Thursday, January 30, 2014

An incredibly narcissistic and arbitrary look at 2013

I promise my top ten films of 2013 will be up soon. I just keep finding myself stalling, hoping I can fit another film in or finally get around to seeing that one film. I know I'll never catch up on everything I want, but for now let's procrastinate a little bit more. So while film is easily my main passion and what I tend to write most on, there's plenty more about pop culture that excites me. Yah I know I wrote little to nothing in general this year and I don't think a single article was on anything but film. So this article here will chronicle some of my favorite moments from 2013. These are all moments that struck me as important or interesting many of them from movies, but mostly this is my excuse to discuss a bunch of stuff I like but happened to be too lazy(busy?) to finish an article about.

Finally discovered podcasts.
Holy shit I'm an idiot. I started listening to podcasts at the end of 2012. But this year it has become a full fledged obsession. How I never bothered to explore this wealth of information news and pretension is beyond me. This and the one below show huge holes in my pop culture knowledge, but man every free moment every morning commute I find myself listening to Frogpants telling me the newest facet of Geek culture, or NPR waxing intellectually on the minutiae of pop culture, learning stuff I should I know, or even a brilliant long form story about a small town that has the most deliciously eccentric problems. Here's my three favorite.

Alton Browncast - Nerdist
Hyper intelligent discussion of food. This mans approach to food has always been a favorite of mine. The logic and science which he brings is matched only by his intense passion and love of food. His discussions are enlightening and entertaining. You want a taste? Listen to the episode with his protege Justin Warner, two psychotic made food scientists discussing food as the love of their life.

Pop Culture Happy Hour - NPR
I want to be best friends with everyone on this podcast. There is little that makes me more happy than examining seemingly innocuous events with the reverence of cultural milestones. Whether it's exploring the structure of Hallmark Xmas specials, analyzing the career decisions of Miley cyrus, or even using Thor as a jumping off point for the place of familial tensions in the greater cultural landscape. Glen Weldon you have my heart.

Frogpants Network - too many to list
What Scott Johnson has done for geek culture is indescribable. He has created a place where literally any type of geek can come and find something for them. Whether you're into tech, vid games, Warcraft, movies, comics etc etc. His band of producers are matched perfectly to this ideal that we all need a place to call our own and the love that permeates each show is palpable. This is the first podcast I listened to and as I continue to find more shows that Frogpants makes he has made a believer out of me. You feel welcomed just by listening, and you might now always agree but even then you feel a part of the conversation because they're conversations you WANT to have.

Finally discovered Doctor Who
Talk about a blind spot of my nerd knowledge. I had meant to watch Doctor Who for years but never got around to it. But the perfect storm of hearing people mention it on podcasts and some unexpected fans at work made me give it a try. And boy did I feel stupid for missing out for so long. I unabashedly without hesitation love Doctor Who. It's the type of insanity and sci if and whimsy that makes me heart smile just thinking about it. Finally I can join in as people argue over Tenant and Smith(sorry kids Tenant is THE doctor), or understand the myriad of references to a tardis, or daleks or companions. Even RC joined in and LOVES it. It's a show for everybody. And my newfound passion for this show culminated in me watching the 50th anniversary in the theater. I had meant to write more on it, but let's just say it was such an amazing night. Easily the best time I've had at the movies all year, feeling that combined energy and love for the show, made me feel like I was part of a community. That we all knew some secret and were ready to share it with the world. For we had seen awesome, and it was ready to blow some mind holes.

Gravity makes the best case yet for 3D
Favorite movie of the year(probably) makes the most incredible use of 3D. The first film where I can't imagine getting the same experience without being in a dark theater with those glasses on as you hurtle through space on the edge of your seat dodging debris and holding on for life. This is impeccable craftsmanship and he makes it look easy. The whole event is seamless and from frame one you forget everything and just stare in awe as Cuaron takes you on a journey you'll never forget.

Levitt is the real deal.
Levitt has been making amazing career choices for years now. Proving that he's not just gonna take anything that comes his way. Plus he's been working on his HitRecord project for a long time as well. I feel like both of these worlds came to a high point this year with the release of Don Jon and his HR television series. First off Don Jon is a fine first film. It shows off a potential that I am excited to see grow with each film. Hawk used the word Honest which I think is the best one word review you could give the film. Levitt gives a great modern love story thy has just enough style that it's never showy. On another note this was easily a most memorable viewing as I watched this movie about porn addiction in the middle of the day, alone. Never forget that one.

As for his TV show, he is able to recreate his stage shows perfectly onto the small screen. With his army of collaborators he shows the process by which art is created on the site and makes it accessible to everybody. He as host is incredibly charming and drives the show forward taking us through each step pausing here and there to interview one of the many hundreds or thousands that contribute. I want to be his friend.

Wii U shows patience is virtue
Like most of you I was frustrated waiting for the Wii U to release SOMETHING! Anything. Nintendoland is great and shows off some amazing potential, and of course New Super Mario is awesome. But those can only last so long. You could see the possibilities of the system but there was no software to back it up. Then the second half of the year comes along and Nintendo starts doing it. Pikmin, Rayman, Windwaker. Then they release the big gun. A brand new super Mario game in 3D. Any of these four could sell systems, but what each does is show just how important it is to have proper tablet integration. They each use the tablet in seamless ways that are never forced or gimmicky. I know Nintendo has been under fire lately, but just wait. They are perfectionists and we all should know better than to doubt them.

Bryan Singer is making my dreams come true
This should really be on the list next year but it's just too exciting to pass up. I've been telling this story since it was announced, but here it goes one more time. Manny and I saw X3 together years ago. Like everyone else we walked out relatively disappointed trying to find pieces that we liked in an otherwise huge pile of shit. People talk about Lucas ruining the prequels...fuck that Ratner decided to say FUCK YOU to anybody that cared about the X-men. Such shitty treatment of EVERY character. Anyway, as we get in the car Manny and I talk about how amazing it would be if Fox realized there mistake and brought Singer back to REDO X3. "Haha yah that'd be amazing....but it's just a dream" Now Singer is literally fixing the series! It wasn't enough to continue what Vaughn started...he's taking back his cast and giving them respect back. We hope.

Adam Wingard announces himself to the mainstream.
Wingard and his contemporaries have been making quality if not at least interesting entries into the horror genre for years. This last year thanks to You're Next and V/H/S 2 Wingard's name has finally started to be heard throughout pop culture. VHS2 is significantly better than the first outing and thanks to some Netflix support has gained a huge audience. But where his talent really shows is in the amazing home invasion flick You're Next. Quite simply, the best horror film from last year, and one that inches towards my top ten if only because it's just so fuckkng fun. There's twists and turns which you may or may not figure out, BUT the way he gets you there is something totally new. He nails just the right amount of gore and emotion, while keeping the tension and fun ratcheted up the whole time. Thanks go another great performance by his main man AJ Bowen You're Next will eventually go down as a classic. Can't wait to see what's next.

Riley discovers zombies and Macaulay Culkin
So for Halloween RC wanted to join us in our annual marathon. And his discovery? He LOVES zombies. He started gobbling them up and even perfected the perfect little boy zombie shuffle. Right now his fave is Shaun of the Dead, but he had a pretty strong love for World War Z.

As for Mac? I had been wanting to show him Home Alone for awhile and finally decided to give it a try. Off of first viewing he flipped for it. The boy busted up laughing more than I've ever heard. And to my surprise the film holds up better than I thought. Now I just have to convince to stop trying to set up booby traps around the house.

Netflix is better tv than tv
What happened to you network TV? Netflix is kicking your ass. NETFLIX!!!! House of Cards Orange is the New Black, Arrested? All better than anything you can find on network TV. He'll even Roths Hemlock Grove was so ridiculous that it was enjoyable schlock compared to the newest Tim Allen sitcom or a bunch of fake nerds talking about Star Trek. FUCK YOU THOSE ARE NOT NERDS! But the writing has been on the wall for awhile now. Last year out of the big awards for drama (best series and acting nods) one single nomination for Kerry Washington was the only thing networks received. Cable networks and premium channels and now netflix own television. Maybe once NBC files for bankruptcy everyone will realize that quality gets ratings.


One last thought - how about that new Batman tho?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Movie Night: Her

Leave it to Spike Jonze to turn my cinematic universe upside down. I never doubted him for one minute, but I did not expect him to tell one of the most honest and devastatingly sincere explorations of love in the modern age. This story of Theo and his operating system, Samantha, is surprising at how simple Jonze makes it seem. After their first interaction you are just as engrossed in their relationship as you would be in one of them normals. This film plays it straight, and thanks to brilliant turns by Phoenix and Johansson, Jonze gives us another amazingly unique film that knocks you over with a powerful emotional punch that ultimately results in a cinematic symphony of perfection.

Like Gravity and 12 years a slave, there is no way I could do this com justice in just a few paragraphs after only seeing it once. So let's talk about some of the things that blew me away, starting with the acting. Phoenix proves again that he is one of the greatest actors of our generation. Watching him here and then thinking how far this is from his work in The Master, it's uncanny. Here he plays a good guy, he has his faults and insecurities, but he is ultimately a good guy. He's smart and a witty and is greatly intuitive when it comes to emotions and those around him. I love how his costumes throughout the film represent this warmth. We'll talk about the production design in a bit, but Phoenix's wardrobe is bathed in reds and corals and heavy wool trousers. It makes you feel comfortable yet is off kilter enough that you believe he is living in the future. When he begins the relationship with Samantha you see each joy and pain dance across his face as his relationship with a voice evolves. There is a scene with him on the subway steps as he realizes where he fits in Samantha's world and he plays it with just enough subtlety that your heart shatters as you see him come to terms with the reality of his situation. I won't spend much time on Johansson, suffice it to say her voice is at once calming and soothing and oh so honest. Their first fight is so dead on as to those first insecurities about a relationship bubbling to the top. You hear all the hesitation all the excitement all the fear in her voice. Astounding work by all involved.

The production design of this film is unlike any other science fiction film I've seen. Jonze has a unique vision and here it's realized perfectly. The whole film is warm and uncynical. This played out with warm colors and very little blues or greens. Pinks and reds pepper future LA and give us a future where we feel welcome, not like strangers. The elevator in his building is covered in shadows of trees and nature. It's a facade but it welcomes you home each time as if you're going back to something simpler. And that's what this film is about. So much of this film is about love and how it exists. Can it exist outside of the natural occurrence? Can we even define love as natural? This elevator constantly reminds us that even living in this great metropolis we are all still bound by the same human nature. This desire to experience love like humans have done for centuries. Whether it's in the concrete jungle or living off the land love is love.

Hoytema is best known for his work with Tomas Alfredson, and he continues his string of brilliant work here. The film, as I've mentioned before is warm throughout. Such a far deviation than his previous two outings which were as cold as ice. Much like the welcoming nature of the elevator or Phoenix's wardrobe, the cinematography is inviting. It's welcoming and inoffensive. While there are brilliant shots he is never showy, never takes you out if the film, since if he were them the emotional ballet that Jonze has created would fall apart. These all contribute to the story, and allow us to seamlessly travel on this journey as we explore love in the modern age. This is cinematography that weaves itself into the story, he gives us gorgeous close ups of the actors, while at the same time showing us this immense urban sprawl. We get crazy future computers and video games, and simple shots of a man in bed or taking a walk through the forest.

Like I said I could go on and on. This is a brilliant film and easily one of the best interpretations on love that you'll see. More than that I think other people will get a whole different experience, and that's the brilliance of this film. I happen to be hopelessly romantic and so as I sit here writing this listening to REO Speedwagon I can't think of any film more heartbreakingly honest in its portrayal of love and relationships.


One last thought - loved the cameo by Brian Cox

Monday, January 6, 2014

"Goodnight Mush, Goodnight Lady whispering hush..." Goodnight Father's gag reflex from reading such trash.

PORTEmaus Literature Society -- Goodnight Moon

They say it is a classic, that it is the quintessential book to lull your children to sleep. It is said that the book is a portal to a begone era. Unfortunately, Goodnight Moon is a flaming literary turd that be in perfect company with such pieces of shit as Atlas Shrugged, Ishmael and Revolt of the Masses. How this thirty-two page manifesto of stupidity ever made it into the pantheon of "great" children's literature (specifically, picture books) is beyond me. It is nothing more than a pointless series of pleasantries from a child to a series of inanimate objects.

Do not get me wrong, as a parent, you read a lot of books that are not that great to your kids before they finally drift off to sleep. It is true that most of them stink and the genre that is picture books is rife with them. However, the inane content is usually forgotten once the book has been closed. Yet, my mind cannot stop thinking about how bad that book is and literally how little cognitive effort went into writing it. There are those people that felt it necessary to deconstruct this work of fiction to understand this book and its inherent themes.

I hate to break it to you... There are none. There is no greater meaning to the line, "goodnight mush..." Other than a clear example of bad parenting and lack of cleanliness. Although, if you have some time to kill, I encourage you to read the Glenn Beck piece on Goodnight Moon as an allegory for the decline of Communism. He reads a little too much into the exclamation, "goodnight red balloon" and "goodnight nobody" but it was humorous to hear the affection held for Margret Wise Brown as a literary talent. Granted, coming from Beck, it kind of makes sense.

For me, I simply cannot reconcile the idea that this is an enduring classic and exists purely to highlight how easy it is to write a picture book for children. It is nowhere near the same level of thought or plane where Seuss and Sendak reside. It's content contains nothing to cause it be timeless. It is just something that took fifteen minutes of my life away and another five to hide it so that I never have to read it again. Now, if only there was a way to erase my memory of having read it...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year and Many Happy Returns!

Who is this scoundrel speaking to you? I suppose that I had that coming since I have been rather absent of late. Hopefully this new year will result in some more posts from your truly. After all, New Years serve as new beginnings and all that jazz. Thankfully for all of you fine gentle folk, you get to suffer through some posts that I have in my backlog. Now, you can groan collectively.

While the new year is something to be celebrated, we here at the Maus have small achievement to celebrate as well. Honestly, a state of union post should have been posted sooner but I have been flooded with the whole work, teaching and becoming professor Funkowitz thing. Anyway, roughly a month ago, PORTEmaus had passed 90,000 hits. This might seem like a minor achievement in the world of Interweb traffic usage but it is a big deal to use small time gents. So, bust out the champagne and have one on us! Without all of you, we are nothing.


Your humble servant,