Category Archives: TV

Three mo’ down, only 16 left – time travel, demons, gunfights and belated returns

It’s been a while. Long time no blog. I’d love to say that various interesting things have been keeping me from telling strangers about the mundanities that make up my life, however, that’s not the case. I’ve had blogs before and they’ve never really lasted but I told myself that I’d stick it out with this one and you can’t say I ain’t trying. Well maybe you could say that but at least I’m sporadically trying. Aaaanyway, I’m here now and that’s what matters.

A few pop culture related discoveries have occurred over the past month and a bit. I’ve fallen in love with several TV shows, most of them comedies. Community. Man, what can I say about that one. I’d need to utilise caps lock to fully express my love for this unapologetic ode to popular culture but that’d be an aesthetic nightmare, not to mention annoying. I’ve started watching the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, the first season of which is called Game of Thrones. Not more than two days ago, I decided to check out Parks and Recreation, another NBC comedy series. I’ve already caught up with every episode of Community and now I’ve got to wait until September for season 3 so I needed something to fill the gap left by my newly beloved. P&R is proving to be a worthy successor so far and I hear it only gets funnier. Woody Allen is another new fixation of mine. I watched Annie Hall and immediately had to see more of his stuff. I’ve seen three of his other films since, Manhattan taking the cake. I’m going to have to do write-ups about all of these things at some point so stay tuned.

The focus of this post, would you believe, was originally going to be on the last three books I’ve read. I guess I’ve still got some time to save face so here goes. First up: Slaughterhouse-Five. This one totally floored me. Cliche alert! – this is the kind of book that can alter one’s perception of life and death. It’s subject matter is naturally depressing, anchored by the main character’s experience in a POW camp in Dresden, Germany prior to the infamous fire bombing that devastated the city during WW2. There are plenty of books out there that aim to enduce empathy in readers by using doomed, historic stories as bait. That might sound callous of me, but honestly, I feel that I have read and seen enough stories of human kindness set against the backdrop of World War 2 (ahem, I’m looking at you Markus Zusak) to understand the strength of the human spirit during times of crisis. What makes Slaughterhouse-Five so refreshing is that the World War 2 segments of the story are mere fragments of a much greater whole. It really is a batshit-insane book. I won’t spoil too much but in an attempt to nail a genre on Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, I’ll label it a darkly humourous science fiction book with historic elements. It left me feeling optimistic about life itself, a little less afraid of death and excited about the future. Yeah, I’m starting to gush but I really think that this is the most I’ve ever taken away from a book. That really is the highest praise I can give.

I retuned to the world of fantasy after my journey through space and time with Kurt Vonnegut. The Name of the Wind is the debut novel by young American author, Patrick Rothfuss. He admits it’s essentially a culmination of much of his pop-culture fixations. It’s almost as long as one of George R.R. Martin’s tomes but it kept me engaged throughout nonetheless. I felt like there may not have been enough resolution at the story’s end but I guess that’s what the sequel’s (titled The Wise Man’s Fear) for. It’s what is known as a ‘bildungsroman’. According to Wiktionary, this term is German for ‘novel of education’ or ‘novel of formation’. In essence, it refers to a story that traces a character’s growth from childhood to maturity. The Name of the Wind shares some things in common with the Harry Potter franchise. It’s central character is part of an esoteric group that practices magic at a special university and is constantly haunted by the loss of his family to an elusive and evil foe. OK, that makes it sound like a complete rip-off but there really is a lot more to it. It contains much more mature themes for one, and the way in which the story is told is familiar yet refreshing. Put simply, this is a fun fantasy experience.

Most recently, I finished reading Red Harvest by one of the pioneers of hard-boiled detective fiction, Dashiell Hammett. It was published in 1929 and it tells the story of the nameless Continental-Op, a detective hired to investigate a murder in the small American town of Personville (affectionately referred to by the locals as ‘Poisonville’). Once he solves this crime, Elihu Wilsson, the de-facto king of Poisonville and father of the murder victim, hires the Op to sort out the escalating gang wars between men he himself hired to take care of a labor dispute. The Continental Op accepts however, justice for Elihu Wilsson is the last thing he has on his mind. What makes this book interesting is that it’s based on the author’s real life experiences as an operative for the Continental Detective Agency based in San Francisco. It comes across as formulaic at times but this is mostly due to the fact that it’s form has been imitated so often since it’s publication. It just goes to show how influential Red Harvest really was. Just don’t expect too much substance.

Well, it’s good to be back. See y’all later. I’ll try and come back a bit sooner this time!

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Filed under Books, Comedy, The twenty five book challenge of twenty eleven, TV

TOOT TOOT! I have a list of my favourite pop culture road trips and I’m not afraid to use it

Here is me performing an affirmative hand gesture

Since yesterday, I have legally been able to drive a car on my own. It’s a great feeling. The driving test itself was pretty nerve-wracking: every mistake I made, however small, seemed like an instant fail to me. Then thirty minutes later, the instructor was all like, ‘OK, I’m passing you today,’ as if he plans to test me again some time in the future and fail me.

Yeah, so I feel liberated and all that. Blahdi blah blah. I was planning on writing a blog post if I managed to get my license;  however, not just a simple ‘soap-box’ rant. In order to awaken the adventurous beast that lies dormant somewhere within me, I’m going to compile a list of my favourite road-trips in pop culture history. A couple of my choices are so obvious that I give you permission to laugh derisively to yourself.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Dean and Sal

An absolute classic written by one of the pioneers of the ‘beat’ movement, Kerouac’s book is the kind that awakens a teenager from an apathetic slumber by blowing several loud saxophone notes in his/her ear. It’s an almost entirely autobiographical account of several years of his life; with alternate names used to avoid accusations of libel. Kerouac is Sal Paradise, a young beatnik living in New York City, itching to go and discover America after meeting a friend of his pal (Carlo Marx/Allen Ginsberg) called Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady). Throughout the story, Paradise and Moriarty form a lifelong bond born from their adventures on the road. They wind up everywhere from San Francisco to Mexico City. There are many quirky characters that they meet along their way, each influencing the pair (particularly Sal) in one way or another. These include Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs), a sage-like drug addict, and The Ghost of the Susquehanna (as Sal dubs him), an old hobo whom Paradise meets while hitching his way west. Sal Paradise and particularly Dean Moriarty have become cult icons. Dean is anti-authority and anti-establishment. Sal is in awe of his seemingly pure freedom. Dean’s laidback lifestyle, however, comes at a cost as you’ll find out upon reading the book.

On the Road is my first choice for this list (although it’s really in no particular order) because I think that the ideal cultural depiction of a road-trip is one in which the ultimate destination itself is not necessarily just a city but an existential awakening. Sal’s journey in On the Road teaches him a great deal about himself. Jack Kerouac managed to successfully capture the essence of what we know as a ‘road-trip’. 

Dumb and Dumber

Lloyd and Harry

OK so it’s pretty ridiculous going from one of the foundations of modern literature to this. I’ve had a special place in my heart for this movie since I was really young. It’s immature, cringe-worthy and totally hilarious.

Lloyd (Jim Carrey in his best role) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are two lower-class dimwits struggling to make ends meet. When Lloyd witnesses a beautiful woman drop a briefcase at the airport he convinces Harry to set out on the road with him to track down his new object of affection. What follows is a series of increasingly embarassing and very funny scenarios as the two make their way to snowy Aspen (‘Where the beer flows like wine, where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano’) and the woman of Lloyd’s dreams.

Lloyd and Harry’s journey in Dumb and Dumber doesn’t really teach them that much (they’re dumb after all), but they do learn that a friendship as strong as their own can never really fade. Any two people that still like each other after one drives them both halfway across the country in the wrong direction, are pretty much destined to be friends forever.

This Is Not the Way Home – The Cruel Sea

This song by the whiskey-soaked blues-rock band from Sydney doesn’t tell a detailed story but it manages to capture the experience of a young male’s Australian road trip pretty damn well. Everything from barren landscapes and bullet-ravaged road signs to downing six packs of beer and throwing up in a men’s restroom. The drums gallop along aimlessly while the guitars weave in and out of the song like snakes by the roadside. Whenever I listen to it, I can almost feel the sun ruthlessly beating down on my neck and that alone would have earned this song a spot on my list. It’s a killer blues-romp as well so that doesn’t hurt either.

Bart, his friends and a creepy hitchhiker

Bart on the Road (The Simpsons)

This is by no means one of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons, but I think the concept of four ten year olds concocting an alibi that involves a ‘grammar rodeo’ in Canada and hitting the road after one of them gets a fake ID is pretty memorable.

This is Bart’s episode through and through. My favourite moment (off-topic alert) is when Bart reads the title of a pamphlet outloud in class: ‘Go to Work With Your Parents Day?’ Suddenly, Principal Skinner answers him over the PA: ‘Yes, Go to Work With Your Parents Day.’ Gets me every time.

The actual road trip portion of this episode is naturally far-fetched but some aspects of it ring true; namely the dynamic between Bart, Milhouse, Nelson and Martin. They argue over their destination (Martin suggests a tour of the Bridges of Madison County) and the little things (Milhouse insists that they stop to buy a cup upon discovering that their car has a cup-holder). It’s actually a pretty accurate depiction of how a car full of young folks would behave.

Like many road-trips, Bart’s does not end like he’d hoped. Shit goes wrong pretty regularly but he winds up safely at home (via Hong Kong) by the time the credits roll.

I’m sure there are many more great examples I could have crammed into this list but the ones I’ve chosen are those that make up the image of a ‘road-trip’ in my mind. I’ve never really seen cars as an object of pleasure; more a simple means of transport. All I wanna do is get where I wanna go without having a back-seat driver every time I get behind the wheel. Now that I can do that, it’s just a matter of figuring out where I’d like to go…

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Filed under Animated TV, Blues-Rock, Books, Comedy, Film, Music, Personal, TV

Why I love Batman – superhero pseudo-psychology!

Batman: The Animated Series

Batman. His sheer awesomeness cannot possibly be contained by words. I have loved Batman for as long as I can remember. My third birthday cake was modelled after the chiseled visage of his head. Almost all of my childhood fears revolved around his arch-enemies. Sure, there were stages which I have tried to erase from my mind on many occasions, where I replaced Batman with a new hero/christ-figure. Fred Flinstone, Action-Man, Stretch Armstrong, Hercules from the Disney movie. None of these, however, lasted. Everything begins and ends with Batman.

I often wonder about the psychology behind children’s obsessions. Why is one little boy fascinated by racing cars and another by dinosaurs? Why did Batman appeal to me so much and more importantly why do I still enjoy his escapades? Of course, Batman’s badassery is hard to resist for most young boys but surely his appeal goes depper than that.

I was introduced to Batman via his early ’90s representation in the dope-as-fuck, Batman: The Animated Series. This show was really dark for a kid’s cartoon. It wasn’t only made for a young male audience, but mature fans as well. The opening sequence that kicked off every episode is still great to watch today. It suceeded in capturing the essence of the series in little more than sixty seconds. This short clip is most likely the first exposure I had to the character.

That music. Danny Elfman (the composer of The Simpsons theme and countless other recognisable film and TV themes) created a menacing and iconic musical backdrop. It’s righteous in just about every sense of the word, as is the entire minute that makes up the sequence. We see police blimps (!), faceless, shadowy bank robbers, an explosion, the Batmobile, Batman, guns (which were rarely allowed to be shown in children’s shows twenty years ago), batarangs and swift rooftop justice. The final moment is the silhouette of Batman standing atop a skyscraper, suddenly illuminated by a fork of lightning. That image has always stuck with me and seems to be what I always see when I hear the word, ‘Batman’.

Batman/Bruce Wayne’s character was explored in many interesting ways in this series. Batman’s enemies often seem to challenge the darker places of his psyche and this is one of the keys to the character’s lasting appeal in all forms of media. For instance, The Joker (impeccably voiced by Luke Skywalker AKA Mark Hamill!) is the embodiment of anarchy and chaos, whereas Batman represents order and justice. This creates a ying/yang relationship and forms the heart of the Batman mythology. The Scarecrow brings out Batman’s fear of failure, Two-Face provides the hero with a glimpse at what his dual identity could become if he sacrifices his morality too often; the list goes on. B: TAS really nailed the characterisation of Batman and his villains along with the tone employed by the artists/animators. It is said that rather than drawing on white sheets of paper, the art team would use black to create the darker look that the series is known for. I highly recommend anyone who is interested in the character of Batman after seeing Christopher Nolan’s recent films to watch Batman: The Animated Series. After all, Nolan’s interpretations of Batman and his enemies are clearly very inspired by those of B: TAS.

Batman sees those secret folders on your computer

The creators of the series must be credited with introducing Batman to a whole new generation. So what was it about this series that drew me to the character and his world? It’s very hard to find an answer off the top of my head. I can’t really remember what motivated me in my first years of life. Who can? There isn’t much ambition or drive at that stage of anyone’s life. It’s all about food, fun and affection; at least it was for me. Like a lot of great entertainment, Batman: The Animated Series (and Batman in general) is pure escapism. I think Batman just came along at the right time in my case. He became my hero and I was in awe of him. Not just because he could beat the shit out of baddies with ease and had access to an array of gadgets that would make Bond blush but also because of the way he dealt with his problems; his grief and sadness in particular. The death of a parent is the worst fear of many children, me being one of them. Batman became a masked vigilante as a result of the death of his parents at the hands of a petty criminal. I think this stuck with me. Seeing someone,  even if they were just a work of fiction, turn their fears into righteous vengeance was the coolest thing ever for child-rob.

I dreamt of being able to fly when I was younger. The Batman of the animated series appeared to be able to fly at times which I thought was the epitome of uber-cool. In several episodes though, he fell from the sky or betrayed his inability to fly without the assistance of gadgets. This was when Batman seemed at his most human in my eyes. It was as though he’d let me down. What’s a superhero if he can’t even fly? I kept watching though. The reason that Batman is so well-loved is often attributed to his lack of superpowers and the relative amount of ass he is able to kick without them. His lack of a real ability to fly eventually made him morereal to me and made me realise that heroes can exist in real life, even if on a slightly smaller scale than Batman himself.

Yeah, that's why I was scared of him...

There were always particular Batman villains that haunted me in my sleep. For some reason, I was terrified of Clayface. I vaguely remember an episode where Batman fought Clayface on top of/in/near a speeding train. I had nightmares after watching that. A fear of the unknown has always plagued me and I think that Clayface may have embodied that. He could morph himself into just about anything which enabled him to sneak up on Batman and pull off big heists and whatnot. Maybe I thought that my bed would suddenly turn into Clayface while I was asleep and scare the living shit out of me; I really don’t know.

Two-Face was the villain I was the most scared of, however. It wasn’t the B: TAS incarnation but Tommy Lee Jones’  in Batman Forever. I have still not seen that film from beginning to end. The reason? Because Two-Face is in the opening scene. I cannot for the life of me give you any psychological reasoning for the crippling fear I suffered as a result of seeing that opening scene. After refreshing my memory just now via YouTube, the scene involved Two-Face deciding the fate of a bank’s security guard by flipping his trademark coin. The scene is pretty much tension-free (as opposed to a very similar scene in No Country For Old Men, a film which also stars TLJ coincidentally), but nevertheless, I can see why I was scared of it. Tommy Lee plays a great bad guy. That slow reveal of the disfigured half of his face is memorable and he has the gravelly voice down pat. I think I was just exposed to a guy that knows how to play a scary villain for the first time in my short life. As simple as that.

Batman satisfied my morbid curiosity as a child. We’ve all got a bit of it in us. I was scared of the dark, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of the death of my loved ones, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of the unknown, yet I loved Batman. I was scared of just about everything ever, yet I loved Batman; and still do to this day. He’s timeless, representing the darkness that lies within all of us. It chooses to show itself at strange moments. But it’s there whether we like it or not. The character of Batman shows that good things can come from the bad and this ultimately gives children and adults hope. I guess that’s why I still love him. But again, the badassery, the gadgets…

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My love affair with Freaks and Geeks plus 5 reasons why it’s so great

The main cast

The cast of Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks is Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s seminal coming of age comedy classic set in an American high school in 1980. It follows the everyday lives of two groups of social outcasts: the Freaks and the Geeks. Recently, I’ve been trying to make time to watch an episode of it each night. I’d heard so many good things about it that I felt I was doing myself a disservice by not watching it. The entire first and sadly, only season of the show has been sitting on my hard-drive for months now. Not more than a month ago, I bought a brand new laptop computer and decided that a great way of christening it would be to watch some quality television shows on it’s sleek 15″ screen. I carted all the precious stuff from my previous troublesome notebook over to the new machine and hey, presto! I was all set. Naturally, I could withstand the allure of F&G no longer and so my love affair with the show began. Here’s the show’s magnificent opening titles.

Pilot episodes can sometimes be a drag and not entirely indicative of what the show’s writers have planned for the series. Freaks and Geeks however, pretty much had me hooked from the get-go. The show opens with a jock and cheerleader couple having an apparently meaningful conversation on the bleachers (or as us Aussies like to unimaginatively call them: stands) of a school football field. They discuss the troubles that the future of their relationship faces and their exchange ends with a heart-warming (or alternatively bile-inducing) declaration of love from the guy. Just when I was beginning to think, ‘Hang on a second. This isn’t right. I don’t want any of this Dawson’s Creek shit,’ the camera moves down through the bleachers as Van Halen’s ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’ kicks in. We are introduced to the always awesome James Franco as bad-boy Daniel Desario, Seth Rogen (yes, frickin’ Seth Rogen) as Ken Miller and Jason Segel (Marshall from How I Met Your Mother) as Nick Andopolis, all hangin’ where they can’t be seen. These guys are the ones that make up the majority of the eponymous Freaks, a clique of grey-matter deprived stoners. The opening dialogue between them is beautiful as it dangles each of their primary personality traits like carrots in front of the viewer, never giving you enough to write them off as stereo-types (which for the most part, they aren’t).

Then comes the Geeks. Three freshman year kids that stick together like glue: Sam Weir (John Francis Daley), Neil Schweiber (Samm Levine) and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr). We see them getting picked on and threatened by a group of douche-bags only to be saved by Sam’s sister, Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), the main character of the show. I have developed an embarassingly school-girl like crush on Lindsay as I’ve progressed through the series, like many others I’m sure. She is always sandwiched between both the Freaks and Geeks but what the show is really all about is her trying to break free from stigmatisation.

After the pilot episode, I was in love, plain and simple. I feel like I have a personal connection with the show but I’m almost certain that this was the exact intention of the creators/writers. It is meant to resonate with almost all teenagers and anyone who has ever been a teenager. Here are five reasons why Freaks and Geeks is so damn great:

1. IT’S REAL

Freaks and Geeks doesn’t sugar-coat things. It tackles problems that almost all teenagers have/will face at one time or another, whether it be sexuality, drugs or clashes with authority. We don’t see everything of course as the show wasn’t designed to confront but to instead present these situations in a believable and often fun fashion. Just because it’s fun, however, it doesn’t mean some of the issues that the characters have to deal with won’t stick with you.

2. IT’S DIDACTIC BUT NOT PREACHY

Sam Weir in a deadly dodgeball showdown

This is almost an extension of number one. Freaks and Geeks is fantastic to just sit down and lose yourself in without having to think too much. In this way, it’s almost like one of those shows you’d come home to watch when you were a kid, exhausted after school. Like some of that after school programming, there’s a lot to be learnt from F&G (if you’re starting to get turned off, please bear with me). I’m not talking about spelling or arithmetic but real life lessons. I get the feeling that if I’d have watched this show when I was fifteen, life may have been a bit different for me today. Most of these lessons are of the ‘what not to do’ variety but they are nevertheless relevant. The best thing about the show’s educational quality is that it never seems like preaching. You’ll learn but you won’t even know it.

3. INTEGRITY, AHOY!

The cancellation that Freaks and Geeks suffered at the turn of the 21st century still smarts for many fans. I believe one of the many causes for this was the integrity of the show’s producers/writers. They never stooped so low as to include pointless gross-out humour or total eye-candy cast members to attract a wider teenage audience (ironically, this is probably the most mature work Judd Apatow has put his name to). This was a story about growing up in the real world. It’s funny, smart and touching. No wonder it was cancelled.

4. BREEDING GROUND FOR THE STARS OF TODAY

Judd Apatow has become a comedic force of nature in the film industry over the past ten years. His directing credits include The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and his producing credits have now reached a ridiculous number which includes Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers. Judd Apatow is no longer just a prominent name; Judd Apatow is a brand. It could be argued that Freaks and Geeks essentially created and defined the comedy climate of the ’00s.

Shia Labeouf

The cast of Freaks and Geeks have mostly gone onto very successful careers. A couple of them have even defined the past decade like Apatow. James Franco is a big Hollywood name now. This is pretty amazing when you consider his humble beginnings as the slacker-stoner, Daniel Desario. Seth Rogen is the biggest name in comedy this side of Will Ferrell nowadays and his role as Ken in F&G is just about the smallest of the main cast members. Then wehave Jason Segel who is just establishing himself in Hollywood now, having starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You Man, and of course in TV’s How I Met Your Mother. Sadly, Linda Cardellini who plays Lindsay never really rose to stardom, mostly having small parts in films and some regular stints on other shows such as E.R. This is disappointing as she’s arguably the most talented actor of the whole bunch.

On a fairly irrelevant note: Shia LaBeouf even pops up in an episode!

5. MOTHERFLIPPIN’ CULTURAL FLASHBACKS

Freaks and Geeks is set in 1980. The Freaks listen to Van Halen and Rush while the Geeks make constant reference to sci-fi films such as The Empire Strikes Back. Nick (Jason Segel) is constantly grieving over the recent death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, Sam’s (John Francis Daley) bedroom door is plastered with a huge poster of Steve Martin when he was cool and Bill (Martin Starr) often struggles to hide his love for the trashy show Dallas. The school’s gym teacher is even played by Thomas F. Wilson! As in Biff from the Back to the Future films.

I’m still only halfway through the series but I’m taking it nice and slow, watching one episode each night as if I’m savouring a fine glass of vintage wine. If you haven’t seen Freaks and Geeks yet, I urge you to go and do so. You won’t regret it and you might even learn a thing or two (I’ll shut up now)!

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