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The Binge Sessions – Transparent, Season 1

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This Saturday, January 25th, Amazon will stream the first season of it’s award winning ‘Transparent’ FOR FREE. I can’t implore you enough to watch this show. Aside from being so fully fleshed out, well acted, and beautifully written, ‘Transparent’ is so important to have in your TV and social lexicon. While its focus is on a transgendered character and her steps of self-discovery, this Amazon show is about all types of acceptance, transitions, and understanding. It’s about family. It’s so important. ‘Transparent’ is a brave piece of art that fires on all cylinders. Do yourself a favor and watch it–nay, marathon it this Saturday!

For those of you who don’t know, created by Jill Soloway (‘Six Feet Under’), ‘Transparent’ is the story of the Pfefferman family and the state of their lives when their patriarch, Mort (Jeffrey Tambor), comes out as transgender. But SURPRISE! The following are a few of my stream of consciousness thoughts on every episode. I know your not going to want to read full reviews as you power through this show, so it’s short! This way we can marathon them together! Yay! It’s like I’m right there with you. SPOILERS BELOW.

Episode 1: Pilot

This show is so full of grace–maybe due to Tambor, but still, everything graceful. The sibling relationships are so organic (Amy Landecker as Sarah, Jay Duplass as Josh, and Gaby Hoffman as Ali) with sense of real family history without laying on the thick exposition. I understand how Shelley (Judith Light) could marry Mort who could, in turn, cdn.indiewireraise three selfish and sexually oppressed children. The show creates a beautifully balanced overt and underlying sense of sexuality aided by the motif of taking off and putting on pants. The dirty messy chinese dinner wonderfully foreshadows the messiness of what will come for the family. All of the family members are exploring what makes them happy–hiding their innermost desires underneath a facade of cheer. Everybody is ready for some sort of transformation. (Also, Amy Landecker might as well be Amy Brenneman) Killer ending that nails it and feels like it sets up everything so perfectly.

Episode 2: The Letting Go

What a beautiful opening scene. So much love, joy, fear, acceptance, humor (added by Melora Hardin). Notice how they didn’t discuss what Sarah is going through? I think I’m in love with the opening credits. The home videos appear to be happily nostalgic, but they come with a lifetime of misunderstanding and hiding. Like his father before him, Josh is just picking the girl closest to him. Maybe a child will bring him meaning? The other 501B6133.CR2children are falling back into their lies. Sarah, after a stolen moment of being true to herself, she is thrust back into her false life. Ali finds herself lost again, comfortable with not knowing what is next. The flashback bookends of the episode highlights how the choices we make and the truths we hide affect everything and will usually haunt us until we come to terms with them. Maura wants to share with her kids, but as her new drinking buddy says, you may look up and your family isn’t there. It’s a huge fear.

Episode 3: The Rollin

It’s beautiful to see Sarah learning to accept herself through her father’s courage. Love is a relative term that is wonderfully explored within the show. Sarah struggling to tell Len her secrets and truths was so real, raw, believable, and painful to watch. “I don’t know how not be840042-ec74-476f-9e46-61828d0ce996-620x372to” – chilling and powerful after a lifetime and really not knowing how to accept who she is. Bradley Whitford cameo will hopefully turn into something more. Are Ali’s drugs driving her further away or closer to who she really is? How lost is she? “Being alive is being sad,” said the Uber driver. I believe that this show is trying to disprove that statement. Let’s see what a happens next because drugs and coming out don’t seem to mix well.

Episode 4: Moppa

I don’t know if I believe that Maura didn’t realize that Ali was high. It may have been that she was high on her daughter’s acceptance. The secrets of the Pfefferman family go way deeper than Sid even knows. How are these two not together? The creation of “Maura” was beautiful moment in the hotel room. Sarah’s courage is unmatched by Tammy, but she is fooling herself if she think she won’t get burned. Girl time in the mall was a new transitional element from Ali hungover and embarrassed to the heartbreaking bathroom sequence. Maura, while still not done coming out to her kids, must adapt (and be accepted) in the real world–a cruel and unforgiving place sometimes. “It smells like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.” OH, that was Rita in episode one. Josh now has three mother figures–interesting.  All kids looking for an identity change–Ali cuts her hair. No storyline feels forced or shoehorned into this world. Punk Rock Broccoli.

Episode 5: Wedge

Judith light feels a little put on as the older Jewish mother, no? I love the melancholy whimsey of the music. Symbolic search for their father by looking for their confused silent stepfather? Josh, Ali, and Sarah are a carousel of selfishness and selflessness. The house issues are obviously going to be huge. Is this another version of King Lear? Josh is trying to find something in nothing, both with house and realtor/women. Well, of course you knew they were going to tell him at some point, right!? Maura’s encounter with the his squashepisode5.0 partner was not what I expected. For some reason I didn’t expect the laughter, but that seems like the appropriate reaction for that type of character. Shelley having known a little bit about Mort is amazing, but not surprising. Spouses aren’t that blind to each other. Her Beverly Center joke was exactly what the scene needed to cut the tension. A scene that was so well staged without feeling slow, weird, or converted. And as Ed so beautifully reminded us, sometimes you need to get out and enjoy life.

Episode 6: The Wilderness

Josh is creating his own explanation in his head to justify his father’s actions. Everybody is still hiding secrets: the selling of the house, Ali’s school, and staying in the house. Next is introducing this to the grandchildren. The struggle to explain it to even the most blank of transparent-lenslates is so difficult.  The joy in the Maura’s flashbacks is contagious. I just want everybody to be happy. Being born in the wilderness will set you free–we created the cages the keep us from happiness. What a great dinner sequence speech from Maura to Len. So many complicated issues handled with an amazing amount of grace. She knows it’s hard to comprehend.

Episode 7: Symbolic Exemplar

The Bat Mitzvah fight was amazing. Ali is potentially experimenting and trying to understand her father in her own way. Everything in and around the talent show was transparent-maura7brilliant. A unnerving undercurrent of acceptance and nervousness for Maura. I mean, it was funny, but very symbolic and serious. It would have been better for the kids to stay and laugh then leave. I didn’t understand Ali’s shock at the house, but Maura going to Shelley’s was beautiful. There’s an acceptance there that I hope is explained.

Episode 8: Best New Girl

YAY! Flashbacks! I think my mom had that wireless landline! Woah, young Sarah looks just like old Sarah. As I’ve stated before, Marcy and Maura’s flashback excitement is so refreshing. The first sense of acceptance is palpable. The children’s flashbacks are imagesincredibly informative. Watching Maura and Marcy’s double lives unfold over the phone is a sadness that this show has earned. Even at cross-dressing camp, Maura doesn’t feel comfortable. Transgender is very different than cross dressing and prejudice still lives with in seemingly acceptance based community. Fear that you are more than you realize is a powerful agent. It was a past weekend that defined a generation moving on. Ali, Josh, Sarah, Shelley, and Maura all shifted into a type of adulthood. It was still a Bat Mitzvah weekend in a sense. The Pfefferman family got a taste of what life, adulthood, and happiness could be.

Episode 9: Looking Up

Older Jews always come off as so accepting. Life is life. Be happy. As everybody moves into another phase of their lives, instead of dealing with their own problems, they either try to include others in their uncertainty or get nosy into other’s business. Wonderful to see the family semi-working as a team, even if it’s to discuss Ed’s demise. Ed knows that his state is not keeping her happy and he loves her. He can hear them and decides to take the burden himself. This is a show about transitions and not just for Maura. Can we all agree that, “You’re fucking the Rabbi?” is the greatest moment ever? There is so much love coupled with confusion in this show and it never ceases to be affective. Sid’s “coming out” to Ali was expected, yet still didn’t feel forced. (Judith Light is excellent in the flashbacks)

Episode 10: Why Do We Cover the Mirrors?

Shiva is used as a symbol of reflection. Ali just has to ruin it for everybody, but she’s not wrong about his addiction to love. Sarah is confused–she runs from what’s not working.
Len is probably learning the most from all of these delicate situations. I know it’s the last xscene-from-transparent.png.pagespeed.ic.yA4g9Aj07bE6vyXgHNjkepisode, but the crumbling lives feel organic. WOAHHHH. That is the first out of left field, cliche moment of the show–Colton son of Josh. Did he already know about him? It seems as if he did. What a powerful scene between Ali and Maura. It’s almost a moot point as everybody is right and wrong. Shelley is a wonderful whirlwind of bitter, sad, understanding, and strength. I don’t think the ending could have been more perfect. Despite any troubles, family is family is family and that’s who you always come back to–eating out of the aluminum. Whatever is next, they will figure out, but this is a start.

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I hope you enjoyed all of the episodes. It’s such a treat. The interweaving of spirituality, sexuality, and secret keeping is tremendous and executed with such care. It’s like I’m reading an incredible thesis on life. It’s more than just a show about transgendered people and how families react and cope. It’s about attempting to transition into a healthy lifestyle of acceptance and happiness, regardless of the situation. I want more. Now.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

The Binge Sessions – Broadchurch, Series 1

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To alleviate your worry: My intention with this blog post is to encourage you to watch ‘Broadchurch,’ so I will avoid spoilers at all costs. THIS IS A SPOILER FREE ZONE. Have no fear. There’s nothing I hate more than a devastating spoiler when you’re not looking for it. Yeah, I’m talking to you Facebook Mini-Feed! So, moving on–

Monday night was the first time in a very long time in which I was more or less* caught up on all the TV I needed** to watch.***

KEY

*: More or Less means that I will truly never be caught up on everything I should be Broadchurchwatching

**: Needed should really be “wanted,” but it’s become a need to watch everything and I am both blessed and cursed by that desire.

***: Sort of a lie, as I decided to skip ‘Castle’ for the night. I’ll eventually get to it.

‘Broadchurch’ has been on my must watch radar even before it received more traction in the US, due to its poorly made remake ‘Gracepoint’ on FOX. Laundry and room cleaning seemed like the perfect set of activities to complement popping on this BBC series, currently streaming on Netflix. Yeah, so much for laundry and cleaning. I barely got up from my bed from start to finish. Eight, 45 minute, episodes later, I was done with one of the more complete, engaging, exciting, and thought provoking small town murder investigation pieces I’ve seen in an extremely long time.

Created and written by Chris Chiball, best known for ‘Dr. Who’ and its spin-off ‘Torchwood’, ‘Broadchurch’ focuses on the murder investigation of 11-year old Danny Latimer (Oskar article-2290816-181F43F8000005DC-289_634x427McNamara), discovered face down on the beach in the small hamlet of Broadchurch. It chronicles Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) return to work after some time off and subsequent discovery that the Detective Inspector promotion she was promised is no longer vacant. The job has been filled by Alec Hardy (David Tennant), a disheveled, no nonsense, semi-introvert and the two must learn to work together in order to solve the most important case they’ve ever handled.

Tennant and Coleman are excellent. While Tennant seems to oversell Hardy’s quirks early on in the series, he falls into the part nicely as the show carries on. Coleman is pitch perfect as a detective trying to find the balance between the ability to step outside of her village mindset, protect her family, and fully invest in the case. While Hardy and Miller are the driving force of the show, other standouts include the series’ heart and soul–Danny’s parents Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan). The two capture the anger, turmoil, teamwork, hatred, apathy, and sympathy of two people under the most terrible of circumstances. David Bradley, as Jack Marshall, is also excellent.

Each major character gets his or her due as pure citizen, shady suspect, or sounding board for others. Unlike a majority of genre shows that deal with the of subject of small town broadchurch_s1_ep02_029murder solving, ‘Broadchurch’, never abandons a character just because their alibi checks out. Being crossed off of Hardy and Miller’s suspect list doesn’t mean you’re written out in this world. Each person is a part of this town and the circumstances affect everybody, regardless if they’re being hounded by the detectives. These Broadchurchians breathe life into this town, bringing an empathy and judgement that  is both featured and stealthily hidden in the fibers of every scene.

The music and cinematography creates desolate, hopeless, and a tense atmosphere. Striking images repeatedly fill the screen as motifs: waves crashing into the shore as the world keeps turning, overshadowed by the cliffs, a viewpoint for the end of the world. We are fed quick shots of Danny’s memorial to remind us that everything is about Danny. The show never loses sight of that, even  in the face of so much fall out drama. It’s about a life being cut short and how this throws an entire town into tumult. Families crack, people fall apart, and others find the inner ability to unite. Broadchurch is a place where people with secrets come to start over. All of these story themes and images are interwoven before you even realize they all perfectly overlap.

The show spreads its exploration of the media’s place in an investigation and the power of broadchurchcliffs1religion, faith, and otherworldly epiphanies very thin, but they incorporated into the fabric of ‘Broadchurch’ nonetheless, deepening the layers of characters, plot, and theme. It’s not perfect, but gets its point across. Some details of the murder plot are still fuzzy to me, and a handful “red herrings” were a little bit over the top when everything else seemed so organic. Additionally, some of the characters started to abruptly play “potentially evil” after being introduced as normal, instead of relying on the perception of the audience based on the changed circumstances.

I’m sorry to have gotten on the ‘Broadchurch’ train so late because I enjoyed it so much. It’s pace and slow burn of character reveals kept what could have been an over the top, ungrounded thriller of a TV series, based in the themes and straightforward drama it promised and presented. The mystery and intrigue is well balanced with backstory and fully fledged, deeply flawed, human characters.

I understand that I am an anomaly and can sit in one spot, for hours on end,  absorbing content like a sponge in a pool. That being said, this is still an extremely binge-able show. broadchurch-09The flow, pace, investment in the characters, addiction to the mystery, and automatic episode queue all create a seamless marathon. (PS: The ending totally works and adds a entire new level of thought to all of the previous seven episodes .)

A second series, focusing on the aftermath of Danny’s murder, is currently airing on the BBC and will premiere on BBC America on March 4th. I would highly suggest a series one Netflix marathon, though I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for a single night viewing. The last thing I want you worrying about is the health of your eyes and soon to be fried brain–like me.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

Parenthood – Let’s Go Home (S6, Ep11)

We’re heading into the ‘Let’s Go Home’-stretch of our favorite Thursday night activity and boy is it bringing it all home. As the episode started, I had intended on this blog’s major lg_parenthood_s5_promo_lifetheme for episode 11 to be “the elephant in the room.” This would refer to Zeek’s, Adam’s, Sarah’s, and Julia’s impending decisions. How are their decisions going to shape the remaining hours we have left with the Bravermans? As the episode ended, I realized it was all about, as the title to so aptly puts it–going back home. How do these people, who have been all over the place lately, get back to their families? How do they build or rebuild these units?

I’m going to officially get over the fact that Adam and Crosby’s storyline is so similar to their past Luncheonette predicament and just sit back to see how it all plays out. I respected Adam’s original decision to back out of the business. He seemed genuinely happy about it too. We knew it was going to happen, but I still don’t know about Jasmine’s visit with Adam, but regardless it was very in character for her. Stern, caring, and bold, she commanded Adam’s attention, but may have crossed a line playing to his soft spot for  the emotions of his brother. I don’t expect his most recent “all in” choice to stick. (Especially with those looks that Kristina gave him in her only scene.) His final hug with Crosby was as hesitant as hesitant can get. Hopefully, if Adam does back out again, part of Crosby’s major six season character arch will be acceptance and understanding. This is Adam’s way of trying to rebuilding his business and family, but is he making the right choice for his wife, kids, and the Cornell billing department?

Sarah and Hank are literally building something (crib) when they decide to solidify their own family. It was actually much sweeter than I anticipated. Yes, I expected Sarah to say “Yes” at some point, but I never expected to believe it came from a place of true love. Her Parenthood - Season 6fear of what he does and doesn’t bring to the table was so great that it started to poison my view of the relationship–a relationship that was at one point really fun to watch blossom. Sarah’s reaction to her mother’s question was so well acted and infused with a sense of commitment. How could I not agree with her decision? So throw out the Julia pros/cons list at park pilates and drown Hank’s rant to Max in photo chemicals–they make each other happy. It seems sappy (it is), but that’s really what it comes down to for them and most people. For weeks Hank has been trying to fit himself in with her family. Sarah has even helped his to fit back in with his family. (Yeah, so where did Ruby go?) This symbolic crib gift from Seth was a great catalyst for Sarah to see what a great guy she has on her hands. Sarah and Hank have each other and Amber has a crib–aka great support system to raise her kid. (Note: I would love to see John Corbett as Seth one more time, but they probably don’t have the budget.)

I was hoping for a not so clear cut ending to the two year inconsistent Joel and Julia story, which we didn’t get. I may be reading in to it wrong, but they’re reconciliation almost seemed a little too happy/perfect. Based on their earlier coffee house conversation, which I guess ended up being enough for the two of them to kiss in front of the kids. For the record, I didn’t realize that Julia’s fight with Chris from December meant that they were no longer Parenthooddating. That’s new to me! Julia’s fear of another failed attempt must of been quelled by Joel’s “I’ll never leave you again,” sentiment. If Julia, trying to handle the situation in a logical manner, is giving in to her gut feeling as a show of character growth, I had trouble believing it. I will say that I am happy they are back together and each taking responsibility of what they did to get them to this point. There’s still more show left, so the show probably still has more in store for these two love bugs. Oh, and under the bed texting, while a cliche sequence, got some chuckles out of me.

Zeek has been an advice machine lately–which doesn’t bode well for his odds. To Joel and Julia, now Adam and Drew, the patron of the family is in full, “I might not be here for you later” mode. He’s even giving away possessions. Zeek knows he’s on his way out, and every scene with him carries a sense of “this may be it,” and it’s very powerful.  The nostalgia flowing through this episode (the storage unit, baseball, old photos used in the opening, and the house) informs so much of where the Braverman’s came from and what they’ve accomplished in their lives. He’s delaying his surgery by not having an immediate conversation about it. Stealing every moment with the people he loves is top priority. Whatever comes next for Zeek, we are ready. He and Millie have a lot of important decisions to make, which affects everybody in the family. Either way, it will make the family stronger.

Each branch of the family tree is getting stronger (or seemingly getting stronger) as they enter the next chapter of growth.NUP_166195_0209-400x242 Slowly, but surely, each Braverman has to make tough choices to ensure their collective family happiness. There can be happily ever afters, but you have to work for the pieces to fall into the right places. This show is great when it focuses on the family-centric plots and plays with character relationships. I don’t care about a big running for mayor story or building a school, I care about how Hank shows up for Amber and Joel takes a leap of faith and shows up at the ice rink.

Sure, you can just “go home,” but, as Camille and Zeek know better than everybody, it take a lifetime to build and it’s never really done. A home is not just a house–it’s the people and baseball shoe box treasures inside. This episode was tightly constructed and potentially foreshadowed the rest of the series. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t cry this week because with only two more hours with the Braverman’s and I can feel that they’re going to be rough on the tear ducts. If only everything was as happy as an Adam/Nora tea party.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

2015 Oscar Nominations

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

HAPPY OSCAR NOMINIATIONS MORNING TO YOU ALL! The entire year of movies has boiled down to this penultimate step! (That’s a sweeping, untrue generalization, but it’s the Oscars—a time to be dramatic. Unfortunately, it’s not a time to be comedic because the academy doesn’t take well to “that genre,” unless you’re Woody Allen.) ANYWAY, before I have to go and do stuff for work*, below are the core category nominations and some of my initial reactions.

*Note: Yes, I came to my office early to make sure I could livestream the presser, quickly blog about them, and not be late for work. That’s just what I do.

Best Picture

American Sniper

Birdman

MV5BMTYzNDc2MDc0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcwMDQ5MTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • Only 8 nominations. Thought there would be 9.
  • No Foxcatcher, but Bennett Miller was nominated for best director and the screenplay received a nod
  • Huzzah for Whiplash
  • No Nightcrawler (which has a writing nomination)
  • Early favorite: BOYHOOD

Best Director

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – Birdman

Richard Linklater – Boyhoodboyhood-richard-linklater2

Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Mortern Tyldum – The Imitation Game

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • No Selma (boo) or American Sniper (yay) which both have Best Picture nominations
  • I’m a big advocate of: there are no Best Director Snubs, because there are only 5 spots for a potential 10 movie Best Picture race.
  • Bennett Miller is the HUGE surprise here, as he hasn’t received many of these for Foxcatcher. Plus it’s not up for best picture.
  • Would have loved to see Damien Chazelle for Whiplash here. The last 10 minutes deserves an honorary Oscar!
  • Early Frontrunner: RICHARD LINKLATER

Best Actor

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

Bradly Cooper – American Sniper

and-the-oscar-goes-to-could-birdman-be-the-first-superhero-movie-nominated-for-best-pictureBenedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • Carrell was on the fence as him momentum started to swing down, but got a nomination regardless which meant one person was getting snubbed.
  • BUT THEN, Bradly Cooper was nominated and two people were snubbed: Sorry Jake Gyllenhaal and David Oyelowo (Nightcrawler and Selma). American Sniper’s Oscar campaign definitely helped it here.
  • Alas, no Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel). Not that I expected it, but still a boy can hope.
  • Early Frontrunner: MICHAEL KEATON

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones – The Theory of EverythingJulianne-Moore-in-Still-Alice

Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Rosemund Pike – Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon – Wild

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • Except for Cotillard taking a spot (Yay) from Jennifer Aniston from Cake, not surprised here.
  • Early Frontrunner: JULIANNE MOORE

Best Supporting Actor

635483774418719401-01-simmonsRobert Duvall – The Judge

Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

Edward Norton – Birdman

Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher

JK Simmons – Whiplash

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • Zero Surprises here at all.
  • Early Frontrunner: JK SIMMONS

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood53ec746af1a7bba0_pat2.xxxlarge

Laura Dern – Wild

Kiera Knightly – The Imitation Game

Emma Stone – Birdman

Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • Dern out of NOWHERE. I love it!
  • Altough it is sad that Jessica Chastain gets no A Most Violent Year.
  • Early Frontrunner: PATRICA ARQUETTE

Best Original Screenplay

hr_The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_3Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nightcrawler

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • For me, no surprises here, as Selma was the only film that had field breaking potential
  • Early Frontrunner: BIRDMAN

Best Adapted Screenplay

American SniperPoster-art-for-The-Imitation-Game-film-Alan-Turing-Enigma-codebreaking-movie

The Imitation Game

Inherent Vice

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Quick thoughts, clear “snubs,” and my early prediction:

  • I still think it’s crazy for Whiplash to be an adapted screenplay
  • Inherent Vice is a nice surprise though.
  • Sorry Gone Girl (NBD)
  • Early Frontrunner: The IMITATION GAME

OTHER:

  • I also want to mention how shocked I am that ‘The LEGO Movie’ wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature!
  • And somebody should check the mics during the livestream dead time. I’m pretty sure the TV staff was practicing their cues and I heard all of the nominations.
  • Yes, congrats to Dick Poop!(PRACTICE BEFORE YOU SPEAK, PRESIDENT BOONE!)
  • This is the first year since 1995 where all of the acting nominees are white.
  • And where are all the women? No director (AVA) or screenplay (GILLIAN) reps!
  • Honestly, there are little surprises here or there in these categories (Cooper, Dern, Cotillard, Miller), but do surprises really matter when most of the winners are locks (Moore, Simmons, and Arquette)? This has been the pattern since the Academy moved the Oscars from March to February.

As we break these down and the media has a field day over all of this information, it’s really nice that most of these nominations are from independent films. If these awards get some people into the theatre to see a movie that will challenge, excite, or inform them, then the Oscars have done their job already.

The Oscars Awards ceremony will be hosted by NPH on Sunday, February 22nd.

 

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

Moore, Cotillard–Please!: Reviews of ‘Still Alice’ and ‘Two Days, One Night’

Julianne Moore and Marion Cotillard are the best. They continually choose tough, challenging, thoughtful parts in interesting movies that seem to always fly under the radar. marioncotillard1(‘A Single Man’, ‘Don Jon’, ‘The Immigrant’, ‘Rust and Bone’) When they do appear in a larger scale films, they bring so much to their roles that it’s hard to pay attention to anybody else (‘Mockingjay’, ‘Inception’). They mesmerize. As Cate Blanchett proclaimed in her ‘Blue Jasmine’ Oscar acceptance speech, “…and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the 405bdcd4d7d479c6b515bf49242cb7ec_largecenter are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.” These two woman prove this powerful sentiment over and over. Sorry Meryl, along with Blancett and Chastain, they’ve been the best for a while now. Recently, I had the pleasure to sit through two excellent, nuanced performances from these actresses.

Still Alice

Based on Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name, ‘Still Alice’ chronicles an accomplished Columbia University linguistics professor, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), as her mind slowly deteriorates due to a rare case of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. So, yeah, this is a rough one.

Nobody is better than Julianne Moore this year. I hate to chalk up an entire movie’s quality to one performance, as ‘Still Alice’ is beautifully filmed with a natural touch, and wonderfully acted by her co-stars, but it really is Moore’s show. They all supporting this movie’s, and Hollywood’s, true star. Her performance is so delicate, layered, and heartbreaking, that there is room to mistake this for a documentary of sorts.

Alice’s determination to fight the deterioration of her mind, body, and family is put on full display. Moore conveys such a sense of acceptance, denial, and pure fight throughout the MV5BMjIzNzAxNjY1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg4ODQxMzE@._V1_SX214_AL_entity of the film that when, eventually, hope starts to evaporate, it’s all the more gut-wrenching. Even in her attempts to stall the speed of the disease through different memory methods, Alice knows it’s only a momentary win; her disease is destined to worsen quickly. As Alice loses bits and pieces of herself, which is mapped out with incredbile detail by Moore and the directors, her husband and children reluctantly see the end and, sadly, begin to plan their new beginning in some matter of fact, hard to swallow scenes.

Alice’s fade is hardest on her youngest child, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) and husband John (Alec Baldwin), respectively. Stewart and Baldwin are featured heavily (as far as anybody can be featured in this one woman show) and are excellent. The use of these two characters’ different reactions to the circumstance add insightful and necessary padding around the central character’s journey.

I think that Lydia sees a more stripped down version of her mother—who she used to be or truly is at heart. John just doesn’t see his wife anymore after being her sole caretaker. He lives with, and is taking care of, a pod creature. To deal with his sorrow, he separates himself in an attempt to move on. Lydia gets closer, knowing that a crushing blow is coming. Haunted by the thought: “This wasn’t supposed to happen to us”– John and Lydia’s reactions are surprising to even themselves.

I won’t go into detail of some of my favorite moments, as I want you to see them for the Alec+Baldwin+Alec+Baldwin+Julianne+Moore+Film+NcKfQ3L5Qfolfirst time in context. However I will say that these mishaps and moments never plateau the film, they are strung together to create a natural evolution of the story and overwhelming loss of, and for, Alice.

Directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer deserve a lot of credit that they kept this film from crossing the threshold into melodramatic territory. There is a grounded reality to the work. Told within a simple framework of hazy old films (memories?) of Alice’s long deceased sister and mother, the film’s thematic elements of love, memory, and self-preservation are beautifully, but not abundantly, highlighted as we follow Alice through her devastating final act. Yes, you will cry for two hours–maybe even after. Julianne Moore’s performance will break your heart because Alice is always there, even in her eyes, but at the same time there’s a vacancy that can’t be filled. Once again, Mr. Oscar is Moore’s to lose — and she won’t.

Two Days, One Night

After taking time off due to depression, a wife and mother of two, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), loses her job at the local factory. Her co-workers have collectively chosen to let her go and each take a bonus. Hesitantly, Sandra takes the weekend to convince the majority to change their minds before a second vote on Monday morning. Once again, not light content.

‘Two Days, One Night’ is simple in its premise, but complex it in its ideas and morals. It’s a film not only about finding happiness and inner strength in a world that seemingly hands MV5BMjIyMzczMDI0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjI5Nzk3MTE@._V1_SY1200_CR126,0,630,1200_AL_out raw deals, but about decision making as an individual versus in a group setting and how these decisions genuinely affect the well-being of others. If Sandra can effectively convince the majority to vote for her, she will have discovered that she can have a more direct control over her circumstances–all of them. The opportunity to course correct your own life and potentially succeed is terrifying. For a movie that is about these very moral dilemmas,‘Two Days, One Night’ never gets preachy or over the top. It is all executed well by directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne–beautiful shots of isolation mixed with straight-forward static shots to not distract from Cotillard playing the nervous saleswoman trying to convert voters.

Cotillard’s subtle, big-when-it-needs-to-be, performance holds the narrative together so tightly that it never seems to unravel as she visits co-worker after co-worker. Her husband (Fabrizio Rongione), full of sadness, love and obligation, is the supportive fire that she needs to get going. He’s both looking out for his, her, and their well being and it’s abundantly clear that there are three sources of motivation. They are broken team on completely different pages, clawing to make it all work. There is a layer of their relationship that is only discussed once, three-fourths of the way through the film, but it weighs heavily on everything this family is fighting for throughout the film.

As Sandra struggles to allow herself to fight for her own (and family’s) survival, her co-workers’ justifications for their choices and their willingness to listen to her side vary. It’s Two Days, One Nightan interesting study into what a little extra money does to people. Is the ability to help my fellow man override the need to care for my own family? Is this my money or am I taking it? When given these two options, who does a person become? It’s a high stakes situation that determines the outcome for an entire slew of families in a tough economy. The decision is not as easy as one thinks and the movie doesn’t make look that way.

The third act is very straightforward with some predictable moments, but the outcome is justified and lovely in a way I didn’t expect. The feelings you’re left with kind of sneak up on you. There is a scene (you’ll know it when you see it) that despite the dire circumstances and seriousness of the actions, seems rushed and inconsequential. It incorporated character beats that needed to be included, but didn’t organically flow into the next portion of the story. However, what could have been an below average, run of the mill film, is elevated through Cotillard’s performance, a nicely paced script, and thoughtful direction. It’s not one of my favorite films of this past year, but it’s quite memorable, thanks to its leading lady.

If you go out of your way to enjoy both of these films (which you should), you’ll see how similar these women’s characters are, albeit in very different circumstances. They draw two-days-one-night-cannes-2014-5hope from the same places and they need to find or maintain their own personhood before it’s gone. These films should not only be categorized as “female films,” but explorations of any persons’ identity and strength.

Cotillard already has her Oscar statue for 2007’s ‘La Vie En Rose’ and Moore is sure to win this year. How does she not have a little golden man already?! Fun Fact That Doesn’t Really Matter: Interestingly, Cotillard beat out front runner Julie Christie for ‘Away From Her’ in ‘07, another well-made film about the effect of Alzheimer’s disease. This year, she only has an outside shot to break into the field, which is ashame. Hopefully we will see both of these women in this year’s ‘Best Actress’ article-0-1C4CD36E00000578-831_634x424category (a category that should be considered stronger year to year). Regardless of what “The Academy” thinks, we’ll get to absorb and ruminate about these two women’s strong work for years to come. As Cate Blanchett pointed out, I am ready to see and happy to spend my money on movies that feature these women. The best of the best.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

MOVIE DAY 2015

WARNING: This is a long one…

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Woooo Weeee! I am incredibly high right now.  The adrenaline of movie day is still pumping through my veins. It went as well as it possibly could, as it included my three favorite Fs: Films, Family, and Friends. Not only was it an operational success, but also the turn out was the best to date. Eleven people showed up for ‘American Sniper’ alone, a record for a single movie day movie. Even my mom, dad, and sister partook in some movie day festivities! Another first!

Before I get into the nitty gritty of it all, I want to thank the following people for coming out: My mom, dad and sister. Leigh, Josh, Gary, and Jay. Julie and her husband. Lee, Erica, Joe, Lucy, Brett, and Caitlin. I really appreciate you enjoying at least some of the day with me. I loved having you there.

Something I learned yesterday: I should check the movie day weather. Seats were a bit scarce, as most theatres were sold out due to the inclement weather. That made transitioning from theatre to theatre a little harder, but I was also lucky that all of the films were in the same building for the first year ever, my favorite theatre in the city: AMC Lincoln Square 13.

Two notes before I begin:

  • The majority of the films I saw are based on true stories. I am not a historian. My opinions of these films are based solely on the movies themselves, not how I think they accurately depicted the true events. (ie: I have no idea what LBJ and Martin Luther King Jr’s actually relationship was in the mid 60s)
  • The recaps and ranking below are based on these movies’ relation to each other, not everything I’ve seen this holiday season. This is by no means my favorite or best films list of 2014. It’s just movie day. The final list will be included in my epilogue next week. (Oh yeah, there’s an epilogue—sorry, epi-blogue.)

Now, with out further banter, my day:

I arrived at the partially empty theatre at 9am, picked up my paper towel roll of tickets from the kiosk, and got to work in a half full theatre.

MOVIE ONE, 9:15 am – A Most Violent Year

Director JC Chandor’s ‘All is Lost’ was one of my favorite (and most interesting) movies of last year and ‘A Most Violent Year’ adds to the filmmakers’ run of unique “man vs the url-1world” stories. Set in the winter of 1981, AMVY follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), as they try to expand their oil business during the, statistically, most violent year in NYC history. It is a thesis-based story that revolves around how far a man can go while taking, or believing that he is taking, the right path to success in a time that seemingly calls for other, more amoral, methods of action.

AMVY’s tension and pacing matched the incredible slow burning performances by Chastain and Isaac. They are powerhouses and this movie doesn’t work without them. (Odd Tangent: in a fantasy film actress draft, I would take Chastain, Julianne Moore, or Marion Cotillard over Meryl Streep any day of the week.) There’s a true love and admiration between the two characters and it infuses itself into every conversation and fight that many films, especially in the recent ‘gangster’ genre, don’t ever capture. I would not call this a gangster movie. It’s a pre-gangster/mob movie. It depicts the moments in time where Morales is at the precipice of deciding if he morally can go to the place that he is seemingly destined to end up.

There’s something extremely raw and primal at the core of all of Chandor’s films, and this is no exception. The 1981 setting is not only executed well, but is a perfect background to the moral dilemmas that each character faces. Yes, it is slow at some points, and I don’t know if it every truly achieves certain guttural reactions from the audience that it is working for, but it’s a true thinking man’s semi-gangster movie and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Now, as the weather kicked up into high gear, the movie theatre was visibly more crowded then when I arrived at nine. I had about 20 minutes until the next start time. To my genuine surprise, the next movie, ‘American Sniper’, had a myriad of friends and family attending. Even though it was in the largest (and my favorite) of the AMC theatre spaces, it was pretty difficult to find a seat in the packed mezzanine. Most of us sat together, as the next movie began:

MOVIE TWO, 11:45am – American Sniper

Bradley Cooper is amazing. He is hitting the highest performance quality stride of his career, but it’s unfortunate that this subtle performance is in a heavy-handed Americana movie. ‘American Sniper’ follows the true story of Chris Kyle (Cooper), lauded as the greatest American sniper, as he navigates his four Iraq tours and familial responsibilities.

Most of the set pieces and action sequences are well staged, but there is something missing from the overall narrative. What Chris Kyle achieved is amazing and I am so in awe urlof how he mentally and physically handled it. Over 160 kills in combat is heavy thing to comprehend. He is a true hero, but the movie about him is a little overlong, redundant, and devoid of anything other than surface level emotion and thematic exploration. That is an unfortunate staple of Clint Eastwood directed films and because of that I have never been a fan of his work behind the camera.

Without Cooper, this film is more or less a flop with excellent production value. The thing is, he really is great enough to save this movie. Sienna Miller (who I really do enjoy as an actress, Re: Factory Girl) is fine as his wife, Taya—the character’s bar introduction being her strongest scene. Beyond those moments, Taya and Chris’ conversations during the war never feel organic. Families all over the country deal, on a daily basis, with the issues of emotional and physical distance, but we never are shown enough of how difficult their lives apart are—we are only told in conversation and sweeping generalizations. This element of contemporary war/soldier films has been presented so much more effectively in better movies. We see plenty of shoot ‘em up action, which adds very little to the narrative of Chris when it feels more like space filler than important information.

This is supposed to be a story about one of the greatest men who ever served this country, but it only feels like just another Iraqi War movie—especially in the depiction of the “evil” Mustafa sniper character. It crosses the border into cartoonish supervillian, effectively diminishing the reality of what Kyle was accomplished on his tours. In a weird way, by making his need to return to Iraqi hinge on this specific plot point, his dramatic struggle seem less genuine.

The movie loses itself at the end of the first act. In the opening sequence, just as Kyle is about to pull the trigger on his first kill, we flashback to how he got there. The journey behind his kills is a genuinely interesting way to tell this story. How did this great man get to this moment to make these decisions? Eastwood sets us up for a psychological film that we never truly get. When the movie catches up with itself about 45 minutes later, it becomes a straightforward, mediocre war film about a great man, played by a great actor.

Next up was my hardest transition of the day. ‘Sniper’ ended at 2:10pm and I stayed around to talk to all of the amazing people who showed up. I had a seat saved for me by friends who were already in the next theatre, so I sat down just as the opening credits rolled for movie three.

MOVIE THREE, 2:15pm – Top Five

Luckily, I planned my schedule with Chris Rock’s ‘Top Five’ to break up the day because that had been a pretty intense five-hour morning of movie watching. ‘Top Five’ follows comedy superstar Andre Allen (Chris Rock) during a NYC press tour for his new movie opening the week before his impending nuptials to reality show superstar Erica Long (Gabriella Union). Joined by Chelsea Brown (an absolutely charming Rosario Dawson), a journalist trying to get to the core of the real Andre Allen, the two relive and attempt to exercise their personal and career demons.

This movie is not for everybody, but I really enjoyed the a gem of a meta-statement from Rock, even if many of his top five lists went over my head. While this is by no means an auto-biopic, it is clearly crafted by a man who has lived and experienced these aspects of celebrity. From the commentary on reality tv, technology, the movie business, and o-TOP-FIVE-POSTER-570sobriety, this is a poignant (if not always funny) portrait of a seemingly successful comedian in our changing times. Rock is truly expressing himself in a way he hasn’t been able to since his highly successful stand-up days.

The first half of the movie tries a little too hard with insight and topical jokes, but never apologizes for its liberal point of view. As Allen relives some of his past mistakes and reconnects with his rambunctious family (it was refreshing to see Tracy Morgan again, even if it was pre-car accident), the actors in these scenes are having so much fun, it’s hard to not be intoxicated by it all. It’s always a true delight to belly laugh with a fully packed theatre. The second half of the movie, while hitting familiar ‘you’re not who I thought you were’ plot points, elevates this movie to something greater than your expected Chris Rock comedy. He presents so many unanswered questions dealing with expectation, happiness, and judgment in today’s ever-changing world that sear into your mind.

There is a scene close to the end of the film, where Allen experiences a high and euphoria that no drug could ever bring him. It’s such a life affirming moment for the character—one that I very much connected to on a deeper level. For me, this scene is, almost, weirdly comparable to the final 10 minutes of ‘Whiplash,’ but not nearly as intense.

Stuffed with incredibly effective cameos, an appearance in the very Lincoln Center AMC that we were sitting in (HAPPY MOVIE DAY), and a wonderful second act, ‘Top Five’ achieves exactly what it set out to do with some moments that go above and beyond.

I wouldn’t say that the second half of the day involved quick transitions like the morning, but because of busy theatre, seating was limited. I had eaten in ‘Top Five’ (thanks Jay for the McDonald’s McChicken!) and made quick water fountain/bathroom runs in between movies, so there was always enough time in general. For the next movie we sat a bit too close to the screen for my liking, but it wasn’t close enough to ruin the overall experience.

MOVIE FOUR, 4:30pm – Unbroken

‘Unbroken’ is the true story about an Olympic athlete who was lost at sea in WWII, only to be held in a Japanese POW camp. It is adapted by the Cohen brothers from a best selling novel and it should be way more effective than the film I saw. Unfortunately, the blame for has to fall on its director, Angelina Jolie.

Based on the cinematography, by the always fantastic Roger Deakins, Jolie has a good eye for composition, but that’s like going to a play and saying, “Well, the set was nice.” By no means do I want to downplay the amazing courage, strength, and pure will power that the real Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) had to call upon in order to endure this torturous portion of his life. I just don’t think that this movie did it justice. All of the acting was fineurl-2 enough, but each character had no true personality. All Louis’ fellow prisoners started to blend into one another, including Louis himself. His pain and suffering seemed no different than anybody else, even though we were shown all aspect of his suffering. I think that this can be attributed to the poor depiction of the passage of time once they entered the POW camp.

‘Unbroken’ feels like three different movies rolled up into one with the only connecting factor being Louis. There is no flow or build from one dire situation to the next. It was a movie of plot point after plot point, with no emotional depth. I saw Forest Gump/Chariots of Fire, Open Water/Cast Away/All Is Lost, and Fill-In-The-Blank POW camp movie at once. It hit all the notes that need to be hit to qualify as one of these types of films above without capturing any of the characterization. As an audience member, I was left to empathize and sympathize based on recognizing that what was happening on screen, to a character I have been watching with apathy, was “bad.” Honestly, there was so much violence in the camp sequences with no dramatic through line or cinematic subtly that it felt like torture for torture’s sake. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I got to know Louie on anything more than surface level and therefore the real videos and pictures at the film’s end was unearned and wasted.

Similar to ‘American Sniper’, the film starts off with flashbacks to and from the main character’s hell of a present and informative past. Once the movie lost that structure, it lost its way. So much of the opening was dedicated to Louis relationship with God and mysteriously that threat is completely missing in the movie’s second half, only to come back at the very end. If this is the point of the film, why didn’t I see more of that, as it was clearly a character arc priority?

I didn’t like this film, but I recognize that Jolie has an incredible amount of potential as a filmmaker. There are well-executed moments of suspense, grandeur, and feeling and I hope she evolves into director that I’d like to see on a regular basis. For now, I’ll settle for others. However, I would love for somebody to explain to me how Louis shaved and kept is hair so short and perfectly quaffed in a prisoner of war camp for that long.

 ‘Big Eyes’ ended up being sold out (good thing I had my tickets), so as we entered the theatre, I found the only seats available, two rows back from the screen. Those were going to be some very big eyes, indeed.

MOVIE FIVE, 7:15pm – Big Eyes

While not for the reasons I originally thought (‘Unbroken ended up being broken), I’m glad that ‘Big Eyes’ was here for a little breathing room. Recounting the true story of artist Margret Keane (Amy Adams), ‘Big Eyes’ is Tim Burton’s take on Walter Keane’s (Christoph Waltz) fraudulent claims that he painted his wife’s big eyed waif artwork. Bottom line, it was really nice to see Tim Burton not directing an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘Dark Shadows’. The best parts of this enjoyable, but forgettable, film come from the “Burton-esqe” moments and strong performances.

Waltz is a kick to watch. His con-man antics, while despicable, are such a great contrast to Amy Adam’s timid, inspired, and tortured artist. What could have been the movie’s deal big_eyes.15ce0090408.originalbreaker, failing to justify why Margaret would allow Walter to carry on using her artwork as his goldmine, doesn’t derail the movie, but becomes its believable center.

As I mentioned, the film’s best moments are the clear Tim Burton choices. Margret’s trip to the grocery store (where she, of course, passes the Campbell’s soup display) is probably the deepest we get into the psyche of any of the characters. We are finally treated to how she views the world, as the food shoppers display their waif-like big eyes to her in her time of panic. If this is how she sees the world, people, and their souls, then of course this lie has been eating at her all of these years.

It’s no ‘Big Fish’, but has hints of ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and ‘Ed Wood’. (And that’s aside from color palettes and time period). As an Oscar attempt, ‘Big Eyes’ is weak and forgettable overall. Burton seems a little out of practice with this smaller scale type of movie, but it was a pleasure to sit through, especially the outrageous final scenes.

At this point the whole theatre emptied out a bit. We had the most transition time of the day, a half hour, so I took a well deserved breather in the lobby as we waiting to be let into the next showing. We sat in our best seats of the day and buckled up for the final film. (Note: These seat did not have buckles.)

MOVIE SIX, 9:50pm – Selma

I am so happy that I ended with ‘Selma’, as it was by far the best of the day. Depicting only a small portion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s (David Oyelowo) life, ‘Selma’ focuses on the march from Selma, AL to the capital building in Montgomery, to ensure the right to vote for the black population in the state and country. Among other elements, it was incredibly refreshing to see a biopic set in the 1960’s, in which dramatic tension wasn’t building to an assassination.  ‘Selma’ shows the true courage, fear, bravery, and flaws of one of the most important American men of all time. Where other films on movie day lacked depth of character, ‘Selma’ made up for it.

David Oyelowo captures what we can understand to be the true essence of Dr. King Jr., as his confidence and passion oozed off of the screen. In every moment he carried the tangible weight of the lives of his entire race on his shoulders. His vulnerability and search for strength are the more powerful because of it. Everybody from Oprah to Common to Tim Roth to Tom Wilskinson brought their A game, regardless of screen time. Carmen Ejogo, asselma-movie-poster Coretta Scott King, is dynamite, especially in what may have been the best scene of the movie. As she and King Jr. discuss his infidelities and the fog of death that clouds their marriage, you could only hear a pin drop if your goosebumps weren’t loud enough. King Jr. wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a man who fought for much more than any person can realistically take on himself. The film is so bold in encompassing all of what made the man, elevating the stakes tenfold.

Ava DuVernay’s direction is so full of passion, love, and a well-executed CIA framework structure, that it may very well be one the best of the year—joining Wes, Alejandro, and Richard. I’m in awe of the power she infuses into every conversation, bridge march, and tender moment without every tipping over into melodramatic territory. These were real people—faults and all—dealing with real issues.

Obviously, it cannot be overlooked that, aside from being a great historical period piece, ‘Selma’ and its message directly correlates to our current state of American social affairs. This makes the film twice as powerful. It is a truly skilled director who can draw parallels to today without losing the narrative of a film. The end credits song choice clarifies her intentions, but it’s impossible to not draw comparisons while watching all two hours of film. I want to note that the violence in the film was purposeful, a nice change from the movies before this one. Hopefully ‘Selma’ will be seen by as many people as possible and used as some sort of a teaching tool. Please, see this movie.

What a day! The funny, as well as crazy, thing is, I easily could have sat through another movie. And, I kind of, sort of did…

During a writing break from this very recap you’re reading, I ventured out into the world to, yes, see another movie. Originally, I had saved ‘The Imitation Game’ to be include during this years’ movie day, but theaters and showtimes didn’t allow it to fit in to the plans. So, with out further ado, I bring you:

A Bonus Review!

 MOVIE SEVEN? 4:10pm – The Imitation Game

What ‘Unbroken’ and ‘American Sniper’ lacked in the cohesive flashback department, ‘The Imitation Game’ made up for in spades. To win World War II, mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) led a team of the greatest British minds to break the unbreakable Nazi code. The film not only depicts the frustrating process to crack the transmissions, but Turing’s childhood, and his post war life. These three interwoven portions of his story are told in a well-paced, dramatically effective narrative that never feels overlong.

Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly are fantastic. While Cumberbatch stands out, as he is the sole lead of the film, Knightly makes the most of her scenes. She really has become an Poster-art-for-The-Imitation-Game-film-Alan-Turing-Enigma-codebreaking-movieexcellent actress—making smart film choices along the way. The two bring a smart sense to these roles and the movie in general. Cumberbatch’s “on the spectrum” Turing is so understandably unlikable and charming in the same breath, while Knightly’s Joan Clarke interacts with him with such grace and genuine interest, that their screen presence, apart or together, is magnetic. Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, and Alex Lawther all leave memorable impressions, despite this being the Benedict Cumberbatch show.

The movie hits all of the usual plot and emotional points that a British historical drama should, but even with guessing certain inevitable outcomes, every moment feels organic, earned, and character driven. The three separate time frames were very easy to follow and never overwhelmed or complicated the character study.  I’m not familiar with the director, Morten Tyldon, and his work, but he certainly tells a concise, nicely structured story.

The well balanced film is infused with a wonderful sense of humor and perfectly placed twists that add layers to the excellent final act. The take away is informative and heartbreaking on so many levels—never seeming to come out of nowhere. This is one of the better “true story” films I’ve seen this year and would have ranked very high had it been included on movie day.

So yeah. Wow. A lot of true stories and violence. Hmmm. Interesting. Needless to say, I am well prepared for the awards season, among other things (insane asylum? corrective eye surgery? professional Netlflix watcher? I mean this is my version of a Netflix binge.)

Here’s my “Summary List” in order from worst to best:

6. Unbroken – Boo Urns.
5. Big Eyes – Fine, but forgettable.
4. American Sniper – Movie? Meh. Cooper? Great enough to be better than ‘Big Eyes’.
3. Top Five – Funny and Poignant.
2. A Most Violent Year – Excellent film.
2* (The Imitation Game) – It would be ranked 2nd had it been seen within the marathon.
1. Selma – Run to see it.

I love the movies. I love them so much. If you’ve made it this far down the blog page, I want to thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and passion with you. Perhaps I’ll see you next year on movie day?

Anyway, I’m off to watch a movie… (not a joke)

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

Movie Day 2015: Prologue Blog (Pro-blogue?) #bpmovieday

 

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Hello All,

Yes, you guessed it! It’s that time of year again. MOVIE DAY. A day when anything can happen! (Anything is a relative statement–the schedule is below.)

I love going to the movies. Nothing is better. Growing up in a household where the Oscars were (and still are) arguably bigger than any high holiday, I love being 100% prepared for the February event. ‘Movie Day’ grew from that need to see everything released during the holiday/awards season to be ready to get all of the jokes, pick all of the winners, and absorb as much content as possible.

Not much has changed. While I have grown to understand the trivial and subjective nature of the Oscars, I still can’t get enough. I eat, breath, and sleep movies (and tv). ‘Movie Day’ has since evolved into a full day, over-saturated with film enjoyment, friends, and burnt out retinas.  While I base my choices on what may or may not be up for Oscar contention, it really comes down to what will make for an fun, well balanced day of the films I haven’t seen yet. If I really had my way, I’d see every movie that comes out over the 365 days. Every last frame. (Maybe one day I’ll a ‘Movie Day’ once a month–wait, I really want to do that…)

So, I’ve learned my lesson from years passed. Some days have been too long (starting your 6th movie at 12:30 the next morning is a chore), extremely boring (two mediocre foreign imgres-1language films in a row after a forgettable movie about fracking is never fun), and others heartbreaking (sitting alone for three straight tear jerkers is something I would never suggest). I now try and save certain movies for my favorite day, as I navigate my end of year theatrical experiences. I started just going for me and now I love going with all of you.

For instance, I’ve already seen Birdman, Into the Woods, Inherent Vice, Still Alice, One Day, Two Nights, The Theory of Everything, The Hobbit, Whiplash, Wild, Foxcatcher, St Vincent, Nightcrawler, The Interview, and a few more. I do my best to make sure that with what is left, I can make the day interesting.

This year, while a little heavy in the morning, ‘Movie Day’ should prove to be  a balanced day. Additionally. All the showings are in the same theatre for the first year ever–a movie day miracle.

MOVIE DAY 2015 – Saturday, January 3rd

AMC Lincoln Square 13

9:15 am – A Most Violent Year

11:45am – American Sniper

2:15pm – Top Five

4:30pm – Unbroken

7:15pm – Big Eyes

9:50pm – Selma

imagesFilm and what it can bring to us as individuals and a society is very important to me. Yes, Hollywood isn’t the same and blah, blah, blah–I know all of that. I just love the movies with everything in my being. The marathon of ‘Movie Day’ is a simple extension of that and always becomes a highlight of my year.  I hope that I get to sit in the theater next to you today! If not, read my recap tomorrow and it’ll be just like you were there! (But really, it’s gonna be so specific and detailed.) Can’t wait to see you. I’ll be the one in the comfortable clothes with a fried brain and swollen eyes. #bpmovieday

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan

PETER PAN LIVE!

peter-pan-walken-featured-618x400“Cause growing up means it would be, beneath my dignity to climb to climb a tree. I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, not me!” Thank you NBC, for getting this stuck in my head last night, this morning, and as I write this post. Last night’s ‘Peter Pan Live!’ was a more fun than not, especially comparing it to last year’s ‘The Sound of Music Live!’

Let me admit first that I am biased from the start, as ‘Peter Pan’ was the first musical I ever saw on Broadway. (It was also the first movie that my mom rented for my sister and I from Blockbuster— albeit the animated Disney version, but Peter Pan nonetheless.) The Mary Martin version also played on my family’s VCR over and over and over and over and over and over again in the early 1990s. Needless to say, I have a nostalgic affinity for this show in particular. Don’t get me wrong,  I recognize that ‘Peter Pan’ isn’t the greatest show. Yes, it’s a classic with wonderful characters,  extremely relatable themes, and, as I mentioned before, catchy tunes, but it’s also a little bit boring, especially in the middle. This production definitely had trouble with the middle portions of the show, as it’s book-ended by the good songs, but that wasn’t the real issue or the thing holding it back from being an enjoyable time.

allison-wiliams-peter-pan-hed-2014Allison Williams was a definite step up from Carrie Underwood last year. Her voice was more on point than less and she brought a great wide-eyed excitement to the part of Peter Pan. I would however question how much fun she actually brought to the role of the boy who won’t grow up, as Williams seemed to be too pre-occupied with hitting her marks while flying. It’s an oddity because even though she didn’t bring the mischievous, fun, and playful sides that need to be associated with Pan (mostly just the pompous side appeared, which was aided by the unnecessary accent choice), Allison Williams, the actress, seemed to be having a great time.  She left something to be desired—I needed more camp and whimsy. Also, was it just me or did Allison Williams’ beauty distract way more than it should have over the course of the three hours? I mean, Peter Pan’s bright white teeth and pretty facial features( that the camera couldn’t help but pick up) take away from the character and his relationships and interactions? It could just be me.

On the other hand, or hook, if ANYBODY sat down on their couch at 8pm expected anything different than what we got from Christopher Walken, they were obviously delusional. Walken gave me exactly what I thought he would: a performance that was equal parts terrible and wonderful, but mostly confusing. His Captain Hook was pretty much phoned in and “Walken-esque.” Since he’s in his own world, much like most of our grandpas, the pirate scenes always felt like two scenes in one. The ensemble pirates’ theatricality and comic timing, led by ‘Biceps Magee’ himself, Christain Borle, was consistent and energetically entertaining. Walken was lost in a sea of current theatre professionals and it never matched up—at all. His erratic flow and timing fractured the scenes, making a mess of an already thin and silly plot line. At moments, I also wondered if he was searching for lines in his head or if he really meant for the awkward pauses as a choice. Either way it came off as a tad bit embarrassing. Sure he can still ‘cut the rug’ here and there, Walken is a trained dancer, but in the future; NBC really has to start casting true theatre professionals, if anything, to keep the energy up. A smile from me here or there when he starts tapping isn’t going to get me through the night, especially with Captain James Hook. I’m not going to comment on his singing because he didn’t do any.

The production overall was beautiful, as the sets and vibrant colors permeated through the television screen more so than the lead actors’ performances. Similar to last year, it was the secondary leads that stole the show—the true theatre professionals. As mentioned earlier, Christaian Borle is one of the most versatile actors out there, which was on clear display during ‘Peter Pan Live!’ Kelli O’Hara, even with very little to do, took full advantage3.171833 of every moment , elevating whatever was happening to the next level. Even Minnie Driver, in her literal two minutes, was lovely. The Lost Boys, former ‘Newsies’, had such a palpable chemistry and magnetically strong dance performance throughout the evening that it was always a treat to see them popping in Neverland. Generally, all of the dance numbers worked well. I was pretty apathetic to the song additions here and there, but I liked the changes to ‘Ugg-A-Wug,’ regardless of its lack of justification to exist in this production. (The Indians were far from the most exciting part of the Neverland festivities.)  Throughout the night, Taylor Louderman’s Wendy, with her sweet voice, began to get on my nerves as a character, but at least she still was bringing more, choice wise, to seemingly forgetful role. The way they conveyed Tinkerbell, even with the technical glitches here and there, was pretty entertaining. It seemed to marry the theatre on tv idea quite well in theory. Maybe most importantly, I was a big fan of the LSD crocodile—I don’t care what anybody else thinks.

Even if the ratings don’t reflect it this year, I think that ‘Peter Pan Live!’ was in improvement over last year’s ‘The Sound of Music Live!,’ but probably because Carrie Underwood really couldn’t carry that show at all—as much as she genuinely tried. (Granted, you could say the same exact thing about Allison Williams this year.) It’s nice to see that they’re learning year to year.

These NBC Live events bring up some interesting questions that I find myself talking about each year. Wendy and the Lost Boys , on screen seemed a bit old for their parts, but if they Peter Pan Live! - Season 2014were to play them on a stage in a proper theatre, most likely they’d be perfect. On camera you can clearly see how old they are with all the HD close-ups. So, as an audience, every year in December, where does the suspension of disbelief actually being and end in a filmed theatre piece? I mean, we saw the strings protruding from the backs of the actors, but they have to fly to serve the story, so is that more acceptable than a great ensemble that looks a little too old? Why can’t we believe that they are younger, just as if we believe that Peter can actually fly? It’s still theatre, semi-staged for film, but the fine line is very evident in this form.

I had a good time, even with the glaring issues and questionable performances. I think something that NBC needs to figure out, as we all already have, is that stunt casting in this weird mixed medium just isn’t working, even when executed with the best of intentions. Next year, regardless of what musical is chosen, casting theatre actors who can actually handle every aspect of the parts is a necessity. It’s more than just hitting the notes and brining some color here or there. These are iconic roles for a reason—the actors who have brought them to life over the years (Mary Martin, Cyril Richard, and Cathy Rigby— among others) have brought that out, if not being the reason they live on forever in musical lore. In conclusion: NBC should only do something if Hugh Jackman is available. People will watch and the quality has the potential to be great.

But seriously, it’s SO nice for these musicals to be seen by a large audience, sparking conversation and excitement. Musical theatre and its history is a great American artistic achievement and should be celebrated whenever it gets its chance in the limelight.

Keep on Watchin’

-Bryan

Game of Thrones – The Laws and Gods of Men (S4, Ep6)

Half way through this week’s episode I intended to write a piece about how there are two side to every war: The Front and the Back Dealings. I was going to write about how Dany, while easily moving from city to city freeing all of the slaves, was inconsistent and weak in her ruling. She also slaughtered seemingly good people in herstatic.squarespace raids. (Great dragon effects too.) Davos and Stannis attempted to convince Mycroft Holmes of Braavos Savings and Loan to financially back their power play for the throne. Theon/Reek’s sister stealth attempt to save him, after she was baited by Ramsay Snow. Tywin discussing Dany and the Hound with his council, followed by his bartering with Jaime to effect the outcome of Tyrion’s trail.
But I’m not.
I’m not because I can’t stop thinking about the last ten minutes of the episode.
We’ve seen great extended scenes before, of course. The show is most effective when they dedicate most of an hour to those sequences. Ned’s death, the Battle of Blackwater Bay, imgresthe ‘Red Wedding’, and Joffery’s demise are examples of spending longer amounts of time in one specific place in order to be more effective. While this doesn’t involve an amazing set piece or extravagant death, I believe that it is the best the show has executed to this point. The editing was spot on, the underlying context of Tywin successfully manipulating Jaime, while taking down his least favorite child, was brilliant, the change in Tyrion’s demeanor once Jaime told him the deal was moving, and the reveal of Shae was a shock.
As fantastic as these were (and still are as I re-watch this sequence), they pale in comparison to what Peter Dinklage brings to this scene as an actor. Shae’s testimony, whilegameofthrones14-97 probably Lanister coached, comes from a place of pure malice towards the imp. While most of the trial plays as a “best of” from seasons past, Shae’s words cut deeper then the sword that caused Tyrion’s facial scars. He transforms from the apathetic doomed defendant to a seething hopeless creature who won’t go down on a lie from his mistress. He’s on trail for who he is, not what he’s done.
What kind of duel will he be fighting? Will Jaime fight for him or will Bronn? Will he fight for himself? Who will he face? Those are questions for another time. Here, I only ask: how has GameOfThronesDinklage only won one Emmy? (I know the answer: Jesse Pinkman and Co, but still.) I mean, if this isn’t his submission episode, I don’t know what is. His power, change, sincerity, anger, and charisma radiate off the screen, memorizing. How does this show keep getting better?
Keep on Watchin’!
-Bryan

Some thoughts on Arrow Season 2…

After a solid first season, Arrow has followed with an even better sophomore effort. Now that Oliver has changed his style of justice, the show dives deeper into the psyche of a hero, while still being what it is: a semi cheesy bit of genre tv.

Arrow-1As Oliver, Sarah, Felicity, Diggle, and Thea move to the front of the plot train, Laurel and her father fall to the back and by no means is that a bad thing. The Lance family, minus Sarah, have used up their narrative uselessness for the time being, allowing for the writers to explore the more interesting part of Oliver’s life. Let’s face it, Sarah is WAAAAAY more interesting than Laurel and her drug issues.

Slade is back in town to torment the man that he believes was responsible for the death of Shadow on the island. Add that to the nice addition of Roy’s mirakuru situation, Thea’s issues with lying, and Black Canary and you’ve got some powerful storytelling going on. The more it strays away from love triangles the more streamlined the show is overall. Another point: the more the Island stories directly interweave with the present time issues, the more interesting the show is over all.

This season has given us some nice DC Universe pieces. The suicide squad, Red Arrow, Time of DeathBlack Canary, Amanda Waller, Barry Allen, Deathstroke, Dr. Ivo, Ra’s Al Ghul and more. We even get a little River Tam action, even if Summer Glau is being horribly underused. The ability for this show to casually incorporate these elements make it feel more complete.

Now, we can finally talk about the reason I’m writing this piece. Wait…

SPOILER ALERT

Okay, now we can.

Killing Moria Queen shows us how dedicated the writers are to telling this story the right way. The story had been building towards Oliver having to make a choice. We could only assume that the choice would be set up in this circumstance. The show built to this moment as organically as it could and it paid off in spades. Moria made the choice for him Arrow_S02E14_Slade-Wilson-2and now she lays on the forrest floor with a weeping Thea and an in-shock Oliver. They have really taken this built this character up and have broken him way beyond what we thought this show was going to do. Now, as the season finishes up, I cannot wait to see what happen.

Bravo Arrow Family.

Keep on Watchin’!

-Bryan