Thursday, June 23, 2011

TV Review: Wilfred - "Happiness"

"No Ryan! Nobody's happy!" - Kristen

Wilfred is the story of Ryan, played by Elijah Wood who sees his neighbor's dog, Wilfred as a human (played by Jason Gann, reprising his role from the original Australian series). The pilot episode doesn't give the viewer much more than this. There is a light plot, but really the point of the episode is to get you adjusted to the kind of show that begins with a man trying to kill himself, and ends with that man clinking beers with a man in a dog costume.

The attempted suicide, it should be said, is handled with a light touch. Ryan opens the show with joy at "nailing" the third draft of his suicide note. He gains a milk mustache over the course of the night. He looks up "Drug Overdose" on Wikipedia, given his chosen method of offing himself. However, the pills prove unsuccessful (due to the fact that they're sugar pills, which comes up later). The next day, looking miserable from a lack of sleep, Ryan opens the door to his beautiful neighbor Jenna, and her dog Wilfred. He ends up dogsitting for Wilfred and it takes him a while to get over the shock of seeing the dog as a man.

Meanwhile, his frustrated sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown, who does well with a fairly thankless shrew-ish role) is furious at him for skipping his first day of work for a job he only recieved based on her recommendation. Instead of punching the clock, Ryan spends the day with his new friend, who shows him how to live life: humping waitresses, chasing motorcycles, and breaking into houses to steal weed. It's that last activity that gives Ryan enough of a rush to turn down his new job for good. Right when you think this happiness due to his friendship with Wilfred might last forever, we see the dog place Ryan's wallet outside the house where they jacked the weed from. What is Wilfred up to? And if Wilfred is just a manifestation of Ryan's depression/anxiety, is he sabotaging himself?

And while we're asking questions, what does it mean to be happy? Is it working a job you may not like, just because that's what you're supposed to do? That's what Kristen does, and she certainly doesn't seem happy "prying twin babies out of a little Asian lady". Is it not working? And turning down dates with your attractive neighbor, and sitting around all day, red-eyed, wondering if you've chosen the right path in life? Ryan doesn't seem much better off. While the show may hint at asking these questions, in the pilot at least, it refuses to answer them, or even give them any depth. It seems to support the lifestyle of living for a cheap thrill, like theft or drugs. There's nothing wrong with a show having this viewpoint, but if Wilfred wants to make an impact, it's going to have to strengthen its ideas. A good place to start would be giving the neighbor Jenna a personality beyond "inexplicably wanting to date pretty weird, strung-out neighbors and be really cute". Seriously, why does Jenna ask Ryan back to her place for wine? Maybe she's looking for happiness too, and thinks, for whatever reason, a washed-up, dirty-underwear-wearing Elijah Wood is the answer. Right now this show is deeply flawed, but I see enough glimmers in it to hope that every week I tune in to find a little happiness for myself.

Grade: B-

-I hope Ethan Suplee returns as the pot-growing motorcyclist next door. He didn't have much to do this episode, but I quite enjoyed him on My Name Is Earl, and would love to see him in a much different role.
-The "human doing dog things" joke gets old pretty quickly, so I hope it isn't overused in episodes to come. However, Wilfred rushing after a motorcycle yelling "I'll kill you!" was pretty amusing.
-"Can I get you anything? Orange juice? Medical attention?"

Monday, June 6, 2011

White-Men: First Class

Race in films is a subject rarely thought about until it rears its head in a dramatic way. Take 2010’s The Last Airbender, a film that received heavy criticism for its use of Caucasian actors in Asian roles, before the film received heavy criticism for sucking. Then there are occasions where the role itself doesn’t call for white actors, but the casting sheet does (see the upcoming Hunger Games). The problem with simply supporting these causes is that it misses out on confronting the larger issue: that if a role is for any race, it will probably go to a Caucasian.

My three favorite American films so far this year (Source Code, Bridesmaids and X-Men: First Class) all star predominantly white actors. Or, more importantly, it fills the roles of heroes with the white actors. The semi-corrupt leader of the Source Code in the movie of the same name is African American. Maya Rudolph may be a bi-racial bride, but all of her bridesmaids stick to the singular Caucasian. And, and here’s where the slight spoilers begin, the only non-white members of the X-Men are evil or dead by the halfway point of the film. Here I’ll mainly discuss X-Men, because there are a number of reasons non-white actors not only could have been cast, but also should have been.

X-Men: First Class is a damn good movie, the best superhero film since The Dark Knight. The writing is solid (if occasionally extremely cheesy). Matthew Vaughn has proved with this film and Kick-Ass that he can direct the hell out of an action scene, and just may be the best action director there is out there today (at least in America). The scene where Kevin Bacon (who is very enjoyable here) and his gang break into the CIA’s building is tense, and thrilling and a tad heartbreaking. The final, Cuban Missile Crisis sequence of the film is pretty incredible. There’s enough buildup that when shit finally goes down, it’s incredibly thrilling. And the build-up itself is an enjoyable mix of cartoony and tense. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender giving performances far better than necessary, especially the latter as the emotionally damaged Magneto. The rest of the cast (wretched January Jones aside) is solid, and overall the film is a blast.

Here’s the big problem: the film is accepting what you are despite what society says. It takes place in the 60’s. Even if they didn’t want to push the metaphor too far, would it have been that difficult to cast an African-American actor in a heroic role? A line repeated throughout the film, “Mutant and Proud”, could easily be paralleled with Black Pride. While in many films casting only white actors seems like a harsh oversight, here it seems like a missed opportunity. This isn’t to say that the film would have to discuss the similarities between society’s attitudes with mutants and those with African-Americans in the 60s. Rather, if you’re going to make the moral of your film to accept people despite their physical differences, you could back that up with your casting decisions.

One excuse I could see is source material. These characters are white in the comic books, so they must be here. This is partly why we have never seen a non-white Spiderman, Batman or Superman and probably never will. This is not a valid excuse at all, but even assuming it is, there is still a major issue. TWO OF YOUR CHARACTERS ARE BLUE. Beast and Mystique both assume an obviously non-human form by the time the credits roll. As much as I love Jennifer Lawrence, neither of the actors gives good enough performances to assume there was no one better for the job. Sure, there are two non-white actors. They just happen to play Bacon’s evil henchmen and are not allowed to develop any personality.

As depressing as this is, let’s at least give the rest of the summer films a chance:

  • Super 8
  • Green Lantern
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  • Bad Teacher
  • Transformer 3
  • Larry Crowne
  • Horrible Bosses
  • The Zookeeper
  • Harry Potter 7, Part 2
  • Captain America
  • Cowboys & Aliens
  • The Change-Up

Oh. Shit.