Saturday, 7 September 2013

I think you're a 3!

The Way Way Back.

Welcome to another review of a Jim Rash written film where I don't talk much about the movie itself, which is a sweet, though not exactly subtle tale of an awkward teenager on his holidays (my other was The Descendants - found here-, a fine film that I choose to talk about my parents and grandparents instead of reviewing because of a thing that i'm going to examine instead of the film now).

I don't suppose there is one reason why people watch films, or teevee, or read comics, or novels or whatever it may be. But something I hear a lot is the idea of 'switching your brain off and enjoying it' so I guess escapism in my not qualified, totally unstudied surmise is possibly a lot of people's main reason (I would be interested to hear people's thoughts on this - all 4 of you that might read it). 

But I don't see it that way. I don't see it as escapism. I don't want to escape my life but connect to it. I don't really understand how people fit together. Just the other day a friend of mine asked if i had a 'Best Friend' and my answer was no.  I don't have anyone close. No confidant, no best man. I don't want to be so twee to suggest movies fill that role because that's kinda fucking stupid and sounds like the sort of writer's conceit that would make me roll my eyes. But they exhibit a power at times that is hard to qualify. 

The Way Way Back very much makes me think of myself at that age in a way that is both uncomfortable and slightly liberating. I never had Sam Rockwell (as a sort of manic pixie dream dad-figure) but I did okay. But I want that connection in Transformers, Alan Partridge, Saga or The Uncanny X-Men. The best literature and culture pop or otherwise doesn't tell me what it is but what I am. 

That connection doesn't have to be profound. My favourite comic of last year The Nao of Brown was deeply heartfelt personal and resonant but I love Hawkeye almost as much though the connectors may be different. I don't want to escape into Hawkeye, I want to engage with it. And it's a smart, silly, funny book so that's easy thankfully.

Postscript. So this may be the most dully pretentious terribly shallow thing and, like the dread pirate roberts, I will most likely kill it in the morning. But The Way Way Back is a lovely, charming film and well worth seeing.

Post postscript. Yeah of course this doesn't cover the many multitudes of reasons why I like the stuff I like but I'm in an odd mood - Jim Rash seems to bring out the reflective nature in me (and strangely enough stars in the teevee show that had similar, though further reaching effects - he did write an great episode of that too).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Penny Problem or: A defense of Captain Hammer

"But now we pick pick
Pick pick pick it apart
Open it up to find the
Tick tick tick of a heart
A heart, broken"

Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog

I'm basically saying he's Walter White.

We get that Dr. Horrible is the bad guy right? I mean apart from the whole actually wanting to be a super villain thing.
Sure he's smart, good looking, shy and can belt a show tune or two but he's a massive raging asshole.
A walking, talking indictment of the 'good guy' self delusion. He indulges in the behavior of a stalker, exhibiting jealousy and cruelty which ends up destroying that which he professes to love. And why does he love her? She has nice eyes? He desires a conquest every bit as much as Captain Hammer. As he cannot bring himself to talk to Penny there is no connection there and when he does it is based on lies (oh he loves laundry does he now) and spying on her habits (god forbid he had actually talked to her to find out she liked frozen yogurt).
Penny is nothing more than a trophy, the unattainable goal. He shows no real respect for her throughout. His own needs come before her at every turn from barely noting what her cause is to utilising her death to further his career. 
The man corrupts all around him, like so many liquefied, cumin smelling, gold bars.

Captain Hammer is a douchebag. Sure. But he actually tries to work with Penny. He doesn't even really hide who is he, his general disgust with homeless and ducks is plain for all to see. Like the bad Doctor he knows a bunch of signatures isn't going to change anything but actually does something about it in his own selfish way. And gets it done without needing a freeze, or even death, ray. 
He claims to want to bang the two dimensionally angelic Penny to get at Horrible but we know this to be a lie (being mendacious to your enemy much more acceptable than to the one you are supposed to love) as they go out before he knew the connection with the Doc and confesses he would like to go out again (couched in unquestionably uncomfortable sexist terms, yes, but she is already making him think more about women than he possibly has before).
Whereas Horrible is raised high by Penny's death, Hammer is brought low. He feels physical pain for the first time but far worse surely is the realisation of his inadvertent part in her killing. Maybe if he wasn't so wrapped up in himself she would be alive today. He already bettered the city from just knowing her and has gone for therapeutic help since the incident, maybe Penny's enduring legacy can be in making a Hero a better man. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The goats moustache is Cameron Diaz.

Community 1x2 - Spanish 101

  There is a statement I keep hearing (particularly in regards to the controversial 4th season) that Community took a while to actually become good. As I point out in my look at the pilot episode ( I found Community to be incredibly strong right out the gate. Yes, I believe it got better as it got a firmer grip on the characters and more time to explore them and their surroundings but the foundation was remarkably solid as demonstrated in the second time out.
  This episode starts to flesh out Britta more fully and lays down details that would become more important as the series went on (her slightly condescending but genuine concern for Abed gives a nod towards the role she would take on as group analyst). But it works on a deeper level than just character setting, I think most people are inherently good (Community would come to look at this issue in an outstanding half hour before too long) but I worry constantly about my laziness and complacency without ever really doing anything about it. Community biggest strength is that at any given moment I identify with any of the main characters who seem to express concerns and exhibit foibles I myself suffer from. This episode looks at that well meaning lefty leaning individual who cares deeply about things but finds it hard to connect beyond the surface level and actually do anything about it. And is of course damn funny doing so.
  The other characters are not neglected either. We see the beginnings of the Troy/Abed platonic romance, and the easy, pleasing chemistry between the two. It doesn't go much beyond this yet, Abed is still mostly there to make 'meta' references but even that is in service of who he is as a person (again expressing a difficulty with relating to the 'real' world). Troy hasn't much of a personality yet beyond being a little dim perhaps (this would get exaggerated as time went on) but Donald Glover makes every line reading golden and the Spanish rap at the end is one of those things that wouldn't work at all if it wasn't for the talent and timing of the actors. Annie and Shirley serve as counter-point to Britta, actually doing something about the cause she pays (tape covered) lip service to and again establish a nice chemistry (that wouldn't get used as much) and show what a strong interesting cast the show has gathered.
  The other major pairing is Jeff and Pierce who get the piece de resistance in a outrageously funny spoof of inspirational montages and again this is used to not just deliver a punchline (though it's a great one) but to highlight character beats. Jeff is a selfish douche but being around these people is already changing him for the better. Pierce serves as a warning to Jeff as to what he could become which also fuels Pierces neediness as he tries to force father/son bond between the two, seeing perhaps a younger version of himself (or at least what he imagined the younger version of himself to be).
  We also get an introduction to the remaining regular on the show - Senor Chang, who would prove a little marmite as time went on (or judging by forums at the time even for this episode). Ken Jeong is nothing but hilarious here and the seeds of what would happen to his character are already being sown (check the flags on the back of the cards the Spanish class are given). And even his fairly one note character presents a deeper (though not exactly subtle as it is explicitly stated by said character) reading, the idea of disconnect and representing through stereotype. The joke of him being an Asian Spanish teacher works because none of the class seemed as fussed by it as he does.
  So two episodes in and Community was cementing itself as a show to watch. Next week would give more shading to Abed, a character I came to connect to in a way a teevee show has never done before.

  • 'cos you guys usually spend the first twenty minutes talking about your interesting personal lives and your cool emotional problems
  • My knowledge will bit her face off!
  • Come on - hands! 90% of Spanish.
  • To the empowerage of words.
  • That dude is crazy - he told me that girls have two pee holes
  • F, F minus.
  • We can have a candlelight vigil like lesbians have on the news.
  • What we have so far. Well, we have something incredibly long and very confusing and a little homophobic and really, really specifically, surprisingly and gratuitously critical of Israel. It's called ‘Two Conquistadors’. It should probably be ‘Dos’; I mean it is a Spanish class.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

What is Community College?

Community 1x1 - Pilot.

September of 2009. I was just finalising my move into a business venture I had been planning for a while (I would open in October) but at least one other great thing happened. 
There were maybe two excellent network pilots that season. Both shared some similarities; taking place in an educational setting, a diverse mix of outsider types, funny gags and pop culture riffs and a heart firmly placed on sleeve. Glee, of course, when on to be a smash success (though it lost touch with the darker element that made it's pilot interesting and quickly became a mess) whereas Community cemented itself alongside it's characters. Marginalised, misunderstood, not well liked by the majority but loved somewhat intensely by a few (it's clear by occasional different forum perusal that some dislike for the show comes from a dislike of it's fanbase more than anything else), Community instantly clicked with me although it would be a little while before I found a deeper, even personal, connection that would push it beyond being a funny sitcom I enjoyed to something more revelatory and transformative. 

But that came later. To begin with it was just a show I liked a lot.
The first episode is one of the strongest comedy pilots I've seen. It has a bunch of wildly different types and does very well in sketching them out with broad strokes but beats that dig a little deeper than most shows. And whilst it does so it's already poking at the forms tropes and cliches and never forgetting to be very, very funny. Within seconds the show presents us 'the jock', 'the mom' 'the old guy' but shows them, with no dialogue, questioning this set up. Chevy Chase (pushed heavily by the marketing but relegated mostly this episode to sideline status) straight out the bat gives a great little visual double take.

The ensemble nature of the show is something not immediately apparent in this opener. It is firmly centred around the selfish Jeff (Joel Mchale) and his desire to bone the self righteous Britta (Gillian Jacobs) but the cleverness of the set up forces one character to define the others (for the audience) by first tearing them down and then building them back up again. The fact that both acts are not fully sincere doesn't matter because this is also the creator Dan Harmon telling you about these characters and each is given some nice beats to prove their comedy chops but also because that very insincerity is a telling detail of Jeff. Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley perhaps gets the least to do (something the show would often come to struggle with) but has a great sense of timing and brings a different energy to the room that is valuable.

There is a huge amount of Dan Harmon bleeding into the script of this one. An argument can be made (and has I'm sure) that each character represents different personality disorders that the incredibly intelligent but often morose and insecure Harmon himself has, or believes he has. But in the Pilot Jeff clearly is positioned as his mouthpiece and uses him to explore notions of moral relativism (unusual for a sitcom and doubly rewarding because it's so funny) and exploring our position within society and indeed what makes up society itself. Though 'reference' humour abounds (John Hughes gets a memoriam in the credits) particularly with a funny Breakfast Club running gag, this episode plays with the sitcom form fairly conventionally (the Jeff/Britta pairing seems like every other comedy ever) than it would come to in the future.

This was a remarkably solid foundation, full of great jokes and an interesting, talented cast that would go from strength to strength over the course of the first year and hit an amazingly solid run in it's second before stumbling a little in it's brave almost troubling third and a sharp drop for it's fourth (and probably final) season. If anyone expresses interest (or not I might do it anyway) I will probably cover the rest of the series in bursts of two episodes each, though with some I'm not sure I will have much to say beyond listing the funny lines. And then with some I may (or may not) offer up an uncomfortably personal expression of how the show affected me. No idea on what my schedule for it will be.

Choice Cuts.
  • No and, if I wanted to learn something I wouldn't have come to Community College
  • Bears have feet
  • People can connect with anything. We can sympathise with a pencil, we can forgive a shark and we can give Ben Affleck an academy award for screen writing.
  • I thought you were like Bill Murray in any of his films but you're more like Michael Douglas in any of his films.
  • Why are people trying to teach me things at a school that has an express tuition aisle?
  • You just wrinkled my brain man.
  • Funny thing about being smart is you can get through most of life without having to do any work
  • What's going on? Can you guys hear me? Am i going deaf?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Well, here I am

Highest grossing film of the year but did it make my list?

Yeah, so.
The last year has not been a great one for me on a personal level (part of the reason for no blogging), but on a cultural one? Not too shabby. Many great books and films were consumed. Short aside to mention a couple of the best books last year - Nao of Brown, really great slice of life stuff with an amazingly compelling lead character and beautiful artwork. Saga, in reductive critical terms a Star Wars for adults. But deeper than that, stunning, shocking and more than a little rude on occasion. And New Deadwardians, a terrific well realised world of vampires and zombies that feels fresh and yet comfortable (full disclosure - I'm friends with the artist but it pleases me that I don't have to lie about the stuff he works on).

Right on to the movies then.

Top 10 of the Year (in no particular order)

1. Moonrise Kingdom.
2. Avengers (or Marvel Avengers Assemble if you'd prefer)
3. Cabin in the Woods
5. Life of Pi
6. Headhunters
7. Looper
8. The Master
9. Seven Psychopaths
10. Argo

Bubbling under (some of them quite far under but they were fun): Chronicle, Cosmopolis, Premium Rush, Dredd, The Raid.

Bottom 5 of the Year (no order)
1. This Means War
2. Lock Out
3. Taken 2
4. The Expendables 2
5. Total Recall

That was a much easier choice last year. Most of those are better than any that made my bottom list of 2011 with the exception perhaps of This Means War, which was just repugnant.

Most overrated by critics: Hmm. Nothing really stands out for something I saw. So I'll plump for Anna Karenina, which I didn't see but would almost certainly loathe.

Most overrated by fanboys: Another tricky one. Reception seemed more muted or even strongly divided for Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus and The Hobbit than some of the previous winners. Think we'll have to go for Dark Knight here as it's the worst of those three (and I think The Hobbit is ok)

The 'Borat' Award for best naked wrestling: Not sure why I keep doing this award. Django Unchained would probably have it if it got released slightly earlier here.

The 'Assault on Precinct 13' remake Award for best 'that was surprisingly decent' film: Premium Rush. An action film on a bike. Really good fun.

The 'I wish I had actually paid the extra to see this in 3D' Award: Life of Pi. But cineworld don't charge extra for me now so I actually did see it in 3D.