Double Feature Sunday: American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks

[Editor's Note: This was supposed to be written months ago but I'm just now getting around to it. That's why it's not Sunday when it's being posted. Whatevs.]

Hollywood seems to have this love/hate relationship with films based on true events. On one hand, they love making them. Reality provides us with stories that writers couldn’t make up in their wildest dreams and audiences automatically get a movie they can invest in because it really happened. They’re basically witnessing history.

On the other hand, reality doesn’t always fit the traditional three act structure most movies adhere to. The heroes may not be heroic enough nor the villains villainous enough, or it might be missing some critical action beats and suspense. And so in the process of making a “better” picture, details get smudged and the truth gets bent.

I try to accept those taken liberties, just as long as the story itself isn’t whitewashed beyond comprehension. Little did I know this philosophy was going to be pushed to its limit this week.

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American Hustle follows a pair of mid-level con artists who end up working for an ambitious FBI agent in an effort to save their own skins. As they work to expose corrupt politicians and mob connections, they all begin to find they’re in way over their heads.

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Saving Mr. Banks chronicles the struggle of screenwriters, musicians, and Walt Disney himself to acquire the rights to the Mary Poppins film from the story’s eccentric owner. Enduring her nagging and nitpicking, they discover what the character means to her and how deeply personal it is.

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Broad Generalizations

Women are complicated. At least that’s what they tell me.

It’s Valentine’s Day, which means the internet will be filled with equal parts sappy romantic gestures and not-so-secretly bitter observations about said gestures. The singles portion of the population will be forced at some point in the day to ponder where they’ve gone astray in their quest to swap DNA: women will wonder where the good guys have gone whilst the men lament their inability to understand the gentler gender. For my part, I’ll be embracing the misery by watching some terrible movies. Maybe Twilight. For science.

In truth, I like to think I have a better grasp on what goes on inside women’s heads than most guys. Sure I can count my ex-girlfriends on one penis, but I’ve had enough platonic female friends (their choice) and older sisters (parents’ choice) to know how they think. Notice I say “how” and not “why”. There will never be an answer to the latter.

I’ve done my best to distill the information into this easily digestible post, but be aware that as the title suggests, these don’t apply to all girls. Just most of them.

Women Don’t Rank Things

Quick, name your top 5 U.S. Presidents.

If you’re a guy, odds are you spouted off some combination of Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, Wheelchair Roosevelt, and either JFK or Clinton for their allegendary lady prowess. If you’re a girl, you probably named Lincoln and Washington, mumbled one that’s still alive, then trailed off and changed the subject. It has nothing to do with interest in history or politics (okay maybe a little). Girls just don’t rank things and guys rank literally everything from their favorite pro athletes to their most satisfying dumps.

It all makes sense. According to an evolutionary study that I just made up, males have been programmed to compete with each other until they establish who’s the Alpha and who’s the Beta and who’s the Cera so on and so on… I don’t actually know the Greek alphabet. And we apply this hierarchy mentality to everything. Shirts I never wear are at the bottom of the drawer, food I eat most of is at the front of the fridge, and kitchenware I use often is still on the stove. Because why would I bother washing it and putting it up when I’m just going to use it tomorrow?

For females, it’s much simpler: there are girls they like and girls they don’t. If Mean Girls taught me anything, it’s that the Queen Bee isn’t necessarily the dominant girl as much as she is the group’s social compass for what to love and what to hate. That carries over to their stuff too. Ever wonder why girls go berserk for a walk-in closet? It’s because they like all their clothes and like being able to see all the things they like at once. Also it means being able to store and care for items according to their individual needs.

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New Year’s Resolutions 2013

In 2012, I set a bunch of incredibly easy New Year’s Resolutions for myself. Somehow I still failed about half of them. So this past year, I tried something new. I came up with a handful of Resolutions, but I kept them almost entirely to myself. The idea was, if I am my own biggest critic, then if I mess up, then I will be harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be.

Well the year is over, so here are my goals from the past year and how I did.

1. Be Healthier

A long time ago, I noticed in his wedding pictures my dad was as rail-thin as I have been my whole life. Being pretty insensitive at the time, I asked him when it all went downhill. He restimated around 27. Ever since then, I’ve had that magical number in the back of my head as the time when my metabolism would take the proverbial dive. I’d have to stop being such a slob or deal with the consequences like most human beings.

This took the form of “Health Kick 2013″ which got off to a roaring start. I bought better groceries, minimized junk food, and worked out six days out of the week for nearly five months. Once summer camp started, it was impractical to keep up the same regimen, but I chose the healthier foods from what was provided and got plenty of exercise from the every day rigors of the job. The crash came once summer ended.

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Remedial Community 101

If every show currently on television were going to be cancelled tomorrow and I could only save one, it would be ‘Game of Thrones’. If I could save two, the other would be ‘Agents of SHIELD’. But if I could save three, the third would undoubtedly be perpetual underdog ‘Community’.

The Study Group… and Chang

Not to be a pompous ass, but I’m going to be a pompous ass and say most people don’t seem to get Community‘s humor. It can be heavy on meta-jokes that rely on viewers being familiar with other movies or tv shows, and admittedly some episodes (and more recently, seasons) are weaker than others. To make matters worse, there are enough running jokes that depend on your continued viewership to make ‘Arrested Development’ jealous. The result is a show that tends to cater to its own narrow demographic of media-savvy fanatics and not much else. It’s not an easy show to jump into late and be able to fully enjoy, and with four seasons and nigh 100 episodes in the books, it’s not likely to increase its following by enough to ensure a sixth season.

To their credit, they’re trying to address the issue. They’ve brought back the original show runner Dan Harmon, who they dumped unceremoniously after season three in favor of the notoriously hard to work with Chevy Chase (who is himself gone now), and they’re approaching the new season with a tweaked concept and a re-pilot of sorts. They’re trying to let anyone can jump on board come January 2. Still, the people most likely to keep watching are those who are attached to the characters and familiar with the show’s tropes.

In an attempt to recruit more viewers, I have sifted through and hand-selected 8 episodes of Community for potential new fans. These aren’t necessarily the best episodes or even my favorites (okay some are), but they’ll give you a taste of what the show has to offer that others don’t, introduce you to the hilarious character dynamics, and get you primed for what’s sure to be an epic Season 5. All in 3 hours or less.

So put down the ‘Breaking Bad’. The show’s over and you’re still a loser for not keeping up. It’ll keep until summer.

1. Pilot, Season 1 Episode 1

[Editor's note: click the titles to watch. I made it that easy.]

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As with any good story, you have to start at the beginning. Pilots are designed to sell networks on the continued viability of the show, and as a result, they tend to be overloaded with information, depict easily-distinguishable generic characters, or present high production values that drop steeply in following episodes. Community commits none of these trope crimes.

Sure, it starts out simple enough. Jeff the disgraced former lawyer is attracted to Elizabeth Shue-lookalike Britta and uses oddball Abed to get the info he needs to break the ice. She needs help in Spanish so he tells her he has a study group, not knowing Abed has recruited Annie (the pretty, driven girl), Troy (the cocky former athlete), Shirley (the divorced mother), and Pierce (the old rich, possibly racist guy) to join as well.

If that all sounds cliche, it is. For the first few minute. With no desire to actually be in a study group, Jeff prods them into blasting past the niceties and airing their dirty laundry. It only takes two scenes to see there’s more to each of them than meets the eye. But the frenzy he’s whipped them into turns Britta off and he has to calm them back down to win her back over. He does so with a deftly precise speech, which will be one of the show’s signatures for years to come.

And just like that, the smartest comedy on tv was born.

Quotent Quotables: “Woah, you just wrinkled my brain.”

2. Physical Education, Season 1 Episode 17

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Though there are a lot of great episodes with their semi-iconic moments between the pilot and ‘Physical Education’, this one is the best at capturing the show’s bread and butter while showing off the peanut butter, jelly, ham, and cheese as well (don’t try to figure out which is which, it’ll be awkward for everyone).

Jeff is thrilled to be taking a billiards class so he can show off his style while the rest of the group tries to set up Abed with a potential secret admirer. Things go awry when the billiards coach wants Jeff to wear gym shorts instead of his leather jacket and designer jeans, and the group finds Abed’s usual antics to be… undateable. Hilarity, obviously, ensues.

If the series has a foundation, it’s Jeff’s fragile ego and staunch resistance to learning lessons (while accidentally learning lessons) and the group rallying around Abed to make themselves feel better. Both are on full display here. It also sets the standard for Greendale’s endless supply of absurd “professors” who provide ample opportunities for guest stars.

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5 Things I’m Sick of Reading on Facebook

Opinions are like assholes, in more ways than one. There was a time when people could keep their scents to themselves and those in the immediate vicinity, but then along came social media like a megaphone for butts and suddenly everyone’s blasting their e-romas across the globe.

A normal megaphone for some

A normal megaphone for some

Horrifying simile aside, it’s not so bad until they congregate and decide to draw lines in the digital sand. We’ve all seen those little pictures pop up on our Facebook feeds making blanket statements in Impact font. Those innocuous little doodads used to make funny observations about cats and ridicule celebrities, but they’ve been twisted into beacons for gathering thousands of like-minded b-holes under one pixelated banner.

There is a silver lining, though. Their openness with everyone saves you from the awkward silence that follows the revelation that you may, in fact, hate them. But sometimes for your own sanity, you have to let people know how much they stink.

These are the assholes I’m tired of smelling.

1. “I think girls look better without make-up.”

There’s this fantastic movement going on right now to change the public perception of “beauty”. People are sick of advertisers telling them they should aspire to look like those rail-thin models when it’s neither genetically possible nor physically practical to eat nothing and have a normal job that doesn’t involve old dudes taking pictures of their semi-nudity. Slowly but surely, the public is warming to the idea that beauty can be found in imperfections. And then there’s make-up.

In a desperate attempt to escape the friend-zone, “sensitive” guys will often post something akin to, “I don’t like when girls wear make-up. I like natural beauties.” It’s a thinly-veiled plot to appear progressive and forward-thinking because chicks are into that crap. But what they’re really saying is, “I like girls who are beautiful without make-up.” Well, no shit.

I also like it when they smell like rainbows and glow like sunshine. If it's not too much trouble.

I also like it when they smell like rainbows and glow like sunshine — if it’s not too much trouble.

Invasive surgical procedures non-withstanding, we can’t really change the face they’re born with. Until science finds a way to cherry-pick genetics (and grants me my tiger-otter-chameleon sidekick) we’re stuck working with what we’ve got. Sometimes that’s a complexion that turns heads in a rainstorm; sometimes it’s a mug only a mother could love. Begrudgingly. No matter where they fall in the Punnett square, the reality is that people just look better with make-up.

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Double Feature Sunday: The Family Stone and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I rewatch some of my favorite movies every year. Part of what makes them my favorites is the layers and nuance. No matter how many times I watch them, there’s always something I never noticed before. It could be anything, from a plot-driven wardrobe change to a prophetic set decoration in the background. But the main reason I do it is because revisiting the stories gives me the same nostalgic comfort as the smells and sounds of my parents’ house, no matter where I am.

I save a number of movies for the winter holidays, chiefly because they’re snowy and holiday-ish. Since it’s the first time I’ve sat down with them this season, so I went with two of my absolute favorites.

The Family Stone is about an uptight woman who goes home with her boyfriend for Christmas, meeting his rambunctious, tightly-knit family for the first time. He plans to propose to her, but he needs his family’s (more specifically, his mother’s) approval so he can give her his great-grandmother’s ring.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind focuses on a quiet man who is having his recent ex-girlfriend erased from his memory though a purposely dubious scientific process. He’s asleep during the procedure, but as he relives each moment with her in reverse-chronology, he realizes he doesn’t want to lose these memories after all.

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A Tale of True TV

They say everything happens for a reason.

If by that they mean that things happen which cause other things which eventually somewhere down the line causes something of note, yes, they do happen for a reason. But if they mean every little action happens with the intent of one day causing something at least tweet-worthy, well that’s simply not true.

But every once in a while, something magical happens — against all logic and reason, in the face of overwhelming odds, fate sees fit to put two things together as though they were meant to be.

Some people call it destiny. Some call it coincidence. Some call it luck. Me? I just call it right.

This is the story of how I was a Nielsen household.

It Was the Best of Times

I have a Bachelor of Arts in RTVF. That fancy acronym stands for Radio, Television, Film. While that sounds like I should be some kind of media guru, what it actually means is I’m a Film major who is vaguely aware that the other two exist. I only took as many Radio and TV courses as was necessary to fill my degree’s requirements, which with my inability to register for classes on time was several.

This one semester I thought it was probably a good idea to learn about Film Law, since copyrights and permits and all that are half the battle in production. But the class was long-filled and I really needed to be considered a full-time student, so I took Media Sales instead.

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If I wrote it: X-men Apocalypse

So Bryan Singer just announced that the next X-men film will drop in 2016 and deal with one of their most infamous and powerful villains to date — Apocalypse.

This set all my sensibility alarms off. The X-men movie franchise hasn’t quite recovered from the series of bumbling, painfully mediocre movies since The Last Stand tried (and failed) to handle the Dark Phoenix Saga. The upcoming Days of Future Past looks to be attempting to right the ship and bring the franchise into a new era of continuity and greatness, but ready to tackle Apocalypse? No way.

For those of you who don’t know, the Age of Apocalypse story is based on an alternate universe where Professor X was killed and Magneto became the leader of the X-men. The world’s first mutant En Sabah Nuhr (the real name of Apocalypse) rose to power and essentially became Marvel’s mutant Hitler, adhering to the mantra “Survival of the Fittest” and determined to eliminate all inferior lifeforms, chiefly humans. Magneto and the X-men were the main rebel group, though there were others who also played their parts. It was a long, intricate, epic take on how things could have turned out in a world without Charles Xavier.

It goes without saying, it needs to be handled carefully and with respect to the source material. Bringing it to screen in less than 3 years time? Forget it. Not possible. I was so disturbed by the idea that I had to take a walk (and it’s below freezing in Texas right now). I took that time to really think about where I want my life to go and the best way to handle the news, so I took a deep breath and I started thinking. If this movie is inevitable, how can it possibly be done right?

Here’s what I came up with:

Days of Future Past will run it’s course, not really taking much from the comics except the time travel (maybe Storm getting cooked by a Sentinel for good measure). The climatic battle in the Past pits Young Charles and Erik working together once more to protect the President from malfunctioning Sentinels. Meanwhile in the Future, the Old X-men defend Old Wolverine’s body from a Sentinel assault in hopes he can right the Past in time to save them. They have a contingency plan, however, to utilize Blink’s mutant powers to time travel themselves to an alternate universe where they can try again. The battle in the Past reaches a fever pitch and…. Young Charles dies.

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No Shave November: Week Four

I didn’t make it.

Midnight struck on November 30th and I was still four beards short. While the holiday rush played a small part in my inability to make up lost ground, the awful truth is, I had plenty of time Saturday night and found myself completely over it. If Week 1 was dipping my toes in the water, Week 2 wading in slowly, and Week 3 learning to swim, the final week has been a desperate slapping at the water in an attempt to stay afloat.

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so by the home stretch this should have been second nature. Problem is, I’ve spent 27 years putting things off until the last possible, moment, and no 3 week diligence is going to change that.

But enough musing of failures. Onto the train wreck.

Day Twenty-Two: hobo

Day Twenty-Two: hobo

In the continued effort to catch up, this was the result of filling in the Gamekeeper gaps. At one point I thought this was going to be the 5 0′clock shadow, but simulating stubble is really freaking hard to do.

I’ve mentioned before that my hair is really thick and straight, which means the shorter it gets, the thicker and straighter it seems. Cutting strands into pieces creates a veritable storm of little double-pointed daggers flying every which way. You can forget about getting them to spread out evenly.

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Day Twenty-Three: muttonchops

Fun fact: sideburns were originally called “burnsides” after Ambrose Burnside, a general in the Civil War who has some sweet ass muttonchops. We honor him now by calling both styles by completely different names. Turns out he was kind of a screw up who wasted a lot of the North’s resources, so don’t feel too bad for him.

There is something inherently friendly about muttonchops. Like the person sporting them doesn’t have an angry bone in their body. Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead fame seems like one raw mother in name and description, but take one look at the guy and you’d swear he’s that favorite uncle who always greets you with a noogie and a slap on the back. Sure there’s a chance he’s murdered the crap out of some people, but at least he’s on your side.

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No Shave November: Week Three

I’m still behind. So let’s get right to it.

Day Fifteen: chinstrap

Day Fifteen: chinstrap

To avoid further agitating my upper lip, I steered clear mustaches altogether for a day. It helped my burning skin, but not my pride. I think I might have stated previously that the chin tuft made me feel creepy. This one was like that times twenty.

I was just going to take the picture and take it off, but decided to go for a jaunt down the street on my longboard first. I’m not sure if it was the board or the beard, but everyone I passed gave me the worst looks. I don’t blame them.

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