Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween with a little Hocus Pocus

After a long and draining week on duty I need an upper, and there is no better Halloween movie than Hocus Pocus, to help cheer me up.  Hocus Pocus is the first film I ever saw twice in the movie theatres.  Hocus Pocus was also the first film my grandparents took me to see.  My grandparents took my cousin and I, but in true Dillon fashion we arrive more than an hour early for the movie.  To kill time my grandparents bought us ice cream.  When we got into the theatre my cousin and I asked for popcorn and candy (of course), and my grandparents bought it for us.  By the time the movie ended it was time for dinner, so of course they needed to feed us, and where did we go, Pizza Hut.  Needless to say I have never been so sick in my life.  Yet Hocus Pocus is still one of my favorite Halloween films of all time!

Last year I went to Salem for the first time, where the film was set, and I love the history behind the town, but I always think the lore of witches is so interesting.  In this Disney story three witches set a curse that they would return when a virgin lit a candle.  Sounds a little racy that Disney even brought up that people have sex, but it happened.

The films pinnacle moment is when Bette Midler (Winifred), Kathy Najimy (Mary), and Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah) do their version of "I Put a Spell on You,"  One of the most fun films from my childhood.  Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Unlikable Television Characters Part 3: Television Wives

One of the most interesting trends in television today is impeccable television dramas.  Today's dramas are making films are growing better than films.  There are just two problems, most of the films are completely driven by male lead characters, there are obviously a few exceptions, like The Good Wife, Revenge, Once Upon a Time, and Homeland (to some extent).  The Good Wife and and Homeland are praised by critics, while Revenge and Once Upon a Time clean up with critics.

Most of the shows out there center of male leads, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Newsroom, Dexter, Boss, and NCIS. While many of these shows are ensemble shows or focus on a duo most shows still focus on a man at the center.  Game of Thrones is the one show on the air which trascends all logic (way to go George R. Martin).  Within these male centered shows one of the other trends is the fact that many of the female characters/wives are some of the most unlikable, and fans rage against them in the message boards.

Let's start with my least favorite, Jessica Brody played by the talented Morena Baccarin.  Baccarin is a great actress, and she plays the role well, but Jessica Brody is currently the most annoying wife on television.  Throughout the first season Jessica was a mild annoyance, from sleeping with her husbands best friend when she thought he was dead to constantly over crying and over emoting her frustration with Brody, I almost used to lose, but then she would nail a great scene, and the character's frustration would come down to a mellow level.  Seasons two's Jessica has become this high and might Congressman's wife, trying to impress politicians' wives, calling her husband crazy for being a Muslim.  While I understand the fear and adjustment in the character, I never think the character nails these emotions without being melodramatic.  I have only finished episode four, but Jessica has continued on the same trajectory so far, and her character has not proven she is changing, her is to hoping they develop her further.

I asked my friends for thoughts on some of the other unlikable television wives out there, and my friend Eric reminded me about Lori on The Walking Dead.  Lori is another over the top wife, and granted the situations warrant her going out of her mind, because she's pregnant, being chased by zombies and trying to protect her son.  In this case I feel as though the actress is up to the challenge, and the role would have been better suited for someone better.  Sarah Wayne Callies is by no means a bad actress, but I never feel as though she is tough enough or up to the challenge her character has to face, this could also be the writing/direction.  The show's character development for many of the group have hit a plateau.

Next on the list would be Betty Draper (Francis), while Betty is no longer the wife of Don Draper; she is by far one of the most unlikable television wives and mothers of all time.  Jessica Pare plays Don's second wife Megan Draper, and like Betty she is another unlikable wife on this television show.  Matthew Weiner and crew know how to write women well though.  The writers have constructed three female characters that are incredibly strong in Peggy, Joan, and Sally.  All three characters have developed into some strong women, minus Joan selling her body to become partner.  Most of the character development seems to based in the cultural milieus of the time, and the roles women had to play.

The last couple of women that could fit on this list are Anna Gunn who plays Skylar White and Betsy Brandt who plays Marie Schraeder.  Gunn and Brandt are both solid actresses but their characters have these obnoxious streaks where they become melodramatic about their lives.  Skylar's character has had her ups and downs, but Marie has pretty much been consistently a shrill character.  While Vince Gilligan is a genius, who has created one of the best shows of all time, does he and his writing team have a hard time writing for the women in the lives of the men in the show.  Skylarhas started to her up her game in the last two seasons, and I expect with the end of season 5.1; she she will continue to do the same.

Are writers/producers to blame for the direction of their female characters?  Many of these shows have strong female characters, Homeland has Carrie (Claire Danes), Mad Men has the three listed above, and Breaking Bad has improved Skylar, yet these women still seem to be incredibly unlikable.  I often wonder why, is it because the shows have large male audiences?  Could be, but many of the female viewers dislike these ladies as well.  Looking at these ladies is an interesting cross section of television at the moment, and the role women play in these television shows.  Hopefully time will prove these women played an important development in television rather than just remaining archetypes of the evil wife.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Academy Awards Snubs: The Directors (2000s)

1-Christopher Nolan-Memento (2001),The Dark Knight (2008), and Inception (2010)-The King of the snubbed directors, is also the best director of the last decade.  Nolan has made numerous films throughout the last few years which have provided both entertainment to mass audiences while expanding his craft and influencing other directors. Memento changed the face of the indie film. A film told backwards, where the beginning was the end, and the end was the beginning, challenged audiences to think outside the box.  The Dark Knight proved sequels can be better than the original, and a film based on a comic book can be much deeper.  Nolan changed the landscape of action films proving that making audiences think may not be a bad thing.  Inception is another film that proves over thinking may just have to happen.  Nolan's direction keeps audiences on their toes while never pandering to the mainstream; he is true genius.  Nolan has been nominated for Best Director from his guild but has never been nominated at the Academy Awards, a massive mistake! Who would he have replaced? In 2001, the actual winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) should not have even received a nomination.  In 2008 Stephen Daldry proved the voters are suckers for a good Holocaust story, with The Reader.  2010-While I love Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), their direction did nothing to advance film making the way Inception did.

2-Darren Aronofsky-Requiem for a Dream (2000) and The Wrestler (2008)-2000 was a competitive year with a lot of great films, but after a series of shorts and a small obscure film named Pi, Aronofsky emerged with a brilliant film about the dark world of drugs.  Requiem challenges the Best Picture nominee Traffic (that year) as the most realistic representation of drugs within film.  The film is a brilliant character study, and Aronofsky rose above the challenge to make one impeccable film.  After Requiem Aronofsky made the polarizing film The Fountain, which had beautiful direction but it was not until his third film, The Wrestler where his adept skills of character returned.  The Wrestler follows Mickey Rourke's character as he tries to achieve his goal and work to be a small time wrestler who never made the big time.  Aronofsky actually achieved a Best Director nomination in 2010 for his film Black Swan, but the above mentioned films deserved attention for him from the Academy.Who would he have replaced? Steven Soderbergh had one nomination for directing Traffic; he did not need a nomination for Erin Brockovich; he should have taken his place in 2000.  I feel as though I am going to be picking on Stephen Daldry and Ron Howard a good bit, but in 2008 his direction far surpassed Howard's direction of the dry Frost/Nixon.

3-Guillermo del Torro-Pan's Labyrinth-El laberinto del fauno (2006)-Moving past two men who were snubbed multiple times throughout the last 12 years.  Del Torro's direction Pan's Labyrinth is some of the most beautiful work I have ever seen.  The way del Torro blends the fantastical world in which Ofelia journey's and the modern day aspects of fascist Spain in 1944 is well done.  Del Torro uses visual effects well, and while he sometimes lets them dominate his film or overcome the subject matter, this film has the perfect blend, and is one of my favorite films of all time. Del Torro was nominated for writing this film, but did not win; he has never been nominated in the director's category. Who would he have replaced? Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a terrific director, and Babel is a solid film, but I feel as though Inarritu has shower rinse and repeat formula with his films, the way his direction blends the story together from the screenplay.  Babel is his weakest film (which is not a bad thing), but he did not make the same accomplishments as del Torro.

4-Michel Gondry-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)-I could not ignore the director of the film, which was snubbed royally by the Academy.  The film itself received one nomination for Best Original Screenplay, which it won.  Gondry's direction is hauntingly beautiful; he knows how to capture the deep emotional material from Charlie Kauffman's screenplay.  Gondry has a typical style, and I have seen all of his other films, and I have never liked, scratch that, loved a film as much as I love this film.  In fact I do not like any of the other films he has directed.  Gondry has skills as a director because he uses all of the elements to create one of the most perfect films.  From the terrific performances, to the way he makes you emotional over the loss of memory.  Gondry is a master director and this film is proof. Gondry wrote the story for the film and won the Oscar along with Kauffman, but has never received a directing nomination.  Who would he have replaced? This is an easy one, 2004 had some of the worst Best Picture/Best Director nominees.  Taylor Hackford's direction for the film Ray is like a formula, nothing out of the ordinary that adds to the landscape of cinema the way Gondry evokes new meta realities.  I am actually sad as I type this that Hackford received a nomination for that film over Gondry.

5-Alfonso Cuaron-Children of Men (2006)-2006 had some of the best films, and also saw some of the worst snubs.  Cuaron is an incredible director, and this film is living proof that this man can take you a journey to a variety of places ranging from a road trip where three people journey to find themselves, to Hogwarts, and apocalyptic 2027 where people can longer give birth to children.  Children of Men is the latter, which focuses on the journey of one man who takes a pregnant woman on a journey to scientists to discover to secret to saving man.  This film came at the very last moment in 2006 on Christmas Day, and oh what a gift it was to understanding great direction.  When Cuaron steps behind the camera he depicts this dark/haunting world that often feels too close to a present day, meanwhile you feel the distance.  This film is beautifully directed, and unfortunately this man missed out on a nomination, for directing this film.  Cuaron has been nominated for three Oscars two screenplay nominations, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Children of Men, and in the Editing category for Children of Men. Who would he have replaced? I hate to replace Stephen Frears direction for The Queen, because it was a wonderful film, and was a brillaint look at an interesting even in history, but Cuaron's direction is revolutionary.

6-Quentin Tarantino-Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)-One of the most ambitious directors of all time, and one of the most ambitious films of all time.  Tarantino pays homage to old school marital arts films, with this tale of revenge.  Tarantino's style works incredible for this film.  Tarantino likes to break his film down in chapters/segments, and this does not always works.  In this film it feels genuine, and that it makes sense like opening the chapters of the book.  While many prefer Volume 2, I have always liked Volume 1 more because of the way it feels so naturally Tarantino.  My favorite was his use of anime in telling the origins of O-Ren Ishii.  While Tarantino's screenplays are usually the highlight of his films, this film is best because of his direction, and the great action sequences.  Tarantino has been nominated for four Academy Awards, two for directing (Pulp Fiction, and Inglorious Basterds) and two for writing (Pulp Fiction, and Inglorious Basterds); he won the Original Screenplay Award for Pulp Fiction. Who would he have replaced? Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a snooze compare to Tarantino's film, and should have been easily replaced.

7-Baz Lurhmann-Moulin Rouge! (2001)-The return of the musical can be credited to this film, or well the modern day style of musicals.  Some groan at that notion because they prefer old school musicals, but this film did a lot in making musicals accessible to modern audiences.  Lurhmann is a style over substance director, his other films Romeo + Juliet, and Australia just do not pack the punches this film does.  Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby looks to follow the same trend as those two films, but there was something magical about this film and his direction.  This film is spectacular, spectacular!  Lurhmann's direction and work with his creative team deserve a lot of the credit for making you truly fall in love with these characters while making this one of the most fun musicals of all time.  This may be my most bias pick on this list, but I honestly do believe Lurhmann's direction is one of the most magical directing jobs in recent years.  Lurhmann was nominated as a producer for the film, but has no other nominations. Who would he have replaced?  I would hate to take away Robert Altman's last nomination (so I won't), I would have nominated Lurhmann over Ridley Scott's  work in Black Hawk Down.  This is really one of the best years for film of all time.

8-Nicolas Winding Refn-Drive (2011)-Winding Refn is the most recent snubbed director, so recent he was just snubbed last year.  Winding Refn's Drive still has some time to get legs and become more of a cult film the way Memento did, or other small films, but Winding Refn's direction will go down as some of the best because his style proves talk is cheap.  This is a strong film because of the direction, while there a few scenes where Ryan Gosling's lead man, known as "The Guy" speaks, his actions speak louder than his words, and this is mainly because of of Winding Refn's direction. Winding Refn camera work is brilliant capturing the brilliant action packed moments, focusing on unique angles as cars crash and bullets fly.  Winding Refn also does a good of highlighting the most intimate moments making you feel as though you are an intruder on the private interactions like at the dinner table with Gosling, Mulligan, and the boy who plays her son; he has never been nominated for an Oscar. Who would he have replaced? While I love Alexander Payne his direction with the film The Descendants did not thrill me as much as his earlier work, so he would have been booted from my nominations.

9-David Cronenberg-A History of Violence (2005)-In one of the weakest years in film, David Cronenberg does what he does best with this film, and that jar your senses to provoke an ethereal reaction.  The film is based on a graphic novel about a family whose world is turned upside down when the father is approached by someone saying he is a different person.  Cronenberg's directions like in most of his films uses disturbing images the get those reactions.  Yet I think one of the main reasons this is one of his best films, and best directing is because the film is straight forward dark roller coaster ride, where Cronenberg does not take you too far away from the subject at hand, but he tease at moments to give a glimpse of self.  There is restraint yet darkness here, that is brutally real.  Shockingly David Cronenberg has never been nominated for an Academy Award. Who would he have replaced? Easy, Paul Haggis and Crash, moving on.

10-Todd Haynes-Far from Heaven (2002)-I was torn on who to give this last spot to, and it was between two directors from this year, Todd Haynes (obviously), and Steven Spielberg for Minority Report.  Spielberg has been nominated for 6 directing Academy Awards (won 2), so I did not pick him.  I pick Todd Haynes for more than just that reason, I picked him because this is one of the most beautifully directed films of the 2000s.  Haynes pays homage to the Douglas Sirk era of the 1950s and 1960s which highlighted the subtle cutltural problems at the time.  Haynes directions brings things right out to the surface pointing out that what may have seemed beautiful and straight forward was claustrophobic.  Haynes direction is not in your face rather its subtle touching on the basic human emotions of love.  Haynes is brilliant at making the raw human emotions shine within his work, and this film is proof of his great writing and direction.  Haynes was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for this film, but has never received a directing nomination. Who would he have replaced? Sorry Marty, I do not say that often, but Gangs of New York is by far his weakest film.

One of the interesting trends is that most of these men have been snubbed as directors, but been nominated in the screenplay categories, many of them winning.  This just proves my theory true the writers branch is usually one of the most creative and open minded in the Academy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trapped on Duty Night Four: American Horror Story Asylum

With the hurricane fast approaching my fourth day on duty was action packed, somewhat.  I woke up late in the day mainly because I received one phone call at 3:30 am and one at 6:20 am, so my day started at noon.  I got to go to the gym for the first time in days, did laundry, watched lots of movies, and finished my last television show from this past week American Horror Story: Asylum.

Asylum is a new story, from creator Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk who created the original "miniseries" last year around Halloween.  This miniseries uses some of the shows favorite actors in new roles, Jessica Lange returns in a central role as a nun working at the asylum.  Other actors who have returned to the fold of the Murphy/Falchuk world are Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and a few more.  While the first miniseries was a true ghost story this second coming looks at the concept of the world of Asylums in the 60s.

During this time in American history the asylum was not just a place for the truly mentally ill, but it was also a place for nymphomaniacs, homosexuals, and those the world deemed as outcasts.  At this time religion had even more power over people, and many asylums were run by priests, and nuns.  This asylum mixes the religion with science.  The priest behind the scenes is played by Joseph Fiennes, and the scientist behind the experiments is played by James Cromwell.  The show was the perfect spooky treat to lead up to Halloween this Wednesday, but the most interesting thing in the show for me is the concept of science versus religion.

While the show is still in its early phase of examining both religion and science there is a lot that Murphy and Falchuk can do with this show, while making things go bump in the night.  This week focused on a young boy who speaks in tongues and eats the hearts of animals.  Zachary Quinto's character believes the boy needs medicine while Lange's nun feels as though an exorcism is needed.  In this world of the supernatural science and religion seem to challenge each other on a daily basis.  While in the current world in our country people tend to lean to one or the other.  Our bi polarization does not allow people to believe in both.  While I am close to defining myself as an atheist, I think for those who are religious there can be a connection between both.  I am excited to see the way this show explores the dark territories with both.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Movies that Put Life into Perspective: The Parent Trap-1998 (Trapped on Duty Night Three)

Cut to a fourteen year old awkward Kevin Dillon; he is a bit of a lonely kid, and spends most of his time with his sister and parents.  At fourteen I did not fit in with the popular crowd, nor did I have many friends who understood who I was (heck I didn't even understand myself).  One of the most important things was going to the movies with my family, and then after sitting down with in our home and having our ritual movie nights. They were the same movies, and we watched them over and over again.  They meant, and still do mean so much to me as adult.  As I was flipping through the channels I saw that The Parent Trap (1998) was on HBO, and I had to record it.  Being trapped on duty helped me to relive those wonderful family moments.

The Parent Trap was one of the Dillon family standards.  Lindsay Lohan was still cute, and had not touched hard drugs, or been imprisoned.  Nathasha Richardson (may she rest in peace) was glowing and looked like a younger version of her talented mother.  Dennis Quaid was at his peak and had never been sexier, or more charming.

While the original Parent Trap (1961) is a classic, my family and I always watched the remake.  This is one of those rare occasions where the remake is just so cute, and charming that you can't help to fall in love with this film.  Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, It's Complicated, and Something's Gotta Give) wrote and directed this film.  Looking at her resume proves to be a chick flick a-thon, but there is this magical charm within her films that is irresistible; she has this magic wand she waves and there is this automatic gooey feeling that is channeled within my stomach.  I kinda love this feeling, and may just have to watch one of her other films tonight I own most of them, and did not even realize this fact. I am not someone who likes to admit this often, but the fact that it's making me think of days from my childhood is just hard to resist.

Being stuck on duty has forced me to not only clean my apartment, but to be able to sit down, and re-watch some of my favorite films.  Movies provide me with such a nostalgic feeling, especially this one.  I remember my sister owning the VHS, and how she and I would sit and watch this over and over and over again.  While watching the film I had to text her to tell her I was thinking of her, and then she texted me a picture of her funny Halloween costume.  This only led me to the realization that we are no longer children; she is 20 and I am 27, it's an odd feeling, and as you watch films from your childhood you cant help but think about the days past, and the magical effect of film.

Trapped on Duty Night Two: Mockingbird Lane

Night two of duty was a bit more interesting.  Northeastern University has a tradition that they call the "Underwear Run."  At the "Underwear Run" 500+ students gather to run around the area to run around in their underwear (basic concept).  I always find it ironic that this event always takes place the same weekend as Parent's Weekend, but its a fun tradition to watch students get amped about.After watching hundreds of people running around in their underwear I went back to my apartment to catch up on a week's worth of missed television.  Yet NBC had aired something Friday night that caught my attention, Mockingbird Lane.

Remember the the television series The Munsters? When I was younger this was one of my favorite television shows, I loved Herman, and thought he was hilarious.  Fred Gwynne was the man behind the bolts.along with Yvonne de Carlo as his wife Lily, Eddie their son and resident wolf, Lily's father who was commonly referred to as Grandpa, and Marilyn the black sheep who was not any form of Monster, was Lily's niece and Grandpa's granddaughter. The show ran from 1964 through the end 1966.  In the show's initial run it had low ratings, but this show soon found popularity in syndication making it a classic along with an unforgettable theme song.

After the show was cancelled its popularity in syndication spawned five films, and updated television series entitle The Munsters Today, which ran from 1988-1991 (longer than the original series).  The new series started with the family waking up after grandpa had done something to put them all to sleep, they all woke up in the 80s and had to adapt to modern day life.  Beyond the hokey idea, the concept for this show was always fun, and now with the present reboot of the show there are a lot of places to go with this new series,

Mockingbird Lane was a special one night episode, NBC has not officially picked this show up, but they should!  The series comes from Bryan Fuller.  Fuller has an impressive track record with quirky/sci -fi shows, Star Trek: Voyager, Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Heroes, Pushing Daisies, and the soon to be aired Hannibal.  Fuller wrote the script for the episode pilot while his other partner in crime Bryan Singer (and executive producer) directed.  Singer has worked on films like The Usual Suspects, X-Men, and Superman Returns.  Together these two form a dynamic duo behind the scenes, and created one fun episode to watch last night.

The modern day reboot of the Munsters starts with scouts in the woods, as they are attacked one by one  by a "baby bear" you soon find out that there is a wolf howling at the moon who turn back into a young Eddie Munster.  Eddie does not know that he is a werewolf he thinks he is "normal" like his cousin Marilyn (who is seen as different by her family, especially grandpa).  The family moves to 1313 Mockingbird Lane after the incident where we get to see the new Munsters.

In this version Grandpa is a little bit darker player Eddie Izzard, there are constant jokes (for those in the know) about the way they call this person grandpa.  You get to see Grandpa as giant vampire bat eating a lion (very different).  Grandpa has made Herman in true Frankenstein form because no man is good for his vamp of a daughter Lily.

While I thought this idea sounded a little silly in the beginning, the episode was pretty fun.  Fuller and Singer have used an incredible television concept from the past and made it even better.  The original series was campy, and fun, and this modern retelling does not let go of the initial fun/camp of the original series.  Izzard is the standout performer, but this episode wasn't necessarily about standout performances, more about paying homage to the original.  The new reboot is fun, and hopefully NBC has the smarts to pick this up and make it a series.

Trapped on Duty Night One: The Help

I have talked about my job several times, but there is one aspect in which I have not talked about, being on duty/on call.  Part of being a Residence Director (RD)  on call, involves being on duty for about half of the Northeastern campus, answering the duty phone for potential emergency situations, and basically staying on campus or in my apartment so I can help solve any number of problems.  

Sounds awful right?   There are a couple of perks that come with this, I am able to clean my apartment (something I frequently put off), get laundry done, get work done, and most importantly watch a ton of movies, and catch up all of my television shows from the week.

Being on duty starts on Thursday around 12 noon and goes until Thursday at 12 noon the following week.  I am the lucky person who volunteered for Parents Weekend, but more importantly Halloween weekend.  I love getting to dress up for Halloween but unfortunately I have to wait until next year to celebrate, and my costume idea will still be relevant.  There would be no way I am doing a Honey Boo Boo (you still suck TLC).  So aside from missing out on Halloween my nights have been filled with lots of television and movies.

This past Thursday night was my first night on duty, and while the night was uneventful, I got to hang with my RAs and some of my residents.  It was nice to get to spend some quality time with them, most of my work day is spent doing administrative tasks, which take up too much time, and do not let me get to know my students enough.  My RAs held a floor meeting, had pizza, and ended up watching the movie The Help.

The Help was released during August last year, and was a major player at the Academy Awards with four nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), and two Best Supporting Actress nominees (Jessica Chastain, and winner Octavia Spencer).  The film centers around the perpetual racism in Jackson, Mississippi.  In the film several characters act pious, and use white authority to enact privilege creating a system of separate but equal.

Throughout the film one of the other central characters, Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) starts to take down the story of the help, in order to reveal the social injustice which exists specifically in Jackson, but to tell the world this is not alright.

In today's society we often let terrible folks still use their white skin to enact laws, or state hate speech which has perpetuated this problem on a different level.  People like Ann Coulter believe that the real racists are liberals, who use political correctness incorrectly most of time.  The problem with Coulter and most liberals is that people are afraid to dialogue, the conservative end up yelling while the liberal guilt has people cowering behind something.

The next problem appears to be with the politicians (mostly Republicans) who have started creating voter registration laws, to prevent fraud, which disenfranchise a large number of minorities.   The Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai stated that this voter registration law would help Romney win, and mainly because it prevents letting black voters get to the polls.  This is racist legislation, and i grateful the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against it, but there are other states that are letting this go forward.  This proves that we are looking at race as key element, and that elements from the past have not died, this is sad, and proves that States do not always know best!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The N Word (A Dissection in Recent Popular Culture)

After a long hard day at work, what's a better way to unwind then discuss one of the most polarizing words in vocabulary today, the N word.  For all intents and purposes I will not be saying the word outright.

Over this past weekend Actor/Comedienne Chevy Chase was reported as saying the N word while on the set of the television series Community.  At first there was not much information or background on the story, but today new details came to light, but first a little bit of background on his character.  Chase plays Pierce Hawthrone a wealthy old man, and heir to a moist toilet fortune.  Pierce's character is always portrayed a bigoted old white man.  One example of the quotes he has said from an episode is the following "Oh, please. If all Chinese were psychic, they'd have invented birth control years ago."

While that quote is on the tamer side, Pierce often represents the out of touch, and is seen as type villain on the show.  Pierce's father is actually worse, but that's neither here nor there.  Going back to the Chevy's remarks, while shooting on the set he broke out in a rage saying something along the effects of what are you going to do next on the show, have my character say the N word, but he said the word.  After saying the word Chevy apologized to the cast and crew specifically Donald Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown, they play Troy and Shirley on the show.

The View's Whoopi Goldberg lead a discussion speaking about this word, and the panelist had some interesting musings.  Before you complain about me using The View as an example, this is one of the few places where black women get to speak their mind.  Whoopi took the perspective that she uses the word in order to not let the word lose its stigma, because no matter what the word still has a past, and if the word gets watered down so much those with hatred can take advantage of it.  Meanwhile co-host Barbara Walters asked the most interesting question(s) when can it be used? Who can use it, or is the ever time it can be used and not critiqued?

There is no simple answer to any of her questions, and the complex one could fill up books.  Looking at this from a popular culture lens has merits, because the way musicians, actors, and other auteur's use this word has an impact on society.

One recent example I would like to use is the track from Jay-Z and Kanye West's album Watch the Throne entitled "Ni**as in Paris."  In the article "The N-Word and how we Talk About Hip Hop" Nicole Holliday points an interesting yet superficial argument.  What do you do while you karaoke and that word is in your song, do you sing it, do you mumble over it?  How do you handle that, and does your race matter when you do?

Going back to the track from Jay-Z and Kanye, Gweneth Paltrow got a lot of flack for tweeting "Ni**as in Paris for real."  Paltrow's tweet made national headlines and she received a lot of flack for using the word in her tweet.  Paltrow's defense was ultimately that she was saying the title of the song, not defaming anyone, or using the words against people.  Holliday and the folks from The Word, and online journal for African American English have dissected the actual N-Word a lot lately, and ask is Gweneth wrong?

Throughout the different articles Holliday points out that the same two questions come up "Who has the license to use the word?" and "In what context is the word not offensive?"  Whoopi posed the following question "I would ask Gwyneth this. I don’t know that there’s ever a time that a white person can say that and not get a backlash for using it."  Then in today's episode she stated the that she was not sure that anyone, even a black person could escape the backlash of the N-word.

Both points of view have polar opposite thoughts on use of the N-word making the discussion on of the most complex for the ages.  Different people have different perspectives on this word, and who can use it and in what context.  There are people who believe the word can only be used by black people.  People who use the word because the feel as though watering down words gives those the power to make it something negative or too common place.

Let's go back to Chevy's outburst, was he wrong for using the word out of anger in that context.  Chase is known to be a difficult person to work with, and prior to hearing "the story" of what happened anger filled my blood.  Then when I heard why he used it and knowing the context of the direction of his character on the show, I am not surprised that he expressed anger and hatred in that manner.  Does this give him a pass?  Chase was using an extreme to stir the pot.  This word is an extreme, and like I stated above there could be books written on this topic.  There is no solution or easy answer to this analysis, merely one that can spur discussion, and how it impacts those the word represents.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Sessions, Proves Sex is not a Dirty Three Letter Word but an Act that can Unlock Some of the most Beautiful Emotions

The Sessions (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by Ben Lewin
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy

The Sessions, proves sex is not a dirty three letter word, but an act that can unlock some of the most beautiful emotions.  In the "current American Society" (whatever that may mean) sex is deemed a perverse act, something taboo, and that is sealed in the sacred act of marriage.  People act as though sex is an evil or something you do for the sake of procreation, and not for the sake of pleasure.  Those who preach abstinence have created an agenda that make sex between anyone something that we dare not speak.  This film takes the opposite approach proving that even within a film sex/sexuality can be something beautiful, and sacred.

The film centers on real life poet Mark O'Brien (Hawkes) who got polio at the age of six and has spent his life in an iron lung.  Mark feels that throughout his life he has opened himself up to intimacy with others but because of the disease and his forced to live laying down this intimacy has never been returned.  Mark seeks refuge and guidance with a new priest at his church Father Brendan (Macy), with whom he confides his deepest longings.  After much consternation Mark seeks out the company of a sex surrogate named Cheryl (Hunt); she helps him explore his own trepidations with intimacy guiding him on a journey to his own sexual exploration, and happiness.

The key to this film is beautiful and raw acting from John Hawkes as Mark.  Hawkes has proven his darker acting side in more recent films like Winter's Bone, and Martha Marcy May Marlene.  In this film Hawkes shows a comical side proving he can make the you laugh, but there is so much vulnerability within his character.  Mark wants to feel this genuine love with someone; he wants to feel as though he can form a lasting connection with another woman on spiritual and physical level.  Hawkes gives one of the best performances of the year; he is one of my favorite actors at the moment because not only does his acting seem effortless, but because he makes you feel every little emotion throughout the journey with this courageous man.

Mark finds this physical and spiritual connection with Cheryl played by the radiant Helen Hunt.  Hunt bravely puts it all out there in her acting and on the screen; she is fearless in this role, and proves that her Oscar for As Good as it Gets was no fluke.  Cheryl has a vulnerable side to her as well; she is drowning in her need to conform to her own life, yet she strives for independence.   As she spends the few sessions with Mark you get to Hunt transform this character, and feel a genuine joy and sadness for these two people.  Hunt is a vision.

Together these two performances bring to life one of the best on screen couples of the year.  As you watch there journey there are moments laughter, revelation, and of course the eventual pain of realism that brings these to characters to a realization that their sessions can only last so long.   Together this on screen couple helps take this material to an astounding level.  There is more to their journey than sex. Together they help Mark get a place of peace.

The film is lyrical, and provides a beautifully brilliant story of a man who fought to be something, and know something real.  Writer/Director Ben Lewin's script helps transform this real life story/article into something that, which never pushes an agenda, but rather sensually caresses you.  The film makes you believe in love, and the pursuit of that physical/spiritual connection with another person.

Gotham Independent Film Nominees Crown Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom as Major Player

Moonrise Kingdom gets the biggest bump toward being an Oscar nominee for Best Picture this year.  Wes Anderson has surely created some great films, and is finally getting even more recognition with this great ensemble comedy.  Look for more recognition for award shows to help this film get to the podium.
Bernie is less likely to make a big showing, but the film did well here nonetheless, and proves that this could have legs in the screenplay category.
Best Feature
The Loneliest Planet
The Master
Middle of Nowhere
Moonrise Kingdom
Best Documentary
How to Survive a Plague
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present
Room 237
The Waiting Room

Best Ensemble Performance
Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey (Millennium Entertainment)
Moonrise Kingdom
Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban (Focus Features)
Safety Not Guaranteed
Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub (Film District)
Silver Linings Playbook
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher (The Weinstein Company)
Your Sister’s Sister
Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt, Mark Duplass (IFC Films)
Breakthrough Director
Zal Batmanglij for Sound of My Voice (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky for Francine (Factory 25 and The Film Sales Company)
Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin for Now, Forager (Argot Pictures)
Antonio Méndez Esparza for Aquí y Allá (Here and There) (Torch Films)
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Breakthrough Actor
Mike Birbiglia in Sleepwalk with Me (IFC Films)
Emayatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere (AFFRM and Participant Media)
Thure Lindhardt in Keep the Lights On (Music Box Films)
Melanie Lynskey in Hello, I Must Be Going (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You
Kid-ThingAn Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Red Flag
Sun Don’t Shine
Tiger Tail in Blue

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Tribute to Great Television: Brothers & Sisters

From the Waltons to the Walkers, television families have evolved over the years.  Throughout the years television dramas have changed, much like the the landscape of television.  The Waltons could be seen as the first family of television drama, their show first started airing in 1972, and ran for nine seasons.  The television series takes people through the journey of a family in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II.

Cut to years later, numerous television dramas do not focus on the family, but we have experienced some incredible dynasties (no pun intended) watching the Ewings, the Carringtons, the Walshes, and The Sopranos navigate the tension of everyday life.  Yet there is one show in recent memory that has focused on the family, and all the things that come along with it in in the 2000s and that is Brothers & Sisters.

Brothers & Sisters (2006-2011) centers on the Walker family who own a business named Ojai Foods.  The shows family members include father William Walker (Tom Skerritt), Nora Walker (Sally Field).  Williams and Nora had five children Sarah (Rachel Griffiths), Tommy (Balthazar Getty), who were executives at the family business, Kitty (Calista Flockheart) who was a conservative political analyst, Kevin (Matthew Rhys) a lawyer, and Justin (David Annable) a veteran of of the Iraq war.  Together these different people along with Saul (Ron Rifkin) who plays Nora's brother and Holly Harper (Patricia Wettig) who plays William's mistress come together to create one of few shows that is truly about the modern family.

At the beginning of the first episode Kitty comes home to California from New York to field a job offer to be a talking head on a news show.  Along with celebrating her return after many years absent, the family gets together to celebrate her birthday.  At her birthday party she and her liberal mother bury the hatchet for her father, but in the end William has a heart attack and passes away.  As the family mourns William's death they start to realize that life may be as perfect as they imagined.  William stole money from his employees, had numerous affairs, and helped his children cover up crimes, sounds bit a melodramatic, but the material that comes from this show proves that family is something that sticks by your side.

Throughout the five years this show was on the air The Walkers faced "financial hardships," cancer, divorce, infidelity, death, black mail, political scandals and much more.  Yet through all the pain and heart break this family stuck together through thick and thin, except when Tommy messed up, but that is mainly Balthazar Getty's fault.  The show added spouses and significant others throughout the years like Robert McCallister (Rob Lowe) who was Kitty's husband, and Rebecca Harper (Emily VanCamp) who played their potential half sister/Justin's wife for a time, yet the core of the family was always the central focus.

While this show had a soapy/melodramatic feel the emotions of the family rang true, and show runner Greg Berlanti (Political Animals) showed that blood is thicker than water, and no matter what divides you whether that be political party or your mother driving you crazy, family has a way of knowing you best, and being there for you when you need them most.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Argo is a Thrilling, Gripping Edge of Your Seat Thriller with a bit of Comedy Thrown in now and again Creating Near Perfection

Argo (4 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Town)
Written by Chris Terrio (Heights)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin

Fifteen years ago Ben Affleck was soon to take the stage at the Academy Awards with best buddy Matt Damon for writing the screenplay for the film Good Will Hunting.  As the years passed Affleck took on more roles acting, from blockbusters like Armageddon to some major flops like Gigli.  The Gigli disaster happened in 2003.  

Four years later Mister Affleck took a different vantage point, one from the directors seat, with the film adaptation Gone Baby Gone.  Gone garnered an Oscar nomination for Amy Ryan, and was well reviewed.  Three years later he directed and adapted the screenplay for the film The Town.  The Town's reviews were even better, and also garnered an Oscar nomination for Jeremy Renner.  Affleck's career has evolved as a celebrity, but more so this film proves his evolution as an auteur. Argo is a thrilling, gripping edge of your seat thriller with a bit of comedy thrown in now and again creating near perfection.

Argo centers around the 1979 Iranian Revolution.   Islamic militants storm the US embassy in Iran, they end up holding 52 people hostage while 6 people end up escaping, seeking refuge in the  house of the Canadian Ambassador.  In order to get the six Americans out of Iran a CIA 'exfiltration' specialist named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) works to concoct a plan to get the Americans out of Iran.  Mendez works with one of colleagues Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) and comes up with an idea to create a fake movie entitle Argo to get into Iran and out with the six Americans.

The premise sounds absurd but this is based on real life events.  Mendez real life actions were awarded a secret honor, and then quickly revoked in order to keep this mission, and the extent of US involvement hidden, until the 90s when President Bill Clinton opened the file and honored Mendez.  This story is an important one, and shows the volatile nature of this part of the world continues to be a hot spot.  Many will compare this revolution to the current situation going on in Libya, but there is sheer brilliance in the way this story is told, and how it builds to a gripping finale.

The star of this film (in all ways possible) is leading man/director Ben Affleck.  Affleck moves away from Boston and into the terrain of Hollywood and Iran.  One of my favorite lines in the script comes from the fake make-up artists on the film John Chambers (John Goodman) in which he states "So you want to come to Hollywood and and act like a big shot without actually doing anything?..You will fit right in."  This along with the line about anyone being able to direct are laugh out loud moments, but Affleck proves everyone may be able to point the camera, and shoot, but not everyone can create such great work.  This is one of the best films of the year, and Affleck's direction helps set the stage for everything to be made possible.

I always love thinking about a director, directing himself, and what pointers they must give.  This makes me laugh.  Affleck has however coached himself into making people forget some of his awful film roles because his performance as Mendez is incredible.  This is one stellar ensemble filled with the men behind the scenes in DC and Hollywood.  Alan Arkin plays the fake film's director, and his one liners add some great levity to this film.  Goodman and Arkin are truly a dynamic duo.  Bryan Cranston continues to prove why he is not only a brilliant leading man in television, but how he can take any role, and make it stand out on the screen.  Affleck is at ease with strong ensembles, his last two films had incredible casts, and he made each character deep and contextual.  

New screenwriter Chris Terrio words help blend the tension and comedy brilliantly; he appears to have a knack for showing multi-faceted layers, which is something that will land him lots of acclaim.  William Goldenberg's masterful editing blends the real life imagery of the storming of the embassy with Affleck's camera work; he also provides some great cuts that allow the films tension to gain momentum, and blend every aspect of the film together.  Alesandre Desplat's score is haunting, and creates this genius connection with the historical time period along with the different elements of the film.  Together 
all of these pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, taut with perfection. 

As this films tensions builds, and the history lesson ends (well sort of) you sit back listen to Jimmy Carter talk, and realize that as a society we are in a vicious cycle with this part of the world.  Fear is a constant throughout this film, you are afraid you will lose these people, even though you may know the outcome, but the fear is salient with society today as well.  Does this film teach lessons?  Yes, two.  The first seems to be we need to take a step back on things we do not know or understand, i.e. cultures, and parts of the globe.  The second is how to make a modern day thriller about real life events.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lincoln Gives a Historical Lesson on how to Make a Great Bio-Pic

Lincoln (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan)
Written by Tony Kushner (Munich)
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, David Straitharn, and Tommy Lee Jones

When I got back to my job from a ten day vacation, to my delight I found three invitations to screenings of films.  Two of them were for Wednesday, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, and one for Thursday, Flight.  I picked Lincoln for two reasons.  The first reason one there was the live satellite interview with Spielberg and Day Lewis, and I was immensely interested to hear them speak about this film.  The second reason was because as a history major in my undergraduate days I worship the material, used to adapt this film.   Lincoln gives an historical lesson on how to make a great bio-pic.

The film starts four months before the end of the Civil War, as the battles are raging on, President Abraham Lincoln is looking to bring the nation back together meanwhile trying to fight for the rights of those enslaved by the Confederacy.  There are no real spoilers in this film, as everyone hopefully knows the 13th Amendment was ratified, and President Lincoln was assassinated.  The film focuses on the journey to ratification, and the eventual death of the President and what he meant to this nation at the time, and in a sense what he still means to Americans.

The film was adapted from the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" from Dorris Kearns Goodwin.  In the interview with Spielberg he stated that back in 1999 when the book was released he read it, and asked Goodwin if he could buy the rights and make the book into a film about Lincoln.  This film has been in the works since 1999.  Spielberg asked playwright, and screenwriter Tony Kushner, with whom he would work on Munich with first, to write the screenplay for this film.  Spielberg openly discussed that Kushner's first version of this script was over 500 pages "and would be longer than most HBO mini-series."  Fair warning if you do not have a love of history this may still feel like a long HBO mini-series.

You will be happy to know that the film was condensed and made into a much sharper history lesson about the man, the myth, and the legend that is Abraham Lincoln.  You should also know that Goodwin is a historian, and as a historian her job is to convey fact, and to provide authentic context and and experiential journey for the readers.  Kushner's screenplay does exactly the same thing; he creates scenarios like in his play Angels in America, where characters, mainly Lincoln talk and provide history. lessons to those around them.  This is something that Lincoln did on a regular basis to everyone who would listen.  Some will describe this script as "talky" but I say the script is the perfect blue print for a film that is meant to provide a snap shot of the historical context on the importance of this man, and his impact on the society then, and now.

Kushner and Spielberg worked together on another film about a real life event, Munich.  Munich was Speilberg's last well made film, it has his signature style, but also goes off book.  Lincoln has the same quality as this film; he allows the material, like the writing from the book, and screenplay, and the acting do most of the work.  You often know when you are watching a Steven Spielberg film, there are certain qualities or aspects, which signify his style.  This is something every director has, but they are often most successful when they stray from their comfort zone, and imbibe a little fear, something Spielberg talked about in his interview.  There was careful planning that went into making this film, and the end results are proof that he worked hard to get the most from this film, and his leading man.

As Daniel Day Lewis steps on stage, there is chill that passed down my spine, something he often invokes with his acting, or presence.  Day Lewis is a brilliant as Lincoln; he brings to life the man, his speeches, and shows you just how comfortable he was connecting with the masses.  Lincoln was one of the few Presidents we have had who came from nothing, Day Lewis connects with this aspect of Lincoln, and proves that within him there is a way for you to connect with him in this role on every level in believe in the greatness of this man.

Day Lewis shared with online audiences the way Lincoln made his decisions; he talked out loud with the people around him from his wife, to his Cabinet, and even to every day people.  This part of the film was wonderfully crafted with the screenplay, but also shows up with the great ensemble.  There were few shining stars in the rest of the ensemble but together these character actors worked together to create a seamless environment where you fell into the landscape of the film.  The one standout supporting performance for me was Tommy Lee Jones who played Representative Thadeus Stevens, a Republican who believed in full equality for all Americans.  Jones had great speeches, was funny, touching, and shined in a truly great supporting role.

Together these actors, along with a subdued, yet beautiful score by John Williams create an environment rich in context, and historical lessons. Together with the direction from Spielberg, and the writing from the original author, and the adapted work form this great history lesson.  One of the great things about film, is the way it informs everyday life, giving a basic understanding to different life experiences For example in this film shows our democratic process, and the way it still remains the same throughout all these years.

Audiences will make the comparison of the current political spectrum and the way way we remain a country divided by deep issues.  There is no Civil War brewing, but it feels as though are differences divide us stronger than ever, or are a resemblance of the debates the House has in this film.  From abortion to gay marriage, the country does not see eye to eye, and we seem to be in a constant battle with one another.  People are going to compare President Obama, a man who has broken barriers to Lincoln based on the material of this film, its only natural.  Yet some would disagree because of their political leanings. Lincoln, is not only a well made movie, but an important historical document.

Biographical films rarely focus on getting things right on multiple levels.  Most focus on the entertainment value.  Can we sell this person's story?  Lincoln tells a history lesson, and is a well made film, I am proud to say I enjoyed this film.  Nice rebound from War Horse!

Travels with Kevin Part 12: Enjoying the Saturday Night Lights in Austin, Texas

After my relaxing journey to Harrisonburg, Virginia, the next stop was to Austin, Texas the main reason for all of my recent travels.  I went to Austin to celebrate the wedding of Colleen Hughbank (now Palomaa) and Eric Palomaa.  I met Colleen when we went to graduate school together; she and I bonded over our extra sweet tooth, and through taking her workout classes.  This was one of the first weddings where I felt involved behind the scenes, I was not in the wedding, but Colleen was so awesome and included myself and a couple other friends in all of the festivities.  Getting to celebrate with her new husband Eric and have some bourbon was also an incredible treat.  Both of their family and friends were incredibly fun, and the wedding was incredibly memorable.

This was not only my first wedding that made me feel a part of everything, but it was also my first trip to the Lone Star State of Texas.  I had always vowed never to visit the state, mainly because of own close minded perception.  Although I did not get to explore much Austin seemed to be a beacon of hope in this great sea of red.  All the bridal party and groomsmen went downtown together the night before the wedding partying and drinking on 6th street, but there was something else that caught my eye on our drive to the game that truly symbolizes the culture of Texas, football.

Driving past the Darrell K. Texas Memorial Stadium, and seeing the Texas Longhorns playing the West Virginia Mountaineers under the Saturday night lights at this massive stadium was like nothing I had ever seen before.  Growing up in the north, specifically upstate New York there is no real allegiance to college sports the way there is in the south.  Going to graduate school in Ohio was my first experience with the college football obsession.  Ohioans have a strong love for their Ohio State Buckeyes.  Most of the wedding party was from Texas, and their obsession with watching the game was evident.  Most of these folks were raised in a culture where football was king.

This is no exaggeration, and film and television may have embellished a tad with movies like Varsity Blues, I feel as thought the film/television series Friday Night Lights had it right!  There is a center spirituality that exists within the culture of Texas.  These two quotes below resonated with me about just how important football is to the people of this town:

"I'd heard about Texas football and how much of a religion it is, but to go to Odessa and experience it first-hand is something different than just hearing about it." - Jay Hernandez

"Sectional football games have the glory and the despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners." - John Steinbeck

I love Steinbeck's words they are poetic, almost lyrical proving just how serious this game is to the people of this state.  Throughout the television series Friday Night Lights, you get a feeling for the connections people make through this game, and just how it can help or hurt relationships.  Who is starting?  What play are you running?  What do I do to guide my team to victory?  Each of these sentiments is not just something Coach Taylor had input on, but from his wife to the mayor everyone talks this man's ear off about the big game.

What an honor to experience an aspect of Texas culture, maybe next time I will actually see a game!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Travels with Kevin Part 11: Time for a Fall Television in Harrisonburg, Virginia

After my few days in Washington DC ended I went with my friend Steven to his current residence, Harrisonburg, Virginia.  Steven works at James Madison University with Orientation and First Year Programs.  While is town I was able to do one of my favorite things, explore a college campus.  While there I was able to see a truly beautiful campus, that appears to maximize there rolling hills/mountains from the various vantage points of campus.

After exploring the few places I ran out of things to do (beyond hanging out with Steven). Harrisonburg is a small town that has absolutely no connection with popular culture (that I could find).  While Steven was at, I decided to take advantage of this down time to sit down, relax, and watch television that I missed because of work, or my vacation interrupted the chance to watch the shows.  For me spending time in this small quaint college town was the perfect chance for me to reboot, recuperate, spend time with my best friend, and not think about work.

Most of the television I was able to catch up on  was the Sunday premiere night, and here are my thoughts:

After magic was unleashed on the town of Storybrooke, Once Upon a Time returned with a reckoning.  This was a show that it took me a while to get into, but when I watched in on Netflix recently I got hooked.  As the season came to a close I was slightly concerned as to how this show would continue the story.  From the storming of the "castle" also known as Regina's house to the remnants of those characters who were left behind in the magical land.

The campaign is on, the firm is in financial trouble, and Kahlinda's husband is here! The Good Wife set a lot of stories in motion, there is a lot going on and the show focusing on some new issues and items.  Aside from Zack's run in with the law, I am excited to see Peter run for another office, although it feels been there done that (a little).  The firms financial woes was the most interesting thing to me bringing out two characters who have amazing chemistry, Josh Charles, and Christine Baranski.  I am excited to see where Kahlinda's story is going to go, but this felt disjointed, I want them to make the connection sooner than later.

Back to the Hamptons with Revenge!  Emily/Amanda is back for another summer in the Hamptons, and of course the shows first few minutes started with a cliffhanger death, making the audience believe Jack would die, although this is another bait and switch.  I think Declan is the victim.  We all knew Victoria was alive, and her return could have been handled a little better, but this is one terrific hour of pulp fun.

One of the best returns of the season belongs to Dexter.   Deb knows Dexter's secret.  This episode had me constantly on edge, watching as this new version of cat and mouse was set in motion.  Dexter kept feeding her lies, and Deb finally started to see his darkness.  After two awful seasons this show could finally get back to form.  Most of the times the flashbacks are pandering, but even in this episode they connected things well.  I am excited to see the direction of this season.

The only new show I started on Sunday was 666 Park Avenue, and it may not last long.  While the show is frightening, creepy, and gave me a small nightmare, this show feels like a toned down American Horror Story.  I often wonder how this show would sustain more than one or two seasons.

The winner of Outstanding Drama series at the Emmy Awards, Homeland, returned Sunday as well.  This show brought Carrie back into the fold of the CIA, and continued Brody's confusing journey as an anti-hero.  Homeland is a show that paces itself beautifully, and watching Danes and Lewis is like watching poetry, these two are beyond talented.

While these shows have no connection to my actual journey, Harrisonburg, Virginia provided me a great release from the everyday stress of work.  I was able to not only catch up on television, but spend time with my best friend, what a great time.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Travels with Kevin Part 10: There is No Debating Washington DC is a Great City

Last Friday I started my ten day vacation throughout three cities in the United States, Washington DC, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Austin, Texas.  The first stop on my vacation, Washington DC. was a stop over before visiting my friend Steven who lives in Harrisonburg.  While I waited for Steven to get off work I spent the day walking around the city going to the different museums, and seeing the different monuments.

This is my third time in DC, my first time there was on a family vacation when I was 14.  My family and I, along with family friends did everything, literally.  My favorite was a private tour from one of our state Senators aids of the Capitol building.  Seeing Arlington Cemetery was also a beautiful experience.

My second visit to our nations capitol was with friends on a road trip.  We had a friend who live in Baltimore and she took us around again to the different monuments.  I had just graduated college, and it was time to experience DC night life and party it up.  This was with my friends Keith, Monica, and Stephanie.  There are more stories to tell, but I will be leaving those out.

On my third visit as I waited for Steven I revisited some of my favorite sites, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House.  I have never been in the White house, as a history major I have always dreamed of being in the Oval Office.  I also hit up a couple of the different museums at the Smithsonian, like the National Air and Space Museum.  My favorite museum I visited was the Portrait Gallery, looking at the different paintings was like looking at a slices of our history, and being able to examine their impact on society then and now.

After a day of culture and history I decided to take advantage of happy hour at JRs Bar and Grille a local bar.  A few drinks later my friend Steven found me and we got to hang out for the first time since May.  Steven and I also enjoyed some bottom less Mimosas the next morning before we left on our journey to Harrisonburg...this part of the journey will continue in Part 11.

As I walk away from other aspects of my vacation, and think about my self guided tour of my nations capitol, I am struck with the feeling that we are embroiled within one of the most interesting, and negative elections in recent history.

Throughout the years popular culture has played an ever growing role in the Presidential election.  When did our elected officials become consumed in hitting the talk show circuit, or when did things like Saturday Night live poking fun at politicians start to resonate most?  There is no measurable outcome for this, but there are clear examples of when these things started to have a true genuine impact on our society.

My first memory of a President (well Presidential candidate) was everyone talking about Bill Clinton on the Arsenio Hall Show.  Clinton stopped by the show while campaigning playing his saxophone proving that unlike Bush Sr. he wan everyman that people could relate to, and this sealed the election for him.  Bill Clinton was not the first President to visit late night television, but his visit made this an important part of the campaign trail proving future candidates could use these forums, and even daytime television to reach out to their voting public.

John F. Kennedy went on The Jack Parr Show in 1960, and like Clinton this man appealed to the younger demographics, proving his good looks, charm, and intelligence helped win the election against Vice President elect Richard Nixon.

Nixon needed to prove his "Regular Joe" status in around his 1968 campaign, and went on Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, delivering that famous line "Sock it to Me."  Nixon was seen as a cold, stiff unlikeable guy (much like Mitt Romney) until he went on this program proving he could have fun with the best of them.

After the years past by, Saturday Night Live has become the go to place to not only mock candidates, but for them to show up, and poke fun at themselves.  From Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford, Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush, Darrell Hammond's Bill Clinton, and Will Ferrell's George W. Bush, and Tina Fey's Sarah Palin these lampooned incumbents or candidates got more and more face time from this show and made their role in politics and popular culture infamous.

Candidates have started to actually on Saturday Night Live as well, John McCain hosted, Sarah Palin came on and was standing next to Tina Fey her dopple-ganger.  These drop-ins have always been great surprises, and have proved one way or another to engage people further and further in the political discourse.

Politics and popular culture can mix quite nicely from The Daily Show and Colbert Report to these fun pop ins on Saturday Night Live, and with Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, or the ladies of The View.  While I applaud our current candidates for engaging in a form of discourse that reaches out to people via different media, I often wonder if this takes away from the true process of governing.

With the first debate occurring last night between President Barack Obama, and former Governor Mitt Romeny, it's time to get down to business leave the talk show circuit behind, and get down to the real issues.  The economy, the problems in Syria, health care, education, and many more of the issues on the  docket,   People argue the President looked tired during the debate, wouldn't you if you had to handle all he has to? That's my only liberal comment I promise.

This debate proved a couple things, one people know who they are voting for, whether we want to admit that or not.  Two Mitt Romney wants Big Bird dead,  (alright last thing I promise).  Three, the role of popular culture has a larger impact on the election results than the actual debate that occurred last evening.

In this time of 24/7 news cycle, where people always have to be performing, candidates always have to be at their best and on.  Jon Stewart teases about moments when candidates are not on, calling then "Gotcha Moments."  These moments along with the role of popular culture prove politics has changed, and through this we have to suffer along with the change.