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29.7.14

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful is the most exciting new series to come out this year.  A film-quality period piece that combines 19th Century fictional literary characters and drips with Gothic visual storytelling, it feels like a series ahead of its time yet steeped in history.  It's the Mad Men of horror series.  This is what American Horror Story was aiming for, but somehow got sidetracked by extraneous campy ideas and a pretty much non-existent narrative structure.

PD doesn't make that mistake.  The show's pacing is beautifully deliberate, and the entire project just feels like the work of extremely talented, intelligent and creative individuals.  Eva Green has been balancing on the edge of mainstream mega-success for a while, and her attachment to a project as sophisticated as this, even on the small screen, lifts her profile as well as that of the show itself.  Josh Hartnett pulverises my impression of him as a cookie-cutter leading man.  And if, like me, you'd never heard of Harry Treadaway before, he's reason enough to watch right there.



Her Will Touch You

The delightful thing about Her is the gentle deceitfulness of its premise.  You sit up and pay attention because it's a story that takes places in an Instagram-filtered future with gorgeous urban architecture, beautifully decorated apartments and where everything, including the artificial intelligence, is designed at the most evolved and intuitive level. 

But seamlessly, and ironically given it's a movie about falling in love with a computer, it grows into an eye-opening and enlightening study of the complicated emotions that exist inside human relationships.  This is an intimate and heartbreaking film that will cause you to reflect on your own loves and may even leave you feeling reflective about the way you say goodbye to someone who has moved on.  

12.7.14

Mindy Is Funny But Annoying

It's not that The Mindy Project isn't funny.  Because it is.  And Mindy Kaling, it's titular actor, creator, writer and producer has a sharp, snappy sarcasm that lends itself well to rapid-fire one-liners.  And it's not that the show's characters are one-dimensional and its situations are far-fetched.  Because they are.  No, it's not those things.

The biggest problem with this otherwise plucky, entertaining show is that the character of Mindy herself is just annoying as hell.  We all know people like this in real life.  At first they seem sympathetic.  They are clever, attractive and successful.  But the reason they are single has little to do with society's unattainable standards of beauty and more to do with their desperate, entitled mission to find a perfect prince to save them.

Mindy makes every situation about her.  And yes, I realize she is the main character on a show written from her perspective.  Almost every episode culminates in some sort of immature temper tantrum directly stemming from Mindy's overbearing "why doesn't somebody super hot and perfect LOVE me?"  She is confusing "romance" with "Cinderella syndrome."  To turn this ship around, Mindy's project needs to be about learning to love herself.

10.7.14

Congratulations Are In Order

Today Laverne Cox became the first transgender woman ever nominated for a major American acting award (as far as I can Google anway), in this case the Emmy for guest actress in a comedy series.  Though she was woefully underused in OITNB season 2, her character, Sophia Burset, had quite a compelling arc over the course of the first season, on which the 2014 Emmys are based.  Fun fact:  Jodie Foster is also nominated for directing the same episode, "Lesbian Request Denied."  Foster returned to direct the season 2 opener, which I might have known except it's pretty standard to fast-forward through opening credits when you binge-watch a show, right?

The nomination is one of those hopeful events that should inspire anyone who's been a victim of discrimination due to sexuality and/or gender issues and those who support them.  IMHO transgender acceptance and awareness is the next major step in the fight for equal rights, civil rights and human rights in the contemporary first-world social consciousness.  It's exciting to be witness to history unfolding.  Cox is intelligent, talented, well-spoken and completely deserving of the nomination.  Congratulations, Laverne!     

9.7.14

The New Cliched Credibility Fail

The CW is airing an Arrow spinoff in October this year based on DC Comics' A-list Justice Leaguer #TheFlash.  You can watch the trailer for The Flash here.  Aside from a lame costume, it looks okay I suppose, if you can get past what is quickly becoming the new cliched lazy credibility fail for so many TV shows and movies today:  every important, powerful, authoritative or pivotal character is a 22 year-old model.  

It's true.  Even video games are getting in on it.  Need an well-trained expert in almost any field with skills that would take any normal human being a lifetime to attain?  Cast a 22 year-old model.  Everybody's doing it.  Epic credibility fail, Entertainment Industry.  Do I want to see young, beautiful people on the screen?  Of course I do.  But stop making them brilliant scientists, doctors, detectives or authoritative military personnel with any kind of advanced combat skills.  Unless those skills are magically gifted or supernaturally acquired, you've already lost me. 

15.4.14

Watch Rectify

Rectify is different than other sophisticated cable dramas in that it doesn't attempt to bombard you with a complicated narrative or huge cast of characters.  This is a show that finds density in its silences and gently played-out emotion.  It's about a man who is released back into the world after spending 19 years on death row for a rape and murder he may or may not have committed at age 18.  

The show develops so much conflict and appeal out of this singular premise, I feel a host of other shows could take note and learn a thing or two about having faith in simple, honest, streamlined storytelling.  If your central idea is strong enough, the show will play out organically, you don't need to force it.  The performances are great, the characters are real and it has that melancholy small town rawness that works so well as a setting for these kinds of heartbreaking themes with dark underbellies.  Rectify peers unflinchingly at both the horror and beauty of life, and specifically in the places where those two extremes intersect.

10.4.14

Captain America Is Huge

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is about as finely crafted and well-executed as a predictable and serviceable film can get.  Marvel has got the formula down and is now kicking it into overdrive.  What I liked about the movie is that it manages to be an enthusiastic crowd pleaser without feeling dumbed down.  And what a spectacle.  I went in expecting to be just slightly embarrassed for the A-list cast, ready to forgive them for cashing in, hunkering down and getting this over with.  Instead I was impressed to discover the film itself is encouraging the actors to meet it halfway and the result is a sexy, smart, adrenaline-infused high-five of a good time.  We truly have reached an era where films can match anything dreamt up in a comic book, and this one weaves its imaginary ideas into a familiar military world with joyful eagerness to please.

8.4.14

Still The Most Entertaining Show On Television

We're more than halfway through season 6, and RuPaul's Drag Race continues to be hands-down the most entertaining reality show on television.  This is the only show I religiously watch every night it's on with a group of friends, and the only show where talking during the broadcast is strictly forbidden (you can miss a crucially hysterical put-down if you don't pay attention every second).  It's also the only show I watch where the second a commercial comes on, we collapse enthusiastically into heated discussions, debating, mimicking and squealing in delight at the glorious shade-throwing of it all.

Drag Race is ridiculously watchable, hell yes mamma, but it's also culturally important.  The show has legitimized drag not just for society as a whole, but more importantly among a particular demographic of gay men who in the past either scoffed at drag or dismissed it altogether.  Drag Race levels the playing field for all gay men.  By putting the most flamboyant and effeminate-embracing aspect of gay culture out there in such an appealing and celebratory way, the show empowers gay men who exist at every point along the spectrum from flaming drag queen all the way to self-professed "masculine" gay jock types.  Suddenly it's cool to embrace drag culture.  Surprise-surprise, drag queens are sexy, in and out of drag.  It's a well-deserved middle finger to the "masc-only" self-loathing online hook-up scene. Barriers and stigma are being broken down.

The show also manages within all its campy, glamorous shallow indulgence to still tackle issues of homophobia (by featuring the stories and struggles of its queens in a sympathetic light) and transphobia (by embracing its male-to-female transgender contestants).  In that respect you'd expect the LGBT community to support the show wholeheartedly, but it still faces its share of criticism for using politically incorrect terms, transsexual slurs and the like.  RuPaul has always existed in a grey area, spattering his vocabulary with potentially offensive terminology but getting away with it by being unflinchingly honest, self-deprecating and most importantly, profoundly insightful about the culture of sexuality in general.  IMHO the amount of good will achieved by Drag Race's exposing the underground drag culture to the masses far outweighs any harm it does with its potential insensitivity.  Nothing this much fun should be taken too seriously.

1.4.14

Under The Skin

Under the Skin is a 2013 British-American science fiction film starring Scarlett Johansson, based on novel of the same name by Michel Faber.  Until today I had never heard of it.  Johansson plays an alien who dons human skin and hides among society in order to seduce and entrap men and then harvest their body organs.  The film will see a wide release in Britain this month and in North American in April.  It has been really well reviewed and has a simple but fascinating premise.  I'm quite intrigued.  Scarlett Johansson is making some truly surprising film choices.  It's refreshing to be proven wrong about your assumptions.

31.3.14

Terminally Hopeless

I was pleasantly surprised with the way The Walking Dead slowed things down for its post-prison second half of season 4.  I thought the shifting of gears to a quieter, wandering tonal quality highlighting a few splintered groups one at a time was exactly what the show needed to distance itself from the showdown with the Governor, something that felt repetitive and predictable.  I like The Walking Dead when it's being reflective and pulling back just enough to hint at a larger apocalyptic reality, telling stories in snippets depicting the varying degrees of misery and hopelessness our survivors must endure to maintain the human race.  There were even a few hints we might actually find out some new information about the origin of the zombies and how they work.

I thought the writers set up some really great character moments, taking the opportunity to explore the people we already know well, but also deepening our familiarity with the newer players and working hard to make each person matter, to rise above the zombie sacrifice of the week some supporting characters inevitably play.  In the season finale, Rick and crew are finally reunited at Terminus, which of course [spoiler] turns out to be yet another group of horrible people intent on murdering them.  Of course I get that in a zombie apocalypse all bets are off and most people are reduced to a kind of desperation that would push them to do anything, but it just feels statistically unfathomable sometimes that Rick and crew are the only ones left alive with any humanity whatsoever.  I knew the situation at Terminus was going to be different than what it promised, but I was hoping it would be something more interesting and complicated than just:  fooled ya, we are monsters and now we are going to eat you.

30.3.14

Incredibles 2 Finally Confirmed

Oh, happy day.  Disney has finally confirmed that a sequel to one of the greatest movies of all time (IMHO), Pixar's The Incredibles, is officially in the works.  Brad Bird is again writing, though a director has not yet been named.  No release date yet either, but Sam Jackson is already jonesing for the return of Frozone.  I have full and complete faith in you, Brad Bird.  Take your time and make it great.

29.3.14

More Than a Freakshow?

Michael Chiklis has been cast in the next season of American Horror Story:  Freakshow.  After the indulgent, disjointed and disappointing mess that was Coven, it's going to take more than the usual fantastic casting and cool ideas to get me excited about this show again.  Lange, Peters, Paulson, Bates, Basset and Conroy are all coming back, but if the writers don't commit to telling a cohesive, well-paced, over-arching story this season, I am probably going to bail on AHS story altogether.  Oh, and here's another request:  how about make it actually scary next season?  And no, disturbing doesn't equal scary.  Quit rendering every dramatic event completely pointless by the end of each episode!  Let things matter and make me care, Ryan Murphy ... please.

28.3.14

True Detective

Finally started True Detective, the show everyone is raving about.  It's good.  I love that HBO has sort of forced television drama to step up.  If you're going to produce a gritty cop show, the public won't accept anything less than a cinematic-level product.  Years ago A-list movie stars wouldn't go near animated features or television shows.  With cable's shorter seasons and challenging material, we get to see big-name actors doing some of their best work on the small screen.

I'm going to say that for me, the show is at times almost too raw.  I don't always feel comfortable being reminded of all the poverty, crime, violence, ignorance, injustice and sadness that exists outside my bubble, but of course that's exactly what makes the show so great.  And I will always appreciate something that stands firmly outside of existing television boundaries and cliches.  Here the drama unfolds as an exquisite form of pop-culture artistic expression, crossing timelines and offering up something far more intelligent, challenging and beautiful.  It can't be understated how gorgeous the cinematography is here.  Breathtaking wide shots of swampy green everyday Louisiana landscapes provide a specifically exquisite melancholy mood for the dark material.  I just wish they subtitled Matthew McConaughey so I could understand what the hell he is saying.

15.2.14

Ellen Page's Coming-Out Speech Will Inspire You


Do yourself a favour and take 8 minutes and 37 seconds out of your day to listen to one of the most moving, eloquent and inspiring speeches you will ever hear.  It's sentiment like this that makes me want to be a better person.  The fact that she took this opportunity to come out as a lesbian is just icing on the cake.  Ellen Page, you just became my favourite person.

2.2.14

Drugs Are Bad

He had been sober for 23 years.  Everyone has their battles, even the richest, most talented, most famous, most gifted and seemingly blessed are struggling with shit we know nothing about.  Happiness is hard earned and cannot be shot up the arm or snorted up the nose.  Anything easy has its cost.  

30.1.14

A Coven of Catastrophe

Dear Ryan Murphy: I wish I cared who the Supreme was. As is typical for AHS, "Coven" was filled with great performances, great ideas and great moments, but in terms of an over-arching narrative, an actual cohesive story to follow, this was the worst season yet. AHS has always had the feeling of being made up as it goes along, but "Coven" took that reckless, convenient and lazy way of storytelling to new heights. I imagine you, Ryan Murphy, on a conference call to the writers saying: "Listen, I want zombies, a Minotaur, Bates as a talking head and Stevie Nicks. I don't care how you get there, just go! Write!"

Here's a simple truth to think about next year: if nobody stays dead, then death doesn't matter. If there are no consequences, then there are no stakes. If there are no stakes, then there's no suspense. Not to mention the show wasn't ever scary. Sure it was disturbing and gory and gross in parts, but scary? Nope. If you continually jump the gun and push the boundaries of shock camp too quickly and too often, the viewer will become desensitized and apathetic. And that's exactly what happened this season. Far more than the previous two seasons, continuity and character development was thrust aside in favour of fun, indulgent gimmicks. Was it still entertaining? Sure. But imagine how divine it could have been if you had SLOWED DOWN and let the BATSHIT CRAZY parts actually matter instead of throwing everything at the camera like robot monkey writers on steroids. Next season, how about an actual logical, thought-out over-arching season-long narrative told at a pace that allows the viewer to give a shit about the characters and making the insane moments all the more insane for their uniqueness and relevance to the story?

17.1.14

Downton Abbey: Slow Equals Divine

Friends have been asking me for years:  Have you seen Downton Abbey yet?  It's on my list, I have been telling them.  It's been sitting on my computer for ages, in all its overly ornate British gorgeousness, patiently waiting to be discovered.  Well, I've just finished season one, and here's what I think:  exquisite costumes, intricate set design, stunning cinematography and beautifully understated performances across the board. 

Like Mad Men, it's essentially a sophisticated slow-build period soap opera, but what it lacks in instant gratification, it more than makes up for in languidly rolled out heartbreak, painstakingly repressed desperation and gorgeously nuanced emotional detail.  I am inspired by the lengths to which the writers and the entire production team go to reward the viewer.  This show has been impressively crafted with love, pride and skill by people from the highest rung of the television-creation ladder.  This leisurely melting, delicious tasting piece of pop-culture hard candy isn't something to be watched; it deserves to be adoringly savoured and appreciated.  If you haven't partaken yet, don't wait another day.

15.1.14

Thank You, Frozen

Those who know me are will attest to my loathsome hate/hate relationship with overly sentimental manipulative romance.  It will often manifest itself in a well-used argument against the pitfalls of the Disney princess animated movie and the horrible destructive path of obliterated little girls' and little gay boys' self-esteem it's left in its wake.  I often hold Disney up as the first and greatest offender when it comes to teaching our children the false and very backward idea that a prince will come and save you in life.  Place the responsibility of your own happiness squarely in the hands of someone you haven't even met yet, it says.  Don't rely on self-love, self-respect or self-reliance to find joy, satisfaction or happiness in life, it says.  Nope, that's the job of some fantasy man with broad shoulders, a wealth of riches and most importantly a handsome face.  Yep, you can just focus on being skinny and pretty and most of all waiting around obediently for love to come from someone else outside yourself.  NEVER find love from within.  Why would you waste your time doing that?

So consequently, why the hell would I drag my middle-aged ass to Frozen, then?  Well ... Disney's latest and most modern-themed animated princess story is a gorgeous, frosty animated delicacy.  The movie sparkles and crystallizes across the screen in such a forcefully enchanting way, one truly falls under a sort of visual spell while watching.  It took a few moments to adjust my self-consciousness to all the sugary singing, but once you do, the movie provides an adventure that expertly balances itself between charms and thrills.  Frozen exists in the sandbox of Disney cliches but it never succumbs to them.  In fact it relies on our expectations of those tropes in order to pull the rug quite aggressively out from under us, and it does so spectacularly in at least two important ways.  [Spoiler alert] First, it smacks the "love at first sight" idea squarely in the face when the princess learns the harsh consequences of giving yourself up too soon to someone you barely know.  Second -- and this is the best one of all -- it has the foresight to suggest that an "act of true love" is not something as shallow as the kiss from a man.  To my delight, the princess saves herself in a glorious act of selflessness that had me choking back tears.  Well done, Disney ... well done.

13.1.14

All the Camp With None of the Story

Talk about no consequences.  In American Horror Story's third anthology, Coven, we have a barely breathing witches' coven in New Orleans consisting of only five or six remaining witches whose sole reason for existing seems to be to kill each other.  Each and every one of them is a murderess, but not a single one of them faces any consequences for killing.  Each and every one of them has died and come back to life.  Each and every one of them wants to be "the Supreme."  That's about it.  That's our driving season-long narrative.  The details don't matter because they are made up as the episodes go along, and then they are completely ignored by the start of the next episode.

Of course, that's not really why we watch this show, right?  We watch for the amazing cast, who are so talented and charismatic, they could make anything entertaining, right?  And now we've got Kathy Bates, Gabourey Sidibe, Patti LuPone and Angela Bassett.  Angela Bassett, whose dialogue-chewing deliciously campy performance is impossible to turn away from, but whose entire storyline consists of sitting on a golden snake throne, conducting voodoo rituals and working on weaves in heavily stylized but completely inconsequential montages and quick-cut filler scenes.  Not to mention, the show isn't even scary.  I mean, there's lots of "horror" going on, but I never once felt scared while watching.  How are we supposed to CARE when no one is ever truly in peril?  They all come back to life eventually, so nothing matters.

To me it feels like Ryan Murphy has this tendency to become complacent once he receives critical praise on any of his projects.  It's as though he is testing the boundaries of how little work he can put in and still end up with a hit show.  Are the writers so busy adjusting to his haphazard story gimmicks (okay, I want a Minotaur, zombies, a talking head and Stevie Nicks - now! go, do it, write it!) that they don't have any time to actually, you know, PLOT A STORY for the season?  It's still possible the last few episodes will pull together some coherent trio of episodes that take us somewhere worthwhile, but I'm guessing anything that has come before that will be completely beside the point.  With Coven, Murphy has really put the pedal to the metal on this style-before-substance, gimmick-before-content horror train.

9.12.13

Rupaul's Drag Race Season 6 Teaser (For Non-US Residents)


Why the copyright laws prohibit the watching of trailers and teasers in other countries is a mystery to me.  An ad for the show in any country only means greater viewership in any country on any network.  They really need to sort that shit out.  Anyway, fishiest season yet?