Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Hulu’s Comedic Shorts are Short on Funny November 23, 2008

Filed under: Hulu,Hulu Awards — Emily @ 11:40 am
Tags: , ,

Recently I discovered some great dramatic shorts on Hulu, so I was looking forward to reviewing the potential nominees for one of this week’s Hulu Awards categories, Best Comedic Short. I figured that if many of the dramatic shorts were well done and entertaining, then surely the comedic shorts would be equally so. Unfortunately, I had more difficulty finding the good amidst a sea of mediocrity.

My problem with these comedic shorts is that most of them weren’t funny. Some of them were quirky and creative, like Music For One Apartment And Six Drummers (but there was nothing amusing about that one), or bizarre like Stricteternum (the little girl with the eyes painted on her eyelids was just plain creepy!), but it was difficult to find humor in many of these shorts. Nevertheless, I managed to choose four proposed nominees. I encourage you to check them out on Hulu to see whether or not you agree with me, or if you think I overlooked any other award-worthy shorts.

My Proposed Nominees for Best Comedic Short on Hulu:

  1. Laid Off – Very low key, dark humor. This short had the highest production values of the potential nominees, so in terms of quality, it had to be on my short list. I didn’t laugh much, but I was mildly amused by the main character’s monotone overview of his life after death. The group session of the departed was the funniest part.
  2. Bjorn: Hurdles of Bureaucracy – Unlike most of the comedic shorts on Hulu, this one actually made me laugh out loud. It points out the ridiculous hurdles to getting a passport. Of course, in the U.S. you could never renew a passport in a matter of hours. The only drawback was misspelled or otherwise incorrect subtitles, which I found distracting. Such simple and glaring errors take away credibility from a movie.
  3. How to Cope with Rejection – For some reason, ninjas always make me laugh. (Ever seen askaninja.com?) I liked the low key, melancholy humor of this short. The music worked well to reinforce the tone.
  4. Walking on the Wild Side – This one was strange, but it made me laugh out loud several times from the awkwardness of the situation. The actors were perfectly cast for their roles and did a great job. Sidenote: until my brother and his wife traveled to Amsterdam recently, I didn’t know that in countries where prostitution is legal, it is common for “working girls” to advertise themselves inside what is similar to storefront displays. Window shopping for a hooker. Weird. Anyway, that context makes this short make more sense.
  • You can view all four of these comedic shorts, plus any of the other contenders in this category, in Hulu’s Movieola Shorts: Comedy section.

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The Top Five TV Comedies on Hulu November 20, 2008

I’ve already discussed an expanded definition of “comedy” and have established what characteristics, in my opinion, a comedy must exhibit to be considered great. Now it is time for me to unveil my proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy on Hulu. So, without further adieu…

  • Arrested DevelopmentThis is my top, top pick. Everything about this little show is greatness. It’s a travesty that it did so poorly in the ratings, but at least it garnered all the critical praise that it deserved. And we have a movie based on the series to look forward to. Given all the attention this show deserves, it is terrific that the entire series is available to watch on Hulu, plus hundreds of clips of classic Bluth dysfunction. What makes this show perhaps the best comedy to ever grace the small screen? Hmmm… let me count the ways. Insanely funny characters. Ridiculously spot-on actors. Perfectly timed voice-over narration. Wacky serialized storylines. Buster’s hook hand. Gob’s endless attempts at magic tricks gone wrong. George-Michael’s name. George Michael’s awkward infatuation with his cousin. Maebe’s career as a movie producer. Tobias’ wearing of jean shorts under his other clothes. Michael’s level-headedness amidst the madness of his family. I could go on and on. I spent almost as much time rewinding episodes of this show as I did watching it, because I was constantly laughing and would have to go back to see what I had missed. The jokes come fast and furious from the opening narration to the ending faux preview of the next episode. In every way, this show is pure comic genius.

  • 30 RockNothing came close to the tone and style of humor of Arrested Development until Tina Fey left Saturday Night Live and started a quirky little show called 30 Rock. 30 Rock displays the same irreverence for anyone and anything, so you never know who the joke will be on from week to week. While Arrested Development revolves around a dysfunctional family, 30 Rock focuses on a similarly dysfunctional cast and crew of a variety show, TGS with Tracy Jordan. It is interested to me that the show was initially marketed as a Tracy Jordan vehicle, because his character is marginal to me at this point. In the first season, there were also differing opinions about whether Jane Krakowski’s character added or detracted from the show. Now in its third season, these problems have been ironed out, and the result has been a consistently clever and funny show. The show’s strengths (and funniest aspects) include the interaction between Jack and Liz, Liz always babysitting the cast and staff, Tracy always coming up with a new scheme with Dot Com and Grizz, and the brilliant roles created for the guest stars. On this show, celebrity guest stars aren’t just a gimmick. They actually work within the context of the show. My favorite is, without a doubt, Will Arnett as Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) professional nemesis. Edie Falco was also perfect as Jack’s liberal Democrat lover (he’s a staunch Republican), and more recently, Jennifer Aniston played the part of Liz and Jenna’s crazy friend in very believable and entertaining fashion. One final attribute that makes 30 Rock one of a kind in the current television landscape: it pokes fun at anyone and anything in politics, entertainment, etc. All the other current sitcoms, that I know of, stay firmly entrenched in their fictional worlds, but 30 Rock draws limitless rich material from our culture, whether it’s Oprah’s Favorite Things or NBC’s “Go Green” week.

  • The OfficeI have always enjoyed the mockumentary (i.e. Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Drop Dead Gorgeous), so I was thrilled when the genre made its way into the tv comedy landscape. I actually prefer the American version over the original one. I guess I’ve never been a fan of dry British humor. The Office is a show that thrives on the adventures of its characters: Michael’s quest for a healthy relationship, Angela’s manipulation of fiance Andy in the midst of her continued relationship with Dwight, Jim and Pam’s long distance engagement, etc. Most of us know people like Stanley, Phyllis, Kelly, and the rest. Sure, they are exaggerated versions of stereotypical co-workers, but there is still a lot of truth to be found. In this case, where there is familiarity, there is humor. The show’s format also adds to its entertainment value. We, the viewers, get extra insight into the situations when the characters talk on camera, and we “get it” when one of them raises their eyebrows or sneaks a smile at the camera over something that happens in the office. So while this show isn’t as smart and quick with the jokes as my previous two nominees, there is still an endless supply of laugh-inducing material.
  • Buffy the Vampire SlayerSome people may argue that this show isn’t a comedy – that it should be categorized solely as horror/fantasy. I disagree! During the years it aired, I’d argue that Buffy was consistently funnier than most of the half hour comedies most people were turning to for laughs. Joss Whedon is a terrific writer and director, and he kept the witty banter going for seven seasons. Some stand out comedic episodes: “Band Candy,” in which the grown ups reverted to their teenage persona after eating some drug-laced candy bars; the fantastic musical episode “Once More, with Feeling,” which had everyone singing and dancing about things like dry cleaning and parking tickets; and “Tabula Rasa,” in which Willow’s memory spell goes awry, making everyone forget who they are (Buffy thinks her name is Joan, Spike thinks Giles is his dad, Xander and Willow think they are dating, etc.). All three of these episodes are on my list of the Best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  • Family GuyUnlike the other shows on this list, which I’ve seen every episode of and count among my all time favorites, I have only seen a few episodes of this animated comedy. So why is it worthy of this final nomination spot? Quite simply, it is hilarious. Sure, it is unabashedly irreverent, and it features some potentially highly offensive scenes, but the cleverness of its dialog and its pop culture/political/social satire more than make up for it. I recall some brilliant Broadway-style musical numbers in one episode I watched. More recently, I was introduced to the way Stewie says “Cool Whip,” and it proves that something as simple as that can be very funny on this show.

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A Recipe for Comedic Success November 19, 2008

Comedy. Funny awkward? Funny ha ha? Funny bizarre? Funny means different things to different people, and so there are many varieties of comedy in today’s entertainment world. Before I list my picks for Best Comedy TV Show on Hulu, let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of comedy, followed by characteristics that I look for in a successful comedy.

From dictionary.com:

Comedy aims at entertaining by the fidelity with which it presents life as we know it; farce at raising laughter by the outrageous absurdity of the situation or characters exhibited; extravaganza at diverting by its fantastic nature; burlesque at tickling the fancy of the audience by caricaturing plays or actors with whose style it is familiar. Generalized sense of “quality of being amusing” dates from 1877. Comedian “comic actor” is 1601; meaning “professional entertainer who tells jokes, etc.” is 1898

That definition covers the main characteristics of comedy, which leads me to a few points I’d like to make:

  • The term “comedy” originally referred to plays that had happy endings, as opposed to the tragedy. Now we use the term “comedy” to apply to stand-up routines, movies, tv shows, etc. There are, of course, many categories of comedy now: dark/black, romantic, satire, parody, slapstick, deadpan, tragicomedy, lowbrow, highbrow, etc.
  • Bottom line: Comedy is intended to be funny, whether it be in a dark, sarcastic, ridiculous, or generally amusing sense.
  • For something to be funny, there must be some thematic elements the audience can relate to – Dysfunctional family relationships, awkward interaction with coworkers, meddling in-laws, etc.
  • Comedic actors exhibit certain traits that make them funny: physical comedy (i.e. Kramer bursting through Jerry’s door, or Elaine shoving someone while proclaiming “Get out!”, on Seinfeld), deadpan delivery of lines (i.e. Bob Newhart, Ray Romano), intonation of voice (Jerry Seinfeld’s incredulous, high-pitched yelling, Matthew Perry’s overemphasis of “be” on Friends – “Could this be any more awkward?”), subtle changes in expression (Jim’s glances at the camera on The Office), etc.
  • Of course, the actors would be limited in their ability to entertain were it not for the writers. Comedic writers have a knack for writing clever, humorous dialog and scenarios. Who knew that losing a car in a parking garage could be so funny – until Seinfeld’s writers created an entire episode about it. Or that a single phrase could become a source of endless hilarity – until “serenity now” (Seinfeld) and “the rural juror” (30 Rock) and others came along? Other times it’s more about witty, fast-paced scripts, as with the dialog and accompanying narration by Ron Howard on Arrested Development (“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s Arrested Development.”)
  • Aside from the acting and writing, audiences connect with comedies because they allow us to escape (doesn’t everyone wish they lived carefree lives in a fantastic New York apartment like the characters on Friends? Or wouldn’t you love to live in a world where you used a supernatural ability to solve a crime and then sit down to eat some delicious pie, like on Pushing Daisies?) or they focus on situations that we find familiar. Though in real life these situations may be less than enjoyable, a comedy can turn them upside down to find the light-hearted, amusing, whimsical, warped, or ridiculous underbelly. Waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant for what seems like an eternity. A husband refusing to unpack his suitcase, which remains sitting at the foot of the stairs while spouses’ pride gets in the way. An inept boss who means well but only creates awkward situations.
  • Two characteristics of comedies that I value most are running gags and inside jokes. If a show possesses these traits, it is evidence that the writers value their loyal audience, and want to provide them with “easter eggs.” For example, on a Halloween-themed episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander was transformed into a soldier, and from that point on throughout the show’s run, he would occasionally draw from his knowledge of combat and weaponry, a holdover from his short stint as an army man. This inside joke was rewarding for viewers, and it also fit well with Xander’s character development on the show, as he always felt out of place on the team of gifted and talented Scoobies. At least he always had his soldier knowledge to fall back on. As for running gags, perhaps the best current example is Barney and Marshall’s slap bet on How I Met Your Mother. How many slaps are left now – is it two or three? 30 Rock and Arrested Development probably have more inside jokes than any other shows, and usually they involve the shows taking aim at their respective networks. 30 Rock, in particular, doesn’t hold back in turning NBC into a running joke, whether its highlighting the network’s head-spinning organizational structure, or taking reality shows to the limit with “MILF Island.”

Those last two characteristics, running gags and inside jokes, are high on my list of necessary ingredients for an award-worthy comedy. They are evidence that the show runners have carefully planned and written the show. Other important ingredients include smart writing, outstanding acting, memorable characters, and, simplest of all – something that makes me laugh. The more, the better! There’s nothing worse than sitting through a sitcom and not laughing once. What’s the point? Another trait that puts a comedy low on my list includes relying on lowbrow humor or sexual innuendo for most of its laughs. There are a lot of funnier things to focus on, but often it seems like shows take the gross out and/or sex joke route because they are the easy way out.

So, now that I’ve laid out my idea of what is required to have a successful, classic, hilarious comedy, I will review the nominees for this category of the Hulu Awards (Best TV Comedy Show), and then announce and defend my proposed nominees. Stay tuned.

  • Click here to view the list of and cast your vote for the proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy Show.
  • Click here to view all the categories currently open for voting in The Hulu Awards.
 

My Proposed Nominees for Best Reality TV November 14, 2008

In my previous post on this subject, I outlined my criteria for evaluating a reality show. After a few days of sampling the potential nominees, taking into account your suggestions and my own interests, I have chosen my recommendations for the Hulu Awards’ Best Reality TV nominees. Read on for my picks and my evaluation of each one.

Competitive Reality Show

  • The Biggest Loser – This show’s premise is inspirational: its contestants are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges that test their willpower on the road to weight loss and fitness. It is amazing to see how much many of the contestants accomplish. What I don’t like about the show are the scenes in which we see the contestants arguing with each other, badmouthing each other, and other glimpses of the social politics while they try to live with each other. I guess with the popularity of shows like Big Brother and Survivor, this is the kind of material that reality tv fans are looking for, so I suppose it is a necessary evil for keeping this otherwise redeemable show on the air.
  • Project Runway – Creative minds, eccentric personalities, and heated design challenges = a spectacular fireworks show. Plus, this show gives the general public a peek inside the world of fashion. Infighting and bad mouthing seem more at home on this show than The Biggest Loser, because whereas the Biggest Loser contestants all have the same goal of losing weight (something they can and do all accomplish, so it seems like they should encourage each other, not tear each other down), only one person can win Project Runway, and the others will be left wondering what they could have done differently. People’s egos are fragile, especially when a judge tells them that their work, which they thought was “a-MA-zing,” is second rate, “looks like a reptile,” or “looks like a beauty pageant.” So the appeal of this show is twofold: beholding the creativity of the contestants and seeing how they handle the stress of the competition.
  • Top Chef – “Please pack your knives and go.” Why must every reality show have a silly catch phrase these days? I guess we can blame Donald Trump for starting this trend, but at least we have a whole new slew of go-to pop culture phrases. Despite Top Chef’s ridiculous one-liner for its eliminated contestants, it is an entertaining and well made show. It has the same sort of appeal as Project Runway. We see how creative the chefs can be with the food challenges they are given, and we see how well they can hold up to the pressure of competition, and in some cases, how well they can work with others.

Non-Competitive Reality Show

  • 30 Days – Now this show actually fits the definition of “reality.” Morgan Spurlock conducts various social experiments that place people into unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. My favorite episode is the one in which Morgan and his then fiance, Alex, lived on minimum wage for a month. That was an educational, eye-opening experience for them and for viewers. This show takes relevant issues and presents them in interesting, fair, and authentic ways, whether its Muslims living in America, the condition of American prisons, or the issue of animal rights. It is my top pick for Best Non-Competitive Reality Show.
  • The Baby Borrowers – This is one of those shows that is educational, and a reality check, for its participants. Several teenage couples are given a taste of what it’s really like to be parents. Basically, they “play house” for an extended period of time, with one of the teenagers working and the other staying home with the child. Thankfully the real parents monitor their progress and intervene when necessary. I would be very nervous about leaving my baby with two teens! This show is satisfying, as viewers can witness the teenagers’ idealized view of parenthood shifting to something more realistic, but it is also sweet at times, to see them learning to be self-sacrificing and others-centered (not typical traits of many teenagers) as they care for their borrowed babies.

Celebrity Driven Reality Show

  • Uncorked – “He’s unrefined, he’s unfiltered, he’s uncorked.” I like wine, and I like improv comedy, so I was charmed by this quirky little show that combines the entertaining personality of improv guy Billy Merritt with an interesting look into wine culture. The basic premise: Billy, a beer guzzling, football watching American, decides he needs a little refinement in his life, so he embarks on a journey to learn the ins and outs of wine.

Uncorked is my nominee for Best Celebrity Driven Reality Show because it meets these criteria:

  • It educates the audience on an interesting cultural issue
  • It Introduces the audience to unfamiliar locations (from obscure wine shops to vineyards in Napa)
  • It presents us with a likable, non-abrasive, funny host.
  • It takes a concept people are interested in and makes a smart show out of it – I, at least, am interested in wine, and I’d much rather watch this show, with its populist approach, than a hoity toity show with a stuffy host looking down his nose at everyone while he pontificates about fine wines.

Final Thoughts

  • The celebrity driven reality shows were the most difficult for me to find redeeming qualities in, so it’s no surprise that my one pick stars a “celebrity” that I had never heard of. I am relieved that next week the Hulu Awards Panel is moving on to comedy. I will post my thoughts next week on the potential nominees for Best TV Comedy, Best Comedic Short, and Best Movie Comedy.
  • Interested in making your opinion count? You can go to The Hulu Review and vote for your favorite shows and movies in the comments section of each Awards Category post. Each category is conveniently listed in the upper right corner of the main page.
 

Sorting the Lentils of Reality TV November 12, 2008

In the Brothers Grimm version of “Cinderella,” the step-mother gives Cinderella a long list of chores she must complete before she can go to the festival. The most difficult task she is given is that of sorting first one, and then two, dishes of lentils that her step-mother has thrown into the ashes. Cinderella cries out to the birds to help her “pick the good into the pot, the bad into the crop.”

That minute detail from “Cinderella” is a good illustration for how I feel about this week’s Hulu Awards nomination tasks. To me, reality shows are like lentils that have been thrown into the ashes. What started out as a good idea has been spoiled by too many bad seeds. However, I do realize that there are a handful of reality shows worth recognizing. With that in mind, it is time for me to “pick the good into the pot” (as potential Hulu Award nominees) and throw “the bad into the crop” (once I have looked at these briefly I will discard them from my memory). And so I am crying out to my readers, just as Cinderella called on the aid of her bird friends, to help me sort the good from the bad.

As a Hulu Award panelist, my task this week is to nominate shows in three different categories: Best Competitive Reality Show, Best Non-Competitive Reality Show, and Best Celebrity Driven Reality Show.

By what criteria should I evaluate these shows? There are always the production values (editing, cinematography, directing, filming locations, etc.) and the non-fiction narrative that the show runners create out of the supposed unscripted happenings. However, the most important aspect of a reality show for me is the mere premise. If the show’s main purpose is to humiliate its contestants, even if they know what they are getting into, it is immediately disqualified from being worthy of nomination. Sorry, Hole in the Wall and Moment of Truth. Also low on my list are shows that are quasi-celebrities’ attempt to stay in the limelight, and stretch their 15 minutes of fame into 20. (I’m talking to you, Rob and Amber. And you, too, Lohan family.)

For a reality show to capture my attention and respect, it must have some of the following elements:

  • Entertain and impress the audience with legitimately talented performers (like So You Think You Can Dance)
  • Challenge individuals/contestants to better themselves (such as The Biggest Loser)
  • Educate the audience on interesting social or cultural issues (like 30 Days)
  • Introduce the audience to unfamiliar and often distant lands (like The Amazing Race)
  • Present us with at least some likable “characters” (There are usually heroes and villains on Survivor)
  • Otherwise take a concept people are interested in and make a smart show out of it (the way Mythbusters turned urban legends into a fruitful topic, or how Dirty Jobs finds plenty of fodder in jobs that are often not given a second thought).

Now that my criteria for evaluating reality shows are in place, let’s take a look at some of the shows in the running for these three categories:

Best Competitive Reality Show (this list contains 15 of the 34 eligible shows. To see the full list click here.)

Best Non-Competitive Reality Show (This list contains 15 of the 39 eligible. For the full list click here.)

Best Celebrity Driven Reality Show (This list contains 15 of the 29 eligible shows. For full list click here.)

So there you have it. 45 lentils for you to help me sort through. Which of these have you seen, do you think would be worthy of consideration to be nominated, would you advise me to stay far far away from, etc. Hopefully, by receiving your feedback and doing my own sampling of these shows on Hulu, I will be prepared to reveal my proposed nominees in a few days. Also look for a post on the worst reality shows available on Hulu, because – believe me – I saw some real bad seeds listed there!

 

Reading Michael Crichton: A Look Back November 8, 2008

Filed under: 1980s,1990s,Books,Memories,Travel — Emily @ 12:03 pm
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I was saddened by the news that Michael Crichton died this week, after “a courageous and private battle with cancer.” Those of us who enjoyed his writing will miss his contributions to the genres of techno thriller and science fiction. It seems appropriate to celebrate his life as an author by looking back at some of my favorite experiences of reading his work.

But first, some general observations:

  • His books have always been much better than the movies based on them. The all time worst film adaptation was Timeline.
  • My favorite aspect of his writing is the way he incorporates sometimes complex technology into adventurous and thrilling plots, in a way that makes sense and is interesting to the average reader.
  • My least favorite characteristic of his writing is that there seems to often be a know-it-all main character who must interject his grand knowledge of various subjects into the conversation, which becomes very annoying and distracting after awhile. (The worst offender of this technique was Rising Sun.) But usually I was able to tolerate this since the stories were always so fascinating.

The Books

  • Congo and Sphere – These were the first two Crichton novels that I read, and I don’t so much remember the particulars of them as I do my circumstances while I was reading them. My introduction to the world of Michael Crichton took place while I was spending a summer in Rome, as part of a semester overseas program offered by my university. I remember hearing mopeds from the street and the clinking of dishes from the hotel kitchen through the open window of my room as I read about the underwater adventures of scientists exploring a spacecraft, and about the jungle expedition of some Americans trying to locate diamonds while surviving in the midst a group of killer gorillas. Reading these books was escapism in the middle of my European escapades.
  • Timeline – This is my favorite Crichton novel. It is a satisfying blend of adventure, science fiction, medieval history, and archaeology. I literally couldn’t put the book down. I loved main character Andre Marek, and I found the idea of modern day people learning to survive in a medieval world very fascinating.
  • The Great Train Robbery – I believe this is the only audio book that I have ever listened to from start to finish. My husband and I decided we needed more than our familiar music collection for entertainment when we drove from Birmingham, AL to the Poconos in 2003 (I think it was a 14 hour trip), so we checked out The Great Train Robbery on CD from our local public library. We had a great time listening to this fascinating historical novel, which relates the true story of a group of thieves in Victorian London who, led by mastermind Edward Pierce, create and execute an elaborate plan to rob a huge amount of gold from a moving train. Crichton did a fantastic job of recreating the cultural and social atmosphere of Victorian England, gave plenty of historical context, and turned a true crime into a thrilling caper. I will always remember how we were transported into the world of the novel while we were driving through the cities of eastern Tennessee, the rolling hills of West Virginia, the drizzly rain of Virginia, etc.
  • Travels – Lesser known than most of his novels, this was Crichton’s travel memoir, and I count it among my favorite of his works. I should really read more travel memoirs, because I always enjoy the armchair tourist aspect of the experience. There was a bit of that element that made me enjoy Travels, but this book is about more than just Crichton’s physical travels – it’s also about his inner “travels,” as he ponders everything from medical school to spoon bending. The main reason I enjoyed it is because it gives insight into his inspiration for many of his novels. He traveled to some amazing places and had some unique experiences, from hiking through jungles to climbing mountains to exploring Mayan pyramids.
  • State of Fear – Published in 2004, this was the last Crichton novel that I read, and I enjoyed it. Its predecessor, Prey, was hard to get into, and was shorter than most of his novels, but State of Fear combined issues of global warming and eco-terrorism into an entertaining and interesting story. Some readers resented his blatant challenges to the assumed threat of global warming, but I thought he presented relevant data to support his claims (albeit while mostly ignoring valid evidence that others use to support the validity of global warming’s dangers). But I wasn’t too concerned with the facts. I read his novels for entertainment, not to confirm or develop my positions on social and political issues, and I thought this novel did its job of entertaining.
  • Other Crichton Books I’ve Read: A Case of Need, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Binary, Five Patients, Airframe (didn’t finish), Rising Sun, Prey
  • Crichton Books I Haven’t Read But May Eventually: Jurassic Park (the movie kind of ruined it for me, but I’m sure the book would be much better), The Lost World, Airframe (maybe I will finally finish it), Next, and his untitled final novel that will be published next year.

Michael Crichton was certainly a prolific writer, from the novels he wrote to pay his way through medical school, to the more well-known stories that made their way to the movie theater over the past decade. He will be missed in the world of books, but with his large collection of works he has left behind an impressive legacy.

What are your favorite Michael Crichton books? Which ones on my list of unread should I make sure to read?

 

Discovering Short Films on Hulu November 6, 2008

Filed under: Hulu,Movies — Emily @ 12:52 pm
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I am currently a panelist for an unofficial Hulu Awards ceremony. We are assessing videos available to watch on Hulu in various categories, including Sports, 80s television, horror movies, classic television, etc., and nominating the best shows in each category. “Best” is quite a subjective term for choosing nominees, so there has been a lot of variety in the nominees. If you are interested in seeing the various categories, or having your own votes included, check out The Hulu Review. There are links to the award categories in the upper right-hand corner.

For those of you not familiar, Hulu is an ad supported online video service, free to viewers, that provides tv shows, movies, and other video clips. I have really enjoyed browsing the videos, some of which I am familiar with, and others that I’ve never heard of. The short films fall into this second category – before watching them on Hulu, I had never heard of any of them. What I’ve discovered is that there is much to appreciate and enjoy in short films. Read on for my picks for the best short films currently available on Hulu, as well as a few that were my least favorite.

  1. Evol – The brief description for this film on Hulu calls it “a fantastically choreographed short that proves even in a backwards world, there’s a place for love.” I loved it! It’s whimsical, sweet, colorful, and visually stunning. I think this is something I could watch again and again, and always smile and notice something new. It is my top pick for Best Dramatic Short.
  2. The Rip-Off – I always enjoy heist movies, and I was impressed that this little film managed to fit a complex con job into ten minutes. The editing first creates a sense of uncertainty, as the audience can’t be sure which customers are in on the job, but after the rip-off is completed, we are able to see an “instant replay” of what happened on the store’s video surveillance. The camera work during this section is very well done, zooming in and slowing down at just the right moments to draw our attention to the quick moving con artists’ stealthy moves. The music, the editing, and the acting all come together for a smoothly produced, entertaining short.
  3. One Down – “Trying to solve a crossword can be murder.” That’s the tag line for this short film that is an odd meshing of the mundane, the mysterious, and the macabre. Who knew a movie about a crossword puzzle could be so entertaining? On one level, it shows the simple pleasure of sitting down with a cup of tea to solve one of these challenging little puzzles. On another, it deals with much heavier themes (which I won’t reveal here in case you want to see for yourself). And at its finest, it uses the element of word play in clever, surprising, and magical ways to tell its story. The musical score complements and reflects the tone, as it shifts from relaxed to surprised to nervous, etc. Don’t let the “Mature Audiences Only” rating scare you away. That rating is due to the main character’s occasional use of offensive language, but you have to read the subtitles to even know what he is saying.
  4. Uncle Jonny – This quirky short doesn’t have production values as impressive as the other three on this list, but the script and the characters are what make it worthy of the final spot on my list of nominees. The basic premise of this seven minute short is that the main character, a young boy, is obsessed with the number eight. He is daydreaming in class about all the things the number eight represents. His sing-song recitation of all things eight is at times funny, at others sweet, and sometimes bittersweet. Beyond the oddity of everything revolving around a number, this little story allows us to see the world, and more specifically a dysfunctional family, from the innocent perspective of its youngest member. So whether it’s his aunt’s depression, his Uncle Jonny’s criminal behavior, or his crush on a classmate, the audience is entertained by the narration, as well as the colorful cast who play all the people in the boy’s life. There is a brief cameo by Hugh Jackman, but that is far from the main reason to watch. My only complaint is the sudden, silly ending, but perhaps that is in keeping with the mindset of the little boy.

If you have a chance to watch any of these shorts, let me know what you think of them.

And here are some shorts that I was less impressed by:

  • Way of the Flounder – This ten minute short follows the journey of a fish from its home in the sea, to its death in a fish net, to a dinner plate at a restaurant, etc. I am often interested in seeing a different perspective on daily life, and seeing the “adventures” of a fish certainly qualifies as that. However, the pacing was too slow, there was little to no music to add interest, and it simply wasn’t entertaining and had no clear purpose.
  • The Masquerade – This was billed as an “unexpected thriller,” but I was very disappointed. It had potential that was never realized, and its concept was mostly borrowed from other movies. This just goes to show that having an established actor (in this case Chris Masterson) as the star doesn’t always translate into having a better short film.
  • At the Quinte Hotel – This short is highly rated on Hulu, but I guess I just didn’t “get it.” It is described as “A bar, a beer, a brawl- not your average night at the pub. Starring Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip.” In my opinion, it was too hip for its own good. To much flash, not enough substance.

Stay tuned for my take on upcoming categories for the Hulu Awards. I’m enjoying discovering new shows and clips and look forward to sharing my opinions with anyone who cares to join in.