Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: In Time

At a point prior to the Netflix boom and at the height of Blockbuster’s inflated in-store rental costs, my dad did something out of character: he bought a small stack of DVDs in a Virgin Megastore binge.  They were all science fiction, and they were all things he’d decided his kids “needed to see.”  Amongst them was Logan’s Run, a movie in which cheesy plasticity is a virtue and guilty pleasuredom seems to be the loftiest goal.  In 1976, life until 30 meant a world built off of simple, airy silliness.  There are robotic monsters and miniskirts; all one really needs to survive 3.5 decades of scrutiny while remaining a story compelling enough to be frequently copied, referenced, and placed on the ‘must-see’ list by parents with a penchant for science-fiction.   The latest Logan’s Run copycat is In Time, a dystopian thriller with an A-list genetic make-up, but not much in the way of personality.   Where in Logan’s world life ended at 30, In Time features a complicated economic allegory in which folks are essentially guaranteed the right to live until 25.  At 25 you stop aging, and that’s fantastic, but in order to make the most of it you must then beg, borrow, and steal to extend your lifespan.  Time is money, money is time.  Society measures everything according to the clock under their skin.  Years are the currency of the 1%, while the 99% life in squalor from minute to minute...

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Review: The Rum Diary

Like any respectable pop culture junkie, I went through my Hunter S. Thompson phase.  I chose Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for an independent reading assignment in my junior year of high school and found a soft spot for all things Gonzo.  This means that no, I can’t hear “White Rabbit” without requesting that someone attempt an electrocution at the song’s climax.  Please, that goes without saying.  It also means that yes, I’ve read Thompson’s ‘long lost’ novel.  When I read The Rum Diary oh so long ago, the impression it left was one befitting of a work by Mr. Thompson: it comes in flashbacks and waves; tangible short bursts and colorful scenes without incident.  The book itself is muddled, but enjoyable enough.  There are plenty of bright pieces and memorable tableaux to be found: the drinking, the girl, the carnival, the decrepit newspaper and laboring masses; alcohol-soaked Puerto Rico remembered through a hangover-like daze of poorly linked, often humorous incidents.  The Rum Diary, in my opinion, was never a story to be taken as a cohesive work with a straight narrative arc.    Instead, it’s something tangled and a little broken, an early attempt by a young author loaded up like a jumbled pile of stained postcards from the edge.  Perhaps you love it, perhaps you find it listless, perhaps you simply don’t care (in which case, I wouldn’t recommend bothering).  Any which way you approach it,  from page to screen there’s a surprising amount of love invested in getting this messy little novel’s film transition just  right.  For my money, it succeeds...

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Monday, October 24, 2011

(Early) Review: A Dangerous Method

When the end credits began to roll on A Dangerous Method, my gut reaction came in the form of a bad pun:  that Method?  Not so Dangerous.   What I’d watched had felt less David Cronenberg, more Merchant Ivory; a lovely period piece lightly infused with just a touch of sado-masochism.  It’s funny, because before watching the film I felt I knew exactly why a director like Cronenberg would be interested in the story of Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein.  The version I’d been told was an embellished drama of adultery, insanity, and perversion.  Sabina was made out to be a torrid sort of enchantress, a manic, hysteric genius with an insatiable sexual appetite who so fascinated Jung and his mentor, Sigmund Freud, that an irreparable rift was created between them.   In this telling, I could have sworn Sabina was rumored to have taken each of the doctors as lovers, though we know Freud was famously distant from his patients...

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seen and Heard: Class Actress

Seen and Heard: M83

The new M83 album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming officially drops today.  Before you go and Spotify that, however, you should check out the video for "Midnight City", it's got creepy mutant school kids with glowing eyes.  That's a decent enough reason, right?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Melancholia

We all know I’m a tireless, dogged defender of Lars Von Trier’s psychologically shattering  Antichrist.  For all its horrors (and there are many), it carries itself in a way that’s hauntingly beautiful and which makes its nightmarish provocations all the more lasting.  See it once and, unless you’re prone to burying bad memories deep within your psyche, you’ll remember it always in fits, starts, and bursts of graphic imagery.   Antichrist was Von Trier’s version of semi-conventional horror.  The pieces are simple, familiar:  cabin in the woods, a dead toddler, insanity, graphic mutilation and the evocation of Satan.  The way they came together was alien; pieced from the darkest depths of its creator’s brutal depression.   When Von Trier announced that his next go would be a science fiction film centered, essentially, around the end of the world, I could only imagine what that would entail for someone with his off-kilter vision.  Would we wind up with Tarkovsky?  Would we rehash Antichrist’s bleakest points of nihilism?  Could we see society tipping towards the sense of loss that Charlotte Gainsbourg made so visceral, so painful, in 2009?   All we could count on was  Von Trier discontinuing his current mode.  Love him or hate him, he’s ever-changing, innovative, and consistent, perhaps only in a latent distrust in humanity and Dogme 95 (though we seem to have moved beyond that movement)...

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seen and Heard: Beyonce (Single Ladies Redux)

This lady kills it with the videos. Seriously.  The clip for "Countdown" is sort of exactly what you need to wake up in the morning.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fall Pilot #13: Homeland

FALL PILOT #13: Homeland
NETWORK: Showtime
SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Political thriller with Claire Danes on Showtime, what could go wrong?

If you actually read my lazy (and oh so late to the party) evaluation of Charlie's Angels you've likely discerned that I'm becoming quite disenchanted with this whole "let's talk all about every new show on the block" task I've set for myself.  I mean, it's a couple weeks in now and The Playboy Club has already been canceled.  Great success, but isn't it time to be done now?  Nope.  More to go.  More to go forever.

Of course, while my attitude is one reflective of ennui and the overwhelming desire to delete everything in my DVR and begin anew, Showtime's new drama Homeland is a keeper.  If I had the energy, I'd be jumping up and down insisting that you give this show more than just the time of day, give it your dollars as well.  Lately I feel as though I'm becoming a sort of Showtime fangirl.  While HBO seems to pull rank in the esteem of critics and cults (True Blood, Game of Thrones), focusing epic proportions, Showtime's output is appealing in the phenomenally addicting way network fare tends to be.  Its comedies (Californication, Weeds, Shameless, United States of Tara (RIP)) are often raunchy, sexed-up, drugged-out, guiltily addicting spins on familial sitcom set-ups.  Its dramas take everything you like about that particular genre and amp it up so it goes where you wish "normal" TV would.  Dexter's police procedural wields a sharp, delightfully bloody point.  Nurse Jackie (let's face it, it's between comedy and drama) snarks what Dr. House can't.  The Borgias?  Take your  Masterpiece Theatre and shove it straight up whatever hole Pope Jeremy Irons is working on stuffing, if you know what I mean.

All of this is the long way of arriving at Homeland as the next step in Showtime's 'give the people what they want' strategy: government intrigue, military action, and CIA investigations with a TVMA rating.  Are you still mourning the loss of Jack Bauer?  Do you wish Fringe was actually more about brainwashing sleeper cells then multiple dimensions?  If  you answered 'yes' to either of these questions you're probably going to love the hell out of Homeland.  Here, Claire Danes returns to the small screen to play a devoted agent whose unwavering, at times rebellious devotion to her task is complicated by the realities of her fragile, deteriorating mental state.  One episode in and I'm guessing she'll take the Emmy next year.  Her Carrie Mathison is a brilliantly acted piece of work who's compellingly unhinged, rapidly swinging between bipolar highs and lows.  The story itself appears to be a molotov cocktail of timely political elements, blending 9/11 conspiracy theories with Middle East tensions and an undercurrent of the clockwork suspense that made The Manchurian Candidate tick.   Carrie is monitoring a Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a rescued American POW she believes has been turned by al-Qaida.  She's watching him, his family, his every waking move.  It's precarious, dangerous for her and not quite legal.  Yet, she does it anyway.  Homeland promises to be a slow burn, a reveal that brings up more questions initially than answers.  So far, its dramatic tension is compelling and its actors are a hell of a cat and mouse pair.  Is it the best pilot of the fall?  It might be.  It just might be. 


R.I.P.: Steve Jobs

Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs lost his long battle with pancreatic cancer today at the age of 56.  He's survived by his wife, four children, and the fully-formed creative visions and advancements that have left an indelible impression on modern life as we know it.  It's truly unfortunate that his time had to come so soon.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fall Pilot #12: Charlie's Angels

FALL PILOT #12: Charlie's Angels
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Wasn't going to watch it at all, but was hoping for camp?

Perhaps I'm fudging the details on this, but it seems as though ABC tries nearly every year to launch an espionage show in primetime.  Every so many years, they succeed (see: Alias), but for the most part they've lost many an agent.  Remember Snoops? Women's Murder Club? Under Cover?  Yeah, me either.  Anyhow, this season they decided to go the CBS Hawaii Five-O route and resurrect a 70's Frankenstein to try to trick people into tuning in. Screw those "new" ideas.  

As someone who grew up more with Drew Barrymore's take on the Angels than anywhere near Farrah Fawcett (I'm pretty sure I've never actually seen an original episode), I have to say that the resurrection doesn't really work for me.  Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu's take on the concept was all pop music, bright colors, disguises, kitsch and camp.  It had Bill Murray, Sam Rockwell, and Crispin Glover.  There was no such thing as taking the concept too seriously.  A return to the old ways now, any sort of soap opera sincerity feels...false.  While Barrymore scores a producer's credit here, the extent of her influence seems based in the non-lethal weaponry the Angels sport.  Our new Angels are milquetoast.  They're dolled-up pieces of cardboard without much substance outside of occasionally quippy lines.  Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor, and Annie Ilonzeh are um, not exactly the best actresses, and while the show has its own generic brand of sort of entertaining action, it's hard not to look at the whole package as just another recyclable.  It's funny, somehow, that ABC still firmly believes all people need to tune in is an unrealistically attractive cast.  Even Bosley's a young, good looking crime fighter here; working and flirting alongside the trio.  Somehow, this is the wrong sort of cheese....

SECOND EPISODE?:  No, but I could see putting on a rerun if there's absolutely nothing else on.
WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?:  It may survive a while on the brand alone, but I can't see it sustaining itself in primetime.


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