The musings of a feminist pop culture fanatic

Archive for December, 2010

EW’s Top Ten of 2010

I decided to look at Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 Must List for the year as a single entity. Everything on it has been mentioned in previous issues and I have blogged about a majority of the things on the list. If I haven’t watched, read, or listened to it, I’m not going to offer commentary on it.

1. The Social Network

EW: “Director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin turned Facebook’s origin story into a fast, funny masterpiece. Thanks to zippy dialogue and a sparkling cast, Network was this year’s can’t-stop-talking-about-it sensation.”

My opinion: There’s a reason this is on nearly every top ten list for the year and has won a ton of Best Picture awards from the various critics circles around the country. It’s an amazing movie. As far as writing, acting, and directing go, it’s nearly flawless. The score is phenomenal. It’s the frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars and deservedly so.

2. Modern Family

EW: “Coming off last year’s stellar debut, the ABC sitcom found an excellent groove between hilarious and endearing. With its outrageously charming ensemble and an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy, we can only ask: May we always be part of this Family?”

My opinion: This is tied with Community for the funniest show on TV right now. All of the actors are absolutely hilarious. The writing is always spot-on. Every week, I tune in and expect to laugh my ass off. I am almost never disappointed.

3. Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

EW: “A follow-up to The Corrections, Franzen’s huge, lush novel about a marriage is also a fully formed portrait of our time.”

My opinion: I have not read this yet. It’s nearly 600 pages long and I just haven’t had the time to get into yet. My mom said it’s really good, though.

4. The Kids Are All Right

EW: “This keenly observed family drama was better than just all right: It was a remarkable portrayal of an unconventional domestic life.”

My opinion: I have this from Netflix right now. Expect a review in the next 24-36 hours.

5. The Walking Dead

EW: “In a mere six episodes, the first season of AMC’s horror hit put most new TV shows to shame. Get past the zombie kill shots, and what really makes Dead work is its still-breathing protagonists, the best cast of freaked-out survivors since that show about the island.”

My opinion: Absolutely not. I watched the first episode and I really was unimpressed by it. To be fair, though, I can’t get past the blood and gore. The sight of blood makes me queasy, so I spent most the pilot wanting to vomit.

6. Speak Now, Taylor Swift

EW: “Forget the guys she may or may not be singing about (Taylor Lautner? John Mayer? Kanye West?). The 21-year-old’s slyly produced smash album is a surprisingly grown-up study of romance, regret, and heartbreak.”

My opinion: Aw, hell no. I will give it to her that it wasn’t as awful as I had expected it to be. However, she keeps writing the same song over and over again. I liked her first album, but I’m more than ready for the Taylor Swift phenomena to end.

7. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West

EW: “After last year’s VMA antics, West was bent on releasing one of 2010’s best albums. And with a roster of greats assisting his own poignant rhymes and masterful production, he did just that.”

My opinion: I have not listened to the full album yet. I plan on doing so in the next few days, so I will form an opinion then.

8. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

EW: “Skloot set out to discover how one dead woman’s cells ignited a scientific revolution. The resulting book is part medical thriller, part ghost story, and impossible to put down.”

My opinion: I hadn’t even heard of this book, but from the description in EW, it sounds intriguing.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

EW: “Bleak and paranoid, the seventh Potter movie could’ve been a slog. But director David Yates transformed Hallows into vivid entertainment, with thrills, chills, and genuine humanity.”

My opinion: As I wrote in my last post, I adored this film. I firmly believe it belongs on this list. My favorite of the big blockbuster movies this year.

10. Mad Men

EW: “AMC’s ‘60s-era drama has long operated at a slow boil, but this year reaffirmed that Mad Men is always worth the wait. Between Kiernan Shipka’s breakout performance as Sally, the not-long-for-this-world Miss Blankenship, and Don’s surprise proposal in the October finale, season 4 may be the series’ best yet.”

My opinion: This is arguably the best dramatic series on television in quite some time. As far as I’m concerned, it’s right up there with The West Wing, Veronica Mars, and Friday Night Lights. Trust me, that’s extremely high praise in my book. However, the cracktastic twist in the finale this year kind of hurt my opinion of the overall season. Ignoring the proposal that came out of left field, though, watching the Don Draper’s downfall and eventual “rebirth” was absolutely fantastic.

Coming tomorrow: My own top 10 list

#1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (11/26)

EW Description: “It’s the beginning of the end for the Hogwarts saga and the adventure is epic, as our mature and resourceful wizard trio bands together to beat back Voldemort’s growing power.”

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher read us Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. Before she started reading it, I told my mom and a former teacher that I was not looking forward to it because I had no interest in reading about a boy wizard. I thought it sounded like the stupidest thing I had ever heard. By the end of my fourth grade year, I owned the first three books and had read the third book at least 30 times. This will go down in history as one of my most wrong first impressions.

Harry Potter shaped my childhood. I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. By the time the seventh book came out, Harry and I were the same age – 17. I felt like this was a sign that Harry and I were kindred spirits.

I saw the first part of the seventh movie at 12:01 a.m. the day it came out. Sadly, it will be my last midnight premiere as the second part comes out while I’m working as an RA at a summer camp. I’m very grateful that my last midnight premiere was for the best movie thus far. I’ve seen the movie twice now and it just gets better every time I see it.

As far as adaptations of the book go, the movies do not have a great track record. It’s hard turning 600+ page books into a film that doesn’t go on for five hours. Diehard fans would probably sit there for a five-hour film if it meant that we got to see every scene from the book, but I also know it’s not economically feasible to do that. I was thrilled when I found out they were splitting the seventh book into two films. One, because it prolongs my inevitable goodbye to Harry Potter. Two, because I knew it meant they would get to cram more of the book into the movie.

This has been the best adaptation of the book since the first or second one. I was disappointed in a lot of the adaptations before I had to stop judging it in comparison to the book and just look at it as a movie. This movie took out the least amount of plot and as far as scenes added, they actually did enhance the plot. When we saw Hermione oblivate her parents’ memories, that was one of the most touching scenes in any of the movies. And one that wasn’t in the book.

This film showed how much Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have grown since the first movie came out. I remember seeing a review of the third movie where the critic said that Radcliffe would never be a great actor. I feel like this role and other roles Radcliffe has performed show that he does have the potential to be a great actor.

The single greatest scene in this movie, in my opinion, was when Hermione and Harry were dancing together after Ron had left. For me, it showed that it is possible to find joy in the face of great adversity. It helped the audience remember that these are 17-year-olds who have been dealt an awful hand in life. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the entire series.

A lot of people have criticized the film for being too boring. That might be true for people who haven’t read the book. At the end of the day, I feel like the filmmakers are making a movie for the fans of the book. Frankly, I don’t care if someone who has never read the book doesn’t enjoy the movie. This movie isn’t for them. This movie is for a fourth-grade girl who was introduced to a world of magic and never looked at life the same way again. This movie is for the college students who grew up with Harry Potter and consider him one of our best friends. This movie is for us.

#8 The Lost Dogs, by Jim Gorant (9/17, 9/24)

EW Description: “The 51 pit bulls seized from NFL star Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring were thought to be lost causes. In this moving nonfiction book, a Sports Illustrated editor recounts the efforts to give some of them new lives.”

I hate books about dogs. I’ve loved dogs my entire life and inevitably, any book about dogs ends in death and despair. I can’t watch movies where the dog dies. I can’t listen to songs about dogs that die. I just can’t do it. So, when I got this book, I was extremely skeptical and sure that the book would end with me in tears, clutching my own dog for fear he would die if I let go.

This book proved me wrong, though. This is one of the most inspirational and heartwarming books I have read in quite some time. The best thing about it is that it’s inspriational without being saccharine. It doesn’t read like a Mitch Albom book. It’s just a story about how these dogs overcame all the odds and started new lives.

Nearly everyone knows the story of Michael Vick and while Gorant goes over some of the details of the case, the primary focus is on the dogs’ rehabilitation and recovery. When BAD RAP (one of the agencies that oversaw the evaluations of the dogs) came in, they hoped to be able to save 10 percent of the dogs, which translated to five. Out of the fifty-one dogs, they only thought they could save five. They ended up recommending two for euthanasia (one due to inoperable injuries, the other because she had been forcibly bred so many times they believed she had gone insane and was simply too violent). Two of the dogs had died while in government care. That left forty-seven dogs they thought they could save.

Many of the dogs went into foster care. Some went to animal sanctuaries. Some went to shelters. All of the dogs were evaluated individually and given a customized recommendation for what should happen to them. Even the Humane Society of the United States believed all the dogs should be put down, but fortunately, no one listened to the naysayers. With a lot of love and attention, these dogs were able to be reformed.

Reformed might not even be the best way to put it. The majority of these dogs were not violent. Only a couple of them had actually been used successfully in fights. Most of the ones who did not perform well were killed, as per Vick’s demands. He often helped with the killing. Many of the dogs found alive were gentle, but were suffering from severe PTSD symptoms. The biggest problems the animals faced were that they were terrified of most humans and many other dogs. Instead of becoming violent, they would go catatonic. They didn’t pose a danger to anyone.

Since the dogs have been taken, five more have died. Two were hit by cars in freak accidents. One developed cancer and died. The other two died during surgeries due to their injuries. Of the forty-two remaining dogs, several have been certified as therapy dogs. One of them, Jonny Rotten, now works with public libraries to go in and read with children. The idea is that children who are extremely shy suffer when reading because they’re afraid to read to other people. So, they send dogs in to sit next to the children while reading, so the kids can work on their reading skills with an animal who will not judge them. It’s a really adorable premise and apparently, Jonny loves being around kids.

Many of the animals still have a long way to go. Some are still extremely afraid of humans, which makes their training difficult. Others are terrified of other dogs and cannot be around them. Every animal has their own little quirks, but the people rehabilitating them are treating them as individuals. They are not thought of as a “Vick dog.” One of the first things the rehabilitators did was to go through and name each individual dog. They gave them an identity for the first time in the dogs’ lives.

The biggest thing this book did was to completely change my outlook on pitbulls. This showed me these dogs are not vicious creatures. They can be trained to be vicious and mean, but that is not their inherent disposition. They are extremely kind animals who are great with children. They just get an awful rap from the media. Honestly, I really want to get a pitbull now. They seem super sweet.

There are some graphic scenes toward the beginning of the book when Gorant describes what Vick did to the dogs and how they were found. However, for every graphic scene, there are five scenes where the dogs are completely adorable. I highly recommend this to any dog lover. It’ll bring a smile to your face by the end of it.

#9 “Castle Walls,” T.I. (12/17)

EW Description: “A mournful new track by the recently imprisoned hip-hop star features some vocal assistance from Christina Aguilera. T.I. pulls back the curtain on a seemingly enviable life and exposes its ugly truth.”

When I first started to listen to this song, it made me think of Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” From the first verse, it really sounds like a rich person whining, but as the song goes on, the message is a lot deeper than that. T.I. is talking about how all the money, awards, and other material things don’t really mean anything if your children are failures or you are singing about things that don’t matter. One of the lines is especially poignant: “Why should the verses I have laid be more important to me than the persons I have raised.” I really appreciate that thought because I feel like it’s something that falls by the wayside a lot. So many people think that they and their families will be perfectly fine as long as they’re rich and have lots of materialistic things, but these families are often the ones with the biggest problems.

That’s not to say this song is perfect. One of the lines seems extremely homophobic. When he’s listing off all the possibilities of how he could go wrong with his children, he mentions one of his daughters becoming a stripper and one of them “ain’t straight.” To me, it sounds like he’s saying he’s a failure as a parent if his children aren’t heterosexual, which I find incredibly problematic. It’s also possible I’m misinterpreting the line, but that’s what I feel is the likely scenario. Please feel free to correct me if you are more familiar with rap lyrics and different slang terms because that’s not exactly my area of expertise. He also mentions how he didn’t “snitch” when he got arrested and the whole “stop snitching” message is something I also find disturbing. I get the pride issues involved with it and how people are supposed to protect their friends and family, but much of the mentality behind that movement is not something with which I agree.

I love that T.I. is rapping about something so close to him emotionally and it is a very good song, overall. The Christina Aguilera part is so catchy and I will probably fall asleep singing it to myself. It’s got a really great beat and the majority of the lines are really interesting. It’s much better than singing about shooting people or fucking hoes.

I put a video with the song below, so let me know what you think about it.

#10 The Big Bang Theory (11/19)

EW Description: “CBS’ beloved series has accomplished the rare feat of making intellectualism both admirable and hilarious. And this seasons’ stellar collection of guest stars (George Takei! Mayim Bialik! Eliza Dushku!) has given us more reasons than ever to totally geek out.”

When I first read about The Big Bang Theory in TV Guide’s preview issue in the fall of 2007, I thought it sounded like the stupidest thing I had ever heard. I thought it would just paint nerds in a negative light and as someone who goes to nerd camp every year and competed on the Scholar Bowl team in high school, I felt like I would just be offended. So, I decided to skip that show and patiently wait for it to be cancelled so a better show could take its place.

As time progressed, I started hearing more about the show. Television critics I really respected would talk about it and say good things about it. Eventually, friends of mine who had similar taste in television were watching it and telling me how good it was. I started to come around to the idea that it wouldn’t be all bad and maybe I would give it a shot one day.

Fast forward to April 29, 2010. I decided to reward myself after a day filled with an exam, two group presentations, and a final project due date. I logged on to one of my less than legit TV watching websites and started the pilot episode. Six days later, I had watched every episode that had aired and I was shaking like a heroin addict going through withdrawal waiting for the next new episode.

I was hooked. I had to watch Big Bang Theory every day or something felt like it was missing. The show got me through the remainder of the school year and the summer. I was watching multiple episodes a day. When my grandmother gave me money when I went up to visit her, I ran out and bought the first two seasons on DVD. I talked about the show incessantly. I quoted it at work. My friends were worried because they thought I had lost my grip on reality. Actually, I was just head over heels in love with this TV show. While my friends did not find the show as fascinating as I did, I found a community of people online to talk with on a regular basis. We were all in love with the show. I had been searching for a group as addicted to television as I was and I had finally found them. Even though I’ve never met them in person, I consider most of them to be close friends.

Since then, my addiction has waned a little bit. I no longer need to watch an episode every single day. However, A poster of the cast was the first thing I hung on my bedroom wall in my new apartment. Another picture of the cast is my background on my computer desktop. My friends still tend to think I’m dangerously addicted to the show, but they didn’t see my television addictions in high school and those were much worse.

As for the reasons why I love this show, it’s not necessarily something I can fully explain, but I’ll give it a shot.

1. I’m a nerd. While I’m not a scientific genius like the guys on the show and I don’t follow comic books the way they do, I fully consider myself a nerd. I’ve been attending nerd camp since I was in the 8th grade and I know people who are like these guys. This is also one of the few shows that celebrates nerds rather than laughs at them. It’s something I greatly appreciate.

2. Penny and Leonard. Their relationship is one of my favorites on television. I love them just as much when they’re friends as I do when they’re dating, though I tend to prefer the romantic relationship because they’re so adorable together. The way they play off of each other is hilarious. Plus, Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki just have awesome chemistry.

3. The Fantastic Four. Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj have the best friendship I’ve seen on television in a really long time. I love watching their antics. My favorite episodes tend to be the ones that focus on the friendship between the four (the Lord of the Rings episode from the third season, the Justice League episode from the fourth season).

4. The episodes never get old. There are episodes that I have watched at least a dozen times since April. There are some scenes where I can just about recite the lines with it. The humor is always fresh, except for when they focus on storylines about bodily functions. That’s not something I enjoy, but the humor is generally something of a higher caliber.

I can’t fully explain why I love this show as much as I do. I think it just came along at a time when I needed something to make me laugh and I latched onto it. As I sit here in my new I Heart Leonard shirt, watching my first season DVDs with my mom and try to get her hooked on the show, I don’t really know all the reasons why I love the show. I just know that I’m extremely thankful for it.

#4 Bloody Crimes, by James L. Swanson (10/8)

EW Description: “The Manhunt author further explores the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination with this astoundingly researched new book.”

I’ve been in the process of reading this book for about two months now. This is by no means something that reads very quickly. It is an extremely interesting book, but it is sometimes a little bit dry. There are parts that are definitely page-turners and then there are parts that just drag on for pages.

There is no doubt that Swanson is an extremely talented researcher and writer. His passion for the Civil War and particularly the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination are clear in every page. The parts about Lincoln’s funeral and the process of getting the former president to his final resting place are probably the most interesting part. They really dragged him all over the country before he finally got buried. They had to have some sort of ceremony for him in every major city in the Northeast and the journey took a little over two weeks.

The full title of the book is “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse.” The death pageant part is far more interesting because I feel like Swanson is probably more passionate about it. However, there’s really only so much one can say about it. For a 400-page book, I feel like a lot of stuff could have been omitted. However, Swanson can definitely not be accused of not being thorough enough. We know every detail of Lincoln’s funeral at the White House. How many guests, who was in charge of the planning, how they fit everyone into the East Room (bleachers because they couldn’t fit enough individual chairs in the East Room). We know the details of the funeral procession in each city. We know how big each hearse was. We know how many people showed up to mourn the president. We know who was traveling on the train with the president’s body. We know which city had the most extravagant procession (New York, of course). We know all about the battle over where Lincoln’s body would be buried. The Lincoln stuff is very extensive and for the most part, very interesting.

I feel like the parts about Jefferson Davis are what weigh down the book. Maybe it’s because I do not know a whole lot about Confederate history, nor do I really care to learn about it, but I just did not find it that interesting. Swanson did debunk the myth that Davis escaped wearing ladies’ clothing (it was just loose-fitting, it wasn’t a dress and bonnet). I did enjoy reading about the actual capture of Davis and how he was tried by the federal government. That part was extremely interesting. It was all the details leading up to it. I didn’t need to know how many days Davis spent in each city or read excerpts from letters between him and his wife or know how he was received in each city or know how every conversation between him and Robert E. Lee went. There were entire parts that I just wanted to skip, but I soldiered through to the very end.

If you are a big US history buff and love knowing every detail about things, you would probably greatly enjoy this book. It’s just that I was only interested in about 1/3 of the book. However, that third was pretty riveting.

 

#7 Boardwalk Empire finale (12/3)

EW Description: “Dec. 5 will mark the end of the Empire, capping off a fantastic season of illicit hooch and hot-to-trot flappers as Nucky (Steve Buscemi) tries to keep a hold on his seaside fiefdom. You can catch earlier episodes on HBO on Demand.”

I know I’m a few days late (fine, 17 days) on this, but I don’t have HBO at school and haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch the finale until tonight. So, here goes.

The season ended with Election Day. In the least surprising storyline (unless you’re really unfamiliar with US history), Warren Harding became president. The real story was with the Republicans keeping control of Atlantic City. Of course, Nucky stayed in power as the puppet master and Eli was reappointed sheriff.

We found out the Commodore’s maid had slowly been poisoning him with arsenic. Rather than arresting her, Nucky said he completely understood why she wanted to kill him and let her go on the promise that she would not continue to poison people. Later in the episode, Jimmy had a heart-to-heart with the Commodore and the two are both really pissed at Nucky. Next season will most likely feature the battle between Jimmy and Nucky for control of Atlantic City. Also, Eli is on the same side as Jimmy and the Commodore.

Jimmy also finally talked to his girlfriend about her wanting to run off to Paris with her lover and they’re probably back together. I was hoping for Angela and Mary to end up happily ever after, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Nucky and Margaret made up after he told her his sob story about his dead wife and child. The story was really pretty heartbreaking (the baby died days before he and his wife actually realized it and he never held his son while the baby was alive), so those two will be back together next season.

Oh yeah, and Van Alden knocked up Lucy. A pregnant Lucy next season? Oh, god. Help us all.

Here’s the thing about Boardwalk Empire. All the previews before it actually premiered were completely astounding. I love Prohibition era history, so I had very high hopes for this show. All season, though, I’ve felt pretty meh about it. Outside of the pilot, which I probably liked more for the novelty of it than anything, no episode has really blown me away. There are characters I like, but none that I love. Characters I hate, but none that I loathe. Steve Buscemi does great as Nucky, but I don’t have any really strong feelings about the character. Most of the storylines this season have been fairly boring. The only one I really was invested in was the love quadrangle between Jimmy, Angela, and the Dittrichs. Even then, it only lasted a few episodes and didn’t fully grab my attention.

I really enjoy Jimmy’s character, mainly because Michael Pitt is a truly fantastic actor. He’s come a long way since the days of Henry on Dawson’s Creek. As long as Jimmy continues to get these meaty storylines, the show will probably hold my attention. The scenes between Buscemi and Pitt were pretty great in the last few episodes, especially since Jimmy found out Nucky’s history with his mother. I feel like the battle between Nucky and Jimmy could be extremely interesting next season.

I feel like I might have gone into this show with too high of expectations and that stopped me from really enjoying it. I was expecting to be blown away by every episode and I didn’t get that. The storylines that have been set up for next season seem like they have potential, so I will most likely be back for season 2. I just hope the show gets better.