Saturday, August 12, 2017

My Response to 6 AV Club Q & A Prompts

The pop-culture website AV Club has a fun Friday feature where they ask their writers a broad question and have them riff on pop culture with differing answers and writing styles. I noticed that I have some pretty detailed answers from the comments section, so I thought I'd elaborate a little and paste some of them over here. 

What Pop Culture Screams 1997 to You?



The summer of 1997 reflects a time when the Summer blockbuster was trying to transition into the tentpole (so called because they hold up the profit line from all the riskier projects) industry we know today. Natural disaster films like “Volcano” and “Anaconda” and the annual film starring Harrison Ford as a gruff hero of sorts (i.e. "Clear and Present Danger", "The Fugitive", "Patriot Games"), “Air Force One” took up their spaces on the calendar. Efforts to sequalize big hits were burning into the ground with epic failures like “Lost World” and “Batman and Robin.”

It was at this time when the formula was more of a prototype than a sure thing that Barry Sonnenfeld released "Men in Black" from a comic book that was not a well-known existing property. Carrying the biggest budget of the year on a movie this (for lack of a better word) weird might not make sense in retrospect, but it was on the heels of a time when visually idiosyncratic film makers Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton had their biggest commercial successes ("12 Monkeys" for the former;  Batman series and "Edward Scissorhands" for the latter). It was as good a time an effort in the vacuum of a working formula to try a blockbuster that was visually weird and stylistically unique. It also had Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones who always seem to epitomize the 90s for me. 



I like to think of myself as a reluctant extrovert, although I am likely not the only person with a duality between getting energy from personal interactions and being exhausted by all the complications therein. As a human-interest journalist, I love the opportunity to dive into unique subcultures what's the luxury of not having to declare myself a part of any of them. That's why being a caterer on the "Party Down" crew seems like a perfect fit. Every gig I take will, at the very least, be eventful for starters. I will be at liberty to partake in the event (the show's in-universe rules will find a way to stretch my fifteen-minute break into full-on party mode) should I desire, but if I'm feeling reticent, my uniform will allow me to stay in wallflower/observer mode without fully committing to being part of the scene. I would also get a lot of enjoyment out of watching my slightly depressed coworkers alternate between flirting with each other and destroying one another's egos.


Credit: Rogerebert.com


Romantic comedies are a viable genre when handled with care, but there is no narrative trope that is more sorely in need of reexamination than the penchant to romantically pair off any two characters who make googly eyes at each other as the standard happy ending. Aside from how it bears little  resemblance to real life and encourages unhealthy expectations, it really dilutes the magic of a romantic ever after if it’s already a foregone conclusion. Nowhere does this seem more of an egregious mistake than the 2012 indie film “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Aubrey Plaza plays emotionally detached young adult Darius (in other words, Aubrey Plaza in full snark mode), on a quest with two other journalists to uncover the truth behind a strange man (Mark Duplass as Kenneth) who thinks he can time travel. Darius’s casual cynicism gets put through the blender, as she makes her way into Kenneth's circle of trust only through empathizing with him. In and of itself, this should be enough to make a great story. Furthermore, because it’s an indie film, it would have been a great opportunity to buck the oldest trend in the book and not pair the characters up. After all, they have no chemistry, the age difference between the two characters borders on gross, and it’s quite possible that Kenneth is mentally ill. Instead, the predictable end result takes down the movie a couple pegs to forgettable.


The easiest way to answer this question is to scroll down my all-time list of favorite films, cross-reference with the proper time period, and voila! But watching a brilliant movie I know will be brilliant and that I also know (with a few exceptions) my fellow movie watchers will also appreciate, will be a foregone conclusion.
Therefore, my criteria has to be brilliant yet baffling: Trying to predict audiences’ conflicting reactions to something as full of raw anger and as adeptly staged as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff” would be a hoot. Films like “Five Easy Pieces” or “The Graduate” are great films I have trouble fully grasping the thematic context of because of my distance from the counter-culture movement and experiencing these films during their times could be enlightening.

The one that keeps sticking in my head is “Brazil." Terry Gilliam’s dedication to visual purity often overshadows his extremely inventive storylines and this is one where the balance between the two really shine. Opinions will vary, but this is his first film which could be considered a classic and I would enjoy seeing people discover the idiosyncratic storyteller ascending to a new level of coherence, appeal and complexity in his work. It’s also a film that takes a while to get so the post-film discussion would consist of a lot of “huh”s but it would be a lot of fun piecing the puzzles and symbolism of the film together.


I get confronted with this question every time I desire some comfort TV and tune in to find “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” (who the Gods of syndication have been eternally kind to) are pretty much always on. While this wouldn’t be an unpleasant use of a half-hour,  I have some strange resistance to revisiting either of the series that came to culturally define the decade in which I came of age. Maybe, it’s an act of rebellion against the perceived quality of these shows: While I tend to rail against hipsterish attitudes of consciously defining your tastes against the mainstream, I can’t help admitting that the high placement of both these shows on best-of-all-time lists drives me to want to define my tastes from this decade differently.

Beyond that, there’s plenty of pedestrian reasons to resent these shows. How can I not resent The Simpsons like a privileged child for being cancellation-free when every other show (including superior sister show “Futurama”) has to contend with the axe? How can I not blame the show’s success for Jerry Seinfeld’s leverage to get away with passive-aggressive behavior or Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s frustrating lockhold on lead actress awards in the present day? There’s a myriad web of reasons not to like these shows and while I find it difficult to put my finger on exactly what keeps me from turning to channel five, I know that I’ve been able to resist the urge for a decade.

What Pop Culture Becomes More Meaningful as You Get Older?

 Credit: Readthespirit.com





I've gradually gone from liking "Dead Poets Society” but not understanding the ending, to thinking it is a perfectly realized film. As a child, Robin Williams’ character of John Keating was so right and the stuffy administration so wrong that I found the film’s “Oh Captain, My Captain” scene to not make up for all the tragedy that had been happening in the third act. How could Williams As I’ve grown into adulthood and learned firsthand the myriad of ways in which an employer can screw you over (including some not particularly well-received stints in the education sector), I’ve come to appreciate the “Oh Captain My Captain” scene as a pretty solid outcome for an anti-establishment type in an employment landscape that discourages such free thinking and isn’t necessarily fair. Besides, what is the job of a teacher other than to impart a lesson onto his students? He might not have stayed until the end of the school year, but he can rightfully say "Mission Accomplished".

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A professional review of my writings and stuff for 2017 so far

-I've judged the 2017 Arlington Film Festival in an expanded role.

-I wrote two articles on the Titanic for How Do You Know and Top Tenz for the 105th anniversary of the sinking, a long-time interest of mine
http://www.toptenz.net/10-incredible-stories-people-survived-titanic.php

-I've been writing long-form essays on television and film culture for the American Conesrvatives involving a lot of synthesis and research that has enabled me to get a voice in the cultural conversation that is occurring now

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/author/orrinkonheim/
-I've started working for the Falls Church News Press and wrote five stories for them in the human interest vein. A particularly challenging one was to weave together the three stories of the three moms on City Council into one coherent thread. Another one was the delicate topic of a play about Alzheimer's featuring a speaker who had just lost her husband for Alzheimer's. The third story was about a restaurant that's evolved into a hub for veterans on Memorial and Veteran's day, and is possibly the oldest restaurant in Fairfax County as it has stood there for seven decades

https://fcnp.com/author/orrin-konheim/
https://fcnp.com/2017/05/26/kaleidoscope-nancy-scott-discusses-late-husbands-battle-alzheimers/
https://fcnp.com/2017/06/30/tysons-corner-residential-appeal-eludes-areas-commercial-hub/
https://fcnp.com/2017/06/30/tysons-corner-residential-appeal-eludes-areas-commercial-hub/

-I'm reporting for the Skagit Valley Herald for the 3rd year in a row on the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This is one of the most fun events on my calendar. Reporters get the royal treatment (there's even a spread in the media room!) and it's so much fun watching these kids and their families be treated to a luxury weekend

http://www.goskagit.com/news/local_news/la-conner-girl-competes-at-national-spelling-bee/article_75959794-47ac-59fb-b75d-9da7c3cf7573.html
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/in-va-a-shop-rooted-in-a-couples-global-policy/2017/06/20/79493486-40a4-11e7-adba-394ee67a7582_story.html
-I've been writing for a real estate firm in Tyson's Corner Virginia, and have contributed press releases and artists profiles to Agora Art Gallery in New York.

-I got an article into the Washington Post for their street scene
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/in-va-a-shop-rooted-in-a-couples-global-policy/2017/06/20/79493486-40a4-11e7-adba-394ee67a7582_story.html

-I authored two articles for Cracked including one in which I wrote all of the entries. One of them was my first solo article.  I'm also working on two other articles at the moment that are making their way through the editorial rounds.
http://www.cracked.com/article_24743_the-5-most-cartoonishly-spoiled-moves-by-famous-billionaires.html
http://www.cracked.com/article_24725_5-cultural-icons-that-were-originally-just-advertisements.html

-Lastly I interviewed the world's greatest Olympic historian for RunBlogRun in advance of the 2017 World Track and Field Championships and in response to the 2016 Olympics for RunBlogRun.com. The written interview was actually composited from two oral interviews.
http://www.runblogrun.com/2017/07/-david-wallechinsky-speaking-to-the-best-selling-writer-of-the-history-of-the-summer-olympics-and-co.html
http://www.runblogrun.com/2017/07/-david-wallechinsky-speaking-to-the-best-selling-writer-of-the-history-of-the-summer-olympics-and-co.html

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Some Informally Scribbled Notes on Netflix's First Season of Glow

This is going to be in bullet form due to time constraints.

Credit: Netflix


-Allison Brie is proving an adept actress in so many projects lately but I can’t decide whether the show wants us to think that her character of Ruth is a good actress or not. It’s true that GLOW encourages over-the-top acting but Ruth generally comes across as among the over-the-toppiest in the bunch.

-It personally took a while to be sold on Ruth (Allison Brie) surviving some of the early bumps in the story. She got cut in the first week (not necessarily deservedly but by in-show logic), got beat up in the second week (I suppose she gets points for introducing him to Debbie?), and hasn't really shown herself to be a great fighter and lacks a working character. Did Sam forget he has the power to cut people? If her specialty is acting (even though she does it inappropriate moments and comes off in-universe as a bit hammy), why doesn't he use her as an acting coach of sorts if this is sort of a performance thing?

-Why are there so many outdoors car-hop-like eateries in the 1980s? Not really an expert on the decade but the other times I've seen such dining arrangements was in "The Founder" "Guess Who's coming to Dinner" and "American Graffiti" and those were all well before the 1980s

-I'm not sure if it's a commentary on sexism or just plain sloppy that Ruth’s getting the blunt of the homewrecker label when Debbie's husband sought out Ruth, snuck into her room and seduced her. It's also implied that he was the instigator the first time too, so this is at least a two-way street. Also, I'm not clear on what the Debbie-Ruth situation was before she was there. Did I also mention that I can't figure out if we're supposed to think that Ruth has discernable talent or if she's just scrappy and persistent? (edit: Yes, I did)


Credit: Popsugar
-Like Jenji Kohan’s other main work of the Netflix era, “Orange is the New Black,” there is much to appreciate in the diversity of characters on the show including the Indian and Cambodian women. They’re not just differences in ethnicity, but differences in personality (i.e. we have two different kinds of goth girls) and body type. Similarly this is a great ensemble work in that many of the figures in the background have the potential to be great characters and many are indeed given moments to carry the storyline. Justine, a goth girl that could easily fit into a John Hughes film, was a character that I was eying as someone with potential, and lo and behold, she really takes control of the story towards the end.

-The primary reason I didn't jump on board this show at first was that I have near-zero exposure to professional men's or women's wrestling, but I think I mostly like it as a time capsule of the 80s and the sort of team component of it. The way the women are bonding or fighting or otherwise figuring themselves out as a unit and going on escapades in a ramshackle motel as they try to approach a form of entertainment that sounds pretty unlike anything anyone else is trying seem to be the show's main attraction from my point of view

-While I’m weary of shows that are overly preachy on social-justice issue, there’s much to appreciate about how the show breaks out of a male gaze (scenes of female bonding, for example seems much more natural in the hands of female directors and writers). I don't think the show really works as any sort of major statement against sexism, because it's a period piece and “men back in the day were more sexist than men now” can be easily filed under “duh.” Still, the show encourages a healthy degree of self-reflection
 
-I can’t think of a character on television remotely like Bash. Sure, there are rich playboys who are so awash with privilege that their disconnect from reality makes them affable comic fodder. While Bash’s lack of experience in the real world means he’s never had to work in any traditional labor-inducing sense, he’s an anomaly because he has such die-hard persistence to make his idea work within his limited understanding of how to implement such ideas. A lot of credit goes to the show for making him such a rootable character.

-The final episode is pure cathartic smiles. Ruth comes through! Sam comes through (as a dad)! Then Sam comes through as an artist! Bash's mom comes through! Mark's head doesn't get bashed in, but at least Debbie breaks free of his clutches. Sam's usurpation of Ruth in the name of showmanship is the perfect blend of sentiment and tempered practicality and it even works as a meta-commentary on not giving the audience the happy ending they think they want.