Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bones, Season 1

There aren’t a whole lot of things on TV I watch regularly. The Office would be top of the list, but if DW didn’t ensure it was a part of our routine I might even skip that. The ones that I do really like I either buy on DVD or rent. The most recent of these includes the show Bones, created by Hart Hanson and currently in its 5th season. “Oh no!” you say, “Not another procedural/forensics show!” As much as I’ve avoided these up until now, I happened to catch a glimpse of Bones somewhere along the way and was drawn in.

Bones is loosely based on the real life of Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist, professor and author. The character in the show that is based on her is named Dr. Temperance Brennan nicknamed “Bones” by her partner, Agent Seeley Booth of the FBI. She earns her name because she deals entirely with human bones to help Agent Booth and the FBI to solve murders. She’s the best in her field, and as a result ends up partnering with Booth to give him information about murder victims that ends up being evidence pointing to their killers: from a skeleton she can determine age, gender, illnesses, hobbies, manner of death, and favorite color. Well, ok, maybe not the last one, but pretty darn close.

The reason why this show appealed to me when others didn’t is because from my experience, most of these shows revolve around some tough guy cop/agent who always comes out on top and his adventures with his female sidekick. In Bones, Dr. Brennan is the central figure who drives the story and more frequently, Agent Booth defers to her.

The characters in this show are a lot of fun. Dr. Brennan is a brilliant anthropologist with a good heart but a brain that often overrides the good that heart could experience. She lives, eats, and breaths science and has great difficulty functioning outside of its method. Booth, in contrast, leads with his gut and is good at his job because of his instincts and theories. As such they make a great pair for solving crimes, but also tend to butt heads because of their differing approaches. Bones works with a team (or “squints,” also nicknamed by Booth) who all embody very different types of people as well, sometimes to a fault. Angela is a fun-loving artist who works to recreate the faces of victims. She’s also Bones’ best friend. Jack Hodgins is a scientist who works with everything that no one else wants to touch—namely insects and filth—and is a conspiracy theorist in his spare time. Zack Addy is a doctoral intern studying under Dr. Brennan whose abundance of intelligence as well as lack of social skills is staggering.

What I enjoy most about this show is the gender role reversal of Booth and Bones. While she is grounded in fact and reason, he is driven by emotion, faith, and passion for his work. This makes for some great sparring. Frequently, Booth tries to assert himself as the big tough FBI agent, only to be emasculated by the cool and calculating Bones. They definitely have some kind of chemistry, which gets dragged through the season as they either deny that it’s true or fail to recognize it.

I wouldn’t want to turn this into a rave, because as much as I enjoy Bones it definitely has its faults. One is that sometimes their favorite themes get redundant and tiresome. I love Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz in their roles as Bones and Booth, but there are times when she is too bland and robotic and he is too hammy. Also, because they’re dealing with decomposing bodies, it can get pretty gross. (I try to avoid watching while I’m eating!) Finally there is one character, not mentioned previously, that I felt took away from the chemistry of the characters: Daniel Goodman is the director of the Institute where they work, and doesn’t seem to fit at all. He’s a paternal type who is loosely connected to the goings on. Also, the actor allows his Shakespearean training to surface way too often. Thankfully, this problem was remedied by his absence from season two.

Rating: 10

Overall, Bones is a show with engaging, funny characters and some interesting scientific nuggets. The episodes have a little something for everyone: the mystery of solving a murder, the humor of the workplace, the science of forensics, and the chemistry of an attractive male and female lead. What more could you ask for? (That’s rhetorical.)

Favorite Scene: Booth and Bones are discussing their murder investigation in New Orleans and the claims that voodoo played a role.

BOOTH: Voodoo. Who's going to believe that stuff?

BRENNAN: It's a religion. No crazier than – well, what are you?

BOOTH: Catholic.

BRENNAN: They believe in the same saints you do, and prayer. What they call spells, you call miracles. They have priests.

BOOTH: We don't make zombies.

BRENNAN: Jesus rose from the dead after three days.

BOOTH: Jesus is not a zombie! All right? Man. I shouldn't have to tell you that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Into the Wild

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This aphorism is intended to mean that when circumstances get harder, you have to rise to meet them, not run away from them. When you run away from your problems, they don’t go away. In fact, it usually creates more problems.

This is a truth which eludes Chris McCandless, the main character of Into the Wild, portrayed with skill by Emile Hirsch. Being a recent graduate of Emory University, he subsequently decides to donate his life-savings to charity, abandon his car out in Arizona, burn all the money in his wallet, burn his Social Security card, changes his name to Alexander Supertramp (I’m not kidding), and become a hobo. The language “hobo” is never used in the film (or the book it’s based on), but that’s what he is: a hobo. I shudder to think what he must have smelled like at the end of this movie.

Speaking of the movie, it was a simultaneously beautiful and frustrating experience. The main character is idealistic, childish, and ridiculously foolish. Ostensibly, Chris wanted to find God, or himself, or transcendence, or all of them in nature, to escape from the materialism of society, and seek the greater meaning of life. But really, he just wanted to get away from his family, meanwhile causing them a great amount of pain. He’s like a 7-year-old running away from home, only to Alaska instead of down the street. The hypocrisy of his motivations diminishes his actions.

Chris seems to be operating under one central idea: the misery of his life is caused by the people in it, so the solution would be to remove all people from his life. People = problems, so mathematically speaking, if the value of “people” is zero, then the value of “problems” must also be zero. But another truth which eludes him is that human connection means everything. All the beauty and transcendence of nature mean nothing if you don’t have another human to share it with. Now, this may seem like a no-brainer to you (it did to me), but Chris just doesn’t get it. He only realizes it at the very end of the movie, and his life, which only make the story more tragic.

To compound matters, Chris constantly meets people along the way that try to show him this truth, and are even living examples of this truth, examples that apply directly to him. The hippie couple who give him companionship; the young girl who lets him see a picture of what his life could be; the old man who shows him the meaning and effect of loneliness. They’re all trying to bring him out of his singularity to a place of glorious give-and-take, where he can truly love and be loved. But he squanders the opportunities they give him, and ultimately rejects their love.

Another reason this movie is frustrating is that the entire first half presents Chris’s journey of self-discovery as romantic, epic, and even exemplary. I have very little patience for people who think that the best way to solve society’s problems for themselves is to remove themselves from society. In Chris’s case, his no-going-back trek into nature wasn’t even born out of a genuine desire to find a higher state of being; he just wanted to get away from his dad. Towards the second half, the movie takes on a different tone, one in which the viewer realizes that nature isn’t all fun and games and kayaking without consequence to oneself. There are very real dangers to deal with, and you have to realize that you may have great reverence for nature, but nature doesn’t give two craps about you. Naïve people like Chris will eventually meet an end like his own.

There are some great performances in Into the Wild, including an Oscar nod-worthy turn by Hal Holbrook. The cinematography is simply breathtaking, and beautifully captures the grandeur and majesty of nature. Director Sean Penn has a gift for gentleness and an even hand. What he lacks is pace and a good film editor. I think the movie could have been about half an hour shorter or more, and is at times plodding. It also takes too many forays into the very stylistic, which I could have done without. It takes a long time to say what it has to say, and seems to be saying something completely different when it starts. I thought it had some great things to offer, but I ultimately thought the main character was too much of a naïve idiot for me to really enjoy it.

Iconic Lines:

“12 years? To paddle down a river?”

“What if I were smiling and running into your arms? Would you see then what I see now?”

“The freedom of simple beauty is too good to pass up.”

22 Rating: -3

Particle Man