Monday, December 31, 2012

Ten Favorite Shows of 2012

A soap opera dressed up like a prestigious drama. Not a great season, but it's still first-rate entertainment. Favorite moment: the snowy proposal.

The only network sitcom that is must-watch for me. Happy it's coming back on TNT. Favorite moments: penny jars, and gang of one.

Like Downton, a good show with great costumes and production design. Favorite moments: any scene with Anna Chancellor.

For Peter Dinklage alone. And the episode with the siege. This is a show that I think will just keep getting better. Favorite moment: Tyrion Lannister becomes a man of action.

The most divisive show of 2012. I loved it because it was funny. And I loved it because it was brave, presenting twenty-something Brooklyn females as narcissistic and human. Favorite moment: Lena Dunham with food in her mouth at the very beginning and the very end.

This BBC series might have aired prior to 2012 in the UK, but it debuted this year on Hulu. A group of freshman sharing a house at the University of Manchester, this show veers between vulgar comedy and heartfelt drama. It's up and down but very, very funny. Favorite moment: the whole episode with the dead dad and the dead horse. And anything with the comedically talented Kimberley Nixon.

Sports coats have appeared! Another perfect season. Favorite moment: Joan secures the Jaguar deal and loses a little of her soul.

This finally becomes the show I always wanted it to be. Favorite moment: The governor and Michonne resolve their differences.

One of the most innovative shows ever. Each week is like a mini-movie that can do anything it wants. Favorite moments: Parker Posey on the rooftop, and David Lynch as the late-show exec.

I'm always going to pick the thriller, especially if the thriller is this good. Knife-sharp suspense with unlikeable (sometimes) good guys and likeable (sometimes) bad guys. I'm only reviewing the first season here. No Showtime in this house. Favorite moment: the lie detector scene.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is my favorite living director. Even so, I have been waiting for one of his films to disappoint me, and considered the possibility that this would be the one. I'm happy to say that nothing about Django Unchained disappointed me. Tarantino has made another eccentric, original (how is it possible that some people claim he has no originality?), exhilarating, and emotional piece of cinematic collage.

This won't be a full review because I simply have too many thoughts on this film. But, most importantly, he has managed to graft an entertaining adventure story onto a historical period rife with atrocities, and he has managed to keep the integrity of both. That he does this while also including b-movie tropes, Mel Brooksian humor, rap music, and such a high level of craftsmanship is truly a feat. It's a beautiful film, filled with memorable shots, all rendered, of course, without any computer help.

This is the first Tarantino picture that takes place before the advent of cinema, the first picture in which he cannot directly reference movies (there are endless indirect references). Yet, there is a definite meta-reading of this film in which Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), the German bounty hunter, "directs" Django into his role of a movie hero. Schultz sees it as a re-telling of German legend while the audience sees it as the birth of a movie hero. This has become a constant theme of Tarantino's: this idea that all the characters in his film are battling for center stage, are battling to be the lead role. What makes this movie redemptive is that the black cowboy and the slave girl ride off together in the end, stars of their own movie.

I will admit that I think Sally Menke's unfortunate death last year affected the editing of this picture just a little bit. At least to my eye. Even though the editing booth had a sign up that said "What would Sally do," and even though Fred Raskin did a good job, I felt that Menke would have tightened it up a little. A small quibble.

What's next for Quentin Tarantino? He's talked about doing a 1930s gangster picture but I would love to see him do his 1960s spy caper. He still holds the rights to Modesty Blaise.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Poetry Monday

I just read Ian McEwan's latest novel, Sweet Tooth, which will certainly be one of my favorite books of the year. It's a twisty take on the spy novel, one that is actually far more about literature and love. There's a fair amount of poetry discussion in the novel, including a reference to one of my favorite Kingsley Amis poems, "A Bookstore Idyll". And there is reference to a poem I had never read by Edward Thomas called "Adlestrop."

Here are both poems, well worth reading.

A Bookshop Idyll

Between the GARDENING and the COOKERY
            Comes the brief POETRY shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
            Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
            I scan the contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
            No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
            Landscape near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
            So does Rilke and Buddha.

“I travel, you see”, “I think” and “I can read”
            These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
            Poem for J.,

The ladies’ choice, discountenance my patter
            For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
            A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
            Or squash it flat?
Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;
            Girls aren’t like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
            Can get by without it.
Women don’t seem to think that’s good enough;
            They write about it,

And the awful way their poems lay them open
            Just doesn’t strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
            No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
            We sat up half the night
Chockfull of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
            And couldn’t write.


Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

This is 40

I don't have too much to say about this movie except that it was bad. Unfunny, self-indulgent dramedy without a plot. Whiny, entitled people screaming obscenities at each other. I've seen all of Judd Apatow's films and I like them in this order: The Forty Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, and then this one. Unfortunately, that's the order he made the films in. Could his next movie be worse than this?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ten Best Movie Posters of 2012

Weak year overall, I think. Usually I have to trim this list to get to 10. These were my favorites:

And my favorite poster of the year was split between the many official posters from Cabin in the Woods. The design team that worked on this one came up with so many great ideas. My favorite is probably the Escher-inspired one.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Poetry Monday

The Train Ride

by Ruth Stone

All things come to an end;
small calves in Arkansas,
the bend of the muddy river.
Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever.
They go on forever, the swamp,
the vine-choked cypress, the oaks
rattling last year’s leaves,
the thump of the rails, the kite,
the still white stilted heron.
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Favorite Scores of the Year

The Academy revealed their 104 eligible scores for the year, and it made me think about picking my own favorite scores. These might change as I catch more films from this year, but for right now, these are the ones, the eligible ones anyway, that would be my pick for the top five:

Brave, Patrick Doyle
Doyle can do no wrong in my book, and this celtic-inspired score is truly beautiful.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer 
I was not a fan of this movie but I did like the pluck-heavy score, also by the director. 

John Carter, Michael Giacchino  
The type of score that John Williams was knocking out twenty-five years ago, this is another triumph for Giacchino, who can seemingly compose for any genre. A rousing, adventurous piece of music.

Looper, Nathan Johnson
Director Rian Johnson's brother Nathan creates another perfect score for one of Rian's excellent films. I think this is not quite as impressive as the work he did for Brick and for The Brother's Bloom, but it is still easily one of the year's best.

Cloud Atlas, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek
Probably my favorite score of the year for a problematic but arguably great film. Beautiful music.

By the way, here are the five scores that will most likely get nominated for the real awards:

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
The Master
Zero Dark Thirty

Take it to the bank.