Archives for category: Movies and TV

Without intending to, the wife and I watched two action movies this weekend: Nonstop and Snowpiercer.

Nonstop vs Snowpiercer

Nonstop vs Snowpiercer

Both movies surprised us. Nonstop in that it was surprisingly bad and Snowpiercer in that more people aren’t talking about it.

Nonstop should have been a nice easy Liam Neeson-thriller – brave yet troubled guy saves the day – yet it fell flat. We found ourselves hung up on the logistics of the action and all the little improbabilities. Why was everyone so calm? How did the bomb get there? Are they really going with that movie trope? Oy.

Snowpiercer, on the other hand, quickly won us over. It’s dark. It’s weird. It’s beautiful. The director establishes the context for and the rules of this world from the first scene. An apocalyptic climate event has occurred. All life on earth is frozen – humans cannot survive outside. What is left of humanity lives on a train which circles the globe, piercing the snow, never stopping. Life on this train is defined by your class. The lowest of these classes wants to revolt.

Of these transportation based action films why is one so much better than the other? Is one story better than the other? Possibly. Is it the acting? Maybe. What about the cinematography? Perhaps. Above all these, I’d dare say, it’s the immersion into the movie world that matters most.

Nonstop takes us into a world we know – an airplane – and asks us to imagine a highly improbable situation. Snowpiercer takes us into an improbable future and asks us to exist there. There is no assumption that we would know what life is like on an ever moving train. It’s just a movie. Settle in and enjoy the film. You can’t ask for much more for an action movie – from any movie for that matter. As a side note, Tilda Swinton is fucking brilliant in this movie. She’s terrifying. She’s hilarious. She’s just plain weird. If for no other reason, you should see Snowpiercer for this glory:

snowpiercer tilda swinton God, she’s good.


Louie CK hosted Saturday Night Live this weekend. His comedy has always had a spiritual, compassionate lean. He pokes at the deepest parts of our psyche, at the darkest bits of humanity. By poking us there and getting us to laugh he plants these thoughts in our head. Maybe I should give a damn about other humans? Maybe I do take myself too seriously? Do yourself a favor and watch the monologue. You’ll be a better person for it:

Do yourself a favor and watch the monologue. You’ll be a better person for it:

Louie CK Monologue

There. You’re a better person. Boom.

Anyways, what I’m really here to talk about is the Kate Mckinnon and Aidy Bryant skit:


These ladies have quickly risen to their rightful status as two of the brightest stars on SNL. Maybe some of the best they’ve had in years. One of their strengths, as writers and sketch actors, is knowing who they are and who they represent. Instead of fighting their labels, claiming they are not the token lesbian and token average girl in the cast, they own it.

Watch and giggle:Dyke and Fats

Like Louie’s humor this touches on something that makes us a little uncomfortable. We’re not quite sure if we can laugh at the title. You can’t say that. You can’t call her that. Yet the punch line hinges on love not humiliation. They use this derogatory language because it’s a recognition of their shared suffering. (Maybe it’s more of a shared tolerance in this case.) This is the best kind of humor. The most human kind of humor. We’re in the on the joke. Labels and overgeneralizations hit that itchy kind of soft spot where we must laugh because laughing keeps us from crying.

This brand of humor allows me to make fun of my brother for looking so damn dapper in his suit jacket. I know he doesn’t like to dress up. I know it embarrasses him to hear he’s turned from a cute little freckled baby into a handsome freckle-faced freshman. I know so I tease. He may disagree how kind this actually is but he’s wrong. It’s love.

The moment caught mid-mockery:


Sibling tolerance at its purest.

If you have half a negative thought about this kid, I’ll kick your ass.

The wife and I have been watching the Lindsay Lohan docu-series on Own:


Guilty pleasure, sure, but we’re not ashamed. This is what celebrity culture/fascination should be – a look inside her life, with her permission. All of that in a decent package. Lots of single camera shots, a question or two from the camera wielding producer, some planned meals (read: multi-camera shots) with her family and life coaches and assistants. A wise word or two from Oprah herself.

This is exactly what I need in these last cruel throes of winter.

We get the sense, as viewers, that we are getting an inside look. A peek into the mysterious celebrity life. Lindsay knows we’re watching but she’s relaxed enough to give us a little. More, at least, than the annoyed but pleased look she gives the paparazzi-hoard as she leaves a restaurant:


My real complaint with the show comes at the commercial break. We start with some plugs for the channel – Oprah interviews and Oprah specials. Fine, that’s fair. Then we get a little sales pitch for the Malibu rehab facility where Lindsay stayed. Ok, a little tacky, but whatever. Then we start slipping. A do it yourself legal kit. What looks like a hometown used car add? That can’t be right. A legal settlement announcement for transvaginal mesh ruptures. What the hell, Oprah?!

Can Oprah’s still fledgling OWN network really be struggling this much? Is she (are they) this money hungry that they’ll take on any advertiser? Whatever the reason, I don’t think they understand how much these adds flavor how we watch the show. If I didn’t already feel a little sleazy watching this voyeuristic celeb-drama, hearing the word transvaginal half a dozen times took me over that edge. Thanks, Oprah.

Not that I’m going to stop watching, not yet.

In recent years the wife and I have made an effort to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible, including the shorts. This year we saw the short subject documentaries for the first time. If this is an option in your town go see it. Fill your pockets with candy. Buy some popcorn. Settle in.

In case you don’t get a chance (or maybe to start a conversation if you do) here are my mini reviews:

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life


Going into a film about a Holocaust survivor, one expects tears. This documentary however, delivers those tears on more than one level. At 110, Alice Herz Sommer is the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor. She and her son lived through the war due in large part to Alice’s skill as a pianist. If you’ve read Victor Frankl’s memoir Man’s Search for Meaning or you just want a dose of positivity you’ll dig this uplifting film.

Karama Has No Walls


Shot during the early days of Yemen’s 2011 student uprising, this film shook me to my core. A peaceful protest turns violent yet the protestors, students and journalist don’t flee. They walk towards the violence. They bare their chests and carry away the wounded. This is a revolution.

Cave Digger


Ra Paulette is republican nightmare (or wet dream). He is an archetypal hippie. He makes his living, however meager, as an artist whose art is digging caves into the malleable sandstone of the New Mexico desert. Something about this man rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t quite pin it down. Though the caves are indeed beautiful, my official review is, meh.

Facing Fear


Conceptually powerful, this film reaches for a lot. Twenty years ago a group of neo-Nazi teens nearly beat to death a young gay hustler in LA. Now, one of those teens is a former neo-Nazi and that hustler has gone legit. They both work at the Forgiveness Museum in LA. They present to groups on how they have grown into the people they are now. It seems like both men know what they are supposed to say, hell maybe they even know what they will say in few years. I’m just not sure how honest it is yet.

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall


More than twenty years ago, Jack Hall, a veteran of WWII, killed a man. He would spend the rest of his life in prison for that murder. This film catalogs his last days in one of the nation’s only prison hospices. Emotions are raw. Edges are unhewn. I fucking loved this documentary. That’s all I have to say.

Let me start this minor rant by acknowledging that this week’s episode of Girls, “Beach House”, was the best of the season. Though that’s not saying much:


Each episode the characters seem less and less human. More caricatures. Hannah never stops talking about herself, Shoshanna falls deeper into the naïve girl worm hole, we’re all shocked that Marnie is alive, and Jessa exists strictly for shock value.

Wasn’t this supposed to be a revolutionarily honest show about modern girls? Our lives? Our loves? Our friendships? Our bodies? (Yes, I think we’ve talked enough about Lena Dunham’s body. Maybe someone can tell her she shouldn’t wear a swimsuit for 48 straight hours. Even if she is so very comfortable with her body. She’s going to get a goddamn kidney infection. Didn’t her mother tell her that?)

Maybe, I’m over reacting. Maybe Lena Dunham knows what she is doing and she is as talented as HBO and Buzzfeed* want us to believe. Maybe there is a planned, reasonable trajectory for the season. Anything is possible, but I’m beginning to lose hope.

More likely, it seems Lena Dunham is a victim of her own success. By reaching the professional heights that she has at such an early age no one is checking her logic or her storytelling. How else could that whole grief storyline exist? No one checked that? Seriously, asking a widow about a book contract at the funeral? At the fucking funeral. Holy shit. Have a little fucking tact.

Perhaps an even bigger problem than the lack of oversight is that Dunham seems to have lost touch with real girls – actual humans who exist in the world. Real girls who have friendships that aren’t entirely toxic. Real girls who have complex emotions but are still able to interact with other humans. Real girls who have jobs AND artistic ambition (the two are not as mutually exclusive as Dunham thinks).

Whether I’m over reacting or not, I’ll likely keep watching because this kind of complaining is really quite fun.

*Buzzfeed’s unrestrained Lena Dunham love is nothing short of suspicious. Proof Here. And Here. I know, right?

Upon learning of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, I felt a deep sadness. The kind of sadness that pulled like a weight through my chest. More emotion than I have a right to feel. Yet, I am not alone. Blogs and news sites and social media are awash with fans expressing their collective shock and grief.


Watching this outpouring I’ve come to understand something about why we grieve for celebrities, people who are strangers to most of us. We have a shared relationship with these people. My relationship to Hoffman was likely the same as yours. His acting moved us. Doubt rocked our conscience. Capote made us wonder if the real Truman Capote had been brought back to life. We have all lost that inspiration.

This grief is more accessible than a private tragedy.

I’ve long wanted to write about my own family’s struggle with grief. Two years ago we lost my step-father and aunt (ALS and breast cancer, respectively). Even now, I struggle to find the words. They were in their 50s, too young. Too fast. They were good people, amazing people. What am I supposed to say? How can I explain what they meant to me?

My relationship to and love for each of them was complicated. One I still struggle to understand and explain. Partially, I’ve learned, I keep this to myself because a hierarchy exists, even if that hierarchy is unspoken. My grief is different from that of my mother, brother, and uncle. Our grief is different from that of the extended family. Their grief is different than each circle beyond. In theory, grief diffuses.

With a celebrity we can grieve on an even plane. We can talk about grief without fear that we are feeling more or less than we should. We latch on to these celebrity deaths because we’ve been waiting to talk about death and grief and loss and life and longing.

So let’s talk. Grief should be shared.

I grew up watching The Real World, watching these kids try to be someone their roommates and the TV viewing world would like (or hate). By the thrid season they all knew they were playing a character. It was fun. Drama filled but fun. These kids were the picture of 90s awesomeness:


Maybe The Real World should have stayed in the 90s.

As of last season, filmed in Portland, Oregon, I’m done.

I can’t.

The tipping point didn’t come when I graduated college. It didn’t happen when I turned 24 and realized I was older than these kids. I didn’t care that cast wasn’t made up of real people anymore (they are models, even the so called freaks among them). When my deployments made me wary of the self-righteousness of American youth, I could still watch the show. We all have our guilty pleasures, after all.

The break came when The Real World starting allowing violence. The producers quite clearly said they gave zero shits when they let Nia sucker punch two of her roommates:


Then she wasn’t kicked out. On the contrary she seemed quite pleased with herself. Disturbingly happy with causing injury to other humans. That had always been the line on previous season: violence. Say whatever you want but don’t touch someone. So much as a shove and you’re out. That line let the drama build, it forced these kids to use their words. Now it’s just a free-for-all bloodsport.

Shame on you MTV, taking away my guilty pleasure.

As much as I love Tom Hanks, he wasn’t the reason I wanted to see Captain Phillips. You may have heard a couple of Minneapolis boys sort of stole the show. Barkhad Abdi has even been nominated for a supporting actor Oscar:


I’m proud of him. I’m proud of this young man whom I’ve never met, who lives in a city that isn’t even my hometown. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing. Not many of us leave. Even fewer of us rise to stardom. When someone does it feels like he has done it for all of us.

But I digress, back to the movie, if you ignore the real life controversy, Captain Phillips is an exciting, completely watchable film. People try to succeed in life. Some win. Some lose.

The best part of the movie though was where we saw it – the Riverview Theater.

If you live in Minneapolis or happen to find yourself here for a couple of days, please go to the Riverview. Tickets are $3 (with $2 matinees), they use real butter on the popcorn, and the community atmosphere is what we’re all looking for at the movies – even if we forget sometimes. Everyone talks before the film and respectfully quiets as the curtains rise. Then, when the credits begin to roll, everyone claps.

Everyone claps. I fucking love it.

Within the first three minutes of American Hustle – a flash forward into the story – Amy Adams’ cleavage takes center stage:


The outfit doesn’t seem scene-appropriate but I think, hey I’ll go with it, this must make sense later. Perhaps she becomes a prostitute or her shirt rips or she has a skin condition that doesn’t allow her chest to be covered by fabric. Besides, no one is complaining about Amy Adam’s boobs. She should be quite proud of the body God and Hollywood gave her.

So we roll on and jump back in time. The story unfolds. A brilliant and complicated plot evolves. The movie is dotted with great one-liners and complex moral quandaries. Yet still, in 9 out of 10 scenes, there are Amy Adams’ boobs. Inexplicably exposed. In a shitty bar, on the street, in a high class club, in the winter winds of New Jersey. There they are:


I’m going to assume it’s the allergy. Here’s to you Amy Adams, you brave brave soul.

All the Oscar buzz and critical commentary bouncing around the interwebs finally convinced us to see Spike Jonze’s new film, Her, this weekend:


Her played out as many other romance tales before. Meet our boy, Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore. Theodore is in the midst of a midlife crisis. His job does not fulfill him. His marriage is over. A steady depression has alienated him from his friends. Enter our girl – in this case an OS – Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Together they find joy… until they don’t.

Beneath the standard romantic plot there lies something a bit terrifying. An anxiousness rose in my chest as the film progressed. I’m still trying to put my finger on what that was and where it came from, so bear with me here and feel free to disagree.

The terror doesn’t come from the growth of artificial intelligence. It doesn’t come from the way technological tentacles of dependence reach into every aspect of our lives – work, play, love. No, this movies shies away from that kind of commentary. I think the terror is rooted in the rather stable relationship between Samantha and Theodore. This human-OS relationship isn’t revolutionary, it’s dull. Theodore gets everything he needs from Samantha. Everything.

Yep that’s it. I find that complete satisfaction terrifying. Done.

*Added bonus – that my beautiful, nerdy wife pointed out – conversations about the movie can result in the most delightful grammatical missteps. Technically not errors since Her is a noun in this situation. “Her is really good. Her had a great plot and soundtrack. Her was just the right length.”
Nerdful giggles commence.

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