Critically Touched: 10 Years Later

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September 2009 was a month that changed the world forever.

It was the month that a Paranormal Activity was given nationwide release. The month that The Good Wife, Community, and The Vampire Diaries made their TV premieres. The month that immortalized the phrase “Imma let you finish.”

But on the last day of the month, one event overshadowed them all.

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Emmys 2019: Some Well-Deserved Wins Can’t Save a Boring Ceremony

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In retrospect, I can’t fault the producers of the 71st Annual Emmy Awards for choosing to go without a host. Certainly, someone looked at the year’s earlier Oscar ceremony, which proved competent and watchable even with the unfilled vacancy left by the ousting of Kevin Hart. And certainly that person also theorized that it probably wasn’t worth the time and effort to track down a celebrity host for the Emmys and then learn from the world’s most valiant anonymous trolls that said celebrity had written a couple of off-color tweets in 2008. Add in the fact that this year’s show was broadcast on FOX, a network which doesn’t have any late-night hosts to fall back on (their last Emmys was hosted by Andy Samberg, star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine – a show the network no longer even owns) and you could be forgiven for allowing the production to air without an emcee.

But having sat through last night’s extremely boring and extraordinarily unfunny ceremony, I will take anyone to the mat if they suggest that the Emmys should continue this trend into next year.

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Emmys 2019: Who Will Win?

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Okay, full disclosure: I originally wrote a long introduction to this piece about whether or not we should care about the Emmys this much (we shouldn’t) and what they say about the state of TV at large (very little). But then my dinosaur-age computer blew a fuse and said intro was lost to history. So I’m just going to skip the intro and dive straight into what it says on the tin: Who will win this year’s Emmy awards?

(Also, obligatory reminder that roughly 50% of the money you make from these predictions rightfully belongs to me.)

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The 10 Best Batman Films Ever

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Update: After receiving an alarming number of angry emails, DMs, and one particularly profane postcard (those are still a thing?), I have chosen under (ahem) my own volition to reverse the order of the Top 2 films on this list. True CT purists may wish to look away. The rest of you, read on…

When first published in 1939, Detective Comics #27 featured a total of nine stories, most of them focused on square-jawed men who moonlit as crime-fighters. The roster included private eye Slam Bradley, OSS Agent Speed Saunders, and the red-uniformed Crimson Avenger (plus his, um, best-forgotten sidekick, Wing). Odds are the issue would have been passed by as just another pulpy installment of one of the still-fresh industry’s more popular magazines, had the cover not trumpeted the debut of an all-new superhero – a fellow the interior story referred to as “the Bat-Man.”

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West Wing 6×19: Ninety Miles Away

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[Writer: John Sacret Young | Director: Rod Holcomb | Aired: 3/16/2005]

“I’m gonna remember this…” – Leo

The rules of fictional writing (be it in television, film, or literature) dictate that there are two types of bad stories – those that fail in concept, and those which fail in execution. The West Wing, despite its many triumphs, has produced multiple episodes in both categories. The “fail in concept” basket includes “Slow News Day,” which is ineptly plotted but at least features some glimmers of character competence, while the latter category slots in “Constituency of One,” which starts with a promising series of storylines and then bungles every last one of them.

And then once in a while, we get an episode that fails in both concept and execution. An episode like “Ninety Miles Away.”

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West Wing 6×18: La Palabra

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[Writer: Eli Attie | Director: Jason Ensler | Aired: 3/9/2005]

“Eleven and thirteen.” – Santos

Matthew Santos is charming, handsome, and charismatic. He jokes effortlessly with reporters and maintains friendly rapports with the folks on his campaign staff. He has a lovely wife and two cute-as-a-button kids, and they make the most beautiful gosh-darn family you’ve ever seen.

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West Wing 6×17: A Good Day

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[Writer: Carol Flint | Director: Richard Schiff | Aired: 3/2/2005]

“He started it.” – Bartlet

I love debating. Whether it’s about TV shows, politics, or TV shows about politics, a good debate reminds my brain to stay alert and perhaps face arguments I’ve never considered before. Though we don’t always (read: basically never) convince our opponents over to our side, debating people with conflicting views is a good way to put your own views in perspective, and perhaps even sway neutral third parties in our direction.

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West Wing 6×16: Drought Conditions

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[Writer: Debora Cahn | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 2/23/2005]

“You got a chance to shape the debate, strengthen the party, and you blew it!” – Toby

Among the many failings of Season Five, one of the most egregious was the way it turned TV’s greatest political series into a primetime soap opera. Illicit romances, interpersonal vendettas, and betrayals/backstabbings were brought to the forefront, often seemingly out of nowhere, and the show’s once-cutting political vernacular fell to the wayside.

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Disney’s Live-Action Remakes Are Here to Stay

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Earlier this week, Disney announced that they would be rebooting Home Alone for their upcoming streaming service, Disney+. Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of Disney, explained that the film would be “reimagined” for “a new generation.” Presumably, this means the new generation has no interest in watching the original Home Alone, despite the fact that it remains one of the most popular Christmas films ever.

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Toy Story 4

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I cannot say for certain whether toys come to life when their owners leave the room. Science tells me that molded plastic and cotton-filled plush cannot function the way human organs do, and even the most advanced neural equipment likely won’t detect a spark of brain activity within a GI Joe or Barbie doll. But despite this, asking whether toys come to life when humans are away is like asking the age-old questions about the tree, the forest, and the lack of anyone to hear a sound: We can never truly say for sure.

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Toy Story 3

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One of the unspoken laws of animation, stretching back to the days of Felix the Cat and Gertie the Dinosaur, is that cartoon characters do not age. Sure, they may change to fit the times, and incorporate new technologies as they become available (iPhones are now a regular sight on The Simpsons), but they are not meant to grow up in real time. It’s an obvious benefit over live-action stories, and one we gladly accept – do we really want to see Shaggy and Velma fighting crime as senior citizens? (Poor Scoob would’ve been in doggy heaven by 1980.)

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20 Years Later: Reflecting on the Films of 1999

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To the casual nostalgic, the year 1999 may be viewed as an existential tipping point. It was the final year in a relatively stable decade, one largely unmarked by war or social upheaval. Yet despite the booming economy and a relative lack of international tension, an unconscious feeling told many Americans that something was happening. As the days shifted inexorably toward the new year – and the literal once-in-a-millennium experience of seeing all the calendar’s digits change simultaneously – fears of the Y2K bug, and how it would impact a technological culture just acclimating to the strange and mysterious force of the Internet, gnawed at many an uncertain soul.

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“Aladdin” Was the Most Genial Disney Film of the ’90s

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As a kid, my favorite Disney film was Aladdin.

Looking back, it’s not surprising. Aladdin courts more of a male audience than a lot of the other Disney films of the era. It leans heavily on action, comedy, and razzmatazz animation. It has colorful characters and catchy songs and a generally upbeat tone.

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What the End of “One Day at a Time” Says About the Future of Netflix

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On Thursday, Netflix cancelled One Day at a Time, its delightful revival of Normal Lear’s 1970s family sitcom of the same name. In an apologetic Twitter statement, the streaming service stated that, despite their love for the show, “simply not enough people watched to justify another season.”

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“Captain Marvel” is the Okayest Film in the MCU

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(The following review contains minor spoilers.)

The trailer for Captain Marvel came equipped with an emboldened tagline: “Discover What Makes a Hero.” It’s a generic line, as easily applied to most of the three dozen or so superhero origin films we’ve seen in the past decade. But there’s a catch – as displayed in the trailer, the words “A Hero” first appeared as “Her” before the other letters faded into view – underscoring how, after twenty films with men at the center, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was finally focusing one of its adventures on a woman.

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The Complete History of Shazam! and Captain Marvel (Part 2)

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Welcome back to my unauthorized yet highly accurate history of Shazam! and Captain Marvel. Be sure to check out Part 1 if you haven’t already. Here’s Part 2, although I must warn you – this gets real complicated…

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2018: An Animated Retrospective

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As frequent visitors of this website can attest, I love animation. Be it the sweeping vistas of Disney, the humanized stories of Pixar, or the hip smart-alecky humor of (insert name of any animation studio that’s not Disney or Pixar), a good animated film can appeal perfectly to young and old alike.

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And the Best Picture of 2018 Is…

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It’s that time again – the time when film lovers everywhere stop debating each other and unite to complain about the Oscars. And there are so many problems to bring up. How bad are the nominations? How out-of-touch is the industry? Do some categories deserve to be banished to the commercial breaks? Lots of problems have plagued the Academy lately, but like any other year, we can at least pray that the host will offer some good laughs. (Oh, wait…)

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The Cracks in “Glass”

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Where does Glass go wrong?

Not in ticket sales, certainly. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film is thus far the highest-grossing American film of 2019. But despite the money it’s raking in, the film has generated a mixed reception – it currently stands at 37% of Rotten Tomatoes, with some reviews calling it one of the director’s biggest disappointments. And having now caught up with the film, I can understand why.

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“The Lego Movie 2”: Blocks Fit Together, But Never Quite Click

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I can state without unwarranted cynicism that the idea for producing a “Lego Movie” probably did not stem from the need for artistic fulfillment. As with many cartoons that feature cute, kid-friendly, endlessly marketable leads, it was greenlit by a studio that wanted to sell toys. But it was thanks to the perfect team of thinkers and dreamers – led by the writing/directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller – that 2014’s The Lego Movie turned out to be as excellent as it was, featuring terrific laughs and exploring poignant themes about imagination and growing up.

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The Complete History of Shazam! and Captain Marvel (Part 1)

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Every year brings with it a new plethora of superhero films, and 2019 is no exception. At last count, studios have an estimated 827 comic-book movies (give or take) scheduled for release this year, and who can blame them? 2018 saw four superhero flicks – Black Panther, Aquaman, Incredibles 2 and Infinity War – make over a billion dollars each, which means that Hollywood will continue producing such films until the sun eats our planet for breakfast.

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How “Bolt” Revitalized the Disney Formula

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It’s no secret that I love a good Disney discussion, and the Internet offers no shortage of opportunities. Yet despite the multiple debates about the studio’s animated adventures, some films are unfairly downplayed or even ignored. When discussing the new wave of great Disney Animation films, for instance, fans are quick to champion the virtues of subversive princess stories like Tangled and Frozen, or other genre-bending adventures like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia. All fine films, to be sure, and all deserving of their accolades. But few seem to mention the film which arguably kicked off the current “Disney Revival.”

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West Wing 6×14: The Wake-Up Call

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[Writer: Josh Singer | Director: Laura Innes | Aired: 2/9/2005]

“The document is just the beginning.” – Lessig

I’m a sucker for titles with double-meanings, and “The Wake-Up Call” has a doozy. The name refers here to the late-night/early-morning call that the President receives during a national emergency. But it also refers to the recent metaphorical wake-up call – mapped out in the purposeful “365 Days” – to the Bartlet administration at large, which is now in its final year and must determine how to end on a high note.

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West Wing 6×13: King Corn

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[Writer: John Wells | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 1/26/2005]

“I lived the opposing arguments.” – Santos

It’s impossible to envy the position John Wells was put in during the summer of 2003. Not only had he been left to take charge of one of the most lauded and award-winning dramas of the era, but he’d had no direct involvement with the series beforehand. That the series didn’t immediately collapse into a pile of ash and broken dreams with the Season Five premiere was something of a miracle.

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The 10 Best TV Shows of 2018

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In the introduction to last year’s installment of my annual “Best TV Shows” series, I lamented the fact that television had grown so voluminous in its content, and so fragmented in its appeal, that great shows no longer stood out the way they once did. Competitive-minded producers, sensing the need to stand out in an increasingly crowded field, have birthed countless shows designed to appeal to smaller and smaller demographics. And while some of these little-watched shows have been quite good, most of them… uh, no longer need to be.

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10 Great Pop-Culture Books of 2018

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It’s that time of year again. The time when all the uppity and pretentious critics all hunch over their desks and type out their picks for the best films/shows/books/albums/games/celebrity pratfalls of the last 12 months. As a somewhat uppity and pretentious critic myself (albeit one who doesn’t hunch, for posture purposes), I’m all too eager to join the fray. I’ll be posting my “Best Films of 2018” piece next week, with a “Best TV Shows of 2018” article following shortly after.

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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the Best Animated Film of the Year

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In the hallowed halls of Marvel Comics, past Thor’s hammer, behind Cap’s shield, and just to the left of Wolverine’s adamantium claws, sits the great Spider-Man vault. In it are contained the thousands of stories – both print and screen – centered on everyone’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Spidey has starred in countless comic books, a dozen TV shows, and has had kicked off three different film franchises since the dawn of the new century. Forget market saturation – he’s webbed up the market like one of his arachnidan equivalents, and refuses to set it free.

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