Month: May 2014

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 13

Hannibal season 2 finale

Jonathan May

Mega-spoiler alert.

So of course after asking for Cynthia Nixon’s character to come back for weeks now, the story gods deliver in the most obscene way possible, tightening the plot’s noose with bureaucratic nonsense. Of course Jack and Will are stymied now and must move forward by themselves. And then Abigail reappears! And then she kills Alana! And then Hannibal murders Jack, Will, and Abigail! People were killed with such rapid abandon I thought I was watching a short, homoerotic Shakespeare production with mood lighting. But let’s not kid ourselves, Shakespeare this wasn’t.

Like, what? The first thirty minutes were boring, boring, boring, and then the swift successive murders of the cast at large? I don’t even know what to say. Perhaps now is a good time to view properly Hannibal as a critique of the aesthete, free from financial concern. He literally walks away from the action, like so many bankers and traders during the recent financial collapse. I’m not going to claim that financial ruin as the results of others’ actions is tantamount to murder, but they share tragic qualities. If Hannibal simply walks away now, the chase is on. Maybe for the third season, Cynthia Nixon will helm the ship in pursuit of Lecter; perhaps we’ll go to Italy.

As for this season as a whole, I feel like too many tertiary characters were introduced only to be broiled. The lack of resolution with Jack’s wife Bella upsets me, as well. It’s as if by not showing her death, she experiences purgatory, always suffering in that bed. The only other one who makes it out of the fray (seemingly) is Freddie Lounds; she knew to get when the getting was good.

So folks, I’ll be tuning in for the beginning of season three, and if it’s a bunch of malarkey, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

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The Pete Holmes Show is Canceled and Why I’m Not Quitting

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Alex Russell

The Pete Holmes Show got 80 episodes on TBS. Per a very personal post from Pete Holmes himself, the variety/comedy/interview/sketch/whatever show is now over and will air its final episodes within the next month.

The comedy nerd world has been both insanely good and insanely bad to Pete. He’s one of the biggest comedians that your parents probably don’t also know, but he’s also the target of a metric ton of hate by way of his sometimes-infuriating-but-always-interesting podcast You Made it Weird and his career as a baby that sold insurance on television. If all you know about Pete Holmes is that he has a podcast where he sometimes talks about astral projection and healthy juicing for upwards of two (or three) hours a week and that he sold insurance on TV, sure, why did they give that guy a show is a reasonable question.

But he’s also one of the ten funniest people in the world right now, and that’s not something I say lightly. He’s a better standup than he is anything else, and 80 episodes of The Pete Holmes Show showed that he’s a pretty damn good “anything else.”

Every episode wasn’t always my favorite — though part of the joy of Pete Holmes is his persona that he sometimes calls “fun dad,” so he’s in on the joke that he’s sometimes just so much — but I watched every single episode because I was so in awe. Pete Holmes got to do sketches based on in-jokes and interview segments where he clearly ignored publicists. He got to make what “The Pete Holmes Show” without the italics would be if he had his say. He made his show.

This week we passed 10,000 total hits on Reading at Recess. This week we hit 175 unique posts from nine different people. Despite what I’d call “success,” I still almost gave up.

I started Reading at Recess earlier this year to have an outlet to write about culture. I figured that the world didn’t necessarily need another recap of Louie or an ode to Walter White. That said, I think there’s space for what we write about Louie and our thoughts about Walter White’s opposite on Fargo. I think there’s room for an Obama campaign worker’s review of Mitt as oddly humanizing. I think there’s room for covering things everyone else is talking about, like How I Met Your Mother‘s weird ending and Archer‘s lull of a season and why half of the audience of Girls seems to be watching for strange reasons.

At the end of the day, this is just a blog. It’s just a place that I hope you spend five minutes of your website time every weekday. But if it’s more than that, it’s somewhere you might learn something about feminism and parody in anime, or art design’s influence on gameplay in video games, or about data’s influence on politics.

What it hasn’t been is consistent. We’re all over the place. We’re a shotgun, not a sniper rifle. When you watch The Pete Holmes Show, you’re looking at what Pete wanted you to see. When you’re here, you’re kinda seeing something that’s far too unfocused.

We’re taking Thursday and Friday off to regroup. When you come back on Monday — and I do hope you come back on Monday — you’ll see something that looks a lot like what you’re used to, but better, more consistent, and more focused. You’ll see our real show, because it’s what we wanted to show you from the get-go.

Want to write for us? We’re accepting contributors! Reach out through our submit page.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Image: TBS

Neighbors: Should You See It?

Neighbors (from The Daily Mail)

Jonathan May

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: We talk recipes. Should you see Neighbors?

Neighbors is a movie that tries to bridge two kinds of comedies: the buddy comedy and the relationship comedy. The couple (Rogen and Byrne) uses the standard “bros before hos” as part of its trap against the fraternity invaders, backfiring wildly into what seems to be the start of a very different film. Needless to say, the film is billed as a comedy, so by stricter terms, it follows on its promise, reaffirming the relationship between the couple at the film’s heart. However, when I asked my friend Elizabeth what she thought about the focus of the film, she said it was more of a misguided bildungsroman for Zac Efron’s upper half, and I would have to agree. The movie tries to affirm some kind of epiphany on the part of the fraternity president as to what must come after graduation, yet it also clings more so to the couple’s determination to face what they must together. The new parents commit vandalism, trespassing, and (some may say) negligence to enact their wild schemes against the admittedly loud and obnoxious fraternity house 24-hour party machine; does this bring them down, or make it clear that some people will do almost anything to achieve comfort?

I’m no stoic; I laughed out loud plenty of times. Sex and drug jokes abound, reaffirming pot as the social drug of the new century. What really held the film together were the ancillary characters: Lisa Kudrow as the Dean, Hannibal Buress as the policeman, the fraternity as its own character. While I was compelled by the main plot(s) of the film as a comedy of manners, I found Efron to be stiff in front of the camera in contrast to the couple, a veteran pair in their own rights. Perhaps it’s because the film is of two minds that he seems weak in comparison; I’d never seen him in a movie previously. I did appreciate the continuation of the depiction of the American couple as two people who can be fun together, despite their seeming nefariousness as they manipulate others.

Should you see it?

What to take away? We get older, and it sucks sometimes, but sometimes it’s really cool. Abs help?

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Image: The Daily Mail

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Elevator (Part 4)” and “Elevator (Part 5)”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie looks at his love life and does not like what he sees; Louie deals with Mentos.

Episode 7: “Elevator (Part 4)”

It’s very difficult to separate “Elevator” into episodes. Louie has always been compared to film in a stylistic sense — it’s much more like film than television — but only now is the structure of the show an actual damn movie. “Elevator” concludes next week, but we already know enough to work with it now.

Louie owns up to the fact that he isn’t really doing anything productive with his love life, and that’s a hard thing to admit. We’ve all had to admit to a drunk friend that we’re in a relationship that’s well past the expiration date, but Louie’s got the opposite problem: He can’t actually date Amia, because she’s going back to Hungary soon. He can’t start a relationship.

Louie is a “dark” show. When I’ve met people that aren’t into it, the most common complaint is that it isn’t funny. There’s nothing funny about Louie’s plight with Amia, or with his struggles to stay cordial with his ex-wife so that his kids will be happy, or his general life in the world of the show. The laughs are there, but that can’t be why you show up.

During a flashback, Louie deals with one night on a trip where he and his then-wife stay in a hotel room. It is the most realistic portrayal of a long relationship I’ve seen in months, and it’s that realism that makes the show feel cinematic. It’s not an episode of television that happens in a hotel room; it’s a look into people that have to leave that hotel room and go back to life later. I don’t want to spoil it, but the lesson is the same one any good Eagle Scout knows: Be prepared.

Episode 8: “Elevator (Part 5)

It’s hard to say how the fifth part is without the sixth, but the problem in it for Louie could exist outside of any continuity. Louie has to deal with what his relationship with Amia means if it doesn’t mean sex.

The best part about this whole story is that Louie loves Amia as an ideal. He loves someone who seems nice and fun and happy, but he just doesn’t really know that much about her. This kind of love story makes my eyes roll in most situations because there’s nothing worse than someone in love with the idea of love. You want someone to love specifics, not just “the essence of Sarah.” No one’s essence alone will get you to year two.

It works in Louie because it helps Louie understand that he’s not actually furthering himself. He’s just spending time with someone that feels like a partner, not a partner. This same story would be a happy one in a rom-com. It’s more than a little sad here because it reinforces the idea that everyone is a person first, and if you love them as an ideal then you’re just not actually in love with anyone who really exists. You’re not being honest with them or yourself.

Louie‘s love story will conclude next week and with that episode will be a larger lesson. Today’s, though, is a healthy part of a grown-up diet: Love someone for who they are, because all of that other shit will fade in two months.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Tough Questions: What’s Your Favorite Competition You’ve Ever Participated In?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s your favorite competition you’ve ever participated in?

Rules are simple: You’ve competed. You’ve spent time trying to best those fools that call themselves your peers. When did you get closest to victory? When did you smote your enemies? One of our victories is “eating a lot of ice cream” so we’re not exactly out to one up LeBron James, or anything. But still: Any win is a victory. What’s your favorite one?

Alex Russell

Last year we started a charity event: The Super Nintendo Charity Challenge. Every November we’re dedicating 72 hours to streaming Super Nintendo out of a living room to raise money for Child’s Play, a charity dedicated to buying games and toys for sick kids in hospitals. We raised over $2,100 last year, but my favorite part of it was the $25 I lost on a bet during it. When you play Super Nintendo with nine people for 72 straight hours with almost no sleep, you need to keep morale up. You do this by setting little goals: beat this in X hours, get this done in Y time, etc. I said I could beat Super Punch-Out!!, a weird boxing game I loved as a kid, in under 30 minutes. I put $25 up as a donation, and I fell short by 47 seconds. I’ve eaten spoonfuls of spices and drank gallons of milk and cases of beer and everything else you do when you’re feeling competitive and full of gusto as a stupid kid. Losing that $25 was the best part.

Alex Marino

How can we call this Reading at Recess without a spelling bee story? I was in 6th or 7th grade and had made it to the school spelling bee finals. The whole school came to watch it in the cafeteria. And while it’s not like I would have won the whole thing, I’m still upset about the fact that I got knocked out because of a southern accent. At this point in my life I had lived in the south for only two years, so accents still threw me off. I was asked to spell “repent” but with a southern drawl I had heard “rampant.” And with that, my chances of being a subject of the Spellbound documentary were over. Yes, I could have asked for a definition. Yes, I could have asked for it to be used in a sentence. Yes, I could have asked for the word to be repeated. But this was middle school and I only cared about getting home from school and playing my N64.

Jonathan May

This is going to sound really nerdy, but my favorite competition was German poetry recitation at the University of Memphis Foreign Language Fair for high school students. I competed four years in a row in German, proudly representing Houston High. Our German teacher was this awesome lady who taught me a ton about poetry and life, in addition to the German language. One year in particular, we had to learn “Der Panther” by Rainer Maria Rilke, a beautiful poem if there ever was one. I memorized it in this seductive way, as the poem is, on a very simple level, about a panther pacing behind the bars at a zoo. The judge was this very old German professor, I can’t recall his name to save my life. He eyed me up and down sternly, as if I was a horse he was inspecting. He nodded that I start, and I gave the best, albeit weirdly erotic, reading of a poem I’ve ever given. He gave me this weird stare when I finished; I think I was blushing. In any case, I won first place. Erotic poetics win every time.

Mike Hannemann

In college, I participated in a Fear Factor challenge. I was (and am) an incredibly anxious person in social situations and this was an opportunity to not be an introvert. There was the typical nonsense you’d expect at a student-run gross out context. Bugs were involved. I don’t remember how, but whatever happened to them was definitely not humane. I got called up to do a mayo eating contest. I hate mayo. It’s disgusting. But a $20 Target gift card was on the line. I was against two other people and finished the small tub in front of me with 20 seconds left. The crowd was applauding my disgusting display and cheered for me to keep going. So I grabbed the tub next to me, away from my competitor, and finished that too. I won the gift card and lost some self respect. But those frozen pizzas I bought were worth it, dammit.

Andrew Findlay

My favorite competition in which I’ve ever participated is one in which I technically did not participate at all, and in which two of the writers on this site were intimately involved. Vermonster 2k4.

If you don’t know what a Vermonster is, you should probably eat one with 12 of your closest friends. It is two liters of ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s, and it is delicious:

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Two of the most competitive people I know (excepting me) met, planned it out, trash talked like hell leading up to it, and then announced the contest date. Rules were simple: teams of three, no holds barred, consume the entirety of your bucket before the other person. I showed up, thought “Hey, this sounds cool,” and called a couple of my old cross-country buddies to come join me. They liked the idea, so we sprinted to Target to buy giant spoons, got our own Vermonster, and dug in.

On one team, one contestant almost immediately puked, and the other refused to eat the chocolate that impregnated the entire construct. The trashtalker, the only one left, sat there, not giving up, eating alone and full of rage. It was impressive to see one person attack a Vermonster. Alas, they lost.

On the other team, they tucked in ice cream admirably and won the contest with a time of just under an hour.

On my team, we demolished the entire thing between eight and nine minutes (I do not remember the exact time), and then ran and got Wendy’s combo meals that we ate while watching the others suffer their way through two liters of ice cream. We did the Wendy’s thing because we were, all of us, assholes.

One of the other contestants found out we ordered all frozen yogurt and told us that disqualified us. We did it again later, with all ice cream, and set a faster record.

I love this contest because of the impressiveness of my teammates and the joy I felt at ice cream seemingly magically disappearing as the other teams struggled. I love it because we did it a second time, and we did it faster. Mostly I love it because the official winners logging a time of just under an hour and then us coming in with a sub-10 minute time then eating a meal is like Roger Bannister running the four-minute mile and then, while all the television cameras are on him, some dude wearing jeans and smoking a cigarette running it in 43 seconds.

Stephanie Feinstein

The National Geographic Geography Bee. Complete fluke. It was middle school, and my social studies teacher was in charge of the Bee, so he let myself and another student skip the prelims and jump straight to the written competition. We beat out the rest of the school competitors with a tied score. So, as tie-breaker, we had a geography trivia-off. This lasted over an hour, with both of us guessing for the most part. The final question was in relation to canals. He guessed Panama, totally wrong. The ONLY other canal I remotely knew of was Erie, thanks to folk songs about it. I said it, and won the competition. I still have the medal.

Do not try to have me locate anything on a map or globe, as I am a winner by pure trivia, not concrete knowledge. I didn’t have time to be nervous about preparing or competing, and there was absolutely nothing at stake. But I won, and I pretty much haven’t won anything since.

Brent Hopkins

The competition I most enjoyed spanned two days and two competitions, one of which I was a participant in and the other I was a “spectator” in. The first competition was at Bradley University and it was a case race where the music kids and the news kids challenged one another to drink…cases of beer. I wasn’t really a part of either group, but was friends with both so I went to take in the spectacle. One thing you can’t idly do is watch people drink, so my friend Matt and I went to the liquor store and picked up a handle of Captain Morgan. Matt and I have been and probably always will be hyper-competitive, so as we are sitting with our red solo cups we start draining this bottle. This starts off well but as we won’t let the other outdrink the other and we bought far too little Coke to mix with things turn into straight Captain Morgan swallows. Unfortunately, due to this lack of foresight and abundance of testosterone I failed to pay attention to most of the case race and Matt and I managed to finish our handle much much faster than the beer-drinking folk beside us. We managed to be the drinking undercard to a main event of alcoholism, polishing off a handle in around 35 minutes. We were both belligerently intoxicated, yet functioning, and the remainder of the evening was a blur. 

The second competition took place the following morning starring my roommates, and that was a campus wide Guitar Hero tournament. We all looked like we had faced demons the previous night and almost slept through this event. We went on to be rowdy and belligerent at this Guitar Hero competition, goading all comers and naysaying when we lost. We all fell but Matt, and he ended up winning (seated in a chair no less) with all of us being his drunkover cheerleaders. We celebrated with Wendy’s and a Best Buy run which were both the best trophies one could get.

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 12

Hannibal, episode 12

Jonathan May

Spoiler alert, as always.

This episode was the kick in the pants that this season needed heading into the finale. What made this episode so big and bold? Gillian Anderson. She rocked her role as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, revealing everything in the suggestions and silences. Her ghostly, incantatory tone as she spoke there in the interrogation room gave me chills. And finally clarity was added, showing us what Jack and Will have been up to this whole time. Bedelia was fated to return as soon as she uttered her belief of Will’s innocence to him in the asylum. By bringing in someone who hasn’t been sullied by the lacklusterness of the past six or seven episodes, we, and the show’s characters, are able to take a step back and reevaluate the madness into which we’ve been drawn. Jack and Will are trying to bait Hannibal? Seriously? Though it’s easily their worst conceived plan, it does give great excuse for Will’s obsequious fanboy attitude toward Hannibal these past few weeks. What had bordered on the homoerotic now can be easily enough explained as an attempt at intimacy. And intimate we get.

Bedelia states that Hannibal can be made prey to his own aesthetic whimsy, a clever choice of words on her part, given how Hannibal views his victims. Ultimately this could be a critique of the aesthete, that echelon of society outside of financial worry, wherein one has time and means to enact one’s fantasies. How this will become a trap for Hannibal isn’t immediately apparent, but I predict they will have to dispense with this advice if they actually want to catch the bastard.

The scene where Hannibal convinces Mason Verger, by way of amyl nitrate, to scrape off his own face is wholly incredible; I was literally disgusted by the wet noises and the voice thinning out. Without the veiling of chiaroscurist darkness, this certainly wouldn’t have been able to air on network television. But this scene showed off what the production of this show can really do. And the episode as a whole was well shot; we had lots of close-ups of faces and people seen through the negative spaces left by others. These kinds of choices really make us examine everyone in a new light, which is perfect as we head into the final episode for this season.

So, what’s going down tonight? We know, via the first episode, that Jack and Hannibal will have their showdown. The catalyst for this could be anything, but I think it will have to do with Alana, who’s been strangely absent. Hopefully we’re over this whole Mason and Margot business. Now that NBC has bought a third season, we know this charade must continue. But if we’re left tonight with some horrible impossibility or vagueness, I might not be tuning in next time around.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

Worst Best Picture: Is It Happened One Night Better or Worse Than Crash?

ithappenedonenight

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. This is intended to be mostly spoiler-free, but there may be minor details mentioned. Today’s installment is the 1934 winner It Happened One Night. Is it better than Crash?

It’s very strange to consider what has become the “canon” of romantic films. Movies like CasablancaRoman Holiday, and Annie Hall are the standards by which every portrayal of romance is judged. It Happened One Night escaped my radar for the most part, but it’s definitely a movie that is in that list of ideal films.

As I watch every Best Picture Oscar winner I am struck by how few of these I’ve actually seen. There are a ton of movies — How Green Was My Valley comes to mind whenever I look at the full list — that I am vaguely aware of, but mostly they just don’t exist in my mental database. I don’t claim to be a qualified judge of all of film history, but I do appreciate a good movie. It Happened One Night is a good movie.

Clark Gable is a down-on-his-luck reporter, and he stumbles across the biggest news story in the country when Claudette Colbert enters his life. She’s on the run from her rich father and on the way to New York to be with her new husband. There’s a reward for her return, and Gable plans to either collect or to cash in by telling her story. He’s just gotta not fall in love along the way, d’awww!

I won’t pretend I walked into a movie from 1934 expecting something genuinely sweet and funny. There are an insane number of cuts — one extremely important scene in a bedroom cuts three times in as many minutes — and some of the wackier stuff doesn’t really work. In the opening scene, Claudette Colbert jumps off of a boat to swim to Florida. A man runs into a swamp because he’s afraid. Another man is tied to a tree and left to die, and that story is just abandoned. A guy lands a helicopter at a wedding. There’s some wild madness going on in the background, but the leading couple carries the load of it well. They both give superhuman performances; they’re both interesting, memorable, and sincerely funny even by modern standards.

Some classics are “important” and some are good. I can’t speak to how crucial It Happened One Night is to the rom-com as a genre, but it’s a movie from eight decades ago that wouldn’t need much updating to be released this summer. It’s worth your time, even if you aren’t watching all 86 of these.

The Best Part: On their first night alone together the couple is forced to pretend to be married to avoid suspicion. It’s a very sweet scene, and it’s played with a mix of playfulness and restraint. Paired with a scene in the morning where they throw a fake fight/screaming match to convince the cops they’re actually married, it’s damned excellent. It would need zero updating to work in 2014.

The Worst Part: On the way to New York the couple hitchhikes with a guy who sings everything he says. He is completely unexplained. I cannot tell you why this man sings his sentences. At one point someone flies an “autogyro” into a wedding, and I can explain that more than this man.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashIt’s a Clark Gable romantic comedy from the 1930s. You don’t need me to write this to know it’s “a good movie.” It’s the kind of movie that makes this whole thing silly. Is it better than Crash? It has Clark Damn Gable in it. The point of this project is to explore the idea that awards and praise don’t necessarily mean a movie is “great,” but of course this one is. Above all else it’s fascinating how timeless much of it is. Some plot elements — a woman runs away and is front page news for weeks in a row — are absurd now, but the jokes all still work. It’s actually funny even in 2014. Crash was instantly dated and will get more so as time advances. This, so long as people can forget some of their cynicism for a second, will endure.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 Image source: Oscars.org

Worst Best Picture: Is Gigi Better or Worse Than Crash?

Gigi Still #1

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 1958 winner Gigi. Is it better than Crash?

I don’t read a lot (any?) BuzzFeed, but when they put together a ranking of all of the movies that had won the Oscar for Best Picture, Gigi came in dead last. Since the stated goal of this whole thing is to find a worse movie than Crash that has earned the award, I figured the musical from 1958 deserved some immediate attention.

Leslie Caron plays the title character, a (very) young French woman in the process of learning to be a courtesan. Her older friend Gaston (yep) is famous for being rich, or something, and the two are star-crossed if for no other reason than they seem to be the only two people they’ve each ever met that aren’t immediate blood relatives.

They never say Gigi’s exact age, but she’s absolutely supposed to be a young teenager. She spends the entire first hour of the musical in ridiculously infantilizing clothing as her aunt teaches her the finer points of accepting jewelry and living to serve a man who owns her. I point this out to say that, yeah, it’s definitely a movie about some weird sexual politics, but it’s also completely divorced from “romance.” It’s about transactions.

BuzzFeed’s wrong on this one; I’m only 20 movies into the entire 86-film roster at this point and I know this one’s not the worst. That said, it’s assuredly strange six decades years later. There’s no place in modernity for a two-hour explanation of why you don’t have to put on the red light, and if there is, there isn’t a place for it to pretend that it’s one of history’s great romances.

The Best Part: Maurice Chevalier plays a ridiculous perpetual bachelor who spends the entire movie telling everyone how awesome it is to be old and not in love. He shares a song about it with an old lover and though I’m no big musical buff, I couldn’t help but smile at “I Remember It Well.” It’s “funny for a musical” but it’s very close to “actually funny.” It’s a big improvement over the supremely strange “Thanks Heaven for Little Girls.”

The Worst Part: Poor Eva Gabor shows up for about five minutes as the “cheating mistress.” She’s sleeping with another guy — note this is “another guy” on top of someone who treats her as property — and when she is discovered it gets put in the newspaper. This in the first 20 minutes of the film, so I can say this without a spoiler: Everyone then has a bunch of literal laughs about Eva Gabor’s character’s supposed attempted suicide. The movie explains this away as just part of being a bought woman in 1900, but this movie pairs well with The Apartment as tone-deaf with suicide jokes. How many more movies with suicide jokes could there be?

Is It Better or Worse than CrashGigi is a musical, so your milage may vary based on how much you can stand a movie with 15 songs in it. Both movies certainly have roughly the same message about women: Only miraculous ones can escape the social ties that bind their respective times. They differ in that Gigi is a kind of loud, proud class warfare movie about how awful it is to be low status, and Crash thinks that status doesn’t matter at all. Everyone in Crash is awful, and that’s sorta the whole point of the world it sets up. They’re both “mean” messages, but Gigi‘s is delivered in an oblivious song with bright costumery. There is an argument that a big dumb musical about how love doesn’t matter as much as being rich is a bad movie, but it feels more like a historical oddity than the death-march against social change that is Crash.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 Image source: oscarwinningfilms.blogspot.com

Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Clueless

fancy

Jonathan May

Iggy Azalea – “Fancy”
Virgin EMI/Universal

You’ve definitely heard this song somewhere. I’ve heard it in the car, the grocery store, parties, and my head over the past few weeks. “Fancy” hails from Iggy Azalea’s debut album The New Classic, which dropped in April this year. Although she uses herself as the song’s main subject (my least favorite pop trope), the song transcends her individual usage and utterance of what the title implies. The music video further reinforces this; it takes on the 90’s classic Clueless in what, upon first viewing, I thought was blatant parody. However, the slight technological updates (iPad, smartphones) with the post 90’s sensibility really added a lot of fun to the video. In short, Azalea and the director made Clueless “fancier” by merely updating it, a common belief held among the post-Internet makers. Like the (mostly) audacious belief held by Hollywood revisionists, contemporary presentist thought allows for such remakings as harmless “reblogs” in a way, taking what was original and adding your own small spin (a la Tumblr); while this might be more true for movies, it’s true for music as well. The intersection here, using an “old” movie with a new song, resembles what many would call appropriation in the broadest sense of the word (and its most common unfortunate usage). What saves this song in particular from being a mere exercise in this vein of thought is its sense of fun. The infectious cuts between hook and verse as they bleed toward the inevitable chorus have all the energy a young singer (Azalea is 23) should possess. What I couldn’t help but shake, however, was the knowledge in the back of my head of poor, dead Brittany Murphy (dear Tai from Clueless); while her death wasn’t exactly the result of fame (read: excessive “fanciness”), her passing still stood in my mind as a warning to reveling in fanciness as a virtue. While the song respectfully uses Clueless to pay tribute to its “predecessors,” it fails to acknowledge that re-imaginings of the past must conflict with their actualities.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com

Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Elevator (Part 2)” and “Elevator (Part 3)”

louie-3

Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie takes a woman to two stores on a date and has to decide if his daughter needs to go to private school.

Episode 4: “Elevator (Part 2)”

“Elevator” is a six-part episode, soeven at two episodes a week there’s much more to tell. Louie is in love with a woman he can’t really communicate with, though that leads to some outstanding pantomime in a drug store as the two try to exchange the idea of “hair dryer” back and forth.

Louie being in love with a woman who doesn’t speak English has some pretty obvious connections to his inability to communicate with women in general, and this wouldn’t be Louie if it stopped there. It’s not just that they can’t communicate, it’s that Louie the charactacter throws himself into something so fully that he turns down Pamela, the “love of his life” character on the show, when she comes back from Barcelona. Is Pamela back for Louie? Does Louie turn her down because he resents that she left, because he loves this new woman, or a little of both? This might be stand up for yourself when people act like assholes but with Louie, the flipside of that oft-given advice might be more important by the time this tale is told.

Episode 5: “Elevator (Part 3)

These two are also about Louie’s troublesome daughter Jane. Jane’s in trouble at school, but she’s acting out because she doesn’t buy into the established authority of the world. Louis C.K.’s comedy is a lot of things, but it’s definitely about the supposed “rules” that society needs to keep working. Things go poorly because people take too many cookies or they drive like assholes or they don’t leave their rental car at the counter. These rules, and our decisions to follow them, keep the whole damn puzzle together.

If that premise is Louis C.K.’s worldview, his jokes are about how we love to not play by those rules. Breaking down jokes is tough and mostly pointless, but the serious realities of Louie work the same way. Jane doesn’t like that she set up rules with a friend about time on a thing at the playground and the friend didn’t follow them. Jane’s not mean, Jane’s just frustrated that the world wasn’t fair when she was.

The episode is about love and how we fall in it, and our kids and how we want them to have better lives, and our lot in life and how we choose to view it. Louie runs into his doctor and a three-legged dog in the lobby of his building, and that scene doesn’t deserve me spoiling it. It does reinforce a beautiful lesson, though, and that’s that you can smash anything with a bat that you want, but you’ll always be your responses to the things you cannot change.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.