Archive for March, 2012

Is it weird that the TV network owned by Disney currently has two shows in its prime time programming with expletives in the title? Kind of, but since the Mouse House has conveniently tip-toed around all out profanity (by smudging out the long-form title of Apt. 23 and utilizing the convenient acronym GCB for Good Christian Bitches) the only question that matters is whether or not the shows are any good.

I can’t speak to GCB (haven’t seen it and despite how beutiful Leslie Bibb is I probably never will Sidenote* I love Kristen Chenowith’s singing voice but when she’s just talking it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me) but as for Apt 23, it’s essentially a continuation of the girl-power comedy trend that has permeated TV this year and a rip-off of 2 Broke Girls, only better.

Why is it better? Because where 2 Broke Girls has a horse, Apt 23 has James Van Der Beek. That really is the only difference, right down to the blonde-brunette casting combination and Asian supporting player (without the blatant culturally insensitive stereotypes…so far).

Van Der Beek, though, is pure genius, playing a slightly fictionalized d-bag version of himself (think NPH in the Harold and Kumar movies, only sober or Jennifer Grey in the short-lived It’s Like You Know). Fully aware that his only claim to pop culture relevance is his starring role in Dawson’s Creek (sigh, where did the 90’s go?) the Apt 23 Van Der Beek is a mildly self-obsessed former starlet who gives sage advice like “Don’t be the blond guy in a Vietnamese Prison,” using flannel shirts to seduce women “You have pretty eyes. Why are your eyes so pretty?” and cutting people off who try to sing Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want To Wait.”

I loved Der Beek’s short guest role in last summer’s Franklin and Bash (darned cable schedule, I Don’t Want To Wait for that show to be back on) and I’m happy to see him with a regular job and if Apt 23 makes it, it will be because of him. Like every girly show on this season, it takes a funny man to have staying power (i.e. New Girl’s Schmidt).

Still, is the Beek good enough to make up for the two unlikable stars? No, but maybe they’ll grow on us. Grade: A B for Apt. 23.

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As is necessary when reviewing a book-to-movie-adaptation, I feel I should start by explaining that A) Yes, I have read the books and B) I didn’t love them.

I thought they were good, not great. I thought that Suzanne Collins did a particularly swell job at creating a world and populating it but that once she had built Panem, she didn’t really know what to do with it. The plot all but sprints to its inevitable end, using blatant exposition to speed things along and taking no time to really delve into the motivations or nuances of character. You have to be careful not to blink, because you might be at the end of the book and not even realize it.

With those considerations in mind, I can say that director Gary Ross did an exceptional job at adapting the book to screen: the bad and the good.

Ross’ Panem looks and feels like Panem should. We land in District 12, which puts the “out” in “outskirt” as the starving, chronically poverty-ridden mining community where our heroine Katniss Everdeen resides with her mother and sister. It is the day of the reaping, when a boy and girl from each district are chosen to dance like puppets for the entertainment pleasure of the nauseatingly affluent Capitol residents in a gladiator-esque battle to the death. The best thing about the actual Games, in both movie and book, is the way it feels like a perverse extension of our American Idol society to the point where you can imagine a blue-haired Ryan Seacrist saying “The results of who will die this week….right after this commercial break.”

For the first half of the movie, the Games are kept as this exquisite elephant in the room, adding pressure and sub-text to every sideways glance and trembling expression. Jennifer Lawrence, the blonde beauty that darn near makes you forget that there was another Mystique thrives as the vulnerable yet stoic Katniss despite the fact that she is clearly too sexy to live on the verge of starvation. Who cares, this is Hollywood.

It’s the supporting players, however, that are the real joy. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks trade barbs as Katniss’s mentor and idiotic babysitter and Stanley Tucci is pure, unbottled genius as the Games dandy of a master of ceremonies. Once you get over the fact that Donald Sutherland looks like Santa Clause he manages to slip into the skin of the evil dicatatorial ruler President Coriolanus Snow.

There are moments of pure brilliance, like the nerve-rackingly well-edited Cornucopia Bloodbath that opens the Games. Once that moment passes however, the sense of you-can-die-at-any-moment vanishes and the players merely scurry through the necessary motions to get to the sequel, like Tom Hanks in Da Vinci Code. After all the buildup and with the idea that the Games are this terrible, awful thing that spurns rebellion amongst the downtrodden districtians, the movie displays the events in a silent vacuum that never feels all that dangerous.

That silence permeates the film. Despite rounding up some amazing talent for the soundtrack (The Civil Wars, Arcade Fire, The Decemberists) Ross saves the music for the credits and chooses instead to let the sound of nothingness hang heavy over the fray. This works during the reaping, when you can feel a nation beaten into submission, silently accepting their fate. It falls flat, however, in the sparkier moments of the film where a well-blended mix of image and sound might make us feel Katniss and Peeta falling in love in a cave, or the pain that Gale feels while he watches or the impending doom of a fireball to the face.

Other defining moments miss the mark. Katniss’ debut as “The Girl On Fire” comes across more as a drag queen in a pair of bad angel wings than a woman enveloped in flame. And, while I support the decision to use Tucci’s commentary as an exposition replacement to Katniss’ first-person narration, it became a little too convenient for the Tu-choo train to pop in and explain crucial plot points for “the viewers at home.”

In short, The Hunger Games is a successful, albeit uninspired, demonstration of taking a story from the page to the big screen. It leaves you satisfied but not stunned, entertained but not particularly engaged, curious to see what comes next but not desperate to continue. B

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As you may recall, St. Patrick’s day was last week. I wrote a whole post about it but to summarize: blah blah blah I wish I was more Irish blah blah Why Doesn’t Anyone Love Me blah blah.

Salt Lake had an Irish parade and since I had been a colossal slacker on things photographical I got myself out of bed and headed down with the old Canon Rebel.

First things first: HOW CREEPY IS THIS BEAR?

And on a related note: HOW CUTE ARE THESE DOGS?

Other than that it was exactly what you’d expect from a parade, Irish or otherwise. Specifically:


and Pipers

There was also plenty of floats that consisted of children in a trailer waiving, including one where a 13-year-old was singing Kareoke to Fun.’s “We Are Young” that made me die a little inside. Thank you Glee for ruining one of the best bands in America.

The grand marshall and his posse were awesome. It’s hard to tell in the picture but that man in the black cloak is actually a Catholic priest with a gian “GRAND MARSHALL” hanging from his neck. Something about that cracks me up, especially when he’s standing next to what is essentially an Irish Uncle Sam (sidebar: what would Irish Uncle Sam’s name be? Uncle Seamus? Sidebar #2: How awesome is the name Seamus? If I were as Irish as I wish I was that’s what I would name my firstborn — the one that the banshee takes away)

The tail end of the parade was mostly the various Irish families of Salt Lake putting on a Gangs of New York display. The Gallaghers, in particular, were very vocal about their clan’s superiority, screaming “We are the Gallaghers, the mighty, mighty Gallaghers.”

Luckily there weren’t any natives watching from the sidewalk to start trouble.

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I’m 1/16 Irish. Basically, that’s just enough that I wish I was more but not enough to say, flat-out, that I’m an Irishman. What’s more, I managed to inherit all of their weaknesses — pasty white skin and freckles, curly hair — and none of their strengths — an awesome accent.

Still, I’ve always loved St. Patrick’s day, despite the fact that I hate the color green and I like my corned beef and cabbage to be 10 parts beef, 10 parts potatoes and 0 parts cabbage.

I like the inherit whimsy of the holiday, unlike Christmas and Easter where if you start to have to much phone some buzzkill scolds you to remember the “true meaning.” It’s not oppressively commercial like Valentine’s day where you spend your money out of a sense of guilt, nor is it outright pointless, like Arbor day — seriously, what IS that?

St. Patrick’s day: wear green, rock out to some Dropkick Murphys, have a party, try not to kill yourself.

Like most Utah Irishmen my ancestors made their way to the saline shores of the Great Salt Lake after being converted to Mormonism. I don’t really know the whole story but at some point along the line two pushy Americans in shirts and ties knocked on great-great-Grandpa Madsen’s door. A Madsen married a Jeppson who married a Wood who then spawned me, a mutt with Irish skin, Danish teeth and a big Welsh nose that some people say makes me look Jewish. I’m not.

There’s not to many St. Patrick’s Days that I remember with real clarity. In elementary school I remember my mom had a tin can full of Irish-themed pins that we would bust out and wear to school every March 17. The older siblings didn’t participate — too cool — but that still left two or three of us to fight over the “Kiss Me I’m Irish” pin. It didn’t matter anyway, since no one ever did. After school we’d watch Darby O’Gill and the Little People, which come to think of it is kind of weird for kids to be excited for.

In March of 2006 I received a letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints telling me that I needed to pay them $9,000 for the opportunity to put my entire life on hold for 2 years…in a 3rd world country. I remember because in the photographs of the event I’m holding up the big white letter with my best fake smile and there’s shamrocks taped to the wall behind me.

In 2010 I remember I was in San Diego. We went to SoCal for Spring Break and spent a day in SD because everyone wanted to go to the zoo. I hate zoo and as I am often reminded I’m a stubborn cuss, so instead of joining my friends in ooh-ing and aah-ing at sad animals in captivity I roamed around downtown Diego by myself all day. Oddly enough it was one of the best SPD’s I’ve ever had. When I finally met back up with my friends I arrived early and, since I couldn’t get into the car, I camped out on the roof reading a book (thus explaining the following photograph).

When we got back to our hotel in L.A. we saw on the news that there was a huge party going on at the beach nearby. No one wanted to go with me. I think it was around that time that I made my decision to never let the lameness of my friends stop me from doing the things I enjoy, best decision I ever made (go to a movie by yourself sometime, it’s weird at first but once you get over that it’s the best thing ever).

Despite how terrible I look in these pictures it was a great trip. Fun fact, that shirt is one of only 2 pieces of green clothing that I own (purchased in Brazil: TIE IN!) and as such will be what I’m wearing when I attend a Real Salt Lake game later tonight.

Last year I was in Las Vegas watching the Aggies win the WAC tournament. I don’t remember anything specifically St. Patty’s-esque happening on that trip but if memory serves correct that trip spanned the 17th of March. You would think I would remember the drinking capitol of the year in Vegas…It kind of worries me that I don’t.

As for this year, I just got done shooting some pictures of the Salt Lake St. Patrick’s Day parade (I’ll post them later) and now I’m in the library catching up on all the TV I missed this week covering the Sex Education bill.

Hopefully by next year I’ll be settled in enough that I can put together the perfect St. Patty’s Party. Gobs of green food, cabbageless Corned Beef and Cabbage, a playlist of old Carbon Leaf music and a requirement that every guest either wear a fedora or sport a big red mustache and beard (I suspect most guests will go with the fedora).

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I recently had my face melted at a Guster concert so, in honor of that experience, decided to rock out with my mom on the Ukelele to some “What You Call Love.”

When I first told her that I’d be putting it online she broke down into a fit of laughter and wouldn’t stop for about 10 minutes. Her first reaction was “I’m not good enough to be on the internet.” To which I replied, “you’ve never looked at YouTube before, have you?”
She hadn’t, and once I explained that by standing in a room clapping your hands you’d be more impressive than most of the things uploaded to the internet…she still begged me not to do it.
Jokes on her. Also, she prefers it if you call her “Aunt Suzie.”

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Mild sub-plot spoilers ahead

When it comes to the sub-genres of horror and/or dystopian stories, Zombies are not typically — shall we say — sophisticated.

Generally speaking, zombie movies follow a particular pattern. An outbreak begins, then there’s a jump forward to a point in time after the world as we know it has fallen into decay. Often, but not always, this is coupled by someone who is oblivious to what has happened waking up or somehow arriving, clueless, into the narrative. A band of survivors is formed, they make their way to a stronghold which is eventually overrun and everyone dies.

Generally speaking.

It’s no surprise, then, that the best zombie movies are the ones that subvert the tropes in some way, either by making a parody of the rules (Shawn of the Dead) or by turning from the gore-fest to an examination of what happens to the state of men and mankind as social structure disintegrates (I am Legend).

Don’t get me wrong, Walking Dead has phenomenal gore and spectacular horror. Often when I try to explain how deep the show can be people just roll their eyes and say “Zombies? Deep? Suuuuuuure.”

But it is.

To wit, in last week’s episode the band of survivors were debating what to do with a man who had more or less stumbled onto their farm. He was just a kid, and while he was harmless, the band he was traveling with consisted of 30 well-armed murderers and rapist (it’s the apocalypse after all, read The Road if you think that’s weird).

They were about to let him go, blindfolded and hobbled far from the farm where he likely wouldn’t find his way back, but then the dumb kid ran his mouth and admitted to having gone to school with one of the girls, thus knowing full well where the farm was. They could still leave him and hope he got eaten by a walker, but if he met back up with his band then they would undoubtedly raid the farm for supplies and kill everyone.

So what to do? The chillingly-obvious answer was to kill him to protect their own and only one man, Dale, spoke out in opposition. For 20 minutes they debated the merits of killing this person, who himself had done nothing wrong, and as a viewer you knew there was only one option.

“You once said ‘we don’t kill the living'” Dale said.

“That was before the living tried to kill us,” Rick replied.

At some point someone said, effectively “we’re just talking in circles, just kill him already,” to which Dale shouted that the decision to take the life of another human being is worth a discussion. He was alone in fighting for a world that no longer existed, a world where the rule of law is supreme and men are innocent until proven guilty. He was also alone because even the viewing audience, at home on sectional sofas eating soup out of a microwave-safe bowl, were thinking “off with his head” and the sooner the better.

That’s why I love The Walking Dead. As a viewer I sided with the majority that the only choice was to put the kid out of their misery, and I felt just as guilty for thinking that as Dale pleaded for the goodness of humanity to continue, even while the world burns.

And that’s not all. The show makes you question how far someone can be pushed before life is no longer worth living, the futility of hope and, of course, the duality of man. It’s somewhat funny that every network is trying to find the next Lost when the next Lost is already here, every Sunday on AMC. Because in the end you didn’t watch Lost for the mysteries, you watched it for it’s Lord-of-the-Flies-esque critique of the human condition and because of its way to weave together narratives of a divers and structure character pool.

Walking dead has that in droves. Glen is the everyman, Herschel is the skeptic forced to open his eyes, Darryl is the survivalist and Rick and Shane fill the function of the man is good/man is evil debate. Well, at least they used to. *Wink.

Oh, right, and the Zombies are freaking awesome.

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