Bear with me, guys and girls. I’m having an immense amount of trouble getting any writing done with 100 essays on my desk to be graded. So, I apologize for the hiatus, but it has to happen for me to keep my sanity. That being said, I’m going to try to find time to return to my reviewing. Thanks for the patience.
In the meantime, watch these shows:
Hannibal: Season 1
This show is fantastic thus far. I’m 5 episodes in (that includes Oeuf), and I’m loving it. I recently finished that fifth episode, “Coquilles”, and the visual style is absolutely haunting, adding a dimension of beauty to the unflinching bleakness of the storylines. Not to mention that it contains some of the creepiest and most gruesome gore I’ve seen on network television. However, the best part about that gore and violence is that it is always portrayed as traumatic, mentally degrading any who come into contact with it. Very complex and very interesting. Easily the best network show I’ve seen in ages.
Archer (Vice): Season 5
I was going to review this, but I simply haven’t had the time. That being said, I have watched all of it so far and holy shit is it great. The idea of a reboot to the series has made the show instantly more watchable, killing the frustrating repetition that plagued some of the previous season. It also dealt with the half-assed serialization of the previous season, this time sticking to a central plotline and fanning out from there. The highlights of this season are undoubtedly Pam’s growing coke addiction and Cheryl’s desire to be a country music singer. What a treat.
I’ll have reviews up soon. I promise. Until later!
Working on my reviews for Girls 3x03: “She Said OK” and Archer 5x02: “Archer Vice: A Kiss While Dying”. They’ll be done today and/or tomorrow.
Note: Spoilers through Episode 5.01.
Archer has always been a great show. It always had this willingness to stray from political correctness to show us the crazy behavior of people that just don’t care. Where most shows like to do that sort of thing, this one always stood out among the rest by turning the insanity up a notch, placing the characters in increasingly precarious and bizarre situations. But Season 4, while still being great, wasn’t as great as the brilliant second and third seasons. It wasn’t that something was missing; it was more that the premise was something that was becoming stale. Most great shows settle into a groove, one that feels comfortable and provides solid ratings, after which it just churns out more and more episodes while trying to keep the quality at least decent.
Well, there’s no reason to worry about Archer doing something like that. “White Elephant” takes the show’s original premise and completely does away with it. As it turns out, ISIS was operating illegally and is permanently shut down by the FBI, after which Archer and Co. decide to turn to a life of crime selling seized coke down in Florida. It’s certainly a dramatic shift from what the show normally does, and I can see it working a hell of a lot better than the show’s original premise. Here, there are far fewer constraints placed on the show and its characters. Pam’s not exactly an HR employee anymore so it’s a little easier to believably put her in new situations. That also goes for Cheryl, who can literally do anything now (like become a huge country singer…).
The jokes and the writing are still same old Archer, which is fantastic. The characters are still willing to screw each other over to save themselves, which goes to show that the characters will still be the same lovable sociopaths that we’ve grown to adore. When Mallory tells everybody to keep quiet and trust her, we all laugh because, when it comes down to it, how can any of these people trust each other? Of course, sometimes they’ll go in for an easy laugh, like Cheryl wanting to be shocked by the FBI agent’s taser, but it’s all still a hell of a lot of fun.
While I liked this episode a lot and I’m excited to see this new direction, the episode itself wasn’t much more than set-up. While the new premise absolutely needed some setting up, a fair portion of the episode was dedicated to recalling old jokes and the montage of episodes to come. Of course, both of these were wildly hilarious, but structuring the episode that way puts a HUGE emphasis on plot and doesn’t give the characters space to breathe like, say, “Sea Tunt: Part 1” from the previous season. Giving the characters that space often produces the show’s very best episodes (“Lo Scandalo” comes to mind) and shifting the premise just doesn’t give the show time for that if the writers want that shift to be quick and painless.
That being said, I’m incredibly excited for what is to come next. Now that ISIS is gone and everybody has a hold of $50 million worth of cocaine, there are endless possibilities for crazy situations to put everybody in. We can stop pretending that these characters are trying to do anything good, that there’s any sort of moral dilemma behind the shit that they do, and just plummet them into a life of crime. It’s that kind of freedom that is certainly going to make this a hell of a season of Archer. I mean, Archer Vice.
Also: My Archer reviews are probably going to be rather short, since the episodes are short (this one clocked in at 19:44!) and I don’t always have a ton to say about the show, despite how much I love it.
Final Thoughts: A great way to reinvent the series, “White Elephant” blows up the premise in place of something new and exciting.
Alright. So, I’m going to ditch reviewing True Detective, though I may watch the whole season and write about it then. I’ll be reviewing Girls, Archer, and The Walking Dead until those shows are finished, after which I’ll probably review Mad Men and whatever else sounds good. As for movies, I’ll be reviewing American Hustle next. And, in an attempt to review some video games, I’ll be reviewing the Mass Effect trilogy as I complete them (which takes a while). So, I’ll be reviewing the first Mass Effect very soon. Of course, we’ll see what happens after that. Let me know if there’s something fun that you all want me to review. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- Girls 3x02: “Truth or Dare”
Next Review- American Hustle
Remember to check out the website that I contribute to:
Note: Spoilers through Episode 3.02.
Expectations are a bitch. We want the world to provide us with more than it’ll actually give us, to receive instead of working hard or trying a new perspective in order to really attain something. And then there’s the way that others expect things of us, things that we delude ourselves into believing that we want, all in order to stay comfortable. It’s difficult to challenge, to question, and so expectations are something that we constantly live up to, a way to avoid the horrible feeling of disappointment. But we’re always disappointed. We’re always wanting more than the world has to offer, more out of ourselves in order to appease the expectations that others have of us. Disappointment eventually becomes comfortable, something that we can live with if it means avoiding the horrible feeling of something alien.
“Truth or Dare” is an episode that dives headfirst into the frustration that goes along with expectation, whether it be expectation of an experience or what people expect of one another. It centers around the struggle associated with disappointment and how people beat each other down through conflicting expectations. But more importantly than that, it shows how, in the end, it’s people that bring each other past those things. Because it has such a strong central theme, it ends up being undoubtedly superior to the previous episode, “Females Only”.
The episode is mostly about the road trip that Hannah takes with Adam and Shoshanna to pick up Jessa from rehab, since she was kicked out after going down on Laura. The show never really put Adam and Shoshanna together at all, and it mines their interactions for maximum effect, making the episode exponentially funnier as a result. Whenever the two of them talk to each other, it’s comedic gold. But what makes the road trip such a great storyline is how the episode juxtaposes Hannah and Shoshanna to Adam. During the truth-or-dare scene that gives the episode its title, Shoshanna and Hannah are both secluded in their screen-constructed world, Shoshanna watching TV and Hannah on her laptop. Both of them want to experience the world, but they’re stuck in their own little world, unwilling to look outside.
The truth-or-dare scene perfectly encapsulates how people have these expectations and completely destroy them in order to feel comfortable. Shoshanna dares Adam to kiss Hannah (which is a “safe” dare, as it keeps her comfortable), but Adam has a little fun with it, using his imagination to play around with what he’s given. It’s really no surprise that he eventually cuts the game short. Once he realizes that Hannah and Shoshanna want to play it safe and place all of these arbitrary rules on the game to keep them comfortable, he realizes that the game isn’t fun at all. It’s worthless.
Because it’s as Adam said. “Boredom is bullshit. Boredom is for lazy people who have no imagination.” We would rather be safe and bored than use our imagination to experience new things. When Adam takes that little detour through the woods, Hannah would rather lie in the leaves and watch something on her phone than actually try to experience something new. She would rather be bored on the road trip than find the inspiration that she’s looking for. Because it takes hard work to gain that new perspective. It takes stepping outside of yourself. And Hannah just isn’t willing to do that. Neither is Shoshanna, for that matter. When she talks about graduating college, she talks about how she expects “life after college” to be so much better than college. Of course, it’s so much harder, but Shoshanna doesn’t want to hear that. She wants to think that, after one challenge, there will be a period of relaxation. She wants to expect that the future will be easier. But it never is, no matter how much we want it to be. Reality is that life is a continual onslaught of challenges, and that being disappointed by the future being difficult is going to be way easier than being continually pessimistic about reality.
Jessa, on the other hand, is bogged down by what others expect of her. They see weird Jessa, freak Jessa, and they expect an easy lay. They expect somebody who has this strong sense of self, somebody who always gives society the middle finger, somebody whose strong sense of self can be easily exploited for sex . But this obviously isn’t who Jessa is. It’s just the front she puts up in order to feel safe around people, a way to block out intimacy. Jasper was a sort of father figure to her for most of the episode, helping her with whatever wisdom he had to impart, and she expected to be safe with him. Of course, he expected that they would fuck. And it’s that difference in expectation, that communication error, that hurts her. It’s realizing that other people think of her as that freak loner who’ll put out just to do it.
But the reality is that Jessa is just a scared girl who doesn’t want to be alone, even though she responds to her anxiety by pushing people away. That’s why she’s so insistent on her friends picking her up. She doesn’t want to depart that rehab clinic alone because she’s afraid that she’ll just be alone if others don’t come to rescue her. And it’s those other people, Hannah, Adam, Shoshanna, that’ll be the ones to get her through her troubles. Hannah gives her the friendly love that she needs and Adam gives her the advice that she needs. This speaks back to the second season’s finale, “Together”, which echoes the idea that people need others to help them through their lives. Nobody can survive in the world by themselves, no matter what they think.
Ultimately, life is bound to hurt you. You’ll either be alone and miserable or surrounded by people that’ll eventually leave you. But those good times spent with people are worth the pain you’ll feel in the end. Life is experiencing happiness and sadness in equal measure, and missing out on either of those is depriving yourself of what life is.
“Truth or Dare” was absolutely the strongest of the first two episodes, and it was a great way to cap off this season’s introduction. Not only does it remind us how shitty these people can be, it reminds us how they would much rather be shitty than honest with themselves, and how tragic that becomes when people begin to hurt themselves to remain comfortable. While I’m not quite as impressed with the beginning of this season as I was with Season 1 or even Season 2, it still looks like we’re going to be treated to yet another great season of Girls. I’m certainly hopeful.
Also: I’ve been pretty easy on Adam so far, so maybe I’ll start digging into him in later episodes.
Final Thoughts: Much better than the last episode, “Truth or Dare” reminds us how expectations rarely live up to the reality that we experience.
Alright. So. I’m going to review Archer today. I’m also going to work my way through reviewing American Hustle, which was an interesting movie, and Mass Effect, which I completed for the third time a while ago. Anyway, I’ve got a lot more to finish up by the end of the day. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- Girls 3x01: “Females Only”
Next Review- Archer 5x01: “White Elephant”
Remember to check out the website that I contribute to:
Note: Spoilers through Episode 3.01.
Girls is a fantastic show, though it’s likely the most misunderstood one on television. There’s always some sort of outcry, ranging from the misogynistic and fat-shaming complaining that Lena Dunham is naked too often to the somewhat justified complaints about the lack of diversity on the show. There’s always been a ton of misogynistic backlash to anything that empowers and showcases women on television (just look at the reaction that Kyle Smith had to the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler-led Golden Globes). So any backlash against Lena Dunham concerning her nudity has always been ridiculous because nobody gave a shit when any of the other girls showed some skin. It’s just a disgusting attempt to shame an overweight girl for taking pride in her body.
But, even though I think Donald Glover’s guest appearance was misunderstood (as it showed how these girls push away from new experiences), I can understand complaints about diversity. Danielle Brooks (Taystee from Orange is the New Black) plays one of the girls that Jessa lashes out against, and while it’s a way to bring diversity to the show, it’s kind of a half-assed way to show that. I liked what Donald Glover’s guest appearance did, and Danielle Brooks’ appearance didn’t seem to say much or comment on Donald Glover’s. It’s not that Lena Dunham is necessarily buying into the backlash on the show, but there seems to be a certain level of negotiation going on, where she’s playing it safe instead of going for broke.
“Females Only” didn’t blow me away like what I’ve seen from previous seasons, and maybe that’s because it indeed did play it safe instead of taking the chances we saw from the last two seasons. “One Man’s Trash” was one of the best episodes of the series because it was one of the most ballsy episodes of the series, a middle finger raised to the haters. I’ve always been on Lena Dunham’s side, and it’s great to see an episode of television that raises that middle finger. But “Females Only” instead seems lighter, calmer, less dramatic than last season. Don’t get me wrong. “Females Only” is a solid episode of television and a solid episode of Girls. It doesn’t have to be dark to be good. It’s just that episodes like “On All Fours” were great because they took risks that other shows didn’t have the balls to take.
Anyway, this first episode does more table setting than anything else, bouncing between the four girls to let us know where they are after the events of last season. Hannah and Adam are the most grounded of everybody, having settled into a routine as a couple. Marnie is living out of her mother’s house after Charlie left her. Shoshanna is sleeping around with college guys in an attempt to kickstart some sort of sexual awakening. And Jessa is bottoming out in rehab, lashing out at others to try to stop the lack of control. Being the first half of a two-part season premiere, it moves a little more lethargically than a normal episode of Girls, keeping the girls separate for the majority of the episode’s runtime. It’s no surprise that the best scenes of the episode involve multiple characters coming together and having it out (I’ve always held the belief that the best episodes are either only about Hannah or about everybody).
That isn’t to say that the episode is bad. It serves to remind us how these girls try desperately to move forward, but have no idea which way will get them anywhere. They simply move in a direction and hope it works. Shoshanna wants to be a sexual adult, and figures that sleeping around will help her with that. Of course, those are the experiences that she’ll use to refine herself in the future, but it’s already apparent that they’re not fulfilling to her. There’s a moment in the premiere where she’s sitting in the library, sliding her hood onto her head, placing her sunglasses over her eyes. She’s hiding from the world in the same way that these girls have a habit of doing, in the same way that we all have a habit of doing. It’s far easier to hide, to keep out all of the world’s tough realities and the difficult ways in which we need to properly react to them, instead of facing the world head on.
Jessa is another character who would rather tear others down than focus on herself. In a place where she’s forced to consider her own feelings and her own troubles, she feels cornered, like she has to face who she is and how fucked up her life is. So, instead, she corners those around her, verbally beating them into the ground in order to make herself feel better. She targets one girl in particular, Laura, who she calls a lesbian (which turns out to be true). But that seems to be the breaking point for the group, who all lash back at her. Jessa’s way to deal with her problems is to forcefully isolate herself by pushing everybody away, and while she’s growing up in her own way, that coping mechanism continually kicks her down, again and again. There’s one man in rehab who she seems to have some sort of connection with, Jaspar, who tells her the two-sided nature of honesty, but she doesn’t know what to do with that information. She understands its value, that she needs to act on it in some way, but she decides that going down on Laura in order to speed up the self-discovery process is the answer to that advice (a decidedly bad idea). Jessa, like the rest of the girls, is sprawling, trying to find that direction but unable to make any progress.
Hannah’s not doing a whole lot better, even though it seems like life has arranged itself in her favor. She may be with Adam, but there are still questions about who he is and insecurities based around his past. She may be writing an e-book, but deadlines still exist and she’s still trying to piece together all of the components that will make it work. Her and Adam’s relationship, moreso than her e-book, anchors her story for the episode, and while they’re certainly happy together, those questions and insecurities create a fair amount of awkward tension between them. When Adam has to deal with Hannah’s friends during dinner, he doesn’t act exactly how Hannah wants him to act, and it makes her uncomfortable. When they’re having dinner, he’s distant and awkward. When Hannah’s cleaning up, he’s sweetly comforting Marnie and telling a story about sex with an ex-girlfriend. They’re happy, but there are things that they both don’t want to talk about, things that they’re scared that they can’t get past. Hannah is afraid that she’ll lose what she has if she pushes too hard.
Natalia and her friend’s rant seemed to echo some of the vicious thoughts that the show’s detractors have. But they’re ultimately harsh words that ring hollow. They take negative experiences and use them to demonize in order to make themselves feel better. When it comes down to it, these girls (and guys) are just trying to figure out which way to move, how to become “adults” and still retain their comfort. But growing up is uncomfortable and painful. It involves shedding who you are to make way for something different, something foreign. And it’s going to take many, many more experiences for these girls to really change.
Final Thoughts: A smart episode of Girls that acted more like a table-setter than anything else, “Females Only” is a strong return for the show.
Alright, everybody. I’m working my way through a bunch of different shows today. I’ll be writing up the second Girls episode, which is really the second part of a two-parter. I’m also going to try to get through the premiere of Archer, which was more fun than I thought it would be. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to start on True Detective, which I’m curious to watch. In addition, I’m working on American Hustle, which I hope to finish reviewing by the end of the week. My schedule is likely to be off since I’m preparing for an intense section of my internship, so we’ll see how that goes. Until tomorrow (or later today), loyal followers.
Previous Review- Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Next Review- Girls 3x02: “Truth or Dare”
Remember to check out the website that I contribute to:
Note: Spoilers about demons, time portals, and shotguns.
Horror franchises with yearly installments NEVER sustain a consistent quality all the way through their series. The first Saw movie was barely decent, but later movies (like Saw IV and Saw V) are far, far worse. Of course, Saw’s central premise didn’t have a lot of sustainability, as the only way to be inventive was to creative more gruesome ways for people to die. Paranormal Activity has a little more room for evolution, as the central premise in the first movie was so minimal that subsequent movies simply were able to find more tricks and gimmicks to exploit in order to create scares.
So how does that evolution look five entries in? Not fantastic, but certainly not nearly as bad as the fifth entries of other horror series. For an entry billed as a spin-off, it was far better than I thought possible. The story was coherent and had a solid pacing, starting off by humanizing the three main characters (Jesse, Hector, Marisol) and chronicling Jesse’s descent into demonic madness as a “marked one”. Jesse was a character I had learned to care about over the course of the movie, which is more than I can say for any of the other movies (Paranormal Activity 1 aside). The way that they chronicle Jesse’s childish innocence makes the transformation more unpleasant and disturbing to watch. The scene where he tortures the family dog was one of the most unpleasant of the movie, and, juxtaposed with that previous innocence, did a fantastic job showcasing just how messed up he was.
The departure from the standard Paranormal Activity camera gimmicks, where the camera documents consecutive nights in bedrooms that are increasingly haunted, was absolutely welcome, as it allowed more time for story and character to shine through. The writing done in this series has always been absolutely solid, but it seemed to be bogged down more and more by an attempt to find more gimmicks to exploit. Sure, Paranormal Activity 3’s oscillating fan was creepy, as we didn’t know what it would rotate towards, but Paranormal Activity 4’s Xbox Kinect gimmick was pretty bad (not to mention a shameless plug). This movie shed gimmicks altogether in place of telling a cohesive story, one that had far more room to breathe. The camera moved from location to location, and as the locations shifted, the direction and cinematography was a lot more fun to observe. There was less fighting to exploit every angle and more room to pick and choose what worked and what didn’t.
I also enjoyed the shift to a Latino-based cast and a location that reflected that, as the other stories were almost entirely white casts in middle class neighborhoods. That shift in location not only provided us with a setting that was unfamiliar, but gave us characters that were definitely different than the suburban white characters that we’ve had so far. Even though a fair amount of the movie was in Spanish (maybe 15%), it was easy to understand what was going on and what they were generally saying. The culture shift just provided a new take on the things that were happening, shifting away from gimmicks to try something entirely new.
What I didn’t enjoy was the abrupt ending, and how it cut the story off before it had time to reach a satisfying conclusion. Sure, there’s a Paranormal Activity 5 this year, but that doesn’t mean that individual entries shouldn’t have well-rounded conclusions. This has been a systemic issue with the Paranormal Activity franchise thus far, where most of the movies’ endings get into the meat of the action and then shut down before they’re able to meet a real conclusion. Here, the buildup to the ending was great, as it revisited old locations (the witch house from PA3 and Katie’s house from PA1), adding a ton of tension to the proceedings. But the story didn’t really have a direction from there, and thus shut down as soon as it could, with Hector being killed and the camera abruptly shutting off. It’s especially frustrating when the story and characters have been great, as they have no real conclusion to their respective arcs.
Overall, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was one of the best of the franchise, an immensely refreshing entry that broke free of old gimmicks. It didn’t really have much direction after the climactic moment of the movie came and went, but the bulk of the movie did a satisfactory job building up tension through an interesting story. It doesn’t entirely leave me hopeful for Paranormal Activity 5, as that movie could return to the middle-class white family and the normal nightly gimmicks, but for now, at least the series took a little while to attempt something new and interesting. And that was more than enough to keep me in my seat.
Also: Those shotgun blasts at the end of the movie were hilarious in how the witches just flew backwards. Though, damn, were they surprising.
Also also: For all my complaining about the ending, the last third of the movie was unbelievably frantic, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Final Thoughts: A solid entry in the series, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones has some good scares and a good story but suffers from a somewhat abrupt ending.
So I’m slowly transitioning into a period of strenuous work in my internship, and it’s going to be a bitch to keep up reviews during this time. But I’ll do the best that I can to keep up my weekly TV reviews (The Walking Dead, Girls, maybe True Detective) while keeping my intern work up to snuff. Anyway, I’ll be reviewing Girls this week, along with American Hustle. As for other reviews, we’ll see what I can do. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- Kick Ass 2
Next Review- Girls 3x01: “Females Only”
Remember to check out the website that I contribute to:
Note: Spoilers about bloody violence and poop.
Irreverence has its utility. People like things that are edgy, things that make them feel. A man gets scalped in an episode of Boardwalk Empire and people cringe. Lesbians have graphic sex in Blue is the Warmest Color and people gasp. Pushing boundaries can be great, as they open peoples’ minds to new ideas and make them feel in ways that they don’t normally experience. It’s a way to keep people from becoming comfortable with their own thoughts, a way to push social acceptance into new and uncharted territory.
Kick Ass 2, however, relishes in its irreverence in a way that borders on disgusting. Instead of using its visceral scenes in a way that opens minds, it uses them in a way that invites laughter bred from ignorance. The first movie did a great job subverting comic standards by making the hero a kid in a world too vicious for “superheroes”. But this movie attempts social commentary in a way that doesn’t work at all, not only because it’s blatantly ignorant, but because it’s wrapped around stories that don’t make a whole lot of sense.
The movie’s plot drives all else. Things happen, but it’s hard to feel much about those things because the characters are simply there for the ride. Even though the actors do a fine job with the material that they are given, there isn’t a character that isn’t defined by more than one singular trait. The Mother Fucker wants to bring Kick Ass down. Hit Girl wants to be normal in a world that won’t let her. None of these characters feel human, and while this is a comic book movie with a fantastical story and fantastical action, in the end, it’s still a movie that wants to be able to reach in and twist when the time is right.
Only that doesn’t happen. Kick Ass 2 is a movie that cannot decide what tone it wants to set. Is it a somber movie about loss? Is it a goofy movie with bad jokes? Is it a badass movie with badass action? It’s all of these things and none of these things, all because it bounces from one to the next without any real transition from one to the next. Sure, it’s sad and all when Dave’s father dies, but their serious character interactions were surrounded with dialogue meant to tell us that we shouldn’t take the movie seriously. Take the most abhorrent point in the movie, the rape joke where The Mother Fucker is about to rape Night Bitch to hurt Kick Ass, but can’t get hard enough to do the deed. We’re supposed to be laughing, but there’s a serious motivation behind the attempted act that cuts the humor to nothing, not to mention the horribly backwards social implication that’s present.
Here’s where the social commentary comes into play. Whether they intended it or not, Night Bitch suffers for her promiscuity. The Mother Fucker sees (or rather, infers) that she’s having sex with Kick Ass and decides to hurt her through what she finds pleasure in. For being a woman that likes to fool around and have fun through sex, she’s harmed because she’s being free about her sexuality. The “popular girls” are the same way. They dress “provocatively” and are demonized for it because they’re adhering to some social system that prides girls on their looks instead of their capacity to be individuals. The reason that this punishment is highlighted is because Hit Girl, despite having sexual urges when seeing boy bands sing (because, you know, all teenage girls are the same…), is completely virginal. She abstains from participating in the same sexual displays that the other girls are a part of. She abstains from being a part of the feminine culture that the other girls are a part of. She even rewards Dave at the end of the movie by giving away part of that purity to him, sharing her first kiss with him. For a movie that attempts to uphold individuality in the face of social pressure, rewarding girls for their purity is utterly contradictory and convolutes its message.
The most frustrating facet of the movie is the way it takes the complex issue of social normalcy and simplifies it until it’s downright insulting. Hit Girl doesn’t want to adhere to the system that the “popular girls” live by, so she punishes them for shaming her. But this puts the blame entirely on the “popular girls” instead of considering the social pressures that they are under. It preaches a vicious “girl hate” instead of discussing how girls are pressured by a patriarchal system that forces them to compete for sexual attention. The way that Kick Ass 2 ignores complexity while attempting to discuss complex ideas is simply moronic and preaches a backwards message instead of attempting anything progressive. Sure, it attempts to discuss the reality of heroes and how they aren’t people in masks, but even that is hampered by a story that fails to build up the characters in a way to deliver that theme effectively.
Kick Ass 2 is just a bad movie. It’s an attempt at something bigger and better than it was before, but nobody here has the talent to elevate it above what it was. I’d commend its attempt at tackling such complex social themes if they were handled with any semblance of intelligence, but they just aren’t. Not to mention that the forced plot, the one-dimensional characters, and the plethora of bizarre tones drag the movie even further into the gutter. In an age of smart comic book movies like Watchmen and the Batman trilogy, it’s hard to believe that one could strike out so hard. But here we are.
Final Thoughts: Evidence that edgy isn’t equivalent to quality, Kick Ass 2 is far worse than its predecessor, especially when it attempts social commentary.
I’m off to get tipsy and see Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. Hopefully, it’s as good as I hear it is. Anyway, I’ve updated my Upcoming Reviews section, so you’ll see that I’m off to finish up The Walking Dead next week and I’m off to review Homeland’s third season later that week. I’ll be starting on Girls once the third season is underway next weekend, so that’ll be fun. Let me know if there are other movies that you’d like me to review. I’m enjoying picking apart movies right now, so I’d like to continue that trend by reviewing more movies. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- Frozen
Next Review- Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Remember to check out the website that I contribute to:
Note: Spoilers about ice, Olaf, and subverting standards.
Times are certainly changing. Disney has always put out movies where the thin, pretty princess is subject to a danger that she cannot escape from, a danger that requires the strength of a man to overcome. Even Tangled, a movie that I love more than most Disney movies, features a heroine who ends up happily ever after with a man. There’s nothing wrong with a woman falling in love with a man, and there’s nothing wrong with a “fairy tale ending” if the story is indeed a fairy tale. Tangled even does a fine job subverting gender expectations by having the heroine utilizing the frying pan (a traditionally feminine instrument) as a weapon instead of an instrument for cooking. But the issue comes from a tendency for Disney to gloss over legitimate commentary or progressive/critical discussion on gender as a result of the movie being that fantastical “fairy tale”, or to even purposefully reinforce gender stereotypes under the guise of fantastical stories.
Frozen, for the majority of its running length, seemed like a movie that was going down the old school Disney route, with Anna falling in love (at first sight) with Prince Hans, eventually needing an act of true love from him to save her life after Elsa accidentally injures her. But the rug is completely swept out from under the audience when it turns out that not only is Hans the bad guy here, but that the act of true love comes in the form of Elsa’s sisterly love. It’s bold, bold territory for a Disney movie, to consider true love as a bond between two women, but it’s fantastic to see such great and progressive angles being taken in a franchise of movies that so often resorted to racism and sexism to sell.
To be fair, it’s well-foreshadowed that these one of these revelations is going to happen. There’s a conversation between Kristoff and Anna where he chides her for becoming engaged to a man after knowing him for so short a time, and it’s an obvious riff on the notion of true love that is explored in so many other Disney movies (Aladdin, Snow White, etc). It seems obvious that Kristoff and Anna are going to end up together, not necessarily because they flirt with each other quite a bit (though they do), but because Hans is only in maybe twenty minutes of the movie. But the sisterly bond saving Anna almost came out of nowhere, like the screenwriter (who was a women, by the way) wanted the audience to believe that they were getting some old-school Disney before doing a complete 180 and trying something new. In that ending, Kristoff doesn’t really play any role in saving Anna’s life. It’s Elsa, and the ending is vastly stronger for it, as she is able to overcome her self-doubt and Anna is able to transcend her naïve optimism to accomplish great things. Anna’s character development is mostly great, and Elsa’s is great at the end of the movie, but Elsa does spend the majority of the movie simply frustrated by her inability to control her powers. And that can be somewhat irritating.
But it really is great to see Disney try out the idea that true love isn’t at first sight, but happens when two people form a unique bond with one another. Even through Kristoff and Anna don’t necessarily get married at the end, they do end up together, and it’s a believable pairing after the things that they go through. They learned about each other, helped each other, and cared for each other while they went on their journey. Hans was just a way for Anna to pretend that she was achieving the thing that she most desperately wanted, a way to delude her into a sense of safety. But accomplishing our goals and transcending ourselves isn’t easy. It takes time, patience, and moving far outside our comfort zones. And even though Anna and Kristoff’s journey didn’t end in the way that they wanted it to, where they were chased off of a cliff instead of successfully bringing Elsa home, they still learned something in the process. We can find success in our deepest failures if we know where to look.
The only real weak link in the movie is the plot pacing. It isn’t a huge gripe, but it’s certainly one that becomes frustrating as the movie goes on. A lot of my frustration with the plotting stems from some characters getting the short straw in terms of character development, especially Hans and Elsa. While Hans’s only purpose in the plotting is simply to take over Elsa’s kingdom by duping Anna, the only explanation for that stems from Hans’s place at the bottom of a large totem pole of brothers and sisters. Sure, it’s an explanation, but it’s a simple one. And Elsa, as I mentioned earlier, does a lot of complaining about her predicament without a great deal of commentary along the way. I liked the idea that people are “frozen” in place by their inability to conquer their deepest fears, but I wanted more elaboration on that theme. It seems only tangentially touched on, but it’s an idea that could serve as a brilliant center to the story, or at least one of equal importance to the subversion that the story was doing.
However, that weakness is minor in comparison to the strengths. Ultimately, Frozen is a great Disney movie and one with the strongest progressive message that I’ve ever seen in the company’s musical franchise. With movies like this, Brave, and Tangled, animated movies are ushering in a new age of gender discussion, subverting stereotypes that have had root for a long, long time. Maybe, in the future, we’ll even move to a place where discussions on racial equality are made as well. But that’s another discussion for another time, I suppose. For now, I’ll accept Frozen for what it is: a great movie about girl power.
Also: Olaf, as cute and hilarious as he was, didn’t really have much to do in this movie. I would have loved to see him take on a larger role.
Final Thoughts: A Disney movie with a fantastic message, Frozen only falters when it comes to its plot pacing.
Alright guys, instead of finishing up the week with The Walking Dead reviews, I’m going to review Kick Ass 2 and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. I saw Kick Ass 2 the other night and, boy, do I have an opinion about that one. In addition, I take part in a yearly ritual with a couple of my friends where we see the new Paranormal Activity in theaters (only now we do so while somewhat intoxicated on cheap beer), so that has to happen. Anyway, should be fun to finally review some more movies instead of going episode by episode on a TV show. Aside from that, I’ll be reviewing other things as I go along. Maybe the Mass Effect trilogy. We’ll see. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- The Wolf of Wall Street
Next Review- Kick Ass 2
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Note: Spoilers about money, quaaludes, and fake erect penises.
When we think of American heroes, we think of soldiers overseas fighting for freedom or firefighters risking their lives to save those stuck in burning buildings. We think of people that give us a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling inside, people that make us think of America as a place where freedom and equality breed a populace that shows compassion for those in need. But America isn’t like that, not really. Sure, those people are heroes, but there are heroes that we try to forget about, that we try to paint as villains to delude us into believing that we had no part in their creation.
Jordan Belfort is the American hero we try to forget about. He’s the unchecked product of a society that cares so much about money and social status and so little about human life. He’s the product of a people that would rather follow the capitalist drive for more things and more money and more everything than really think about what makes people happy. Because we live in a world built on delusion, on fucking the pain away until we don’t need to think about our problems. That is, until those problems rise up to beat the hell out of us. And The Wolf of Wall Street succeeds because it doesn’t just expose a different breed of criminal. It exposes the potential criminal in us, the reality that, if we could, we’d become just like him.
The Wolf of Wall Street is different than other Scorsese films. Sure, it follows the general plotting of a normal Scorsese gangster film, where we follow the rise and fall of a man stricken by greed and immorality. But Belfort is a different kind of villain. He’s a man who doesn’t murder other people, who doesn’t commit violent acts on others (with some exceptions that I’ll get to later). He ruins lives through money manipulation, twisting the stock game in order to screw others out of their life savings. He commits acts just as vicious as murder, but does it in a way where it’s easier to root for him. He has lots of money! He has lots of sex! Hell, he even helped out a single mother who was behind on her rent by giving her $25,000 and a job at the company!
One of the chief concerns that I’ve heard about this movie is that it glorifies Belfort’s actions, and that goes to show just how difficult it is to convince people that these basic tenets of American greed are as bad as they are. One of the scenes that can be most easily convoluted in its interpretation is the one where Belfort considers quitting Stratton Oakmont, yet reconsiders when he tells the story of the time he helped out that single mother. It seems like such an uplifting story, where a man uses his riches for good, to change a person’s life when that person would otherwise crash and burn. But, stepping back for a moment, it’s really just Belfort trying to convince himself that he’s not an awful person, manipulating his crowd once more to reassure him of that fact. It’s really just Belfort focusing in on one good act to justify (or nullify) the thousands of wretched acts.
And that’s what the movie is ultimately about, the idea that is ingrained in every great television show today: self-delusion. It’s about people focusing on money as a means to acquire power instead of diagnosing what is really wrong with themselves. There’s a moment in the movie where Belfort risks the life of his wife and his dearest friend (if you can call it that) Donnie by taking his yacht over rough seas to Switzerland, all to save $20 million. When it seems like they are going to die, Belfort turns to Donnie and asks him to go find their stash of quaaludes because “he doesn’t want to die sober”. The movie makes the point that there’s a certain level of amorality that the human mind cannot come to terms with, a level of injustice that has to be drowned out in order to keep on living. Belfort gets to the point in his life where he can’t exist without drugs keeping him deluded. Having to deal with death is having to deal with who he is, and that just cannot happen. Matthew McConaughey’s great character Mark Hanna, who is Belfort’s mentor early on, tells him that jerking off and drugs are the only way to survive the job because, otherwise, he’ll implode. It’s never explicitly said what causes the implosion, but the implication is that the things inherent in the job (the immorality) are just too difficult to live with without delusion.
Because power derived from social status is delusion, meant to distract us from that which we can’t escape from. Throughout the movie, Belfort sleeps with countless women, has a family (a wife and two children), and is surrounded by a wide array of friends. But, ultimately, all of that falls apart once his wealth is threatened. The women he slept with care nothing for him. His wife hates him (and rightfully so, as he treats her like property, as seen in a scene where he essentially rapes her). His friends speak volumes of love for him, but screw him over when there’s nothing left for him to give them. All love is conditional where money is concerned, but, as the ending so elegantly conveys, as long as someone like Belfort has money, there won’t be a punishment worthy of the crime. There won’t be an end to the delusion. Many people have condemned the movie because Belfort doesn’t face punishment for his transgressions, but people that commit these white collar crimes in America normally do not get punished for their deeds. They’re held as heroes, people who were able to use the system to get whatever they desire. Look at the brilliant ending shot where a sea of awe-struck people look up to Belfort as if looking upon a god. Those people are us, the audience, looking at the rich with the reverence that we’ve always had.
As for the mechanics of the film, Scorsese knocks it out again with the fantastic and frenetic direction that we’ve seen from him over and over. The way that the camerawork constantly positions Belfort in a position of power goes to show not only how powerful he is within our social construct, but how we (the audience) see these people as omnipotent. Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely brilliant as Belfort, the only actor even rivaling his brilliance being Jonah Hill as Azoff. Jonah Hill is consistently able to rise to DiCaprio’s level of acting prowess, and it’s amazing to see the two play off of each other (especially in the scene where they’re taking the old quaaludes). The screenplay is, bar none, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. When I found out that Terence Winter was penning the screenplay, I knew I was in for a treat, and damn was I right. There are some scenes that do such a great job riding the line between comedy and horror that, often enough, I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know how to react. And the editing is fantastic, rising to the level we’ve come to expect from Goodfellas and The Departed. For a three-hour movie, the editing is done so well that it just flies by.
All in all, this is a brilliant movie. It’s unbelievably funny, incredibly disturbing, and very polished. It’s on par with Goodfellas and The Departed, even though its mixed reception may keep it from going down in history like those two movies have. But that mixed reception comes from what this movie is tackling, the fact that not only America breeds terrible people like Belfort, but we do as well. We’re all to blame for the atrocities that we see because we’re all as deluded as Belfort is. We’re unwilling to act out against people like him because, deep down, we believe that someday we can become that rich, that powerful.
But we probably won’t. And we need to realize that becoming that shouldn’t be our goal anyway.
Final Thoughts: One of Scorsese’s finest films, The Wolf of Wall Street is not only a vicious indictment on the result of American capitalism, but also an indictment on the American populace, a people who let this exploitation happen.
So, I’m finally back from my incredibly long hiatus. I’ve been so busy trying to keep up on my intern work that I just haven’t been able to do the review work that I’ve wanted to do. Which is a shame, because this work is what keeps me going sometimes. Anyway, I’ll be reviewing Frozen in a little bit, and I’ll be catching up on The Walking Dead later this week. As for Homeland, sorry, but I won’t be finishing this season. Rather, I’ll be writing a full season review later this week. As for other TV shows that I WILL be completing, I’ll be reviewing Girls when it premieres with its double episode(s) on January 12th. So yeah, I’m trying to get back on my feet. I’m sure that, with enough time management, I’ll be able to provide the number of reviews that I desire. Until later today, loyal followers.
Previous Review- The Walking Dead 4x06: “Live Bait”
Next Review- Frozen
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Sorry guys, got drunk last night. Finishing up my The Wolf of Wall Street review right now.