Winter Break Ideas: Vol. 2

Published 12/31/14 by:

Since I’ve already bestowed upon you my ideas for what you should listen to over your winter break, please allow me to entice you with what you should be viewing. Note: I didn’t include any movies because my recommendations would be “Boyhood” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and if you’re reading my blog then  you’ve probably already seen both of them multiple times.

 

HBO’s “True Detective” How McConaughey and Harrelson haven’t been in all the movies and shows together already is beyond me. Their slick southern charm is abundant in this masterpiece mystery. While people often comment that “music is a main character” on many television shows, in this case it’s the locations and scenery that play a part in the allure of  “True Detective”. As Matthew and Woody toggle from present day police interviews, to flashbacks of their detective days many years earlier, the audience gets a first class tour of Louisiana. You get to see everything from church tent revivals, to biker bars, to beautiful bayou homes. The entire show is breathtaking, in a bullet-dodging, scenic views, soliloquy kind of way. You know, the usual. I wish…

 

 

Comedy Central’s first season of “Broad City” Do not watch this show with your mom. No, seriously. Don’t. This sitcom is about two women in their mid-twenties working dead end jobs to buy their favorite cereals, and fund their bad habits. Produced by Amy Poehler, this is easily my favorite TV comedy of the year.

broad city photo

ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder” I know what you’re thinking: another Shonda Rimes show?! The short answer is: yes. I was also reluctant to start watching this show, as I’ve quit watching both “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”, but HTGAWM isn’t the typical fare for Shondaland. First of all: it’s a mystery. Within the first five minutes of the pilot you witness the main characters dragging a dead body around in a total panic. Second of all: the show is filled with flashbacks and flashforwards. As you try to piece together who the real criminal is, as well as the victim, the two timelines inch closer and closer to one another until you think you have all the puzzle pieces, but then you get Shonda’d, and you don’t. Bonus: everyone’s outfits are on point.

 

 

HBO’s “The Leftovers” It has been a long time since I’ve loved something this dark. In fact, I think “Six Feet Under” was the last time I succumbed to a show steeped in sadness and longing. “The Leftovers” is based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, in which the rapture has happened, and the world has lost 2% of its population. 2% of our humans just effing vanished into thin air. No one knows why, or how, or if it will happen again. “The Leftovers” demonstrates how the people of one community have reacted to their losses, and how fragile we all are, despite how we carry ourselves in our daily lives. Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon easily could’ve been nominated for Golden Globes for their superb visceral performances in the first season, but were sadly overlooked.

 

 

The CW’s “The Flash” This is for folks who enjoy good storytelling that tangles with superhero lore. If you’re a fan of “Arrow”, “Smallville” or “Iron Man”, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy the adventure that Barry (played enthusiastically by newcomer Grant Gustin) is on.

 

 

 

 

Editor’s note: I just started watching Kingdom (the MMA show starring Matt Lauria and Nick Jonas), and it’s straight fire. I was too amped up to fall asleep after watching it. I’m two episodes in, but I think we have a winner.

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Movie Review: Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher”

Published 12/30/14 by:

Foxcatcher Poster

  Eccentric millionaires seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but in the late 1980s, the general public was much less aware of their existence. So when John “Golden Eagle” du Pont (one of many heirs to the DuPont chemical manufacturing empire) requested the presence of 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Schultz (a freestyle wrestler from Palo Alto) at his Philadelphia estate, Mark understandably had to ask John who he was. And so, the strange legacy of Foxcatcher began.

    Mark, and his brother Dave Schultz, were both extremely decorated athletes. The brothers had dedicated their professional careers to coaching, and competing in the sport of wrestling. In 1986, Mark found himself in a financial lull, as Olympic wrestlers were not a hot commodity for lucrative sponsorships, or coaching positions. That’s when Mr. John du Pont called him. John was an avid athletic supporter, and thought that the sport of wrestling, and the wrestlers themselves, deserved bigger paychecks and more prestige than they currently were receiving in the United States. Mark was easily persuaded to move to Philadelphia and train at the first class facility John built for U.S. wrestlers to use. While Dave was invited back in 1986, he declined as he and his family were already established in the community he was coaching in. This left Mark (according to the film) in a vulnerable position, which is what the bizarre tale “Foxcatcher” focuses on.

    Steve Carell paints a haunting portrait of John’s essence: lonely, millionaire ornithologist. His awkward movements and gestures suggest someone who rarely leaves the comfort of his own estate, and is not used to hearing the word no from anyone. His obsession with winning, wrestling, and befriending Mark (ruthlessly portrayed by Channing Tatum) will make you cringe, but simultaneously sympathize with this peculiar man. It isn’t until Mark’s training gets derailed by John’s hard-partying ways, and insensitive outbursts that Dave Schultz (played by everyone’s favorite human teddy bear: Mark Ruffalo) finally arrives at Foxcatcher Farms.

    The dynamic between Carell, Ruffalo and Tatum is phenomenal. Carell is able to effortlessly demonstrate John’s sense of ownership over Mark, and the other wrestlers training at Foxcatcher, while Tatum flawlessly executes the psychosis of a fierce competitor being mentally toyed with by his mentor/proprietor. As the movie progresses towards its crescendo (the 1988 Olympics), we see Ruffalo’s ability to depict what a respectful coach and older brother should look like. While some moviegoers may deem the film as being too slow, or having the majority of the action in the last 40 minutes, Carell’s performance alone is worth seeing on the big screen.

Movie Grade: B-

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Winter Break Ideas: Vol. 1

Published 12/22/14 by:

In this week’s edition of Winter Break Ideas you will find things that you should lend your ears to while you’re on winter break. While some of these are best for rocking out in the car, others are for contemplation with a candle burning, or for some groove-filled cookie baking.

 

Listen:

Taylor Swift’s album 1989 – You’ve probably heard at least one track off of this album, but it’s best enjoyed with warm libations and comfortable dancing clothes, because you will want to sing and shout to these catchy tunes. So break out those footie pajamas and bust a move. (Note: my favorite track is Wildest Dreams, but Clean is climbing the ranks as well).

1989 Album Cover

 

Little Joy’s self-titled album – If you enjoy Elvis movies and the humor/talent of Zooey Deschanel then you’ll dig this band. They’ve got kind of a sixties beach party groove that makes me feel warm on wintery days.

 

 

 

Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast – For those of you who enjoyed HBO’s “True Detective” or are still wondering who killed JonBenet Ramsey, this is going to be your new obsession. Koenig, an investigative reporter whose resume includes reporting for The Baltimore Sun, as well as NPR’s “This American Life”, delves into story behind Adnan Syed, a teenager, who in 1999 was (not convincingly) convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend. Your commute just got a lot more intriguing. You’re welcome. (PS if you ask me what a podcast is, I won’t be able to keep a straight face, even on the internet).

 

Serial Logo

 

The Turnpike Troubadour’s album Diamonds & Gasoline – A friend of mine turned me onto this band a few months ago, and I can’t get enough. They make me want to open my own Honky Tonk bar and quit this life of teaching.

 

 

What have y’all been listening to? I’m ready for some recommendations!

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Book Review: Lauren Oliver’s “Rooms”

Published 12/21/14 by:

Rooms Book Jacket

 

 

“This is how we grow: not up, but out, like trees – swelling to encompass all these stories, the promises and lies and bribes and habits.” (Excerpted from “Rooms”)

I won’t lie to you, I was not totally enthused about a novel in which ghosts are the narrators. It’s not that I’m prejudiced against ghosts, or people who believe in them, but I just wasn’t convinced that this wouldn’t be another gimmick to make the plot seem more enticing than it actually is. However, in the case of Lauren Oliver’s latest novel “Rooms”, I was pleasantly surprised, and my assumptions were quickly squashed.

So why did I buy a book that initially didn’t seem appealing to me? Well, for starters, I’ve read quite a few of Oliver’s books, and I’ve enjoyed her storytelling. Additionally, I am a total sucker for entertaining dysfunctional families (see Tropper’s “This Is Where I Leave You”), so “Rooms” had some pull in that department. While my readership is constantly being driven by how many fascinating characters a novel is advertising, “Rooms” did not have that immediate draw. In fact, very little is revealed about the two ghost narrators, while the family whose house they’re inhabiting takes center stage.

As you delve into the book you’re immersed in a chaotic family event: the oft-ignored patriarch of the family, Richard Walker, has passed away. His adult daughter Minna, ex-wife Caroline, teenage son Trenton, and his granddaughter all flock to his home to get organized and hear his will. As a result of the divorce, the alternating narrator ghosts Alice and Sandra have not seen the rest of the Walker clan in years, and are quickly trying to brush up on what this quirky family has been up to. In hearing the ooos and ahhs of the Walkers’ arrival, as told by Sandra and Alice, you learn that the two ghosts have been putting up with each other for years, and do not particularly get along. It’s not until much later in the novel that you understand the complexity of their living and non-living relationship.

Most of us are aware of ghost lore, and how we’re to assume that ghosts exist because they’re in an “in-between” state – with unfinished business, or unresolved issues around their death. Oliver plays into this well-established notion, and expertly weaves revelations about the two ghosts’ pasts, as they attempt to use the vulnerable Trenton as a scapegoat for their issues. Ultimately, they’re hoping to get rid of the Walkers, but in a way that also expels them from the home they’ve been forced to haunt.

As the reader becomes more aware of the feelings and histories of Alice and Sandra, you’re also drawn in to how they function daily. There’s no escape from the home they’re attached to, and whatever naughty behaviors Caroline, Minna and Trenton are up to, they are subjected to it. This reality (if I may) is both curious and depressing, and as a reader I was drawn to how they negotiate their way into the lives of the Walkers, who have chosen not to “hear” Alice and Sandra for years.

At one point the ghosts refer to themselves as “the endless swells” who “carry the crests of his voice to her mouth”, and I couldn’t help but gasp at the thought of this all being real. Lauren Oliver’s debut novel for adults is a haunting tale, not because it has ghosts, but because the ghosts perhaps know how to live better than the humans they haunt.

Book Grade: B+

 

 

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