Endless videotaping quest – “Stay vertical and don’t get shredded”

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Recently saw a film, 1000 Times Good Night, set mostly in Ireland (though it was technically a Norwegian film), and U2’s drummer Larry Mullen, Jr played a bit part.

Check this out – a little clip of the movie but also Mullen on a Norwegian talk show. Is this NOT the dorkiest thing you’ve ever seen? The film was good, if a bit preachy, and showcased the boundless talent of Juliette Binoche (and featured Game of Thrones’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Orphan Black’s Maria Doyle Kennedy). Mullen was an unexpected bonus. It’s not his first acting gig, but it’s the first one I had seen.

His surprise appearance triggered intense memories of youth and the perils of waiting for desired – and rare – content to appear on TV and attempting to videotape it before it was too late. It’s funny how these long hit-or-miss quests to capture videos ruled my sleepless nights, drove so much of my activity, caused me to invest so much in VHS technology. Never in my wildest dreams back then would I have dreamt that I could go to a computer, type something into a search engine and immediately find exactly the video I eagerly and desperately sought, along with hundreds of other similar videos. Oh, technology, how you have changed us.

This sense was triggered again when I saw footage of a recent U2 concert in which they played “Two Hearts Beat As One” – something they had not played live, according to them, in a quarter of a century. I have recently gone back to early U2 – the Boy and October albums in particular (“Two Hearts” comes from the third album, War). I recall the tension of spending long nights awake wanting to see and record specific U2 videos – but MTV rarely played the really old ones, so it was middle-of-the-night waiting, watching NightTracks on TBS (I shudder to think about what TV used to be like, when we received “SuperStation WTBS” broadcasts among one of very few non-cable channels available), where I was as likely to see the infrequently played “Two Hearts” as I was to see Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” (and even then I asked, “Why would anyone choose to listen to this?”… “How’d you get your pants so tight?”). I was always the one among my friends who was allowed to stay awake to all hours of the night so tried to see and record all the things my friends and I wanted to see.

One of the strangest things that I remember seeing, which I only saw three times in my entire life is a Yamaha PSA about motorcycle safety… starring Larry Mullen, Jr., on whom my best friend had the biggest crush.

I saw it once and waited literally for months to see it again with the sincere intent of recording it for her so she could see it too. I succeeded. She swooned upon hearing his voice. We shared the delusion that we would move to Ireland after high school. We had planned a kind of graduation “Ireland or bust” trip, but by the time we graduated, we were not close. She did go to Ireland, and I didn’t. She returned claiming to be disappointed by so-called mountains that amounted to little more than hills. I did not set foot in Ireland myself until many years later during the Celtic Tiger years – and my own “job interview tourism” period. I was equally disappointed – it was definitely no place I could, by that time, imagine living. Back in the late 80s, though, as foolish teenage girls, hearing an Irish accent made us weak in the knees (to the point that we would phone Aer Lingus to inquire about potential trips to Dublin, or go annually to St Patrick’s Day Irish festivals just to hear the accent), which cracks me up now. I look back at old U2 interviews and shake my head, thinking, “Drunk, high idiots!” But god forbid someone trying to tell me that back then. Haha.

And now, U2 is still out there playing (it had been my biggest dream back then to see them live, but I still haven’t!)… and who knows where my VHS tapes with Mullen and his motorbike-riding safety videos are… or where I might source a machine to play it even if the tapes could be found?

It’s a small world on TV after all: More subtitled TV

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More than ever, creators of TV are trusting audiences (particularly English-language markets) to delve into storylines that mix in non-English-language characters (integral characters and stories, beyond the stereotypical and often offensive Spanish-only illegal immigrant or household worker). I have written about the increasing instances of more foreign language subtitles on TV – and the number of shows weaving “globalization” into the story is increasing and lending depth and credibility to stories that are often removed from authenticity by giving English-speaking actors awkward, false, non-descript “foreign” accents while still speaking English.

Finally, we see more reality coming to the screen. This is the case because non-network TV has greater leeway. It is also happening because a more international group of people is creating TV entertainment. It is also happening because people are connecting more with reality – not in the sense of reality TV (ugh!) but in the sense of wanting to see reality reflected in the characters and stories depicted on screen.

In some cases, a show is created and not primarily intended for an English-language audience but is eventually exported and subtitled, such as the recent NRK production, The Saboteurs (Kampen om tungtvannet). The story and language is Norwegian with a heavy peppering of English and German. It’s been shown on UK TV recently.

Similarly the recent Deutschland 83, an eight-part, German-led drama (supported by German RTL and US-based Sundance), is the first German-language production to air in the US.

Yet, even in almost entirely English-language shows, we’re hearing a lot more diversity. While we tend to hear more (again stereotypical) Chinese-language in contemporary crime shows (always associated with Chinese gangs, such as in the recent Murder in the First and Sons of Anarchy), the latest (and final) season of Hell on Wheels has introduced a new story about Chinese railroad workers, and in telling these stories, we do get a “Chinese villain/gangster” but he is not a caricature so much as he is depicted as a profiteer not unlike the rest of the profiteers of the time, regardless of race or background. The Chinese workers, too, get a bit more depth to their story than standing around in the background. While I cannot say that Hell on Wheels has always been a superb show, it has sometimes taken interesting perspectives on intercultural interaction, conflict and integration in both a post-Civil War and westward-moving, “manifest destiny” environment. The Chinese language and culture addition is just another layer to a show that rolled out several layers already.

The already unusual Orphan Black, in which Tatiana Maslany plays multiple, very different characters (she has finally been recognized with an Emmy nomination), shows one character who is Ukrainian (and who uses Ukrainian). This affixes yet another piece of complexity to Maslany’s expertise at differentiating each character from the others

Ultimately what prompted my writing about this topic again, though, was the Swedish-speaking couple in the new show Mr Robot. Somehow their Swedishness makes them feel like a complete “otherness” in an already strange milieu. In Mr Robot, everyone is a bit of a weirdo, and while the Swedish guy seems to have it all together on the surface, he is perhaps the biggest weirdo of all, and his very private Swedish-speaking home life feels like it adds to that division.

Language can serve that purpose, too, which is of course something common in language and linguistic fields – different languages and how you use them in your life can contribute to very different aspects to your personality. In this sense, it is deeply interesting to watch how different characters’ behavior changes based on the language they use, choose to use in specific situations and with which other characters they interact in which language.

Lunchtable TV talk – Orphan Black: Character study

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I stumbled on the first season of Orphan Black by chance, and I was never really able to determine whether I liked it or not. The first season showed a lot of promise, while the second season had a progressively less interesting plot. It is a character-driven show – crazily character-driven. One actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays almost countless roles as clones of herself. I have written about the show before, always willing to give it another chance. After all, I watch a lot of stuff that is clearly crap, and this shows promise. And continues to even when there is grey area. I need ways to disconnect, so this character study will do it while at least exploring on a surface level the ethical debate about cloning and identity.

After two seasons, we are nearing the beginning of a third season. Even when the plot falls apart or drags, Maslany’s performance is reason to keep watching, and I am not alone in thinking it. How one woman can breathe life into so many seemingly fully formed, distinct characters in the course of such a TV show is crazy. She is one of the best actresses I’ve seen anywhere, based solely on the strength of this work. It’s impressive.

That’s Entertainment – Binge Viewing

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Funny thing about going on TV and movie-viewing binges – there are so many threads that connect so many things together. This past two weeks, for example, I have not seen a single TV show that did not use a reference to someone being another person’s “wing man”. It started when I went on a Suits-watching marathon, and there was an entire episode in which the characters were excessively quoting Top Gun (which is not even a film with dialogue – just a long series of annoying one-liners). After that, every show has referenced the ubiquitous “wing man” and in some other show (unfortunately I have half-watched so much TV that I don’t remember which show), the characters argued about who was Maverick and who was Goose.

Smaller connections can be seen if paying attention – binge watching allows for sewing together disconnected threads in specific series – but it also allows for small connections and thematic linking between things where there really is no reason to believe there are connection. For example, the obsession with Quaaludes in The Wolf of Wall Street pops up again in HBO’s True Detective, where Matthew McConaughey’s character wants to get some Quaaludes. Not to mention that McConaughey turns up briefly in The Wolf as a drug-obsessed Wall Street guy schooling Leonardo DiCaprio in how to behave (that is, take drugs, more drugs and only care about making money for yourself). And frankly, how often do you hear about Quaaludes in everyday life? Never. Now it’s twice in one day – thanks to entertainment.

TV

In the midst of other things, I have done a lot of wasteful TV and movie viewing lately. It’s on in the background while I do a million other things. There are plenty of other things I have been watching and love (not listed here, such as Shameless, House of Lies, Episodes, Justified, etc.), but I am only listing things that I have not really written much about elsewhere – new shows or things that I have something to say about them.

Among the dumbest or most infuriating shows:

The Following: This show just makes law enforcement look like it is all bumbling idiots, always ten steps behind. But the bad guy never quite seems like he could be smart enough to pull it off. In general the show just makes no sense to me because it is just not believable.

The Fosters: This is classic-style ABC network family programming with a “clever” (or not) title (the titular Foster family are also foster parents) and lots of hot-button topics (lesbian, biracial couple with a bunch of kids – one biological and the others adopted fosters). The good part is that this backdrop is not overdone or made to seem unusual. This is just the way it is. But the storytelling is one step away from overdramatic soap opera with too much shit going on to be real. So I don’t like the show, and both the leads (Teri Polo and Sherri Saum) lack the personal warmth to make them seem like loving parents – they try to oversell it to the detriment of the end effect.

Helix: I keep waiting for it to get better and it isn’t. I felt the same way about Caprica. And is it just me or is Billy Campbell becoming a worse and more false actor as he gets older? The only good thing is the actress who was Kat in Battlestar Galactica. I did not like her that much in BSG, but here she’s tough without the immature, annoying, extreme edge she had as Kat. Oh, and Jeri Ryan is going to show up any minute now, so that’s a good thing, right?

Looking: I don’t know – a show about a group of gay friends in San Francisco. Would be fine as a premise, but it just feels so pointless every week.

The Crazy Ones: I keep trying to watch this and this is not funny. The end.

How I Met Your Mother: I started watching this only around the time that the show was in its sixth season on TV. It could be quite funny for network comedy, but this last season is dragging out in the worst way. Boring and unfunny to an unmanageable degree.

Not bad but not good:

Nashville: This gets worse all the time. I want to like it because I really like Connie Britton. But every storyline is annoying and over-the-top. While all are annoying, the worst one is Rayna’s determination to start her own record label. It belies the whole direction of the music industry – and I refuse to believe that a huge star that this character is supposed to be would be that blind to the trends of the industry. Or that she would be so naive as to not realize the intricacies of the business and getting out of her contract. There is something naive about the whole story – her former label maneuvers against her by making a couple of phone calls (as if it is as easy as that) after we have just heard from another businessman that deals are made and cemented months or years in advance for retail shelf space. And the whole thing comes down to – who the hell needs retail shelf space any more? That’s the thing – why not try to move forward with your new, innovative, fresh label using the new, innovative, fresh tools that the modern music industry is built on? Most people are downloading and streaming. Getting distribution at Wal-mart or wherever is still part of the strategy for a huge star – but a huge, veteran star starting up a label would not be so completely blind to the business end of the business. And if she were, she would have lined up a lot more industry-specific advisers (rather than her sketchy sister?!) to help her plan and get the whole thing off the ground. She would not just mouth off at her music label and leave and decide to fly by the seat of her pants and suddenly find that she is stuck.

If they stuck with the music, this would be a better show.

Trophy Wife: Surprisingly funnier than I expected but still not something I cannot live without. I find myself questioning the man in the story – how is it that he just keeps getting married – and is he so lacking in discernment or so desperate not to be alone or just so open-minded that he married these three massively different women? I can’t figure that out. I mean really – who would marry that second wife? He seems too normal and put together to marry someone like that unless it was a whimsical rebellion after the uptight, driven and mean first wife? I don’t know, I really don’t.

Almost good, but not totally sure:

Orphan Black: I never planned to watch this but recently watched the whole thing – I was entertained, surprised and impressed with Tatiana Maslany’s performance in multiple, quite different roles in the same show. I will give the second series a whirl. I am interested in the ethics of cloning and identity, and this show has started to explore some of the issues that come to light as a result of this kind of scientific experimentation.

Suits: As a kind of entertaining filler, I am enjoying Suits. It can be a laugh, but it’s not classic television or anything. I enjoy the constant movie quoting and references the characters make to other things (Top Gun, Mississippi Burning as examples), but that’s the best it gets for me.

The best shows:

True Detective: By far the best new show I have seen. Understated, great cinematography, great soundtrack, great dialogue and superb performances. The tense relationship between the two leads, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and their outstanding verbal exchanges, makes the show worth watching. I never imagined in my life that I would claim McConaughey had done something great, but in truth, he has actually built a fairly impressive resume without my paying attention. (His role in Dallas Buyers Club was pretty powerful, but I have not seen him do something as inspired as his role in True Detective.)

Movies

I watched a bunch of movies in recent weeks – but I have not really kept track of them. I saw Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, the recent Mandela movie starring Idris Elba… but there is not much to say about these films. It’s difficult to distill a film into just key points. And films like these – well, they’re kind of Oscar bait, meaning that everyone writes about them.

I saw the film The Wolf of Wall Street, and hated it. Frankly I don’t like stuff like this. Movies in which people behave stupidly, get all fucked-up on drugs and live and die by their own greed and excesses don’t do anything for me. I am only interested in the fact that Kyle Chandler is in a small role as a tenacious FBI agent. He’s just so bloody cute! Happily he will be in a new Netflix series soon.