TV Shows »5 Second Review: The Secret Circle

Thumbs Say Not Bad For What It Is

Mr. Dawson’s Creek spent a long, empty headed weekend with the repeat viewings of the Twilight movies and The Craft and came to the logical conclusion…

Teenage witches! But they will live in the Pacific Northwest and drive trucks!

There will be one crazy bitch that’s mad with witchy power and magical glittery stuff will happen in the woods!

(OK, to be fair, the storyline comes from a series of books, so the derivative elements might not be his fault)

Greenlight!

Maybe it’s because I find Britt Robertson charming or that I have a soft spot for young adult entertainment, but I have to say The Secret Circle bests both the inspirations. Which is kind of faint praise (especially in the case of Twilight) but still.

If the shows finds its sense of humor and goes wild it could be fun though it’s doubtful I’ll personally watch and wait (such hopefulness didn’t totally pay off with Supernatural.)

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Posted on September 20, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: The New Girl

Thumbs Way Down

Ouch.

I might just owe Gargamel an apology because Free Agents is almost looking pretty good right now.

Was expecting something decent from The New Girl but this is very and weirdly terrible.

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Posted on September 19, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Free Agents

Thumbs Think and Hope This Won’t Last

 

I feel bad for Giles.

But Gargamel deserves this.

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Posted on September 17, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Up All Night

My Thumbs Might Be Naively Optimistic

Will Arnett as sweetheart stay at home = wasted talents as a foolish asshole but still a charmer and I like him, so I hope this goes better than that one with Felicity.

Maya Rudolph and Christina Applegate good = could mean more good talent in guest and added roles?

BUT

Was it in a fit of depression or glee that the writer slipped in lines about diarrhea and burning rectums just as we thought we were spared such obvious and unfunny poop business with the baby?

Plus, Mike and Shaun thought the baby was a boring one.

Up All Night is thankfully not completely dumb though and has potential – or am I being too optimistic?

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Posted on September 16, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Ringer

Thumbs Down

Dull. Predictable.

Horatio Hornblower looks like The Fantastic Four sapped his life force.

A grimacing Buffy is uninspired without witty banter and apparently refuses to do boat shoots…

Leading to the most hilarious and shockingly bad effects I’ve seen on TV since Gatoroid. Watch here.

But Richard’s there, so there’s that.

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Posted on September 15, 2011

Movies »Exit Through the Gift Shop

directed by Banksy (2010)

Even though I trusted all the rave reviews from the press and friends, I wasn’t sure that Exit Through the Gift Shop would capture my interest as I am not a particular street art fanatic.

However, to my surprise, I was drawn into the film which is clever, humorous, and thought provoking and I walked away with a new found admiration for artist and filmmaker, Banksy.

A thoughtful artist so disinterested in the spotlight that he conducts his interviews in “crime witness” fashion – darkened silhouette and altered voice, Banksy is a foil to Thierry Guetta, a French obsessive who loves attention and doesn’t quite seem to “get” even his own art.

The film begins with Guetta shadowing the biggest names in street art but ends with him becoming the rather comical focus as he stumbles into art superstardom Himself (by basically ripping off the style of all the artists he’s met but ignoring the meaning).

There’s a theory going around that the whole thing is a hoax, that Guetta is Banksy’s own creation. While if anyone seems clever enough to pull off such a hoax it would probably be him, Guetta seems far human and real (honestly no one could fake his insane film within the film Life Remote Control). Banksy and Fairey genuinely seems regretful for their role in creating Mr. Brainwash.

Either way, this is a great watch and you can see on Netflix instant.

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Posted on August 29, 2011

Books »DC Comics Ultimate Character Guide

by Brandon T Snider (2011)

I have always, always loved bright, stat and photo filled reference books. As a kid I poured over this huge Your Fifty States Book and an old Hollywood guide of actors and actresses with glee.

So I was thrilled when friend and author  of The DC Comics The Ultimate Character Guide, Brandon Snider brought a signed copy of this bold, fun, informative book for little Van – because I will enjoy it as much as he will.

Now, super hero comics have never been my brand of nerd, but I love reading through the character’s vital stats, background, nicknames and super powers.

From Adam Strange (who defends the universe, but would rather hang out with his hot wife and baby daughter) to Zatanna a magician babe who not only fights forces of evil, but puts on elaborate magic shows in her spare time (in fishnets!), from the disgusting janitor turned purple toxic donut eating Parasite, to the comely Sebastian Ballesteros who for a brief, totally hunky moment became the studly male version of Cheetah, from Brainiac, who travels the universe in an insane Iron Maiden-esque skull ship to Harley Quinn who left her life as a respected psychiatrist to commit crimes with the Joker – there’s a super hero or villain here for everybody.

I can’t wait til Van is big enough to totally geek out with this.

Thanks Brandon!! (pictured below in one of his more sophisticated looks).

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Posted on July 31, 2011

Albums »Moon8

by Brad Smith (2011)

Dark Side of the Moon is always ripe for homage and Brad Smith’s 8 bit version, Moon8, might just be the most charming.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with Nintendo as background music a huge chunk of my youth, but I find this album wonderfully soothing and good for loop listening (which might come as a surprise since it seems like it would just be gimmicky).

Master of awesome geekdom Smith used a Nintendo Entertainment System’s sound chip to create this mini masterpiece.

Tons of fun for classic video game and/or Pink Floyd fans (which covers pretty much everyone I know).  And anyone not covered in those categories should like it because it was mentioned on NPR.

 

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Posted on July 28, 2011

Movies »Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (2010)

I know I am late to the Black Swan parade, but since Darren Aronofsky is pretty much a bad word in our house, this recommendation is for those, who like me, were hesitant to believe the hype because they just hate Requiem for a Dream so much.

After watching the stylized sexual thriller, I was both elated and initially a little disappointed. The first half of the film surprised and floored me with it’s incredibly haunting mood, subtle creepiness, and paranoid tone. It reminds me of the best work of Roman Polanski or Ken Russell.

About half way through, though, when everything breaks apart and the more traditional horror movie events come into play, I felt betrayed that the subdued artfulness had gone out the window. However, once I had finished watching it all and looked back at it for what it was, not the movie I expected or wanted it to be, I realized the somewhat repetitive “gotcha” part felt like it had passed in a few seconds and effectively felt like some fever nightmare.

This manic explosion of insanity did have some truly stunning parts – like a particularly cringe inducing scene involving Portman’s legs and the absolutley exquisite final dance where we see her internal transformation into the black swan flawlessly displayed externally in a feat of special effects and amazing costuming.

Still, it’s the slower paced eerieness that sets the tone perfectly and promises a conclusion more complex and strange than we get.

Portman is very believable as a frigid, scared young woman who seems constantly falling victim to the few people she’s let into her life.

One of those people is her mother, played with tight lipped, quiet obsession by an unsung Barbara Hershey. Another is Vincent Cassel‘s predatory director – a role that could have easily fallen into parody in the hands of anyone less French, oddly handsome, and confident in his lechery.

Mila Kundis doesn’t get much praise, maybe because her role is simpler than Portman’s, maybe because she is, after all, some girl from That 70′s Show, but she is effective and necessary as a foil to Portman’s pent up anxieties. It’s also fun to see Winona Ryder as an aging ballerina, even if I didn’t totally buy her wobbly, cocktail spilling performance.

The Tchaikovsky score is, of course, beautiful and Rodarte lends their ethereal touch to the great costumes.

A surprising and very strange delight.

Click here for the rest of Black Swan

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Posted on May 16, 2011

TV Shows »Game of Thrones

on HBO

For years I have been wishing for HBO to do a sci-fi or fantasy saga. I whined in vain about how it would never happen what, with their penchant for therapist couch dramas and comedies about how men will be men, but now I have to be shut it because if not exactly making my dreams come true (that would have been a series based on the Jack Vance Demon Princes) they’ve come pretty close with the epic Game of Thrones.

Based on the monumental, unfinished book series by George R.R. Martin (read an interesting article about his intense, often abusive fans here), GoT is part World of Warcraft, part Arthurian legend, part historical drama and thoroughly excellent – though quite an ambitious undertaking for adaptation.

Complex and intense, the series opens with the most intriguing sub plot – a paranormal threat called the “white walkers”, supposedly extinct evil zombie like creatures that hunt North of the kingdoms. If the eerie, breathtaking bloodbath in the snow doesn’t draw you into the series, perhaps the details on the woven black woolen capes will (Ann Demeulemeester would be drooling).

It’s to the creators credit that they pay as much attention to the detail of costume and set as they do to the bigger picture and the main reason I am so furious that HBO is not offered on demand in HD (get it together Time Warner!!).

The cast is spectacular with Peter Dinklage, an actor I’ve always admired but was stuck in an indie film rut, standing out as a sarcastic wit and surprising sex symbol. Sean Bean is excellent doing what he does best – brooding warrior gravitas with a heart of gold.

More surprising is the lovely Emilia Clarke who initially seems like a boring but sexified damsel in distress but is increasingly becoming the character I root for the most. Also great on the female side of things is Lena Headley who is excellent as a total bitch. She has perfected a smug half smile that is only found on murderous, incestuous queens and the worst face of the fashion industry. Her young brat son is equally and delightfully deplorable.

In smaller roles Joseph Mawle is interesting as a Guardian of the Northern Wall, it’s great seeing the former Mayor on The Wire (Aidan Gillen) as a slimy king’s consultant and Iain Glen is outstandingly handsome as an exiled nobleman. I also am loving the new fat kid.

With every episode I am drawn further into this vast world of intrigue and action. It helps me think that our decision to go premium with our cable was not an excessive but brilliant. It’s put HBO back on the map for unique programming.

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Posted on May 14, 2011

TV Shows »The Borgias

on Showtime

While in Colorado I caught up with my premium channels and discovered that I liked some things I expected to like (Game of Thrones – more on that soon), hated other things I expected to like (Mildred Pierce – why are you so painfully, obnoxiously boring and ham-fisted?) but I was most surprised by how much I enjoyed the bloody soap opera that is The Borgias. Although, ever since a short stay in Rome in my college years, I have had an interest for Italian history so I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It’s so juicy and tawdry and fascinating and The Borgias gets all that drama just right.

The cast is perfection. Even though Jeremy Irons bears no physical resemblance to Pope Alexander the Third, his portrayal of the corrupt Patriarch who manages to think himself virtuos and wise by making others do his dirty work is a joy to watch. Without him lending his gravitas and subtle humor, the tone of the show wouldn’t settle right. But he is not even the best character!

I have to admit I have a huge crush on the Cardinal son, Cesare (who my mom pointed out has a passing resemblance to Jim if he were dark) and his right hand assassin, my favorite character is portrayed by Sean Harris – who some of you might recognize as a very, very bad police man in the Red Riding Trilogy. Looking every bit like a nightmare and quite a lot like Vincent Van Gogh, Harris has found the role of a lifetime, custom suited to his creepy gaze.

Lucrezia is played with charm and a mischievous streak by the adorably named Holliday Grainger. It’s nice to see former Mrs Val Kilmer Joanne Whalley who I think I last saw in The Singing Detective as the mother and new comer Lotte Verbeek is appropriately lovely to look at as Giulia “the Beautiful” Farnese. Even less central characters are a thrill to see like Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius), Nicholas Rowe (The Young Sherlock Holmes – which I loooved as a kid), Gina McKee (from Mike Leigh movies and Soames’ suffering wife in Forsyte Saga) and Stephen Berkoff (the bad guy from Beverly Hills Cop and a former Brix Pick hunk). The other son? Eh – I just can’t get over his bad hair I guess.

While the show may not be completely historically accurate, much of the intrigue, scandal, plots, murders, affairs, assassinations, and conspiracies did happen; making the poster’s claim “The Original Crime Family” not only a desperate attempt to grab former viewers of The Sopranos but true as well. And really, there is no need for The Borgias to be desperate, even if it gets a slightly slow start, anyone with a penchant for this kind of thing will become an instant fan. I can’t wait to see what wickedness comes next – and even went ahead and ordered Showtime to find out.

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Posted on April 27, 2011

TV Shows »Upstairs Downstairs

on PBS

Great grandmothers and I rejoice! A new Upstairs Downstairs! I’ve only seen a portion of the epic first series (I mean, there are only several thousand DVDs to go through) but enough to be excited that it’s come back.

Taking place a few years after the last season ends, it reunites house keeper Rose (played by Jean Marsh, who along with co-star Dame Eileen Atkins, created the series) and 165 Eaton Place. Joining her downstairs are a mischievous maid, a brawl happy footman, a cocky handsome chauffeur, and a tee totalling butler.

Upstairs are Sir and Lady Holland who look good but so far seem drab and the eccentric, well dressed world traveling Lady Maud who brings along a monkey and an Indian secretary.

All the costumes (though Maud’s in particular) are amazing and the decor is grand and lush. There was more than one color scheme already that have me re thinking my apartment.

I am so glad you can still find stuff like this on TV. Somewhere along the way Arts and Entertainment changed from Horatio Hornblower to Pregnant Moms on Drugs. Let’s hope PBS, if it manages to survive the Republicans, never goes down the same road.

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Posted on April 13, 2011

TV Shows »Sherlock

on DVD

While no one, in my mind, can top Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, I am happy to report that the man with the most British name, Benedict Cumberbatch (who you may remember from The Last Enemy) makes a splendid modern sleuth in the new Sherlock series.

The Office’s Martin Freeman adds his usual charm and is a nice balance to Sherlock’s acerbic intensity. The first episode is the strongest, maybe because it’s the least silly. Circus performers and mastermind games dominate the other episodes which is in keeping with the original material, and fun in its way, but the real success of the show are the characters more than the plots.

That’s all the good news. Now for the bad:

I am used to BBC airing only six episodes a season but this one has only three… and they still felt the need to divide the season between two discs?! My second qualm is with the arch enemy Moriarty. Where the rest of the cast is pitch perfect (including co-creator and League of Gentlemen alum Mark Gatiss as brother Mycroft) this one is just plain odd and actually cringe inducing. Once you see his final reveal and big evil speech you’ll agree – this is not so much a man to be feared but one you would do anything to avoid at a party.

Still, I welcome this new adaptation and am excited for more.

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Posted on March 28, 2011

Albums »Raphael Saadiq Live at SXSW

at NPR

Having not found a babysitter (and honestly, being ok not leaving Van with a stranger) we probably do not have a Raphael Saadiq concert on our horizon (though fans, take note! – he will be playing Webster Hall May 10th).

Lucky for us NPR came to the rescue with this SXSW set that includes rocking tunes from the new album Stone Rollin, some from his breakout solo hit Instant Vintage and a couple from that loveliest of soul revival albums, The Way I See It.

The showmanship is lively, exciting and perfected. Do enjoy!

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Posted on March 24, 2011

TV Shows »Breakout Kings

on A&E

I’m always open to finding the next dumb TV guilty pleasure, and I am kind of hoping Breakout Kings works out to fill that Bones-like spot. The highly unbelievable concept – of quirky, likable convicts getting temporarily released to catch evil, not so likable convicts who have escaped could be a winning idiotic one.

With a show like this, however, so much of the success has to do with the cast dynamics and Breakout only got some of it right.

To the show’s credit – Herc from The Wire, Brooke Nevin and Malcolm Goodwin are good and their characters could grow to be more compelling, but the show really belongs to the creepy and charming Jimmi Simpson playing the only really interesting character as well as offering much appreciated comic relief.

On the other hand, Laz Alonzo has all the depth of a hunky background guy from a Toni Braxton video (which Alonzo was earlier in his career) and is just boring to watch on screen. If he’s meant to be the straight man to Herc’s loose cannon, he should at least learn a second facial expression besides “stoic scowl”.

Ugh, and then there’s the new lady with the made for Skinemax name, Serinda Swan, who replaced the more charming Philly character who was awkwardly dropped after the pilot episode. She’d do best to let her eyebrows take center stage, as they are the most interesting thing about her, though clearly from the posters of her strutting around in a tight tank, A&E was hoping we’d find her boobs as fascinating. Alas.

It’s only a matter of time before we see if this is a show that flourishes by finding it’s own voice, eccentricities, and character chemistry or if the flounders under generic blandness. I think the odds are stacked against them but at the very least, once it’s cancelled, Simpson will probably have a better time finding a good show to star in. But for whatever reason, I am optimistic that they might pull this one off.

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Posted on March 20, 2011

Books »Freedom

by Jonathan Franzen (2010)

While I can say that Jonathan Franzen probably deserves most of the accolades and praise for being the great American novelist, I also have to say, having just finished Freedom “Phew, I’m glad that’s over!” He’s a master at mucking in the dirt and grime of the worst in people and their messed up relationships, but I was happy to leave the Berglunds, whom Freedom chronicles, behind me.

Maybe it was tougher reading for me since I just had a son and one of the most damaged relationships is between the mother and her teenage son – but I definitely understand why friends struggled with the intensity of The Corrections, his previous novel that I found a bit more amusing and easy to read.

Here Franzen, or at least his characters, seem deeply angrier than he’s ever written before, a very apt and true portrait of our country today, I think. And while Corrections had some humor (at least I remember it having some – maybe not??) here the relief from human pain is filled with detailed information about corrupt businesses in the Iraq War, the threat of animal endangerment and overpopulation, and the complexities of environmental versus human salvation.

The writing is so sharp, so vivid and intelligent in it’s detail – I mean, it’s brilliant – but also so hard to escape, so difficult to release yourself from when you put the book down. Jim even asked me to finish it soon to improve on my mood!

I seem to be writing more about how the book made me feel than the book itself -  because on paper, a simple plot synopsis doesn’t suffice. Patty and Walter are married, they have two children and their lives get messy. Every time a person achieves some happiness, it’s violently torn from them, his message being, perhaps, that life is not fair and when it is, don’t expect it to last.

You have to read it to get more than that, and despite that this write up sounds more like a warning than a recommendation, I do highly recommend it. Just give yourself room to get pretty bummed out under its influence.

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Posted on March 16, 2011

TV Shows »Downton Abbey

Masterpiece Classic

It’s been a while since PBS had a hit on their hands. Not because of the programs, but the programming. Will they air a new series without any advertisements? Sure! How about playing programs out of order or incomplete? Absolutely! And if you missed a new show (like I did the recent Sherlock Holmes) will they refuse to re-air them, but opt for decades old reruns of Keeping Up Appearances instead? Of course!

Sorry, just had to air my grievences.

While I am sure nothing scares Masterpiece Theater (now called Masterpiece Classics) more than being called old fashioned -they would do better with younger audiences by making their shows easy to find and watch instead of dangling Alan Cumming at us.

Shocked I was, then to find Downton Abbey (which I had failed to DVR the first two) was available on Netflix instant. Bravo Masterpiece! It was a brilliant move for an absolutely brilliant show.

While the Upstairs Downstairs genre is well worn, any fan of Gosford Park ( and I can’t imagine anyone who’s seen it not being a fan) will be utterly enchanted with Downton. It’s no surprise that the charming Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford, is behind this one. Sets and costumes are great but there’s much more to this one than that. The characters are interesting, the plot sometimes scandalous and the cast is perfection: From a prim, wealthy Maggie Smith to a spiteful, devilish lady’s maid played by Siobhan Finneran.

Set just before the war when families were still constrained by the rigid rules of society, Downton tells the story of the Crawley family, who when losing an heir on the Titanic, are threatened to lose their whole way of living unless Mary, the eldest daughter finds a suitable husband.

If it sounds boring and familiar, fear not. This is vibrant, funny, smart and truly one of the best of the genre. I was so unhappy to reach the end of the series and thrilled to find that its popularity has prompted shooting for a second series.

 

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Posted on March 4, 2011