Sunday, March 29, 2015


buried_xlgThe Gist: An American truck driver working in Iraq wakes up in a buried coffin with no idea how he got there.  Soon, he will find out the how and the why.

I am a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock and I started feeling the vibes of the maestro from the opening titles.  Director Rodrigo Cortés is someone to keep an eye on.

And my first impression wasn’t mistaken either.  The whole movie has a distinct feel of the kind of edge-of-your-seat, enhanced suspense that used to permeate so well the thrillers from long ago, when the bombast of visual effects, 3D, and extremely gratuitous gore and violence weren’t de rigueur.

The Bottom Line: Buried is a great thriller that is very well orchestrated.  The incredibly handsome Ryan Reynolds holds his own and proves he’s not just another pretty face.

Grade: 8

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a SlaveThe Gist: Before the Civil War, a free black man from upstate New York is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.  Will he succeed in regaining his lost freedom?

12 Years a Slave was the 2014 recipient of the Best Picture Academy Award and well worth the title.  It also took home Best Writing and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o.

Nyong’o gives us a very powerful performance and is joined by the equally excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor.  His portrayal of a man who suddenly loses the freedom he was taking for granted and is thrown into the hellish inferno of slavery is heart wrenching and unforgettable.

Also of note are Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and Sarah Paulson.  In their roles as slave owners you can see all the moral turpitude and lack of rectitude that helped the slave owners of the time justify their foul deeds.

I just found out that “12 Years a Slave became the first film directed and produced by a black filmmaker (Steve McQueen) and also the first to be written by an African-American (John Ridley) to win the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year.” (from IMDb)

The Bottom Line: 12 Years a Slave is an instant classic that doesn’t shy away from showing us the ugliness of “civilization.”  An excellent cast and direction make this a must-see.

Grade: 9

The Purge

The PurgeThe Gist: In a more “enlightened” America, every year, for 12 hours, all crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended.  It’s always at night.  Either you purge, or you try to survive the night.

I admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, but I still found the premise behind it worth checking out.  Imagine if we were legally authorize to do anything we wanted (there are very few limits on what can be done) for 12 hours.

I know it sounds ridiculous, and it is, because the body count in the morning would be unthinkable and just imagine the clean up costs and the damages to businesses, but it really made me think about the chasm between the haves and have-nots.

The Purge is all centered around a well-off family that finds itself in the crosshairs of a gang of young yuppies lusting for blood and the morality of helping an innocent homeless man escape a certain and brutal death for no purpose but a desire to kill and maim.

The problem worsens when the family’s envious neighbors also decide to “exercise their rights and duties as Americans” and purge their souls of their jealousy.  All morality is thrown out for a night, so the assailants simply expect the victims to willingly play their part.  You either support the purge and act upon your instincts or you must submit to the others’ needs to purge.

The Bottom Line: The Purge is not a particularly good movie but it has an interesting, if extreme, premise and a few times here and there it actually succeeds in generating some good thought-provoking points.

Grade: 5

Saturday, March 28, 2015


HERThe Gist: Theodore’s rather dull and solitary life suddenly changes when he falls in love with a new operating system based on a very life-like artificial intelligence named Samantha.

Director Spike Jonze, who took home the Oscar for Writing for Her, presents us with a very plausible not-too-distant-future in which we’re mostly alienated from one another.  We still go out into the real world, but the majority of our interactions are with our own digital devices.  Can we not see where we might conceivably be headed?

Joaquin Phoenix reminds us all of the very profound and genuine actor he can be when he stops acting like an ass by pretending to leave acting and fame behind him for the sake of an art experiment.

The OS is voiced by Scarlett Johansson, but other than her voice, Phoenix is pretty much carrying the whole movie on his shoulders, and he does a very nice job.

The Bottom Line: Her is a great window on a very possible future for humanity that gently reminds us of how important human interaction actually is.  The movie was nominated for Best Picture and deserves a viewing.

Grade: 8

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of EverythingThe Gist: The story of how world renown physicist Stephen Hawking met his future wife Jane, found out about his terrible illness, and kept on doing what he loved to do in spite of the setbacks.

The Theory of Everything is one of those “minor” movies that open a small window on someone’s life that sometimes turn out to be unforgettable thanks to one or more extraordinary performances.

Here not a single performance is flawed, but of course it is Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones who tower above everyone else.  Jones is strong and contained but no matter how good she is, she’s always eclipsed by Redmayne.

Eddie Redmayne took home the Best Actor Oscar (along with a slew of other awards) and very much deservedly so.  Towards the end it looked like Michael Keaton was going to beat him for his turn in Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), but I’m glad it didn’t happen.

One might say that portrayals of people with disabilities like this one end up winning all the awards and so become stereotypical, but when one sees the work Redmayne has done on screen all I have to say is, Who cares!!  His was hands down an unforgettable performance and he deserved the Oscar for it.

A clear example is from a particular scene towards the end when Redmayne has a daydream in which he gets up from his wheelchair and starts walking.  The shift from the Hawking we all know to the one who could have been is amazing.  Hands down a fantastic actor.

The Bottom Line: The Theory of Everything is a wonderful movie for the story it tells, the way it tells it, and the performances on screen.  A must see.

Grade: 9

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

BirdmanThe Gist: A washed-up actor that once had a brush with stardom by playing a costumed superhero is trying to recapture fame and fortune by writing, directing, and starring in a serious play on Broadway.

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was this year’s winner of the Best Picture Oscar and it was deserving of the honor.  The movie is original, flawlessly acted and directed, and its continuous-take play is awe-inspiring.

The one-take approach is pulled off so seamlessly that I actually only noticed it after about 50 minutes.  At that point, I had to rewind a bit, then a bit more, and then a bit more still, just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken.  I wasn’t.  Sure, the whole movie isn’t done in only one take, but there are very few cuts and they are almost impossible to find.  That’s ballsy, and it took a lot of planning and rehearsing.

Alejandro González Iñárritu took home three Oscars for Birdman: Picture, Director, and Writing.  Appropriately, Emmanuel Lubezki was named best cinematographer for his artistry.

The only one left empty-handed was Michael Keaton, whose chances of winning Best Actor rose dramatically towards the end of the voting period.  Did he deserve to win?  Not compared to the guy who ended up winning.  Keaton is good for sure, but before awarding him such a prize I’d like to see more top notch work from a guy who’s been in the industry for decades but never particularly wowed me.

The Bottom Line: Birdman is a great, original movie that might require a couple viewings and an open mind, but ultimately, it’s a must see.

Grade: 9


WhiplashThe Gist: A drummer shows a lot of promise to a rather unorthodox music teacher.  Will the latter be able to help the former’s greatness come to the fore?

After hearing nothing but praises for J. K. Simmons’ Oscar-winning performance in this movie, I was expecting a dazzling display of raw talent and I got it in spades.  He more than deserved all the awards and accolades.

Miles Teller is a very promising actor whose talent and performance are actually partially eclipsed by Simmons’ turn, but he’s definitely someone to watch, just like Damien Chazelle, who wrote and directed this gem.

The editing is great and the music is so bewitching it becomes a character in itself.

The Bottom Line: Whiplash is a movie so good, you must see it, and not just for the performances but for the score too.  It would have easily been deserving of winning a Best Picture Oscar.

Grade: 9

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

Hobbit_BOTFAThe Gist: Now that the dwarves have recaptured the treasure under the Lonely Mountain, a whole new host of pretenders wanting their share shows up.  This will lead to the spectacular battle of the title.

The final chapter of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, unexpectedly, left me underwhelmed.  The script strictly adheres to the book and expertly and organically expands on those parts that I most found perplexingly lacking and rushed in the book itself so I’m not sure what didn’t work.

The technical elements are impeccable as always, the acting doesn’t disappoint, the action is often relentless, and when it’s not it’s a welcome rest, and the connection between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is further strengthened by key scenes.

Again, I’m not sure what left me a little disappointed, but this chapter was definitely my least favorite of the whole, which is a pity as I was looking forward to watching the completion of Jackson’s Middle Earth oeuvre.  I can only think that maybe too much is happening and ultimately the movie lacks some “heart.”

The Bottom Line: If you’ve come to this point, you’ve likely seen the two previous movies and the Rings trilogy so for you this is a must see as it was for me and there’s no way you should miss it.  Hopefully on a second viewing I’ll end up re-evaluating it a bit, but for me it felt uneven.

Grade: 6

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit the Desolation of SmaugThe Gist: Bilbo and his dwarves companions continue their trip towards the Lonely Mountain and the stakes keep rising.  They will encounter, among other things, a lethal spider colony, a less than amicable race of Elves living in a forest, a less than hospitable race of humans living on a lake island, and even a very mysterious shape-shifter.  Nothing however, will compare to Bilbo’s face-to-face with Smaug.

Peter Jackson’s second chapter in his trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit keeps up the admirable work of blending together a faithful adaptation of the short novel with both additional Tolkien material and original ideas.

The end result is an adrenaline jolt that engages the viewer a lot more than An Unexpected Journey, saddled with the duty of introducing all the characters to the audience, could do.

Just like with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I found the first chapter more intimate and the second more boisterous.  By the end, when Bilbo finally meets Smaug and they have their terrific confrontation, one is overwhelmed by the visual treats and the many goings-on.

Overwhelmed is good though, at least in this case.

The Bottom Line: If you’ve enjoyed the first chapter, you won’t be disappointed.  I think there’s more original material in Smaug than there was in Journey, but it’s expertly sawed into the story and I liked the end result.

Grade: 8


togethernessHBO’s latest entry in the comedy series, Togetherness, is a very relatable show that I started watching for the oddest of reasons.

I happened to read an article mentioning how the three current comedies on HBO, Girls, Looking, and now Togetherness, are located in three different cities that all play a definite role in the shows themselves, respectively, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Given that Los Angeles was actually the city I visited on my last Road Trip and ended up liking it considerably more than I expected, I decided to give it a try.

Unlike my experience with Girls, which I stopped watching after one season because I really couldn’t bring myself to like any of the characters, Togetherness’ four main residents are all funny, good, and flawed in their own unique ways.

The show was renewed for a second season, so we’ll see how their relationships progress.

Grade – Season 1: 7

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Much Dreaded DST

That would be Daylight Savings Time, which just went into effect last weekend, leading to losing an hour of sleep.  Sure, sure, we’ll get it back in the Fall you say, but why oh why do we still bother with this crap?

I remember researching it a bit last year and finding out that, regardless why it was first introduced, it’s businesses now who want to keep it going because it gives people extra daylight at the end of the day to enjoy the outdoors and spend more money in stores and such.

Well, the always funny John Oliver featured DST on his show last week, and it’s dead on:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest HotelThe Gist: A famed concierge is unwittingly ensnared in a murderous plot when one of his most prestigious guests is assassinated.  Will he succeed in clearing his name with the help of his trusted Lobby Boy?

Wes Anderson is the famously quirky director of such little gems as Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Royal Tenenbaums, which I remember very fondly.  The Grand Budapest Hotel follows in the tradition, as far as oddball capers go, and only solidifies Anderson’s reputation as a refined storyteller.

The cast is a sprawling parade of some of the best known names in Hollywood, especially for their acting abilities: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and others.

That, in and of itself, should make you want to check it out, but it’s Anderson’s screenplay and direction that give all those actors something interesting to do and masterfully weave it all together.

The Bottom Line: Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (and many others), this is a must-see if you like Anderson and should be checked out by any movie lover.  It’s a really endearing story and it’s superbly acted and directed.

Grade: 9

Web Therapy

Web TherapyThis show is now in its fourth season and I’m amazed at its longevity since it’s not the type of comedy that easily climbs the charts.  I guess its fanbase, which includes myself, still loyally follows it though.

Fiona Wallice is still married to her “estranged” gay husband, is still hoping her Web Therapy website (or some wealthy suitor) will make her rich, is still hounded by unwelcome individuals’ attentions (including the law), and still finds absurd clients with unusual issues.

Web Therapy is not a show for everybody, but I would recommend trying it out and sticking with it for a while.  You might end up staying for the long run.

The carousel of guest celebrities are enough to make it worth your time.  Lisa Kudrow, however, still remains the main reason for me to tune in because she’s absolutely brilliant in her acting abilities, even with the subtlest of twitches.  I love her!!

Grade – Season 4: 8

The Comeback

The ComebackThe first season of The Comeback premiered back in 2005 to low ratings, which caused it not to be renewed.  But just like a few other fan-favorites (see, Family Guy or Arrested Development) HBO has resurrected the series for a second go round, which makes the series’ title even more apropos!!

Has-been TV star Valerie Cherish is still busy trying to put together her comeback by hiring a crew to follow her around and record her every move.  Then she’s hired to play the lead on a new HBO show that was actually meant to expose her as a horrible person.  Will it help or hurt her efforts?

In spite of all the years that have gone by, The Comeback is still a great comedy and I was ecstatic when I heard the news that it was coming back.  Lisa Kudrow is absolutely amazing as Valerie, and she’s such a great actress she totally inhabits her character, warts and all.

She and Robert Michael Morris’ Mickey Deane are now on screen in practically each and every scene, and there couldn’t be a better pairing.  Kudrow and Morris have their characters down so well, it really feels like they’ve been working together for decades like in the show.

This isn’t a show that quickly conquers you.  You have to stick with it to understand its dynamics, but if you do you will be rewarded with a fantastic storyline played out by one of the finest comedic actresses in the business.

A must see that by the end replenishes your heart with faith in humanity, even that of a Hollywood celebrity.

Grade – Season 2: 9


TransparentTransparent marks Amazon’s first foray into original programming and it’s a marvel to behold.  I was very intrigued by the concept (and how witty is that title!!) and after a couple episodes I was smitten with Maura Pfefferman.

The show tells the story of a divorced, retired, father of three man who decides to finally be upfront about who he really is and how he wants to live his life.  Will his family accept or reject him?

Jeffrey Tambor does a fantastic job as a transgender woman deciding to take charge of her fate.

The show has been renewed for a second season and I can’t wait to see it.  I would absolutely recommend this show to anyone.

Grade – Season 1: 9

Thursday, March 05, 2015


HomelandSeason 4 of Homeland brings us a Carrie Mathison much more in control of her emotions and her bipolar condition than ever before.  It seems that she’s made peace with the fact that her meds are the only thing keeping her from the brink and she’s decided not to go off them anymore.

Unfortunately, her streak of victories against Middle Eastern terrorists comes to a tragic end that threatens to completely torpedo her career.

Never count Carrie out though, especially when she has Peter Quinn by her side.

This show is simply fantastic in its execution, with awesome acting and spectacular storylines that are never outrageously convenient à la 24. A must see.

Grade – Season 4: 9

Falling Skies

Falling skiesIn season 4, the Volm army has been called away to fight the Espheni on a bigger theater and our group of militant rebels have to carry on fighting pretty much on their own again.

The Espheni however, tiring of the rebellion’s successes, have engineered a new biological weapon that promises to wipe out humanity’s freedom of thought once and for all.

On top of that, there might be an Espheni/Volm alliance in the mix and Tom and Anne’s daughter Lexi, whose real father is an Espheni Overlord, seems to have decided that the Espheni might be right in wanting to enslave the human race after all, as it’s so inferior to her “other family.”

With all these happenings, and a lot more, Falling Skies promises to keep you fully entertained.

And make sure you catch up with it if you have to before the final season premieres later this summer.

Grade – Season 4: 8


DallasSeason 3 of Dallas showed us that there can be life after death, as the loss of a major asset like Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing felt disastrous and left a big question mark on the entire production.

The intrigue continued, our players kept backstabbing or helping one another, and the shocking twists and turns kept coming at us from all sides.

Alas, this didn’t seem enough for TNT to keep the show alive and it was unceremoniously, and sort of suddenly, canceled shortly after the season finale.

This was very unfortunate for several reasons.  First, the show was of pretty good quality as far as soap operas go.  Second, there seemed to be no shortage of great ideas on what to do with the sprawling cast of characters.  Third, the season (now series) finale ended with the presumed assassination of a major character and we’ll never know what would have followed.

What happened with Dallas only strengthened my resolve to pull myself away from TV shows and opt for watching movies instead, as series can often be left unresolved and unfinished and audiences left hanging.

Grade – Season 3: 8

True Blood

True BloodTrue Blood is hands down one of my favorite shows of all time.  I know it’s not always been perfect and that shows like The Sopranos gravitate on a whole different plane, but I love shows about the supernatural, especially when the production values are there, and True Blood had them in spades.

Creator and master-of-originality Alan Ball adapted Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels into the True Blood we all know and love.  It features vampires, werewolves, witches, shape-shifters, a maenad, faeries, a hybrid fairy/vampire, and much more.

Alan Ball handed off the reins of the show at the end of a middling season 5.  The new show-runners proved themselves capable during season 6, but alas dropped the ball spectacularly for the seventh and last.

I think the biggest mistake they made was to try and give each character, major or minor, the most satisfying closure imaginable, which for a show as bloody and dark as True Blood turned out to be the wrong call.

While the season picks up from the season 6 cliffhanger, with the Hep-V fangers about to attack the citizens of Bon Temps and their vampire defenders, their threat is quickly dispatched within a couple episodes.  My reaction was, “And now?  Now that you’ve dispatched the only plausible ‘bad guys’ left around, what are our heroes and heroines supposed to do for the rest of the season?”  Turns out, the show-runners’ answer was, “Make up and make nice!!”

That sucks (no pun intended).  Pretty much everything that happens from that point on to Sookie, Bill, Eric, Jason, Jessica, Sam, Pam, Lafayette, and even Alcide is simply geared towards putting all the pieces of the puzzle back together so that the highest amount of normalcy can be achieved for the largest number of characters.

Sorry, it didn’t work for me.  I was very disappointed and felt like the producers should have been gutsier and gone out with a bang.  For a show that deftly dealt with some really outlandish storylines, this felt like a copout.

I think they should have tried to bring in even more mystical creatures (like the maenad) and powerful human ones (like the witches) and set up some sort of humongous melee during which many characters may have met their demise but that would have kept us on the edge of our seats.

Instead, we got served a bunch of boring and forced plot points that ultimately gave the series a black eye.  Too bad.

True Blood2

Grade – Season 7: 4 – Overall: 9


CalifornicationSeason 7 turned out to be the last one for this show that I always watched with some ambivalence because I always felt like it was interesting and good but not interesting and good enough to last this long.

I kind of always waited for the news that the next season would be the last because I had invested so much time into it, I didn’t want to stop watching before finding out how it ends, but at the same time, I was also kinda ready to say goodbye.

This season Hank tries to straighten up his life once and for all in the hopes of rekindling his relationship with Karen but a ghost from his very distant past gets in the way with major consequences.

Meanwhile Becca, Charlie, and Marcy all have their own issues to deal with, but not without a good sprinkle of Hank Moody thrown in for good measure, of course.

Series finales are always hard to make because it’s hard to please all the fans.  Someone always ends up disappointed, but I for one was happy to see Hank ride into the proverbial sunset with his love by his side.  I guess he earned it after all these years.

Grade – Season 7: 7

Nurse Jackie

Nurse JackieSeason 6 of this great dramedy finds Jackie trying to juggle her new boyfriend, her ex-husband’s new girlfriend and their engagement, her older daughter’s drug use, and obviously her half-attempts at sobering up and steering clear of any drugs.

Naturally, things don’t stay the course for as long as Jackie would want them to, and a whole lot of crazy and shocking things happen along the bumpy way to the breathtaking season finale.

I’ve always liked this show and season 6 doesn’t disappoint.  I’ve recently found out that the next will actually be its last, and I’ll be sad to see the show end, but I’m really curious to see where they will have Jackie land.

Grade – Season 6: 8

Being Human

Being HumanSeason 4 of Being Human turned out to be its last even though it didn’t start out like that.  From what I understood, the cancellation order came as the season was filming, so rather than a cliffhanger for the following season, an acceptable and reasonable conclusion to the show had to be concocted.

This season, Josh needs help getting unstuck from his wolf-form, Aidan finds out someone he thought was long lost is still “alive,” and Sally gains even more powers, but they will come at a cost.

All that is peppered with a new wolf pack, hybrid vampires, time travelling, a very powerful and frightening little girl, and interspecies relationships.

All in all, this was a good show and a successful remake of the British original (which I never saw, so I don’t know which was better, but this one didn’t suck).  I will miss these three very flawed and very “human” characters struggling with their day to day lives.

Grade – Season 4: 7


DraculaI tend to carefully avoid starting to watch new TV shows these days because they take up too much of my time.  I love watching movies and, simply put, too many TV shows means less time I can dedicate to watching movies.

Also, because of their nature, TV shows require a multi-year commitment and in spite of the very many worthy offerings out there, I just don’t feel like making that kind of commitment any longer, unless I feel like it’s really worth it.

Was NBC’s retelling of Dracula worth it?  Hardly, but I’m a sucker for vampire stories and given that my beloved True Blood only had one season left I thought I’d give it a try.

The show isn’t bad, rather it’s pretty well made, with great locations, cinematography, and casting, and a concept that’s quite intriguing and well developed.  It sticks fairly close to the vampire lore we all know (unlike Twilight’s shimmering vampires in sunlight -- *shakes head*) and adds its own twists.

It tells us how Dracula became a vampire, it weaves into the plot well-known characters like Abraham Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, and Lucy Westenra, and it finds a modern day enemy for Dracula to fight against that is strong and powerful enough to be a believable threat.

While the season had its ups-and-downs, by the end so much had happened and the finale’s cliffhanger was such that I was quite looking forward to season 2.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and NBC canceled the show.

Which is another reason why I’m so weary of giving my time to TV shows that might leave me hanging in a couple years, after I’ve invested so much time to get into them.  Today’s ratings’ demands are just so unforgiving that shows are green-lit and canceled without much thought for the feelings of audiences.

Grade: 7

True Detective

True DetectiveHBO’s newest drama follows the new trend of reinventing a series with each new season (à la American Horror Story), although this one seems poised to refresh not just its settings and storyline, but also its cast, at least as far as top billing goes.

Season 1 was headlined by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and they both did a fantastic job.  McConaughey was also lucky enough to have True Detective premiere right around Oscar time (where he was up for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, which only boosted his chances.  He ultimately won, together win countless accolades for this role, which was hailed as further proof of his renaissance.

The co-stars play detectives on the trail of a serial killer who seems to have operated along the Gulf of Mexico coastline for many years, kidnapping, raping, torturing, and ultimately killing countless victims.

If you like detective stories this is definitely worth seeing.  Not only it’s well acted, the scripts, although convoluted, are well written and the locations, cinematography, and direction are all top notch.

Grade – Season 1: 8


CalifornicationOnce again I’m back to watching this show pulled in by the hotness of star David Duchovny and… not much more?  I don’t know, I feel like this show always leaves me wanting more, and yet, I just can’t seem to quit it.

Season 6 of Californication is all about healing for Hank and finding his way back to a normal life after his brush with death courtesy of a spurned lover at the end of season 5.

Unfortunately for him, however, trying to get back into living life will inevitably lead to meeting new lovers and new outsize personas that will end up keeping him and us on our toes.

Grade – Season 6: 7


BoyhoodThe Gist: Boyhood tells the story of a young boy who literally grows into an adult on screen, in front of our eyes.  The events affecting him and his family over time will have a profound effect on the man he becomes.

The Bottom Line: Recorded over 12 years by Richard Linklater, this very ordinary story makes for a very unordinary viewing experience.  Time itself becomes one of the characters, as the players slowly age, but while at first one is intrigued by it, by the end you’ve forgotten and simply adapted to it.

Recorded in bits over the years, Linklater really did pull off an amazing feat that had never been done before and likely will never be done again.  All the players do a good job, except maybe for Lorelei Linklater, who’s barely average and likely won’t have an extensive career in front of the camera (but being the daughter of such a great director, she’ll surely find other outlets in the movie business to unleash her creativity if she wants to).

Patricia Arquette, who won practically every award available for her role, including an Oscar, is a supporting player but ends up stealing every scene.  She’s really, very good.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this movie was also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and for a while there it looked like it was poised to win.  I have to admit that that would have been a stretch.  The movie is nice and in spite of it being very long, it flows and brings you along with ease, but I would hardly consider it the best movie of 2014.  I haven’t been to the theater much at all, but if there was nothing better than Boyhood then Hollywood is in real trouble…

Grade: 7

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Europa Europa

Europa EuropaThe Gist: A Jewish family flees Germany for Poland to seek safety after the Nazis attain power.  Once Poland is attacked, the youngest son is sent away to protect him, and so begins his long and terrifying journey for survival.

The Bottom Line: Europa Europa is based on real events, but not until the end, when we see the real Solomon, does that become clear, giving additional chills to this already gut wrenching tale.

Ultimately, it just seems incredible that some people can come to hate other people so much that they just start seeing them as expendable.  It’s also astounding how political power can just completely brainwash an entire nation under its warped ideology.

Marco Hofschneider, at a fairly young age, does a great job, and it’s interesting to see a young Julie Delpy in one of her first roles.

Grade: 8

Ryan Murphy

On his hit TV show Glee’s legacy for the LGBT community:

"I have always believed in the ideology of one of my friends and idols, Norman Lear, that the way to acceptance is understanding. You have to see it, experience it in your own house and your life, to empathize. I think the success of Glee and Modern Family brought gay kids and gay families to millions of people who think they didn’t know those kinds of people, and then suddenly, within the course of one month, they did. To me, that is the great legacy of these shows and is why public opinion, I think, has changed so radically and so quickly."

American Horror Story: Freak Show

American Horror Story Freak ShowThe fourth season of American Horror Story, subtitled Freak Show, did not, alas, match Coven in its greatness. 

I’m not saying it wasn’t good, since there’s still nothing like it out there and its originality is mind boggling, it’s just that at times I felt a little bored by it.  I just didn’t feel as invested in the storylines as in the previous seasons.

In spite of that, the characters were all fully fleshed out and the cast is always top notch, so if you enjoyed the show previously you won’t be disappointed, I just felt like this past season was the weakest to date.

Perhaps, the easiest way to explain what I mean is to just look at Kathy Bates’ and Angela Bassett’s characters.  In Coven the former was an infamous grand dame who tortured her slaves and who ends up cursed to immortality; the latter was a very powerful voodoo queen who dreams of taking over Jessica Lange’s position as Supreme, the leader of all witches.

In Freak Show, Bates is a bearded lady who befriends and does the heavy lifting for Lange’s character, who owns the freak show.  Bassett is a lady with three breasts that are barely shown and simply joins the show.  It’s not that the characters aren’t developed.  They are, especially Bates’, but they’re just not very impressive nor memorable.

Ultimately, I would recommend Freak Show to any fan of the series because (a) it’s not that bad and (b) there are some revelations that create links to the previous seasons.  This sets up the possibility that the producers’ ultimate goal might be to have a unifying arc in spite of the individual nature of each season.

Grade – Season 4: 6

American Horror Story: Coven

American Horror Story CovenThe third season of American Horror Story, subtitled Coven, was definitely my favorite.  I love stories about witches and magic and this one was developed very well and had many different layers that all worked well together.

The great Jessica Lange was joined this season by Oscar winner Kathy Bates and Oscar nominee Angela Bassett in two roles so different and so perfectly cast, they were the perfect complement to Lange’s Supreme.

As far as I’m concerned this show has consistently upped the ante and improved with each season, and this one will be a tough act to follow, but I’m looking forward to see what comes next.

Don’t miss it and if you’ve never watched it, start from the first season and watch all 3.  You won’t regret it.

Grade – Season 3: 9

Parks and Recreation

Parks and RecreationThis long running show, headlined by the hysterical Amy Poehler, finally hung its hat last week.  It’s a pity because it was very funny and was still working pretty well, but it had been on the chopping block for a while, and had even been quickly canceled and reinstated, so it was only a matter of time.

Apart from Poehler, I really liked Nick Offerman (who is married to Megan Mullally, so I can only imagine the hysterics going on in their house…), Retta (a verified scene stealer), and Jim O’Heir.

Rob Lowe, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, Aubrey Plaza, and Chris Platt were sometimes uneven, ranging from very funny to boring, but it was Aziz Ansari who really got the not-funny award as far as I’m concerned.  His character was so perennially annoying and unfunny that I disliked every iteration of it, and he had the most during the show (maybe they kept trying unsuccessfully to make him more likable?).

For a show whose premise was so unassuming and uninspiring, Parks and Recreation certainly delivered a great many laughs.

Grade – Final Season: 7 – Overall: 8