‘Girls’ S4E8 “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” Expands Out of the Normal Privileged Angst

My friend mistakenly watched the especially sex-filled first few episodes of Girls with her parents and her dad said, “Is this how all young women live? If so, I don’t want any part of it.” Yeah he’s a formal guy, but this week’s “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” finally parallels the often insular stories of its younger main cast with those of an older generation, specifically Hannah’s parents, to widen what my friend’s dad considers to be a pretty narrow scope. Being Hannah, most of her interactions with her parents are one-way interactions that further her narrative arc so the audience has yet to delve into Loreen and Tad as actual, feeling people. This week, however, Loreen’s emotional arc echoes Hannah’s when both are found to be painfully prone to drama. Similarly Hannah’s decision to become a teacher seemed completely out of left field when it was introduced two episode ago, but her motivation comes into stark focus this episode, and simultaneously adds a third generation to the fold – Hannah feels like a washed up hag at 24 and in an attempt to grasp at youth befriends a high school student.

After being established as the cool sub last week, Hannah progresses that narrative further when she seamlessly transitions from ‘teaching’ to talking about boys with her student, Cleo. The tone of Hannah and Cleo’s conversation becomes creepy almost immediately as Hannah admits to having scoured the school for “cute boys,” which if she were a man would seem downright predatory for 14-18 year old students. Cleo admits she doesn’t like anyone in her grade, but has a crush on the 28-year old Shia Laboeuf while Hannah responds to a creepy maintenance worker catcalling the duo with “we’re children.” Cleo wants to be older, while Hannah desperately wants to cling to the days when she was passionate about her writing dream and supremely confident she could achieve it.

Cleo even convinces Hannah to skip class and get a piercing, which might be headstrong at 15 but is seriously irresponsible as an employed 24 year old. The most gripping scene this episode was also the hardest to watch. Hannah and Cleo settle on a frenulum piercing (“the webbing under your tongue”) and we watch Cleo go first, screaming and ultimately crying in a manner eerily similar to a baby, reminding Hannah of the unequivocal age difference between them. Hannah commits a serious party foul by not going through on the “friendulum” piercing, showing she can still play the mature adult card when it suits her. As a result of Hannah’s taboo relationship with Cleo, and of course the Adam snafu last episode, Fran continues his role as the most reasonable character on the show and calls out Hannah as a drama factory. Hannah tries to convince him she’s just edgy and fun, but Fran rightly asserts that while Cleo might agree with Hannah, to fellow adults Hannah’s provoking behavior reads as self-involved and overly dramatic.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Hannah’s mom’s behavior this week mirrors Hannah’s because when Loreen finds out that Tad is gay on the day of her tenure party she freaks out, thus turning Tad’s emotional unrest into something all about her. Tad dropped a breadcrumb a few episodes ago when he was discussing leaving Iowa with Hannah when he mentioned that Loreen had attempted a novel years ago, only to realize it was not for her and move on to the tenured track. Whenever Hannah interacts with her parents she has a (dramatic) tendency to make the conversation all about her, so we don’t often get to see Tad and Loreen and living, feeling people. Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari handle their newly increased screen time with aplomb. Becky Ann Baker particularly cycles through all stages of grief with a visceral anger heretofore unseen that at her tenure party results in an escalation when Loreen’s coworker Avi admits his love for her. 

Shoshanna’s subplot is weaker by comparison, basically having Shosh play through the Girls version of pretend-to-be-something-that-you’re-not-to-please-a-boy that generates a few laughs at her ham-handed attempt at sexual innuendo but little substance. Marnie’s subplot, however, finally escalates the Desi relationship after having mostly hit the same notes every episode since they formally got together. After a fight over German guitar peddles, Desi delivers a lame apology rehashing insincere tropes about his “old man” and being ashamed at his behavior while Marnie shows true transparency by relaying her real issues with money that apparently broke her parents up. Then Desi tells her to shut up and proposes. That scene echoes almost every interaction the two have had where Marnie expresses her feelings and Desi talks over her with some sort of platitude and kisses her tenderly to make everything better. Desi is a terrible partner and Marnie knows that, but after fighting for him for so long it’s going to take something really serious to get her to back off now.

Neither the best episode nor the worst episode so far this season, but its focus on Hannah’s parents’ strife for once adds a certain extra dimension to the dynamics of the show this week. Loreen bluntly tells Hannah her dad is gay, temporarily losing sight of the maternal tenderness necessary to adjust Hannah to this shocking news. With only two episodes left hopefully they work like an alley oop with the finale building off the penultimate, but all in all the season has stretched itself into new directions suggesting Girls will remain relevant in years to come.

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Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘Memory Vague’ Brings the Media Periphery Centerstage

Following my review of Orson Welles’ F for Fake last week, which has only managed about 96,000 views on Youtube, I want to cover another underviewed film – that’s even less conventional. Daniel Lopatin’s 2010 album film Memory Vague is a seminal work in the contemporary aesthetic and sound movement called Vaporwave made. Lopatin goes by the stage name Oneohtrix Point Never and his 2010 album Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 gave shape to a style that has slowly gained followers with a fairly active Reddit community hosting a bevy of new material in the genre.

Chuck Person's Eccojams Vol. 1
Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1

Lopatin describes his style as “flowing electronics […], ambient drones and excursions into noise, and forays into adventurous sampling.” I’ve heard vaporwave described as post-elevator music for a more concrete idea on the music side of things, but the visuals seen in Memory Vague are slightly harder to situate. Vaporwave aesthetics overall shares a focus on 80’s trash television especially of Japan, overt consumerism in naming conventions and from the use of commercials as well as a glitchy editing conventions that normally suggest inexperience being are here used with notable skill. Within music videos by prominent vaporwave artists like Saint Pepsi and Internet Club a more unified aesthetic has emerged, especially in the digital art accompanying the music that often includes Renaissance sculptures along with 90’s computer graphics. Lopatin’s Memory Vague, however, does not sit squarely within the established vaporwave conventions, which makes it an interesting work to analyze.

Somewhat like Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 as a visual manifestation of their 2000 album Discovery, Lopatin’s Memory Vague is a visual manifestation, albeit lacking a narrative or $4 million production values, of his album of the same name. The overarching focus, it seems to me, is dragging content from the media periphery, like infomercials and screensavers, to the forefront and thus elevating them to the status of ‘art’. The lines between highbrow and lowbrow have been all but erased with ballets set to Johnny Cash music and mass-market, thrift store kitsch selling exorbitantly at places like Urban Outfitters.

Certain lines have yet to be crossed, however, as few spend their time poring over screen savers despite their ubiquity, but as Lopatin illustrates interesting things can happen when we analyze the sorts of media experiences we always take for granted. We don’t know the names of the creators of this material likely because we question the artistic intent or merit behind them in the first place, but maybe our focus has been to much on the conscious intent evident in film and television, instead of the lowbrow media as representative of the mass commodification of art for consumerist use that swirls around our heads so many times a day.

Vaporwave, like much of life, has largely positioned itself around capitalism, specifically by updating relics of the “greed is good” zeitgeist of the 80’s using modern indie electronic trends to illustrate both the hollowness of Muzzak, smooth jazz, and 8-bit video game soundtracks by repeating their most vacuous lines and chords incessantly and, perhaps more importantly, how using new techniques on older material can show how relevant mass consumerism still is today.

For example, Lopatin’s video for his song “Angel,” which incorporates a slowed down sample of the Fleetwood Mac song of the same name, basically Angel Squareencapsulates the essence of the television melodrama in a few seconds. A woman carrying a boombox walks down a hill and Lopatin edits the footage so that the woman repeatedly turns her head in earnest to look off screen, then she transitions to smile and slowly raise her hand in a coy wave – only to cut away to the next song. There is no resolution because every episode of Dawson’s Creek or rather Knot’s Landing if we want to keep with the 80’s theme, can be paralleled to this short scene with an overly simplistic series of initial obstacles that always ultimately makes way for a cute courtship. Those primetime soaps are an amalgam of repetitive shots and emotions, often featuring the hot new commodity with not-so-subtle product placement, in this case a boombox.

MV Hand Washing

Likewise the repetitive focus on an insert of a woman washing her hands later scored with his distorted ambient sounds entrances us, but you can’t help but think that this insert was never supposed to on screen for this long. We would rarely consider an insert from a soap or lotion commercial for more than the fleeting moment its on television buffering the three minutes between Scandal, but I contend that the vacuity contained in those hands inefficiently washing themselves over and over is mirrored by Lopatin’s faraway digital tunes and thus makes us reconsider its role in the media landscape.

Even more challenging than footage from 80’s commercials, are the video segments with pixelated graphics that appear almost like errors stemming from leaving a VHS tape on the shelf for too long. A swirling vortex of grainy white noise floats above a neon pink and blue ground against the night sky. None of that adheres to traditional cinematic conventions of proper perspective with properly focused shots, yet from the dregs of media comes a beautifully mesmerizing composition.

MV Swirling Vortex

Lopatin incorporates a purposeful disruption of our viewing experience by stopping in the middle of a song or visual sequence and then transitioning with a white flash, that serves to underscore the awkwardness of the film transition instead of using the cross dissolve or match on action to hide the artificiality. Levying criticism on Memory Vague is difficult because the uneven nature of the segments comes across as more like an artistic choice than a mistake with the complete lack of cohesion between the footage as a whole intentionally preventing us from extracting a narrative. If Lopatin consistently errs on the side of complex disjuncture yet we find his material visually stimulating, albeit slightly uncomfortable, does that mean we are comfortable with the hollowness of capitalism permeating our daily lives or rather that the film’s honesty about the role of capitalism is a refreshing reprieve from the oft-ignored advertisement-ridden viewing experience we are used to? That’s the beauty of vaporwave, and of this film in particular, because there are no right answers, just a method of attempting to make the invisible visible.

MV Spheres

The interplay of context among the various visual sequences gives us morsels along the way to hang onto like Fleetwood Mac’s “Angel”, but even high art like Piet Mondrian’s geometric shapes, once emblematic of the avant garde, has been commodified in order to sell a cassette player. Another segment where a series of crudely pixelated spheres order themselves in rows and descend backwards into space in a never-ending loop is a dead ringer for a Windows 95 screensaver, but it’s impossible to determine the level of artistic authorship. All of these recognizable images are on parade, but the removal of context by slowing down the speed or using foreign languages and cultures like Japanese or Russian as source material prevents us from reading into the content in a traditional manner. Does it matter the extent to which Lopatin created each music video or is the intent all that makes a difference?

MV Mondrian Cassette

The questions brought up by this short film are on par with any conventional work of a contemporary art and at the same time the dazzling media dreamscape contained in Memory Vague’s 33 minutes never feels like a chore in the way some discursive experimental films often do. Lopatin’s modern capitalist critique incorporates the signs of Reagan-era American excess with music that can at times be mistaken for a SNES video game score, but understanding that context isn’t necessary to appreciate the piece. Lopatin’s adept editing in the style and through the use of low-quality media detritus in repetitive, trancelike sequences can be the point in and of itself.

Memory Vague’s final video simply features a terraced, neon rainbow-colored pyramid undulating backwards and forwards for a few minutes. I’d say that encapsulates my daily experience on Twitter in its alternating display of high-octane outrage, excitement, joy and snark that just restarts with the new announcement, buzzword or media sensation. For every MCA exhibit or art house film, we get 100 Mac loading rainbow wheels and Buzzfeed top 22 list of gifs. Rigid distinctions between high and low art or meaningful and meaningless are harder and harder to distinguish, but Memory Vague and vaporwave are here to show that maybe we don’t have to choose.

Lopatin’s Memory Vague has free streaming (and download) on Vimeo.

Girls-Ask-Me-My-Name-Season-4-Episode-7-04

‘Girls’ S4E7 “Ask Me My Name” Gives Us the Messy Opposite of Last Week’s Episode – And It’s Great

For last week’s “Close Up” I called for a the return of the “muddy shitstorm” done best in episodes like “Beach House” and it’s like the writers preemptively read my mind, or rather this episode and the last episode were written by the same person Murray Miller who probably set the arc up this way on purpose. All the false simplicity and order of characters addressing their wants and needs in an artificially linear fashion like the average sitcom with three act breaks gets thrown out the window for an episode that is like a case study on manipulation with little guidance on how to pick out the sincerity. By a turn of fate Hannah and Mimi-Rose get some one-on-one time while Adam gets cornered by Mimi-Rose’s ex, Ace, who is played to outlandish perfection by Zachary Quinto. More than just a gauge on how the whole love triangle is working out, “Ask Me My Name” also delves into Hannah’s sense of self after trading in her life as a writer for a more conventional career as a substitute teacher. The key difference between this and last week is that Hannah’s character development and the narrative progress organically rather than with measured planning, allowing the show to really flex its storytelling muscles.

Although a couple supporting characters make an appearance in this episode, we mostly focus on Hannah being forced to come to terms with her feelings about Mimi-Rose due to a series of strange occurrences. Thankfully cutting out a bunch of silly exposition, we start this episode with Hannah in the middle of teaching a class on Oedipus where much to my surprise she seems to be thriving, albeit as a substitute which she acknowledges doesn’t require all that much effort. We meet a young male teacher named Fran who might be the most normal, accessible person we have seen so far on the show, cracking jokes and asking Hannah out for beers like a regular Joe.

There is a delightful scene before Hannah’s date where she discusses clothing options with Elijah and they joke about how she’s crossing the threshold of maturity, going on dates like “someone who’s 45” which launches them into a bit on the kind of people (adults) who derive fulfillment from commitment and exercising regularly. The not so subtle undercurrent is a sincere fear that if the roommates haven’t quite crossed the threshold where dying alone and finding security are real concerns, that day is certainly on the horizon. Hannah abruptly cuts off the joke, saying she needs to masturbate before the date, but the theme of impending adulthood deftly gets inserted into the plot for later use.

Hannah brings Fran to Mimi-Rose’s art show on their first date, which he soon recognizes as a fairly orchestrated ploy for Adam’s attention causing him to swiftly peace out. Hannah’s use of Fran sets in motion a hard to pin down, but certainly intriguing, cascade of manipulation that only Adam seems to be above. Mimi Rose invites Hannah to her art show after party, which Adam fights tooth and nail engaging Hannah much like the divorced adults Hannah previously mocked. Mimi Rose and Hannah take one taxi while Ace and Adam take another to the same party and here is where the pesky question of “why” starts inserting itself.

Of course, Hannah and Mimi Rose’s taxicab hits an old woman crossing the street and in an appropriate use of comedy, not as a crutch like last week but rather a moment to give dimension to the narrative, the taxi driver tries to blame Hannah for the mishap. As a result Mimi Rose and Hannah wait to give their stories to the police in a nearby convenience store and then a Laundromat, allowing a good chunk of time for Mimi Rose to try and reach out to the recalcitrant Hannah. What’s important is that at the same time Ace, who comes off as the ultimate hipster douchebag, tells Adam that Mimi Rose is a master manipulator – but then takes it back and tells Adam he just wants her back. How much Ace can be trusted is certainly up for discussion, but neither Adam nor the audience gets the comfort of a right answer.

Ace’s comment, however, causes the viewer to read the Mimi Rose and Hannah exchange with a more critical gaze that makes the unfolding of events exciting, and slightly tense, as we wait for the real Mimi Rose to reveal herself. But, of course, there is no “real” Mimi Rose in some sort of Scooby Doo way where she takes off her mask and comes clean about the hijinks. All we have are two people with a lot of complex emotions. As seen last episode Mimi Rose is not one to mince words, even when she probably should which Hannah attributes to Aspergers, though that has yet to be established as anything more than a resentful slight. Mimi Rose ostensibly comes clean about a desire for empathy even when reaching out can be difficult, which does tie back in her relentless need to connect with all the ancillary characters like the cab driver who don’t seem all that interested. At the same time, Mimi Rose offers Adam to Hannah in an eerily well thought out plan to slowly distance herself from him as Hannah edges in.

Hannah doesn’t know what to make of her as Adam’s girlfriend, and frankly neither do I, but professionally Hannah is sure that Mimi Rose captures what it means to be a real artist. Mimi Rose leaves a poem she composes in two minutes in a random person’s washing machine because she’s “always wanted to write a random person a poem” and details the novel she’s writing that took so much time away from her art exhibit. Everywhere they go Mimi Rose spreads her artistic whimsy and to Hannah, whose artistic whimsy seems to have died in Iowa, this compounds the loss of Adam by having his new beau be the funky artist girlfriend that he must have always wanted.

Ultimately Mimi Rose lays out how she feels compelled to produce art because she doesn’t know any other way, but acknowledges her worry that everyone finds her as off-putting as Hannah does. As they mutually share a grass is greener moment, I think Mimi Rose finally gets humanized. Or does she? Is Mimi Rose abruptness due to her true artistic inclinations for complete honesty and self-expression or is she some sort of manipulative mastermind as Ace describes her? The beauty of this episode is that this precarious situation does not get answered this episode and might never fully be answered and that precarious, uncomfortable situation is where we as humans make our home. Not at the end of Scooby Doo.

Baz Luhrmann The Get Down

Baz Lurhmann Gives Shape to His Upcoming Hip Hop Netflix Series ‘The Get Down’

Director Baz Luhrmann has recently opened up with more information on his first television series The Get Down, which is set to come out on Netflix in 2016. Luhrmann has succeeded as a big budget auteur with films like Romeo + Juliet and most recently Gatsby that reinterpret literature and historical events with extravagant twists. Netflix’s first investment into original television content from a well-known director shows the company’s commitment to maintaining its market dominance in the field of streaming video on demand by competing with Amazon Studios’ partnerships with acclaimed directors Steven Soderbergh and Woody Allen.

The Get Down sounds well suited to the Luhrmann treatment as it focuses on the emergence of hip hop culture in the 80’s when New York City was perhaps at its lowest point with four times as many murders per year as there are now. Specifically the series centers around South Bronx teens with little hope for a conventional future who instead turn to break dancing, rapping and graffiti writing as refuge that serve as impetus for a hip hop culture that soon sweeps the nation. In an attempt to preserve integrity for the subject matter, Luhrmann has launched the website TheGetDownCasting.com for African American and Latino men and women ages 18-21 to submit online auditions without agents or previous acting experience. The demonstrated goal is for the show to not only feature established actors, but also young people with relevant talent to contribute to the show but without any showbiz connections.

Being a show about hip hop, music will be a central focus with classical hits as well as new compositions from as of yet unnamed musical partners in order to provide a range of quality music that made previous productions like Moulin Rouge a blockbuster hit. Plans are for the series’ first season to begin in the late 1970’s with the disco that formed the basis for hip-hop and end in the early 1980’s.

Luhrmann himself plans to direct the pilot and then the final two episodes of the season in addition to executive producing. His crew’s background is diverse from playwrights Radha Blank and Seth Zvi Rosenfeld as writers to producers from Australia and The Shield. Luhrmann also plans to work with frequent collaborator, and wife, Catharine Martin as production and costume designer. Those associated with The Get Down have not yet released any confirmed actors in the project, but shooting is planned to start in May.

F for Fake Orson Welles

Orson Welles’ “F for Fake” Is the Ultimate Gestalt Film

“Rose… bud.” I’m sure most people can recognize perhaps the most famous one word quote of all time from Citizen Kane, but Orson Welles also directed 12 other movies during his lifetime – many of which were criticized upon their release as self-indulgent and unduly windy. Welles’ last big film before his death, 1974’s F for Fake, certainly fits that description, yet within the past few decades or so Welles’ reputation has soared up from its 1970s’ nadir resulting in new critics reappraising the quality of his films. I’m simply appraising the film, as I was about -20 in the 1970’s, and from a contemporary perspective I can see the legacy of this experimental film. F for Fake addresses the blurred lines between truth and fakery ostensibly through a series of interweaving narratives on the topic, but true appreciation, or at least understanding, of the film comes from reading how the film’s purposefully disorienting form tells the story.

There are more or less three main narratives: one about the life of famous art forger Elmyr de Hory, another on author Clifford Irving’s biography about de Hory and then in an unforeseen development Irving’s previous biography on Howard Hughes turns out to be partially fabricated leading to a strange exploration of the wealthy recluse. Then Welles and his girlfriend Oja Kodar insert themselves in various shorter segments that are harder to pin down within a narrative. All of these stories, that often cut between each other with no transition, holistically introduce the topic of what can be considered “true” and “fake” both in the content and Welles’ presentation, in which he chooses to point out the lies sometimes and other times not. Already it is easy to see why viewers were not initially fond of the film and its multiple locations, directors and editors that also confound by jumping around temporally at the same time.

Orson Welles Invented MTV Editing

What is important to note is that all the normal components for a documentary are present within the film, e.g. real interviews, insertion of various media sources for background, etc., but Welles arranges the pieces in such a way that it’s next to impossible to interpret scenes in a conventional manner. In fact, the editing in this documentary feels extremely modern largely for its speed that aligns with the the roughly five second average shot length of today. Similarly interviews with de Hory and Irving often got stopped in the middle of a sentence with Welles giving commentary like Goodfellas or abruptly cutting to another scene. The editing was meant more to disrupt and provide a visual reminder of the intensely edited nature of film, which Welles apparently drew from French New Wave and Dadaist filmmakers, but still the legacy lives on in as almost the editing standard.

Truly the creators of documentaries live and die by their editing and narration because they have to make sense of unrelated footage, but Welles and his editors Marie-Sophie Dubus, Dominique Engerer and Gary Graver all accomplish an awesome feat by drawing attention to the biased position filmmakers play in the creation of a film. A more traditional documentary uses a linear storyline that makes it far simpler to allow viewers to draw their own conclusions about the truth, but Welles ensures that discerning truth from fiction in this film is next to impossible. In addition, Welles’ role as the distinctly unreliable narrator who will often give commentary on the action and then go off on a tangent with commentary on his commentary  illuminates how inherently biased filmmaking always is whether we are aware of it or not. Luckily Welle’s baritone makes his digressions in Kipling poetry and explorations into Howard Hughes’ whereabouts more pleasant to listen to, though no easier to comprehend.

Gestalt = More Than the Sum of Its Parts

All of this is not to say that this film is perfect. Since the significance of the film stems largely from what its form accomplishes over the course of an hour and half rather than within each scene, certain parts drag on in a way that is not only confusing but at times quite boring. Welles is more than willing to indulge not only his strange whims, but also those of his girlfriend Oja who came up with a scene at the beginning of the film where she walks through the streets of Rome and “secret” cinematographers film reaction shots of men ogling her. Whether those were really uncompensated horndogs or actors is hard to know, but it certainly does drag on with countless reaction shots.

The huckster author Clifford Irving commented on de Hory’s fakery by saying, “when an artist has no personal vision, what can he communicate onto the canvas?” The paintings done by Mogdiliani and Picasso are interesting, but far more compelling is de Hory’s virtuosity at switching between several artists with such skill that by some accounts he sold over a thousand of his copies to museums. Welles could have a told a straightforward story about Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Iriving, but like the auteur’s “War of the Worlds” stunt, sometimes the facts are not quite as interesting as fiction posing as fact.

The Entirety of Welles’ film is on Youtube.

If you don’t want to commit to the entire thing…

Old Fashioned Hollywood Bias

Anonymous Voter Confirms the Academy’s Old Fashioned Hollywood Bias

We can all agree that as the anonymous “longtime member of the Academy’s 378-member public relations branch” said, “Everything is Awesome” from the snubbed Lego Movie deserves best song of the year. Alright, now let’s move on to the many disagreements I have with this voter for the Academy that chooses the winners of the Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter presented a transcript of an anonymous voter weighing in on all the Best Picture nominees and likely winners for the remaining categories with answers that range from direct to downright insulting not only to the all the creatives who have contributed to filmmaking this year, but also to the integrity of the Academy.

Well, I suppose that depends on what the Academy Awards are actually supposed to stand for and celebrate. The Oscars purportedly reward “excellence in cinematic achievements” but that still sounds quite vague. How do they define achievement? Achievement at the box office or among the art house circuit? How we interpret this woman’s responses depends on whether the Academy rewards well-done, artistic works of film or narrowly defined Hollywood-approved, money making movies.

Much like the MPAA, the Academy is often seen as a somewhat Kafkaesque Hollywood establishment that plays such a huge role in our consumption of modern film given that the statues can lead to increased box office returns (depending on release date) and give viewers an idea of worthwhile films to watch. Despite the clout this ceremony carries with it, the rules that govern the academy are hard to discern. This specific voter has received some flack for certain contentious statements that I’ll get to in a minute, but the larger problem is present in all of her responses.

The voter noticeably remained anonymous, perpetuating the perception of a nontransparent Academy, but more importantly the woman’s responses suggest a complete lack of concern for true excellence in film and filmmaking. When discussing Birdman, a film with nine nominations from Best Picture to Sound Editing, she devotes her entire explanation to how it managed to rack up ticket sales despite its narrative and cinematic complexity. There are no doubts about whether the Oscars equate to respectable film festival awards from Cannes or Sundance, but some mention of creative skill when addressing the current favorite for Best Picture would lend credence to the theory that the Oscars mean anything at all.

The rest of the voter’s Best Picture nominee analyses similarly criticize critical favorites like Boyhood and Selma yet praise weaker showings like The Imitation Game. Somehow in this crazy world, she thinks The Imitation Game should win best picture because of it is what she considers “’prestige filmmaking’”. The Imitation Game certainly passes the Hollywood test with a silly platitude repeated too often (“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”), an all white cast, and contrived score all ensure the film adheres to tired Hollywood conventions. While struggling in artistic merit, much like the voter’s other beloved film American Sniper, The Imitation Game has done very well at the box office with more than double the box office returns of Birdman.

A skewed view of the definition of excellence is not all the voter brings to the table. She also makes an inflammatory statement decrying the Selma filmmakers wearing “I can’t breathe” shirts at their New York premiere, calling it “offensive” and placing her again on the side of white Hollywood privilege. She poses Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper as the counterpoint to Selma’s offscreen politics because Eastwood decided to leave the politics in the movie. Frankly the Selma filmmakers wearing politically charged shirts is one of the least offensive things a group of people intimately involved in telling an intense story about Civil Rights could do. For an Academy that the voter acknowledges is still mostly white males, the overt racism the voter denies is not as much of an issue in this day and age as much as a probably unintended bias that stems from homogeneity. The A.V. Club’s recent interview with a seat filler at the Oscars indicates how much the awards are concerned with appearance and façade over thoughtful substance.

The Academy’s lack of focus on substance comes through clearly with the voter’s superficial focus on Patricia Arquette’s appearance instead of her acting chops in Boyhood. For Best Supporting Actress the anonymous voter believes Arquette should receive “a bravery reward” for having “no work done during the 12 years [of filming].” While Arquette is the favorite in that category, and in my opinion deserving of the award, the voter’s lack of attention to the actual skill of acting in favor of a rehashing of toxic, media-fueled ideals of beauty is an indictment of the Academy.

Again the voter believes Michael Keaton should win Best Actor for Birdman not really because he’s a good actor, or at least she never mentions that fact, but because Keaton’s “grateful, not particularly needy” and he probably won’t get nominated again. While I’m glad to hear of Keaton’s upstanding moral code, neither humility nor a lack of future opportunities to win should be the basis for receiving an Oscar. Good acting and good acting alone should be. The list goes on with her dismissal of Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning cinematography in Birdman because it gave her a headache in favor of Robert Yeoman’s far more conventional work in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Cinematic merit for taking risks and honing the craft are not valued by at least this member of the Academy.

What is perhaps the most alarming in my opinion is that this voter was completely unwilling to broaden her horizons and get insight into the diverse and multifaceted nature of filmmaking outside of the main categories. More than her remarkably uninformed responses, is what the voter chose to leave out. She abstained from almost all of the categories that require some effort on the part of the viewer to understand and appreciate them outside of the conventions of Hollywood cinema such as Best Foreign Film and Best Documentary Short. Unlike the rest of us that have to hunt down these films to view them, this voter receives screeners precluding any reasonable excuse to not see them except their deviation from the more palatable feature-length Hollywood standard.

The examples I drew out are only the tip of the iceberg of close-minded, cinematic ignorance contained in her transcript so please read it to get a more complete picture. It is logical that the Academy places some sort of emphasis on making money as it is a strong indication of what the American populace is watching, but the national awards should have a more engaged voting public that also acknowledge challenging and less commercially viable filmmaking. The Oscars have the potential to present outstanding films that inspire the average American to investigate films they would not have heard about otherwise, but if this voter’s response is any indication the Academy has a long way to go before that becomes a possibility.

Girls S4E6 Close Up

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Close Up” Stretches Believability to Make Room for Jokes

Dramedies balance out the “drama” and “comedy” with different ratios with shows like Scrubs tending far more towards the comedy while hour long shows like Desperate Housewives I would say lean more towards the drama. Girls is the uncommon thirty minute show that will have an entire episode about Hannah’s throbbing break up, for example, with more drama than comedy. This week’s “Close Up” leaned into the comedic end of the spectrum, likely to get out of Hannah’s claustrophobic apartment of despair, but the steps Hannah and Shoshanna particularly take in the wake of persistent rejection and discontent seem almost implausible even within Girls’ often implausible world. During an interview for a marketing position Shoshanna says the object she is supposed to market smells like “bedussy” (combo of butt, dick and pussy)… and then she gets a date out of it? I don’t think so. Hannah’s therapist tells her she is a “helper” which makes Hannah want to become a teacher? Double no. There were some funny jokes to be had this episode, but the overall narrative felt more like a misstep than a calculated movement in a different direction.

A lot of the characters’ stories get fleshed out this episode despite it being shorter than usual at about 23 minutes, so much so that there had to be a Mad Men style montage round up at the end tying up all the loose ends. The story that got the plurality of time this week, and the one I found most compelling, was Adam’s discovery of Mimi-Rose’s abortion of his “ball of cells” as she calls it. Mimi-Rose casually drops the abortion bomb while explaining why she can’t go for a run with Adam, also known as one of the most insensitive ways to tell your partner you got an abortion. Adam kicks and screams all over the open plan apartment, and in a strong directorial choice by Richard Shepard, Mimi-Rose remains calmly seated on the couch and then walks in a straight line over to the sink not playing into Adam’s temper tantrum.

The same histrionics that I’m sure Hannah would have indulged and escalated were more or less negated, and that comparison between girlfriends is completely clear but the extent to which Gillian Jacobs plays up Mimi-Rose’s detached and I would even say aloofness feels too extreme. I could see Adam turning to someone less Hannah-like after their impassioned relationship, but someone on the complete opposite pole like Mimi-Rose seems unlikely. Then when Adam makes the choice to sneak out of Mimi-Rose’s apartment, presumably to end this surreptitiously, in an almost romantic-comedy coincidence Mimi-Rose reasons with Adam to stay using the line, “wanting you is better than needing you because it’s pure.” I’m sure no one in love, especially not the intensely passionate Adam, would hear that and feel comforted.

Through a motif of distinctly un-sexy tracking shots tracing various characters’ feet and then legs up the bed as they sleep, we then run into Hannah jarring as ever sitting straight up and thus breaking the visual sequence. A thinly veiled meltdown over missing Cinnamon Toast Crunch indicates Hannah’s not doing so hot, though she seems at least to have surpassed her purely emotional response last week for a more restrained existential crisis. In the wake of this, our good friend Bob Balaban as the plot device, excuse me, I mean Hannah’s therapist again defies believability by agreeing with Hannah that she was drawn to writing because of its ability to “affect change.” Not only that, he also goads her on by telling her she is a “helper”, which if he has been listening to Hannah over the past few years should not even be a possibility in his mind. It is understandable that in the wake of the fiasco that was Iowa followed by the fiasco that was Mimi-Rose, Hannah would become disillusioned with the current progression of her life and opt for something different. It is inconceivable to me, however, that Hannah’s something different be becoming a teacher. The unpredictable decision is clearly meant to be ludicrous given how little serious thought she appears to put into her new career, but it just doesn’t seem ludicrous in a way that meshes with Hannah’s heretofore established personality and sense of self.

I had a good, strong laugh at Shoshanna’s interview with a budding soup entrepreneur, but her outrageous outburst too felt noticeably incongruous with reality because how did she hear about such an obscure job that the soup entrepreneur also derides her for being unqualified for? He had her resume beforehand presumably and she knew he’s looking to market soup, right? Similarly Ray faces the ineptitude and inefficiency of city council and with an outburst he actually gets the board to acknowledge their shortcomings? Even though his scene felt like a burst of Coen Brothers’ oddity into our normal Millennial view of New York, I still don’t buy it all in the way the show wants me to.

The problem “Close Up” shares with Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk of Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story fame is a disproportionate focus on plot and outcome, over logical character motivation. Shoshanna gets a date with the soup entrepreneur which I’m sure will be a running plot line, but how she got there simply does not work. This show has shown the ability to weave stories together in a muddy shitstorm, completely oblivious of outcomes and steeped in Hannah, Jessa, Marnie, Shosh and Co.’s attempts to find their personalities a home in the city, but an attempt to work backwards and graft a concrete outcome onto their motivations just doesn’t sit right for a show that knows how to be intelligent.

Girls S4E5 Sit-In

‘Girls’ S4E6 “Sit-In” Shows Its Strength In Its Reintroduction To New York

The art historian Meyer Schapiro wrote that while certain artistic conventions are very culturally specific (the dragon as emblematic of good luck in China versus the English St. George slaying an evil dragon) others are universally understood due to a shared psychological predisposition.

Now what does an art historian have to do with this episode of Girls? Well “Sit-In” starts off with a wonderful shot by Tim Ives, a frequent Director of Photography for Girls, where Hannah stands off to the left, making a face that could be described as smelling rancid milk while trying to hold back tears, and looking down off screen engaging neither Adam nor the audience. An off center composition has been identified as a commonality for art made by emotionally disturbed children because it conveys a destabilized discomfort, which funnily enough is exactly how Hannah feels upon returning from Iowa to find Adam shacking up with Mimi-Rose .

The fanciful montage of Hannah in a taxi heading back to New York at the end of last week’s “Cubbies” feels so far away from her current reality. Nobody is in the wrong because it’s unrealistic for Adam to have waited the projected two years for Hannah to return, but it still stings that he moved on so quickly. I object to the title of “Sit-In” because I think it devalues the historical weight of Civil Rights sit-ins, especially in light of the show’s notable lack of diversity, but I’m sure Hannah would see the difference in magnitudes as negligible. My political grievances aside, I think writers Paul Simms and Max Brockman did a mostly convincing job of telling Hannah’s breakup by hitting some notes that are often missed in the breakup story. For example, this episode is almost entirely a bottle episode, or one that takes place in a confined location, and Adam is missing from the story except for the beginning and the end. This atypical plot structure allows the audience to get re-acclimated to the NYC crowd by a communal response during Hannah’s time of need.

The confined setting is enlivened by a parade of Hannah’s friends who show up to support her as if her mother just died. Shosh comes over and plays up the role of the ‘true friend’ greeting Mimi-Rose with, “I don’t know who you are and I don’t care to know and that’s all I have to say about it.” Later the now pregnant Caroline and Laird appear in Hannah’s apartment and subtly offer a threeway as emotional support. The move to lighten the tone works by shaking up the pacing and not by completely buying into Hannah’s overblown doom and gloom.

Every one of the main cast stops by to pay Hannah a visit, yet what truly relates the show’s cynical tone of voice is that that almost every character shifts the conversation to be about themselves. Ray relates Hannah’s unjust breakup to his frustrations with the city council board he joined as per Shoshanna’s advice, even rambling on after Hannah yelps from a bacon grease burn. The only one who doesn’t do this is Jessa , though it turns out she was the one who introduced Adam to Mimi-Rose. Jessa’s compassion for Adam marks a clear shift in the dynamics of this friend group and belies perhaps the first sincere relationship we’ve seen on her part so far in the show.

Tim Ives does a great job with shakier handheld camera work than we normally see on Girls that makes Hannah confinement to her apartment a more dynamic experience. In addition to the cinematography, the inclusion of so many other characters makes us forget we’re stuck in an apartment and deftly draws us out to their respective lives across the city. This more dispersed focus certainly makes the episode more enjoyable, but her friends’ support and Adam’s consistently considerate behavior made me lose some sympathy for Hannah’s stubborn behavior.

The final few minutes of the episode contain both the strongest and the weakest points of the episode. When Adam finally returns to find Hannah ready to move on after watching an inspirational talk online by Mimi-Rose, the two have an honest discussion that bring’s Hannah’s meltdown into perspective. As Adam re-wraps Hannah’s burnt hand, he finally echoes what Marnie  said earlier — that they probably weren’t meant to be a “forever couple.” Adam Driver’s few scenes this episode were all superbly acted, but he really tugs at the heart strings when telling Hannah he needs to see where this Mimi-Rose things goes. I felt the final scene, however, where Hannah settles on her couch in the claustrophobic storage room Adam bought for her to the tune of an overwrought indie ballad was overdone. Strong directing, acting and writing coalesce into a compelling and relatable episode, but I hope the break-up doesn’t mean Girls breaks up with Adam Driver.

Girls S4 E4 ‘Cubbies’ Brings Hannah Back

Girls has always been good at profiling so-called ‘First World problems’. In combining the television genres of drama and comedy, Girls has refused to err too far into schlocky melodrama or, conversely, into pratfalls and poop jokes. Breakups and growing pains are more Girls‘ speed and this week’s “Cubbies” features both, with Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) all navigating those ordinary problems that still feel extraordinary to anyone who goes through them.

This episode feels particularly disjointed with each character’s story arc seeming to exist in a parallel track from the others without intersecting in any fluid way. A scene early on where Marnie tries to solicit feedback on her new song from Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna highlights how much Hannah is the center of their friendship. Perhaps it’s the camera decisions that make the table all three sit around seem giant, or the surreal aspect of the bar being obscenely quiet, but none of them seem to be connecting. Even Marnie acknowledges her need for Hannah to come back in the mix so she can actually get real feedback. Or at least more constructive feedback than the earworm diagnosis Jessa and Shoshanna agree upon.

Luckily, Hannah seems to have come to the very same conclusion. Hannah stuffs her version of an apology for her tirade from last episode into her classmates’ cubbies, where she describes the class conditions as a minefield where she doesn’t feel comfortable enough to write. Hannah casts herself as the victim, issuing a celebrity apology where she uses the word “sorry” a lot without actually apologizing for anything. The move feels insincere until she meets with her professor and says point black, “for a second I thought I was getting kicked out and I was so happy.” She’s been sabotaging herself in an immature attempt at getting booted from Iowa. It’s moments like these that remind us why this show is called Girls not Women, because Hannah keeps seeking validation for quitting the program that apparently no one quits.

Peter Scolari stands out as Hannah’s dad this episode who gives her the parental go ahead to quit if she wants. He channels a dad who loves his daughter enough to allow himself to be used by Hannah for advice, even though it’s clear he wants a more sincere connection. Hannah’s whole progression is certainly important as it brings her back to New York, and back to her apartment where Adam (Adam Driver) has been shacking up with Mimi Rose (Gillian Jacobs), but here the dialogue in her scenes seem less well chosen and consequently don’t contain the dramatic heft they should.

While Hannah’s once-promising writing career hits another snag, Marnie is somehow succeeding with the singing career I for one never thought would come to fruition. Marnie’s ultimatum last episode for Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to leave Clem or stop the sex sounded like she was clearly standing up for herself, but now it’s harder to tell. A well-chosen reaction shot stays on Marnie’s face as her uncertainty about Desi’s decision to break up with Clem shifts to an irrepressible smile at having Desi finally say “I love only you” and maybe actually mean it. Her momentary catharsis feels as though it’s the beginning of a slow burn, but Marnie hasn’t had too many wins in the past few episodes.

Shoshanna has suffered from two weeks of job rejection with a particularly bitter and personal one starting the episode off. As a result, she seeks out Ray (Alex Karpovsky) to regain the sense of self she seems to have lost since their break up. The writer of this episode, Bruce Eric Kaplan, who cut his teeth writing for Seinfeld, really inserts some of that New York-centric humor with Ray screaming at the drivers outside of his apartment for honking too much. Shoshanna accompanies Ray during his errands and these two have the most fulfilling arc of the episode in my opinion. In a fitful monologue full of Shosh-isms, well delivered by Zosia Mamet, Shoshanna relates to Ray that maybe she was the problem in the relationship. She shows a lot more maturity than any of the other ‘girls’ on this show and drops a hint of inspiration with Ray to grow up and stop yelling at drivers on the street and actually take the problem to city government like an adult.

I knew something would bring Hannah back to New York because as she said, “I thrive on the streets. I always have.” Just kidding, I knew she would be back because she is like the sun and the rest of the characters on Girls orbit her. The uneven tone this episode might be due to Hannah’s story line taking up so much time despite being paced slowly, but hopefully her return to New York will even out the pacing.

Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow Team Up for Upcoming Film ‘Trainwreck’

The Trainwreck is an upcoming film from Judd Apatow and comedian Amy Schumer. My very first review on Pop Insomniacs extolled the virtues of Schumer’s Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer that showcases the breadth of Amy Schumer’s comedic talents. The basis for a lot of Schumer’s material on the show is her hard drinking and sexing lifestyle with a heavy dose of confident self-effacement. She now brings her writing talents to the big screen where she plays an exaggerated version of herself directly mining events from her life like John Cena spoofing her past boyfriend wrestler Dolph Ziggler.

Schumer plays a woman also named Amy whose life is, you guessed it, a trainwreck. She is the queen of drunk one night stands, but by her standards she is living the life without monogamy and with an awesome job at a men’s health magazine and a “sick” apartment. When she is forced to cover a doctor performing surgery, she meets Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) who must run the gauntlet in trying to pursue the commitment-averse Amy.

Being set in New York City, the film has a parade of stars from fellow comedian Mike Birbiglia to basketballer LeBron James to plain old famous actors Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei. As director of the immensely successful comedy Bridesmaids, I have confidence in Judd Apatow’s ability to direct Schumer’s material and if the trailer is any indication, the film should be just as funny as Schumer’s sketch show.

Trainwreck opens in theaters on July 17, 2015.

Also check out the NSFW trailer if interested.