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A look at summer movies and television

Will Neal | Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It’s been a memorable summer. Maybe you traveled abroad, took on a part-time job or internship or just sat on your couch making full use of your Netflix account and watching five seasons of “Breaking Bad.” Whatever you pursued during the summer months, time to face the music: it’s over. Reflecting on the summer’s highs and lows always provides a nice concluding note, but unfortunately, I only know how to talk about movies and TV, so I’ll stick with that. 


Most Surprising Disappointment of the Summer: “Man of Steel” 

I know I wasn’t alone in my excitement for “Man of Steel” to premiere. Fanboys and superhero fanatics alike were awed by the trailers, kept updated on all of the exciting casting and production choices and believed this was the Superman movie we’ve been waiting for. While the action sequences reached exhilarating heights, there was a lack of focus on character development and story pacing two things an origin story like this desperately needs in order to be a success. While there were some great performances from (most of) the leading cast of actors, it was nearly impossible to connect with some of these characters. There also seemed to be a confliction in tone between the fast-paced action of director Zach Snyder and the dark emotion of producer Christopher Nolan. Thankfully, Warner Brothers isn’t giving up on this franchise. This is only the beginning of a hopefully promising future for DC Comic movies. While they’re already on the fast track for the “Superman vs. Batman” follow up, many of us just wish that “Man of Steel” would have started things off right. At least we have Ben-Batman-Affleck to look forward to (or maybe that’s just me). 


Least Surprising Disappointment of the Summer: “After Earth” 

M. Night Shyamalan directed this film. If anyone was expecting it to be anything other than a disappointment, then I’d assume they don’t even know who M. Night Shyamalan is. “But it has Will Smith!,” you might say. Yes, excellent point, but not only does Big Willie Style play an emotionless robot of a father/military officer, also about 80 percent of the screen time is taken up by his son, Jaden, as he roams the wilderness alone. No matter how much you liked Jaden Smith in the new “Karate Kid,” I doubt you wanted to see him carry an entire film. The most surprising part of this movie is that Will Smith came up with the concept and skipped out on playing the lead role in “Django Unchained” to pursue his concept to “seek” out the director of “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender” to bring his story to life.  I think Will Smith needs some time to reevaluate his recent life choices – perhaps it’s time he moves back in with his auntie and uncle in Bel Air’. 

Most Surprising Success of the Summer: “World War Z” 

It was enough of a surprise that the film brought in $526 million globally, but what was more shocking to critics and audiences members alike was that the movie … wasn’t awful. From the beginning, this movie seemed like it would be an epic disaster. The early trailers didn’t look promising and there were production problems from Day One. Even the ending had to be re-written entirely by the infamous Damon Lindelof (Lindelof is from “Lost,” “Prometheus” and anything else that left people scratching their heads). This is not to say that the film was outstanding, but it overcame massive odds and an overall lack of public faith and delivered one of the most solid performances of the summer. Then again, audiences just can’t resist Brad Pitt as a zombie-annihilating family man. 


Least Surprising Success of the Summer: “This is the End” 

Seth Rogen and writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg took a risk this summer: focusing an entire movie on actors playing (hilariously) exaggerated versions of themselves … while surviving the apocalypse. Sounds funny and original, but it was definitely still a bit of a gamble. Thankfully, when your main cast includes Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill (“Dear God, it’s me, Jonah Hill … from ‘Moneyball'”) and the rest of the Apatow crew, you’re almost guaranteed a commercial hit – and that’s exactly what he delivered. Critics praised it, audiences couldn’t stop quoting it and it exceeded its budget by nearly $81 million. The movie also included as many cameo appearances as the legendary battle scene in “Anchorman,” including Michael Cera, Emma Watson and an unforgettable group appearance to end the movie on a major high note. If you find the time to see this movie, you’ll understand why this was the funniest of the summer.  


“Arrested Development” Returns: 

After a dreadfully long seven-year absence, the Bluth family is finally back and as absurd as ever. The cult comedy, often lauded by critics and audiences alike as the funniest show of all time, overcame grand odds and scheduling conflicts to reunite the beloved cast for another 14 episodes in a deal with Netflix. Granted, the show could only focus on one or two characters per episode and some of the story lines were duds, but when “Arrested Development” got it right, fans remembered exactly why they fell in love with this hysterically dysfunctional family nearly a decade ago. It’s amazing to see how a show featuring ostrich attacks, sexually confused magicians, elderly mixed-race prison gangs, Liza Minnelli and countless puns and inside jokes can remain so consistently intelligent and witty. The show may not be exactly how you remember it, but with a brand new season of the beloved show and the promise of more seasons and a follow-up movie (which is apparently full steam ahead), there’s not much to complain about. It’s “a-nu-start” indeed. 

“The Office” Ends: 

Many people believe that the beloved “mockumentary” sitcom, “The Office,” overstayed its welcome by sustaining its nine-season run. Plot lines were running thin, major characters like Steve Carell’s Michael Scott left the show behind and eventually, audiences began to question why they should still care about the Dunder Mifflin crew. In the show’s final season, the show reignited its classic spark with the return of Greg Daniels, the original series producer, and with the development of a clear end for this story. While the episodes gradually evidenced a return to the show’s former glory (despite a few missteps), what was truly a pleasure to watch was the episode that closed this staple of primetime televised comedy: the finale. Jumping several months into the future, the finale shows us what has become of the Dunder Mifflin employees as Dwight and Angela’s wedding approaches. Every character, great or small, gets their time in the spotlight and the appropriate closure to each of their storylines. We see just how much these people have bonded over the years as their lives begin to take drastic and exciting new turns. It is as funny as it is heartwarming, from the bachelor party involving bazookas and marital kidnapping to the brief, yet unforgettable return of Michael Scott. As a longtime fan of “The Office,” I can say that this show got the ending it truly deserved. 


How I Met Your Mother’s “Big Reveal” (Obvious Spoilers): 

With the news of a ninth and final season of the CBS comedic hit, audiences couldn’t help but debate how this past season would end. What we got was a lackluster episode of the gang preparing for their futures, including, most importantly, Barney and Robin’s wedding. But if you could make it through those first 23 out of 24 minutes of uneventful shenanigans, fans were treated to what they’ve been waiting nine long years for: the identity of the mother. Theories have been thrown out since the first season as to who this mystery woman may be, but the producers of “HIMYM” had taken all necessary steps to keep her a secret. So who was the girl under the yellow umbrella? Cristin Milioti: a Broadway and television actress. She has made appearances on “30 Rock” (as the “sexy baby” comedian) and “The Sopranos,” but she is most recognized for her leading performance in the hit Broadway show “Once.” While the opinions are mixed, keep in mind that the producers have been searching a long time for this girl, so clearly, they chose Milioti for good reason. She’s funny, cute, apparently has killer ukulele skills and, most importantly, isn’t a big-name actress. While Ted won’t meet her until the end of the series, she will become a full-time cast member this season as she meets the rest of the gang. Just wait for it – I’m sure she’ll be legendary. 

Contact Will Neal at wneal@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.