Saturday, February 02, 2013

2013 Pop Culture Journal: Week 3

January 15-21, 2013

10. MAMA (Director, 2013) (35mm) (Arena Grand) (January 18)

In short time Jessica Chastain has become one of the best working actresses.  It’s surprising to check her filmography and find little there prior to her breakout 2011. Granted, she amassed several projects that all happened to see the light of day in the same year, but her emergence felt like it occurred overnight even if it didn’t.  While she won’t be winning any awards for MAMA, she’s very good in this contemporary fairy tale by way of a horror movie.  This kind of film can often feel like it comes off the assembly line, but MAMA displays some thoughtfulness and visual flair to set it apart. (Review)

Grade: B-/63

11. BROKEN CITY (Allen Hughes, 2013) (35mm) (Arena Grand) (January 18)

Forget it Mark Wahlberg, it’s the Big Apple.  Allen Hughes tries to make New York City’s version of CHINATOWN.  He has the look and feel down, but the intricate twists and turns in Brian Tucker’s screenplay lack much in the way of surprises.  

The more interesting elements tend to be in the margins.  The girlfriend of Wahlberg’s character is an aspiring actress, and they attend the premiere of her independent film. What we see of it are pretty terrible--intentionally so--and hysterically funny.  This section provides a more incisive and witty look below the surface of official public statements than the political scenes.  I also liked Alona Tal as Wahlberg’s administrative assistant.  Her give-and-take with the boss snaps.      

Grade: C/47

12. THE LAST STAND (Kim Jee-woon, 2013) (2K DCP) (Rave Polaris) (January 19)

I elected to keep these observations out of my review, but this seems like the right space for them.  Can THE LAST STAND be read as a conservative fantasy?  The hero is jaded about life in the big city and gives it up for peace and quiet in quintessential small town America.  The feds are either corrupt or unsuccessful at their job.  It falls upon the local officials to get the job done properly.  The good guys even require a citizen’s private arsenal to fight back.  The hero and villain chase and duel with American-made cars.  Or maybe it’s just the form and this is all reading more into it than is intended? (Review)

Grade: B-/60

13. BEVERLY HILLS COP (Martin Brest, 1984) (HD stream) (January 20)

A by-the-numbers crime story drags down this would-be comedy.  As the fast-talking and ingratiating prankster policeman, Eddie Murphy shows why he’s a star even though his films are, by and large, not very good.  He’s very appealing in BEVERLY HILLS COP as he orders room service for the officers staking him out and stuffs bananas in their tailpipes to shake them, but Murphy’s personality isn’t enough to carry a film more devoted to the boilerplate TV procedural plot.  There’s literally zero mystery in the investigation.  The tepid fish-out-of-water humor fails to mine the comedy in a streetwise Detroit detective visiting swanky California.  And hey, there’s Jonathan Banks as a bad guy!  There’s nothing remarkable about what he does here, but for anyone who’s seen him on BREAKING BAD, it goes to show the talent that often goes unnoticed in disposable parts like this one.

Grade: C/46

14. ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012) (35mm) (Arena Grand) (January 21)

Just as riveted seeing it a second time. And what I said about Chastain in MAMA?  That goes double or triple for her here. (Review)

Grade: A/90


9s. REJECTED (Don Hertzfeldt, 2000) (YouTube) (January 16)

“My anus is bleeding!”  Proof that I don’t always need humor to be sophisticated.  I laughed myself silly when I saw this in THE ANIMATION SHOW and did so again when showing it to some students the day after taping a show in which we reviewed IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY.

Grade: A/90


1. GONE GIRL (Gillian Flynn, 2012)

Through a conventional mystery Gillian Flynn dissects a troubled marriage and explores what we think we know about the people we see, be it in everyday life or in the media. She alternates chapters of the husband’s thoughts when his wife goes missing on their anniversary and her diary entries.  It’s an ingenious way of studying how individuals construct the selves they reveal to others and the assumptions society makes based on available information, especially in sensational news stories.  GONE GIRL can be very cynical about how men and women relate to one another and how people use others for their own purposes, but it’s a fascinating and often thrilling read.

While reading the novel, I felt like it could be best translated as a short order TV series, maybe two or three seasons.  After I finished GONE GIRL, it was announced that David Fincher may direct the film adaptation.  He’s a sensible choice.  Reportedly Reese Witherspoon may play the lead female role.  This should be a whale of a part.  The only thing of note she’s done in recent years is HOW DO YOU KNOW, so it would be nice to have her return with something worthy of her talent.  


10. Van Halen THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS (2004)

Other than excluding “Ice Cream Man”, this 2-CD greatest hits set includes pretty much all the album-oriented rock radio staples by one of the biggest rock bands of the 1970s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s.  A collection like this would be hard to mess up, yet the sequencing has to be among the worst of any band’s best-of compilation.  The listener can fix this in the MP3 era, but if you pop this into a car CD player, as I did this week, the order is maddening.  

The first disk begins with “Eruption”, inexplicably separated from their cover of “You Really Got Me”, and three mediocre-to-bad new songs.  From then the set lurches between eras, alternating between songs with David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar as lead singer.  The only consecutive Roth-era songs are tracks 13 and 14 on the second CD, and they’re promptly followed by three live cuts with Hagar plowing through Diamond Dave classics.  Clearly the sequencing is a middle finger from the band to Roth, but they’re also insulting fans and making themselves look bad.  If anything, the stark contrast makes the Hagar-era songs pale in comparison to when Roth was the front man.

I used to prefer the so-called Van Hagar lineup, probably because those songs were more melody-inclined, but put me down now as recognizing that the group was far superior when Roth was in the band.  His goofball persona used to be what put me off, but listening now I can hear how he’s a better fit, especially at selling the double entendre-laden lyrics.  Hagar sounds too earnest in comparison.

Key tracks: “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “And the Cradle Will Rock...”, “Unchained”, “Panama”, I’ll Wait”, and “Runnin’ with the Devil”

11. The Walkmen HEAVEN (2012)

At this point when Spoon puts out yet another great album, it’s taken for granted.  Quietly The Walkmen are in the process of doing the same thing.  I’m slowly trying to put together a favorite albums of 2012 list, so I popped their latest in and was reminded (and kind of stunned) how great it is.  Maybe I should have gone down to campus this week to see them in concert again.  (I caught them in Cincinnati opening for The New Pornographers in 2011 and was suitably impressed.)

Key tracks: “We Can’t Be Beat”, “Love is Luck”, “The Witch”, and “The Love You Love”



Also file under Unfortunately Named Television Series.  I’m clearly not the target audience for a program about a Las Vegas showgirl reassessing her life while instructing ballerinas in small town California.  I’ve never watched anything on ABC Family or an episode of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s GILMORE GIRLS. Nevertheless, I don’t know if there’s another current show that leaves me feeling as good after an episode as this one.  Delightful repartee, appealing characters, and inventive dance numbers make it the complete drama-comedy package.

I don’t dance and possess little understanding of the art, but over the years I’ve noticed that I really enjoy dance films.  THE RED SHOES is an all-time favorite. I also like the Japanese original and American remake SHALL WE DANCE?, THE COMPANY, STEP UP 2: THE STREETS,.and CENTER STAGE, among others.  There’s just something about communicating feeling through motion that moves me immensely.  For example, Jeanine Mason gets a beautiful single shot solo in the third episode of the first season’s second half that is unspeakably light and charming, which says everything about the idealized character she plays.  Julia Goldani Telles caps that BUNHEADS episode with an emotional piece expressing her character’s fear.  For a series so reliant on fast-flung words, the dance scenes can be the most revealing and powerful.   

I can’t write about BUNHEADS and not mention Sutton Foster, who I first saw in ANYTHING GOES on Broadway in 2011.  She has the old-fashioned entertainer qualities that surely would have made her a film superstar in the screwball era.  Her comic timing is aces, and she looks effortless in her dancing. 

Live sports

1. Detroit Red Wings at Columbus Blue Jackets (Nationwide Arena - Columbus, Ohio) (January 21)

During the NHL lockout I was ambivalent about the season being saved.  The Columbus Blue Jackets were likely in for another bad season, and I was busy enough with other things that its absence in the fall didn’t stand out.  I was a little disappointed to miss out on attending the All-Star skills competition, but once the lockout reached deep enough into the original schedule, it was all for the better.  What fun would All-Star game activities be they were being performed as a duty in a compromised season?

Nevertheless, when the lockout ended and a revised 48-game schedule was released, I found myself ramped up for hockey’s return.  I even bought a ticket for opening night. Deals were plentiful because the CBJ had a week to sell tickets for the first game and needed to make overtures to fans angry about the lockout.  As a quarter season package owner, I was offered lower bowl seats for $25 through February.  Ticketmaster fees were even waived for the first week.  They got me.

Opening night in Columbus, the team’s second game, was a lot of fun.  The place was sold out, no doubt due to the ticket bargains and the opponent, the hated Red Wings. The mammoth new scoreboard is a beauty and was utilized better in terms of showing replays and keeping the “fan experience” stuff (kiss cam, movie clips to prod enthusiasm) to a minimum.  The crowd was as energetic as I’d experienced it in some time, perhaps since the first (and only) year the Blue Jackets made the playoffs.  The team played hard and almost pulled out a win.  Losing 4-3 in a shootout was not the preferred outcome, but it was an entertaining game that suggests maybe this team will be a fun one to watch.  Realistically, that’s what I’d like.

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