Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Taking a Break

I will be back to full-time posting on Monday, but in the meantime, just be thankful the world has an Ansel Elgort

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Film: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher, Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

In the past few years, a trend has occurred in the horror/thriller genre that is both cool and (perhaps like all of those people who keep proclaiming a Golden Age of Television even after most of those "Golden Age" shows have disappeared) eye-rolling is that we consistently get "quality" horror films to go along with the genre that for years was considered something of a wasteland.  Though decades ago horror films also ran this gamut (watch a Hitchcock film next to a Vincent Price one...though I have an affinity for both), it's become more pronounced in recent years, with a plethora of profitable but deeply forgettable slasher films playing alongside movies such as The Babadook, The Conjuring, and (best of all) The Cabin in the Woods.  This year, we've already had one additional entry into this pantheon, 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film that has received wild praise for its claustrophobic look at abuse and paranoia.

(Spoilers Ahead) I bring up claustrophobia both literally and figuratively right now, because it is at the center of this film's appeal.  A young girl named Michelle (Winstead), driving carelessly gets into a car accident, and then is brought to a shelter by a man named Howard (Goodman), who at first seems to be both deeply controlling (he has her chained up) as well as oddly kind to her, but in a patronizing, paternal way.  As the film goes on, the movie shows us that they are in an elaborate bomb shelter, as Howard is sure that there has been some sort of chemical attack on the United States (though he's not sure from where, but it's heavily implied he assumes that it's either aliens or a foreign government).

Michelle is not convinced, and slowly gets the only other person in the shelter, a young man named Emmett (Gallagher) who seems to be a bit dense but sweet, to team up with her as she tries to escape.  She soon learns that something tragic has happened outside of the shelter when a neighbor outside the wall shows up and is "infected."  However, she also learns that Howard's daughter that he speaks of with great affection is not his daughter, but instead a girl whom he kidnapped earlier just like Michelle.  The film progresses with Emmett and Michelle trying to escape, willing to risk the outside compared to staying with Howard, and in the process Emmett dies, followed by Howard, and then Michelle is sent out into the world where she is attacked by aliens.

That last twist in the script may largely depend on whether or not you liked this movie, and honestly I kind of hated the last minute twist, which I know a number of people have weighed in on here.  It felt like one direction too many in a film that had already been quite good, so the twist didn't kill it for me, but felt more like an "oh brother" eye roll.  The picture up until that point was a strong acting trio, particularly in my opinion between Goodman and Winstead, the former giving his boisterous physical appearance so much depth as a man bereft of emotional connection and therefore trying to force it, and the latter a woman who is encountering circumstances she never pondered occurring in her life.  The metaphor of a textbook abusive relationship is not thinly-veiled (in many ways it resembles We Need to Talk About Kevin in a lot of ways), but it works because the actors and writers are strong.

The last minute alien attack, however (therefore linking us to the original Cloverfield monster from the film that shares its name, and thus making this a tangential sequel) felt overdone and unnecessary.  I felt like the original script (at least what I've read is the original script), with Michelle thinking this was all a horrible nightmare, and then driving to see a destroyed Chicago, may have been a more appropriate and ambiguous ending.  The implication of an alien attack and the Cloverfield monster is already there in the title, we don't need to get a full-on confirmation, as ambiguity in the film, particularly the strange grey areas that the film went to early on (is Howard an awful person who's also correct, or just a sociopath?) is its greatest asset.  While the ending didn't destroy the picture (too many good things had happened at that point to really contest the quality), it definitely left me with a sour taste.

Those are my thoughts on this most recent "prestige" horror film-how about you?  What's your favorite of this recent trend?  And what'd you think of 10 Cloverfield Lane and its twist ending?  Share your thoughts below!

Starting a New Chapter

Reinvention is not the easiest of tasks, as we are forceful creatures of habit.  I say that as someone who, for the first time in living in an apartment for over two years, is using my library to write a blog article rather than doing so in the same, desktop living room space that I always devote to my writing.  I have, after eight years, finally put in semi-retirement (I don't know if I'll bring him out for the occasional moment of glory) my computer, affectionately nicknamed "Bobby" (after the cute guy that sold it to me at Best Buy, as well as the more well-known Attorney General who is in a portrait directly behind me).  I had not decided on what to name my new computer, but as I can just make out my copy of The Moviegoer situated sternly behind it, I will go with Percy, a fitting name for such a thing, and am hopeful that Percy lasts throughout a Hillary Clinton administration the way that Bobby did through the Obama Years.

It may seem a trivial thing, to talk about a new computer, but it's not when I realize how much of my life over the past eight years has been spent on that computer.  I bought it just out of college, and had the highest of hopes for it, and indeed it has been home to some of my greatest accomplishments.  It was one of the first purchases I made when I started the career track I remain on to this day, and through its internet I found the first guy who ever called me his boyfriend and through which I wrote over 1700 blog articles (well, give or take with other shared computers of friends and occupations, but the bulk of it was performed on Bobby).  It's hard not to be reflective at the disappointments that he brought to me as well.  Despite the best of intentions but the worst of follow-throughs, I never finished my third novel on that computer, and indeed barely made it more than a handful of pages through it.  That man I called my first boyfriend would hardly be my last, but he didn't get to be the home of other more long-term descriptors like partner.

The passage of time is something that we don't oftentimes get reminded of, and while for most people eras of their personal journey are perhaps marked by cars or by jobs or by children, for me they seem to be by computers.  This is my fourth personal computer, and I remember the places all of mine have taken me toward, and where I was when I lived in their warm, mechanical glow.  As someone who has lived most of their life as an aspiring writer, trying to find words and sentences to express my innermost thoughts, computers are my lifeblood.  If there's a computer there's a portal for creativity, a vessel for when the world has left me speechless or without a rudder.  I can just pour whatever I'm trying to express into the paragraphs of a letter or a story or a blog post.

I started this blog over four years ago, and the readership has gone up-and-down, mostly better when I consistently write or when I get to an article that I think people will enjoy, and we'll return to that soon enough, but I wanted to try something a little different with this piece, because I wanted to take advantage of the anonymity that a blog provides. While I personally know several of the readers of this blog (a couple of hangers-on from my flesh-and-blood and not digital world), most of the people that I interact with on this blog and (more often) through Twitter are people I will never meet or never will.  We get very few comments (few is being generous), and so I know very little of the readership of this blog, or really aside from the occasional post that happens to land an image that somehow pops up in a Google or Bing image search, I know little of what people like aside from guesses (and admittedly a couple of posts that I know clearly resonated about Darren Criss and Harry Potter).  This has never bothered me, though, because I embraced the anonymity of this blog out of wanting to become a better writer.

By being anonymous, and not caring what parts of myself I was giving over to the other side of the computer, I could learn how to write again.  Four years ago, I hadn't written so much as two sentences in years outside of the confines of Microsoft Outlook.  I genuinely thought I had forgotten how to write.  The first few articles were bizarrely labored, and I wondered if I could do something like this, giving near daily thoughts, but I pushed through because I wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve something.  I was going through a low period (something we all go through from time to time) and an outlet, something to accomplish but more so something to rely upon, felt truly liberating.  Best of all was the anonymity, proving that I could write about literally whatever was of interest to myself and if people liked it, so be it, and if not, there was no pressure as my name wasn't attached.

As you might imagine considering the wistfulness of this article, I am not far from one of those moments right now in my life, a few months into such a mood which may be why the writing has been a bit more sporadic and frequently excuse-riddled.  It's hard to find yourself when you don't know where to go and when you feel you have very few people that have a vested or active interest in making yourself better.  This is not meant to disparage one of the people who know me in my life, but to acknowledge the truth that as you get older and you don't go down a traditional family path (whether by choice or by bitter providence) you become almost exclusively your own guardian, not just in matters of finance, but in matters of care and drive and love.  I can say with relative certainty that no one has a continuous, active, daily interest in my future except me, and that's something only really single people and those in loveless romantic relationships can claim.  I honestly have no idea how to really get out of this funk, but as of this past weekend I've decided that trying to ride it out is not working, and so I have purchased this computer to both metaphorically and literally start a new chapter.  Some of this journey I'll bring to this blog, some of it will be outside of this laptop, but I will be sharing moments along the way and I invite you to join me.  The era of Percy, part four of John, is about to begin.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Happy Lost Day!

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It's Lost day!!!!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you might be thinking, "what does that mean?" and if you know what it means, you might be thinking "seriously John-didn't we just go through this months ago for absolutely no legitimate reason other than you wanted to talk about your favorite show of all-time?"

To the former group, what I mean by Lost day is that today is one of the sequences of numbers associated with the show Lost and therefore a day to celebrate (or in most cases, a date to worry about being cursed as the numbers are no good).  4 8 15 16 23 42 are deeply prevalent throughout the series Lost, and while I won't get into exactly where they all factor in, they do quite a lot.  Today is 8/15, and even better, it's 8/15/16, so I cannot let this most momentous of days pass by without devoting some time to my favorite show.  And for the second group-I can write about Lost if I want to write about Lost-we'll get back into Trump's campaign manager secretly getting money from the Russians a different day, okay?

I actually covered a lot of ground with Lost Week when I did it earlier this year (Link Right Here!), so you might be thinking that I don't have a lot of things to say about the subject, but that's where you would be wrong, because I always have a lot to talk about Lost.  Seriously-I think I could go on and on about this show in the same way I do politics and movies, but in those cases people actually want to hear about them (or, you know, they don't and I just have to pretend), but with Lost it's a niche show that most people have given up on in the years since.  For this day, I figured I would try and talk about something I didn't have time to get to with Lost Week and to discuss what Lost means to me personally.  I also am just putting this out into the universe, but I think I'm going to be doing 4/8 and 8/15 as my national permission days going forward to write articles about Lost as much as my heart desires, and if you haven't watched the show-what the hell are you waiting for?!?

I think the thing, for me, that I have to remember when wondering about Lost and why it stuck out to me even more than shows like Mad Men, Desperate Housewives, and Gilmore Girls (all of which have a special place in my admittedly TV fickle heart) is to understand why I love film more than television.

The reality is that television, for me, is generally pretty boring since it's so repetitive.  This isn't to say that I don't love television-I do, and there are shows (like the three I mentioned in the last paragraph-let's keep up), that I am willing to proudly display next to my movies, both literally and figuratively.  Television is constantly on in my apartment, though that can occasionally be a symptom of me watching not a TV series but (more often) a movie or a tennis tournament.  I like the noise of television, and once I latch onto a show, I generally latch on tight even when the quality of the show has waned significantly and it's more of a habitual and spiteful watch than anything else (explore this blog for very long and you'll find some Glee recaps to prove that).

Movies are finite pieces of information, ones that clearly had a goal in mind when they started, and are complete stories.  They are generally not dependent on the real world to shape the story for them.  When an actor or a writer signs up for a movie, they are making that entire film, and not just a season or several seasons of the show.  So often on television, we are faced with the realities of life.  A network decides to add a new star in the hopes of shoring up ratings or a longtime cast member quits to pursue greener pastures or are fired for some reason that the tabloids debate for weeks.  I look at a show like Grey's Anatomy, and realize that the hopes of so many of the fans have long since been extinguished-the happy endingsare gone from reality because certain cast members left.  It's hard to be emotionally invested in such a show because we know that the ultimate goals of the series aren't being achieved.

This doesn't just happen when it comes to cast departures, but also from the opposite end of the spectrum-the network saying they need to stretch out the story to keep the cash revenue going.  How much better would How I Met Your Mother have been if they'd ended it at seven seasons rather than ten?  The selfish aspect of this, the person that wanted to keep going with this crew that I loved (save Barney, who was increasingly obnoxious as the series went on) would have said forever, but the final few seasons were just a series of Robin/Ted/Barney triangles and the finale was relatively disappointing even for those of us who saw it coming.  The same could be said for series like Friends or Gilmore Girls, who had lackluster final seasons that left a bitter taste in your mouth, primarily because we knew where the series should have ended years earlier.  Series frequently tie together things that shouldn't have been together-things that don't feel like a natural conclusion (really-Samantha Jones decides to stay with her younger model boyfriend rather than embracing her single least until they're on the big screen-blasphemy!), just because of time constraints.  Movies don't have this problem-movies, provided they don't go into some ridiculous split ending Hunger Games territory, are actually finite and rarely do we see the strains of the universe and we get the ending the writers began with unless that film is Blade Runner.

(Spoilers for the Series Lost Ahead) This is what made Lost so special in my mind.  Lots of people may quibble with me, but taken as a whole, Lost is about as good of a storytelling experiment as one six season show can get.  The plot rarely repeated storylines, and even ones that were used more than once went in for higher and higher stakes (the Sawyer/Kate/Jack love triangle, John vs. Jack in their battle of science/faith).  The show always felt relatively essential, as well.  The story may have suspended belief on occasion (particularly the time-traveling fifth season), but it felt concrete as a show.  It was something that feels organic revisiting it-there are few seams in the lining.  Watching a season turn into the next season upon revisiting the series there are relatively few plot holes left behind.  Honestly, while you can quibble about the mysteries, and I have, for the most part there are solutions or near-solutions for almost every single question on the show, and the biggest questions (what is the meaning of life?) are too big for even a show as good as Lost to answer.

There were, of course, some of the issues symptomatic to television on display in the series.  We had at least a couple of actors (Cynthia Watros, Michelle Rodriguez, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje come to mind) that left likely due to outside circumstances, while the writer's strike cost us a few more in-depth looks at the Kahana (probably a Charlotte or Miles-centric story that would have aired that year that I am forever wishing I'd received), but by-and-large the show didn't lose much with these real-world issues, and kept telling the story they meant to tell.  As a result, Lost, more than any other show (though The Leftovers and to a lesser degree Game of Thrones may come close) was the best of both worlds-taking the finest attributes of both film and television and putting it into the same place.  While I have loved other shows, no other series has ever made me love it the way that I love my favorite movies.

Honestly, Lost is still the most special thing in my world, and the most hallowed of ground.  I can talk about movies or politics or tennis or Broadway until you literally begging for a topic change, but you  bring up Lost and suddenly I become quiet, as if holy territory has been reached.  Recently I discovered the Lost novels and it was like I'd died and gone to heaven-seeing stories about Shannon or Charlie or Kate, getting into the minds of new characters and discovering little tidbits (finding how John Locke discovered the backgammon table-literally, I cannot) was magical.  Everything about this series is magical.  I will happily entertain ideas and theories, but never really complaints unless they're constructive.  The people who said they wasted their lives when the show ended-I can't deal with them, and basically find that unforgivable.  You watched a different, very cinematic, journey than I did.  So those of you out there who are still pushing the button, who still want to go back, who want more round on the golf course, Happy Lost Day!

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Olympic Images of the Day: Day 8

We are at the half way point in the Rio Games, and what an amazing night for the Americans (and also, other countries).  Let's take a look at some of my favorite moments:

It does my ancient heart proud to see someone older than me pull off the gold last night (probably for the last time in aquatics).  That it was Anthony Ervin, whom I have crushed on since he tied Gary Hall sixteen years ago, is all the better.  Arguably the coolest guy on Team USA, and someone who has struggled to get to this point with issues of drug abuse and depression, this has to be one of the most cathartic and wildest moments of the tournament.

In another upset, Maya Dirado, who has for some reason (I'm still not sure why) declared this her first and last Olympics, managed to end it with a bang.  After pulling off a team gold and two individual medals, she came from behind in arguably her weakest event (seriously-what a finish!) to grab the gold medal in the 200m backstroke.  An incredible moment with someone who clearly got swept up in the emotion of the Games!

I don't know what day of the Games this victorious Katie Ledecky is from, because honestly-isn't this the recurring image of the Games at this point?  Ledecky clobbered in every one of her events, picking up a string of golds, last night her final one of the Games with the 800m.  The only quibble I have now is that for some reason they don't include the 1500m in this tournament as well (or the 800m for the Men's)-let's get some more swimming out there and have her compete for another gold!!!

Finally, we'll end with a victorious Michelle Carter, picking up the first USA medal of Track & Field, this time in the shot put.  She got to one-up her father Mike Carter (who won the silver at the 1984 Games), break an American record in the event, and also managed to win the first gold medal of the T&F events.  Also, am I the only person who wishes they'd focus more on the field portion of Track & Field.  Those runners are so impressive, but they spend more time on the blocks than they do on the track-the field events take a while and have a more climactic build, so I'm more about them.  Either well done Team USA!!!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Olympic Images of the Day: Day 7

I missed a day here (I know), but I got caught having to do something else on Wednesday night, so I wasn't able to tune in for the Olympics post like I planned.  But I was up all night last night, and so here are some of my highlights from an exclusively gymnastics and swimming evening:

For Americans there is Mary Lou.  And Carly.  And Nastia.  And Gabby.  And now Simone.  Yes, for the fifth time (and the fourth straight Olympics) the United States dominated the Gymnastics All-Around competition, though as Tim Daggett and the other announcer whose name they never actually say nauseatingly pointed out, she's the greatest of all time, no debate.  NONE!  It was hard to argue watching her perform, though, as while the announcers were incredibly annoying (and weirdly sexist to Nastia Liukin in their persistent mansplaining considering she's the only one whose, well, actually won this event before and is the one the audience actually wants insights from), Biles radiated on the floor of that Rio theater as she brushed her way into immortality.

Four years after she lost her bronze medal on essentially a technicality, Aly Raisman was back and this time left no doubts that she was great enough to earn a medal in this event.  After crushing the competition in a Floor routine for the ages, she broke down in tears in one of the best Olympic moments of the week, her strength giving way to the pressure she clearly felt to correct what happened in London and prove she deserved to be on a podium in one of the signature events of the Olympic Games.  Well done Aly!

Finally, there was Aliya Mustafina, who was the only person who seemed to really give Biles a worry (at one point she assumed the lead thanks to a fantastic piece of work on the Uneven Bars).  She also pointed out the problem of the American announcers a bit, as Tim Daggett got increasingly cruel to the Russian gymnast in a way he wasn't to anyone else, particularly people that were much weaker than Aliya, who seems kind of baller (she railed against doping, but also pointed out she wasn't willing to compete under any other banner than Russia, thus celebrating the Olympic Games' inherent love of country).  She also became the first woman in sixteen years to medal in this event twice.  Plus, her last name is awesome sauce: MUSTAFINA!!!!!

The past few years being a Michael Phelps stan has been a bit tough.  After a London Games where I questioned repeatedly his need to retire (he clearly had enough gas in the tank to keep going), he got his DUI and was constantly ostracized for his behavior.  Rio has been my redemption, though, as he's been stronger here than perhaps even at Beijing.  Last night in the 200m IM, his signature event, he became the first swimmer ever to win the gold medal in four straight events, and then turned around and managed to land the 100m fly with only 35 minutes separating the events.  Regardless of the rest of his tournament (he still has two finals left), Phelps has ended his career in the classy way he hoped, but failed to do four years ago.

In what (for me) was the most emotional moment of the night, Simone Manuel made her way into the history books, and not just by breaking an Olympic Record in the 100m free.  Manuel became the first ever African-American woman to win a gold medal (or a medal of any kind) in an individual swimming event.  It was particularly moving not just because of the history behind such a moment, but also because it seemed completely unexpected (she won in a tie, wasn't the favorite headed into the event, and it was the result of a late push by Manual that it happened) and because the announcers, two straight white men, not only acknowledged the fact but Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines seemed genuinely moved to be a part of history.  A great American moment all-around.

Finally, there's Nate Adrian, who managed to (the night after he was upset in an event he dominated four years ago) come back swinging with the best smile in American swimming on his face, and rebound into arguably the weirdest and fastest event in the water, the 50m freestyle.  He's not the favorite headed into tomorrow, but for his fans, it was a great moment to rally.  Go Nate!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

OVP: The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Film: The Blue Dahlia (1946)
Stars: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard da Silva, Doris Dowling
Director: George Marshall
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Screenplay)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

There's no genre in probably all of filmdom that I love more than film noir.  I have a penchant for "women who lie to themselves," romantic epics, and cerebral dramas, but at the end of the day you put me in front of a detective film with a jaded lead and a beautiful but dangerous woman in his romantic sights and I'm truly set.  This is why I picked The Blue Dahlia off of my DVR (again-trying to clean that thing out a bit over the next month), hoping that some interactions with the likes of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake would be a great start to the week.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't have enough of a vested interest in its supporting cast and can't hold together its mystique (likely due to some famed offscreen issues with writer Raymond Chandler) to really graduate to a classic film noir.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Johnny Morrison (Ladd), a discharged US Naval officer who is coming home to see his wife Helen (Dowling), only to find that she's clearly having an affair and throwing a gigantic party and killed their son in a drunk driving accident (it's a lot to take in in the first ten minutes of the movie).  Johnny threatens to kill his wife, but doesn't, and leaves, eventually meeting a woman on the street named Joyce (Lake), while Helen manages to get into all sorts of mischief, eventually blackmailing her lover and going home (unknowingly) with one of her husband's best friends.  Helen is found killed, and naturally Johnny is suspected, but while on the run-from-the-law he pursues the truth and eventually discovers the real killer.

It's the stuff of classic detective boilerplate, and with a writer like Chandler one should assume that it'd be better than it is, but the film lacks a few key elements that make for a truly interesting film noir.  For starters, the side characters, and really all of the characters, aren't that interesting.  Casting Ladd as the main character makes sense, but the rest of the cast isn't distinctive enough, and in particular the women don't stand out enough in the cast.  Chandler purportedly hated the film's leading lady, nicknaming her Moronica Lake, and while she was famously difficult to work with, he didn't give her a lot to do in the role other than occasionally seem mysterious and pretty.  It's hard not to think that a better actress like Rita Hayworth or Gene Tierney might have been able to find something stronger in the part, but Joyce is underwritten, and Helen is a bit of a cartoonish harpy-overall, his treatment of women isn't strong, and his work with men is hardly distinctive, not drawing the characters diversely enough, save for William Bendix' drunk-and-frightened Buzz, the highlight of the picture.

The ending also doesn't work.  Purportedly this was the studio's fault, as Chandler initially meant for Buzz, while in a blackout, to be the killer, and this made the most sense as it was disturbing and played into a number of the red herrings (as Buzz was arguably the only character who had no legitimate reason to want Helen dead), but the producers didn't want a naval officer to be portrayed as the killer so Chandler changed the ending and as a result sacrificed what was working in the film (the natural weirdness of a mystery where the killer was the only person who didn't want the victim dead).  By doing this, they might have appeased audiences but they hurt the film overall, and as a result it's a pretty lousy detective film.  There's moments to enjoy (I liked Lake's chemistry with Ladd better here than I did her films with Fredric March and Joel McCrea, and I get why they were paired together quite often), but overall this is pretty disappointing.

Those are my thoughts on this detective film.  It's relatively well-reviewed, so I'm likely in the minority here-anyone want to come to the picture's rescue?  Is it weird that this film essentially is remembered now for its connection to the entirely unrelated Black Dahlia murder?  If you haven't seen it, weigh in on your thoughts on Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, and Raymond Chandler in the comments!