Monday, October 16, 2017

I'm Not Angry, Just Disappointed: Take Two

What's better - being surprised or disappointed?

Hopefully everyone out there would choose to be filled with the wonder of genuine astonishment rather than facing a crippling let down.

While those two options are on the opposite sides of the spectrum, both emotions will look familiar to anyone who tends to frame their lives around expectations. Go with the flow types might just take everything as it comes and may never really have to deal with either of those feelings. Tell me - what's that like?

Getting tips from an easy breezy mentality would definitely be a beneficial for all anxious types like myself. On top of that, I'm a truly excitable person, which only makes it more tough. When planning trips or events with friends, I can look forward to it with such enthusiasm that I can't help but go over the top thinking about how great each grand adventure will be. More often than not expectations are exceeded, but sometimes it can be rather anticlimactic when reality can not catch up with your active imagination.

All of this excessive anticipation can in turn lead to ruining other aspects of life, like causing disappointment after spending years building up excitement for a movie adaptation of a beloved book. To put in lightly - watching the latest IT adaptation was a bruising experience. 

After growing up with the miniseries that ruined showering for me during childhood (and continues to creep me out when catching it playing on cable each Halloween), it was looking like 2017 would be the year where a version of Stephen King's IT would be released that, now with an "R" rating and a release on the big screen, would be edgy and more horrifying. Perfect for us now adults who, on occasion, actually like to be scared.

Many continue to pay those bucks to check out the latest King adaptation [IT just recently became the highest grossing horror flick in US history] and with an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it seemed like a no-brainer - I would definitely be settling in for the dark masterpiece of my dreams.

After cringing in annoyance at many of the scenes (that I'm guessing) were meant to be scary, the term "mind-boggling" would be a more accurate reaction.

This is not just hate from a book loving nerd. While I do find the book, like much of King's work, to be remarkable in the way he combines relatable human experiences with the fantastical, I specifically went into seeing this movie with no intention to compare it to the book. I was just excited to be scared.

Half way through, when I wound up rolling my eyes at the moments that were meant to be startling, I had to admit the worst possible discovery - the scary parts are not scary!

If you had told me that a movie company would finally release a R-rated feature length version cut of IT, and all we got was some gross effects and a lot of CGI dancing clown, I probably would have flipped you off. This revelation is one of the truly flabbergasting moments of 2017 - a year that continues to be packed with astonishing circumstances. 

There is suppossed be a large campy factor to Pennywise, the murderous entity haunting the town of Derry, Maine. He is a clown after-all. But this adaption failed to give the horror soaked scenes their due. Each "scary" moment races along, preoccupied with fast cuts and Pennywise continually running at the camera with weirdly flailing bendy arms. Where's the suspense? Where's the mystery?

As cheesy as some people feel the original miniseries turned out, there is something to be said about a bona fide actor (Tim Curry) in full clown garb, just eerily standing across the street from the characters or peering from behind bed sheets hanging on a clothes line. To me, that is chilling.

Those scene should feel real, since much of the horror in IT is specifically drawn from each character's personal fears; the fears we all face on a daily basis. We are all scared of something, which is exactly why the story has impacted so many people. The miniseries captured the simplicity of psychological terror that looks real (because it is), where nothing is hindered by distracting computer graphics. .

Those old fashioned creepy tricks in the miniseries are a nod to classic spooky movies, like The Innocents and Rosemary's Baby, where tension was built slowly, causing your mind to jump into high gear wondering when and how the scares were going to develop.  

Recent stylistic sinister hits, like Get Out and The Babadook, also used old school scares to establish tension. Those two flicks set the bar high for what scary movies can be in our current era and I assumed the people creating this version of IT would follow in their influence, finally filming a version that really dug into the guts within King's elaborate story.

What is clear now after endless failed adaptions - almost all of King's work is impossible to adapt.

Book adaptations can be terrific on their own, even when they don't follow the book exactly. While some elements of this film version do work, including moments with the "loser's club" that showcase the connection and comradery between pals, not many filmmakers have been able to figure out how to really delve into the deep emotions King represents within his work.

IT is highly philosophical about growing up, adulthood, dreams, fears, relationships, and in a large scale, the purpose of life and the creation of our world in general. [King always has a big swing!] This movie does a better job at expressing the terror of facing death that is addressed in the book, especially in showcasing how many kids have gone missing and the trauma of losing a family member, in the case of Bill, with the tragic loss of his younger brother. But, when it comes to IT as a book, I don't think the themes will truly resonate unless you are actually reading King's words.

The most successful King adaptations are those that spend a lot of time delving into the emotions King focuses on. Two movies based on short stories have done it best - The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Those movies utilized the short page length of the source material to really pack in all the poignant resonance. IT is a 1,000 page tome. People should know that anything that large can not be properly tied into two hours, or four, now that the second movie focusing on "the losers" as adults has been green-lit.

Will I be seeing the sequel? There's only one answer - of course! My anticipation levels have been lowered exponentially, but I will be eager to see if the adult section takes the scary scenes more seriously. Maybe the film will go on the edgier side to reflect the character's age and older point of view? It definitely needs to be much darker. After all, the book on which it is based, is arguably one of the scariest in history.

Maybe we should all just hope for the eventual 10-hour series that HBO will release somewhere down the line. That I think will be the only way a visual form will be able to really capture King's vision of the events in Derry.

It is human nature to look forward to events and other things in your day. Even though all the signs are telling me to calm down and not get as excited all the time, I can't stop. Even if this movie didn't exceed my excitement, other things definitely will. I'm not going to change now.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Emmy Bubble

What came first - the critical acclaim or the personal adoration?

This is the kind of question that rolls around in your brain once you notice that all your favorite shows of the year continually get Emmy nominations, when apparently the masses of the world could care less.

Recently, Variety reported the results of a survey (posed to five hundred adults over the age of 18) which revealed that the majority of people have not seen or even heard of the shows nominated at this years Emmy's.

Is the The Handmaid's Tale really going to infiltrate the culture and lead to change? Well that change might come at a tad slower pace, because apparently only 5% of those polled had seen the show. [Hopefully when the show wins Best Drama tomorrow night, more people will tune in.]

In a result that surprised no one, out of all this year's nominees, Modern Family fared notably with 56% of the group reporting they had tuned in to the ABC hit.

The show that fared the worst in these results was Master Of None, where 76% of those surveyed had not even heard of the show. Here I was living my life thinking that delightful Aziz Ansari was a household name and everyone was hanging out with their friends debating the merits of the Thanksgiving episode of Master Of None vs the season opener that is inspired by The Bicycle Thieves.

Much like Jon Hamm in that classic episode of 30 Rock [Oh, wait, that's another show no one watched! Although, if you are actually reading this, odds are you get the reference.], or last year during the election, I have brutally come to the conclusion that I am in a bubble. This time though, it's an entertainment bubble - definitely a less harsh bubble to find yourself in once reality cruelly pops it. 

This gets back to the main question - do cultural-a-holics like myself indulge in critically acclaimed shows just to stay up to date on what will get award nominations or does this small group of the population actually enjoy the shows that gets nominated? The "are you just trying to be smart and cool?" question.

I can only speak for myself and the answer is, yes, I honestly am obsessed with nearly all of the shows that are nominated for Emmy's this year. It's just a coincidence that I've seen almost all of them and I don't simply tune in because other people tell me I should like it. Seriously.

So, what makes these critically acclaimed gems not as interesting to the masses?

The popularity of nominees like Modern Family and This Is Us prove that most people are still sticking to what is found airing on one of the four big networks (ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS). These are two shows that can be comforting, funny, sweet, and moving. If you've had a rough week and can only watch a few shows regularly, it totally makes sense that most people would gravitate towards this kind of entertainment.

But don't people know we are in the "Golden Age Of Television"? For those that are willing to trod off their usual paths, there are endless shows  to consume that might make you look at life a little differently. Some  may be deemed "quirky" or deal with intense subject matter, but for anyone who has extra time, it's worth expanding your viewing habits.

That's what I try to do - dabbling a little in the obscure and what is trending in the popular realm. I'm here to rave about Riverdale just as much as talk about how Feud: Bette and Joan is one of my favorite things to ever air on television.

I also don't want to be here to just hate on hits like This Is Us, because it is a perfectly fine show. And yet, I will always be bitter that it is getting the high ratings and critical acclaim that Parenthood, a much better crafted family drama, should have received. Each episode of This Is Us begins with the promise of something great, and while the acting is across the board terrific, the writing never fully delivers. I desperately want to see what others see in that show (including the crying every week!), but it continually disappointed in how the stories unfolded. Also, I'm a real serious crier at movies and tv, not just a casual crier, and I only teared up a couple times throughout. Yet another thing people promised me that didn't happen.

There is always going to be differing opinions, and really, with the expansion of new channels and streaming services, television has developed to look more like the music industry. There will always be something for you, whether you like Top 40 or are more into the underground indie music scene. Who can be angry with that?

This year's Emmy's did a solid job of including shows from all over that spectrum. With Game Of Thrones out of contention this year, there were slots open for other shows and people, and that might be the only reason that House Of Cards is still part of the mighty elite. Serious question: does anyone still consider that a delight to watch?

When it comes to specific nominees, like usual, I'm repping hard for Elisabeth Moss (nominated for The Handmaid's Tale), who between other shows like, Mad Men and Top Of The Lake, continually proves that she is one of the finest actors working today. I'm also rooting for Donald Glover (Atlanta), Judith Light (Transparent), Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), a win for Stranger Things, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and Billy on the Street.

Also (feeling like a pattern year after year), can anyone breathe after reading the nominees in the Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries category? Who could pick one? It's impossible and insane! All my favorites of the year are rounded up in that category:

Carrie Coon (Fargo), Felicity Huffman (American Crime), Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies), Jessica Lange (Feud: Bette and Joan), Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies), and Susan Sarandon (Feud: Bette and Joan).

Carrie Coon should really be nominated for Best Actress from The Leftovers, but she definitely was also a highlight in this latest season of Fargo. It is also a bummer that American Crime was cancelled. That show is easily the most challenging and truthful examination of our culture being done by any form of entertainment today. It was really fantastic while it lasted.

For the full list of nominees, click here, and don't forget to watch tomorrow at 8 p.m Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific. Or tune in to E! sometime in the early afternoon and watch them struggle to fill a whole day of coverage with limited resources. 

Maybe one day I will crawl out of the bubble, but for now, shhhh, I have too many shows to watch.

Until next time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Movie A Day...Might Keep The Box Office In Play?

Apparently nobody wanted to go out to the movies this weekend. In terms of money, it was the worst weekend in 16 years! This probably has to do with the fact that the movies released recently were, as I heard two local radio hosts put it, flicks no one had even heard of before.

At an average of $12 - $18 a pop at my local theaters, most people will probably want to buy tickets for something they were actually excited about seeing. These higher costs would lead less and less people to casually stop by the theaters and just go see whatever is playing. If these rates continue to decrease, movie chains will probably look to anything to help boost crowds coming to hang in front of their screens.

One company might have an idea of how to rectify the issue.

About a year ago I looked into a subscription service that could inspire more people to get off their couch and out into the movie theaters. This company, MoviePass, promises that for just a flat rate per month, you can have access to a ticket to one movie in the theater per day.

Such an opportunity instantly got my motor running, specifically because it feeds my two dearest passions – going to see movies in the theater and a good deal. However, there were two big catches - back then, the price was $40 a month and you would have to commit to a full year up front, not just paying at a month by month basis.

Even though the cost could easily be covered by just seeing one movie a week over a month, the year long commitment felt too much like moving in with a dude you just met. You really aren't confident about how this whole thing is going to work out and it would be better to have an easy out.

It became even more clear that this company should be avoided after reading endless criticisms about the company's less than stellar (aka garbage - allegedly) app that has to be used to purchase tickets.

Cut to last week and MoviePass made a big announcement that instantly led to their service being flooded with new members. It was reported that they are lowering their price to $9.95 per month - a price that  matches every other entertainment service that America has made essential in their lives. 

For some reason anything under $10 seems to be basically free. Something that's $11.99 at Target takes about an hour of extra thought before it ends up in my cart, but something that is merely $2 less seems like a no brainier. No question I will be buying that $9.99 clearance kitschy elephant tape dispenser. Do I even use tape? I mean, probably!

Of course my brain starts trying to work out how MoviePass can possibly make money with such a large drop in their pricing. One possibility is banking on laziness. Many people will sign up just for the cheap cost and then not use it. But for every careless person there will be an uber subscriber (aka me) who will take on this hot deal and utilize it to the max.

Odds are there could be a month where I would go to a movie every day just because I could! Check out that Emojii movie? Why not - bring it on! I basically already paid for it anyway!

In reality, I'm rooting for MoviePass to help revive a culture of people spending their nights out at the theater just seeing whatever is out there playing instead of glued to Netflix all the time. Watching movies and television at home is great and all, but it leads to distracted viewing with people wandering back and forth and pausing to take snack breaks.

Ultimately nothing compares to the completely immersive experience of going out to the movies. You can laugh with strangers and let go, crying unabashedly in the darkness. Sometimes you might even make new friends with other audience members. [Oh - is that just me?] Then everyone leaves once the lights come up, buzzing with either great or horrible stances on what you all just witnessed.

Sure, sometimes there will be that dude down the aisle texting for 15 minutes on his huge bright phone. Yet, giving him the side eye is all part of the experience. Interacting with others might be a lost art in the future, but hey, let's keep real life human interplay, both positive and negative, going for as long as we can. 

While championing the success of the movie theaters might not be for the masses, it should definitely be taken on by those who are brave. Try to at least partially fight off some of the advancements easing you towards never leaving your house. There is a whole world out there...for now.

Hopefully MoviePass can help hold the torch for this entertainment tradition, because, boy, oh boy, these institutions seem like they need all the help they can get.

Until next time. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Total E-Clipse Of The Sun

T-shirt sales, marking up the price of special viewing glasses, and non-stop news coverage about the millions of people who will be taking to the highways causing traffic jams - these are all signs that point to a large scale event marked by the usual tinges of capitalism and American idealism.

It wouldn't be this country if we all didn't react in a big way and turn everything into a brouhaha. Although, a lot of it sounds negative, it is not all bad. There are just those things to be prepared for, like heading to any music festival where you will probably be spending $20 on a hamburger and fighting with people for a parking spot. We all want to be a part of history and if I don't get the t-shirt that says I was there, than hell, it probably didn't even happen!

Aside from that nonsense, there really is nothing I love more than an occasion that upsets the normal day to day activities. The enthusiasm behind people wanting to take the day off and just experience a natural phenomenon is thrilling. Those that are lucky to be able to do so, can just take the moment to relax and spend a second to think about (as Carl Sagan put it) how we are all just on a pale blue dot, "on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam."

We can get so caught up in the motions, so days like tomorrow can be a nice change of pace. I just wish we didn't have to fight over those viewing glasses. Shouldn't all the states in the path of the eclipse mail those out to everyone for free? [My future non-profit, “Fun For All - Like Seriously”, will be in charge of this by the next eclipse – count on it!]

National events seem to level the playing field as well, which we all could agree is something we need in our country's current upheaval. We are all here just trying to survive. That sameness will only be more evident tomorrow and will hopefully occur to many while looking up under the same sky.

Sure, these poetic ideals are not on everyone's mind. Many will just be trying to get that perfect #eclipselfie. Even I thought about live tweeting the event that I plan on catching while sitting on a Washington beach eating donuts. Tweet gems like, “It's allll happening!” and “It's allllll happening...a little more!!” seem really integral to send out into the world. But joking around and being involved in that social experience is all just part of the cultural phenomenon these days. I enjoy it as much as the next millennial or really adult/humans of all ages.

Although, I do want to offer the most obvious advice on the planet. Take that Snap of you watching the eclipse with bunny ears and tweet out that joke, and then just put the phone down. Step away from it. Just do it. Enjoy it all before the moment is lost. Only then will you truly be able to remember where you were when this event happened. People like my grandma remember where they were during the eclipse in the 1970s. She for sure was not occupied by technology.

Over the years our phones have made aspects of life more entertaining and the ability to share our experiences with people in all walks of life is extraordinary, but sometimes returning to more simple times, when we could leave the house without a phone glued to our hands, seems like the better answer.

I really do hope that only goodness is on people's minds as the sky goes dark tomorrow, and not the macabre. Other pop culture devotees have surely been thinking about instances of eclipses in books, movies, TV, and music in preparation for tomorrow's event. Stephenie Meyer seems to have a monopoly on our collective reaction to the word “eclipse”, or maybe many of you have escaped that connection, either way, there are more pop culture "eclipses" worth noting than just those revolving around fighting over a werewolf and vampire.

Having grown up in a family obsessed with Stephen King, the one example I have not been able to get out of my mind the last couple weeks is his intense masterpiece, Dolores Claiborne. Anyone who has read the book or caught the excellent film adaption starring bad-ass Kathy Bates, knows that a large plot point involves an eclipse falling over a town in Maine (of course). King delves into the idea of what can happen during the two minutes of darkness while everyone's attentions are focused on the sky...

I don't know if King found news articles about people doing bad things during solar eclipses or if that just came from his own wildly creative mind, but let's still keep our intentions good for tomorrow. Don't try to rob stores or cause a disturbance. Hopefully the worst thing you do tomorrow is fall over while trying to frame the perfect eclipse photo with your phone. While embarrassing, that is something we can all handle.

Soak up those dark rays, maybe blast Madonna's Ray of Light album, or tune in for Bonnie Tyler's performance of Total Eclipse Of The Heart (perfect pop culture moments of fun like this is why I love living!), and, most of all, just pay attention. After all, you may not be around the next time the moon falls between the earth and the sun. Celebrate in the bold and big way America does best. Also maybe think about sharing those viewing glasses with your neighbor.

Live that best Solar Eclipse Life.
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