The musings of a feminist pop culture fanatic

Archive for October, 2012

Film Review: Paranormal Activity 4

Have you seen the other three Paranormal Activity films? Well, you’ve basically seen #4. The film centers around what happened after Katie kidnapped Hunter at the end of the second film. It catches up five years later with a family in Henderson, Nevada. They are the stereotypical nuclear family (mom, dad, teenage daughter Alex, and six-year-old son Wyatt). One day, the family comes across another young boy who lives across the street, Robbie. He is SUPER creepy, but his mom is in the hospital and has nowhere else to go. Thus, our family takes in Robbie. After that, crazy stuff happens. It is, of course, all caught on webcam by Alex, who takes over the tech-savvy, curious role. She does this with the help of her boyfriend, Ben.

It has the trademarks of all the other films. Lots of time spent looking at empty rooms, analyzing every corner for the slightest movement. Swinging chandeliers that come crashing down. Small children talking to an invisible friend named Toby. Creepy people watching others sleep. Even the ways in which people are killed are virtually copycats of all the other ways. There’s the levitating person dropped from a great height, quick neck snap, etc.

I’ll be honest. I spent most of the film attached to my friend Tori’s arm. I jumped…a lot. I had to stifle a couple screams. But it all felt like been there, done that. I was scared in anticipation of what was going to happen next. I had such high hopes for the film. Every year for the past four years, my Halloween has included a new Paranormal Activity. They always scare the shit out of me. However, with every film, the fear is less intense. After the first film, I was pretty much catatonic with fear. Tonight, however, I’m a little skittish, but I’m not going to have any problems sleeping.

This film feels a lot like buying a Paranormal Activity Greatest Hits album. You get all excited because it’s something new from your favorite group, but then you realize you’ve seen it all before. And it ends up being just a huge disappointment.

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New Series: Underemployed

Normally, I pretty much forget that MTV is a channel. With horrid reality shows like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom, most of its programming seems like it goes against everything for which I stand. However, 16 & Pregnant is kind of a guilty pleasure and while watching it one day, I saw an ad for this new scripted drama Underemployed. I first saw the ad about one day after getting fired from my first real job, so I really connected with it.

The series focuses on five recent college graduates trying to make it in the real world. In college, they were on top of the world. The pilot begins with the five of them promising to meet up in one year when they’re ruling the world. However, as many recent graduates have discovered, we’re not ruling the world.

So, the five main characters. Sofia (Michelle Ang, Neighbours) was her class valedictorian. In her commencement speech, she talked about how they were going to go out and change the world. A year later, she is working at Donut Girl while attempting to write her debut novel. She goes to work every day wearing a giant donut headband and waiting for inspiration to strike. One day, a former classmate comes in to Donut Girl and she’s faced with the highly embarrassing dilemma of having to explain to someone how she’s currently underachieving in life. Her classmate comes in with his new boss and later, Sofia has her first sexual experience.

Next up is Daphne (Sarah Habel, Whip It). After graduating with a degree in advertising, she’s currently doing an unpaid internship for an advertising firm and living with her father. She gets to assist on campaigns, in that she literally gets to eat dog food to prove to a client it’s good enough for humans to eat. She also has sex with her boss before finding out that he has a girlfriend. She comes in one day and demands to start getting paid. When he says no, she quits. She then manages to use the information about his girlfriend to get him to give her a paid position and she stops sleeping with him.

Miles (Diego Boneta, Rock of Ages) dreams of being an underwear model for Calvin Klein one day. Now, however, he’s taking various catering jobs and waiting for his big break. He thinks it might come when working one catering job where he meets an older woman who invites him to a party where Calvin Klein will be present. He goes to the party, but she just wanted him to work it. He does end up meeting Calvin, though, and leaves an impression on him.

The final two are Lou (Jared Kusnitz, Secret Life of the American Teenager) and Raviva (Inbar Lavi, For the Love of Money). They dated in college, but then broke up because “real adults” know when to call off a relationship. They do, however, manage to have sex one last time. Lou starts trying to make a career out of saving the environment, but as any person who wants to “change the world” knows, there’s next to no money in that. Meanwhile, Raviva sets out for Los Angeles to try to get a record deal. As a result of that goodbye sex, however, Raviva ends up pregnant and comes back to Lou just as she’s about to give birth. He, naturally, doesn’t take it well and she ends up back at her mother’s house. Lou decides to sell his soul and go to work for his father (Tom Irwin, My So-Called Life) who works for a company that Lou pretty much believes is the devil. However, evil pays, which Lou needs since he wants to get back together with Raviva and raise their daughter.

As a twenty-something recent college grad, I’m basically in love with this show. The head writer is Craig Wright, who has also written for Six Feet Under and created Dirty Sexy Money. It’s witty and extremely sarcastic. It’s a fairly realistic portrayal of how much the world sucks for recent graduates. The way the characters talk is accurate. I’ve had so many conversations with my friends about how “real adults” act or how “grown up” we are. However, I’ve also learned there is nothing less grown up than referring to yourself as a grown up.

It’s a fun show and I’m extremely excited to see how the rest of the season goes. The writing is strong. The characters are lovable. It’s just an all-around good show.

Film Review: Argo

Most people know the story of the Iranian hostage crisis. In 1979, there was a lot of distrust and anger between the United States and Iran (funny how things never change). A bunch of Iranians took hold of the US embassy in Tehran and held all the inhabitants hostage for 444 days. That is the story that gets brushed over in US History classes toward the end of the year when the teacher is rushing to fit in everything.

However, there is another story. Six of the embassy workers managed to leave the building before it was fully taken over. They went to a couple other embassies seeking refuge before the Canadian ambassador took them in and kept them safe. Several months later, the CIA determined it was no longer for them to stay with the Canadian ambassador and started trying to come up with ways to extricate them. They had several bad ideas, such as sneaking them bikes and having them bike to the Turkish border (300 miles in the winter? Nope) or having them pose as teachers (all international schools had been closed). Fortunately, there was one creative thinker in the bunch, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directs).

Mendez comes up with an idea so crazy that it just might work. He proposes that they come up with cover stories for the six. They will be a Canadian film crew scouting locations for an upcoming sci-fi fantasy adventure called Argo. They set up a production company in Los Angeles with the help of Academy Award-winning make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and renowned producer Lester Siegal (Alan Arkin in a role that will surely get him at least an Oscar nomination). They get people to believe the film will actually happen, even going so far as hosting read-throughs so that Variety will report on it and they will have clippings to support their story. Once they have acceptable cover stories and manage to convince the State Department that this is their best bet, Mendez heads into Iran.

The first half of the film is devoted to setting up the fake film and establishing the cover identities. It is a fascinating look into how the CIA works with the State Department and various diplomats. Where the State Department has to be worried about relations with other countries and how their actions are perceived by the world, the CIA focuses solely on their mission. For a political thriller, the first half is relatively lighthearted. Arkin gives an amazing performance as the crotchety producer who treats the mission as if they were making an actual movie. “If I’m making a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit” is just one of the many gems he utters.

Once it gets to the halfway point of the film, it’s all action and intrigue. Even though the film is pretty much about them, the six “house guests” don’t play much of a role. The two most significant of the house guests, in my opinion, were the ones played by Clea DuVall (Heroes) and Tate Donovan (The O.C.) and that was really just because I like the actors. Victor Garber (Legally Blonde) plays the Canadian ambassador to Iran and does great with the minimal amount he’s given. The second half is full of twists and turns, culminating in an incredibly tense climax at the Tehran airport.

Affleck proved with his first two films (Gone Baby Gone, The Town) that he is excellent at directing films about Boston. Argo proves that he is excellent at making films, period. This easily could have turned into a three- to four-hour epic full of convoluted details. Rather than spending a lot of time at the beginning setting up the tension between the US and Iran and delving into the history surrounding that, Affleck has a very brief prologue giving just enough information that the viewer understands some of the basic causes. The pacing is incredibly tight, but does not skimp on the humor or action.

This is going to be a major player once the awards season starts heating up. It did extremely well at the Toronto Film Festival, coming in second in the People’s Choice category. This will likely be the film that garners Affleck his first Directing nomination. He might also get an acting nod, but the focus will likely be on his direction. Arkin is a strong contender for the Supporting Actor field and it’s almost a lock for Best Adapted Screenplay. There is always the chance that it will flame out early on, but its buzz thus far looks good for the future. Affleck has an amazing career in directing ahead of him and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

New Series: Nashville

For anyone who has been living under a rock and missed out on the massive amounts of publicity, Nashville is a new show on ABC. It focuses primarily on two female country singers. The first is Rayna James (the fantastic Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights), an aging woman who is kind of like Faith Hill. She’s wildly popular and considered country royalty, but is not drawing the crowds she used to. The second is Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes), who is basically a super evil version of Taylor Swift.

From the very beginning, these two women are rivals. Rayna’s label wants her to go on tour with Juliette and co-headline (a fancy way of saying they want her to open for Juliette). When the two meet, Juliette first snubs Rayna and then says her mom used to listen to Rayna when she was pregnant with Juliette. However, the way she says that is the epitome of a backhanded compliment. Rayna is horribly insulted, of course, and throws a fit. She is determined that Juliette is nothing more than a temporary sensation, a shiny new toy for the public of which they will quickly tire.

Juliette has her own agenda. She approaches Rayna’s longtime guitarist, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten, Big Love) and asks him to come on tour with her. She drops a hint that Rayna’s tour might be canceled before Rayna has a chance to talk to him. When Rayna and Deacon talk, it’s pretty clear that the two of them used to be a thing and might not be 100% over each other. Juliette is also sleeping with her record producer, who happens to also be a longtime producer for Rayna. Plus, Juliette has a drug addict mother who constantly calls her to ask for money. Juliette is basically evil, but it’s clear she will eventually become sympathetic.

There are a couple other subplots that are clearly going to come into play over time. Rayna’s husband, Teddy (Eric Close, Without a Trace) is running for mayor of Nashville, despite Rayna’s wishes that he not. Rayna’s father, Lamar (Powers Boothe, Hatfields & McCoys), is behind the campaign and Rayna has major issues with him. She’s afraid her dad will somehow corrupt Teddy. It’s heavily implied that there was some sort of scandal involving Teddy and money. It also is clear that there are problems between Teddy and Rayna, and her father knows something about this. He clearly has some sort of blackmail on his daughter.

The final storyline revolves around Deacon’s niece, Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen, Dead Man’s Burden), a waitress who says she’s a poet, but others tell her she needs to be a singer-songwriter. Her boyfriend, Avery (Jonathan Jackson, General Hospital) is also an up-and-coming songwriter, who Deacon does not trust at all. Meanwhile, Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio, Episodes), another songwriter, loves Scarlett from afar.

By the end of the episode, there are major plot twists set up for the rest of the season. The pilot is really tight and introduces just enough to leave the viewer wanting more. The show comes from Academy Award-winning screenwriter Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), so it’s hard to expect much less. There are some interesting questions raised around the expectations of women, both in show business and in family life. There’s clearly a fascinating dichotomy between the younger and older women and the problems associated with age in show business. I, personally, would love to see Rayna and Juliette develop a strong relationship because I feel there aren’t enough strong, positive relationships shown between women on television. However, they are also compelling rivals. I like that both women are depicted as independent and courageous.

Overall, this is arguably the strongest drama pilot of the new season. It held my attention and made me want more as soon as it was over. There is, naturally, a lot of country music in the show, but I still loved it, despite not being a fan of that genre. I would watch Connie Britton read the phone book, but she is truly phenomenal in this role. She’s a strong singer and as most people already knew, an amazing actress. Panettiere really shines as Juliette and has grown a lot since her days as the indestructible cheerleader Claire Bennett on Heroes. 

If you didn’t catch the pilot when it aired, be sure to watch it online. People are going to be talking about this show. I’m predicting it’ll be this season’s Revenge.

New Series: 666 Park Avenue

Since this show is coming from former Fringe and Life on Mars writer David Wilcox, I had high hopes for it. 666 Park Avenue is based on the novel of the same name by Gabriella Pierce. Unfortunately, two episodes in and I am still waiting for something to really grab my attention.

The series focuses on a young couple, Jane (Rachael Taylor, Charlie’s Angels) and Henry (Dave Annable, Brothers & Sisters), who get hired to manage the swanky Drake apartment building. The building is owned by billionaires Olivia (Vanessa Williams, Desperate Housewives) and Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn, Lost). On the surface, everything seems completely amazing. The building is beautiful and seems like paradise. However, as everyone could have guessed based on the title, there is a darker side to everything.

Gavin is a super creepy guy. O’Quinn is such a fantastic actor and there is a strong menacing undertone to everything he does. It verges on being over-the-top and hammy at times, but he is also just inherently charming. According to Gavin, he helps make dreams come true. It’s heavily implied from the pilot that Gavin is essentially the devil. People making deals with the devil: horror movie cliche #1.

Jane is an architect who is extremely interested in renovating old buildings. While exploring the basement of the Drake, she finds a mural that suggests there was some sort of secret society in The Drake’s past. Creepy building with a possibly haunted past: horror movie cliche #2.

There are a couple of other subplots, but they are even less interesting than the main plot. The problem with this show is that there is nothing truly original about it. I was so excited about this show because when it’s done correctly, horror can be a great and compelling genre. The flip side is that when it’s done poorly, it verges on unwatchable. It would be one thing if the show suffered from poor writing and was over-the-top bad. Then it would at least have the cheesiness factor. However, this show is just kind of boring.

So far, there have been allusions to Rosemary’s BabyRear Window, and The Birds. That’s all just been in two episodes. I keep waiting for a twist that I can’t see coming from a mile away, but the show has yet to fulfill that requirement. There is so much potential in this show. The cast is absolutely fantastic. Wilcox is a fantastic writer. All of them deserve better than this show. It is possible to do a great horror television show. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have shown us that with American Horror Story. Granted, they can get away with more extreme plot lines on F/X. Just because a show can’t be as graphic, it doesn’t mean it has to be mundane. The show has the potential to be a fantastic psychological thriller, but instead, it just throws out every horror trope imaginable.

I always say any show deserves at least five episodes before it truly finds its way. I’m two weeks in and determined to give it the full five weeks, but it’s hard so far. I’m thinking this will be the first show eliminated from my schedule this year.

New blog

I promise I’m not abandoning this one. I’m just starting a second blog with a different focus. Down to Sanity will still focus on entertainment reviews and pop culture.

However, I’m also going to be writing at http://bipolarmandi.wordpress.com/ about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. Feel free to follow me there as well.