Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ugly crying

So you know how people talk about the first ten minutes of Up like that's the most gut-wrenchingly painful thing they've ever watched? I will totally admit that I teared up over Carl and Ellie but it was stoic weeping at best. The first ten minutes of John Wick, though, that made me cry like a sixteen-year-old who just got dumped. Ugh, it was awful and I kept tearing up through the rest of the film.

I will ugly-cry about fictional dogs over fictional people 100% of the time. Dogs are the best. Being friends with dogs is probably the best idea that humans ever had and that's coming from somebody who wishes the space program could be my girlfriend. Dogs. Fucking seriously. I mean, yeah, the dead wife thing is sad too but ugh, don't hurt dogs. Unless you're hurting a fictional dog in order to make an audience okay with the fact that your protagonist is going to murder the population of a South Dakota town. Then we'll see it as a pretty good justification and still find Murder McAwesomeHair a totally acceptable audience proxy.

Having super kick-ass action sequences also helps.

And Willem Dafoe.

And, like, everything?

I enjoyed the shit out of this movie, folks, ugly crying and ultra violence or no. I like action movies, I like Keanu Reeves, I like stories about secret assassination cartels, I like car chases. John Wick wasn't a fantastic, world-shaking, paradigm-shifting piece of high art, by any means, but it was really entertaining and more well-done than it needed to be which was just a nice cherry on top of a solid concept.

I am looking forward to the sequel. So long as nobody hurts the dog.

     - Alli

Second season blues

So I love the movie Fargo (Marge Gunderson 4eva, if you disagree get out) and I was really extra super impressed with the unexpectedly wonderful first season of Fargo on FX. Season two was okay. Just okay.

I think part of what I like most about Fargo as a film and in the first season are the representation and subversion of expectations - when's the last time you saw a heavily pregnant woman pull a gun on a suspect in a major film? When's the last time you saw a Deaf hitman portrayed as simultaneously intelligent and imposing in a way that had nothing to do with his Deafness in any form of media? And that was also in a show that starred a fat woman as the main character (and supreme badass). And both the original film and first season were written brilliantly; the pacing created a perfect surreality and underscored some bitingly minimalist humor.

Season two was okay. The inclusion of two non-white lead characters was a pleasant surprise that brought up some fascinating conflicts (though the fact that both characters were extremely violent gangsters is troubling). Marital strain was a theme, as were toxic masculinity and police corruption. But there was too much pointlessly bizarre crap clogging up the background. The whole side story with Regan was overdeveloped and did nothing to further the humor, mood, or plot. And then there was the other thing. The really stupid thing. (Spoilers - next sentence) Why the fuck did they feel the need to add aliens who never did anything to this season? (End Spoilers)

So. Anyway. I will say that every single actor in the whole season did a top-notch job. Everyone was just perfect. There were some moments of tremendous humor, and a few instances of human tenderness that were touching.

So it was okay. But not as great as I wished it could be.

     - Alli

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Flawed show produces terrible film, no one is surprised

On a quiet Saturday, if no one is around to claim the TV for either sportsball or the news, I will helplessly watch Law & Order (SVU, Criminal Intent, or original recipe, I don't care) for as long as TBS, WE, IFC, or anyone else is playing it. It's an awful habit that I can't really explain - I never watched Law & Order before about two years ago, it's a shitty procedural that's frequently based on complete fantasy, and when it's not totally over-the-top fantastic it's totally over-the-top moralistic and I can't help it seriously I've watched for seven hours at a time before. So a few Saturdays ago I was scrolling around seeing if I could catch Stabler and Benson chasing down a bad guy when lo and behold I stumbled upon the worst thing to ever come out of Wolf Films.

Did you know they made a Law & Order movie? IT'S THE WORST. Exiled follows the story of Detective Lenny's Partner in the Early Nineties after he's been banished from the 27th Precinct for punching a City Council Member. Detective Handsome has been banished to Staten Island to chase cats out of trees while Lenny & Co get to solve real crimes. But then a dead prostitute washes up on Detective Jawline's side of the harbor - he has to convince his new chief to let him work the case when they could just hand it back to the NYPD; Det. Pecs gets in a fight with his partner and is assigned to work the case with another detective no one wants to work with because - plot twist - she's a woman! With a vagina and a kid and everything! So Det.s Toxic Masculinity and Boob Haver go to the ME's office and identify the dead prostitute and DUN DUN DUN it turns out she was also a stripper whose twin sister is a ballerina and she was pregnant when she was killed! The ballerina twin sister gets flirty with Det. Eyebrows and lets them know her sister had a pimp named Something Kinda Racist (played by Ice-T before his stint as Finn) - the pimp tells the detectives that the murdered girl was dancing at a club so they go investigate and Det. Slow Down Turbo gets aggressive with the club owner, who happens to know Det. Single Mom from their time in elementary school. Well, it turns out that the 27th has been running surveillance on the club because it's run by the mob.

You get it. This movie was every single crime procedural trope rolled up in one. It wasn't just an extra-long episode of Law & Order, it was the ULTIMATE Law & Order, the Law & Order to end all Law & Orders. And a show that is entertaining enough to watch in a big block is not attractive when viewed in its most concentrated form. This movie was a mess, the actors who are totally competent for an hour-a-week network show don't perform as well in a vehicle with higher production value, and what would make a decent two-episode-arc falls apart as an hour and a half of film.


Nobody's shocked.

     - Alli

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Not a fan of Puritans

I mean, it's pretty obvious. Hawthorne doesn't like hypocrites. He's pretty clear on that point. And it's sort of hard to miss when he's hammering you over the head with it on every single page of the story that basically everyone in the US had to read in high school.

Upon reflection, I was an idiot. I'm fairly certain that I'm going to come to that conclusion about past versions of myself every five years or so, but high school Alli was pretty slow on the uptake. It took me forever - like, at least fifty pages - to "get" that Dimmesdale was the father. Reading the book now it's like "oh, obviously - this is a criticism of puritanical hypocrisy right from the first page, of course he's the father." But I guess I was seventeen the first time around and I suppose I can forgive myself.

And really forgiveness is the key here, isn't it? The townsfolk couldn't forgive Hester and suffered for it, Dimmesdale couldn't forgive himself and suffered for it, Hester COULD forgive herself AND Dimmesdale but he had to take it away from her because the puritans were awful. So right in one, Mr. Hawthorne. We get it. Puritans: they sucked.

Which was just a little tiresome to read? I mean that's mostly what I got out of this go-round. I admired Hawthorne's admiration for Hester's character but it was just sort of exhausting by the end of the novel.

Anyway, it did allow me to finally identify the kind of writing I most like from Hawthorne: any time he's snarkily talking about witchcraft. It's the only pleasant part of The House of Seven Gables, the whole reason that "Young Goodman Brown" is a fantastic story, and the most diverting (and cuttingly funny) part of The Scarlet Letter. Yes, yes, yes, the novel is a masterwork by a Giant of American Literature but fuck, okay, I picked up on the Pearl of Great Price symbolism, it got boring, and now I wanna hear about the disappointments and cacklings of Mistress Hibbins.

     - Alli

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Barnes and Noble Classics. New York: New York.
     2003. (1850).

Dafuq did I just read?

I like magic realism. I like the fantasy and horror of our imaginations to seep into realistic fiction and make the world topsy-turvy. I like ambiguous books. That said, I don't know what the ass is going on in Crossing the Hudson.

Funnily enough I also like books with no likable characters and this book also falls into that category - Gustav and his parents are repugnant, obsessed, and bizarre; they have moments where you can connect to them as a reader (Gustav's frustration with Rosa is something that I can be particularly sympathetic to) but for a book that's ostensibly about examining relationships it remains incredibly difficult to form a relationship with these characters.

For the majority of the book everyone's a little monster and nothing makes much sense - which I suppose is true of the real world as well. That makes it upsetting that as the book reaches its climax puzzle pieces begin to fit together and the world is given a familiar (false) narrative path to follow.

Maybe it's all escapism, maybe it's the story of a man who hates himself and wants to narrate his way out of a life story he doesn't want to believe in, maybe it's offering an outlet of hope to people who feel trapped by their realities, maybe it's examining the world as a delusion. I can't fucking tell.

I didn't hate this book, it wasn't bad, and it was a lot of fun to read. But in places the characters were too repulsive, at the end the delusion was too convenient, and I was left feeling like the story was forced or false - like an intricate, beautiful door that opens to reveal crude scribbles on a brick wall. The book was reaching for a conclusion that it just couldn't articulate and, while it was a beautiful journey to get to the end of that journey, you finish and feel like you're more lost than you were when you started reading.

     - Alli

Jungk, Peter Stephan. Crossing the Hudson. Handsel Books. New York: New York. 2008. (2005).

Friday, January 8, 2016

Cheeses for us meeces

Is there anything, at all, wrong with the Muppets? I'm sure there's something but at the moment it's just not coming to mind.

My sister makes her own special Advent calendar every year; she uses a big poster-board, decorates it with a Christmas tree covered in ornaments, and underneath each ornament is the poster for a Christmas move (Die Hard is always the first of the 25 movies). This year A Muppet Christmas Carol ended up on her board and we sat down to watch it as a family during the night when I normally go to my parents' house to watch TV shows about violent criminals.

A Muppet Christmas Carol is a charming interpretation of Dickens' novella. The Great Gonzo is very funny as Dickens and the story as a whole stays very true to the spirit of the original. It's a story of redemption and hope and kindness in a cold dark world so it's kind of hard to completely fuck up.

I could dig into all the horrifying implications of the Muppet universe here (if even fruit and vegetables can sing can you really eat anything in this universe without becoming a murderer of sentient creatures) but it's a lot more comforting just to revel in the hilarity of the Muppets messing with Victorian England and appreciate the wonderful songwriters who work with the Jim Henson Company. I tend to not be a fan of musicals but I'll always make an exception for a Muppet feature because they're always so mind-bogglingly good. The songs manage to switch between humor and pathos from verse to verse without breaking a sweat, there are always fantastic little setpieces going on in the background of the main musical number (the backstory of the mouses without houses and meeces without cheeses referenced in my title here is a great example) and everyone involved can always FUCKING SING in a way that's really impressive when you remember that the vocalists involved are pretending to be foam pigs, rats, and Gonzos.

Anyway, A Muppet Christmas Carol is a lovely holiday film that's actually relatively agnostic for having "Christ" right there in the title and a bevy of spirits moving through the story. It's a frank discussion of the importance of caring for the people around you and working to better the world and that's as good a message as is ever offered up in Christmas movies, so I'll take it.

     - Alli