Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where have all the Good Films Gone? (this winter)

Film journalist Scott Feinberg posted a question to twitter asking people their favorite movie so far this year, and I blanked.  So far I have only seen two films which were officially released in 2013 Oz the Great and Powerful and Admission, neither of which merits any "Best of" award.  For some reason this year seems particularly dry.  If you haven't been to or live near a film festival which screened things as a film lover you are out of luck.  I may need to start heading to the Sundance Film Festival from now on, to get me out of my winter blues with the movies.
This year only two films have cracked 100 million so far, and they are Oz the Great and Powerful, and Identity Thief.  I saw Oz, because I am huge fan of the original film, books, and stories associated.  I almost saw Thief out of protest for Rex Reeds atrocious characterization of Melissa McCarthy but if the same guy who made Horrible Bosses made this dreck count me out.  Horrible Bosses was one of my least favorite comedies of this decade, forcing humor rather than letting it naturally occur.

If you look at Metacritic and very few films merit a "fresh" or good rating.  Most of the the films still in Rotten Tomato fresh category are left overs from the Oscar season like Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi.  There have been some 2013 which have cracked into the fresh range or had somewhat better reviews on Metacritic like Mama (65 percent fresh), Oz the Great and Powerful (61 Percent), The Croods (67 Percent), and the two best reviewed commercial releases were Warm Bodies (79 Percent), and Side Effects (85 Percent).  Even of these five the lower three rank lower on the Meta Critic scale.  I feel like I say this every year, and it pains me to not have movies to go see, or movies I do not enjoy for months at a time.  I do not have much hope for April either but 42 looks solid, so a thaw could be on the way.

Part of the problem in recent years is the way the awards ceremonies have moved up.  Many years ago Oscar films like The Artist would have had a limited NY and LA Christmas release, I would say the same for Slumdog Millionaire.  These films would have built up steam to their eventual Oscar wins in March if the calendar had stayed the same.  Next year because of the Winter Olympics the Oscars are back in March.  Will the movie release calendar go back to the way it was?  Most likely, but that leaves dryer fall season because people do not want their films to lose steam too quickly, I have one word for you, Argo.  

I need good films to released all year long, it kills my spirit to see my options for the weekend are The Host, G.I. Joe, and Temptation, really Hollywood?  Is this your idea for a quality film experience?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pink Closes Her Truth About Love Tour in Boston as she Glitters in the Air

I fell in "love" with Pink the artist with her album I'm Not Dead.  My friend Lauren from college played me the song entitled "Leave Me a Alone (I'm Lonely)" and the song just was so catchy I could not help myself.  I listened to the rest of album, and I just got hooked, on her as an artist.

I used to add her songs from Can't Take Me Home to my mix tapes I made, yes mix tapes.  Songs like "Most Girls" "There You Go" and of course "You Make Me Sick."  I admired the next steps she took and thought she was robbed of an Album of the Year nomination  for Missundaztood.  This sophomore album was no slump with "Get this Party Started" "Just Like a Pill" "Family Portrait" and many more.  I have to say her third album is where she lost me, namely because her label did not promote her songs the same way they promoted her other albums because she bucked tradition of being a pop princess.

Cut me seeing her in concert for the first time at TD Garden in Boston, besides the awkward opening act (The Hives, who were solid but not something I would choose to see) the show was one of the most entertaining concerts I have attended.  I have to say that if you are a fly by night Pink fan and only wanted to attend because you wanted to "get this party started" get to the back of the line; she did not play the hit.

Pink did open with an impressive acrobatic number and the song "Raise Your Glass." Acrobatics were obviously something she did throughout her show, and these moments not only wow, but they are beyond cool.  Acrobatics is obviously a wide term for what Pink does on the stage but with her most emotional songs like "Try" "Sober" and "Glitter in the Air" there were moments where she was in a giant globe floating in the air or using sheets to create this incredible emotional experience for the audience.

One of the reasons I like Pink as an artist is that she is a truly genuine person, what you see is what you get, and this is apparent in her performance.  While starting to do her acoustic set with of the songs "Who Knew" and "Fucking Perfect" Pink walked around signing this for fans in the audience, was given gifts and talked about her ability to draw a smoking frog on skates.

Pinks show is flawless; she has set a standard for "pop" acts to take things to the next level, and that you can't just phone it in (Britney).  Pink's extending her US tour date in the late fall and winter, and if you did not get to see her this time, see her then, or see her again, because this show was out of this world amazing!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience is Filled with Beautiful Clarity

In 2006 Justin Timberlake released his last LP entitled FutureSex/LoveSounds.  Seven years later after  ome promising (and not so promising) film work, and numerous guest appearances on Saturday Night Live Timberlake is back, and better than ever!  The 20/20 Experience his new album is a mature R&B, Pop, Dance infusion, transcending the work of many mainstream musicians today.
20/20 is one of the largest musical phenomenons of the year, and that is no surprise.  Timberlake is a force to reckoned with and maturity from his days as a Mousketeer and Boy Bander in N'Sync to this actual "experience" is one of the most impressive transformations.  Like Timberlake's transformation this album is a musical transformation blending a variety of different musical experiences, but but focusing mainly on rhythm and soul within each beat and lyric.

One of the unique things about this album is the length of the tracks, which average about 7 minutes.  JT doesn't go for the easy "Cry Me a River" or "Sexyback" rather you you get the slow soul of my personal favorite songs "Mirrors" and "Tunnel Vision."  These songs have soul/brass and well iterally brass with horns and percussion over much of the music on the album.  Further proof that soul and rhythm are essential to growth of Timberlake as an artist, and to this album experience.

Timberlakes' collaborations with Timbaland seem to produce such beautiful music, and this is true with this experience.  Timbaland produced every track on this album, and you can hear his sound mixed with JT on every track.  

The album is a slow burn, and I refused to write anything about this album until I listened to it three times.  I love the evolution of the album creating a neo-soul feel which is more D'Angelo than Beiber.  I am glad JT did not go the commercial route, and used his passion along with Timbaland to produce this album.  There is a true pay, and many artists should pay attention to JT's career this album may sell as many 1 million units.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and allows a musicians musical growth to mature.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Admission Fails to Make the Grade Despite Having Two Star Students, Fey and Rudd

Admission (2 1/2 stars out of 5)
Directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, Little Fockers)
Written by Karen Croner (One True Thing)
Starring: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, and Lily Tomlin

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are two of my favorite comedic people working today.  Fey was one of the best head writers at Saturday Night Live, produced, wrote, and starred in one of the best sitcoms 30 Rock, and she she host well!  Rudd is that everyman who play silly or dry from Clueless, 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and so much more this guy is beyond like able.  The combination of these two was inevitable, and should produce some of the best material, enter a poorly structured screenplay, which borders on contrived.

The film centers around Portia Nathan (Fey) an admissions officer at Princeton.  Portia is a pretty by the book person; she has had the job for 16 years, and she is often described as boring by one of the characters.  The process of admission to Princeton is not boring, the film explores the high stakes process of admission to a competitive higher education institution.  While involved in the latest round of reviewing applications Portia John Pressman (Rudd) who runs a new school called Quest, which has its first group of graduating seniors.  While interacting with this group John introduces Portia to Jeremiah (Wolff) whom John claims is her son.  Portia has claimed throughout the early stages of the film she is no good with kids, but as Jeremiah expresses interest in admission to Princeton Portia's maternal instincts kick into high gear.

Two things struck me at first with this film.  The first was a professional in higher education.  I work at Northeastern University in Boston, a somewhat competitive institution, and it's interesting to see who gets in, and how that creates a class dynamic.  I could talk about the higher education side of this film for days, the helicopter parents, the stress students face, the role bias plays (racial socio-economic etc) in an admission process.  I have to say that I admire the way this film covered the elements of higher education, the pain the pressure for both students and parents.  Croner whose son was in the film and has gone through the admission process on some level gets every little emotion right.

The second is also related to Croner's script, and the moments that were just missed or contrived.  In reading it seems as though Cronner strayed a bit from the book written by Jean Horiff Korelitz.  (Here is an interview from Vulture where the two talk about their collaboration  Koreliztz's book focuses mainly on the admission process, which as stated above is the most engaging piece of the movie, but makes up a small percentage.  Instead Croner focuses on this sappy rom-com-y type story, which, along with the gags like Portia constantly seeing her ex is a waste of screen time.

Weitz never succeeds with the material either, and his direction of both actors and the premise seem surface level.  The one aspect of the film, which I loved (and again related to the actual admissions process) was getting to see the actual image of student as Fey or others were reading their applications.  I thought this added depth and style to a shallow surface level film.

The film has its fun moments Fey and Rudd are charming, but I would have rather seen them in darker material together.  While I love Fey I want to see her challenge herself more as an actress and step outside of the Liz Lemon character; she carried that through this film, and while it did not hurt the film it did show she still has some growth within the film world.

The film is sappy, predictable, sometimes funny, and has a few moments which are endearing.  The pay off is not enough.  I would have liked to explore the complex struggle Portia faces at work, and through the concept of providing constant rejection to students as they apply to Princeton.  I am also a higher education dork, but when the script gets this right, and fails on the love story, what else would you want?

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Tribute to Great Television: Weeds (Showtime-2005-2012)

This past Monday I watched both the first and last episodes of Weeds, talk about an interesting development or growth (get it growing weed) in shows eight years, or seasons on the air.  The first episode follows simple suburban mom Nancy Botwin played by the brilliant Mary Louise Parker, after she deals with her husband dropping dead of a heart attack while going for a run with his son Shane (Alexander Gould).  After a lively debate of moms at PTA meeting, or something to that effect about sugary drinks, we soon see this simple suburban mom in the "hood" buying weed from Heylia (Toney Patano) and her nephew Conrad (Romany Malco).  Nancy was left broke, and she starts to sell weed in order to make ends meet.  Crazy premise, and brilliantly constructed.

The show lasted eight seasons and in the final episode jumped about seven years into the future, that tacky new trend that has gained a lot of ground because of its popularity on the show Desperate Housewives.  Yet in all honesty Nancy Botwin is the true "desperate housewife.  Without giving too much away the shows history and time jump was an emotional experience that was a pretty satisfactory ending.  The last image of the main group of characters who lasted the whole time in the show sitting out in the snow peacefully smoking a joint was a great piece of direction.

Before I jump right into the end, and how the show ended let's look at this show and how eight seasons of dealing drugs made you laugh, cry, and scream with horror.  While the show itself was not always "great" I admire the work series creator Jenji Kohan did with this show.  Ms. Kohan did a lot season after season keeping viewers on their toes with shocking deaths, diseases, prison, moving, and of course a massive fire.  Over the years season after season the show reinvented the way it felt, and this allowed for new and interesting plots to be brought to life, but also pushed characters on and off the map of the show.

Weeds would have been nothing without their supporting cast, and what supporting cast this show had.  Beyond Mary Louise Parker, the only three other characters in every episode/ or every season were Kevin Nealon's Doug, Hunter Parish's Silas, and her other son Shane.  Andy played by the brilliant Justin Kirk did not start until midway through season one.  I love the chemistry between Kirk and Park, which started in the HBO mini-series Angels in America.  There is just such fire when these two shared the screen, and their tumultuous relationship on the show made it even more interesting.

Beyond these regular cast of characters there were numerous folks who were weaved in and out of the show's history. the wonderfully blunt and funny Elizabeth Perkins as Celia Hodes.  When the show moved to New York City, and left Celia behind it was one of the saddest moments for me as a viewer I loved this character (as did many other viewers).  I understand why Kohan did not move forward with Celia, in fact the only reason she did not drop her earlier was probably because of her loyal fan base.  I was sad to not see her come back for the finale, which was a bit odd to me.  Celia's husband Dean the often underrated Andy Milder was also great.  Weeds also started the popularity of Guillermo Diaz (now on Scandal), who played the sharp tongued Latin gangster Guillermo.  Weeds also had Damien Bichir, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Brooks, Richard Dreyfus, Julie Bowen, Matthew Modine, Alanis Morisette, and many many more.

This show told a rich story, and the reason I attribute this show with greatness (if you are questioning me, which should never) is because this shows theme and style was a bit of game changer.  Who would have thought to have done a dramedy about the woos of the white woman who has start dealing drugs to take care of her family?  Jenji Kohan.  The show's dark humor started a trend with Showtime series pushing forward more shows like Nurse Jackie, The Big C, The United States of Tara, and honestly eventually HBO's Girls and Veep.  Many times people are afraid to attempt to center a show on a female character, but girl power was in full swing in 2005.

Along with Desperate Housewives this show changed the face/pace of the female centered show, making them bolder, and allowing women to be so much more.  Ok, maybe being a drug dealer isn't an aspiration, but the show challenged things, and made people think.  I love that this show helped set the trend for strong female driven shows, and also the quirky off beat sensibility.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Performer to Watch: Kate Mara

After highlighting the great performance of Corey Stoll in the Netflix original series House of Cards, I do not know how I forgot to write about Kate Mara as well!  While Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are the veterans in the series these upstart performances almost outshine them, Spacey's performance is hard to outshine.  Let's talk about Ms. Mara, and give her, her due.

Kate Mara has had a long career of memorable guest roles in television series; she has had one shot roles in series like Everwood, Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit, Cold Case, and many more.  Mara has also had some lengthy story arcs in series like Nip/Tuck, Jack & Bobby, and 24.  Kate Mara's first and most memorable performance for me was in the first season of the "mini-series" American Horror Story.  Mara's performance in Horror Story as a student spurned is brilliant yet psychotic; she captures all the layers of a complicated role.  The performance in Horror Story was the perfect lead in to her portrayal as Zoe Barnes in House of Cards; she is manipulative, yet naive, strong yet vulnerable.  Mara is one of the perfect foils to Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood.

Mara has turned in one of the most memorable performances in television this year, and I am intrigued to see where House of Cards falls with the Emmy's because she deserves a Supporting Actress nomination.  All these factors, and small film roles in 127 Hours should catapult her into some great film roles in the future.  Look for her to be in an independent theatre near you soon!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tune In or Tune Out: Bate's Motel (A&E)

Bate's Motel (A&E)
Created by Anthony Cipriano (The Journey of Allen Strange)
Starring: Vera Farmiga, and Freddie Highmore

There are certain films, which should remain untouched, Psycho is one of them.  Psycho is a classic thriller from the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, and I do not care to explore the life of young Norman Bates and his mother in present time.  With that said I left my bias behind and sat down to watch the pilot of the show last night.

The basic premise of the series starts with Norman (Freddie Highmore) finding his father dead; he rushes to his mother (played by Vera Farmiga with shock, although she doesn't look shocked. After his fathers death Norman and his mother move into the that infamous house from the Psycho film with the Motel right down the walkway.  

Much of the first part of the episode is centered on teenage Norman dealing with with girls and the typical high school aged experiences.  In the episode Norman appears to be a normal red blooded teenage boy with no signs of anything wrong.  Yet the seeds of discontent have been planted.  Norman's mother Norma has smothered this boy, and you can almost see the fear and pain within him as he fights for the affection of taken girl at his school.

There is a lot homage to the original film, which is nice to see, Norman's mother walking out of the shower when her husband is killed, Norman's love of black and white movies, and even his friend's fathers interest in taxidermy. While these things set the scene nicely, and the build on the intensity, are they too heavy handed or placed in too neatly?  This is like my complaint with the F/X show The Americans, just because you throw in something that looks 80s doesn't mean I meant to believe the show feels like its set in the 80s.

This show succeeds on creating a moody, tense atmosphere with some great acting.  While Highmore has some growing to do to get to the level of Anthony Perkins he is not bad; he has that potential to do and be great within this show.  Farmiga is the powerhouse, and I have always enjoyed watching her performances from The Departed to Up in the Air; she is a great actress, and it's her Norma that draws you into the darker world.  

Farmiga is a very talented actress, but and the role is great but the writing seems like its trying to be too David Lunch a la Twin Peaks.  I get that that they are going for a quirky, suspenseful beginning, because let's face it, Norman Bates coming from a world like Twin Peaks makes sense  Yet there is something off about this show, while the tone is right, the intensity is there, the show feels forced.  After giving this show a try I have to say, I will only be visiting the Bates Motel once.

Tune Out: Farmiga is not enough to save this show 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Superior Spider-Man Changes the Game

I write mainly about movies, television, and then of course I throw in some stuff about theatre and music.  One of my other hobbies is collecting comic books.  Comic books, and graphic novels are becoming more popular now than they were years ago.  People are using graphic novels as  way to convey some of the most brilliant tales in unique fashion like "Fables", "The Walking Dead" "Fun Home" "Y the Last Man" and many more.  Graphic novels have changed the face of comic books.  Publishers are still printing the monthly titles, but people are buying them in long form story arc more and more.

Enough about the changing face of comics/graphic novels that could be a whole article or book on its own.  At the moment Marvel has done something unique with one of its signature titles, "The Amazing Spider-Man."  There is a villain behind the mask of the super hero. Confused?  Well if you are a comic book fan you probably know the story, or you have heard rumblings about what has happened, but here is the basic lowdown.

"After the apparent death of Peter Parker at the climax of the "Dying Wish" storyline in Amazing Spider-Man #700, Otto Octavius has implanted his mind into Peter Parker's body and taken over his life, determined to prove himself the "Superior" Spider-Man by being both a better superhero and better at everyday life than Parker ever was. He strives to woo Parker's old flame Mary Jane Watson, while simultaneously developing new technologies in his job at Horizon Labs that will both earn the company millions, and serve to enhance his crime-fighting as Spider-Man, though he struggles to reconcile his accomplishments with the fact that they will forever be credited to Parker, not Otto Octavius."

In the past numerous main characters have been "killed" DC put together R.I.P. storyline for Batman recently.  At the end of this storyline along with the overarching DC story Batman is eventually killed by Darkseid.  After this story DC did the "Battle for the Cowl" storyline and Dick Grayson also known as Nightwing , and the original Robin took on the cowl.  Obviously one of the key differences between this death, and the many other traditional superhero deaths like Superman, Green Lantern, or any of the other characters is that villains rarely assume the role of their nemesis, and take on their own title.

Amazing Spider-Man was a flag ship for Marvel, and creating a reboot is a risk for the series.  When I read about the death/change I thought it was preposterous.  After reading issue 700, and getting into Superior Spider-Man, my faith was not restored, but I am intrigued to see where writer Dan Slott takes this story.  

Like with all of these stories of hero is far from dead.  Well maybe not far from dead, but does not exist the same way.  Peter Parker's essence swings along with Doc Oc or well Spider-Man as he attempts to become the superior Spider-Man, and the superior Peter Park.  The story is a game changer, and has solid qualities, but I am curious to see how long Marvel will be willing to challenge readers to see a different person in the Spidey suit, and to see if they can keep up with creative ways to write this story. Remember Spidey fans with great power comes great responsibility, and with new plot lines comes great patience.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jumping the Shark Part 3: Revenge of the Sitcom, Drama, and Beyond

Revenge (2011-Present) Remember when Emily Thorne had a list and she crossed names out on the list?  The show was about revenge, and the simplicity of her avenging her father's death, and then enter the initiative.  This season has had a few episode which brought out some of those traditional things which made the first season great, but I hate to say I was right, but I was right.  This simple show about revenge should have a short shelf life, but the creator is stretching out the concept too thin, and not focusing enough on the basics.  I loved the simple red sharpie, and the way each episode Emily/Amanda got revenge on someone who contributed to the downfall of her father.  Emily's mother being alive was wasted, and the shows fans can tell.  Time to keep it simple folks, do not let this show go on too much longer.

American Idol (2002-Present) Whoever the judges are, and whatever beef they have with one another it's time to put this show out of its misery.  The show is no longer relevant, and often feels like a bad karaoke contest.  I am tired of shows like this focusing on the judges and host rather than the actual talent.  This show not about Nicki vs. Mariah, but that's what is has turned into now.  Get this show off the air and put it out of its misery!

Saturday Night Live (1975-Present)-Justin Timberlake can come back as host as many times as you want, but he is not going to save your show forever.  This show has peaks and valleys, but the most recent years beyond some of the strong female talent have proven to be worse than the SNL of the 80s which is saying a lot!  Host after host this season has been atrocious, and only Timberlake could back bring in the ratings and deliver.  Yet it was the weakest of his five past performances because the writing is just plain terrible, and the talent on the show is so lackluster these people would be booed off stage at the Chuckle Hut. This show has jumped the shark many times, but these past few seasons prove more miserable than most.

Family Guy (1999-Present) MacFarlane is slowly becoming one of the most bankable funny men in media, but the television series which put him on the map has lost so much of his time an attention its starting to tarnish his brand a little.  Is the quality of this show preventing him from getting more work, No!  MacFarlane hosted the Oscars, had Ted, and is working on his first non animated sitcom; he is doing just fine.  So who suffers, the original fans of Family Guy because the show is just not funny anymore, and the schtick of the obnoxious talking baby Stewie has worn off.    Time to put this show to bed, and let America love different shows from this comic genius.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dawson's Creek: 10 Years Later, Time for a Reunion

Usually on a monthly basis I pay tribute to great television, not to fault Dawson and his creek, but this post is not about television greatness, but more about a cultural phenomenon.  When Kevin Williamson's Dawson's Creek hit the air back in 1998 it was following on the coat tails of the other high school drama, Beverly Hills 90210.  Williamson's blend of humor, teens who talked to quickly for their own good, and angst created one of the most popular teen dramas of the last decade.  The show's main buy in came from love triangles and a main cast of four, and others who came along for the ride.  My friend Caitlin always helps me to re-visit my past; she did this while I was in graduate school with Felicity, and now a couple years later with Dawson's Creek!

Let's take a look at 10 years later where the cast, and creator are and what they have and have not done:

Kevin Williamson-The creator and real life Dawson.  Beyond Dawson's world Williamson is also famous for writing one of the most popular horror film series, Scream.  Williamson lives mainly within the world of television where he works on another major hit television series the former WB now CW show The Vampire Diaries, and new Kevin Bacon series this spring The Following.  Williamson has knack for creating good television drama, and has helped further develop multiple worlds within television.

James Van Der Beek-Dawson Leary himself was always my least favorite character in the series, and his wooden portrayal never thrilled me, but how can you the Creek without Dawson.  While on the show he landed a sweet movie gig with the often quoted Varsity Blues, but he never really got much out of the movies.  After the Creek ended Van Der Beek did mostly small guest work in television series, and never landed another major role until last spring with the now shelved Don't Trust the B___ in Apt. 23.  One of the funniest parts of this series is that Van Der Beek played himself in the series, and was pretty hilarious.

Katie Holmes-Joey Potter was the girl next door, and while part of the Capeside gang she tried her hand at a variety of film roles, including Wonderboys, Go, Pieces of April, The Gift, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle.  For the most part Holmes tried to shed her Joey skin with small indie films, and most of them were pretty good.  After Dawson wrapped Holmes landed two major roles the much maligned first portrayal of Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, and Mrs. Tom Cruise.  While being married to Tom, and giving birth to a daughter Holmes rarely took film or television roles.  Since the divorce she has started taking more roles, from film to theatre, and something tells me we will see more of her, most likely on our television screens.

Joshua Jackson-Pacey Witter the bad boy extraordinaire and goofball.  Jackson had a small childhood acting career prior to Dawson with the Mighty Ducks franchise, but it was the Creek which got him heart throb status.  Jackson had some film roles in films like The Skulls and Urban Legend, but he never landed the roles you would expect from him.  Pacey Witter did not garner any major roles until the cult FOX television series Fringe, which lasted from 2008 until 2013.  Something tells me Jackson will be back on television screens soon enough.

Michelle Williams-Moving beyond the original trio Jen Lindley was the bad girl from New York who shook up everyone's lives, and her death at the end of the series was one of the biggest tear jerkers in television history.  Williams is the most successful of the cast post the Creek.  Williams has been nominated for three Oscars for the films Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, and My Week with Marilyn.  Williams won the Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award for Marilyn; she was fantastic in the role.  Williams has hit it out of the park in other small indie films like Wendy and Lucy, and Take this Waltz; she also recently starred in the major motion picture Oz the Great and Powerful.  Of all the graduates of this show she is most successful.

Outside the Central Characters 

Kerr Smith-Jack McPhee came into the picture in the second episode of the second season as a side to his sister's character Andy, but lasted the longest of the non original younger characters.  After Dawson Kerr has not done much, but small limited television series like Life Unexpected, Eli Stone, and Justice, but nothing impactful.

Mary Beth Peil- Evel 'Grams' Ryan-Grams is one of my favorite characters from this series; she was the central heart of the adult characters within this world.  Peil is a Broadway baby and has done many plays including Follies.  Yet Peil is best known at the moment for her recurring guest role as Chris Noth's mother on The Good Wife.

Meredith Monroe-Andie McPhee-The know it all who showed it the second seasons ended up cracking under the pressure on the Creek, and her career has not had much impact.  Monroe has mainly had small guest starring roles on television series, and one larger role in Criminal Minds.

Busy Phillips-Audra Lidell-Real life BFF of Michelle Williams has made a major splash in television in a post Dawson world on shows like ER, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and now the comedy Cougartown.  Phillips is a comedic genius, and will be another Creek star to make it even further.

This show was an important part of my teenage cultural life, and I hope this group comes back together to bring more life to Capeside!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oz is Neither Great nor Powerful.

Oz the Great and Powerful (1 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Sam Raimi (Spiderman, Drag me to Hell, Evil Dead)
Written by Mitchel Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards, Romeo Must Die), David Lindsey-Abaire (Rabbit  Hole, Rise of the Guardians)
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis

As a young child The Wizard of Oz was one of my favorite films.  The film is still in fact one of my favorite movies of all time.  There is something about this young girl, named Dorothy singing about a better life 'somewhere over the rainbow.'  The film is timeless.  Over the years there have been several adaptations which provide different interpretations of the L. Frank Baum book, like the films The Wiz, Return to Oz, and of course the musical/book Wicked.  I have seen them all, and never hold the lore against them just love interesting new versions of the story and its characters.

In this version of the land of Oz, Oz or Oscar (James Franco) is a struggling magician trying to make a living on the carnival scene.  As a situation gets worse in Kansas Oz gets sucked into a tornado of all things and transported to the land of his namesake Oz.  Oz soon meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) a witch hoping to help Oz reclaim the throne to fulfill a prophecy.  Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) informs Oz that in order to claim the throne and the riches to go along with it he must kill the wicked witch.  Oz embarks on a journey with a flying monkey named Finley (Zach Braff) and China Girl (Joey King), where he soon meets Glinda (Michelle Williams) and explores the land further.

When it comes to one of the stronger elements of the film Sam Raimi's direction and use of the 3-D technology is one of the more effective elements of the film.  Raimi is master of the horror world with films like Evil Dead, and Drag me to Hell.  Within the horror genre Raimi knows how to craft the most intricate yet quirky stories.  Raimi moved toward a more family friendly genre with his comic book adaptation of the original Spider-Man series.  Raimi's direction with the action at the end of film makes things much more entertaining but not enough to save the experience.  Raimi tries his best with the script as written and succeeds in the smallest sense.

Poor Sam Raimi he has one of the most sub par screenplays.  Mitchel Kapner  (Romeo Must Die), David Lindsey-Abaire (Rabbit  Hole) make for interesting combination, and their work never captures the subtle wit and brilliance the world of Oz deserves.    If you look at the work of both of these screenwriters neither of their resumes say anything which would prove the capability of writing something could or should have been an important prequel to one of the most important films of all time.  This script loses the substance leaving the film with only minimal amounts of style namely the the 3-D.

If you are looking for substance, or even great performances you may at a loss with Oz.  The two main standouts within the film are Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.  These two women made this film more bearable allowing me to have more fun with this experience.  Although Williams may have be channelling her breathy Marilyn Monroe, but who doesn't love a bombshell.  Weisz is sinfully dark, and fantastic; she is one great actress, and sells every element of her role.

While these two leads succeed, Franco and Kunis are beyond miscast in two of the most important roles in this film.  Franco tries to be, and I emphasize tries to be this charming con man who fools people into thinking is something he isn't.  In this beginning in the traditional black and white Kansas he is meant to be a great magician and then he gets to Oz he is supposed to be this great wizard everyone has been waiting for to save them from the wicked witch.  Franco is not believable, nor is he able to make a convincing lead.  Kunis on the other hand has proven her acting abilities with her role in Black Swan, but loses ground, and is miscast as spoiler.... the green witch.  I felt as though Jackie from That 70's Show was yelling at Kelso with green make up, and her cackle was incredibly laughable.

In the land of Oz there is supposed to be a magical experience, and as the viewer you are meant to transported to this colorful/magical world.  Instead you have two sorely miscast actors, with a poorly written script, and ultimately a film that loses the heart of the original Oz experience.  Sorry Oz fans this may be the worst experience I have had walking the yellow brick road.

Memo to the Academy: Think Outside the Box in the Animated Category

In 2001 the Academy Awards added the Best Animated Feature category.  The category was added namely because over the years there have been numerous animated films which have been snubbed in the Best Picture race.  Prior to the addition of more nominees in the Best Picture race, and this category existing only one film was nominated in the Best Picture category, Beauty and the Beast.

In the inaugural year of this category there were three nominees, Shrek, Monsters Inc., Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.  Both Shrek and Monsters Inc., were two of the highest grossing films of the year, and they were also two of the best films of the the year.  Within this category these two fought it out very competitively and either could have won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.  Both films could have been Best Picture contenders, but animated films have not been taken seriously until they added more nominees (Toy Story 3, and Up), but I am not going to go on a tangent about this topic.  Shrek and Monsters Inc, set the archetype for the films which have won this category.

While Shrek seems "typical" it was also the start of the anti fairy tale or a film which took traditional characters and challenged the past concepts within animated features.  Shrek has the ogre not a prince as the hero, the princess is also an ogre, and the noble stead is a donkey. While many would argue this formula is a bit predictable, I argue that it breaks the norm, and beating out the Disney/Pixar juggernaut is a feat rarely accomplished.

Monsters Inc., while good, not great (in my opinion) represents that traditional Pixar machine.  Now mind you I think most Pixar films are some of the best made in the last almost 20 years, and they have paved the way for animation to be taken more seriously.  Films like the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles, Up, and of course Wall-E.

Wall-E is the most unique Pixar film, without straying away from their traditional ideals.  Wall-E should have been a Best Picture nominee, and won the award in 2008.  Wall-E did win the Best Animated Feature Film prize deservedly beating out the much weaker Bolt, and Kung Fu Panda.  The latter two films fall in line with the more traditional or old school ways of the animated feature, they are more by the book style wise.  Many of the films nominated within this category fit the mold, but every so often the Academy does something right, and picks nominees/winners that are not "typical."

Even though it was only one year after the creation of this category, the Academy went for their first "atypical" winner Spirited Away. Spirited is in the vein of more traditional anime and comes from the genius mind of Hayao Miyazaki.  This is potentially one of the most deserved wins in this category, and while it was somewhat expected there was no true history yet within this category to help prove who had the best odds.  Spirted was up against Ice Age, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

2005 was the first year with three completely quirky nominees, and winner.  The nominees were Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (winner), Corpse Bride, and How's Moving Castle.  None of the nominees were Pixar or Disney related and none were made by American film makers.  Quite an interesting array of nominees proving this can be an incredible category.

2011 had a few interesting and less predictable nominees with Chico and Rita, and A Cat in Paris, boxing out Cars 2 (thank goodness).  The winner Rango while predicted was also not a typical animated film, sure it has many prevailing themes, but the story is a bit out there with ugly animals.  Shutting out a Pixar was a bold move, and proved that Academy would not rubber stamp any Pixar film as a nominee, but they reverted back to their old ways this year, and that's where this memo comes from.

This year animated films were a bit off beat, and the best films were not the top grossing at the box office.  Of the five nominees two were successful at the box office, Brave and Wreck-It Ralph.  The other three nominees were ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits.  The latter three all made less than 60 million never truly catching on with popularity.  While they not have been the most popular ParaNorman, and Frankenweenie along with Wreck-It Ralph were all far superior to Brave.  Brave is by the book, and fits some of the most basic formulas within the animated genre.

This category has pioneered the way people look at animated film, pushed boundaries, and shown that animated feature films can be some of the best films out there.  While Brave was not a bad film picking Brave is could be a sign that this category has lost its spunk.  While this is only one flawed win, the category held so much originality and potential.  No disresepct to the makers of Brave because the film broke boundaries and was the first movie where the princess does not conform to the norms, and the first win by a female director in this category, two huge landmarks.  Yet going to beyond those points the Academy needs to assess quality, and Brave's win sets this category back.

Is Brave winning an Oscar the worst thing to happen, No, but were there better options, yes!  After the dust from the Oscars has settled its time to evaluate this category, the nominees, and the winners.  Was this a one year fluke, or will this signal a pattern of populist voting.  Only time will tell but in the words of Brave's heroine "if you had the chance to change your fate, would ya?"

Friday, March 8, 2013

Travels with Kevin Part 13: Vegas Baby!

One week ago today I flew out to Las Vegas for a work conference ACPA.  Who knew that a world without clocks (in the casinos) could cause my shut out from television, and movies, but my experience was an interesting one.  Vegas is an interesting city from the people slapping coupons at you, the extra oxygen in the casinos to keep people awake, smoking in public, girls dancing on tables, and of course shows and gambling.  Vegas is an interesting place to have a conference for the joint effort of the higher education organization ACPA, and campus recreation group NIRSA which focused on wellness.

The goal for visit was to go to Vegas to help further my education with my position as a Residence Hall Director, and among the distractions of Vegas I was able to pick up some interesting ideas.  Even though the conference was in a city that does not focus on wellness, I was able to take the exact opposite away.  In my job, and the field of student affairs many people do not focus on wellness and this conference was a wake up call for a partnership for rec sports and wellness and I am going to approach people about an initiative at my school.

Social Justice was also a focus and opening speaker was MSNBC anchor and Tulane faculty member Melissa Harris Perry.  Perry did a fantastic job with her opening speech citing the different levels in which the different isms and bias are perpetuated,  I was also able to see closing speaker B.D. Wong from Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit and Oz; he was also solid, and hilarious talking about his own intersecting identities (a new term to him) and how his childhood developed how this shaped his personality.

I was there for the conference, but of course I had to explore the strip!  I was able to ride the roller coaster in NY, NY, and while in the lobby of Cesar's Palace I got flashes of Zac Galifianakis asking if this was the real Cesar's Palace, and asking if their was pager service in The Hangover.  While riding in my elevator at the Paris Hotel I was plagued with noise of the stage musical Jersey Boys, Frankie Valley I am sorry I do not get it!  While in Planet Hollywood at a bar I met Coco from the television series Ice Loves Coco.  All of these things came together proving Vegas to be one of the most interesting places connected to popular culture.

As stated above it's interesting that a conference about education and wellness were held in Las Vegas, with popular culture framing the city (and many of the visitors) as a beacon of crazy adventurous drinking and partying.  From The Hangover to Casino, Vegas may be portrayed as "fun" but is always given more of a negative tone with intense situations, drugs, and gambling, and crime.  Bad is obviously in the eye of the beholder, and while Vegas is nowhere near close to being one of my favorite cities, I had a lot of fun with friends, colleagues, and learned a lot from this experience with this conference.  The city is an interesting place, with some of the largest, and coolest hotels.  There is a lot to do, and its no wonder Hollywood has found ways to tell the story of this town.

This town has a story, and its an interesting one, and helped guide some interesting and hilarious conversations throughout my conference/vacation experience.  I am excited to take the things I learned from my conference and bring them back to work and I will break the cliche phrase what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

MTV Movie Awards get a Quality Face Lift with Django Unchained and Ted Leading the Nominations

Over the past few years the inclusion of Twilight, it's actors and their many wins seemed to take this award show down negative path.  Last year this award show decided to add "an academy" of their own, and things started to change ever so slightly, but this group of nominees reminds me of the the way the nominees used to look when I was growing up.  The show blended popularity and quality, rather than just letting popularity dictate things.
Both Ted and Django Unchained have 7 nominations a piece including Movie of the Year.  Other Movie of the Year nominees are Silver Linings Playbook (6 nominations-mostly all for J-Law, and Bradley Cooper), The Avengers (4 nominations), and The Dark Knight Rises (4 nominations).  Without Twilight in the mix predicting the winner will be tricky, but with Rebel Wilson as a nominee and host I am going to watch this year!

"Django Unchained"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"The Avengers"
"The Dark Knight Rises"
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Mila Kunis, "Ted"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emma Watson, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Rebel Wilson, "Pitch Perfect"
Ben Affleck, "Argo"
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Jamie Foxx, "Django Unchained"
Channing Tatum, "Magic Mike"
Ezra Miller, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Eddie Redmayne, "Les Misérables" 
Suraj Sharma, "Life of Pi" 
Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" 
Rebel Wilson, "Pitch Perfect" 
Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Alexandra Daddario, "Texas Chainsaw 3D"
Martin Freeman, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Jennifer Lawrence, "House at the End of the Street"
Suraj Sharma, "Life of Pi"
Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, "Django Unchained" 
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane as Ted, "Ted" 
Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, "The Avengers"
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, "The Campaign" 
Christian Bale, "The Dark Knight Rises 
Daniel Craig, "Skyfall 
Taylor Lautner, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2" 
Seth MacFarlane as Ted, "Ted" 
Channing Tatum, "Magic Mike"
Jamie Foxx vs. Candieland Henchmen, "Django Unchained" 
Daniel Craig vs. Ola Rapace, "Skyfall" 
Mark Wahlberg vs. Seth MacFarlane as Ted, "Ted"
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner vs. Tom Hiddleston, "The Avengers" 
Christian Bale vs. Tom Hardy, "The Dark Knight Rises" 
Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx, "Django Unchained" 
Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook" 
Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg, "Ted" 
Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, Candieland Gets Smoked in "Django Unchained"
Denzel Washington, Final Descent in "Flight" 
Anna Camp, Hack-Appella in "Pitch Perfect" 
Javier Bardem, Oops… There Goes His Face in "Skyfall" 
Seth MacFarlane as Ted, Ted Gets Saucy in "Ted" 
Javier Bardem, "Skyfall" 
Leonardo DiCaprio, "Django Unchained" 
Marion Cotillard, "The Dark Knight Rises"
Tom Hardy, "The Dark Knight Rises" 
Tom Hiddleston, "The Avengers" 
Anne Hathaway, "Les Misérables"
Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez, "Magic Mike" 
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean & Hana Mae Lee, "Pitch Perfect" 
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook" 
Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"