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21.10.14

Hang On Just a Minute

We all spent a decade making fun of Renee Zellweger for having a puffy face.  We do not now get to step back and act surprised that she's had plastic surgery to change it.  Come on, people, this face is on you.  Anyway, she looks fine.

12.10.14

Season 5, Episode 1: Not Bad

Looks like we've thankfully sidelined another potentially tedious half a season's worth of our crew held up at Terminus by a bunch of predictably one-dimensional bad-guy cannibals.  I will reluctantly admit the season 5 opener seems to have learned from its critics.  They don't go overboard on the shootouts, there's a good balance between action, gore and drama, and just when you think the characters are resorting to inexplicably stupid choices in order to force the narrative, the show flips it around and has it make sense.  We even had one or two antagonists who showed a tiny flicker of humanity for a change (which in a world with an ever-lowing humanity bar should be the norm). Overall a tad too tidy and convenient to have everybody (except Beth) reunited and on the road with an open slate for storytelling all in the first episode, but I'm not going to continue criticizing a show that keeps pushing itself to new and different heights ... or lows, depending on how you feel about death, torture and extremely poor hygiene. 

Gay Daryl Clues:  Does not kiss Carol upon long-awaited and extremely emotional reunion.

9.10.14

Welcome to the Freak Show

As usual American Horror Story looks gorgeous, is weird and disturbing with fascinating, fun, campy ideas and great performances (not to mention cutting edge special effects).  But as usual, it's just not scary.  Ryan Murphy doesn't seem to understand the difference between "disturbing" and "scary."  There's no suspense being created here.  We see the murderous clown doing his thing, and he's creepy and violent and upsetting, but instead we should be wondering about his existence, building up to it.  What we don't know about him (or the entire Freak Show for that matter) should be far more scary than what we do know.  It feels like there is a real missed opportunity to hint at an underbelly of darkness that isn't worn so brazenly on its sleeve (see Carnivale or Twin Peaks).

I'll keep watching for the fun and the entertainment value of this level of creativity and art in production, especially visually, but I have exactly zero faith in AHS's ability to sustain any kind of a narrative arc over the entire season.  The show always veers off into "making it up as we go along" territory and never feels like it has a solidly planned storytelling path.  That is the series' biggest failing.  So many great ideas mined and drained almost instantaneously for their visual payoff, without proper thought being expended towards how the overarching story brings all those ideas together into a worthwhile conclusion.  Also, was I the only person not entirely but somewhat confused as to why they performed for the first time for only two audience members and referred to it as a "sold-out show"?

12.9.14

The Pinnacle of Visual Cinematic Evolution

It dawned on me as I watched the kinetic thrill-ride that is Guardians of the Galaxy, putting all opinions of creative worthiness aside, that we truly have reached a point in cinematic evolution where we can believably recreate absolutely anything on film.  Movies have now achieved the same limitless pinnacle as comic books in terms of having zero restrictions creatively on what can be visualized on the screen.  

The height of technical precision required to seamlessly splice live action filmmaking, advanced makeup artistry and physical stunts with artificially created and infinitely imagined motion pictures is on proud and preening display in this movie.  For those of us who have been reading comic books for decades, it is an exhilarating prospect to realize.  Comic books have always been a wealth of storyboards just waiting to be exploited by Hollywood, and Guardians of the Galaxy's flawless visual execution rests firmly on the past trials and errors of all comic-book movies that have come before it.

As for narrative and character-driven content, Guardians succeeds quite spectacularly as an unqualified summer popcorn blockbuster.  The tone is light, the humour is plentiful and the characters deftly push their one-dimensional boundaries in the right direction.  The story submits itself respectfully to the action, and so it should, because the action is nonstop and mind-blowing.  To sit through such a fully realized artificial joyride of this magnitude without having your suspension of disbelief being challenged even once is something for director James Gunn and the entire technical and creative production team behind this film to be extremely proud of.  I don't do this often, but I will probably go see it again.

5.9.14

Unsentimental & Abrasive To Her Last Breath

It's been over 24 hours and I'm still trying to process why the death of comedy legend Joan Rivers has left me feeling so sad.  At 13 years old while babysitting I stumbled upon her album "What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?"  Hearing a brazen, intelligent woman standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people loudly cracking jokes about her own ugliness without a hint of shame or guilt was inspiring to me as a still-closeted tentative gay boy filled with self loathing.  I will always be drawn to the most sarcastic, fearless and boldest person in the room no matter how offensive they are, as long as they are funny.  And that was Joan Rivers.

Her detractors have a point, though.  She did sometimes cross the line of good taste and often waded into the waters of nastiness.  But it was always in search of a laugh, never coming from a place of true meanness.  Sure, you can pick out a handful of poorly chosen zingers that fell flat and made her look horrible, especially in the later years of her career, but her schtick was far more self-deprecating than it was about attacking others.  Nothing was off limits, which is what I found so freeing about her, and she always put herself at the top of the hit list.


If there was ever a perfect poster child for the healing power of laughing in the face of adversity, she was it.  Having had major career setbacks and personal tragedies, Joan understood more than anyone the idea that by laughing at our most painful truths, we chip away at their ability to hurt us.  For this reason, I found her liberating, empowering, and holy shit she could deliver a one-liner like nobody else in the business.  She was really, really funny, and I felt safer in the world knowing she was out there, a huge LGBT ally and trailblazer for women, saying what no one else would say even though everyone was thinking it.  RIP Joan Rivers.  You are irreplaceable.  


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.