Saturday, March 24, 2012

‘The Hunger Games’: Never Go See a Teen-Targeted Film on Opening Weekend

I saw The Hunger Games on opening night yesterday which was probably a big mistake. It wasn’t a mistake seeing the movie itself, because it was actually a very good and faithful adaptation of the novel. It feels wrong to say that I enjoyed it because it’s such a disturbing story about children killing children, but as a Hunger Games fan, I appreciated it. Jennifer Lawrence was fantastic, as always, and more than carried the film with her powerful on-screen presence. 

However, I do have two points to make. One, do yourself a favour and never go see a preteen-targeted film when it’s first released, because anytime a boy appears on-screen and there’s anything even remotely romantic, there will be unwarranted amounts of squealing and shrieking, which is not only very annoying, it ruins the mood. So whether you’re Teem Peeta or Teem Gale, shut the hell up because amidst all of the oohing and aahing, dialogue gets lost.

Two, it was extremely disturbing to witness a theatre full of children cheering when the so-called villainous tributes were killed. Yes, there was actual clapping when children were being slain onscreen. Obviously there’s been a disconnect of sorts between what author Suzanne Collins intended and how the audience was reacting. It seems like the audience kind of got lost in the drama of it all and forgot that the story is about how unjust and wrong the Hunger Games are. It’s supposed to show that no matter who is being killed, it’s horrific and sad to subject children to murder for sport. But somehow the movie audience was doing exactly what the Capital’s residents were – getting off on watching kids killing kids.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's Back! It's Why You Need to Watch 'Community'

After all the hoopla surrounding the cancellation or postponement (whatever you want to call it) of Community, I ploughed through the existing two and a half seasons and I LOVED IT. It's exciting that the social media world could literally bring back Community from the dead, with Facebook pages, petitions and Tumblrs all in support of the show. Unfortunately though, these folks may make a lot of noise online but it hasn't been translating into viewer-ship. So spread the word - Community is an awesome, hilarious and smart comedy. The unlikely gang of misfits at Greendale Community College will steal your heart and keep you laughing (out loud - which is quite an accomplishment these days). We have to fight back against crappy TV. Enough with the Jersey Shores, the Glees and the American Idols. If you're going to watch network TV, then at least watch something good. Like Community. Which returns tonight with new episodes! Six seasons and a movie, people. Let's make it happen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

'Sons of Anarchy's Kurt Sutter Talks Social Media at Paley Fest

Kurt Sutter is hands down one of the best show runners in the business. He doesn’t just write and produce one of today’s best television shows, but he actually gets what makes a show successful today – and that’s social media. He gets that it’s not just about putting together 12 solid episodes for fans to watch each week, it’s about making connections with fans, connections strong enough so that if your show is ever in danger of cancellation, like Community was earlier this year, fans can actually make a difference. At this week’s Paley Fest panel for Sons of Anarchy, Kurt explained his use of Social Media so eloquently that I just have to share it. I’m paraphrasing of course, but this is pretty much what he said...

“For me it’s just about staying connected to the fan base. I don’t underestimate the power of social media and when you have a show that has this strong a fan base and when you’re only on for three months out of the year, I feel it’s my responsibility as a producer and a show runner to continue to engage people and keep them interested and keep them excited about what’s coming up. And I do that as much as I possibly can. Sometimes for my own survival because I want the show to be successful but also because I know how difficult that is and I appreciate that. We really struggled with that on The Shield, we would lose fans with each season because of the break. And I didn’t want our show to suffer that same fate. So I stay engaged, I try to stay active and really sometimes it backfires on me but for the most part it’s been great.”

Kurt Sutter manages his Twitter feed, a blog, and puts out weekly production videos on his YouTube channel.

Part 1: Sound's a bit off in the beginning.

Part 2 (with the bit on Social Media):

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Demián Bichir Breaks Hearts in 'A Better Life'

A Better Life, a film about a Mexican gardener living in East LA, does a great job of bringing attention to a considerable cultural issue among immigrants. The so-called ‘melting pot’, celebrated in the United States as something meant to eliminate cultural differences, does more to make kids resent their cultural individualism, something so wonderfully highlighted in A Better Life. The relationship between single father Carlos, played by Demián Bichir, and his teenage son, to be honest, kind of broke my heart. Carlos spends the film slaving away to make something of himself for the sole purpose of providing opportunities for his son in America, opportunities that don’t include joining a gang or dropping out of high school. All the while, his son Luis lazily slacks around the house and gets into trouble whenever he does choose to go to school.

As a first generation Canadian, I know and understand the struggle to maintain your cultural individualism while attempting to ‘fit in’ and mould into a Canadian. It’s tough – especially with parents who’ve sacrificed so much to give you a better life in a more secure country. So it hits home, and Demián Bichir’s performance was more than deserving of his Oscar nod.

Oh, and remember when he was Nancy Botwin's spank-buddy slash Mexican drug lord husband Esteban on Weeds?! Yeah, couldn't believe the transformation either.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Best TV Dramas of the Past 25 Years, one of the best culture blogs around, is doing a series to determine what the greatest TV drama of the past 25 years is, and it got me thinking about what I consider to be the best. HBO revolutionized the TV drama, making it more about the overall narrative of the series, and less about what happens in each individual episode, and it’s because of shows like The Sopranos and the emergence of TV DVDs and DVR, that the way we watch TV has changed. We're now more likely to sit and watch an entire season in a few sittings, as opposed to waiting a week for a new episode.

My picks:
The Sopranos
Six Feet Under
Breaking Bad
Friday Night Lights
Sons of Anarchy

Notable mention goes to Mad Men. And as for #1, it’s hard to choose. My gut tells me to go with The Sopranos because I love every minute of every episode of every season, including the phenomenal cast, the acting, and the narrative, but I think each show I’ve selected brings something very different to the table. It really is impossible to compare a show like Friday Night Lights to something like Sons of Anarchy.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sons of Anarchy - Give SAMCRO a Chance

In the past month, I’ve become completely consumed with Sons of Anarchy, charging through the first four seasons TWICE. It's bordering on destructive, I know, but I’m finding it excruciating to wait until next season.

Sons of Anarchy follows Jackson (Jax) Teller (Charlie Hunnam), Vice President of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club also known as SAMCRO, in the fictional town of Charming, California. Although, if we're being honest, it's not so much a motorcycle club, as it is a gang that buys and sells machine guns to various other crews in neighbouring towns. Charming’s residents seems to respect them, perhaps out of fear, but at the heart of it all, SAMCRO is a brotherhood of blue collar guys just trying to continue on the tradition and legacy passed down to them - to ride and protect their town and family.

Making up the rest of the main cast is Jax's step-father Clay (Ron Perlman), President of SAMCRO, and Jax’s mother Gemma (who married Clay after his Jax's father's death), played by the fantastic Katey Sagal, the matriarch of the club. This is one woman you definitely want on your side – in the first episode alone, she eerily hands a crank-filled syringe over to her son’s junkie ex with the intent of killing her. Gemma’s freaking scary, she’s no damsel in distress. It’s a nice change to see such a powerful female character in a male-dominated story, as opposed to the women from The Sopranos, who were kept in the dark most of the time. Speaking of The Sopranos, fans will be pleasantly surprised to see everyone’s favourite dead mafia girlfriend, Adriana (Drea De Matteo). Unfortunately, we don't get to hear her scream 'Christufaaaah', though, so boo.

Sons of Anarchy is edge-of-your-seat engaging, and the characters have layers upon layers of depth – each one distinctly appealing. Maybe I'm just a romantic at heart but it's refreshing to see Jax interact with his newborn son and his high school sweetheart (Maggie Siff) who's just recently returned to town as a local Doctor. To see a machine gun-wielding, Harley-riding, gang member adorably coo to his baby and yearn for the love that left him heartbroken a decade earlier – it’s what keeps me coming back.

Show creator Kurt Sutter, who also plays the character Otto, an incarcerated SAMCRO member, is one of very few show runners who truly understands the value of keeping fans engaged through social media. He blogs and tweets all-year-round, giving fans a backstage pass to his writing process, filming, and the characters we’ve come to love. Like I said, season 5 starts in September, so you have lots of time to catch up on the first four seasons. If there's one show you watch this year, pick Sons of Anarchy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Analyzing the Mad Men Season 5 Poster
If you're having a hard time remembering where we left off at the end of season 4, I have a feeling you're not alone since by the time Mad Men returns to our TVs on March 25th, there will have been 525 days between episodes.

At this point, I may have to re-watch at least the last few episodes to jog my memory. I guess it's a good thing I wrote a Season 4 recap of sorts back in 2010. Wow, it really has been a while.

Could this be the beginning of the end for Don Draper? The Season 5 poster seems like it's teasing us with Don's descent, and even though it's straight from the show's opening credits, it may foresee what Flavorwire says is Don, "metaphorically jumping out of a building and/or floating in grayscale nothingness?"

Week 2 - Killer Elite

Number 2 on my 52 weeks of DVDs from eOne Entertainment, Killer Elite is perfect for adrenaline junkies who enjoy an excess of explosions, a well-choreographed-but-unrealistic fight sequence, and Jason Statham (you know, that Transporter guy who seems to be in every action flick being released these days). Also starring the iconic (yup, I said it) Robert DeNiro, Clive Owen, and Prison Break fans should recognize a much furrier Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) with a cute little Aussie accent.

In a memorable scene, Clive Owen (who's handcuffed), Jason Statham (who's tied to a chair), and a third party, have this one-on-one-on-one fight that is jaw-droppingly cool but at the same time, impossibly ridiculous and completely unbelievable. But whatever, it is what it is, which is an action film with punches to spare. It's not deep and it definitely isn't Shakespeare but I liked it. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Won!

I got an early Christmas present this year when I, a self-proclaimed movie addict, won a contest from Canadian film distributor eOne Entertainment, that to be honest, I can't even remember entering. What I won is one free DVD a week, for a year, so basically, 52 DVDs. To say that I was excited was an understatement. Those of you who know me are aware of my constantly-growing collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays, and that I relish the thought of filling more and more shelves (even if the same people taunt me about my collection eventually becoming obsolete!).

What I've decided to do, is to watch all 52 of these movies as I receive them and take you along for the journey. So stay tuned for my posts.

Week 1: Shark Night
Week 2: Killer Elite
Week 3: Tree of Life
Week 4: 50/50
Week 5: Dream House
Week 6: R.E.D.

Why You Should Watch Downton Abbey
It seems surreal to admit that a stuffy British mini-series has somehow risen the ranks and become one of the best television shows currently on the air, but it's true. This juicy Edwardian drama has a way of investing you in the characters the same way that Friday Night Lights did - where their dreams, successes and failures somehow feel like your own.

Taking place in Edwardian England, the stand-out Dame Maggie Smith portrays super snobby, quick-witted and sharp-tongued Countess of Grantham, who spews some of the best one-liners on television today. In a Pride and Prejudice-style dilemma, the Grantham family's home and inheritance can only be passed down through male heirs, but alas, the Earl of Grantham and his wife have only had girls. Typical, right? The girls always get the short end of the stick. This period piece really is no where near as stuffy as it seems, and since it hasn't been adapted from a novel, we have no idea how it will end. And what Downton Abbey does that makes it a success, is delve deeply into not only the lives of the Earl and his family, but also the large and complex staff that serves them, who don't just remain on the periphery and are just as, if not more, intriguing.

Season 1 introduces us to the upstairs and downstairs residents of Downton. The matriarch Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), her son Robert the Earl of Grantham, his American wife Cora, and their three daughters, the eldest Mary, then Edith and the youngest Sybil. When the series begins, the eldest daughter is engaged to marry Earl of Grantham's heir Patrick, but when Patrick and his father go down with the Titanic, Robert's next heir is something like a second cousin, once-removed - Matthew Crawley, who then moves to town with his mother Isobel.

Downstairs, we get to see how a house of this size and status would have actually run in those times. With butlers, housekeepers, countless lady's maids to personally take care of each lady, valets (pronounced with a hard 't' apparently!), cooks and waiters. Things appear smooth on the surface, but in Downton Abbey, these 'downstairs' characters have their own hopes, aspirations, and complicated love stories that more often than not, cause as much emotional turmoil and heartache as to their employers.