Category Archives: Hated it

New Fall TV (Hate, Date, or Mate)

Hate –

The Playbook Club

Imagine a cool new TV show just like Madmen, but without good writing, and really weak direction, and no great art direction, and mediocre, strained acting, and presto… you have The Playboy Club.

The Playboy Club might be the lamest piece of TV drama programming that NBC has puked up to date. It is so cliché and tired it is a challenge to generate words for it that aren’t equally cliché and tired. This is a truly uninspiring bit of misogyny. It does serve to remind us of how in many ways the media age managed to co-opt the women’s liberation movement and turn the agitating domestic servants into objects of pleasure all while granting the illusion that this would somehow make women freer. In the 1960’s the male dominated establishment, said to the progressively pushy fairer sex, “Sure you can take a bigger, more visible role in the affairs of the world; would you mind trying this mini skirt on?” And so the 60’s ushered in the women’s new found power to compete economically with men as long as they used their bodies to do it. And hurray, now we have a show to celebrate that Faustian victory. Avoid this show like a date with a drunken life insurance agent.

Unforgettable (seems a bit forgettable)

I don’t really hate this show but I also wouldn’t date it. I am an easy target for procedurals where the star has special acuity-think Monk, Psyche, Lie to Me. Yet this show seems like such a retread, with little promise, maybe it gets better with time but I would be unwilling to give it the time.  The supporting cast of characters is flat, the art direction is uninspired… and so I pass.

The Secret Circle

Really why do I even take the time to watch anything the CW puts out? (Maybe because with the show Nikita they eeked one out.) The Secret Circle continues CW’s strong tradition that “if we program for the sixteen and under we don’t have to put any thought into the writing.” This show though was worse than simply unimaginative; it also seemed at times to border on child pornography. It’s a bit disturbing, not because it is a moralistic issue, but because it just such a bad idea. It takes an extraordinary level of talent to turn pedophilia into literature (think Nabokov) and these writers aren’t even in the same universe. What you are left with is the idea that you can simply attract views by depicting tantalizing teenage sexpots. That is the very definition of prurient pandering. Sigh…

Date –

Up All Night

This new comedy is like 7UP: Light, fizzy, and a little too sweet, but still, if you’re thirsty it might be refreshing.  I don’t think it can compete with comedies like Raising Hope or 30 Rock, but it is a funny look at being new parents and has Maya Rudolph as a comedic gold mine. Not much else to say, check it out if you have the time, no foul if you miss it though.


Ringer

The new Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle is a thriller based on an evil twin sister plot. And I don’t hate it. (Could CW come up with a second show I sort of like?) Watching the pilot was like a first date that you feel isn’t going to work out at first but by the end of the night you are surprised and you are willing to go on a second date, at least to see where things go. This show is fraught with pitfalls and could spin out quickly but I’m hoping (improbably) that the writers have a good story up their sleeves. Let’s wait and see…

Mate –

Prime Suspect

Maria Bello is a superlative actress and she might be in the best new police procedural in a long time (at least since Homicide.) The first episode hooked me with good writing, and well-developed characters all around. I also loved the stressed out art direction, and slightly manic lighting. If you can nail the roles and avoid tripping on the story you are half way there. Prime suspect is definitely half way there. To go all the way they will need to work hard to uncover police stories that matter. No easy task in this overdone genre. But one possibility is to go very deeply and meaningfully into what it means to stand up for justice in a world where injustice seems almost predestined. How does she compete not just as a woman in a man’s world but as a conscious being in an entropic material world?

I recommend this show just to enjoy the craft displayed by Maria on the now not so small screen in your living room.

Let me know which shows you will hate, date, or mate.

Advertisements

Thor – the extended trailer, and Source Code – an ill named, ill conceived, illustration of why time travel movies suck

Thor

What should have been a really cool chapter in the Marvel comix/movie build up to the Avengers was a dreary exercise best described as a perfunctory pronouncement. It was less of a movie and more of an extended trailer.

Filmed and directed with great flourish, a powerful sound track, and beautiful actors, who were all sitting around waiting for a cohesive story to come along and give some meaning to their existence. Alas it did not.  To make matters worse, of all the interesting enemies that Thor has battled over the last 50 years the frost giants might have been the least interesting and least plausible. This is because according to the Vedic theory of film criticism, mythological personalities have resonance with humans because at some level our sub-conscious recognizes that these are not made up ideas but rather reflections of something that actually exists in dimensions now sealed off to us.

We may not have an abundance of evidence for the existence of mythological beings, but we do have enough to consider it as a hypothesis. It can hardly be a coincidence that all cultural cosmologies share an amazing number of attributes among their descriptions of mythological beings. It is a bit too facile and poor scholarship to simply relegate this phenomenon off to shared subconscious archetypes.  As open-eyed scientific observers we should consider the possibility that other life form yet undiscovered by everyday science may exist. According to the Vedic model demigods, fairies, ogres, angels, demons and all manner of extra-human being are real.

But frost giants do not have a place in the pantheon of potentially real persona. They are a dumb concoction of the marvel writing team of Stan Lee and his brother. The Norse mythology does describe the jotunn or giant and demon races, similar to descriptions in Vedic texts. But frost giants were simple a very weak substitution.  Though these were some of the first villains described in the original comic, the film makers took so many liberties with the origins story they could easily have made the frost giant into real giants with more reasonable powers.

The story would also have been better if it had clung to the aspect of the original story that made it such a valuable comic in the silver age of the 60’s (I remember finding a forgotten trunk in a storage shed in the early ‘70’s, filled with many of the original Thor comics and loving every minute of reading their musty smelling pages.) In the original story Odin banishes Thor to earth where he becomes Donald Blake medical student and lives as an ordinary mortal. Eventually he reconnects with his hammer and for a time lives with a dual identity. The film makers decided to jettison all this in favor of a parade of special effects and muscle flexing. The result is a film that is all form and little content.

Rating: 5/10

Recommendation: if you are, like me, a fan of the Marvel Comic world and you are counting the days to the release of the Avengers movie, you pretty much have to see it. Everyone else, stay home and watch something else.

 ——————-

Source Code

It was a bomb 😦

Source Code was a film filled with potential. It had an intriguing theme, that when we die enough of our mental energy persists in the three-dimensional realm that if you could capture it or contain it you could mine it to explore the experiences and sensory input of those last moments (eight minutes according to the filmmakers). But sadly the filmmakers took that potentially interesting concept and rammed it into a bad Hollywood action romance. A world where our hero is repeatedly experiencing eight minutes of somebody’s last moments alive before being blown to bits by an anti-government atheist. A sort of Ground Hog’s day that descends into hyper incredulousness because in this person’s eight minute memory the internet works, you  can call people the memory keeper didn’t know (like the hero’s father) and you can go places that they never went; even get off the train and run around a train station that clearly wasn’t  in memory. But let’s say we give them all that. Let’s be a bit flexible and give these befuddled writers some leeway. Unfortunately they will return the favor by resorting to one of the weakest and worst cinematic devices known to filmkind: time travel.

The reason time travel is such a crummy ploy, at least according to a Vedic theory, is that traveling back in time is impossible. According to both physics and Vedic rules time is one directional. And nothing can reverse events transpired in the past. In the Vedic view time is an incarnation of God known as Kala. Hence the famous verse, “Time I am, the great destroyer of worlds.”

It has always felt to me as though the plethora of time travel themed movies share an almost pathological evidence of God Envy. It is the bitter longing of the religious atheist to fantasize about the ability to bend or reverse time. It is even understandable. But as a plot device it remains a creative intransigence. A time travel plot is that most immoral act of writing: it lacks imagination.

Rating: 3/10

Recommendation: not worth the price of a movie ticket at the theaters and not worth the time of an intelligent working person on DVD or Netflix.

-30-

Avatar – the descent of the bad filmmaker

The spiritual strength of stories is in their ability to touch the soul. If we capitulate to poor storytelling we become the cheated instead of the uplifted. Stories matter because they connect us, enliven us, and are means of transmitting important information about who we are.

Art and spirituality share an important partnership in the telling of stories and their ability to touch and even awaken the soul. But this ability to use a story to hint at the inexpressible mystery of life does not come easily. This is why great directors, are known to say, “It’s not the story; it’s how you tell it.”  This of course assumes that you are starting with an actual story worth telling – a story that has in it the types of personalities that we can connect with and care about. As well as circumstances that, no matter how fantastic, provide us with meaningful struggles that when overcome teach us about ourselves.

Avatar, sadly, has none of these qualities. It is an arguably insane use of human and material resources, to satisfy the technological whims of an effete filmmaker. It is hundreds of millions of dollars of cinematic geek-dom with no redeeming spiritual or artistic value. Avatar is the ironic equivalent of a four-hundred-million dollar PSA by the Sierra Club. (So you cannot excuse this film by saying it engenders discussion on the environment – that could have been accomplished with 1 percent of the budget in a superbowl ad.)  It is a mind numbing display of hour after hour of digital fireworks. Like most fireworks displays after ten or fifteen minutes of oohs and ahhhs, it becomes quite boring.

Avatar is a two-dimensional and utterly un-profound movie shot in high-end 3D-CGI. This total lack of story should prompt outrage. It is important for members of society to raise the standard for our art and culture. We need stories, good ones. We should not settle for the threadbare recycling of mediocre stories, as Avatar is of the Disney movie, Pocahontas (see graphic at bottom for the plot summary of Avatar and a funny comparison.) The story Avatar – the space age Pocahontas, is a weak and sentimental approach to the condescending notion of the noble savage. People are not necessarily noble or dharmic just because they reside in nature. Virtue or dharma is a quality found in varying quadrants of life. The tendency to look at a setting like the film’s mystically beautiful Pandora and compare it to earth and lament the difference is a form of sentimentalism. In the Vedic model of reality majestically opulent planets exist in the universe, but even they pale next to the realm of pure consciousness, the spiritual goal of the yogi.

For a filmmaker to copy the story arc of another film is not always bad. It happens all the time. What is bitterly disappointing is to hear that after someone has worked on a movie for over 10 years the best they could come up with was a script that just rehashes someone else’s insipid and poorly thought out script. And trying to call the story in Avatar “the hero’s journey” is a poor characterization. The story of an unwitting dupe thrust into a new environment where he meets a cute girl, gets the cute girl, loses the cute girl, comes back with a bigger phallic symbol, (car, jet, dragon…) and gets the girl back, hardly qualifies for the dramatic and spiritual depth that constitutes the hero’s journey (which, by the way, is not even that great of mythic story arc to begin with.)

The two dimensional characters and implausible plotting of Avatar remind one of skimpiest of comic book stories.  (The guy who played the big mean army colonel looked and acted like a cardboard cutout.) It was as if Cameron and crew purposely decided that the only thing that mattered was the visual effects and that the story was of no particular importance. But technology is supposed to serve the story and not the other way around. It appears that with this film James Cameron’s filmmaking career has come full circle. He peaked with the original Terminator and Aliens and he has returned to the quality of his first film, Piranha II: the Spawning.

Avatar should be seen as an insult to the film viewer who is expected to shell out hard earned money to watch what amounts to an autoerotic techno-fest. Viewers who waste their money on this film have a right to feeling duped. A better use of entertainment dollars would be to buy the DVD set of Lord of the Rings -great movies, great stories, and great effects.

Sadly the hyped-up Hollywood fan boy awards system has already begun to give statuette accolades to this bit of techno-treacle. But that does not make it a good or important movie. It just means we are once again settling for mediocrity.

Rating: Looks 8, Dance 2

Synopsis: This film is all form and no content. See it if you are a geeky fan boy with a World of Warcraft screen-saver, and nothing better to do than waste your mom’s money.

Revolutionary Road (Block)

A beautifully shot movie with no redeeming social or artistic value

Walking out of the film Revolutionary Road, my mind was numb from the deadening effect of this miserable film. It was like Requiem for a Dream but without the drugs. It’s as if the filmmakers just got out of a bad relationship and figured out for the first time that material life is hard. Jesus, the Buddha, and countless Vedic texts have already told us that life is hard. Or perhaps they heard about the artistic genre known as a tragedy, read some cliff notes of the Greek plays or read about Ibsen and Chekhov on Wikipedia, and decided that a tragedy is a movie about bad things happening to sad people. Or maybe they just found out that the illusion of a nuclear family in the 1950’s collapsed under the pressures of relentless, sexism, racism, and classism, but hadn’t had time to come up with something meaningful to say about it.

Hey honey, I think the  film's meaning went that way

Hey honey, I think the film's meaning went that way

Hmmm, actually I can’t really come up with an excuse for these filmmakers. Except that they have written and produced a move with great, art direction, cinematography, music and with absolutely nothing to say. Unless their goal was like the upbraiding owner of a new puppy who must rub our collective noses in the crap pile that is life. This movie says nothing new, nothing important, and deserves no accolades. The one bright spot was the acting of the so called crazy realtor’s son (Michael Shannon) who played the part of the chorus in a greek melodrama telling us the obvious moral of the story. He played his part very well, as did his mother (Kathy Bates) the realtor. Kate Winslet was a seeming paragon of pathos, and Mr. Dicaprio’s performance ranged from wooden to apoplectic, not his finest hour.

Unless you are a masochist for mediocre melodrama, do not waste your precious time on this travesty of a film. It is a film that wanted to be about emptiness and hopelessness and instead became an empty and hopeless film. If you want to catch up with a meaningful drama, stay in and rent, The Grapes of Wrath, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or Wuthering Heights… these are examples of what a tragedy, or a melodrama, is supposed to be.

Rating 2/10

Recommendation: avoid like an unanaesthetized root canal

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Revenge of the Sith _ episode CRAP…

 

Revenge of the crappy film makers… this was unmitigated crap. Let us all hope that George Lucas has burnt out and will no longer subject us to his feeble and mind numbing attempts at story telling. Every part of this serial has gotten worse and worse. The same tired story has been retread too many times over. He had something innovative and exciting when he put out the original Star Wars all those decades ago. Now he looked like Mike Tyson in his (hopefully) last prize fight; tired   spent, and employing every cliche cheap shot he knew.

 

This was a bad film, poorly written, badly directed, woodenly acted, cheesily edited and strung together with the most appalling maudlin, cinematic treacle that I couldn’t tell if I was watching a bad soap opera or a humorless spoof of  Mel Brook’s Space Balls.

 

I would like to talk about the few allusions to spiritual thoughts but the feeble attempt to espouse any type of spiritual truths was awkwardly simplistic and about 30 years behind the times. Where is the depth, where is the effort to tell us something that hasn’t been said a thousand times over?

 

This film should be consigned to a  tire fire like a bad dream that is banished to the waking moments of a new day and in the lingering moment of unpleasant remembrance the waking party will shake there heads and say, man I am glad that is over.

 

I pray that film makers every where will take this abysmal flop of a franchise and made a determined declaration to create movies that tell stories as if they carried either about the audience or at least the integrity of the art.   

 

This flaccid attempt to milk out six stories from an idea that barely merited one and a half should be remembered as painful memory to us all. But in the meretricious world of Hollywood filmmaking I fear it will not…

 

Crash (2005)

 

Crash (and burn – an aptly titled film)

 

 

Art should tell us something we don’t know; not rub our faces in what is obvious. Crash never rises above the dreary act of regurgitating (albeit expensively and with great actors) what we are constantly reminded about in television news coverage. We live in a racist, sexist, classist society. Ok Thanks, but what do you have t say about it. Where is the art in your work where is the bravery in your sharing. What indescribable or haunting truth are you striving to tell us? Or did you just want to minutely inflame race relations and the go home and cash your studio paycheck?

 

Compare this to another recent film that had race and cultural observations as its vehicle, “Coach Carter.” When I walked out of that film I was changed. I looked at African American cultural differently. I was taken somewhere in my consciousness that I had not been to before, and I was shown a different world. That is one of the joys and powers of art.

 

Crash unfortunately is not about art but rather it is about imitating the same old crap that is going on around us all the time, And no matter how well that is done, it is hardly imaginative. Haggis had a potentially good film idea but fails to capitalize and instead delivers a bleak dreary snapshot or a very real Los Angeles with maudlin, Hallmark moments that never bring the film beyond the level of being a crash at the side of the freeway that we know we shouldn’t but can’t help turning our heads to stare at.

%d bloggers like this: