We’re Like Three Peas In A Pod

I admit I watch How I Met Your Mother despite the ridiculous overacting and nauseating cheesiness.  I’m not sure why I watch it, actually.  Just because there’s shit else on TV on Monday nights, I guess.  (Though I am getting into The Sing-Off.)  And every week I wonder how the show gets such great ratings when it’s so damn campy.  Do more people really watch it (and Two And A Half Men and Home Improve-oops, I mean that crappy new Tim Allen show) than Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock?

Then I watched a couple reruns of Friends on TBS (thank goodness for syndicated television), episodes I loved at the time they first aired, and noticed something I hadn’t observed the first time around: Friends was suuuuuuper cheesy.  And silly and predictable and all those other nasty adjectives I use to describe shows like HIMYM.  So it occurred to me that it must be inevitable.  The things we think are funny and clever become, some years later, cheestastic.  Comedy is topical and fluid and changes with each generation, with politics, current events, ever-evolving social norms, and so on and so on.

The thing is, though, that as I watch shows like HIMYM or Two And A Half Men, now while they’re currently airing, I already think they’re more cheesy than funny, too absurd to laugh at, one cheap setup-and-payoff after another, far from anything clever or genuinely smart.  On the other hand, I’m falling more and more in love with Happy Endings, a show that’s also cheesy and predictable.  So what’s the difference?

The difference, I believe, is chemistry.  Whether the characters are in and of themselves likable AND if the group of actors who play them have charismatic on-screen banter.  This is where the magic lies.  Are they believable as friends/lovers/family, whatever the case may be?  Are they fun/interesting/compatible with each other?  Or do you think that if they were real people, they would despise the very sight of one another?  Honestly, I think that in the real world, Lily & Marshall would find other married couples interested in starting a family to hang out with, rather than two whiny singletons and a sleazy womanizer.  And none of them would like Ted.  He is decidedly unlikable.  Obnoxious, if you will.  And no one could possibly truly like the characters of Two And A Half Men.  They don’t even like each other, which provided some mild entertainment for the first season or two but has long since become played-out.  (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen any of the current Ashton Kutcher-ful season.)

Shows like Will & Grace, Scrubs and That ’70s Show (and now, Happy Endings and Parks & Recreation) were also silly and over-acted but the characters simultaneously cracked you up and made you wish you were part of their crowd.  I can’t honestly say I’d like to be among the Dunder Mifflin employees of The Office or the lunacy of 30 Rock, but the writing there is so smart, it more than makes up for that.  Besides, while many of the characters of those two beloved series aren’t exactly likable, they are hilarious and have fantastic chemistry.

Which qualities matter the most to you?

-Nikki

No Sweeping Exits or Off Stage Lines

Let me start by saying, I like Kevin Smith.  I know he gets a lot of hate and I sort of understand why, but I like him.  That being said, I freely admit that his films aren’t for everyone.  His humor is silly to the point of ridiculousness, excessively crude and as sexual in nature as pornography.  When I read about his latest endeavor, Red State, a horror flick he both wrote and directed, I wasn’t sure what he’d give us.  Horror films aren’t exactly his forte.  But kids, let me tell you, this is a gem.  Kevin Smith may have finally grown up.  Not that I don’t love his earlier flicks (Clerks, Mallrats, Clerks II) and it’s not like they were all completely juvenile and absurd (Chasing Amy, Dogma) but this is well beyond the scope of anything we’ve seen from him thus far.

It begins with a couple of teenage boys who go online searching for chicks and find a local ad for a girl who’s willing to do “anything.”  They schedule a secret tryst and head out to the outskirts of their tiny, ultra-conservative southern town, only to discover something much uglier and more sinister than the wild night they expected.  I’m not going to divulge anything more for fear of ruining its deliciously creepy tone.  You’ll see none of Smith’s usual suspects; in fact, had I not previously known this was a Kevin Smith film, I’d never have suspected it.  He wrote a surprisingly good screenplay and employed real actors instead of those goofy kids he grew up with and, aside from a few segments that dragged just a bit, he had me on edge, craning my head to catch every detail and listening as though I were deciphering code for the better part of 88 minutes.  The film is filled with nuance, something that’s been lost in American cinematography for a couple of decades now, and sorely missed.  It reminded me of the strange, dark tales of the ’70s, films like Taxi Driver and Straw Dogs (the 1971 original, of course).  Movies that surely weren’t made for the masses but are rich in depth and realism, and are disturbingly violent.

Michael Parks gives an excellent performance as the movie’s main villain and Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Michael Angarano and Melissa Leo stand out as a few of the teenagers who find themselves in difficult circumstances.  The man who iced this succulent cake, though, was none other than John Goodman, whose performance made my hair stand on end.  He never ceases to impress me.  I’m so happy he’s taking care of himself and getting regular- and really good- work again, I could sing.  I LOVE that man.  LOVE him.  He’s an actor of compelling severity, with range that few in his field can rightfully claim.  When he’s on the screen, I am watching, listening.  Eagerly.  Period.  He’s that good.

If you enjoy intense dramas, you should watch Red State.  If you like suspenseful thrillers, watch Red State.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, watch Red State.  If you like Kevin Smith movies, if you hate Kevin Smith movies, if you’ve never heard of Kevin Smith, watch Red State.

Then come back and thank me.

-N.

Everyone I Know, Goes Away In The End

OOHH, I am soooooooo happy The Walking Dead has returned!  Two episodes in, I think this season is living up to last – advancing the storyline and taking the characters to new places, which is what I had hoped for.  This is coming from a person who knows nothing about the comic (graphic novel?) on which this is based, other than the fact that it exists.

I am interested to find out more about this family/group who lives in the farmhouse, how they’ve managed to stay safe, and apparently have supplies, like orange juice.  It made me feel hopeful, that there are some places on the planet where you can be clean and have antibiotics if you need them.  I loved the scene where the vet was explaining why surgery is so difficult in a house; how you need the respirator to be put out but if you’re not put out and are writhing around, the operation is impossible.  We take so much for granted, don’t we?!

I think the cast is doing an awesome job.  Some random message boards I frequent like to hate on the show (most of these angry watchers are devotees of the comic), saying it has strayed too far from the source or the writing is cheesy.  I don’t know if my standards are shot, but I don’t find the show cheesy really at all.  It’s not perfect, but it sure as hell brings the thrills/scares every week (this show scares the shit out of me regularly, whereas the new American Horror Story  – advertised as “terrifying” – really kind of doesn’t).  The scene in episode 1 where everybody is laying underneath the cars as the zombie herd passes by had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath right along with ‘em.  The end of episode 2, with Otis and Shane trapped in that entryway as the zombies are right up in their face, was insanity.

I love Norman Reedus and Sheriff Rick.  I’m really interested to see if Carl lives or dies.  I want to know if they’ll find Sophia.  I want to know if Andrea will gather up the balls to just kill herself already.  And I want the group to  find other survivors, and see if somewhere, somebody is coming up with a cure.  As Hershel says, “Mankind’s been fightin’ plagues since the beginning.”

I think this show roxxx and season 1 is on Netflix instant watch, and is only 6 episodes, (roughly 4.5 hrs of your life) so if you aren’t watching it, quit being stupid!  Or zombies will come eat your face off!! ;)

~Annie

Have Some Sympathy, Have Some Taste (Halloween Series Part 3)

You all know I adore Halloween and nearly everything it involves but today I thought I’d share with you a few things Halloween-related that really get under my skin:

  • People who dress their pets in Halloween costumes (Full disclosure: I hate pets dressed in any clothing.  They are animals, not humans.  They have fur, for fuck’s sake.)
  • Any trick-or-treaters over the age of 17.  If you have a full-time job and/or kids of your own, you’re too old to ask strangers for candy.
  • Teenagers who put zero effort into their costumes but still come to your door with an empty pillowcase asking for candy.  Black clothes and your dad’s hat do NOT constitute a Halloween costume.  You have to exert some effort to earn your Twix.
  • Absurdly overpriced but cheap-as-shit adult costumes.  Even the rentals, which are pretty awesome sometimes, are outrageously expensive.
  • Fanatics who insist on lecturing me about the innate evil of Halloween and how I should be careful or I could end up on the wrong side in the hereafter.  Right…’cause celebrating Halloween is what’s going to do me in.
  • The inevitable bellyache I get from eating piles of roasted pumpkin seeds.  Why can’t I stop?!
  • People in my neighborhood who hand out tiny toothpastes and toothbrushes instead of candy.  Seriously?  (Note: Individual packets of raisins and/or trail mix are tolerable but still annoying.)

What Halloween-inspired pet peeves irk you the most?

~Nikki

Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall

Screenshot of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in ...

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I tend toward “pretty emotional/maybe bi-polar,” so movies make me cry quite often, and for numerous reasons.  I decided to make a list of films that made me cry so hard I descended into that sobbing stage where you’re not breathing, but gasping for air and making horrible noises, and the tears are dripping into your bra (if you’re a lady).  These aren’t my all-time favorites or anything, just ones that make me bawl like Nancy Kerrigan, post knee-bashing.

  • Steel Magnolias - I used to watch this on a weekly basis as a kid cause it was one of the few VHS tapes we had; lots of it went over my head.  I know it’s cliché to cry at this film, it’s one of the most classic tear-jerkers pretty much ever, but once I grew up, and felt the pain of Shelby’s short life, her dramatic collapse, the fact that her parents and husband had to decide to pull the plug, it was all too much to bear.  Just when I think I’m ready to set down the tissues, watching the rest of the family in the final scene as they are moving on with their lives makes me cry even harder.
  • Film poster for Steel Magnolias - Copyright 19...

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    The Notebook - Yet another clichéd tear-jerker, but the first time I saw this (and I fucking despise Nicholas Sparks and everything that comes out of his mind), I had tears literally running down my neck into my shirt.  The cast and their chemistry are what makes this film effective, and the tragedy of Alzheimer’s being able to literally take away your entire life, is a cross no one should have to bear.

  • Titanic - Okay… I’m sorry these are all clichéd.  However, as this is one of my all time favorites, for many reasons, it SO deserves a spot here.  I have been fascinated with the history of the Titanic since I was a kid; and I cared much more about the overall story than the “Kate & Leo” love affair.  Watching the ship go down, the montage of people holding their loved ones as water rushes in, knowing this all HAPPENED, destroys me.  Yes, Kate & Leo is sad, but after their gross sex scene, I didn’t care about them.  I cared about all the rest of the passengers, and the FINAL, FINAL scene, is truly one of my favorite cinematic moments EVER.  Just thinking about it, I think my chest might cave in. :/
  • It’s A Wonderful Life - It’s Christmas, you realize the impact your life (however small) may have on others, the Auld Lang Syne scene… I love it all so, so much.  I was forced to watch this as a kid, (eww!  Black and white!) and by the time it was over, I was sobbing, and blown away by how much I loved it.  I always take like, personal offense when someone tells me they haven’t seen this, and have no desire to.  YOU’RE MISSING OUT ON A LIFE EXPERIENCE!
  • I Am Legend (dog death scene) - I’m not even a dog person, but oh god, Sam is the most loyal, faithful, BEST movie dog, ever.  She saves Will Smith’s life, (in a chilling, nail-biting scene) to then become a zombie dog, and be mercy-killed by her owner.  Sam was his ONE companion, and he had to snuff out her existence.  It’s a double whammy, and I was almost hysterical in the theater.
  • Forrest Gump -This is one of the greatest movies ever, (well, depending on who you talk to) and I cry on and off throughout (the war, little Jenny’s miserable life, Lt. Dan swimming, we could go on for a while).   It’s the ending though, with little Forrest getting on the bus, and the feather…the mixture of sad and hope is what gets me every single time.
    Forrest Gump

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  • A.I. - The distress this film caused me merited its own post.
  • The Family Stone - This film is far from perfect, and there are parts that I find disgusting, stupid, and inconsistent with what real people might actually do, ever.  But Craig T. Nelson and Diane Keaton are just such marvelous parental units, and the warm, cozy, kooky family they’ve created – you can’t help but want to be a part of it.  The ending that you see coming a mile away, doesn’t hurt any less for it.  That picture of preggers Keaton, and all that it represents, makes my eyes feel like they’re going to fall out from the weeping.
  • King Kong - He’s an animal, being tortured and used by humans.  If you don’t cry, maybe there’s something wrong with you.  Just sayin’.  I think this movie was really beautiful and touching, and while it was overly long, it’s clearly Peter Jackson’s love letter to the original.  I’m guilty of humanizing animals (I’m still holding out hope that one day my cat will talk to me), so the scene where he’s looking out at the sunset, and it seems like he’s moved by its beauty, is my favorite.

~Annie :’(

May Your Guiding Light Be Strong

Let me start by saying: I liked it.  I’m glad I read it.  I do recommend it to others.  I like the premise and the many interesting ideas it invokes.  There, that’s out of the way.

The novel The Postmortal by Drew Magary is told mostly through journal entries and a few news articles.  The main character is a 27 year-old lawyer who goes to a black market doctor to get “the cure.”  That is, the genetic cure for aging that is discovered in 2019.  At first illegal, the cure brings about a sense of promise and, possibly, eternal youth.  Of course, it becomes available illegally for a hefty price until so many have gotten it and hundreds of others angrily protest that the government decides to legalize it.  There are some who oppose the cure, and with good reason.  And this is the book’s saving grace: the short and long term effects of a global society that doesn’t age and, for the most part, doesn’t die.  (People can still die of injury, cancer, heart attack, etc.  Just not old age and its related diseases.)  Divorce rates sky rocket and marriage becomes obsolete since till death do us part now means hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years.  Many people lose the desire to work for anything, choosing instead to spend decades traveling because, hey, they’ll be able to work and save money later.  Military enrollment hits a record low despite the fact that wars have become a necessity for no other reason than to thin out the population.  In fact, the term population control takes on a much more sinister meaning.

Sounds really interesting, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I thought so, too.  The problem for me is that there is a lack of both character development (something I love above all else, if done well) AND plot.  There’s no real main conflict or, therefore, resolution.  You know, that which drives any good story.  It’s neither character-driven nor plot-driven.  It’s a premise-driven novel.  A very good premise, but still, any story that inspires true passion and/or adoration has a solid plot and well-developed characters.  This book has neither.

Every well-told story has a central plot.  Generally, it’s introduced within the first quarter of the story, it builds and builds, growing more complicated until, finally, it reaches some sort of climax and then, a resolution.  Characters may come and go, other less-important/exciting subplots may be introduced and later resolved, but they all add to or revolve around the One Central Plot.  It is the glue that holds it all together and, hopefully, keeps the reader reading.

The Postmortal has no glue.  It is one subplot after another.  Intriguing, often engrossing, sometimes thought-provoking subplots, but not necessarily connected to each other, which makes for a choppy read.  No main plot appears at any point, so the whole book is driven by this really cool idea, but nothing else.  The idea is great and rife with possibilities but none of those possibilities are realized because the awesome idea remains just an idea, floating in the air without any plot to fully develop it.  And, cool as it is, it still wasn’t enough (for me) to fill 300 pages.

Not that I only read plot-driven books.  On the contrary, some of my most cherished novels are character-driven.  Being the literary nerd that I am, I usually prefer character-driven books.  The Postmortal, unfortunately, is lacking here as well.  The main character never gets personal enough (especially odd since he tells the story mostly through journal entries) for the narrative to feel intimate and what we know of his personality (and that of every character in this book, for that matter), we know because we are told, not shown.  Which, of course, keeps us readers from really connecting to the characters or their lives.

All in all, I do recommend it.  It explores the effects of an ageless society and Magary brings up issues I wouldn’t have thought of.  I guess I just wish he’d have picked one idea to fully develop instead of broadly addressing many.  And maybe given me a little more insight into the substance of his characters.

~Nikki

I Wanna Know What Love Is

Enlightened is the newest show HBO is offering up this fall, and it’s way off-kilter and strange – maybe one of the strangest shows I’ve seen.

Laura Dern is Amy, the center of the show, and a woman who has had some sort of breakdown post-scandalous affair with her boss.  The first episode begins with her being switched to a different department against her will, and flipping the fuck out.  She goes to a rehabilitation clinic in Hawaii (the kind where you have bonfires on the beach with other troubled souls) and when she gets home, has decided to live her life in a healthier, happier, more “enlightened” way.  This show isn’t really a comedy so much as a dramedy, although I haven’t really laughed.  Amy is the kind of psycho-needy-horrifyingly annoying friend who requires so much from you, you have to cut her loose, so I alternate between thinking she’s just downright nuts, to feeling bad for her.  Her addict ex-husband is played by Luke Wilson (I don’t have words for how much I adore him), and he’s rumpled, cute, and clearly harboring a difficult past that he and Amy shared.  The show has a dreamy vibe, with nice shots of turtles swimming in the ocean, a bonfire on a beach, palm trees and sunsets.  That contrasts with Amy’s frenetic energy that she’s using to try to learn to be happy and help her loved ones achieve the same goal.  It’s an odd show, one that’s not for everyone.  Maybe a less zany Bored to Death, or a deeper, more angsty Hung.  I’m glad it’s on HBO – a show like this would never survive on a network, and I hope it’s given a chance to grow.  I really wanna see what happens to Amy.

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This why I love HBO:  They can offer niche, non-mainstream entertainment.  Their movie selection can be a bit bland at times, but as a whole I don’t have a lot of problems with it.  Between the advent of their hbogo streaming service that comes along with being a subscriber, (thanks, guys!) and the unparalleled quality and diversity of their shows, mini-series and documentaries, I cannot imagine my life without HBO.  And oh yeah, they make AWESOME MONTAGE COMMERCIALS LIKE THIS ONE:

~Annie