Saturday, December 28, 2013

Annual thank you to friends of my blog

For the third year in a row, I'm going to pretend like I just won an Oscar for blog-writing and deliver an annoyingly long thank you speech:

First off, I'd like to thank a wonderful young copy editor named Edison Russ who has helped me out through the severest cases of writers block and crisizes ovrer how To spell, weed out typous abd capitzalize (see how much my sentences fall apart without Edison?) I'm not sure what Edison's employment status is but some employer out there is sorely missing out by not snatching up Edison.

I want to thank all the big people out there in the world of TV and film criticism who take time to throw me some love in the twitterverse. Will Harris, a fellow Virginian writer, has the supercool job of interviewing C-level stars (the best kind) for the random roles feature of the AV Club. Has been open with advice and managed to fake being impressed when I showed him my list of famous people I interviewed. Daniel T. Walters is kind of a big deal on Twitter and in the world of TV writing  with the Pacific Northwest Inlander and has occasionally given me feedback in 140 characters or less and I accidentally omitted him in the last two editions. Sorry Daniel and thanks for the support. There is also someone out there named Emily Nussbaum who writes brilliant pieces for the New Yorker and is quite generous with us little people when it comes to distirbuting the love on Twitter.

I'd also like to thank a writer named David Simms for being a good sport. I once randomly decided to pick someone at the AV Club and repeatedly campaign for them as a follower so thanks David and a big thank you to Kenny Herzog for actually following me.

I'd like to thank Cory Barker for putting me on a round table and want to congratulate him as well as two other twitter acquaintances Noel Kirkpatrick and Les Chappell on becoming professional TV writers in the past year as well as on the success of their new site "This was TV."

Christine Becker is a Professor of TV and film studies at Notre Dame and she is so full of support and advice, I'm pretty sure I will be needing to pay student tuition fees at Notre Dame.

There's also Matt Zoller Seitz who recently took over as the head critic for Roger Ebert and he's tweeted a couple of my posts for his audience and was very complimentary. Knowing that he might be reading encourages me to try to write something amazing.

I'd also like to thank a certain PR person at CollegeHumor named Jaime. The first thing I said to her when she called and I heard her voice was female was "So now the mystery is solved over whether you're a Hispanic man or a woman" and rather than hang up the phone, she kept talking to me and let me interview some famous people that I can add to my "famous people I interviewed" list. My communication with Jaime this past year has probably totaled more minutes than any other professional correspondence which Jaime probably is unhappy about so hopefully this makes up for that.

I'd also like to thank Ben Relles the head of Barely Political for being generous with my interview as well as Sam Reich of CollegeHumor for hearing my script idea over the course of our interview and not telling me it sucked. I also would like to thank all the people who cooperated with me on interviews this year: This year I got to interview an expert on the Nazi party in Arlington, a puzzle maker, an SNL auditionee who now imitates Mary-Kate Olsen for a living, two major heads of production in the internet world, a group of DIY bike collective owners, a food cart owner illegally operating on the streets of Arlington, a Jewish boy scout troop, a hand-crafted violin maker, a collector of Pez dispensers, the owner of a historic cemetery, a 36-year veteran of the CIA on the TV show "The Americans", the Arlington County Assistant Manager, the staff at Americana Hotel in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, and a bunch of people in Arlington who claim to have seen coyotes.

[The orchestra is pushing me off the stage but I must keep going]

Some miscellaneous thank yous:
I'd like to thank my former editor at the Connection, Steven, for continuing to give me advice and counsel me, I'd like to thank Eddie "Mr Puma" Rodriguez for his belief that I might eventually get back into Cracked's good graces and being awesome in general (I don't remember if Eddie has a site of his own, but I remember he has some mad editing skills and he can be found here). Also, a thank you to Kathy Benjamin at Cracked for giving advice and giving me a recommendation for Mental Floss Magazine. She has a great book out right now. Meg Miller Reydzewski also helped me as a freelancer for ArlNow with coordinating a lot of information. If I'm not mistaken Meg has a book out so everyone buy that immediately once they figure out the name of it. Also, Jason Iannone has made the quality of articles at a lot better through some great editing and also gave it to me straight when I needed an intervention so thanks for that buddy. And a little thanks to a user on twitter named @AdmiralChristy who gave me a little reading when I needed it most today.

Speaking of editors, I'd like to thank all the editors who've given me a place to publish (to avoid muddling their digital foot prints, I'll just give first names). Some of you have a sense of confidence in me that means a lot, some of you make me work hard for my stories, some of you are insightful and collaborate with me in a way that's a lot of fun, some of you are pleasantly down-to-earth, but you all have one thing in common: Giving me money to write stories, which is pretty heroic of all of you:
Philippa at The Pink Line Project, Steve at Nostalgia Digest (check out See You on the Radio), Jenny at Arlington Magazine, Scott at Arlington Sun Gazette, Adrienne at Teaching Tolerance, Alexandra at Washington City Paper, Shell at, the ever-so-patient Brendan at CBS ManCave, Jason at Mental Floss Magazine, Scott at Arl Now, David at Reel SEO, Cindy at Richmond Times Dispatch, and last but not least, Tina at Richmond Style-Weekly. Would you believe these are all actual newspapers and that I'm in all of them (technically all but one this calendar year)? I would not have guessed that as recently as 2012.

And thank you to all the people who rejected me too: The internet commenters who tell me I suck and are frustrated to see me continue being published need some form of validation and it's nice to know that you're there for them.

Stephanie Norton is a recent partner in crime of mine who has been on movie sets and worked with movie stars before landing in the D.C. area and she writes screenplays and does a bunch of stuff. She taught me a lot about social media and clearly knows what she's doing.

Thank you to John Lehr and Jay Martel for following me on Twitter. Are you sure it was me you wanted to follow? You guys make (pretty good) TV, I just write about it.

And lastly thank you to anyone who reads my blog and is forgiving of my lack of correct spelling because I just rattled off this entry on my cell phone and probably have a lot of misspellings in here including the names of the people I'm thanking.

For past editions, click on the tag "Friends of Blog"

Director Progress Report

My bi-annual progress report for 2013 updated from the end of 2011. New additions in bold.

18 Alfred Hitchkock-Family Plot, Torn Curtain, Rebecca, 39 Steps, North by Northwest, Saboteur, The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, The Birds, Psycho, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions), Rear Window

14 Stephen Spielberg-Color Purple, Raiders of the Last Ark, Jurassic Park, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, Schindler's List, Hook, ET, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Saving Private Ryan

14 Woody Allen-Hollywood Ending, Curse of the Jaded Scorpion, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Small Time Crooks, Sweet and Lowdown, Mighty Aphrodite, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Melinda and Melinda, Midnight in Paris, Sleeper, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Bullets Over Broadway

10 Billy Wilder-Spirit of St. Louis, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, Double Indemnity, Sabrina, Ace in the Hole, Major and the Minor, 1,2,3, The Front Page

9 Joel and Ethan Coen-Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Ladykillers, Man Who Knew Too Much, Intolerable Cruelty, Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, True Grit

8 Martin Scorsesee-Color of Money, Age of Innocence, Goodfellas, Aviator, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, Hugo
8 Mike Nicholls-Primary Colors, The Birdcage, The Graduate, Working Girl, Charlie Wilson’s War, What Planet Are You From?, Postcards from the Edge, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff
8 Howard Hawks-Sgt. York, Bringing Up Baby, Big Sleep, Ball of Fire, Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, Gentlemen Perfer Blondes, Monkey Business
8  Rob Zemeckis-Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future I-III, Contact, Romancing the Stone, Flight

7 (1/2) Clint Eastwood-Mystic River, Unforgiven, Bronco Billy, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Invictus, Gran Torino, White Heart, Lonely Hunter; (Trouble with the Curve) (Clint Eastwood wasn't credited as the director but some say he directed it)

7 Ivan Reitman- Ghostbusters, 6 Days 7 Days, Old School, Space Jam, Fathers Day, Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd
7 Rob Altman-Mash, McCabe and Mrs Miller, California Split, Buffalo Bill and the Indian, The Player, Dr. T and the Women, Prairie Home Companion
7 Steve Sodebergh-Erin Brockovitch, Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Full Frontal, Good German, Ocean’s 13, Informant
7 Vincente Minelli-Meet me in St Louis, American in Paris, The Pirate, Brigadoon, The Band Wagon, Kismet, Sandpiper

6 Mel Brooks-Spaceballs, High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I
6 Frank Oz-Bowfinger, In and Out, Stepford Wives, The Score, What About Bob, Housesitter
6 Terry Gilliam-Time Bandits, Brazil, Fisher King, Monty Python, Brothers Grimm, Baron Muchenhausen
6 Barry Levinson-Tin Men, Rain Man, Sleepers, Good Morning Vietnam, Man of the Year, Wag the Dog
6 Peter Segal-Naked Gun 33 1/3, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, 50 First Dates, Get Smart
6 Jay Roach-Austin Powers I-III, Meet the Parents, Mystery Alaska, Dinner for Schmucks
6 Tony Scott- Enemy of the State, Déjà Vu, Crimson Tide, Top Gun, Taking of Pelham 1,2,3; Unstoppable
6 Brett Ratner-After the Sunset, Rush Hour 2, Family Man, X-Men 3, Red Dragon, Tower Heist
6 Ron Howard-Apollo 13, Beautiful Mind, Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels and Demons, The Paper
6 Gore Verbinski-Pirates of the Carribean 1-3, Weatherman, The Mexican, Rango
6 Stanley Donen-Take Me Out to the Ballgame (most sources insist that he really was the director, not Bugsy Berkley), On the Town, Singing in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Charade, Bedazzled

5 George Lucas-Star Wars I-IV, American Graffiti

5 Tom Shadyac-Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Evan Allmighty, Ace Ventura
5 Sydney Pollack-Sabrina, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The Interpreter, Slender Thread
5 Joel Schumaker-Time to Kill, 8 MM, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, The Client
5 Orson Welles-Citizen Kane, Lady of Shanghai, Othello, Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil
5 Bryan Singer-Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie
5 John Glenn-5 Bond films
5 Johnothan Demme-Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard, Manchurian Candidate, Married to the Mob, Rachel Getting Married
5 Tim Burton-Batman, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Alice in Wonderland
5 Roland Emmerich-ID4, Stargate, The Patriot, Day After Tomorrow, 2012
5 Robert Rodriguez-El Mariachi Trilogy, Spy Kids and Lava Girl, Sin City
5 Peter Weir-Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander,Year of Living Dangerously
5 Rob Reiner-Stand and Deliver, Princess Bride, Rumor Has It, American President, Ghosts of Mississippi
5 Curtis Hanson- LA Confidential, Wonderboys, In Her Shoes, Lucky You, 8 Mile
5 Cameron Crowe-Almost Famous, Jerry MaGuire, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo
5 Chris Columbus-Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Stepmom, I Love You Beth Cooper
5 Barry Sonnenfeld-Men in Black I, II, Wild Wild West, Big Trouble, MiB III
5 John Lynn-Whole Nine Yards, Trial and Error, Sgt Bilko, Trial and Error, My Cousin Vinny
5 Peter and Bobby Farrelly-Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber, Fever Pitch, Shallow Hal, Osmosis Jones
5 John Lasseter-Lady and the Tramp, Toy Story 1, Cars, Toy Story 2, Cars 2
5 Blake Edwards-A Shot in the Dark, Pink Panther, Return of the Pink Panther, Great Race, What Did You Do in the War Daddy
5 John Ford-Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Hurricane, How Green was my Valley, The Whole Town's Talking

4 Sidney Lumet: Network, 12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4 John Huston-Beat the Devil, Key Largo, African Queen, Man Who Would be King
4 Terrence Young-Wait Until Dark, 3 Bond films
4 Harold Lloyd-Safety Last, Feet First, The Freshman, Kid Brother
4 Guy Hamilton-4 Bond movies
4 Kevin Smith-Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma
4 D. Herek-Mr. Holland’s Opus, Three Musketeers, Mighty Ducks, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures
4 Wes Anderson-Rushmore, Royal Tannenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Darjeerling Limited
4 Penny Marshall-Awakenings, Rennisance Man, Big, League of their Own
4 Ernst Lubitsch-Shop Around the Corner, Ninotchka, Merry Widow, Trouble in Paradise
4 Lasse Holstrom-What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Hoax, Cider House Rules, Shipping News
4 James Mangold-3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line, Kate and Leopold, Night and Day
4 Dennis Dungan-Happy Gilmore, Beverly Hills Ninja, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
4 Sam Weisman-George of the Jungle, Dickie Roberts Former Child Star, Out-of Towners, Mighty Ducks 2
4 Christopher Guest-For Your Consideration, Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman
4 Jon Favreau-Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens
4 Adam McKay: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys
4 David Lean-Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Passage to India, Summertime
4 Michael Moore-Roger and Me, F 411, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story
4 Sam Raimi-Spiderman 1-3, Oz: The Great and Powerful
4 Chris Nolan-Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Inception

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Looking at some of the 2013 shows that didnt measure up

I just posted my Top 10 List along with an Honorable Mention. On top of that, I include a list of shows that I watched so someone reading my Top 10 List will know what it was up against because no critic watches everything. In that respect, I'd like to also review 2013 by discussing some of the shows that fell short of being considered by myself for the year's best TV:

The Crazy Ones-It's a somewhat dependable sitcom and the Robin Williams/Sarah Michelle Gellar is a great pairing. I'll never understand the school of thought that Robin Williams is kind of annoying instead of a supremely talented guy who is among the most gifted comedians out there. Though I'd place myself in the top 10% of the population in terms of how much they like Robin Williams, even I found him a little redundant here. The show also loses points for having one of my last favorite stock characters: The lothario who is effortlessly irresistible to the opposite sex. This wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that it's supposed to be his comic trait and there's nothing that inherently funny about a guy who uses women like he does. Amanda Setton is clearly a talented actress but she isn't used particularly well here (ironically, I think she fit in better on "The Mindy Project") and she's given her character a weird tic of making every line of dialogue sound like a nervous question (perhaps she's trying to get on the cast of "Whose Line is It Anyway?").

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: This was a great addition to my weekly schedule for several weeks but the show had some irritating traits that eventually cancelled out the show's strengths. Andy Samberg does not make a believable cop (or a likable character for that matter) which begs the question: If the show's sole function is as a vehicle for Andy Samberg, why place him into TV's most overused genre when he doesn't fit into it? While some of the side characters (this show could win a diversity award for best Latino cast on TV) and relationships are excellent, the show lacks any sort of grounding upon which to build comedy. The comic tone is geared so much towards one-liners and quick gags, it feels more like vaudeville than a multi-layered source of laughs.

Modern Family-The show is high enough in quality to have merited honorable mention every year thus far, but by this point, the show has used up nearly every bag of tricks at its disposal. At this point, how many more hidden talents can Cam reveral? How many more revelations can there be that Jay's really a softie? How many more times can Alex surprise Haley by climbing her way up the social ladder? Hasn't she had her first boyfriend three times by now? This is not a fault of the show as it's doing what it is designed to do: Produce consistent and interchangeable episodes so that it can make a killing in syndication. I would happily watch this show five years from now when it turns up on the TV on a random afternoon and I still watch it now. It's just no longer event viewing.

The Sing-Off-It was probably right around #11 the last time it came on in 2011. Since the Sing-Off came back from the brink of cancellation, it acquired a new corporate producer in the form of Sony Television which made a few small changes that ended up making the show worse. I thought seven episodes was the optimal number but I didn't feel like I got the chance to know most of these groups. More backstory was needed and the swan songs, Ben's blog and the post-performance camera chats might have helped that.

The Awesomes (Hulu)-Seth Meyer's newest venture, the show got off to a great start and seemed to find something unique to say in the now overcrowded genre of superhero spoofs. I still watched it all the way through but the plots lost a little firepower after a while as certain plot motifs started repeating themselves (i.e. no one catching onto Malocchio's plan, Prock having a crush on Hotwire, Muscleman dealing with his inferior intellect in comparison to Prock) in ways that didn't build. Of the eight superheroes, I found only about half to really hold my attention as interesting characters. Coincidentally, that's the same hit-miss ratio as SNL sketches so, hey, at least Seth is consistent.
Alpha House (Amazon)-Based on an article from the New York Times, the show about four Senators sharing a house in Washington is a premise winning enough to get a good bidding war and the necessary amount of hype to kick off Amazon's original content platform. The show is pleasant and breezy through the first three episodes. At the same time, it's somewhat underwhelming due to the fact that it seems episodic in tone with little serialization. It almost seems like the remnants of a multi-camera sitcom. It's also worth noting that John Goodman seems to be recycling some of his old roles for the lead character (I see some traces of Evan Almighty, Flight, the Babe and some of his  Coen brothers films). He is a bit grumpy, a little lazy, and that's about it. This is is even more disappointing considering that most standout shows in the Golden Age of TV have incredibly strong protagonists. The upside is that the show has a lot of potential for good plots as there's a lot of amusing situations I can imagine placing four senators in. In the third episode, for example, they go to Afghanistan on a fact-finding trip for self-serving reasons. Although I was disappointed that they were in Afghanistan only in the episode's third act, it had potential.

My disappointments with Lilyhammer, Scandal, American Horror Story, and 1600 Penn are covered elsewhere on this blog.

My predictions for the Hitfix Critical List

In the Golden Age of TV, it's important not just to analyze what's good and what isn't but to analyze the people making such judgments. Hitfix has an annual poll that collectively pools from all the Top Ten Lists of the TV critics.  I doubt I'll get a chance to participate in it but I thought it might be fun to predict what they came up with based on my impression of the critical temperature of TV. Note that the list is already out and I'm writing this from imperfect knowledge:

1. Breaking Bad, AMC-The show has been the recipient of so much hyperbole and had an agreeable enough ending that I'm pretty sure nothing else will take its mojo at this point. Like an Olympic diver who racks up 10's early in the competition, it was pretty much guaranteed high placement in its last season as long as it didn't flub the landing.
2. Mad Men, AMC-A show that was the MVP of the airwaves somewhere around 07-09 and hasn't had any major fall from grace, it should place pretty high based on plurality, particularly with some of the game changers this season.
3. Game of Thrones, HBO-The way this relatively nerdy show is crossing over into the mainstream and getting water cooler talk is going to bode well.
4. Good Wife, ABC-Steadily winning over critics over the years, I think this year will be a tipping point where the show finally hits big. I expect it will get a lot of votes in the 3-6 range
5. Enlightened, HBO-Whether critics will remember this monumental hit from way back in January-March or whether they'll be moved to reserve a slot for a TV show that's been cancelled is up for debate, but this was a truly special TV show and a lot of critics felt that way.
6. Broadchurch, BBC-I know very little about this show but like Downtown Abbey, BBC is crossing over very well into the US right now and I'm predicting this as the new critical darling
7. Orange is the New Black, Netflix- Somewhat of a sleeper hit (considering it debuted in the shadow of House of Cards and Arrested Development) I'm seeing enough buzz for it
8. Americans, FX-I have some personal issues with the way it stretches credibility, but I'm seeing a lot of potential for it among critics as the hot new show and in terms of creating genuine suspense (both multi-episode arc and in-episode), there's few shows that have done as well
9. Scandal, ABC-Quite possibly the most buzzed-about show this year (even more impressive considering we saw the back half of the second season and the top half of the third.
10. Homeland, Showtime-Some people haven't liked the third season as much but this show's a game changer and still very high quality. Even on an off-year, it will probably get enough praise to make the top ten.
11. Parks and Recreation, NBC- Critics will feel the need to balance out all the great drama with a comedy or two and this long-time critical favorite which has consistently placed on top ten lists throughout will likely be touted especially as an indirect way of honoring Greg Daniels' original vision of The Office which departed the airwaves this year and most agree has gone way too far off the rails to be honored in any way.
12. House of Cards, Netflix- Most of the feedback I heard was disappointment over the first couple episodes (I'm in that category) and then high praise from those who stuck with it and thought it came back around to brilliance. Even for TV critics, there aren't enough hours in the day to watch the 100+ programs that populate the airwaves every week and have to make decisions to optimize their TV watching, so I wouldn't be surprised if a number of TV critics didn't get to that point.
13. Arrested Development, Netflix-This show is hailed as the high water of the first decade of the 21st century in TV comedy, but it will be interesting to see where it places here as it existed before the Golden Age of TV and existed before episode-by-episode online scrutiny. The show has largely been seen as different yet still satisfying with a fair share of those saying the show lived up to or fell below the ridiculously high expectations
14. Masters of Sex, Showtime-The hype for the show was high and, by and large, it lived up to. The risque topic will earn the show bravery points and doing it tastefully will earn it quality points
15. Boardwalk Empire, HBO-A show that's been seen one of the most ambitious on TV for the past four years that has never got the love of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or Homeland, but is never one to count out either. The season two back-half in which Nucky Thompson and protege Jimmy Darmody got engaged in a power struggle earned praise and critics appear to be even happier about this season with the show. Even if critics have already come to terms with this show not becoming the next big thing, it will likely get votes at the bottom of tens.
16. Orphan Black, BBC-A show I'm not familiar with but one that I have seen generating a lot of buzz
17. American Horror Story, FX-The show is clearly all over the place but several critics have latched onto the stuff that works and repackaged the parts that don't work as part of Murphy and Falchuk's vision worthy of celebration for its unique bizarreness. Last time, I intensely delved into this show's reviews (around 2011), it was a highly polarizing show but in a system of tallying up top tens, the haters won't have any sort of veto power. Besides, since 2012, the show has become more decisive about what it wants to be.
18. New Girl, Fox-As in "Parks and Recreation" critics will need to put some simple comedies on their lists to show that they're capable of enjoying light-hearted lists and with "30 Rock" offering too short of a sample to really be called a 2013 show, "Louie" out of the running, "Girls" having an off-year and "Community" losing even some of it's strongest fans, I'm going to predict this show. It will likely earn extra points for writing its characters into an unenviable shipping and navigating its way out of that disaster.
19. Hannibal, NBC-With "The Americans," "Bates Motel," and "Hannibal" there's been a lot of great TV that came about this Spring and I've seen this show pick up a lot of notice.
20. Bob's Burgers, FOX-I firmly believe that if you're putting this on your year-end list you're doing a disservice since I don't see it as ambitious and one thing that most shows in the Golden Age have in common is ambition. Still, I'm seeing a lot of people think it's great
21. Walking Dead, AMC-A show that earned most of its praise when it debuted in late 2010, but it's consistently been must-see TV year in and year out, that captures the attention of the populance and critics alike.
22. Sleepy Hollow, NBC-Among new prime time dramas, this one seems the only one worthy of attention and buzz. I haven't followed the reviews too closely so I don't have that good of a grasp on it
23. Archer, FX-I'm not sure if this is the year in which "Archer" goes from underrated to getting top 10 recognition but most people who are familiar with the show now that brilliant and the chemistry between the cast keeps getting better and better.
24.  Top of the Lake, Sundance Channel-This is the first year in which Sundance Channel has had some programs of note and some critics might not have even made it there. This could work in the show's favor for critics who want to show they're ahead of the curve. Also working in its favor is Elizabeth Moss's unjust loss at the Emmys.
25. Sherlock, BBC-Benedict Cumberbatch's high profile this year could work in this show's favor.
26. Downtown Abbey, PBS-I see no reason why this critical favorite shouldn't at least siphon a few votes even if it hasn't been as visible as previous shows
27. Veep, HBO-It now has two Emmy-winning actresses and it earned high praises last year so I don't see the show going anywhere
28. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox-Although it's not amazing or even good by many standards, it's probably the only new Fall comedy that has any ambition and some might like its idiosyncrasies.
29. The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin-Sorkin is a crowd favorite and this didn't have the water cooler buzz of "West Wing" but it's certainly better than "Studio 60"
30. Key and Peele, Comedy Central-These two comedians are certainly getting more notable for their innovative brand of comedy and no one's saying this show is subpar for sketch comedy. It's just not notable that even good sketch comedy makes it on these sorts of lists. They are game changers

Friday, December 20, 2013

Top 10 of 2013

1. Enlightened, HBO-Simply put, it was the year's most engaging show. It not only moved me emotionally but physiologically. My stomach was literally churning watching Amy Jellicoe navigate her way through what she saw as a cruel corporate nightmare with limited information and an even more limited grasp of reality. Using the unreliable narrator trope at center to maximum effect, "Enlightened" is a show that continuously challenges the viewer to reevaluate their morals with regards to a world of corporate deathtraps that is perhaps more familiar than many of us would like to admit. Laura Dern is deserving of all the praise she's gotten and more, but it's the supporting cast of Sarah Burns, Timm Sharp, Jason Mantzoukas, Michaela Watkins (SNL failures represent!), Bayne Gibby, Chip Esten, and Mike White (who was also the show's creator and showrunner) that give richness to the world of Abaddon.

2. Orange is the New Black, Netflix-Adapted from an account of a WASP who served 18 months in prison for a drug-running crime she committed ten years prior, "Orange is the New Black" alternated between being brutal and strangely uplifting and rarely had a wasted moment of screen time in its 15-episode run. It should be noted that a trip back to the source material reveals a woman who had a good eye for observation but a relatively drama-free stay (in other words, most of the bad things happening on screen were either exaggerated or happened to someone other than Piper Kerman). Thus, credit goes to Jenji Kohan and her crew for turning a relatively tame memoir into a highly engaging drama through augmenting the rock-hard obstacles (prison guards, unforgiving inmates, corrupt administrators, etc.) that Piper must negotiate through. The series is suspenseful, engaging, amusing at moments, and is even capable of rousing the viewer to social action. Bonus points also go to the expansive supporting cast that disproves any notion that there are no good female roles on TV.

3. Arrested Development, Netflix-The Bluths came back with a lot of hype that Mitch Hurwitz and company largely delivered on with a format that was true to the hijinks of sitcomdom's most dysfunctional family while still being fresh and innovative. The episodic focus on separate characters deprived us of opportunities for Bluth interaction (sadly, no chicken dances), but it created an even greater infrastructure upon which to layer running gags and multi-layered jokes. In addition to the usual gang of side characters-- the queen of dizziness Lucille Austero, an aged Steve Holt (notably, the only character who wants to be part of the Bluth clan), a spurned-at-the-altar Ann Veal, a newly out of the closet (with the catch phrase "I'm here, I'm queer and now I'm over here") magician Tony Wonder, and the hilariously incompetent Barry Zuckercorn-- the show managed to find space for a new crop of characters: a pay-for-play politician not so subtly inspired by Herman Cain (Terry Crews), endearing drug addict DeBrie Bardeaux (Maria Bamford), face-blind political activist Marky Bark (Chris Diamantopoulos), a young starlet who gets romantically entangled with multiple Bluth family members (Isla Fisher) and Ron Howard as himself.

4. Homeland, Showtime-The third season has been seen as somewhat of a disappointment considering the lack of Brody-Carrie action but even when the show is making wrong turns with the storyline, it's a highly engaging show that could never be accused of being predictable. The show has so far avoided any signs of jumping the shark which is a difficult task considering the 2nd season ended with many key players blown to smithereens (spell check let me keep that one!) and Brody returning to fugitive status. The suspense escalated well in the opening arc in which agent Carrie Mathison found herself locked up for being on the right side of reason and while the characters are being put through the blender, the show has still managed to stay true to them. 

5. The Bridge, FX-Although the last two episodes of the first season were more denouement than action, this was a prime example of how serialized TV is now the richest form of storytelling today. This serialized crime drama, set along the Mexico-Texas border, centers around a partnership between a female detective (Diane Kruger) plagued with aesperger's who was taken in under the wing of the local police chief (Ted Levine) after her sister was murdered and a Mexican homicide detective who grew up alongside the local mob boss (a strong character in his own right) who somehow managed to turn out honestly, as they work together to track down a serial killer. The show also makes good use of serialized B-plots including one with Matthew Lillard as a self-serving alcoholic reporter and another with Annabeth Gish as a young widow who has inherited a smuggling pipeline. Thematically relevant, beautifully shot, insightful, expansive in scope, well-scripted and spearheaded by strong characters, "The Bridge" is off to a great start.

6. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX-Consistently at the top of my television queue year in and year out, there's not much to say about Sunny that hasn't already been said in previous top ten lists. Episodes focusing on Dee ("The Gang Breaks Dee") and Mac ("Mac Day") this season demonstrates that any of the show's five characters could easily top a list of the the most hilarious people on TV. Meanwhile, "Flowers for Charlie" contained a twist that showed there's room in these characters for surprises while "Mac Day" and "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award" (my favorite episode this year) showed a playful self-referentialness (damn you, spell check!). And then we had a season finale, "The Gang Squashes their Beefs," that bought back all our favorite characters and gave us hope that the gang was finally going to move beyond their pettiness and join the community at large.    

7. Bates Motel, A and E-In its efforts to slowly disentangle the why and the who of Norman Bates, the series is rife with nuggets for a budding psych major to have a field day with. More often that not, however, its a wonderful and breezy small-town drama with fascinating characters, most of whom are concealing a dark side. At the end of the first season, Hitchcock would be proud of "Bates Motel" as it contains the kind of nuanced depth that could give a psych professor hours of discussion material. Vera Farminga, one of Hollywood's most underrated actresses, is one of the stars the TV would should be thankful for this year.

8. Go On, NBC-Due to NBC's misguided idea to sweep its comedy slate clean to make way for the Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox shows (cue the snooze button), "Go On" is now an archival footnote of the 2012-2013 TV season that might only be remembered a couple years from now for the comic mileage Seth MacFarlane got out of it when he mispronounced it on SNL's Weekend Update. That's too bad, because for my money "Go On" had a first season better than the last three seasons "Community" and we all know how that show turned out. Like its doppelganger, "Go On" was also based on a disparate group of characters toughing out a big life challenge together (whether being relegated to community college or coping with loss) but it had a stronger emotional baseline. The ensemble was filled with a few characters that started out a bit over-the-top but the show made great strides at developing everyone to the point where the quirky ensemble interplay really drove the humor while the bittersweet plots packed great emotional punch.

9. Breaking Bad, AMC-My involvement with "Breaking Bad" hasn't been as strong as other TV critics (I can proudly take credit for catching the first episode, this blog is not a bandwagoner) as my viewing of the last couple seasons has been sporadic. Although I think realistically Walt should have been dead by around season 4, I didn't have a strong sense of disappointment with the show. I was simply content to be a spectator to the arms race over which critic can best express their uber-admiration for the best show ever, while there was so much great TV I can contribute my voice to. I managed to latch onto the final batch of episodes and while I didn't want to get sucked into that arms race, I'll just say it's been a thrilling ride. A main concern of mine was whether the writing room was self-conscious enough over how little of a hero Walter White was at this point and I'm especially impressed with how the endpoint for these characters managed to navigate the twin poles of glamorization and empathy.

10 (tie). Quick Draw, Hulu and Archer, FX-Like "It's Always Sunny," "Archer" is one of the most inventive and consistently hilarious comedies on the air today. The chemistry between H. Jon Benjamin, Chris Parnell, Aisha Taylor, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer, Amber Nash and Lucky Yates is all the more astounding when you consider that they all record their lines separately. In quite possibly the ballsiest (first time I've ever used that word in 7 years of blogging) sitcom premise this year, the season opener poked fun at H. Jon Benjamin's other voice-over role in a crossover with Bob's Burgers that tried to tie both shows into the same universe. From there, the hijinks only got crazier as Archer goes head-to-head with his man crush, defends the Pope (Francis or Benedict, I'm not sure), shuttles coyotes across the Mexican border, and comes face to face with his arch-nemesis in cyber-Barry.

Meanwhile, the improv-based comedy of John Lehr brought forth one of the more absurdist sitcoms I've seen in recent memory. John Lehr's last go-around in TV as pushover supermarket owner in "10 Items of Less" was lackluster which is why it's been such a joy discovering this hidden gem and seeing how the right tweaks to his (and co-creator Nancy Hower's) comedy style can create great TV. The show is set in the Old West but has a manic disregard for any sort of historical tone as one episode references universal health care, the sandwich generation, and reimagines CSI-level ballistics techniques with a sheriff in the 1800's using bows and arrows. The ironic thing is that John Lehr's protagonist -- a physically unimposing sheriff who drops his Harvard education into nearly every conversation and would be considered subpar for his job if not for a knack for marksmanship -- isn't too far removed from his character in "10 Items or Less" but the discordance of that same personality type in the 19th Century works wonders for the show's comedy.

Honorable Mentions:

Behind the Mask, Hulu-Endearing reality show featuring four diverse characters who are all passionate about their dual lives as team mascots

Office and Parks & Recreation, NBC-Both shows have been dependable stalwarts of the TV viewing experience for several years now and it was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to one of them

Americans, FX-Wonderful sense of place, wonderfully suspense-laden plots, great insight into a period in history, but believability (even if you compare it to the actual historical story it's based on) started to wear thin

Legit, FX-An unapologetic celebration of the mundane. Jim's mission isn't to better his life, become healthier, succeed at his career, or find true love. More often than not, Jim just wants to just have an agreeable day when he wakes up in the morning and he drags his two roommates with him for the ride to his blase attitude on life.

Wilfred, FX-Consistently funny and thoughtful year in and year out.

Key and Peele, Comedy Central-Smart sketch comedy from two comics who have paid their dues for a while and are finally getting their big break

Masters of Sex, Showtime-Pretty much the only Fall show that showed potential. Ensemble storylines layer themselves in typical Golden Age fashion but the show's very polished and has intriguing characters.

Necessary Roughness, USA-Another fish-out-of-water show on the USA network, that boasted a charming lead and John Stamos on top of it.

Royal Pains, USA-Checked into this show recently and saw some wonderful character development and arcing developments. It's a show that warms the heart.

Elementary, CBS-Only watched one episode but seems like it breaks procedural mold pretty well and Lucy Liu is quite charming

The Full List of What Else I Watched this Year (a number of which were still very good programs) So You Know What the Above is Being Judged Against:
30 Rock, NBC; 1600 Penn, NBC; Alpha House, Amazon; American Dad, Fox; American Horror Story, FX; America's Got Talent, NBC; The Awesomes, Hulu; Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox; Big Bang Theory, CBS; Best Week Ever, VH1; Burn Notice, USA; Camp, NBC; Community*, NBC; Crazy Ones, CBS; Dads, Fox; Family Guy, Fox; Futurama, Comedy Central; Fugget About It, Hulu; Glee*, Fox; Hollywood Game Night, Fox; House of Cards*, Netflix; Lilyhammer, Netflix; Michael J Fox Show, NBC; Mindy Project, Fox; Modern Family, ABC; New Girl, Fox; New Normal, NBC; Scandal, ABC; Sean Saves the World*, NBC; Simpsons, Fox; Sing-Off, NBC; SNL, NBC; Suburgatory, ABC; Super Fun Night, ABC; Studio C, BYU TV; Two Broke Girls, CBS; Under the Dome, TNT; Walking Dead, AMC; Wipeout, ABC; What Would Ryan Lochte Do, E!; Whose Line is it Anyway, CW; Writer's Room, Sundance Channel

* Indicates that I viewed it in very limited capacity

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lilyhammer's Glaring Problem: "Out of Africa" and "Milwall Brick"

If you go through my Top Ten lists from past years, you'll see a lot of shows that either fell out of favor or soured on me within a year. In 2010, I was charmed by the exploration of the physics behind the characters' super powers, the slowly-building serialized arc, and the supporting turns of Romany Malco and Autumn Reeser in No Ordinary Family. In 2011, I couldn't stand the schmaltzy family drama that was overtaking the action. Similarly, my love affairs with Family Guy and American Dad! have both eroded to the point where I watch the shows but don't love them. In the latter, I placed it in the top 10 of 2011 on the basis that of the more grounded level of comedy for a Seth MacFarlane creation and the malleability of Roger. Shortly thereafter, Roger (and Stan for that matter) reached somewhat of a tipping point.

Last year, Lilyhammer made my Top 10 primarily because it has such a strong sense of place although I had reservations about the unlikable protagonist that I hoped could be ironed out.

The show centers around mobster Frank Tagliano who adopts the moniker Giovanni "Johnny" Henrikson as he relocates to the Norweigan city that hosted the 1994 Olympics. Henrickson fits squarely into the mobster genre as a man who's polished and charming but inwardly ruthless and amoral. He's not at Scarface-levels of depravity and shows occasional signs of decency, but he's essentially an unwavering bully.

In the pilot episode, Henrikson arrives in Norway and wants to open a bar but  Jans, the local immigrant transition official, stands in his way with threats to drown him in paperwork and a 6-month waiting period. When Giovanni tries to bribe him, Jans reacts as anyone would and threatens to report him to the police. Giovanni lucks into some incriminating photos on Jans and manages to extort him into starting his bar license early.

In this manner, the show started out as a charming fish-out-of-the-water story as our protagonist has to navigate a different world where his usual bag of tricks won't work. The problem is that pretty soon into the first season, the fish and water started becoming pretty indistinct from one another and Giovanni starts getting away with everything with very little resistance from people who might realistically resist. In the first season alone, Giovanni physically threatens a long list of people including a a pacifist farmer, a kid on a train listening to music too loudly, an Arab immigrant named Yousef, a man with an ankle bracelet who ends up arrested through Frank, a couple store employees at a carriage store (who actually do activate a security alarm) and members of a night watch gang. Many of these people would directly benefit from their first instinct of reporting Giovanni to the authorities and those who were assaulted earlier in the season would have little to lose since Giovanni hadn't yet amassed any henchmen.

Ultimately, Giovanni is saved by a number of lucky coincidences (finding just the right piece of incrimination, having a possible tattle tale decide save himself the hassle and not report him, etc) as he takes steps to strengthen his power stronghold on Lillyhammer through forming strategic alliances with the town's power players and coercing anyone who stands in his way. One problem with this premise is that a lot of Giovanni's relationships work through coercion which leaves the loyalty in question. Why Jans decides to beg for his job UNDER the man (a partnership that in season 2 is revealed to  be subservient) who, for all he knew, was responsible for getting him fired from NAV or why Julius would still be a voluntary business partner of a man who blackmailed him when the dirt disappeared (he was in remission) and made insensitive remarks about the kid's son (he calls him "Osama") are not sufficiently explained.

All of  Giovanni's antics are done while attempting to stay under the radar of the local authorities which becomes an increasingly more tenuous plot point to buy when more and more people in the town are in on the secret that Johnny is a crook.When the local police chief, Laila, finally gets some dirt on Giovanni, things become downright anticlimactic: Upon seeing a dead body in the woods, Giovanni convinces her that she has two options "using up thousands of dollars of tax payer money to pursue justice" (um, doesn't she do that with every crook?) or just taking his word that the dead man in the woods was the guy who shot his fallen colleague and letting bygones be bygones. If there's a such thing as an unforgivable plot hole, it's that Laila would walk away at this moment.

Of course, happy coincidences and plot holes are forgivable if they ultimately favor the outcome you were hoping to see but it's hard to see Giovanni as particularly deserving of all the lucky twists of fate he receives. A show isn't automatically weakened if a bad guy is winning against the good guys, but the catch is that the show needs to be aware of who the good and bad guys really are, and it seems as if Lilyhammer isn't grasping that its show is about a bad man:

According to this interview in Rolling Stone, show co-creator and lead actor Steve Van Zandt:
"He's never going to be completely integrated into that society".... "But he is becoming a bit Norwegian and part of the culture."

In fact the show's moralistic and in-universe judgments are mostly reserved for everyone but Giovanni. When the man with the ankle bracelet gets his comeuppance from the police and Johnny sails away consequence-free, are we meant to see him as foolish? Is this a morally equivalent universe in which he gets what he deserves?

The show ended season one with a bittersweet note as his girlfriend (pregnant with his twin children) finally decided she had enough of him and threw him out and it seemed as if an amiable partnership was forming between, but the character hasn't grown and as a result, the show feels stagnant and its lucky coincidences less forgivable.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why the 5 picture system has always been a mistake

I'm looking this up and I think the 5-picture system was always a mistake.

My reasoning is that in every decade the Academy has always picked films that don't hold up to history and look ridiculous years later. Throughout the 5-picture years, the academy has a fairly good track record of selecting 1-2 or 1-3 (most people agree that Social Network-Kings Speech-True Grit were all good choices as was No County-There Will Be Blood, Avatar-Hurt Locker, Argo-Lincoln, Crash-Brokeback, Little Miss Sunshine-Departed, Aviator-Million Dollar Baby-Sideways, Mystic River-LOTR) but in slots 3-5, the academy makes arbitrary decisions that could often look stupid down the line.

For example, let's look at 1960. The best picture nominees were Elmer Gantry (worthy), the Apartment (worthy), Sundowners, Sons and Lovers, and Alamo. I'm almost entirely unfamiliar with those films, except I know that the Alamo was heavily campaigned for and yes, ignorance is no excuse for whether a film is good, but there are definitely four unnominated films from that year I've heard of and I'd consider them classics  (as with everything on this post, YMMV): Exodus, Inherit the Wind (although some find Stanley Kramer preachy and he never makes a short list of the best directors in comparison to contemporaries like Kazan, Lumet or Nichols, this is among his best films), Psycho, and Spartacus.

Decisions that are stupid in retrospect at the 3-5 slots have happened in every decade.

The 90's, for example, had Awakenings (about as dramatic as an episode of ER), Godfather III (considered to be a disappointment), Four Weddings and a Funeral (80% of Jon Cusack romantic comedies have more to say than that film), Il Postino (clearly has been forgotten: I just asked eight of my facebook friends if they've heard of that, I got ZERO yeses), Secrets and Lies (I got one of eight on that one), Babe (how many films were influenced by that? I think Homeward Bound 2 and Zookeeper was the only other film ever to use the formula of talking animals), the Fugitive (decent for an action film, but even a good action film today like Source Code or Adjustment Bureau is not going to make the Oscars).

It's pretty reasonable to assume that great films like Ed Wood, Misery, The Player, Leaving Las Vegas, Heat, Usual Suspects or Dead Man Walking would have gotten a nomination considering the other awards they were getting that season.

In the 00's: Almost Famous, Mullholland Drive, Memento, Royal Tenenbaums, Far From Heaven, Adaptation, About Schmidt, Road to Perdition, Eternal Sunshine, History of Violence, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Dream Girls, United 93, Into the Wild, Sweeney Todd, Wall-E, Dark Knight, and Wrestler, all had a good chance of being included if they expanded the nominee slate.

Would it have made up for questionable choices like Chocolat? Most definitely. I think more movie fans were happy with 2011's choices than 2000 because all the good nominees were included and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (according to, it was the most unpopular choice of Best Picture nominees in the 21st century with Chocolat) will just be seen as a quirky anomaly in retrospect

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Quintessential Tennessee film

The Quintessential Tennessee film: Mystery Train

Tennessee is what I like to call the horizontal Chile of the US: a rectangular slab so thin and long that people on one end have virtually nothing in common with people on the other end.

Only Tennessee doesn't have two distinct regions that have nothing in common with one another: It has three centered around the state's three major cities of Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville as signified by the three stars on the Tennessee state flag. Look at Tennessee's state quarter and you'll see a guitar on the left, a violin (or fiddle) on the right and a trumpet in the middle with three stars on the outside and the inscription "Musical Heritage" written in the center. The message is clear: The state is three distinct regions defined by musical styles.

In the West, the port city of Memphis was a convergence point in the development of the Blues as musicians traveled up and down the Mississippi in river barges. The city is the home of Beale Street, Graceland and Sun Studios where Elvis got his start. In addition to the King, Memphis was instrumental in the musical journeys of Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and pretty much every other icon of rock and roll you can think of.

In the center, Nashville is the world capitol of country music. Like Memphis, the city's tourist scene is also nearly synonymous with its music scene, counting Mercy Lounge, the Gran Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame as its greatest landmarks.

While Memphis is the classic Midwestern city and Mississippi River port and Nashville is a bastion of the glamorous side of Antebellum South, Knoxville is squarely in the heart of a distinct cultural sliver of the U.S. known as Appalachia where one of America's most distinct musical styles is king: Bluegrass.

The quintessential Tennessee film is an ensemble film in which different strangers' lives are united through musical fandom and, no, its not Rob Altman's landmark epic "Nashville." That film is more about aspiring dreamers and politicians than people living in the present reality of Tennessee.

Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train has three interlocking stories set in a seedy Memphis hotel all tied together in time by a local radio station playing the Elvis version of "Blue Moon." The first story centers around a suspicious woman on the run who needs a room for the night and is taken in by a sympathetic woman as a roommate. The second one centers around three lowlifes (Steve Buscemi is one of them) for whom a night of drinking turns into all-out criminal activity from which they seek shelter at the Memphis hotel.

The third is the one with the largest Tennessee connection although the other two stories provide a much-needed backdrop of the ebb and flow of urban life for this story to bounce off of.

A young Japanese couple is making pilgrimage to Memphis to witness its musical history. They're heavy rock and roll buffs who have an ongoing debate over whether Elvis or Carl Perkins was the true father of rock and roll. The young man looks out of place as a Japanese tourist dressed like a greaser. In addition to his attempts to look cool smoking (much like Godard's film "Breathless"), there's another motif of him flicking out his comb and running it through his hair. Still, the film portrays this young couple's relationship to the musicians they idolize with delicacy and sincerity.

Roger Ebert wrote in his review:
In the hands of another director, this setup would lead directly into social satire, into a comic putdown of rock tourism... But Jarmusch is not a satirist. He is a romantic, who sees America as a foreigner might - as a strange, haunting country where the urban landscapes are painted by Edward Hopper and the all-night blues stations provide a soundtrack for a life.

The message is that true passion of music transcends any superficial disconnects (much like the theme on the state quarter suggests). It's also a film that delves into nostalgia and how the pervasiveness of Elvis is both haunting to some and a source of beauty to others. Lastly, it's worth noting that for a state defined by its musicians, it features blues musician Screamin' Jay Hawkins in the role of the desk clerk.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The quintessential New Jersey film

The quintessential New Jersey film: Dogma

Mob dramas such as "The Sopranos" or "Boardwalk Empire" on TV or "Atlantic City," "Wise Guys," "Color of Money," or "Owning Mahoney" have a long tradition in the Garden State but the gangster/casino genre has long been established as belonging to Chicago and Atlantic City can't hold a candle to Las Vegas. Even if Las Vegas' latest offerings in film (Honeymoon in Vegas, The Hangover, Waking up in Vegas) or TV (take your pick between the failed Michael Chiklis/Dennis Quaid series "Vegas", the moderately successful yet shallow Josh Duhamel/James Caan series "Las Vegas" or the failed Rob Lowe series "Dr. Vegas") fail to measure up to the Atlantic City-based dramas in terms of portraying the grandiosity of a casino town, that doesn't change the fact that Las Vegas is THE casino town in America.

Another popular candidate might be Zach Braff's quirky indie comedy Garden State. Braff is not the only New Jersey native who decided to honor his home state in his titling choices (Danny DeVito's production company is called Jersey films despite the fact he no longer lives in Jersey). He delivered a nicely convincing soliloquy on Jersey when he hosted SNL (complete with a song and dancing Prudential Center) but that doesn't mean his love of New Jersey translated into film very well. His film felt like it could be centered anywhere in the U.S. that has deciduous (you better believe I spell-checked the hell out of that word) forest.

New Jersey, the nation's densest and richest state, is the epicenter of suburbia in the U.S. Most of its residents are suburbanites of three of the country's largest metropolitan areas (Baltimore, Philly, and New York) and what's left over has formed an indistinct tract of the larger Northeastern megalopolis. People who drive between NYNEX and the Mid-Atlantic on a regular basis think of New Jersey as a series of rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway (taking your pick between those two is likely the most exciting thing you'll do while inside the state).

The state's biggest attempt at having a thriving city of its own, Newark, has been a complete failure for most of the past 150 years, despite the popularity of ex-mayor Cory Booker's Twitter account. One of the most notable moments in Booker's tenure was when he received a $150 million dollar donation to the school system from Mark Zuckerberg which isn't so much an indication of Booker's ability to charm Silicon Valley so much as Zuckerberg deciding that no municipal government was more hopeless than Newark.

In 1903, as the power of the suburbs increased, the state legislature froze Newark's municipal expansion and it became the country's first doughnut city (where the suburbs are bigger than the city center). Hence, New Jersey is where suburbs rule.

And no one knows suburbia better than blue collar director Kevin Smith. The suburbia of Kevin Smith's world is the place where bored teenagers escape into the world of comic books, pot, and sexual perversion (or if not actual sexual perversion, discussions about the topic). It's populated by foul-mouthed characters uninhibited by any sense of fear because they likely didn't grow up with any serious problems or boundaries. It's a place where the most glamorous place in town is the mall (see "Mallrats"). The mall is so iconic to suburban history that most textbooks on urban development or land use planning note a distinct phase in the evolution of suburbia called "malling."
In other words, Kevin Smith's suburbia filtered through the lens of his New Jersey experiences, is suburbia period.

Among his many Jersey-set films, I'm drawn to Dogma because of it's sheer self-importance. The film posits the scenario that Jersey is the center of the celestial universe. It's where God occasionally takes human form to play pinball along the boardwalk, where the devil's minions are are a street hockey gang, and where Jesus's thirteenth apostle is hanging out behind a Burger King. Most importantly, it's the nexus of Heaven and Hell where the universe's very existence will cease to exist unless a loud mouth New Jersey slacker and his sidekick don't act.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The story of Dorothy Gibson and Titanic's first movie

Many people made names for themselves on the night of the Titanic's sinking, either through heroism, feats of strength and endurance, inaction or cowardice. A survivor who went unnoticed the night of the Titanic as she quietly boarded a lifeboat with her mother, 22-year-old Dorothy Gibson, would go on to make a name for herself as the first person to tell the story of the Titanic cinematically.

Gibson was a New York-based actress and magazine model who had found success acting on Broadway between 1907 and 1911 and was beginning to segue over into movies. She was less than a year into her contract with the French film company Eclair (she was based out of the American branch) when she had become well-known as an actress for playing Revolutionary War heroine Molly Pitcher. To celebrate the completion of her latest string of films, she and her mother went on vacation to Europe.

After the disaster, she was asked by Eclair to star in a film about the Titanic. Although she was hesitant about reliving her own tragic experiences, she conceded and ended up writing the film as well. She essentially played herself and wore the same clothes as she had on the night of her sinking. The other major roles in the film were her mother, father, two friends, and an Ensign Jack. It was not, in essence, any sort of comprehensive account, but the film got good reviews.

The one-reel film no longer survives today. The last-known copy was destroyed in a vault fire in 1914. Because she quit acting to puruse opera shortly after making "Saved From the Titanic", none of Gibson's other films except one ("The Lucky Holdup") exist today either.

Gibson had a very interesting life in the 34 years after the Titanic. Aside from a second career in opera, she later become involved in Fascist politics and intelligence work before switching allegiances against the Italians and Nazis in World War II. She was arrested by the Gestapo but escaped her prison in 1944.

The story of Dorothy Gibson and Titanic's first movie

Many people made names for themselves on the night of the Titanic's sinking, either through heroism, feats of strength and endurance, inaction or cowardice. A survivor who went unnoticed the night of the Titanic as she quietly boarded a lifeboat with her mother, 22-year-old Dorothy Gibson, would go on to make a name for herself as the first person to tell the story of the Titanic cinematically.

Gibson was a New York-based actress and magazine model who had found success acting on Broadway between 1907 and 1911 and was beginning to segue over into movies. She was less than a year into her contract with the French film company Eclair (she was based out of the American branch) when she had become well-known as an actress for playing Revolutionary War heroine Molly Pitcher. To celebrate the completion of her latest string of films, she and her mother went on vacation to Europe.

After the disaster, she was asked by Eclair to star in a film about the Titanic. Although she was hesitant about reliving her own tragic experiences, she conceded and ended up writing the film as well. She essentially played herself and wore the same clothes as she had on the night of her sinking. The other major roles in the film were her mother, father, two friends, and an Ensign Jack. It was not, in essence, any sort of comprehensive account, but the film got good reviews.

The one-reel film no longer survives today. The last-known copy was destroyed in a vault fire in 1914. Because she quit acting to puruse opera shortly after making "Saved From the Titanic", none of Gibson's other films except one ("The Lucky Holdup") exist today either.

Gibson had a very interesting life in the 34 years after the Titanic. Aside from a second career in opera, she later become involved in Fascist politics and intelligence work before switching allegiances against the Italians and Nazis in World War II. She was arrested by the Gestapo but escaped her prison in 1944.

The Quintessential Hawaii film

The Quintessential Hawaii film: Blue Hawaii

Hawaii is widely seen as America's slice of exotic paradise. It's one of the nine states I haven't been to but my image of it is well-formed by the friends I have who take their once-in-a-lifetime vacations there and by all the sitcom specials (Saved by the Bell, My Wife and Kids, Step by Step, Full House) where the family or gang takes a trip to Hawaii.

A popular choice is Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity.

The 1953 Best Picture Oscar winner, set in a military barracks on the eve of Pearl Harbor, is famous for that makeout scene on the Beach, Montgomery Clift's broody performance, and Frank Sinatra winning an Oscar for a character dressed in tacky Hawaiian shirts. 

From Here to Eternity did lead to an increased resurgence in Hawaiian aloha shirts but the problem with the film is that Pearl Harbor doesn't define Hawaii. It's one of the two most disastrous homeland attacks ever to occur on American soil, but that's more of an anomaly and that anomaly is far overshadowed by the ensuing years of Polynesian-tinted sunniness.

Courtesy: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Another option is Alexander Payne's 2011 film The Descendants (an Oscar nominee and winner in the screenplay category) which (like Sunshine State) seeks to crack the facade of a tourism mecca and show struggling ordinary people underneath. The film delves into the social hierarchy between Hawaiian land owners, natives, and new blood in the real estate market, but this all falls into the B-story that's overshadowed by an A-plot about a disheveled middle-aged man struggling to cope with the pending loss of his unfaithful wife. In short, it's largely a film about a disheveled George Clooney in tacky Hawaiian wear. 

Descendants is a worthy runner-up, but my pick is going to be the 1961 film Blue Hawaii because it's pure kitschy, fun escapism. 

Elvis Presley stars as the quintessential all-American looking to have a good time after getting out of the Army. His father wants him to work at the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company but Chad decides to work at his girlfriend's tourist agency instead as a guide. 

It's not really about any sort of grand socio-economic conflict. The film's tag line was:
"Ecstatic romance...exotic dances...exciting music in the world's lushest paradise of song!"

Also of note: A lot of the glamour of Hawaii was first spread through military men stationed in Hawaii during the war reporting back to the homeland on how glamorous the islands were, so it's fitting that Presley plays an ex-GI, although his journey is in reverse. 

In short, the film features Elvis (an honorary Hawaiian) wearing an aloha shirt and playing a uke. What better image could Hawaii want than that?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Quintessential Alabama and Mississippi films

The Quintessential Alabama film: To Kill a Mockingbird
If being Southern before the Civil War is a bad thing and holding onto that Southerness after the Civil War is considered a very bad thing, then Alabama (along with Mississippi) is widely considered one of the two worst states in the nation. Whereas Mississippi has other points of pride that don't specifically bring up its racist history (the blues, aquaculture, the Mississippi Delta, some of the South's more ornate plantations), there's not as much for Alabama to do except own up to being the epitome of the Deep South which would explain the nickname Heart of Dixie. After all, Alabama today is a center of industry and manufacturing which is something present-day Alabama has in common with Alabama in antebellum days.

Candidates for the quintessential Alabama film ranges from dark films like Color Purple while a film like Tuskegee (or what I imagine Red Tails would be like) tries to simply portray heroism without its contrast. Talladega Nights and My Cousin Vinny also come to mind as films with a specific location but I associate NASCAR as being more of a Carolinas thing and My Cousin Vinny lacks a strong regional flavor. I first assumed it was in the Midwest or Not-So-Deep South before looking it up.

The quintessential Alabaman film, therefore, should be a film that negotiates Alabama's racist past with its progress. It should be a film that's unapologetic about the attitudes of its people back in the day. To Kill a Mockingbird has the quintessential hero in a fight for justice that results in his client not being exonerated. It's a bittersweet film in which the main protagonist (the book's narrator) is a young girl who learns that right and wrong are complicated where they live.

It's a good portrait of small-town Alabaman life as told first-hand by an Alabaman.  Although it's primarily known as a book, the film version is iconic enough to appear in the iconic AFI list: 100 Years...100 Movies.

The Quintessential Mississippi film: O Brother Where Art Thou
Mississippi, like Alabama, is known for being the extreme Deep South so we could go for a film that uses the state as a hotbed for hatred such as "Mississippi Burning" or "Ghosts of Mississippi" but look closer (as I did last year on a very touristy trip through the state while staying in Memphis) and you'll see other traits such as their blues heritage, the riverboat culture of the Mississippi Delta, the ornate plantations, and even the fact that they farm fish (aquaculture). Mississippi also has a natural beauty with its swampy magnolia and oak forests that's almost mystical.

The Coen brothers create a strong sense of place in their films and capture that natural beauty out of which tall tales could be spun, the likes of which appear in the travels of Everett, Delmar and Pete. Mississippi is the proud birthplace of the blues in their purest form (as in acoustic, unpolished recordings) which ties into the trademark sound of the inadvertent band formed by the trio known as the  Soggy Bottom Boys. In its early form, Blues was almost indistinguishable from something heard in churches which is why it's also appropriate that there's such elaborate religious mythology.

Remember when I talked about the ornate plantations Mississippi was famous for? We see that in the elaborate divide between rich and poor and the class-conscious ex-wife of Everett (Holly Hunter).

Lastly, when I was in Mississippi, a lot of the tourism centered on roads and corridors such as the Blues Highway (running through Clarksdale) or the Natchez Trace and the film emphasizes this geography as well as all the mythical and legendary stuff they encountered was along the road. The character who sold his soul to the devil (Tommy) is even based on a piece of Mississippi folklore about a famous blues guitarist (Robert Johnson) who sold his soul to the devil at the confluence of two major highways in Cleveland, Mississippi.

The quintessential Florida film: Sunshine State

The Quintessential Florida film: Sunshine State

Since Ponce de Leon came to Florida looking for his fountain of youth, the state of Florida has historically been a land of opportunity with vastly different groups of dream seekers -- the tourist industry, Russian arms dealers, Cuban emigres, Latino power players, Northeastern snowbirds, adherents of the philosophy/religion of Jimmy Buffet -- intersecting to make a vast socio-economic web that includes the moderately dysfunctional government we often read about.

There are a lot of great examples of Florida films covering all those different views of Floridian life: Off the top of my head, there's the dysfunctional urban landscape of Miami in Barry Sonnenfeld's adaptation of the Dave Barry book "Big Trouble," the mob film "Scarface" (few know that Al Capone ran much of his Chicago mob operations from Florida), the portrait of Florida as an lavish 50's vacation spot for snowboards in "Some Like it Hot" and "Palm Beach Story," Miami as a happening singles scene in "Hitch," and the more backwater view of Florida as a small-town haven of eccentric characters in "Because of Winn Dixie."

Rather than pick and choose any one specific version of Florida for the quintessential Florida film, I've chosen "Sunshine State" because it includes the intersection of multiple Floridian versions in one Altmanesque whirlwind.

The underrated gem by John Sayles flew under the radar when it was released in 2002 but it's worth a second look. Starring an ensemble that includes Mary Steenburgen, Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, Alan King, James McDaniel, and Jane Alexander, the film centers around seaside town whose tranquil existence is threatened by an enroaching real estate developer.

Florida is largely a state where real estate development is the rule of the land. The city of Miami, for example, is no longer home to the Miami Dolphins, Miami Beach, University of Miami, Key Biscayne, or even Miami airport. As seen below, all those places broke off from the main city proper as the municipalities became dominated by gated communities and developments that encouraged voters to need the city less. Miami, in fact, survived a vote to dissolve the city entirely in 1997.

Steenburgen stars as an overanxious real estate developer who is trying so hard to sell her latest development she doesn't even notice that her husband (King) is suicidal. Real estate developers in Florida are notorious for pushing the boundaries of development.  

The only reason there isn't enough sprawl to connect the East and West coasts of Florida is through the tireless work of wetland preservationists (what ultimately dooms this real estate venture). The Everglades saved through the championing of Majority Stoneman Douglas who now has a number of streets, statues, and parks named after her in South Florida.

Bassett stars as former town pariah Desiree Perry who got pregnant by the local football star (McDaniel) before he made it big and is now returning to her hometown. She's deciding on behalf of her family whether to sell the land or preserve the special piece of her town. The theme here is Florida being a dream for so many conflicting groups of people is represented here. For Bassett's character and her neighbors, the town represented the opportunity for blacks to have their little piece of the beach. The town also highlights the pockets of poverty found in many a Florida coastal town.

Lastly, we have Edie Falco as Marley Temple who represents the state's evolving tourist industry. Temple, a sixth generation Floridian, used to be a mermaid in one of the seaside attractions that lined the highways before the corporate megaliths of Sea World and Disney World took over. She's now an owner of the family motel who's sick of where she's living. Her tryst with a landscape architect hired as (Timothy Hutton) with a prospective land developer could be seen as a metaphor for the past Florida going the way of the future.

As a tapestry of intersecting lives, Sunshine State works as a great scene piece that has aged well and will likely continue to be relevant.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reexaming Titanic 16 Years Later

If there's one thing the 1997 James Cameron film and the 1912 steam liner both have in common is that they were unprecedented cultural juggernauts. Simply by setting sail out of Southhampton, England on April 10th, 1912, the Titanic set a world record for the largest moving object. Of course, it would go onto set more records later in the week for death and disaster, but it was a symbol of crowning achievement for the guilded age nonetheless

Similarly, no movie had captured the public attention in my lifetime like the film did. It's budget and attention to detail was unimaginable and clearly enhanced the film in an era when the American blockbuster was still evolving as an art form. It's 15-week run as America's number one film (very few films today last more than 2 weeks at the number one spot and I highly doubt any film has gone more than four weeks at #1 since 2000)  and subsequent shattering of a 20-year-old record for domestic gross was ample evidence that this is the film everyone saw if they were alive in 1998 and not living in a cave.

I first saw the film in the theater a few months after its release in my early teens with my late grandfather (on a bittersweet note, this was the last film he saw) and was overtaken with sadness. To witness the senseless tragedy of those lives lost was a severely depressing experience that haunted me for a couple days. I wasn't a film enthusiast back then so rather than admire James Cameron for so effectively depressing the hell out of me, I just wished I hadn't seen the film in the first place.

About nine years later in college, I saw the film again with a more detached emotional perspective and found the film to be a brilliant film and used it as the topic for a term paper in one of my film courses. I no longer saw Titanic as a portrait senseless tragedy but a well-thought out expose on class tension. The tragedy wasn't that a lot of people died but that existing views on class (the fact that lifeboats for third class passengers weren't provided because they'd aesthetically clutter up the deck strolling experiences of the first class is the kind of thing you can go wild with in such an essay) prevented lives from being saved.

Fast-forward to the present where I've become much more educated on the Titanic. The 100th Anniversary of the sinking had an article in National Geographic that spurned my interest along with a recent Reddit question and answer session by a preservationist for the Titanic exhibit. The more I've diven into the research about the Titanic, the more I've realized that the mysteries of the Titanic are unknowable. We now have greater forensic technology to piece together what happened in the North Atlantic at 41'N, 48'W in the early morning hours of August 15th and research and new books have kept going on the disaster but those new books have the effect of disproving what the earlier books said and those new books are in doubt too.

For instance, the Californian and its captain Robert Lord took a lot of heat because they were apparently closer to the Titanic than the Carpathia (the ship that eventually picked up the survivors, making contact with the first lifeboat, approximately an hour and forty minutes after the Titanic sank and everyone not in a lifeboat died of hypothermia from being in 29 degree water) and did not respond to the disaster in time. However, new research by the British Department of Transport and another maritime historian David Gittins have supposedly cleared Lord's name by calculating that the Californian was likely too far away to be able to make a rescue in time. This pushed forward the theory that the ship that the people on board Titanic and the Californian saw over the horizon was a third unidentified ship (The Samson) that was sailing illegally in those waters. The problem with that theory is that another Titanic researcher, Leslie Reade, followed this revelation by consulting Icelandic port records (the Samson's destination) and did the math to discover that the Samson couldn't have been there in time. With that myth debunked, most Titanic researchers are pointing their fingers again at the Californian as the likely mystery ship on the horizon but how does that explain the fireworks seen on the bow of the ship?

These are still issues hotly debated today and whether the water was even 29 degrees or whether anyone lasted more than an hour in the water (see Charles Joughin) were up for debate.

Several of the survivors such as Colonel Archibald Gracie and Molly Brown made names for themselves as amateur historians after the incident and perhaps that's where James Cameron fits in: Cameron pieced together the most exacting details of history he could find while sifting through inexact historical speculation to create a powerful story and perhaps that's as good as one can hope for.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Saturday Night Live: The Ed Norton episode

Watching Ed Norton jump through the hoops required of an SNL guest host with such aplomb
led me to ponder the differences between a great host and a popular one.

In the great AND popular host category, Christopher Walken, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and Jon Hamm have managed to kill it on stage and earn enthusiastic invitations to return simply by virtue of being great actors. In a second category of popular hosts are people like Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan (who, thanks to a three-year sting in the mid-aughts, is almost a five-timer), Miley Cyrus, and Justin Timberlake (I'm aware I'm in the minority in thinking he's not that special as an SNL host. I'm not saying he's bad, but can we agree he gets A LOT of praise) who often get glowing reviews if they don't mess up.

In the midst of all this, I was thinking about how even though Ed Norton did a great job unlikely he'll ever get the attention for a great hosting job that someone like Justin Timberlake does even when he does a mediocre job. It's a shame because I think it's more impressive and fun watching a primarily dramatic actor do a redneck accent or an overexcited virgin than watching a popular teen idol marginally succeed at his quest to be liked by a youthful demographic who already likes him or her.

Outside of Norton, this week was notable for me in that it gave the opportunity for the three underused repertory cast members to shine: Aidy Bryant successfully avoided her go-to valley girl character for a whopping three sketches. Maybe she does have some range after all.
Similarly Jay Pharoah carried a sketch without resorting to doing an impression, and Pedrad (who did shine a lot in her first 4 seasons but hasn't had a lot to do this season) got the lead role in a character-based sketch. Pedrad excels at off-beat original characters similar to Kristen Wiig but thanks to the writing staff's restraint, Pedrad hasn't gotten the chance to run any of them into the ground.

In my opinion, the best sketch of the night was the "12 Days a Slave" parody. It was pointed, sharp, and full of odd moments of humor throughout. Hardly fifteen seconds went by without a solid joke.

I think sometimes SNL can be overly comfortable with regional stereotypes which is why the  exterminators sketch left a sour taste in my mouth. The sketch also failed because it didn't develop any of its three comedic concepts (1 People having a meeting  rudely interrupted, 2 Eccentric exterminators, and 3 Diabolically smart possums) well enough for any of the three angles to be

I thought the sketch about warning about the dangers of strangers was another big hit for me and had a good kernel of truth as I always felt like elementary school health and safety classes taught information that could be easily challenged (i.e. say no to weed, etc). The props department must have been lazy to not come up with any large desks.

I don't understand why the sketch about the virgin waiters was called "Ruth's Chris." Is that a reference to "Ruth's Crisp Steak House"?  Why do they need a brand name of a restaurant (who might or might not be comfortable with being used in a sketch) for the audience to associate that type of waiter with. I had a similar complaint about Target Lady (as in: Does Target, in particular, have crazy cashiers? If Target isn't specifically being satirized, why use the name?). Although it got humor from a couple crude places, I appreciated the enthusiasm of the quartet of virgin waiters. With over half (3/5 to be exact) of SNL's cast having been there for less than two years, it seems like the writers are trying to mix and match their 15 sketch actors as much as possible so that they might find some chemistry in the group.

Taran Killam's quasi-digital short took too long to get to its first joke although it seemed kind of sad which isn't a good thing if there's not a comic level to that sadness.

The Wes Anderson film, although very culturally specific, was wonderfully constructed. It was the kind of sketch you can watch multiple times and pick up something on new each repeated viewing.

The Rain Man parody looked good in concept but, unfortunately, didn't escalate anywhere. It's an example of a sketch that probably could have been improved if it went through another pass.

On the whole though, this was the kind of episode that was worthwhile thanks to Norton and cast members stepping it up.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Some Notes on the Great Gatsby

My original entry on the Great Gatsby was complete with visuals, videos and a full multi-paragraph review but unfortunately the Blogger software mysteriously deleted it. The moral of the story? Wordpress is the answer.

In any case, here is an early draft of that review:
  • A product from Baz Luhrmann, the film was certainly guilty of what TV Tropes ( calls anachronism stew. The clearest examples of this are that much of the diagetic sound track would not have rap music and the costumes would not have been as revealing. This is an unusual case of anachronism stew, however, because it's how the film is marketed:"Come see Great Gatsby with Baz Luhrmann! Watch what happens when Baz Luhrmann mixes up a 1920's story with 21st century sensibilities and various trappings of all historic eras in between." Thus, every historic inaccuracy isn't so much a gaff but an artistic choice which makes the critical viewing experience a lot different. If you're not intimately familiar with the 1920's, it's an instinctual trust that what you're watching is inaccurate.
  • In reality, the soundtrack isn't as obnoxious as the trailer made it out to be with a screeching rendition of "Happy Together" combined with out-of-place rap music turned up to eleven. There's maybe two or three rap songs, a nicely reworked "Crazy in Love" (music director Jay-Z felt the need to plug his wife), and a U2 song but also a full orchestration of Rhapsody in Blue and an appropriately placed jazz trumpet. If anything the fast-paced editing was the main culprit for distraction. 
  • This film also narrowly beats out the Da Vinci Code for laziest use of stock footage I've ever seen in a film. It was fortunately used in such small doses that anyone hardly remembers
  • I imagine the audience score (80% of moviegoers in exit polls liked it as opposed to 50% of critics) was so high because the trailer and Baz Luhrmann's reputation were sufficient enough to steer anyone away who might give the film a thumbs down. In other words, Great Gatsby should be measured more on box office receipts because it already narrowed its audience with a polarizing preview. Previews are not supposed to be polarizing as they are generally created by film studios and not the director and those studios tend to like the widest audience possible. I imagine it was an inadvertent effect. 
  • Leo DiCaprio has had some of the best film performances of the last decade and deserves any role he wants, every one of the 51 times he said "Old Sport," I felt he just lacked the presence and gravity to carry it. While he is in his mid-to-late-30s, he plays around 30 which is a bit young for the part. I'm not suggesting Robert Redford is a better actor than Leo DiCaprio, but he looked exactly how Gatsby should as spelled out in the novel: A little older, broad-shouldered, aristocratic, distinguished. 
  • The hypervisual style of Baz Luhrmann can be wonderful at times and not work at others. The use of color in certain sequences (like Nick's first party) was especially wonderful in that your eye was drawn to the different colors on every flapper's dress. The tea party seemed like a slightly sunnier version of a Tim Burton film. The junkyard where Isla Fisher's garage was located was depicted as a bleak landscape that evoked more questions than answers and there was probably some symbolic reason as to why some post-apocalyptic landscape would exist between Great Neck, Long Island and Manhattan (if I'm not mistaken Flushing Meadows exists between those two cities, it's a very nice park). I don't suspect anyone thinks there's some consistent visual motif to the whole movie but rather just a lot of nifty things to look at..
  • I don't understand why Gatsby drove at super sonic speeds. I suppose at a certain point, the only explanation is that it's a Baz Luhrmann film but I imagine a car in the 1920's was probably going 30 miles per hour at best. 
  • On a somewhat related note: I have some cousins who live in Great Neck, New York which is what West and East End are a stand-in for. If you look on Google Earth you can see why the towns have those names. My cousins even showed me a house off in the woods that was supposedly the inspiration for Gatsby's mansion
  • Speaking of the mansion, I thought it was a plot hole that Gatsby would have a whole army of manservants. Maybe, he just contracted them for the parties. Wasn't he a humongous recluse?
  • Hello, Elizabeth Debicki! I will keep my eye out for your future filmography as you stole the show here