Monday, July 8, 2013

Weekly Buffet: Tackling Expectations

Often when a movie, book, or album gets two thumbs up, discussed to death, or takes the form of  whatever other type of positive "buzz", it will send people running in the opposite direction. Too much talk can be a killer sentence, especially when hype could end up ruining the experience all together.

Just one example, and I'm really not all that upset, but this definitely is the case with the movie, Meet The Parents. For one solid year everywhere I turned classmates, aunts, family friends, and entertainment critics were exclaiming about the laugh riot that is Ben Stiller and crew. By the time I actually saw it, I couldn't help but think - but it wasn't even that funny!

Having a good sense of humor for comedy at all ends of the spectrum, it is this situation that I openly blame the extreme positivity bandwagon for building up my hopes for the chuckle-fest of the ages.

The question remains; would I have liked this movie had I heard nothing about it?

These type of entertainment let downs have happened to all of us, but too much hype doesn't always mean that it should be avoided at all costs. This week I have run into (surprisingly) enjoying numerous things I have strategically spent years dodging.

Below are some pop culture suggestions that have actively been praised recently, or highly regarded for years, which actually are worth checking out.

Anna Karenina

Tolstoy's sweeping Russian tale of life in the late 1800s is told through the idea of marriages, affairs, and most simply, love, encircling his heroine, Anna.

What turns out to be a story based on simple, riveting themes, Anna Karenina remains one of those classics that will look daunting when seen on a shelf, but without having turned any pages.

First of all, the novel has a lot to live up to. Back in 2007, Time Magazine (based on a culmination of 125 top ten lists from respected authors) even reported it as the greatest book of all time.

Then, clocking in at 800 plus pages, makes it seem like a feat that will be impossible to complete. It could be one classy paper weight.

I may be three weeks in already and barely half way through, but it turns out that every second has been time well spent.  Even with the mass amounts of pages, it is actually quite a quick read - well, in comparison to other much lauded classics, like Wuthering Heights. That novel has a shorter length, but still left me spending double the time trying to comprehend each page.

In Karenina's case, the descriptive prose doesn't get in the way of fully understanding and enjoying the story. There is definitely no flipping back through the previous ten pages to ponder, "what in the heck did I just read?"

Don't be like me and keep avoiding Anna Karenina due to the misconception that it is a hard read. I'm discovering that wonderfully written classic stories can also be quite accessible (see also: Jane Eyre).

Be scared no longer, and settle in for an epic tale this summer.

Top Of The Lake

Director Jane Campion has made a career out of profiling strong women who often find themselves in difficult situations (see: The Piano, Holy Smoke, and Bright Star). She has done it again with Elizabeth Moss, who has filled the heroine shoes this time around in Campion's mini-series, Top Of The Lake.

When you are still remembered as the second woman to be nominated for a Best Directing Oscar, everything that you release will have everyone buzzing around with the highest of expectations.

In the age of Mad Men,  a stylized, thematic miniseries like Top Of The Lake fits right into the mix. Moss has taken a break from being a bad ass in the advertising world to play a detective hunting through the forests of New Zealand for a missing 12-year-old, who just also happens to be pregnant.  Got you hooked yet?

There are definitely some strange characters/suspects floating around this small New Zealand town (including Hunter, as the leader of some sort of ladies self help commune), but stick around through the first episode. This mysterious tale unfolds slowly  and is completely unique.

(Streaming instantly on Netflix.)

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

Several music memories stick out from college - showing up to my dorm and being surprised to find  every room had a Death Cab For Cute poster tacked up and hearing people endlessly rave about The National.

I spent all that time ignoring the praise about the latter, and only in the last year gave in and checked out their entire discography. When it comes to male voices, I tend to prefer the more powerfully emotive tone of Ryan Adams, Seth Avett, Will Sheff, Sam Cooke, or even Win Butler. Often, I find Matt Berringer's vocals to be one note and boring.

That may sound like a major diss, but for me, that isn't enough to hate the band (not like this guy anyway). Based on their ability to continually build gorgeous, haunting melodies, is alone a reason that this group is praiseworthy.

I may never completely click with the mega fan, but it doesn't mean I can't recommend their newest album. Any new comers to the band, tap your toe (or full out seat dance) to the killer rhythm section in, "Don't Swallow The Cap".

How I Met Your Mother

I love Jason Segel. I love Neil Patrick Harris. I love Alyson Hannigan. Even with all that love, I never thought I would actually watch How I Met Your Mother.

Being a show on CBS was the number one curse I always believed fell on HIMYM (the same network as Two and 1/2 Men, ack!)

I've learned a lesson about the lesser known prejudices, that of the cable network variety, over the last year consuming and rolling in laughter with the hilarity in the lives of Marshall & Lily, Ted, Robin, and Barney.

When it feels like sitcoms have become irrelevant, a show decides to put a creative spin on the worn out model. This show is filled with endless pop culture references and hysterically crazy bits (notably, Slap bets and Robin Sparkles), but the most authentic charm comes from the consistent headlining story arc through each season, which has left fans clamoring for years over the identity of this mysterious (or is she?) "mother".

Thanks to Netflix I just finished catching up, and now I know what all those loyal fans, and nearly 10 million weekly viewers, have been enjoying the last eight years. Suit up!

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