Oct 312013
 

Reality TV — entertainment television critics love to hate. With massive plot holes and shallow characters, reality TV can hardly be counted as true fiction. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism from time to time. And you know you’re a reality TV junkie because you never miss a show and always hit record on that DVR. According to www.bundle.tv, you can “record your favorite shows and control your DVR from your computer or cell phone.” Now that’s dedication for never missing any of the following guilty pleasures:

“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”

photo: flickr.com, user: lwpkommunikacio

Reality TV fans can’t get enough of a pageant princess from redneck country. “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” differs from other reality shows. It’s (gasp) thoroughly likable in spite (or because of) the family’s signature tackiness. Yes, there are multiple TV shows that deal with rednecks; “My Name Is Earl” and “Raising Hope” are primary examples. But the stars in “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” aren’t quite fleshed out enough to make for respectable fiction TV. Within the reality TV realm, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is royalty. There’s no better way to show off a family that Gawker labels as TV’s “trashiest sensation.”

“Dance Moms”

Stage mothers of studio dancers make for a truly awful plot and good TV you just can’t turn away from. The whole point of watching “Dance Moms” is to bask in the satisfaction that, no matter how bad of a parent you think you are, you’re probably not nearly as awful as the mothers sitting behind the glass at the Abby Lee Dance Company. There’s a reason Jezebel calls “Dance Moms” the go-to source for terrible parenting and “what not to do’s.” Since the plot lines are full of holes far too gaping for fiction, it features just enough cringe-worthy moments to create excellent reality fodder.

“The Real Housewives of New York City”

Really, any one of Bravo’s Real Housewives series could fit in to the lovely category of reality shows that just wouldn’t cut it as fiction. Where else would someone go to watch rich, pampered, catty women argue and expose their dirty laundry but The Real Housewives? Okay, you can delve into the old “Sex And The City” collection to get your fix but what about times for when you want to watch TV mindlessly. Head to Bravo. The New York Times alleges, “‘The Real Housewives of New York City’” is refreshingly devoid of intellectual material. Note: “refreshing!”

“Living Lohan”

Not only is a show based on Hollywood’s tragic family the Lohans a terrible prospect for fictional TV, it didn’t do all that hot as a reality show either. Following the trials and tribulations of the uber-dramatic Lindsay, Dina, Michael and Ali Lohan, “Living Lohan” has accurately been described by Slate as a big “exploitative mess.” But it’s exactly that messy nature that makes it so darn entertaining.

 Posted by at 1:39 pm
Sep 222013
 

 

Kevin Costner wants us to like him again. He needs us to like him again. Hell, he demands that we like him again.

He has a cunning plan to make this happen. He is returning to movies so commercial that it’s is as though his choices are made in a focus group. But seeing as his career is brimming with countless indiscretions, one wonders: is he good enough to recapture our attention for more than ten minutes?

Costner is much more competent than his vacant appearance suggests. In the past three decades, the wholesome Californian made three billion dollars worth of movies as well as invested in numerous business ventures that netted some serious cheese. Such enormous success grants him the freedom to continue creating among the worst movies ever made without consequence.

It might be decades since his last great performance in a movie, but studios continue casting him. Religion has been a recurrent theme in his career, and at times it seems as though its protected by some divine saint or celestial god. Few actors can endure a commercial beating as well as Costner and return unscathed to appear in even more meritless movies that earn enough dollars to continue this perverse trend until the Four Horsemen dance to North Korean electronica.

Costner is content to tout variations on the same sensitive tough man in almost each movie he makes. He seems to have an attraction to parts that champion righteousness through characters so virtuous that a number of them are indistinguishable. Does he not see that this is the reason he became so bothersome?

In the most recent Superman movie, we see Costner as Jonathan Kent doing what he does best – frown into a midwestern horizon as he teaches us some nonsense about what it means to be a hero. One sentimental scene sees the timeworn Costner wearing jeans on a golden farm as a windmill putters in the distance. Throw in a screen door slam to get a timeless Bruce Springsteen song, and this is just another example of the wholesome image he encourages.

Sir Kenneth Branagh is directing Costner in another action movie competing to be the newest indeterminate espionage franchise. Other upcoming movies see him as a Secret Service operative renouncing retirement to save a careless daughter – I assume Liam Neeson was unavailable – as well as a grieving widower and the general manager on a struggling football team.

Such uninteresting characters expose Costner as an actor with no range. He can run with a gun. He can mumble a poignant monologue. He can ride a horse. But he became so complacent that soon there was nothing more to give us. Even without consulting a Jamaican root doctor, one can envision Costner repeating the same mistakes that lead to his original demise.

So how was it that critics were once comparing Costner to legends such as James Stewart?

Brian De Palma cast Costner in 1987 as a government agent hunting the charismatic Capone. It was a huge success with Costner becoming a leading man overnight using a gentle restraint that audiences responded to well. 1988 and 1989 saw him charming audiences again in not one but two baseball movies – an impotent niche genre that he nourished and returned to countless times in his career like a shameless concubine.

Costner might have been too sentimental at times, but there was no arguing that he brought an innocence to these movies that other actors might strain to achieve. It was shocking then to see him prove an impressive director in 1990 – even winning a most contentious Oscar over Scorsese.

His stunning western known to admirers as Dances saw Costner become a genuine legend. Oscars aside, the genre piece made a staggering $410 million on its modest $19 million budget – in a movie examining genocide – remaining his greatest achievement to date. But then came the precise moment that his career went bounding into a bottomless chasm.

Costner began giving the same wooden routine in each movie. He was never the most diverse actor, but the choices he made during this time drew more attention to this than ever. He gave an impressive turn using a vague Southern drone in 1991 as a man investigating an assassination – despite grinning at the most inappropriate times as though someone was tonguing his toes outside the shot – but it was to be his last notable part. Costner was a B movie contender come the millennium.

He has been given numerous chances to change this stagnant act but never accepts them. Costner was cast as Bill in Kill Bill but chose to captain another horrendous western over it. He was given another chance to turn the wholesome image on its head in 2011 when Tarantino – the director who loves saving terminal careers – wrote him a part in Django Unchained as a sadistic agent to Monsieur Candie. Costner chose the new Superman behemoth instead.

Kevin Costner manages to retain enough star power to continue making movies. But constant careless choices are leaving his career in ruins. Some argue that he brings nuance to authentic character studies we can relate to. But there is a dangerous line between suggestive expression and seeming as emotive as a Northern spruce that fell when no one was around.

 

Mark Folens (@markafolens) lives in Dublin with his parents. He needs to move out.

Aug 302013
 

Ah, casting guest stars is a practice that is as old as time itself. Well, time measured in the sitcom metric, anyway. Modern Family holds true to the sitcom tradition of welcoming guest stars from the big screen, small screen, recording studio and the stage. Over the past four seasons, Modern Family has attracted some phenomenal talent to their production.

Catch up on seasons past on Hulu Plus, or catch reruns on the USA network (starting in September 2013.) DirecTV subscribers, according to www.directstartv.org, can even stream content to a mobile phone or tablet. There’s no excuse for boredom when you can enjoy these (or any upcoming) guest stars.

Shelley Long as DeDe Pritchett

Fans of the long-running sitcom Cheers remember Shelley Long as the well-educated and more than a little snooty Diane Chambers. As Claire and Mitchell’s mother, and Jay’s ex-wife, Long’s DeDe is saddled with a slightly different set of character traits that have wreaked havoc again and again. Long consistently plays DeDe’s passive-aggressive–and sometimes aggressive-aggressive–personality to a tee, providing plenty of tension in her severed relationship with Jay, played by Ed O’Neill. It’s always good to get a DeDe shake-up in the Pritchett and Dunphy households, and it’s always a treat to get a reminder of Long’s comedic talent.

Nathan Lane as Pepper Saltzman

​Nathan Lane, the Broadway star and co-star of the movie The Birdcage does broad comedy like no one else, and his portrayal of Cameron’s ex-boyfriend on the highly popular “The Earthquake” only helped heap on more laughs in this shaky–in the most literal sense–episode. Saltzman brought more tension to Cameron and Mitchell in two subsequent episodes. Lane fits so well with the rest of the cast, understanding the temperature of the comedy, that his character doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the episodes.

Matt Dillon as Robbie Sullivan

Matt Dillon returned from Claire’s past, in the second season episode “Princess Party,” as a high school boyfriend. However, much to her surprise, Robbie didn’t return for her while in cahoots with her mother DeDe – Robbie and DeDe were having an affair. While Dillon did a solid job as Robbie, it’s tough to make a dent when you’re up against Long’s DeDe, for whom young Alex played the “Jaws” theme to announce her grandmother’s entrance. But no matter what the role, it is good to see the 80s movie star–who still works in independent films–make a television appearance.

Elizabeth Banks as Sal

Elizabeth Banks is a sitcom guest star favorite, having appeared on “30 Rock” and “Scrubs.” Banks’ Sal has only appeared on two episodes of “Modern Family” so far. The character is the fun-loving, free-spirited female friend to Mitchell and Cameron. The party girl got married—remaining a steadfast party girl, at that—this past season with both Mitchell and Cameron as her co-best men. Despite Banks’ go-to sitcom status, this role, as well as her performance in it fell a little flat. It will be interesting to see if the producers bring her back with any changes since her marriage. Perhaps some nuance would breathe new life into the character.

Who is your favorite Modern Family guest star or character? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! 


 Bonnie Heston Bonnie loves writing about fashion, theatre and entertainment from her loft in the city.

 Posted by at 7:11 pm
Aug 102013
 

The show’s premise is a simple one: Ted Mosby, father of two, slowly and with excruciating detail recaps for his teenage children the story of how he and their mother met, fell in love and lived happily ever after. We, the audience, accept the premise that we’re watching Ted’s life in flashback while he lives happily somewhere in the future. “How I Met Your Mother” is a show about the quest for true love, the strength of friendship and growing up. Oh, and the Bro Code.

What, you don’t know about the Bro Code? One of the show’s main characters, the womanizing, yet somehow still lovably vulnerable Barney Stinson lives by a code of ethics known as the Bro Code, and each episode of HIMYM ends with an offering from Barney’s twisted codex. Rules such as “A bro never sends a greeting card to another bro” and “A bro pretends to like cigars” are so popular with fans of the show that “Barney” has recently published the complete Bro Code on Amazon.

“The Bro Code” image by Luiyo via Flickr.

Lesson One – Bros Don’t Get Jealous When Other Bros Find Love

Lily and Marshall are the happy couple in the circle of friends, in love since college. Through each season, fans get to watch the progression of their relationship from college sweethearts to engaged couple to married adults to parents. Like every couple, the two have their ups and downs, but when things get tough their friends are always rooting for their love to prevail.

Lesson Two – If You Really Love Her, Let Her Find Happiness With Someone Else

Robin is the fifth friend in the close-knit group and, as single people are known to do, she has a relationship with both Ted and Barney as the seasons progress. Robin and Ted were the first to explore their deeper feelings and well after their breakup, Barney reveals his uncharacteristically sincere feelings for her. With grace and maturity, Ted gives his blessing to Barney and Robin’s relationship.

Lesson Three – Friends Look Past Your Flaws and Into Your Heart

One of the subplots of HIMYM is Barney’s quest to find his father. Is a missing father a glimpse into his shallow, insecure promiscuity? Perhaps. The gang doesn’t always agree with Barney’s behavior, but they also don’t judge him. They understand that deep down he’s really just a little boy who still smarts from being abandoned.

Lesson Four – Friendships are Just as Important and Sometimes Just as Difficult to Maintain as Romances

The five friends survive hookups, breakups, grief, new jobs, no jobs, disappointments and successes — just like in real life. Through it all they remain honest with each other, supportive but miraculously non co-dependent and because of that, their friendships stay strong.

The ninth and final season of “How I Met Your Mother” will be starting soon and whether you’re a brand new fan or you’ve been watching since ‘Slapsgiving‘ was invented, you don’t want to miss an episode. Ensure you’ve got the proper set up at sites like www.GetDirectTV.org that will help make sure you don’t miss a single episode of this clever and endearing program. After all, in the final season, we finally get to find out who’s under that yellow umbrella.

Lucy Goldstein Lucy is a mom of four and an entertainment enthusiast. She has been to more Broadway shows than she can count, and she hopes at least one of her kids will go into acting.

 Posted by at 3:37 pm
Jul 232013
 

This sentence might sound kind of odd, but Robocop is a politically prescient film. Yeah, that Paul Verhoeven, master of subtlety, sure knew what he was doing. Sort of. Mostly. But, when you really think about it, Robocop takes on lot of the problems with late stage capitalism in America: corporations basically amount to a second government that has partial control over quasi-democratic and poorer government in Washington. And robots. It also has giant robots. Just as an example of how relevant Robocop is over 20 years after its release, Microsoft Word recognizes Robocop as a real and correctly spelled word, which is tantamount to adding Verhoeven’s opus to the cultural cannon.

It’s pretty significant that Robocop is set in Detroit. Though the American auto industry was a little better off in the late 80s than it is now, it was still about halfway down the toilet. Detroit is a city that was largely built by government to serve the needs of corporations. Both the government and the corporations turned the entire city into what amounts to a giant lump of old shit. Those first scenes in the police precinct pretty much sum it up: Detroit is fucked and the only thing that can save it is the world’s largest and most corrupt corporation, Omni Consumer Products (OCP.) Oh, Paul, there goes that trademark subtlety again!

Let’s just stop and think about OCP for a bit. I choose to believe (I reject your reality and substitute my own!) that the makers of Robocop did nothing by accident. Putting the word “consumer” in the title seems somehow significant. You know, your humanity and relevance to society comes from your consumption, yadda yadda yadda. Also, Clarence Boddicker’s hideout is an abandoned steel mill, which is where good ol’ working stiff Murphy gets gunned down in a pretty awesome orgy of cartoon violence. There’s also the issue of the police union. OCP takes control of all of this so they can maximize profits by destroying crime-ridden “Old Detroit” and building their own private company town called Delta City. This new shining corporate city on a hill would be policed, not by working people who get paychecks, but by giant goddamn robots like the ED-209, which has about as good of a track record as privatization.

Holy shit, dudes. Private police force? Privately built and governed city? That could cause Mitt “Mittens” Romney to Santorum in his jeans. Robocop was filmed during the Reagan years, where trickle-down bullshit set the tone for American economics for decades to come. The basic mantra of Reagan-worshiping conservatives is that big government (which to them means any government big enough to do its job) always equals bad and inefficient and private corporations always equal good and money saving. This is basically the direct governance of capital without the thin veneer of representative democracy that the bosses usually hide behind.

And what’s the deal with the police strike? Verhoeven seems to be siding with the workers over capital throughout the film (like how I keep calling Robocop “film?”), but the police union is portrayed a little ambiguously. This is also a legacy of the Reagan 80s: false moderation. The Reaganites pushed the dialogue so far to the right that the wishy washy liberals effectively switch to the other side of the aisle in the name of moderation. It’s like saying, “Well, the far Right is wrong and corporations shouldn’t control everything, but the unions are greedy and ask for too much.” Yeah, because unions just want to bring it all down, burn baby, burn! We can see echoes of this bullshit in Jon Stewart and The Daily Show’s common sense fuckery. The 80s saw rapid deunionization of industry and the remaining unions became stooges of capital in many cases. Hence the police union’s strike being used as cover for OCP’s top mover and shaker and all in all 80s guy Jones’ move against Robocop. Good job, Paul. We all thought you’d lost your subtlety, but there it is again.

Science fiction has always been a genre that tended towards social critiques and radicalism. Speculative fiction lends itself to imagining both dystopias and utopias. And let’s face it, the dystopias are always cooler to watch and read. Robocop’s privately ran city dystopia is pretty compelling stuff and pretty close to the mark. We have private prisons, private gated towns, and private banks that own most of the economy and most of the real property. Not to mention the Citizens United decision that basically amounts to government owned by the highest bidder.

Bottom line: Robocop was badass in 1987 and it’s still badass now. It’s also politically significant and adds a farcical critique of the privatization movement that refuses to go away even though it has a terrible track record. OCP is basically Chase, Bank of America, Halliburton, GE, or any major American company that can buy influence and political power. Robocop issues a stark warning for American capitalism that can be summed up thusly: Privatization will kill you with giant robots. The end.

Ryan Briles (@PostNuked)  is a writer (ha!), musician (haha!!), and activist from the Great American Midwest (God’s country!) who now resides in New York because they always have room for another pretentious jerk. 

Jul 052013
 

I will be comparing and contrasting the releases for a given weekend over the past 3 years. Let’s take a look at what films came out last weekend, the final weekend in June, as compared to past years:                            

2013 releases for this weekend (June 28-30)

Studio

Opening Box Office

Lifetime Box Office

The Heat

20th Century Fox

TBD

White House Down

Columbia Pictures

Copperhead

The Film Collective

100 Bloody Acres

Cyan Films

       

2012 releases on last weekend in June (June 27-29)

Studio

Opening Box Office

Lifetime Box Office

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Fox Searchlight

$169 K

$12.7 M

Madea’s Witness Protection

Lionsgate

$25.3 M

$65.6 M

Magic Mike

Warner Bros

$39.1 M

$113.7 M

Neil Young Journeys

Sony

$12 K

$215 K

People Like Us

Touchstone/DreamWorks

$4.2 M

$12.4 M

Take This Waltz

Magnolia Pictures

$137 K

$1.2 M

Ted

Universal

$54.4 M

$218.8 M

       

2011 releases on last weekend in June (June 24-29)

Studio

Opening Box Office

Lifetime Box Office

Bad Teacher

Columbia Pictures

$31.6 M

$100.2 M

Cars 2

Disney / Pixar

$66.1 M

$191.4 M

A Better Life

Summit Entertainment

$62 K

$1.7 M

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Paramount / Hasbro

$97.8 M

$352.3 M

       

2010 releases on last weekend in June (June 25-30)

Studio

Opening Box Office

Lifetime Box Office

Grown Ups

Columbia Pictures

$40.5 M

$162 M

South of the Border

Cinema Libre Studio

$21 K

$198 K

Wild Grass

Sony

$39 K

$403 K

Dogtooth

Kino International

$6 K

$110 K

Restrepo

Outpost Films

$35 K

$1.3 M

I Was Born, But…

Janus Films

N/A

N/A

Eclipse

Summit Entertainment

$64.8 M

$300.5 M

Love Ranch

E1 Entertainment

$44 K

$137 K

 
Ever since the first big tent pole release of Jaws in 1975, studios have targeted the summer months for their big blockbusters. The tentpole model is designed to accomplish three tasks: generate enough advertising buzz before release, to keep that buzz during the actual release, and have a strong post-release merch/promotional strategy that keeps the flick fresh in everyone’s mind. In years past, it was easier for a studio to single out a tentpole. These days, more films are being released during the summer months than ever before, leading to more tentpole-like films being pumped out, which devalues the objective of a tentpole strategy. This year, the big blockbusters released last weekend were The Heat and White House Down.

In the past three years, the films with the highest expectations included Ted, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.  All of these movies, with the exception of Cars 2, grossed over $200M, with Transformers 3 raking in the most at $352.3M. That’s some serious cash.

It is very clear what type of movies are normally projected for the summer: family-friendly, four-quadrant films. This means they attempt to reach all four corners of the demographic chart (Men, Women, Old, and Young).  Animated films are usually a ‘safe’ bet, especially with a trusted brand like Pixar. Even Cars 2, arguably be considered Pixar’s worst box office release in the studio’s history, generated close to $200M. The other go-to genres are comedies (Ted, Grown Ups, Bad Teacher) and action-thrillers (Transformers 3, Twilight: Eclipse).

There are also summer surprises from time-to-time.  The biggest surprise (critically) in the past three years was the indie flick Beasts of the Southern Wild, which generated enough post-release buzz to carry the film to four Academy Award noms (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress).  Normally, studios don’t target the summer for their award hopefuls, but in this case, BOTSW performed exceptionally well.

What this list does not take into account is how well each film performed internationally.  Usually, a big blockbuster will make most of its box office cash overseas.  For example, Bad Teacher, which made $100.2M domestically, doubled its gross in the foreign market, making $115M ($216.2M worldwide). The big winner overseas was Transformers 3, taking in $771.3M, bringing the worldwide gross to $1.12B, making it the sixth most successful worldwide release of all-time. With these type of revenues piling up, it is no surprise that the studios push the tentpole strategy much more internationally.

Biggest Success: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Biggest Disappointment: People Like Us ($12.4M lifetime box office – $16M budget = $4M loss)

Honorable Mention(s): Magic Mike, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Bad Teacher, Grown Ups

What I am most excited for that’s out now: White House Down

I am a business entertainment graduate from Cal State Fullerton University.  I am an entertainment junkie, focusing mainly on sports and film. Looking forward to collaborating with many colleagues in the following fields over the span of my career: Film, TV, music, sports, video games, travel, internet research. Follow me @houstonious

Jun 282013
 

                       

Just like the other millions of Americans who squeezed into dimly lit, musty, buttery-smelling theaters to watch The Great Gatsby, I buckled down and did the same.

I was very hesitant about seeing this film. After all, it was my favorite book being reimagined and regurgitated back to me.

I will spare you a review of this film because not only am I not qualified to pass judgment, I truly feel it is always a personal preference that leads to a person liking a film or not. Instead, I want to focus on something that has caught my attention. I want to talk about the director’s insane gift for taking pivotal moments in his films and amplifying them beyond their source material. 

I don’t pretend to know every film that Baz Luhrmann directed throughout his career. I do know of two that are based off very rich material – the previously mentioned The Great Gatsby and 1996′s Romeo and Juliet.

Both films are adapted from works of fiction that have stood the test of time, written by authors who are known as some of the greatest storytellers in history. In Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann makes use of the original Shakespearian language and sets his movie in modern day times, creating a sharp contrast of the visual and the auditory. This is repeated in Gatsby, except this time, the auditory is a modern day rap-based soundtrack headed by Jay-Z, while the visual is a take on the Roaring 20s. Both star Leonardo DeCaprio (albeit almost 20 years apart) and both share something else.

As I watched Gatsby, and later re-watched Romeo and Juliet at home, I couldn’t help but admire something that Luhrmann was able to accomplish in both films. He took the pivotal moments that shaped the source material – the deaths of the protagonists – and amplified them in a way that in my opinion surpassed the originals.

We all know how the Romeo and Juliet story went. The play by Shakespeare describes Juliet waking up to find Romeo dead of poisoning, and out of grief she kills herself. In Baz Luhrmann’s re-imagining, he has the same outcome occur, yet changes one tiny fraction of the formula.

He has Romeo die while seeing Juliet open her eyes. You can watch here:

You can see the realization on Romeo’s face as the poison makes its way down his throat that he has made a great mistake, one that cost him a life with the women he loves.

This small change made the story that’s been told a million times more heartbreaking. This is something that I did not think was possible with a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet. Yet, Luhrmann does it.

I always point this out to the people who do not like the film. If they did not appreciate the original language, young Paul Rudd, or the insane cross-dressing black Mercutio, at least they should appreciate the fact that this director SOMEHOW pulled off making the most tragic tragedy even MORE tragic.

He accomplishes the same thing in The Great Gatsby. In the novel, Gatsby dies knowing that the love of his life is just another unattainable thing in his life. He wasn’t born into their world and he could never be part of hers. He is wrongfully shot to death.

This in itself is powerful, and readers feels for Gatsby the entire time. They want him to get the girl. Yet in the movie, Luhrmann once again adds an element that makes it so much more tragic. Gatsby is getting out of his pool, and hears his telephone ringing. He smiles. He thinks it is Daisy, calling him and telling him that she wants to be with him in the end and not her dirt bag, cheating, racist husband.

He dies thinking that the love of his life wants to be with him, which we find out seconds later is not true. It is so much more heartbreaking to see a character have false hope in that moment than knowing he has lost the girl of his dreams.

I’m sure Baz Luhrmann doesn’t know what an impression these tiny changes to the original films have had on me, nor do I think he would care if he ever found out. But I wanted to share this with you guys and hopefully hear some of your thoughts.

 

 
Some may call Dasha Fayvinova a visionary, others just call her really pale. Whichever you prefer, know that she’s 5’9 and from the Bronx.  She spent 5 years of her life talking to a camera and putting it on YouTube so she knows how to please people. Follow her on Twitter @thedasha92.

Jun 212013
 


A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about a project I was about to start – seeing a dozen classic films for the very first time. As of today, I’ve seen half, and plan to get to the last six sometime over the next month or so. Below are my thoughts on the films I’ve seen so far:

Pulp Fiction

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from Pulp Fiction. Over the years, I’d heard plenty of people rave about how it was their favorite film, but I knew very little regarding what the movie was actually about. Going into it blind turned out to be a good thing – every stylistic element impressed me, every climatic twist shocked me. However, while I really enjoyed the movie, I didn’t love it quite as much as I hoped I would. I feel that there’s good reason for this, though. When Pulp Fiction first came out, Tarantino was just making his name in Hollywood. His unique visual style and biting dialogue was completely new, and so a movie like Pulp Fiction felt so unlike anything that had ever been made. Yet today, I’ve seen plenty of Tarantino’s movies, and I’m accustomed to his filmmaking. The things about Pulp Fiction that so stunned everyone who saw it when it was released in ’94 are still impressive today, yes, but they aren’t new. Unfortunately, because of this, the film didn’t resonate quite as strongly with me as it probably would have if I had seen it in the days before Django Unchained and Kill Bill.

Saving Private Ryan

I liked Saving Private Ryan, but it underwhelmed me. While I admired its realism and visual effects, I felt that far more time was spent developing those elements than creating a solid, interesting plot. I found the story itself to be relatively dull. I know I’m probably in the minority here, but I just didn’t get all the fuss about this movie. I’m glad I saw it, but it left me disappointed.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Another movie that I wanted to like more than I did. While I admired Jack Nicholson’s performance, I didn’t love that many other elements of the film. I found Nurse Ratched to be underdeveloped, and I felt that the film was building up to a climax that never truly came. It left me wondering, that was it?

Cast Away

Now this was a movie I loved. I can finally say that I understand all the “Wilsoooonnn!” references I’ve heard over the years. As always, Tom Hanks, who puts his heart and soul into every role he plays, astounded me. I was captivated by the story throughout the entirety of the film, and I loved the ambiguity of the ending. What a great movie.

A Clockwork Orange

The first half of this movie confused and bothered me. I really didn’t like it, and I found myself only watching out of hope it would improve. Thankfully, the second half was much more interesting, and I ended up enjoying the film more than I expected. I didn’t love it, but I respected its originality, and was impressed by its ability to not feel dated even after 42 years.

The Silence of the Lambs

My favorite movie of the bunch. Everything about The Silence of the Lambs was perfect. The performances were incredible; Anthony Hopkins was simply extraordinary. The story felt as creepy and real as it probably did 22 years ago, a psychological thriller that hasn’t lost any of its impact over the course of time. Two weeks after I saw the movie, I’m still thinking about it – it was that good.
 



Rachel Simon is a college student and contributor to TheReelist who wants to be Buffy Summers and marry Tim Riggins. She’s a New York native working on her Boston accent at Emerson College. You can follow her on Twitter at @rachel_simon

 Posted by at 6:58 pm
Jun 142013
 

The semester has finished, and the anxiety of having to prepare film papers on post-9/11 cinema and comparing Truffaut to Hitchcock has finally subsided. As a member of the Class of 2013, I can now begin to branch out into the world for all it has to offer. While I’ll admit I can’t name a week where I didn’t make it to the theater once, I would love to be there more often, and now is the time. With June marking our halfway point into the year and the beginning of major summer blockbusters, here are a couple of my “Top 3″ lists to start the year.

Top 3 Films I Didn’t Get To See But Still Want to See:

Mud (Jeff Nichols) – I’ve heard that director Jeff Nichols has made nothing but solid films from Shotgun Stories to Take Shelter. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen either of them and haven’t got a chance to check out his latest film, Mud, yet. Last time I checked. it holds roughly in the mid-90 percentile on the Tomatometer, just like all of Nichols’ past films. I tried to get tickets for a showing at the Atlanta Film Festival a couple of weeks back, but they all sold out within the first couple of weeks of the announcement of its screening (at $30 for its opening night fee, I wasn’t really that disappointed). For some reason, star Matthew McConaughey reminds me of Sawyer from Lost, and who didn’t love Sawyer? Yeah, I didn’t love him either.

Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) – After taking an 8-year hiatus (during which he was looking for proper funding), Shane Carruth steps behind the camera again with another experimental science fiction film. I’m still unsure of what the hell happened in Primer, but I know I loved it. As someone who isn’t a true science-fiction fan, I still loved Primer. Carruth brings so many original ideas to the big screen, and it kept me entertained every time. It was no surprised when I heard that he helped Rian Johnson, director of Looper, write the script. Upstream Color premiered at Sundance early this year, and the reviews have been nothing short of outstanding. Upstream Color is actually available already for purchase at your local Best Buy on Blu-ray for $20.

Trance (Danny Boyle) – I haven’t read much about it review-wise, and it fell in-between the cracks towards the beginning stages of the year for me. Yet Boyle’s resume speaks for itself and I don’t expect anything different from his latest movie.

Top 3 Films That Come Out Later This Year That I Want To See:

Only God Forgives (Nicolas Refn) –If you know me, you know how much I loved Drive. It might have been one of the most entertaining films of 2012. Refn and Ryan Gosling reunite to tell the story of a criminal who must scavenge through the underworld of Bangkok to find out who killed his brother. I can tell you two things that that are really cool about this film: 1. Ryan Gosling’s character has an actual name, and 2. Cliff Martinez is back doing the musical score for the movie and I can only hope it’s as good as Drive‘s. Few soundtracks have the replay value that Drive has for me. Refn also directed Bronson, another cult classic staring Tom Hardy that I would recommend checking out.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron) – I already admitted to not being a major sci-fi watcher, and this shouldn’t be taken as a badge of honor if I name your sci-fi movie as something I want to see, but Cuaron’s cinematography alone will bring me into the theatre for this one. I still show my less-film-inclined friends the 5-6 minute long takes that Cuaron set up for the film. Set to be released later this fall, Gravity pairs George Clooney and Sandra Bullock up in space as astronauts on a damaged spaceship that leaves them stranded with no communication with Earth.

Captain Philips (Paul Greengrass).

Top 3 Films That Just Weren’t That Good:

The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann) – While it was definitely imaginative in the visual department, it fell flat on its face in every other department. I’m still scratching my head over the soundtrack and the casting of Tobey Maguire, but even if you take those away you still have a horrible movie. I’m sorry to burst the bubble of all of those who enjoyed it, but there just no real substance. The beauty of the literary novel is how you emotionally sided with these characters despite knowing their flaws and seeing their American dream turned into a tragedy; in the film’s depiction, I just saw rich people screaming about a bunch of first world problems. The novel leaves your imagination to interpret events while the film tells you what to think.

Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski) – Another visually awe-inspiring movie with very little substance was Kosinski’s Oblivion. I do admit there was a couple of plot aspects that were enjoyable and interesting, but Kosinski barrowed a lot of Matrix-ish type of sci-fi to tell his story. I will tell you that M83 did an outstanding job with the soundtrack. The transition from radio to film is difficult, but they seemed to have mastered it on this attempt.

To The Wonder (Terrence Malik) – Malik’s follow up to The Tree of Life is another tough one to watch. He definitely proves that while you can have beautiful visual aesthetics, emotional ties have to be created to keep the story alive. Here, there is an obvious disconnect between filmmaker and audience.

Top 3 Films I Didn’t Think Were Going To Be Good, But Turned Out OK:

Fast & Furious 6 (Justin Lin) – In it’s 6th, (really 7th) edition, The Fast and Furious has never been better.  I can’t think of any 6th movie of a franchise that isn’t James Bond or Star Trek that could do so well. It’s over the top, unrealistic, and overdone at times, but that’s not the point. At its heart, it’s an extreme action film that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the first scenes that recap the first six movies until the last scene that sets up for another great story line (spoiler, stay until after the credits). It also has a great core of actors. Not saying these are Academy Award winners, but they work together well as a team. It’s shocking me how much I actually liked the movie. I’m definitely a fan of the series, but this one had it all. Lin has created a franchise that could easily last another 4-5 years, which is still very weird for me to type out but possible. At the end of the day, this is the summer blockbuster that everyone is looking for and I definitely recommend it.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) – Seriously, this movie just wasn’t OK, it was pretty damn good. I don’t know who else could include a Brittney Spears drug induced solo from James Franco and have scenes with the well-known rapper Gucci Mane, but Korine does it and does it well. The film ends up becoming a cultural critique and almost an awakening to American superficial pop culture. The use of bright lights and repetitive dialogue will have, “Sprinngggg Breaaakkk” stuck in your head for a very long, long time.

Pain and Gain (Michael Bay) – I should have already said that for all of these movies in these categories, I would definitely recommend at least a singular viewing. But with that on the table now, that’s how I feel about Pain and Gain. It’s entertaining, but also extremely shallow. If you ever check it out, just think – “How far would you go to live the life you always dreamed about?” Another look at the American dream, and the most shocking part is that it is loosely based on a true story.

Top 3 Films Halfway Through 2013:

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance) – Wow is about all I can say for this movie. Cianfrance does so many things right here that I don’t know where to begin. I’ve already written a blog post on what I thought of the movie, so check it out a couple of posts back and I’ll save you a double dose of the same information I already shared. I definitely recommend this movie, though.

Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh) – I read about this movie being compared to a lot of Hitchcock-type films, which I agree with, but the real success of this movie is the neo-noir undertones throughout the 2nd half. I liked it a heck of a lot. Definitely go see it.

 Iron Man 3 (Shane Black) – Yes, I am extremely tired of the superhero genre that keeps getting piled on from year to year, but Iron Man 3 is the best of the bunch so far. I liked it probably so much because I really was disappointed in Iron Man 2.

I’m writing this at the end of May, so don’t get upset if you had a movie that you thought I should include. Also, I’m a broke college student – there are only so movies I can attend.

 


  

Ryan is a part-time contributor to The Reelist and a senior at Kennesaw State outside of Atlanta. You can follow him at @iOnlyWearNike.

Jun 062013
 

It must be made eminently clear at the outset that this diatribe against Marvel’s mega-budgeted super-movie, The Avengers, emanates purely from a wholehearted concern for the future of comic-book movies, and a sincere belief that this film (which, if box-office success is to be taken as an appropriate yardstick, has amassed a surreal level of critical acclaim) is one long over-hyped set-piece. Now that the dust has settled – and more importantly, the storm of seemingly unanimous adoration has finally subsided – I think it’s the right time to cast a look back at whether the film was really an artistic, as well as financial, success. 

Though I am somewhat of a DC fanboy, this has never precluded me from waiting with anticipation for and thoroughly enjoying a good Marvel movie in the past. The first two X-Men and Spider-Man movies spring instantly to mind (notice also how I’m skimming conveniently over Spider-Man 3 and The Last Stand here) as great examples of how to go about telling an efficient and logical superhero story. However, after stumbling out of my local multiplex in a bewildered and frustrated state last May, I felt something I hadn’t experienced since I made the mistake of seeing the latest Transformers offering: this was a fast-food film. The Avengers is, essentially, a bright, colourful and gaudy cinematic meal, seemingly appropriate in circumstances where mental exertion seems too great an obstacle to overcome. That this attitude had been applied to such a hallowed event on the nerd calendar seemed such a cynical and ignoble gesture, and the ensuing gargantuan levels of financial success from toy and DVD sales lead me begrudgingly to the conclusion that the industry had taken a significant step backwards in the Superhero genre.

I am willing at this stage to make a few concessions. The Avengers was always going to have to be reliant upon big, bombastic special effects in order to tell a convincing story, and I would be an idiot to think otherwise. The amount of money that’s stood to be made from appealing to a younger demographic also logically entails nothing other than a particularly gentle 12A experience, and with such a large cast, there were inevitably going to be a few compromises in screen-time and character development. What did I really expect anyway? Hit-Girl to cartwheel into the frame with alien blood-stained blades, dropping c-bombs left, right and centre? A complex political subtext? No, not really. But what I did envisage were some ground-breaking action set-pieces and a well-conceived story. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but find the sheer frequency of CGI-related devices, vehicles and explosions were at times just the wrong side of sensory-assault, and I often found myself wondering whether I’d somehow been sucked into one of Michael Bay’s wet dreams. Despite this qualm, I’ve heard some hugely enthused fans and friends discuss in awe many of the on-screen battles, so I’ll file that criticism into the section marked ‘personal preference.’ However, what is to my mind inexcusable and incontestable, is the sheer nonsense of the plot. The movie revolves largely around The Tesseract, a cube-like object (not dissimilar from the All-Spark, to continue the Transformers analogy) which acts as the Macguffin on which the entire story rests. As usual in summer blockbusters relying on such an object, the success of the plot is, as a rule, garnered from the excitement derived from the confrontations which arise because of it. It’s here I think, that the central flaw of the film’s premise is uncovered.

The simple problem is that an ensemble of incredibly powerful (almost invincible, it seems, where the Hulk and Thor are concerned) heroes, for whom no resource is out of reach, renders the movie utterly bland. Once the universes of Iron Man, Hulk and Thor bleed together, we are left with a strange Sci-Fi/Superhero/Fantasy mash-up in which gods, aliens, monsters and billionaire geniuses all walk side by side. With the immense weight of this cumulative power, any convincing sense of danger or peril is exsiccated, and without this requisite level of doubt, we never really have a reason to root for the heroes. Instead, we end up simply watching an obviously fixed race play out, with a few contrived obstacles littering their route to inevitable glory. 

To return to my earlier point, I feel quite strongly that the success of this film represents a legitimate regression in what was (or should I say, ‘is’?) a burgeoning and nascent patch of cinematic ground. In the last 10 years we’ve had the privilege of seeing some big-budget movies of the same ilk delivering tried and tested stories to a greater level of polish and craft, as well as ground-breaking, iconic and subversive visions which highlight the potential still available in this fertile genre (a certain Nolan trilogy springs to mind…)

Speaking now as a cinephile, one can’t help but hope that the future of Marvel movies has enough potential to correct this misstep. Hopefully with the success of Iron Man 3 in the hands of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black, and Marc Webb‘s Amazing Spider-Man sequel now filming, we won’t be treated to similarly glossy, but ultimately uninspired, films again. If however, profit continues to drive production rather than artistic integrity, we might not be so lucky. 

 


 

@TheBigGatsby is a Philosophy student, Richard Linklater obsessive and follower of Dudeism. 

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