Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why True Detective just put on the best single episode of TV I have seen in a long, long time.

A week after Justified put out one of its best episodes, I thought it might have a the market on 2014 cornered.  But then True Detective dropped "Who Goes There."  It is work of genius.  It is simply one of the best episodes of TV I have ever seen.  Breaking Bad had a couple of stunners last year, as did Enlightened, Justified, and The Americans.  But I am not sure there has been as perfect an episode as "Who Goes There"  in the last two or three years.  Breaking Bad had five seasons to build up for "Ozymandias."  This is only the fourth episode of True Detective.  This reminds me of when Lost busted out Walkabout early in its run.

From the opening shot, this episode was lovely.  The walls in the interrogation room were framed like a painting.  The episode moved from emotional high to emotional high.  It ended on a sequence out of Children of Men.  If you are not watching this show, you should be.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why I hated The Wolf of Wall Street!

This is a disappointing movie from the world’s greatest living director. Watching The Wolf of Wall Street was like listening to a lazy three-hour jam from Miles Davis.  Sure, its Miles Davis, so moments of it are great.  But, overall, you’re still bored and wonder what the point was.  The same is true here.  Scorsese is incredible, as always. He knows how to frame a shot and move the camera.  Certain scenes, like when Coach Taylor and Leo are on the yacht, or when Coach breaks in arrests people in the brokerage house, are perfectly executed. (The latter even uses “Mrs. Robinson” by the Lemonheads as some kind of meta-joke, I think.)  Marty knows when to let his camera linger, like in an early scene with Matthew McConaughey, or when to use his signature camera sweeps, like in the crazy bachelor-party scene.

And not just Marty came to play: Leonardo DiCaprio is a force of nature. He is one of the greatest actors of his generation, and he knows it.  This performance was stunning.  He really captured the strange emptiness of this character.  Leo is just compelling to watch.  Jonah Hill is also interesting as DiCaprio’s cousin-marrying right-hand-man. Despite solid performances from the whole caste, the movie belongs to Leo.  

But in service of what? This movie was three hours: Three hours!  And it is three hours of one tone.  Even the most exciting drug use and fucking gets boring after three hours.  Who cares? And, while we are at it, who cares about the victims of the crimes here?  This movie doesnt care.  Who cares about an American system teetering toward Babylon? Not this movie!  Look, I am the last person to say a movie needs to have a “message.”  (The message of every movie should be “this is a good movie.”)  But Wolf stopped being fun because it didn’t even begin to grapple with these issues.  Hence, I could never forget them. I kept thinking about the American Hustle—a much better film in nearly every way—and how that film wrestled with themes of identity and wealth in the U.S.  American Hustle also poked at the American dream and our ability (or inability) to re-invent ourselves.  But whereas AH is constantly questioning this reinvention, while also showing us why some people need it, The Wolf of Wall Street does not grapple with these complexities at all.  Why worry about these issues, you whiny Don Draper, when you can snort cocaine out of a woman’s ass?

And speaking of women:  My lord this movie hates women!  This is also a contrast with American Hustle, which featured women with their own agency, identity, needs, and personality.  In Wolf, the women are merely cum receptors for men.  They have no agency or identity. (And, ironically, one of the few ethical moments in movie comes from DiCaprio’s first wife.)  Women are things that consume men’s penises and money.  After the relatively interesting women in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Casino, the women in Wolf are a Bechdel nightmare. 

Maybe this is commentary about the corrupt nature of American capitalism. If it is, it is a shallow one.  And maybe that is the point.  It didn’t work for me.  You know what movie I wanted to see?  I would have loved a movie focusing on Coach Taylor chasing after Leo.  I would have watched that film, but even then, maybe not for three hours.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Lake Bell is amazing...

Ok, so, first I have to discuss the Vero connection.  Ms. Bell lived in Vero Beach for a while.  I went to high school in Vero and normally I hate basically anything connected with Vero. (The obvious exception is The Dodgers.)  Despite this depth of hate, I must admit I am kind of smitten with Lake Bell.

I really loved Bell's In a World.  The indie gem takes place inside the world of voice-actors, specifically concerning the actors who do the voice-overs in movie trailers.  ("In a world where blah blah blah.") I love movies that examine little communities and their inner workings.  In a World hits this sweet spot.  It also is a lovely romance, exploring relationships both old and new.  It was a joy. As a bonus, the movie contained two of my favorite movie-kisses ever: one funny, one really sweet.  Sure, the resolution is a little hackish, but I was invested enough to not care.  Watch this little movie.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why Moffat is so much better on Sherlock than on Dr. Who

Steven Moffat wrote some of the best episodes of the modern Dr. Who.  He is responsible for "Blink" and "Silence in the Library," as well as many other great hours of sci-fi storytelling.  After a while, however, Moffat's narrative games began to seem strained.  It is clear that Moffat does not care about many of the Who characters qua characters.  Amy Pond started as a neat character, but she ended up a narrative double-back.  The same can be said for River Song (and Rory).  And the contemporary companion is not even a character; she is a riddle.  I almost always hate narrative as a puzzle.  (Before people start complaining: I never viewed Lost as a puzzle.  And that is probably partly why I had no issue with the end of Lost, even if I thought the quality overall dropped in the last two seasons of the show.)  Dr. Who always has "puzzle" elements, but it is always solved by timey-wimey stuff.  It never matters if someone dies or is hurt, because it was all solvable via, well, time-magic. This works fine for me if there are character stakes. (Hell, I do love Whedon and Abrams.)   But I need to care about the characters. When I stop caring, I stop, well, caring.  This is where I am with Moffat's Dr. Who.  I don't care.

Now, Sherlock is another story. A "puzzle" is kind of built into the nature of Sherlock's adventures.  This might be why Moffat's work on Sherlock is more compelling than his work on Dr. Who.  Holmes and Watson still have good chemistry, and the puzzle actually reveals a lot about Holmes' character.  I am excited that good old Benedict is back, even though he and Freeman are legitimate movie-stars now. Whereas I dread the return of Dr. Who, I look forward to Sherlock.  Let's see what Moffat and company can do.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why Spoils of Babylon shouldn't exist.

The Spoils of Babylon is strange.  It is a satire from the Funny or Die webpage group.  Honestly, it shouldn't exist. Who wanted this series?  It is satirizing a kind of over-the-top mini-series that was popular before I was even born, and I am pretty old.  I have thin memories of stuff it is poking at, like The Thornbirds. Nevertheless, Spoils kind of tickles me.  Cast-members Tim Robbins, Kristen Wiig, and Toby McGuire are game for the fun.

The show sort of acts like a sketch comedy with a tiny plot. I enjoy it, but I dont think I enjoy it as much as the cast did in making it.  But, mostly, why satire this now? What's next, a twist-craze concept album from Vampire Weekend.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why the new Coen brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, is a nice-looking waste of time

I am a faithful Coen Brothers fan. I have seen all of their films, and I count Miller's Crossing, Fago, and No Country for Old Men among my favorites movies ever.  This film is strange and off-putting.  The lead character, Llewyn Davis, is a pre-Dylan folk singer in Greenwich Village.  Davis is a loser and kind of a jerk.  He makes couch surfing a lifestyle.

Davis does bad stuff.  Then does more bad stuff.  Then he sings. Then he does more bad stuff.  The character never changes and never develops.  He is the same person at the start of movie as the end.  What are Coens saying? We can't change?  I get enough of that bullshit on Mad Men; I dont need more of it here. Of course, the film looks good.  It is the Coen brothers after all. But I dont know why I watched this movie.

There was also a magical symbolic cat, or something.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why "Cooperative Polygraphy" is a Community classic

I love that Dan Harmon is back at the helm of Community.  He has a solid grasp of these characters and ideas.  Yes, folks, TV can be an auteur art-form too.  Now, as much as I love when Harmon pops out a "theme" episode, like last week's Zodiac parody, it is also nice when Community does a solid character piece. This week's episode is a character masterpiece.  It is another pint-sized "bottle episode," like previous the "who stole the pen" episode.  It is nice to see these characters re-connect to some of the basic themes from early in show, even if the plot device concerning Troy's future was a bit much.  I hate to see Troy go, but he was always the closest to Pierce, so I guess it kind of works.

Honestly, it is kind of amazing that Community is on TV all. NOBODY watches this show. Its ratings are puny.  NBC just has nothing else in the hopper that can match Community's  tiny-but-loyal viewership.  The show might even get "six seasons and a movie." On the other hand, this short-order season might be the end. Either way, I am happy to spend this time with the study-group.  Harmon is back, and Community  is good again.

Oh, and, yeah, Walter mo-fo-ing Goggins!