Monday, October 31, 2011

Scary Scenes

Oh Halloween.  You used to be my favorite holiday.  Every year my friends and I would have shindigs (we were to anti-establishment to call them parties.  Or too uncool) to commemorate your awesomeness.  There were costumes (I've been a strawberry, I've been the night sky.  Kids, I've done it all).  There was candy.  There were movie marathons.  It was the best day of the year.  Bar none.

But this year, to be honest, I haven't been in the holiday spirit.  It could be the lack of children in my life, or the absence of a kick ass party to go to, or the fact that veganism and dieting don't bode well for my candy love.  But I haven't even been able to get into it pop culturally.  Because the sad fact is, I'm having a bit of trouble getting scared.

I'm not sure if it's that all horror films are just repeating themselves or the fact that I'm too aware of the fact that it's all Hollywood smoke and mirrors.  Perhaps it's just that my real life fears are so paralyzing I find it hard to get psyched up over a good slasher film.  Seriously...I won't bat an eye watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but stick me in a Ferris wheel and I'll start shaking. 

Luckily, there is one specific movie clip that scares the living daylights out of me.  It isn't from a horror film and you will probably think I'm nuts for suggesting it.  But go ahead.  Watch it.  Try not to have nightmares.  This shit is disturbing.

Happy Halloween!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Iris In

Last night my friends in New York found themselves at a surprise Green Day Halloween spectacular.  I'm less cool and live on the opposite side of the country, so I has to get my yayas out by seeing LA's newest import, Cirque Du Soleil's Iris.  Visually, this thing was insane.  My eyes were on overdrive.  I literally gasped several times.  And then there were these guys:

I mean, COME ON!

I was totally into it.  And then my mother, while on our catch-up phone call, asked me this crazy question.  She asked if it was good.

And I really didn't know.

Is what these people do amazing?  No question.  But is it anything more than a circus act?  The attempt at a story, at characters and a distinct world, imply that it wants to be.  There is a protagonist, the Chaplin-esque Buster, who longs for the beautiful Scarlett. She likes him too, it seems, but is controlled by an inaudible French man who wants to make her a star.  There are other zany characters, like a man who uses his hair as a whip and a woman with a zoetrope skirt but I'm not sure the function they serve.  There is also a screenwriter who decides he needs to dress in drag to become a star.  That gets a lot of laughs, but it makes absolutely no sense.  Unless you are in a Robin Williams' movie.

In the middle of all this, people who appear to have no spines or are super human stack themselves on top of each other or fly through the air.  And sure, it is AWESOME but I have no idea what it has to do with anything.  I also have no idea how, other than costumes and the set, it sets itself apart from any other Cirque Du Soleil show.  So is it good?  No, I really don't think it is.  But does it matter?  No, I really don't think it does.

Like super peppy pop music or teen stoner movies, some areas of pop culture don't have to be amazing to draw and audience and serve their purpose.  They just are what they are and they embrace that.  Which, I kind of respect.  So while I don't think Iris was great theater, I would not hesitate to recommend it to someone.  It's fun.  You'll watch, you won't think and you'll like it.  Because in the end, they can still do this:

And you can't.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Foster The People And A Disclaimer

Honesty time.  I don't have good taste in music.  By this I don't mean that I have bad taste in music, just that it isn't as good as it is in other areas of pop culture.  I can talk to death about the value of a television show, or the beauty of a film or the meaning of a play.  But music is a lot more simple.  I simply like what I like, don't what I don't, and can't really explain why.  I tend to prefer songs that make me feel something, although what that something is can completely vary.  I don't know.  We all have our imperfections.  This is mine.

So when I post about music, there is probably a good chance that you may think I'm crazy.  And maybe I am.  But it is my popinion, so I'm running with it.  It's why I'm using tunes to kick off the new "Greater than" feature of this blog.   Simply put, I'm letting you know that I think one thing is better than another.  And I couldn't think of a better way to kick it off than with the now super overplayed band Foster The People.

Helena Beat > Pumped Up Kicks

Helena Beat


Pumped Up Kicks


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hey Mama, Welcome to the 60s

I love my mother.  I really do.  But her taste in television is, well, sometimes really great and sometimes...not so much.  If a show involves the supernatural or takes place in the sixties, the details don't matter.  She is so there. I'm waiting for the day they develop a show about zombies working on the Kennedy campaign.  She'll flip.

Her blind love of the swinging decade led us to get into a bit of a tiff this morning as she declared her devotion to Pan Am.  Ok.  Different strokes, I guess.  But then she started comparing it to the far superior American Dreams and I almost lost it.  They are so NOT THE SAME THING.  It's like comparing Private Benjamin to Saving Private Ryan because the both involve privates.  Of the military variety.  Apples, meet oranges.

The truth is, there have been quite a few sixties shows in the past few years, ranging in quality.  Some should never be seen again and some should be rewatched often (If only all the damn DVDs will come out!).  Here are my popinions on the best and worst of these pastiche shows:


The Playboy Club
Okay, so I never watched this one.  But it only had three episodes, had an unclear premise (Murder Mystery in Hefner-ville = disaster) and even though the awseomesauce Laura Benanti was in it, so was the douchetastic Eddie Cibrian.  I'm not sure why NBC ever picked this one up but they did the right thing by putting the nail in the coffin early.


Pan Am

Pan Am is to television today what television was to the people in the actual sixties: simple, fun and pretty mindless.  It's a fine show to help you waste away a Sunday evening or to have on in the background while you're preparing dinner.  There are distinct characters, but only a few are actually interesting and none are all that complex.  They too are struggling for an identity outside of being a sixties show, so in addition to the whole airline thing there is this strange spy storyline that just doesn't work.  We are a post-Alias generation, people.  Flight attendant espionage just doesn't do it for us.

That being said, if you want some sixties on your tube (like my mother) then this is the only actual option airing at the moment.  So it does have that going for it.  Still, I wouldn't hold my breath for a long shelf life so it may not have the chance to get better even if it could.  Tune in to watch Wednesday Addams be spunky but for sixties viewing, there are far better options.


State Of Grace
State of Grace was an adorable Wonder Years-esque show on the pre ABC owned Fox-Family about two very different girls who became best friends in the 1960s.  It starred Alia Shawkat and Mae Whitman pre-Arrested Development as the pals, who were super cute and yet occasionally heartbreaking.  The sixties is often a setting for coming of age tales, not only because it is when a lot of writers actually came of age, but also because it was the decade when innocent facade started to fade and people started to get real.  This show also captured religious and economic differences in the decade without beating you over the head with it.  It was meaningful, but mostly it was cute.  And as an added bonus The Lovin Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic" was the theme song, which was kind of awesomely perfect  Unfortunately, State Of Grace only ran for two seasons and is not yet on DVD.  But once it is, you sixties lovers should snatch it up and enjoy the ride.

Mad Men

The most popular of the sixties shows, Mad Men is the thing that made it cool to put period pieces back on television. It has all all star cast lead by the amazing John Hamm and shows the sixties and it sleekest and sexiest.  Mad Men has been great about showcasing the most difficult part of the decade; that it in fact was all about appearances.  The characters are often forced to keep their feelings hidden beneath, which provides a good challenge to both the writers and the actors to help us learn about these people without them telling us a great deal about them.  In addition, while it may be a retro show, it uses the very modern trend of the anti-hero, giving it quite a different feel from other sixties based shows.  Sometimes, it is hard to like these characters.  I'm not even sure that I do most of the time.  But we are interested in them, and that keeps us coming back for more.

It should be said that Man Men started out incredibly heavy handed and had a pretty flawed season four.  The show has been far from perfect.  It also may not help provide any warm and funny feelings of nostalgia, since it often portrays the icky parts of the era.  And then there is that awful ongoing debate between Mary and I about January Jones' acting abilities (I tend to be in the camp that she can, although recent reports about her may make me rethink my stance).  But when it is good, it is really good.  And next season?  I am so there.


American Dreams
American Dreams was a great show.  It just was.  It also happened to be set in the sixties.  Sure, it was a big part of the series.  Eldest daughter Meg danced on American Bandstand.  Son J.J. fought in the Vietnam war.  Season one ended with the Philadelphia riots.  But that was just what happened in the show, it wasn't what it was about.  American Dreams dealt with the best and worst of a family, and you didn't just get taken back to the time of the Pryor Clan, you became a part of their brood.  It's the superior sixties show because it is the superior SHOW show.  I still miss the American Bandstand recreations, the talk family dinners, the amazing montages.  It was moving and fun and important and it was gone far too soon.

If you're looking to dive back into the sixties, don't listen to my mother.  Ditch the network fluff in favor of the Season one American Dreams DVDs (and pray that the following seasons will some day be released).  Or even catch up on a little Mad Men.  All sixties shows are not created equal and the good ones are of a high enough quality to represent the entire decade.  At least until that zombie staffer show gets made.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Great Scene: The Vampire Diaries

My pop culture loving buddy Mary and I do this thing where we point out a great scene as soon as we're done watching it.  I'm not sure when it started, but I kind of love that it's something we do.  And now, my little pop-ettes, it is something that I'm sharing with you too.  Consider "Great Scenes" a regular feature of this blog.  There.  It's done.

Today the awesome Angst Report talked (and provided hot screencaps for) a scene from last week's The Vampire Diaries in which Damon taught Elena how to stake a vampire.  And yes.  It was good.  In fact, TVD (I choose never to call it VD for obvious reasons) seems to have mastered the art of the scene, providing at least one amazing moment that is sexy, poignant, tense or heartbreaking per episode.  But there is one scene from season two that is all of these things and I love it dearly.  Here we have bad boy with a heart of gold (my favorite TV trope) Damon capturing his prey by the side of the road and revealing to her his great secret.  His internal battle about killing her, coupled with his confession makes it a brilliant little moment that exposes the brilliance of his character.  Also, we get lots of Ian Somerhalder eyes.  So, that's good too.


Great.  Scene.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Best Show You're Not Watching: Gossip Girl

Wait! Don't go anywhere!  Now I know that if you are a tv snob (like me) the mention of Gossip Girl being even a teensiest bit awesome probably has you making up your mind about me and this blog really fast.  But before you click away to re-read Game Of Thrones recaplets on Television Without Pity or to discover which BBC shows are now streaming on Netflix, hold still a sec.  Yes, it used to be a petty teen show.  Yes, the characters kind of sucked balls.  But it's kind of good now, you guys.  Kind of really good.

Now, full disclaimer.  Gossip Girl didn't suddenly become Breaking Bad or Dexter.  Hell, it isn't even anywhere close to The Vampire Diaries. It's not dangerous or risky nor will it ever leave you biting your fingernails out of fear that your favorite character is about to bite the big one.  No.  It will never do that.  But what it does do...interpersonal relationships, great fashion (its soooo pretty) and character conflict, well it does all of that really well.  And how did all of this awesomeness start?  When the writers decided to stop the train of guest star bedfellows and take a little Dair. (See what I did there?)

For those of you not up to speed on the shipper lingo (and for the record, I hate being a shipper or anything that links me to any kind of fandom, because lets be real - fans are crazy), Dair is Gossip Girl's little golden egg of a non-couple.  Most CW prime time soaps pride themselves on their instant sexy love triangles or steamy forbidden relationships.  When we do manage to get friendships, it's a gaggle of giggle girls or the somewhat preferable bro-mance.  But a guy and a girl actually taking the time to know each other in a non-carnal capacity?  That NEVER happens.  Which is what makes Dan and Blair kind of awesome.

To recap- Blair is the uptight (but fabulously dressed) rich bitch.  Dan is the scholarship-ed wanabe-writer hipster from Brooklyn. And for three seasons, they hated each other.  Rarely spoke, except to cut the other down to size.  Unfortunately for Dan and Blair, they kind of have a lot in common.  And after they found themselves sitting next to each other at yet another art house film, it became clear that they had become secret friends.  And it was adorable.  Eventually, as much as he hated it, Dan realized that he was kind of in love with Blair.  Which is complicated, because she in engaged and impregnated by one fellow and in love with another.  Dan is a just another complication she doesn't need.  Which is kind of great, because we want them together and Gossip Girl is going to make it a slow build to get there.  It will give us instant gratification in other ways.  For these two?  They are going to make us suffer.  And we are going to like it.

After falling for Dan and Blair, I became convinced that I could watch a crappy show for a cute couple and then what did the show do?  It made the rest of it good too! (Those bastards).   First, by having Dan accidentally (don't we all wish) publish a book based on his Upper East Side friends, which has all of them furious at him.  Now that he has everything that he has ever wanted, he has never been more alone.  It will be tons of fun to watch him claw his way back to the relationships with the other characters on the canvas.  Also alone is Chuck, who after reading Dan's book finally had a woobie moment and realized just how lonely he is.  This character can be kind of annoying and even an evil douche, but the show is finally taking him in more of a Logan Echolls-y direction, of which I completely approve.  Also he has an adorable dog now.  Named Monkey.  COME ON!

In fact, Gossip Girl has finally learned the direction all of it's characters should take.  Nate is the hot maybe stoner (GG likes to allude to nefarious acts rather than spell it out, which is more fun) who has actually become the vehicle for humor on the show.  Serena wears wacky ensembles and teeters of in a C story, which is totally where she belongs.  And the parents are actually having relationships with their children, which is...refreshing.  For the first time they are all interesting to watch.  For the first time the show is good.

So get off your high horse, will ya?  Give Gossip Girl a chance.  Come for the fashion, stay for the Dair, enjoy the actual story.  You may find that you just might like it.