Your Home Theater sucks.

Leo stands in awe, like I do at the movies.

The phrase home theater is a very sad one. 60 inch LCD 1080p televisions with massive Bose sound systems are all well and good, but they absolutely pale in comparison with the real thing. This is something I’ve always believed, but only recently have I begun to appreciate movie theaters as the absolute necessity in my life that they are.

Movies are meant to envelop people into a world that is not their own, often telling incredibly complex story in the span of two to three hours. The goal of so many motion pictures is evoke a genuine emotional response from the audience regarding people who until a few hours before were essentially complete strangers. A good film will allow a character to evolve on screen in front of you in such a way that makes you feel as if you understand that persons innermost motivations, which is a feat that many of us never accomplish even for our closest friends. Home theater setups provide an environment which simply doesn’t allow this kind of experience to happen in the same manner. First, there is something to be said to looking at a picture that often taxes your peripheral vision in order to appreciate it all. Instead of looking to the left and catching a glimpse of a coffee table, all you get in a theater is more movie or unobtrusive darkness. Even a 60 inch television will seldom will produce this effect unless you’re sitting 4 feet away. But more importantly, distractions like computers, cell phones, lights, and other such things constantly remind people that what they are watching really is just a movie, and these are simply characters and not people to invest in. A proper movie experience is different; it’s more visceral, more real. Recently, I saw Inception with fellow Stone Soup poster Josh Morrison at the Boston Common IMAX here in Boston. From the very first moment of that movie, the pure scope of the theater allowed me to experience that movie in a way that simply isn’t possible within your average residential setup. The bass of the IMAX speakers within the room roared through not only my ears, but literally shook the entire theater as it did so. When you can literally *feel* the soundtrack of the movie, that evokes a different response than were I simply to hear that same sound at home. It makes you feel like you’re there with the characters; it makes you want to know more about the world they live in. I knew when I left that theater, that no matter how many times I saw Inception over the course of my life, in many ways I was seeing it for the first and last time.

The real driving force for why I’m writing this however, is neither the sound, nor the picture… it’s the people. In the past 12 months I’ve discovered a local gem near my apartment known as the Coolidge Corner Theater. The Coolidge as its patrons affectionately call it is a small independent non-profit theater which shows the kind of independent fare that doesn’t normally make it to the AMCs of the world until months later, if at all. However, they also have a propensity as many independent theaters do for showing screenings of classic movies quite frequently. In the past few months, I’ve seen showings of both Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Big Lebowski on the big screen and let me tell you, this experience has been awesome. The idea of viewing these films in a converted opera house does pique my interest for reasons of pure nerdyness, but more importantly, these films get the community to come out en masse. These shows sell out days in advance, and the folks who come out are true enthusiasts. At The Big Lebowski, there were several excellent Walter Sobchak look-a-likes who were often reminding people that, “This is not Nam, there are rules.” In addition to that, the crowd didn’t stop participating when the film began to roll, there was raucous laughter for every funny quip that came out, and absolutely nothing was missed by anyone. During Raiders of the Lost Ark, people cheered wildly when Indiana Jones first looked up from beneath the brow of his fedora in the opening scene, and again when he shoots the giant sword wielding goon in the square.

The crowd goes wild.

When you know that everyone around you is enjoying the movie in the same way that you are, that feeling of elation from can only be described as contagious. Seeing a movie with four or five friends at home is also good, but it simply isn’t the same.  Admittedly, these moments certainly aren’t experienced during every movie you’d see in theaters, as most films aren’t of that quality. Nevertheless, I’ve always felt that movies are a communal experience, and the collective gasp that occurs in theaters during tense scenes in great movies is a tough thing to replicate.

Anyway, go see a movie this weekend. I will.


Our True Blood Marathon

Last weekend, my roommate Will and I embarked on an odyssey that we won’t soon forget. Over a 48 hour period spanning Friday evening to the Sunday night premiere of HBO’s hit series “True Blood,” we watched its first two seasons, each with 12 hour-long episodes. Aside from two 8-hour periods of sleep, that left us with only 8 hours of the weekend for non-True-Blood-related activities, such as eating, going to the bathroom, or watching the Celtics beat the Lakers.

We planned out the weekend hour-by-hour, in order to make sure we saw the entire series before the season premiere (our planning board is below). We also knew we’d have to stock up on snacks (and cook for ourselves) because any time we spent eating (or running to the convenience store) would be time not spent watching the show. We didn’t really look into what effect this would have on our health, though we probably should have.

our schedule for the weekend

As you can see, we set aside time for the priorities. Sleep, food, and USA vs. England.

I won’t do an episode-by-episode breakdown of the series; however, we did live-tweet the marathon. You can see our general feelings about the show there, along with a whole lot of self-promotion (we got 15 followers!) Twittering the marathon was fun. When we had problems with our Comcast Digital Cable, we threatened Comcast over that we would switch to DirectTV, which got us a quick response that (mostly) solved our issue (We’re watching you, @comcastcares!). Eventually, though, the tweets basically devolved into obnoxious random hashtags (#selfreferential).

In the end, the marathon was totally worth it. We finished the show with forty minutes before the premiere, leaving us some time to watch the Celtics gain an early lead on the Lakers. What’s more, it helped me better understand the premiere, though I was slightly delirious. This isn’t the kind of show you need to watch every episode to understand, but knowing who all the characters are and when they’ve cropped up before is helpful. Will, Josh, and the gang have been considering more marathons as more season premieres come up (Entourage, Mad Men, and Dexter have been bandied about, fire up the Twitter engines…) I’m in favor: watching a series in succession really gives one a chance to consider it as an artistic whole. 24 episodes in 48 hours was a little extreme, though.

Jason Stackhouse became our Twitter profile pic for the evening. Jason Stackhouse was our favorite character.

As for the series True Blood, I have to give it some props. The show is a lot like Dexter, and as Josh has put it, shows like Dexter can be very enjoyable, even when artistically mediocre. One may be deceived into thinking True Blood is an art series (à la The Wire or The Sopranos), with its irreverent parody of Southern culture and the gay rights movement (“God Hates Fangs”), but the show is a soap opera at heart. It does soap opera well. The constant flow of new subplots and sex scenes keep the show moving, and do a good job of balancing the light and dark comedy. It’s a great guilty pleasure, which perhaps explains why it’s one of HBO’s biggest successes since “Sex and the City.” It’s got something to offer for everyone: drinking, partying, drugs, sex, more sex, and weird vampire stuff too.

For what it’s worth, I appreciate the show even though I actually don’t think it was all that well suited for a marathon. Because it’s more of a TV-show–rather than an art-show–24 hours of True Blood began to run together and it became easy to lose my attention. It’s a fun show, but I’m sure it will be more fun now that I watch it once a week.

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Dallying by Dreaming of Dexter

Not only did I just watch Dexter’s Season 4 finale last night, I also have spent a good chunk of my exam period rewatching all of season 1 of the show (thanks to Alan Sepinwall for sparking my interest with his best single TV seasons of the 2000s).  This post abounds with spoilers about the show, so don’t read if you plan on watching it.

I have a theory that divides the TV shows I like into two different categories: art series and TV shows. Art series are ones that aspire to the same type of immortality as a great novel or movie: think Sopranos, the Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men, or Freaks and Geeks. TV shows aspire to be enjoyable (Curb Your Enthusiasm, True Blood, Lost, Burn Notice). Many shows start life in between the two types and (if they survive), invariably invariably lurch towards TV show status (Big Love, True Blood, maybe Rome; maybe Damages; an exception to this may be The Office). The idea of an art series is itself very recent and may have started with the Sopranos. Many critics have become disappointed with Dexter, because they thought they show was an art series, when really it’s just a TV show.

The TV show-ness of Dexter can most easily be seen in its unwillingness to make game-changing plot twists (with the possible exception of the end of Season 4; I’m skeptical that the structure of the show will change, but I guess we’ll wait and see if we don’t just get bachelor-Dexter with Astor and Cody’s grandparents getting the kids). The status quo at the end of each season is basically similar to the start: there are some cosmetic changes (Rita has a baby at the end of season 3), but structurally, everything’s the same – Dexter still has the same home life (Rita, the kids, Debra), still works in the same job, still is an unknown serial killer, still has a different Big Bad Guy to dispatch by the end of the season, still kills other serial killers every other week or so. Dexter’s internal monologue may be different, but his life, and the show, looks the same. Compare this with the Wire, where each season introduces an entirely different part of Baltimore, or Battlestar Galactica, which turns its main characters into terrorist insurgents against the Cylons.   Dexter’s more like Friends – where a question like “will two characters date each other?” takes years to resolve.

Interestingly, Dexter is NOT a series that started out in art and has descended to mere entertainment. It was always like this; critics just didn’t notice it in Season 1 because it was a show about a serial killer. Critics complain about Dexter having become too cuddly, but, from the beginning the show never attempted to make Dexter look like a “real” serial killer. From the beginning Dexter has quirks (being uncomfortable with sex, missing some (but not that many) social cues), and he claims to not feel anything, but with basically the sole exception that he’s a serial killer his actions are quite normal. The show continually Tells but does not Show us about Dexter’s weirdness. Dexter claims not to feel anything, but acts with great tenderness and empathy towards Rita’s children (watch him take the splinter out of Astor’s hand in the third episode of the series). If you didn’t constantly hear his internal monologue and see him kill people, you’d think he was just a kind of awkward guy. In Dexter’s personal life, he takes on the role of lab geek and beta male: he’s the perfect boyfriend — when Rita doesn’t want to have sex, that’s perfect; she decides she does, he’s uncomfortable but goes along with it; when she needs him to pick up the kids, he doesn’t mind; when she blows him off to get lunch with her ex-husband Paul and the kids, he tells her it’s totally fine. Never does the audience see him frustrated with his outwardly subservient role; we just hear him say sometimes that he likes killing people.

Indeed, Dexter seems to get agitated when he doesn’t kill; we see flashbacks of him as a kid wanting to kill, but we never see anything in his present-day personal life to reflect that. Does he get really angry? Not really. Does he like watching people suffer? Not that we ever see. He kills inexorably from an unexplained need that has seemingly no relevance at all to the rest of his life. This is what makes Season 2’s placement of Dexter into a 12 Step program (a fact that is never mentioned in the later seasons) amusing: his serial killing does seem just like an addiction – just a weakness of the will. This completely trivializes the idea of Dexter being a sociopath. It’s also interesting that Dexter never takes the 12 Steps seriously or ever tries to stop being a serial killer. If he did this, the writers would have to delve into the nature of his killing, which is an operation the show doesn’t have the seriousness to perform.  Instead, throughout the series, we ostensibly see (through Dexter’s internal monologue) him becoming more and more human. He realizes he cares about Deborah; he realizes he cares about Rita and the kids; he realizes he wants to be a father. Critics have been unhappy with this more cuddly Dexter, but I believe this is because Dexter isn’t really changing at all. The words he says are different, but his pattern of behavior remains the same. The first season seemed artistic because it was so different – the concept of a serial killer protagonist so transgressive. In reality, Dexter is and always was a serial killer procedural where, each week, the main character kills some new bad guy. I like watching it. Michael C. Hall’s very good; it’s a fun show, but, alas, it’s not truly special, and, really, it never was.