May Recommendations

It’s time for another instalment of me giving quick recommendations from assorted pop culture categories of things I’m currently into. These things may or may not be current, but are things that I’m currently enjoying (or have recently enjoyed) that I think you (the reader) might enjoy as well. Provided that you enjoy things that are awesome.

In the past, I’d write reviews of things that I wanted to recommend, but I don’t have as much time to write those reviews as I used to, so instead of deciding how good something is, or weighing pros and cons, and all those things a responsible reviewer does, I’m just gonna come right out and say “I like these things. They are worthwhile”, which is basically what anyone is looking for when reading a review anyway. And because blogging can (and should) be a two-way street, please feel free to leave a comment with any recommendations you’d think I’d be into.

In Music
Dark was the Night
Dark Was the Night (2009)

Sample Track: “So Far Around the Bend” – The National and Nico Muhly

Dark Was the Night is the twentieth compilation release benefiting the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. This double-album was released in mid-February, but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really started to get into it. Part of the reason for this is simple mechanics: when I listen to things on my iPod, I generally select artist first, then album. Since this is a various artists album, it doesn’t come up during my usual selection-process. But the other reason is that with 31 tracks by some 40-odd artists, it’s a mixed bag, and not everything works. But when it does work, like with The National’s contribution that you can sample above, Feist and Ben Gibbard’s collaboration “Train Song”, or Arcade Fire’s “Lenin”, which has been stuck in my head all week, it really works. So it’s definitely worth checking out, especially since the proceeds go to charity.

In Theatres
The Brothers Bloom
Director: Rian Johnson; Starring: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane

At this point, I doubt the internet needs another guy telling people to go see Star Trek, so I’ll throw my recommendation to something else (although, for the record, I enjoyed Star Trek quite a bit). I loved The Brothers Bloom when I saw it’s world premiere way back in September at the Toronto Film Festival, and have been waiting for its release ever since. It opened in limited fashion this week, and is due to open wide at the end of the month, so when you get the chance, I highly recommend you check it out. It’s bound to get lost in the all the hubbub over Terminator sequels, Pixar’s latest, and Land of the Lost, but it’s also bound to be better than at least one of those. At first glance, it doesn’t seem all that similar to director Rian Johnson’s excellent debut film Brick, in that it’s nothing like a noir take on the teen film. But when you look at it deeper, you can see a pattern that might illustrate the kind of filmmaker Johnson is, in that he’s again made a film that combines two seemingly disparate genres in a clever, stylish way. This time, he takes a film about con men, and presents it as a fairytale, resulting in an engaging, spirited, delightful film, highlighted by Rachel Weisz’s quirky performance. I look forward to seeing it again.

On Video
FNL s3
Friday Night Lights – The Complete Third Season
Director: Peter Berg; Starring: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Gaius Charles, Zach Gilford, Minka Kelly, Taylor Kitsch, Brad Leland, Adrianne Palicki, Jesse Plemons, Scott Porter, Jeremy Sumpter, Aimee Teegarden

If you didn’t catch the most recent season of Friday Night Lights when it first aired on DirecTV, or when it aired again on NBC, be sure you do now that it’s out on DVD. After a second season that was largely a disappointment despite the continued great work of the cast, Friday Night Lights experienced a renaissance with its third season, reclaiming its title as one of the best shows on TV. Given a bit more freedom (albeit with a lower budget) due to the odd agreement between NBC and DirecTV, the show was able to put aside attention-grabbing, but ill-advised plot shockers, and concentrate on what it does best: aching versimillitude and poignant character moments. If there’s a more heartfelt show on TV, I haven’t seen it (although, if a show somehow WAS more heartfelt than FNL, it’d probably be unbearably corny).

On Television
Creator: Joss Whedon; Starring: Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Olivia Williams, Fran Kranz, Tahmoh Penikett, Dichen Lachman, Enver Gjokaj, Amy Acker, Reed Diamond

Here’s the deal: if you either A) didn’t bother watching Dollhouse because you were sure that FOX would fuck up yet another Joss Whedon program and didn’t want to get attached, or B) gave up on the show after its first five middling episodes, it’s time to go back and see what you missed. I’ll admit, through the first five episodes, it was a bit of a struggle to stay with the show. It wasn’t necessarily bad (although the third ep, “Stage Fright”, was fairly bad), but it wasn’t involving enough to make watching it a priority. Episodes sat on my DVR, piling up for over a week. Then things picked up, as promised by everyone involved, with the sixth episode “Man on the Street”, and the momentum carried on through til the end of the season, with Dollhouse becoming one of my most anticipated shows of the week. The problem, of course, was the unfortunate decision to start the series with five standalone episodes. Sure, I’m not a fan of standalone TV, but I recognize that they’re usually an asset to a show trying to build a new audience. And I can see how a network could think that a show like this would be a good fit, with its ability to be one kind of show this week, and a different kind of show the next. In actuality, that’s what made it a poor choice for standalone episodes. With typical shows that reset every episode, the audience keeps coming back because either A) they love the characters and thus don’t mind seeing them do the same shit week in and week out, or B) they love the profession/task of the characters in the show and thus don’t mind seeing characters that are basically interchangeable exposition deliverers (you know, so long as they get to see weekly dead hooker theatre). With Dollhouse, the main characters and tasks change every week, so you’re asking a lot to have the audience re-invest every week if you’re not focusing on an overarching narrative and mythology. Once they started doing that, the audience was given something to latch onto, especially since overarching narrative and mythologies is what Joss Whedon does best. Forcing him to do weekly standalones is like asking Babe Ruth to bunt.

On the Net
My Twitter
Enjoy reading my thoughts, but are tired of how fucking long they tend to be? Then you might want to see what I think when limited to 140 characters or less. And no, these aren’t just glorified Facebook status updates, as I try not to use anything that would be better used as a Facebook status update. The easiest way to follow me on Twitter would be to have an account (and, hey, it’d be nice if my mix of actual followers to spam followers were more in my favour), but you can also read my latest tweets (*sigh* there’s nothing to be done about how unforgivably fey that term is, is there?) on the sidebar of this blog, or you can go ahead and add me to the RSS reader of your choice if you’re still resisting Twitter (a decision I fully support. It’s not for everybody).

Self promotion rules!

March Recommendations (2009)
April Recommendations (2009)

4 thoughts on “May Recommendations

  1. I was getting the same impression from Sherlock. Robert Downey Jr is the wrong actor to play Sherlock Holmes. Christopher Eccelston would be my choice. A suitably angular and tall Englishman, who when necessary could kick your ass but would just have his buddy Watson pull his revolver on you.

    I also like Dollhouse, and I’m personally really impressed by Tahmoh Penikett. In Battlestar Gallactica, I never found him very impressive until the last few seasons and even then he spends a lot of time having his ass handed to him. So its a bit of change seeing him kick ass and take names. Also they never really film him being very tall on BSG, so though he is almost a head taller than everyone else it doesn’t really come across on screen.

    • The show got better when it gave Ballard more to do. Because he’s one of the few characters that isn’t A) different every week, or B) utterly detestable, it way key to put his struggles more up front so the viewers had someone to guide them. Probably the most affecting thing they did all season was (SPOILERS) his bit of hate sex with Mellie when he knew what she was, and how he hated himself for it.

  2. One thing that kind of gets me with Dollhouse is that it does Buffy-style brawls, without an out for our suspension of disbelief. Buffy’s a slayer so she can take it, but everyone else on Dollhouse? Not so much.

  3. Pingback: June Recommendations « Critically Speaking

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