own religious views out of this review as much as humanly possible, but I will say that the uprising of Christian films is a somewhat noble but also rather heavy-handed effort by the right wing. I mean, I’m fine with having Christian movies, but so many of them feel phony, filled to the bone with over sentimentality and forced emotional efforts at the audience’s heartstrings.

That said, though, Noah, the latest religious film to come in the theaters, is thankfully not that.

Do I really need to go into a plot synopsis? I feel like everyone, Christian, Catholic or not, knows the story of Noah’s Ark by now. If, by some chance, you don’t know the story, it’s about a guy who must build a giant ark as God plans to flood the world and wipe out humanity as it knows it.

Even in his bigger budget endeavors, Darren Aronofsky has never been one to trend lightly in his films. All of his features feature dark elements in them, even The Wrestler, his most grounded film to date, and while promotional materials for Noah looked like it may not be the case, it is no different. Particularly when the film makes its way into its second and third acts, the film is not afraid to look at the darkness that delved in the Old Testament, and I not only respect Aronofsky for getting away with as much as he does in a PG-13 film, but I think it makes for a better film.

The tale of Noah’s Ark is such an oddly compelling chapter in the Bible mainly because of all the stakes that encompass it. It is about, literally, the death of 99.9% of the world. As a result, there is a ton of dramatic potential to not only study what these characters go through emotionally, but also why God would want to do such a thing and how evil the world has gotten. Thankfully, Aronofsky isn’t afraid to explore these aspects and, thus, when searching at the dark underbelly of this timeless tale, it is able to bring new light into this story.

Which is to say that, when Noah does something well, it does it really well. There are segments of this film that are just brilliantly done, including one in particular about the creation of the world. It not only features some of the most unique artistic choices that I have seen in a big budget blockbuster in some time, but it makes for a compelling example of how Bible films don’t have to be so watered down and safe.

I mean, besides The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ (I assume, I actually haven’t seen it yet…yeah, yeah, I know), most Christian movies play it as safe as possible. And it’s not hard to see why, as Christians are the most sensitive audiences there are in America. But it is interesting, and deeply refreshing, when a film like Noah comes around to bring some adult integrity and imagination in an adaption.

And I think that is the key word here: adaptation. Not retelling, adaptation. I fear that the primary audiences, at least some of them, are going to reject this movie based solely on the fact that it is not a direct adaptation of the Bible. Which is a shame, because there is a lot that Aronofsky is saying about not just religion, but human nature with this movie. It is often a fascinating and compelling look at how these figures of Sunday School class can become such adult and dark characters.

That said, however, Noah is not a flawless film. Perhaps it was because Darren often had to go out of his comfort zone, but there are some sequences, most of which are towards the beginning, that just don’t quite work. It’s not so much the acting or anything wrong in particular, but they encompass a sense of hokiness and odd plotting that don’t gain the emotional crunch they want or desire.

Additionally, there are plot points in the third act of the film that, without giving anything away, don’t really feel fully flushed out. In particular, the story behind Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) introduces some interesting plot points, but never quite picks up speed. Even worse, it leads to one of the sillier side plots of the film before its climax.

With that said, though, a big component in the success of this film are the performances of the cast. Aronofsky has always been a good director of actors and, while I had my doubts about Russell Crowe being cast as the title character, I must admit that he did a commendable job. Much like Tom Cruise and George Clooney, Crowe has always struck me as one of those actors that, no matter how good they are, I never quite forget it’s them. They all have given good to fine performances in the past, but I don’t forget who’s playing them.

But, in Noah, Crowe, although he hasn’t had the greatest track record of late, brings a lot of subtle emotional depth to the character. Noah is a complex character, and through his restrained performance, he gives a strong, compelling performance, and probably his best in some time.

Also good here is Noah’s wife Naameh, played by Jennifer Connelly. Which, if you are paying attention, is indeed A Beautiful Mind reunion. Although the make up team fails at aging her in any way, shape or form for some reason, she also provides an emotionally charged performance as the title character’s better half. Also given a lot to do here is Ray Winstone as the villain Tubal-cain. Many actors would take his character and push it too far, but Winstone is able to make his performance a fire breathing one, but one that makes a great deal of sense too. He is compelling grounded in such a hyper real situation.

There are undeniably some haunting beautiful moments in Noah, and, as one of my favorite directors working today, I’m so glad that Aronofsky finally was able to make his passion project. I don’t think it’s a full out success as his last two movies were, but it’s a grand, sweeping effort that actually has the balls to push the envelope in a way that so few religious movies do. It may not win the core audience over, but it sure as hell impresses me, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the wild, dark vision Aronofsky had of this classic tale.

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
As You Like It by William Shakespeare, directed by Shelley Delaney
8 p.m. March 26-29, April 2-5
The Forum Theater, Radio and Television Building

Orlando, played by Mbali Guliwe, proclaims his love for Rosalind as he hangs his prose all over the forest (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

Orlando, played by Mbali Guliwe, proclaims his love for Rosalind as he hangs his prose all over the forest (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”

The Division of Theater rounds out its 2013-14 season with its production of As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

The play follows Rosalind (played by Kat Bramley), a duke’s daughter, who flees her uncle’s court after he usurps her father. With her cousin Celia (Chelsea Cannon) and the court jester Touchstone (Emilio Tirri) at her side, Rosalind finds safety — and love — in the Forest of Arden.

Every time I discuss Shakespeare, I fear people are apprehensive about joining the conversation and seeing his work performed on stage. Yes, his work has become so elevated in our society that many may be wary of approaching it, but as the director Shelley Delaney said, “As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies.”

The play is easy to follow if you know these main points: Rosalind’s father Duke Senior was usurped by his younger brother Duke Frederick and forced to flee into the Forest of Arden. Celia is Duke Frederick’s daughter and is best friends with Rosalind. Rosalind is forced to flee into the forest and takes Celia and the court jester Touchstone with her. For protection, Rosalind disguises herself as a man in the forest. Her love, Orlando (played by Mbali Guliwe), was also forced to flee into the forest, so she takes the opportunity to test his love.

Take this cheat sheet and go forth. Give this play a try.

You may not be able to understand every line of every moment — there were plenty of times when I struggled — however things flow so smoothly and swiftly that the larger picture is painted quickly enough so that you know what is happening in each scene. Don’t fret if you miss or don’t understand something. I don’t feel anyone can truly understand every aspect of a Shakespeare play on only his or her first listen. Shakespeare is so renowned because of how richly deep his texts are, meaning continual analysis and reading of his work is required to fully appreciate it. Listen intently; this play is worth your attention.

I absolutely love the idea of “testing your love” to see if he or she truly loves you. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to see if the one you’re madly in love with feels the same? Shakespeare is known for being able to tap into the human condition like no other. Here, he hits the nail on the head. You can have your tragic Romeo and Juliet love story, I’d much rather be a part of Orlando and Rosalind’s tale, for I feel their love is much more believable than the famed star-crossed lovers’. Rosalind tests Orlando, so that at the end of the play, you want these two to get together because you know their love is real. Romeo and Juliet just say they’re madly in love, but the skeptic in me finds it hard to believe you can simply see someone from across the room and fall in love. Love is about connection and understanding, not just looks. I believe Rosalind and Orlando have that, which is why I root for them.

Rosalind, in her male disguise of Ganymede, finds Orlando's declarations of his love for her (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

Rosalind (Bramley), in her male disguise of Ganymede, finds Orlando’s declarations of his love for her (Kaitlin Owens | Staff Photographer)

The entire cast does a splendid job. Two stand outs amongst the entire ensemble are Bramley and Tirri. Kat Bramley as Rosalind carries the show and is simply spectacular as the protagonist. She speaks clearly, has an impeccable range of emotions and is a star of the production. Emilio Tirri shines like the sun as the source of comedy in the play. Tirri himself said Touchstone is “the clown” and, boy, does Tirri have fun with him. The physicality he brought to this character slays me. His side glances, prancing and sass make him a likely audience favorite. I also have to commend Chelsea Cannon for stealing the scene several times. Watch Cannon as she sits off to the side and gives her sassy reactions to the main action; they’re priceless. Maddie Davis is also a great source of comedy as she plays proud shepherdess Phebe, who is often too flirty for her own good.

As I’ve come to think custom of the Division of Theater productions, the set is absolutely stunning. Combining metal and wood, the set is what C. David Russell, the play’s set designer, said is a liminal space, or a place in transition. A tree’s roots hang from the center of the ceiling while the floor is made of wood planks and expanded steel mesh in order to give the audience the framework of the world so that they can fill in the middle for themselves. Tirri called the set “an adult’s playground,” and it’s easy to see why. The actors run around the ramps, hang on and off the rails and jump from level to level throughout the show. It is so beautiful to see how well incorporated the set is into the play. It’s hard to imagine how it could be staged any other way.

This production is also big on music. Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father, has his own band consisting of guitars, shakers and a hand drum. It’s an interesting concept added to the production that really helps continue the rapid pace of the play.

The play was sharply executed from all angles and proved to be a great note for the division to end its season on this year.

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox
Rating: 2.5/ 5

new directions

Glee’s 100th episode was actually one of the better episodes of the worst season; however, even that mediocrity couldn’t be maintained for two consecutive weeks. I guess that’s just too much to ask.

Tonight’s episode, “New Directions,” featured the prolonged graduation we’ve been waiting for since the end of the last season, the end of the glee club and the roll call of who we will be seeing in New York. Spoiler: It’s just about everyone — except Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz).

Holly (Gwyneth Paltrow) and April’s (Kristin Chenoweth) plan to save the glee club is simply by just forcing music into other school clubs. In the show’s possibly dumbest idea ever, Holly dresses up as Temple Grandin and tries to persuade the Animal Rights Activists club to incorporate music by singing Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” while then dressed in ‘70s club gear. Let’s break this down: Temple Grandin, Animal Rights Activists and “Party All the Time.” Someone had to have been smoking some of the good stuff when they pitched this idea. I’m sure the cast had fun during the scene, but did no one think about how utterly ridiculous it was? The Temple Grandin gag was just offensive and random — thankfully, the show addressed how rude it was when Holly was reprimanded for it — and the performance just ruined the song. Listen to that song and tell me you don’t find yourself singing the chorus over and over. It’s infectious, and I understand why it took Murphy to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. It was an incredibly random choice song-wise. I was under the impression this episode was a continuation of the 100th celebration and would include the final fan-chosen performances.

The plan obviously fails, and the glee club’s death is final. Hallelujah!

In an attempt to get Rachel (Lea Michele) and Santana (Naya Rivera) to stop feuding, Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) sing “I Am Changing,” again not a song from the show’s past so I don’t know why they did it.

The two only become friends again once Santana quits being her understudy. Yes, it is as superficial as it sounds. Brittany (Heather Morris) for some reason made Santana figure out that being on Broadway isn’t her dream; sure. As requited by Glee rules, Rachel and Santana then sing a duet together to really prove they’re friends again. They sing “Be Okay,” and it was my favorite performance of the night. The song was incredibly catchy and cute, and the original version by Oh Honey is just as entertaining. I guess Glee still has one good function of introducing the world to songs we may otherwise never know. However, they traditionally stick to the Top 10 list, so this one last good thing doesn’t happen too often.

chumsIf you needed any more reasons to hate Tina — though there are plenty already — there’s a real doozy from tonight’s episode. Everyone was celebrating Blaine’s (Darren Criss) acceptance to NYADA — did anyone doubt that? — and Sam (Chord Overstreet) accidentally hit Tina in the face with one of the trophies, prompting her to daydream. I’ll accept the nonsense that was Blaine’s carbon monoxide leak-induced vision of living puppets, but I REFUSE to accept Tina’s envisioning of everyone in New York and parodying Friends. They called it “Chums” and remade the iconic water fountain title sequence. NOPE. HOW DARE YOU. You’re a terrible show; you don’t get to try to be like a phenomenal one. It wasn’t even a halfway decent parody. Tina would never be Rachel; she’s more of a Gunther. This solidified my hatred for this show. I have no words.

However, I did like the gag when Tina was trying to get into Mitzvah University — because she would waste the cost of college just so she could be in New York — by saying her name was “Tina Cohen” That obviously didn’t work, so everyone convinces her to move to New York just cause. Move and then figure out what you want to do. Sure, because New York definitely isn’t one of the most expensive places to live in, amiright? Tina says she would be a loser if she did that, so she, Blaine, Sam and Artie (Kevin McHale) all sing an acoustic version of “Loser Like Me.” I like the show’s original pop version better, but it was nice to see the show actually fulfilled its promise here and continued with the fans’ choice of songs to be re-covered.

Puck (Mark Salling) and Quinn (Dianna Agron) — who are officially going out, with their unfortunate couple name being “Quick” — sing, “Just Give Me a Reason.” Yes, please give me a reason as to why they made time to do this song and decided to cut Will’s (Matthew Morrison) duet with April to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

dsbJust when you think they’re done, they pull you back into the auditorium. The glee club made an actually really sweet video for Will’s future child to tell him or her how amazing his or her dad is. You could see the cast’s true personalities shining through this video, hence the only reason it was good. Then, in the most important of all Glee rules, they end by singing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” again. This time Will joins the kids, and everyone sings way too low for their register. Please, stop covering this song. The first time was the best, and it should have been the only time you did it.

Graduation finally arrives and apparently the graduating class only consists of the glee kids and about ten other students.

Here’s a round up of everyone’s plans:

  • Holly and April are going to go on a cruise for gay men together
  • Puck and Quinn are going to try a long-distance relationship
  • Santana and Brittany are going to Lesbos island in Greece, then Hawaii and then Brittany will come back to New York with Santana
  • Tina was accepted to Brown University, so say good riddance. We finally got rid of her.
  • Sue (Jane Lynch) got Will an interview at Carmel High School to coach Vocal Adrenaline since that’s the only thing he’s good at
  • And no one cares about the newbie glee kids. Bye.

Before Will finally leaves the now empty choir room, voiceovers of the original glee club members play as he looks out to where the chairs once sat. Finn has the last voiceover, in which he talks about how everyone agreed they wanted to win their first Sectionals for Mr. Schue. The episode closes as we hear the glee kids laugh track, with Rachel’s laugh overpowering the rest.

Glee club is finally over and we can move on from McKinley. I’m not sure I’ll enjoy New York as much now that Artie and Sam will also have to tag along. There was no doubt in my mind about Blaine’s future, but I’m surprised the show feels the need to keep Artie and Sam. I say axe them. What storylines are they possibly going to have?

Glee has been rather atrocious this year. I would like to continue hate-watching this show, but that can only happen if I can physically fathom sitting and watching it, which has because quite the battle this season. I know it can’t really be much better, but let’s hope it can only go up from here and that the permanent move to New York will give Ryan Murphy enough newness to be interested in making the show good once again.

Does your girl party all the time? What do you want for the future of Glee? Let me know @buzzlightmeryl


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