Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Review of Six Feet Under

Hey everyone, Dana here. Last week, I did a review of Green Day's documentary, ¡Cuatro! This review will be a TV review! It's something I haven't done in a while, so I figured I'd do something fun. I may be a little late with the time period the show took place in when it was on the air, but I can't help writing about something that I loved the moment I saw it. Yes, the show ended nearly 9 years ago, but the amount of talent and fantastic story writing needs to be addressed. Tonight, I'm going to be reviewing my favorite television show of all time, Six Feet Under.

Let me begin with a brief background premise of the series. In 2001, Alan Ball created and executively produced a drama/dark comedy television series for HBO known as Six Feet Under after the death of his sister in a tragic car accident. 
The show revolves around the members of the Fisher family, who run their family owned funeral home in Los AngelesCalifornia. The pilot of Six Feet Under begins on Christmas Eve with the death of funeral director/business owner Nathaniel Fisher, father of Nate, David and Claire, and the husband of Ruth Fisher. After his death, he leaves the family business to Nate and David, forcing Nate to become a funeral director, the one thing he never wanted to be. 

The HBO drama stars Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Lauren Ambrose, Frances Conroy, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick and Rachel Griffiths as the ensemble cast.
Peter Krause portrays Nate Fisher, the eldest son who co-runs the Fisher Funeral Home after moving to L.A from Seattle in the wake of Nathaniel Sr.'s death (portrayed by Richard Jenkins). Michael C. Hall portrays David Fisher, the second eldest son who is homosexual and also co-runs the funeral home with Nate. Lauren Ambrose portrays Claire Fisher, the youngest child and only daughter of Nathaniel and Ruth who strives to be an artist. Frances Conroy portrays Ruth Fisher, the Fisher family matriarch. Freddy Rodriguez portrays Federico Diaz, mortician at the funeral home and later becomes co-owner of the funeral home at the close of Season 2. Mathew St. Patrick portrays Keith Charles, David’s long term boyfriend. Rachel Griffiths portrays Brenda Chenowith, Nate’s on and off/long term girlfriend.

All of the episodes begin with a death that ranges from suicide, a car accident or a heart attack to cancer, a drug over dose, or a physical conflict. That particular death sets the tone for each episode, which allows the characters to reflect on their own problems in a way that is embellished by the particular death and its aftermath. If someone was depressed and committed suicide, the characters  reflect on how they dealt with their hardships and how they manage to cope with whatever tragedy they're faced with. I observed that most of the themes in the show discuss levels of various interpersonal relationships, infidelity, sexuality, and religion. Dark humor plays a major role in these episodes, used as comic-relief for the intense scenes revolving around the specific deaths.

What really interested me about this show is the internal dialogue the ensemble cast has with deceased people; including Nathaniel Sr, and the bodies of whoever is being embalmed in the basement. They talk to the deceased characters as internal dialogue and express it as external, which is one of the coolest elements I have ever seen in any television series I've watched. Usually when a character dies, he/she is never seen again, or that character is only seen in flashbacks and nothing more.

Another element that really impressed me was the amount of research they had before writing and directing each episode. Real life funeral directors have watched Six Feet Under, and they all believe that Alan Ball and the other producers and writers have the idea of a funeral business completely spot on. Whether it's the process of embalming the body or the type of viewing they use depending on what religion the deceased believed in, every detail was accurate and spot on. If the deceased was Jewish, they made sure that no flowers were on set, the casket was simple and closed, and the body is buried within 24 hours of death because that's what the Jewish religion believes in. If the deceased was Buddhist, they made sure a Buddha was present and there were monks performing ceremonial chants during the funeral. Throughout Six Feet Under's run on the air, there was no controversy regarding any episode made. That, ladies and gentleman, is the perfect example of well-rounded research.

Although all of the episodes are unique and have various themes, ideologies and messages, there is one episode in particular that was pretty out there. I loved almost every last episode ever made, but the fifth episode of the fourth season, “That’s My Dog,” was somewhat intense, but not very good in regards to storytelling.

SPOILER ALERT: If you are currently watching Six Feet Under and have not seen this episode, stop reading right now and do not read this until after you've watched this episode.

Okay, so the episode begins with the death of a woman named Anne Marie Thornton who slipped in the shower and broke her neck. The first portion of the episode begins almost like every other episode in the fourth season: Claire is at art school; receiving critiques on her self portraits that she presented in lecture. Ruth is dealing with drama between her new husband, George Sibley, and his estranged son who was sending them feces in the mail shortly after they got married. Nate is preparing to get involved in a bereavement group after the death of his wife, Lisa Kimmel, in the previous season. He is currently coping with living as a single father and taking care of Maya, his daughter with Lisa. Keith is getting ready to tour the country as a security guard to a young and famous pop artist named Celeste. Rico is spending time with a stripper named Sophia instead of his wife, Vanessa. Brenda goes out to lunch with her mother, Margaret, 
and discusses her career in becoming a shrink, something she vowed to never be. Everything in this episode appears to be normal, or so we think.

After David and Rico discuss the funeral arrangements with the deceased woman’s husband, David takes the white body van to pick up Mrs. Thornton's body. On the way back to the funeral home, David picks up a hitchhiker who claims that “his car broke down” and needs to get some gasoline at the gas station. Thinking that he is a Good Samaritan by performing a random act of kindness to a complete stranger who appears to be a normal person, David ultimately finds out that this “hitchhiker” named Jake is actually a sociopath who ends up carjacking his van and terrorizes him to the point where he literally begs for his life.  Not only was David hijacked by a sociopath, but the entire episode was hijacked by this plot. The viewers have no idea what is going on with the other characters during this entire hijacking experience. The plots that involve Nate, Claire, Rico, Keith, Brenda, Ruth and George are completely dropped, and they are no longer seen until the following episode, "Terror Starts At Home." Talk about hijacking in a literal sense, that's pretty clever.

After David takes Jake to the  gas station, he implores David to take him to an ATM so he can pay him back for being so nice to him.  However, as soon as they get out of the van, Jake punches David in the face, holds him down at gunpoint and forces him to withdraw all of the money from his bank account from a random ATM at a convenience store so they can purchase crack cocaine from drug dealers in a remote neighborhood. Obviously, Jake is into hardcore drugs and promises David that he will leave him alone after they take some together. Afterwards, Jake forces David to dump Mrs. Thornton's decomposing body on the side of the road because of the foul odor emanating from its body due to the lack of preservation. At one point, David attempts to escape by temporarily knocking Jake unconscious, but fails to escape. Since he tried to escape, Jake didn't show any mercy.  Throughout the rest of the episode, Jake tortures David by pathologically lying to him, beating the life out of him, tying him up in the back of the van like a prisoner, forcing him to smoke crack cocaine, drenching him with gasoline, and forcing David to beg for his life while putting a gun into his mouth. David’s life flashes before his eyes as Jake drives away with the van, abandoning him in the dark alley way with cuts and bruises, and ends up walking the streets of Los Angeles alone in the dark, until a police car finally finds him as the screen fades to white.

From what I saw in this episode, Jake wasn't just a sociopath; he literally took a significant portion of David's life and mutilated it. When Jake dumped Anne Marie Thornton’s body onto the street, it’s like Jake also dumped David’s profession onto the street because being a funeral director was a significant part of life. Since David is gay, it’s possible that he was being “punished” for his sexuality because he fantasized about Jake before he was terrorized. Jake constantly called David a "faggot" multiple times throughout the episode, so he either assumed he was gay, or was an actual homophobe. I felt that the psychological and physical abuse was almost sadistic; I felt it was torture built on the thin line between David’s vulnerability and his anxieties about his sexuality. In essence, David is an extremely selfless person and is easily manipulated, so I can see why David would be anxious about his sexuality because people are homophobic and commit hate crimes against homosexuals, as seen in the twelfth episode of the first season, "A Private Life."

I do have some praise for this episode, though. I must say, Michael C. Hall had an Emmy award winning performance with his acting abilities. I could not imagine any other actor who could put himself in the place of someone who was psychologically and mentally abused; it truly was a powerful performance as a victim of physical and emotional violence. When he was “begging for his life,” he had tears in his eyes and panic in his voice. He truly put himself in the place of a victim of domestic violence. When I first saw this episode many years ago, I had trouble sleeping that night. I can’t even imagine how Hall felt after shooting that episode because he was there; living it. However, I was probably sixteen or seventeen when I first saw this episode, so I didn't really think about the plotholes in this episode.

Since this was the fourth or fifth time I've seen this episode, I do have a decent amount of criticism for what I saw this time. There were were many instances where David could have easily escaped from this hostage situation. When Jake went outside the van to get away from the foul odor emanating from Mrs. Thornton's decomposing body, David could have just drove away and left Jake in the street. I even said "God damn it, David, why didn't you just drive away?!?" when Jake got out of the van first. After David was able to break free from being tied up in the back of the van, Jake was temporarily unconscious, David should have ran to whatever building was open and called either the cops or someone home so they could find him and get him away from Jake. Instead, he ran across the street and hid behind a car. It kind of frustrated me because any normal person would literally run for his life no matter what. The only thing I can give him is that if he was in a state of panic, he was not thinking logically. He was too preoccupied with pleasing the predator and giving him what he wanted instead of getting himself out of that situation. 

If there is any other criticism I have for this episode, it's the fact that David appeared to have forgotten that there was a non-preserved body in the van that produces foul odors if they're not embalmed as soon as possible. Instead of taking Mrs. Thornton's body directly back to the funeral home, he got side-tracked with Jake in the van. In a previous episode, he berated Nate for not taking a body directly back to the funeral home when he grabbed a bite to eat with Brenda. So, why did he forget about that? To answer my own question, Keith just left town and wasn't coming back for a couple of months, and he was lonely. Perhaps his loneliness took over his funeral director mindset and replaced it with wanting to be loved and wanted. 

Six Feet Under will forever be one of my “Top 10” favorite television shows of all time, albeit no longer on the air. Even though the series ended after five seasons and 63 episodes, it ended on a high note, rather than “jumping the shark” and having it go down in infamy like many other hit television shows in the past. The final episode of Six Feet Under was universally acclaimed as the one of the greatest series finales in the history of television. I could not agree more.

If you are a fan of Six Feet Under, I hope you enjoyed this review and I would love to read your responses to what you thought about this episode or this blog post. If not, thank you so much for reading and feel free to comment what you think of this as well. Have a good night, everyone. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Review of Green Day's ¡Cuatro!

Hey everyone, Dana here. If you didn't catch my blog post last week, I reviewed Ylvis's song/music video of "What Does The Fox Say?" and it was a lot of fun reviewing; despite my dislike for it. Recently, I've been doing a lot of critiques and negative reviews over the past few months, so I think it's time to make a positive review. I haven't done a positive review since Joan Jett's new album, Unvarnished...and that was back in October! Well, here's a positive one, ladies and gentleman. I'm reviewing ¡Cuatro!, Green Day's documentary about the making of their triple album, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and Tré!
For the longest time, I wanted to review all three albums, but if I did that, this blog post would take two hours to read because I would be reviewing song by song, album by album. I would literally be boring my readers to death; I hated reading obnoxiously long essays and other required readings in high school and college, so I would never put anyone through what I went through. But couldn't I just do three separate blog posts? No way, that would be too predictable and too repetitive. I like a variety of topics, and I'm sure you would too. Alright, enough small talk. Let's dive into ¡Cuatro!

So, the film opens with a shot on the ocean...with Billie Joe Armstrong on a surfboard, with his voice over reflecting on what happened after the last record they released prior to the triple album. He said " I the end of my rope, and we desperately needed a break, so that summer, we took about a month off, and I...started writing demos just to keep things going." So even though Green Day stopped touring for about a month, Billie continued to write because he felt that taking time off was dangerous. He observed that when bands take time off, they're not as good when they come back because being in a band is like taking care of a car...if you don't keep it tuned up, it will just sit there and rust over. Personally, I never thought of it that way. I always knew that practicing with a band takes a lot of work, dedication and commitment, but I never compared it to taking care of a car. It's genius.

The film then goes into how the last two albums, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, were essentially concept albums, and it was time to make an album or two that is just straight up rock n' roll! So, instead of just one album, and not just a double album, but a triple album! They decided that  ¡Uno! and Tré! were going to be fun, powerpop rock kind albums, and ¡Dos! was going to be pure rock n' rollWhat band releases three albums months apart from each other? Back in 1973, The Who released their double album, Quadraphenia, and it was the coolest thing anyone has ever done. Green Day decided to take that idea to the next level and made a triple album! Seriously, what songwriter is talented to write over thirty songs and thirty song lyrics in less than one year? If that isn't called talent, I don't know what talent is.

The film then continues on to discussing a new addition was added to Green Day. For the past eight albums, the line up consisted of Billie Joe Armstrong on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Dirnt on bass and backing vocals, and Tré Cool on drums and backing vocals. For the first time in thirteen years, they finally promoted Jason White, their touring guitarist since 1992, as a permanent member to the lineup of Green Day. As much as I loved Green Day as a trio of three talented men in a kickass punk band, I'm very pleased that they added him as permanent member. I thought it was really cool of Billie, Mike, and Tré to add him and a second guitarist and backing vocals after all of the times he toured the world with them for nearly twenty-two years. With a second guitarrist on hand, I feel there is more depth into the songwriting process, and it allows them to experiment with who plays lead or rhythm. Jason was with them for so long, that it was only right for him to join the trio, so I really like that they addressed Jason White's induction in the film. Like they said towards the close of the film, he is "cuatro," or "the fourth member." Very fitting, guys. Right on.

Another thing I really liked about ¡Cuatro! was that the majority of the film didn't consist of only clips of Billie, Mike, Tré, and Jason recording various songs that there going to be placed on any of the three albums. There was so much concert footage that I felt like I was at whatever concert they were performing at. From what I learned about this documentary, Green Day truly knew how to engage with their audience rather than just simply recording their songs and then releasing it months later. In October of 2011, Green Day played a show at Webster Hall in New York City, and they released their future songs on ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and Tré! during that concert solely because they wanted to test out the songs before recording them just to see if the audience likes the songs or not. Billie said "This is the first time in 20 years, that we're actually inviting people into the process...this is not a fully thought out thing yet."Let's look at the big picture here. Green Day has been around since 1987, and here they are playing a set of brand new songs that no one has ever heard before as if they were a brand new,unknown, underground local band. The last time they played a set of unknown, unrecorded songs live for people was during the Kerplunk and Dookie days, it was a real throwback. They reflected that they learned about the songs a lot faster in front of a group of people rather than just recording it and doing a bunch of takes of said song. They treated themselves as an opening band. Because they did that, they know what it's like being an underground band, anxious about whether the audience will like the songs or not. For the past twenty plus years, all of their concerts had a thundering audience, guaranteed praise. For the first time since the early 90's, they're doing a trial run of the songs. Thank you, Green Day, for indirectly giving local bands a shout out. Thank you for understanding where we come from.

After watching the hour and fifteen minute documentary of ¡Cuatro!, Green Day essentially gave me a bigger reason  to look up to them and inspire me write songs and play in a band that is influenced by them. They engage with their audience, and allow themselves to go back to the days when they were just starting out. They truly are some of the most talented musicians I've seen during the twenty two years I've walked this planet. I don't care that they "sold out" after the release of American Idiot. They grew up and experimented with new sounds, new music, and new ideologies behind their lyrics. Sure, I may somewhat prefer pre-American Idiot Green Day to their newer songs, but that doesn't stop me from loving their music and the amount of dedication, time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears into doing what they love to do. Green Day will forever be one of my favorite bands, and they will forever be my influence and inspiration to do what I love to do: write music just like what they do.

Thank you so much for reading, everyone. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you all next week.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Review of Ylvis's "What Does The Fox Say?" video.

Happy New Year, everyone! Dana here. I apologize for the lack of blog posts for the past few weeks. Finals week, seeing the Misfits with my boyfriend and best friend, Christmas, New Years, quitting my job at CVS and getting a new one at Costume America had me occupied for several weeks. For that, I sincerely apologize. If you didn't catch my latest blog post, I reviewed Carrie Underwood's portrayal as Maria von Trapp on NBC's live performance of The Sound of Music . Tonight, I'm gonna do something semi-different. It's gonna be a music review, but not my thoughts and input on a CD by an artist or band. It's a MUSIC VIDEO review. I normally review music videos of bands that I enjoy. Tonight, I'm feeling adventurous. Since 2013 just ended, I figured it would be appropriate to review the most popular and viral video of the past year...I am reviewing that viral, idiotic music video of Ylvis's "What Does The Fox Say?" 

Alright, let's start with a walk-through of the video, shall we? So anyway, the video begins with a fade in of some house with a bunch of people wearing animal costumes. I figured maybe it was a silly cosplay or it's a costume party, where everyone is dressed up in animal suits, having some drinks, dancing, and simply enjoying each other's company. Then the singer begins by singing "Dog goes woof, cat goes meow, bird goes tweet, and mouse goes squeak," correlating with various people dressed as a dog, a cat, a bird, and a mouse, respectively. The beginning of this kind of music video reminds me of something that would be shown in a pre-school or a kindergarten classroom; for young kids to learn what kind of sounds various animals make. I wasn't quite sure why nursery-rhyme related lyrics would cause a video to go viral, so I continued to watch some more.

Then, the lyrics are "Cow goes moo, frog goes croak, and the elephant goes toot," once again correlating with various characters dressed as a cow, a frog, and an elephant, respectively. I then began to wonder why this song, with lyrics like this, managed to become viral and reach millions of views in less than twenty four hours. I'm pretty sure young children aren't the target audience of this video, so how on earth did this video spread like the plague?

Next, the lyrics are "Ducks say quack, and fish go blub, and the seal goes ow ow ow, but there's one sound that no one knows..." Suddenly, the singer appears wearing a fox costume and sings "What does the fox say? Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringerding...Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding! Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!" in a high pitched squeaky voice with various people dancing while dressed in fox costumes as if they were performing in a flash mob. He then begins to make indescribable sounds that go along with the rhythm of this "song," and continues to have other people dancing in fox costumes. My eyes widened with horror as I began to think "what the hell..." throughout the rest of the video.

The singer then begins to describe what a fox looks like and what it does on a daily basis. He sings "Big blue eyes, pointy nose, chasing mice, and digging holes. Tiny paws, up the hill, suddenly you're standing still. Your fur is red, so beautiful, like an angel in disguise" with shots of a legitimate fox walking through a forest. That, I have to say, is pretty cool. Unless it was CGI'd, having a fox on set is pretty awesome. Then, he begins to wonder if the fox would communicate with other animals; horses in particular, and if they would talk to each other via morse code or not. Unless the "morse code" lyric is supposed to be metaphorical, the idea of animals using morse code is pretty stupid, in my opinion. Maybe the "morse code" lyric was put their solely to rhyme with horse...but regardless of that thought, the lyrics could have a much better meaning than something so basic and concrete.

The chorus is repeated back with indescribable sounds with more people dancing in fox costumes, and once again, my head shook in disgust and my frustration towards its popularity significantly increased. The singer closes the song by wondering if the world will ever know what kind of a sound a fox makes. Wait, hold on. Didn't he just spend a good portion of this song making idiotic sounds of what he thinks a fox makes? So why the hell did he even bother singing that last verse? That was a complete waste of time, and a waste of my time as well.

Seriously, can I have my three minutes and forty five seconds back, please? This was by far one of the most ridiculous pieces of garbage I've ever seen in my entire life. I've seen and listened to Rebecca Black's "Friday," Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," PSY's "Gangnam Style," and various viral videos for the past few years, but this is might just be the worst of them all. How did something so asinine like this become the frickin' Gangnam Style of 2013? Since it's launch, I've observed various people quoting it in their Facebook statuses, posting the video itself, or they would tweet about it on Twitter. Heck, I even saw T-shirts that have "What Does The Fox Say?" printed on the front of said T-shirts in various stores in the mall, so I would really like to know why are so many people fascinated with something so ridiculous? Was it funny? Was it catchy? Was it talented? If it was funny, I would be laughing. Perhaps my taste in humor is different from others, but I didn't smile at all during the three minutes and forty-five seconds of the video. Instead, my eyes widened and I felt like my IQ was dropped to the IQ of a neanderthal. I can't believe this is the kind of video that goes viral throughout the world. This is the kind of video that people are more fascinated with than actual art that people work so hard to create.

Sure, it was a little catchy. After listening to it, the song would be playing over and over in my head, but I wouldn't go out of my way to listen to it again. I wouldn't be singing it or downloading it to my iPod, that's for sure.
The only talent I would give this video would be the choreography. To have multiple people make the exact same dance moves takes a lot of effort and practice, so I'll give them that. Musically and lyrically? Absolutely not. Mindless and empty lyrics do not make a good song, and certainly shouldn't be the biggest and most popular song of 2013. So many underground bands and artists put their hearts, souls, blood, sweat, and tears into their music...yet they barely make enough money to put gas in their cars. I don't understand why mindless lyrics get so much attention, yet heartfelt and meaningful lyrics get passed by as if it was a load of garbage on the side of a dirt road. How this video has approximately 320,212,610 views is beyond my wildest dreams, but for some strange reason, the world seems to love it.

Well, everyone, that was my two cents on "What Does The Fox Say?" and almost everything that goes on in the video. I certainly have no interest in watching it again, and hopefully one day this video will fade into the back of people's memories, and more talented and meaningful videos will become more viral.
Thank you for reading, and enjoy the rest of the weekend.