Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2015 Potentially Oscar Nominated Movies

This year has been a little underwhelming. The movies that were great were just as great as previous years but everything else felt flat and done. I think as a testament to how underwhelming this year was as a whole, I had to add a category for movies I thought were only okay and I had a really hard time putting movies into my created categories because even a movie that got four stars out of me (personal description as "really good"), I still might have put in the "liked it" category on here because it didn't match up to the other four star movies. I guess pay more attention to what I say than where I put things.

I still want to see "Song Of The Sea", "Mr. Turner", the other movies nominated for Best Documentary, and the movies nominated for Best Foreign Film in terms of movies that have been nominated for Oscars but I got mostly everything else. I also put a list at the end of non-Oscar movies I also want to see because I'm so far behind on my movie watching.

As always, the order is nonsense, starred movies are my picks for the five Best Pictures, and ones with plus signs are movies that weren't nominated for Oscars (usually films I saw earlier this year or movies nominated for other awards).

Previous Years: 2014   2013   2012   2011

Movies I Really Liked:

The Grand Budapest Hotel: I think Wes Anderson is actually getting better as a director because this was my favorite of his and I knew it the second it was over. I really liked "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Darjeeling Limited" but man, was this movie fun and so well tuned. 

Boyhood*: For the reference, I was super torn about narrowing down this, "Grand Budapest" , and "Imitation Game" in my nominees. I'm actually more likely to rewatch "Budapest" by far but I felt like this one might have done more as a movie. Ignoring the gimmick (as everyone should) I'll admit I didn't really GET this movie until it got closer to the end and then it clicked and I couldn't call it over-rated like so many are doing.

The Imitation Game*: Let's brush aside how badly I wanted to see this movie for reasons (Allen Leech) and let me just say that I really loved how it is part intriguing historical drama and part character study and balances both so well. I wish the historical inaccuracy didn't bug me so much.

Whiplash*: The fact that I am alive to write this is the only proof that I breathed while watching this movie. When it was over I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or possibly throw up. It was one of the most tense movies I have ever seen, wonderfully directed, and powerfully acted.

The Theory Of Everything: I don't know what I excepted of this movie but it wasn't what I got and that's a good thing. It was a tale of two people, a romance but not how you think and I loved that about it. 

Selma*: It's hard to talk about this without pointing out that Ava Duvernay really, really should have gotten nominated for Best Director over that guy who did "Foxcatcher" (see way, way below). This was a powerful film that seems to cover all sides in a way few historical movies manage to do. That aspect alone would be enough to make this movie notable.

Birdman*: It's honestly between this one and "Whiplash" as to which movie was my personal favorite this year. I love the acting, the black humor, the way it was shot, the social commentary. It was just so damn good.

Gone Girl: It's hard for me to talk about this movie since I saw the book so I know the plot is crazy and unexpected but I can say that I really trust and love the Fincher/Reznor director and composer combination and they did a fantastic job giving the movie the right feeling and balance. Rosamund Pike is mind-blowing, Ben Affleck didn't even bug me, and the rest of the cast was notably great too.

Still Alice: The idea of a language expert losing their words is a bit too on the nose but other than that I thought this movie was incredible. Anyone who has ever had to watch someone decline in a similar way can relate and it's all made even more interesting and terrible by her age and the way her family treats it.

Nightcrawler: It's been so long since I saw a good noir and this movie has kind of an interesting twist on the genre while still evoking the look and feel. The main character gives the impression of a high-functioning sociopath and the progression through his career is disturbing and fascinating to watch.

Two Days, One Night
Very strong character study. Totally straightforward and realist style allowing for everything to be put on the actors.

Wild: Although I find the way her life went off the rails a bit unbelievable, I liked this movie way more than I thought I would. I like the method of story telling and weirdly enough, the way music is used. Another very strong character study.

The Lego Movie: EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. No really. One of the best animated films I've ever seen. The fact that the movie itself wasn't nominated for the Animated Feature Oscar is a crime.

The Tale Of Princess Kaguya: I actually read "The Tale Of The Bamboo Cutter" in my Japanese lit class and I'll be honest when I say that I didn't really get it (I also had a not great professor). This movie made me get it with interesting animation on top. 

Snowpiecer+: Gotta love a beautifully made classist dystropia! My one big complaint about this movie is that the end with the engine creator felt like it went on too long after the rest of the movie had gone at such a steady pace.

Big Eyes+: I seemed to like this movie a lot more than critics did and I am okay with that. Honestly, it was great to see a Tim Burton movie that was actually really good, with actors I like in it, and a plot that was interesting and had a lot to say. I remember hearing someone say that, "women seem to really get this movie" and I can totally understand.

Obvious Child+: The abortion romance is funny and sweet although I find a lot of the main character's behavior inexplicable and therefore a little bit contrived for plot reasons.

The Riot Club+: Did anyone see this British film about spoiled rich kids? It's intense and bleak and I liked it more and more as I watched it while simultaneously getting angrier and angrier.

Movies I Liked:

Citizenfour: This is a very, very significant movie and is about a topic that is difficult to film and these facts alone make me feel bad that I can only really say that I liked it. I gave it four stars and in all honesty, I wasn't crazy impressed with it as a film. I've seen a lot of documentaries, what can I say?

Beyond The Lights: I saw this on a whim with my friend Alex in between seeing plays in New York and we were both pleasantly surprised by how good it was. It's mostly a romance but with heavy themes of the cost of fame, depression (which comes up in the beginning and I was happy they didn't just drop it), and what it's like to be a pop star today.

Into The Woods: Important background information: I have a fierce dislike of the stage musical so my confidence that I was going to enjoy this movie was nonexistent. Funny thing is, I actually liked this. Probably because the songs didn't bother me as much (I hate a lot of them), the dumb humor was all but removed (which most people thought was a negative), and the first act was significantly cut down so I didn't want to leave midway. They took out some of the dark stuff they should have kept (like Rapunzel dying) but overall, I was pleased. "Agony" was flawless but weirdly I was the only one laughing in the theater.

Big Hero 6: I'm pretty sure Baymax made this movie but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's kind of a tech nerd's dream and very cute. Unfortunately, I do need to say that we need to dial back on the superhero everything.

How To Train Your Dragon 2: What an enjoyable sequel! I kind of wondered what more there could be to the plot of the first and they managed to create a new story that didn't feel forced and didn't result in a quality dip. I can actually believe they could make a good third.

The Boxtrolls: I have been pleased with every Laika movie I've seen and I didn't even feel a strong drive to see this one. It's a standard story that gets amusingly meta sometimes with good animation and an adorable theme song.

Under The Skin+: I like a good slow-moving meditation on humanity as much as the next person but there was something about this movie that made it not quite strong enough for me. It definitely had something to do with how it was told but I'm still struggling to put my finger on it.

Cake+: This movie had really low ratings and I'm not fully sure why. I thought it was a good meditation on pain and loss and kind of darkly humorous on top of that.

The Fault In Our Stars+: Probably the best adaption you could get of this very good book although the book made me cry way, way more.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1+: Solid movie although I can see how everyone who has not read the books (and even some who have) could be frustrated by the cliffhanger. Honestly I felt like the end wasn't abrupt enough which I also thought about the wham line at the end of Catching Fire.

Movies I Think Were Okay:

Interstellar: People seemed to either love this movie or think it was like a not as good "2001". I thought it was okay. The plot was okay. The characters were okay. The science was super questionable and didn't make the most sense. I wasn't bored but at the same time it was easily one of Nolan's weakest movies.

Guardians Of The Galaxy: This almost went in the over-rated category because in a way it was better than okay but definitely got more hype than I fully understood. Maybe I'm just over superhero movies with the saturation of films over the last few years but I do have a real complaint: I couldn't follow the plot in the second half. There were so many groups with unclear motivations or explanations of who they are fighting each other that I couldn't follow. The main characters were great and it was funny but man, that second half felt like a mess.

Maleficiant: Well, it's definitely one of the better fairy tale retellings I can remember seeing outside of a Gregory MacGuire novel. The explanation of the universe and motivations of the characters works for me. It wasn't exactly great but with all these retellings it's nice to see one that isn't intolerable.

The Judge: While I don't think this movie was amazing or anything, I think the reviews of it were kind of harsh. Yes, the plot felt done and the music was manipulative and cheesy but there was nothing egregiously wrong with it aside from that. The truth is, it just wasn't anything unique which i guess for some is more of a crime than being terrible. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall were fun to watch at least..

Movies I Think Were Over-Rated:

Foxcatcher: It didn't surprise me that the director of Moneyball had made another sports movie that I was completely underwhelmed by. The thing is, the story really does make a good basis for a film but the way they went about it put me to sleep. The movie dragged and the way time moved in the story was very strange. I also felt like it lacked the emotional impact it probably should have had. Steve Carrell was good though.

American Sniper: There's nothing more I could say about this movie that I haven't already said here aside from: I've seen better war movies. I've seen better war movies made by Clint Eastwood.

Inherent Vice: This movie was really good at showing you stuff happening without saying how it connected to other stuff at lightning speeds for twenty minutes and then slowing down for fifteen minutes for one long scene that doesn't advance the plot at all. There's a mystery in there somewhere. I almost feel like if this was two parts it might have made a lot more sense.

Movies I Didn't Like:

Divergent+: Here's the thing: this movie was extremely well cast and truthfully very faithful to the book. The problem is that the book isn't very good. This isn't really talked about since it is a very popular book read by many, many teens but it's really not a good book so a movie adaption of it can only be so good itself. Hunger Games it is not.

Winter's Tale+: There's nothing more I could say about this movie that I haven't already said here.

Other movies I want to see from this year but haven’t yet include:
The 100 Foot Journey
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
A Most Violent Year
The Babadook
Bitter Honey
The Book of Life
Bound By Flesh
The Congress
The Dance Of Reality
Dear White People
The Guest
In Bloom
Jersey Boys
Jimmy's Hall
Maps To The Stars
National Gallery
Only Lovers Left Alive
Palo Alto
The Skeleton Twins
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Venus In Fur
We Are The Best!

Some Thoughts On "American Sniper"

I never meant to write about this movie but while I was watching I was sending Facebook messages to my British half-Iraqi boyfriend (who was asleep) about how I was feeling about it at any given moment as a very politically left, anti-war humanist whose best friend happens to be a former marine and Afghanistan war veteran (a fact he often hides from people). Each break is a different message and aside from spelling errors I didn't change anything so it might sound like crap.

I've decided to be offended today so I'm watching American Sniper and will follow it with something animated. Ten minutes in and this is the most 'Murrica movie I've seen since Dallas Buyers Club. That movie ended with the cowboy giving medicine to gay men and hanging with a trans woman. I don't think this one is going that way I am a bit uncomfortable that they keep saying "bad guys" instead of "terrorists" I'm 99.9% sure leaving your post is a punishable offense in the military. Well, the first normal Iraqi character has been killed. "They're fucking savages." "You bought it from savages." The funny thing is, I feel like the story is not necessarily saying I'm supposed to like or empathize with the main character. i think he's an fucking ass and that's text; not my bias. Thoughts: Does no one make cerebral war films anymore? Will we never have another Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Deer Hunter, etc.? This guy has no sympathy for any of this fellow solders who have doubts about what they're doing. None. The main character had a human response to a kid curiously picking up a rocket launcher. I cannot understand him at all. To take a measured response here: it is unclear whether the main character is intrinsically bad or a product of his military indoctrination. Perhaps he has been conditioned to believe these things and it is only in brief moments that his true humanity peaks through. I mean, the character, not the human. The human seems like he was just a flat out racist. The point I'm making is: I feel like this movie can actually be read more than one way. The fact that SO MANY are reading it as "Grr, rah, kill Arabs" says more about the people watching it than the movie which I could easily see being about how war is the real villain and we are all playing it differently. Watching this movie and imagining that the real enemy is idealism, both American and that of the terrorist, it's actually easier to watch than just trying to view it through a lens of "Awful people doing awful things" (and by that I mean either side being said awful people). In that sense, the Hunger Games issue is at work. The Hunger Games is promoted and merchandised in the way the Capitol would do, thus proving it's point. If this movie is actually about the horrors of war and the ideas of false glory and promoting of ideals, the fact that so many people think it's about "MURRICA and badassery just shows how fundamentally flawed the American mindset is. Main character is now calling his wife and saying he wants to come home, crying while things get even worse. Another notch in the column of "product of the system" over "bad person." His PTSD is powerful. Adam knew a guy who was in Fallujah and said he was one of the most destroyed individuals he had encountered. So he goes through a lot of therapy. This ending is overwhelmingly patriotic. I want to vomit. Okay, conclusion. Yes, the representation of Iraqis is fucking terrible. Yes, the "Woo, 'Murrica" is strong However, I feel like for a fair portion of the time, the film was trying to actually be a thoughtful meditation on the horrors of war. The problem is, it is trying to be filtered through a character who is blinded by patriotism, who criticizes other men for a more balanced outlook. The movie does a poor job of trying to show him as a victim (which is what I think the goal is) when the mood fluctuates so much between that and his own external idealism. Having not read the book I can't make this assumption but from what I've heard about it, he IS unsympathetic and this movie seems to be trying to reconcile the actual terrible human with a character who is multi-dimensional and the end result for someone like me who is a critical analyzer and someone who is anti-war and anti-nationalism is, well, confusion. That confusion seems to be allowing for interpretations on every side of the coin based on your own beliefs. Also, from a film perspective, the direction was good but the war scenes were poorly put together and it was blatantly manipulative but I don't know WHAT IT WAS TRYING TO MAKE YOU THINK aside from the few times they went for base human emotions with things like his wife's pregnancy and the aforementioned kid with a rocket launcher scene. I don't know with this shit. I guess overall it wasn't bad. Wasn't great (it was no Zero Dark Thirty for sure) and it really, really doesn't deserve a Best Picture nomination but I do think that anyone trying to view this movie through one lens is doing it a disservice. Yes, be angry that the perspective of the people who had their homes invaded when they were doing nothing wrong got no representation. Yes, be angry that the film is based on a book that glorifies war and demonizes Iraqis. Yes, be angry that somehow this movie managed to make 9/11 seem like a justification for the invasion of Iraq (haven't we gotten past this yet; I didn't believe that crap when I was 12). Yes, be angry that this movie is being interpreted by many people as a justification for their racism and an example of how cool and noble war is. But remember that even if you think the author (in this case I mean Clint Eastwood, not Chris Kyle) is dead, the text really doesn't show a simplistic view of war. It shows war through a man who is patriotic and unwilling to think about all perspectives but the movie is not. Or at least is trying not to. This man doesn't see decent people among the Iraqis. This man doesn't realize that 9/11 has nothing to do with Iraq. But I think we as an audience are expected to know better or at least learn from the other soldiers around him. We are supposed to see that even with all his bullshit ideals, he was ruined by his experience. War can destroy the most devoted of patriots. And I should stop now because I just ranted about this to you for a really long time. Here's a list of things I hate: Racism False news reporting War Really nationalistic people Teaching your children to hate PTSD People who think all these things are cool and inspiring instead of tragic.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Black Mirror" Episodes Ranked

In honor of my new favorite show Black Mirror, I have decided to write a review of the show so far but to keep it short and sweet (relatively, of course, as I have a tendency to write lengthy, rambling blog posts and I don't want to nor do I feel like I should this time).

I have obviously been doing a great terrible job of sticking to my "Wait Three Seasons Before You Watch It" rule and I have made resolutions to fix this, which I'm actually pretty good at sticking to, but I needed to watch this show first. I just needed to. I felt it in my marrow. My rule is harder to apply with strikingly short British shows that only have three episodes a season. Fewer episodes generally mean more time to devote to creating each episode which often can lead to better quality.

So how do I describe Black Mirror? It's essentially The Twilight Zone with a different set of actors in a different verse every episode but with each episode being a commentary on society and its relationship with technology. And it is AWESOME. Seriously, it's one of the best shows I've ever seen. I pretty much decided it was my new favorite show after one episode. However, while I would usually say "Everyone go watch it", I actually don't here because some of this show is actually kind of intense or disturbing and there are some people (my mother) who might have some issues with that. Prepare to be freaked out and/or have your mind blow before you decide to watch it.

And now, a ranking of the seven episodes so far. It's pretty free of spoilers unless you want to be entirely surprised in which case just watch the show.

7. Season One, Episode Three: "The Entire History Of You"
For the reference, the least exciting episode of Black Mirror is still amazing and well worth watching over most other shows you could cram into your brain thing. This episode has probably the most straight forward and conventional plot of any episode: a man is suspicious on his wife's friendship with another man. The technological aspect is that in this future most people have things in their brains called grains that enable them to replay any memory. The episode begs the question of whether this tech is a good thing or not, leaving the answer kind of up to you even if the characters do come to their own conclusions.

6. Season Two, Christmas Special: "White Christmas"
To me this episode was a bit of a mess. It had three mini stories within an overarching story and the technology of it was revealed far more slowly than in previous episodes. Personally, I thought that having so many stories kind of weakened the overall themes especially when the stories themselves were kind of obvious. This episode was kept from the last spot because the last 10 minutes actually had some interesting twists and redeeming aspects and because if you look past the smaller tech themes, you have a story that focuses on mortality and judgment in a pretty clever way. Also, Jon Hamm is valiantly still attempting to guest star in everything ever. Good luck, Jon!

5. Season Two, Episode Three: "The Waldo Moment"
Funny how the two most political episodes take place in the modern day instead of 20 minutes into the future. This episode focuses on the mockery of politics when a cartoon bear jokingly runs for office as part of a marketing tool. There are a lot of themes in this one surrounding how politics is viewed by both politicians and the people and their ineffectiveness. There's also a debate about idea ownership, a personal story of a broken comedian, and the idea of how meaningless images can be assigned meaning (I read academic texts on this topic for my Japanese minor; true story). My only real complaints about this episode are that there was something a bit off about the pacing and that I can't believe anyone would find that bear funny (although I completely believe people would vote for it).

4. Season Two, Episode One: "Be Right Back"
Think "Her" but with a dead guy. A new service is provided that creates the illusion of talking to a deceased loved one using their public online presence as a basis to create them. The result is pretty much what you would expect but it's still a wonderful journey to watch with an ending that you probably won't expect. Aside from showing the fallacies in thinking you know someone from their online persona and how those are cultivated, it also meditates on mourning and how the internet and it's relative permanence creates virtual graveyards.

3. Season Two, Episode Two: "White Bear"
A woman wakes up with amnesia to see a world where mostly everyone has been turned into voyeuristic bystanders constantly filming others while the few people that haven't are embracing their murderous tendencies or running from those who are. The episode shows a fantastic result of the bystander effect and, even more so, the way phone cameras have allowed us to detach ourselves from experience. There's also another layer of questioning whether people are inherently evil and what exactly is an appropriate punishment.

2. Season One, Episode One: "The National Anthem"
The first one really stuck with me and I think that was the point. This episode manages to go from a bit humorous to completely horrifying and I think you can use when that point is for each individual person as a guide to who they are. The episode takes place in the present, which might make it even scarier, and talks about traditional media vs social media (a topic that is already all over the place and has been for years), how opinions shift in this instant world and the effect they have, and the power one can have if they know how to utilize technology.

1. Season One, Episode Two: "Fifteen Million Merits"
I could write a master's thesis on this episode. Probably two. While some people might say the first episode is more disturbing, personally, this was the one I could not stop thinking about. In a dystropia where everyone uses exercise bikes to power the world and can only amuse themselves with bad games and reality shows, nothing feels real anymore. The attempt to find and spread genuine human emotion has terrifying results. There are two many themes in this episode to even try to explain them. This episode has such an impact that it was referred in the Christmas Special. It will ruin your day. And it is one of the best episodes of television I have ever watched in my life.

So, in conclusion, I love this show and anyone who knows what love is will understand.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Good Recent Horror Movies For Your Halloween Needs.

Oh, Halloween! How I love thee. Since I have managed to write an entry every year for the last two years with a tie-in to my favorite holiday (last year was a list of my favorite Satans and the year before that was a personal account of why Halloween is so important to me), I've decided to give you some suggestions of good horror movies to celebrate the season with that came out after the year 2000.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that making decent horror movies has become something of a dead art. The 20s and 30s saw the first film incarnations of gothic novels like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Phantom of the Opera. Hitchcock popularized (or some would say perfected) the art in the 50s and early 60s alongside films like House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting, and later in the 60s, Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary's Baby. The 1970s and 1980s are full of classic horror films like Carrie, Nightmare On Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Wicker Man, Halloween, The Exorcist, The Shining, and many more. So what do we have now?

Good horror movies are not extinct but they do seem to be harder to notice nowadays. In the current world of short attention spans and producers determined to make money over quality, it often feels like the horror films that you hear about are either remakes, endless sequels (I'm looking at you Saw franchise), or driven entirely by jump scares and a sense of schadenfreude at seeing stupid teenagers die horrible deaths.

Being someone who just enjoys watching horror even if it's not good (especially if it's not good), I have managed to come across plenty of actual decent films that can scare you while still managing to tell a real story with well-written characters.

Just as few notes:
* I intend to be strict with my year 2000 cut off so there are some good 90s films that will not make the cut. The 90s were almost 15 years ago. They are not modern.
* No remakes or sequels. I'm trying to point out good original movies.
* Horror-comedies will not be gracing this list. I love horror-comedies and highly recommend Scream, Cabin in the Woods, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, and Inhuman Resources if a film deconstructing horror movies or joking around while scaring is more your thing.
* The "Scare Factor" is a zero to ten scale based on how much I personally was freaked out by the movie. Not how often I jumped (I can be very jumpy) or how much I screamed (I don't) but just how much it really got to me in a general uneasiness, can't-quite-sleep-right kind of way. Whether or not a horror movie should be judged based on how scary it is would be a debate for another time (alongside whether you can judge a comedy by how much you laughed) but for now I'm listing quality films but including this scale just for those who want an idea of how scary a film might be (in my own radically biased opinion).

And with that, the films listed from oldest to newest:

Final Destination (2000)
I will admit that I do not have the same affection for this movie that a lot of people seem to have but I understand why people like it so much. Although it does fall under the blanket trope of dead teenager movies, the teenagers in this movie feel a lot more real and likeable than the usual sort who you are supposed to want dead for the unforgivable crime of foolish choices. The movie also has a fairly interesting villain: death itself. Death is an inescapable bad guy. The movie also ties in common fears of bad dreams being prophetic and of airplanes. The sequels vary in quality (my personal preference goes 1, 3, 2, 5, and 4, which should never have happened) and have a tendency to add new rules to the franchise but the first will always be something of a classic.
Scare Factor: 2 (Only scary in that death is the only thing I truly fear.)

The Others (2001)
This movie is full of things I love. It's a period film that takes place right after World War II in a remote country house where the lady of the house, whose husband has gone missing in the war, hires some new creepy servants to take care of the place and her children who can't go out in the sunlight. Most of the horror of the movie comes from the atmosphere and the suggestion that there is something more going on than what you are seeing and that no one seems trustworthy. That uneasy feeling persists even as more details are revealed until you reach an interesting ending. 
Scare Factor: 1 (Eerie but the kind of eerie I would like to live among.)

Pulse (2001)
There are a lot of 90s Japanese horror films like Audition and Ringu that I couldn't put on this list so I will make do with this one. What makes good Japanese horror different from good horror in other countries is that it is often tinged with an element of social commentary. This movie in particular uses horror and ghosts as a way to tell a story about how technology is driving people to be more lonely and removed from the world through two different main plots and many people's intertwining experiences. Also very atmospheric with its heavy shadows and occasional post-apocalyptic feeling, sometimes it can feel like a physical representation of depression which can be a lot scarier than a boogeyman.
Scare Factor: 4 (Too real, man.)

Suicide Club (2002)
Another Japanese horror film worth mentioning that I have seen quite a lot of times considering how disturbing I find it. A series of mass suicides start happening in Japan, especially among seemingly happy teenagers, which leads detectives to believe suicide clubs are forming. A commentary on pop music obsession and the cult of wanting to fit in or a reflection of cultural attitudes towards suicide in a country that's famous for it? Maybe both. Draw your own conclusions. Also, although this movie is peppered with some comedy, there are so many terrifying or gross things that even the comedy in hindsight becomes sad. I have never seen the prequel, Noriko's Dinner Table, but that also exists.
Scare Factor: 5 (Everything about the bowling alley is nope nope nope.)

28 Days Later (2002)
A zombie movie for you. A man wakes up from a coma to find that the island of Great Britain has been overrun with a virus that has turned people into zombies. What makes this zombie movie different from a lot of zombie movies is the fact that it starts in a world that has already been crippled by the attacks but you are following a clueless protagonist who has to learn how to survive in an undead world. The real meat of the movie comes from the introduction of the soldiers where you see a disturbingly realistic portrayal of how humans can treat each other in times of crisis.
Scare Factor: 2 (Humans are way scarier than the zombies.)

A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)
A Korean psychological horror film that plays out like a family drama. A girl returns from a mental hospital to live with her sister, father, and evil stepmother where everything seems to be a bit odd. The stepmother appears to be abusing the girl's sister but at the same time the sister seems like she might also be doing some really messed up things. The movie manages to keep the viewer consistently unnerved and curious in all elements of the film right down to the startling but beautiful set designs and an ending that twists at least twice before you finally get the full story.
Scare Factor: 1 (Pretty but harmless.)

Saw (2004)
I know I dissed the franchise earlier in this post but I only do that because I love the first movie so much and everything else made after the second film, which is okay, is an insult to the original. The film surrounds a serial killer named Jigsaw who puts people who he thinks are taking advantage of their lives in puzzle-like situations that they must escape to live, thereby, in his mind, proving that they value their lives. While one plot is following a search for Jigsaw, the main plot is about two men who are trapped in a Jigsaw-set-up room who get to know each other and try to find ways to escape. While the films now have a reputation for gore, this film was mostly a character study that's almost Hitchcockian in intention.
Scare Factor: 3 (At least partially because of the time my brother closed the door in the garage on me while shouting "game over", leaving me in the pitch black. Much angry yelling ensured.)

Funny Games (2007)
I'm kind of cheating on my own rules with this one because it is a remake but it's a shot-for-shot remake done by the same director with the same music, script, and set except that it's in English instead of German and uses different actors. This movie is the same as the 1997 movie as far as I or anyone else is concerned. The film is about a happy family getting tortured by two random guys but according to the director was meant to be a commentary on violence in the media and not a horror film. Well, Death of the Author because this is a really scary film that may leave you walking away thinking about reality versus fiction or about how you should never let strangers borrow eggs. 
Scare Factor: 7 (Don't talk to anyone ever.)

Let The Right One In (2008)
After three movies where regular, albeit messed-up, people are the antagonists, how about a cuddly vampire film? This Swedish film is definitely a horror film but it would be wrong to call it that without also noting that it's kind of a romance and definitely a coming-of-age film. It's about a boy who is bullied by his classmates making friends who a girl who is a vampire. Love ensures. Also, a lot of violent murders in the snowy woods and locker rooms.
Scare Factor: 1 (Too happy to be scary in spite of the gore.)

The Loved Ones (2009)
This Australian film is sometimes referred to as a horror comedy but I really must not be getting the joke. A great example of how horror movies benefit from well developed characters, a teen who had been dealing with depression since the death of his father is kidnapped by the father of a girl whose invitation to a high school dance he turned down. From there his girlfriend and family search for him while he is made to endure various tortures from the slightly incestuous family before the plot is turned up to eleven. Maybe there's a little humor is the casual behavior of the family as they do these ridiculous things but mostly I think the sane response is wide-eyed terror.
Scare Factor: 6 ("AM I NOT PRETTY ENOUGH?")

The House Of The Devil (2009)
There is something magical about how this movie was made only a few years ago and yet, manages to replicate the feeling of an 80s horror movie down to every last detail of the score and the font the opening credits were in. The plot surrounds a college student taking a babysitting job in order to pay her rent and is another film that plays into the "people are really messed up" theme that can often be scarier than monsters that you can believe aren't real. It's a slow-burning film that really builds to its terror and the payoff is completely worth it.
Scare Factor: 9 (I have multiple Satans in my room and yet, ritualistic sacrifice to demonic things still manages to be a trigger point for me when it's outside of an episode of Buffy or Angel.)

In Fear (2013)
I'm going to be road-tripping through Ireland in a few months and you can bet that this movie will be on my mind the whole time. A guy and a girl who know each other through mutual friends decide to go to a music festival in Ireland and the guy has booked a hotel room for the night. However, as they try to get to their hotel, they find themselves going in circles as weirder and weirder things start to happen. Interesting enough, all the reactions in the film are real and the actors didn't even know the whole script with a lot of in made up based on how they responded in different situations. It's one of those movies that makes you wonder how you would react under the same circumstances.
Scare Factor: 7 (Still checking my backseat for attractive, Irish psychopaths.)

The Conjuring (2013)
Some of the films above have ghosts but this one is the only real story of a haunting. Based on a true story, the film follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, exorcists by trade, as they true to cleanse the house of the Perron family. While many movies have been based on the Warren's work (The Amityville Horror, The Haunting In Connecticut, and most recently Annabelle), this was the first one that featured them as the primary characters with the family rounding out the cast. There are plenty of scary things going on in the house, sometimes even in broad daylight, but a lot of the film is focused on telling a story just as much as scaring.
Scare Factor: 2 (I want to believe in ghosts far more than I actually believe in ghosts.)

Sorority Row (2009)
Just kidding. This movie is kind of dumb. And yet I love it in a way that is unfortunate but true.
Scare Factor: 0 (Carrie Fischer has a shotgun though!)

Happy Haunting!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Should End

[Originally posted on 3/13/14]

Dennis decides to go into politics, thinking that it will be an easy way to gain money and power just using his looks and charisma. As his campaign gains notice, sexual assault charges come pouring in and he is convicted and sent to jail. The confinement causes him to alternately think he is either a God, insisting that the other inmates yield to him, or that he is sharing a cell and being tortured by Sinbad and Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.

Mac starts to realize that he’s gay (or bi) and has a total meltdown. He tries to hook up with his trans ex-girlfriend, thinking it will fix him, and it obviously ends poorly. Then he stumbles into the Philly gay pride parade where he ends up getting pulled onto a float. The positive reaction to his karate moves leads to his acceptance of his new lifestyle and he ends up becoming a LGBT+ activist, particularly outside of Catholic churches where he holds signs that say things like, “Homosexuality’s not a sin. Hate is!”

Charlie ends up dating the waitress after she suddenly remembers what happened at the Jersey Shore and decides to give him a chance. They get married and he subsequently becomes a millionaire after the success of Kitten Mittens which expands into also manufacturing little hats and sweaters for cats. He builds the biggest house in Philadelphia because he is still afraid to leave the city.

Sweet Dee ends up scoring a reoccurring role as an annoying side character on a sitcom and moves to LA. She only gains a small amount of fame and money before the show is cancelled after the third season. In shame, she moves back to Philly and hits rock bottom, living on the street, getting re-addicted to crack, and having Rickety Cricket’s child. Then her manager lands her a role on “Celebrity Rehab” and she puts the kid up for adoption and begs Charlie for plane fare, deciding to make a career out of being.a reality show contestant.

Frank continues to run Paddy’s Pub which becomes the most popular bar in Philadelphia now that none of the others are involved in it. Except Charlie who comes in to clean the toilets every once in a while because Frank makes him.

Reasons For Blocked Websites That I've Accidentally Encountered

Listed in order from most sensible to most ridiculous.

Parked Domain:
This was the official reason but it went on to explain that it had a higher potential for viruses and such that could harm the computer so it seemed perfectly reasonable and necessary.

Explicit Content:
Thanks for warning me that something was not safe for work. Funny thing is though, the computer cannot recognize things that have NSFW in the title which would probably be something worth looking into.

I definitely get it but I'm pretty sure I got this message when the nudity was of an artistic nature and completely asexual. I guess either way it should be blocked in a work context.

We were girls looking at swimsuits. I wonder if men's underwear and swimsuits gives you the same message? Strangely enough, this is the easiest block to get around as people have proven to me.

Social Networking:
You're at work, you shouldn't be socializing. However, it's a bit odd that LinkedIn is taboo but any specific Tumblr page isn't.

Just as distracting as Social Networking. Really the big problem with this one is that it doesn't let you read gaming news either so stuff like thoughtful essays on the misogyny and racism involved in Gamergate is also off limits.

Yes, you're at work and this is a personal matter but there could be a legitimate reason for needing access to a personal e-mail at work.

Gay/Bisexual Interest:
Since when is something homosexual inherently sexual or wrong? I was just trying to read an article on hate crimes.

Non-traditional Religions:
Computer, I thought you were being homophobic with that last one but now I'm positive you don't like people different from yourself. The best thing about this one is that it came up when I was trying to look at a Celtic clothing website. Aside from being discriminatory, the site only had a witches datebook and a pentacle necklace alongside over twenty cross necklaces. Also, Wicca comes from paganism which is older than Christianity so your argument is invalid.

Apparently taste isn't subjective and Cracked.com is unacceptable.

I will update this if I encounter any new ones.

Friday, September 19, 2014

On Hate Watching, Television Writing, and My Dwindling Love Of "Downton Abbey"

With season eight of "Doctor Who" already a few episodes deep and interviews and images featuring season five of "Downton Abbey" popping up all over my Tumblr dashboard, I've been thinking a lot about what happens when a show you used to love becomes the thing you hate watch.

Now I'm a very picky television watcher for many reasons: I don't like watching things on a television because I don't know how to work the cable in my house and prefer to be on my laptop, I can't adhere to television schedules and I don't know how to DVR, and I will often watch multiple episodes in a sitting like the millenial that I am.

Hence, I have made a rule for deciding to watch a show: Only bother with a show if you have heard from at least three trustworthy sources (friends and family with similar taste as you, reviews) that it's good and it has made it through at least three seasons without the quality decreasing.

The note about the quality remaining consistent is crucial. Shows that are canceled after only one or two seasons are either shows that are simply too good for television ("Firefly", "Pushing Daisies") or are not worth it but either way you usually won't know about them until after they're already off the air. Then you can just let history decide for you as you continue to hear about the good shows and the bad ones disappear to the television graveyard. On the contrary and in regards to shows the rule was created for, there are plenty of shows that go on for years and years with their quality gradually decreasing while their viewership remains consistent because of loyal watchers who are hoping for the quality to return, some sort of payoff, or are so attached to the characters they don't want to stop. I can't tell you how many people insisted that I watch "Lost" or "Heroes" while it was in its first season only to recant their statements over the preceding years. It was probably because of seeing how irate people got about these shows that I invented the rule.

Sometimes I even go so far as to wait until a show is almost over to start watching. With "Breaking Bad" I watched the whole show during the break between the two halves of the final season and watched the last six episodes with the rest of the world. But often if a show really seems good enough and people are really into it, I won't be able to wait the 5-7 seasons for it to be over and will start sometime around season 3 or 4 which worked out great for "Mad Men", "Dexter", and "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" which I feel remain fairly consistent in quality throughout (ignoring "Dexter"'s silly finale).

But on some rare occasions, the rule doesn't work and longevity can be the death of a good show so keep that in mind if you think a show will be longer than 7 seasons. I used the rule for "How I Met Your Mother" and by season 6 my interest had started to wan and by 8 I was completely sick of the show and stopped watching for a while, only managing to get through to season 9 on the desire to finish the show in its entirety. I actually liked season 9 a lot, more than a lot of the previous seasons, and got to be outraged with the rest of the world at the terrible ending so I guess it was ultimately worth it but there was some real pain there.

So even with the rule I've done some hate watching and I wanted to talk about three different shows that have lead me to this and what can be learned from them: "Glee", "Doctor Who", and "Downton Abbey."

Before I get into the examples, I think there are really three factors that go into how long I can feasibly hate watch something before I give it up entirely:
1.) How much did I like the show at its peak?
2.) Was the decrease in quality gradual or abrupt?
3.) In what ways did it get worse?

These are all pretty obvious but I think I may be different from other people in that I am more forgiving of an abrupt quality decrease than a gradual one. A gradual one is often more likely to be permanent and I usually won't notice that it has become the new normal until long after I wanted to quit watching from bad episodes. When I finally do, I'm angry with all the time I've wasted. On the contrary, an abrupt change is usually the result of a new story line or something happening in the show that changes it immediately and it takes a while for the writers to realize what works and doesn't work within this change. With skill, the problems can be fixed. I just like my pain acute, not chronic.

So "Glee." Perhaps it's unfair to talk about "Glee" because I didn't use the rule with it but making this mistake reminded me why I follow this rule in the first place. I watched my first episode of "Glee" on a random day in college because it was on after something else I had been watching. The show already had a ton of hype and it was only the fifth episode. The jokes were dark and peppered with musical references, the songs were fun and varied, and I enjoyed it enough to make a point to go back and watch the previous episodes.

As I continued watching however, I started to see big problems with the writing. Continuity was nonexistent and the show had no idea what type of show it wanted to be: black comedy, drama, or just something quirky. Each episode had a different writer and each of them had a different goal. Every episode seemed to wash away the previous one and the target demographic shifted from a more universal appeal to teenagers with cliche hot topic episodes and nothing but Top 40 songs. By the time season three came around with a few solid episodes followed by some mediocre ones, I decided I was done. I didn't even stop watching after a bad episode; just an average one. It just occurred to me that even the good episodes were a chore to watch. The show was never quite a favorite of mine so it didn't feel like a great loss but I ended my relationship with the show on a bitter note. Only years later did one of my friends who still watches the show tell me that it's easier to watch the show once you view it as epic theater that isn't supposed to be reality. While I love the theory, even viewing the show through that lens I'm sure I still would have stopped watching.

"Doctor Who" is a show that is more analogous to my experience with "How I Met Your Mother" but still a unique situation to most shows out there. I started watching "Doctor Who" after season 4 of the new series and really liked it. I wouldn't say that I got as into it as some people but it was still definitely important to me and I felt much more strongly about it than "Glee." Like everyone else, I was anxious to see what would come from another change in doctors and a change in management.

The thing with "Doctor Who" that makes it different from other shows is that it isn't even really a show anymore so much as it is an entity. It has permeated so much of culture around the world that it has essentially transcended the television show itself. The same could be said of things like "Star Wars", "Harry Potter", and "Pokemon." "Pokemon" is the only one of these though that is a television show and while I haven't watched it since I was about 10, I can imagine that over the years the handling of the show has changed a lot for better or for worse. This is what happens with "Doctor Who." 

I actually quite liked season 5, the first season with Matt Smith as the Doctor and Steven Moffat as the showrunner but my interest waned from there. Moffat was a very competent writer for the show in the earlier seasons and I fully understand why he was expected to be a good showrunner but it's almost as if the title made him determined to go bigger and beyond in a while that would be the show's detriment. His season length plots are nonsensical and full of holes and he does not care for consistency or canon in the slightest. This made watching the show at times exhausting. Then they ended up getting rid of Amy and Rory, who were rather interesting companions who we have followed for 2 and a half seasons, and replaced them with Clara, who has yet to prove herself to be at all engaging.

Now in season 8 we have another Doctor, Peter Capaldi, but Steven Moffat is still in charge. I watched the first episode of the season with little care for anything but Capaldi's interpretation of the character. Will I keep watching? I'll try for sure but unless they give Moffat the boot and find a new companion, it seems unlikely that I will see watching as anything other than a chore I'm performing in honor of a show that was once fun. Because of the flexible nature of the show, it always has the potential to bounce back but for now, here we are.

And then there's "Downton Abbey." I actually just let out a heavy sigh. This was one of my favorites and would still rank in my top ten favorite shows of all time if you only count the first three seasons. So what happened? 

It would be really easy to blame the entire thing on Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley, deciding to leave the show but it's actually not as simplistic as that. Matthew Crawley was definitely one of the most important characters in the show and most vital to the original premise but I maintain that while the episode of his death did effectively kill the show, it was not exactly because of him.

Julian Fellowes, the showrunner, is a good writer but over the course of "Downton Abbey" it has been proven that he is not a good "television writer." Writing for television requires a different set of skills than writing a movie (as he has done many times to great success). When you write a movie there is a planned beginning and end, very little about the plot is changeable once the end goal has been met, and while actors do occasionally drop out or there are problems with production companies, a lot of things can be guaranteed throughout the making of the film. This is not at all true with television. Not planning a show many years in advance almost always ends up leading to a decline in writing usually from characters acting inconsistent and changing in odd ways or from plots becoming forced. Also, actors can and do leave (sometimes with plenty of warning sometimes with little warning) and whether or not the show can continue is heavily based on ratings and who you're working for. These are conditions that Julian Fellowes is clearly not apt to handle.

As a means of comparison, look at a television writer like Joss Whedon. He has had actors leave, get fired, get pregnant (this was the one time he failed hugely), take vacations, suffer peculiar medical problems, and die when he had other plans for them. He's also had his shows cancelled, his shows threatened to be cancelled and then not, his shows cancelled and then revived on a different network, and his shows cancelled and then continued on later in a movie or a comic book. While I wouldn't say he handled every situation perfectly, he handed so many of them so much better than other writers that he should be studied by every potential television writer for this quality. 

Fellowes does not have this quality and it's actually evident before season three, a season when three of the actors decided to leave. His original premise centers on the Crawley family's title and fortune going to a distant middle class relative they don't know. The premise then becomes more about how the world changes after the Great War. The pacing between these two ideas however is atrocious. Season 1 starts with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and ends with the start of World War I. When season 2 opens, time has sped up to 1916 and the season ends at 1919. This means that by the end of season 2, the idea that the world is changing is already in place and yet at the start of season 5, set in 1924, there are still characters who believe it's 10 years ago. The whole war is breezed through when it could have been drawn out through two full seasons and now, he's clearly trying to slow time as the show moves brusquely past his theme, making it obsolete. It's all written rather like someone who thinks their show is going to be cancelled and they are afraid they won't get to write everything they wanted to write. The end result is three great seasons that purposefully represent the pre-war era, the war era, and the post-war era and now mediocre fumbling ones that need a direction.

The other factor is that he didn't know how to handle the show's characters after season 3. I honestly thought I would stop watching after Sybil died in season 3, episode 5 but the fact was, even with my favorite female character gone, the writing was still good and I was still interested. The end came with the season 3 Christmas special, the last episode of the season. It was honestly one of the worst episodes of something I've ever sat through. What didn't make me bored made me angry and Matthew's emotionless death at the end was the cherry on top of that crap sundae. Without Matthew, Fellowes didn't seem to know what to do with Mary. Without Sybil, Fellowes quickly forgot about what was great about Tom. Without O'Brien, Fellowes didn't know how to make Thomas a solo act. Add in unnecessary Anna/Bates drama, a downstairs love square no one cares about, and making Edith more awesome only to continue to make her life hell and you've got season 4 in summation. 

Is the show unable to be saved? No, but it doesn't seem like Fellowes knows how to save it or even that it's in trouble in the first place or even what makes it great. A better writer could easily save this show by simply giving the people what they want. As for me, I'll keep watching mostly for Tom, Anna, and Edith and the hope that they all end up okay because I now am one of those people still watching because I want pay off and care about the characters. Really the most comforting thing is that Fellowes really doesn't seem to want the show to last more than 5 seasons so perhaps he is more self aware than I give him credit for. 

I think I'd be most happy with a Tom Branson spin off where he and his daughter move to America and he gets involved in politics again. Maybe it could talk about all the discrimination Irish immigrants had to face and what those communities were like. "Branson in Boston." Think about it, Fellowes.

And so I hate watch on as so many of us do and I try to tread more carefully next time. I only waited until season 2 of "Orange Is The New Black" so my fingers are crossed for the next few years.