Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie Review: Django Unchained

For any of you who think I have a severe Quentin Tarantino bias, let me just say that I disliked "Death Proof."

Now that that's out of the way, "Django Unchained" may have just stolen the top ten list of the year in one fell swoop. It may lack the audacious perfection of "Inglourious Basterds," however this messy masterpiece is bold and brilliant in its own right.

"Django Unchained" rightfully opens with the theme music from 1966's "Django," a film that is similar with this Django only in name. This is the first time that Quentin has made a Western that actually takes place in the appropriate era and locale. This is not modern-day Los Angeles, Tokyo, or Nazi-Occupied France. This is Texas in the years just before the Civil War.

Django (Jamie Foxx), a quiet slave with a sharp tongue and a deadly grin, is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Foxx is fantastically deadpan and unpredictable as Django. Unsurprisingly, Waltz displays his incredible way with words as the verbose dentist-turned-bounty hunter. There is a giant tooth on top of his carriage. I don't why any of that is important, but it sure is funny.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Movie Review: This Is 40

Comedies aren't supposed to be over two hours long. Then again, Judd Apatow is a very ambitious guy. He likes to let his camera run long, and he doesn't shut it off until he feels like he's ready to shut it off. "This Is 40," which clearly comes from a very personal place, at first made me want to check my watch. However, once the credits began to roll, I realized that I wouldn't have minded if it ran a little longer.

"This is 40" is a "sort-of sequel" to "Knocked Up." It would be better labeled as a spinoff, a title which is usually reserved for television. It takes the struggling married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) and their two daughters Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) and puts them into their own little world. Pete desperately finds ways to escape. He's given up on his fantasy baseball league and seems more content sitting on the toilet with his iPad. Debbie, meanwhile, is fed up with feeling under appreciated and keeping everything together on her own. Naturally, this causes some problems.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It took just one musical cue from "The Hobbit" to remind me why I fell in love with the "Lord of the Rings" series in the first place. Perhaps it has been widespread anger on the Internet that's given me nothing but low expectations for "The Hobbit." The result is better than I thought it would be: it's a movie that's all over the place, but one that is very good at being all over the place.

Seeing as the film version of "The Hobbit" was released after the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Peter Jackson gets to give us some nice little winks to a series that ended nine years ago, especially with some surprise cameos. "An Unexpected Journey," the first part of this "Hobbit" trilogy, opens with a long prologue providing more details on the history of Middle Earth. To be honest, I wouldn't have minded if this prologue went on longer. It gave even more life and depth to this imaginary world. From the perspective of someone who didn't read the books, "The Hobbit" succeeds best when it is providing small details and expanding the mythology of Middle Earth. With that, this movie has a true purpose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top 10: TV Shows of 2012

10. 30 Rock

"30 Rock" hit a bit of a rough patch at the beginning of 2012. However, it bounced back for its seventh and final season and has turned out some of its best episodes in years. Most notably, this season saw Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) finally tying the knot in a wedding that was both moving and wacky in a way that only "30 Rock" could deliver. "30 Rock" is one of the best heirs to the sitcoms of the 70s with its fearlessness in tackling race, political, and gender issues for huge laughs. In fact, it ended the ridiculous "are women funny?" debate with a monkey wearing a suit. No other show on TV can deliver so many jokes in such a short span of time. "30 Rock" might be winding down, but the many doors it opened for the flood of single-camera comedies that have emerged over the years will always be present.

9. Archer

"Archer" is far and away the best animated show on TV. A spy spoof that puts "Austin Powers" to shame, "Archer" proved that its spectacular first two seasons were just a warmup for how perfect season three would be. Few comedies currently on TV have plots as smart and intricate as "Archer" does, whether the bumbling heroes are trying to get rid of a dead body or fight villains in outer space. What makes "Archer" so unique is the neat little backstories it gives to all of its characters, which expanded in ever satisfying ways this season. For example, Archer's constant literary references suggest someone much smarter than he acts. "Archer," however, never has to hide its sophistication. It continues to be one of the sharpest satires currently on TV.

8. Homeland

I was a late convert to "Homeland," and I am not ashamed to say that I caught up in less than one week. "Homeland" hit a bit of a rough patch this season. However, those who immediately jumped ship need to learn a thing or two about TV history, and that "Homeland" is in the same company as some pretty great shows that have had faulty seasons and then bounced back. Even in the implausibility, there has still been plenty to love about season two. The show made a pretty risky story move early on and then built it up to an interrogation scene that was one of the most finely acted and scripted in TV history. However, this season went through a few big bumps in the road. One was literal (a car accident that was worth it only for allowing actress Morgan Saylor to shine) while others were illogical (see: Skyping with a terrorist on a Blackberry). Yet, I was still compelled to watch "Homeland" from week to week, and discuss with every other fan I knew. Many other shows have gone through rough patches early on, and I have faith in where next season will take us.

7. Happy Endings

The funniest show currently airing on network TV (while another one is still in an overlong hiatus) is also the most underrated. "Happy Endings" took the concept of "twenty/thirty-something friends" in a big city to insane new heights throughout seasons two and three. It does self-referential better than most shows on TV, and it knows when to be over-the-top and when to be human. "Happy Endings" doesn't just succeed in its endless mocking of sitcom tropes, but also how natural the ensemble feels together. Often, it just feels like a tight-knit improv group going crazy in whatever direction they desire. Plus, it has my favorite married couple on TV (Brad and Jane) and the most hilariously non-stereotypical gay character since "The Sarah Silverman Program." In the vein of "30 Rock," "Happy Endings" could probably cram more funny into five minutes than most shows ever could in an entire season.

I think it's the pronunciation that sold me.

6. Game of Thrones

2012 was the year I got back into fantasy. "Game of Thrones" was one of the many shows this year that helped push the medium forward, as it pushed its own storytelling ambitions in new directions and away from its source material. It truly blurred the difference between film and television with the episode "Blackwater," which contained a battle as epic as anything in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. What I always liked best about "Game of Thrones" is that even when it travels into the territory of dragons and the undead, it still remains incredibly grounded, as this story is much more of a political allegory than a battle of good versus evil. If "Game of Thrones" has proved anything to me, it's that moral ambiguity is way more interesting than battles of absolute good against absolute evil. Without it, where the hell else would we get amazing characters like Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Cersei (Lena Headey) Lannister, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson)? Well, I think I know how everyone feels about Joffrey.

joffrey slap

View the top 5 after the jump

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Top 5: Stand-Up Specials of 2012

My interests have taken me in a weird, unexpected place in the past few months. Since last summer, I have found myself greatly exploring and obsessing over comedy. It is something that I've always liked my whole life, but never thought I could actually see myself becoming a disciple of. But after an improv class and a few shots at standup at various open mics (they are hard to come by in Upstate New York), that is starting to change. I find quotes from Louis C.K. floating around in my head as often as lines of dialogue from "Pulp Fiction."

Many believe you can't overanalyze comedy too much. This is true. Sometimes, you can't explain laughter. However, I believe you can mine out deeper meaning in comedy. Stand-Up began to change in my eyes as I began to watch and listen to entire albums. The more you do that, the more you pay attention to themes and transitions as well as jokes. Here I have a list of five stand-up specials from this year that shocked me, moved me, made me think, and most importantly made me laugh uncontrollably:

5. Animal Furnace (Hannibal Buress)

Like the great show he once wrote for ("30 Rock"), Hannibal Buress is a joke-spewing machine. "Animal Furnace" is Buress' second hour-long special, and his next leap into becoming one of the funniest people in America. Buress has honed his act beyond just a lot of jokes and he proves that he is a fantastic storyteller. He mocks himself a lot for being overly angry about a lot of issues that don't matter, but the first few tracks have some pretty thorough takedowns of TSA agents and a bunch of cops in Montreal who gave him a ticket for jaywalking. Then his beat-by-beat commentary on an article written about him at a college that he performed at shows that he would make a great roastmaster. Many have compared Buress' voice and delivery to that of Mitch Hedberg. It's an apt comparison: Buress can pick apart the mundane and make it funny in ways you never imagined.

4. The Special Special Special (Maria Bamford)

If I ever meet Maria Bamford, I'd like to give her a hug, because she seems likes the nicest person imaginable. She's also one of the funniest and most original comedians of our time. Bamford's latest special, appropriately and hilariously titled In "The Special Special Special," Bamford doesn't perform in a theater, or even a comedy club, but rather in her own home, with an audience made up of only her parents. I have never seen stand-up so dependent on the audience's reaction. Bamford goes through her usual manic routine of impersonations, which is made even more awkward by the fact that the targets of much of her ridicule are sitting right in front of her. Then, Bamford goes into darker territory than ever before, as she chronicles her ongoing battle with Depression in a way that is both funny and inspiring. In a few meta moments, she completely stops the show so she can go to the bathroom, take cookies out of the oven, and give her beloved pug his medicine. With her stand-up, Bamford invites us into her brain. With "The Special Special Special," she invites us to be a part of her life. Buy it here

See the top 3 after the jump: