If You’re Tired Of The Same Old Story, Oh, Baby, Turn Some Pages

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Here’s something that’s been weighing on my mind: it shocks me that Cabin In The Woods doesn’t have a much stronger following and I genuinely cannot come up with a reason for its lack of one.  I saw it twice in theaters and have watched it 3 times since it’s been an instant watch on Netflix.  I LOVED it during the first viewing and have found that even after a few more, it totally holds up.  The thing about it is that it’s fun and at times hilarious, while at others, really scary.  It’s a must-see for fans of the horror genre, like myself, while others who could take or leave horror will also enjoy it.

Longtime lovers of scary movies like me can appreciate all of the clever shout-outs to horror flicks of old.  In fact, Cabin In The Woods is kind of a tribute to the whole horror genre.  Writers Josh Whedon and Drew Goddard take every cliche and stereotype we’ve come to associate with scary movies and puts them all together AND supply a fun and interesting explanation for them.  They very smartly and creatively find a way to BOTH strictly follow the formula and make something completely original.  They somehow manage to make a horror flick that is every bit a generic horror flick, that is like every other horror flick ever made, while, simultaneously, taking that seemingly generic premise and using it to disassemble and reconfigure the formula we’ve seen in horror flicks since the spawn of the genre.  This film is so much more than a zombie movie or a slasher flick or even a supernatural story.  It is everything all at once.  And IT WORKS.  It even has some social relevance while still managing to never take itself too seriously.  In all honesty, I think it’s kind of perfect.

The acting is mostly good (I say mostly because there is one actor whose performance is slightly sub par – but hers is the ONLY one), good enough, in fact, to give these stereotypical characters surprising depth.  Like every other aspect of this film, they are two things at once: the cliched caricatures we’re used to seeing in scary movies and very much, well, not.  And in addition to the scary stuff, which is often pretty scary, there’s an abundance of excellent humor that lightens it up.  For this reason alone, it is definitely a crossover film: it appeals to fans of the horror genre and those who usually shy away from it.  There’s eye candy for all (I could make a sandwich with Chris Hemsworth and Jesse Williams) and even one completely awesome cameo by a woman who has become an icon in the sci-fi world.  Like I said, perfect.

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There’s also a big, big, big, big surprise ending that, for me, sets it apart from damn near every other film (horror or otherwise) I’ve seen.  It takes a lot of balls to end a movie in such a way and for that, kudos to Whedon and Goddard.  I’ve read that before the first screening, Whedon told the audience something like, “Enjoy it and then keep it to yourself.”  Because it’s very much like Fight Club in this way; the first, second and third rules about Cabin In The Woods are: You don’t talk about Cabin In The Woods.  To be less vague and disclose any more detail than I already have is to rob you of the sheer joy you’ll feel when you realize that this film is irrevocably and unapologetically going balls-to-the-wall, batshit bonkers.  This moment first shows itself in a scene in the second act that I call “The Purge” which is quite possibly the coolest fucking scene in any scary movie, EVER.  As well as frightening and funny and thrilling and wildly fun in a shit-yourself giddy kind of way all at the same time.  Which is in itself a rarity in any film and even more rare, is that I could use that same sentence to describe the movie itself.

If you’re a fan of horror flicks, you have to watch this.  If you’re not, you still should watch it because whether you care about all the details that pay homage to the genre or not, Cabin In The Woods is one wicked fun ride.

~Nikki

Fly Like Paper

Jim and PamI have been a faithful watcher of The Office nearly from its beginning and have loved the vast majority of its 184 episodes.  Naturally, Steve Carell’s departure left an obvious, gaping hole and at first, I admit I did think they should have ended the series when he left.  But this ninth and final season has been better, not quite hitting the bar set by those first few seasons, but much improved from the last couple.  I still do feel that the show has run its course and I’m glad this is the last season but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that is sad to see it go.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this:

“I am bothered by the developments that this season has brought to the Halpert family.  Jim and Pam haven’t always been the focus of the show but their chemistry and the evolution of their relationship has been a constant.  Some viewers felt it got a bit stagnant after they got married and started their family but I always felt that theirs was a natural relationship.  After all, what marriage doesn’t lose some of its zeal after the realities of daily life and the demands of family set in?  They stuck by each other and that was enough reward for me.  Earlier on in this season, when Jim pursued a career change and lost sight of Pam’s needs and wants, I felt this, too, was an organic and plausible story line.  But I expected one of them to close the gap.  To sacrifice for the other and for their family.  To stop communicating so poorly, to take a leap of faith, to lay it all out once and for all.  Whether it would be Jim sacrificing his dream job or Pam sacrificing their comfortable life in Scranton, I expected one of them to give in.

One could argue that families fall apart all the time.  Divorce in America is by no means an uncommon thing and this show has always maintained a commitment to exposing the sad, dreary aspects of the mundane lives of the working class.  Perhaps the destruction of the Halpert family is just one more harsh reality.  Jim and Pam may be no more special than any other couple who falls in love, gets married, raises a family and eventually grows apart.  I couldn’t call it unrealistic.  But it certainly isn’t what I expected, nor is it what I want to see.  Sink or swim, I want to see Jim and Pam together.”

Last night’s episode finally gave me what I’d been waiting for.  It was emotional, subtle, tender and it moved me to tears.  And it surprised me.  No surprise that The Office, with a mere 3 episodes left, still has the ability to make me tear up, but surprised that I doubted it would.  While the American series differs in a great many ways from its British point of origin, it has kept true to the pace that the show’s creators set.  They know just how long to keep you waiting, to make you damn near desperate for the pay-off, so much so that you’re even beginning to doubt you’ll get it.  We saw it with Tim and Dawn in the original series and even though Jim and Pam are really very different characters whose story has veered from that of their British counterparts, they’ve held true to the remarkable sense of timing that makes even something as small and ordinary as a hug feel monumental.

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Yes, it’s true.  The Office: I will miss you.

~Nikki

Across The Harlan County Line

The concept of duality isn’t new to storytelling, nor is it played out.  When used effectively, it can draw together characters and opposingJustified plot lines and provide them with a kind of symmetry that enriches every aspect of the story.  From its pilot episode, Justified has been an example of duality done well with main character Raylan Givens and the character who has grown into a second male lead, Boyd Crowder.  (Side note: the character of Boyd Crowder was originally intended to die in season 1 but fans and critics alike found him so irresistibly appealing – due in no small part to Walton Goggins’s brilliantly charismatic portayal of him – that Justified’s makers rewrote his story arc and invented a new, much larger purpose for him.  To the folks who made that decision, I say: thank you.)  Raylan and Boyd each have opposing goals; one is a man of the law, the other a determined outlaw.  Their paths continually cross, their lives invariably intertwine and while they claim to be more enemies than friends, there is no mistaking the connection that exists between them.

Boyd and Raylan have had a kinship from the start.  They “dug coal together” and apparently, formed some manner of unbreakable bond while tumblr_mjy0xs0eNY1reylb6o4_250COALdoing it.  Raylan proved incapable of killing Boyd in season one and has found himself defending or helping him in one way or another since.  Despite Raylan’s interference in Boyd’s illegal affairs, he has voluntarily saved Raylan’s life a time or two as well.  But in season 4, the connection between these two reached a new depth, their lives and characterizations so intricately paralleled, it now feels as though one cannot exist without the other.  This 4th season of Justified hasn’t intertwined their plot lines as much as mirrored them, giving us viewers the gift of perfectly executed duality in its telling.

At the season’s start, both Raylan and Boyd were planning for a bright future, taking extra work and storing expendable cash, all the while keeping their eyes on the endgame.  Raylan has a baby on the way and wanted more than anything to be a better father than his dad was (to his bitter end).  Boyd wanted to rid himself of the illegal, seedy business he inherited from his father.  You see, not only do their individual characters alternately mirror and oppose each other, but within each man opposing forces exist, good and evil fight to gain ground.  Raylan and Boyd come from the same stock of hardened criminals, men who earned their living in illegal and violent ways, men who lived and, as it turns out, died by the sword.  Raylan tried to break the cycle when he became a deputy U.S. Marshall and focused his efforts on capturing criminals but has struggled with dark impulses all along.  As Nicky Augustine pointed out in the season’s closing episode, he “hides behind his badge” but it’s murder all the same.  Like Raylan, Boyd’s history is full of back and forth between the good and bad within him.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember him as the thieving white supremacist he was in season one, that is, until we see the word SKIN tattooed across his knuckles.  He found God and changed his life, genuinely reformed until his followers met their untimely end thanks to Boyd’s family ties, a tragic affair that shook him to his core and sent him back to a life of crime, this time determined to be smarter, better, determined not to lead innocent men to their slaughter but instead to profit from the wicked and eventually build a gateway to a better life, a legitimate life with limitless possibilities for the future.

But by this season’s end, both Boyd and Raylan had failed.  Boyd couldn’t climb out of his daddy’s shadow any more than he was able to climb the social ladder in Harlan county, just as Raylan failed to shake off Arlo’s legacy of morally bankrupt rationalizations and violence.  They began the season full of hope and promise, looking forward to the future.  Each ended it with their eyes on what lay behind them, consumed with the sins of the past, haunted by loss.

Boyd final scene

Raylan final scene

~Nikki

Break My Heart And Bare My Soul

Breaking Bad -posterI watched the first two seasons of Breaking Bad more than a year ago on Netflix and became instantly hooked.  Nevertheless, after finishing the second season, I had to walk away from it.  Not forever.  And certainly not because of any defect with the series itself.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I needed a break from it because of its commitment to realism, which is far superior to any television show or film I’ve ever seen that deals with addiction.  There isn’t the slightest bit of romanticism or glamor.  It is pure, stark addiction in all its ugly glory.  And because of that, it actually got so painful to watch that I had to step back and breathe for a bit.  Thankfully, I’ve never battled addiction (other than a few years spent nursing a nicotine addiction which I’ve long since given up and a current love affair with dependence on caffeine which I believe to be relatively harmless) but I have been close to a few who have and listen, if you know nothing of it, count yourself lucky because it is one of the most grotesque, heartbreaking and utterly useless experiences to have ever plagued humanity.  I’m speaking specifically of drug and/or alcohol addiction which is particularly abundant in Breaking Bad (season 2 especially).  Hence, my year-long respite.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago I returned to the phenomenal series, ready to brave whatever cold truth it had to throw at me.  And folks, let me tell you, it is so worth it.

I am now nearly all caught up.  I have but one more episode to watch before the final eight episodes air this summer and all I can say is that this show is one of the smartest, well-planned and superbly executed shows ever created.  EVER.  No exaggeration; it is nothing short of extraordinary.  The growth and changes (some evolve, some devolve) in every character are stunning and even though some major major major shit happens – I’m talking insanely tense, gripping shit – the show’s pace is expertly managed.  It doesn’t rush anything.  Not in the smallest, slightest way.  Which adds to its realism because it feels like the pace of life.  There are these moments that are kind of slow and calm and at first you think, why are they dwelling on this?  And then you realize – it’s because this is just like life.  Those quiet moments in your life during which you actually get to pause and think about your own problems, recent events, the world around you or even just take stock.  They never last too long and that’s probably a good thing but they do crop up now and again and the writers of Breaking Bad not only perfectly depict them but they carefully weave them throughout to lull you the way those moments do – those brief periods in your life that very slowly enfold and evolve, making you forget just how quickly time is passing and how much of the world is changing and then all of a sudden you’re waist-deep in it and everything’s happening so fast, you barely even understand and suddenly it’s over and you remember to breathe – that is exactly how this show is!  Never have I seen such an eloquently paced series.  The balance they have struck makes Breaking Bad feel more real than anything else on TV, certainly now, maybe ever.

Not that its pace is the only thing that makes it so utterly real.  The characters themselves could be anyone – you, me, your neighbor, your sister, Breaking Badyour brother-in-law, that guy you chat with in the break room every morning.  Watching them as individuals and their relationships to each other progress, change and evolve (or sometimes collapse) over the course of five seasons feels wholly natural, as honest and organic as the memories of your own personal relationships.  The outstanding acting by the entire cast, and the two leads in particular, give their characters a depth that’s far from standard.  Bryan Cranston deserves ALL THE AWARDS.  He and Aaron Paul will blow your mind and break your heart again and again and again.  And again.

Breaking Bad is a dark and heavy series and surely not for everyone.  Nor is it the kind of show you can put on and watch in marathon fashion.  It’s too intense for that.  I can stand only two episodes back to back before I need a break but that speaks more to its merit than anything else.  Because just as if it were real life, the shit they get into will wear you down.  You’ll find your heart racing, your palms sweating, your breath staggering and your chest aching as you watch and more than once, you’ll thank the universe that this isn’t your life.  Simultaneously, you’ll thank it for giving you this show.

~Nikki