Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Let's Talk Television! The 10 Shows I Could Not Live Without

Although I focus the majority of my writing energy on movies, I would like to take a moment to discuss the boob tube. Over the years, the quality of television has taken a serious nosedive. We're left with superficial reality shows that send horrible messages ("16 and Pregant"/"Toddlers and Tiaras"); game shows that require little to no intelligence ("Deal Or No Deal"/"Let's Make A Deal"); high school dramas that are geared towards the superficial tween ("Gossip Girls"/"Pretty Little Liars"); and low-rent sitcoms with washed up actors ("Mr. Sunshine"/"Two and a Half Men").

Despite the overwhelming amount of crap and filth on cable television, I've found comfort in a number of series and shows. I'm really excited to create this list, as I hope that it will bring us together in the fight against shitty television. Without further ado, here are the 10 shows I could not live without - enjoy!

"The IT Crowd"
Created by: Graham Linehan
Starring Chris O'Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson
My favorite comedy series of all time. Every episode makes me laugh my ass off. It's wacky and absurd - God, I love the Brits.

"True Blood"
Created by: Alan Ball
Starring Anna Paquin, Steve Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard
No show has ever grabbed my attention like this one. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, providing a great escape from reality.

"The Wire"
Created by: David Simon
Starring Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Idris Elba
There's a reason why many claim it's the best TV series of all time: Incredible actors, an amazing script, and huge balls.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Created by: Larry David
Starring Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines
Deep down, you know you're him. Who's "him?" The hilariously cynical Larry David, of course. He teaches us that everything is pointless and stupid - preach on, L.D.!

"Spartacus: Blood and Sand"
Created by: Steven S. DeKnight
Starring Andy Whitfield, John Hannah, Lucy Lawless
Imagine a series that's a perfect combination of "Gladiator" and "300." Yeah. Add a dash of sex and scandal, and you've got the most exciting series ever created. Get well, Andy!

"Breaking Bad"
Created by: Vince Gilligan
Starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn
Who knew that the dad from "Malcom in the Middle" would turn out to be the best actor on television? Thanks to his role as Walter White, Cranston has proved himself a true star. This is an incredible series.

"Band of Brothers"
Created by: Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks
Starring Ron Livingston, Damien Lewis, Donnie Whalberg
This show is not for the faint of heart. War is never easy and never pretty, but this series really touched me. The story of the 101st Airborne is truly inspiring.

Created by: James Manos
Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, James Remar
I friggin' love this show. It's smart, funny, and dark - all at the same time. Dexter Morgan is everyone's favorite serial killer, and Michael C. Hall plays the role to perfection.

"Bored To Death"
Created by: Jonathan Ames
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, Zach Galifianakis
I'm a writer, so naturally, I would enjoy a show about someone like me. A writer who smokes pot, has adventures, and smokes more pot. This is one of the most underrated shows on TV.

"Eastbound and Down"
Created by: Ben Best, Jody Hill
Starring Danny McBride, Steve Little, Katy Mixon
Kenny Powers is the shit. Well, scratch that, Danny McBride is the shit. It's entirely offensive and crude, but this show is totally hysterical.

Well, there you have it! These are my TV must-haves. I know I've left out a few titles that you will probably yell at me for (such as "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost") but as it stands, these are my favorite shows. **What about you?**

Monday, June 13, 2011

It might be a mess, but "Super 8" is a highly entertaining summer flick: B+

It's the movie I've been waiting for; the summer blockbuster I've been counting on to take me out of this slump. Needless to say, I was not entirely disappointed. "Super 8" is not a perfect movie, but it was by far one of the most entertaining movies I've seen this year. If I could think of a quick way to describe it, I would say that it's somewhere in between "E.T.," "Men in Black," and "Stand By Me." There are some highs and some lows throughout the film, so it's by no means flawless. At times, it feels all too familiar - "Super 8" plays like a sort of ode to adventure and science fiction, filled with been-there-done-that plot devices. Luckily for J.J. Abrams, he picked the right source material to draw upon.

"Super 8" tells the story of Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a shy young boy who lives in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. Joe occupies himself with monster makeup and model trains. His best friend, Charles (Riley Griffith), is filming an amateur zombie movie with a ragtag group of local kids: brace-face Cary (Ryan Lee), awkward Preston (Zach Mills), freckle-faced Martin (Gabriel Basso), and tomboy Alice (Elle Fanning). One evening, while the kids are filming by the train tracks, they witness a huge collision. A small white truck makes its way onto the tracks, heading in the direction of the speeding train. The crash is enormous, to say the least. It was probably the loudest sequence I've ever heard in the theater in recent years - it reminded me of my "Jurassic Park" experience. Anyway, so once the kids recover from the crash they make their way to the small white truck. Inside, they find Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), the school's biology teacher. Bloodied and bruised from the crash, Woodward tells the kids that they cannot tell anybody what they just saw. Scattered about the damage site are mysterious white cubes, one of which Joe snatches up and takes home.

Strange things begin to happen in Lillian following the train wreck. For some reason, the local dogs have disappeared. The engines have been stripped from the cars on the local dealership. TV sets have gone missing from the local electronics stores. People have also gone missing, including the Sheriff. As the Sheriff's deputy, Joe's dad Jack Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is on a mission to find out what's going on in Lillian. A heavy concentration of military personnel arrive after the crash, scanning the town with Geiger counters and tanks. There are mysterious red semi-trucks, all painted with the same symbol (three white circles in a triangular shape) that also arrive in Lillian. Jack attempts to get information from Lt. Nelec (Noah Emmerich), but to no avail.

**BIG SPOILERS HERE** If you're smart enough, you can pretty much figure out what's going on in Lillian: There's a big, scary creature running around. Conveniently (or is it lazily?) J.J. Abrams works the entire explanation for this creature into the script. When Joe and his friends head back to Lillian after the town is evacuated, they get their hands on Dr. Woodward's research. They proceed to watch a film, narrated by Woodward, that details the life of the creature. After crash-landing on Earth, the creature is held captive by the U.S. Air Force for research. After making physical contact with the creature, Dr. Woodward is able to understand - psychically, he claims - that all the creature wants to do is fix his ship and go home. So, it turns out that when Dr. Woodward took his small white truck up the tracks, he was trying to set the creature free (it was being transported to the base for more research). Oh, and those mysterious white cubes? Well, it turns out they are able to form themselves into any solid material or shape. They're like little mini-shapeshifter-thingamajiggs.

**BIG SPOILERS HERE** It was a little disappointing, this whole alien thing. I'll give props to Abrams for the build-up (Hey "Lost" fans! I think you understand this), but not the unveiling. So, this whole time, it was just a lonely alien who's trying to get back home?! How unimaginative. Not only that, but the alien itself looked like a cross between an Ent, an Orc, and one of those Garthim critters from "The Dark Crystal." So, all the electronic devices that went missing were being used by the alien to recreate a model of his spaceship. That's it. That's the big secret. I know. Me too.

What saves this movie from near-mediocrity is the incredible young cast. Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, especially. It's always fun to watch a group of kids discover something cool or go on an adventure. I mentioned "Stand By Me" earlier, but I'd also like to mention "The Goonies." Joe and his friends have to learn how to survive fairly quickly, but not without a sense of humor and curiousity. It's the epitome of adventure. I really hope we see more of Joel Courtney, and I hope that he doesn't go the way Henry Thomas. The special effects are the other saving grace of "Super 8." Thank goodness that Spielberg gave J.J. some assistance. I don't think Abrams would have pulled this off without Amblin. "Super 8" has a lot going on, and nothing going on all at the same time. For pure entertainment value, I'm going to go ahead and give it my blessing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"The Dark Stranger": An Appreciative Editorial

In honor of his birthday, Lesya @ Eternity Of A Dream has created a list of Johnny Depp films she has never seen. Lesya and I are certainly not alone in our belief that Johnny Depp is the greatest actor in recent cinema history. But don't start thinking I'm some kind of groupie - although he may have devilishly good looks and a face that doesn't seem to age, Johnny Depp is the reason why I have become what I am today - a movie lover.

Back in the 90's, when I was 5 or 6 years old, I watched "Edward Scissorhands" for the first time. I don't remember if my parents had it on VHS or if it was playing on cable TV, but the movie never escaped my memory. I'm pretty sure that the film forever solidified my romantic sensibility and my penchant for the dark and odd. Ironically, at the time, my mother was working as an Avon sales representative. She would let me ride along with her as she made her rounds in our neighborhood. The connection I felt to Depp's character was something I had never felt before. The dark stranger in a bright and superficial world - that would become my identity.

The years that followed were, let's say, tumultuous. One of my go-to comforts was watching movies. For a long while, I didn't know who Johnny Depp was. I just knew who Edward was. On a lazy Sunday afternoon while I was staying with my mom, my younger sister and I watched "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." I think this was in '97 or '98. I immediately recognized his face - Edward's face. I made sure to make it through to the credits so that I could finally know his name. Johnny Depp. The dark stranger in a bright and superficial world.

I followed Depp as best as I could. It wasn't an obsession as much as it was a guarantee - I knew he could help me escape. He wasn't my heartthrob as much as he was my hero. Films such as "Donnie Brasco," "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas," "The Ninth Gate," "Sleepy Hollow," "Blow," "From Hell," "Finding Neverland," "Corpse Bride," and "Sweeney Todd" provided me with the little push I needed to fully embrace my movie love.

Now as an adult, my Depp-only days are over. I have branched out a bit, and now that I know what I need, I can rely on myself to find it. The escape is what I am obsessed with. Johnny Depp provided me with the blueprint. I am now going to build a foundation for my true passion. This blog is part of that foundation. Without Edward, without Gilbert - I would still feel like the dark stranger in a bright and superficial world.
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