Wednesday, December 14, 2016

2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards - The Nominees

The ceremony will take place on January 29, 2017.

Here are the nominees:

MOVIES

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams, Arrival
Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

Captain Fantastic
Fences
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble

Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Hacksaw Ridge
Jason Bourne
Nocturnal Animals

TELEVISION

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series

Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Sterling K. Brown, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Bryan Cranston, All the Way
John Turturro, The Night Of
Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in Television Movie or Miniseries

Bryce Dallas Howard, Black Mirror
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Kerry Washington, Confirmation

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actress in a Comedy Series

Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
John Lithgow, The Crown
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Claire Foy, The Crown
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Winona Ryder, Stranger Things
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

The Crown
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Stranger Things
Westworld

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

The Big Bang Theory
black-ish
Modern Family
Orange is the New Black
Veep

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

Game of Thrones
Marvel's Daredevil
Marvel's Luke Cage
The Walking Dead
Westworld

53RD ANNUAL SAG LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Lily Tomlin

Monday, December 12, 2016

2017 Golden Globe Awards - The Nominees

Announced fresh this morning in Los Angeles, California, here are the nominations for the 74th Golden Globe Awards, which will take place on January 8, 2017, hosted by Jimmy Fallon.

Best Motion Picture - Drama

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

20th Century Women
Deadpool
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land
Sing Street

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

Amy Adams, Arrival
Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Jonah Hill, War Dogs
Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Lily Collins, Rules Don't Apply
Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Simon Helberg, Florence Foster Jenkins
Dev Patel, Lion
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Best Director - Motion Picture

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Original Screenplay - Motion Picture

Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals

Best Original Song - Motion Picture

"Gold", Gold
"City of Stars", La La Land
"How Far I'll Go", Moana
"Faith", Sing
"Can't Stop the Feeling", Trolls

Best Original Score - Motion Picture

Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival
Hans Zimmer , Pharrell Williams , Benjamin Wallfisch, Hidden Figures
Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
Dustin O'Halloran , Volker Bertelmann, Lion
Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Best Motion Picture - Animated

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette)
Sing
Zootopia

Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language

Divines
Elle
Neruda
The Salesman (Forushande)
Toni Erdmann

Best Television Series - Drama

The Crown
Game of Thrones
Stranger Things
This Is Us
Westworld

Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy

Atlanta
Black-ish
Mozart in the Jungle
Transparent
Veep

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

American Crime
American Crime Story
The Dresser
The Night Manager
The Night Of

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama

Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Billy Bob Thornton, Goliath

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama

Caitriona Balfe, Outlander
Claire Foy, The Crown
Keri Russell, The Americans
Winona Ryder, Stranger Things
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Gael García Bernal, Mozart in the Jungle
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Nick Nolte, Graves
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy

Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Sarah Jessica Parker, Divorce
Issa Rae, Insecure
Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television

Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager
John Turturro, The Night Of
Courtney B. Vance, American Crime Story

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television

Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience
Sarah Paulson, American Crime Story
Charlotte Rampling, London Spy
Kerry Washington, Confirmation

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Sterling K. Brown, American Crime Story
Hugh Laurie, The Night Manager
John Lithgow, The Crown
Christian Slater, Mr. Robot
John Travolta, American Crime Story

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Olivia Colman, The Night Manager
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Chrissy Metz, This Is Us
Mandy Moore, This Is Us
Thandie Newton, Westworld

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Spectre

The Gist: Smarting from the recent direct attack on the MI6 headquarters, the British government has appointed C to oversee a globally unified field of intelligence gathering. C plans to dismiss the 00 program altogether and rein MI6 under his control. That's when Bond, following a lead from his beloved late M, decides to find out who is behind the highly secretive organization Spectre and what its ultimate objective is.

Spectre marks Daniel Craig's least successful stint yet in the famed secret agent's garb. As is often the case, a lot is going on in a 007 movie, and when the goings on stretch the fabric of belief too much, things start to turn sour.

The script is likely the main culprit. We all know Bond is super smart and resourceful, and in Craig's hands he's also athletic and tough as nails, but there are limits to what a person can achieve in the face of overwhelming odds.

Christoph Waltz, while quite delightful in the shoes of the bad guy, comes across as too much of a caricature to be memorable.

The Bottom Line: Overall, the main complaint I'd lobby at this chapter in the Bond franchise is that it's rather boring, in spite of all that's happening. Given how the movies' plots are rather intertwined, if you're a fan and likely to be back the next time around, then don't skip Spectre, but if you're just curious, then I'd suggest you go with either Casino Royale or Skyfall, both far superior and still featuring Craig, the best Bond ever in my book.

Grade: 6

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Take Me to the River

The Gist: After traveling to Nebraska for a family reunion with his mom and dad, a young teenager finds himself the unwitting suspect of abuse.

Take Me to the River is Matt Sobel's feature debut and what a promising director (and writer) he turns out to be!

The movie is quite slow building, and you're left wondering whether there is anything more to it, but then the tension starts building, grips you, and doesn't relent.

The best thing about it are certainly the different layers that keep being added on top of one another.

Fresh faced Logan Miller is a relative newcomer and firmly establishes himself as a very promising actor. He's joined by Robin WeigertRichard Schiff, and Josh Hamilton, all among my favorite actors and all doing an excellent job.

The Bottom LineTake Me to the River comes highly recommended. The grade isn't higher simply because the slow build does drag a bit at times, but just give it time and you'll be happy you did.

Grade: 7

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

American Horror Story: Roanoke

I'm happy to report a great return to form for American Horror Story in its sixth season after the big stumble I felt it took with season 5, primarily because of the poor choice of replacing a stellar lead actress like Jessica Lange with an unproven and average one like Lady Gaga.

Gaga does appear in American Horror Story: Roanoke but she was wisely given a smaller role that actually takes full advantage of her dramatic flare without placing the entire show on her shoulders.

Mind you that Roanoke might actually be the scariest installment yet. While the horror of the show's title features widely in every season, it can take on different flavors depending on the specific tale being told, going from gory (Murder House) to disgusting (Asylum), to unsettling (Freak Show), to disturbing (Coven), to occasionally risible (Hotel).

Roanoke's terrors are of the primal variety, the fear you have when it's dark and you're alone in a strange place and you hear an unsettling noise and your imagination starts going wild while dabbling in dark thoughts.

Kathy Bates finally gets her chance to chew the scenery like only she can. Sarah PaulsonAngela BassettLily RabeAdina PorterAndré Holland, and Cuba Gooding Jr. all do a very good job.

The way the show starts out can be a bit confusing, with some timeline shifting and some uncertainty about who is who, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded greatly.

Grade - Season 6: 9

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Hateful Eight

The Gist: A severe snow storm in Wyoming's already harsh winter, forces a bounty hunter to seek refuge with his prized prisoner in a remote outpost. The place is teeming with several seemingly wicked individuals. Trust is a hard-to-find commodity.

Full disclosure, I'm not a Quentin Tarantino fan. His work is always original and rather unique, but it often feels pretentious and out of reach. I'm a movie lover but I clearly lack the breadth of knowledge necessary to paste together all the different homages and references he portends to imbed in his work.

As a result, some of his work I like (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Basterds), and some I loathe (Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was atrocious; I found it so awful that I never even went to see Vol. 2, which for me is unusual).

Anyway, The Hateful Eight is one of his best as far as I'm concerned. It is well written, photographed beautifully, and expertly directed.

The eight from the title (Samuel L. JacksonKurt RussellJennifer Jason LeighWalton GogginsDemián BichirTim RothMichael Madsen, and Bruce Dern) are all perfectly cast. Jackson and Russell especially are great, and Leigh is so good she was rightfully nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

The movie, to Tarantino's delight, actually won Ennio Morricone his first Best Score Oscar outright (he has an Honorary one also) after 5 previous nominations!

The Bottom LineThe Hateful Eight is not for the squeamish because of the high level of violence and gore, but that's to be expected in a Tarantino film. If those don't concern you, you'll find humor, drama, wit, and suspense galore, enough that you won't even mind the long runtime (167 minutes!).

Grade: 8

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ex Machina

The Gist: A young programmer wins a contest to spend a week at his programmer-genius boss' remote estate. The real reason behind the invitation is for the boss to have the employee test whether his new, secret, and groundbreaking humanoid AI could pass for a human being.

Prepare to have your mind blown. Ex Machina is a really well put together thriller that asks some serious questions about what our future as a species might look like if when AI becomes a reality.

Domhnall Gleeson and (the ever present is seems) Oscar Isaac do an excellent job in two roles they seem perfectly suited to inhabit. Alicia Vikander, Oscar winner this same calendar year for The Danish Girl, turns in another memorable performance, overlooked only because of the sci-fi undertones.

Ex Machina won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects and was nominated for Best Screenplay as well.

The Bottom Line: This is a very well written thriller, expertly edited and directed to maximize suspense, all leading up to a scary good ending. Definitely recommended.

Grade: 8

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trainwreck

The Gist: A very independent and commitment-phobic woman has to face her own fears head on when she unexpectedly meets a man she might actually want to have a long-term, monogamous relationship with.

I love Amy Schumer. I think she's incredibly funny and self-deprecating, and she doesn't seem to mind getting down in the gutter if the joke requires it.

Bill Hader joins her here as her love interest, and they seem perfectly suited to play off one another. Brie Larson, Jon Glaser, and Colin Quinn all do a good job, but the one who steals the show is the always excellent Tilda Swinton, here playing a magazine editor so morally corrupt she is outrageously and funnily good.

The Bottom LineTrainwreck is not a great comedy in the classical sense, but if you're just looking for a couple hours of mindless laughs, then look no further.

Grade: 6

Green Room

The Gist: A band of young musicians, on the road in search of paying gigs, ends up at a neo-Nazi bar. When it's time to leave, one sees something he wasn't meant to see, and things take a very dark turn for all of them.

Patrick Stewart is one of my all-time favorite actors and here he plays the bad guy with incredible gusto. The other lead is the recently, prematurely lost Anton Yelchin, who was such a promising young actor.

Green Room tells a very simple story, but the tone is as dark as it gets and the pace is quite taut. You'll definitely feel tension, fear, and anxiety as the events progress, but it's more than worth it.

The Bottom Line: The movie might not be for the squeamish or frightful out there, but if you think you can stand the tension, the payback is well worth the ride down this particular hell.

Grade: 8

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Inside Out

The Gist: When Riley's family moves to San Francisco, the young girl's emotions, used to the tranquil life of the Midwest, are thrown for a loop and have to figure out how to adapt to this much wilder and unpredictable environment.

Inside Out, winner of a Best Animated Feature Oscar, is one of the best movies I've ever watched. No question.

The animation is superb and the voice actors do an incredible job, but it's really the story itself and the wonderfully written script (nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar) that make this a memorable film.

It's really an instant classic that belongs in the highest echelon of Pixar's wonderful oeuvre.

The Bottom LineInside Out will make you laugh and cry and smile and hope, and a lot more. It's a completely original movie that you never want to end. A must see for the whole family for generations to come.

Grade: 10

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Lucy

The Gist: Accidentally ensnared by an international drug trafficker to be a mule, Lucy ends up overdosing on a new and very powerful drug that results in her gaining superhuman abilities.

I was looking forward to watching Lucy because I generally like Luc Besson's work and the idea of a strong female lead in a field generally dominated by males sounded like progress. I also really like Scarlett Johansson.

Unfortunately, the end result is largely underwhelming and even disappointing. The storytelling pace is too fast and the runtime too short to effectively establish 3D characters, so what you get are really just placards.

Furthermore, the very premise that she would survive such an overdose and that it would then do to her what it does is a stretch. And the breakneck pace at which she becomes a near-godlike entity is just too artificial.

The Bottom Line: A good performance, a lot of cool action, and pretty nifty visual effects don't save Lucy from being a botched cinematic dud.

Grade: 4

Monday, November 07, 2016

Straight Outta Compton

The Gist: The birth and rise of NWA, the first superstar hip-hop group, amid the simmering racial tensions of Los Angeles, California, in the 80s.

I'm not a rap or hip-hop fan, and I didn't even know what NWA was (I still lived in Italy back then, and they never made it big there). I was curious because of the rave reviews Straight Outta Compton got and I often enjoy watching dramatized versions of some historical event in order to advance my own knowledge (like when I decided to watch American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson to find out more about the O.J. Simpson debacle).

Very well deservedly nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, the movie is well written, well acted, and well directed.

The Bottom Line: If you like the genre of music, I would say you can't go wrong. And if you were a fan, you should be satisfied. All in all, a pretty solid product that shines a light on the issue of racism and the standoffish nature of the relationship between African Americans and the police force in the U.S. that still persists today.

Grade: 8

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Trumbo

The Gist: In post-war America, Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood's top screenwriters, is accused of being a communist sympathizer and subsequently blacklisted by powerful anti-communist interests in the industry and Congress. Unwilling to cave to political pressures encroaching on his constitutional rights, he'll be jailed, his career all but over. He will have to find clever workarounds to keep earning a living and weather the storm.

Nominated for a Best Lead Actor Oscar for his portrayal, Bryan Cranston perfectly inhabits the character of a man whose life is ruined by corrupt political agendas, a topic all too current in our current political environment.

He is surrounded by an excellent cast that includes Diane Lane, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K., and John Goodman. Above all, however, towers Helen Mirren, here playing the villain with such gusto she is utterly despicable.

The Bottom Line: Given the charged political times we live in, Trumbo is a great cautionary tale of what can happen when unscrupulous politicians decide what's best for you and what you should think. The excellent acting and great period reconstruction make it a must watch.

Grade: 8

The Danish Girl

The Gist: Einar Wegener is a famous painter. His wife Gerda also paints, but her work doesn't seem to break through, until she finds an unlikely and unusual muse when her husband transitions to Lili.

Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne earned his second consecutive nomination for playing this pioneer transgender woman. Alicia Vikander won the Oscar on her first nomination for playing the hurt but caring wife of a man who suddenly isn't who she thought he was anymore.

The movie also showcases excellent production design, costumes, cinematography, and soundtrack.

The Bottom LineThe Danish Girl is a wonderfully acted film that is a real pleasure to watch, from beginning to end. A must see.

Grade: 8

Steve Jobs

The Gist: Always concerned with maintaining the strictest control over his creative vision, no matter the costs, financial or otherwise, Steve Jobs never seemed to mind putting his creations over his personal relationships or the company's interests.

Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, is quite fast paced, as one would expect given the two names just mentioned, but that actually helps understand the breakneck pace at which Jobs' mind likely ran.

Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet both earned Oscar nominations for their portrayal of the big man and his trusted assistant.

Seth Rogen as the scorned business partner, Jeff Daniels as the scorned mentor, Michael Stuhlbarg as the scorned top developer, and Katherine Waterston as the scorned former lover all do a great job.

The Bottom LineSteve Jobs is a really well put together film that opens a window on the personality, vision, and life (warts and all) of one of the most iconic figures of the last few decades.

Grade: 8

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Son of Saul

The Gist: In a Nazi concentration camp, selected prisoners are forced to dispose of the bodies of the murdered Jews that keep streaming into the camp. One of them, one day, sees a young boy's cadaver and, saying he's his son, decides to secretly have a Rabbi give him a proper Jewish burial.

Given the topic, I thought I would have really, really liked this movie. And I wanted to. I really did. The problem is that the story is just not believable.

We all know what was going on in those concentration camps, and Son of Saul, winner of a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, starts out very strong, dropping us into the action and keeping us locked into a sense of dread about what will happen next. Needless to say, what we do get to see is very disturbing, but so is what is left to one's imagination.

But when the protagonist suddenly decides to go to literally any lengths to ensure that the body of this young Jew is properly buried, in spite of the dangers and horrors those still living are constantly subjected to, is just too unbelievable. It might be morally uplifting for him to want to do that for the little kid, but not if he jeopardizes the always-hanging-by-a-thread lives of those around him.

The Bottom Line: I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but halfway through I had pretty much already checked out, so-to-speak, and was just waiting for a merciful end. The final grade is still pretty high because Son of Saul is a solid directorial debut for László Nemes, and Géza Röhrig turns in a fantastic performance. I just wish the script didn't veer so suddenly and deeply into unacceptable territory.

Grade: 7

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Joy

The Gist: A child of divorce with two substantially unstable parents, Joy is a driven and hardworking young woman who dreams of starting her own business making original everyday products.

Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence raked up her fourth acting nomination for her leading role in Joy, where she reunited once again with acting partners Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, and director David O. Russell.

Joy is the third movie these four people have successfully worked together on, even though Joy, justifiably, didn't receive the same accolades their previous two efforts (Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) got.

The Bottom Line: I enjoyed Joy, even though it did not reach the artistic heights of Russell's previous two efforts with Lawrence. Clearly, the two of them have great synchronicity, which always shows in their work. The story of Joy, which is based on true facts, is interesting and funny and sad, but through all the ups and downs, you'll surely be rooting for her.

Grade: 7

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Carol

The Gist: After a chance encounter in a New York department store, a woman's already troubled marriage becomes an inconvenience on the path to happiness.

Carol was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara), and Lead Actress (Cate Blanchett).

Mara's submission in the supporting category was controversial because she is on screen as much as Blanchett, but the studio didn't want to jeopardize Blanchett's chances and so they split the category. That's a studio's prerogative and totally allowed by the Academy's bylaws, and it's happened many times before.

Regardless, they are both absolutely terrific, but, given how hard it was for Meryl Streep to win her third Oscar, Blanchett's chances weren't looking too good, especially only two years after winning her second statuette.

The Bottom LineCarol is a really good movie, perfectly acted and very well written. It's a wonderful love story set against the backdrop of a time when this kind of love was not to be spoken of. A must see.

Grade: 9

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Veep

Season five of this incredibly, outrageously funny comedy continues to hit the mark with every episode.

Not having won the presidency outright, Selina is now navigating the insecurities of ballot recounts and obscure Congressional rules that will decide who the next President and Vice President are.

Surrounded by a phenomenal supporting cast, Julia Louis-Dreyfus never misses a beat and constantly has you clutching your belly laughing out loud.

As she said in her acceptance speech for her latest Emmy win for this role, what began as a parody of the American political system has now morphed into what looks more like a documentary, thanks to Donald Trump's insane campaign, but I'll take Veep any day of the week, thank you very much!!

Grade - Season 5: 9

When Marnie Was There

The Gist: A teenager who had been adopted as a young kid, has become withdrawn and sent to the countryside for a while to live with some relatives. One day, she meets Marnie, a girl about her age who lives in an isolated mansion. As their friendship deepens, events from both the girls' pasts start coming to the fore.

Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, When Marnie Was There is a hand drawn animated feature that I found a bit puzzling at times. I was having trouble keeping up with the mysteries unraveling, mixed up with current events.

The Bottom Line: Nevertheless, When Marnie Was There is a sweet and enjoyable movie that the little ones should have no trouble following.

Grade: 7

Cartel Land

The Gist: An in-depth examination of the drug trafficking problem along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Cartel Land is a Best Documentary Oscar nominee that successfully attempts to shine a light on the plight brought about by the Mexican drug cartels on both sides of the border.

On the American side, a group of volunteer vigilantes patrol a stretch of land in Arizona that is often used by the cartels to bring drugs across.

On the Mexican side, a small town doctor has lead a group of citizens to arm themselves and rise up against the drug lords who kidnap, kill, and maim innocent people with impunity.

The Bottom LineCartel Land is very well made and very current, and the truths revealed will likely get your blood boiling by the end.

Grade: 7

Shaun the Sheep Movie

The Gist: Sick of the same routine, Shaun decides to hitch a ride to the big city for some fun, but the adventures awaiting him (and those who follow him) end up being a lot more than a simple sheep can handle. Will he be able to return things to normal?

Not much else can be added to that without giving plot points away. The movie is yet another example of excellency achieved without computers, as this is all stop-motion animation.

Furthermore, there is no dialogue, and yet the story unrolls before your eyes effortlessly. It's a real treat.

The Bottom Line: Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, Shaun the Sheep Movie is very funny and will please viewers of any age.

Grade: 8

Racing Extinction

The Gist: A documentary about the current state of the world's animal life and how humans are accelerating a new mass extinction event.

This is one of those documentaries that really pull at my heartstrings and end up making me incredibly sad and mad, because I love nature and animals so much.

Frankly, it is a disgrace that the world governments don't do more to protect the beauty of our world and the marvelous creatures that have all made it their home.

It was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar for the end-titles' track, Anohni's Manta Ray, which itself was the cause of some controversy (read more about it here).

The Bottom LineRacing Extinction is a must see documentary for every human on the planet. Watch it now before it's too late.

Grade: 8

Boy & the World

The Gist: A little boy, who never saw anything much past his family's hut in the country, embarks on a fantastical journey to find his father.

I think I can safely state that Boy & the World is unlike anything you've ever seen before, animated or not. In large part because it doesn't really have a single line of dialogue.

Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, the story is told uniquely with the aid of simple hand-drawn animation, but it's laid out so well, it really doesn't need any words.

The music is beautiful and the story enthralling. You'll find yourself rooting for this little boy while witnessing what happened to our world and ourselves.

The Bottom LineBoy & the World is a movie that everyone should watch. Yes, it's animated, but while looking cute for the little ones, it'll stir up plenty of thoughts and even some melancholy in the older folks. A must see!

Grade: 9

Creed

The Gist: Apollo Creed's illegitimate son Adonis feels the pull of fighting in the ring and seeks out Apollo's longtime foe, Rocky Balboa as a trainer. While at first reticent, Balboa agrees to train the unproven boxer for a fight against the current world champion. Adonis, however, has a lot of baggage wearing him down.

Nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Sylvester Stallone reprises the role that made him famous almost 40 years ago and turns in a very good performance.

Stallone was actually considered the favorite to win at this year's ceremony, but was bested in an upset by Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies. I always disapprove of awards given out for sentimental reasons (Stallone has never won and was nominated here for the same role he originated 39 years ago and for which he had gotten his first nomination -- two actually, the second for writing Rocky's original script).

Someone inevitably loses out despite a better performance because an actor is getting old or has worked in the industry for decades and has never been recognized. Rylance won out, and deservedly I think. Stallone was good, but Rylance's performance was more refined.

Michael B. Jordan is very well cast as the angry young boxer confronting very old ghosts. Tessa Thompson is perfectly cast as the love interest.

The Bottom Line: The latest entry in the Rocky Balboa canon, Creed is a nicely made movie whose only real flaw is to be a bit too predictable. Good acting and plenty of nostalgia, however, save it from mediocrity.

Grade: 7

Amy

The Gist: This documentary recounts the rise of an ordinary girl from an unknown to stardom until her untimely and unfortunate premature death.

Amy Winehouse was a great singer who had really just started showing the world all that she was capable of. She had an incredible talent as a songwriter too, capable of mining the deepest recesses of her soul and bare it all.

Unfortunately, she had trouble with depression, which led to a lot of drinking and drug use, and some of the people around her either didn't have her best interests in mind or just didn't understand the seriousness of the situation.

Either way, she's now gone.

The Bottom Line: Winner of a Best Documentary Oscar, Amy is a very well put together film that will satisfy both her fans and those who didn't know Winehouse at all. A real tragedy.

Grade: 8

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The Gist: Upset by Superman's tremendous power and seeming lack of care for his actions, Batman sets out to neutralize him. Lex Luthor's son, however, might be the master puppeteer behind the epic confrontation.

Plenty of spoilers ahead.

Superman had finally been successfully rebooted with Man of Steel -- after an initial misfire (Superman Returns). Batman had just come off a very successful reboot trilogy, even though it now needed a new star and director. Why have them face each other now?

Apparently, DC Comics and Warner Brothers (which owns the DC catalog), were either concerned or jealous of Marvel's continued success at the box office in developing franchises for both individual superheroes and collectives (with The Avengers), so they wanted their own.

The problem I see is that they simply weren't ready. They jumped the gun. They wanted to have a blockbuster that set up a franchise that involved several superheroes, but only one was established in its current form, Superman. The new Batman, brought to life by Ben Affleck, was completely untested. No other character was developed at all.

Furthermore, the villain doesn't fully work. Lex Luthor is played here by Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg is a very good actor, who shone in The Social Network, but here he's virtually playing a crazier version of a jacked up Mark Zuckerberg, and he recalls too much Kevin Spacey's performance without nailing its subtleties. Maybe he was going for something like Heath Ledger's Joker, but if that's the case he failed.

But wait, there's more! The producers were probably under orders to establish individual superheroes for future standalone movies, so the Flash makes an appearance (as do Cyborg and Silas). And then of course there is Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot.

Her character is actually one of the coolest things in Dawn of Justice, besides the eye popping visual effects of course. Gadot seems perfectly suited to play the Amazon in next year's standalone Wonder Woman, so I'm actually quite curious to watch it.

And then there's the last nail in the coffin of this uneven effort: the creature Luthor concocts from General Zod's corpse. I'm sorry, but swallowing that is really asking too much of the audience.

So many questions... Why would the spaceship still sit in the middle of Metropolis? How could a politician think it perfectly okay to hand over very powerful alien technology to a private individual who has immense wealth at his disposal? How did he quickly figure out a way to reactivate the ship and use it to create that monster while no other scientist had? How is it supposed to look like an even fight when the creature is clearly more powerful than even Superman, given they have the same physiology and therefore the same superpowers, and it's enhanced?

Ultimately, when the movie ended I just felt sad and sorry. Sad for Affleck and sorry for the 2 franchises. Warner Bros. had a good thing going with Superman, but they should have given the perfectly cast Henry Cavill the chance to build his bonafides a bit more.

I felt sad for Affleck because he was done a disservice here by not being allowed to build his own character at all before being thrown into a tussle with a superhero he sees as a threat based on the most risible of assumptions. Batman is supposed to be incredibly smart, first because otherwise he wouldn't have the empire he has, second because he wouldn't be able to keep his identity secret so well, third because he's always outsmarting all the bad guys. But if he's so smart, then how does he not understand that Superman had no choice but to fight against General Zod with all his might? Certainly there was a lot of destruction and some innocent people were hurt or killed in the exchange, but if he had not fought back against Zod, the latter would have wiped out humanity completely and terraformed Earth to his likings!! Would that have been better?!?

Frankly, the whole premise the film is based on, that Batman has some beef with Superman, which leads to a confrontation, is ridiculous. And that undermines the whole structure of the plot.

The Bottom LineBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a horrible movie, nor the worst superhero movie ever made. It's just too implausible, even for this genre, it's based on too flimsy a premise, and it tries too hard to be something it doesn't have to tools to be.

Grade: 5

Everest

The Gist: A climbing expedition on Mount Everest is suddenly caught into a deadly storm.

Based on a true story, Everest features great character development and a lot of suspenseful moments.

Hearing about the difficulties the climbers face at such high altitudes, made me wonder why people would put themselves in such danger and attempt something not only difficult but literally life threatening.

A great cast includes Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robin Wright.

The Bottom Line: Everest is a very good movie, well acted, and with great visuals. What these people went through, all for the sake of adventure, is mind boggling.

Grade: 8

Zootopia

The Gist: Zootopia is a big city where predators and preys have agreed to come together and live in peace. Judy, the first bunny ever to become a police officer, is eager to prove her mettle. When several different animals mysteriously disappear, the chief of police, begrudgingly, allows Judy to investigate.

This Disney effort introduces a whole barrage of new characters, which in itself is a commendable feat. The movie was successful, so I'm sure we'll see many sequels and maybe even prequels focused on "who they were" of some of the characters.

The Bottom Line: Zootopia is funny, well made, features impeccable animation, an original story, and likable characters. Still, it's not memorable.

Grade: 7

Kung Fu Panda 3

The Gist: Kai, an ancient threat, finds his way back from the realm of the afterlife with the goal of defeating all kung fu masters left and assert dominion over the land. Po will have to figure out how to defeat him with the help of his long lost biological father and the few pandas left in the world.

I've been a fan of the Kung Fu Panda franchise from its inception, and the third helping doesn't disappoint, but I wasn't as wowed as before.

It's technically impeccable, it's just that all the gyrations and clumsiness and aloofness feel more and more trite as time wears on. The third time around I've seen this panda gorge so much food, fall and bounce so many times, and ultimately always prevail in spite of his apparent shortcomings that the shtick is getting long in the tooth.

The Bottom LineKung Fu Panda 3 is a funny and entertaining animated movie that both young and old(er) can enjoy.

Grade: 7

Obama's post-presidency focus will be on gerrymandering

The U.S. presidency represents the highest job position one can aspire to, so once the term is over there is only so much a former President can do without it feeling like a demotion.

It looks like President Obama might have found a cause worth fighting for that would allow him to put his many talents to good use: expand the Democrats' edge in states' legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives, cutting into the GOP's unfair advantage:
As Democrats aim to capitalize on this year’s Republican turmoil and start building back their own decimated bench, former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair a new umbrella group focused on redistricting reform — with the aim of taking on the gerrymandering that’s left the party behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult. 
The new group, called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was developed in close consultation with the White House. President Barack Obama himself has now identified the group — which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps — as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office. 
[...] “American voters deserve fair maps that represent our diverse communities — and we need a coordinated strategy to make that happen,” Holder said. “This unprecedented new effort will ensure Democrats have a seat at the table to create fairer maps after 2020."
[...] The NDRC aims to tackle a central problem for Democrats: They complain about the need for redistricting reform all the time and have dozens of aligned interest groups pushing their own efforts, but none has gone far — and that’s left the party on the ropes every cycle. 
Lower Democratic turnout in midterm years has enabled Republicans to win governors' races and statehouse races that consolidate power in state capitals and Washington by being the ones to draw the maps that everyone needs to run on. 
They argue that Democrats have been losing races in large part because they’ve let Republicans tilt the field. The result: The ranks of up-and-coming Democrats have been thinned, and there are fewer and more difficult races for the ones who are left to run on. 
Donald Trump is "an acute symptom of their party in decline, and Republican leadership can't help but be aware that their majorities in the U.S. House and in many statehouses are inflated at best, wholly artificial at worst,” said Carolyn Fiddler, communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Washington group that coordinates among statehouse races and is also a partner in the NDRC. “A coordinated effort among Democrats to prevent another round of GOP gerrymandering is Republicans' worst nightmare for the long-term health of their party.”
I'm really hoping they're successful. If the country as a whole is generally more liberal, why are conservatives in charge in the majority of states' legislatures? Why do they hold more governorships? Why do they control the U.S. House and Senate?

If the voting maps were drawn fairly, more fairness would permeate the system as a whole. Here is a graphical representation of the issue:



Full article here.

And this quick search on Google shows the craziness of the current system. Check it out.

The Lobster

The Gist: In a not so distant future, a dystopian society requires every citizen to be happily married. When someone ends up single, no matter the reason, he's sent to a hotel where he has 45 days to find a new partner or face being turned into an animal of his choice and released into the wild.

Colin Farrell gives a very subdued performance that is one of his best, and Rachel Weisz is a great counterpart.

The cast is stellar overall, notably, Olivia Colman (the hotel manager), Ashley Jensen (the biscuit woman), Ariane Labed (the maid), Angeliki Papoulia (heartless woman), John C. Reilly, and Ben Whishaw, whose career has thankfully really taken off.

The Bottom Line: The Lobster is a very, very dark comedy. You won't laugh as much as smile because the darker undertones and occasional somewhat violent scene will leave you often incredulous. Definitely worth watching. Much food for thought.

Grade: 7

Eye in the Sky

The Gist: A drone operation is underway against a suspected terrorist cell in Kenya. The commanding officer is in England while the drone operator is in America. A number of military and civilian officials are watching remotely. The legality and morality of drone warfare is repeatedly put into question, frustrating the officer, whose duty it is to neutralize the enemy.

Helen Mirren is tough and laser focused. Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman join her in turning in great performances.

Eye in the Sky is not always an easy movie to watch. If you have a terrorist in your crosshairs, but killing him will result in the collateral death of some innocent people, should you go ahead and do it, knowing that if you miss this opportunity he will go on to kill a lot more innocent people for his cause?

The Bottom Line: The movie delivers as a whole, with lots of suspense and plenty of moral dilemmas for the audience to posit. Definitely entertaining.

Grade: 7

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sicario

The Gist: An FBI agent volunteers with a government task force whose goal it is to disrupt the drug traffic between the U.S. and Mexico. What she witnesses will shake her confidence in the system.

Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are all top notch.

The Bottom LineSicario is a very well made thriller that will keep you glued to your seat for the duration of the high octane action and blood curdling suspense. Why didn't I rate it higher? I'm not so sure myself. Great acting, good script, very enjoyable. Still, not memorable.

Grade: 7

The Boss

The Gist: Michelle Darnell is a strong woman who built an empire without worrying too much about ethics and morals. Convicted for insider trading, she loses everything and has to start over.

I love Melissa McCarthy and will watch anything she does. Her comedy chops are unmatched, she's got perfect timing and her facial expressions are priceless.

The Bottom Line: The Boss isn't a great movie by any means and it's rather predictable at every turn, but it's still got plenty of skits that will make you double over with laughter.

Grade: 6

Grandma

The Gist: Grandma gets a visit from her teenage granddaughter, who needs cash right away and can't ask her mother for it.

I've always loved Lily Tomlin, and Grandma is a role that allows her craft to shine, but I have to admit that she felt sort of "old school." For instance, when she's driving, which is often, she still swings the steering wheel this way and that like they used to do in the 40s and 50s, which is absurd to anyone who's ever spent any time driving a car. Obviously, the vehicle was stationary.

Still, she's well balanced against Julia Garner, and when Marcia Gay Harden enters the scene, it's fun to have two such experienced actresses play off one another.

Oh, I should also mention the always handsome Sam Elliott, who has a small role, but impactful.

The Bottom Line: The topic discussed (unwanted pregnancies) is not for everyone's taste, but it's dealt with as tactfully as one could expect. Tomlin's performance makes it well worth your time.

Grade: 6

The Good Dinosaur

The Gist: The asteroid never hit the Earth and dinosaurs now live alongside humans and have perfected farming. Our hero is a fearful little guy who, separated from his family, has to learn the ways of the world in order to make it back.

Hard to believe that this very weak animated movie could have come out of the same Pixar house that consistently produces the absolute best films, raising the bar with each new release.

I guess every studio has a flop every now and then, but this is a little different. It's not that The Good Dinosaur is a really bad movie. We've all seen some of those, and this ain't that.

In fact The Good Dinosaur has a tender heart, a likable character, a nice friendship, good animation, and a rather entertaining (if boilerplate) plot. And yet, it doesn't feel satisfying.

I can only guess that somehow Pixar's recipe this time was missing some key ingredients, which left the different film elements out of balance.

The Bottom Line: If you have little ones, they will likely enjoy it plenty, so go ahead and rent it, just don't expect the same Pixar magic you've been accustomed to, it's all I'm saying.

Grade: 6

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Concussion

The Gist: A pathologist discovers that repeated concussions suffered during normal play by football players cause permanent brain damage that is often lethal. His quest to publish his findings and have the NFL (and some football fans) accept the damning results of his research will hit a wall of very powerful opposition bent on destroying his name in order to keep the sport from being changed in any way that could affect the NFL's bottom line.

Based on a true story, Concussion is a very well made film that highlights the dangers of playing a sport that is inherently violent.

I never understood the allure of a sport in which the players constantly hit one another. We have not nor will we allow our kids to play it.

Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, and Albert Brooks all give excellent performances.

At one point, a doctor in cahoots with the NFL complains with our hero that if just 10% of mothers across the country found out about his research and decided not to let their kids play football, it would spell doom for the NFL.

I would hope all parents across the country watched this movie, found out the truth, and made more informed decisions that have little to do with how many billions of dollars a mega-corporation is set to pocket. After all, the damage doesn't just occur at professional-level events, but it starts building from the very first concussion suffered by a player of any age.

The Bottom Line: Absolutely recommend this movie to anyone. Very informative, well written, and excellently acted.

Grade: 7

The X-Files: Re-Opened

The X-Files was one of my favorite TV shows. It had mystery, suspense, sci-fi, fantasy, action, and plenty of thrills. It was well written, perfectly cast, and totally original. It was like nothing else before, working well both as a stand-alone procedural and a multi-episode-arc drama.

Eventually, like all series, it reached its end, and two companion movies were worthy efforts even if they failed to ignite the box office.

The X-Files: Re-Opened was billed as a "6 episode event" and it was a mixed bag at best. It tried to give us an update on the larger worldwide conspiracy Mulder had always been after, but it also wanted to showcase stand-alone episodes.

Unfortunately, the limited event format itself couldn't allow enough time for the conspiracy storyline to really be dealt with. There was a lot of information thrown our way in too short a timeframe, ending up feeling stiff and lumbering (and hard to believe even for those of us who "still want to believe").

The stand-alone episodes also varied in quality from okay to pathetic, which can't be what you're going for if you want to convince the public to start caring about your show again after all this time.

I'm glad both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson agreed to come back, as well as Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis, as they were able to re-inhabit their roles as if no time had passed.

The new recruits, Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose, were a smart choice, given their resemblance (physical and not) to the younger Mulder and Scully, but there just wasn't enough time to really develop their characters, so they ended up looking like ineffective copies of the younger sleuths (and honestly, a bit too much tongue-in-cheek).

If you were a fan of the original, by all means take a look, as it's a decently successful attempt at recapturing the allure of what you loved.

If you're new to The X-Files however, you'd be much better served by going back to the original show and watch that.

Grade - Limited Event: 6

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Moby & The Void Pacific Choir - Are You Lost In The World Like Me

A great visual representation of our everyday world:

Are Americans afraid to take vacations?

Researchers looked into the staggering amount of unused vacation time accumulated by the American workforce, and the numbers are shocking to say the least:
Last year, the number of unused vacation days in the US reached a 40-year high . Researchers at Oxford Economics hired by the US Travel Association put the numbers at about 169m days, equivalent to $52.4bn in lost benefits. 
The main culprit? America’s workaholic culture. It’s not that Americans do not want a vacation – it’s that they are afraid to take it. Currently, on average, each US worker fails to use about five paid vacation days a year. 
As unused vacation days reach a record high, a number of employers are trying to take a different approach to paid vacations, helping create a movement for employees to reclaim their personal time. 
Despite the shift to empower workers to take their vacation, many still feel guilty about it, drag their feet and then struggle to schedule time off at the last minute. 
[...] In 2012, only about 77% of Americans working for privately owned companies got paid vacation days. On average, their allotted paid time off was 10 to 14 days. 
More than half of Americans, 56%, have not taken a vacation in the last year, according to the insurance company Allianz Global Assistance . That’s equivalent to 135 million people. The survey defined vacation as a week off from work during which those surveyed travelled at least 100 miles away from home. 
Another survey of 1,005 Americans , conducted last year by Skift, found that just 15% of Americans planned to take a real vacation in 2014. That same survey found that 33% of Americans couldn’t afford a vacation, 30% were too busy and that 22% were going to take a short vacation over a summer weekend. 
“The statistics are pretty alarming – 41% of Americans don’t take their paid time off,” said Cheryl Rosner, CEO and co-founder of Stayful, a travel booking site for boutique hotels, referring to the US Travel Association survey. 
“That doesn’t surprise me at all. We’re taught to work until we drop,” said Femia. “I doubt anybody who isn’t using them is doing it for spite or malice. It’s probably because their company is discouraging them from using them or because they feel like they’ll fall behind in their workplace if they do.” 
Last year, the US Travel Association found that 28% of workers did not take vacation so that they could prove their dedication and not be seen as slackers. Another 40% were afraid of the work they’d have to do when they got back from vacation. 
[...] “This fear is especially prevalent at a time of volatile change in the economy as we have experienced since 2008,” he explained. 
“Secondly, without backups, many workers feel that too much work will pile up while they are are gone and they will be so stressed when they return that time off won’t be worth it.” 
[...] “The United States has never indicated that as a country we take vacation time seriously. We are the only industrial country that does not mandate vacation days and 25% of our workers receive none of them all,” De Graaf said.
Full article here.

The Great cement Wall of China

Apparently, back in 2014, the Cultural Relics Bureau of Suizhong county ordered a 700-year-old swath of the Great Wall of China repaired by covering it with a nice layer of cement:

It was an effort to restore parts of the wall which have fallen into disrepair and are not open to the public, but the restoration has been met with condemnation by social media users and advocates. 
The repair work took place near the border of Liaoning and Hebei province and photos of the results were widely shared by Beijing News on Weibo this week. 
[...] Chinese internet users have slammed the repair job, with the Weibo hashtag "The most beautiful, wild Great Wall flattened" trending online. 
"Glad Venus de Milo is not in China, or someone would get her a new arm," one user said.
A photo from before China's Great Wall was cemented.
A photo from before China's Great Wall was cemented.
Great Wall of China Society deputy director Dong Yaohui said the restoration work had been done "very badly". "It damaged the original look of the Great Wall and took away the history from the people."
No one at the Bureau thought this was a bad idea? No one on the crew though it would be sacrilege?

Unbelievable.

What's 11,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat?

This Rawstory article answers the dirty question:
A study by Kimberly-Clark in 2015 investigating bacterial hot spots in the workplace fingered gas pumps as one of the unhealthiest things you can handle, and a new survey recently corroborates those findings. 
Admittedly, it’s probably no great surprise that gas pumps are not exactly pristine. Never mind the chemical contamination that comes from gasoline itself, think about the sheer number of people endlessly grabbing the pump, often after returning from a pit stop at the not-so-hygienic gas station bathroom. 
[...] It’s not just the number of germs present on gas pump handles, but the quality of those germs. The earlier Kimberly-Clark study, led by a University of Arizona microbiologist named Charles Gerba (whom colleagues know as “Dr. Germ”), found that 71 percent of the pumps were highly contaminated with germs associated with disease. 
[...] Based on laboratory results from swabs from the sample gas pumps, handles on gas pumps had an average of 2,011,970 colony-forming units (CFUs), or viable bacteria cells, per square inch. Worse, the buttons on the pumps (where you select the grade of gas you want), had 2,617,067 CFUs per square inch. To put that in perspective, money, which is considered quite dirty since it changes hands often, has only 5.2 CFUs per square inch. A toilet seat has 172 CFUs per square inch. That makes a gas pump handle about 11,000 times more contaminated than a toilet seat, and a gas pump button 15,000 times more contaminated. 
[...] If you want to minimize your exposure to these germs, use a paper towel to hold the handle and push the button, or keep that hand sanitizer around and wash your hands after filling up.
Many more ghastly details at the full article.

The Lady in the Van

The Gist: Ms. Shepherd is a homeless woman living in a van who, facing mandatory removal from the street, is allowed to temporarily park in the driveway of a playwright. She ends up staying over 15 years, during which time the two develop a close, if withdrawn, friendship.

Inspired by real events, The Lady in the Van is well written and perfectly interpreted by Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings. The supporting cast is picture perfect as well.

The Bottom Line: Dealing with the hardships of homelessness with humor is no easy task, but this movie will make you laugh for all the right reasons and will ultimately leave you feeling good about Ms. Shepherd.

Grade: 7