A Problem Among Us Pop Culture Fanatics

I have a lot of guilt. I am a semi-depressed, anxiety-riden, Midwestern, former Catholic woman. So yeah, it is like guilt has been imprinted on my DNA. I have guilt about a lot of things that I really shouldn’t have guilt over. This is not a therapy session, so I won’t go over all of the ways my guilt manifests itself. Instead I will focus my pervading guilt onto one issue: my need to see or at least know about every new pop culture idea, especially movies. I need to know who are the most popular singers, what made the most money at the weekend box office, why men are all suddenly rocking the greaser look and how the most inane celebrities are doing mentally. Ok so I could give a shit about the last one, but I do care about all the other ones I just mentioned. If I don’t know who a famous artist is or what the premise of a new movie is, I feel like I have failed in some way. But these things do not define me. I do not get some gigantic prize for knowing who Macklemore (by the way I think he is the reason men are now cutting their hair the way they do… but I could be wrong. I am not a guy) is or seeing the most annoyingly trashy movie to hit 100 million in a weekend. (Is that possible? I guess it is) In fact I have just wasted precious brain space and time to devoting myself to this useless knowledge. Knowing this does not make me smarter in any way, but I can’t help but feel guilty when one of my friends, classmates, or even a stranger (this has happened by the way) comes up to me and asks me about this new pop culture thing and I have no idea about it. I at least have to be aware of what is going on. Why is that?

I feel like a lot of cineastes or pop culture nerds (or academics who study pop culture which is what I choose to identify as) have this constant superiority complex. I want to see every movie ever made so that I can find that undiscovered gem that nobody knows about and I can say in detail why this movie is better than that popular trash you just paid fifteen dollars to go see in the theaters. I want to know more about movies than you. This is what drives me to read about movies, write about movies, criticize movies, but it also makes me waste undue amounts of time on websites like Box Office Mojo, IMDb, the AV Club and The Dissolve reading about movies that I should probably not give a crap about. Right now I am looking at the front page of IMDb’s website and I have noticed that I only recognize one image for a trailer at the top. This freaking me out a little that I don’t know what these new movies are and I must go over there and watch the trailers or at least look at their IMDb page instead of finishing this article. I want to be control as to what media I consume, but I am not. Instead I waste hours on Netflix or Amazon watching a show that I don’t even particularly like (like House of Cards) because it is popular.

With every passing year, I care less and less about the new movies that are coming out. I pay more attention to year-end lists where critics just sum up the past year for me in ten easily digestible selections. Of course there is some part of me that finds this absolutely wretched and know that I could never find that undiscovered gem if I only watch the ten most critically acclaimed movies of the year. But then I realize that the alternative is that I have to constantly be paying attention to film reviews, film festival wrap ups, film news, box office news, and various other things. By the time I am done with these myriad of sites, I don’t actually want to watch anything. So I put on another episode of Bob’s Burgers, a show I have watched a bagazillion (actual amount. not making this up) times.

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Music Videos Can be Cool Too!!

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Forgive my silly title. I couldn’t think of anything funny or interesting to title this post so I decided to lean into the terrible title game.

I recently acquired an internship where I spend hours upon hours in front of a computer googling various movie titles to get their contact information so that they can be considered for the film festival my company is curating. Every once in a while I find that a music video has been submitted to a particular film festival and it is also posted online. To give my weary eyes a rest, I usually watch these videos and are stunned by the quality. To me a music video is usually just a band standing in front of a camera singing. Or it is a very polished, bland artsy crap. But music videos are just as varied and interesting as shorts or features can be. Here are few examples of great music videos. Please google each and every director and musician, they all deserve to be better known.

London Grammar “Hey You”

This is a music video from a band called London Grammar. They are, not surprisingly, a British electronic pop trio. Just looking at their YouTube channel, I see that they are pretty popular in Britain and have a plethora of other great videos for you to check out.

The director of this video is Chris Ullens. Here is a cool making of video that shows just how long a process stop motion animation is.

Apothek “Family”

Apothek is an electronic outfit hailing from Norway. They don’t seem to have put out much music beyond this single, but man it is a doozy.

This video was made by a collective known as Lavafilm out of Norway as well. It is made up of two people who seem to share the directing duties. Their names are Ida Thurmann-Moe and Andreas Grødtlien. Looking at the picture of them on their website, they seem like pretty rad people.

Gramatik “Brave Men”

I love this video for two reasons. The first reason is that I have seen this musician live in concert before. He is a very talented electronic artist that can actually put on a show (which believe it or not are two very different attributes). If you dig this music, then check out his other stuff. He is amazingly prolific and usually gives his music away for free. Pay him back by attending one of his shows.

The director of the video is Joe Zohar. The other reason why I loved this video is because he chose to take a stereotype of a woman getting beaten up by her boyfriend/husband and turn it on its head. This is what he says on his website about the idea: “Our tale was inspired from human nature and set in an undefined place and time. Illustrating how nothing is ever what it seems and that we all have our secrets. Brave Men is a story about strong women and the cowardly men who don’t deserve them.” I think that is really cool.

Tom Rosenthal “As Luck Would Have It”

Rosenthal is a British singer songwriter. Like Apothek, it doesn’t seem like he is extremely popular yet, but he has a strong voice and vision for his music.

The animator/director of this video is Daniela Sherer. She is has a very unique animating style and you should definitely check out her other stuff. I would in particular recommend tracking down the full length of this video:

So I hope you liked my selections. Through this unique internship that I have, I have been made aware of so much independent stuff on the internet. Maybe next week I will highlight some trailers of movies I think are cool that you probably haven’t heard of yet. Who knows….

New Indie Thursday: Le Week-End

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To me, Paris is THE most romantic city in the world. Looking at the Eiffel Tower, sipping coffee at a nearby cafe, trying oysters at a fancy restaurant, and being surrounded by so much radical history just makes me feel so incredibly warm and fuzzy inside. (I have never been to Paris, but I want to go sooooooo badly… Will you buy my ticket for me?) In Le Week-End, a couple goes to Paris to soak up all the romantic aspects of the city and celebrate their long marriage to each other. Only this isn’t some sappy love story…

Meg and Nick are two teachers that have been married for thirty years. Their children have moved out (though it seems not willingly), on the verge of retirement (forced and self-imposed), and they have been forced to be only with each other. This seems frightening for both of them, but a problem that we have seen a million times before. What is fresh about this film is that there are more complex emotions going on underneath the surface of being alone together forever. Nick feels like an inadequate intellectual because he has yet to publish anything substantial. He is also terrified of being alone and follows Meg around like a little puppy. Whereas Meg is experiencing a rebellious nature awakening inside her that seems to have been put to sleep ever since she got married. She orchestrates an impromptu dine and dash when their bill is too much. She races through the corridors and streets of Paris. She flirts with younger men. She wants to get away from the boring routine of her life as a school teacher. She experience new things and become a new person. Riding underneath all of this is their strong affection for each other. But is this affection enough to keep them together?

I really responded to this movie. I thought it was an honest and complex picture of how a long-term romance evolves. Disappointment and determination become everyday emotions when you share the same life with someone for so long. You are disappointed that life hasn’t turned out exactly the way that you planned it, but you are determined to hold together a relationship that is infinitely frustrating and yet immensely enjoyable. This couple laughs a lot. They joke around and tease each other. There isn’t just this sour and sad exploration of a couple getting older. There is real life and airiness to the movie that I liked a lot. This is of course helped by the amazing performances of Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan. Broadbent is an actor that is solidly good in everything he does, but he really excels at relationship dramas like these. He brings a sense of familiarity and warmth to this type of story that the partner could either accept or riff on, like Lindsay Duncan does here. She takes that warmth and injects her own brand of sarcasm and gives it a neediness quality to it. It is quite wonderful how they can play off each other like they are an old couple that has lived together for thirty years and knows every little quirk about each other. Artifice is made real these two actors. In this reality, my own reality is reflected.

My Top 100 of All Time Part 5

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Woo hooooooo! This is my fifth installment of this bad boy. It took me forever to make this list and I am milking it for all it is worth. If you have a problem with it, you can… well you can do what ever you like, I suppose.

59. La Dolce Vita (dir. Fellini)

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If you haven’t seen this movie, then I don’t know why you are reading this blog. This movie is essential viewing for art house cinema fans for a reason. It is odd and fantastic and so influential that it is almost maddening who can trace their roots back to this or 8 1/2. Plus Marcello Mastroianni is so incredibly beautiful that it is hard taking my eyes off him to do normal things in life like eat, breathe and go to the bathroom. Ugh. What a handsome Italian.

58. Crimes and Misdemeanors (dir. Allen)

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I have to admit that I like Woody Allen’s lighter stuff more than his heavy dramas. But this movie is the exception to that admission. Allen is able to give a nuanced portrayal of infidelity in a way that doesn’t treat it as a joke. I really apprecitate that.

57. My Dinner with Andre (dir. Malle)

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This movie is so simple and that is why I love it so much. It is just a simple conversation about living their art had at a restaurant. What they have to say is touching, beautiful, and yet somehow also absurd. My goal in life is to have a person that I can talk to like these two men talk to each other. Sad goal isn’t it?

56. Taxi Driver (dir. Scorsese)

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When I saw this movie for the first time, I finally understood why Martin Scorsese is considered an amazing filmmaker. This movie is dark in such an amazing way. A huge part of me wishes that I lived in the New York City of this time period.

55. In a Lonely Place (dir. Ray)

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This movie is my favorite Humphrey Bogart performance. He just blows me away with his tortured and manic way that he exists. I can also relate to the terrible writer’s block that is portrayed so vividly. When you define yourself by one thing and you physically can’t do it, it makes you go crazy or become really depressed.

54. The Shining (dir. Kubrick)

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Around Halloween, I usually get asked what my favorite horror movie is. I usually respond The Shining and I almost always get eye rolls. ‘Here goes the film geek once again. Talking about how amazing the Shining is.’ Well it is amazing. And creepy. And terribly affective as a horror movie.

53. The Iron Giant (dir. Bird)

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The Iron Giant is just so darned cute. This is mainly why I love it so much. It is a movie version of looking at cute puppies on the internet.

52. M (dir. Lang)

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Fritz Lang is probably the best filmmaker ever. Okay, so that might be an exgeration, but not much of one. His ability to use sound in order to create a sense of dread in this movie is so great that filmmakers are still copying it over seventy years later.

51. A Woman Under the Influence (dir. Cassavettes)

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Gena Rowlands is so freaking amazing in a Woman Under the Influence that is almost unbelievable. How can she be that great at portraying a woman slowly going crazy? She must be crazy herself. Or maybe she is just the best actress to ever live and walk this gosh darn planet… That could be it.

50. Howl’s Moving Castle (dir. Mayazaki)

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How can I go into the last half of my favorite movies list without mentioning Mayazaki? And one of the most watched movies, Howl’s Moving Castle. Everything about this movie is just how a great animated film should be made. Quirky characters, fantastical settings, and a really great plot line. Check, check and double check.

New Indie Thursday: Grand Piano

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A good thriller is hard to find. A good time crunched thriller is even harder to find. So when I heard that many people thought Grand Piano was a diamond in the rough come to give me a good thrilling yet pulpy experience, I decided to go for it. I was not disappointed.

Elijah Wood plays Tom, a virtuoso piano player who choked several years ago on a complicated piece written by his mentor. He must now prove to himself and to his audience that he is still as good as he once was. His very famous wife urges him on and encourages to do his best all while surrounded by onlookers and fans. Once he gets to the stage, Tom realizes there is a message on his piece. He sees that it is a message from a man who wants to kill him and his wife. If he messes up even just one chord then he dies. If he tries to get help then his wife dies. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

This movie was fast paced and full of pulpy goodness. It had multiple murders, suspicious people lurking around in the background, henchmen, and a frightened Elijah Wood which is somehow good. It won’t win any depth awards and I probably won’t think about it in a week or two like I do with most great movies, but it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. I had a good time. That is the best review I can give it. And I think that is all this movie aims to do.

Netflix Graveyard: A Single Man

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Being homosexual in the sixties was a hard thing to be. Especially if you wanted to be accepted into normal society. In a Single Man, Tom Ford explores what that isolation means to one man. A Single Man.

George is a university professor in California. He is also incredibly lonely and single. He is single because his lover died eight months ago. This lover was his life. He was his reason for living. George can no longer go on. But go on he does. He gets dressed. He goes to work. He teaches a class on Huxley. He interacts with a student, a fellow teacher, and a drifter. All of these interactions feel rote and like they are missing something. Something necessary to make them important. But George notes these interactions, making fun of his colleague’s need to build a bomb shelter, touched by his student buying him an eraser, and loving the burn of a cigarette that he gets from the drifter. Each moment will be the last of its kind, at least for him. He is determined to meet his lover in the afterlife. Several times he tries, but he keeps not succeeding. After one of these times, he goes over to Charley’s house to have dinner with her. Charley is lonely and a drunk. She is just as lonely as George. And maybe just as desperate to have some semblance of a human connection. She wants desperately for George to be straight, for him to care for her like he did for his lover. But this will never be. No one can change who they prefer or who they fall in love with. George escapes Charley’s clutches and tries once again. This time, he is distracted by the memory of meeting his lover for the first time. He goes to the same bar he saw him and meets the same student that bought him an eraser earlier in the day. Could this student be his saving grace? The student seems to see through his placid exterior and into the deep loneliness of his subconscious.

Colin Firth is easily the most amazing thing about this movie. He embodies the hurt and loneliness, the need to hide from everybody just to survive, so innately that I believed he once went through a similar experience. Firth takes this extended fashion shoot full of insanely beautiful but ultimately banal settings and breathes life into them. Take for instance the scene where he interacts with the drifter. He is outside a liquor store. He pulls his beautiful sixties car in front of a huge poster of Psycho with Janet Leigh screaming. The haze of the sun burning onto the concrete makes this scene feel like it is one of those Vogue fashion shoots that Ford is so known for. The drifter is an impossibly handsome Spanish man with a James Dean outfit and outlook. He can barely speak his lines. He is the worst actor I have seen in a professional film like this in a long time. But Firth takes this terrible acting and turns it into a touching moment when he reaches out and takes a cigarette from him. Firth takes this scene from inside a glossy fashion magazine and places it in a high quality drama. He breathes life into places where there isn’t really life before. In the scenes with Julianne Moore for instance. I love Julianne Moore, but she is positioned to be just a walking mannequin who drinks. Even her outburst towards the end of their conversation feels like it comes out of a talking doll. There is no life in her eyes. But Firth is able to take the literal nothingness that Moore is giving him and transform into cinematic gold. He produces one of the most touching moments in the film. See this movie for the sets and for Firth. But mostly for Firth.