Why We Love….In The Loop

It’s election season! Which, just like the football season, is something where the losing team get to claim it’s a close result if they lost by 40 points, and the winners get to claim “nobody can question us” when they win by 4. They both run far too long, consist of people straddling the poverty line claiming “they’re just like us” about millionaires who wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire, and are likely to dominate the news for months on end. Unless you’re The Sun of course, who decided, in the middle of election season, that THIS was the most important bit of news in the world:

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Hold the front page: women have bums!

Due to the standard of political reporting by newspapers these days (which basically consists of “insult the party that our owner doesn’t support) is it any surprise that people are disengaged with politics? Almost every election now, no matter who wins the results are the same; the largest section of the results belong to non-voters. This is particularly weird when you look at some of the most dominant TV shows of this millennium; The Thick Of It, Veep, The Daily Show are some of the most well-regarded comedies ever made. It’s the same with drama too, particularly in America where The West Wing and House Of Cards are so well liked that if you say you don’t like them you’re likely to get thrown out of whatever room/building/spaceship you’re in. This shows that it’s not politics that people don’t like, it’s the state of politics. It’s like how if you refuse to eat rancid food, it’s not because you don’t like food, you just hate the option offered.

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So, this film in particular. A spin-off from the aforementioned The Thick Of It, featuring just four of the same characters, yet most of the same cast. This film gives a wonderful yet bleak view of what it actually means to be a modern politician; often thrown out of your depth, being put into no-win situations by other people, going from debating going to war whilst in Washington one week, to discussing someone’s garden wall falling down the next. This isn’t glamorous, it’s not sexy, it’s certainly not aspirational.

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Adapting a TV series to a feature length film is never easy, the path to successes like The Naked Gun and 21 Jump Street is littered with the corpses of Guest House Paradiso, Magic Roundabout, and countless Saturday Night Live films. This film works though, and I think part of that is because it uses different characters but the same actors. So you have actors who know the best way to play their roles, but new viewers don’t have episodes worth of character development and history that they need to know to enjoy the film, everyone starts on equal footing. The returning cast are in an odd position, people like Chris Addison now have to act alongside established acting behemoths like James Gandolfini, and the British cast more than hold their own. It also helps that it’s REALLY well done, the plot of this is extremely intricate and well developed. I spoke a short while ago about how you can have Friends on in the background and still get the gist of what’s going on, you definitely cannot do that with this. In fact, to be honest I’d recommend not even sneezing lest you risk missing someone’s facial reaction which then sets up the next plot development. If you don’t pay attention to this, you will be confused, actually even if you are paying attention it could still confuse you, but in a good way. Not in a “the screenwriters have no idea what they’re doing” way, in a “there is so much subtext in every line that I think I misread someone’s intentions”. It’s also REALLY funny, endlessly quotable, not just the political lines, there’s one line in particular I’ve always loved and will probably adapt to a facebook status at one point:

“Have you ever seen a film where the hero is a builder? No, because they never fucking turn up in the nick of time.”

The political stuff also works really well; where you have American and British politicians deciding whether to go to war based on dubious intelligence (good thing THAT’s not still an issue right? Right?). This film is actually quite rare in that it doesn’t present politicians either as evil, or as crusaders against evil. They’re just people who are put into situations they don’t understand by their bosses, which is something everyone can sympathise with. This somehow does the impossible, it makes politicians human. For that alone it deserves accolades, and for everything else, it deserves adoration.

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Oh yeah, it’s also kind of sweary, but never in a way that comes off as crass and infantile, which is a really fucking hard thing to pull off.

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Why We Love….Bojack Horseman

1. It’s Fresh

It’s an animated series about anthropomorphised animals, it’s easy to say that there’s not many other shows which are like this. You can never describe it as cliche and obvious. It was kind of a risky move for netflix to do this, but luckily they pulled it off. It was Aaron Paul’s first major release after Breaking Bad so a lot of people were watching for that reason, and it was up to the show to make sure it’s not remembered as “an Aaron Paul show”, and it manages to avoid that.

2. It’s Funny

Considering it stars Will Arnett from Arrested Development, Alison Brie from Community, alongside Kristen Schaal, Stanley Tucci, Olivia Wilde, and (briefly), Rachael Bloom, it’s no surprise that this is very very funny. The concept itself kind of lends itself very easily to comedy; a washed up star from an 90’s sitcom is now a drug-fuelled mess who lives with a freeloading room-mate. Using this as a springboard to satirise celebrity culture and the entire hollywood industry.

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3. It’s (Genuinely) Heartwarming

Oh my god the feels! Maybe it’s just me but the difference between good sitcoms, and amazing sitcoms is the amount of depth they have. It’s why I prefer American Dad to Family Guy, I feel it has more heart so it holds up better to repeat viewings. Eventually jokes stop becoming funny once you’ve seen them so many times, but emotional moments always hold up for a longer period. And believe me this show almost drowns you in emotion. Whether it’s subtly referencing with the Bill Cosby allegations with:

“when we know what we know about a monster like that and we still put him on tv every week we’re teaching a generation of young boys and girls that a man’s reputation is more important than the lives of the women he’s ruined”

Or Bojack dealing with problems in a somewhat unique way:

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A really depressing quote which will probably me the most insightful thing you’ll ever ee an owl say:

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This show also ended it’s second season with one of my favourite quotes from anything:

“Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier”

If that quote doesn’t seem like the kind of quote you want to put on your wall then either your life is perfect, you’re delusional and think your life is perfect, or you’re homeless and don’t have walls.

4. It’s Bingeworthy

Netflix is the only way to watch this show, and it’s the best way it can possibly be done. This is one of those shows where you don’t really watch an episode every so often, occasionally dipping back into it. Or even once a week like a standard sitcom. This is a binge-worthy show. This is a show you need to watch in one long block of viewing, you don’t watch this show, you consume it, and that’s rare for a sitcom. Usually shows like that are serious dramas: Breaking Bad, House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black etc. Somehow this show stands among them, and deserves it’s place alongside them.

5. It’s Out Today

I was going to do a blog about Crazy Ex Girlfriend to celebrate it’s award nominations, will probably do that next week now (although that’s on netflix now so you should all watch it, it’s hilarious). But then I saw this a third series of Bojack was added today, so now it’s all about that Bojack, that will pretty much take up my weekend, and I’m perfectly okay with that.

Watch If You Like/Also Check Out

  • Archer. For some reason I’ve always associated the two, probably because of the fact they’re both adult orientated animated sitcoms starring Arrested Development alumni.

American Beauty: the secret stoner classic

For a film that won five Oscars (and five big ones too) American Beauty has become surprisingly underrated over the last few years. Now seen (and hated) as an outdated product of the nineties, people look at the dark-comedy classic the same as Forest Gump, or Crash: over done and over sold (I disagree of course).….and though I can’t argue that it is definitely of it’s time, I’ve never seen being able to tell when a film was made as a negative.

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But whether American Beauty is still a great film is not what I’m here to talk about, I’m here to talk about why along with the likes of Friday and Dazed and Confused, American Beauty is a classic stoner film, only made better by the smoking of our little green friend.

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And I don’t just say that because it has pot in it, because it is smoked on screen, but because of how it’s used in the film and relates to its themes and story. It represents freedom (of course): almost every character in the film is seen smoking at some point and it’s always at moments of great discovery or triumph, when they manage, in big or small ways, to break out of the prisons they live in. It’s a liberating force.

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Lester smokes a joint, then that night stands up to his wife for the first time in years. Jane smokes, and she begins to see beyond Ricky’s demeanor leading to their romance. Carolyn fucks the real estate king then has a big’ol spliff. They finally do something about their problems. And doesn’t that bag monologue (which I legitimately find poignant (though the amazing score helps) make a whole load more sense when you realize Ricky is blazed off his ass? Sometimes you need to see things at an angle to really see them…

It’s a very progressive message for a 90s film of its kind, to paint the plant not just as the childish pastime of kids and wastoids, but as a welcome tool to survive the conformity of the suburban day to day, and escape it.

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But it’s not just its use in the movie that makes it a great stoner film; it’s a surprising blast to watch too! Being the closest thing to a comedy to win Best Picture, you really feel the humor in the film when high. In the dark satirical wit a lot of the characters speak in, but especially Spacey’s incredibly deadpan and schmucky delivery which always brings the chuckles, except when he gets dark and you see the layers of Frank Underwood already take root.

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But it’s not just the humor you get into. As fun as it is to smoke and just zoink out on life, using it to open yourself up, to be fully engaged by something is even more satisfying, and the drama and darkness that bubbles beneath American Beauty like boiling tar is made even more potent and relatable.

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From every drippingly dry line, to every sentimental word and look, your pulled into the tragedy of it all, all the lies and broken dreams that have constructed themselves into an idea of a good life. You see so much closer… through the mystic green haze.

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People seem to hate American Beauty as by today’s sensibilities it’s just another film about white guys having white guy problems, like we need any more of those. And it is; that is what American Beauty is about, the secret horrors of the suburban middle class, and it’s one of the best ones at it.

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It’s the film that perfected what so many of the countless other middle aged white men problem films, like Fight Club and The Ice Storm, were trying to say and do. And just because it kind of set the trend of those films off doesn’t mean it should be hated for it; people don’t hate Harry Potter for starting this whole YA novel craze (well not yet they don’t).

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Fan of American Beauty? You should also check out…(stoner quality will vary)

People forget the context the film was made in: it feels and deals with dated issues because that’s what was timely seventeen years ago (though I think it still holds some relevance today), these where the issues and problems in the back of everyone’s mind, and this film brought them to the surface, like a more friendly Blue Velvet.  Is is a subtle film? Not always. But is America always subtle?

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almost every scene has…

Give it another ten years and I bet everyone will have come round again, and like Rebel Without a Cause, Apocalypse Now, and many before it, it will be looked upon as a staple of that era of American history, and a large block in the up-hill fight for weed legalisation.

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“Spectacular”

So next time you feel like time traveling to an era where adults acted like kids, kids like adults, and no one knew what they wanted anymore; light up a blunt and be ready to laugh, cry, and be moved at the funny little tragedy that is American Beauty.

Why I love Zodiac

This isn’t a review; it is a spiel about our love of films and what not. So expect spoilers, biased opinions and general rants.

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Easily the best poster, and of course its the one you can’t get.

I’m not sure where my love of mysteries started, probably from a childhood (and teenhood, and adulthood) of watching Scooby Doo, nothing major, but a place to start. Now, from LA Confidential, to Memories of Murder, it’s hard to think of a mystery film I haven’t seen, (but please don’t try, I hate having to face my lies) but Zodiac is one of, if not, the best.

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Right out the gate I’ve gotta say, it’s my favorite Fincher film, followed closely by The Social Network and Gone Girl (yes you read that right, neither Se7en nor Fight Club do I consider his best). And Zodiac is a near three hour, investigative murder mystery journalism film, where they never catch the killer. And damn it’s riveting. It’s that last bit, about the Zodiac never being caught, being one reason to why I love and find this film so re-watchable (I watch it almost Bi-monthly). As unlike almost every other serial killer flick, when you know who did it, you can never not know, no matter how enjoyable of a film it is, the first watch is usually the best. That’s part of what makes Zodiac special, though it hazards a guess at who the Zodiac was, and follows it through with compelling, even satisfying evidence, you never know 100%, so with every watch your still looking, thinking, trying to see if there was anything you missed that could lead you to the Zodiac.

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I really don’t have any deep problems with any of Fincher’s films, I just thought this made a good image….Expect maybe Se7en!

It also features one of my favorite scenes in cinema, it happens in the last fifteen minutes of the film (I love it when the best part of the film is near the end, it’s something to look forward to during it), and it doesn’t feature a gun fight, it doesn’t move me to tears, it’s not shot in partially amazing fashion; it’s just two guys (Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist and Ruffalo’s detective respectively), sitting in a café, as Gyllenhaal lays out the entire case, the entire film in front of us. Every complex facet of evidence, every casual event, all the major characters, it’s all led to this, and it’s explained in a perfectly written scene, with an enthrallingly intense turn from Gyllenhaal, till it climaxes with this films closes thing to a big reveal. And god it’s satisfying.

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Never has the choice over salt or pepper been so intense.

This scene also sums up why it’s my favorite serial killer film, and the tagline summaries it perfectly too. “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer”. It’s a film about obsession, and how it can eat you alive. Unlike films where you’re worried about the characters  dying, there’s rarely a moment where you think someone’s going to be killed (outside the victims obviously),  but as it unfolds and the characters (mainly Gyllenhaal) fall deeper and deeper and deeper, even when its all said and done, you can’t help but wonder. Can they live again?

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Now I know it’s not cool to care about Academy Awards, and I get it, overall they’re pretty cheap with whom and what they consider worthy (no love for Jake Gyllenhaal unless he’s macking on a cowboy it seems). But at the same time, they do tend to choose pretty good films, and Zodiac easily should have been a major awards contender in 2008, for directing, writing, acting (Robert Downy Jr especially), cinematography (the usual Fincher staples), and the reason it wasn’t I completely put on the studio. They released it at the wrong time, and advertised it the wrong way. Selling it as a fun, messed-up, thrills per-minute serial killer film (Se7en cough, cough) and releasing it in spring; instead of in Oscar season (October-December) and as the investigative drama it is (All The President’s Men meets Citizen X), what the makers always intended it to be. But though I blame them for this, I can see why they did it. Coming off the big hit of the very enjoyable thriller Panic Room, and Fincher’s last serial killer film being a massive hit, I see why the studio treated it like they did. They wanted another Se7en, even though Fincher gave them something much more.

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It’s films like Zodiac that made me pretty happy when I heard Fincher’s series with HBO had fallen through, because despite how much I like House of Cards, and have heard that Utopia is a great show, I didn’t want Fincher’s spending all his time on a TV series when he could be making more films like this, or Gone Girl, or The Social Network. TV’s amazing right now (check out last weeks post on Breaking Bad, wink, wink), with a lot of hugely talented people creating epic feats of fiction, so we need to make sure Film stays great, and Fincher’s pretty good at that.
(Yes I’m aware he’s still producing the TV Show Shakedown and Video Synchronicity (both which sound really good), but who the hell knows at this point, and at least he’s not directing the entire series.)

Why We Love….Breaking Bad

Well where do you start? There’s just so much about this show that works. It didn’t outstay it’s welcome is an important one. I don’t think there’s many fans of the show who think “well it started good, but it went a bit downhill in the later seasons”. This might be because it only had 5 seasons, but American dramas have gone downhill in less.

Just leaving this picture here with no comment
Just leaving this picture here with no comment

In fact it could be said that the final season was one it’s best. It certainly contained one of the best episodes in Ozymandias. Usually the best episode in a final season is the final episode as that’s the culmination of everything, but in this case the third from final episode is one of the greatest, not just of the season, not just of the show, but of any series. People say the calm before the storm is the best narrative place to be, but in this case it’s the storm before the calm. The moment where the entire episode is basically soundtracked by someone next to you going “oh shit, holy shit! Holy mother of!” until you send them off to make tea.

Then they come back and you try to explain this
Then they come back and you try to explain this

The narrative for the show made sense. There weren’t any (that I recall) moments where you felt someone acted out of character or inconsistent with earlier characterisation. Everything people did made sense, ok, maybe it didn’t make logical sense because a lot of the decisions were stupid, but they made narrative sense, you can see why everyone did everything they did.

This is actually more creepy in the show
This is actually more creepy in the show

There’s something else about this show that I love, Walter White Jr. He’s a character with cerebral palsy, but it’s never really mentioned. It would have been so easy to make it a big deal, to discuss it and make it a big part of the father’s motivation. Or even to make him holier than thou, the kind of weirdly condescending attitude a lot of television has towards disabled people, where it makes them oddly overnice and friendly. Here, he’s occasionally a dick, because he’s a teenager, and teenagers are usually dicks.

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Dicks who eat a lot of breakfast

Finally: the performances, it’s been said before that Bryan Cranston gave the performance of a lifetime, but it deserves to be said again: he’s damn good in this. He gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in a drama. He’s matched by the supporting cast too, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Giancarlo Esposito (thank you google) et all create a fantastic ensemble cast, great performances and great chemistry, there’s barely a weak link between them. I think I have to bring up the performance of Cranston again though, before this he was mostly known for the role of the dad in Malcolm In The Middle. For British audiences, this would be like Jay from The Inbetweeners next role being the lead in Threads.

Or this guy being the lead in an intense medical drama
Or this guy being the lead in an intense medical drama

I think that might be a small part of why people love this, it’s a genuine surprise. Nobody saw this coming. The brilliance of it kind of sneaked up and surprised everyone, so if you caught on early enough you felt like you were in some kind of secret club. By the time it caught on it became so well known that anybody starting to watch it would have surely felt the slight bit of doubt that it could be overrated. So yes, that’s why we love Breaking Bad, and you should at least give it a try, you owe it that much, and I doubt you’ll regret it.

Oh, and watch Threads, but have something comforting to watch after
Oh, and watch Threads, but have something comforting to watch after

Like it if you like:

  • The Wire
  • House Of Cards
  • Hannibal