Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dexter Turns It Around In Season 7 (So Far)

I have to admit, the last season of Dexter was such a humongous pile of shit that I had no plans of ever watching the series again.

Twelve hours of my life evaporated away on a horrible and obvious story arc, with a twist so slow and choreographed, I called it out to my wife nine episodes before it was revealed.

Yes, Tom Hank's son is awkward in a Pillsbury Doughboy sort of way, and yes, his creepy religious serial killer mentor is imaginary (wow what a surprise!), but Deb has an incestuous yearning for Dexter (wtf)?  Not sure why the writers couldn't take the imaginary killing partner and make the reveal more of a punch to the stomach.  The twist should have been hard and surprising, instead it ended up being like two angry drunk guys staring at each other while one says "I'm going to hit you" over and over and then when he finally does throw the punch, the guy who gets hit is shocked.

The whole Deb being in love with Dexter thing was entirely unneeded.  It was used as an excuse for why she ended up seeing him for what he is.  Instead, she could have just as easily thought, "You know what, Dexter is all alone at the crime scene finishing up, I'm going to bring him some dinner."

It made for a very sub par viewing experience.

The only redeeming moment happened in the last 15 seconds of the season.  Deb just happens to be on her way to tell Dexter (her brother) that she's in love with him, hoping it leads to a little bro and sis bump and grind, when instead she witnesses him murder the Doomsday Killer (Colin Hanks).  She gasps, Dexter looks and sees her ... "Oh shit" FADE TO BLACK.

They could have just done a one episode season.  Dexter tracks and kills a serial killer, only to have Deb walk in and see it.  Done.  One hour, one solid episode could have encapsulated the entire sixth season.  It would have saved Showtime tens of millions of dollars, and the viewing public tens of millions of wasted hours.

I was done with the show ... but then I begrudgingly watched the first episode of season seven to see what they would do with that huge reveal.  Deb knows Dexter's true self finally, and you know what?  It doesn't suck.  In fact it may have re-energized the show.  She is now the mirror in which Dexter can see his true self, not the delusion he has convinced himself of.

So far it has really amped up the drama and tension in a good way.  It's no longer a kill of the week sort of show, there is something more important going on, something deeper.  I don't want to reveal too much about the storyline so that I don't ruin it for anyone, but I'll just say I'm hopefully optimistic that this may be the best season yet.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A 70 Year Old Woman's Feelings About the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Trailer

After sitting through the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer trailer before the 2.50pm Father's Day showing of Prometheus, a seventy year old woman turned to her husband disgusted and said, "That's not true."

To which he replied, "Yes dear, I know."

Friday, May 4, 2012

Procrastination, or How I Waste My Life Away

It's amazing how large of a role procrastination plays in my life.

Right now I should be writing, getting some work done, but instead I'm dicking around on the Internet.

Sure I threw my back out so bad that I couldn't stand or lay down last night, stuck in a perpetual fetal position, needing my wife to help me up when I got stuck and couldn't get myself up and moving, but not today.

I'm by no means 100%.  I've been icing my back on and off all day and popping Ibuprofen, but I could be using this time to get something productive done.  Sure the simple act of writing this blog is a type of creative work, but it's not the one that I should be doing.

But this is the story of my life.  In school I waited until the last minute to write all of my papers.  I tricked myself into thinking that I did my best work under intense pressure.  Maybe I did, but I'll never know.  I've never gotten anything done ahead of schedule, I always finish right at the buzzer.

It's one of the traits that I hate about myself, but for some reason have never been able to conquer.  Since graduating, and before, I've mostly worked nights and had my days to myself.  I've kept them free to do all of the things that I've wanted to do but never gotten around to.

By now I should have written several novels and numerous screenplays, but I am just finishing up the first draft of my first novel, and I think I've only written six screenplays.  Sure I have a drawer (or computer folder) full of aborted attempts, but this isn't how I want to continue to live my life.

It's time for a change, a schedule, something that pushes me to use the time I have to get the most done.  To be proud of my accomplishments instead of wondering how another year has drifted by.  I need this change before it's too late.

Are you like me?  Do you procrastinate far to often?  Is it time for you to change your life too? Let's change together.

This is a nice little video about people like you and me:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Banned Criterion Collection #1: Dr. No

The James Bond films hold a special place in my heart.  They were some of the first films my father and I bonded over.  It was one of the things we'd watch when we had the house to ourselves.  Just a guys night, eating pizza, drinking soda, and watching some fun action films.  I thought I'd take a look at the franchise and revisit some of these films of my boyhood days.

The first James Bond film, Dr. No, solidified a franchise that's lasted for fifty years.  Criterion released the first three Bond films on laserdisc in 1991, but soon afterward EON Productions (they produced the Bond films) asked Criterion to recall all of the unsold laserdiscs.  They found the commentary tracks unflattering to Albert R. Broccoli (one of the original producers) and so the Criterion versions of the film became scarce and valuable.

People traded mp3's of the commentary online that could be synced up and listened to while watching the film.  It was tedious, but workable until someone made the laserdiscs into DVD's which can be found online with a little detective work.

I want look at these first three films which also fit nicely into my neglected column: Crawling through the Criterion Collection.

Dr. No
United Kingdom 1962, 109 minutes
Directed by Terence Young

James Bond was one of my favorite cinematic experiences when I was a kid, so I was interested in seeing if they measured up to my expectations.  The opening sequence certainly did.  The classic Bond walking out and shooting right at the camera sent waves of excitement through me.

The 3 blind assassins is a great way to open the film by showing us Jamaica through them.  Plus its just a great little character bit.  Once it becomes clear they aren't truly blind, and we've seen them kill a British agent, the stage has been set for James Bond to come and set things straight.

We're introduced to Bond while playing Baccarat in a casino.  This is the same moment where he picks up what is the first of many women over the course of the franchise.  Then there is the classic flirtations between James and Ms. Moneypenny, before the boss gives him his trademark Walter PPK and sends him off to Jamaica to figure out what the devil is going on.

He's thrown immediately in the thick of some intrigue, where all signs point to a mysterious island that no one ever comes back alive from.  The locals are all afraid of and a man by the name of Dr. No.  This first of the Bond villains has been a busy boy building the island while at the same time knocking American rockets out of the sky.  The Americans know whatever is ruining their rockets originates from the area but they don't know how.  Bond ends up finding his way to the island with the help of his local contact.

Ursula Andress plays Honey Ryder, the first Bond Girl.  She's a naif who collects shells on the island but gets mixed up in things once Dr. No's henchmen begin searching for Bond to capture him.  It's clear that both she and Sean Connery are busy sucking their guts in while they cavort on the beach, which was kind of funny.  Got to look more fit than you actually are.

Bond and Ryder are picked up and taken to Dr. No's headquarters and sent through a decontamination machine, then locked into a room before a face to face meeting with Dr. No who readily admits he has his own nuclear reactor that powers the island.

Of course Bond escapes, and throws a wrench into Dr. No's plan to destroy another American rocket just for good measure.  How does he do that?  Simple, he melts down the reactor and blows it up.

Wouldn't that kill him you may ask?  Surprisingly not, and with Jamaica only a few miles away, it has to be the cleanest nuclear meltdown ever.  One only needs to think of the recent reactor problems in Japan to realize how silly this sort of thing truly is.

Dr. No works for a group called SPECTRE which wants to flex its muscle on the world stage, and I believe rears its ugly head again in later films.

I found the movie to be somewhat campy, which is why it was spoofed so spot on in Austin Powers.  Don't get me wrong, there were still some great moments that kept it from sinking too far into B-Movie status, but just barely.  This is a Bond film I won't soon return to.  I hope the rest of the films aren't as slow and plodding as this one was.  Stay tuned to find out.

Laserdisc Supplements:

There was a making of Dr. No slide show that lasted 30 minutes.  It had a few good bits of information, but was mostly tedious. 

The commentary was insightful and a little pointed at times, but is only something of interest to completist fans. 

The real gem for me were some amazingly well done bread commercials for Bond Bread.  They were done in the character and manner of James Bond.  It was a fantastic bonus that I'd never heard about before.

Since the Criterion is pointless to buy unless you own a laserdisc player, get the blu ray here:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Jeff Mangum - State Theater Minneapolis 2/4/2012

I remember when I first bought In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  I was working at Cheapo Records, and most nights we each picked a CD to play over the PA system.  My manager was really into pop music, and introduced me to great albums like The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks and Forever Changes by Love.  This was around the time that The Elephant 6 collective began releasing albums.  I think I found The Apples in Stereo first, quickly followed by The Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel.  

There was something different about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  It wasn't psychedelic like many of the E6 groups, and it also wasn't bubble gum pop like a lot of the bands either.  Neutral Milk Hotel were really something unique, but it was Jeff Mangum's songwriting allowed them to stand removed from the rest of the pack.  He delivered his songs in a raw and frenetic burst of music, and the horns that filled out his songs took it to another level.  I remember listening to it over and over.  It felt like a perfect album from beginning to end.

I didn't catch them when they were touring behind In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but I figured I would make it the next time they came around.  There wasn't a next time.  Jeff Mangum pulled a JD Salinger style disappearance.  Sightings and rumours elevated him to myth status, and I was afraid he'd never come out of musical hiding again, but he did.

My wife and I were lucky to get tickets with some friends.  I didn't know what to expect from the show since the rest of the band wasn't with him.  Would it translate acoustically?  We walked into the State Theater unsure, but left amazed.  I've never seen a show like it.  He took the stage by himself, sat surrounded by 4 guitars, and went right into Two Headed Boy part 2.  It was dizzyingly magical.  I can't explain the happiness and joy that was bouncing all around the room.  It was infectious.  This tour was a gift to all of his fans, it was like Christmas as a kid. 

He didn't seem like the recluse we'd all come to expect.  After a few songs he began to banter with the crowd.  Someone yelled "Thank you" and he responded, "If you want to thank me sing along."  He really seemed to be enjoying himself, and things got even better during Ghost when he was accompanied by clarinet and flugelhorn.  They joined him again to end the show with The Fool.  I loved the intense and fantastic new song Little Birds, and haven't been able to get it out of my head since.  The crowd cheered him back for a one song encore, and Jeff ended the night playing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea joined by the horn player.

After the show he signed posters and records for his fans outside of the theater.  Jeff's said in interviews that he's been writing songs ever since the band went on hiatus, I can only hope that he's encouraged to record again.

Here's the nights set list:

Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2
Holland, 1945
Leave Me Alone
Little Birds
King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1
King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 2 & 3
Ghost (accompanied by clarinet and flugelhorn)
Naomi (accompanied by cello)
April 8th
Oh Comely
Two Headed Boy
The Fool (accompanied by clarinet, flugelhorn, cello, and 2nd guitar)


In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (accompanied by flugelhorn)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Television, Best of 2011

I think almost everyone can agree that television has surpassed films, especially where storytelling is concerned.  Visually, films may have an edge on television, but not by much.

That being said, I've found myself more moved by episodic television than by movies.  When it's time to hunker down and choose whether I want to watch a movie or a show, nine times out of ten it's going to be television.  The stories are allowed to be bigger, more intricate with the added time to develop.  They can immerse the viewer in a world far more intoxicating than the 90 - 120 minutes that a film has to build its world.  Film is a directors medium, television is a writers medium.

I've never done this before, but I thought I would make a personal list of the triumphs and tragedies I've found during my journey through television in 2011.  This is by no means comprehensive, and their are many great shows that I just didn't get time to watch.  So take this with a grain of salt.

Best Television of 2011:

7.  Wilfred - FX

This FX series is based on the Australian show of the same name.  Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a suicidal guy who tries several times to kill himself, but is interrupted by his neighbor Jenna who asks Ryan if he would watch her dog Wilfred for the day.  He agrees, and he finds himself dumbfounded when Wilfred seems to be an Australian man in a dog costume, that everyone else sees as a normal dog.

I know, it sounds like it could be terrible, but it was one of the best new comedies I've seen in a really long time.  Imagine Tyler Durden as a dog who always gets you into trouble and loves to smoke pot, and you almost have the tone of the show.  It had me laughing like crazy, had a cliffhanger ending, and has me jonesing for the second season.

6.  Louie - FX

Louis C.K. is probably the funniest comedian of our day.  So knowing that he has complete creative control over every aspect of this show should be enough to get everyone turning on their televisions.  If you've never heard of Louis, pull your head out of the sand and look around.  He's everywhere.

The show is not afraid to take on controversial topics like suicide, religion, and masturbation.  Each season has been a perfect balance of hilarity and seriousness, and it's truly a sin that this man has not won a Golden Globe or Emmy.

5.  The Chicago Code - Fox

Fox has a penchant for cancelling some of their very best shows, which is a pity.  This is no different.  

The Chicago Code was created by Shawn Ryan, the same guy behind the masterful FX show The Shield, and centers on the first female Chicago police superintendent (Jennifer Beals) and a veteran police detective (Jason Clarke) trying to take down a corrupt city Alderman (Delroy Lindo).

Ryan took what could have been a typical cop show, and turned it into a gripping and entertaining cat and mouse game.  Though it only got 13 episodes before Fox cancelled it to make way for Terra Nova (idiots), it does have a satisfying conclusion and is well worth checking out.

4.  Boardwalk Empire - HBO

Boardwalk Empire is a thrilling entrance into the boom of organized crime during the prohibition era. The second season takes the epic storytelling one step further, dragging all of the characters through the coals of a modernized Greek tragedy.

Showcasing some amazing performances, we get to see the characters peeled back layer after layer, while the tension increases more and more until it culminates in an explosive finale.  HBO has always been a home for amazing storytelling, but they've outdone themselves with Boardwalk Empire.  It's violent, gritty, and sexy all at the same time.  If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and catch up before season 3 begins.

3.  American Horror Story - FX

American Horror Story was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk who started working together on Nip/Tuck (and created Glee).  It centers on the Harmon Family, who have marital problems even before they move into a haunted mansion bought at a discount price, which happens to be occupied by its former residents.  It's bizarre, creepy, and delightful.  It stars Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, a bunch of ghosts, and an amazong turn by Jessica Lange.  At one point I didn't think they'd be able to tie all the narrative strings together by the end of the season, but they did and in an amazing way.

After a second season was ordered, it was announced that each season would be in a different house and have a whole new set of characters.  Tricky concept, but I hope to God they can pull it off.  Tim Minear is one of the writers and producers on the show, and he's had his hands in a lot of really amazing shows, so I think they'll be just fine.

2.  Homeland - Showtime

I came to this show late, but my wife and I cruised through the whole season in four days.  It was that good.  Claire Danes plays Carrie, a CIA counter terrorism operative who's been warned that an American POW has been turned by Al-Qaeda.  When a Marine (Damian Lewis) who'd been held captive for eight years is rescued during a Delta Force raid and returned home, she's convinced that he's the guy.  For the entire series Carrie and the viewer, go back and forth on whether he has or hasn't been turned.

One thing that complicates things, is Carrie also secretly suffers with bi-polar disorder, which effects her ability to do her job.  Mandy Patinkin

1.  Breaking Bad - AMC

There isn't a show on television that can even touch this show.  Vince Gilligan and his writing stable of geniuses have created the darkest, most twisted, and brilliant show I've ever seen.  The season finale, with the way they wove all of the narrative threads back on itself is itself, is something that should be studied.  Television doesn't get any better.

Brian Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher that gets cancer, and turns to making meth with former student Jesse (Aaron Paul) to provide for his family when he's dead.

This season finds Walt and Jesse working for Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the local drug kingpin, who's in the midst of a power struggle with the Mexican Cartel, and also trying to put a wedge between Jesse and Walt.  He wants to pit them against each other to get rid of Walt, while keeping Jesse under his thumb.  Walter is in panic mode with his life on the line, and has to come up with some way to get them out of this mess.

I won't ruin the ending, but it was spectacular.  If you watch this show and don't like it, you're an idiot.

What were your favorites?