Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck...

Or in other words; Just how many TV-series can a pop culture junkie possibly keep up with besides his movies, books and whatnot? Those of you familiar with my movie-reviews at Letterboxd knows I've these last years seen about 300 movies a year. Before that the number was quite a bit higher, but I don't have exact numbers.... Besides watching movies I keep up with a large number of TV-series, read books every so often, binge-watch old TV-shows that have been cancelled, and--of course--I tend to revisit some of my personal favorite TV-shows quite often.

Some of the TV-shows I watch are the equivalent to my rom-coms in movies; guilty pleasures in other forms. In TV-terms it's usually procedurals of different kinds. Rarely ever spectacular, but I seem to still hang around for quite a few seasons in most cases. A weekly fix, if you'd like. I've also added a couple of recently ended shows, as they are within the last year of my keeping on top of-shows, and as such still feels somewhat valid.

So, which shows am I currently spending time on?  I've divided into five categories.
1. Up to date with
2. I usually bingewatch after each season, so I'm currently less than a season behind
3. I've seen at least one season, but am not quite up to speed anymore (without having ditched it).
4. New shows I'm up to date with (First season or max one complete season aired).
5. Show I've fallen behind with, but I catch up on every so often & shows I slowly work my way through bit by bit.

Category 1:
Criminal Minds
White Collar
Lost Girl
The Mentalist
Warehouse 13
The Big Bang Theory
One Tree Hill
Beauty and the Beast
Hawaii Five-0
Person of Interest
Rizzoli and Isles
Burn Notice
Falling Skies
Necessary Roughness
The Newsroom

Category 2:
Downton Abbey
Covert Affairs
The Walking Dead

Category 3:
Hart of Dixie
2 Broke Girls
Happy Endings

Category 4:
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Almost Human
Orphan Black
The Americans
Ground Floor
Trophy Wife
The Blacklist
By Any Means
Go On

Category 5:
Game of Thrones
True Blood
Glory Days
Life Unexpected

Friday, November 15, 2013

The truth behind the hype and acclaim of Silver Lining Playbook

We live in dark times. To paraphrase a saying by a club legend from my favorite sports club;

We have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory

In Hollywood that couldn't but further from the truth. In Hollywood they've set the bar so low, you could stroll along beside it and by pure luck, accidentally clear it just by stumbling across it. That's not sad, it's depressing.

So along comes David O' Russell with his young rising star, Jennifer Lawrence. High on acclaim from her performance in Winter's Bone, high on popularity from new teen-phenomenon franchise The Hunger Games, and high on likeability from her freshness and persona so far from the usual Hollywood stars we've grown accustomed to. In the baggage he's got a two hour rom-com, spiced up with mental illness, but not really a stand out script by any measure. At least if you don't compare it to the ridiculous low bar they've set in Hollywood when it comes to rom-coms.

We've seen it for quite a while. They keep on recycling ideas, stealing outright from each other whenever someone comes up with a half-decent original idea, and then they recycle the same old beauty pageant of actors and actresses again and again. Of course casting Jennifer Lawrence rather than one of those bimbos they usually pitch, it would seem like manna from heaven. in fact the god damn Academy got so whiplashed they even managed to award her Best Actress for it. I love Jen. I worship the ground she walks, I love her diversity in picking roles, I love her talent, I love her in interviews, I love her for sticking it to the tabloids and Miley Cyrus with her comment, and I love her for a few dozen more reasons. I don't blame her for fooling the Academy. She deserved to get a golden man for her work in Winter's Bone, so there's some karma working in her favor I guess.

But it all speaks volumes on Hollywood. It's only four years since they gave Sandra Bullock the same award for a role so simplistic there's probably three thousands actresses that easily could have stepped in and done the same. Now I like Sandra for Sandra, but honestly... Anyways. I have absolutely no respect for the Academy, so I won't bother barking down that particular leg any more.

Let's have a small look at recycling of ideas instead. Hollywood have always loved vampires, and they return every so often in fashion. We had the early Dracula and Nosferatu stuff back in the 20's, in the late 80's and early 90's it was again in semi-fashion with movies like The Lost Boys, Near Dark and Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles. Then came Stephenie Meyer and her Bella Swan, spinning out Twilight as a major novel- and movie-franchise. In its wake came a lot of popular culture looking to cash in; The Vampire Diaries and True Blood to name two of the larger TV-attempts. We already had a show doing one season before they got cancelled with Moonlight just prior, and Kate Beckinsale was already walking around all sexy leather-ness in the Underworld-franchise.

In 2009 largely forgotten indie-director Gorman Bechard made a rom-com movie based on the friends with benefits plot, titled Friends (with Benefits). Few have heard about it, even fewer have probably watched it. I have, and I enjoyed it a lot. Then again I fell in love with Gorman's visions with his You Are Alone made a few years earlier. Someone in Hollywood obviously watched Gorman's movie, because we soon after had a new idea widespread. They made Friends with Benefits starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, Love and Other Drugs starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, and No Strings Attached starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, all doing their very best to cash in on the plot-point of romantic comedies with the friends with benefits theme. Now, that's originality for you. Oh, well. It's Hollywood for you anyway.

I wasn't all that impressed by Russell's movie. I gave Silver Lining Playbook 2 out of 5 possible stars in my Letterboxd-review. Then again I'm not limited to the latest Hollywood releases. I watch rom-coms out of both Europe and Asia as well, so I'm exposed to a whole lot more variety and fresher ideas even on such a simple genre. Hollywood obviously isn't. On the other hand I'm also watching old Hollywood-movies from back when they actually had the bar a little higher more of the time. There's plenty of great screwballs to look up from the 30's and 40's, written with more genuine talent and invention, and that's despite their censorship from that damn Hayes Code implemented in 1934. Imagine if Hollywood today had that to struggle with in addition to their greedy studios, the fear of MPAA-ratings stopping teenagers watching their movies, and whatnot they look upon as obstacles these days.

Looking at what's seen as humor in Hollywood these days I'm not surprised they can all suddenly embrace a simple movie like Russell's. We've been so exposed to neanderthal humor from Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Seann William Scott and whatnot, that actual intelligent humor based on a wider memory-span than the last three minutes is essentially banned from scripts by studios underestimating their audience. While Bradley Cooper might not exactly be a new Forrest Gump, taking the rom-com to a serious issue like mental illness, and with the added flavor of Jennifer Lawrence, I can understand why Hollywood and American movie-goers in general got suckered. They are so exposed to garbage, that even mediocrity must seem pretty darn good by now.

Studios complain over streaming, illegal downloading over internet and a changed marked for movies. That's their excuse for sticking to the formulas, for embracing superheros as the grandest of genres, and for still marketing simple garbage starring the latest bimbo. They don't take responsibility for undermining the market themselves by neglecting to demand a certain level of quality, and therein lies their downfall. Therein also lies the reason we won't be seeing too much fresh quality in the rom-com genre for the next few years either. Now they'll be way too busy trying to live off the new market created by Silver Lining Playbook's success.

The funny thing though. There's actually been one lone glimmer of hope shining from Hollywood within the genre the past years. Dan Fogelman stepped away from his usual animated works and penned the screenplay for the 2011-success Crazy, Stupid, Love. directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Jennifer Moore, Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei. It's not as good as the best from former golden eras of Hollywood, but it's a huge step in the right direction for a genre that have been stuck for so long when it comes to bigger studio productions.

In all fairness to romantic comedies, they aren't the only ones struggling with a collective Hollywood stuck in a rot. Ever since they milked the new wind of Die Hard back in the days, we didn't see decent action movies until Taken was the one single lone glimmer of hope when it arrived in 2008. Then again that was a project made with mostly European backing, and Hollywood have since delivered more than one crappy attempt at doing high profiled kidnapped-revenge movies (like Nicholas Cage in Stolen), and we've had a horrible sequel with Liam Neeson reprising his role as Bryan Mills.

I doubt we'll see much change from Hollywood in the years to come either. Sadly there's still too much money and influence from their market, so that's an uphill battle quality is doomed to lose. At least I still got the Asians and French making good efforts, and I have a lot of old screwballs I haven't gotten around to yet.

We still desperately need someone to see the bar higher in Hollywood as well. We need them to reach for the stars, explore the possibilities beyond the cliches and stolen ideas, and hopefully again touch like they once touched their audience. If you'd like to know where that bar should be, I suggest you check out movies like these:

It Happened One Night (1934) dir: Frank Capra
My Man Godfrey (1936) dir: Gregory La Cava
The Awful Truth (1937) dir: Leo McCarey
Groundhog Day (1993) dir: Harold Ramis
Friends (with Benefits) (2009) dir: Gorman Bechard
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) dir: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
And while these won't exactly set the bar, the following are a handful of french rom-com releases that are more charming than at least 90 % of what Hollywood have released this side of the new millennium:

La fille sur le pont (1999) dir: Patrice Leconte
Je vous trouve très beau (2005) dir: Isabelle Mergault
Hors de prix (2006) dir: Pierre Salvadori
Le nom des gens
(2010) dir: Michel Leclerc

Un plan parfait (2012) dir: Pascal Chaumeil

I could do a whole lot of Asian ones as well, but their idea of romance does very often come in The Notebook-terrain, so we'll leave that for another day. Needless to say though, their 'The Notebook's are usually a lot better than The Notebook actually was...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Piloting - Graceland

Just another police procedural?

Graceland have a few things that sets it apart from the mold, like several agencies working together and--more importantly--living together in their housing named Graceland, but overall this was a pilot with a lot more disappointment than intrigue. They take on too many of the Graceland residents in the same episode, and paint all of them with cliched simplicity.

It's no secret police procedurals of different kinds are my bread and butter, or my guilty pleasures as it might well be better known as. The technologies and sidekicks change, but the platform stays the same. While they do rock the platform here, it's hard to be enthusiastic about it all when it's done so lifeless as here. None of the agents pitched in the pilot are of any interest to me, and then they've actually managed to make a show in this genre that not even I have any interest to check out further.

1.01 ★☆☆☆☆ Overall pilot score

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Justified, Season 3 & 4

Justified is the kind of show I like to watch entire seasons in one, rather than follow weekly. I did the same with seasons 1 and 2 back in the day, and somehow I never got around to season 3 before even the fourth season had passed by. It's a strange beast. The simple 19th century lawman procedural in the modern world is a bizarre mash-up that makes me think of The Wire done light in a Winter's Bone world, with characters that rarely make the same kind of impact those important ones did in the before mentioned show and movie. All in all it makes it better than most procedurals, but nowhere near the greatness of The Wire.

Season three spends a lot of time with a mafia local wannabe going at it with the Crowders, and with the Limehouse-crowd at arms length taking up a lot of time as a stripped Bennett-family kind of influence (see season 2). It makes for a less interesting season all together, with lesser obstacles, lesser intriguing characters and less charm than both this show have done before and others have done in the same vein.

Season four takes the old-secret angle, chasing down an old fugitive with unknown new identity as its main gear. Good old Boyd Crowder becomes a poor-man's Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or a poor-man's 'Stringer' Bell (The Wire). However you choose to see it, it's less appealing than it once used to be. Heck, by the time season four has ended I'm confused whether or not this actually is just another guilty pleasure of mine.

Thankfully there's a few things that works really well as we take our steps around in Raylan's world, and much of it is thanks to a certain kind of humor that works built on the world itself. Not quite enough to make the entertainment value outshine the lesser interest I feel for these seasons compared to earlier ones (or greater show's...), but enough I'll still probably tune in for season five once its done. At least by now I know it's with lesser expectations and a more guilty pleasure mind.

It also makes me ponder whether or not I shouldn't take a look at revisiting The Wire sooner rather than later...

Season 3 ★★★☆☆
Season 4 ★★★☆☆

Monday, April 22, 2013

Falling Skies, Season 1 & 2

I always knew I would tune in for Falling Skies sooner or later, mostly because of Jessy Schram. I've been a fan of the girl ever since her stint at Veronica Mars, but also because of her minor roles elsewhere, and as such always felt like I had to check out series where she got bigger parts.

And I've never made any secret of my lack of love for everything Spielberg, so it's most definitely despite his executive producing the show I finally gave it a go.

There's a distinct difference in the two seasons thus far aired, but I'm not gonna spend time looking into those. As far as the quality goes, they are both pretty much in the same ballpark, even if they did pick up from the opening few episodes.

It's easy to think of The Walking Dead while watching Falling Skies. Zombies are swapped for aliens, but they do in both cases take backseat for the human connections and interactions within their groups. While the potential of both shows are great, Falling Skies falls shorter than TWD--much because of the typical Spielbergian bright side attitude. The potential is equally great--or even better--but the execution is on both FS-seasons just a notch below the disappointing second season of TWD. With only ten episodes a season they have the proper framing to make it tight and quality, but still spend too much time wallowing in scenes and situations that are too light and family-friendly. Pick up the dark side, and there might actually be something there.

As long as Jessy Schram keeps getting credited, I'll still probably tune in for another season.... My expectations aren't very high thou, so more of a guilty pleasure kind of thing. That's also why I rate it according to my Guilty Pleasure's three star system.

Season 1 ★★☆
Season 2 ★★☆

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Piloting - Defiance

SyFy returns to its roots with Defiance, but how well does it stack up on its own?

I'm honestly not sure. One thing is certain. Defiance manages to take on quite a few cliches and much spent stereotypes in its two-hour pilot-episode. If you managed to get through it without once thinking about Firefly, Romeo and Juliet and half a dozen other well known shows, stories and movies, you're a better person than me.

But just because it indulges itself in cliches and well spent formulas in its opening, doesn't really prove its going to be one thing or another. The real test comes with the next 3-4 episodes, and the direction it takes then. For a pilot, these plot-devices works well to establishes outer perimeters for all characters we're introduced to. It's how they let their characters develop that matters in the long run, and by doing it this way they did at least not lose their audience in very complex new world. It's pretty easy to get a general feel for what's in store, and thus not to complicated to have certain characters different set of audiences will leech onto.

Our center of gravity is without a doubt Nolan and Irisa, the two strangers arriving in Defiance. A human father-character and an alien adopted daughter, both well equipped to take on danger. Personally I found Nolan a bit too typical for the kind of center protagonists of these kind of shows, but Irisa's got potential. I just fear--from the little we saw in the pilot--that she's gonna be spent wrong. Then again, I'm a sucker for strong female fighting-spirits characters...

The pilot got its share introduction, politic family feud, action in both war and brawl, drama and a slight bit procedural lawkeeper. Some of it worked, some of it was intriguing and some of it left me feeling like I've seen it all before. I'm far from convinced we've got a hit on our hand, but for a pilot it got me invested enough I'll certainly tune back in for a few weeks.. That's not nothing.

1.01 ★★★☆☆ Overall pilot score

Valentine (2008-09)

Valentine was something like the ugly step-sister of Rob Thomas' Cupid, with modern setting for the Greek Gods, including Aphrodite, Cupid, Hercules and Ares. I didn't find it difficult to understand they pulled the plug, because there's really not a single reason to allow as many as eight episodes to air.

It was poorly written, characters wasn't used anywhere close to their potential, it was a b-cast, and they never quite managed to balance the soulmates-of-the-week storyline with their larger overall arch. In short; a lot of wasted potential.

Overall Quality ★☆☆☆☆