August 28, 2014
Five Things I Never Thought I would Never Thought I’d Say.

Sometimes we don’t know until after the fact the things that would surprise us coming out of our mouths. This past summer has been a whirlwind — see if you can guess the pattern in no particular order…

1. “I don’t know…I just wish Damien Sandow had better merchandise”

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2. “MOM, I’M UPSTAIRS. YEAH, I’M WATCHING WRESTLING”

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3. “MOM, JUST BECAUSE IT’S SCRIPTED DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT REAL”

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(WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHY?)

4. “I get Ryback’s constant need to feed and march around successful”

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5. “I’m just going to catch up since 2012 - essentially since the Shield appears because they seem posed to be the next big thing. I don’t know…anything more just seems a tad ridiculous. Of course I’m caught up. Oh, I’m only just watching the Raw Replays, Smackdown Replays, and Pay-Per-Views." NBD

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Only little has been changed for comedic effect - very little. Too little.

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August 4, 2014
Let’s Talk about “Never Mind the Buzzcocks”

First things first, let’s discuss the two and half month lag between posts? Was it because I  

A. Strained my big ol academic brain and needed a bit of break from writing pseudo-intellectually about shit I like and don’t like

B. Sex rehab

C. Cocaine stupor then Sex rehab

D. Both B and C

E. Bitch just lazy

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In order to ensure a glorious and meaty return I spent this off-time watching 27 series of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, a British panel show centered around music, featuring guests from music, television, and comedy. The show began in 1996 and continues to air despite numerous personnel changes, industrial shifts, and popular culture becoming an impossible merry-go-round of appropriation and corporate garbage (JEDWARD). 

Analyzing the show is probably most digestible through looking at its hosting waves: Mark Lamarr, Simon Amstell, and the five series of guest-hosts. Each phase is rather distinct, with each period having its own special tint of mockery, self-awareness, and “givin’ a shits”. One of the things that marks the program, and is consistently reinforced through its marketing, is its disregard for celebrity culture (at least to a certain extent). This is not a program that panders much to celebrity status. Guests on the show are regularly mocked, those who are the subjects of questions are broiled, and even the audience is thrown into it when blamed for the popularity of contemporary “musicians”. 

The jabs have gotten softer over the years, as most of the guest hosts sit and read what they are told, most not having the strength or ability to riff or adlib as jokes come their way. Some hosts, like Frankie Boyle and Jack Dee, who are comedians are great for noting the idiocy of guests, but are open about not paying attention to music past 1984-1998 and therefore do not engage with their musical guests in the same way permanent hosts Lamarr and Amstell could and often would. 

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Both Lamarr and Amstell made names for themselves for being celebrities’ worst nightmares. In the early 90s, Lamarr was on The Word, a kind of youth culture lifestyle, music program. He was known for being confrontational, which was and continues to be a refreshing change of pace from the norm. Instead of treating the format in a way that encourages the interviewer to be thankful for being in the presence of a C-level artist, Lamarr aggressively reminded people how lucky they were to be featured on a show - particularly those who had minimal talent and were (in his estimation) undeserving of recognition in the first place. Lamarr did not play by the “rules” and was pretty dismissive toward others who did. 

Lamarr was able to create a “grumpy” persona, though I think this minimizes his contribution quite dramatically. He was not necessarily a crank, but somebody who refused to participate in something that did not align with his values. It’s anti-establishmentary as opposed to just being a sour puss, which although some may feel as slight, is quite an important distinction - particularly given the trajectory of career. He moved onto the wonderfully absurd Shooting Stars, with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer where he continued to question the authority of the gamekeepers (Vic and Bob) and the nature of quizzes in general. The joy in watching him in Shooting Stars is not necessarily the pleasure of fighting back, but the points in which he breaks from character and laughs. In essence, where he confirms that the nature of his “character” is just that, a performance constructed around his “no thanks” approach to the commercial powers that be. Do I think he was absolutely adverse to his own celebrity? Nah - that guy plied his wares across the board - but I do think he was able to know his limits, call bullshit, and quit. 

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Lamarr hosted Buzzcocks from 1996 - 2005. The first few years are more about building a bridge from Lamarr as that “asshole” from Shooting Stars and The Word. One of the continued jokes from Shooting Stars concerned Lamarr’s style, which was rooted in rockabilly. They referred to him as “50s Throwback,” Lamarr would get annoyed, the audience would laugh, and things would move forward.  The Lamarr years were great because

1) Lamarr actually liked and knew music. He made no bones about his distaste for most contemporary pop music (Geri Halliwell and Robbie Williams were both major players on his shit list - interesting also is the fact Williams appeared on Lamarr’s Shooting Stars team TWICE and seemed extra annoying). But as much as he had a distaste for contemporary pop, it didn’t mean he wasn’t aware of what was happening - he seemed to be constantly listening - along with co-captain, Phill Jupitus - who CONTINUES to be up-to-date on trends. He was always able to offer up extra information, a few helpful clues/trivia, and go deep for the zingers. Unlike the others who went after him, it was a show about music first and then comedy a close close second…and even then the comedy was a metanarrative about the state of music, the panel game show format in general, and himself. 

2) Everybody was sorting their shit. There were some growing pains, which can be annoying to some, but I liked (particularly in a binge session) watching the show grow, people figuring out their place, and finding the rhythm. Lamarr is trying to super hard to balance between conforming to the persona that acts as the anchor for the show, while also trying to forge a new, more freeing presence - one where he can also feel free to have fun, where there’s no need to break, because it’s just him. Jupitus works his way from an overeager nerd to a wise beleaguered judge who is “getting too old for this shit”. Sean Hughes has said it took him awhile to get into it - moving from “I’m getting paid” to actually enjoying it (though he’s the first to make a run for it and is replaced by Bill Bailey). I’m not sure the relationship dynamics prior to the show like whether Jupitus/Hughes/Lamarr were friends beforehand. I imagine there was some camaraderie in that all three started as poets, are comedians, and for Jupitus/Lamarr into music (and have similar tastes).

3) Lamarr didn’t let anybody get away with much, but it’s not a show about him. Lamarr’s management is incredible, a master of shutting down. This is a vital skill for this type of show, which stresses comedic performance as well as trivia prowess. This means non-funny jabronis who have been told their funny try to stretch their wings and suck all the comedy out of the room. Lamarr excels at reprimanding those who are ruining the game by being unfunny dickfaces and encouraging those who bring either humor or knowledge to the proceedings. 

4) The show was a collaborative effort. As much as Lamarr has control over the show - he actually works with Jupitus and Hughes, as well as the other guests to squeeze as much entertainment as possible. Lamarr seemed able to read situations and adapt - getting meaner, more tired, or morose as necessary. He jokes WITH Jupitus and Hughes (and later Bailey) who are also enlisted as part of the wrangling squad. It’s not simply Lamarr’s show, though technically the “star.” This same sense of collectivity would not be the same post-2005.

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Lamarr “took a break” in 2006 and Never Mind the Buzzcocks used guest judges to replace him. They only addressed his absence once in the first episode - Bill Bailey and Phill Jupitus are playing in a band and talk about how they’ve got to continue in spite of Lamarr’s absence. Other than that quick two minute acknowledgement, the show and its players don’t spend a lot of time dwelling in the past. Rumor has it Lamarr was planning to return - which seems true enough - after 10 years it seems worth taking a breather, especially working nonstop for the past 15-20. It also seems equally likely that after those 10 years Lamarr saw what was coming and decided to get the fuck out of dodge. Pop music had changed, Pop Idol (American Idol for us Yanks) determined what it meant to be a star - and the BBC was complicit in these shifts - providing opportunities for these kids to get richer despite having little to no talent or interest in music. This would be (at least partially) the reason for Lamarr’s break completely from the BBC in 2010, when he quit his radio program citing BBC’s lack of interest in music and his own feelings of confinement - not being able to be a DJ. He has only shown up a bit here and there - a few voiceovers, a five-second cameo in Nick Lowe’s “Sensitive Man” video.

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He seems to have “opted out” which is all the reason to admire him more. Some have claimed the lack of work is due to Lamarr’s “bad boy” behavior and massive ego, but I think these are assertions made by people who don’t understand why somebody would choose to not work within an industry that increasingly demands obedience. They consider leaving the industry “giving up” when in actuality you could see participating in the industry “giving in.” Handing over yourself and allowing any job to dictate your code of ethics is arguably what it means to “give up.” I think in actuality, Lamarr is one of the few people who recognized the change and didn’t want any part of it, choosing to do what he wanted instead of ‘playing the game’ and making money. He Greta Garboed that shit and it’s worth pouring one out for him as we move forward. 

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If Lamarr was planning to return it sure wasn’t evident by BBC’s quick scoop of Simon Amstell. The choice of Amstell as a permanent replacement was a no-brainer as it was an easy transition. Eerily enough there were a few scattered comments during the times he appeared as guest to the similarities between himself and Lamarr. At one point Lamarr jokingly claims Amstell as his son after the latter talked about making Britney Spears cry on Pop World. In another joke not specifically about Amstell and a couple of years before the takeover, Lamarr contends that the BBC is planning to replace him with a younger version of himself as other programs had recently done the same thing. The joke was in reference to somebody else, but watching it in hindsight is a tad unnerving once realized the joke was actually a premonition. 

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Simon Amstell’s run was where I actually started Buzzcocks. I’m guessing it was around the same time I was watching The Mighty Boosh and Noel Fielding was on twice during that time. I continued to watch for Amstell. I felt he was a bit of a spirit animal of sorts - he was self-deprecating, an outsider to the world of pop celebrity, but somebody who was interested in celebrity culture. Amstell is like Lamarr in the sense he is a comedian who started on television interviewing celebrities and notoriously causing conflict. Whereas Lamarr pushed boundaries, Amstell straight up shit on his guests. Lamarr just asked questions, knowing they would be difficult and would possibly get a reaction. In talking to Danni Minogue he just straight up asks what she thinks about the fact her album is not selling well. It’s a good enough question, but not one typically asked in these interviews (though should). It was more abrasive than most, but one easily handled if you were smart enough to deflect or pivot. Amstell, on the other hand, always went above and beyond in Pop World. He was much meaner and didn’t attempt to veil what he was trying to to do in these interviews, which was to point out celebrities were not special and just regular human beings. 

Lamarr was good at shutting shit down and getting people to quit their foolishness. That was his gift. Amstell was good at really digging at people, but in ways that kept them acting the fool which allows for the digging to the continue. Lamarr’s outbursts ensured everybody got a turn, whereas Amstell and his prime target dictated the course of the episode. 

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Amstell brought his Pop World energy to Buzzcocks, which had a few consequences. First, it became the central piece of the show. Rather than the collaboration seen in previous seasons, the game became more about how far Simon could go to make his guests feel uncomfortable and who would get the brunt of his joking. Jupitus and Bailey only really play the game and are rarely given the opportunity to joke around as Amstell does most of the joking. It’s understandable why Bailey left and why Jupitus almost quit, as the tension becomes increasingly palpable. There’s no sense of a partnership between the three - I wouldn’t place this burden on Amstell, as somebody trying to work his way into a more adult world of comedy, but on the BBC who is clearly trying to up the numbers and encouraging Amstell to do more. It also makes sense as to why Amstell would leave only after a handful of seasons - it’s not necessarily fun for people to be afraid of you and not want to hang out and even less so when you don’t have any allies on the show. Since leaving, Amstell has addressed this negative affect (and I do mean the in-betweeness, feelings and vibes) in his sitcom Grandma’s House, which was a great two-series sitcom. His standup also reveals more of his vulnerability than Buzzcocks could allow. 

Here is five minutes - essentially 20% of the show taking the piss out of Antony Costa from Blue

and here’s another 20% with Donny Tourette

For me, Amstell was great to watch work. He was great at delivering the prepped jokes, but also in engaging with guests who needed a brush with reality. He also seemed to be having fun, which helped the energy of the show. Lamarr was always the worn out host of a quiz who was forced to manage the madness. Amstell was the guy who snuck into an after party and said “fuck it, I have nothing to lose.” That being said, this era is rife with tension and couldn’t possibly be sustained - by either Amstell who loses his lustre, the captains who grew tiresome of becoming simply props, and the BBC who surely had difficulty getting guests to agree to place themselves in the firing range. Simon Amstell is better on his own - Buzzcocks was a launching pad to bigger, better, and more complex enterprises. 

In Amstell’s final season, Noel Fielding took over for Bill Bailey as a team captain, which allowed for a more youthful absurdity, Boosh fanbase, and musician/comedy friends. For the past five years the show has had rotating guest hosts. This guarantees that shows will be inconsistent. When David Hasselhoff is the host that week, you know it’s going to be the worst because he can barely read and is a not funny person who tries super hard to prove how funny he can be and fails so miserably that the not even the failure is worth laughter. But this lack of stability also allows for a lot of variety. Jack Whitehall has been a pretty good guest host, but I would be right annoyed if he was showing up weekly. Frankie Boyle too has been stellar, but I doubt he would be able to keep out of trouble. The punches are great for an episode, but I think the BBC and Boyle would go nuts if it went for an entire season. 

One of the best hosts was Richard Ayoade, who is best at doing the “anti-panel” game - deconstructing the panel show as he continues to perform on a panel show. I would watch the shit out of it, but I don’t think it would be incredibly sustainable. 

What these past few seasons have accomplished is creating a bond between Jupitus and Fielding and allowing them more time to make jokes and participate in the quiz. It seems like there is a mutual respect between the both of them, as comedians, fans of music, and folk interested in trivia and psuedo facts. Not having a permanent guest host has allowed them to take back the reins of the show so to speak and work together to set the pace and dynamic of the quiz. They help each other reestablish the order and put people in line. They work well together and that has lifted the energy of the show considerably and returned it to the fact it is a show about people having fun. Lamarr had his outbursts but it was clear he and the majority were having a good time (there were a few episodes when things would get uncomfortable and weird…when it seemed like Lamarr wasn’t having a good time, but they were few and far between). The Amstell years were full of tension. It doesn’t matter if the guest host is shit, because it’s only one day. It doesn’t matter if they’re assholes, because it was only one time. No stability, no patterns, no expectations. While it works for the BBC by way of marketing, there does seem to be something missing without a permanent host. Perhaps its just my own need for order, but I like the idea of a continued relationship between all three of the permanent players - of Jupitus, Fielding, and X working together to make this work, as opposed to just two captains running amok. There are more opportunities to usurp the authority with a permanent host, more ways to weasel around the rules, and a professional who is able to keep the game flowing and the players in line. 

Just a couple of weeks ago it was announced Rhod Gilbert would takeover as a permanent host. He has been a solid guest host so far, allowing bits to breathe, but also feeling free rile up guests when necessary. On paper it seems like a perfect solution to the host problem. He’s a prickly pear who is not afraid of being unpopular and call out his guests, but at the same time can negotiate and manage personalities and jokes. 

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The show has been attempted in the States TWICE - the first time on the USA network with the Zappa brothers at the helm and the second for VH1 with Marc Maron as host. Both failed miserably. The panel show hasn’t really worked in the United States since the 1970s. In the 1950s and 1960s you had What’s My Line and I’ve Got a Secret followed by Hollywood Squares and Match Game, but even these are not same - Never Mind the Buzz Cocks and shows like it (Mock the Week, Would I Lie to You) are not about winners - at the end of the day, there is nothing at stake - no car or vacation to win, no embarrassment of failing on television. There is nothing gained by those who participate, which is why I think the the panel game show cannot work within the American culture. We’re not really a people who take enjoyment in the process. We’re not really about the love of the sport, unless that means somebody will get the shit kicked out of them on their way to winning the big game. These shows are also about watching people hang out - poking fun at each other, helping each other. There are a lot of dynamics happening here, but intricacies are not really a focus in the types of games we like to watch on television. We need people to either be incredibly humiliated on television or win a bajillion dollars - no time for anything else in between those two extremes. It is all about results and without the sense of clear winners and losers, what’s the point? There’s also not a huge emphasis on trivia in the states - it’s not really valuable to know shit for the sake of knowing it. It doesn’t necessarily make you a better person or of any use to society - at least in the eyes of culture. People are super impressed by the database, but also consider it a waste of time…and perhaps it is, but I’m not really interested in competition for the sake of competition. I’d much rather watch people have fun learning trivia than compete over who gives the best haircut. 

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I’m more than pretty sure binging in this fashion fosters a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Let us all become involved in that sort of research. 

May 20, 2014
Binging So You Don’t Have To

I have a habit of binging without purging - but rather than tell you how much pasta I can eat in one sitting or how it takes me about a commercial break to eat lunch, I’ll let you in on my recent TV binges. 

Most days the television is ALWAYS on - mostly on daily garbage, meaning nothing that I really need to pay attention to - court shows, Cops, Love it or List It. A look or two up from my computer is all I need to get a better picture and then I can continue to grade, write, or whatever. It has become a habit of sorts - a quick way to de-stress and think “What the fuck is happening to popular culture?” before going back into the confines of my computer screen (aka playing Criminal Case on Facebook). 

Once classes ended, I started catch up on shows I wanted/needed to finish. I went through about six seasons of Law and Order: SVU, two seasons of The Wire, and the most recent season of New Girl. 

Law and Order: SVU 

It started when I ran into a marathon on USA and realized I needed to start creating my own marathons. While KB and I still roommated, we started to go through all the episodes of SVU, chronologically. After a hiatus, I went back to it and unearthed an entire world of a Stabler-less sex crime investigation and D-ramamama

The concept of the show is bizarre - at some point, Dick Wolf had to sit down and tell NBC execs, “Listen, you know what I think I could sell in that 9pm block? Sex … crimes. The sponsors will go wild.” Yet, every time I hear that BONG BONG, I get settled in, ready to solve some crimes like a goddamn German Shepard. Stabler and Benson are such a great team, and then you have the crustiness of Richard Belzer and Ice-T that really rounds out a pretty great cast and sets up solid relationship structures. Flawed, complex characters within a fairly formulaic, simplistic narrative.

Once season 8 hits, the world of SVU gets a bit weirder. The producers and writers try to milk as much drama as possible - at the end of the 9th season, a lot of the final episode is dedicated to the jaws of life cutting Stabler’s pregnant wife out of a totaled car - and the will she/won’t she death predicament (of course she didn’t, because it’s NBC and America). Once Stabler leaves things get weirder - the narratives becomes more complex as we introduce more characters and go into their rabbit hole narratives. They must have also gotten a new crew, because even aesthetically the show has changed - weird filters, flashbacks, shaky tracking shots - somebody just got down watching some Bunuel films and they have some things they’d like to try. The show also relies more on spectacle than it used to, which for a show about sex crimes, gets a little iffy. For a program that uses “escalation” to discuss dangerous behavior, it seems like they should follow their own advice. Sometimes these spectacles work - like the Pablo Schreiber’s creepy serial stalker which reminds us all of chaos and broken systems (though my mother disagrees, ignoring the his return this season. I admit, I may be a bit dickmatized by Pablo Schreiber - which considering his characters, reminds me that I need to set up an appointment with my therapist). 

The Wire 

I am television scholar. I have a PhD. I only started watching The Wire last year. I feel like the Keyser Soze of scholarship right now. It’s like studying film without having seen anything made before 1980 or saying “You know what FUCK Citizen Kane. Orson Welles can suck dese nuts!” I didn’t really care when The Wire was initially on - I was in my room watching Terror Firmer on repeat like a sicko - not watching quality television. 

What kept me from watching The Wire? People who LOVE The Wire. There are those who love the show and those who are denial that the show ever ended. I was at a conference where we were discussing racial diversity on television and this dude spoke IN THE PRESENT when talking about The Wire. It had been off the air for four years. I acknowledged that it was important show - helping to usher in “quality” to television - that television had the capability of addressing institutional problems - broken politics, broken schools, racism, sexism, challenging stereotypes - but not in a “very special episode” type of way. I started watching last year, but this past two weeks I blazed through the last three seasons. 

I get it. When it’s great, it’s great and even when it’s ok it’s pretty good. I can imagine watching it ten years ago and thinking “holy shit,” but starting after watching contemporary shows build off the legacy alters the viewpoint. It’s solid, but does indulge in some Sorkinesque pedantic proselytization. I also hate McNulty - the central figure from which the narrative pivots - I hate him as a character, I’m not a super fan of Dominic West (I guess… I’ll have to do more research)…and shhhhhheeeeeeeeiiiiiitttt there needs to be more hon talk and filth.

 

New Girl 

It only took a day to get through the most recent season of New Girl. I was going to watch it as it happened, but the first episode put me off that it took me awhile to get back to it. I loved the crushing that went on between Nick and Jess - mostly all things Nick I’m a fan of (because who isn’t in love with Jake Johnson. I called it after watching Paper Heart, folks…so get in the back of the line). 

But the first episode this season, was a bit disappointing, mostly because it moved the narrative to surround their status as a couple. It was no longer about Jess as a individual, nor Nick as a dude, but more about their coupling. It’s just a slight difference, but one that makes the entire series’ focus shift. The series eased up a bit on their romance, though most scenarios placed stress on them, causing them to deal with it by the end of the episode, hug it out, make out, and go to bed. It also seems as if they upped the fat jokes this single and also made a caricature of Winston being a single dude. I kind of just wish he and Ferguson were just the happier ever after we wanted, though Winston and Ferguson ARE pretty much me and my cat, so perhaps this critique is mostly a knee jerk reaction for “SHUT UP, MERIWETHER AND LEAVE US ALONE.”

Their breakup by the end of the season has some potential fun for next season with whole range of awkward emotions like lingering lust, jealousy, and pretend “give a fucks” that turn to secret range. Hopefully this doesn’t lead its way into Ross and Rachel: The Millennial edition. 

May 4, 2014
Let’s Talk about SZA

I’m obsessed with SZA’s Z. It came across my desk a few weeks ago and I can’t stop. It has become my 2014 staple. 

From the get-go you’re positioned into a strange ethereal place - there are so many elements coming together, all familiar, but their convergence makes them strange. As a whole, the album is like walking through a dimly hallway with an array of open doors into narrative fragments. I think some may think it lacks cohesion (Pitchfork), but they’re wrong. The album and its songs need to be thought more of as part of a more significant surreal “experience” as opposed to an iTunes pleasure machine. 

I find myself having kaleidoscope feelings during individual tracks. “Child’s Play” with Chance the Rapper is full of bittersweetness, but with cheeky lines (Chance’s 30s Cagney impression = A+). On one hand, the song is fully fragile. The first line “Ripping the heads off of my Barbie dolls, toss them to the side” opens up a brutal forerunner to what it means to lose love - the physical and emotional tears. The irony is there is nothing aesthetically brutal about this song; in fact, it’s full of fragility. SZA’s affected lightness, airiness combats the violence and tragedy of references to Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Othello. 

The song transitions into upbeat jam (and best song of 2014 as far as I’m concerned) “Julia” - again there is contrast between the raucous, infectious dance beat with and the understated frustration of not getting what you want, when you want it, and the despondency associated with rejection. 

The whole album is full of these rich and layered pieces. It doesn’t need to be full of power vocals or ridiculous overblown sentiment. Its contradictions in its instrumentation, vocals, are full of jabs, cuts, and smirks. Every time I’ve listened to this album, a different song captures my imagination, a new moment catches me and thrusts me into creative reflection as I pair images with lyrics - short scenes. 

Z is reflective, self-deprecatory, and yet full of hope. I’m just full of love for this album. 

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May 3, 2014
Taking the Day

My original life plan starting last August was to take one day off every week. No checking e-mail, planning lectures, grading, reading for the sake of teaching - and while it worked alright for six months fell apart pretty quickly in the New Year. A lot of it due to mismanagement of workload, but a large chunk goes to the lackluster assortment of films coming out this season. I know a bunch of people have hard ons in their twisted panties for Spider Man or Captain America, butI would rather eat farts. I did see The Grand Budapest Hotel, which made my heart aflutter in sad whimsy, but the pickings have been relatively slim. Not having an excuse to leave the house makes working a little more obligatory. “Just a moment tinkering with this presentation” turns into an entire day. Checking e-mail turns into a labyrinthian search for that movie starring that one guy who was playing that character who also checked e-mails. 

After a bittersweet week of wrapping things up and entering a period of liminality, I threw a proverbial FUCK IT, and sat and watched movies all day. The only tinkering I did was with my Chinese take out order. 

Bad Words (Bateman 2013)

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There is something wonderful about adults treating children like shit. For that alone this film is worth seeing. Overall, the film is fine. I think it’s an attempt for Bateman to shed his recent representations as the put-upon guy - who can get mean if he wants to, but for the most part is a decent, upstanding citizen, who gets caught in the muck. His character Guy Trilby does have a redeemable quality about him cements him as moralistic in spite of his apparent amoral behavior. It also tricked me into its sentimentality. I thought it was ok, but by the end was invested in the friendship (with shades of father/son) that develops throughout the narrative.

I give it three Bad Santas

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Grudge Match (Segal 2013)

Am I proud of myself? Absolutely not. I wasn’t proud of myself last year when I saw the previews and thought “Oh man…yes. YES” and even less so while I kept watching these jabronis carry on. But I’ve somewhat come to terms with the fact that I love an old person story. I’m still charmed by Grumpy Old Men AND Grumpier Old Men. I saw this film as opportunity for more grumps but this time with more Stallone’s marble mouthery. “THE SHENANIGANS!” I thought. 

  1. It’s funny how life long Pittsburghers sound like they’re from Brooklyn or Long Island. There wasn’t one “n at” or french fry salad n dat dam film. 
  2. We need to have a serious discussion about Sly’s face. What the fuck happened, gang? It looks like somebody made a face out of Velveeta, poured vodka on top, and set it ablaze. Did somebody confuse his face for a block of cheese and try to grate it for nachos? 
  3. The tone is just too much. PICK SOMETHING - it’s either got to be Grumpy Old Men fighting or Cocoon with more punching. Cut the middling bullshit. I was not full of chuckles, nor were mine eyes full of tears. I don’t care if you’ve come to terms with the fact you’re a shitty dad/dude - just beat the shit out of each other and call it a day. 
  4. It was frustrating to watch a shitty film about two old dudes who are no longer relevant, featuring actors who refuse to fucking retire (and are barely relevant). $40,000,000 was invested in this and yet films featuring complex women are left on the back burner. C’mon Hollywood, get your daddy issues in check. See a therapist like everybody else. 

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I give it 2 feathered haired “Gimme a Breaks”

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Star Trek Into Darkness (Abrams 2013)

I saw the first part of the reboot twice in theaters. I thought it was able to balance origin stories with action, be a little cheeky, and still play with the size and scope of spectacle. I held off on the sequel. Not for any political reason, but just caught up and missed my chances. It was time to see Cumberbatch in all his villainous glory. 

I know people talked pretty explicitly about the Alice Eve underpants scene, which as much as I would love to stomp my feet about don’t really care enough. Kirk is a skeaze - that’s like point #1 to his character. Also, those high cut briefs were too weird to be sexy. Unless you like thinking about your ripped grandma undressing, then you were probably hot and bothered. I was more troubled by the blatant racism from the get-go. We already knew Abrams and co replaced Kahn, played by Ricardo Montalban, with the whitest white dude to ever be white, Benedict Cumberbatch - which completely erases the implications of white imperialism of the Starfleet who “explore” and “conquer” space - already starting in questionable territory. But to start with that beginning - of “savage” “dumb” indigenous people in need of saving is full of problematics as the white people “sacrifice” themselves. Now granted, not everybody in Starfleet is white - but most of them are pretty damn white. 

Also - there are so many eyerolly parts. I get that Spock/Kirk slash fiction is a thing and the idea of them kissing is something that gets folk a bit excited - but this? Jesus - just have them fuck already. This sentimental bullshit is too much as the forced sense of intimacy between two characters who are intimate negates any sense of ACTUAL care the two could have for each other. What made Kirk and Spock so great together was the SUBTEXT. You didn’t need them to dry hump to get that they were partners, best friends, soul mates. They just were. 

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I also thought the movie was pretty dull. I’m not quite sure if it had something to do with translating it from the big screen to the small, but as much as people were yelling, nothing really seemed to happen. 

I give it 3 Shatner Chokes 

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A couple of unnecessary lens flares

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and two “have you even kissed a girl?”s

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Is it just me or has the past three year within film been chock full of daddy issues? Fathers take your sons out for more ice cream cones and pick them up after soccer (ON TIME) like you promised. I didn’t realize there was a theme to these films until all the examples of absentee, figurative, bad, and dead dads converged together into one psychotic mess. Hollywood has always had a thing about surrogate fathers, but it seems like I’ve seen more stories about how sad dudes are and how much they want hugs from their dads. I also admit that this could be the case forever, but I’m just now noticing it. 

In need of a necessary shining jewel in a mediocre crown, I ended my night with

The Double (Ayoade 2013)

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I have been jazzed for this film since it was first teased about a year ago. I love Ayoade’s work in television, his music videos, and his first feature, Submarine (2010) is weird and wonderful. Submarine was full of play and that transitions into full blown style in this film.

Full disclosure - I also have a weird thing for Jesse Eisenberg. I can’t explain it. I don’t quite understand it. His face is weird. He seems full of awkward. But I’d still make the beast with two backs. 

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There is no filler in this film. Every shot has its place and each frame is remarkable. I wanted to screen capture everything, then print them all out, and just spread them all over town: nail them on neighbor’s doors, post them on lamp posts, put them in wallet and show strangers, glue them to walls. 

The film is weird and how can it not be when taken from Kafka. It’s also a great film for those invested in Ayoade (assholes like me) who find pleasure in seeing his network of folk paraded in front of them. The cast of Submarine is scattered throughout in bit parts, as are Chris O’Dowd and Chris Morris from It Crowd (and don’t you nerds think I forgot about Nathan Barley). The narrative also hit me in weird places. I was totally engorged by everything in front of me. I tell you what, the Brits killed it in 2013. Between Ben Wheatley and Richard Ayoade, British films have provided some great unsettling narratives. It got me in all the right places and at just the right times. 

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I give it 5 aroused Douglas Reynholms

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and all the stars

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April 6, 2014
Dealing with My Francophobia and -philia (Part 2 of 4)

Several signs converged to prompt me to cut off my research regarding James Franco’s directorial ventures. The first was my father telling me how much he loved Oz: The Great and Powerful, which he reminded me, starred “my boyfriend” James Franco. The second was the hullaballoo surrounding Franco’s flirtation with a barely legal fan. I give credit to that lady. When I was seventeen if Dave Grohl offered me a ticket to Pound Town, my bags would be packed and my folks would have seen nothing but a trail of dust following my lusty ass. But that is neither here nor there.

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Finding Franco: Directing Edition

Franco’s directing is much like his writing - full of concepts without any sense of “giving a shit” for emotional depth. I only watched The Broken Tower (2011), Sal (2011), Interior. Leather. Bar (2013),As I Lay Dying (2013), and his short film Feast of Stephen (2009). They were films that were relatively accessible and covered a variety of topics, most of which center on how much James Franco knows about stuff that we may not know about as if to say

oh…you haven’t heard of Sal Mineo? The other guy from that James Dean movie [who by the way I played in a tv movie…again, not to brag]? Well, let me take you on a cinematic journey

Already, his films are intellectually masturbatory, an attempt to offer new insight into people we presumably have never heard of, books we’ve never read OR a completely different perspective on how either can be represented through the magic of CINEMA

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It can be somewhat easy to become lost in scenes. Broken Tower is beautifully shot and there are images that easily stand on their own (plus Franco and Michael Sheen make-out. My dream journal has once again been hacked!). As I Lay Dying nicely represents the grime and sweat of Faulkner (so I’ve heard). The problem is Franco has a hard on for experimenting with techniques which turn neat ideas into eye-rolling “give me a breaks”. 

In focusing too hard on being different he forgets the point of his narratives, which are often tragic and require empathy from the audience. Sal is about the last day of Sal Mineo’s life, but we aren’t permitted to know anything about him, because this period is filmed predominantly in close-ups. Surely, there’s something arguably poetic about this, the idea that no matter how close we get we never TRULY KNOW him. I strongly doubt that was the goal. 

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The film remains artificial, as do the majority of Franco’s narratives, with character motivations unclear, incomplete plots, and relationships in a state of “so what? who cares?”. In Broken Tower the narrative is pieced together through moments that seem to be significant for Franco, but aren’t developed in ways that elaborate on why we should care or add to the emotional complexities of its subject, Hart Crane. While beautifully photographed, it hardly matters as nothing goes deeper than the image itself. The Kuleshov Effect can only do so much to convey a story. 

As I Lay Dying employs the the split screen the whole goddamn time. The split-screen can be great in forcing the viewers to choose between competing viewpoints which leads to further contemplation regarding what it is we are experiencing and why. Doing it throughout the entire thing allows for no stability, which is fine to some extent, but in a narrative about death, family, abuse, rape, abandonment, and poverty - stylization actually detracts from representing these emotive elements. There are some directors who can tug the ol’ heart strings while being fancy with editing or mise-en-scene (Gus Van Sant, Wes Anderson, Nicolas Winding Refn, Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese - I guess list a favorite here). I’m not sure if this is an issue of style = art - that you can’t make something comprehensible that is referential AND meaningful. It’s all about the aesthetic, creating something that’s visually interesting, but this work offers nothing of value or significance. It’s like eating ice cream for every meal. It’s great at first, but leaves you cramping and pooping for days - this is perhaps the best way to describe the experience of watching a Franco film. 

Perhaps reliance on style is the sign of an insecure filmmaker, one who is afraid a film without gimmicks would belie a sense of genuine emotion that if criticized would become too hurtful and personal. Much like his literature, there is a refusal to commit and put himself out there for fear of being rejected and laughed out of both art and commercial worlds. With his current trajectory he can rely on arguments that A) the audience doesn’t get his wavelengths (and if he keeps targeting 17 year old girls who don’t know better, then he’s absolutely right) B) His failure is part of a larger life piece he’s working on that audiences still don’t understand or C) trick question: there is no argument, just a shrug of the shoulders with that Cheshire grin and a moment waiting for panties to drop. Well, Carlos, nice try, but it’s not going to work this time. 

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But for those of you who are interested in seeing what’s trolling around in my brain, I made this for you: 

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON FRANCO

March 15, 2014

better-than-kanye-bitchh:

Queen

THE MOTHERFUCKING QUEEN. 

(Source: illkim, via betterthankanyebitch)

March 2, 2014
My Oscars Predictions because Nobody Asked.

Tis the season! As I’ve gotten older and realized awards are all a bunch of industrial hooey, this day has mostly turned into a reason to shove dip in my face and watch the parade of dreams enter the house where most will be crushed. Mostly…about the dip. 

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But here are some predictions for what will happen this time around. 

Gravity will win all technical awards. I mean, duh. I think whatever technology Jared Leto uses to maintain his face is the only competition. 

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I mean, fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. 

Jordan Catalano will also win, because Rayon is pretty damn stunning. Fassbender should be the next contender as he’s incredible in 12 Years a Slave. Frightening, chaotic, unstable… but I think people are too afraid of his big ol’ dick. He can’t swing that AND an award. 

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This will be AMAZING, because that means the dude from 30 Seconds from Mars will be an Academy Award Winner forever. You know who won’t? 

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What was that?

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Who do you see, DiCap?

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This will be the best. THE BEST. While I think DiCaprio deserves it more - I think MM will win it because everybody has a big ol’ boner for True Detective. As MM gets up to “Alright Alright Alright” his way through the speech, the camera will cut to Leo meticulously picking at flaws in his suit, folding and refolding his pocket square, and quietly talk-giggling to himself. He’ll eventually make his way to the stage, probably during Blanchett’s speech, just pop a squat, and SHIT all over that stage. Just an emotional five minute poop. We will never see him again. 

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Cate Blanchett will win best actress because there really is nobody else. Nobody. Amy Adams will smile through gritted teeth. In eight years, she’s been nominated for five. Another year, another loss. She’ll move further and further into the DiCaprio line of performance (and closer to onstage defecation). If Blanchett wins, expect a cut to a few people refusing to clap due to the Woody Allen controversy - a la Ed Harris and Nick Nolte when Elia Kazan won his honorary Oscar. 

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I’ve already mentioned I don’t understand why everybody’s tongues are wagging over Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle. She’s good in a mediocre film - but that’s about it. Nyong’o is phenomenal both onscreen and off. Let’s just split the difference and give it to June Squibb - fuck the McConaughnessence - it’s a fucking Squibbulution. I’ve seen her so many places this year and loved each one.

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Cuaron for director - which I get, but his work is so much better than the glitzy, gimmicky Gravity

12 Years a Slave is tipping the scales for best film. Out of all of those nominated, I lean toward Wolf of Wall Street because it was so ripe with discomfort, everybody in that theatre was affected (you could feel it), and better yet everybody felt fucked by that film. I love a good “pulling the rug out” and that’s what Wolf does to those who thought it was going to be a fun ride. 12 Years provides a different experience and one that will make Academy members feel good about the lack of diversity in Hollywood and at these awards. 

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February 23, 2014
Selections from the Broterian Collection

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Something Wild (Demme 1986)

The dude from Dumb and Dumber (AKA THE BEST) meets this whack job and Demme plays with conventions to explore intersections of fantasy/escapism/pleasure/consequence. 

AND TIIIIIIIIIIIIITS. TITS. TITS. 

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Branded to Kill (Suzuki 1967)

TRIPPY. Reminds me of some Tarantino shit - except for the amount of layers and the extent in which we are forced to question our sense of reality in a highly mediated form with untrustworthy narrators. 

Lot more bush than I thought. Tits pretty good all around too. 

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Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda 1962)

What an emotional trip.  Side boob though. 

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Exterminating Angel (Bunuel 1962)

Dude..I don’t know … something about how the only thing that restricts us our ourselves? 

NO BOOBS

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Repulsion (Polanski 1965)

holy shit holy shit holy shit holy shit. Just a hint of nip. I don’t get what’s so scary though…patriarchy? 

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February 13, 2014
10 Things I Would Rather Do than Listen to Young People Flirt

NOTE: By “young people,” I mean tweens, teens, and people who should know and be better.

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I went to the store to pick up a salad mix, because I hadn’t had a vegetable in about six years. Turning toward the avocados I hear the shrill voice of giggles. To my right are two teen stockers, a bored looking chick and an equally bored dude. The squeals are from neither, but two girls picking up nuts. They want to know where the pistachios are and through their ear-splitting voices, ask the dude to show them. As he drops everything to help him and be generally polite, they vomit words - mostly berating him, but in a squealing, sickening, “I THINK YOU”RE CUUUUUUUUTE, SO I MUST DESTROY YOUR SELF ESTEEM” sort of way.

For an instant, I hated pistachios and this motherfucker LOVES pistachios.

I have not experienced that much flash loathing in a long time - and I realized that everything about that scenario - the voices, vomit, and chiding were intolerable. Here’s a list of things I’d rather do than overhear any of that.

I would rather

1. Tear my uterus out, throw it against a disgustingly white wall, and watch it slowly smear its way to the newly redone hard-wood floors. 

2. Listen to Aubrey tell me every instance he had his heart broken. TWICE.

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3. Convert entire books from one citation style to another. Have you dealt with the nuances of comma - IT’S BULLSHIT. 

4. Watch Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Once straight through. Another with commentary. Another with extended scenes. Then once again + every bonus feature and easter egg. In a row. Completely sober. 

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5. Never watch another Law and Order. None of them. As if they never existed. I don’t wish that anyone. 

6. Give myself paper cuts along the webs of my fingers and toes. 

7. Listen to Joe Francis explain how Girls Gone Wild doesn’t exploit women, without the ability to interject OR roll eyes. 

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8. Have Shia LaBoeuf read me Anna Karenina and provide his own footnotes, including each piece of symbolism he thinks he sees, all thematic interpretations, commentary about Tolstoy’s artistry as a writer, and funny anecdotes from working on A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

9. Be held captive by slugs, who would would ooze all over my face in order to make me one of their own. 

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10. Do a Scrooge McDuck dive into a vat of shit and piss infested quarters and drown. 

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