T3 90: Top Stuff of 2015 So Far

So they cancelled Hannibal. A year ago, I called that show one of my halfway heroes, when its second season completely blew me away. Now it’s third could very well be its last – never say never in a world with Hulu and Netflix – and like its titular villain, I’ll have to savor every bite of it. The only question is why didn’t anyone else watch this show? Hard to say, but it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. The end is inevitable for everything, including 2015. But we’re only about halfway there, so buck up! Here’s us talking about some of the stuff that kicked ass this year!

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Buzz Kil Moon

Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes

Whenever an artist creates something you really respond to on a deep personal level — let alone creates the album you like the most in a year filled with lots of likable albums — there’s an almost unspoken obligation to check out whatever that artist does next.  Unfortunately, that’s more or less what the latest album from singer-songwriter/enemy-of-oversensitive-indie-rock critics, Mark Kozelek feels like — an obligation.  Now, I don’t even want to get in to whatever boorish quotes Kozelek has unleashed on the blogosphere lately, since I really haven’t paid them too much mind, and I honestly think that anyone who is shocked by the idea that a creative talent like Kozelek can be a bit difficult is quite frankly an idiot who spends way too much time on social media.  And I know, that probably sounds like the kind of grouchspeak that has gotten Kozelek in trouble, but none of this crap would really bother me if it didn’t feel like that difficulty hadn’t transferred so much over in to the unwieldiness of Universal Themes.

The most plainly unwieldy thing you’ll first notice on this album is the fact that basically every song is 7+ minutes long.  I guess this shouldn’t be all that surprising considering one of the more transcendent songs on the previous Sun Kil Moon album, “I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same” breached the 10 minute mark while slowly reaching a kind of beauty and piece of mind, seemingly just as the song was unfolding.  However, the songs here never really have that tenderness, and seem to just ramble on indeterminately as Kozelek ruminates on a bunch of random topics that have that great specificity that he’s capable of, it’s just that the meandering acoustic noodling behind it never raises Kozelek’s observations to the level of anything particularly affecting.  It’s a reminder of why a lot of people tend to not care a ton when it comes to lyrics in songs, as even the most astutely observed lyrical passage doesn’t mean much if there isn’t a nice tune to carry its weight.

Though just because this album doesn’t really work for me as a whole, I can’t entirely say there aren’t elements here that are at least somewhat interesting to behold, if not entirely easy to enjoy.  If I had to put things in cinematic terms, I would say that Universal Themes might be Mark Kozelek’s To The Wonder, assuming that Benji was his Tree Of Life.  Because it has all of the specific and humanistic touches that made this earlier work such an artist gut-punch, yet what seemed so vital and fresh now seems indulgent, as you can see and feel these tendencies getting so far out of hand that they can’t help but feel tedious.  Granted, what Terrence Malick was doing with To The Wonder had a hell of a lot more joy and beauty than say, the get-off-my-lawnism of “Cry Me A River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues”.  Yet, there are moments on Universal Themes that do stick, like a passage from “Garden Lavender” where Kozelek finally sings in a more plaintive, melodic register about a sun-bathing tabby cat “looking for a belly rub”.  I just wish Kozelek had taken some cues from this feline’s willingness to indulge his pleasure centers instead of becoming indie rock’s very own Grumpy Cat.

Favorite Tracks: “The Possum”, “Garden Of Lavender”, “Ali/Spinks”

Emotional Rescue

Inside Out

I feel like this is something I’ve become more acutely aware of recently — possibly because I don’t have a job in which I am asked to do one mundane thing over and over again over the course of a given day and am therefore forced to compartmentalize the state of my own psyche — but basically, everyday is a god damn emotional roller coaster.  One minute I’ll be pissed off because some jerk-off in the lane next to me cut off, while moments later I’ll hear some amazing song on the radio that I haven’t thought about in years which will arouse every little bit of my pleasure centers, and then I’ll come hurtling back to Earth once I remember that moneything I gotta go do before I get home.  Anyways, I’m acting like this is somehow unique to me, which of course it’s not.  We all deal with a whole wide range of emotions over the stretch of one day unless we are either irreversibly depressed or perpetually, cloyingly upbeat, but in most cases, each emotion is constantly struggling for dominance over the control panels of our brain.  Which of course brings us to the ingenious conceit of Pixar’s new film Inside Out.

The conceit I’m talking about involves the inner workings of a young-ish girl named Riley, whose brain is controlled by anthropomorphized representations of Riley’s emotions, known as Joy (voiced by the indomitable Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (who else but Lewis Black).  These emotions are then sent scrambling, as Joy along with the understandably burdensome Sadness find themselves lost in the nether-regions of Riley’s mind after Riley’s family moves to San Francisco from Minnesota (which just happen to be the two places in the U.S. other than Seattle that I equate with home, and further prove how easily this film was able to wrap it’s arms around me).  We then get the internal and external repercussions of Riley trying to cope with having these less seemly emotions at the helm of her brain, while Joy, with the help of Riley’s former imaginary friend (voiced by the always welcome Richard Kind) attempt to make an arduous trek back towards happiness.

If there were any worries that Pixar had lost its touch in the past few years, they’re pretty much obliterated in the first half hour of this film.  Inside Out is classic Pixar, in that it has a high-concept premise combined with a deep understanding of human nature, but wrapped up in a funny, charming package filled with colorful, imaginative animation.  Also, the character of Joy feels like one of those classic Pixar characters in that she’s a fully-realized, living, breathing creation, and seems like the perfect animated extension of its voice actor, Amy Poehler, who at this point I might feel comfortable declaring as my favorite human on Earth (as I said, this movie clearly wants me specifically to like it).

But as much as this film does all the things right that I would want it to do right, I do feel like it does maybe lose a tad bit of steam in its second act, which to be fair, is maybe inevitable considering the blissfully high-minded wonder it evokes in its first.  I suppose I couldn’t help but be reminded of Wreck-It Ralph and other not-quite-Pixar level animated movies, in which our hero is forced to make their way through a bunch of colorful sub-worlds in order to find their way home.  Granted, this slight familiarity is solved by us constantly getting a look at the reality of Riley coping with her new home, and the awkward difficulties of being a lost kid in a place you don’t understand.  It’s pretty affecting stuff, and combined with the film’s more fantastical sequences and surprising wit, it creates a feel and a tone that you’d have to be a raging asshole to not enjoy on at least some emotional level.

In the early years of this blog, I was for some reason given the designation of being the “Pixar guy”, meaning that every time a Pixar movie had to be reviewed, I was the one to do it.  I don’t think it had anything to do with me liking Pixar movies more than anyone else necessarily — it just kind of happened that way.  Anyways, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to review a new Pixar movie, due to their recent combo of a half-baked sequel and prequel that I didn’t even bother seeing, along with the just-ok Brave, which I nor anyone else decided to review (I think we talked about it on a podcast at some point).  However, with Inside Out, I can only hope that this will mark a new resurgence in quality films from the venerable animation studio, since seeing this movie reminded me what a special thing it is to see a Pixar film in the theater.  Because where else in this day and age are we given the opportunity to see a completely original, non-franchise-driven story being told on the big screen, featuring a good dose of heart and humanity, but while also being made for a mass audience?  Nowhere, and for that I’ll just say, guys, it’s good to have you back.

Beyond The Valley Of The Dorks

Silicon Valley – Season 2

For about the past year or so I’ve spent my days working for a start-up company that much to my surprise has not gone belly-up, and in doing so has kept me employed and able to write crap like this in my free time without having to worry too much about money.  Granted, what I do for said company doesn’t have much to do with algorithms or stock options or any of the stuff that the big players in the tech industry get to deal with, yet has still given me a periphery view of the world of Bay Area-borne start-ups that Silicon Valley depicts.  But then again, I suppose we’re all living on the periphery of companies vying to “make the world a better place”, which is what has and continues to make Silicon Valley seem considerably more timely than your average sitcom.  And in season 2, I think the show was able to exude an even stronger balance of satirizing the bigwigs and dreamers of the tech industry, but while also being really funny too.

Season 2 of Silicon Valley started out by finally addressing the death of Peter Gregory, who very well could’ve become one of the great comedic characters on television right now if it wasn’t for the untimely passing of actor Christopher Evan Welch.  Replacing him at his company is some lady who pretty much acts exactly like him, which might seem odd/lazy if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s so far been a pretty minor character.  Also, introduced this season to help out the guys at Pied Piper by investing in the company is Russ Hanneman (played by that guy with a really complicated Greek last name), who serves as an amusingly douchey send-up of the Mark Cuban/Sean Parker type.  Then as the season progresses we have an ensuing race for Pied Piper to get it’s data compression app out before internet behemoth Hooli and it’s CEO Gavin Belson can create a better version of the app, or just sue Pied Piper into oblivion.  First off, I have to give credit to the writers for making this show’s plot very approachable even despite all of its insider tech babble, because even though I am undoubtedly a nerd, I am far from the breeds of nerd that inhabit this show (though if I was, I can only assume I’d have sooooo much more money).

Another reason I have to give props to the writing staff of Silicon Valley (which seems to contain a mix of young and veteran TV writing talent), is its ability to push forward as a new kind of serialized half-hour comedy.  It’s certainly not the first, as Parks And Recreation (and Arrested Development too I guess) seemed like one of the first modern sitcoms to consistently move its arcs and characters forward, while Silicon Valley and a few others (it’s HBO Sunday brethren, Veep comes to mind) have continued to popularize the idea that a sitcom doesn’t necessarily have to be so episodic.  And sure, there are certainly episodes here that maybe are just there to be placefillers that stand in the way of anything really dramatic happening, but a lot of the time those episodes get by on this show’s innate ability to skewer the ridiculousness of the tech industry in new and hilarious ways.  Also, I think one of the keys to keeping this show relatable has been by keeping Pied Piper from ever becoming too successful and thus too hard to root for, since no one would want to see a sequel to The Social Network in which you’re just watching a really rich dude be really rich.

In that regard, it’s pretty special how the writers and Silicon Valley‘s star Thomas Middleditch continue to make Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks both more assertive and boss-like in season two, but also remains the same frightened nerd we know he is deep down.  It’s this internal battle of passive geek vs. proactive businessman that seems to be the crux of what makes the tech revolution such an interesting changing of the guard in terms of who is running America’s popular consciousness right now, and it’s also at the heart of these characters.  And even though the show does have a considerable amount of plot, I do appreciate that it’s also loose enough to let this excellent comedic ensemble mess around and riff with each other in the confines of Erlich’s self-proclaimed “incubator” (though honestly, I could’ve used a little more Zach Woods this season because I could always use a little more Zach Woods).

There is a part of me that’s a little hesitant to use words like “satire” and “timeliness” in regards to Silicon Valley, possibly because it isn’t afraid to throw itself into random acts of silliness.  The show often seems like it’s of a piece with Idiocracy, a movie written and directed by Mike Judge, who’s undoubtedly the most high profile producer on the show, though I’m not entirely sure how much he contributes to Silicon Valley.  Either way, it has that same tone of blowing all the contradictions and hypocrisies of our modern age up to absurd proportions, and in the process leads to scenes of engineers accidentally destroying property with a high-tech potato cannon, or a monkey using his newly equipped robot arm to masturbate furiously.  It’s a distinct mix of high and low that I responded to even more in season number two, and as long as Silicon Valley keeps heading in the direction its been heading in, I can only assume it will Make The World A Better Place.

Stream Police Ep. 18: An Extremely Goofy Movie

Just when you thought we were done, Stream Police is back with a vengeance! Not only that but we get to review one of the greatest films ever made! I mean, An Extremely Goofy Movie? How lucky are we? So pump it up, shake your groove thing, and enjoy as Michael and John give you the scoop on this little slice of Goof. Hey, that almost rhymes!

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65 Million Years of Pain

Jurassic World

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people around my age say something to the effect of “Jurassic Park was my Star Wars.” This is an odd thing to say, since we had Star Wars, it was right there, they even put out in theaters again and then made new ones that we were dumb enough to like. But the point, I guess, is that for a bunch of twenty-somethings out there, Jurassic Park is a big fuckin’ deal.

We’re not unique in growing up as dinosaur nerds, but we did get this one movie that seemed like the coolest thing ever. More importantly, it was one we could continue to appreciate as we got older and the debates about ethics and progress started to make more sense to us. It’s for that reason Jurassic Park has remained one of my favorite movies to this day, I get what Malcolm and Grant are so worried about. I understand their passion… I still watch documentary series about dinosaurs of my own free will.

Jurassic World has a lot of affection for Jurassic Park, but it doesn’t understand it the same way I do. It thinks I want to see the T. rex come back and kick ass or see raptors team up with humans, when all I really want are the first 20 minutes or so of this movie. In the beginning we’re shown a working, modern version of the park and it’s everything I ever dreamed! There’s a petting zoo where you can ride around on baby triceratops! That first part is so amazingly realized it’s a real bummer to see how much stupid lies beyond it.

It’s hard to say where Jurassic World takes place in the franchise – we know it’s been years since the first movie but the events of the second and third films aren’t ever addressed, so they may or may not have happened anymore. Anyway, Isla Nublar has reopened as a working theme park/zoo, and apparently has been fully functional for such a long time that people are bored. Bored! Bored of taking a cruise to island, going on rides, and spending time with living dinosaurs. It’s hard to believe and even harder to portray, apparently, because all we see of the island are thousands of happy tourists thrilled to be around dinosaurs. Indeed, the only reason we have to believe anyone is unhappy is because the park’s manager, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), tells us so.

To remedy this, Claire had Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong, the only returning character) splice together a new breed of dinosaur by combining all the most dangerous dinosaurs, and some modern beasts, into one. This profoundly stupid idea is made more idiotic by the fact that only Wu, for some reason, knows exactly what went into this new creature, dubbed the Indominus rex. So when the I. rex inevitably breaks out, no one really knows what they’re dealing with and chaos, as always, ensues.

Along for the ride is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a super over-the-top, Mister-I’m-always-right action hero. He’s an ex-Navy SEAL who is somehow also the most qualified man in the world to train velociraptors. He works alongside Omar Sy, who is given nothing to do is this movie, and Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who somehow thinks raptors could someday be used in the military to replace drones. I don’t need to go into this, do I? This is dumb as hell. Military raptors is something everyone should laugh at every time it’s brought up, even a legend like Vincent D’Onofrio can’t make it work.

None of the first three Jurassic Park movies are about killing dinosaurs. All three of those movies respect the fact that these giant lizards are just doing what comes naturally to them, and they wouldn’t be a threat to humans if we didn’t keep fucking with their shit. This is the core idea behind this franchise: the villains aren’t the dinosaurs, it’s always human arrogance. The arrogance that leads us to believe we’re not a part of nature, that we can play god, that we’re better. Jurassic World is the first departure from that, as the plot is literally a monster escaped and we have to kill it. And that makes me uncomfortable.

Yes, the I. rex isn’t technically part of nature in the same way as the other dinosaurs, but it’s still a living creature that the movie wants you to hope gets killed. There’s some other gratuitous violence in this movie that irked me too. One character suffers a truly horrific death, perhaps the most violent in the series, without doing anything to deserve it. When Gennaro suffered his grisly fate in the first movie, we knew he was an asshole lawyer who just abandoned children to try to save himself, this character in Jurassic World didn’t do anything like that.

Ultimately, even if I could let slide my moral objections to Jurassic World, I just couldn’t get over all the painfully moronic parts of this story. It’s a huge letdown from a franchise that has disappointed more with every sequel it’s gotten. Based on the massive opening weekend, I’m guessing this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of this universe. It’s too bad only now am I realizing how much I think that might be a bad idea. Hopefully the new one will have a cleaner production cycle, with a script that doesn’t have to pass through half a dozen writers over a decade. If not, well, at least we’ve still got Star Wars.

The Sun’ll Come Out

Tomorrowland

I went into Tomorrowland knowing full well it would probably disappoint. I was in Washington, D.C. and it was really hot and I was tired and my feet were bruised and blistered and my brother said he was interested in the movie and I’ve seen and enjoyed every other Brad Bird movie and… Look, there is no excuse. I just wanted to believe that ever critic in the world was wrong. I mean, this trailer looks fun, doesn’t it?

A movie about a bright, precocious young girl teaming up with a cynical old inventor, running from evil robots, using all sorts of weird gizmos and contraptions? Sounds like a blast! And honestly, sounds like a fitting next move from the guy who made The Incredibles and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Sadly, that sequence of them escaping from the robots is easily the best part of the whole film, and things go downhill remarkably quickly after that.

Britt Robertson is Casey, the extremely tech-savvy daughter of a NASA engineer, who spends her nights sabotaging the machines that will be used to dismantle the launchpad her dad works at. This attracts the attention of a Athena (Raffey Cassidy) an animatronic little girl who recruits Casey to go to Tomorrowland. To do that, she has to team up with Frank (G. Cloo), a bitter recluse who would rather go just about anywhere else. But shit is going down (a la that trailer) so the adventure happens.

There’s a part in this movie when Hugh Laurie’s character gives a speech about modern times. He talks about all the threats we’re facing in the real world – the environment, overpopulation, dwindling resources – and how frustrating it is that people seemingly would rather sit back and embrace the apocalypse because their lazy and it means not having to change anything now. It’s an incredibly on-the-nose moment that I agree with but is wholly inappropriate for both the movie we just sat the first two acts of and any movie based on a Disney attraction.

Seriously, the third act here is such a mess that it’s message of hope is wasted. The fun gadgets disappear and we start getting the backstory of Tomorrowland (something about 19th century scientists and alternate dimensions) which is just a total bummer. Plus it’s not like the ride up until that point was that great either – it felt like it took way too long for Casey and Frank to finally meet, and Athena disappears and reappears a couple times just to drag things out further. There is a part with Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key as the owners of a nerd store, but even that’s not great.

Tomorrowland, I’m with you. It sucks that NASA doesn’t get more funding. It sucks that there are so many people who seem excited about the end-times (I mean, a show called Doomsday Preppers is popular). It’s frustrating that it doesn’t feel like another effort is being put into solving problems like climate change. But you can’t just yell at me about being hopeful and expect that to mean anything. You have to inspire me by showing how hard work can change things. Instead, the way the day is saved in this movie is by suicide bombing. What kind of message is that?