The Walking Recap: What Happened and What’s Going On

Two deaths in a row– my heart can hardly take this show anymore. What I will say, is that with this mid-season premiere, The Walking Dead delivered a surprisingly redemptive, reflective exploration of death. The death is not a sudden event, which is to say, it is not succinctly shocking or instantly brutal like Beth’s was, for instance. But rather, death is treated as a process, a carefully paced journey. Death is an episode long arc in and of itself, making this victim’s unfortunate demise the most mournful and beautifully melancholy of any the show’s featured thus far.

Anyone reading this already knows that “RIP” is in order for Tyreese, the most recent “voice of reason” character and the most deeply conflicted of them. The episode begins so cryptically that we do not see this coming– until the montage of images that flash across our screens in the episode’s opening, are steadily disassembled, reappearing one by one throughout the episode. Then we understand what those images are– where they’re coming from. and what they truly mean. In that way, the episode is a bit non-linear; I loved that everyone on Talking Dead referred to it as their “Terrence Malick episode,” which is to say– it is exquisitely shot and edited, and reads like an existential-art house film.

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Those images include dirt being shoveled for a grave– we assume at first that it’s for Beth– and Maggie crying– also for Beth? Think again. We see a painting of a house with blood dripping on it. We see Lizzie and Mika. We see a skeleton in the grass. These images are enough to sell the episode as an existential reverie of sorts, artistic and poignant and mysterious and meaningful. But it isn’t until Tyreese is bit in Noah’s house that the actual reflections and reckonings begin.

tyreese Half the gang has arrived and scoured Noah’s formerly walled-off town; now it is decrepit and deserted. Tyreese enters the house first before Noah, who is still reeling from the tragedy of finding his loved ones gone or dead (or zombified). Tyreese is bit, and from there, the episode is filled with reassurances and judgments in equal measure from both dead enemies and dead friends. These visions come to embody the push and pull that’s plagued Tyreese since the world fell apart– the Governor reminds him that he said he’d pay his due to survive, while Martin tries to make Tyreese feel guilty– as if Bob’s death and their current predicament would have all played out much differently had he killed him when he had the chance. Bob is there though, and so is Beth, and so are Lizzie and Mika, to tell him that everything is okay– not that he should or has to give up necessarily, but that everything has happened as it was meant to, so it’s okay if this is the end. If giving up versus fighting has indeed been the inner-conflict which Tyreese has grappled with all along, then that conflict manifests in these ghosts, all while he bleeds profusely, feverishly hallucinating them and making his peace because of them.

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Then one of the hallucinations abruptly shifts to reality– Rick, Michonne and Glenn whacking Tyreese’s arm off. The shift is jarring. It almost feels sacrilegious somehow, like we have interrupted something sacred and spiritual by trying to save him at this point. Ultimately, we see the car pull over– we see Michonne and Glenn and Rick drag his body from the backseat. We see them bury him (see– not Beth’s grave after all), putting his iconic beanie on the makeshift tombstone. All before this though, we see what Tyreese sees from the backseat– he sees Bob, he sees Mika and Lizzie, he sees Beth. They leave the choice up to him but the choice seems logical and natural, as if this whole episode has been a reckoning for Tyreese, a way out but with the rare opportunity to reflect and forgive first, and to then go as peacefully as one could given the circumstances of their world– I think that’s what made this episode so emotional, because no other death has come with such an opportunity for the character who is dying.

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Anyway, I wonder who will be the next voice of reason, or if the responsibility will be shared now in Tyreese’s honor. I do love that Michonne is giving Rick pep talks on being hopeful and practical, on having one more day with a chance otherwise what’s the point. But I don’t know where this leaves us and our characters– I know they’re hungry, tired and traveling, so the prospect of giving up might seem appealing to all of them. But I don’t think Tyreese gave up, not really– I think he let go, which is different. I think he became free, and what bittersweet liberation it was. 4 out of 5 walkers.

The 2015 Foreign Film Project: Part Two (Films 3 & 4)

Hello all! In the last couple weeks, I’ve managed to watch 4 more foreign films! One is nominated for this year’s Oscars in the best Foreign Language Film category, and one I saw not on Netflix but in theaters. For the sake of going in order and keeping things a little more concise and consistent, though, this post will just be about the next two that I watched on Netflix:

First, I watched the 2011 Norwegian drama, Oslo, August 31st (on Netflix), directed by Joachim Trier. It’s roughly one day in the life of a recovering drug addict named Anders, who leaves rehab to revisit his old stomping grounds– the city of Oslo– for a job interview (one that is more or less mandated by his counselor). While he’s there, we watch as he also battles the demons of his past– the now-fractured if not completely lost relationships he had and the aftermath of his life as an addict– all coming back to haunt, tempt and taunt him at every turn.

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The film is bleak (a word I find myself using for many a foreign film, but one which often doesn’t quite give justice to the beauty inherent in that bleakness) and slowly-paced (another common trait), but it is gripping nonetheless. You watch as he sort of gradually self-destructs, and you feel powerless and helpless as that trajectory unfolds, carefully and quietly but not altogether hopelessly– what keeps the film from feeling like a dead end for its entire run time are these glimmers of hope we try to latch onto, even as he detaches from them within the narrative. I particularly loved the opening sequence– images of Oslo flashing before us, with voiceovers telling stories of their many memories of the city. Later, the film will revisit many of these same images, but they feel emptier, more unwelcome, and we see the beginning as an opening and the end as a true ending, a closing of a chapter and an eerie realization of what this young man’s life has come to within and outside of the city he’d once called home, the city that has, in many unfortunate ways, shaped his fate. I thought it was wonderful, certainly worth watching, but not one that will ultimately stick with me too much, I don’t think.

The Edge of Heaven, on the other hand, is a film that will definitely haunt me, just as Head On (Gegen die Wand) had from the moment I saw it; both come from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin, and both are intricate, heartbreaking human dramas that deal with Turkish immigrants living in Germany. The Edge of Heaven (2007, on Netflix, original title: Auf der anderen Seite) weaves together already-inherently-connected stories of love, violence, redemption, identity and destiny. The film begins with an older Turkish immigrant living in Germany and his second generation immigrant son, living and working as a professor of German in Hamburg. The father, in a drunken temper tantrum, accidentally kills his Turkish prostitute-turned-sort-of-girlfriend. Knowing she’d left behind a 27-year-old daughter, who’d been living and finishing her schooling in Turkey (her tuition paid for by her mother’s secret profession), the son goes to Istanbul to find her, seeking repentance and to make things right.

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Our second storyline follows the daughter, and we find out she is a political dissenter who seeks refuge in Hamburg and looks for her mother to no avail, and the many ironic, tragically missed connections slowly reveal themselves through painfully nuanced shots of these people literally crossing paths or through the film’s careful editing, as events we did not realize were significant at first are repeated and thus given enormous weight. Anyway, her storyline is filled with even more despair than the first, as she falls in love with a German student named Lotte who then risks everything to save her when she is deported and arrested for her activism and failed attempts at asylum.

The connections between these people are then further teased and tested– Lotte stays with Nejat (the son) and later, so does Lotte’s mother, and you want so badly for him to know who it was that they’d been in Istanbul to help, that it was the same girl he’d been seeking all along, but this revelation would be too simple, it seems, and it never comes. Closure is sought after and only half-found by all these characters; they all find a kind of imperfect, uneasy inner-peace, and the effect that this half-solace has on viewers is deeply affecting: it seems tragic, frustrating and also weirdly satisfying all at once, a complicated set of emotions for a complicated film that is also incredibly gorgeous, even in its most depressing moments (notable to me would be a shot of a coffin coming off an airplane into Turkey from Germany, and the reciprocal shot later of a coffin being loaded onto a plane, leaving Turkey for Germany, all paired with the emotionally resonant sounds of traditional Turkish music). The film explores themes of homeland and heritage and the ways in which people can be both challenged and separated from one another because of these ties and the ways in which they can and do connect despite those ties. I loved this complex, moving and captivating film wholeheartedly.

Thanks for reading and following me on this journey! Next post, which I’ll hopefully get up here sometime this week, will be about the Italian drama Human Capital (now playing in select theaters/cities) and the Polish masterpiece Ida.

2014: The Year in Films (As Told by a Blogger Doing Her Best)

Let’s get a little closure, shall we? I watched more films than I thought I did in 2014, and yet still not as many as I would have liked. Some, I reviewed for other sites (which I’ve noted) and others which I never even reviewed (and so for those I may write a little bit more here than for those I’ve already written about).

And, as everyone knows, I often see movies that I’m very excited about, movies I am pretty sure I’ll like, hence why I rate most things so highly (it’s not simply because I’m a pushover but because I’m on a budget– who wants to spend time and money on something that’ll probably be bad? I know my tastes and listen to other critics well enough to see things I’m almost guaranteed to rate highly.) However, this makes it very hard to judge these things against one another. For that reason, I’ve decided that I’m not going to be putting these things in too much of an order; I’ll do my best but for the most part, just assume the ranking is pretty close especially after the top three choices or so. And, I’m going to judge big budget blockbusters separately than independent and foreign films, etc, just to be fair and to make my life easier.

So without further adieu, here are…

My Eight Favorite Independent Films (Art House, VOD, Limited Release, etc):

1) Birdman: Wouldn’t complain if it swept up everything it’s nominated for this coming awards season. Amazing and haunting, like nothing I’ve ever seen before; both a spectacle and philosophical movie-marvel that does deserve its praise.

2) Snowpiercer: Upon second viewing, I realized just how much I loved this movie. Brilliant, creative, and endlessly entertaining, this film was a blockbuster like no other and it should, for many reasons, be necessary viewing.

3) Cheap Thrills: I couldn’t find a flaw in this horror/dark comedy. Smart, suspenseful, brutal.

4) The Grand Budapest Hotel: Another I found myself loving even more the second time. Wes Anderson’s most epic and grandiose film, this sweeping caper is accomplished and a lot of fun.

5) They Came Together: Not enough people talked about how smart and hilarious this movie is– David Wain adoringly skewers romcom formulas and it is just plain awesome, plus the cast is basically perfect.

6) Obvious Child (reviewed for The Film Chair): I loved how daring and truly funny this film was, and Jenny Slate is amazing in it.

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7) The Babadook: Another female-directed feat, this horror movie is as good as everyone said it would be.

8) The Skeleton Twins: Simultaneously funnier and far more serious than I expected somehow, this film was really moving thanks especially to Wiig and Hader’s amazing performances.

What didn’t make the cut:

I thought Jason Bateman’s directorial debut Bad Words (reviewed for The Film Chair) was a bit messy and mediocre at best– some parts were amusing, but ultimately it tried too hard to be bad while also playing it too safe by the end. You can’t be perverse and sentimental at the same time– make up your mind.

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The Immigrant was good– with beautiful, careful direction and absolutely amazing performances– but ultimately formulaic and thus forgettable in the grand scheme of all these other films, for me anyway.

V/H/S: Viral (reviewed for Audiences Everywhere), was a huge disappointment to me. Out of the measly three segments, one was amazing, one was just okay, and one was annoying beyond belief, and the frame narrative was pretty hit and miss itself, so even though that campy sense of fun was still there, it wasn’t consistent enough to save this anthology.

And lastly, Affluenza (reviewed for The Film Chair), was a teenage Great Gatsby wannabe that was just fine, nothing less and certainly nothing more, and overall it was just totally forgettable.

And Five Favorite Foreign Language Films:

1) Big Bad Wolves: An Israeli horror/dark comedy that exceeded my expectations.

2) A Coffee in Berlin (reviewed for The Film Chair): A jazzy, increasingly meaningful black-and-white journey through a Berlin twentysomething’s day, wanting a cup of coffee but receiving instead random, awkward encounters that just might lend him some direction. My love for Berlin was only a fraction of why I loved this funny, frank and subtly emotional movie.

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3) Zero Motivation (not reviewed): An Israeli comedy directed by Talya Lavie about a group of girls in the Israeli army– bored, brash and often juvenile. The film itself is brilliantly broken into three chapters that flow flawlessly into one another; the connected tales of female friendships, goals and challenges are all hilarious and honest.

4) The Lunchbox: Heartwarming and whimsical, this Indian film is a treat.

5) Mood Indigo: Challenging at first and undeniably weird, but overall, this is a fascinating and of course visually splendorous narrative from Michel Gondry.

The Best of the Big Releases:

1) Gone Girl: Just as good as I prayed/hoped/knew it would be. Thank you, David Fincher, for making a compelling and faithful adaptation!

2) The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (not reviewed): Just rented this the other day. I’m so proud of Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) for making such a well-paced, visually stunning and wickedly intelligent sci-fi prequel-sequel. This film was gripping, technically amazing and aesthetically awesome, and like I said, actually intelligent, so I loved every minute of it.

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3) Guardians of the Galaxy: I mean, what is there to say besides “I am Groot;” this was the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time; just pure and simple joy that sent a sonic boom through this summer’s box office.

4) Godzilla: This film was well-made and its characters no more one-dimensional than those found in far stupider blockbusters of recent years anyway, so can we just focus on the monster as a character and admit that this movie was great?

5) X-Men: Days of Future Past: I loved seeing both X-Men casts together, and for this narrative to not be confusing was really a feat.

6) 22 Jump Street: A laugh out loud sequel that is even crazier and more meta than its predecessor.

7) Neighbors: Nothing special, when you think about it, but this film had me cracking up and that’s what counts.

What didn’t make the cut:

I am the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t love The Lego Movie. I get it, at least I think I get it, but it just didn’t resonate with me like it did everyone else and I almost wish I got it more so I didn’t feel so lonely over here in the minority. I really did find it brilliant but just too annoying for me to enjoy; maybe my head was too in it, but nothing was tickling my funny bone, so the frenzied nature of it all just wore me down and got on my nerves. I did love aspects of it (including the live-action scene toward the end) but the sum of its parts just didn’t do it for me, sorry all!

And The Interview, which was hilarious and smarter than its stupidity would have you believe, is hard to categorize due to its distribution, but even besides that, it wasn’t one of my favorite films of the year– I loved it, genuinely enjoyed it beyond its mere hype, but not quite enough to make it my number 8.

Interstellar was okay, but wanted to be more than it was and that ended up being its downfall; I enjoyed it, but it was not the life-changing experience it felt like Nolan wanted it to be.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was enjoyable to me but a big fat flop to many (okay, most) others, so I ultimately decided it didn’t actually belong in my top spots (maybe that’s me caving under pressure in a way that I just couldn’t with The Lego Movie… at any rate, I’ll still defend this Spider-Man installment and say it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be– I had a lot of fun with it and had a lot of arguments as a result of that opinion, too).

Maleficent, which I rented but didn’t review, was mediocre, a word I seem to be using a lot in this post (along with synonyms such as “okay” and “fine”). It was visually awesome but all those effects were balanced precariously upon a paper thin story– a whole lot of nothing that looked like something amazing. And though Angelina Jolie was great and definitely made the film somewhat worthwhile, everything around her performance just felt like fairy tale fluff.

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The Best in Horror:

1) Cheap Thrills: See above. This movie shocked me and delighted me in disturbingly equal measure.

2) Big Bad Wolves: See above. If torture porn had a sick sense of humor and was gorgeously stylized, you might end up with this film.

3) The Taking of Deborah Logan (reviewed for Audiences Everywhere): A true Netflix hidden gem, this found footage film wasn’t anything too new in terms of that form, but it was truly scary; it turns the proverbial wheel surprisingly well.

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4) Oculus: One of the coolest mainstream horror films I’ve seen in a while– this is the kind of terror that comes from not knowing what is real, not being able to accurately perceive what we see, and not being able to control what we do.

5) The Babadook: See above. Dreary and dreadful.

What didn’t make the cut: 

V/H/S: Viral, like I said before, was too much of a disappointment to me, as someone who loves the first two films in the series. Deliver Us From Evil (reviewed also for Audiences Everywhere) was good up to a point and then it simply wasn’t. Ironically, many critics seemed to like the parts that I liked least while they disliked the parts that I felt were the film’s strongest. Oh well. Also, let’s be honest– the cast was kind of awkward: Olivia Munn and Joel McHale, what?

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And the worst of the worst was definitely As Above, So Below. Rented it the other day and couldn’t even finish it (My horror-movie lovin’ mom: “I’m waiting for something amazing to happen” Me–“Yeah, the credits.”) What a boring found footage mess this film was. Too much editing, cam was TOO shaky for its own good and, oh yeah, NOTHING happened and nothing really ever made sense. Too much switching POV’s and, again, no coherence whatsoever– who died now, what’s going on? And at a certain point I realized I was annoyed by all of that but that I didn’t actually care anyway as far as the film’s characters or conclusion were concerned.

And the Worst of the Rest:

And So it Goes (reviewed for The Film Chair) was an annoyingly sentimental melodramedy starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. It had its moments, I suppose– I actually didn’t actively hate it consistently, while watching– but overall, it was a forgettable, laughable film from Rob Reiner (note my word choice: laughable like, what are you doing, Rob Reiner).

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And Noah (not reviewed) was mind-numbingly frustrating to watch: overdramatic, loud, self-righteous and stupid, you can still see Aronofsky’s talents here, and maybe what he was going for was admirable and interesting, but the execution was too ridiculous and just in general missed its mark.

So, as we head into 2015…

I just want to say that 2014 was a pretty good year in film, for me, but then again, I find myself avoiding things that I think will be bad (or that I simply won’t enjoy) and so I tend to miss a lot, for better or worse. Thank goodness for Redbox rentals and Netflix. And as far as 2015 goes, there isn’t a whole lot that comes to mind immediately when I start to ponder what films I’ll be excited for. I’m definitely looking forward to Jurassic World and Pitch Perfect 2. And The Avengers: Age of Ultron will hopefully be as great as the first film, though I must admit I’m always a few steps behind in terms of the other Marvel movies (and have been ever since they’ve proliferated in recent years- too many, too little time, and not enough motivation for a select few of them anyway). I also hope that my foreign film project helps me remain as egalitarian in my viewing choices and behaviors as it always had when I was in college, and I really want to do more VOD viewing as well. And another resolution is to watch more documentaries, which shouldn’t be hard because I do work for a documentary distribution company after all. Anyway, thanks for reading and here is to a happy, movie-filled 2015!

The 2015 Foreign Film Project: Part 1

I have always loved foreign films– besides horror and comedy which are my two favorite genres, foreign films have been the next biggest interest of mine within cinema. Even before I started college, I found myself drawn to these films, fascinated and refreshed by how different they were from the Hollywood fare I’d been used to. I remember watching the bleak but gripping Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) on Netflix streaming before Netflix streaming was as big as it is now (and before I really knew how to watch such a film– I’m surprised it’s stuck with me as an ultimately meaningful experience even if what I was viewing was anything but pleasant; I even defended it to my joke of a film class when I studied abroad, and being the only film major in said class, my claims that it was a disturbing but unbelievably well-constructed period piece were dismissed as pretentiousness). Anyway, it wasn’t until my contemporary world cinema class that I got to see another Romanian film– the equally bleak dark comedy/drama The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005).

Now, as I head into 2015 wishing I not only blogged more but also watched more movies on my own, as a form of much-needed me time that is also productive somehow, I’ve decided that I miss watching foreign films and that I should really utilize my Netflix account more than I do. So, I’ve started a little passion project to watch more foreign films this year and write a little bit about them so that come 2016, I can see how I did!

The first two I watched were: Child’s Pose (from Romania) and Big Bad Wolves (from Israel).

Child’s Pose, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale the year I was in Berlin for my semester abroad, actually, was as bleak as the other Romanian films I mentioned, but rather than exposing the horribleness of communism when you need all you need is an abortion (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) or the horribleness of the modern healthcare system when all you need is a doctor and a hospital (Mr. Lazarescu) this film makes the bourgeoisie out to be the bleak, corrupt and callous facet of Romanian society– its grit is in its glamour, and in a way, that made it more disturbing to me. The film focuses intently on the class difference between Cornelia (played by Luminița Gheorghiu who also costarred in those two other Romanian films– not ironic since she’s like the Romanian Meryl Streep) and the grieving parents– whose 14 year old son was killed in a car accident, with Cornelia’s own beloved son Barbu behind the wheel.

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Though he is at least partially to blame of course, Cornelia coldly calculates what needs to be done to clear her son’s name, even when her interference is clearly unwelcome; the relationship, or lack thereof between Barbu and his mother is what makes her attempts seem all the more skewed, her denial of his wrongdoing comes second to her denying her own son’s disdain for her. The climactic scene toward the very end of the film finds Cornelia in tears, spewing his accolades and achievements as a way of defending her son, begging for his life to be spared even though the recipients of these pleas are those grieving parents whose own son was not spared, whose own son was not given such an opportunity– and with seemingly no real guilt from Cornelia. It’s a class allegory about power and pride and, though it’s never really an easy film to watch, it’s powerful if you can master it.

The next film also had to do with dead children, but other than that disturbing commonality, these films were totally different: Big Bad Wolves, which opened early in 2014 in limited release, is an Israeli thriller/dark comedy that many horror fans buzzed about (so I knew I had to move this one to the top of my list). This film was AMAZING in every way possible. From the stylish opening credits sequence to, well, a lot of other very visually striking moments, the film had a slick sense of panache. It was also sickly funny, as a dark comedy should be when done right– I found myself laughing while cringing (a sort of “should I really be laughing at that?” type reaction). I loved this film and would have given it a perfect score, easily.

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The story is that of a pedophile/child murderer who is interrogated by the father of one of the victims, with a little help too from a sarcastic vigilante cop who’d been officially taken off the case. Taking matters into their own surprisingly sadistic hands, the film takes a turn for the disturbing and suspenseful, but still with that sick humor making itself known throughout (I mean, the choice of music when the father is baking a cake with sedatives in it is priceless and will make your skin prickle). I loved the deliberate way the camera moved, the way certain moments played out in a kind of stylized slow motion; I loved the music and the script, the way humor and horror were so intertwined as if to seem naturally synonymous; I loved the way we’re meant to question everything– who is telling the truth and whose motives are justified– that is, until the twist at the end that will leave you shocked, shaken and cheering (more for its build up and execution than its content)… or maybe that was just me getting way too excited about this amazing movie culminating in the most satisfying– and yet frustrating– way possible. I don’t usually praise things this much even when I give them super positive reviews but this film honestly made me this giddy so censoring myself is not an option.

Anyway, thanks all for reading and for following me on this little foreign film journey! Coming up in this feature if all goes according to plan, I’ll be checking out two more of Leos Carax’s films, the Russian noir Elena, modern Spanish classic Y Tu Mama Tambien and recent Spanish camp-fest Witching & Bitching, Norwegian psychological drama Oslo August 31st and much much more!

A Merry, Mega Redhead Pop Culture Recap Post!

Happy holidays and happy new year to all and apologies as usual for my lack of blogging activity up until my two Christmas Day reviews. It seems I’m always apologizing in such a fashion at the beginning of a post here, and up until those aforementioned reviews, this had been my longest hiatus yet, I think. I took an unofficial, unintended and unannounced month-long break from blogging– on my own site and for everyone else’s, too– and I’ve been really trying to reassess my time management and how much time I truly have for blogging right now, and when I’d best be able to fit it in. I don’t want to give it up, at least not now, not yet– I’ve come too far and feel like writing about films and television has become an integral part of my identity, even if it is just a hobby, a therapeutic side gig that gives my life an extra ounce of meaning and purpose. Now that I have a full time job and a nearly 4 hour round-trip commute every day though, it’s been hard, and I’m not using that as an excuse, or even if I am, that’s the truth and it’s my right to be unreasonably exhausted, unmotivated, and drained of all creativity by the time the evening or even the weekend rolls around.

So, again, bear with me– or don’t– as I figure out this weird stage of my life, as it is lasting longer than I thought it should but apparently, this is all totally normal– from college to one’s early twenties, I’ve been told that it’s okay for things to be tumultuous, tiring and confusing. It’s starting to dawn on me that maybe there won’t ever be a convenient time to blog frequently– I kept saying this other thing comes first or that other thing takes priority, and maybe there will always be those things, and maybe I won’t ever be the kind of blogger who devotes one’s self so fully to this but I do care and I do want to push myself even just a little bit further, and to take advantage of whatever spare time I do have, even if it isn’t much. This blog– and the guest spots I’ve had and still have– mean so much to me, and have given me so much. I’m willing to let it come second to whatever else is going on in my life but I don’t think I’m ready or willing to say goodbye to it entirely.

With that in mind, I thought I’d write a MASSIVE hodgepodge of a post, to encapsulate all that’s been going on in my life on the pop culture front! Feel free to skim as your interests dictate.

First of all, I never did write that last The Walking Recap post. Maybe I was too shocked (but was I really?) or heartbroken. To recap briefly now, Beth stabs Dawn with a pair of medical scissors and one of the other cops shoots Beth in the head upon instinct. Daryl carries her body out as we’ve seen him do before–  carrying Beth when she hurts her ankle last season, or the dead body wrapped in a sheet that he’s about to burn on Carol’s behalf this season, all as if the show’s been foreshadowing this event– and Maggie collapses in grief. I grew to really love Beth… but the petitioning that occurred next is what I want to focus on here even more than the episode itself… apparently, there’s a chance they’ll bring Beth back? This seems wrong to me, if this rumor comes true, because it takes the dramatic, emotional impact away from the episode, takes the power out of it, I mean. It feels like a too-easy way out from a show that should continue to pride itself on packing those kinds of punches. Otherwise, why should we care about anyone on it– if they die, they’ll come back, right?

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Continuing on the television front now: I binged all three episodes of Ascension a couple weekends ago and loved it, until the ambiguous ending, that is. Syfy’s 3 part miniseries which took place on a spaceship in the middle of its 100 year journey, seemed at first to be science-fiction at its most essential and satisfying: a twisty and terrifying foray into social commentary. But, I think it could have had a little more focus than it did. Still enjoyable and worthwhile for the most part though! I think the ending just really threw me off. No spoilers but if something is going to be allegorical, pack the final punch with that in mind instead of smacking us over the head with something very new– and very random.

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I’ve also started binge watching ABC’s Revenge, and 3 years/4 seasons late to the game, I’m loving it. I’ve heard it takes a dip in season 2, a sophomore slump I guess, but I’m going to stick with it (right now I’m almost at the end of season 1 and still completely addicted). Yes, I am totally, unabashedly obsessed with the trashy, campy soap-opera-esque turmoil of the rich and powerful Grayson family, whose lavish and corrupt lives are being threatened by the way-too-cool Emily Thorne (played by Emily VanCamp), who is back under a false identity in order to seek revenge for her father’s false imprisonment. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve had with a TV show in a while– it induces the kind of viewing stress that only makes you want more. And, if I may, I think the characters are a little more complex (even if just a little) than your typical archetypes but they’re still cookie-cutter enough, somehow, to be the kinds of recognizable characters you can easily love and love to hate. The glamour, the intrigue, the backstabbing and plotting! It’s euphoric, quite frankly.

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Last thing I’ll mention about TV: the Doctor Who Christmas Special was one of the best ones I can remember. I mean, who doesn’t love creepy dream crabs (and the ensuing Alien references!) and a Santa played by Nick Frost? Plus, Jenna Coleman is staying on as Clara! This news would have upset me if she were still the same boring, one-dimensional companion as she was in the Matt Smith era but with Capaldi, she’s been written as a genuinely interesting, complicated girl and their chemistry is awesome now, so I’m really glad she changed her mind about leaving the show.

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Now, back to film before I finally stop this rambling! I would have posted a whole thing about The Interview when the controversy was happening. And then the status kept changing and I simply couldn’t keep up, so I didn’t even tweet about it as I should have– it’s North Korea’s fault one minute then it’s back to being an inside job; first the film won’t be shown and next thing I know, I’m streaming it from YouTube. Free speech ultimately won here, but there are those who still felt the film was too racist and too stupid to deserve it– dangerously stupid, in fact. My opinion still stands that a stupid comedy can still be satire though and so whether or not it’s unanimously viewed as a quality film or not, whether it is truly an irresponsible film or not, that’s almost not the point anymore. The issues are still so complicated, though, the debate so heated. But I’m still standing behind it and supporting it, and it’s apparently doing very well on VOD for Sony– this has been a pop culture event, a terrorism ploy, a conspiracy theory hub, an industry game-changer, and a global political moment all in one.

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And finally, as I wrap up 2014 in my own mind and as the movie blogger that I still am, I’ve decided that I will write a post soon about my favorite films of the year, and perhaps my least favorite– since I rented a few that I ended up not blogging about before, which may factor into that post (Maleficent = Meh-leficent and Noah = NO-ugh). I won’t put an exact date on it (when this post will be up by, I mean), but it’s always nice to reflect so I’ve definitely started to turn that all over in my head. Maybe I’ll write it a bit differently than I did last year’s. And, as a goal/resolution I’ve made for myself heading into 2015, I’m going to be posting just a little bit (meaning not full reviews or essays but just short posts of some sort) now and then about foreign films I see (most of which will be streamed from Netflix). I just miss watching foreign films and they’re often good to watch on my own, so it’ll also allow me a little me-time and will be a good personal passion project to embark upon heading into the new year. I started today by watching Child’s Pose (from Romania) and Big Bad Wolves (from Israel) so expect a post about those soon as well!

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Thank you all for reading and for sticking with me! 2014 has been a crazy year and without you, my dear readers, I’d have even more self-motivating to do than I do already! I’m very grateful and looking forward to being a better blogger in 2015.

Review: The Babadook

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Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Rating: 4 out of 5 bad books for The Babadook. This film wasn’t the scariest I’ve ever seen, as many claimed it was, but it was, indeed, very scary. Even though I went in with high expectations, the film still satisfied me immensely; it was a success regardless of whether it gave me nightmares or not. It is atmospheric, suspenseful, and dreary, and the horror comes from dread, not gore or cheap shocks. However, it takes a keen attention to detail and a particular kind of panache to pull off this kind of nuanced, delicate indie horror: Kent exhibits these qualities and displays them effortlessly here.

The Babadook– which, someone pointed out to me afterwards, can be reconfigured to roughly spell “the bad book”– is not your typical gore-fest or even your common haunting flick, but it’s pretty much unpleasant from the get-go, before anything supernatural even occurs. Amelia (Davis) is a haggard single mother, tortured by grief ever since her husband died (in a car accident, driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son). Her son, Samuel, is equally tortured by his lack of a father; he still sees monsters and even builds weapons to combat them (and to protect his beloved mother). But he is alienated from other kids as a result of these odd and aggressive behaviors, and Amelia is just as isolated from her peers due to her own inability to move forward and adequately handle her son’s erratic tendencies.

Well, before long, the demons they both battle become all too real– or perhaps, those preexisting demons allow for further negativity to enter their lives in the form of Mister Babadook, a storybook which seems to mysteriously materialize on their shelf as if beckoned or attracted by their stress and unhappiness, and which traumatizes Samuel instantly; he sees Mister Babadook everywhere and says typically creepy things to his own mother, such as “I don’t want you to die.” The scariest visceral moments of the film, sparse and expertly crafted as they are, include the guttural way “BABADOOOOK” is uttered, like a demonic whisper that upsets on a deep, physical level (something about the tone of it just made my skin prickle and crawl). Then there’s also the random appearance of roaches in a non-existent (?) hole in her wall. But those tricks never seem cheap here– they seem horrifyingly real, because everything else about the film is so grounded in gritty reality, particularly the mother-son relationship that is teased and tested throughout the film.

Davis is amazing as Amelia, especially when she is, shall we say, not herself, floating effortlessly between weepy, weak mom to crazy-killer mom– and, again, the possession sort of feeling isn’t cheapened here but rather intensified, thanks to just how subtle and seamless the buildup is, and how crucial the film’s central relationship is to the story. Her son’s obsession with monsters and with saving his mother from them comes into play perfectly when the monster is finally very much real, but it kind of makes you think whether it ever really was– one thing the Babadook says is, the more you deny me the stronger I get, and it really does seem to me like Mister Babadook was another test, a more overt manifestation maybe, of the horror that is already present in their lives, though this horror is much more human– again, the horror of losing a husband or a parent, the fear and turmoil of raising a child alone, or of being alone. The film’s ending is awesomely strange and thus all the more disturbing, and if there’s anything to be learned from the film, it’s that we cannot always eliminate that which plagues us, but we can be in control of it, but at what cost? A scary thought indeed.

This is, all in all, a chilling and unsettling horror film that, above all else, is just so expertly crafted– there wasn’t anything in here that was sloppy or lacked stylishness, care or precision. Even if it doesn’t scare you in the same way as some other films might, I’d argue that this brand of scares is a lot more deeply effective– washing over you like a cold sweat brought on by a bad memory or rather by a nightmare only half remembered, always lurking in the shadows, threatening to remind you of the horrors of your every day life.

Review: The Interview (& Why a “Stupid” Comedy Can Still Be a Satire)

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Director:Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Lizzy Caplan
Rating: 4 out of 5 missiles; a stupid-smart, or perhaps smartly stupid, satire. The film’s script (its broad approach to satirical humor) isn’t always the most intelligent, at least not on the surface (which doesn’t mean it isn’t funny, by the way). But lurking beneath James Franco’s obnoxiousness and between the usual, to-be-expected vulgarities, there is a gleefully offensive ridiculousness to this film that somehow gets its message across better than you’d think it would– if you’re receptive to it, that is. And, might I add, the film skewers not just North Korea, but also America. Its approach to making fun of the former is far more over-the-top than the latter, and so I think the fact that some nuance even exists here at all deserves a whole lot more credit than what the film is going to get.

And that, of course, is because the film is going to get notoriety instead, due to the controversy that has surrounded it for the last couple weeks, from the Sony hack itself to the ensuing fallout: theater chains pulling the film after threats of 9/11-esque attacks surfaced, then Sony pulling it entirely with no plans of distributing it, then Sony deciding to, thankfully, distribute the film after all via various VOD outlets (after much push back and criticism from Hollywood, the indie film world, and even President Obama).

And, as Rotten Tomatoes so eloquently put it in their current consensus for the film, all of that controversy will likely overshadow the film, its strengths and flaws alike. In fact, I’d go so far as to say many people who didn’t have an opinion about, or any interest in seeing the film were enticed to check it out, to see what the hubbub was all about. Then there were others who expressed that this was a whole lot of hubbub over what would probably be a dumb movie. I, for one, was always invested in this film, being a longtime mega-fan of Seth Rogen (and Evan Goldberg). And, like I said, despite the sometimes too low-brow, crude script with jokes that don’t always hit their marks perfectly, the film still works albeit as a smart satire masquerading as a stupid one: over-the-top and silly, yes, but the film is not actually as stupid as it would appear, or at least, it uses its stupidity to its extreme advantage in more cases than not, I’d say. I just fear that, controversy aside, its aura of stupidity will be what clouds the film’s unexpected brilliance for those who refuse to see that aura as a vehicle that enhances its satirical quality.

Of course, there’s not much more I need to say about the film’s plot or its politics, but I really liked this movie so I’ll ramble on anyway. The film follows James Franco’s Dave Skylark– a celebrity gossip reporter– and his trusty producer Aaron Rapaport (played by Seth Rogen, the straight man to Franco’s incompetent, insensitive goofball). They are given the rare opportunity to interview North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, which turns into a mission to kill him, or at least to make him seem human to his own people, who worship him as a god, of course.

The nuances I was referring to earlier with regard satirizing our own country’s policies and pomp come in a few different forms– the celebrity cameos and references surrounding Skylark’s show (Eminem is gay! Rob Lowe is bald! Miley Cyrus has camel-toe! Again– totally low-brow but undeniably humorous) and later, during the titular interview itself, the tables are turned momentarily, but just long enough for discerning viewers to stop and think about our own foreign and domestic policies. Another such fleeting moment is when Skylark, defending the outwardly awesome and misunderstood Kim Jong-un, says something along the lines of, what do we know anyway, we’re always sticking our nose into other countries’ business and messing everything up. I’m not saying the film had a responsibility to flesh these moments out more, heck if the hackers were domestic maybe that would make them just as upset. I just hope those moments are not overlooked totally– they are there, and they do matter.

But of course, Kim Jong-un is also depicted as a hilariously deceitful madman who likes basketball, margaritas, and Katy Perry’s “Firework” and who is burdened by his father’s legacy. I could see why, if North Korea had been the hackers (they’re denying involvement, last I heard), they’d be more than a little sensitive, since the interview itself is, in many ways, more humiliating than the original plan to assassinate him. But that’s why I think those brief moments of satire that point in both directions are so important even if they are more subtle. And maybe there’s something to be said for the film’s shenanigans that seem no different, comedically speaking, from any of Rogen or Franco’s other movies– I think it’s all intentional and, more or less, all effective.

I laughed more than once– sometimes hard– and found myself thinking too, but not for too long before the next gag came along and made me laugh again. I don’t think this kind of back and forth is a bad thing, necessarily. I don’t think the film even takes itself too seriously– all the more reason why the controversy was so fascinating to me in the first place. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from all this, it’s that we need comedy– in many forms, not just those that pride themselves on being cultured– in order to shed light on the state of our world. No matter how juvenile that light seems to be, it’s a light nonetheless, and if we dismiss those lights as such and say they aren’t worthy, or if we instead take them so seriously that we extinguish them out of fear, then the film industry– and our world at large– would be a very dark place indeed.