So it’s that time of year when a plethora of lists are thrust upon us. Movies, Books, Music and Television of 2011 are organized and scrutinized and placed in various Best and Worst of the year lists. Well, since this is the first New Years that this blog has been active I decided I wanted in on the list making fun. However, I wanted my list to be more of a cornucopia of this years offerings not limiting myself to one topic. So I present to you a few items in pop culture that grabbed and held my attention this year.
American Horror Story – Ah Ryan Murphy , you and your ridiculously handsome co-writer Brad Falchuk have entertained, moved, and intrigued me with your previous work. Nip/Tuck was a show that I madly fell in love with at the beginning but as it lost it’s characters’ focus it ended up being like one of those relationships where when it ends it feels like it should because going on any longer would just lead to confusion, frustration and possibly rage. Your other offering, Glee, started off as the show I was so sure that I would hate but unexpectedly fell in love with it’s quick wit, charismatic cast and beautiful performances. Unfortunately, the show went from being being a must see to one of those things that you feel you should stick through because you were so madly in love in the beginning and it would be great to have that feeling back. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good show, it just feels like it’s lost it’s way a bit.
However, Murphy and Falchuk have brought a new disturbing and terrifying love to my life with American Horror Story. This show follows the Harmon Family (played by Dylan McDermitt, Connie Britton and daughter Violet played brilliantly by Tarissa Varmiga) as they attempt to move on emotionally and physically from Mr. Harmon’s recent infidelity as well as Mrs. Harmon’s miscarriage. However, rebuilding love and trust is not easy to do when you decide to move into a haunted house occupied by some very intensely complicated and corporeal ghosts that don’t let a little thing like death stand in their way. There is some amazing acting going on in this show, most notably Jessica Lange in her first regular tv role in which she plays the creepiest character on the show, living or dead, the Harmons’ neighbor Constance. This show has one of the most eclectic cast of characters around including a man in a rubber suit, a frankenstein-like child, Elizabeth Short a.k.a. The Black Dahlia, a house maid whose appearance changes from seductress to eerie depending on whose looking and a plethora of other victims including many of the houses’ previous owners.
American Horror Story
I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll stop here though I must say brace yourself for the opening scene of the episode “Piggy, Piggy”. I had to take a small break as it was one of the most intensely terrifying realistic scenes I have ever seen on television and left me with some very disturbing thoughts. Still, I came back and look forward to every new episode. I realize there is a good chance this show might lose it’s way as Murphy and Falchuk’s other shows have in the past but for now I am in television love.
(Updated 12/22/2011) Looks like creator Ryan Murphy has announced that Season 2 will feature a new location and new story and that the Harmon’s story is complete. However, there is a chance that the actors may return playing new characters. Personally, while I am sad to see the Harmons’ go, I think this is a great way for the show to continue without getting stale. I always thought that Heroes would have worked as a one season show and perhaps many others would have benefited from a similar structure as this. Regardless, I’m intrigued by the new direction and look forward to the possibilities for Season 2. I, for one, would personally enjoy a hotel setting which would allow for a wide variety of stories and guest stars as various hotel guests and ghosts. I also think that perhaps if the show stands the test of time things will loop back-around in a such a way as to possibly explain or hint at why these ghosts can exist in they way that they do. However, Ryan Murphy is quite good at surprises so who knows. Read more here: http://collider.com/american-horror-story-season-2-preview-news/133741/
Lady Gaga’s Marry The Night Video – Everyone did not love the Born This Way album. In fact a lot of people hated it. Many fans claimed they felt betrayed and confused by Mother Monster. Non-Gaga fans went on their usual rants about how she never had any talent and how “clearly” she is really a man. The internet in all it’s glory was a buzz with negativity claiming that the only reason her album sold as many copies as it did was because she priced it at .99 cents on Amazon which from what I understand was done by Amazon’s will and not that of Gaga. Though I do not passionately love every track on this record it gave me a new found respect for her and what she is trying to do. I don’t want to make it sound like people did not love this work. Many did, but for some reason the internet can often come off as a pretty negative place when it comes to the public’s opinions. Just read You Tube comments for 30 minutes (on non cute kitten videos) and you’ll feel it too if you don’t already.
As a pop singer there is almost a formula for success that she has chosen not to follow. Writing songs and filming videos that do not easily fit into a mold of what a successful pop star should be. For almost every new effort there was someone claiming she stole it from someone else. Since I am not privy to her creative process I can’t say for certain at how she arrives at her results only that I, for the most part, enjoy them. Her most recent work is the video for Marry The Night, a 13 minute epic biographical super stylized retelling of one of the “darkest periods of her life”. The title song doesn’t make an appearance until more than half way through this video in which Gaga gives us a emotional yet altered retelling of a hospital stay followed by an dramatic cheerio bathing breakdown as she is let go from her first record label Def Jam. This is all intermingled with Gaga dancing solo ballerina style followed by her returning to achieve her goals at a dance studio despite being told she should quit. The most beautiful shots here happen when Gaga hangs out of, inside and all over a classic muscle car while flames explode around her as she begins to belt out her never-give-up anthem. In the end, the video is about not giving up and working for what you want.
Marry The Night
The hard work aspect is something I can stand behind as it feels like more and more our culture is obsessed with achieving fame with the smallest amount of effort possible. Marry The Night shows that great levels of success can come but that expecting it to be handed to you should not be the goal. Fame and glory may not happen for everyone but for those who have earned it through hard work, dedication and a little suffering, it can mean so much more.
Young Adult – When I saw this movie I had no idea I was seeing it as my attending was due to an evite from The Music Box Theater in Chicago. It stated that there would be a screening of film opening around Christmas, that said film was Rated R and that talent from the film would be in attendance. Since this offering was free it seemed like a good enough way to spend a Saturday evening with the hubby. So we waited in a fairly long line with people who also had no theory as to what we were seeing though the hubby had really hoped for “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”.
So the presentation began with the introduction of actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, writer Diablo Cody and Director Jason Reitman who jokingly said we were seeing Happy Feet 2. They made a few more comments without actually stating the title and began to play the film in which we see a lazy sweatpants wearing Charlize Theron in bed slowly awakening accompanied by her puffy white purse dog. She proceeds to find herself in a very depressed and angered state once she receives a photo announcement that her high school boyfriend, Buddy, and his wife have now given birth to a baby girl. She then unleashes a rant to a friend about about how suburban life seems like a living nightmare and then quickly decides that she can, will and must rekindle her relationship with Buddy despite his having a family which she refers to as “baggage”.
This movie isn’t typically the kind of movie plot that entices me enough to go to the theater so I was happy to have the opportunity to see it this way. Theron gives a sharp, spot on performance as Mavis Gary, while Patton Oswalt who plays Mike, the guy she barely knew existed in high school, is both sincerely moving and hysterically funny. I liked this film because even though Theron’s character Mavis is pretty unlikable I can understand some of her feelings. That sensation of everyone around you having kids and moving to the suburbs while her (and I) have chosen a childless city life. That uncomfortable feeling that creeps up in certain social situations because you have nothing to add to the baby rearing conversations that can often leave a grown woman feeling like a teenager in a room full of adults. Though unlike her I don’t consider suburbia hell and children baggage, it’s just not the lifestyle for me. One aspect I love about this movie is that the ending feels more realistic than most walk off into the sunset movies (though there’s a place in my heart for those too). It’s not sad and not necessarily happy. It’s just more realistic.
The Hunger Games Trailer –For two minutes and thirty-seven seconds I was completely and utterly captivated by the first REAL trailer of Suzanne Collins’ teenage dystopian tale The Hunger Games. For those who are generally put off by the young adult genre fearing for swooning sparkling vampires (which I gluttonly gobble up, sue me) rest assured there are none in sight. The Hunger Games centers around the young Katniss Everdeen (and everyone bitches about the name Renesme) who lives in a world where North America has been divided up into 12 districts known as Panam which is controlled by the drippingly evil President Snow. The seat of the totalitarian government known as The Capital is one of the few areas that is visibly prosperous made obvious by their overly opulent and dramatic sense of fashion, lifestyle and little concern for anyone who is not them. The other Districts are divided by their main operations such as Mining, Masonry, Electronics, etc where people struggle to get by and rarely, if ever, get more than the minimal requirements for daily survival. However, there is one way to prosper not only for yourself but your family as well. All you gotta do is fight to the death in the elaborately lethal Capital designed arena and kill 23 other teenage boys and girl including someone from your own District and you and your family will be living swanky. Don’t like that idea? Too bad. Every year for the past 74 years one boy and one girl from the ages of 13 – 18 are chosen via lottery. There really is no way to politely decline taking part if your name is selected unless you are fortunate enough to have someone step in for you, which is how our heroine Katniss earns her place in the 74th annual Hunger Games.
The initial plot may remind some of you of the Japanese film Battle Royale which also featured teenage school children in a vicious and bloody battle to the death. That pretty much, in my opinion, is where the similarities begin and end. The universe, the characters, the science fiction and all of the little details that make up The Hunger Games create a story that is all it’s own. This trailer gives fans of the books as well as potential ones, just enough of a taste without becoming an overdose which many trailers as of late have fallen victim too (I’m looking at you Dream House. ) We get an idea of the simple small town life Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in along with her relationships with those around her as she reassuringly tells her younger sister Prim that she should not worry as since it’s her first year being entered she will not likely be picked. The shakiness in her voice tells us that she may be trying just as hard to convince herself. As bad luck would have it Prim’s name is pulled out of the jar by the excessively chipper Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). In seconds Katniss rushes forward shouting, “I volunteer! I volunteer as Tribute!” with such intensity and sincerity I now have a better understanding as to why Lawrence was chosen for this role. We are shown glimpses of Katniss and her District mate Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) arriving at the Capital being primped for public display as well as being physically trained for battle. The final moments of the trailer end with an ominous voice counting down as the Tributes are finally released into the deadly arena.
The Hunger Games
When I first heard of the casting of this film I was not sold on Larwrence landing the lead role. I had no prior experiences of her past work. The only image I had of her in my mind was of her buxomy bombshell red carpet appearance at the 2011 Academy Awards. However, Hollywood as taught me that many kinds of transformations are possible and after seeing this trailer I cannot wait to see how Lawrence portrays Katniss further down the road. With three books and possibly four movies (the 3rd probably being divided into two) Lawrence and the rest of the cast including Stanly Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland will have plenty of material to work with. Here’s hoping my 2012 highlights list includes the full length movie. I think the odds are likely in their favor.
Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy
So my final entry is another young adult dystopian fiction story however at this point in time I’m not aware of any film version in development. Wither is another vampire free series that takes place in a world where due to years and years of genetic research and manipulation the human life span has now been reduced to a mere 25 years for males and 2o for females. As geneticists continue to try and undo the damage, the world has drastically changed since young women are often sold into prostitution, used for medical research or as in the case of our heroine Rhine Ellery, forced to become a bride. Torn away from the only family she has left, her twin brother, she is thrust into a world of luxury as one of three brides for the wealthy Lindon. Rhine soon realizes that Lindon may not be the one worth fearing and in his own way, may be a victim himself.
I found this book interesting because during those teenage years it’s often difficult to have the foresight to see into the future of ones own life. One summer to a teenager can have the emotional weight of a lifetime. However, to live a young life knowing that there is no future other than a handful of years that are likely to be filled with fear, forced sex and possibly forced pregnancy is a mind altering concept. Author Lauren DeStefano writes a rich world where some of the bad guys aren’t all bad while others may be worse than you think. While scientifically the outcome may seem a bit far fetched, I did enjoy the the various ways the characters chose to rebel, deal or ignore the hand dealt to them due to the sins of the previous generation. I also enjoyed that multiple political views are addressed as many believe that since man’s meddling with science created the dystopian world it would be wise to let nature take it’s course, even if that means the human population dying out.
Wither: The Chemical Garden Trilogy
The second part of this trilogy titled Fever, is due for release on February 21, 2012. I only hope that if a film version does come into fruition that those involved acknowledge the grittier aspects of this story. Whether or not you are looking for a moral message (which many assume all young adult novels must have) or just an interesting science fiction story Wither rarely feels too heavy handed in it’s approach.
Well, that’s it folks. That’s my short list. There are many other things that interested me this past year but I thought I would just share a handful with you. This will likely be my last post till for 2011 so let me take this moment to wish you and yours a very pleasant New Year.
Also, feel free to mention some of your faves from 2011 in the comments!
Till next year folks,