20 Questions Asked While Binge-watching ‘House of Cards’

HoC S3

House of Cards is back! Some things happen. Some things don’t happen. These are the questions you’ll inevitably ask while watching season 3…well, at least, these are the questions I inevitably asked while watching season 3.

Continue reading “20 Questions Asked While Binge-watching ‘House of Cards’”

20 Questions Asked While Binge-watching ‘House of Cards’

Royal Rumble: Netflix vs. Movie Theatres

crouching tiger

The Netflix empire took another proud step forward this week in its quest to dominate the TV and movie industries when it announced that the streaming service would release its first big budget movie, the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, next year. Make no mistake, this is a big deal.

Consider this: unless you’re heading to the dollar theatre or a matinee showing, you’re paying around $9-10 every time you go to see a new movie. Want some snacks but forgot to sneak some in? Prepare to pay double what you paid at the door.

Now Netflix comes by offering you the chance to watch a brand new movie for a smaller charge with snacks that you made yourself or at least bought at market price. Furthermore, you’ve got the best seat in the house, can pause the movie when you realize that you forgot to pee before you started the it and all you’re sacrificing is the theatre experience.

An imaginary poll of moviegoers showed that many would take Netflix’s offer and stay home. I might count myself among them instead of going to the theatre, but I also know that I enjoy the experience of watching a movie for the first time on the big screen. Whether the two — Netflix and movie theatres — can successfully exist simultaneously has yet to be seen, although the latter doesn’t seem to think so.

In making this announcement, Netflix made new enemies of two of the largest movie theatres, Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres, both of which recognize the threat that Netflix poses to their industry. Both theatre companies released statements this week that they would not license the movie or help in this experiment in any way, because why on earth would they when fewer people will buy tickets from them? Both companies already posted record lows this summer in ticket sales — they can’t afford a competitor like this.

Granted, the move to produce movies isn’t entirely unexpected for Netflix. After proving that shows made exclusively for its streaming service could be as high quality as any show made on network television (or higher in many cases), the next obvious move would be to prove that it could do the same with a major motion picture. What isn’t clear at this point is how successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend will be financially.

If audiences receive the movie with open arms and Netflix posts a healthy profit, I can almost guarantee that movie studios will start looking to streaming services as the new frontier to distribute their bigger-budget films.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this news heralds the end of movie theatres as we know it, but you can bet changes are in store. Hopefully such changes include the dramatic lowering of concession prices.

Royal Rumble: Netflix vs. Movie Theatres

You Should Be Watching: Hannibal

Hannibal - Season 1

I feel like a more appropriate title for this article would have been “We Should Have Watched: Hannibal,” but as the show has miraculously survived the dreaded TV cancellation season (no thanks to me) and will therefore receive a third season premiering next spring, I think it’s high time that people discover this show now and catch up while they still can.

Simply put, Hannibal is one of the best and most surprising shows of the last few years and one that I’m regrettably only discovering now. Be warned though that it’s also incredibly disturbing at times, to the point that I’m kind of amazed some of the images were even allowed on NBC.

For those unfamiliar with it, Hannibal tells the story of serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a character made famous by Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, and the FBI criminal profiler, Will Graham, who unknowingly pursues him. I say unknowingly because Hannibal, who enjoys mixing cannibalism into his and everyone else’s diet, just so happens to be Will’s psychiatrist and friend.

In an age where serial killer shows abound aplenty, Hannibal’s plot doesn’t exactly jump out to the casual viewer like The Following does with its serial killer cult that worships Edgar Allan Poe. But what seems like a simple plot at first segues quickly into a beautifully complicated character study on friendship, manipulation and personal demons. After one or two episodes, you wonder why you’ve been swallowing Kevin Bacon’s antics on Fox when you could have been feasting (pun intended) on Hannibal’s intense game of cat and mouse as well as its disturbingly appetizing culinary dishes.

Hannibal_3

The shows biggest strength though is in its two leading actors. Mads Mikkelsen, who most viewers will recognize as the villain from Casino Royale, gives a much different interpretation of the cannibalistic serial killer than Hopkins. Instead of the bombastic and eccentric Hannibal that most viewers might recognize, Mikkelsen plays a much more subtle version of the character, choosing to communicate himself through his unbelievably minute yet telling body language and beautiful prose.

The real star though is Hugh Dancy as protagonist Will Graham, who suffers from a number of psychological issues that allow him to sympathize with killers and understand their motivations. Dancy owns every minute in his role as the psychologically tortured yet capable Graham. Dancy’s interpretation of the character comes off as damaged but unbroken, someone who can handle themselves in a fight or a conversation while simultaneously staving off horrendous nightmares, both waking and asleep.

The rest of the cast handle themselves ably, but I think even more credit goes to the writers for giving the actors good material to work with. Make no mistake, this is an intelligent show with intelligent dialogue, the likes of which is sorely needed in many a show on network television today.

Combined with a haunting score and stellar camera work, Hannibal simply is one of the best shows to look at, listen to and enjoy. And practically nobody watched it for its first two seasons, including myself.

Breaking Bad (i.e. the greatest show ever made) had the similar issue of low viewership initially until Netflix started streaming the early seasons and folks had a chance to catch up and see what all the critical hype was about.

Unfortunately, as Netflix hasn’t bought the streaming rights to the show yet, the only options are Hulu+ or Amazon Prime Instant Video (or pirating if you’re into that kind of thing, but I wouldn’t recommend it). Both services offer a 30-day free trial or something similar, and if there were ever a show to use a free trial on, it’s this one. So do yourself and the show a huge favor and sign up now so that Hannibal can get the ratings it deserves come spring.

You Should Be Watching: Hannibal

Pop Culture Hang-Ups: Gilmore Girls

Gilmore-Girls-College-Advice-11If I were to go off the opinions of my friends, both internet and actual, I would have to say that there are few shows more beloved by the females of my generation than The Gilmore Girls. And that just makes me want to watch it less.

I have a very close relationship with my mom.  People tell me I need to watch The Gilmore Girls.  I enjoy pop culture references.  People tell me I need to watch The Gilmore Girls.  I like my shows a bit more fast paced, so that the jokes just fly by.  People tell me I need to watch The Gilmore Girls.  I prefer my shows with a great deal of romantic entanglements.  People tell me I need to watch The Gilmore Girls.  All of these things should lead me to get excited, should lead me to have bought all of the show on DVD years ago, but it just wearies me.

I wish I could explain this utter stubbornness to not watch this seemingly inoffensive show.  Sometimes I wonder if it has now become a challenge to myself to see how long I can go without watching it or some need to not succumb to peer pressure.  Most likely, I don’t want to confuse myself by having to refer to Jared Padalecki as “Dean”.  That’s just wrong.

This is not the first nor last show on which I am holding out.  I have a similar disinterest in watching the much-recommended-to-me Breaking Bad and Parenthood and once upon a time, felt the same way about Friday Night Lights and How I Met Your Mother before I caved and binged both on Netflix to, admittedly, satisfactory results.

Perhaps, I will finally watch the show when it begins streaming on Netflix on October 1, as that usually tends to help these things along, or maybe, just maybe, I will find the strength to continue on in this stubborn pursuit.

Cue the angry Gilmore fan comments.

Pop Culture Hang-Ups: Gilmore Girls

Watch ‘Gilmore Girls’ Like a Gilmore Girl

GGL

Netflix has stepped up its game. On October 1, all 154 episodes of the critically-acclaimed television show Gilmore Girls will be available to stream instantly. Without spending too much of my word count talking about how Gilmore Girls influenced my music and movie taste, speed of speech, love for bad boys, affinity for referencing pop culture, and choice in college majors, let me just say that this show is important to a vast portion of the millennial generation.

GG

One of the most important Gilmore traditions was the girls’ movie nights. Movie (and sometimes TV) nights were events in and of themselves—whether they’re watching The GodfatherThe Donna Reed ShowRiding the Bus with My Sister, or Pippi Longstocking. The girls planned their movie nights days in advance, so anticipation could build and preparations could be made. In the spirit of that and the show’s fast-approaching availability, here’s how to throw a Gilmore Girls party the way Lorelai and Rory would.

The first movie night we saw was their Willy Wonka night, where the audience accompanies the girls to Doose’s market, and this wonderful dialogue takes place:

RORY: Do we want marshmallows?
LORELAI: Mmm…and jelly beans and chocolate kisses. Cookie dough we have at home. Peanut butter. Ooh, do you think they have that thing that’s like a sugar stick on one side but then you dip it in the sugar on the other side then you eat it?

So make sure you have massive amounts of junk food. If you’re not too into sweets, you may also order takeout, as long as you have at least two different types of food. Pizza and Chinese is a great bet.

rorydormMy second piece of advice is to not be afraid from repeating. Yes, there are seven seasons to get through, but what’s the point of watching it without really taking the time? Just as it’s necessary to watch Sofia (Coppola) dying in The Godfather II over and over again, there’s no fun in re-watching the show if you can’t go back and watch Rory shout, “Because I love you, you idiot” or whine “I need a taco” at LEAST five times each.

taco

 

Next, you cannot be afraid to talk along with the Girls. Maybe as you’re watching the Logan and Rory meet cute, you feel the need to recite the entire thing along with them. Go for it. In fact, feel free to put it on mute and say it for them. Or make up your own dialogue for the third viewing. It’s what they’d want.

The next guideline applies to guests: You definitely should invite Gilmore Girls virgins into the fold, but you need to remember that they are not mentally or physically prepared for the wonder that a viewing party may entail. Allow for breaks, and make sure they get at least a few seconds warning on any madness that may ensue.

FOOD FIGHTOh, and just remember that if you start on time, you’re desecrating the show.

Watch ‘Gilmore Girls’ Like a Gilmore Girl

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and Learning to Love Horror

kevin-mccarthy-invasion

I dislike horror movies. A lot. It would almost be fair to say I hate them. I attribute this to a scarring experience I had watching Poltergeist when I was six and unable to turn the TV off for fear that it would suck me in like it did the little girl. I have since considered myself a bonafide pansy who will only watch scary things through binocular hands (they protect my peripheral vision and can be closed quickly when something scary happens on screen).

Then I watch movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and I have to rethink my dislike for all things horror. This 1956 movie is considered a classic and a masterpiece by many, but I had never gotten around to viewing it personally until I noticed it on Netflix recently, where I encourage all of you to go watch it after you’re done reading this. Whereas some classics don’t hold up as well with modern audiences, Invasion of the Body Snatchers successfully manages to please today’s viewers while at the same time serving as an example of effective horror.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, the film centers around a doctor who returns to his home town somewhere in California only to find that many of its denizens are acting peculiarly emotionless. It doesn’t take long before the secret of the pod-people is revealed and the paranoia ensues.

pod-people

There are no popular methods of scaring to be had here. No gore, certainly no torture porn and no jump scares. Especially no jump scares. Besides the fact that I’m a pansy, my involuntary screams during those moments are a lot more effeminate than I’d like them to be, which can be a problem if I’m with a group of people or a pretty girl.

Director Don Siegel uses moody music effectively here and there are certainly images that one can only describe as frightening, all of which left me with my hands and teeth clenched, my blood pressure raised and an uneasy feeling of foreboding. In short, I felt as the main character does. One could argue that this type of empathy is necessary for effective horror. It’s this very same feeling of empathy for Ellen Ripley that makes Alien, another horror movie I make exception for, so freakin scary. (I will note here that Alien has one or two jump scares, but since they don’t comprise the whole film, I allow them).

If audiences don’t feel empathy for the characters, they can end up like many of my friends who often tell me they rooted for the antagonist/monster/ghost/alien because they disliked the protagonists, who are typically stereotyped as unbelievably horny teenagers that make more bad decisions that Scooby Doo and the gang.

invasion of pod people

 

The protagonists in Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the other hand usually make smart (or at least realistic) decisions, and I found myself concerned with their well-being throughout the movie’s 80 minute runtime. These empathetic protagonists make the pod-people seem even scarier and the threat of becoming like them even more sinister. Consequently this preserves the feelings of horror in follow up viewings.

Obviously some people will enjoy, and in many cases prefer, the scary movies I can’t sit through, just like some people will get there adrenaline high bungee jumping while I choose a simple roller coaster ride.

At the end of the day, the scares of Invasion of the Body Snatchers felt more appropriate and complimentary than, say, Insidious – the last horror film I unwisely thought I could handle. Having said that, I would be much more willing to dabble in modern horror movies if they took a few more pages from this outstanding film.

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and Learning to Love Horror

Surprised That TV Can Still Surprise Me: ‘Southcliffe’

When you have studied cinematic story structure and (more importantly) watched a lot of TV, it takes a lot to be surprised by TV shows. Truly, genuinely surprised and shocked. Sure, a series can surprise in being better (or worse) than expected. Take Penny Dreadful as an example of the former and The Strain as an example of the latter. The feeling of not having a clue where a show is going and yet still being engaged enough to go on the ride is rare…at least for me. Southcliffe is the exception.

In what could have been a run-of-the-mill crime drama, Southcliffe centers on a suburban English town (described as a sleepy market town although not even Wikipedia could help me understand what that means) reeling from a recent mass shooting spree. The shooter is the local “weird dude” in town, named Stephen Morton (Sean Harris) although everyone calls him the Commander due to his affinity for the military. An ambitious reporter David Whitehead (Rory Kinnear) is assigned the incident due to his connection with the town. He grew up in Southcliffe and was even a childhood friend with Morton. Suspense, anger, and grief ensue.

It’s hard to really describe what Southcliffe is about because not only is it only four episodes, it has a nonlinear narrative structure. The episode descriptions on Netflix are laughable for they make it seem like David is the main character slowly unraveling the mystery surrounding the murders. He does kind of but not really.

At its core, Southcliffe is an ensemble series — Harris, Kinnear, Joe Dempsie (Gendry!), Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle!), and Anatol Yusef (That Guy on Boardwalk Empire!) all have shining dramatic moments.

Southcliffe features the most ambitious use of nonlinear narrative structure that I’ve seen in modern television — more so than Lost, Once Upon A Time, and True Detective. In this case, nonlinear narrative structure means that each and every scene doesn’t follow in chronological order.

For instance, one scene may show Stephen caring for his invalid mother, the next scene flashbacks back to David and Stephen as children sitting on a boat, and then the scene could cut to Stephen jogging along the road carrying an AK-47.

Southcliffe isn’t for everyone, and even for me, the series had fundamental problems. It’s inherently slow and difficult to follow. The temporality of scenes is intentionally vague. Is it a flashback? Is it the present or past? What is the present? What’s real? What is anything anymore? What?

I don’t like every aspect of Southcliffe, but I love how fresh, weird, and new it feels.

Suggestion: If you do decide to watch (and you should), then watch it alone. Southcliffe is riddled with silent moments in which suspense and contemplation reign. Adding a running commentary, at least besides the one running through your mind, would ruin the experience. Then, after watching it, immediately hound people to talk about it (or write a blog post about it). It’s a heavy and tragically timely series. Dialogue is important — if not on the show’s themes, then on the unexpected Skins reunion with Joe Dempsie and Kaya Scoledario!

Southcliffe. It’s a thing. Tell your friends.

Surprised That TV Can Still Surprise Me: ‘Southcliffe’