Saturday, December 26, 2015

The End of an Era... Sorta

TV and video watching hours -- a heck of a lot.
Writing done -- Even more so! (so there).

Okay, so I once again have gotten to the end of the year where I can shame myself for my lax blogging habits. New Year's Resolution One: blog more, and eat less cheese, so I don't have to do one of those expensive and nasty kale juice cleanses that make your pee green.

I can't be too hard on myself this time. I've been a busy girl... between writing and teaching and spending time with my family.

As is my customary thing to do this time of year... I'm relaxing and watching a lot of movies and screeners, thanks to the Academy and my cool Hollywood friend posse. 

The one film I ventured into a theater for was the new "Star Wars" movie ("The Force Awakens"). After all, this was an event (and I didn't have any screeners for it). However, like I saw the original Star Wars in the theaters opening day, I felt compelled to see this on the big screen as soon as possible before anyone could spoil it for me. Some movies are worth the price of admission, thankfully, this was one. I can't really judge the film on its merits alone, as it really rang true as a piece of nostalgia for me. So much of it was designed to "reboot" by reminding us exactly what worked in the first three films (even a certain important scene on the bridge of the ship looked like it was shot exactly frame by frame alike to really hammer in the symbolism/similarity).

The new characters were spunky, They didn't seem that new honestly, albeit there was a bit of gender switching to give more meat to the girl's role -- which totally works for me. I did have a bit of a hard time unseeing Adam from "Girls" in the villain and was feeling like at least Hannah dodged a bullet with that latest break-up (and he seems so nice in that last scene. I should've known -- no guy breaks up so reasonably.)

The fun factor was certain a strong force in Star Wars, and overall, worthy of the price of admission and the butter on my popcorn; but again, I wasn't expecting new and innovative. I wanted the walk down memory lane and that's exactly what I got from it.

I saw "Bridge of Spies," a while back, though that's being lumped in for the big Oscar buzz-push. The story is sitting well with me and was enjoyable to watch; intriguing if not ground-breaking surely. I may not remember much of it in the months to come and can't say I have a burning need to see it more than once, but it was a decent way to spend a few hours.

I know Spotlight is getting all the attention and Oscar buzz this year, and while I enjoyed the slow perk of the newspaper breaking a scandal story, I missed the tension that someone like Sidney Lumet used to bring to such things. It was a good film, a solid film, but it didn't shock or move me in the way I was expecting.

I enjoyed seeing "The Martian" with my family on Christmas eve, although I think my son who wants to be a physicist understood quite a bit more of it than I did. While much of the movie revelled in how smart the guy was in his savvy problem-solving skills; I thought more than once that it had a bit too much math for the likes of this English major. But -- I appreciated the good space story nonetheless (although they could've added a bit more of a love story to add even more heart to the stakes. I mean, it's not like it's patterned after a true story, after all, why the heck not?)

Last night, a reboot of the Rocky franchise with "Creed" was another tug at my aging cinemaphile heart-strings and it was nice to see Sylvester Stallone looking more like Rocky than an overly Botoxed marionette once again. It looks like he's come full circle back to what made him loveable and inspirational. I admit, I found myself genuinely yelling at the screen for young Creed's victory during the well-staged, realistic boxing matches and it was all in good fun for me. I did miss hearing the Rocky theme, or at least more than a few bars of it and my daughter remarked that it just wasn't the same with current rap music replacing "Eye of the Tiger," but I guess there's only so far they were willing to fall into schmaltz without losing a new audience.

Speaking of knockouts, Concussion is a movie that pits the sport of football against science in a cover-up about the dangers of spending years having your head bashed in on a daily basis. The real movie isn't about football, or even about science -- instead it is a character study of a man, a foreigner at that, who tries to stand up for the truth against the machine that is the NFL, and really beyond that, the American people's thirst for the blood sport over the consequences of it driving people crazy and making them kill themselves. As a football fan, I have no idea how to look at the issues brought up in this movie. I still love the sport and I definitely admire Will Smith's performance, once you get passed the accent, which isn't bad as you get used to it. I just don't know how to walk away freeling from this, now that I know my football heroes may all be doomed.

... On the horizon for my viewing: 

Room, Steve Jobs, Joy, Carol, The Revenant, Brooklyn, Sicario, Crimson Peak and more...I certainly have my work cut out for me. Bring on the giant homemade cappucinos and real buttered popcorn.

As for TV bingeing, if you can only pick out a handful of options, I heartily recommend:

The Leftovers (although will somebody PLEASE explain the ending to me? It was one of those things where I absolutely loved it, but I have questions, so many questions. I seriously hope they'll renew it for another season and maybe explain a few things).

The Affair (although that ending, oy!)

Transparent, currently my favorite binge-watching series, though be prepared to be sad. I'm okay with sad, but you know -- not everyone's in the mood, especially during the holidays. Still, it was just so well done. I thought it was even better than season one and I really loved season one.

Childhood's End is a nice quick binge that I enjoyed. I thought they did a really nice job with what was one of my favorite science fiction stories.

Homeland was good because I never get tired of watching Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin. I thought this year was actually better than last year's post Brody mission (though it was a bit confusing as to how we see her all devoted Mommy in the beginning and then we don't hear from her kid for the rest of show. It's okay, Carrie and motherhood seem like a mix destined to send that kid for a lifetime of therapy anyway).

The Knick was another compulsively watchable show that I think was even slightly better in season 2 than it was in season 1. Both were terrific and I'll watch Clive Owen doing anything performing brain surgery on an awake patient while singing "Daisy, Daisy" fixing syphalictic noses and separating conjoined twins (and saving them from American Horror Story plotlines). What will I do now that it's over? What a fun madcap mad man you were, Clive. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted and I will really miss this show done by one of my favorite filmmakers, Steven Soderbergh (you had me at Sex, Lies and Videotape).

Silicon Valley is a fun guilty pleasure. I watched this every week as it was just too much of a guilty pleasure to wait on, but this show is consistently a hoot in my book. I think that a new season is coming up soon, so if you missed season 2, catch up already.

The Mindy Project, now on Hulu, is good for a laugh, make that many laughs Mindy is the bomb in my book (and I mean that in the awesome, this is great way -- not in the Quantico/Jack Bauer sorta way. I don't think I could ever get tired of the comedy of Mindy Kaling -- so much that I highly recommend the audio book "Why Not Me?" her latest release, which is even better than her last book. Her delivery is key, so I really suggest the audio book on this one. It's short at only 4 discs, perfect for the mid-sized road trip. Bravo for Hulu for picking up her show.

Catastrophe, a British import that is in its second season on Amazon Prime is one of the funniest shows in TV. While season 2 is a bit more grim than season 1 (this is British comedy after all, so expect dark humor) -- there are plenty of laugh out loud moments that will have you spouting Guinness from your nose. Definitely don't miss this show.

The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime is a bit of a slow burner and admittedly I'm only halfway through of this one; however, the idea is so intriguing and you can never go wrong with something based on a Phillip K. Dick story. Solid acting, high stakes and a totally new take on time travel, if you want to call it that, this show is worth losing sleep over from what I can tell.

As for Network TV, I just finished binge watching Quantico, which was my favorite of this year's new TV series. At this point, I don't really have time to get invested in many new Network shows, seeing as my week nights are overbooked with Scandal. How to Get Away with Murder, Grey's Anatomy, The Blacklist and The Big Bang Theory. After checking out most of the recent offerings, Quantico got my attention for the most part. I have Limitless on DVR standby as well, after seeing a couple of episodes and liking it, but maybe I just miss seeing Dexter's sister in a cop role (typcast much?) In any case, Quantico was certainly worth my time.

I won't even get into my British BBC TV fetish -- though I will say, if you missed Sherlock, Broadchurch, Black Mirror, Poldark, London Spy, Humans, Jonathan Strange, River, Happy Valley, or Doctor Foster -- get thee to a Netflix on the quick, or stay tuned for PBS to pick up the slack. Need I remind you that this is Downton Abbey's last hurrah as well, so clear up your calendar and make room or no quail egg 'n cucumber soup for you. There's too much to get into reviewing these flicks and some of them have yet to make their way to our side of the pond, so be on the look out.

Also, the French version of The Returned is finally back with season 2 on The Sundance Channel. It's even darker and more mysterious than season three and is rivaled by only The Leftovers in it's ability to cause complete confusion, yet still be compulsively watchable (it's like these people went to the David Lynch school of filmmaking; and lucky for us at that). Something about people dying and coming back to life that really brings out the Mullholand Drive in storytellers aparently. Or maybe it's just some big inside joke that I don't get. In any case, I hope they have a season 3 soon so I can understand what I watched in season 2. I'll devour every episode, if they do, as I did with this season.

Next on the agenda TV-wise, are catching up with Cookie on Empire and the Netflix offerings that I keep hearing about: Kimmie Schmidt and Master of None. I've seen the first episode of both and think they look promising for binge fair. I also haven't yet seen season 3 of Orange is the New Black, which is in my queue. So many shows, so little time.

Speaking of which, I'd better get back to viewing if I'm going to get all these in before the year's up.

Cheers for now. Stay Tuned for Part Two soon.