Saturday, March 31, 2012

Broadway Revisited: Next to Normal

Tonight I went to see a local Boston production of Next to Normal at Boston Center for the Arts.  I first saw the show back in New York City on Broadway in 2009. 

I first had heard about this show from friends who had seen it and were blown away by its non traditional use of rock, which took a story different from most on Broadway.  Normal centers around a mother, Diana, who is suffering from a bipolar mental disorder, and the effects it has on her husband, daughter, and son.  There is one spoiler that I do not want to give away, but the show deals with dark issues like depression, death, suicide, and other modern day issues like psychiatry, and suburban life.

The show had its bumps in the road, the cast slightly changed, but the creative team of Brian Yorkey, who wrote the book and lyrics, and Tom Kitts who wrote the music.  These two men helped to create one of my top five favorite Broadway shows of all time.  Their show is the emotional ride, that has incredible depth and music that pierces the soul.  Kitts won two Tony awards for this show for Best Orchestrations and Best Score, while the duos second pair Yorkey won for Best Score.  The duo also won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 2010 an incredible honor, and rarely is given to a musical.

Watching the show tonight made me think about seeing the show three years ago with the fantastic original case.  The original cast included the Tony Award winning (for this role) Alice Ripley. Ripley played the central character Diana battling with bipolar disorder.  J. Robert Spencer was also Tony nominated and played Diana's husband Dan.  Spencer was brilliantly vulnerable and showed terrific range in his acting and singing.  Jennifer Damiano played Natalie their daughter.  Natalie is this angst ridden and dealing with mother's disease while struggling to battle adolescence, and the potential fear of her mother's disease effecting her.  Damiano was a relative newcomer but she also landed a Tony nomination for her role.  Aaron Tveit rounded out the family playing Gabe the son.  Tveit did a solid job in his first show, and has since done more work proving his talent and charisma on stage.  The rest of the cast was rounded out with Louis Hobson who played both of Diana's doctors, and Adam Chanler-Benet who played Natalie's love interest Henry.

Seeing the show, and hearing the beautiful music allowed me to transport myself into the emotion world when I first saw this show.  I remember connecting with the characters emotional struggles on a deeper level than any musical I had ever seen before.  Watching Diana struggle through her emotional experiences, and fight to become sane is gripping.  The same can be said for Dan's journey.  Dan often wonders if he is the one who is crazy because he sits by as his wife descends into depression, while he can do nothing.  The performance below says it all about this show, enjoy, and if you have not experience this show, you should find a way to listen to at least listen to the wonderful music.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy First Anniversary (Belated)

While waiting around I realized I had been writing this for one year on March 20th.  With work being, and attending a work conference like a bad husband in TV or film I forgot my own anniversary.

One year ago I wrote these words "Welcome to my new blog!  This focuses on the film industry and the role it plays it not only shaping the landscape of history, but in shaping our culture.  Many of you may think of me as a film snob or an elitest, but I enjoy well made well written films.  When I spend my money I want to know the producers, directors, cast put the time, effort and energy to make quality material. (Just wanted to put in Warning)"  

For those of you who read my blog regularly you have seen that my postings have evolved, and I do not just talk about film, but talk about television, and music.  Like with all writers the work evolves, and with one year under my belt I am sure further changes will occur.

If I were writing this blog now I would write my posts are meant to focus on popular culture, with reviews, commentary and critical analysis of race, sexual orientation within different mediums, award show results, predictions, and commentary, and honestly much more.  When I started this one year ago I did this as a result of an assignment in graduate school.  I now write for the sake of my own sanity to discuss an area of passion in my everyday life.

Where will things go next?  More about comic books/graphic novels, and books.  This is the year of presidential election, and I imagine politics will creep into some of my posts.  There will be more of the same talking about films being released in the month, writing about classic television shows, and my adventures in music exploration.

This has been an interesting year, and I have to share my appreciation and gratitude first and foremost to the people who read my posts.  Those who read this have shared how much they either enjoy or disagree with me (quite strongly), and I appreciate both.  I write not just for myself, but for people to share in a dialogue about popular culture.

I also have to thank the inspiration for the title of this, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  The team who put this film together from the director to the composer, put together a beautifully crafter film that creates an emotional experience in me every time that is unlike any other film.  To close my anniversary post I am going to post a quote from Alexander Pope that the film uses:

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
                                                 The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd
Remember popular culture can have a much deeper impact than we realize.  I hope within the next year  I take things to the next level and challenge myself to make people think about the various aspects of popular culture on a deeper level.  Thank you for a great firs year!

Madonna Continues Her Evolution/Sticks with her Roots with MDNA

Madonna-MDNA (3 1/2 out of 5)

In a post divorce world Madonna's new album has much more depth, that takes her silky pop music to new levels.  Of the 16 tracks on the album 7 of them are about her divorce. 

One of her track I Fucked Up starts with an almost apologetic nature  "I fucked up, I made a mistake,Nobody does it better than myself, I'm sorry, I'm not afraid to say I wish I could take it back, But I can't,I'm so ashamed, You're in so much pain, I blamed you when things didn't go my way, If I didn't, you'd be here, If I didn't fight back, I'd have no fear,If I took another path, things would be so different, But they're not, I 'coulda just kept my big mouth closed, I 'coulda just done what I was told, Maybe I should of turned silver into gold,But in front of you I was cold."
While there are also moments where pain becomes anger with track like Some Girls stating that Guy Ritchie Madonna's ex should be happy with his new woman with her fake tits, and the clear message of the song is just simply you will never find a girl as good as me.

While most of the album does have an emotional heart wrenchingdetails of her divorce and her search for new love the album explores the evolution of the traditional Madonna blended with the new dance/electronica genre of  today.  As some people may scoff that Madonna may sound like Avril Lavigne in her collaboration with Nikki Minaj and M.I.A. (which is somewhat true).  I think the she also holds true to not leaving her own pop style behind.  Madonna is working with William Orbit after he has been missing in action from her work from the last 12 years.  Her work with duo Orbit "Gang Bang " which has this great fun feeling like all of her old music.  Orbit helps Madonna let out even more anger with this track attacking Ritchie's shoot em movies, using a Kill Bill style sound which is flawless.

The club tracks can often have their hallow sounds while Madonna does not just with Orbit but also with Martin Solveig on "Give Me All Your Luvin" which does allow him to use his own talents, but rather curbs his style to sounding like William Orbit.  The other problem is that the work of other people like Benny and Alle Benassi put some hallow tracks "Girls Gone Wild" while these two songs can be incredibly fun they often lose the drive and deeper meaning of the album.

Yet with some flaws Madonna has seemed to find the balance between creating something new and sticking to a style that is truly her own.  This is her best work since Confessions on a Dance Floor in 2005, and Madonna knows how to create excellent pop music.  Even her music video below shows that Madonna is rooted in her past and should never work away from what makes her a great artist.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Travels with Kevin Part 5: Elizabethtown is the Only Movie I Have Seen Set in Kentucky, Sorry Louisville

In 2005 director Cameron Crowe released his  follow up film to Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky entitled Elizabethtown.  While Almost Famous, was one of the best films of the 2000s,  Vanilla Sky was a huge bomb, and failed miserably.  After an incredibly polarizing film within a year from Almost Famous Crowe had a lot to prove with this film.

Elizabethtown was in the middle between these two films, it was great nor a massive failure. I enjoy Elizabethtown  because of the story.  The film centers on Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) who has a massive failure at work, causing him to question the path he has taken in life. way it centers a son coming to terms with his negative relationship with his father, and the rest of his family.  Drew walked away from that small town life because of his dreams of living in a big city and living the corporate lifestyle.  After Drew is fired he ends up going home for his father's funeral.  On his way home he makes a connection with a flight attendant named Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst).  When Drew goes home he has to come to terms with the life he left behind and where he has ended up.  The film does a great job of talking about roots, family, the value in exploring self.

While I have made this film sound amazingly deep, which it can be the, film offers nothing interesting to the landscape of film.    While I own Elizabethtown, and enjoy it on a personal level there are flaws. The two lead have little chemistry.  Bloom and Dunst characters meet on an airplane where she is the flight attendant, but their chemistry never quite takes off.  Part of the films problem is the casting.  Casting directors and producers think because Orlando Bloom was in the Pirates films and Dunst was in Bring it On they can corner a tween market, but they are mistaken.  They also neglect to test to see if Bloom can act.  Bloom is one of the worst actor to attempt to try and become a leading man; his current career track has proven that even though he made girls swoon he can't carry a film on his own.  Dunst has some raw talent, which was proven in 2011's Melancholia, but ultimately the character falls flattest here.  I think her bad southern accent prevent me from taking her seriously.  When the major problems with a film are the leads are have no chemistry, and their acting is bad you know there is a problem.

I wish the setting of the film played a more integral role, but this film could have been set anywhere in the south and it would have worked.  What does this say about location?  Does location matter?  Yes and more than no.  Take Midnight in Paris for example, the location of the film matters and almost represents a character within the film.  The central character finds himself transported through the different historical time periods of Paris; he interacts with people who help define Paris and the art scene during the 1920s.

I think when a film uses the location properly it can help make a film better.  Elizabethtown represents every small town within a specific area, does this mean cities/places have no depth or meaning.  I view cities as entities defined by their people and culture.  Every city/town has their thing that defines them.  When popular culture takes this away they take away the character of a city.

While I was looking for a movie about Louisville I could not find many, Seabiscuit was the closest thing I could think because Churchill Downs is right there, but I have never seen the film.  Elizabethtown takes place in Kentucky, but obviously in a different city, and I substituted films with different cities. Why are there few movies about this city?  Does that mean the city has little character, did I make Louisville interchangeable like the the film did?  I did.

The city is interesting.  I am currently here for a work conference, ACPA.  The conference is in the early stages, but since I flew into the city I am without a car.  Not having a car in some cities relegates you to a specific area, and unfortunately this one of those cities.  I find Louisville intriguing, we are in the the downtown area which has a lot of life, but i feel there is always more character to explore within a city.

I honestly do not have much to say about the area, but I am glad I live in a major city within the Northeast.  I do not miss limited food options, where a place primarily offers things that are fried with cheese.  I could have also done without my friends being called faggots for holding hands and walking down the street.  I wish that had not happened but my overall city experience was that Louisville offered some good ole southern charm.

The conference itself was a wonderful experience, and I met some great new people, and got to catch up with a lot of my old friends.  Even though I took some time away from this I am glad I was able to explore a city (somewhat) i had never been to, and grow within my career.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Billboards Top 25 Selling Albums in the the last Ten Years-with Norah Jones, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Taylor Swift netting the top Sales

Neilson Soundscan brings you the top 25 albums of the last year.  The list is below, but some commentary on the cultural relevance of this list.

I forgot how popular Norah Jones first album was, and just how much of an impact she had.  Selling 11 million albums is pretty impressive, and she is also more an adult contemporary artist as opposed to the typical machine churned out Rihanna or Britney Spears.

Eminem has two albums on this list 2002's The Eminem Show which is at number 2 and 2004's Encore which comes in at 22.  Eminem is a great rapper, artist, and has helped to define this genre this decade.
Combining the two albums proves that out of this list Eminem is the highest selling artist of the decade.  Eminem is one of three artists who appears on this list twice.  The other two artists are 50 Cent, and Taylor Swift. 

Usher's Confessions takes the number 3 spot.  This album churned out hit after hit, and was one of the most fun/best albums of the decade.  Usher did a lot vocally and performance wise to set himself apart with this album.  This album may be his pinnacle, but what an achievement!

2011's Best Album winner 21 by Adele is already is in the number four spot.  Like Jones Adele breaks the mold with amazing vocals that transcend what is typically popular.  Adele's beautifully written and sung album is one of the best of the decade.  Adele's album is one of four Best Album Grammy winners on this list the other two albums that won are Norah Jones Come Away with Me,Taylor Swifts Fearless, and Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

The fifth spot on the list goes to 50 Cent's first major studio album Get Rich or Die Tryin'.  50 Cent has seen a lull in his music career lately, but this album was truly a great, and was a made us want to sip Bacardi like it was our birthday.  50's second major studio album The Massacre surpassed one of his mentor's Eminem's albums on this list, dropping at the number 21 spot.  50 has sold about 13 million albums this decade.

Some more fun facts:

-Two of the artists from the list are from American Idol.  Carrie Underwood is at the number 8 spot with her first album Some Hearts, and Kelly Clarkson is at the number 12 spot with her sophomore album Breakaway.

-10 of the 25 albums are Album of the Year nominees at the Grammy Awards.

-6 of the 25 albums would be considered in the Country Genre.6 would be considered rap/hip hop.  This is about half of the list.

1. Norah Jones, Come Away With Me, 10,797,000. Top 200 rank: #11.
2. Eminem, The Eminem Show, 10,049,000. Top 200 rank: #18.
3. Usher, Confessions, 9,968,000. Top 200 rank: #19.
4. Adele, 21, 8,090,000. Top 200 rank: #39.
5. 50 Cent, Get Rich Or Die Tryin', 8,086,000. Top 200 rank: #41.
6. Evanescence, Fallen, 7,619,000. Top 200 rank: #51.
7. Nickelback, All The Right Reasons, 7,582,000. Top 200 rank: #53.
8. Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts, 7,177,000. Top 200 rank: #62.
9. Avril Lavigne, Let Go, 6,782,000. Top 200 rank: #71.
10. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 6,514,000. Top 200 rank: #76.
11. Nelly, Nellyville, 6,488,000. Top 200 rank: #78.
12. Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway, 6,219,000. Top 200 rank: #85.
13. Green Day, American Idiot, 6,056,000. Top 200 rank: #93.
14. Dixie Chicks, Home, 6,041,000. Top 200 rank: #94.
15. Mariah Carey, The Emancipation Of Mimi, 5,964,000. Top 200 rank: #101.
16. Josh Groban, Closer, 5,960,000. Top 200 rank: #102.
17. Linkin Park, Meteora, 5,913,000. Top 200 rank: #103.
18. OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 5,702,000. Top 200 rank: #110.
19. Josh Groban, Noel, 5,446,000. Top 200 rank: #127.
20. Shania Twain, Up!, 5,409,000. Top 200 rank: #129.
21. 50 Cent, The Massacre, 5,286,000. Top 200 rank: #136.
22. Eminem, Encore, 5,282,000. Top 200 rank: #137.
23. Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today, 5,230,000. Top 200 rank: #140.
24. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 5,175,000. Top 200 rank: #143.
25. Guns N' Roses, Greatest Hits, 5,161,000. Top 200 rank: #144.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Warrior Pummels You, Making You Root for both Protagonist , but Sometimes they beat the Message to Death

Warrior (3 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Gavin O'Connor (Tumbleweeds, Miracle)
Written by Gavin O'Connor, Anthony Tambakis, and Cliff Dorfman
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrison, and Nick Nolte

Warrior pummels you, making you root for both of the protagonist  but sometimes O'Connor beats the message to death.

The film follows two brothers who are battling their own familial, financial, and physical fights.  Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) shows up at his dad's home with a piece offering of whiskey.  Paddy Conlon (Nolte) refuses the gesture but invites his son who has not seen in years into his home.  Tommy has walked into his fathers life and into a gym only to beat a strong contender for the Sparta mixed martial arts competition.  Tommy soon becomes a huge youtube sensation, and as this video goes viral his 'brothers' fighting overseas see the video.  Tommy starts to train with his father for the competition.

As Tommy is battling his own familial demons with his father his brother Brendan a high school physics teacher battles with financial hardships.  Brendan starts to take fights in order to pay off payments for his house.  As he continues to push himself he goes to an old friend to start to train him to be a better fighter.  When his friends star fighter gets injured Brendan pushes himself to go to the very same competition his brother has entered.

The film sounds riddle with cliches, and there are moments when the film dives head first into the pit falls of the typical fight movies.  The main problem with the film is the script.  The team that wrote this script often slips into the familiar all too often, but then like underdog Brendan O'Connor they knock you out with some game changers.  The film's cliche drunken father is saved through the performance by Nick Nolte who embodies this sad sack dead beat dad with such pain and misery.  Nolte gives one of the most gut wrenchingly raw performances.

Even though its O'Connor who helped contribute to the screenplay his direction helps save the film; he provides some incredibly raw moments that make you go back and forth between rooting for the two brothers.  Who do you want to win?  The incredibly brilliant yet quiet Hardy who plays Tommy who vows his purse to a widow of his friend from the Iraq War.  Then there is Brendan the man who has fought his entire life for everything he has from his wife (Morrison) to his house, and even the opportunity to be in the ring at the end.O'Connor builds the tension with finesse and strong direction leaving you feel as though he accomplished some incredible feat.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Like Crazy Shows the Emotional Roller Coaster of Relationships well

Like Crazy (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Drake Doremus (Moonpie, Douchebag) 
Written by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
Starring: Antonn Telchin, Felicity Jones, and Jennifer Lawrence

Like Crazy Shows Shows the Emotional Roller Coaster of Relationship well.  The films makes the viewer feel as though they are along for the ride, you feel every thrill, drop, and jolt.  

Like Crazy is about Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones) who are two college students who meet and fall in love.  That is the simplistic breakdown.  Jacob is and American student and Anna is from England.  Anna writes Jacob a note telling him to call her; she leaves on the car.  The two meet for coffee and soon start to have this instant chemistry over things her writing and their mutual love for Paul Simon and his album Graceland.  As time passes and their love starts to grow Jacob asks the question while they are in bed under the covers "What happens when you have to go back?"  

Anna's quick response is to say let's live in the now, and not think about it.  The connection is clearly there and these two have intense feelings for one another.  Sometimes these feelings force them down the wrong paths.  When Anna is supposed to go hoe for the summer she decides to forgo the stipulations of Visa and stays in the country.  When she eventually tries to travel back England and then tries to come into the United States she is flagged and sent back home to England and not allowed to come back to America for an indefinite period of time.  Her expulsion from the States puts the first strain on the relationship and the film chronicles their experiences as they grow up, a part and try to remain to together.

Director and Writer Drake Doremus along with writer Ben York Jones capture the essential elements of youthful love.  The script and direction focus on each level of intimacy well.  As the relationship starts these act as though they are lovestruck teenagers who can avoid all of the pitfalls.  The problem is that they are responsible for their own split.  Anna and Jacob act as though being a part for two months will ruin them, but what they had not realized or forgot was that it was her Visa status that would jeopardize things.  The script sharply weaves how this couple forms such an intimate bond and through this intimate bond experience the joys and pain associated with love.  As these two explore other relationships and their lives a part the eternal connection appears to be there.

Yelchin and Jones have great chemistry.  They do this wonderful script justice, and make you feel every emotion with their strong performances.  While Yelchin is solid it's Jones that is the clear standout of this couple.  Jones hits it out of the park, she takes your breath away with her beautifully quiet performance.  There is a lot that can be said for the typical rom-coms and their female leads; she avoids the typical and shows the depth in her character.

The great part about this film is that like (500) Days of Summer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sideways, and other romantic films with the same vein this film explores new depths of relationships.  Audiences are growing tired of the typical rom-com formula.  This film moves beyond the formulaic and is beautiful yet sad love story that is so real you feel as though you experienced the relationship.

Breakthrough Performer of March: Felicity Jones

While Like Crazy was released last year I did not get to watch it until today.   The film appears to be still something under the radar as well, but I have a feeling that this film will gain strong word of mouth and will become a popular film. One of the stars of the film is Felicity Jones Felicity Jones who plays Anna one of the co-leads.  While the film is about two young people struggling to get through the motions of their relationship Jones is the clear standout.

While I have seen other films Jones has done like Cheri (2009) and Brideshead Revisited (2008) none of her work has made her stand out quite like this film.  In Like Crazy her role as Anna is incredibly compelling.  The film shows Anna through different stages from her time as a student in a class to being a mature woman and journalist in England trying to balance her relationship with Jacob (Anton Yelchin) who lives in the L.A..  Jones portrayal of Anna is heartbreaking; she loves Jacob so much she decides to stay in the States even though her Visa would not allow it.  When she attempts to travel again she is prevented from coming back to America and exiled back to the UK which puts an incredible strain on their relationship.  This relationship cuts at true raw emotion, and there are moment where you get lost in Jones performance unlike any performance.  Picking one moment is almost impossible, but one that resignates with me was when she tries to date someone else and he buys her a chair to replace the one from Jacob her face says that her love with Jacob is not over.  As the film draws to an end you feel a complete emotional journey for these two people.

Felicity Jones won the Breakthrough Performer at Gotham and the National Board of Review awards and she also won a Special Grand Jury Prize for acting at Sundance.  This girl has incredible career ahead of her.  While most of her work has been in television doing things for Masterpiece, and mini-series The Diary of Anne Frank (2009).  Jones has also starred in The Tempest opposite Helen Mirren (2010).  This performance is going to launch her into stardom.  This year she has two films set to be released, Cheerful Weather for a Wedding opposite Elizabth McGovern about a girl who gets cold feet about her wedding.  The second film has yet to  be given a title, but she will working the director from Like Crazy, Drake Doremus.  Look for that film to be another major vehicle for her.  I think she will also get a lot of attention for the 2013 film directed by Ralph Fiennes entitle The Invisible Woman, which is about Charles Dickens mistress; she plays the mistress.

This girl has talent and her role in Like Crazy will likely be a terrific launch for a wonderful career.

Monday, March 12, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a Brilliant Tale About Evil Propelled by Great Acting

We Need to Talk About Kevin (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Cavern)
Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, and Ezra Miller

This movie is about discomfort and a situation so horrific and tragic you will walk out of the theatre feeling as though you took a punch to the gut.  One trend I noticed about movies this year is that some of the best thrillers, that keep you on the edge of your seat do not involve ghosts or guys with masks, but are stories that delve into the human pysche and show the reality of darkness in the human soul.  

We Need to Talk About Kevin takes the viewer on a dark journey.  The film is based on a book by Lionel Shriver.  The film and the book are both about fictional high school massacre.  Both are told from the point of view of Kevin's mother Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton).  In the book the story is told from the perspective of Eva writing letters to her husband, while the film uses brilliant editing techniques to jump back forth in time to follow Swinton as she copes with what her son has done, and from the inception of his birth. 

 Even though the plot is scattered the film focuses on Eva and Frank who were young lovers. and unexpectedly Eva gets pregnant with Kevin.  Through her facial expressions it is clear that Eva was not done as a world traveler and Kevin who was not planned has ruined the dreams she once had.  Meanwhile Frank is happy to become a member of the suburban society.  As Kevin grows up he displays sociopathic tendencies.  With sheer manipulation he is able to control his mother.  Kevin wears a diaper until he is about what looks to be 7, and when he taunts his mother taking a shit she throws him and he break his arm.  Kevin gets a scar and points to this scar as a way to say I am in control of you.  As Frank and Eva have another child and Kevin ages he starts to have an affinity for bow and arrows and making his younger system a source of his torment.

Ramsay uses her great script and superb direction to help guide the story as we watch the past unfold while Eva is living in the present having to deal with a son who murdered and hurt numerous individuals.  Ramsay script while not perfect races to build one of the most intense taught thrilling film experiences I have experienced; she crafts a dark and twisted journey through the eyes of a mother who knows that her son is evil and is almost powerless to stop him.

The strongest part of this film is the brilliant performance by Tilda Swinton; she is raw, vulnerable, and provides the best lead performance by an actress from 2011.  Swinton's Eva is someone who conveys every emotion in her face; she knows there is something wrong with her son and it no one seems to want to believe her including her husband.  I loved watching her triumph when Kevin was sick as a young boy and even though she never wanted to be a mom you could feel the joy and pure happiness when her son wanted her to read to him.  The next day when he starts to feel better and he tells her to go away this joy quickly drains.  Watching Swinton as she copes with things before and after the massacre shows just how lifeless and she becomes and what little energy she had disappears.  Swinton is one of the best actresses today.

What would this film be without the three terrific younger actor who played the sociopath Kevin?  Rocky Duer played infant Kevin, Jasper Newell played 6-8 year old Kevin, and Ezra Miller played 15-18 year old Kevin.  Each actor added a new layer to the character development.  Duer while a young baby conveyed everything in his eyes showing there was already something wrong with this child at a young age.  Newell carried on those terrible two's to a whole new level and to a whole different age range.  While Miller takes the darkness to its completion taunting his younger sister, forcing her to get a glass eye, and making her feel less than. This is one of the most intricately evil characters, on the level of Charles Manson.  Why did Kevin do what he did?  Where did these evil ways come from?

The most haunting part about this film is that it insinuates evil is innate, and that people like Kevin will follow down the path no matter what.  The film had me cringing thinking about the moments Kevin and his mother Eva felt and experienced these dark moments.  While some may discredit the unique way in which this story is told and think Ramsay uses too much style like with the constant use of the red paint and red imagery in the days after the massacre.  I have to applaud this film for taking a daring risk to tell such a difficult story, and using the performances to elevate this film to a whole new level.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jumping the Shark Part 2: Attack of the Shows

In the last edition a while back I cited the the following shows that are past their prime: The Office, Desperate Housewives, How I Met Your Mother, Grey's Anatomy, Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit, and Weeds.  Here are some shows that should hedge their bets and either end at the end of this year or wrap things up pretty soon.  I will say I agree with all of these shows needing to end, although I think How I Met Your Mother needs to just stop playing games and move the purpose of the story forward.

Glee (2009-Present) FOX-This singing show started out as a fresh take on outcasts at a high school who wanted to just sing.  There was a small group of students who came together through a strong powerful ballad and they did not want to stop believing that anything could be possible.  Glee's pilot aired at the end of May sweeps and built the up the excitement and interest throughout the entire summer for viewers.  This was a great move.  While as a fan I was frustrated, I applaud the creative way this show garnered strong word of mouth.  I am surprised they have not done this with any other show.  There is also the hopeful teacher who wanted to help his students.  In the the beginning Lea Michelle was not annoying, Mr. Schue's hopeful ways were endearing, and the antagonist Sue Sylvester had some of the best one liners.  The show hit a major creative wall in season two adding too many characters and not being able to juggle the different stories.  The show became so popular numerous famous people wanted guest star and their appearances took away from the the main characters.  The show also decided to do tribute episodes to Madonna, Britney Spears, and these episodes were more problematic because they seemed to force songs and performances into the thread of the show.  In season three these problems have slowly been fixed, but the damage is done.  Jane Lynch is barely around, and her character is one note.  Lea Michelle is shrill, and Mr. Schue is good guy teacher is bordering on annoying.  With most of the shows cast graduating this year, including the best part of the show Santana, the show is at a pivotal cross roads and needs to decided a path to take.  While many of the graduating students will surely go off into the sunset many are sticking around, and while this is great I think it will create dead weight.  I think the show should end this year, but it won't.

30 Rock (2006-2013) NBC-Let me start this with the statement, I love this show and these characters.  Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are the present day Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant.  The supporting cast which includes Jane Krakowski, Tracey Morgan, Jack McBrayer, and Judah Friedlander is also brilliant.  This show has slowly lost its edge, and while there are still funny moments I want this show to end while its ahead.  I am almost one hundred percent sure that this will not be the last season.  I think when the show comes back next year it should end next year with a shortened season.  So far the shows most recent season has lacked focus, and does not have as strong of a comic edge.  This started throughout seasons four four and five.  While seasons four and five were had many flawed moments this season flaws have been the most apparent that the show is losing steam.  Time to end on top.  I love you Tina!

Dexter (2006-2013) Showtime-This is going to contain spoilers so reader beware.  My friend said something intriguing about how this show should have ended.  My friend said this show should have ended at the end of season five with Rita in the bath tub and Harrison in her blood.  Dexter comes in to see his son sitting in his mother's blood the way he was found by his step father.  Dexter then says "What next" and the show cuts to black.  I like this idea, and exploring this concept is too late because the show has lasted two more seasons.  Season 6 and 7 both have created a problematic downturn in quality.  This past seasons episode entitled "Nebraska" where Dexter hallucinates his brother and talks to him instead of his step father Harry, and leaves his sister behind was the worst episode of the series and one of the worst episodes of television this year.  I was beyond disappointed.  Showtime has a hit on their hand, like they do with Weeds, and when they realize they can make money they keep going.  I need Michael C. Hall to say enough is enough and move on the way it sounded like he wanted to a few years ago.  The next season needs to be the last but this show should have ended a few years ago.

True Blood (2008-2014) HBO- This is another one of my favorite shows, but sometimes you have to let go of the things you love most.  Season 4 had a creative resurgence, but this show has proven to be uneven.  Season 3 was all over the map, and I had lost faith in this show.  Even though season 4 restored my faith (a little) I think this show needs to end when Alan Ball steps away after season 5.  While I realize there are way more than five books in the series this show is based on, the show needs to focus and move forward to the end game.  Alan Ball ended his series first series Six Feet Under after 5 seasons, and did so with grace, class, and dignity.  Six Feet Under had one of (if not the best) series finales of all time.  The end of season 4 seemed to be an explosion of character deaths in order to clean house.  My advice is to plan the final days, and end on top the way Six Feet Under did.

CSI (2000-Present) CSI: Miami (2002-2012) CSI: NY (2004-2013)-Let me make this perfectly clear.  I have only watched the original, and by watched I mean I saw an episode or two on Spike because my friend wanted to watch.  These shows appear to be fine procedural dramas but as CBS announces more and more shows for their new fall lineup it appears that its time to retire these procedurals.  CBS has two successful bankable shows in NCIS, which I think LA should go, but do not watch that one either, so I have a hard time commenting.  These shows have followed the path of the Law & Order series.  At the end of this season one or two of these may be off the air for the first time.  I think CBS is coming up with better more creative programming, and clearing these three shows from their lineup would show their commitment to rejuvenating their schedule.

The Killing (2011-2014)-AMC-The season finale of season one was a big middle finger to the viewers who watched this show.  The premise of this show was that young girl named Rosie Larson was killed, and the plot was meant to be a whodunit that avoided the procedural.  The exact opposite happened.  Week after week we were given a red herring rather than allowing the detectives piece together the clues.  This show should have been a mini series rather than a series, or solved the crime in season one and focused on different characters like they are doing with American Horror Story.  The only reason I am returning to watch this show will be to see the mystery play out, I want an answer.


CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Dexter and 30 Rock have ended.  True Blood will end in Summer 2014, The Killing was axed, but then brought back to life for a successful third season on AMC.

Game Change Shows the Sharp Change in Focus on Celebrity vs. Quality

Game Change (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Jay Roach (Recount. Austin Powers, Meet the Parents)
Written by Danny Strong (Recount)
Starring: Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson, Peter MacNicol, and Sarah Paulson

2008 was an intense political year.  As President Bush was leaving office with some incredibly low numbers the two candidates running for President were trying to change the landscape.  The Democratic candidate Barack Obama had the charm, charisma, and plans that inspired hope in the American people.  Republican Presidential nominee John McCain needed to pick someone who could help him battle with Obama's celebrity.  The McCain team was lacking in female support, and through a google search found Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin came to the center stage of the national political forum.  Yes the book and the film show that Rick Davis googled female Republican office holders

This google search is one of the few shocking behind the scenes revelations in the film Game Change which is based on the book written by John Heillemann and Mark Halperin entitle "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime."  In the book Heillemann and Halperin focus on the candidates and the behind the scene politics that shaped a "blockbuster" campaign.  2008 was about the celebrity and the hope that the Bursh era could be wiped away.  The book focuses on the negative on every front, from the worry that Hillary Clinton could not control her husband, to McCains rogue tactics that often looked as though he did not care, to John Edwards and his egotistical philandering ways.  No one was off limits in this book, not even the winner of the Presidency.  Obama was cited as controlled and off stage a candidate quick to anger. 

While the book centers on every Presidential candidate the film focuses solely on the McCain/Palin ticket.  Danny Strong who wrote the film Recount about the 2000 election does a great job writing a script that focuses on the not only the candidates themselves, but the behind the scenes mishaps that shaped the campaign strategy.  Strong works with former Recount director Jay Roach to construct a film that cuts together scenes where Palin is interviewed by Couric using the actual footage from the interview,  It is these tactics that give this film strong footing.  This team does a good accurately portraying the ticket team while saving most of its critique for the folks behind the scenes like Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson).

Schmidt has taken the lead on this campaign after McCain asked him to, and helps out with vetting the Vice Presidential nominee.  The only problem is Schmidt left most of the work to the other team members when he should have been the one who looked into her just as closely.  Woody Harrelson is one of the strongest performances in this film; he has the best non verbal facial expressions.  Harrelson's Schmidt knows there is problems with this campaign when he realizes that Sarah Palin does not understand the concept of difference between the Queen of England and the Prime Minister or that there is even a Prime Minister.  As Harrelson goes through the motions he along with other people behind the scenes start to realize they not only need to prep Palin but tell her what exactly needs to be said.

Julianne did a lot a of great prep to actually play Palin.  In interviews with both Jon Stewart and Ellen she talked a lot about how she watched clips of her on youtube to get the voice down.  Moore did a great job of not mimicking Palin.  Everyone loved Tina Fey's portrayal (maybe not everyone) but Moore takes it a step further as Fey did a brilliant job for the purpose her sketches Moore did more to create a whole person.  One of the most interesting parts of the film were the meta moments where Moore as Palin watched Tina Fey Fey play Palin. This was incredibly well done, and in these moments Moore shows Palin's vulnerability.  The film gives this woman a fair shake (in my opinion).  Palin does still come across like a nut, but she also has more humanistic qualities.  Palin was overwhelmed by the notoriety, and in this short time not only did she start to lose sanity, but as she moved forward she gained tremendous celebrity and has used this stay famous ever since.

I could talk about Moore, and her portrayal for a while but like within the campaign people should have talked a little bit more about John McCain.  Harris did not try to talk like the man, but he did what this man was about.  McCain wanted to run a good clean campaign, but as celebrity took over and he realized he was not enough of one he played the game.  Harris's face realizes his downward spiral as he is speaking with the older woman in the town forum calling Obama a Muslim; he has has realized he has gone too far and ran a campaign he longer wants to win.

How did politics become something much different in this last election?  Each candidate seemed to make this race about something more than merely the issues.  The American people acted as though the Obama Palin divided was team Jenn or team Angelina, most about celebrity  Game Change does a great job of highlighting how this election changed things within each party and about what people focus on with the candidates.  One of the best moments for me is when Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson) who preps Palin for the couric debate cries into Steve Schmidts arms saying I did not vote.  Wallace is a smart woman who recognized the behind the scenes muck and celebrity made things different and brought a woman to fame that had no business being elected the the Vice Presidency.

The fish made a lasting impression on myself and shows how this election made a lasting impression on the who, what when, where, and why of modern day political elections.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Star Making Roles Part 2: JJ Abrams

I have been watching a lot of JJ Abrams stuff lately.  What can I say, other than the man is a genius.  JJ Abrams is the mind who brought television shows like Felicity, Alias, Lost and now films like the new re- imagined Cloverfield, Mission Impossible IIIStar Trek, and Super 8.  In the last ten years the man has created, written, produced and directed countless other projects.  While I was at lunch with a co-worker at lunch they stated "I will watch anything that says from the creators of Lost."  This is a huge statement!  Abrams is becoming a branding machine like Spielberg.  My hope is that Abrams stays true to himself and takes on passion projects that interest him, unlike Spielberg who seems to do just about anything.

One of the great things about this man is the sheer talent he has helped emerge from his television shows and films.  Abrams has helped a lot of people find stardom; he his people. Abrams like most directors finds people he likes to work worth and bring them on to work with him in several different capacities.  Two people that fit the bill are Greg Grunberg and Amanda Foreman.  Grunberg played Sean in Felicity and he has had some acting role in 6 different Abrams films and television shows.  Grumburg's roles have varied from the voice of Kirk's stepdad while Kirk is stealing the car in Star Trek to a major supporting role in Alias.  Foreman has been in 4 different Abrams films; she also was part of Star Trek and had a role on Alias.  The irony of this is that these two played a couple on Felicity.  I love when director's give a wink and a nod to their fans.  Abrams is a master at this because these actors roles are something you can miss if you do not pay attention.

Abrams is not only good at using actors on revolving basis, but like Gary Marshall (in part one-read it) Abrams has launched the careers of two talented women, Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner.  While unlike Roberts and Hathaway from part one these two women are not superstars, but they are also household names who have done a lot because of their status headlining successful television shows from Abrams.

keri russell face
Keri Russell-What can you say about Felicity Porter?  There were moments when I was annoyed that  this girl picked a college because she liked a boy, and there moments where her wafish good looks seemed annoyingly perfect, but this was a great character.  Russell Felicity started out as a woman driven by her feelings for a boy, but became someone who fought to find herself.  Unfortunately Russell was never nominated for an Emmy for this role, but she was nominated for a Golden Globe during the first season and won.  After Felicity ran for four years Russell spent most of her time in film; she starred in smaller films like The Upside of Anger, and Waitress, and bigger films like August Rush and Mission Impossible III.  Russell is no stranger to being selective about both her film and television roles.  Television producers had been clamoring to bring her back to television and her fans got their wish in 2010 when she co-starred with Will Arnett in Running Wilde.  In her first comeback to television  Ms. Russell cam back to a big letdown, they show was a massive flop and did poorly in the ratings.  In recent news this week Keri Russell was attached to a new pilot on F/X entitled The Americans about KGB spies living in the US during the 1980s.  This series comes from Joe Wesiberg (Falling Skies) and Graham Yost (Justified).  Russell is at her best within the realm of drama, and I am excited to see more from her.

Jennifer Garner-3 years after Abrams brought Felicity to the WB he created and brought Alias about a female spy named Sydney Bristow to life in the form of Jennifer Garner.  Garner's role in Alias was not only kick ass but it took the spy themed concept to whole new level, with a woman at the center.  Abrams is never afraid to do something different, and Alias was a great way to highlight Garner's acting abilities.  Throughout the shows five seasons Garner was nominated for four Emmy Awards (she never won) four Golden Globe Awards (she won the first year exactly like Russell) and two Screen Actor's Guild Awards (she won in 2005).  Garner's role in Alias has landed her a wide variety of roles ranging from the romantic comedy realm with films like 13 Going on 30, Catch and Release, Valentine's Day, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.  Alias also helped to show that Garner was no feather weight and that she could be a bad ass action star too; she landed roles in Daredevil, which led to her role in in her own super hero film Elektra, and The Kingdom.  Garner's best film role was her supporting turn in Juno where she played Vanessa who so desperately wanted a child and to be a mother; she played this role with such quiet brilliance.  

Both of these women were given prime television gigs from one of the greatest working creative minds today, and their careers post these roles have been a bit lackluster.  I like both of these women a lot, and I hope their stars do not burn out.  It's time for JJ to create some more great roles for these two women and use them the way he uses some of his other favorite people.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Comedy Awards 2012-

This years comedy awards love Louis C.K. and the Bridesmaids.  Here is a list of the nominees for the show. 
The Artist
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Horrible Bosses
Midnight in Paris
Jason BatemanHorrible Bosses
Steve CarellCrazy, Stupid, Love.
Jean DujardinThe Artist
Zach GalifianakisThe Hangover Part II
Owen WilsonMidnight in Paris
Jennifer AnistonHorrible Bosses
Cameron DiazBad Teacher
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Emma StoneCrazy, Stupid, Love.
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Cars 2
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss In Boots
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Horrible Bosses
Midnight in Paris

Woody AllenMidnight in Paris
James BobinThe Muppets
Paul FeigBridesmaids
Glenn Ficarra and John RequaCrazy, Stupid, Love.
Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist

The Muppets should be up for Best Film instead of Horrible Bosses.  Other than that these are fun nominees.

30 Rock
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Happy Endings
Modern Family
Parks and Recreation
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Ty BurrellModern Family
Louis C.K., Louie
Steve Carell, The Office
Larry DavidCurb Your Enthusiasm
30 Rock
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Modern Family
The Office
Family Guy
The Life & Times of Tim
The Simpsons
South Park
Zooey DeschanelNew Girl
Tina Fey30 Rock
Amy PoehlerParks and Recreation
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Sofia VergaraModern Family
30 Rock
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Modern Family
Parks and Recreation
Saturday Night Live
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Late Show with David Letterman
Real Time with Bill Maher
Zooey Deschanel
Josh Gad
Donald Glover
Melissa McCarthy
Jason Sudeikis
Ted Alexandro
Hannibal Buress
Pete Holmes
Anthony Jeselnik
Moshe Kasher
John Mulaney
Kumail Nanjiani
Chelsea Peretti
Amy Schumer
Rory Scovel
Childrens Hospital
Saturday Night Live
Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater
Norm Macdonald: Me Doing Standup
Patton Oswalt Finest Hour
Colin Quinn Long Story Short
Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts
Dave Attell
Lewis Black
Louis C.K.
Kevin Hart
Jerry Seinfeld

I am happy Happy Endings was nominated for Best Comedy Series, I wish Casey Wilson and Damon Wayans Jr. made the cut, but this shows that there is support out there for this show.