Slim pickings!

I am currently glued to BBC World News watching their recap of 2014 news stories including ISIS, Russia/Ukraine, etc.  Not my usual cup of tea, but indicative of the scarcity of entertainment available on TV at the moment. I have managed to catch up with a few TV shows and films as follows:

Black Mirror White Christmas aired on Christmas night on Superchannel in Canada.  The Black Mirror series from Britain is often described as Britain’s answer to the Twilight Zone.  This special starred Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall and was most unChristmassy in its bleak depiction of a future where technology allows people to be virtually imprisoned within gadgets.   At least I think this was the gist of the show.  Dark, very dark….

Our family watched The Interview on Christmas night.  This is the Seth Rogen/James Franco stoner comedy that apparently caused North Korea to hack Sony and declare grave consequences if not allowed to investigate the hacking.  This film which does have a few mildly amusing moments (Eminem announces he is gay; Seth Rogen complains of being grazed by wildly ricocheting bullets bouncing around the tank he is in) – all in all, the usual juvenile humour for which Seth Rogen is famous.  James Franco’s performance is insanely over the top making Seth Rogen’s more subdued performance seem Oscar worthy by comparison.  So appallingly lame!

Finally caught up with the film Locke featuring an intense performance by Tom Hardy as a Welshman driving through the night to reach a woman about to give birth to his baby, who implodes his marriage and career in the process.

Loved How I Live Now, a wonderful British film featuring Saoirse Ronan and George MacKay as two teens brought together in a world ravaged by a nuclear war.

George MacKay is also one of the stars of Pride.  An unbelievably generic British comedy also starring Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Domenic West and Andrew Scott that is based on the true story of gay activists in London who support the Welsh coalminers in the 1984 strike in the UK.  A feel good comedy that somehow feels like a fairy tale despite its roots in reality.

Also caught up with Blancanieves, a very Spanish retelling of the Snow White story with Flamenco and bullfighting in the background.

I think I am up to the end of episode 5 on both The Missing and The Fall.  Can’t decide which show is darker!

I am up to episode 4 of The Divide. An American crime series airing on Superchannel that details a fictional innocence project type investigation of the murder of a Black family.

For those who prefer their British crime series to be a little sunnier, PBS is currently airing Vera starring Brenda Blethyn as a strong female police inspector investigating murders in the north of England. Blethyn is outspoken and fearless, willing to tell everyone exactly what she thinks of them as she obsessively works to solve her cases.

That’s all for now. Nap time beckons!  Enjoy the holidays everyone.

TV Reflections and Resolutions

Today is one of those grey yet pretty days in Thornbury.  There is light snow cover on the ground and rooftops, but mercifully, the roads are pretty dry so that hopefully this year’s Christmas driving will not involve negotiating totally ice covered roads and returning to a house with no power, as last year’s did.  I am writing this as I watch CBS Sunday Morning, my Sunday morning ritual, which always includes a closing Zen moment of nature.  The most soothing way possible to prepare for the week to come.

It’s been a very busy year for our whole family.  George and I have thoroughly enjoyed his first 6 months of retirement.  Florida has been a wonderful escape (for you golfers who have suffered through my terrible play, I actually got my drive back the last week or so that I played). We also had our son Jonathan come and stay with us in Naples for 11 days before he started his new engineering job.  Our brief time back in Toronto included visiting my indomitable 96-year-old mother, celebrating our son David and his sweetheart Candice’s engagement and today we are celebrating Christmas with George’s side of the family in Uxbridge, and Christmas Day will be celebrated in Barrie with my two darling nieces. We will be observing New Year’s on a plane to Sydney, Australia which should be very weird as I believe we cross the International Date Line a number of times.  I will try to update my blog from Aus/NZ and may actually learn how to include pictures, as friends have mentioned that a picture is worth a 1000 words.

Back to TV for a moment, this week will see the concluding episodes of Homeland and The Affair.  I can’t recommend Homeland highly enough this year.  If you missed last season, you can jump right into this year as we are on a whole new track with Carrie being the CIA Station Chief in Islamabad. Very exciting and suspenseful.  The Affair has been rather sad as both the main characters have imploded their families in order to carry on their affair (x2 as each character tells the story from his/her own perspective).

Last week I caught up with the season finale of Gracepoint.  Pretty similar to Broadchurch‘s ending as I recall.  I can’t say there was any real redeeming reason to watch the same story told with American accents and I will be unlikely to watch a straight adaptation again.

Last week was also the sentimental ending of The Colbert Report after nine years of skewering right wing pundits.  He is going to replace David Letterman on The Late Show some time in late spring or early summer.  I am sad to see this hilarious blowhard leave and I so look forward to the return of John Oliver’s This Week Tonight on HBO in February.

A friend who was catching up with my blog was sad that I didn’t cover any of his favourites which included The Americans (which I love and which I believe is returning from hiatus in January), and Inspector Foyle (which I absolutely adored and can be found on Netflix and possibly on TVO.org).

I did catch a movie at my local repertory cinema this week:  The 100 Year Old Man who went out a window... I liked it so much more than the book.  Darkly funny and much easier to engage with than the book due to the superb casting of all the major roles.  I have caught up with a few films online: This is Where I Leave You, one of those well cast but incredibly lame comedies that elicits very few laughs. The Skeleton Twins an unfunny comedy about suicide. Be warned!  And leaving the best for last, we watched Fed UP the anti-sugar documentary.  Ooh, sugar is so bad for you!  On Netflix:  Only Lovers Left Alive, now no one loves a good vampire flick more than I do, but I did find this one terribly sad and slow.

I started the blog just as the fall season was debuting new series and so I tried to sort through the returning and new shows.  It never occurred to me to list all the many fine documentary series that air on PBS, CBC, TVO, etc.  I have been a fan of the Fifth Estate for many years, and occasionally tune in to fine documentaries on Frontline, The Passionate Eye, Nova, Nature, etc.  I rarely watch reality TV programs, but I admit to being a fan of So You Think You Can Dance and The Sing Off.  The Sing Off (a contest featuring a cappella singing groups) did a 2-hour Christmas special which resulted in the Vanderbilt University men’s singing group winning first prize for performing Hozier’s Take me to Church which I absolutely love.

My resolution is to try and watch more self improving TV.  I loved last year’s PBS The Roosevelts series.  I have had Fareed Zakariah GPS on my PVR list for the last few months. As our TVs are bombarded with endless hours of Christmas dreck (e.g. made for TV movies with depressingly similar themes), this is a great time to catch up with quality television you may have missed, whether you do it online, On Demand, on Netflix or via the many emerging streaming platforms that are trying desperately to make up ground lost to Netflix.

The New Year is going to present a bit of a challenge as my favourite shows will all return when I am touring down under and it just wouldn’t be right to try and keep up with TV while touring one of the world’s most amazing regions.  There will be a fair bit of catch-up when I return. Until then, have a wonderful Christmas season and a very happy New Year’s.

Christmas madness!

OK, I must explain why this week’s post is going to be a little light on content. The past week has been one of  catching up with old friends, celebrating with lots of friends and family, way too much rich food and drink, and not very much TV watching.  I haven’t even seen one single Christmas show featuring people singing traditional carols and creepy songs like Baby It’s Cold Outside.

The show that left the biggest impression on me this week was the series finale of Sons of Anarchy.  Very fitting ending to a very dark show.  I can’t say more than that as my son will be furious with me for spoiling the ending.

Biggest Netflix disappointment was definitely Marco Polo.  I had actually eagerly looked forward to binge watching this series which debuted in its entirety on Friday.  After a paltry 1 1/2 episodes I had to give up in defeat.  Didn’t really care about a single character on the show.  So slow….

Biggest Netflix pleasure was watching Season 3 of Silk.  A British legal drama about the intrigue within a London law firm.  Love the over-the-top relationship antics of the staff.  Intrigued by the difference between the British and Canadian legal systems where barristers can be both defence and prosecution lawyers.

Caught up with guilty pleasure shows on ABC Spark in Canada.  Both The Fosters and Chasing Life (which have been on hiatus for months) aired Christmas specials. So enjoyable and corny.

Tried to watch Serangoon Road on Superchannel.  A coproduction between the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and HBO Asia.  Although it stars Aussie heartthrob Don Hany and Chinese femme fatale Joan Chen (also on the dismal Marco Polo), I just never engaged with the plots or characters. I gave up in defeat.

American Horror Story continues its demented meandering through a freak show in 1950’s Florida.  It is an indescribable exploration of all kinds of madness as it depicts a world that is incredibly strange and twisted.  It is kind of a nightmare experience that I find difficult to look away from.  A creation of Ryan Murphy who is also responsible for the unbelievably sunny Glee series (OK, I may be the oldest Gleek around), this show has to be amongst the nuttiest ever to air on American TV.

The Affair continued with its complex depiction of a love affair between two mismatched lovers. Told by each of the two main characters, the story intrigues with its two different points of view.  Love the hunky yet clueless Dominic West and Ruth Wilson (previously a major villain on Luther) has a very engaging pout!

SPOILER ALERTS FOR THE NEXT 3 SHOWS:  

Homeland is having its best season in years.  It’s now set in the tumultuous environment of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Carrie and Quinn are emerging as an unlikely pair of heroes who have decided to stay in the region to try and capture a major Taliban warlord who is responsible for decimating the staff of the US Embassy. Sorry, if this is a spoiler, but catch up you folks who haven’t had a chance to watch the last couple of episodes.  The show is absolutely riveting and suspenseful after a few years of being painful to watch.

Nashville had a wonderfully satisfying mid-season cliffhanger ending this week.  The guiltiest pleasure of all as Deacon receives a very worrying medical diagnosis and Rayna makes a last minute decision regarding her marriage to Will.  Juliet and Avery take a step they will likely come to regret.  Gunnar tearfully collapses into the fragile and quivering arms of Scarlett after receiving upsetting news about his paternity test results.  Deliciously soapy!

The Game (BBC’s TV answer to John Le Carre) wound up its first season with moles being discovered and disaster being averted.  Dark yet satisfying.

There are a few shows I have recorded but haven’t had a chance to watch yet, given all the appetizers, desserts and glasses of Christmas cheer I have forced myself to consume.  Hope everyone has a festive week, the calories and cholesterol be damned!!  Stay warm and drive carefully my friends and family.

Still recovering from Peter Pan Live!!!

I’m still a bit queasy after catching up with NBC’s production of Peter Pan last week.  I was fortunate to be able to watch a recorded version (I know, kind of defeats the whole live experience, but I was on a plane when it was airing).  Although it was reportedly only 3 hours long, it felt like it lasted an eternity, and I have a sad feeling that I will never get those hours back. The horror of Christopher Walken’s lip syncing and toe tap syncing will stay with me for a long time. The fake British accents were at times quite laughable, but sadly the little 5 year old’s accent was impenetrable at times.  The costumes, the dancing, the makeup, were all so horribly retro. To say the pace was languid is to be extremely charitable.  Ugh a wugha, indeed!!

My apologies for not alerting people to the fact that The Walking Dead was airing it’s mid-season finale last Sunday.  I will not spoil it for those of you who haven’t caught up with it yet, but it has some surprises in it.  Sons of Anarchy is airing its absolutely final episode this week.  The inevitable happened last week with Jax and his murderous mother.  Someone’s going down for sure this week!  The Affair and Homeland both return tonight.  Homeland ended a couple of weeks ago with an explosive cliffhanger and people have been on tenterhooks ever since waiting to see how the show progresses.  The Affair has been off for a couple of weeks but returns to continue the story of this mismatched pair whose passion looks like it will burn everyone around them as it comes to light.

I don’t often watch Person of Interest as I find most of their plots involve people of no interest to me at all, but I did watch last week’s episode.  It was a total rip-off of the Liam Neeson movie Non-Stop.  I couldn’t look away as it hewed so close to plot points of the film.  I had found the film laughable in its melodrama and plot twists.  So amazing that plagiarism is celebrated in the entertainment industry, or perhaps no one else watched the episode?  Clearly what sells in the movies, becomes fodder for TV, as we go through cycles where there are a huge number of vampire, witch, werewolf and zombie series.  Family comedies that work get endlessly imitated (and celebrated in the viral sensation Too Many Cooks which you should watch on Youtube. This hilarious parody makes fun of all the tropes of 1980’s TV series and will have you humming the theme song which plays over an interminable opening credits montage.  The montage takes some hilariously dark turns as machete wielding crazed killers, nudity, animation, space creatures, cop shows, Dynasty/Dallas/Falconcrest, etc. make their way into the frame.)  My biggest fear at this moment is that we will be forced to watch tv series celebrating hobbit-like creatures.  I can get into Game of Thrones, but that’s as far as I go down the fantasy road. All the Hobbit movies make me snooze.

I got a big kick out of last week’s Flash and Arrow crossover episodes, and am intrigued by The 100‘s attractive young people in space story. Nashville gets cornier and cornier, but in a completely satisfying way with its Christmas show airing last week and the Deacon and Rayna love story rearing its head again.

On the BBC side of things, The Fall continues with its dark story of the hunt for a serial killer; The Missing continues with its dark story of a child abduction; The Game continues with its murky espionage stories of hunting for a mole in 70’s Britain and foiling a Russian doomsday plot.

Loved Grimm last Friday with its jolly Christmas episode of twisted elves (ok, I know they’re a bit like hobbits, but they were peripheral to the action and it is a monster of the week show, so hopefully they won’t become recurring characters); Constantine is still head scratchingly awful although the episode did deal with snake charming faith healers.  Caught this week’s Saturday Night Live with James Franco and Nicki Minaj.  It actually wasn’t as terribly unfunny as many recent shows have been.  James Franco completely throws himself into sketches and manages not to fixate on the teleprompter.  Nicki Minaj’s figure is not to be believed!! Vavavoom!

In the meantime, enjoy the other joys of the season.  Eating and drinking to excess and celebrating with family and friends.  It’s bittersweet being back in the cold. Wonderful to be surrounded by people we love, but how much nicer it would be to be doing it in warmth and sunshine. Do I sound old?