Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Context, Perception, Inception

SPOILER ALERT: In this post, I briefly touch on the final shot of Inception and what I think to be the general meaning behind it. Also, I haven't posted since July, so please forgive that there are two Inception posts back to back here - I promise it wasn't intended. FINALLY, I hope this post makes sense.

Inception's critical success needs to be placed in a context, much like its acceptance by the masses does. Movie critics have to watch just about everything that gets a wide release - they see Saw 17, vehemently dislike it, and then watch as it proceeds to become a big financial success. Seemingly every week, critics lose more faith in the filmgoing masses (evidenced by how many critics felt Inception might be too complex for the average viewer), and when they see a movie with a large marketing budget that actually has some sort of depth to it, they collectively lose their shit. If these movies actually do succeed financially, critics' hopes that these successes could bring about mass change for the big Hollywood movie are bolstered (although these hopes are never met). Thusly, these critics aren't just writing about and suggesting that people see Inception, they are writing about hopes for a Hollywood where a financial and critical success like Inception isn't merely an anomaly. This has a huge effect on how the public collectively judges a movie.

Inception is an incredible movie, and I say that without reservation, much like I say that it had a perfect marketing campaign. There were enough stunning images in the trailer that most people who aren't completely against blockbusters would want to see the movie, and the trailer gave away nothing important to the plot. This allowed for curiousity around the movie to build, and once the critical fellatio began, all the marketers had to do was put the reviewers' best quotes all over the television and print ads, and they had locked up a huge opening weekend draw. If I remember correctly, Peter Travers (a notoriously easy critic who writes for Rolling Stone) was given the first look at the film and proceeded to write wildly praising prose about the movie (much like his first-look review of The Dark Knight). Then as the rest of the reviews began to trickle across the internet, people began to suspect that they were about to watch something special, culturally significant, and most of all (since just about every review called it this) 'smart.'

Any time a piece of media is referred to as smart, people who hear this about it often will actively try to like it. I once knew somebody who continually tried to get into Arrested Development merely because he thought it was something he should enjoy even though it simply didn't line up with the type of media he typically liked. Since he perceived himself as a smart person, he felt he should like this smart media. Once you take this and apply it on the scale of the summer blockbuster, this method of thinking starts applying to significantly more people. You had to look to find advertisements or reviews calling Arrested Development smart, for Inception all you had to do was read a couple phrases on the poster at your bus stop. If you lived in a city and even mildly paid attention to movies, chances are you knew Inception was a well-reviewed movie before it was released. Once it had a successful opening weekend, word of mouth was able to spread, and this fueled Inception's subsequent weeks of topping the box office.

Here is where I take issue with media being called smart - if Inception was as smart as critics seemed to believe it is, then a movie like Inception never could have been the hit that it was because people simply wouldn't understand the movie. One of the best aspects of Inception is that, while being complicated, it is not particularly difficult to follow assuming you don't typically have an issue with non-linear storytelling. For the first 30 minutes or so, the audience is completely in the dark, but by the end of the movie everything that really needs to be explained has been. The movie can be thought about for as long as the viewer wants to, but it doesn't really need to be thought about that much in order to enjoy it. Inception isn't a smart movie, it's just a really fucking good one.

Of course, this perception of the film can work both ways, and can turn people off from the movie should they be even vaguely media-savvy. Modern movie releases are completely different from even 10 years ago, as the continual escalation in the availability of information continues to change how every piece of mass media is perceived. I recently listened to somebody on a podcast recounting a story of finding out Rocky III existed when it happened to be playing at his local theatre - and this is a movie fan who grew up in Boston. Before the mid-80s or so, even an established franchise didn't really have any sort of marketing push behind it. When Rocky Balboa (the 2006 sequel) was released, so much had changed - before going into the movie I knew Adrian was not in the film thanks to my anticipatory IMDB checking, and I knew Rocky's son was being played by that punk kid in Heroes from reading one of the readily available Sylvester Stallone interviews. The way this changes how we view movies cannot be overstated.

A good friend of mine* liked Inception, but not nearly on the level that I (or seemingly most of society for that matter) did. Our conversations about the movie were extensive, and her main issue with the movie seemed to be with it being perceived as smarter than it is. She saw it as a good blockbuster, but as an English major, took issue with some comments Christopher Nolan made in an interview about the film being influenced by Jorge Borges and magic realism. When she saw the movie, she did not find much Borges and no magic realism, and thusly took issue with Nolan talking like it had been an influence. While my post-Inception research lead me to find a few lines in some Borges poem that quite obviously influenced a scene in Inception, it was a relatively small moment in the movie. And while I do see some magic realism in Inception, I am biased towards Nolan and in general know little about the subject - in both of these regards, I support my friend's opinion because she knows a million times better than me.

I tried to read as little as possible about Inception before actually seeing it, because I wanted to be unaffected by outside factors. Of course, it was already too late for that because I am a borderline-obsessive film fan and have read about as much as there is to read on Nolan's previous films and the man himself. After first watching Memento years ago, I remember looking for the director's name on its IMDB page, and I have been following him ever since. Memento is one of the few times I can remember where I knew almost nothing about the movie itself and had no real strong feelings toward anybody in the cast or crew, and seeing how it was a great story and idea that unfolded impeccably, I wanted to know more about the man who directed it. Of course, since then, I have seen every one of his movies with the mindset that they are from "the director of Memento."

Now I can scour the internet for information about Nolan as well as countless critical readings of his movies which can in turn make me like them more. This makes me even more excited for his new films, and eventually I find myself experiencing a moment that seems surreal to me but should be wholly realistic - sitting in a movie theatre, watching the beginning of a brand new Christopher Nolan movie. Even if Inception was only mediocre, I realize that I probably would have loved it, or at least really liked it anyway assuming the few things I was looking for were there. This is years of excitement coming to their conclusion, so seeing the movie ends up being a mixture of happiness, relief, and hope that it's actually good. Meanwhile, not all that long ago, moviegoers would walk into a movie having just found out it had been released.

My friend was not particularly excited about Inception, but since we talk a lot she had to hear plenty about my excitement. This probably had a negative influence on her enjoyment of the movie, and her reading the aforementioned interview with Nolan almost certainly did too. I doubt either of these things would have happened had Inception been released in the media world of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I'm not saying that the evolution of the media has necessarily become a negative for filmmaking, nor am I saying my friend would have loved the movie had she not read that interview, but this growth in the media has resulted in the inception of opinions before we actually view Inception for ourselves. Our perception of a movie changes depending on the media we experience, so we need to be cognizant of the context movies are being released into, and try to form our opinions on them with little outside influence. Since we simply cannot completely avoid outside influence at this point, we just have to make sure we get the context right so that they are accurately remembered.

Examples of not taking context into consideration when judging media are everywhere - during Michael Jordan's first retirement in the mid-1990s, the NBA (obviously) changed drastically without him. One of the main beneficiaries of this is Reggie Miller's legacy. Miller was a guard who was basically a less athletic Ray Allen: he had a great jump shot, a flair for the moment, and he should have never been the number one guy on a team with championship aspirations. When Jordan left, he left behind a newly guard-obsessed league, albeit now without a great shooting guard. Reggie Miller had just enough great moments (his playoff 25-point 4th quarter domination of the Knicks as well as a few other memorable clutch performances) to look like a superstar, but in reality he choked far more often than he came through in the clutch. Of course, in the context of a Jordan-free guard-loving league, he was the highest profile shooting guard, and he was thusly perceived to be a superstar. He was damn good, no doubt about it, but he just wasn't great.

As such, when an event movie like Inception is released, we need to take a look at the time it came out in for us to properly gauge its cultural impact. Inception, like Avatar last winter, was a fairly big movie for mass film culture, and like Avatar it needs to be analyzed within the proper context. Both films were so well reviewed partially because of the surrounding time period's movies being generally lackluster, and with how they have been reviewed, almost everybody who cares about movies feels an obligation to see them and be able to discuss them. When discussing Avatar years down the line, I hope that it is remembered almost exclusively for technological reasons such as ushering in the era of 3D, just like I hope Inception's greatness is measured within the context that there hasn't been a great year for film since 2007. Contrary to what I believe the final shot of Inception to convey, I would rather have an accurate view of a film's legacy than a false one that makes me happier. I realize that I may be overly criticizing these aspects of filmgoing, but I do feel that these aspects deserve to be critiqued overtly... otherwise we might accidentally end up with an All-Decade team filled with Reggie Millers. Like Cobb's crew, we need to go deeper to finish the job correctly.

*who I do not mean to attack here - if this seems like I'm beating up on you in a one-sided communication, I'm sorry. I tried to be fair.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception review-type thingy

I’m not going to write anything extensive about the movie itself, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet I would suggest you not read this post until you do. It’s a very good movie, and the less you know going into it, the happier you’ll be at the end of it.

You probably know I’m a big Christopher Nolan fan, and as such you probably know how excited I was about this movie. The only movie I can compare it to in terms of my level of excitement is the Dark Knight, a movie I still love and still can’t believe exceeded my expectations. In my mind, Nolan has never made a bad movie, and the only movie he has made that is anything less than great is Insomnia, but even that is still pretty damn good.

I know the reason why I watch as many movies as I do. I always suspected this was the reason, but Inception really hammered it home to me. I don’t know if this is something normal people get, but every once in a while when a movie completely connects with me, I get an overwhelming feeling of numbness as it ends. This can happen to a lesser extent with a lot of movies… just about any movie I really like can send a shiver down my spine at a particularly great moment. But this feeling is different from that. It’s like a thousand spine shivers going right into your head, and all you can think about is what you just watched. The Dark Knight gave me this feeling two years ago, Memento did way back when I was in high school, and now Inception has given me this feeling more powerfully than any movie before it.

When the movie ended, I made my way outside of the theatre, and I just had to sit down again for a few minutes. My brain had been turned to mush. The most beautiful thing about Inception is how it can be as deep as you want it to be: it’s a movie about reality that puts you in the central character’s shoes. Depending on your reading of the film, YOU are the central character. As something that was marketed as too intelligent for most, and reviewers worrying about the casual film fan being able to follow the plot, Inception is remarkable. As much as is happening at any given moment of the movie, you are never lost. It’s incredible. Never was I confused as to what was going on, and the only time I was disoriented were in the very beginning, when it is clear that Nolan and company don’t want you to know what is happening.

Nolan is a master of populist entertainment: his movies are very ‘smart,’ but they are also easy to follow and well liked by the casual moviegoer. He has said that he has always wanted to make big action films, and I think that is what allows him to make movies that connect with so many people. There are many talking points in each of his movies should you want to read into them, but they also function as an entertaining movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon when you’re hung over on the couch. I could watch Inception and talk about my opinions on it for hours afterward, or I could just watch it while falling in and out of sleep and still follow and love it. You always know you’re watching something good, but how much you want to take from it is up to you. And I took a lot away from Inception, only a little bit of which I will talk about here.

Nolan is unmatched when it comes to ending his movies well, and I think that is a huge asset to him. Since Batman Begins, the endings of his movies have always built and built and built on each other until there is one moment and the audience finally gets released from the world they have likely become quite invested in. A movie with a memorable last shot will keep you thinking about it long after the movie is done, and I think Nolan is aware of this. His movies don’t fade out, they cut to black, and then you’re sitting in your seat consumed by the final images. Think of the final shot (and line) of Memento, the cuts to black in his Batman films, the reveal in the Prestige, and of course Inception.

The last shot of Inception is perfect, and exactly what I would expect from Nolan. It doesn’t give a concrete answer, just like Memento and the Dark Knight leave their ideas open for interpretation. My reading of Inception is that it is a dream, and all of the main characters are parts of Nolan’s creative personality. Cobb is a stand-in for Nolan himself, and Nolan’s films are his dreams. Again, I don’t know the man so I can’t say for sure, but it just feels like that to me. It is a fairly simple reading to say that Inception is about filmmaking and creativity, but that was what I thought about it. And this allows me to connect with it more, because I want to do what Nolan does.

His movies are not without their criticisms, however. His characters are never particularly strong, and I rarely care about them all that much. His Batman films are a bit different in this regard, as I want Batman to succeed, but that is partially due to pre-existing attachments to the character. Also, all of his female characters seem to be there to serve the story of the male characters. But, Nolan’s movies aren’t about characters.

Each of his films can be broken down into a short phrase, and all of those phrases have to do with the human mind. Memento is about memory constructing our reality, the Prestige obsession, Batman Begins fear, The Dark Knight insanity (among other themes), and Inception again about how we construct our reality although this time without a focus on memory. Nolan’s movies aren’t about their characters, they’re about our minds. And maybe that’s how his movies can connect with so many people. Or maybe it’s something else, I don’t really know.

Towards the end of Inception, there is a discussion about Mal becoming addicted to the dream world, and that it is the only place she can really feel alive. I am not a particularly emotional person in real life, and am typically more passionate about pieces of media than I am about elements of my own life. The dream for me is to make movies, or at least have control over producing videos of some sort, and maybe this desire is partially because that is where I find the most passion in my life. The feeling of watching a video I have completed (well, for one that I like), is great. I can’t even imagine how Nolan must have felt watching the final cut of Inception. Pride? Excitement? If I had written/directed Inception, I imagine I would have been so excited watching it that I probably would have kicked holes in the walls while repeatedly screaming, “I’M THE FUCKING MAN!”

Is Inception Nolan’s best movie? Honestly, I’m not sure. Memento could be deconstructed for days like Inception, which might be even more impressive given that Memento doesn’t really stray too far from the real world. The Prestige is a perfectly written movie, and the Dark Knight is the most impressive blockbuster since the Matrix (and perhaps until Inception). Regardless, Nolan’s contributions to film are impressive, and personally I’m happy to say that I have been a Nolan fan since the release of his first film. If these movies are what play out in his dreams, I can only imagine how excited he must be to go to sleep every night.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

When you make Kobe look humble, you're fucking up.

I want to make a few things clear about my feelings towards LeBron James’ decision to play for the Miami Heat: until this year, I liked him. I was by no means a Cavs fan, but I loved watching him play because, quite honestly, he’s the most talented player in the league by a wide margin. He’s kind of like Charles Barkley was in his younger days: a, unique ‘physical specimen’ who does not conform to what his size says he should (which would be a power forward in the post, not a ball-handling small forward). Keep in mind, before Sir Charles was a loveable public alcoholic, he was a 6’4” power forward who not only played his position well, but was DOMINANT at a size typically reserved for guards. According to their official listings, the Round Mound of Rebound is one inch taller than Steve Nash. But my love for Charles has forced me to digress.

My dislike for LeBron had a slow build, and it also corresponded with my growth in admiration of Carmelo Anthony’s game. LeBron’s whining towards the refs has gotten out of control (much like Kobe’s), and that typically starts to send me over the edge on how I feel about a player. During the now infamous Celtics/Cavs second round series this year, I don’t think it’s a question that LeBron quit. His stats were great, of course, but with 2 minutes left in the closeout game, the Cavaliers just stopped trying to win, even though they still conceivably could have. I am a firm believer in your leader dictating the tone of the team, and had LeBron been trying to win instead of just sauntering up the court, I bet the rest of his team would have kept trying as well. It was without a doubt one of the most confusing, frustrating and maddening things I’ve witnessed in my decade of excessive basketball watching. If you’re a competitor, you don’t fucking quit. I suck at basketball, but even when my former roommate was beating me 10-1 in a game to 11, I was still trying. And the only thing on the line there was bragging rights.

I will still watch LeBron play next year. I would be a fool not to. But I hate that man, and so do a lot of other NBA fans right now. I’m pretty sure Cleveland will do their own, LeBron jersey variation of the Comiskey Park Disco Demolition Night by the end of the summer, led by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert himself. My hate does not stem from LeBron abandoning Cleveland, because I don’t care about Cleveland (does anybody?), nor does it stem from him taking less money to having a better chance at winning championships. I actually think that’s vaguely admirable. It certainly doesn’t stem from him realizing that he doesn’t have his now-teammate Dwyane Wade’s ‘killer instinct,’ although judging by The Interview with Jim Gray, he doesn’t quite realize that he should and will be deferring to Wade more often than he is used to in crunch time. If he’s willingly accepting an uber-Pippen role, then again, I find that admirable. Wade’s body will break down sooner than Bron’s, and Wade is 3 years older as well, so if these egos can coexist for long enough, LeBron will eventually have his chance as alpha dog again, but with less pressure, assuming the Miami Thrice win a title or two before this change occurs.

The reason LeBron left is pretty simple I think, and it is (to me) kind of telling about his personality. He is publicly a Yankees, Cowboys, and (while growing up) Bulls fan, just like every kid you went to school with in the 90s who liked wearing Starter jackets. This guy was the “son of Ohio,” but he never cheered for Ohio sports teams. When Michael Jordan hit “the shot” over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo in the late 80s, LeBron was probably happy. He’s a bandwagoner, and as somebody who dislikes bandwagoners, I can’t like LeBron anymore.

To me, a bandwagon fan is the worst kind of sports fan. This is the non-New Yorker that cheers for the Yankees because chances are, they’re going to win more often than anybody else. He wears his #24 Lakers jersey to a bar in Toronto and yells “GIVE IT TO KOBE!” every time another Laker has the ball. The bandwagon fan doesn’t want to wait to win: they want to win now. And I don’t mean that in a ‘fiery competitor’ sort of way, because the average fan has almost no influence on the game, I mean it in that they don’t want to wait around for their local team to win. I realize this way of thinking might be kind of stupid, because my chosen team, the Raptors will almost certainly never win a title, but at least I’ll respect myself in some odd way. And as I have mentioned many times before in conversation, I find the concept of professional sports to be inherently ridiculous, and thusly support my own ridiculous opinions towards professional sports.

Irrationally hating bandwagon fans is pretty much the sports nerd’s equivalent of being the normal nerd in high school: I’m Ducky in Pretty in Pink, and bandwagon fans are the more popular and eventually successful Blane. We’re often working harder to meet our goal, but shit just comes so easy to the popular folk.

I realize that my Carmelo Anthony fandom complicates things here. The Nuggets are my secondary team, and Melo isn’t the only player on that team I really like (K-Mart, JR Smith, Chauncey Billups, Nene, etc), but I cheer for them because of Melo. My defense for this is that Melo does not get anywhere near the respect he deserves in comparison to the other premier players in the league. He’s the underdog superstar. People expect LeBron to win, whereas when Melo and the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, it surprised people. And it’s easier for a person like me to cheer for the underdog. When Kobe and the Lakers triumphed over the Nuggets last year, it was frustrating. The Lakers had more natural talent, and a deeper bench (in that they had one)… but you could tell just how bad the Nuggets wanted it. But that’s never what really matters.

Melo’s also got an ego, no doubt. Anybody who is showered with as much praise growing up as a basketball player at his level would have one, it’s the nature of the game. If people tell you something good about yourself repeatedly for long enough, you’re going to eventually believe it and carry yourself differently. I’ve seen this happen on a much smaller scale than a pro ball player, and I would imagine it takes a very strong will to avoid. But LeBron took the concept of ego and raised it about ten notches with his hour long ESPN special called “The Decision.” What Kevin Durant did in a single tweet, LeBron needed an hour of primetime television for. This has been written about just about everywhere, and honestly, to see how ridiculous it is, all you have to do is read this sentence: “This fall, man this is very tough, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” Those are the words he said in the middle of an obviously scripted interview, and if you remove the painfully forced “tough decision” line, that would easily fit in a tweet. The rest of the hour was almost certainly spent rehashing points we had read many times in the preceding weeks. I can’t be a fan of any athlete who thinks they deserve an hour of primetime for one sentence.

To be fair, part of this isn’t LeBron’s fault. Michael Jordan was an egotistical douchebag too, but the peak of his career was 15 years ago, before the sports media ‘evolved’ into what it is now. But abusing the media’s admiration of him is almost as offensive as the media’s role in this to me. A lot of wrong decisions were made… and while the special was LeBron’s representations’ idea (and LeBron agreed to it), ESPN was probably the one who really profited. I suspect LeBron lost a lot of fans with the special, but the ratings were massive. I was (shockingly) in a movie theatre at the time, but the clips I watched later on that night were painful. It was like watching the high school quarterback step up to give some sort of speech at an assembly: you hate that he felt entitled enough to do it, but you still wanted to hear how he was going to try to address the school.

LeBron has to leave his native Cleveland to (presumably) win faster. Melo misses out on his rightful recognition. The Raptors never win, and Ducky doesn’t get the girl. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is, and the way it always will be.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I initially wrote this a couple of months ago, which should explain any time-based confusion to readers who know me. I also am still unsure how I feel about romanticizing this so much, but it has been a month since I wrote about Community, so I needed to post something.

I love going to the movies, as you may have put together, but I have never really been able to put together a definable reason as to why I like it so much. I obviously love the actual watching of the movies, but I have paid to see some unbelievably poor movies that I never would have watched at home (Kangaroo Jack, Mindhunters, Dickie Roberts, Bulletproof Monk, Million Dollar Baby, etc). This is very much because of the low ticket prices at my local discount theatre, but also because of my lifelong love of movies.

I went to the movies fairly frequently before high school, but once I met some like-minded friends in high school, I started going to the movies 2-3 times a week. Outside of trying out for the school basketball team twice and writing one movie review in Grade 9 for the school paper (a positive review of the Legend of Bagger Vance that I clearly wish I could take back), I didn’t partake in any extracurricular activities, and neither did two of my soon to be closest friends. We started to make the walk downtown to the movie theatre after school, and this became something we would do pretty much any afternoon when none of us had to work. This trend continued on many weekends and throughout summer vacations, where I learned something else about my friends and, in turn, going to the movies.

I love the friends I have talked about here, but some of them are pretty unreliable. Sometimes I would make plans to go to a movie with somebody, and then they just wouldn’t show up. After this happened a few times, I was pretty sick of just going home, so I started seeing the movies by myself, which I quickly found was almost as enjoyable as seeing the movie with somebody else. This was a pretty killer discovery, because then I realized that on those pesky days when I couldn’t find anybody to go with, I could just go by myself. I could see just about anything I wanted to, and I could go back to see something good multiple times if I wanted to (and I did, sometimes even three days in a row). I didn’t skip much school in high school or university, but when I did, typically I ended up at the movies. This eventually escalated to the point where I’m at now, where whenever I get a day where I don’t have anything to do, I go to this same theatre all day and see everything I’ve missed.

I’ve lived in the same city with this theatre for about 12-13 years now, and I have finally gotten a job that is going to move me out of it. I won’t miss this city itself, much like I have never really missed high school or university once I left them. I miss some people, but I never miss the places. I do, however, feel awkward going back. For some reason that I can’t remember now, I had to go back into my high school very briefly a couple of years ago, and upon walking through the doors I was instantly filled with a feeling of awkwardness. I have no idea why, but I just felt completely uncomfortable and had to get out of there as soon as I could. Now that I have left university, the same thing tends to occur, albeit to a lesser degree, when I have to go on campus or the time I rented movies from the video store I worked at for years. I am borderline obsessed with memory and more specifically how I remember moments and artifacts from my past, and I think my being uncomfortable with revisiting these places is because it can only hurt the remaining pleasant memories I may have of them.

The other day, I decided to go to the movies for one last chance to have a movie day, knowing full well that this will probably be the end of being able to do this what with adulthood looming* and moving to a city where the cheapest theatre is a full $3 more than what I’m used to paying. The convenience of my home theatre’s location, mixed with its incredible ticket prices, will probably not happen again in my life. I’m obviously not saying I’m never going to the movies again, because that would be absurd, but I might be saying goodbye to the days when I go to see a 1pm movie and am still around for the last show of the night at 10. And the worst part about it all is that when I’m back in town visiting, I don’t see myself wanting to go back to this theatre. Like high school, university, and the video store, I hate going back, likely because so much of my life was spent there.

I have many notable memories at this theatre, two of which that stick out to me now are when I saw The Girl Next Door, and then years later when I saw Adventureland. Each time I was alone, and each time I had just finished my final year at an educational institution – high school for The Girl Next Door, and university for Adventureland. I’ve always said that the sign of a good comedy is when it can make me laugh out loud when I’m by myself, and both of these movies accomplished that repeatedly. I also remember really liking each when I saw them – each movie was about somebody who I could see parts of myself in, and I was, to a point, emotionally invested in each main character’s decisions.

In the past week, I have rewatched each of these two movies, and have discovered that while the Girl Next Door is still funny, it is certainly not good. The whole thing is ridiculous. I don’t know what I was thinking when I was 18, but now I’m thinking I was an idiot. While it isn’t altogether impossible, it still seems bizarre that I could ever be emotionally invested in a movie like this. I typically feel like I should be laughing at absurd teen movies, not taking them seriously: this is why you give the “really?” look to people who think that the Breakfast Club is a serious film.

Going back and watching the Girl Next Door again is pretty much how I feel about returning to my high school, university, and probably soon my favourite movie theatre. The place is still the same, but your good memories of it far outweigh anything that can be accomplished by going back. With time, parts of your memories will fade away, and you’ll be left with only the best (and I suppose worst) parts of those memories. I am an advocate for watching movies multiple times, and I am not saying that I shouldn’t have watched the Girl Next Door again, I am just saying that I shouldn’t necessarily expect to get the same initial feeling watching a movie years after first viewing it. I liked Adventureland this week just as much as I did a year ago, but that may change with time like my opinions on the Girl Next Door did. I might see my old theatre in the future, but it can never be the same. It is far more likely that it will feel like rewatching the Girl Next Door, or meeting up with a friend I haven’t seen in years: the idea of it will be exciting, but the actual event will almost always be a letdown. Luckily, I have the memories and the ticket stubs to remind me of what was, and what the place meant to me.

*I say that you’re not truly an adult until you stop shamelessly using your clothes as napkins in public places, and while I have yet to reach that stage, I always fear that day is on the horizon.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Movie reference

There are certain people and media products that seem to be constantly striving to serve people like myself (read: media sponges who take many forms of media that would be deemed ‘low culture’ way too seriously). The writer who best illustrates this point to me is Chuck Klosterman, for music there’s Girl Talk, and for TV now there is Community. These are products that are aware that, while low culture may not necessarily be advancing its art form, acknowledge that these products have value and in turn use it to create their own point. Klosterman does this explicitly, Girl Talk implicitly, but Community does both.

The show centers around a Spanish study group that is composed of a mish mash of character types, all of whom you have seen before countless times in other movies and TV shows. This group attends Greendale Community College, and you know, hijinks ensue. In the study group are the high-strung overachiever Annie, the old racist misogynist idiot Pierce, the dumb athlete Troy, mother of two Shirley, buzz kill atheist Britta, pop culture wizard but often socially awkward Abed, and the leader with the silver tongue, Jeff Winger.

The pilot for this show sets up all of these characters, most of all Jeff, who is described initially by Abed as “Chevy Chase in any one of his movies,” but then Abed corrects himself and says Jeff is “more like Bill Murray in any one of his movies.” The truth is, he’s a mix of both, as he mixes Chase’s wit with Murray’s goofiness, all while being a “textbook narcissist.” Jeff sets up Community as an ensemble comedy with a leader who is a narcissist but still likeable (much like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, Stripes*, etc) with a flair for sarcasm (Chevy Chase in Fletch) and the necessary dash of “fuck you” that each comedians’ characters had when the actor was in his prime.

The rest of the characters are less important to the show’s overall progression (with an exception that I will deal with shortly), as they fill the roles of their aforementioned character types. Britta is there as Jeff’s “will they or won’t they” girl and Pierce is clearly meant to be Jeff in twenty years, but again these characters are mostly there to provide material for Jeff’s character. While each character gets their share of plot lines, it always comes back to Jeff. He will struggle with his feelings for Britta, and he will worry about becoming Pierce, but he will still continue to be the Murray/Chase hybrid that the show requires. As in all of the great ensemble comedy movies that came from the Saturday Night Live tree in the 1970s and 80s, there needs to be a powerful comedic leader, a role that Jeff fills.

Abed is completely aware of all of this, even going so far as to mention it multiple times. What makes Abed one of the most uniquely postmodern characters on television right now (and probably ever) is that he is more or less a viewer of the show that he is actually in. Abed’s main purpose on the show is to point out everything that resembles another piece of popular media, as well as occasionally trying to reenact other media. In the pilot alone, he acknowledges the study group’s resemblance to a John Hughes ensemble and, as mentioned previously, points out Jeff’s Murray and Chase similarities. Abed acknowledges that in modern society, there is little genuine action and emotion, as the bombardment of media products has left us in a hyperreality where we are all both consciously and subconsciously referring to past media products. Think of Abed as a sort of hipster version of Jean Baudrillard, except funnier, easier to digest, and much easier to paraphrase without bastardizing his general idea.

Jeff is definitely the emotional core of the show, but Abed is more representative of what the show actually is. Through its constant references to other pop culture products, Community creates a new whole that is both hilarious and at times even emotionally compelling. The show is a sitcom, and each episode is structured as such: we get a plot set up, and by the end of the episode that plot has a resolution. Community subscribes to the more modern sitcom formula however, in that it is shot in a single camera style (as opposed to in front of a studio audience) and there are lengthier plot lines that are carried through multiple episodes, most notably Jeff and Britta’s relationship that has been developed over the course of the first season.

In keeping with what makes the show great, however, is how it continually pokes fun at the sitcom format itself. Abed discusses the sexual tension between Britta and Jeff, comparing them to Ross and Rachel, and Abed foreshadows the season finale twist that you could often find in a show like Friends. Community not only references other sitcoms, but also learns from these past sitcoms’ mistakes. Like Abed, the producers and writers of Community have seen every major sitcom, and know what to do to avoid making the same mistakes that others have. Any shark jumping moments that have occurred on past sitcoms will not be repeated unless Community is attempting to make a point of it. Should Community last long enough to be able to jump the shark, it will likely do so in a new way.

Reference comedy has grown in popularity in the last 10 years, and I think a lot of this can be attributed to Judd Apatow’s team of comic actors, specifically Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd. Each of these actors’ most famous characters, both in Apatow and others’ films, rely heavily on media references to get laughs. A reference that is funny will get a bigger laugh than a regular joke that is just as funny: the reference joke gets a laugh that comes with a bonus boost of “oh I get it!” whereas the non-reference joke only gets the normal laugh. This feeling of being included in the group that gets the reference joke often bolsters the joke itself, and the audience will likely respond with a bigger laugh because of it. Community recognizes this and uses it to its advantage, much like Apatow-produced films have. If you get the reference jokes on Community, you are a part of a group that acknowledges this brand of humour, and with this feeling of community you subconsciously laugh a little bit harder**. This isn’t necessarily a cheap way to get a laugh, although it can be, it’s just a newer way.

With all of the referencing and apparent commentary on media-saturated society that Community does, it would be easy to fall into the category of being postmodern just to seem more interesting. Think of those glamour shots in Garden State that do little to serve the story or make anything more than a weak point, or the thrown in references to ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ and other media in 500 Days of Summer: these are examples of mentioning media just to seem cool, and you can find them in just about any media product targeted directly at hipsters (and often this blog – remember my last post, when I referenced Metal Machine Music for a reason that didn’t really further my point? Yep, perfect example). Community, however, rarely falls into that trap, and even the most postmodern episodes make their references in a way that serves the story. The episode everybody talks about is the paintball episode, “Modern Warfare,” and rightfully so. It is the most explicitly postmodern episode of the show so far, and not only does it serve as a tribute to action movies, but it also advances key plot points that have been building throughout the season. By the end of the episode, Jeff has both acted selflessly and had sex with Britta. These actions have been built up all season, and both get a form of resolution in this episode, even while drenched in the metaphorical paint of action movie homage.

For all of the goofing around Community does, it is clear that the crew really care about the level of technical quality of the show. This, again, is never more evident than in the paintball episode, as the action scenes rival anything you can see in a modern action movie. Just about every episode has a sort of thesis that it tries to make a point with (some more obvious than others), and it is typically a slightly different take on a point a traditional sitcom would try to make. One of my favourite ‘characters’ in the show is the Greendale Human Being, the school mascot that is basically a person dressed in a plain bodysuit that covers all of his skin. He symbolizes the thesis of the episode “Football, Feminism and You,” which Jeff says late in the episode, “that not being racist is the new racism.” Other episodes have themes about being raised on television, an episode about whether humans are inherently good or evil, Christianity’s unwillingness to accept others, and more.

The show also gets at a few grander points with its postmodernism. By having everybody in the cast playing a well-defined character type that we have seen before, Community acknowledges that the “types” that have been set out in John Hughes movies, MTV reality shows, preceding sitcoms and other products not only exist, but will continue to be perpetuated both in media products and real life. Most North Americans under the age of 35-40 at this point have grown up with a ton of popular media, and now more than ever, these media products define who we are. We are all, at this point, variations on and combinations of character types, and not only does Community acknowledge this, but it seems to be one of the first mass media products that is okay with it. Community knows that this is how modern people are, and as the show’s other main thesis is to accept people for how they are, it only makes sense that the show encourages us to creatively make references as opposed to being wholly original. Community encourages people to rethink what has been put out as the accepted idea of something: not being racist is the new racism, clich├ęs exist/people are types and that is okay, and there is almost nothing you can do now that hasn’t already been done before on television. No idea is truly original at this point, but how you use past ideas still can be.

*Bill Murray’s character in Stripes is actually named John Winger. Is Jeff’s name just a coincidence? Not a chance.

**This is completely a theory of mine. I have no evidence to back this up.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This blog isn't dead... but Casper sure is.

Around Halloween of my first year of university, something reminded me of the 1995 live-action Casper movie. I felt compelled to watch the movie again, as I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, and I bought it that day. The movie itself is actually pretty bad, although I don’t think I was expecting too much. I’m convinced Bill Pullman was drunk for most of the shoot, the script is really uneven, and it features some very bizarre cameos from Dan Aykroyd as his Ghostbuster Ray Stantz to Mel Gibson. Being that this movie was produced by Amblin and Steven Spielberg, I would imagine these cameos were called-in favours. But I digress. What surprised me was not the quality of the movie, Bill Pullman’s drunkenness, nor Clint Eastwood’s appearance, but more how mind-blowingly depressing it was.

The movie focuses on the haunting of Whipstaff Manor, a residence that becomes the property of Carrigan when her husband dies. It’s a really cool, albeit creepy, house and if you aren’t like me and stopped watching kids movies when you turned 12, you may remember it better as the house in the Backstreet Boys’ video “Everybody” (you know, the one where they did their whole Thriller thing with the monsters and stuff). In Casper, however, it happens to be haunted by Stretch, Stinky, Fatso, and Casper as opposed to Nick, Brian, AJ, Kevin and Howie. Bill Pullman is Dr. James Harvey, a ghost psychologist who is hired by Carrigan to rid the house of these spooks, bringing “his loner daughter Kat,” played by Christina Ricci, along for the ride. The matriarch of the Harvey family, Amelia, passed away before the movie has begun, and Dr. Harvey is on a continual search to find her spirit. Okay, I think that’s enough setup.

(Shit, I forgot to mention that when the kids at Kat’s new school get wind of her living at Whipstaff, they decide the school Halloween dance should take place there. Oh, gosh, I wonder if that little tidbit will come into play later in this post. Hmmm… And yes, I’m aware that I’m lazily plugging this information in at the last second and attempting to pass this paragraph off as creatively postmodern [hence the brackets, and then also these inner brackets]. Maybe I'll italicize this too, to further the illusion of creativity.)

Casper first terrifies Kat, but once Kat realizes Casper isn’t a threat, they become pals. He doesn’t have much of a memory of his life as a human, but before too long Kat finds some artifacts from Casper’s life, and it all begins to come back to him. It turns out Casper died because after finally getting the sled he wanted so badly, he went tobogganing with it all day and came down with pneumonia that soon killed him, which in turn drove his father insane trying to resurrect his son. Casper recounts this story in a monologue, and it dawned on me that this is a 12-year-old kid explaining to us how he died. And if that wasn’t sad enough, Casper has since gone through the afterlife without any friends, and merely functioning as a slave to the other Whipstaff ghosts. This isn’t depressing at all, you say? Well just wait, because there’s more.

Kat goes through some fairly trying things throughout the movie as well. For one, her mom died, so that sucks, but by the end of the movie, her dad has also died! It’s okay though, because pops gets brought back to life through the Lazarus machine that Casper’s dad built in what can only be described as his “batshit insane period” (not too different from Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” period, I would imagine). Casper was about to regain his humanity through the use of this machine, but since there was only enough fuel for one reanimation, Casper thought it best to let Kat have her dad back. Don’t worry though, Casper will be rewarded for his selflessness.

As the school Halloween dance at Whipstaff begins, Casper gets a visit from the spirit of Kat’s mom. She grants him the ability to be human so that he may go to the dance (for some reason that is never explained, she can do this - perhaps birthing a cranium the size of Christina Ricci’s earns you Super Ghost status), and it is referred to as a ghost version of Cinderella. Since Casper is only 12 years old, however, Amelia is only letting him be human until the clock strikes 10, as opposed to midnight in the fairy tale. Apparently, reanimating her husband and ensuring that their daughter does not become an orphan is not enough for Casper to be allowed to stay up past his bedtime. For all of the positive things people say about Amelia throughout the movie, she kind of seems like a bitch. Again, digressing.

Casper, now human, comes down the stairs to the main hall and finds Kat. They dance together until Kat realizes that they are floating, which leads her to kiss Casper. But then, the clock strikes 10, Casper turns back into a ghost, and everybody else at the party is scared shitless and runs home. Way to fuck up a perfectly good dance, Casper.

I should also point out what Dr. Harvey is doing during the dance: after Amelia visits Casper, she goes to see her husband. They talk for a couple of minutes before she has to make her exit… without even saying hello to her daughter. Not only does that strike me as rude, but it also seems really mean. Dr. Harvey never even thinks that he should yell down the stairs, “hey, Kat! Come up here and say hi to your dead mom! She stopped by for a visit!”

So Casper turns back into a ghost, the party clears out, and then Dr. Harvey joins Casper and Kat for a (no joke) Little Richard sing along to end the movie! Awww man, what a pleasant little film! I’m not massively depressed at all! Just think about the conversations that will be occurring after the sing along is over: “Oh, by the way Kat, the spirit of your mom came by to say hello. I assumed you didn’t want to see her though.” And what about the awkwardness between Kat and Casper after that kiss? They had one kiss as humans, and now Casper’s back to being a ghost, so I assume that’s the end of that romance. I realize 12 year old romance is not something to get up in arms about, but I hope Dr. Harvey is a normal psychologist too so that his daughter doesn’t go completely nuts, a la Casper’s dad. There’s a reason there was never a real sequel to this movie: Kat probably went crazy within a week of the movie ending.

I loved this movie as a kid, and while I don’t remember watching it very many times, every time I watch it now I still remember everything that happens. I can even hum the incredibly depressing piano theme music to the movie from memory. I’m starting to suspect that this one movie has greatly shaped my choices of media products, and life in general, for reasons I have explained above. I remember thinking that the movie was more depressing than most other movies I watched at that age, and looking back on it now, it definitely is. As a child I can remember being pretty fascinated with death, and that is not something that has let up as I’ve aged (although I feel that’s a pretty common thing). My favourite television show is Six Feet Under, and the majority of my favourite movies do not end particularly happily. Casper might have been a kids movie that was bad and depressing, but at least it wasn’t completely hiding us from death. The line people seem to remember from this movie is when Casper asks Kat, “Can I keep you?” The movie shows us that Casper can’t really keep Kat, much like we can’t really keep anything. The people at Amblin Entertainment seemed to feel that this was a lesson we should be learning at a young age.

Friday, March 19, 2010

War is bad and people die.

Paul Greengrass isn't the best working director right now (that's Christopher Nolan), but I don't think it is debatable as to whether there is anybody who makes better action movies than Greengrass. We all know I love Michael Bay, but there is a definite difference between his movies and those made by Greengrass: Bay makes movies that are more incredible than good, while Greengrass makes incredible movies that are also objectively great. I have mentioned here that the Rock is my favourite action movie, but I know that when I take my own personal attachments away from it, the Bourne Ultimatum (and maybe even Supremacy too) is probably a better movie made with a more interesting style.

The main reason I love Greengrass as a director is something that I have cited for most of my favourite movies in that he combines Hollywood ideals (in this case the blockbuster action movie) with many things you would be more likely to see in an independent movie. The best thing about this is that Greengrass does it all in a style that is not only visually appealing, but looks like something I could personally pull off. The handheld style of his movies has been heavily criticized, and I understand that criticism. While I think the editing and camera work in these films is so well done that they are never hard to follow, I can understand people simply not liking the aesthetic. Greengrass' films aren't trying to appear as fake documentaries, but it's clear he is using that style to add an element of realism to the action movie, which I say works every time. I have read this criticized as a way of merely simulating excitement, which I think is ridiculous. It's a fucking action movie, of course it is simulating excitement, and I think this style allows for the most simulated excitement possible. By using this handheld, liquid style for his films' camerawork, Greengrass creates movies that feel like they exist in spaces as opposed to sets, which heightens the level of excitement and realism by placing the viewer in the middle of the action. Kathryn Bigelow, director of the Hurt Locker (which was shot by Green Zone and United 93’s cinematographer Barry Ackroyd), has explained the style about as well as one can: "That's how we experience reality, by looking at the microcosm and the macrocosm simultaneously. The eye sees differently than the lens, but with multiple focal lengths and a muscular editorial style, the lens can give you that microcosm/macrocosm perspective, and that contributes to the feeling of total immersion."

Greengrass' movies also lack a certain sheen that is typically seen on the big budget Hollywood movie: his Bourne movies, and Green Zone especially, look as though there has been very little done to the image in postproduction. There are scenes that are dimly lit, and the image does not appear to be brightened in postproduction. You even get to see what I think would be called visual noise, where the image is so dark that an adjustment is made to the actual camera to brighten the image while it is being shot but at the cost of clarity. I realize that it is possible, and maybe even likely, that this noise is actually applied in post, but the thing about it is not when it is applied, but that it is in fact done. Even before I was a camera nerd, I noticed that there was something different about certain images in the Bourne movies and United 93, and it added a certain level of realism to me even then.

I saw the Bourne Supremacy for the first time in 2004, and to put it as eloquently as possible, it was un-fucking-real. I already had a deep appreciation for the fake documentary format (thanks, Christopher Guest and Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant), but the Bourne Supremacy took all of the great visual elements of that format and applied them to the action movie… and the result maintains one of the most exciting movies I will ever see. While I have surely romanticized this memory plenty over the years, I remember being legitimately shocked early in the film, the hand-to-hand combat being eye-opening, and the car chase leaving me in a state of badassery-induced shock. Even now when I rewatch this movie that I have seen at least 25 times, I still get shivers at certain moments. It is a small number of media texts that I find legitimately inspiring (there is one other text I could apply this adjective to), but every time I watch a Greengrass movie, I find myself thinking of movies I want to try to make, and his movies make me feel like I actually can do just that*. It sounds weird, but it’s the triple truth, Ruth.

The last thing I really enjoy about Greengrass films, although this is not something I figured out back in 2004, comes in the ideology of his movies. He is borderline obsessed with debunking what he considers government wrongdoing, and he is the most explicitly countercultural director working within Hollywood. His Bourne movies are more subtle than his overtly political movies Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Green Zone, but even then they do not try too hard to hide their politics. Jason Bourne is, as Greengrass calls him in the commentary for Ultimatum, the spirit of the opposition, and I think Ultimatum even has characters that are meant as stand-ins for members of the Bush administration. More overtly, the film features many shots that evoke some of those taken from inside Abu Ghraib prison and the various forms of torture the US government subjected its occupants to. That something like this can be done inside of what was one of the biggest movies of 2007 is something that makes me hopeful for the future of the blockbuster: the blockbuster as a whole is generally considered shallow and dumb, but there are still spots out there for subtle (or overt) political commentary within one every once in a while. This is why it’s unfortunate that Green Zone… uh… bombed.

I was excited about this movie, and honestly really liked it despite its flaws. The script was far more explicit in its politics than anything else Greengrass has done, but outside of that I have few complaints about the movie. Much like Nolan's Inception will be this summer, Green Zone felt like a movie that Greengrass knew he would only have a tiny window to make: he's coming off a gigantic hit, so he can secure a massive budget for something he would never be able to get made under just about any other circumstances. The sad part about this is that Green Zone was never going to be a hit, and it never even had a chance. No big-budget Iraq movie has succeeded, and Green Zone is not the exception to that rule. I think Greengrass knew this was his chance to get a budget to do pretty much whatever he wanted, and he made a good thriller that is at times too explicit with its politics. Some of these lines of dialogue are pretty awful, and at some points I was reminded of Keenan Ivory Wayans' small role in Don't Be a Menace. However, the fact that a movie like this merely exists still makes me quite happy.

Michael Moore recently posted on his Twitter page that he can't believe this movie ever got made and that it was poorly marketed as an action movie, which stands as the first time I fully agree with something Moore says. But, like I said earlier, Green Zone never had a chance to make money with a budget of at least $100 million, and the best shot it had was to market all of the Bourne similarities (of which there are a couple too many). While there is some incredible action in the movie, it is at heart a political thriller, and the politics were definitely put ahead of the thrills. The real issue I have with Green Zone comes with its twisting of the truth: it is basically left-wingers doing what they hate right-wing people for doing. By conveying Greengrass and company's perception of the truth through a fictionalized version of the Iraq war, they are doing precisely what they would likely accuse Fox News of doing, but on a much larger stage (albeit as a one-off as opposed to a 24/7 news network). While I think Greengrass' version of the Iraq war is closer to the truth than how Rupert Murdoch's News Corp often presents it, I don't know that I can really say with objectivity in that my views are far closer to the former than the latter. I like that a more left-wing opinion is in a mainstream blockbuster, so long as it is not presented in a way that is excessively brash. If you’re going to call out somebody who opposes you, don’t do it in the same way they’re using making their points… which brings me to that stupid fucking woman who sat behind me in Green Zone.

This woman seemed to think that her ticket purchase was a vote for the real truth, and that everybody in the theatre was of the most left-wing thought process possible. She decided that whenever a character made a broad comment about the war existing because of state-sponsored lying, this woman applauded and would loudly vocally agree with whatever point the movie was making as if it was an absolutely truthful account of the Iraq war. When the film shows Bush declaring America to have won the war, this woman yells out "Fool's gold! Fool’s gold!" If some right-wing thinker had been doing the opposite and yelling out "shenanigans!" when Miller questions something and applauding when Poundstone speaks his mind, this left-wing crazy woman would have surely been furious. Loud leftists are just as bad as loud rightists, and I worry that Green Zone might just be a loud leftist. I like to think that it is merely stating an opinion, but is hopefully not doing so in such a loud way as to offend people that may not agree with it.

I am firm in my belief that no movie can create any direct change in reality, and I am apprehensive enough even calling a piece of media personally inspiring, but I do believe that movies like this have the ability to raise awareness of certain subjects and can often lead to a viewer wanting to learn more about the subject. The second time I saw Green Zone, a father and his teenage son sat in front of me, and I expected them to be disappointed with the fact that they didn’t get more of a Bourne-style thriller. After the movie was over, however, they got up and walked past me, and the son was asking his father more about the actual war. The kid seemed genuinely interested in something he saw in the movie, much like I became far more interested in filmmaking after I saw the Bourne Supremacy for the first time. Green Zone's financial failure may stop Paul Greengrass from securing a blockbuster-level budget for his next attempt at overtly political filmmaking, but I am hopeful that his movies, and Hollywood blockbusters in general, will be able to continue to occasionally inspire people in a number of different ways.

*I feel I should mention that these are not necessarily all Bourne-esque ideas.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ummm... pretend this is a clever title regarding Saturday Night Live.

As a nerd, I am very passionate about the pieces of media I do and don’t like. While I sometimes let my more embarrassing tastes go unmentioned, I still often have trouble ignoring a negative remark about a movie or TV show that I love, regardless of the situation or how I will be perceived for standing up for that given piece of media. Something that has likely been noticed by friends of mine is that this happens far more often with Saturday Night Live than it does with anything else.

SNL is easy to dislike, and tough to love, so I don’t necessarily have a problem with friends saying that they don’t like the show. Sketch comedy simply isn't everybody's taste. However, I take issue with how few people tend to actually have valid points when attacking the show. Invariably, people who don’t watch the show consistently will say something along the lines of how “it used to be funnier,” or even worse, "it just sucks." Luckily, I watch SNL enough that I can talk shit about it adequately, and then defend the show immediately after.

The show is not, nor has it ever been, consistently hilarious. If you get one show per season that features exclusively funny sketches, you’re getting lucky, and there are a variety of reasons for this. It isn’t necessarily the fault of the writers or the performers, but more Lorne Michaels’ desire to craft the show in a way that ensures there is something for every viewer. Michaels likes to front-load the show in order to get as many viewers as possible to stay with the show through to Weekend Update, which is why you’re getting a lot of character sketches in the first half. Keeping as many viewers as possible doesn’t mean necessarily putting your best sketches first, it just means putting the broadest sketches first. This creates a loose structure for each show: you’re going to get a political sketch as a cold open, the host monologue, an ad parody, a few character sketches, Weekend Update, and then the rest of the show is seemingly up for grabs to the writers. This desire to attract a wide range of people is what leads to the character sketch dilemma: when Michaels sees a sketch kill in the second half, he assumes it will kill again and another sketch starring that character finds itself in the first half of the show a few weeks later. While the show has always had character sketches, from what I can tell these characters began to recur much more often starting with Michaels’ return to the show in the mid-1980s. Upon leaving the show after its fifth season, Michaels attempted to succeed as a Hollywood producer and failed professionally for the first time in his life, which both lead him back to SNL and made him more willing to appease NBC executives when he returned. In the 1970s, the show was new and graced with incredible luck, so they could put on whatever sketches they desired and still find an audience. By the mid-1980s, however, the show had lost a lot of its audience and Michaels had to become more adept at appealing to wider audiences to keep the show on the air (SNL was perpetually on the verge of being cancelled for most of the 1980s). While I wish Michaels were less afraid to stray from this format, I realize that the television industry has undergone extensive changes since the 1970s, and that this is what is necessary to keep SNL alive in the modern television industry.

Another reason the show isn’t always great are, again, faults of the format: writing for the coming Saturday’s show begins on the Monday previous, creating a time crunch, and sometimes you just can’t write for a host who is not funny (if January Jones follows this, know that I’m talking directly to you). Again, I know it’s a flaw of the show, but at this point Saturday Night Live is the last remaining relic of the live variety show, and in order to keep it going you need to put up with its flaws. I love live sketch comedy, but don’t reside in a major city, where it can often be difficult to find live comedy that isn’t awful. While the massive budget behind SNL does take away some of the charm, if that’s the way it has to be for me to see live sketch comedy, then so be it.

The biggest thing working against how people perceive SNL, however, is time. It has been around forever, and almost nobody seems to be able to objectively judge the show because of this. I read a quote from a long-time writer on the show saying that, at any given time post-1980, people complain about the show’s current level of quality while saying how much better the previous cast was. I wish I could find the quote, because that is just about the most accurate statement I have ever read about SNL. Five years from now, Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg will be well liked, but right now everybody seems to want Tina Fey and Will Ferrell back. As much as I love the latter two comedians, the writing on the show is better in the past two seasons than it ever was with Fey as the head writer and Ferrell as the star.

Sketch comedy rarely ages well, and as funny as most of the original SNL cast were as performers, the writing in the first five “golden” years of the show are no exception. There are plenty of sketches that are still funny, but a lot of the sketches aren’t because I am simply too young to understand the context. The show has always been current, and many sketches directly comment on events that have occurred mere weeks or even days before the show's airing. When I made a documentary on SNL about a year ago (links below), I watched much of the first few seasons and found that a lot of it simply isn’t funny. Like I said here a few months ago about people who claim movies are currently worse than ever, SNL detractors tend to have a similarly hazy memory: if a sketch doesn’t make you laugh or isn’t remarkably bad, chances are that soon enough it will be completely out of your memory. I remember watching Seth Rogen’s appearance on SNL a year ago with my then-roommate, and we recently discussed the hysterical Fast & Furious sketch, but I had a hard time remembering one other sketch from that show. I remember it was a fairly high quality show, but over the past year I have forgotten all but the funniest sketch. This same method of thinking can be applied to every SNL from years past.

After about five years of sporadically watching SNL, I started watching it more consistently, and have probably seen most of the shows in the past five years and all but 2 or 3 in the last few seasons. The current cast is unbelievably talented, and the writers and producers seem to have figured out how to best use everybody. Amy Poehler has finally left Update, allowing Seth Meyers to become the most clever and honest anchor since Norm Macdonald was fired for being too funny. The show lacks a breakout sketch star, but I think that allows for more creativity in the writing, as it can cut back on the need to write a sketch specifically to get a popular performer more airtime. Sketch comedy should be about the ensemble, and the current cast is representative of that. Just think back to a decade ago when it seemed like every other sketch was a popular Will Ferrell character, and I’m happy for the increase of variety the current cast gives us.

I guess I’ve said an equal amount of good and bad things here about Saturday Night Live, as I probably should. The show is incredibly flawed, but I still love it and feel that its existence is important for our media-saturated culture. The influence the show has had on the television medium is always mentioned by SNL defenders, but almost never adequately broken down (and this paragraph will likely be no exception). There are the obvious things like Update allowing the Daily Show to exist and all of the great writers and performers given a platform by the show, but the influence of SNL is far more impressive than that. Advertisers owe an incredible debt to the show, for adding humour to advertisements can be attributed at the very least in part to SNL’s penchant for parodying products that has been present since the show’s inception. We owe the same debt to SNL, for I’m happy to at least get an occasional laugh from advertising… imagine how frustrating our ad-saturated world would be if every advertisement was boring and awful (as opposed to just most of them).

Being influential, however, is not reason enough for the show to remain in existence now, and I think SNL is still important culturally outside of merely being influential. Chevy Chase says the initial idea behind Saturday Night Live was to be a platform with which to satirize the television format. As television has expanded, that satire has become both more necessary and more easily accessible through other shows that have followed SNL’s lead. Making fun of CNN’s political coverage may be an obvious joke to make, but that it is being made on such a big stage makes it valuable. I don’t believe that a piece of media has much power to enact any sort of real change, but SNL adds awareness to a lot of media-related topics that I like to see publicly addressed.

Finally, once or twice each season, a sketch or moment will stretch outside of the show to reach the masses (think last year’s “I’m on a Boat,” or when Jenny Slate accidentally said “fucking” on-air earlier this season). The show still holds a huge amount of cultural capital, and it is one of a small number of television shows that are so widely entrenched in our culture that a significant on air moment is a discussion-worthy topic to such a large group of North Americans. In a time-delayed mass media culture that tries to cover up anything deemed overtly offensive by higher-ups, I find it oddly comforting that I can still hear the occasional uncensored, albeit accidental, f-bomb on live television, and SNL’s decades of tradition is what allows it to remain one of the few truly live broadcasts on television. The show may use a format abandoned long ago, but what it uses the format for still holds cultural weight… even if it isn't always funny.

Live from Wall Street

Live from Wall Street. part one of four. from alex stephenson on Vimeo.

Live from Wall Street. part two of four. from alex stephenson on Vimeo.

Live from Wall Street. part three of four. from alex stephenson on Vimeo.

Live from Wall Street. part four of four. from alex stephenson on Vimeo.

Just for fun, here is a list of media products that would not have been possible without Saturday Night Live:
Ghostbusters, Fletch, Trading Places, Anchorman, Hot Rod, A Mighty Wind (The Folksmen debuted as an SNL sketch in 1984) and countless other classic comedy films either written by and/or starring SNL alumni
The Daily Show, and by extension The Colbert Report
30 Rock
Late Night with Conan O’Brien

And a list of things SNL certainly made more possible:
Mr. Show
The Office (US)
Office Space
Chris Rock’s success as a stand-up comedian
(Debatably) most of Judd Apatow’s career

*For the Seinfeld fans: Larry David once quit his writing job at SNL on a Saturday over a sketch he wrote not making it on air. By the next week’s Monday meeting, he had realized he made a mistake and showed up to work, pretending he never quit. If this rings a bell, it’s because George Costanza did the same thing when he worked for the Yankees. Other Seinfeld episodes were also inspired by David-penned sketches, and David first met Julia Louis-Dreyfuss when she was an SNL cast member.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Happy Oscar nomination day, everybody! Although I suppose it's not particularly happy, as to be honest, some pretty bad movies were nominated (especially for Best Picture). Obviously it would have been impossible to predict, but even if the Best Picture category had remained a 5 movie thing, I would still have trouble picking 5 out of this 10 that deserve to be in a shortlist for the best movies of the year. Avatar, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, THE BLIND SIDE?!!? Are you serious? I haven't seen Precious, but I have seen everything else and am comfortable saying that A Serious Man and Up are the only movies of the 9 that deserves any sort of real praise. You want me to nitpick and get my hate on for the Best Picture nominess, you say? Well, if I must.

The Blind Side - What? I acknowledge that Sandra Bullock is fun in this movie, but you have seen the movie before. Does Sylvester Stallone get royalties anytime a new sports movie blatantly steals the Rocky formula? To me it is telling that Michael Oher, the now-professional football player that this movie is about, has no intention to ever watch the movie about his life. He has said that it's a story that happens all the time, it just so happens to be that this is the one getting notice. That's a fairly potent metaphor about the movie: Friday Night Lights may have been an infinitely better movie (in that it was actually good), but it's the Blind Side that gets the love. Ugh. If I didn't inexplicably like Sandra Bullock as much as I do, I would be Avatar-mad about this one.

District 9 - I have always been a big fan of the fake documentary format, and thoroughly enjoyed its use in the first half of District 9. But somewhere in the middle of the movie, they drop the style completely and we are suddenly getting privileged shots that no documentary crew could possibly get. At least they keep the handheld aesthetic the whole time, I suppose. The idea of the movie is great, with the aliens/impoverished citizens being moved by the government, but that doesn't mean that the movie is necessarily as good as its idea. It's a decent action movie, yes, and I always want to see a good action movie taken seriously, it just so happens that the Academy is honouring the wrong one.

An Education - I like this movie. It was fun, it was funny, and Carey Mulligan was great. Best Picture? Probably not, but at least it is good.

The Hurt Locker - This is a great action movie, as scenes involving bomb defusing are always incredibly suspenseful, and the Hurt Locker does not change that. The problem I had with the movie is that it is little more than an action movie that features a fairly obvious message which is really drilled into your head by the time you leave. There is a 10 minute period of the movie that could have been completely removed and the movie would have been infinitely better. As it is though, it's a good movie, but not as great as it should be.

Inglourious Basterds - This movie looks gorgeous, has a number of Spaghetti Western references, and also features a great performance by Brad Pitt... Too bad the rest of it is painful to sit through. I have liked every Quentin Tarantino movie to date, but holy shit was this one awful. The endless dialogue scenes have lost their charm to me it seems, and the last line of the movie is a huge "fuck you" to anybody who likes the far better movies Tarantino movies Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.

Up in the Air - Again, a good movie, but far from great. I love George Clooney, and as per usual he does his Clooney thing, but the movie is only good outside of one scene that I would put among my favourite scenes in the last couple of years. The rest, however, is just a good little comedy that, like Jason Reitman's previous film Juno, does not quite deserve the acclaim its getting.

Avatar - The movie looks very cool, and the 3D is outstanding. Whew, I'm happy that part of this is over. Ahem… Fuck James Cameron and his ridiculous haircut. His "pro-environmentalism" movie cost $300 million, creating who knows how much waste in merely the production stage. And when leaving the theatre I saw it in, I watched as an usher punched down into one of three full garbage cans next to him, so that Avatar's audience could throw more of their garbage into it. I recognize any multi-million dollar movie about environmentalism is a contradiction in some way, but at least some of them don't feature dialogue that sounds like it is being exchanged by Amidala and Anakin in Attack of the Clones. And as for the anti-capitalist message of the film? It is now the highest grossing movie of all time, and who knows how much of that goes right to Cameron. Go light a million dollar bill on fire for your own personal enjoyment, you fucking hypocrite.

So, how would I have handled things differently, you say? I do recognize that this has not been a great year for movies, and I would have trouble finding five movies that I would actually think should be remembered decades down the line. But fear not, for I will tell you what I liked the most anyway. I didn't do many categories, but I am singling out elements of certain movies that I feel deserve mention.

Favourite Movies
As I stated in my previous post, my favourite movie from the past year was the Brothers Bloom, but there are other serious contenders. A Serious Man is a truly great movie, and I can't wait for it to come out on DVD so that I can watch it again and try to decipher it some more. The Coens have shown in the last few years that they are capable of not only making great movies, but also making incredibly dense ones as well. Like No Country for Old Men, watching A Serious Man can lead a viewer to come to any number of conclusions as to what the film is about (A Serious Man even more so), and chances are the viewer is right. Here are some other movies I really liked this year, with mini-reviews:

The Road - This was a great, gorgeously executed movie that I think is better than the book (which I did happen to like quite a bit). It is unrelentingly depressing, yes, but I think there are potent ideas in there, even though the movie pretty much removes the environmentalism elements of the book. It felt like Terence Malick making a post-apocalypse movie with the way parts of it were shot and the voiceover work throughout. And while I am not a fan of Viggo Mortensen, he is unbelievable in this movie, and one of his scenes with Charlize Theron is unbelievably crushing.

Adventureland - I love a comedy that tries to be a little serious, as I feel that combination is the closest movies ever get to emulating real life. I get suspicious of any drama that doesn't feature any jokes, because even on the shittiest days of my life, I can recall joking around at least a little bit. Shit, the Road is about life after the apocalypse, and even it has a couple of jokes in it. Adventureland is a great comedy that is also a great movie, and that is pretty rare… I don't have much more to say about it other than "see it."

Away We Go - This is a fairly simple movie that is elevated by a number of good performances. While John Krasinski doesn't do much outside of his normal, he is really good at it so I don't have a problem with it. And as big of a fan as I am, I had no idea Maya Rudolph had this kind of a performance in her, as she is the anchor of the movie and does her job really well. The bit parts are also played perfectly, as both Alison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal are hilarious, and Chris Messina gets a great scene as well. Both Krasinski and Rudolph get a chance to show their abilities toward the end of the movie, and neither disappoints. I realize this is far from a great movie, and it is probably the worst of my choices, but something about it really gets to me, and I love it.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - See this movie immediately, for it is just massively enjoyable. It's hilarious, the stop motion is great, and Wes Anderson doesn't even have to tone down its Wes-ness. I'm not cussing with you, you need to see this movie.

Funny People - This was a decent movie that really should have been a million times better. It is very funny when it wants to be, and it is a great movie for as long as it deals with the friendship between Ira and George. The problem comes with another part of the plot, which totally derails the movie and forces us to literally watch the director's kid's ballet recital. Oh Judd, you'll make a great movie someday, I know it, but this one should have been it. I'm putting it on this list because what I liked about it, I liked a lot… It just so happens that it gets really bad at parts.

Favourite Performances
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in 500 Days of Summer was… incredibly believable. Maybe it was just the character, but he was flawless, and there were multiple situations in this movie where his reactions struck me as remarkably similar to how I would react in the same scenario. He is also the king of subtleties, of which this performance featured many. The people will learn he's not just the kid from 3rd Rock eventually, I'm sure of it. This is the best performance I saw all year, and second place isn't even close in my opinion.

However, Sam Rockwell absolutely dominated in Moon. It was a role that allowed for him to have a lot of fun, and he did just that. I loved the movie, and he is pretty much the only character in the movie, so he must have done his job well. The scenes where he is interacting with himself are incredibly entertaining, and as the conflict gets more intense, his performance never gets worse.

Martin Starr deserves a mention for his very small part in Adventureland. He probably had no more than five scenes, but there is one scene towards the end that he positively kills. Comedies like Adventureland hinge on one or two key scenes in order to be taken as more than just comedies, and the scene that relies on Starr is perfect, and it is all because of how he is able to convey his lines. Small roles can be pivotal, and Adventureland is as good as it is in large part because of Martin Starr.

In a movie I really didn't like, and playing a character type that I really hate, Zoe Saldana somehow made me really like her in Avatar. While "white messiah" movies are always a little painful in their treatment of the people that the hero has come to save, Saldana made Neytiri a legitimate character as opposed to merely just another racial stereotype. This however, is assuming she did a lot of motion capture for her role… otherwise I have to give Cameron and crew some credit, for the way Neytiri moved was a big part of me liking Saldana. Her movements really separated her from the rest of the Na'vi, allowing her to be much better than a role as a racial stereotype might generally allow.

Rachel Weisz in the Brothers Bloom was without a doubt the most adorable character I have ever seen in a movie. She is obviously gorgeous, but in playing the perpetually confused Penelope she was both cute and somehow identifiable. Like I mentioned in my last post, the main three actors are flawless in this movie, but I think Rachel Weisz was the best of them.

Finally, Carey Mulligan was pretty great in An Education. I love a shit-talking teenager as much as the next person, which she did throughout the movie, and when it was time for her to show some range, she did it well. I'm officially excited for her next role (well, whatever she happens to be in after the Wall Street sequel).

Favourite Score
I may be biased because I've never seen a movie with a Nick Cave & Warren Ellis score that I didn't love, but their score for the Road was beautiful. Listening to it apart from the movie really brought the movie back into my mind, even more than a standard score does, and I think that's one of the better compliments you can give to a film score. Nathan Johnson's Brothers Bloom score deserves similar praise, but while the music in The Brothers Bloom features great themes, it isn't consistently great like the score for the Road is. Hans Zimmer's score for Sherlock Holmes deserves a mention as well, because it is really fun throughout.

Favourite Cinematography
A Serious Man was shot by Richard Deakins, who makes just about any movie he works on visually stunning. A Serious Man does not have many complicated setups, but there is something about the look of the movie that is perfect to me. There are multiple instances where the camera is actually tilted, and it doesn't just feel like a stylistic choice, but actually makes sense within the context of the story. What Deakins does with lighting is unbelievable by itself: for proof, watch the scene where Richard Kind's character opens the fridge in the middle of the night.

I love the look of digital video, and accordingly I loved the cinematography in Public Enemies (as I have for every Michael Mann movie since he started experimenting with it in Ali - it even makes Miami Vice watchable to me). I will more than likely do an extremely nerdy post about digital vs. film at some point in the future, because there is too much to touch on here. But for now just know I thought Public Enemies looked great and the visuals made up for a lot of the script's problems. So, credit to Dante Spinotti for making a biopic about the 1930s look modern.

Favourite Audio Edit
Yep, this is happening. I'm seriously picking out one audio edit to talk about. In the hippie dinner scene in Away We Go, the Stranglers' "Golden Brown" is playing throughout the scene, but once the argument kicks into high gear and Burt takes a stand, the volume of the music picks up and it goes from diegetic music to non-diegetic in about five seconds. While this is obviously not the first time this has been done, it really elevates the scene to have far more emotional impact than it may have otherwise, and I know at least for me it had a big effect.

Well kids, thanks for reading, and feel free to disagree with my choices below.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The ole leather pumpkin.

This post is almost completely unrelated to movies, so in order to make it feel like this belongs here, I will throw in a Space Jam reference or two. Can we get them out of the way early you say? Yes, let's.

"I had no idea Dan Aykroyd was in this blog post!"

Well, that's because he isn't. This post isn't about dynamite sketch comedians, it's about basketball, something that I watch often and play occasionally. More specifically, it's about the Toronto Raptors (although if I’m feeling nostalgic it may also feature some post-game analysis of the epic Toon Squad/Monstars match up from November 1996). I love the Raptors so much that it's pathetic: whenever I see a video of a crazy sports fan going nuts on YouTube, I think "Wow, this makes me feel a lot better about myself," before I ultimately rethink it and wonder, "Holy shit, is this how I get?"

I often wonder how I am still friends with some people that have seen first hand just how emotionally invested I can be in a game. I think the peak of my absurd Raptors fandom came in my first year of university, which was unfortunately also one of the worst years in franchise history. The Raps had a record of 27 wins and 55 losses, allowed multiple teams to come back and win when they had been up by 20 points or more*, and players earning big minutes included Mike James, Loren Woods and Rafael Araujo. But, the games were normally close, so I kept watching. I remember seeing a stat at one point in the season saying that over 20 of their games were won or lost in the final minute (normally the latter because of Mike James, but occasionally the former because of Mike James). I also recall literally falling off the couch of my residence living room once when MoPete missed a potential game-tying three pointer, and my roommate who I didn't know well at the time was in the room with me… how she remains friends with me is baffling.

The lowest moment of my career as a Raps fan came during another season on a night when a girl I was seeing broke up with me, and then I waited up to catch the 3 a.m. replay of the game I missed because of going to see her earlier in the evening. Of course, all that waiting was for a game where I would eventually get to see the Raps blown out by 30 points. Sadly, the event that hurt me more that night was watching the Raptors get outplayed, and when I think back to that night, I remember far more about the game than I remember about my conversation with this girl. That was my worst moment of being a Raptors fan, but all is instantly forgiven when they give me the feeling of pure joy that comes from a satisfying win. Like yesterday.

My uncle does pretty well for himself, and he scored me one of his company's corporate tickets for the Raptors' home game against the Houston Rockets. I knew these would be better seats than the yellow and green seats of the Sprite Zone that I was accustomed to, but I had no idea just how good they were going to be. When I was going into the Air Canada Centre, the ticket ushers kept telling me that my seat was further down… code for "closer to the court." I wish I could have seen my own face, because I know my smile was getting progressively wider as my altitude decreased.

I got to my seat. I was three rows up from the court. You know where the announcers sit? I was mere feet behind them. I could have thrown my Coke at Matt Devlin, but I didn't want to get kicked out. The point is this: I was no further than ten feet from the court, and I can't remember the last time I was that happy. To be honest, I didn't know that it was possible to be this happy past the age of 10... It was like when I got a Super Nintendo as a kid. Nothing else around me mattered. Had Zooey Deschanel been sitting next to me naked, I may not have noticed**.

Given that I probably won’t ever have the opportunity to be this close to the NBA again, I decided early on in the game that I was going to focus on watching a couple of players I love: the Raptors' Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack, as well as the Rockets' Shane Battier. I figured my proximity to the court would allow me to see and hear plenty of things that you can’t pick up on TV, and I was correct.

I love good defensive basketball (which makes my Raptors fandom even more odd, for they are perennially awful on D), and Shane Battier is one of the best defenders in the league. If you need any proof of this, just check out some highlights of his defense on Kobe Bryant in last year's Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers won the series, but Battier helped to make it much more difficult than anybody expected. Watching him defend the Raptors' Hedo Turkgolu yesterday was impressive. While Turk did have a good game, most of his points came when Battier was either on the bench or defending another player. Battier’s intensity was impressive, and his footwork was crazy… I wish he were a Raptor.

Chris Bosh is hands-down my favourite player in the NBA, as well as the best power forward in the NBA. I don’t consider the latter to be a debatable statement: it’s a truth. This season he has been playing with more passion and intensity than in years previous, and he is also averaging a pretty impressive 24 points and 12 rebounds. He is a really fun player to watch too, something I don’t normally say about a big (I prefer guards, as anybody who grew up in the Jordan era does). Anybody that says tall people are only good because of their size is an idiot, and these idiots have clearly never seen Bosh play. Hearing him call out plays and anchor the defense (he is an oddity on the Raps as he can actually play some pretty decent D) was fascinating, as was watching him play dominant basketball on the offensive end. He is a free agent at the end of the year, and he won’t be coming back to the Raptors due to their lack of being good at basketball, so if you live in Toronto and haven’t seen him play live yet, you had best get on it.

My favourite position to watch (and play) is point guard. Watching a great point guard see the floor and carve through the defense is something to see, and Jarrett Jack put on a great show yesterday. He is far from a premier point guard, but he plays like I wish every Raptor would. He plays hard, he doesn’t make bad decisions often, he plays good defense, and he isn’t a whiny punk bitch (I’m looking at you, Bellinelli). When the Rockets’ Trevor Ariza threw an elbow at the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan in the third quarter, Jack was the only Raptor to step to Ariza. I want all of the Raptors to consistently play hard and with intensity, but sadly only Jack and Bosh do.

I got to experience my favourite sport in a new way yesterday. I could hear everything coach Jay Triano was calling out to his players, I could hear players arguing with the ref, and I could see Antione Wright chirping Patrick O’Bryant for watching the cheerleaders during a timeout. And to top it all off, the Raptors played near-perfect ball and got the win.

I’m not a crier, and I never really have been. I used to joke that I would cry if the Raptors ever won a championship, but now I don’t know if I’ll be joking next time I say it. Professional sports are kind of a weird thing to be really into, but I guess movies are too. For all of the stress I have experienced being a Raptors fan, the good moments make it all worthwhile. I guess professional sports are more like movies than I thought when I started writing this… some games are suspenseful and gut wrenching in a way that few action movies ever are, and others are far more depressing than any movie I’ve seen. And some movies, like yesterday’s game, aren’t filled with tension but are just completely satisfying from beginning to end. I watch movies because they engage me emotionally more than most of what happens in my own life, and I guess you can apply that same thinking to the Raptors too.

I concede that liking a sports team as much as I do is bizarre, but then again, I’m a weird guy. But if being as happy as I was yesterday makes me weird, then so be it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on my Bosh jersey and yell at my TV for a couple of hours.

*including Kobe Bryant's 81 point game and a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Dallas Mavericks where I left for work at 3pm with the Raps up 25 or so points in the third. By the time I got to work at 4pm, I had a text message from my roommate saying that the Mavericks had won the game. Fucking Nowitzki.

**I would have noticed.