Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Top 50 TV Shows Pt. 1: 13-40

13. Tales From the Crypt (1989- 1996)

Created by: Steven Dodd, Exec Producers: Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis

I grew up with EC Comics and they are the primary reason why I am such a horror fan (or fiend?). I also grew up with the films of Donner and Zemeckis and got into the films of Walter Hill later on. So it was a natural fit that this show works to the extent that it does. Along with MST3K and The Simpsons, my go to show for comfort food.

14. Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969- 1974)

Created by: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

Like the best bands, comedy troupes such as Monty Python are so well regarded because of how well they are able to play off each other's strengths. In this case, Monty Python were The Beatles of comedy.

15. Mad Men (2007- 2014)

"You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I'm living like there's no tomorrow because there isn't one."
-Don Draper

Created by: Matthew Weiner
Favorite characters: Peggy Olsen, Don Draper
Favorite episodes: The Suitcase, The Wheel, The Other Woman, Shut the Door Have A Seat, Waterloo, Person to Person, Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency, In Care Of, Meditations In An Emergency, Signal 30, Lady Lazarus

While Winter went back to the gangster genre, another Sopranos writer decided to invoke another kind of existentialism: that of Madison Avenue advertising guru Don Draper. Beyond just that, it's based around one of my favorite periods of history: the 60's. More importantly, the shadows of repression from the 50's that lurked over a decade of sexual and political revolution. Even Don Draper didn't like Tomorrow Never Knows.

Amidst the cigarette smoke and alcohol tinged breath an ad exec takes when selling the ad, buying the new car, and bedding the new secretary, there is an air of nostalgia that pulls the past right onto their doorstep. As Don would say, in Greek, nostalgia means the pain from an old wound. When looked through the kaleidoscope of the 60's, watching the characters moving forward from an old wound only makes the pain more severe. Mad Men was a show that made us looked back in time to see that there still is work to be done today.

16. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000- )

Created by: Larry David

Curb is a rare show that has gone through 8 seasons and not only managed to not lose steam, it has become funnier. Like a bull in a china shop, Larry's insensitivity manages to wreak havoc on everybody. 

17. Oz (1997- 2003)

"There's somethin' in the air. And it ain't love"
-Officer Diane Whittlesey

Created by: Tom Fontana
Favorite characters: Ryan O'Reilly, Kareem Said, Bob Rebadow, Augustus Hill
Favorite episodes: Revenge Is Sweet, Escape From Oz, You Bet Your Life, A Game of Checkers, Works of Mercy, Unnatural Disasters, Capital P, Strange Bedfellows

Oz. That's the name on the street for the Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary. HBO's first real drama doesn't pull any punches. There is bone chilling brutality throughout that is only matched by soul stirring moments. Mass incarceration seems to be the one thing America excels at more than any other country and this show goes lengths to show how broken that system really is- from recidivism rates to the death penalty to overcrowding to horrific injustice.

When it's all said and done, television shows will have produced a handful of truly great character feuds. Tobias Beecher and Vern Schillinger will be up there.

18. True Detective (2014- )

"Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning."
-Rust Cohle

Created by: Nic Pizzolatto
Favorite characters: Rust Cohle, Officer Paul Woodrugh
Favorite episodes: Form and Void, Who Goes There?, Black Maps and Motel Rooms, The Secret Fate of All Life, Omega Station

A good example of how a novelist can take to the medium, in this case a cop drama, and don it with a new coat of paint. Nic Pizzolatto created a show that would cause Detective Somerset to comb the libraries looking for books from Robert Chambers, Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron. In many ways, the best of its kind since Se7en. The second season was more Chinatown than its previous influences but it still offered a number of fascinating characters and storylines.

19. Boardwalk Empire (2010- 2014)

"We've been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bath, some chow...then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies."
-Al Capone

Created by: Terence Winter
Favorite characters: Richard Harrow, Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller, Chalky White, Gyp Rosetti, Arnold Rothstein
Favorite episodes: Farewell Daddy Blues, Margate Sands, Erlkonig, To the Lost, Devil You Know, Two Imposters, Eldorado, Under God's Power She Flourishes, Paris Green, The Old Ship of Zion

After the Sopranos, everyone wanted to know what Chase was going to do next. What we weren't prepared for was Sopranos scribe Terence Winter going back in time to Prohibition-era 20's and exploring a different type of gangster. The performances are universally great and the look of it puts most other HBO productions to shame. I'll just put it this way: if The Sopranos is GoodFellas, then Boardwalk Empire is Casino.                                    

20. At the Movies With Ebert and Siskel (1986- 1999; Ebert and Roeper 2000- 2006)

"I'm Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune. And I'm Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun- Times" 

The only substitute to that euphoric feeling of opening those respective newspapers and reading one of their reviews. It had nothing to do with whether or not they liked a movie I liked (though it helped). It was all about their chemistry as a duo of reviewers who could get fiercely embroiled in debate. 
Gene giving reviews while he was clearly sick with cancer and Roger persisting in reviewing on his site amidst the loss of his voice, is why I have such admiration for them. Their passion for what they did was boundless.
In an era of such vanilla bland, dishonest critics- A.O. Scott, Michael Phillips, and Ben Mankewicz, who all tried to fill the void- the balcony still remains closed.

21. WWE Raw (1993- Present)

The run from 1997 through 2005 was where all of its best moments lay for me. Specifically the Attitude era ('97- '02). What other show will you see its creator get a Stone Cold Stunner? This was the era that gave us the Monday Night Wars, Steve Austin flippin' off Mike Tyson, Wrestlemania X-7, the tag team division at the time, the Austin Vs. McMahon feud, Mankind winning the title, the list goes on and on and on.

Hearing of The Undertaker finally retiring for good last year put a lot of things in perspective. The Rock is now a Hollywood star and will be busy with the Fast and Furious franchise until the end of time, Steve Austin has taken to podcasts and putting in an appearance or two, Triple H has traded his attire for a business suit. Both Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels are retired. Eddie Guerrero has passed and Chris Benoit was responsible for a horrific murder/suicide of his family. All the heavy hitters that made that era what it is are more or less gone. The middle finger is now replaced with some crappy, watered-down family friendly goo. The product, as much as it tries to, is just unable to recreate that magic of the Attitude era.

C-137. Rick and Morty (2013- )

Created by: Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland

What if Doc and Marty were thrown into a cartoon with influences of Beetlejuice, Men In Black, and Cronenberg? Well, you'd pretty much end up with something looking like this. Yet the show doesn't wear it's influences on its sleeve for its own amusement. This can be contributed to the sharp minds of Harmon and Roiland.

There's a bottomless well of creativity here because there are infinite realities in the show. Once they tap into a concept for an episode, they explore every nook and cranny of it. It doesn't leave you with that distaste in your mouth thinking "I wish they could have added this." It's better than most animated shows on television. It's a version of an animated show you could trust when it says "Gazorpazorp". Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV?

23. Deadwood (2004-2006)
"Welcome to fucking Deadwood"
-Al Swearengen

Created by: David Milch
Favorite character: Al Swearengen, Calamity Jane, Doc Cochran, Trixie, Cy Tolliver, Joanie Stubbs
Favorite episodes: all of Season 2, Sold Under Sin

Westerns have always been a tricky genre for me. This is why it took so long to get around to this show. I was never into John Wayne or traditional Eastwood. The spaghetti western genre created by Leone and Corbucci seemed a fresh way into the style and Cormac McCarthy took the genre to its furthest points with the likes of Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy. Deadwood seems to fall somewhere around Cormac McCarthy's lighter fare (which is still saying a lot as far as the darkness goes).

Deadwood, out of the Holy Trinity of HBO shows- the other two being The Sopranos and The Wire (also created by Davids)- is the one with the most tenderness. While the other two were about the end of the American Dream, this show is about the birth of it.
It also has an absolutely bonkers cast: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Brad Dourif, Powers Boothe, Kim Dickens, Garrett Dillahunt, Jeffrey Jones, William Sanderson, John Hawkes, Keith Carradine and those are just the regulars.

Oh and one more fuckin' thing: cocksucker.

24. Better Call Saul (2015- )

Created by: Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould

A spin off show that is actually more subtle than it's predecessor. The most common thing I hear about this Golden Age of Television is how TV is moving more and more toward cinema, or in the case of Twin Peaks and Leftovers toward a weird space between the mediums. What is so striking about Better Call Saul is Gilligan's lack of interest in making it as cinematic as possible. He's happy playing within the limits of television- and he still remains unmatched on that front. Just compare Saul's intro to the sleak, visually striking intros of True Detective or Game of Thrones. In the midst of Breaking Bad, everyone has been trying to scramble to have their own Walter White. Gilligan bravely went the opposite direction: he focused on the comedy relief of an extremely intense show. And it worked.

25. Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Created by: D.J. MacHale and Ned Kandel

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society...

Nickolodeon was the wallpaper to my childhood: Salute Your Shorts, Adventures of Pete and Pete, Double Dare, Ren and Stimpy, Legends of the Hidden Temple and so forth. Remember Gak? The carpeted floors to my living room do.

Tales From the Crypt was already my bread and butter and this was the next best thing: a horror anthology show for kids. Some of the episodes are still genuinely creepy.

26. Tim and Eric Awesome Show (2007- 2010)

Created by: Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim

Tapped into the infomercials you saw at 2 am on Channel 5 and then went even further. Exists somewhere between a nightmare and the humor of Andy Kaufman.

27. Freaks and Geeks (1998- 1999)

"The dance is tomorrow. She's a cheerleader. You've seen Star Wars 27 times. You do the math"

Created by: Judd Apatow and Paul Feig

A show that rested on the experiences of the outcasts in high school. The ones who would debate Led Zeppelin under the bleachers. They were always more interesting than the jock and the princess making out above them, anyway. Easily the best thing either Apatow and Feig have done.

28. Fargo (2014- )

"Maps use to say 'there be dragons here'. Now they don't. But that don't mean the dragons aren't there."
-Lorne Malvo

Created by: Noah Hawley
Favorite characters: Mike Milligan, Hanzee, Molly Solverson, Lorne Malvo, V.M. Varga
Favorite episodes: The Castle, Buridan's Ass, Morton's Fork, Palindrome, The Gift of the Magi, The Law of Non-Contradiction, A Fox A Rabbit and A Cabbage, Loplop

How are going to create a show based on a property as beloved and as brazenly original as Fargo? You go the other way. By creating and embracing new characters and stories, Noah Hawley breathed new life into the idea of a place where a man can hit a deer, veer off the side of the road and have a man hop out of the trunk in just his boxers. Season 2 brought an even stronger sense of original story that organically unfurled from Season 1. If only Season 3 was as good...

29. Six Feet Under (2001- 2005)

"You're alive! What's a little pain compared to that?"
-Nathaniel Fisher, Sr.

Created by: Alan Ball
Favorite characters: Nathaniel Fisher Jr., Brenda Chenowith
Favorite episodes: Everyone's Waiting, Ecotone, It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, A Private Life, I'm Sorry I'm Lost, All Alone, Untitled, Perfect Circles

Alan Ball is frustrating. I have grown out of my love affair with American Beauty (watching it now, the movie genuinely pisses me off) and I've become apathetic about True Blood but the effects of Six Feet Under still weigh deep. He seems to love trapping his characters in emotional prisons and watching them claw their way out. For Beauty it was banal suburbia. For SFU it was. well, mortality. And the latter just turned out to be more fascinating.

30. Frasier (1993- 2000)

"I'm conducting a seminar on multiple personality disorders and it takes me forever to fill out 
the name tags."
-Niles Crane

Created by: David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee

Though I'm only two seasons in, this show has rocketed to the top 30. It could easily go higher. As another blogger said, it's not the most innovative show, but it achieves what it set out to do: to step out of the shadows of being a mere spin- off show to become a great show in its own right.

31. Batman: The Animated Series (1992- 1995)

Created by: Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski

After Batman Returns, I thought Burton had a lock on the character of the dark knight. Turns out that an animated show would change all that: it felt more true to the spirit of Batman than both Tim's films. And I really like Tim's films.
As much as I love the whacked out performance of Nicholson, it was the voice of Mark Hammill that sealed the deal. At least until Nolan's trilogy came along.

32. Mr. Show with Bob and David (1995- 1998)

"Harvard's Memory Loss Clinic, established in 1952, 1967, and for the first time in 1981."

Created by: David Cross and Bob Odenkirk

The seamless transitions from skit to skit created this weird dreamlike quality that really hasn't been seen with any other sketch comedy show. It's not as popular as SNL but the four seasons it produced can give any season SNL produced a run for its money as far as inventiveness goes. So pick up a copy and see the shit out of it! 

33. The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1992- 1996)

"Begone with you pulpy, before I fold you into some type of brochure!"
-Artie, the strongest man in the world

Created by: Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi

It's surreal growing up. This is a truth Pete and Pete nailed with its weirdness. The world's strongest man, trying to break a world record of staying up late, daylight savings time travelling, going on a quest to answer an ominous ringing telephone. And Petunia.

34. The Knick (2014- 2015)

"What have I done?" -Dr. John Thackery

Created by: Jack Emiel and Michael Begler
Favorite characters: Dr. Algernon Edwards, Nurse Lucy Elkins, Dr. Bertie Chickering Jr.
Favorite episodes: This Is All We Are, Get the Rope, Williams and Walker, Method and Madness, Do You Remember Moon Flower?

The boldness of the pilot and borderline horror movie tone toward the end of season 2 are what makes it  rise above your typical paint-by-numbers medical drama. Along with Deadwood, it transports you to a time of harsh primitiveness where some of the horrors of the time are still not easily as mended as the physical wounds the doctors are needed to suture. It's also Soderbergh's best work since Traffic. So much so, that if someone wanted an example of how television has become "better than film" I'd show them this show first. Take that ER.

35. Arrested Development (2003- 2006)

"Are you forgetting I was a professional twice over? An analyst and a therapist?
The world's first analrapist."
-Tobias Funke

Created by: Mitchell Hurwitz

A depiction of once of the most honest, stalwart families in America. I think if you peel back the layers of these characters you will find the inner workings of a humanity filled with grace and humility.

Let's just pretend it ended with season 3.

36. Louie (2010- )

"When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't"

Created by: Louis C.K.

Writer. Comedian. Lovable shlub. Where Seinfeld embraced its moniker as "a show about nothing", Louie is a show that lives moment to moment. Tackling one taboo after another, Louis CK straddles the gap between comedy and tragedy. Always managing to top itself with each season.

37. The Office (2005- 2013)

"I'm not superstitious, but I'm a little stitious."
-Michael Scott

Created by: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

A remake of a British comedy show that spawned a bunch of imitators. The mockumentary format has been around for a while. It was only a matter of time till television made use of it.
The best characters were the ones in the background: Creed, Stanley, Kevin, and Toby. It declines in quality after Season 5. 

38. Taxi (1978- 1982; 1982- 1983)

"If you find yourself in a confusing situation, simply laugh knowingly and walk away."
-Rev. Jim Ignatowski

Created by: James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis, Ed Weinberger

Working class sitcoms where each character had a distinct personality. They were not the most popular kids in the class but the writers never treated them as losers either.
Christopher Lloyd will always be Doc Brown but had that character not come to be, Jim Ignatowski would be the role he would be remembered for. With that, Taxi also gave us Louie DePalma and Latka Gravis.

39. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (2014- )

Please subscribe immediately if suffering from symptoms induced by the current administration that may also include:
migraines, chronic vomiting, hysteria, depression, and an overall bleak outlook on the American experiment.

40. Eastbound and Down (2009- 2013)

"Undaunted, I knew the game was mine to win. Just like in life, all of my successes depend on me. I'm the man who has the ball. I'm the one who can throw it faster than fuck. So that is why I am better than everyone in the world. Kiss my ass and suck my dick. Everyone."
-Kenny Powers

Created by: Jody Hill

According to Jody Hill, his film Observe and Report was influenced by Taxi Driver. It shows. The only thing better than a dark comedy of that nature is four seasons of that style. And with Kenny Powers at the helm we got it. Eastbound can be as dark when it wants to be and as gut bustingly hilarious when it wants to be. Many times in tandem with one another. Blind optimism at its best.

41. Ren and Stimpy (1991- 1995)

"Oh my beloved ice cream bar. How I love to lick your creamy center!"

Created by: John Kricfalusi

You think of textures and smells when you think of Ren and Stimpy. This is the only cartoon that I've seen pull that off. Skin curling, eye popping, and ear ringing. Happy happy joy joy.

42. Cheers (1982- 1993)

"It's a dog eat dog world and I'm wearing Milkbone underwear."

Created by: Glen Charles, Les Charles and James Burrows

Quite possibly one of the best TV intros/ theme songs to lead up to the show itself. It gives context to everything: this is a tradition as old as the drink itself, gathering around with strangers who have become friends and sharing moments.

43. Games of Thrones (2011- )

"Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe."

Created by: George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Lord of the Rings did nothing for me. Harry Potter was fun but left me cold in the end. So it stands to reason that I should hate a show set in a fantasy fueled world of dragons and white walkers- a genre that, for the most part, leaves much to be desired. I was wrong. No other show to my knowledge has produced so many "oh my god" moments or  "Most Hated Characters in TV (Joffrey Lannister and Ramsey Bolton)" or "Most Brutal Episode Ever" lists. It's a treat just watching reaction videos on some of the episodes. Beyond just the value of those moments, the writing, amount of fully formed characters and world building are staggering. It's a pop culture event. So why is it not in the top 20? Simple: personal preference.

44. Looney Tunes (1930- 1969)

Saturday mornings in front of a television. A sandwich + milk + Looney Tunes. These were the ingredients for a successful day as a kid. The culture of Bugs Bunny seemed to wrap itself around many things I loved back then: McDonalds Happy Meals, Six Flags, even the worn out VHS copy of Batman. 

Don't tell me the Coen Brothers weren't thinking "live action Looney Tunes" when they made Raising Arizona. 

45. Most Evil (2006- 2008)

Created by: Investigation Discovery/ Michael Stone

Serial killers. A morbid fascination that many of us have. Even the ones who are afraid to admit it.
One interesting way Dr. Stone goes about the show is that he categorizes them: cult leaders, spree killers, attention seekers, schemers, cannibals and vampires, revenge and cold blooded killers. Then he quantifies their evil on a scale of 1- 20.
Do you have your Amy Fisher trading card?

46. Masters of Horror (2005- 2007)

Mick Garris will forever be known as 'The Guy Who Has Interviewed Every Major Horror Director'. In that sense he's the horror genre's Peter Bogdonavich. One thing he has over that director is a TV show. It's kinda what us fans of Dante, Carpenter, Argento, and Gordon always wanted and the only worthwhile horror anthology of the past 15 years. Look out for Takashi Miike's Imprint (banned from the show for being too...well, it's Miike. Go figure).

47. Quantum Leap (1989- 1993)

Oh boy!

Created by: Donald P. Bellisario

A show that takes on time travel in a unique way that can lend itself to moments that range from comedy, to suspense to pure emotion. The Leap Home is a personal favorite episode.
The only time Dean Stockwell has been better is lip synching into a lamp.

48. Amazing Stories (1985- 1987)

Created by: Steven Spielberg
Favorite episodes: The Mission, Santa '85, Ghost Train, The Beach, Go to the Head of the Class

An anthology show where so many episodes were directed by directors I love: Spielberg, Scorsese, Zemeckis, Hooper, Dante, Hyams. It also gave us two Spielberg directed episodes we all wished his Twilight Zone segment should have been.

49. The Eric Andre Show (2012- )

Created by: Eric Andre

Chaos manifested in a talk show. Never before has interviewing celebs been this much fun.

50. Boy Meets World (1993- 2000)

Created by: Michael Jacobs and April Kelly

Middle school nostalgia follows high school nostalgia follows college nostalgia.

Honorable Mention: Rocko's Modern Life, Justified, Treme, Spaced, Orange Is the New Black, Generation Kill, Married...With Children, The Outer Limits (60's era), Beakman's World, Doug, The Colbert Report, Night Court


Top 50 TV Shows Pt. 2: 1- 12
Top 50 Books

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Favorite short stories Pt. 1: Car Crash While Hitch-Hiking by Denis Johnson

A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping...A Cherokee filled with Bourbon...A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student...
And a family from Marshalltown who headonned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri...
...I rose up sopping wet from sleeping under the pouring rain, and something less than conscious, thanks to the first three of the people I've already named- the salesman and the Indian and the student- all of whom had given me drugs. At the head of the entrance ramp I waited without hope of a ride. What was the point, even, of rolling up my sleeping bag when I was too wet to be let into anybody's car? I draped it around me like a cape. The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts. My thoughts zoomed pitifully. The travelling salesman had fed me pills that made the linings of my veins feel scraped out. My jaw ached. I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside I knew we'd have an accident in the storm.
I didn't care. They said they'd take me all the way.

The man and his wife put the little girl up front with them and left the baby in back with me and my dripping bedroll. "I'm not taking you anywhere very fast," the man said. "I've got my wife and babies here, that's why."
You are the ones, I thought. And I plied my sleeping bag against the left-hand door and slept across it, not caring whether I lived or died. The baby slept free on the seat beside me. He was about nine months old.
...But before any of this, that afternoon, the salesman and I swept down into Kansas City in his luxury car. We'd developed a dangerous cynical camaraderie beginning in Texas, where he'd taken me on. We ate up his bottle of amphetamines, and every so often we pulled off the Interstate and bought another pint of Canadian Club and a sack of ice. His car had cylindrical glass holders attached to either door and a white, leathery interior. He said he'd take me home to stay overnight with his family, but first he wanted to stop and see a woman he knew.
     Under Midwestern clouds, like great grey brains we left the superhighway with a drifting sensation and entered Kansas City's rush hour with a sensation of running aground. As soon as we slowed down, all the magic of travelling together burned away. He went on and on about his girlfriend. "I like this girl, I think I love this girl- but I've got two kids and a wife, and there's certain obligations there. And on top of everything else, I love my wife. I'm gifted with love. I love my kids. I love all my relatives." As he kept on, I felt jilted and sad: "I have a boat, a little sixteen-footer. I have two cars. There's room in the back yard for a swimming pool." He found his girlfriend at work. She ran a furniture store, and I lost him there.
     The clouds stayed the same until night. Then, in the dark, I didn't see the storm gathering. The driver of the Volkswagen, a college man, the one who stoked my head with all the hashish, let me out beyond the city limits just as it began to rain. Never mind the speed I'd been taking, I was too overcome to stand up. I lay out in the grass off the exit ramp and woke in the middle of a puddle that had filled up around me.
     And later, as I've said, I slept in the back seat while the Oldsmobile- the family from Marshalltown- splashed along through the rain. And yet I dreamed I was looking right through my eyelids, and my pulse marked off the seconds of time. The Interstate through west Missouri was,in that era, nothing more than a two-way road, most of it. When a semi-truck came toward us and passed going the other way, we were lost in a blinding spray and a warfare of noises such as you get being towed through an automatic car wash. The wipers stood up and lay down across the windshield without much effect. I was exhausted, and after an hour I slept more deeply.
     I'd known all along exactly what was going to happen. But the man and his wife woke my up later, denying it viciously.
     I was thrown against the back of their seat so hard that it broke. I commenced bouncing back and forth. A liquid which I knew right away was human blood flew around the car and rained down on my head. When it was over, I was in the back seat again, just as I had been. I rose up and looked around. Our headlights had gone out. The radiator was hissing steadily. Beyond that, I didn't hear a thing. As far as I could tell, I was the only one conscious. As my eyes adjusted I saw that the baby was lying on its back beside me as if nothing had happened. Its eyes were open and it was feeling its cheeks with its little hands.
    In a minute, the driver, who'd been slumped over the wheel, sat up and peered at us. His face was smashed and dark with blood. It made my teeth hurt to look at him- but when he spoke, it didn't sound as if any of his teeth were broken.
"What happened?"
"We had a wreck," he said
"The baby's okay," he said, although I had no idea of how the baby was.
He turned to his wife.
"Janice," he said. "Janice, Janice!"
"Is she okay?"
"She's dead!" he said, shaking her angrily.
"No, she's not." I was ready to deny everything myself now.
Their little girl was alive, but knocked out. She whimpered in her sleep. But the man went on shaking his wife.
"Janice!" he hollered.
His wife moaned.
"She's not dead," I said, clambering from the car and running away.
"She won't wake up," I heard him say.
      I was standing out here in the night, with the baby, for some reason, in my arms. It must have still been raining, but I remember nothing about the weather. We'd collided with another car on what I perceived was a two-lane bridge. The water beneath us was invisible in the dark.
     Moving toward the other car I began to hear rasping, metallic snores. Somebody was flung halfway out the passenger door, which was open, in the posture of one hanging from a trapeze by his ankles. The car had been broadsided, smashed so flat that no room was left inside it even for this person's legs, to say nothing of a driver or any other passengers. I just walked right on past.
     Headlights were coming from far off. I made for the head of the bridge, waving them to a stop with one arm and clutching the baby to my shoulder with the other.
     It was a big semi, grinding its gears as it decelerated. The driver rolled down the window and I shouted up at him, "There's a wreck. Go for help."
"I can't turn around here," he said.
     He let me and the baby up on the passenger side, and we just sat there in the cab, looking at the wreckage in his headlights.
"Is everybody dead?" he asked.
"I can't tell who is and who isn't," I admitted.
He poured himself a cup of coffee from a thermos and switched off all but his parking lights.
"What time is it?"
"Oh, it's around a quarter after three," he said.
By his manner he seemed to endorse the idea of not doing anything about this. I was relieved and tearful. I'd thought something was required of me, but I hadn't wanted to find out what it was.
     When another car showed coming in the opposite direction, I thought I should talk to them. "Can you keep the baby" I asked the truck driver.
"You'd better hang on to him," the driver said, "It's a boy, isn't it?"
"Well, I think so," I said.
     The man hanging out of the wrecked car was still alive as I passed, and I stopped, grown a little more used to the idea now of how really badly broken he was, and made sure there was nothing I could do. He was snoring loudly and rudely. His blood bubbled out of his mouth with every breath. He wouldn't be taking many more. I knew this, but he didn't, and wouldn't therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person's life on this earth. I don't mean he couldn't tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn't tell him what was real.
     Before too long there were three cars backed up for a ways at either end of the bridge, and headlights giving a night-game atmosphere to the steaming rubble, and ambulances and cop cars nudging through so that the air pulsed with color. I didn't talk to anyone. My secret was that in this short while I had gone from being the president of this tragedy to being a fearless onlooker at a gory wreck. At some point an officer learned that I was one of the passengers, and took my statement. I don't remember any of this, except that he told me "Put out your cigarette." We paused in our conversation to watch the dying man being loaded into the ambulance. He was still alive, still dreaming obscenely. The blood ran off him in strings. His knees jerked and his head rattled.
     There was nothing wrong with me, and I hadn't seen anything, but the policeman had to question me and take me to the hospital anyway. The word came over his car radio that the man was now dead, just as we came under the awning of the emergency-room entrance.
     I stood in a tiled outdoor with my wet sleeping bag bunched against the wall beside me, talking to a man from the local funeral home.
The doctor stopped to tell me I'd better have an X-ray.
"Now would be the time. If something turns up later..."
"There's nothing wrong with me."
     Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That's what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there. What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I've gone looking for that feeling everywhere.
     "There's nothing wrong with me"- I'm surprised I let those words out. But it's always been my tendency to lie to doctors, as if good health consisted only of the ability to fool them.
     Some years later, one time when I was admitted to Detox at Seattle General Hospital, I took the same tack.
"Are you hearing unusual sounds or voice?" the doctor asked.
"Help us, oh God, it hurts," the boxes of cotton screamed.
"Not exactly," I said.
"Not exactly," he said. "Now what does that mean?"
"I'm not ready to go into all that," I said. A yellow bird fluttered close to my face, and my muscles grabbed. Now I was flopping like a fish. When I squeezed shut my eyes, hot tears exploded from the sockets. When I opened them, I was on my stomach.
"How did the room get so white?" I said.
A beautiful nurse was touching my skin. "These are the vitamins," she said, and drove the needle in.
     It was raining. Gigantic ferns leaned over us. The forest drifted down a hill. I could hear a creek rushing down among rocks. And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Groundhog Day- I'm a god

A scene that sums up the movie's thesis and the direction the story is going. These scenes, if you are listening to the prophetic words of Robert McKee, should come somewhere in the middle of the movie. So it comes as no surprise, the placement of this scene is squarely in the middle and acts both as a launching point for everything else that happens and as a summation of everything that has happened thus far.

Though they never show how long Phil Conners has been living the same day over and over and over again in the town of Punxatawny, no other scene better paints the length of time he has been there than this one. His enyclopedic knowledge of the residents- bringing attention to a young couple in a bit that will have an awesome payoff later on- to the knowledge of when a specific event will happen.
In the span of less than four minutes, performance, dialogue and writing manage to instill laughs, wonderment and tears. It's slapstick comedy, science fiction and drama.

More importantly, this scene happens after Phil has reached the lowest point as a character. Living through the same day over and over seems like hell, especially for one who is so self-centered and as smug as Phil is. So he turns to the one person who he thinks can help him: Rita. Yet it happens with the self consciousness of knowing that, in the process of living in a loop, that she will forget everything he just told her and the process will start all over again. This unlocks the third act of the movie. The act of redemption for Phil Conners. It harks back to the best of Frank Capra. A parable that shows the enormity of time.

That's all for now. I must get a move on if I'm going to stay ahead of the weather.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Hunger Pains: A review of Raw

Telekenetics have Carrie.
Werewolves have Ginger Snaps.
Now cannibals have Raw.

Cannibalism in popular culture has a resurgence every decade or so. This dates all the way back to Robert Bloch's Psycho, whose Norman Bates was based of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. The 80's brought us the Italian cannibal flicks Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox and the 90's gave us Silence of the Lambs. A film in which the villain was ranked #1 on the American Film Institute's Best Villains of All Time List. (Norman Bates was #2).

History has shown that cannibalism is more than just a cultural taboo, but was necessary for survival. Leningrad. the Donner Party. Medicinal cannibalism was practiced in Europe (particularly Spain and Germany) for decades. The practice is all over the animal kingdom. It's even in the Bible.

So what does Raw bring to the table? Well for one, it brings the coming of age genre into this subgenre of horror. That is not to say it isn't derivative or explores new territory. Quite the contrary.

There is a form of chaos that slowly pervades this movie. It starts out as a ritual hazing. A rite of passage for new veterinarians at the school that Justine (Garance Marillier) has just started. Her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) lets her know up front that the first weeks are rough. After the first weeks of havoc being wreaked upon Christine, her sister ends up giving her a piece of meat that ends up causing a rash on Christine's body. She gradually develops an insatiable hunger for meat.

Beyond just beyond about that primal, animalistic hunger, Raw also focuses on a sexual hunger. One that gets even more complicated when you add a character that is gay. Narrative choices like this show a true artist at work in debut filmmaker Julia Ducournau. Like the past couple debut filmmakers to come out of the last two years, Robert Eggers (The Witch) and Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ducournau takes the already intriguing premise and adds layers to peel back on rewatch.

The violence in the film is something that it is already becoming infamous for. In an age where we have become overstimulated with excessive violence in the media and the ineffective gore that purported movie bloodbaths promise to deliver, it is relatively tame. What is truly effecting is not the excess but the restraint. The realism. Yes, there are things in this movie that are boundary pushing. Taboo breaking, even. Yet, what will get under the skin the most? A madman cutting an arm off or the infection that breaks out on your skin? Or the bitten lip?

For further information on the history of cannibalism, look no further than Bill Schutt's Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

What I've been up to: January thru March 2017

1/3- La La Land, Zodiac
1/4- Krisha, Odd Man Out
1/6- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
1/10- Mean Streets
1/11- Obama's Farewell Address
1/14- Silence
         11/22/63 by Stephen King
1/15- Ugetsu
1/19- The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Hiroshima Mon Amour
1/20- From Russia With Love
1/21- Army of Shadows
1/25- Andrei Rublev
1/27- Beware the Slenderman
1/28- The Night Porter, Alien
1/30- A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben McIntyre

2/4- Toni Erdmann
2/8- Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
2/9- Goodbye Dragon Inn
2/11- It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (5 episodes)
         The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato
2/12- Legion (1 episode); Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
2/13- Day of the Dead, Claire's Knee
2/14- Blue Is the Warmest Color; The Room
2/22- I Am Not Your Negro, Cameraperson
2/23- The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato
2/25- Get Out
2/26- Frailty
2/27- Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders

1- Rushmore
4- Before Sunrise
5- Before Sunset
6- Before Midnight, Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny
7- Code Unknown, Moonlight
8- We Need to Talk About Kevin, Vagabond
9- Notes On Cinematography by Robert Bresson, Mouchette
10- Legion (3 episodes), Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis
11- My Own Private Idaho
12- Big Little Lies (2 episodes)
13- The Trial of Joan of Arc, The Passion of Joan of Arc
15- Hitchcock/Truffaut, Legion
17- The Wind That Shakes the Barley
18- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
19- Withnail and I
20- Black Coffee: The Irresistible Bean, The Soft Skin
22- Big Little Lies, MST3K: Time Chasers
23- Legion, Ikiru
24- A Serious Man, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, Touching the Void
25- Eyes Without A Face
26- Going Clear, Big Little Lies
27- Trainspotting
28- Trainspotting 2, Raw
29- Legion
30- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
31- The Discovery, Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November 2016 Watchlist

1- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
2- Valeria and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970)
     Devils On the Doorstep (Jiang Wen, 2000)
     Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)                                                                                    
     Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
    Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966)
3- Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
6- The Wailing (Na-Hong Jin, 2016)
7- Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel, 1950)
    Simon of the Desert (Luis Bunuel, 1965)
    Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)
8- Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)
9- L'Argent (Robert Bresson, 1983)
    Journey to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)
   The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
10- Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
11- Pale Flower (Masahiro Shinoda, 1964)
12- The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wok, 2016)
14- Aguirre: Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
      Judex (Georges Franju, 1936)
      Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (William Greaves, 1968)
15- Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weersathakul, 2015)
      The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933)
16- Dreams (Akira Kurosawa, 1990)
      Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
17- Alice In the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)
      The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962)
19- When A Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960)
      Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) (Rewatch)
21- Death By Hanging (Nagisa Oshima, 1968)
      Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014) (Rewatch)
22- The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
      The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, 1992)
23- L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
      Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) (Rewatch)
25- Overlord (Stuart Cooper, 1975)
      Zazie Dans La Metro (Louis Malle, 1960)
26- Au Revoirs Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)
      The Fire Within (Louis Malle, 1963)
27- The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956)
29- The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle, 1970)
30- Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016)
      Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The State of Criticism

How do you know what movies to see? Where do you go to find these opinions? These are two questions that movie buffs are often asked. You could answer by saying "There's this blog such and such or video blogger such and such that writes or creates reviews. I usually go there if I want to find out what to watch." Personally, I browse a number of sites. There's letterboxd, a few movie blogs that I check from time to time, and a select few people who are interested in film who I talk to online.

Yet, there is one thing that is very important when reading a review or considering an opinion: that reviewer's singular voice and whether or not it translates to a genuine, honest opinion. This is something I always admired Pauline Kael and especially Roger Ebert for. Before Rotten Tomatoes, metacritic and imdb, Ebert was always showing how his view on a film could not be swayed by whether or not a movie was gaining critical praise or if it was not. He liked what he liked. He loved Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia but he hated A Clockwork Orange. He would champion smaller films like Chop Shop and along with Gene Siskel, championed films like Hoop Dreams.

Then the internet came along. With the internet, a free reign of blogs, youtube channels, movie news sites like Ain't It Cool and slash film, and so forth. Journalism has increasingly moved further and further away from print and onto digital. Much like film itself is making the transition. But if a person like me wanted to get their opinion out to the masses, shouldn't I be in praise of the online film community? Well, kinda not. The standards have just gotten lower. You see, like digital film, the sudden availability of the resources creates such a mass market for people who don't necessarily have an individual voice. Everyone and their dog could be a movie critic now. Now if I were to be against this very fact, it would be extremely contradictory. Since this IS a movie blog and I have reviewed several movies on it. What I will say is that, like any genre of film or music, when you get a massive influx of product, or in this case, movie reviewers, you tend to see a pattern: aggregates of reviewers that bleed into one another with their reviews on the newest movie that hit theaters. One site that sprouted in the wake of this was Rotten Tomatoes.

Consensus sites like Rotten Tomatoes have become a standard bearer to indicate what movie Joey and his date want to go see. What people sometimes don't realize is that 90% on the Tomato-meter means a lot less than you think. What it states is: 90% of the critics who gave reviews for the movie gave it a favorable review. Let's say half of the critics who gave favorable reviews thought it was above average. It averages out the consensus to give an idea of the quality. But why do people feel good about using these sites to judge the value of a work of art? It prevents any serious critical interaction between the viewer of the film and the film itself.

This is not even taking into account older films like Vertigo, whose initial reception was polarizing among critics and is now considered to be one of the best films of all time by Sight and Sound's 2012 poll. The 1958 reviews and it's now "reassessed reviews sit side by side on Rotten Tomatoes, causing a miscalculation of context. It pains me to see an entire shelf at Barnes and Noble dedicated to "Movie Certified Fresh By Rotten Tomatoes". A site that groups films into a binary of "Fresh" or "Rotten" and asks its audience to choose is doing more to hurt rather than help the craft of criticism. Don't even bother to read the full reviews.

In a video on film criticism, Siskel  and Ebert talk about wanting to be liked and how political correctness is the death knell to criticism. Wanting to go along with the group. This was in the 90's. Ebert went on to say the purpose of journalism is to break that type of thinking. In an era where "Social Justice Warriors" run amok and wanting to have an intelligent discussion has become nearly absent, summoning up the courage to say what you feel has become increasingly hard.

There's many youtube channels out there like Chris Stuckmann and Jeremy Jahns that are enormously popular. But when you watch a review, it doesn't feel like they are genuine. Take Stuckmann's review on The Blair Witch Project. In it he praises its realism but then says that the slew of imitators gave us more thematically and dramatically than Blair Witch did. Directly after that he says that that is it's strength. That it is grounded in reality. So here we have a review that is extremely contradictory and is weighed between not wanting to piss of its admirers and not wanting to piss off its detractors. Gene Siskel mentioned that wanting to be liked and go along with the group can be death to a critic. Following this type of thinking is tantamount to, as Ebert said, ventriloquism.

It's the same thing when you say you have guilty pleasures. You're just lying to yourself and anyone who will listen about that embarrassing phase you once went through in high school.
All art is subjective. So embrace it. Defend it. There's films like Tusk and Point Break that I will defend to no end.

Structuring your review or just throwing formalism out the window altogether and trying something new can be another thing that pulls the viewer in. There are blogs I have read however, who pull in hundreds of subscribers who structure every single review the same way: Plot Synopsis, Cast, Cinematography/Editing (the style of the film), Summation. It's a fucking chore to slog through these. There is no life in these reviews. Just imitating the film blurb key words of "dazzling, phenomenal, and spellbinding" that you find on the back of blu rays. It's on auto pilot.

Change things up. Think outside the box. Inject life into it. I'm happy you can churn out a review a week but put out something that doesn't continue to put me to sleep.

In this wasteland of appealing to the largest denominator through criticism, there are those that carry the flag as a bastion of hope. One such man is Mark Kermode. This is a man whose top ten films include The Exorcist and The Devils. Someone who doesn't just lambast a movie, he refines the art of doing so. Hatchet jobs, as he calls them. He's not an apologist for the movies he loves. The same way Kael didn't apologize for adoring Altman and DePalma.

Online blogging is not the death of criticism. Digital media hasn't inherently devalued the craft, it just made it harder to find the really good blogs that are writing with passion, honesty, and efficiency. When you love movies for so long, your tastes evolve. They are refined, sharpened. I'm not going to join blog number 156, 472 that only reviews the latest film that comes out or talks about what film they think should win an Oscar. But if a blog pops up about French crime films in the 50's and 60's or why Sterling Hayden is such a stellar character actor or Jodorowsky's films, then I just might join that blog. Because it's shit that I like.

In lieu of this rant, I thought I'd present a handful of sites that are good examples of the criticism I crave and the inventiveness I admire:

And So It Begins
Besides being a blogger Alex Withrow is a filmmaker to boot. He has come up with several ideas for lists that I wish I had thought of. His In Character segments are always a treat to read.

Bennett Media
The first film blog that I truly fell in love with. Stopped producing content in February but the That Moment series and article on 'better sequels' and 'adequate sequels' are worth the read. They are also really good editors to boot.

Every Frame A Painting
Tony Zhou has created several helpful videos for those interested in the mechanics of filmmaking and storytelling.

A Fistful of Films
Want an alternative to The Oscars? This blog has its own awards: The Fistis.

House of Self Indulgence
Erotica, exploitation, and the art of Jess Franco.

Not Coming To A Theater Near You
Your resource for exploring the fringes of cinema. Want essays on Russ Meyer, Andy Sidaris, Lucio Fulci and Samuel Fuller? Look no further.

Observations On Film Art
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's blog. Authors of books, writers of countless essays that are as educational as they are fascinating

Paul Schrader
His film criticism on the works of Ozu and Bresson are something to behold.