Monthly Archives: October 2013

No thanks, ‘Sleepy Hollow’

This group of good guys is not exactly what they seem ... and that's a good thing.

This group of good guys is not exactly what it seems … and that’s a good thing.

I recently watched the pilot for The X-Files with my kids. It had been a long time, but I was impressed with how well it held up. Plus, it really was a prime example of what a good pilot should be. We learn what drives our characters – Mulder, the loss of his sister; Scully, who feels like she has something to prove – and that all of the action that surrounds our heroes is not as it seems. We don’t know, yet, about the alien-human conspiracy, nor do we need to. But because of how well-set up the pilot is (as well as the series as a whole … with some apology to those final few “let’s keep the gravy train rolling” seasons), when all of the secrets come to light, we are both shocked by the audacity of the conspirators but prepared for what is presented.

We see this again with the far more recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Do we know everything about the hacker Skye? No, her agenda does not appear to necessarily mesh with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, but we don’t know precisely what her end game is. What about Agent Colson’s trip to Tahiti? It clearly wasn’t just a recharge-the-batteries vacation, and probably something far more nefarious. Something’s not right with Colson, and we haven’t been tipped entirely to what that might be. We don’t even know really what S.H.I.E.L.D.’s agenda is as far as why it is collecting the items and mutants it discovers and what it plans to do with them. We know enough to be interested, enough to follow the story, but largely, we the audience are in the dark about some key facts about what is happening and what will happen to our main characters.

And then we have Sleepy Hollow. If The X-Files and S.H.I.E.L.D. are the equivalent of mysterious woman seducing a naive rich man over a quiet dinner at an elegant restaurant, then Sleepy Hollow must be the a glitter-soaked stripper bouncing her double D’s right in the face of said millionaire center stage with Motley Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls blaring at 114 decibels. In the pilot, Sleepy Hollow explains A) how Ichabod Crane manages to revive after hundreds of years, B) that it is because of the magic done by his wife and his pastor, members of a secret good witch cult, and C) that there are both good and bad witch cults, and both have survived since colonial days. In the hands of abler TV writers such as Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams, those are three key facts that maybe aren’t even all revealed in the first season, let alone the first episode. Toss in a meaningless initial subplot regarding how Agent Mills is to immediately head off to the FBI Academy – which everyone knew wasn’t going to happen, because then you don’t have your skeptical partner to team up with Ichabod’s reluctant and confused hero – and the Sleepy Hollow pilot is really a letter from the creators, writers and network to the viewers saying this: We do not respect your intelligence.

Well then, to the brain trust behind Sleep Hollow, I say this: I do not respect your show. And I won’t be watching it again.

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That’s My Jam #8: Craig Mack and friends, “Flava in Ya Ear” remix

Ever want to punch someone when the latest crap pop dance single spins and said person screams, “That’s my jam!” This series is about reclaiming that phrase from tasteless wankers.

I remember seeing the video for this on MTV in the lobby of my college dorm and stopping in my tracks. LL was the all-star, Biggie, Puff and Busta the up-and-comers and unknowns Craig Mack and Rampage hold their own against the (then) future legends assembled. Maybe the best posse cut of all times, and it includes what might be the best opening line of any track in the 1990s, via Biggie: “Niggas is mad I get more butts than ashtrays.” Play at maximum volume and clear some space to get funky, because that’s what happens when you’re getting mad flava in your ears.

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That’s My Jam #7: Dedicated to the $%^holes who shut down the gov’t

Another in my series to reclaim the phrase “That’s My Jam” from the kind of bozos who will tell you that Bangerz is a grand artistic achievement.

I couldn’t say it better myself, so I’ll let The Coup do it.

They got the TV / We got the truth

They own the judges / And we got the proof

We got hella people / They got helicopters

They got the bombs / And we got the, we got the

We got the guillotine / We got the guillotine, you better run

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When style (almost) saves a deficit of substance

Aaron Taylor-Johnson's portrayal of the impetuous Vronsky is just one of the terrific acting performances in the movie.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal of the impetuous Vronsky is just one of the terrific acting performances in the movie.

I was a bit stunned by director Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina. I hadn’t read much about it, came upon it by accident and was immediately absorbed.

The visual “gimmick” is this: All the world’s a stage, and we are but players. It’s an effortless mix of live scenery and staged (and back stage) scenes, one that propels the plot and sets the tempo for the film. It’s a bit hard to describe, really, as I’ve never seen anything like it before. I’d definitely recommend it.

However, as always, story matters. Wright (director of Pride & Prejudice, also starring Keira Knightely) and writer Tom Stoppard create an effective story, but the end result is that the rise and fall, whims and madness of Lady Karenina seem a bit rushed. The novel is massive, so condensing it was likely a fool’s errand to begin with. That said, Karenina holds up for a quite a while under the weight of its own material, but starts to have problems heading into the third act.

That made me think of Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, which had similar issues. While everyone was in love and the material was light, the music and dazzling set pieces flowed and the audience was easily engaged. But when Satine starts coughing up blood, everything grinds to a halt and Moulin Rouge starts to devolve into a bad episode of Glee.

Wright and his co-horts avoid that trap, thankfully. But in the end, Karenina feels like a 400 lb. man wearing a toddler’s shorts: Too much substance, not enough room for it.

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Why ‘Elysium’ falls short

Matt Damon is good in 'Elysium' ... but then again, when isn't he?

Matt Damon is good in ‘Elysium’ … but then again, when isn’t he?

In the fall of 2009, a buddy and I went to see District 9. I’m a big movie fan who pretty much refuses to read reviews or watch trailers much beyond the basic info for fear of dreaded spoilers, and my friend was and is an occasional movie watcher who had read about District 9 and was intrigued.

When we left the theater, I commented that seeing District 9 was like watching The Matrix for the first time. You had these interesting, layered works of art dominated by theme – in The Matrix it’s the influence of technology and lack of distinction between the real and virtual worlds, in District 9 apartheid and racism in general – and taking place in unique visual worlds.

My friend laughed. He responded that he was thinking the same thing, only about the original Star Wars. He felt like he’d just been blown away, completely unprepared for what he had witnessed on screen. For him, there was even a child-like joy to the discovery.

That, ladies and gentleman, is a badass movie. When you rock two educated filmgoers who have seen it all before, you’ve more than done your job.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is also why Elysium was such a disappointment. Because it does nothing of the sort.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll watch anything writer/director Neill Blomkamp throws up on screen. Visually, Elysium is stimulating, and, at times, gorgeous. Matt Damon’s the lead, and you can rarely go wrong with him, while Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley deliver riveting supporting performances.

But it all comes back to the story. And the story of Elysium is the story of many, many sci-fi books, shows and movies. The powerful people have the good stuff, they aren’t allowing the masses anywhere near it and there’s tension. Whereas District 9 is drenched in apartheid, with no way to separate or distinguish the plot, theme, visuals and characterizations outside of the rigorous caste system the movie establishes, Elysium is really an action movie where the battle between the powerful and the powerless is just the set-up.

Does that make Elysium a bad movie? No, not at all. It’s a perfect serviceable sci-fi/action flick with some nice moments. And it would have made a great first movie for Blomkamp, with District 9 as his powerful, career-making follow-up (not to get too Wachowski-heavy, but their career path started with the intense, completely non-techy indy flick Bound before they Matrix-ed the planet).

Elysium just feels like a let-down, a “what could have been” in the wake of the “holy f*&%ing s&*%” that District 9 was. A missed opportunity.

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That’s My Jam #6: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, ‘Mistadobalina’

Welcome to my attempt to reclaim the phrase “That’s my jam!” from those who treat music like the latest trendy fashion accessory.

“Mistadoblina, Mista Bob Dobalina.” Del’s trippy cut was a love-at-first-sound kind of thing for me, listening to a promo copy from my alma mater’s radio station back in the early 1990s. It was a great time for hip-hop, and not just party rap or gangsta. Plenty of serious minds – De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Das EFX, etc. – were making soul-expanding music at that time and getting mainstream exposure. Del never was a hit in middle America – at least not until his brief time as one of the Gorillaz – but for all you true hip-hop heads out there, this is one to feast on.

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