5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: World War Z

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

WORLD WAR Z

1. World War Z is a scintillating and exhilarating professional summer movie experience.  In what appears to be an entire world infected by a nasty zombie bite, Brad Pitt’s character of Gerry Lane declares that “movement is life” and Marc Forster delivers a picture that embodies such a credo.  World War Z is paced like an Olympic relay race with Brad Pitt as the baton passed from country to country on a hunt for potential crumbs of an outbreak containment solution.  Moments to take a breath or to reflect on the magnitude of what has transpired are fleeting and infrequent – any stall could mean death in the world of the play or in the momentum of the movie – but through the lens of the delicate, but strong performance from Pitt, we are able to tune out the wild screams of the pursuant undead and focus on the task at hand.

2. Speaking of Brad Pitt, the power of his obvious visual charisma has never been questioned, but some of his past performances haven’t exactly jumped out of the screen.  Here, he wears his middle age with a wisdom and stature that perhaps he is finally earned. Screenwriters are smart to not cloud his character with too muddy a backstory (there is no clichéd drinking problem or past infidelity). We are given permission to see him affectionately as simply a dad trying to finish a job so he can get back to his family.  He is honorable, courageous, and real.  In a movie centered on the pace and movement of the plot, the stillness and contemplative experience we have with Pitt’s Gerry throughout is what takes World War Z to that next level.

3. In a Zombie nation comparison, World War Z encompasses everything that was successful about the Frank Darabont-led first season of The Walking Dead while avoiding all of the pitfalls and horrible characters that have poisoned the waters of subsequent seasons of the AMC mega-hit.  In World War Z, we do not want moms to die because they are too annoying (Mireille Enos unexpectedly delivers as Brad Pitt’s wife – for anyone who has spent any time in the rain-addled depression pit that is her performance on The Killing – this is a major surprise).  In World War Z, child characters are endearing and sometimes even useful.  In World War Z, we appreciate that it seems like there are people out there who are trying to take meaningful action against the world zombification. In World War Z, there is no governor and there are no governor and Rick standoffs (praise!).  Pitt and other Z characters get that “movement is life” and would never consider hiding out in a prison or a farm for months at a time.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, World War Z feels like the actual world we are living in in the way people talk, communicate, and feel.  It is a credible vision of the “what if” of such an outbreak and the audience is subsequently riveted from the opening credits.

4. There is an important uncredited performance in the movie (even “uncredited” in the way the camera and actor try not to focus on each other), but, as fan of the actor and the iconic role he recently played, his appearance provides some solace in a most chaotic of worlds, especially when a plane crashes into the climax of the movie.  (If you want to find out about what actually happened with it, read here.  Despite a substantially reduced role, I appreciated his presence.)

5. World War Z is a riveting ride of a summer movie whose production troubles (rewrites, financing) yielded a most satisfying final product.  Cradling the storytelling genre of the moment with a potency and execution yet to be achieved anywhere else on screen or on television, this Brad Pitt star vehicle is very much worth the price of admission.

 

Draft Nights

On the night of June 24, 1998, I flew a transatlantic flight from Boston to Frankfurt, Germany en route to a most wonderful three week high school trip through Prague, Krakow, and Berlin.  This European expedition was one of the most formidable experiences of my high school years, solidifying and furthering my passions for history, travel, and white chocolate magnum bars.  I have some striking memories from the trip – winning a competitive ultimate frisbee game on a field by Hradcany Castle, alluding locals on a paddle boat on the Vltava River, entering a gas chamber at Auschwitz, sitting alone for hours in Wenceslas Square people watching – yet the one memory that has stuck with me the longest and now, fifteen years later, will forever be the most significant, occurred in the terminal at Logan Airport waiting for our flight.

Although thrilled and privileged to be able to travel to Europe in such a way, a part of me was disappointed that I would miss most of the NBA draft.  Probably second to only Christmas Eve growing up, the NBA draft was my favorite night of the year.  My die hard Celtics fandom began at the earliest of ages (few four year olds remember the 1986 title run so well) and especially since the Bird (1992), McHale (1993), and Parish (1994) departures, the NBA draft represented a glimmer of hope for the Celtics to find their way again as the most storied and successful franchise in professional sports.  Some recent horrible selections of useless stiffs (hello Acie Earl and Eric Montross) followed by the M.L. Carr tank-a-thon in 1996-1997 in a failed attempt to have a shot at Tim Duncan (five four titles in San Antonio later) led Boston to bring in what was thought to be (I was genuinely excited) our great savior.  Rick Pitino jumped on board as coach, president, vice president, media instigator, player agitator, and impatience advocate in 1997 hoping to steer the Tim Duncan bandwagon, but found himself instead with the third and sixth picks.  He selected Chauncey Billups third (but promptly traded him in February for Kenny Anderson because Pitino didn’t like Billups’ progress as a point guard and leader – Billups went on to be an All-Star, NBA Finals MVP, and Hall of Fame candidate) and Ron Mercer sixth (an overall disappointing NBA career plagued by injuries).  Along with Antoine Walker, the enigmatic, wiggly, lovable, super talented, four point shot proponent, the Celtics entered the 1998 Draft on what seemed to be a promising upswing.

Back at the airport on the night of June 24, the Celtics had the tenth pick, and I remember hoping that I would be there to see it on one of the bar TVs near our gate.  Our flight was at 8:30, so, depending on what time we boarded, I wasn’t sure we were going to be there for it.  Many prognosticators predicted the great Paul Pierce to be selected second by the host city Grizzlies (in Vancouver at the time) or third by Denver.  I remember hoping that we would get a player like Bryce Drew from Valparaiso (he played the role of Cinderella in a memorable game in the 1998 NCAA tournament) or Pat Garrity from Notre Dame who was essentially Steve Novak 1.0.  It was inconceivable that a collegiate stud like Pierce would be available at 10.  After Vancouver selected Mike Bibby at 2 and Denver selected Pierce’s Kansas (and future Celtics) teammate Raef LaFrentz at 3, the remote possibility of Pierce becoming a Celtic began to take flight.  The next four selections (Antawn Jamison to Toronto and then Vince Carter to Golden Slate, traded for each other later that night, followed by the late Robert Traylor to the Mavs, Jason Williams to the Kings) filled specific needs for those specific teams (or so I thought).  There was no way that Philadelphia at no. 8 would let a potential All-Star like Pierce go by.  I remember heading into Philly’s pick thinking that maybe the Celtics could get this big German kid who reminded some of Larry Bird if Milwaukee passed (see Dirk Nowitzki – also traded that night to Dallas in exchange for the rights to Tractor Traylor).  When David Stern’s “with the eighth pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Larry Hughes” echoed through the Logan Airport lounge, the opportunity to get Pierce (or at least the promising Nowitzki, little did we all know) finally became real.  Milwaukee selected Dirk, and then, this beautiful moment happened, just minutes before I had to board my flight (too bad I missed the Pistons pick Bonzi Wells at 11)…

Last night, painfully and appropriately on the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, Paul Pierce was no longer a member of the Boston Celtics (I am aware that the actual deal cannot be consummated until July 10, but this agreement is as good as done).  As a person who literally grew from a boy to a man during these past fifteen (at times tumultuous, but ultimately so rewarding) years, this era of my life symbolically has come to a close.  Thank you Paul for embodying what it truly means to be a Boston Celtic.

For some Celtics fans, their most formative Celtics eras were led by Cousy and Sharman, Russell, Havlicek and Cowens, or Bird, McHale, and Parish.  My Celtics were led by Paul Pierce.  We will miss you, no. 34.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s The Challenge, pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.

CHALLENGEMANIA: The Road to Rivals II – Winners, Losers, and Questions

To continue to tease our already overwhelming appetite for all things The Challenge in preparation for the July 10 season premiere of Rivals II (and to shamelessly cross-promote some shows called Girl Code and Guy Code that I admittedly had never heard of), MTV aired a one hour The Challenge part retrospective and part new season preview.  Hosted by the modern MTV and Jersey royalty tandem of Challenge stalwart Kenny “Mr. Beautiful” Santucci and Nicole “Snooki? Now that I am half my original size, I go my Nicole now, bitches!” Polizzi, the hour was mostly an exercise in historically bad cue card reading (more on this in a bit), unnecessary opinions from Girl and Guy Code cast members that nobody asked for, and clips from MTV’s pre-HD past.  Despite mostly  “I wish I had fast forwarded over this” filler, there were some important takeaways, some charming former Challenge cast member commentary, and a second season preview scored to the fiery furor of Nico Vega’s “Fury Oh Fury.”  Before we delve into brief analysis of matters of consequence, here are some quick take winners, losers, and questions posed by ChallengeMania: the Road to Rivals II.

Question: What happened to Snooki?  Beyond her incredibly gaunt and emaciated appearance (she’s been working out apparently), the author and mother of one didn’t seem her usual “hot mess” of a self.  Her affect felt flat, disengaged, and enigmatic.  I never thought of Snooki as talented in any way beyond being a unique individual in a reality TV world of mostly personality repetition and replication, but now I know that acting or in any way improvising should not be a her next career move…ever.  Poor Kenny struggled to get through her feeble attempts at banter and seemed so relieved when Paula Walnuts came on stage toward the end of the taping.  I thought Snooki always had a degree (I am stretching a little bit here) of charisma and perhaps maybe a little charm on camera, but this Snooki .5 is a depressing figure.

Loser – Snooki, the cue card reader – Snooki should not be reading cue cards.  Period.

Other lingering Snooki questions:  Why does she seem so obsessed with Johanna?  Does she really watch The Challenge?  Where is her baby during the taping of this show?  Is she serious when she says she is working out to be on a future Challenge?  At this point, is Snooki a human?

Losers – The writers of all dialogue between Kenny and Snooki – Tough moment for MTV writers.  If their aim was to make Kenny and Snooki sound as unnatural and fake as possible, mission accomplished.  This was a disaster.

Winners – The viewer while watching classic clips – It brought great joy to loyal The Challenge fans to reminisce and recall classic moments and people from a wonderful, twenty three season history.

Question: With Evan, Kenny, and Tonya featured prominently in retrospective clips, did MTV have to run this by legal before airing?  Since the settlement, Kenny and Evan have not been back on The Challenge.  Was this a never made public part of this agreement?  Why else would two all-time greats be kept off recent seasons?

Winners – Promos for the new season – Bananas is back!  CT is back!  Camila is unstable!  If these teasers don’t get you pumped, nothing will.

Winners – The great fights retrospective  – I vividly remember the genuinely scary CT and Adam melee (Isaac as an initial peacemaker may not have been the best call), but I had forgotten about the Wes and Evelyn room assault and the Katie battle with topless Veronica.  Watching Evelyn stomp around and destroy plants while Wes tells Johnny he is the “worst person in the world” is priceless television.

Loser – The making out segment and the terrible elevator music that accompanies it – This was a few too many levels of awkward.

Loser – Brad’s wedgie meltdown – Poor Brad.  Although he will be inducted into The Challenge hall of fame (although not on the first ballot), his wedgie reaction is not the best of looks.

WinnerThe Miz Only a WWE superstar can get away with a wedgie attack.

Winner – Sarah for her reaction to the Katie plunger meltdown – And otherwise for just being great.  Her commentary interviews are spot on.

Loser/Winner – Katie and the plunger meltdown – She is a loser for having a meltdown over a plunger.  She is a winner for finding a reason for a meltdown that seems to best match the great eccentricity of her persona on The Challenge.

Question: Why wasn’t a Katie/Veronica rival pairing included this season?  Veronica may have Challenge retired, but who wouldn’t want to see these two classic enemies play again?

Winner – Entertainment for the viewer…seeing Camila walk into a pool again on her night of crazy.  What is most remarkable to me is that Johnny and Camila won after this happens.  Of all the things Johnny Bananas has accomplished on this show, recovering from Camila’s night at Arkham Asylum may be his greatest achievement.

Winner – Jessimae Peluso – I mostly tuned out the random members of the cast of Girl Code and Guy Code who were randomly asked to become Challenge experts, but Jessimae kept bringing it with her witty insight and playful crushing on CT.  Some bio investigation garnered additional intel about her comedic beginnings in Boston (check), infatuation with John Stamos (check), and appearance on “The Tyra Banks Show” (check plus).

WinnerPaula walking us through a web of “Challenge Family Tree” connections – This was one of the more relevant (albeit unintentionally comedic) portions of the preview show.  Finding threads (even loose ones) to piece through the participants was a win for production.  Paula, unlike the little Snooki creature, can read a mean cue card and narrated this segment like a pro.

Winner – Whoever decided to call Wes a “self-proclaimed, political mastermind” – I like how with Wes, adding “self-proclaimed” to any description of him adds more authenticity.  Wes – a self-proclaimed redhead.  Wes – a self-proclaimed entrepreneur.  Wes – a self-proclaimed intellectual.

Losers – Connections that don’t actually exist – Paula connected Aneesa and Robb in her “family tree” because they both live near Philadelphia.

Losers – Rivals that have never met – I am a proponent of twitter and all, but to partner Johnny and Frank as rivals because of a twitter feud?  It may be a partnership that is great for gameplay, but it seems to take away from the sanctity of the construction of the season.

Winner – Kenny – He does professional work throughout, fending off the train wreck that is Snooki .5, maintaing great focus, managing several digs at Wes, and flooding the camera with his quintessential charisma and charm.  Could Kenny be a viable replacement for the legend of TJ Lavin if he ever decides to retire the hosting throne?

Although Paula’s connecting of the dots (“And don’t forget the four members from the cast of Portland who are connected by being new!”) flimsily weaved a rival backstory, the real fresh meat is in the showing of the original Rivals II trailer (already Zaprudered here) and the final “this season on” teaser (the real “this season on” will undoubtedly be unveiled at the end of the season premiere).  Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Anastasia seems to slap CT (not once, but twice – the second time in the back of the head) and then kick CT in the back of his legs.  Bird never struck me as such a dangerous predator while in Portland, but I guess a certain amount of time in the eye of the Nia storm will ruffle anyone’s feathers.  This is not the first time CT has been the object of someone’s uncontrollable aggression and it will certainly not be the last.
  • Speaking of fighting CT, it appears that Frank has a little run-in with him.  No one is in the least bit surprised.
  • I eagerly anticipate the interplay and strategic game manipulation of the Johnny and Frank tandem.  Maybe not the most real of rivalries, seeing them work together could be a treat of “Kenny carrying Wes on his back” proportions.
  • I can’t help myself but to kiss and tell.  Jordan and Sarah?  CT and almost Cooke?  Leroy and Emily?  Jonna and almost Jordan?  CT and Diem!

We are now less than two weeks away from The Challenge: Rivals II premiere (Wednesday, July 10 at 10/9c.  You won’t believe your eyes!).  I will be dropping a preview column and preseason power rankings before then, so stay tuned.  Until then, let me leave you with the final cue card reading improvisation catastrophe of Snooki: “Holy crap, the rivalries just keep getting more and more intense.  I’m obsessed.  Bye, we love you.”  Yep, thank you Nicole.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about The Challenge, pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Man of Steel

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

MAN OF STEEL

1) Man of Steel, the bombastic latest cinema incarnation of the iconic comic book legend, is a fiery hot mess of a movie that explodes at every turn with uncontrollable destruction of unspecific metropoli (meant to be Metropolis), characters that are not even attempted to be developed, and a world that has not earned the audience’s right to be saved.  Like most pictures that have Christopher Nolan’s name attached to them (here he gets story and producer credits), Man of Steel is an ambitious work that does strive for a certain kind of greatness, but it focuses too much on the wrong parts of the tale (see: everything to do with General Zod) and not enough on the parts that genuinely captivate (see: Clark’s childhood travails with the perfectly cast Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent).  Like most pictures that are directed by Zack Snyder, action sequences sure looks grey, grand, and ruinous, but he struggles to give us viable reasons to care and compelling people to care about.  The character of Superman has always been a challenge to depict.  As an alien creature to Earth with uncanny super powers, there is an inherent challenge in the character construction with audience empathy and connection.  This is why Batman has always been that much more interesting because we, with some financial wherewithal and proper training, could envision a scenario where we could wear the cape and cowl ourselves.  This is also why Superman stories (most notably in the long-running WB and CW tween soap Smallville) focus on Clark Kent and his growing pains assimilating to a world in which he is unlike any other.  Batman and Clark Kent are relatable.  Man of Steel flirts and dabbles with the Clark side of the equation (to much admitted success), but spends too much time mounting intergalactic warfare that amounts to very little substance.

2) It would be one thing to have given Clark Kent a more developed foundation, but Man of Steel, as any Superman telling must, spends too little time with his human surroundings.  Snyder relies on our past understanding of the Superman world to fill in a plethora of character gaps.  We only know that we are supposed to care about Perry White (Laurence Fishbourne picking up a paycheck now that his weekly CSI salary is off the books) because we have before, but there is so little energy given to his development that by the time he is the face of a city on the path of destruction, he doesn’t really matter to us.  When one of his Daily Planet minions, Jenny (an intern perhaps, I don’t know and I don’t care), finds herself caught amidst a pile of rubble (of which there quite a few), are we supposed to care when crafty character actor (and a high point of House of Cards) Michael Kelly pulls her out?  Do we really care when Detective Stabler (you left SVU for this?) comes around on Superman’s positive intentions or Toby Ziegler makes noteworthy scientific observations?  I think Snyder thinks we will, but again, thirty-seconds of screen time caring for a character does not make.  Lois Lane (played delightfully by Amy Adams – more on this in no. 4), strangely in the center of all alien (and very non-human) interplay and given a substantial amount of screen time, seems to make decisions without consequence, logic. or any degree of realistic motivation.  She throws herself into every dangerous fray because we are told she is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, but we do not understand why nor do we get to access any part of her deeper inner self.  To her credit, Adams plays her like there is more there, but I guess we will have to wait for the inevitable sequel.  Finally, as this bullet touches on the people of Man of Steel, why aren’t there more people in this movie?  Earth seems inhabited by maybe a couple of hundred (or as many extras that showed up).  Metropolis sure has buildings to destroy, but it seems largely vacant from any human life.  Unless you are an insurance company raking in property damage residuals, the stakes for Earth never seem that high because Earth appears to be a planet made up of a small town in the middle of Kansas, a fishing village in the Pacific northwest, and a ghost town of a Metropolis that has a thriving newsroom.

3) General Zod, played grumpily by Michael Shannon with a bad, late 90s boy band trim, is a terrible villain.  When he is spitting out speeches about saving Krypton and furthering his race of his people or creating havoc in product-placed American institutions like Sears and IHOP, I am not sure if he is supposed to be funny or whether it is a good time to take a bathroom break.  Either Michael Shannon is woefully miscast or General Zod lacks any charisma as a character.  I would argue both.

4) Unfortunately, Man of Steel has some promising raw material that is never brought to fruition.  Casting Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, Clark’s Earth parents, is expert casting 101.  Costner is right at home as a dad on a midwestern farm (“If you build it, he will come!”) and is a perfect counterpart for the ageless and wonderful Lane.  Their too few scenes together with younger versions of Clark are electric (as presented in this beautiful, misleading trailer from last summer) and would have been a better focus for this movie.  Henry Cavill, especially when moonlighting as a fisherman/barkeep, is a captivating force on screen and could have been that much more effective had he been given more Clark time and less “punch out with Zod” time.  His chemistry with Amy Adams (a performer who holds her own against many different types of leading men – see: The Master or The Fighter) has great potential, but sadly much of their more intimate time together is only alluded to.  We gather that they have shared something important (upon a mutual visit to a Kansas cemetery), but Snyder decides not to show us the actual conversation (oops).  I would have loved to have watched a different movie with more Cavill and Adams getting to know one another and more Clark growing up with Costner and Lane as parents.  This would have been a Man of Steel that had some wings to fly on.

5) Man of Steel is movie of unrealized ambition and direction that unfortunately plows a path of story, character, and audience enjoyment destruction.  It strives to be as iconic as its lead character, but plays the wrong notes too loudly and the right notes too softly and not frequently enough (I am not talking about the expected professional score from Nolan go-to Hans Zimmer).  It could have been built on some wonderful raw material (the Cavill-Adams-Costner-Lane foursome could not be a better place to start), but the Kryptonian/General Zod infrastructure falls apart as easily as the CGI buildings Zod knocks down.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Great Gatsby

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

Two things before I get to my 5 Things

No. 1 – Full disclosure: I saw The Great Gatsby two weeks ago today.  It has taken me this long to devote an hour (if it were only) to writing this piece because I was less than inspired by the movie (admittedly there were several things that were successful) and I did not feel a compelling reason to provide analysis within timeframe that fell under TGG‘s relevant time in theaters (when people are most likely to see it).  I have committed (really only to myself) to write about every movie I see in theaters, so the obligation still exists, I just feel this particular movie experience gave me an open invitation to procrastinate.

No. 2 – I have read the great (an understatement) The Great Gatsby novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (ironically for the first time only quite recently) and did not expect that this iteration of this tale would in any way live up to the novel.  I can appreciate the differences between the two mediums of literature and film and understand that quality replication is never the easiest of tasks.  This is a major factor in why I have chosen not to read the Game of Thrones novels in fear that it will negatively influence my experience of watching the incredible HBO series.  A movie or television show can be a viable and wonderful version of a story originally presented in a book and often trying to equate the two yields disappointment.  My feelings about this movie have not been too colored by this dichotomy.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

THE GREAT GATSBY

1) The Great Gatsby is directed by Baz Luhrmann.

2) Movies directed by Baz Luhrmann (of which The Great Gatsby is one) often adhere to the following trend: The first fifteen to twenty minutes are an exercise in constant cutting, a series of quick shots (albeit visually lavish) that blink the viewer into a state of over stimulation and nausea.  He creates a world where pace, movement, and headaches are the accepted norm.  Then, it seems like Baz Luhrmann gets a little tired.  His editing technique slows down (as if he became bored of it all), he throws in some orchestral pop songs (usually under the musical guidance of Craig Armstrong) and relies on romanticism and a color palette featuring every crayola option.  By the time we get to this tepidly paced second act, our sensory arousal has already been peaked and we now get weighed down by the balladic heaviness of it all.  There are some beautiful segments (the first time Romeo and Juliet meet, The Elephant Love Medley from Moulin Rouge), but we are left unsure of what movie we are actually watching (it may not be for everyone, Baz, but why can’t you just follow through on your concept for an entire movie?).  Unfortunately, The Great Gatsby follows this Baz Luhrmann trajectory and the result is a little bit of a colorful, hot mess.

3) The climactic confrontation scene in the Manhattan hotel is a phenomenal piece of theater (if only it more closely resembled another part of the movie!) and would fit well in the best Broadway play.  Joel Edgerton finally created some justification for what his “actor to watch out for” press status has been all about.  He gives a phenomenal performance of controlled rage, picking apart the suddenly vulnerable Leo’s Gatsby.  I will likely never see this entire movie again (I have done my time), but I look forward to repeated viewings of this scene.

4) Actors in The Great Gatsby have more chemistry with the camera than with each other.  Leo DiCaprio has never looked better in this post-youthful charm stage of his career, yet his character, outside of his ability to host a part or two and flip hair off his brow, seems less than great.  Toby Maguire toes his own baby face line as Nick Carraway, the narrator and beleaguered guide, but seems at arms length from each of his co-stars and from the audience.  Carey Mulligan face glistens with technicolor majesty, yet her performance is the grey of a black and white filtered lens.  Luhrmann’s big bright, roarin’ world never feels quite real (but for the aforementioned hotel scene) when the fantasy is stripped away.

5) Once again, The Great Gatsby is a movie directed by Baz Luhrmann. Like several of his movies that have come before it, it has a promising and unique vision that doesn’t last as long as it takes to get used to it. If Baz commits fully, whether you like it or not, it is certainly a distinctive voice.  Unfortunately, he dives deep into Gatsby’s outdoor pool for only a few moments before quickly returning to the surface for some air. The audience either wants a longer swim or would prefer not have gotten wet in the first place.

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Trailer – A Zapruder Analysis

A few days ago, MTV released the trailer for the 24th season of The Challenge on mtv.com.  In this second iteration of the Rivals format, eight male partner teams and eight female partner teams compete against each other in what is now commonly referred to as the fifth major American professional sport.  Mysteriously, the mtv.com trailer has been taken down and subsequent versions on other websites have been pulled as well (it is quite possible that sometime in the run of this post, the bootleg and unfortunately low-quality youtube version that I found will also be redacted).  In a race against the clock of destruction (or until mtv eventually reposts – UPDATE: MTV reposted), I wanted to provide my frame by frame analysis (a Zapruder treatment so to speak) of the two minute run-time of this historical piece of footage.

0:01 – The opening shot is eerily reminiscent of the classic helicopter shot going over Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park. Any time The Challenge makes you think about Jurassic Park, this must be a good thing. 

0:05 – TJ begins his voice0ver with “I want you guys to picture a very large sum of money…money so big, it could change your life forever.”  This is the kind of sum that warrants foreboding underscoring.

0:09 – In some very expected news, Tyrie (according to the back of helmet name tag) appears to be in an elimination.  The Tyrie/Dunbar pairing could be prdouction’s attempt to make this ultra-dramatic, hyper intense Challenge viewing experience just a little more comedic.  Has there ever been a combination in these past 24 seasons that has less of a chance of winning?

0:22 – TJ continues: “What if that one person is your worst enemy?” – This second rodeo of this premise (Rivals was particularly enjoyable – especially Wes and Kenny’s implosion in the finale) is a wonderful conceit on the surface, but if you look a little closer at the actual pairings, in almost every case, “rival” is a lot a bit of an overstatement.  Johnny and Frank’s entire relationship up until now has been a twitter back and forth.  I have watched every second of Marlon and Jordan on Real World Portland, and besides some extreme competitiveness from Jordan in the Dustin Real World Las Vegas mold, I would hardly call their relationship a battle between two enemies.  There may be some strained blood here and there among most of these pairing, but enemies? I am afraid not.  The one glaring exception is Team Wes and CT whose potential for greatness (in a great reality TV kind of way) more than makes up for an otherwise loose interpretation of the word “rival.”

0:28 – Zach’s voiceover: “I hate this kid…I hate the ground he walks on.”  Is he referring to partner Trey, or, more likely, is he referring to Wes?  Wes has faced quite a few “I hate this kids” in his long Challenge career.

0:37 – The “TRUST NO ONE BUT YOUR WORST ENEMY” mashup is apparently directed by the great master of frenetic cutting himself, Baz Luhrmann (see: all of his movies).  I have to hand it to production though – if you have a shaky premise, you might as well present it in this “the world is ending/impending doom” fashion.  It is admittedly effective.

0:41 – Bird tells us that “some of these people here are like absolutely pure evil.”  After this past week’s Real World in which Hurricane Nia attempts murder with a hair dryer, she should know.  On another note, I can not foresee The Challenge and Jessica being a successful pairing.  It’s just a hunch.

0:44 – Emily tells us that this game is going to get “so nasty.”  Is she referring to the kind of nasty of her blackface incident from Exes?  Too soon?

0:47 – People are “looking for love wherever they can get it” and apparently for Sarah, this is with Jordan.  With full comprehension that Challenge love teases are almost always grossly exaggerated, I strangely dig this possibility.

0:53 – “All is fair in love, war, and Challenges.”  Welcome back, Johnny Bananas!

0:55 – Diem trusts Wes more than she trusts CT.  It is like preferring to put your hand in an open flame versus in a pot of boiling water.  They are both going to leave you burned.

0:57 – CT is “being nice” but Diem’s “not playing fair.”  The Challenge legend may have a point.  This gentler version of CT has been alive and well over the past few Challenges and is a far cry from the monster that broke Diem’s heart or Johnny’s will here:

1:00 – We are one minute into the trailer and we have our first sight of Paula crying!  In fairness, in a brief size-up of the female teams, despite emotional roller coaster riding, I am not sure who beats Paula and Emily.

1:04 – There is some water poured, heads butted, arms swung, and barrels thrown.  This is par for the Challenge course, but, after the aforementioned Hurricane Nia maelstrom on The Real World this week, it all seems so tame.

1:11 – “Welcome to the scariest elimination round we have ever had.”  Not one to emphatically hyperbolize, TJ means business.  In the trailer’s second clear (only in my mind) allusion to Jurassic Park, the electric cables and caging reminds me of a raptor paddock.  Safety is not guaranteed.

1:21 – Cooke (a strong addition to this franchise – it never hurts to have a professional athlete competing) tells us that “good people in this game do not get far.”  Did you forget about Sarah making it to last year’s finals?

1:26 – This shot of Marlon working out and companion voiceover of “You wanna get me up out of here, you’re gonna have to kick my ass” speaks to some shotgun preseason analysis – Marlon and Jordan, if they can figure out the social game and align with the right power players, are going to be a formidable rookie combination.  Both are elite athletes, super competitive, and seem to compliment each others strengths.  They are a team to watch out for.

1:34 – In an even deeper confirmation of his godfather role in this game, Johnny lays it straight with Knight: “You have got yourself linked up a a sinking ship, dude.”  Is he talking about partner Preston?  Old flame Jemmye?  Sage Aunt figure Trishelle?  This is followed by a shot of Knight engaging in some extracurricular activity of the physical fighting kind.  There may not be too much to read into all of this, but I hope that Knight has been pulled under Johnny’s strategic organization.  He showed some game mastermind promise on Battle of the Seasons that was extinguished too soon in the fiery remains of a team featuring Preston and Mackenzie.  Knight deserves another go round.

1:39 – What a pleasure it is to see old enemies, Aneesa and Trishelle, still going at it, now a full decade later.  Aneesa’s nomination for best line of the trailer (“You are the Tra-shelle you were and you are always going to be trash”) is followed by a push “punch” to Trishelle’s face.  You can begin to feel the momentum of the July 10 season premiere.

1:43 – What The Challenge trailer would be complete without some time devoted to Frank yelling?  “Let him shake!”  Oh, don’t worry.  We will.

1:44 – A new rule to live by – Any time The Challenge incorporates a light saber battle into the festivities, it is a good thing.

1:48 – Does Bird just slap CT in the face?  Welcome to the big leagues Real World: Portland!

1:50 – These fleeting images of the challenges within The Challenge show shot after shot of people falling in water.  People falling in water is kind of a win.

1:53 – The trailer ends with Zach yelling, “I want who’s next!” and then cuts to the show titles (set against an unexpected purple misty swirl).  If this ending montage doesn’t encourage excitement and anticipation, you may need to reevaluate your own understanding of dramatic tension.

My season preview column will be out later this month.  The Challenge: Rivals 2 debuts on MTV on July 10, 2013 at 10:00 PM EST.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.