Thursday, June 30, 2016

Strip Search

Bottom line: Strip Search is a pleasant reality TV/Youtube Show that fits into a smaller chunk of time; the sense of humor, however, isn’t quite my cup of tea so I wouldn’t recommend bingeing.

Penny Arcade, if you are unfamiliar, is a hugely successful webcomic that focuses on videogames and videogame culture that started in 1998. Strip Search is a reality show that aired in 2013. The goal was to search for the next big name in webcomics. The show received thousands of applications which were narrowed to twelve contestants who participate in challenges in the hopes of winning $15k and office space in the Penny Arcade offices for a year.

The roughly twenty minute episodes alternate between challenges and eliminations. The challenges are not solely art based, contrary to what I expected. Though it makes sense. The Penny Arcade people aren’t just looking for an artist, they are looking for someone who has the ability to create a webcomic; which necessitates the ability to understand merchandising and working with clients and customers. So while there are a lot of creative challenges, some test soft skills like handling an interview or a nefarious contract.

The contestants, compared to all my other experiences with Reality TV, are really nice. It makes the challenges a lot more fun because they are all pleasant and excited. There are no alliances or “drama,” it’s just a lot of talented people jumping through hoops for their enjoyment as well as ours. I will say, that towards the end of the series, we already know that they can draw so the challenges get a little too silly for my tastes. I don’t really have an interest in watching them go-kart race or play ping pong; I want to see them do things that I can’t, namely, polished art.

That said, I found the elimination stages to be the most interesting part of the show. Two artists at a time each pick a theme out a waste paper basket, in the words of the one Penny Arcade guy, they each pick an idea that was “perhaps discarded before its time.” The artists then have an hour and a half to draw a comic based on those two themes: cats and cars, candy and religion, for example.

During the elimination stages, the artists are heckled by the two creators of Penny Arcade. They have some funny jabs here and there but, overall, their humor isn’t my cup of tea: lots of profanity and crude jokes. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a good poop joke as much as the next guy but when that’s all I’m hearing, it loses some of the effect.

A fun game to play with the show is to pause when the contestants pick their themes, and try to think of a comic you would draw. Heck, if you are inclined you could always draw it. Once you are done, you can continue playing to see how your idea compares. (I was pretty proud of a couple that I thought of, if I do say so myself.)

Overall, if you are interested in watching a largely pleasant hearted reality show, especially, one that centers around a creative subject, I’d recommend Strip Search. Because it wasn’t quite my sense of humor, I wouldn’t recommend bingeing it but it can be really fun to watch an episode or two here and there. The episodes are all on Youtube so it’s free and easy to watch. Here a link to the playlist with the episode (at least at the time of posting)

While my wife and I were watching Strip Search and were talking about how stressed out we would be if we were in the contestants shoes. I can’t really draw a straight line, let alone a sound character pose. But, we got to thinking, if we were on a reality show for something that we did for a living (or something that we loved) it might not feel as stressful. I wonder what my ideal reality TV show would be...

Thanks for reading! If you were going to be on a Reality TV Show, what do you think you would want it to be centered around?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Directed by James Bobin. Written by Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Caroll (books). Starring Johnny Depp (Hatter Tarrant Hightopp), Mia Wasikwoska (Alice Kingsleigh), Helena Bonham Carter (Iracebeth).

Bottom line: The perfectly OK Alice Through the Looking Glass is getting pretty terrible reviews but I don’t really know why; it makes me want to ask, “What were you expecting?”

Alice Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. In this adventure, the Mad Hatter (Depp) is dying of sadness because he believes that his family (long thought to have perished at the hands of the Jabberwocky) is actually alive but just lost. Alice has to, once again, go into Wonderland to save the day even if it means traveling through time.

How’s that for a spoiler free plot teaser? Any-who, the first thing I would like to note about this iteration of the franchise is how it’s not directed by Tim Burton and you can tell because we aren’t being beaten over the head with whimsy. We’ve got Johnny Depp returning as the Mad Hatter but he’s just kind of in the background doing his thing instead of being center stage.

While I didn’t see the first one, my wife did and she thought this one was better. I suspect that that might be the case because with the first one, the crux of the movie is the spectacle that is Burton’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland; we have to introduce all of the characters and tie them all together with an adventure. In Through the Looking Glass, we can just have an adventure.

The performances were all perfectly good. In one review, someone said that Sasha Baron Cohen’s performance of Time was just Cohen doing an impression of Werner Herzog. Herzog is the guy who made Grizzly Man. Sure, I can see that in terms of his accent but I don’t think it’s a minus point to the movie. I thought he was a solidly balanced character that I enjoyed watching.

The big thing about this movie were the special effects. I thought there were fine too; not earth shattering nor dull.

Maybe one of the reasons I didn’t mind this movie was because my expectations were appropriately grounded. I was expecting it to be unwatchably bad. Another reason was that I had just finished watching Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which I loathed, so Through the Looking Glass felt like a Burton-esque film that wasn’t garbage. Overall, I’d recommend Alice Through the Looking Glass if you are looking for a light movie, maybe a weekend matinee.

Thanks for reading! I mentioned that I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I’ll have a review for that out sooner than not. What are your thoughts on Burton’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin. Starring Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen), Mila Kunis (Lily/ The Black Swan), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy/ The Gentleman).

Bottom line: Black Swan is a great psychological thriller/adaptation of Swan Lake; it’s a solid movie.

We follow Nina Sayers (Portman) who is going into her third or fourth year as a New York ballerina. Swan Lake is the ballet of the season and Nina is looking forward to getting a main part; the director promised her something more than a minor part because she’s so talented and dedicated. “Looking forward to,” is something of an understatement though; she is desperate, if for no other reason than to appease her domineering mother. The stress of trying to get the role is overwhelming. It mixes with her fears and anxieties about the competition from the new spunky, sexy dancer, Lily (Kunis). Weird and creepy things start to happen as Nina starts to breakdown.

I’m not going to say really anything else about the story other than that the movie incorporates Swan Lake is a really great way. Sometimes movies that are called “adaptations” are really more attempts to directly translate a story to the silver screen. Black Swan, however, takes source material and changes it to a new situation. Now that’s what I call an adaptation.

The cinematography is great and the music is spectacular. This is a solid movie. It isn’t too scary either. I heard it was creepy but because it’s a psychological thriller, that helps; you know that a lot of the stuff is in her head. It’s not like a monster is going to get her and then you.

I’m not surprised Natalie Portman won the Academy Award for her performance; she did a darn good job. Mila Kunis gave a great performance too. It gave me a newfound respect for her, actually. I’ve always associated her with expensive but lame movies like Friends with Benefits (2011) or Jupiter Ascending (2015) but I’ve been slowly warming up to her.

Although, now that I look at the dates of those movies, it would seem that she is going kinda downhill because Black Swan came out in 2010… but this is to say that she is capable of a solid role. I mean, look at Nicholas Cage. His name on a movie poster is like the red X on the door of a plague victim. But! But, I say, he did win an Academy Award for Leaving Las Vegas so he has (or at least had) the ability to do it.

Any-who, I think this can be a short (largely) spoiler free review (depending on how you define spoilers I suppose). I’d highly recommend Black Swan.

Have you seen Black Swan? What did you think of it? Thanks for reading and I invite you to leave a comment below!