Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Box

I didn’t think The Box looked that great from the trailers. The premise was brilliant but, well, Cameron Diaz was the star…

Alas, The Box is actually quite entertaining and surprisingly thought provoking. It has a great spiritual/philsophical/sci-fi craziness vibe to it (similar to Knowing, which I suggest you rent soon if you haven’t seen it). If you liked Richard Kelly’s earlier films (Donnie Darko and Southland Tales) you will like this one too. Plus Win Butler of The Arcade Fire composed the score! And it’s great.

Here is an excerpt from my CT review of the film. Click here to read the whole thing.

The Box has one of the most intriguing, if deceptively simple, loglines of any movie this year: A normal family in 1976 suburban Virginia minds its own business at home until a strange box appears at the doorstep, along with a strange proposition by a mystery man. The mystery man, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella, fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn as Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon), wears tailored suits, has a horrifying face (half of it is missing), and changes the lives of Arthur and Norma Lewis (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) forever.

You see, the box at the doorstep has within it a button. According to Steward, if the Lewis family presses the button, two things will happen: 1) someone in the world who they don’t know will die, and 2) the Lewises will receive $1 million in cash. Arthur and Norma have 24 hours to make the decision. Thus begins a compelling sci-fi melodrama—based upon Richard Matheson’s short story (and 1986 Twilight Zone episode) “Button, Button”—that is full of moral dilemma, high concept philosophizing, pop culture pastiche, and oodles of Sartre references.

Nothing much can be said of the rest of the plot, save that it has something to do with NASA’s Viking Mission to Mars and includes Kelly’s usual cadre of quirky scientists, brooding youngsters, self-reflexive Americana (evinced in framed wall photos of President Ford, bicentennial footage of the World Trade Center towers, etc.), and obscure/outlandish sci-fi theories such as Arthur C. Clarke’s “Third Law”: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Suffice it to say, The Box is out there and full of “like nothing you’ve seen before” imagination. If that sort of messy, unpredictable movie excites you as much as it does me, you’re in for a treat. For those who prefer order and narrative cohesion, The Box will be a bit of a chore to sit through. The film overreaches, to be sure, taking us in enough multifarious directions to make even the most daring postmodern get a touch of vertigo. But if this sort of “all in” commitment to anarchy is the film’s biggest fault, it’s also its biggest asset.

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We Have a Book Cover!

Ladies and gentlemen, readers and passersby: My book has a cover!

HIPSTER CHRISTIANITY: When Church and Cool Collide also has a release date:

August 10, 2010.

That’s still 9 months off, but fear not! You can already pre-order a copy on the Baker Books website as well as Amazon … so get it while you’re thinking about it!

Also, if you are excited, intrigued, maddened, or disturbed by the idea of this book, feel free to talk about it on your blogs, twitter, facebook, etc… You know, viral style. I’m not above flat out asking for a little promo help!

In coming months I’ll post excerpts and teasers from the book on my blog, so be looking for that. Other websites and fun things are also being developed.

The book has been a major labor of love and I’m SO excited to get it out there for you all to read. I’m excited for the conversations that will come. Thanks for your support and interest, and stay tuned for updates!

Best TV of the 2000s

In 2020, will there be TV anymore? Who knows. But on the off chance that the death of television hasn’t been greatly exaggerated and is indeed imminent, we can at least celebrate the good twilight years that were the 2000s. In case TV fades into oblivion or merges with the Internet or something, this wasn’t such a bad decade to have ended on.

Here are my picks for the best TV shows of the decade:

1) Friday Night Lights (NBC, 2006-present): This show, based on a movie that was based on a book, became the best adapted television show of all time. More than a high school football show, FNL is beautiful rendered, stunningly mature look at Middle America. It’s close to perfect on almost every level and one of the great dramas of the contemporary network era.

2) Lost (ABC, 2004-present): There’s nothing else like Lost on TV, though there have been plenty of imitators. The Twin Peaks-esque sci-fi mystery show has gotten better in its five seasons, and its time-traveling, shape-shifting perplexities only get more interesting. This is to say nothing of the insanely perfect ensemble cast and memorable characters that have compelled audiences to truly care and watch, sans irony, for all these years.

3) Arrested Development (FOX, 2003-2006): This show might be the most tragically short-lived and under-seen on this list. But it’s also the best comedy. Hands down. If you haven’t seen this show (which launched the careers of people like Michael Cera, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett) you must get on it right away.

4) The Office (NBC, 2005-present): Though the British series is hard to top, the American version (which at 6 seasons is now a much more substantial body of comedy) quickly became one of the best comedies of the decade, capturing the zeitgeist of the YouTube era better than any other show on TV.

5) Mad Men (AMC, 2007-present): This is the show that got hipsters obsessed with television again. It’s a show that has so much indie cred: It’s bleak, sexy, fashionable, 60s lux, and on AMC! But it’s also just really great, nuanced, challenging TV. This show offers television what Don Draper’s vodka offers his martinis: Top shelf quality.

6) 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-present): As richly intertextual and self-reflexive as Arrested Development and with a cast equally as brilliant, 30 Rock just might be the comedy that saves NBC. It’s been a slow gainer since its low-rated first season, but it’s only gotten better with time.

7) The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008): I read something once that said that after watching The Wire, there’s no way anyone could watch CSI: Miami without stabbing their eyes out with a fork. And I think that’s about accurate. The Wire is HBO’s verite show about urban life in Baltimore, and though I’ve only seen the first two of its five seasons, I can understand why the critics frequently hail it as one of the best television shows of all time. It’s gritty, prestige TV of the finest order.

8) American Idol (Fox, 2002-present): This is the show that has dominated the decade in ratings and reality TV trends. After Idol came all the other dancing, performing, talent shows. But Idol’s contribution was also to the emerging landscape of “convergence” television in general—perfecting the art of audience interactivity, product placement, and trans-media storytelling (a live show, a concert tour, single available on iTunes, etc). It’s not Citizen Kane or anything, but it’s a ridiculously well-oiled machine of moneymaking pop entertainment. And I applaud that.

9) Friends (NBC, 1994-2004): Yes, this show was on in the 2000s, and while it might not have been the best years for the show, it was still pretty darn good post-Y2K. By the end the six “friends” had become icons getting $1 million a piece for each episode. The show was THAT huge.

10) Laguna Beach (MTV, 2004-2006): Before The Hills became a parody of the genre, there was the exquisitely rendered, truly original reality/soap hybrid Laguna Beach. Its celebration of conspicuous consumption and rich white American youth ushered in a new era for MTV and the youth culture at large. Real teens acting like actors playing real teens, driving Range Rovers and wearing Stella McCartney coats… GREAT TV.

Honorable Mention: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Chapelle’s Show, Da Ali G Show, Dexter, South Park, Rome, Prison Break.