Sunday, December 8, 2013

Best in pop culture 2013

“Fast & Furious 6”

The recent shocking and tragic passing of Paul Walker has revealed to the public what everyone around him or ever worked with him already knew. He was a wonderful person—kind, humble, giving, and just an all-around nice guy. He was also an underrated actor with a sensational on-screen presence.  He did terrific work in several little-seen gems including the B-movie crime epic “The Death and Life of Bobby Z” (2007), the heartwarming “Eight Below” (2006), and the edgy “Running Scared” (2006).

Paul Walker’s role as Brian O’Conner in “The Fast and Furious” films should not be underestimated. He was the center—the audience anchor—someone to keep us grounded amid all of the non-stop chaos and over-the-top flashy comic book characters.

“The Fast and Furious” franchise managed to defy every expectations and break every rule.
Since when does a movie series continue to get better and better with each entry yet alone achieve a new creative and critical peak in number six? When does a movie featuring fetishistic portrayals of muscle cars and muscled up men and women cross into the mainstream attracting a strong diversified fan base including women and even high-brow intellectual critics?

“Fast & Furious 6” is the best junk movie ever. It is a blast.

Lana Del Rey captivates in arresting ‘Tropico’

What a year Lana Del Rey had. The runaway success of her smash hit remix of “Summertime Sadness” from “Born to Die” was only part of it.

The indy pop artist auteur continues to propel ahead with her blazing creative path with ‘Tropico’, a visually arresting avant-garde 27 minute short film directed by Anthony Mandler and featuring several of the statuesque singer’s best songs.

The brooding singer/songwriter—whose persona is often described as a modern day “gangsta Nancy Sinatra”—takes the iconic Americana imagery and angst-ridden nostalgia of her music videos and combines it with biblical fables, symbolism, and a hard-boiled noir narrative that serves as a bridge between a series of stunning music video sequences. “Tropico” is essentially an extension of the long-format music video the deep-thinking, ridiculously talented artist experimented with on “Ride”.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

“Catching Fire” is the rare sequel that exceeds expectations—in a big way. Hardcore fans of the books and first film are ecstatic. Casual fans of the first movie are now becoming devout readers of the series. Cynics and naysayers are being won over adding to an ever-growing fan base.

The rousing, cracker-jack paced, dramatic “Catching Fire” is this generation’s “The Empire Strikes Back”.

Brian De Palma proves he still has ‘Passion’

He is the master of widescreen Panavision panache, the cinematic priest of perverted delights, and the ultimate director’s director. Brian De Palma was a formidable force throughout the 70s and early 80s delivering the horror classics “Carrie” (1976) and “The Fury” (1978) and his notorious, trademark sexually charged Hitchcock-ian homages “Sisters” (1973), “Obsession” (1976), “Dressed to Kill” (1980), and the wildly entertaining “Body Double” (1984). His acclaimed conspiracy thriller “Blow Out” (1980) features John Travolta’s best performance. “The Untouchables” (1987) is a classic and the outrageous “Scarface” (1983) is one of the most referenced movies of all time.

Now with “Passion”, De Palma has come full circle and returned to his auteur roots of the erotic thriller.

L.A. noir

Film noir in all its hard-boiled, existential, cynical, sexualized glory is not only alive, it is thriving at a new level of entertaining artistry we have not seen for years. No, not in the hallowed halls of cinema houses where hard-edged tales of tough guys and femme fatales once flourished.  The home for the latest rebirth of neo-noir is the Showtime premium cable network in the form of a riveting new drama called ‘Ray Donovan”.

Liev Schrieber stars in the title role, a mesmerizing character who is employed by a powerful Hollywood law firm to “takes care of problems” for the rich and famous ranging from A-list movie celebrities to NBA and NFL superstars. Imagine the Harvey Keitel character “The Wolf” from “Pulp Fiction” employed as an enforcer by the CAA and you get the idea.

Elizabeth Mitchell shines in riveting 'Revolution'

In year two “Revolution” has continued to develop into one of the most exciting and entertaining shows on television. The addition of veteran actor Stephen Collins an excellent pick-up. The pacing of the first three episodes has been brilliant. Not since “24’ have we seen a dramatic series so effectively milk very drop of excitement out of the action adventure format. Everything about the show from the fight choreography to Christopher Lennertz score keeps getting better. But the key to any dramatic series is the characters. We have to care to keep coming back each week. There is one particular character who had been the key to “Revolution’s” continued improvement.

Every show, especially every “Bad Robot” production, has that one special character who makes it all work. “Lost” had the enigmatic John Locke played by Terry O’Quinn.  “Fringe” had the eccentric Walter Bishop played by John Noble. “Revolution” has the super scientist action hero Rachel Matheson played by Elizabeth Mitchell.

One of the weaknesses of “Revolution” during the first half of season one was the criminal underuse of the effervescent Elizabeth Mitchell and her head strong character. Once the producers and writers realized this and brought her into the forefront of the action, the “Lost” protégé began to find its focus.

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