Monday, February 17, 2014

House of Cards is Better Because It's Not Great TV



I’ve seen the first five episodes of Season Two of House of Cards. I will absolutely be spoiling the first episode and mention minor things in the next four.


I thought the first season of House of Cards was fine. It had a cool style and fine performances, but it never lived up to the hype that it was creating for itself. Then something changed during the premiere of its new season. It decided that it was going to be crazier.

Sure Frank killed Peter Russo at the end of his convoluted plan to make the Vice President quit. However that was seen as a dark scary moment in Frank’s psyche that allowed him to improvise from his scheme and learned a bit about his psychotic ambition. Yet it still wasn’t that interesting of character inspection because I never cared about Frank. I didn’t care about any character on the show; I felt bad about the lack of control in Peter Russo’s life but now he’s gone.

In Season Two, the show seems to embrace how emotionally distant the show is and will just let us enjoy the chaos. And this show really wants to be chaotic. It’s taking the Breaking Bad big moments without any of the emotional stepping-stones it takes to get to those moments.

At this point in the show, we have a vice president who is essentially a serial killer, a wife who is threatening unborn babies, a McPoyle hacker who will bark like a dog to save his beloved guinea pig and a possible Christian lesbian—definitely Christian, maybe lesbian—who is converting a prostitute who can blackmail the aforementioned VP.

This show is silly.

So very silly.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Top 61 Films of 2013....Because Why Not

As I write this, we are now 27 days into 2014 which means thanks to the effect of New Year’s consumption, the polar vortex freezing our brain cells and probably something that has to do with Rob Ford, we can’t remember 2013. Every publication wraps-up the year with a billion slideshow articles they turn in before winter break because they’re pretty positive nothing will happen during those last two weeks.

Then we’re done! No more 2013! Now it’s time to focus on “films” like I, Frankenstein and….what the hell is The Nut Job? Today I’m going to go against the grain and write about the best of cinema from last year even though we are almost a month into its predecessor. I can never do it at the end of December because there are too many movies that I want to see before I write my (pseudo) definitive list.

This year I want to go even crazier. I want to talk about my Top 61 films because I see this as one of the best years in cinema I’ve ever experienced. Also I think the film market is changing. Right now you have access to amazing films so you don’t have to go see The Legend of Hercules. There are more options!

Last thing before this gets any longer (Ha!), even though I waited to see more movies, that doesn’t mean I saw everything. I still missed About Time, After Tiller, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Bastards, Best Kept Secret, Beyond the Hills, Caesar Must Die, Clear History, Deceptive Practice, Ernest & Celestine, Escape From Tomorrow, Go For Sisters, The Hunt, Night Across the Street, Paradise: Love, Pieta, Post Tenebras Lux, Sightseers, Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers, Something in the Air, Starbuck, Tim’s Vermeer, A Touch of Sin and You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet. I’ll get to those…one day.

Last first thing, why 61 films? Because I was going to do 60 and then I realized I forgot to put one on my list halfway through writing this. Why even have this many? Make it to the end of the article, but now let’s get started…


#61 
How to Make Money Selling Drugs



This movie is so obviously influenced by The Wire it’s even bold enough to have scenes from the HBO masterpiece and interviews with David Simon. The gimmick of making this movie a “How To” guide is a lot of fun and serves as a nice counterbalance to the depressing financial statistics about how the decades long War on Drugs has severely damaged America.

Currently Available on DVD.

#60 
Hey Bartender



Another year, another documentary about an awesome niche world I’ve never seen before. This movie shows the cultural rise of the cocktail and how the right bartender could be just as exciting as the brilliant new chef. Always cool and slick, this brings such a nice allure to this world and the work it takes to make a successful environment.

Currently Available on iTunes

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Beauty of Her

One more thing about today’s nominations. I like the Oscars because there’s a sense of legacy to the flawed institution and it gets to reward those who aren’t typically rewarded. I really can’t care about Oscar snubs for Robert Redford and Tom Hanks because I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’re probably going to be okay. Instead let’s focus on the unheralded who did some amazing work.



What I was really happy to see was K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena’s nomination for the film Her. There have been so many tweets and Facebook posts lately about what all “needs” to happen within the next year to make Back to the Future II accurate. Those are amusing (well mostly repetitive) but that was never meant to be a fully realized science-fiction world. It’s a fun satirical look at different aspects of culture that are all jumbled together to make for an entertaining romp.

Why I love Her so much is that it’s not a glimpse of our future, but a future we wish we had. I started to notice halfway through the movie that I hadn’t seen a single corporate logo. The OS system that Theodore uses doesn’t have an apple on it or even a name. Everywhere he walks, there aren’t billboards screaming about things to buy. He does get the occasional junk email but he is able to get a system in place to ignore those for him. The elevators are clean, the offices are colorful and the homes are filled with items not products.



Her has a world where society has evolved to become user-friendly, not corporation friendly. It’s shockingly nice. There were two times during the plot I was worried that a lawsuit was going to break out, but that never happened. There is civility amongst everyone because in this magical world, people are just trying to connect with one another. When Theodore sits for a moment near the end of the film and watches everyone on their mobile devices, they’re not looking like drones. They are engaging and talking and happy. This isn’t a world of distractions, but a world to focus on the things that matter the most to us.

These types of worlds are rarely depicted because the boring conclusion to technology is that it’s bad and evil and we need to only use quills because that’s what our Founding Fathers had. Other than ignorant/boring luddite approach, futuristic stories often use technology as a foil because that’s where the conflict arises. Spike Jonze has taken the (in retrospect) obvious approach in that concept and realized that people inherently create their own drama in their journey to be happy.



Barrett and Serdena created a world where people try to fulfill their happiness through their lifestyle without commenting on consumerism. Money is rarely brought up in the world, often only when it’s being rejected. Chris Pratt’s character of Paul is complimented about his shirt from Theodore and then is seen wearing it a couple of more times throughout the film. That shirt wasn’t about how much it cost or what brand it is; it’s about how that shirt made him connect to Theodore.

When Theodore talks to his date about the video game, it isn’t about the top-of-the-line graphics but about the connection he had with one of the characters. He doesn’t even own a TV to play it, but lets it surround him in a room as if it was tangible as anything else in his life. This focus on a richer importance seemed to make a superior product because nothing is seen malfunctioning in the world. Theodore can always get the letters sent, voice-command to listen and the videos to play exactly when you want them to.




Now I’ve given credit to a lot of people in this including Jonze as a screenwriter and (not-nominated) costume designers. Yet it was Barrett and Serdena that made me realize how this world functioned and they did so in an intelligent and non-flashy way. I can’t wait to see the movie again for a number of reasons, but I want to look even closer at the way this world reflects the kindness and peace the characters want for themselves and others.