Look at 2012 - Television by Krista Boivie

By almost any standard, 2012 could be considered an outstanding year in popular entertainment. The summer featured blockbuster after blockbuster with some of the highest-grossing movies also garnering serious critical acclaim. We are also in what is widely heralded as the Golden Age of Television, with scripted programming being more original and daring than ever before. The recording industry provided us with exciting new artists and the return of some established superstars, populating the airwaves with music ranging from thought provoking lyric based songwriting to the irritatingly undeniable catchy hooks of pop music earworms. In books, there were a slew of revealing and confessional autobiographies, excellent political works designed to influence the election and the return of the Great American Novel. If you are someone who, like me, consumes an awful lot of content, then 2012 was as good a year as any you can remember. 

To start this new blog, we decided to do a staple of entertainment based blogging: the year in review. I will be focusing on my favorites in both movies and TV while my sister will be providing her thoughts on books and music. Here we go.

TV I Liked

I had three distinct favorites in TV this year that I want to talk about. Readers will notice the absence of many of the big prestige programs that have dominated the conversation about TV over the last few years. While I have watched shows like Downton AbbeyMad MenBreaking BadThe Walking DeadHomeland and Girls and I find those shows to be very well made, I have decided to focus on the shows that I ENJOYED watching the most this year.

Game of Thrones – To be fair, I have to admit that I am a huge fan of the book series. That being said, I love this show as a completely separate entity. As a fan on the Fantasy genre in books, I am often disappointed at how a lot of those works have been adapted in TV or movie form. Either the content needs to be watered down to make it more palatable to a larger audience or it needs to be scaled down in order to make it fit into a smaller, less expensive shadow of the original material. Fortunately for us fans, there have been notable critical and commercial successes in both TV and movies which has made studios and networks more willing to commit the time and money necessary to do this material right. HBO has given an amazing amount of support to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss allowing them to create the best possible version of Game of Thrones. While most of the attention paid to the show focuses on its more sensational aspects, (Nudity! Violence! Incest!) It is the quieter moments of the show that, for me, are where the true power is. Peter Dinklage leads a stellar cast that gives the breaths between the explosions and beheadings some real gravity. Game of Thrones has provided moments of humor, intensity, shock, sadness and rousing triumph. You are forced to face the humanity of the villains even as you hate their ruthlessness, and see how sometimes the goodness in a man can make him weak. It makes you wish you didn’t have to wait another week to find out what happens, and I can’t imagine anything more you could ask of a TV show.                                                     

Best Episode: Blackwater

Happy Endings – It has been a hard last 10 years for the Sitcom. Most of the shows cranked out by the major networks have been duds both creatively and commercially leaving people wondering if there was much of a future for Network TV Comedies. Many of the real stalwarts like The Office30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother seem to be headed towards the finish line, but when it seemed all hope was lost, there have been a slew of new shows that have picked up the baton. New GirlBen and KateSuburgatory and Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23 have all been fresh and funny new additions to their lineups. My favorite new comedy of the last few years has to be Happy Endings, for a number of reasons. The show has managed to have six distinct characters that all play off each other incredibly well. The humor works in large groups and when the six of them break off into smaller units. Happy Endings has great punch lines along with terrific physical sight gags which makes it relentless as it goes for laughs. When I watch comedy, I want a show that is aggressively trying to make me laugh and not just hoping I will. The cast is very, very strong and each member of it is capable of carrying their own storyline. I can’t imagine a comedy ensemble working together any better than this. It is the most reliable comedy on any channel.                                                                                                                            

Best Episode:   Sabado Free-Gante

Burn Notice – This is a show I have liked for a long time, but this year it really elevated itself from a show I liked to one I loved. Burn Notice has always been a tense, action-packed hour of television, but it had slowly devolved into a pulpy spy serial where the overriding story arc was ignored in favor of a thug of the week format that made each episode more of a stand-alone than of part of a larger narrative. They remedied that in a big way by introducing a great villain played brilliantly by Jere Burns who returned the show to its roots. The level of danger increases and the show isn’t afraid to kill off some recurring characters to show how serious the threats the team is facing are.  Jeffrey Donovan does his best work this season as burned spy Michael Westen. Westen is a man whose job as a government operative was to make decisions with life and death consequences, and this season on Burn Notice for really the first time, we see the weight of those choices and the toll it takes on a man to make them.  He is more conflicted, emotional and dangerous than at any other time on this show and it makes Burn Notice the best it has ever been.                                                                                                                                         

Best Episode: Under the Gun  

TV I Didn’t Like

Mockingbird Lane – There is no reason that a reboot of the Munsters should have been such a dull, drab, humorless hour of television. With today advances in make-up and special effects, a show like this could have been taken to some amazing places. On the surface, I thought there was a good chance I would enjoy Mockingbird Lane. The cast included three people whose work I consistently like: Portia De Rossi, Jerry O’Connell and Eddie Izzard and each of them looks like they want to be anywhere but here. Where there should have been humor there was melodrama, where there should have been campy fun there was brooding tension. I tuned into Mockingbird Lane hoping for a light, enjoyable guilty pleasure and what I got was an hour of TV that missed the mark in almost every way. 

Gone Too Soon

The Finder – This show, originated from a character that debuted on an episode of Fox’s Bones. Geoff Stults plays Walter Sherman who, after suffering a brain injury serving in the Iraq war develops an obsessive ability to make connections between people, places and events that can help him find anything. This doesn’t sound like a great premise, but The Finder had a cast with a lot of charm and a very unique take on the current TV procedural archetype. This is also Michael Clarke Duncan’s final project, and he uses his gruff, loveable persona to great effect as he mentors a juvenile delinquent played by Maddie Hasson. The Finder moved in a lot of interesting directions in its 13 episodes and I was eagerly looking forward to watching it mature and develop its voice. Sadly, it was gone too soon.

Look at 2012 - Movies by Krista Boivie

This has been a very satisfying year at the movies. It has been a few years since I had this many good experiences at the theater. From the high octane action movies to the subtle, nuanced dramas to the irreverent comedies I could have made the case for at least 10 movies to be included in my Top 3 but alas, movies like The Dark Knight RisesDjango UnchainedSilver Linings PlaybookThe HobbitSkyfallArgoBrave and 21 Jump Street all fell just short. Again, my criterion for the Top 3 movies of the year is boiled down to one thing: what were the three films I ENJOYED the most this year. It should be noted that I tend to give extra credit to movies that reward you for the effort it takes to go and see them in the theater so a few of the more quiet and intimate films that were made this year get shut out because I think there is no perceptible loss if you wait to see them at home on DVD or Blu Ray. Here are my favorites from 2012.

Movies I Liked

Les Miserables – As an unabashed supporter of musical theatre, I was thrilled when it was announced that they were doing a full musical adaptation of Les Miserables for the big screen. As casting announcements started to come out, I was even more excited at the prospect of this film. The execution of this movie however, exceeded my wildest expectations. Oscar winning director Tom Hooper made a brave choice to have all of the actors sing live to camera, and it was that choice that allowed this movie to be truly great. When seeing musical theatre live it is the raw, emotional nature of the performances that makes it a great experience. Les Miserables is a story that is all about the emotional rises and falls of the characters and I wasn’t sure if that could be captured on screen with actors lip-synching pre-recorded tracks that had been polished to perfection months earlier. With Hooper challenging his actors to sing live, the immediacy of the performances push through the screen and hit the audience with full force. The anguish in Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is gripping and paints a full portrait of this woman’s collapse into despair. The pleading quaver in Hugh Jackman’s voice as he beseeches God to protect Marius before battle is haunting but laced with a desperate hope. Eddie Redmayne’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is a vulnerable and shattering song of sorrow for the death of his friends and guilt that he wasn’t among them when they fell. Among the more famous members of this cast there were two standouts that aren’t as well known and deserve recognition. Aaron Tveit as Enjolras and Samantha Barks as Eponine were tremendous with both their acting and singing and I can only hope I see more from each of them sooner rather than later. Les Miserables is a movie that took risks in both casting and production, and while it is not without flaws, I feel that it is those flaws that show this film’s brilliance in stark relief.

Wreck-It Ralph – This review only needs to be one sentence long: Wreck-It Ralph is absolutely delightful. Even though it is probably unnecessary, I will explain why. When animation is done well, it has no limits to how effective a story-telling medium it can be. To explore something like video games there needs to be an attention to detail and the imagination to create large interactive worlds that suits animation perfectly. The story centers around a video game villain, Wreck-It Ralph who realizes how lonely it is being the bad guy, so he sets out on a quest to win the love of the people in his game by becoming a hero. Ralph moves through several games and time after time I was impressed by the width and breadth of each game he goes into. Each setting is truly distinct and yet familiar to anyone who has grown up playing video games, like I have. The humor is fresh and original, particularly the scene with the Bad Guys Anonymous support group. What I thought helped Wreck-It Ralph rise above a number of other animated movies from this year was twofold. First, this was an exceptional cast of voice talent. In their desire to draw an audience, a lot of times the studios who develop animated movies rush to cast big-name stars in the lead roles. Just because someone is an established star doesn’t mean that they have the type of vocal range and versatility that allows them to bring to life a two dimensional drawing and give it personality. John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch were all pitch perfect in their roles. The voices were suited to each character so completely that you almost felt like they were created from the beginning with these actors in mind. I want to single out Sarah Silverman, who I thought was the best thing in Wreck-It Ralph. I am usually lukewarm on Sarah, but I can’t imagine this movie existing without her as Vanellope. Secondly, there was a great lesson about self-acceptance that was delivered without being heavy handed or overtly preachy. With this movie being primarily aimed at kids, it is never too soon to tell them that it is ok for them to be who they are no matter how flawed they think they are. Wreck-It Ralph is just great entertainment.

The Avengers – A lot of people are going to disagree with me on this one. I am perfectly fine with that. For all intents and purposes, The Avengers should have been a creative disaster. Pulling together six different Heroes (four of whom had carried an entire movie on their own) and creating a cohesive storyline that featured each of them enough to justify their presence, while also getting a strong performance from the villain should have proven to be too much for Joss Whedon. It wasn’t. Whedon was the ideal choice to helm a project like this because, like Sam Raimi before him with the Spider-man movies, he has a true passion for the subject matter. The Avengershad great balance between how well it was written and how well it was shot. For a movie that topped 2 hours and 20 minutes, it managed to advance the story at a consistent pace, which kept it from dragging and the writers hit a number of homeruns with well-placed laughs. The humor was one of the things that, to me, set The Avengers apart from a movie like The Dark Knight Rises. It allowed you to catch your breath in between the big action sequences without becoming slightly maudlin. Finally, The Avengers managed to do something that most people thought was impossible, it made the Hulk likeable. There had already been two attempts to turn the Hulk into a franchise and neither one was successful, so people were skeptical that this third try would be any better. The addition of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner had a rumpled and wary charm to it, and showed that the man is more than just the monster. Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark had his customary sharp-tongued swagger; the underrated Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth did a lot of heavy lifting in the battle scenes and Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson provided a little bit of emotional subtext to a story that tended toward the superficial. The Avengers was truly a collaborative success. If any of the many major moving parts hadn’t fit, it would have collapsed like a house of cards. Instead, it worked so well that it guarantees that all of these characters will be around for another go in one form or another and that is just fine by me.

Movie I Didn’t Like

Rock of Ages – I went to see this movie ready to really enjoy myself just like I had when I saw Rock of Ages on Broadway a few years ago. From stage to screen, this movie lost all of its shameless, rollicking joy. I like the music that fuels this show and I like the wild abandon with which the audience is encouraged to join in. None of that existed on screen during this movie. Rock of Ages managed to round up a stellar cast and how those actors managed to give those performances, I will never know. Tom Cruise was the only person who was able to fully lose himself in his role, while everyone else seemed to hope that their funny wigs or acid washed jeans would get the laughs for them. The singing was fine but like a lot of things in Rock of Ages it seemed a little too stiff and measured for a story that is about the power and thrill of Rock and Roll. If you missed it in the theater, feel free to miss it on DVD too.

You Didn’t See This (But You Should Have)

Chronicle – I wasn’t going to see Chronicle until I read a short article about it in Entertainment Weekly that sparked my interest. I am so glad I did. This movie gave me a new director and 3 new actors whose careers I will be following closely from now on. Chronicle is about an unlikely trio who form a bond when at a high school party they find a mysterious object that gives them superpowers. As they develop their new abilities and become aware of all of the possibilities that exist for them, they develop a friendship that is cemented by the fact that they share something that no one else can understand. Chronicle uses the increasingly common “found footage” format to tell this story, and while I haven’t liked this plot device in the past, director Josh Trank makes it a very effective way to engage the audience. The middle third of this movie is where it becomes something special. When the movie starts we are introduced to Andrew, his cousin Matt and Matt’s friend Steve. Matt and Steve are both athletic, popular Alphas at their high school, while Andrew is the awkward loner who is always filming everything with his video camera. At home we see Andrew getting constantly bullied by his alcoholic father as he watches his mother succumb to a terminal illness. His escape is his newly burgeoning friendship with Matt and Steve as they develop their new abilities and test their limits. Cole DeHaan plays Andrew and does an amazing job of showing how seductive strength can be to someone who has only ever known weakness. Andrew becomes increasingly more volatile and dangerous as his self-control wanes. Alex Russell as Matt and Michael B. Jordan as Steve try to use their friendship with Andrew to help him keep his balance but realize he is slipping away from them, taken over by his darker urges.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but what Josh Trank does with a limited budget is inspiring and should be a lesson to other directors that bigger isn’t always better. The three leads in Chronicle bear watching, because I am certain we will hear a lot more from them. See this movie!

Look at 2012 - Books by Krista Boivie

This past year was a year I indulged myself in all things non-fiction.  I was on a business and psychology kick and most of what I read centered on those two topics.  I read some mind-blowing stuff. With that in mind it was difficult for me to choose my three favorite books. I spent the summer driving between my family and friend’s homes in the west and I was able to listen to my favorite thriller/mystery author David Baldacci, as I drove, but unfortunately none of his books made my list this year. 

Books I Loved

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – FIOS is the only work of fiction to make my list this year and rightfully so. All the other fiction books I read paled in comparison to this delightful and heartbreaking story about two teenagers, Hazel and Augustus. The story centers on our main character Hazel who has a terminal (but for the time being, stable) form of cancer, and her new romance with Augustus, whom she meets at a cancer support group. I know cancer books are often full of melodrama and sadness. This story is very different. I will disclose that as a preteen I was obsessed with cancer books, stories with titles like I Want to Live and I Don’t Want to Die. I don’t know why the topic was so appealing to me at that age, but even then I enjoyed stories where the characters dealt with terrible pain. In FIOS, Green is masterful in his ability to create rich and nuanced characters that don’t feel like they need our pity and sorry. I will leave the rest of the tale for you to discover, but I will share one of my favorite quotes. Hazel is speaking to Augustus about her favorite book—but the quote sums up my feelings on this book as well.

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. 

It is no surprise that this book has already garnered awards and was included on many top 10 lists for 2012. Green deserves all the praise and I can’t wait to begin reading his earlier works.

Drive: The Surprise Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink – Drive is a book that asks us if we really understand why we do what we do. The premise of the book is that we do things for one of three reasons; Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. I enjoy Pink’s ability to take stories and studies from business and education and weave them into an enjoyable book that anyone in any industry would enjoy.  As a teacher I have been able to use the information to make my assignments more engaging for my students. 

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parentingby Pamela Druckerman – Druckerman is an American journalist and she has written a witty and delightful memoir where she shares her struggles and what she has learned about French parenting while raising her three children in Paris.  I know it seems odd that I would choose a parenting book as one of my three favorite books, but I enjoy consuming information on all sorts of topics.  There were two things that appealed to me so much about this book, first it is about France and I will admit that I have a secret (not so secret now) love affair with Paris. The second, I spend my days with other people’s children and I often lament about American ideas on parenting. French parenting is based on two principles: the first is the Pause, and the second is the Cadre. The Pause is about letting a child fuss or cry for a few minutes (never more than 5 or 10, depending on the age of the child) to make sure that something is really upsetting the child or if they just are trying to settle themselves. French parent's believe that the Pause works because babies aren’t helpless animals and can learn things—they are teaching the child confidence, serenity and how to be aware of other people. The second principle to successful parenting is in the Cadre. Cadre means that kids have very strict limits and the parents will heavily enforce the limits—however children are given tremendous freedom within the limits.  Druckerman shares many of her own personal stories in the book which highlight her struggle to find a balance between her American upbringing and trying to incorporate the new French techniques she was learning.  Her observations led to this identification of the philosophical differences between American and French parenting.

We Americans assign ourselves the job of pushing, stimulating, and carrying our kids from one developmental stage to the next. The better we are at parenting, we think, the faster our kids will develop…French parents just don’t seem so anxious for their kids to get head starts. They don’t push them to read, swim, or do math ahead of schedule. They aren’t trying to prod them into becoming prodigies. French parents believe in “awakening” and “discovery”.

Needless to say if you are interested in different parenting ideas this book is an excellent read. 

Look at 2012 - Music by Krista Boivie

We are in the era of the single and 2012 was a great year for the single. Five years ago I still bought albums, but it’s a different world today.  2012 wasn’t lacking for great singles. I was addicted to Maroon 5’s “One More Night” as well as anything that Adele released.  I loved the attention that was given to more alternative or indie artists like Goyteand fun., which was rightfully earned. As I compiled my list of favorite songs it was incredibly difficult. I wanted to have a range that represented my varied tastes, but ultimately I just decided to let the numbers do the talking. Here are my three most played songs of 2012.

Best Songs of 2012

Cough Syrup by Young the Giant – I first heard this song through the wall of my classroom after school.  I couldn’t get the tune out of my head and I finally abandoned my work to find out who the artist was. Young the Giant is an Indie rock group from Southern California. Cough Syrup is one of two songs they released on their debut album. Although their debut was released in 2010, I am still adding this single to my list for 2012 because that is when I was introduced to them. The lead vocals are by Sameer Gadhia and he has an honest and earnest vocal style. According to Wikipedia, Cough Syrup was written long before the band had a record deal and is about breaking free from “common symptoms of suburbia like boredom, normality and homogeneity”. The lyrics are moving and I think the idea behind the message is fitting for any kind of oppression or struggle.

Home by Phillip Phillips – I was in China during the 2012 Summer Olympics and I missed that this song became the official anthem of the American gymnastics team.  It wasn’t until I returned home in August that I heard it repeatedly on the radio and I was an instant fan.  I love the folksy feel of the song.  Phillip has a gorgeous voice full of warmth and soul. Plus who doesn’t love a song that is about finding shelter and belonging.  This song was written as a coronation single for the finalists on American Idol. Typically I have hated each and every one of those songs.  I didn’t watch the 2012 season of Idol and missed that this was Phillips crowing glory. It is a song that I think will last for a very long time. Even though Phillips didn’t write it he embedded it with his spirit and soul and I think it fits well on his debut album alongside his own original material.

Domino by Jessie J – Domino is the perfect pop tune, catchy, fun and it has a great chorus to sing-a-long with.  Jessie J was already on my radar with her first U.S. hit Price Tag, but Domino just kicks everything up a notch.  Whereas Price Tag has a more heartfelt message, Domino is just about having a good time. What I like about Jessie is that her style is a fusion of sounds. You get some pop, soul, hip-hop, disco etc. that creates this amazing vibe. I hope Jessie keeps writing hits like this and she will have a fan for life.

Most Overplayed Single

Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen – First, I will say that I don’t hate the song, I just think it has been overplayed and I could go another five years without ever hearing it again. There is no denying the charm that is Carly Rae. This beautiful young woman with has an infectious voice and happy demeanor. This is the type of song that burrows into your head and has you singing it all day long, which can be fun—but when you have done that five days in a row it is a tad annoying. Of course with a hit this big, it also led to the parodies and YouTube recreations of the video. I will say that I did not indulge in the fandom of the song and I have not seen the music video or any of the parodies. I will also say that I hope that Carly Rae doesn’t let this be her one big shot at stardom in the U.S., but can parlay this into a much longer career. She is talented and I look forward to more depth in her future work.

You Didn’t Hear It (But You Should Have)

Comfortable Swagg by Jon B. – My favorite genre is R&B and Jon B. is that traditional smooth voiced R&B artist.  I have been a fan of his since his first album Bonafide that was released in 1995. He set the stage for Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke as a pioneer for white guys to embrace their soulful sides. I was thrilled when he released Comfortable Swagg in 2012.  The title track is my favorite, funky, and smooth. I love a track that has an easy groove that I can jam too. My second favorite track is Only You, a traditional R&B ballad that allows Jon to show off his vocal ability. Jon is releasing a B-Sides album on the 25th and I am excited to see even more work from him. 

Hello My Name Is…Brigit Mendler – You might be familiar with Brigit due to her single Ready or Not that was a top 50 hit this past year. If you were a fan of that single I would highly recommend purchasing her full album. On a whim I decided to purchase the album and I was pleasantly surprised that I liked each and every song.  This almost never happens to me. Sure some of the songs are better than others, but as a whole there is not one song I would skip. That speaks volumes about the album. It is a classic pop album with catchy tunes, but upon closer examination there is a lot of depth to the lyrics. In a field where most pop stars have to create a persona that often borders on the ridiculous, I appreciate that Brigit relies on her talent to speak for itself.  My favorite tracks are “Love Will Tell Us Where to Go”, “Top of the World”, and “The Fall Song.”