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Roadies: Friends and Family (2016)
OK, I'll say it...the first episode that's a masterpiece
What is NOT to like about this episode of "Roadies?" It just *nails* the title, "Friends and Family," and how that manifests in the road crew of a rock 'n roll band.
I have to admit to loving so many moments from this episode. Bill invoking the holy essence of Led Zep while giving his morning circle jerk sermon. The Mike Finger character, who if you can't identify with him, you've clearly never "gotten" a rock 'n roll band. The setup to present Janine's back story, which sends Bill off on an odyssey to find Gram Parsons' old Nudie jacket, which in turn results in him having a cool "making amends" moment with his ex. Reg trying to figure out who Mike Finger is at the airport. Reg meeting Janine in front of the auditorium.
Especially the last moment. The character of Janine just ate the screen, from moment one. I could not take my eyes off of her. This love-at-first-sight reaction caused me to look her up on the IMDb and discover that the person who played her was Joy Williams, one half of a Grammy-winning duo called The Civil Wars, whose music I happen to love. I Googled further, and discovered interviews in which Joy talks about first meeting Cameron Crowe on Twitter, and then, when she met him in real life, having him tell her that she should be an actress. Joy laughed that off, but Cameron obviously didn't, and as far as we can tell, wrote the character of Janine FOR Joy Williams. Brilliant. A star is born.
Terrible, terrible, terrible film
Sorry to rain on the JLaw parade that seems to be going on out there among her fans, but this movie strikes me as if the director realized that all he'd have to do to create a film that would make a bunch of cash at the box office is point a camera at Jennifer Lawrence. He wouldn't need a script, he wouldn't need believable characters, and he certainly wouldn't need to do very much in terms of direction. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly the approach he took to making the movie.
I found the first third of the film almost unwatchable. As a filmmaker, you know you're in trouble (or you *should* know, anyway) that when the intentionally-horrible soap opera characters in your intentionally-horrible soap-opera-within-the-soap-opera are more interesting and more sympathetic than your main characters that you're in deep trouble. The second third of the movie wasn't much better -- more soap opera family drama queenery. *Nothing* of any interest happened for me until about the 1 hour 37 minute mark. Sorry, but in a 1 hour and 53 minute movie, that's just WAY too long to wait to see if it's actually going to turn into a movie. BIG "thumbs down."
Minority Report (2015)
Soulless and not likely to last
Set 10 years after the events of the movie, the Precrime division has been abolished and the three precogs have been set free, but hidden away from society. Arthur, Agatha, and Dash still sense crimes before they are committed, but are not permitted to do anything about it. So Dash goes vigilante and tries to do it on his own.
Without Tom Cruise and the other big stars of the original film, this series looks like a one-season wonder, if that. It's wooden and devoid of interesting characters, which in a way is good because the actors they've chosen wouldn't be capable of portraying interesting characters. The series seems aimed at adolescent gamers who see a bunch of future-computer special effects and go Wow! and never ask for anything more. Like good writing or characterization.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Clearly, comic books really DO lower people's intelligence
Please bear in mind that the person writing this is a BIG fan of Joss Whedon's earlier work in TV and movies. It's the fact that I really AM such a fan that made going to see "Avengers: Age of Ultron" so upsetting.
I managed to sit through the whole film, but just barely. Instead of the "Wow! Look at that!" I was supposed to feel, all I felt was sadness that one of the best storytellers of our age had sunk so low. "Ultron" was 141 minutes of Biff! Zap! Pow! Boom! Zoom! CGI madness, punctuated with a few lines that clearly were intended to be funny but only could have been considered so by pimply-faced 14-year-olds whose standards for comic one-liners had been set by Beavis and Butthead.
In other words, I hated it. I wish Joss would wake up from his comic book-induced stupor and remember how to write characters and plots again. "Buffy" used to cost $1.1 million per episode. "Firefly" used to cost $2 million per episode. And they were great.
"Ultron" cost over $2 million PER MINUTE of running time, and it's crap.
There is a lesson here. When Joss is working with his own ideas, it doesn't take huge amounts of money to create wonderful entertainment. When he is working with other people's comic book ideas, it doesn't matter how much money the producers throw at it -- it's comic book-mentality crap.
Stop making crap, Joss. Tell the guys at Marvel to keep their money and keep their mediocre plots and characters. Come back to making entertainment based on your own ideas.
House of Cards (2013)
Season 3 is hideously disappointing
The show degenerated into a soap opera, and one with characters who are so consistently icky and so consistently...uh...consistent that I found myself not only uninterested in them, but unable to care what they were doing or what happened to them.
The whole thing just made me sad that in a few months I have to watch this whole scenario play itself out in real life, with characters just as icky. The American political scene is so corrupt and so beyond redemption that making a soap opera like this one out of it reveals only how boring it's all become.
Save your money and watch the original British series. The characters aren't any less icky, but ant least they're more interesting.
The underrated virtue
It is somehow appropriate that one of the best films I have seen since Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges" is by his brother, John Michael McDonagh. John showed promise with his film "The Guard," but with this film he takes his place in the pantheon of immortal Irish black humorist-philosophers alongside his brother.
What if you were a Catholic priest, and one of your flock told you during confession that he was going to kill you in a week? Not because you were a bad priest, but because you were a good one. He means it, and you know he means it. He gives you the week to get your affairs in order.
And what if the priest were played by the same Irish national treasure who played the lead in both of the two other aforementioned films, Brendan Gleeson. What if his efforts were supported by the likes of Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Aidan Gillen, M. Emmet Walsh and a host of great Irish/English actors? And what if the results were really, really, really good, verging on magnificent? Then you'd have "Calvary."
In Media Res
Note that there are spoilers here, but you'll see all of them in the first ten minutes anyway, so caveat emptor.
We find ourselves in an upscale, beautifully-appointed kitchen, where an elegant dinner is being prepared by an impeccably-dressed host. We see the host's knife slicing the raw main dish, and then arranging it into a presentation that can legitimately be called art. He walks across the room and serves it to his guest, who is seated at the dining table, and they exchange words.
Host: This course is called ryukozuki -- seasonal sashimi, sea urchin, water clam, and squid. Guest: What a beautiful presentation, Doctor. Host: Kaiseki - a Japanese artform that honors the taste and aesthetic of what we eat. Guest: Well, I almost feel guilty about eating it. Host: I never feel guilty eating anything. Guest: Hmmmm...I can't quite place the fish...
This would have been a cool "season opener" in itself, and a very funny one, given that the host in this scene is Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and you can't always tell what he'll be serving with the Chianti. :-)
But what makes this scene more powerful is that it wasn't the first scene. It was the second. The first was a type of flashforward known as In Media Res, a technique that dates at least back to Homer, and was discussed by Aristotle. In the real first scene, we're in the same kitchen, and a similarly elegant dinner is being prepared for the same guest by the same host. The host uses the same precision with his knife as he slices the main course, but doesn't get to the presentation stage because then his guest enters the room, they exchange glances, each of them seemingly realizing the same thing at the same time, and all hell breaks loose. (Details deleted) The screen goes black, and a title appears, saying "Twelve weeks earlier." Then we see the scene I describe above.
Very effective technique. It worked for Homer, in "The Iliad," it worked for "Breaking Bad," and it works for the season opener of "Hannibal." Something is going to happen during that twelve weeks (coincidentally enough the length of the season) that explains to us how the dinner scene we see second morphs into the one we saw first.
The third and forth scenes take an opposite -- or perhaps the same -- structure. In scene three we see Will Graham during on of his rare off-work moments. He's standing in a river in his waders, fly-fishing. He looks up, and on the bank of the river he sees a magnificent deer. We see the awe and reverence on his face as Will gazes at the deer. Cut to scene four, and the same face, staring at us from behind bars. Will is now in jail, charged with being the very serial killer he is chasing. So is scene three a flashback to the past, or a flashforward to the future? Guess we'll have to watch twelve weeks of television to find out. Since this was one of the best 40 minutes of television I've seen in a long time, I have no problem with that...
Lust for Love (2014)
A Whedonesque Romance
While we wait for Joss Whedon's own scifi/romance movie "In Your Eyes," those of us who have become enamored of the many talented actors he has worked with and whose careers he has cultivated over the years have something to watch. "Lust For Love" is a Kickstarter-funded, Web-based (so far) project that reunites several of the cast members of Whedon's short-lived but brilliant TV series "Dollhouse" -- Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Enver Gjokaj, Miracle Laurie, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Felicia Day. They obviously became close during their "Dollhouse" experience, and that closeness just as obviously carries over into this delightful rom-com.
I'll be honest and state that I'm probably too old to appreciate this movie. It seems aimed at an audience 20-somethings, and as such I would say that it succeeds admirably. Kranz is tremendous as the nebbishy Astor, hoping beyond hope to get back together with the narcissistic girl of his dreams Mila (played by non-Whedon-alum Beau Garrett). Towards this end he secures the services of Mila's ex-best friend Cali (played superbly by Dichen Lachman, who also co-produced this film). Much embarrassment and dating horror ensue, almost all of it portrayed with heart, and a fairly light heart at that. This is not one of those cynical movies about dating and romance.
It was great to see many of the "Dollhouse" actors together again, and those who loved them will probably be the first audience for this film. But I thought that the film (written and directed by first-timer Anton King) has merits of its own, and I hope it reaches a wider audience. I suspect that it could stand on its own among the classics of young-people romance films, up there with "Say Anything."
Sound of My Voice (2011)
"We started out wanting to make a documentary on cults. And now we're in one." There have been terrible films made about the cult experience, and there have been even more terrible films made about the cult experience. In my experience, both as a former cultist and as a religious sociology freak who is also a film freak, there has never been a film that landed outside those boundaries. Until now.
"Sound Of My Voice" is not easy, and it does not offer easy answers. Nor do cults, except in the moment. That may be what makes them alluring, the temptation to live completely in the moment, and never think about what "living" has become.
Brit Marling, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Zal Batmanglij (and who also produced and wrote an interesting previous and thought-provoking film called "Another Earth"), stars as Maggie. Maggie's not from here. Or rather, not not from now. She's from the future. Or that's what she says, anyway. And when you listen to the sound of her voice, you kinda want to believe it.
You want to believe it even if you're a husband and wife who have infiltrated her ultra-secretive cult to make a documentary about it.
I really can't say anything more about this fascinating film without spoiling it. I think it managed what no other film about the cult phenomenon -- or even the spiritual phenomenon -- has accomplished as well before: walking that razor's edge between what simply cannot be and what might actually be.
I think the open-minded will enjoy it.
The Newsroom: The Greater Fool (2012)
"The Newsroom" comes full circle
Aaron Sorkin's new show started by being attacked mercilessly before it even aired. I took a stand when it finally *was* aired, and I got to see the first episode. I've just watched the tenth, and final, episode of the year. I stand by my original stand.
It's good writing, it's good entertainment, it's good acting and direction, and it's got a pair of balls the size of Mars.
And I'm still betting on it sweeping the Emmy awards, and sending an enormous F**K YOU to all of the people who ranked on it because...well...because they have balls the size of peas, and brains to match.
It's difficult to make entertainment while conveying a useful and needed message. It's even more difficult when the very people who should be cheering that message on are so petty and green with envy that they play shoot the messenger, too.
This was the rap rattled off by Jeff Daniels' Will McAvoy during the wrap-up of his last news broadcast of the season, over a bottom-of-the-screen banner that said Republican In Name Only:
* Ideological purity * Compromise as weakness * A fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism * Denying science * Unmoved by facts * Undeterred by new information * A hostile fear of progress * A demonization of education * A need to control women's bodies * Severe xenophobia * Tribal mentality * Intolerance of dissent * Pathological hatred of the US government
"They can call themselves the Tea Party, they can call themselves conservatives, and they can even call themselves Republicans, though Republicans probably shouldn't. But we should call them what they are, the American Taliban."
This is the message that real news stations in America should have been airing as real news last night as the Republican Convention opened. Instead, it had to be aired on HBO, on a show that even Democrats and liberals tried to kill. This is one of those days that forces me to think about America and remember the lines to a great Bob Dylan song:
"And you ask why I don't live there Honey, how come you even have to ask me that?"