The Real Thing

I’m tired of the Oscars. My fascination with the movies I loved, and interest in the movies I appreciated (if not adored) is waning. Snubbery happens every year, and everybody talks about it forever. The Academy is never really all that plugged in with the best of the best, and women, minority and offbeat artists are almost always overlooked. There are so many other awards shows leading up to the Oscars—every actor in Los Angeles appears bored, bedraggled and hungover for three months solid. Worst of all: nobody gets any work done, and we forget the reason we’re all here in the first place.

too tired to care

This year, the movies that I saw fit neatly into two categories: made for the Oscars, and not made for the Oscars. I enjoyed The Imitation Game (Benedict Cumberbatch, obviously), but the sum of its parts was too obviously calibrated to hit the Academy’s sweet spots. The Imitation Game took complicated source material and bullied it into a linear, often sentimental story. I stepped back into the terrible fluorescent Cineplex lobby lighting, and most of the movie dropped right out of my head. Ditto Wild, Into the Woods—even Foxcatcher, which was more affecting, but bizarrely paced. I walked away from Foxcatcher distracted, unsettled—and a little bit hungry, for some reason.

But then, there’s Whiplash, Boyhood, Ida and Birdman—movies that are essentially love letters written by the film’s creators to their own characters. As the credits rolled, I was tempted stay put and scream rewind over and over again until I was asked to leave. I’m all about honoring movies for examining art, friendship, love and childhood in a meaningful way. But, more than anything else, I want to see more.

Frances McDormand took home this year’s Screen Actor’s Guild award for Best Actress in a TV Movie or Miniseries. In her acceptance speech, she expressed her thanks for the invite, and a sincere desire to “get some really cozy slippers, a box of See’s Nuts & Chews, hang out and watch more of our work.”

Go watch Olive Kitteridge, she said. I’m in a show at a theater up the street, also—come see that! This has been nice—now let’s get back to doing the real thing.

Frances McDormand loves what she does. She loves what other great actors, writers, directors and producers do. So do I. So do we all. That’s why we go to the movies and buy absurdly priced cable packages. And put our dumb opinions on the Internet.

The Oscars paint a shiny veneer over a the year in film, when most of the artists invited to the party have toiled and bled and cried and lost sleep and had panic attacks and gone without cake or booze for months to create a ninety-minute phenomenon that will knock our socks off. To make something that reminds us of our humanity, and celebrates it.

The audience is wider than Los Angeles’s own Illuminati. The work is the reward. This is true of almost any well-loved undertaking. The best things are those you work your butt off to achieve—so much so that you don’t really need or want or care about the accolades that come after it. I don’t want more acceptance speeches. I want more of everything else.

Also, have you seen Olive Kitteridge yet? Because seriously, you should.

–Elise

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The Boys Are Back

Justified is not coy about its heroes. When the show aired on FX in 2010, we met the unbearably gorgeous U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and knew within seconds—by the way he held himself and his general disdain for humanity—that he was the good guy that everybody loves to hate. He walked around with his signature cowboy hat, all brooding and handsome, flashing his starred Marshal’s badge everywhere, and we were like: oh. That’s who we’re rooting for.

And we did. And it was awesome.

timothy

Justified has been both a serialized story and a procedural—sometimes both in the span of a single season. Its had some unbelievably awesome criminals with their own season-length arcs, and small-fry baddies that barely got out from under Raylan’s smoking hot gaze before crumbling at his feet. Throughout, our hero has gone head-to-head with his life-long nemesis, the ultimate villain: Boyd Crowder. At odds since attending preschool together in Harlan County, season one begins with Raylan returning home and confronting Boyd—the first in a series of showdowns that would come to characterize the show. Raylan wears the white hat, Boyd wears the black hat.

boyd and timothy

In the final minutes of season five, we learned that the U.S. Marshals Service is going all-in on Boyd Crowder, hoping to nail the one-time-bank-robber-turned-drug-dealer-turned-racketeer-crime-boss with the RICO charge to end all RICO charges. But Raylan is tired—he just wants to head further south to his beloved non-wife and daughter, and leave Harlan behind for good. Raylan promises to see the Crowder case through before taking off—though not before turning Boyd’s wife, Ava (another high school buddy!) into a big-time informant. This will not end well.

While season one saw our main characters returning to and coming together in Harlan, the sixth and final season is all about getting outta dodge. Raylan’s done. Boyd will rob one more bank, then take his troubled wife and wrecked crime ring far, far away. And despite his unlawful intentions, Boyd’s utterly genuine, heartbreaking desire to get things right one last time flips the script for much of the premiere: Boyd as hero, for once.

Raylan, while certainly not the villain, is kind of—boring. He’s administering his usual fringe justice all around town—but his heart’s just not in it. Raylan is biding his time, waiting for the paperwork on his transfer to come through so that he can begin again someplace new. This, compared with a particularly moving scene between Boyd and Dewey Crowe, where both tear up remembering things as they once were, and wishing they could just “go back to the way it was.”

But then, with a gunshot and a terrifying closing shot focusing on Boyd’s face as he hovers above Ava’s sleeping form, we remember. This is a classic western-type cop show in many ways—but these characters are wicked smart, and they won’t play any nicer with us than they do with each other. Boyd is dangerous. Raylan is a dick. And both want out.

We’re better off rooting for the (innocent?) folks who stand in between the two frenemies—they’re going to need it.

hug

–Elise

Feels Like the First Time

Bryan Cranston: And the winner is…Gina Rodriguez!

Golden Globes viewers, and the world at large: ……….

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At least, that’s how I imagined things went for the people at home, when the female lead of The CW’s new show Jane the Virgin took home the coveted Best Actress in a Television Comedy award. The Hollywood Foreign Press is notorious for awarding shows in their infancy—last year Brooklyn Nine-Nine scored statues for both Andy Samberg and Most Funniest or Musicaliest Show, after only half a season. This year, shiny new Rodriguez beat out more recognizable faces like Edie Falco for Nurse Jackie and Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black. And while Rodriguez isn’t doing the best comedic acting of the bunch (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, forever and forever amen), she’s pretty damn good in a show that I, against all odds, really enjoy.

Here are the basics: Rodriguez’s character Jane is, as the title says, a mid-twenties virgin, who promised her grandmother that she’d wait until marriage. She’s accidentally inseminated while at the gynecologist, and while that’s the basic gist, there are all kinds of intertwined plots and characters and over the top moments because, oh yeah, it’s modeled on a telenovela. Complete with accented voice-over narration.

Jane-the-Virgin-pregnant-CW-fall-2014

Upon hearing the description of Jane, my reaction was, in essence, “NOPE.” But critics couldn’t stop praising the show and Rodriguez’s performance, so I caved. NPR’s Linda Holmes is the greatest peer pressurer I’ll ever know. And now, I am peer pressuring you.

JaneTheVirginGRTreviews

Here’s why I like it: Jane isn’t a preachy square or beholden to some ideal about pristine women. Gina Rodriguez is likable and magnetic and real, playing Jane with a glint in her eye. She’s in charge of her sexuality—she writes a very dirty letter to her fiancé that ends up in the wrong hands (antics!), and even at one point decides to have sex (though she reneges mid-foreplay). Her virginity is more about her loyalty to her family and the integrity of her promise than the sex itself.

The world of the show is colorful and bright, making Miami almost fairytale-esque. Its vibe is reminiscent of the cult-beloved Pushing Daises, though more grounded.

The Latin Lover-type voice-over is the star of the show. While VO is often a sign of lazy writing, Jane uses it to keep the audience reminded of all the intricate melodrama from previous episodes, and for jokes. So many jokes. Think Ron Howard in Arrested Development. The humor cuts through a plot that might otherwise be just a little too saccharine for my taste.

Also, v. v. important:

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It’s really nice to take in some pop culture featuring people of color. Women of color even! Around the holidays, I read a string of books that I enjoyed, but were all about stuffy white people. “I’m done with you, white people!” I pronounced. “You’re all boring, and you can’t jump or dance!” And then I walked into a bookstore and bought two books by authors of color that I still haven’t read. But I will! At the very least, I have the lovely women of Jane the Virgin for now.

This show isn’t for everyone. It’s a little cheesy, and is a no-holds-barred romantic comedy. But if this jaded, love-Grinch can get into it, it should be a cinch for you, starry-eyed Reader.

 

—Alison

Happily Ever After?

College flashback.

I’m in my early twenties, with a group of girls late at night, talking about monogamy, marriage and lifelong commitment—all in the context of our very limited experience, and our vague notions of what a real-world relationship (outside the confines of a class schedule and financial dependency) must look like.

Certain absolutes are proposed, adjudicated, adopted, rejected:

I would never stay with a guy who cheated on me.

I would never cheat.

I’m won’t let some guy treat me that way.

I’m definitely getting married.

No way am I getting married.

I’m not having kids.

I cannot sleep with one person for the rest of my life. Why am I even expected to?! That’s anti-feminist!

In my experience, growing up and trying with every ounce of firepower you’ve got to make a home for yourself blows absolutes out of the water. I’ve found myself willing to compromise for men who weren’t worth it, and pinning all my hopes on non-starter guys—perfectly nice boys who promised me nothing, except in my imagination. But my imagination was so vivid! And I’m so great, and it’s not like I want to get married, and why are you so scared of labels, and who really cares if you’re not ready, not ready for WHAT exactly, I don’t have my shit figured out either, okay?

The fantasy of couplehood is wonderfully delicious. It sustains you in those terrible in-between years, when you’re not totally sure what you want, but know what sucks. But finding “the one” will never be the really interesting, complicated story. The good stuff (or, the horrendously painful but often fulfilling stuff) is what comes after all that.

Recently, a great many writers, producers and filmmakers have gone there, exploring the cracks between two people after they’ve come together (which was, in fact, the easy part). Even more surprising, these movies, books and television shows have risen to the top of critic’s lists and Netflix queues alike: Boyhood, Married, Gone Girl—and, of course, Into The Woods.

Also, new from the Duplass brothers, and rounding out HBO’s comedy-centric lineup this season: Togetherness.

togetherness

This is marriage (apparently). Beautifully and horrendously intimate, governed by routine (the pilot showcases the Pierson’s Sunday Family Day at the beach), exhausting and kind of dull. Against all of these forces—add also kids, job, mortgage, a best friend who’s falling apart and a sister who’s losing her marbles—how can a relationship survive? Aren’t the odds far worse for these two than for, say, two flighty twentysomethings burdened only with commitment issues?

a happy marriage

What is happening here?!

The pilot lays the groundwork, as most pilots do, by introducing us to our characters of interest: Brett and Michelle Pierson, Tina (Michelle’s sister) and Alex (Brett’s best buddy). That’s it: the universe is small–and it works.

The first thirty minutes of the series is composed of small failures and small victories, negotiated by Brett and Michelle with a few choice glances and headshakes. Everything is quiet, understated, and circumscribed by the very real limitations of a shared life: fewer hours of sleep, fewer words for your significant other, and less time for yourself. All these two want is one date night per week, with the promise of frozen yogurt before falling into bed (and maybe a chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey to get their blood boiling).

We’ve got hints at the conflicts that will guide the season—the Pierson’s inexplicable sexlessness, Tina’s love life, Alex’s uncertain future. In some ways, the still lonely, still confused Tina and Alex represent the pre-commitment, college-type faction: hanging on to unreasonable expectations for themselves and for everyone surrounding them. Their storyline culminates in a pretty awesome scene, in which they TP Tina’s sort-of-not-really boyfriend’s house. Tellingly, the boring marrieds stay in the car, on lookout—and somehow, Michelle and Brett’s quiet looking-on is more fraught and way scarier than the actual crime taking place a few yards away.

These are real people, and they love each other—but that doesn’t fix everything. And I’ll keep watching, if only to figure out what that means. Because that could totally be me, one day.

–Elise