American Horror Story: Season 2: Asylum

An American Horror Story: Season 2: Asylum

Generally I would not review one episode of something but since I have decided to relax the rules on the blog (for necessity) I decided since I was over-the-moon excited about this new season I would allow it.

As I have mentioned I love horror. Horror in all forms. I love ghosts and goals, killers and demons, thrillers and blood-splattered abandoned building.

Therefore, when I heard that a new show called “American Horror Story” was airing on TV I was extremely excited…but also skeptical.

You see, I have burned in the past. I tuned in eagerly to many different dramas that had exciting dark trailers only to realize they were crime series or soap operas. I even stuck with “Pretty Little Liars” for about 5 episodes waiting for it to really break into some good horror (I mean it had potential- mysterious notes from beyond the grave, possible serial killers) before giving up completely after the show lent more to teenage boredom rather that blood and guts.

But in episode 1, season 1 of AHS I fell in love. A family at its breaking point, a haunted house, a maid who exposed infidelity by a changing appearance and the most incredible portrayal of a bigoted old aristocracy neighbor played by Jessica Lange.

 

Each episode drew me in closer. The opening sequence was horrifying, babies in jars, dark stairwells, falls disembodied nightgowns and strong, rhythmic music. The episodes slowly dissected the history of the house, each family divulging the unique horrors they faced. And all the while the maid and the neighbor conspire.

And then it ended.

And I have waited anxiously and fearfully for the next season, dreaming and hoping that it would live up to the last.

Last Wednesday I got a little treat-an evening off work and a chance to watch the premiere.

Jessica Lange is back and just a wonderful as always. She changes from a sweet, sickly innocent creature to the devil herself so quickly and smoothly it takes my breath away. This season she plays the head nun who runs an insane asylum in the 1940s. With her is a quiet, abused nurse forced to feed a creature what is presumably the bodies of missing inmates, dismembered at the hands of the resident doctor- a twisted surgeon interested in performing illegal lobotomies. Perhaps this creature or perhaps another resides in the basement of the building. The viewer sees, in modern day, a couple visit the (now) abandoned building and watch as the unknown creature tears the arm of boyfriend off, leaving he and his girlfriend to limp from the darkness.

In addition the show is populated with a presumed serial killer-said to skin his victims alive. He claims he did not do this and rather aliens are involved in the mysterious disappearances. Attracted by the famous resident a reporter comes to investigate. When she does not return her lover and secret girlfriend is left in a distressed, frantic state, blackmailed into silence while her partner suffers.

 

Last season the show built slowly, introducing one character, one story line at a time- building the suspense and horror as it continued. This season it seems they are doing the opposite. They are starting with a bang, introducing all the stories and all the characters. But you know, it works. The stories are fascinating and just…crazy. I predict that the season will continue to dissect the different sections and will move in the opposite direction, untangling the mess of horror until things fall into neater packages.

I cannot wait.

Horror is a tricky thing to like. Especially as a Christian it is often looked down upon and scoffed at. Because it is scary it is considered evil.

Granted horror, like any genre, can be good or bad, it can go too far and it can certainly be inappropriate.

But I cannot help but be fascinated by it. The themes it discusses-obviously good and evil but also endurance, human reaction, the existence of fear, faith, spirituality, human nature, cultural meditation, literary connections, historical significance, psychology, myth and the emotions it stirs in me-taking my breath and making my eyes grow wide are so intense, they are like nothing else.

Why is it when a child says the word “Mama” it is normal but it they whisper it, it sends chills up the spine. That is what intrigues me.

So of course Asylum has one point already for the genre in which it exists and I am ready and willing to award it more.

Bring it on.

Adventures in Reality TV Series: for Emmeline: Living with the Amish

Living with the Amish

my rating: 6.3

 

Recently my dear friend half way across the world, posted a link of my Facebook to a TV series called Living With the Amish.

I was generally horrified by the idea but she prompted me to watch it as she was curious as to my thoughts…she also suggested I blog about it (p.s. I know I have been HORRIBLE about blogging… I think I must try a less strict approach to keep up with it…). Besides being slightly flattered that she was so interested in my opinion I  was also rather intrigued. Why did she find this so interesting?

Well, two episodes in I am being to see multiple avenues with which to answer that question.

So what have I concluded? Not much.

I started the first episode with what could be a healthy dose of skepticism. Every word that exited the mouths of the Amish characters I turned over in my head, matching it carefully word for word with the Amish I have talked to and lived among. Was that really the right about of buttons? Do any really use generators? Could she let her hair curl freely in the front? Do they even mention the idea of wealth?

This, as it seems, is practically impossible because, while the Amish communities explored in this series are certainly very different from any I know that does not make them “fake.” After all, Amish are human- they are different- they abide my structures put in place by their fellow believers, each community is a little different.

With a decision to move forward choosing to believe the characters, it opened the next few levels of interest.

First is the strange idea that the children invited to live with the Amish communities are…. British. From what I can tell this is a British TV series and explains it. But it adds a strange level of culture clash to the show. As an American watching this I find some of the questions the Brit teens bring up to be laughable. Perhaps this is because in America we learn quite a lot about the Amish, after all they are a part of our culture, our history. I suppose this is more well-known in the northeast but still, the idea that the teens would not know they cannot wear jewelry is hilarious.

Beyond this, however, many of the questions I have always found intriguing in the Amish community are addressed and this I find interesting.

I must admit, my experiences with the Amish community is purely platonic. I have spoken with them, lived next door to them and shopped at their stores my entire life, but very rarely been in their homes and have never had close friends. My experience with the conservative Mennonite community is much more extensive. In them I can close friends and have shared many experiences. With them I have questioned many of the same things these characters address.

The idea of education is a disconcerting one. Here you have a few different youths who have varying degrees of higher education. They enter a world where the are expected to learn-not to teach- to learn. We choose to believe they are the less intelligent, the unenlightened  That the Amish are going to teach them wise ways of the world gone by. Instead they are placed in a culture where tradition, not reason, takes precedent. I think that while I respect the Amish this can be dangerous. After all, there is nothing good in ignorance. And, when we strip it down to the nitty-gritty, we find someone with an 8th grade education who does not know anything other than his or her life of farming.

Are we not meant to learn from one another? Both, together?

And, of course, the gender question is time and time again put into play. This is problematic because it is a verse the Amish community takes very seriously and very literately. But this is not a black and white area, it is very grey. The language used in the verse contradicts and the meanings are many. I refuse to believe that God believed all women to be housewives in the Bible for many reasons. Perhaps the most immediate and irrefutable is his use of women in the very book determined to keep women under toe. If all women were the same and were beneath men we would have no mention of Esther or Ruth, no talk of the great Deborah. If this were a universal construct it would then be universal- it is not.

I am intrigued that they have one black woman in the group as well. After all, culture diversity is non-existent in Amish culture. I wish they would discuss that!

The show brings up a boatload more questions but I will stop at that. (more Emmeline? what do you think? respond.)

I still have trouble believing that there are ANY Amish that would allow themselves to be filmed though…Many still believe cameras are witchcraft.

I am not saying they are not really Amish…but I just can hardly believe it.

soooooo NOW

I apologize for my long leave of absence… I could give you my excuses but really…they are no good. I must start over!

So I think I might have to do some re-arranging. Full reviews once or twice a week with updates? Yeah?

Rock on.

 

I bought Carrie and Scream at KMart the other day.

 

I am so excited.

 

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

As Renee dropped me off tonight she said I need to watch more movies. This is false…I do not need to watch more, just write about the ones I watch. I have quite the backed up list. So here goes one!:

The Odd Life of Timothy Green, 2012

IMDB: 6.4 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1462769/

Rotten Tomatoes: 38% http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_odd_life_of_timothy_green/

My Rating: 6.0

Director: Peter Hedges

Writers: Peter Hedges (screenplay) and Ahmet Zappa (story)

Lead Cast:

Jennifer Garner as Cindy Green

Joel Edgerton as Jim Green

CJ Adams as Timothy Green

Overview/Summary:

Cindy and Jim Green live in a picturesque small town in America struggling to keep alive its staple business- a pencil factory. While they worry for their livelihood it is definitively relieved that Cindy cannot have children- a hope the young couple has kept alive for years. It a fit of frustration the two write down the characteristics they wish the child they so desperately was to have would possess. After burying these hopes they find that a small boy has grown in their garden. As Cindy and Jim learn what it means to be a parent Timothy brings joy and life lessons to the people that surround the rural community.

The Thoughts:

First of all I should say I actually enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. That being said it falls neatly between the cracks of what I truly enjoyed and what I would not necessarily recommend. It is a wonderful children’s story. The characters are sweet but predictable.

My real complaint with it is its lack of commitment. It aspired to be a magical story and somehow falls flat. There are glimpses of its better counterparts (Bridge to Terabithia, Matilda) but it fails to provide the same tangible beauty that those films created. Instead we are provided with a short and uninspiring strange story about a boy who has leaves growing out of his legs who has little to no real personality.

However there were some aspects I did very much enjoy. I loved the character of the protagonist’s frustratingly perfect sister. I enjoyed the town setting and the timeless feel of the clothes and attitudes. And, despite its predictability, Timothy’s leaves dying provided a small but palpable emotional rise.

Beyond that, I have little to say. It provided a wonderful day out with some very good friends and I would not have chosen a different movie for the event.  Every once in a while one must watch something created for children and this was simply an example.

Rear Window

Rear Window, 1954

IMDB: 8.7 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047396/

Rotten Tomatoes: 100% http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047396/

My Rating: 9.0

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: John Michael Hayes (screenplay) and Cornell Woolrich (short story)

Lead Cast: 

James Stewart as L.B Jefferies

Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont

Thelma Ritter as Stella

Overview/summery:

Photographer Jeff finds himself fascinated by the world outside his window while he sits endlessly with a broken  leg in his inner city middle class apartment in New York. But when his disconnected musings turn to suspicion of murder he finds himself trapped in a world where only his girlfriend, Lisa, and nurse Stella believe him.

Thoughts:

I have seen this film only a few times but enough that when I watched it this time I knew exactly what my father was going to say: “You know the title has a double meaning.” What he means by this, of course, is that the phrase the “rear window” is used in making a movie to mean the actual filming. The camera man is looking out the rear window, he is looking at the film. Taking this into account it adds a layer to what is happening to the Jimmy Stewart character. The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, as they are in cinema itself. We are to question what we see, we should not be so blind to reality we dismiss it, but we must be aware that fantasy is sometimes just that- fantasy. Movies are meant to create, they are a mirror but not a necessarily a window to ourselves.

Hitchcock is of course the director of this fine film. Recently Sight and Sound released their top 50 films and on it sits Vertigo as the crowing jewel. I highly disagree but do have great respect for the man who made me fall for film. And, truth be told, I believe that this, Rear Window, should trump the masterpiece of Vertigo if only by a little (partnered, perhaps, with Physco).

At any rate I digress.

The first element of the film which is noticeable is the beauty of the set itself.  Hitchcock is not trying to create a perfect reality but rather a series of lovely images. We effortlessly suspend our disbelief to observe a world in which the eccentric artist, the lonely heart, the young couple, the pianist and the old married husband and wife live out their lives before open windows. We are memorized by the beauty of the perfectly framed stories. Each window becomes a screen and each screen can perform its play without confusion, as if one is skipping channels. The layout is brilliant, to never enter the stories but rather watch them as the protagonists do.

The protagonists themselves are also brilliant, they provide just enough plot to have the viewer become entranced by their development without delving so much into their young lives that he or she feels lost in a drama. This is a thriller but a quiet one, a subtle one.

The film explores similar themes to many of Hitchcock’s works. It touches on what humans are capable of and hints at the unsettling notion that from something ordinary can come something sinister. He brilliantly employs his Mcguffan and even I, a lover of his work still find myself falling for it. WHAT IS IN THE GARDEN?

Human nature, dark shadows and a steady, unwavering pace make me fall in love with the movie all over again. Everyone should know Hitchcock. Everyone should love his work. I really should say more…but I am afraid I am too tired for the words to come….

 

 

Updates (new jobs make me late)

so here goes, the latest updates:

Bag of Bones ( part 1) 6.4: I still have to see part 2 you see. So far I have enjoyed it. It is creepy and intriguing, well acted. I cannot truly judge it until  I have seen part 2 though.

Pitmasters (much of season 1) 6.3: surprisingly entertaining.  It inspired me to eat ribs for the first time in my life. The characters are great and the competition well presented. I enjoy it…

Project Runway (2 episodes) 6.6: Another guilty pleasure. This season has some fun people but so far the challenges have been repeats which I find less that exciting. hopefully it will pick up. As much as I adore watching people create it drives me crazy every time they bring out a big reveal and it is one of the judges and all I can think is, “so you ran out of the budget again…”

Updates

So sadly, because life has thrown me some curve balls, I have not had a chance to watch an entire movie…but here is the in-between list.

Masterchef: 3 episodes 6.4- The show would most certainly fall under the guilty pleasure catagory. It is good, the challenges are interesting and the personalities fun. But it is reality TV through and through, I just enjoy it.

Best Food Ever: a bunch of episodes (4?) 6.6- Really pretty cool. The show makes lists of 10 and each episode is a count down (ie: the top ten diners in the USA). If you are a foodie this is a good one.

Mystery Science Theater: Starfighters 6.0- I was unsure whether MST3 counted as movies or not. But honestly I don’t know how I would rate them. This episode was hilarious, I count not stop laughing. It was stuffed full of inappropriate jokes and horrible scenes just waiting to be torn apart. However, the movie was one of the worst I have seen. I am not sure if it really even was a movie…no rise and fall of plot to bog down the mind, you know? But it was really worth a movie night at the Gunning house.

Nanny 911: 1 episode 5.3- embaressing. Especially since I always want this show to be more interesting than it is. If I watch it, it is droaning in the backround of the sewing machine but still…why do I even try? It offers some interesting scenerios (espeically considering some of the kids I watch on occasion) but it is a lot more drama than is needed in life.

Freaks and Geeks: 3 Episodes 8.4- Now this is a good show. If you like dry humor you will love it. The show is set in 1980, follows the “freaks and geeks” of a local highschool. The two main characters are brother and sister (a geek and a freak) and it centers largely around their lives compared to their 1950s born-and-bread parents. The characters are gold and the writing extremely witty. I have seen them all so many times but they still make for some good family pizza and a movie time. Perhaps one day, since I have seen them all before, I will write a special post on it. It is a hidden treasure of TV for sure.

So there you go, a small update on a not-so-exciting movie week. This weekend I hope to find a moment to watch something quieting…we shall see:)