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Silicon Valley Season 1

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Like Tara said, "There needs to be more of that show as of yesterday."

Mike Judge has hit on another instant classic.  Though I'm not fully in Silicon Valley culture, my job as a web developer is definitely adjacent to it, and I certainly am affected by it.  This show is incredible.  It's the best comedy I've seen since Flight of the Conchords.  Just as Judge has done many times previously, he's hit a perfect-pitch satire, and this time the target is something that is very relevant to me.  The cast and script are also great.

Unless this series fails miserably in Season 2 or 3, this is going to be the definition of 2010 tech culture the way that Office Space is the defining satire of 1990s tech culture.  I know that sounds overblown, but I can't praise this show highly enough.  If you can get some HBO, go see it.

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The Master

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Paul Thomas Anderson is an auteur who seems hell-bent on making boring, pointless movies.  Just as with There Will Be Blood, this is a great work of craft -- incredible acting and great directing.  But also, as with There Will Be Blood, it did nothing for me.  I kept wondering why the movie existed.  This wasn't a particularly interesting story, the script was nothing special, and there is a overwrought symbolism that confuses the point of the movie more than it clarifies it.  Is this really nothing more than story of Freudian longing?  Or a look at Scientology?

The real reason to watch this movie is Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.  Both of them take characters that could be cartoonish and give them a depth which is well beyond what the script has cause for.

Maybe Paul Thomas Anderson will get back to making films like his earlier career.  I can only hope that we'll see another Boogie Nights out of him.  I'd even settle for a Magnolia.

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The Tudors

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First: ohmygod the costumes

Second: Jonathan Rhys Myers is never who I would have picked out for Henry VIII, but he plays him incredibly well.  He channels the King's brief attention span and egocentrism perfectly.

Third: The Tudors plays fast and loose sometimes with history, but I'm willing to give it a pass, for the most part.  The show has very few pretensions to realism, and what has been changed doesn't feel out of place.  This is a look at the political machinations of the era, and if the show is willing to do a little hand-waving for an impressionistic picture of the whole, I'm willing to forgive it.

Fourth: This show is my favorite visual adaptation of 16th century England, a crowded genre of which I've seen a few.  The 1998 Cate Blanchett vehicle Elizabeth is probably my next favorite, along with it's sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age.  The unexceptional Elizabeth I, the 2005 TV mini-series, and A Man for All Seasons, the 1966 film adapted from a play, fill out the middleThe "We watched a History Channel documentary and that's all the research we need" Shakespeare in Love far in the back of the pack.

Fifth: Beyond Rhys Meyers, the rest of the cast is great as well.  Natalie Dormer is a personal favorite.  Sam Neill plays a convincing Cardinal Wolsey, and Peter O'Toole is a delightful treat as Pope Paul III.  The lesser-known actors they get for Sir Thomas More, Catherine of Aragon, and Thomas Cromwell are also very compelling.

I thought this show would be a guilty pleasure, but turns out there's no reason for adjective at all.  It is simply a pleasure, and I'm enjoying it immensely.  I've finished season 1 and am about halfway through season 2, and I plan to continue for a while.

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Sherlock: Season 3

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How in the hell does this show manage to stay as good as it is?  Season 2 left nowhere for Season 3 to go, so it's going to be bad, right?  I mean, how many times can you bring a character back from the dead before your show has more in common with a Soap Opera than with a top-notch mystery drama?  This is the second time in a row that I've thought "It can't possibly be as good as I remember it" and then starting and finishing the series and thinking that, somehow, it was even better than I rememberd.  As soon as I begin watching a season of Sherlock, I'm reliably done within two days.  Sure, part of that is the fact that there's only three 90 minute episodes, but on the other hand, it's often difficult to find 90 uninterrupted minutes.  But we manage it, every time.

The great things from past seasons are completely undimmed.  Cumberbatch still has the perfect Holmesian manner, and still nails the sociopathic savant character well.  Freeman, even though he's a much bigger star now, still convincingly plays the exasperated sidekick.  And together, they still have an astounding magnetism.  The villain in this season isn't quite as good as Moriarty, but don't worry, he'll be back.  Did you miss him?

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Postapocalyptic social commentary?  Sign me up!

Snowpiercer's class revolt on a train isn't quite the nuanced social drama that I was hoping for, but it was a pretty good movie.  It's got a simplistic, video-game like structure, as the characters literally progress through the train from the back to the front, akin to beating a level so that you can move to the next one.  The result is a progression through the visuals and drama that matches the progression through the plot.  There's a reason we like this so much in video games, after all.

The movie is not especially plausible, and I can't decide whether that's an asset or a hindrance.  I was occasionally taken out of my suspension of disbelief because of the clandestine nature of all of the scheming, and the fact that, in the end, it's really just one guy who is going to save the entire back of the train.  But on the other hand, because the whole damn plot is so crazy, it's easy to just go with it when the movie does something absurd like set up a society where it seems there is no middle class, whatsoever.

In the end, it's a fun movie, and one that at least tries to have a plot.   When I'm getting summer blockbusters jammed down my throat with titles like Marvel's Avengers IV, the Prequel, a movie with pretensions of social commentary is enough to pass the test as the real thing.  Maybe that's lowering the bar too far, but beggars can't be choosers.

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This was the second time I've seen this classic.  I really like it, in all its flawed glory.  It's just gloriously strange and grotesque, in a stultifying manner, which jives perfectly with the overbearing society that plays the villain.  As far as dystopian movies go, this is a great option.  It's weird enough that it feels "right" in that way that slight abstraction can have with art.  It's bizarre enough not to map directly, but close enough that we still see plenty of ourselves in it.

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Hunger Games

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Call me a hopeless revolutionary romantic, but this movie was great.  I loved the tension and explicit corruption of the higher classes, and the viewpoint that there is a serious class discrepancy.  The line is not hard to draw from our current culture to today.

The Hunger Games premise is a bit silly.  Gladitorial combat as a television show, keeping society in check?  Cooperation to the end had never been tried before?  It does get some points as the most literal combination of bread and circuses.

The movie is very well made.  The cast is strong, from Jennifer Lawrence, to Donald Sutherland, to Woody Harrelson.  The dynamic within the games, once you can suspend disbelief, is richly multifaceted, with all those great traits that make Diplomacy a classic game and Survivor the reality show that just won't die.

This is one of the surprises of my year.  I'm looking forward to seeing the next movies.  Maybe I'll even pick up the book.

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Plotwise, it's a run-of-the-mill monster horror flick.  The camera takes its time.  There's a few interesting shots, but mostly there's a lot of looking at actors who are bing given direction along the lines of "just like that, only a little bit less subtle with your emotions this time."  Throw in the post-Vietnam banana republic focus on jungle warfare and big guns for a little bit of spice.  

We also get lots of time with Arnold with his shirt off and he even makes an arrow with gunpowder and then fires it what appears to be 3 feet in one shot but is actually 60 feet because of movie magic.  Of course he saves the day and even gets to leap aside from a nuclear explosion at the end.  There's almost enough camp to sustain it, but not really.

Oh well. All's well that ends Ahnold.

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Game of Thrones: Season 3

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Game of Thrones continues to be the best visual fantasy work since Lord of the Rings.  This season is a bit more spotty than the previous two.  The good source material from the books is sputtering out, after all.  However, the good scenes are getting even better.  

Arya and the Hound in particular have some amazing scenes that develop their characters while presenting some amazing world-building.  They make for a great literary pairing, two atavistic characters that nonetheless are very different in outlook.  Clegane adopts a fuck-'em-all, I'll-get-mine viewpoint, figuring that the world's corruption is out of his hands.  Though Arya also subscribes to a philosophy of my-viewpoint-is-the-right-one, it is because she privileges herself as a true arbiter of moral code in a world gone wrong.  It showcases a great example of two characters, with different motivations, both working together, but for very different reasons.  It's scenes like these, scenes that transcend genre writing, that keep me watching.

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Breaking Bad: The Final Season

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The last season of Breaking Bad stands up to the literary reputation of the rest of the series.  We've arrived at our Shakespearean fifth act, and Breaking Bad gives us the pathos we've been promised. 

Much ink has been spilled on this final season, and there's little I have to add to it, but I will say two things.

1. You really, really should watch this show if you haven't.  Without hyperbole, it is an easy top five for best shows I've ever seen.

2. This final season is genre-defining. Any lingering objections to the assertion that we are living in a golden age of television must be put to rest.  You can't point to the unfinished feeling left by the last episode of The Sopranos, or the fact that Deadwood got canceled.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- TV is now better than the movies.

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