Movies,TV Shows »Behind the Candelabra

behidn1Directed by Steven Soderbergh (2013)

Wow. I did not expect to love Behind the Candelabra so very much but I found it to be one of the most likable and intriguing things I’ve seen in some time. Soderbergh, with this and Magic Mike (another film I was surprised by but haven’t reviewed because I never saw the last third) has really hit on something interesting.

Both films center around people on the fringe of “normal” society, who are rarely protagonists and even more rarely represented as more than caricatures. With a Michael Douglas’ incredible performance (which has been overshadowed by cunnilingus) as Liberace -”Mr. Showman” – we feel that this is a real, flawed, complex person not just an iconic flamboyant performer. (Same can be said for Channing’s good guy stripper).

Both films also largely play out with low tension and stress. Jim thinks this is an interesting development in movies – that maybe life is so stressful and people are drawn into stories about people’s lives rather than formulaic tension. Of course, the story of poor Scott does spiral into tragedy (that one sees coming a mile off) but Matt Damon’s performance keeps last chapter of the movie from feeling too much like Boogie Nights lite.

Still, predictable blurry hand held cocaine fueled scenes aside, it’s an exceptionally entertaining trip with incredible costumes, sets and a fantastically creepy Rob Lowe.

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Posted on July 21, 2013

TV Shows »Top of the Lake

topofthelake by Jane Campion, on Sundance and Netflix

I am usually hesitant to recommend a show after seeing one episode, but I was so taken with Top of the Lake, I have to share. I’ve long been an advocate for Jane Campion’s other mystery, the unloved and much more explicit In the Cut. Here the master of mood takes us to another world that is at once exotic and strange but is never trite or unbelievable

The series begins with an angry young girl walking into a freezing lake. We soon learn that she is pregnant and visiting Detective Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) becomes involved in the case. The young girl’s father is a dangerous and compelling man that lives in the woods surrounded by equally dangerous family and guard dogs. Near his compound a caravan of damaged women seeking the guidance of enigmatic GJ (a silver haired androgynous Holly Hunter) have come to escape their demons.

It’s easy to compare to shows with similar premises – I’ve read that it’s The Killing meets Twin Peaks, but that denies the unique ambiance of the show which is incomparable and feels like you’re watching a complex novel.

Here I truly hope the series is as engaging, fascinating, and haunting as the first episode. All are available to watch on Netflix. I kind of can’t wait for tonight when the kids are asleep and I can watch more.

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Posted on June 26, 2013

Movies,TV Shows »The Wallace and Gromit Collection

WallaceGromitby Nick Park

It’s no secret that most stuff made for children is garbage. Real gems, like the Nick Park Wallace and Gromit shorts and films are the exception and I am so thrilled that Van is a huge fan. The contraptions and inventions of the hapless Wallace and his best pal pup Gromit are mesmerizing for a little boy obsessed with machines, pipes and wheels.

The first set of shorts include the noirs A Close Shave and The Wrong Trousers as well as the moon adventure A Grand Day Out. They were followed by the feature Curse of the Wererabbit. The hand sculpted characters are not only charming – what they are able to achieve with the painstaking technique is remarkable.

If the first movies represent the pinnacle art of stop motion claymation, the later short A Matter of Loaf and Death shows that old techniques don’t have to be abandoned for new, that computers, which were used can actually inhance the animation and make for quicker production. I’m hoping that eventually means more Wallace and Gromit some day even though most of the original claymation figures and sets were destroyed in a fire years ago (sob).

Beyond the meticulous designs and techniques, these films are well written and as entertaining for adults as they are for children without being crass or stuffed with pop culture references.

I know I am very lucky that my son has taken such an interest in such a great series. I’d gladly chat about what happens in Curse of the Wererabbit a thousand times than have to sit through one Barney. You can find them on Netflix instant with the exception of Curse of the Wererabbit, available for purchase on iTunes.

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Posted on June 7, 2013

TV Shows »House of Cards

house-of-cardson Netflix

Alright, alright, I’ll admit it. The House of Cards remake is addictive, beyond that, it’s actually quite good. Look, I’m one of those indignant people that saw the original, (thank you very much!) and the idea of Smug Spacey taking the place of world’s most charming bad old man, Ian Richardson, well it was not something I was prepared to embrace.

When I began the series, it was a guilty pleasure. I mocked Spacey’s ‘Our Town’, folksy asides and I still laugh at the “hip” political blog office where extras must have been paid to gleefully roll around the desk-less room on office chairs for days. But when it’s all said and done, despite its flaws, House of Cards is taut, clever, enjoyable, and very well written.

The cast is mostly great. Corey Stoll and Robin Wright stand out for adding dimension to their tough roles while Kate Mara just teeters on the edge of being annoying enough to ruin a good thing.

I love that Netflix is capable of producing quality programming and embrace that they make the entire series available at once – especially in comparison to, say, HBO who guards their content, even to paying subscribers, as if it were gold.

I’m very looking forward to the next season and have even more high hopes for Arrested Development when it returns in the same fashion.

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Posted on March 17, 2013

TV Shows »The Twilight Zone

the-twilight-zoneClassic

It’s extremely comforting to revisit a classic show like The Twilight Zone. Whether its an iconic classic like Time Enough At Last and To Serve Man or ones I’ve never seen like Elegy or The Invaders, the sci fi anthology still impresses and entertains.

It must have stunned audiences back in 1959 when it debuted. It’s proof that interesting ideas and good writing are timeless.

You can watch all the original series on Netflix instant. A perfect background for cold days stuck inside.

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Posted on February 27, 2013

TV Shows »Bob’s Burgers

Bob-s-Burgers-bobs-burgers-18293111-1280-1024on Fox and Hulu

Well, what a surprise! I really like Bob’s Burgers (Though had I known it was from Dr. Katz creator Loren Bouchard, it would have been less surprising).

Did everyone know this show was good? I’ve been a bit preoccupied so I must have missed the hoopla.

It’s funny, sweet – without getting too schmaltzy – and boasts the best voice cast around: John Roberts! Kristen Schaal! Eugene Mirman! and every wry adult animation go-to, H. Jon Benjamin!

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Posted on January 18, 2013

TV Shows »Misfits

misfitsOn Hulu

Imagine if Heroes was raunchy and had a fabulous sense of humor. If that sounds intriguing do yourself a favor and watch the British import, Misfits.

The first three seasons are more fun, entertaining, smart and creative than I expected from a show with the premise of dirty mouthed, horny juvenile delinquents gaining super powers. With the compelling cast and innovative story arcs you might even end up emotionally invested.

Which is why I point out that it’s the first three seasons that are most notable. I’m in the middle of the fourth season now, which begins with just one remaining original cast member and at a point in the story where big mysteries have been solved. While season three suffered the loss of the charming Robert Sheehan, it carried on pretty well without him. Now, though, as much as they are trying, it feels forced, but I’m still watching since its more fun than most things out there.

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Posted on January 9, 2013

TV Shows »Dr Who (the Matt Smith years)


Season 5…

What a difference a cast makes. I tried to like the Doctor Who reboot but despite a reasonable liking of Chris Eccleston, Billie Piper is not a favorite and the cornball tone was a turn off.

Recently, on a friend’s insistence that the show was worth watching, I took a peek at Season five. Ah! That’s the stuff! The redhead is charming and Matt Smith as the doctor? I’m not afraid to admit I’m smitten, head over heels for and totally crushing on him (a great jaw line and a bow tie are hard to resist). Thrilled to hear he’s signed on through 2014 at least.

It’s not just Matt Smith that deserves mention though. The imaginative writing is excellent and new creative direction from Stephen Moffat (who took over from Russell T Davies who is also behind the unbearable Torchwood) has completely reinvigorated the franchise.

I used to watch Dr. Who as a pre schooler while my disgusted sister played outside til it was over (she’s never gone for the dorky stuff). After decades, I can finally call myself a fan again.

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Posted on January 1, 2013

TV Shows »Moomins

on Netflix

Moomins has all the makings of a cult classic but no one seems to know about it. This 1977-82 adaptation of Tove Jansson‘s endearing books features hallucinatory sets and characters that look like the work of an insane genius a soft spot for glitter and felt.

The tone is melancholy, sometimes sinister and often truly hilarious in its deadpan ways.

Van likes it but Jim and I are smitten. If you have netflix instant, take a look – yes, even if you don’t have children and certainly if you are stoned.

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Posted on December 31, 2012

TV Shows »The Thick of It

on Hulu

I’ve recommended the amazing Thick of It long ago, when I had only seen the first phenomenal short season.

Now Hulu has all four seasons. That means more incredible insults, absurd politics, and Malcolm Tucker. Watch. Enjoy. You will thank me.

And as a bonus, while we are on the subject of absurd politics, please read this completely authentic interview of conservative MP David Davies grappling with his views on gay marriage.

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Posted on December 28, 2012

Style Icons: Male,TV Shows »Sherman Hemsley, The Jeffersons

RIP

I didn’t grow up with The Jeffersons, I discovered it later in life during Nick at Night marathons (and wrote about it here). I was sad to hear of Sherman Hemsley‘s passing. He was a cultural icon and quite funny, though extremely private in his personal life. He was 74.

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Posted on July 30, 2012

TV Shows »Flight of the Conchords

on HBO

I’m pretty late getting caught up with the charming musical comedy series Flight of the Conchords, but HBO Go has allowed me to watch all the episodes I missed.

I didn’t realize it lasted only two seasons, and was a little crestfallen when the I played the finale.

Kiwis Jermaine and Bret are lovable, but I might just adore their manager Murray the most.

Sometimes comedian musical interludes can fall flat but here the songs are witty and catchy mimicking everything from modern R&B to David Bowie. There are several songs I would happily listen to in all seriousness.

If you too missed this gem the first time around, it’s great fun summertime viewing.

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Posted on July 23, 2012

TV Shows »Louie

on FX

Louie is proof that first impressions can’t always be trusted. Jim and I watched the pilot episode a while back and just couldn’t get into it but on a friend’s suggestion we gave it a second chance… and are loving it.

Louis C.K. is a comedian’s comedian who does everything his way – whether side stepping Ticketmaster, or self releasing comedy DVDs. This series, which he directs, produces and edits as well as stars in, is no exception.

He accepted a small amount of money (by television standards) to make the pilot and in return he retained complete control. The result is a unique show that reflects the honest, often taboo tone of his stand up.

While the show reminds me of student films, it’s much more sophisticated and honestly, sometimes brilliant. Unlike so many short films (and the show really feels more like short films than a television series) it doesn’t deal in stereotypes nor the expected, characters this rich must come from personal experience.

You can catch up on the first two series on Netflix instant.

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Posted on July 4, 2012

TV Shows »Spongebob Squarepants

On Nick

Well. This was a surprise. Jim and I are a bit smitten with Spongebob Squarepants.

We’re far more into it than Van actually.

I had no idea it was so strangely charming.

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Posted on May 5, 2012

TV Shows »Girls

on HBO

Girls. It’s about hipsters. It’s about millennials. Of course there’s a rage filled backlash against its hype and popularity. No two peoples are more scoffed at on the planet.

I expected to be thoroughly annoyed myself. I know these girls. They crowd restaurants in the weekday afternoons. They dress like Blossom. They never give a seat to a pregnant lady on the subway feeling more entitled to rest their own feet. They make me feel old as they spill out of Bedford Avenue bars – and make me feel good about being old. It’s not that I hate them, I just assumed that watching a show glamorizing their bankrolled lifestyle wouldn’t be my idea of fun.

And fun its not, but Girls is in its own way rather smart and interesting. It’s not glamorizing but quite self critical, often cringe inducing (reminding me of Todd Solondz). Creator Lena Dunham knows her subjects well and thrives on the old adage “go with what you know”. Her characters are realistic, horribly flawed (but not in that script writing class “fatal flaw” kind of way) and more interesting for it. The only exception is the character Shoshanna who comes of as an over the top improve character delivered by a girl who hates other girls. Some empathy and subtler acting could have gone a long way here.

The pilot was better that the second episode which focused on sex in a desperate and often icky way (realistic? Possibly for some. Enjoyable to watch? Eeh.) and whether the entire season can hold my attention remains to be seen. More Chris Eigeman wouldn’t hurt.

I will say Girls surprised me. And at the very least, it’s a very welcome point of view compared to the often veiled sexist crap that litters premium channels (just try to watch the horrendous House of Lies to get an idea of what I mean).

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Posted on April 27, 2012

TV Shows »Game Change

on HBO

Posters of Game Change have been promising that, at the least, the HBO movie will feature excellent makeup and costume. Ed Harris gets McCain’s creepy deep brown bat eyes and does a good job, but lacks the jowls and deep anger of John McCain.

Meanwhile, Julianne Moore makes a stunning transformation into one of my least favorite public figures, Sarah Palin. Beyond the up-dos, accent, and suit jackets, she is able to make the Vice President hopeful human and to my shock worthy of our sympathy.

While not exactly flattering, this portrait is much fairer and less parody than I expected. Though it probably is much more enjoyable viewing if you’re one of the many that howled with sad laughter at Palin’s Katie Couric interview.

Without transcending the tv movie genre, Game Change is a fascinating look at one of politics most recent dramas and reportedly was close enough to actual events to make some of the people involve squirm.

Makes the rather indulgent ordering of HBO worth more than the season of Game of Thrones we got it for.

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Posted on March 25, 2012

TV Shows »Supersizers Go

On The Cooking Channel

If your passionate about history and food look no further than Supersizers Go for a fun serving of both.

Brits Giles Coren and Sue Perkins, a food writer and comedian take on a different era each episode taking on the customs, dress and most importantly food of the time most often from the richest society.

They recreate actual menus from recipe and historical books.

By the end of the week they compare their overall health.

It’s fascinating to see how people used to eat and this is a great companion to the new York Public Library What’s on the Menu project.

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Posted on February 13, 2012