Kids in the Hall Season 1, Episodes 1 thru 6

I vividly remember the first time I became aware of the Kids in the Hall was through a blip in the 1992 Fall Preview issue of TV Guide. The minuscule paragraph mentioned their involvement with Lorne Michaels (whom I knew as the guy behind SNL) at the time. I never managed to stay up and watch their run on CBS, but about four years later as a college student I finally saw the series on Comedy Central. I was not disappointed. My first reaction was at how strange the cast was. I’m not sure if it was because of these five gentlemen’s roots as exotic Canadians or at how well they passed for women in many skits, but I was hooked. This is the first time (thank you Netflix) that I have sat down and begun to work my way through the five seasons of KITH from the beginning. Watching on Comedy Central I had no framework in my head of how the show developed.

Some background on the Kids: For those of you unfamiliar the five members of the comedy troupe are Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson. The group formed in 1984, but like most comedy collectives, worked as duos or solo performers for many years before. There are also many behind the scenes players, particularly the infamous Paul Bellini who made a series of notable appearances in relation to a viewer contest the show held.

Though there are inevitable comparisons to Saturday Night Live, due the Lorne Michaels connection, the closest kin would be Monty Python. You have a fixed cast and skits that don’t rely on pop culture references for their humor. The laughs come from the absurdity of characters or situations. There is over the top violence and even skits that work to deconstruct comedy down to its raw nature. Because of the consistency in cast, you have a style of humor that is incredibly strong, the kind of thing that develops when people have  organic relationships and aren’t simply cast by a showrunner.

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Ranking my 2011 in real time!

Thanks to one of my favorite web series, The Totally Rad Show, I was made aware of Flickchart. The website randomly picks two movies and has you rank them against each other. I had a personal Flickchart and decided for the website I would create one with just the films I watch in 2011. This way I have an “accurate” top 10 list by the end of the year. I’m interested to see how it works out, and encourage you to get your own Flickchart account as well, if you are a film nerd like myself.

Popcultureocd2011’s Flickchart

Movies in 2011

Looking forward at 2011, there are a ton of big film releases on the horizon. While I personally end up enjoying films that slip under the cineplex radar, there are still some major releases that garner my interest. Here’s a few that I am looking forward to finally seeing:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 (March 25th, dir. David Bowers) – the first film may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it to be a surprisingly good kids’ movie with a lot of wit. It didn’t sugar coat things and is the kind of movie I’d be happy with my imaginary future child watching.

Dream House (September 30th, dir. Jim Sheridan) – The key factor in drawing me to this thriller is the cast: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts. Sheridan is also a very deft director so count me in for this one.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (December 9th, dir. Martin Scorsese) – I have not yet read this award winning children’s picture book, but from what I have seen its pretty amazing. So this film adaptation has a lot of buzz to live up to. The film stars 2010 breakout star Chloe Moretz and Jude Law, with a lot of other big names as well. Sounds like a big departure from the DiCaprio era Scorsese films.

Scream 4 (April 15th, dir. Wes Craven) – There’s something about this sequel that has me intrigued. The first Scream is a great horror satire that has a lot of smarts. Despite Craven’s recent disappointing work, I think this could be a really fun picture. My hope is that they just go over the top in satirizing what happens to horror franchises when they wear out their welcome (Saw?).

The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo (December 21, dir. David Fincher) – Given my track record with Fincher movies, I will probably hate this. It seems to be every other film that I enjoy, The Social Network being the one that won my praise after I hated Benjamin Button. I’ve seen the original Swedish film, it was good, but nothing that amazed me. Here’s hoping Fincher pulls another Zodiac and delivers an engrossing crime film. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Zodiac you are missing a majorly good overlooked movie.

Super 8 (June 10th, dir. J.J. Abrams) – After re-watching the Back to the Future trilogy in 2010, I found myself remembering how much fun those Spielberg produced fantasy films of the 1980s were. This film promises to nostalgically return us to that era. The one teaser trailer was effectively vague and after the fun of Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, I am ready for this one.

Sherlock Holmes 2 (December 16, dir. Guy Ritchie) – The first film in Ritchie’s Holmes series was a big surprise to me, and while Downey isn’t really playing Holmes so much as a British version of his own film persona, it was a very funny and well made flick. The recent BBC modern day Holmes is markedly better, but this is the perfect big screen version of the character.

The Adventures of Tintin (December 28th, dir. Steven Spielberg) – This has all the makings of a disaster. It’s a CG-animated adaptation of a comic book series whose popularity mainly resides in Europe. It’s also hearkening back to older era of film adventure, but Spielberg has shown he can do that well, until recently (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Looking forward to seeing if this one pans out well.

X-Men: First Class (June 3rd, dir. Matthew Vaughn) – This Sixties era tale of the X-Men’s origins has me psyched. I’m praying they pull out the classic blue and yellow team uniforms and feature a snowman Iceman. This could be the crazy jolt the X-Men need after the dismally dull Wolverine and Last Stand films.

My Top Films of 2010

Since 2005, I have been keeping track of the films I watch each year. I also come up with a list of my ten favorite films (old or new) that I saw for the first time that year. Here’s the list, with the full list of all 232 I saw this year after the break. Feel free to ask any questions about films on the big list, my freakish nerd memory will be able to answer you.

Top 10 Films of 2010
1. A Serious Man
2. Hunger
3. Mother
4. Un prophete
5. The White Ribbon
6. Black Swan
7. The Social Network
8. True Grit (2010)
9. The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
10. I Am Love

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2010: The Year in Television

Looking back at 2010 there were a lot of highlights from television. Here’s the ones that standout as the most memorable for me:

The Lost Finale (ABC): After six years, Lost came to an end with a three hour finale that didn’t seek to solve the myriad of mysteries built up during the show’s run. Instead, the creators chose to focus on emotional closure. There are some valid criticism of the show’s six season, but overall I felt very satisfied by the way things ended. It definitely evoked some of the same feelings I had years ago reading The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Despite my own personal views on religion, I found the “spiritual” ending to not come off as hackneyed. It was also the hardest I’ve ever cried while watching a single episode of television.

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Film Review – True Grit (2010)

True Grit (2010, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

I’ve never seen the original True Grit, mainly because I am not such a big fan of John Wayne. I’ve only seen two films of his (The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). I totally get Wayne as an icon, but as an actor he seemed a little weak. So I entered the remake of True Grit with no expectations and found it to be a great western and adventure story, with enough subtext to keep me thinking for a long time. Despite advertisements, this is Hailee Steinfeld’s film. The other actors are there to support her and she does a magnificent job keeping up with the likes of Bridges and Damon.

Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is the 14 year old daughter of a man shot in cold blood by Tom Cheney (Brolin), a dim witted scoundrel. Mattie travels to the location of her father’s body under the pretense of preparing it to be sent back home, but is actually out to find a hired gun to help her track down and murder Cheney. She happens upon the grizzled federal marshal Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), a man who shoots first and asks questions later. After some convincing, he agrees to take Mattie into Choctaw territory where Cheney ran off to. Before they can depart, Texas ranger Le Boeuf (Damon) who is looking for Cheney in relation to his murder of a Texas state senator. The trio bickers and bonds as they draw closer to their prey, which in the end will test each of their resolves.

The Coens are employing their strongest tactics in this film: dialogue and character. The language of the characters is so precise and specific, and this is how they have created countless memorable and iconic characters. True Grit is a showcase for the complex figure of Mattie Ross, whom could easily become a “girl power” anachronism. Instead, through well placed pieces of dialogue, we learn about Mattie’s role in her home and the extra responsibility she has been strapped with. She is both courageous and vulnerable in a way many female characters in film rarely are. Beyond Mattie, the central and side characters all have unspoken histories that we catch glimpses of. As she and Rooster travel the wilderness they encounter characters who may have a line or two (or none at all) and are fully realized figures in this world. The Coens succeed in producing another film chock full of those things that cause the brains of film geeks like myself to salivate.

Film Review – Black Swan

Black Swan (2010, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

With Darren Aronofsky you know you will get something ambitious, whether its ambitious in its drama (Requiem for a Dream), its scope (The Fountain), or its simplicity (The Wrestler). Are they always winners? Nope, but they always bring forth a completely unique vision and experience. With Black Swan, Aronofsky is bringing together elements from all his previous work. You have the severe schizophrenic breakdown of a character, you have a hallucinatory transformations, and you have the destruction of the physical body for the sake of one’s art. The film also breaks the boundaries of genre by being both one of the best dramas and one of the best horror films of the year.

Nina Sayers (Portman) is one of the many dancers that perform at New York’s Lincoln Center. The prima ballerina of the company (Ryder) is on her way and out and the manipulative director, Thomas (Cassel) is looking for his new “little princess”. A re-interpretive staging of Swan Lake is in the works and Nina finds herself in competition with the new girl, Lily (Kunis). Lily works against the conventions of the ballerina, staying out late, dropping ecstasy, and being very laid back with her work ethic. Nina must also contend with her mother (Hershey) who is babies her daughter and attempts to mold her into the dancer she failed to be. Nina is suffering from strange abrasions on her back and is beginning to have intense nightmares about the ballet. All of this is leading down a dark and destructive path….or is she merely fighting against those who have constrained her since she was a child.

Everything about this film clicks, the performances are pitch perfect and the direction from Aronofksy hits on all cylinders. There is the return of the shaky handheld cinematography of The Wrestler that adds that vérité feel to the story. In direct contrast to the realism of cinematography there is amazing use of makeup and CG effects. The films does a great job in balancing the psychological horror, and will make you question deeply what events actually happen to Nina and which are the product of a fragmented mind. I was most impressed with how Portman manages to infantilize Nina’s behavior in very subtle and nuanced ways. She doesn’t babytalk, but the way she interacts with her mother and her director bring out her childlike mentality. Her rebellion against these forces of control is played naturally and its horrific outcome resonates in the mind for a long time after.