Hey, there are some really good shows around!

The extraordinarily cool and damp weather of the past week has probably contributed to my desire to burrow down and bingewatch.  I made a new discovery (Younger on TVLand) and watched a curiously compelling new show (Me, You and the Apocalypse).  So here goes my summary of this week’s viewing:

Streaming on Netflix:

Chelsea Does is Chelsea Handler’s new documentary series.  Watched the first episode and found it slightly tedious on the subject of Marriage.  I kept waiting for the jokes and there really weren’t any.

Streaming on Crackle:

Powers is an intriguing sci fi show about a police force special division tasked with investigating murders involving superheroes and super villains. It stars Shallot Copley from Chappie and I did enjoy the Pilot.  In this crowded universe of too many shows, too little time, I don’t know if I will find the time to go back to it.

On Demand:

Truth tells the story of Dan Rather’s fall from grace at CBS when it is revealed that unreliable sources were behind the story of George Bush’s checkered career with the Texas Air National Guard.  Robert Redford isn’t bad as Rather (his voice is very good) and Cate Blanchett is luminous as the producer behind the story.

Debuts and returning shows from the past week:

Beowulf on ESQUIRE was great fun in a kind of juvenile way.  Cheesy monsters (this is from the same British production team that made Primeval) and attractive young performers. Beowulf (the epic Norse story) purists will be outraged!

Black Sails (STARZ) is also great fun and this year Blackbeard (played by Ray Stevenson from Rome) makes a chilling debut.  The pirate community of Nassau is fighting for its existence.

The X Files (Fox) returned after a 12 year absence and I think it will be a great comfort to those who have missed it.  Only 6 episodes that will alternate between conspiracy theories and monsters of the week.

Grimm (NBC) is back from its hiatus.  More monsters of the week and Juliet is back from the dead.  Sorry for the spoiler, but you do learn this in the show’s first five minutes.

Suits (USA) has returned.  Mike starts off the episode in handcuffs and the series seeks to solve the mystery of who turned him in.  Trailer for the next episode reveals all.  I do love this show about a brilliant young man who passes himself off as a Harvard law grad and rises to partner in a prestigious firm, all the while fearing exposure as a fraud.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW) returned from its hiatus.  Our leading lady, who has pursued her high-school boyfriend from NYC to suburban LA, is also living in fear of constant exposure for the craziness of her obsession. If you love musical theatre, you will adore this delightful show where people burst into song and dance at the slightest provocation. Love this show.  Quirky but intriguing.

Lucifer (Fox) features an incredibly charming British actor (Tom Ellis) as a son of Satan who has a knack for solving crimes in modern day LA.  Ludicrous dialogue (he doesn’t attempt to hide his real identity from anyone) abounds.  I doubt this show will survive as it really is extremely silly. Tom Ellis is very attractive though.

The 100 (CW) returns from hiatus to continue the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth which is the setting for warring factions of descendants of survivors.

The Shannara Chronicles (MTV) based on a young adult series of novels, this show follows the adventures of a group of elves, druids, etc. fighting to survive in a world where evil forces constantly threaten them.  I really enjoyed this show, and I can’t explain why.  It is great fun with scary monsters constantly appearing on the horizon.  Delightful cast (Manu Bennett, John Rhys Davies) and an exciting storyline.  If you are a fan of Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, etc. you may enjoy this series.

Outsiders debuted this past week on WGN and stars David Morse in a tale of backwoods Appalachia.  I loved Justified and hope that this series will continue that vibe.

You, Me and the Apocalypse (NBC) is truly like no show that has ever been on TV before.  An NBC/SKY TV coproduction, this comedy follows a group of disparate characters who soon find out that the end of the world is upon them as a comet hurtles towards the earth. The first episode stars Brit Matthew Baynton as a hapless banker who is mistaken for a terrorist and discovers he has an evil twin; Jenna Fischer as a hapless mom who goes to prison for protecting her 14 year old hacker son from prosecution; and Rob Lowe as a Vatican priest who is responsible for vetting people nominated for sainthood.  It is 34 days before the end of the world and there will be 15 people who come together over the show’s 9 episodes.  Intriguing! Here is John Doyle’s article on the show from The Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/john-doyle-you-me-and-the-apocalypse-good-grief-its-great/article28418208/

Bingewatch Recommendation:

I discovered Younger (TV Land On Demand) this past week.  Season 1 has 12 episodes and Season 2 has aired its first 4 episodes.  Starring Broadway star Sutton Foster as Liza Miller, a 40 year old single mother who tries to return to the publishing world after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years.  When she realizes she is being interviewed by 26 year-olds, she decides to reboot her career and love life as a millennial.  My gosh, this is another show where the lead character is living in constant fear of being exposed as a fraud.  What a theme!  I find this show charming and addictive.  It’s beautifully cast with Debi Mazar as Liza’s best friend, Miriam Shor as her evil Devil Wears Prada-esque boss, Hilary Duff as a co-worker, and Peter Hermann as the charming, handsome and recently divorced head of the publishing house.  Give it a try.  It gave me many chuckles as Liza has to instantly immerse herself in social media and today’s world of smart phone addicted texters/hipsters.  Her new dishy boyfriend is a tattoo artist!

Shows you may be overlooking

Loving Mercy Street on PBS Sunday nights following Downton Abbey.  PBS’s first original production for Masterpiece Theatre, this Civil War drama set in a Virginia hospital is beautifully done.

War & Peace (A&E, History, Lifetime/BBC coproduction on Mondays and On Demand) is a sumptuous costume drama in 6 episodes. It stars Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), James Norton (Grantchester, Happy Valley) and Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella).  It is an intersecting story of five aristocratic families who face incredible changes during Russia’s conflict with Napoleon.  A big sprawling epic with magnificent cinematography reminiscent of Dr Zhivago.  If you love BBC costume dramas, you may enjoy this series.

American Crime (ABC) is groundbreaking television.  This season, it tells the story of a male teenager on financial aid at an exclusive private school who is raped at a house party.  The series deals with issues of class, race, the education system, etc.  It’s confrontational and thought provoking.

My Ongoing Addictions:

Still watching Elementary (CBS) starring a charming Jonny Lee Miller as a modern day Sherlock Holmes in NYC; Arrow (CW) returned from hiatus to continue the story of a hero’s struggle to save his city from evil forces; The Flash continues the story of a hero’s with super fast ability to save his city from evil forces; Blacklist continues with its tale of Catherine Keene’s torturous relationship with mentor/protector Reddington; Shades of Blue continues its story of policewoman Jennifer Lopez’s struggle to stay alive despite being forced by the FBI to betray her mentor played by the always intense and scary, Ray Liotta.  Teen Wolf (MTV) continues its story of a band of teenagers trying to stay alive despite the constant menace of evil forces; The Expanse (SYFY) continues its post-apocalyptic story of a hardboiled detective in Space who tries to solve the mystery of a missing heiress and becomes embroiled in intrigue between warring factions.

On the comedy/public affairs front, Bill Maher (HBO) is back from hiatus; Trevor Noah (Comedy) and Stephen Colbert (CBS) continue to skewer politicians; CBS Sunday Morning soothes and comforts with wonderful human interest stories and celebrity profiles. Fareed Zakaria (CNN) featured a wonderful interview with Justin Trudeau this morning, a segment on the Zika virus, etc.

New Shows Debuting in the coming week:

Grease Live (Fox Sunday Night) stars Julianne Hough,  Aaron Tveit and Canada’s own Carly Rae Jepsen in this classic musical done before a live audience. Fox climbs aboard the NBC bandwagon (Sound of Music Live, Peter Pan Live – I’m still slightly nauseous over this one!, and The Wiz Live). This is my Must Watch of the Week.  It has been updated from the 1972 stage play and is directed by Thomas Kail who helmed the unstoppable Broadway juggernaut Hamilton. Woo hoo, can’t wait!!

The People v. O.J. Simpson debuts on FX this week and stars John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J., Courney Vance as Johnnie Cochran, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, and Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark.  From Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, Scream Queens, Nip/Tuck, etc). His work is never boring!

Madoff debuts on ABC Wednesday(stars Blythe Danner and Richard Dreyfuss) and tells the Bernie Madoff saga.

Sleepy Hollow returns from hiatus on Fox Friday night and continues the story of Ichabod Crane into the 20th C.

Stephen Colbert will host a special show right after next Sunday’s Superbowl on CBS.

Have a wonderful week and don’t forget to watch Grease Live!

PS:

Entertainment Weekly (naturally one of my favourite magazines) does its Oscar preview edition this week.  It’s a great guide to have handy to complete your pre-Academy Award movie viewing and to keep on hand during the show so that you can keep track of the nominees and winners.  Available online and in print.

 

New shows start, old favourites return!

It’s been a chilly weekend here in Naples, but no complaints given what most of the Atlantic seaboard experienced with Winter Storm Jonah.  I enjoyed a wonderful road trip this past week to Clearwater Beach with a quick visit to Indian Rocks Beach.  Gorgeous sunsets and amazing beach walking.  As it was a pretty quiet TV week, I didn’t have too much catching up to do when I came home and fired up the PVR.

There are a number of new shows returning this week, and you might enjoy this NY Post article which references their must watch list:

http://nypost.com/2016/01/24/syfys-the-magicians-has-more-than-tricks-up-its-sleeve/

On my own list of things to watch on TV this week:

Beowulf premiered here on ESQUIRE on Saturday; Black Sails returned here on STARZ on Saturday; The X-Files returns after a very long absence to Fox on Sunday and then will air on Mondays; Suits returns on USA here on Wed. Jan 27; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns to the CW on Monday; ; Lucifer debuts on Fox on Mon.; The Magicians debuts on SYFY here on Monday; Grimm returns to NBC on Fri.; You, Me and The Apocalypse debuts this Thurs on NBC.  Special Note to my musical loving friends:  Grease Live will air on Sunday Jan. 31 on Fox!!!  I am so looking forward to it as it will star Aaron Tveit from Les Miz, Graceland, etc.  If you missed it, catch up with Mercy Street, the civil war drama on PBS Sunday nights.  The first episode was intriguing.  Same for War and Peace, which airs on Monday nights on A&E, Lifetime and History.  Great first episode.

 

My usual TV favourites continued this week:

American Crime gets darker as the crime hits the media and the police appear to take the investigation seriously; Elementary featured a crime that involved computer hacking of a car’s driving system and featured Sherlock’s mysterious dad; Arrow returned to solve the mystery of what happened to poor Felicity after the sudden attack by Dark; The Flash continues its silliness with characters reappearing after a long absence; Shades of Blue gets pretty scary as  Ray Liotta is pretty sure JLo is the mole; The 100 is back with attractive young people fighting for their survival on a hostile post-apocalyptic Earth; Teen Wolf continues with new packs being formed by our favourite teenage werewolf and a renegade band of chimeras; The Expanse looks like its 3 intersecting storylines may be coming together soon.

I did keep up with my favourite comedy/current affairs/talk shows this week:

Trevor Noah did some amazing skewering of Trump and Palin, as did Colbert and best of all Tina Fey returned to SNL to do her best Sarah Palin ever.  Bill Maher may have made his most politically incorrect comment of all time when he blamed the lack of diversity in Hollywood on China’s racism against black performers.  This morning’s CBS Sunday Morning featured a profile of Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling who also got herself into terrible trouble by commenting in the French media on the diversity issue and then backtracking on her statement.

Movies

I finally caught up with Straight Outta Compton.  I have never been a fan of rap music or gangster rap and sadly, this film didn’t really change my mind. Paul Giammatti has become a specialist in playing managers of musical groups and he sports a hilarious wig in this one. Not my thing, so I can’t comment on the Oscars controversy with regard to this film.

Anomalisa is an extraordinary stop motion animation film.  Nominated for an Oscar in the animation category, it is totally adult in concept and execution, and it amazed and mesmerized me in its depiction of a very sad love affair.  David Thewlis’s voice lends this film a melancholic air.  It is touching and fascinating.

The Overnight (available on Netflix) stars Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman. It is a very naughty rollicking modern take on LA Life.  Reminding me of You’re The Worst (on FXX which I love), this film pokes fun at hipsters as it follows a couple who’ve just moved to LA from Seattle through a crazy evening with neighbours which starts out as a playdate for their children and then turns into a very naughty romp reminiscent of Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.  More full frontal male nudity (I believe prosthetic devices are used to hilarious comic effect) than I’ve ever seen in a movie before.

99 Homes (streaming) is a sad little film which is actually a good companion piece to The Big Short in that it tells the story of what happened to the millions of people who lost their homes in the housing crash of 2008.  Set in Orlando, Florida and starring Adam Garfield and Michael Shannon, it is a powerful depiction of how desperate people tried to survive the loss of their homes. Powerful but hard to watch.

I am off to play golf in perfect fall weather (low 60’s but sunny and yesterday’s winds have died down somewhat). Enjoy the week!  I will be off on another road trip.  This time to Fort Lauderdale where I will be forced against my will to watch a Maple Leafs hockey game.  Woo hoo!! Go Leafs go!!!

 

 

 

 

The Countdown continues…

Although it’s been difficult to catch up with some of the foreign film and documentary categories, I have been busy catching up with the best film nominees for the Oscars.  Tonight the Critics’ Choice awards will air on A&E, but last week the Golden Globes aired.  Controversial for their lack of diversity (no awards for black actors, actresses, filmmakers, etc.) the Globes are often a predictor of Oscar success.

Here’s a list of all the Oscar nominees:

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/oscars-2016-complete-list-nominees/story?id=36271826

Films

The Danish Girl, which stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, tells the story of one of the first transsexuals to undergo gender reassignment surgery.  The story is sad and a little long and slow, but both Redmayne and Vikander give beautiful touching performances. Redmayne, who won the Oscar for last year’s performance in The Theory of Everything, is nominated for his leading role and Vikander is nominated for Supporting Actress.

The Revenant starring Leo DeCaprio and Tom Hardy is almost the direct opposite of The Danish Girl.  It is beautifully photographed as it tells the story of a fur trapper in 1820’s US who is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by his fellow hunters.  Filled with scenes of native people fighting for their own survival and our trapper hero fighting for his life against the elements, the film is incredibly powerful in its depiction of how brutal frontier life was. DiCaprio won a Golden Globe for his performance and he is a front runner for the Oscars.

Concussion stars Will Smith as an Nigerian immigrant doctor who fearlessly fights to prove that professional football causes devastating brain injuries.  Although the film bogs down a little in the last 30 minutes, Smith gives a terrific performance which totally convinced me that he was a Nigerian doctor.  He’s come a long way from his Fresh Prince days. He was not nominated for his performance which has caused some controversy. I enjoyed this film far more than I had anticipated and also enjoyed seeing Alec Baldwin in a supporting role as a doctor who assists Smith in his efforts.

Black Mass, which was released in the fall, was egregiously overlooked for award nominations.  Johnny Depp plays Boston career criminal Whitey Bulger and he is completely convincing as a stone cold killer.  His performance is compelling and I was sad to see that he wasn’t nominated in this complicated story of Bulger’s rise and fall.

Inside Out is a Disney Pixar film which tells the story of a young girl whose family moves from the Midwest to San Francisco.  The story is told from the point of view of the girl’s emotions.  I have to admit that I personally found this film to be a cure for insomnia and had one of the best afternoon naps ever while watching it, but my husband who managed to stay awake throughout found it entertaining and compassionate.  I don’t know if I would take a young child to this film as I thought its very complex concepts like memory, subconscious, dreams and imagination were daunting enough for adults to appreciate.  I thought this film was incredibly ambitious and sophisticated for an American animated effort. Pixar has come a long way from Cars (although I loved the Toy Story films, Ratatouille, Up, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Brave, and Wall-E). Those were all films that children and adults could enjoy together.  I’m not so sure if I know any children sophisticated enough for Inside Out.

 

TV

For those of you who are wondering when your favourite shows will return from hiatus in 2016 (e.g. Scandal, Empire, Suits, etc.) and when new shows will appear, here’s a summary from Cinemablend:

http://www.cinemablend.com/television/2016-Midseason-Premiere-Schedule-Dates-Returning-Shows-99687.html

Debuting tonight is Angie Tribeca on TBS at 9 which is a comedy from Steve Carrell which looks like a parody of female-led cop shows like Shades of Blue. Billions also premieres tonight on Showtime in the US and it stars Damian Lewis (Homeland and The Forsyte Saga) as a billionaire hedge fund king and Paul Giammati (Sideways and 12 Years a Slave) as the US Attorney who tries to bring Lewis down. Also tomorrow, watch for War and Peace which will air on A&E, Lifetime and History Channel in the US. Starring Paul Dano (Love and Mercy), Lily James (Downton Abbey and Cinderella) and James Norton (Happy Valley and Grantchester), this 6 part series features yummy period costumes and sumptuous ball scenes.  I’m in!!

The Expanse (on Syfy in the US) continues to intrigue with its 3 storylines in space.  I have been a Thomas Jane fan for ages and think his work as a hardboiled gumshoe in this series is terrific. Also, his haircut is amazing!!

Teen Wolf (on MTV) continues into its 6th season (hey, aren’t those kids getting a little old for high school).  It’s a monsterfest featuring attractive 20-somethings playing high school kids, but I love it anyway.

Izombie (on the CW) had tremendous fun in last week’s episode as our leading zombie lady consulted on a murder on a teen oriented zombie TV series.  Many zombie jokes were made.  Delightful!

Colony debuted this week (on USA) and stars Josh Holloway (from Lost) as a reluctant collaborator in an alien takeover of LA.  Somewhat reminiscent of The Man in the High Castle in its images of a world gone mad, the show depicts an LA that has been walled off (take note Mr. Trump) and where cars are forbidden so that everyone rides bicycles. I loved the pilot episode and look forward to seeing where this series takes us.

Elementary (on CBS) is back.  I so enjoy Jonny Lee Miller as a contemporary Sherlock Holmes.  I honestly don’t care who commits the murders as for me it’s always about Holmes solving the crime in his very idiosyncratic way.  Lucy Liu plays his partner Joan Watson and their relationship is the most entertaining part of the story.

London Spy (BBC America) is a great BBC 5-episode miniseries starting Ben Whishaw (Spectre),  Jim Broadbent (Brooklyn and hundreds of other credits) and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Dexter and hundreds of other credits).  Dark and subtle, it is a murder mystery set within the framework of a romance between two people from very different worlds.  Danny is a participant in the London world of nightclubs and recreational drugs while Alex is from the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service. Very nuanced and layered, it is told within  5 episodes, and this miniseries requires patience and concentration as we follow Danny’s efforts to solve Alex’s murder.

Jekyll and Hyde (10 episode miniseries on CBC from ITV in Britain) is an almost total contrast to London Spy.  Picking up on the story of Jekyll’s grandson and set in the 1930’s it’s almost a joyride through all the tropes of the Jekyll and Hyde story as we follow gentle Dr. Jekyll’s journey from India to England as her tries to find a cure for his “condition”.  Monsters abound!!

Netflix (Only in Canada!)

The Last Kingdom 9 episode miniseries is listed as a Netflix Original.  It aired here in the US on BBC America last autumn and I absolutely loved it.  It is set in 872 when the separate kingdoms of England were fighting the invading Danes.  It tells the story of King Alfred’s efforts to unify the English kingdoms into one country.  The central character is our hero, Uhtred.  Born the son of a Saxon nobleman, he is captured by the Danes and raised as one of their own.  Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, his loyalties are tested.  What is he? Saxon or Dane? On a quest to reclaim his birthright, Uhtred must tread a dangerous path between both sides if he is to play his part in the birth of a new nation and ultimately, recapture his ancestral lands.

For those of you wondering when Netflix will debut more original programming in 2016, here’s a quick reference:

http://decider.com/2016/01/04/netflix-original-series-2016/

Live Theatre

I finally made it to the Fifth Avenue Playhouse, home of community theatre here for The Naples Players.  I saw Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Set in Palm Springs, California in 2004, it is a play that is fierce, funny and compassionate. It references the invasion of Iraq and the political divide that separates Lyman and Polly Wyeth from their two children, Brooke and Trip.  Brooke’s memoir, which threatens to unearth a long buried, controversial chapter from the family’s past shines a spotlight on the role of the writer and where her responsibility lies.  Great performances from a mixed cast of professional and amateur actors. A beautiful little theatre with great sight lines.  Who can ask for anything more?

Other viewing:

The rest of the shows I caught this week are my usual comfort viewing:  The Black List and Shades of Blue (both NBC female-led crime series); The Good Wife (my favourite Network TV Show on CBS; Modern Family and The Middle (both ABC sitcoms that make me laugh); Bill Maher returned to his Friday night HBO series this week and featured Al Gore and concentrated on the Republican leadership race; Saturday Night Live (on NBC) featured Adam Driver who displayed his singing skills  in a sketch based on Aladdin as well as playing off his Tylo Ren character in an Undercover Boss sketch. As I write this, I have just finished watching another great instalment of CBS Sunday Morning (featuring a piece on Leslie Caron one of my favourite musical leading ladies who looks amazing for a lady in her eighties).

I am now watching President Obama’s press conference on CNN about the release of American prisoners  who had been held captive in Iran, while the crawl along the bottom of the screen details the deaths of two mobile home park residents from last night’s tornadoes in Manatee County near Sarasota, Fl (about 100 miles north of us in Naples).  It was a very dark and stormy night here in Naples last night and our power flickered very briefly.  Although we only have two fallen trees on our property, these are scary times when tornadoes occur in southwest Florida due to El Nino for the second time within a matter of days.

Don’t forget to watch the Critics’ Choice awards tonight (A&E at 8) and for goodness sake, go see some of the movies before the Oscars.  Just over a month left  until the big broadcast on Feb. 28!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s awards season!

Tonight the Golden Globes will air on NBC at 8 pm.  As the awards are often a precursor of the Oscars, they are awfully fun to watch.  The attendees sit at dinner tables and copious amounts of alcohol are consumed.  This year British comedian Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras, etc.) will reprise his hosting duties.  He is unpredictable and merciless in his poking fun at the stars.  These awards have long been ridiculed for their lack of expertise in the selection process (presented by the sketchy, mysterious and allegedly sometimes corrupt 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press association) and for the fact that there are far more categories than in the other awards shows and both film and television are honoured. Enjoy! Here are this year’s nominees:

http://www.goldenglobes.com/winners-nominees

I have been catching up with as many films as possible in my Academy Award countdown, so here is my summary of the films I watched this week:

Brooklyn is a wonderful and touching film about a young Irish immigrant to NYC in the early fifties.  Played by the luminous Saoirse Ronan, Eilis falls in love with a very sweet plumber, but when she returns to Ireland for a visit, she must choose between her new life and her old one.  It was an absolute delight to watch this lovely story about ordinary people.  No explosions or lasers in sight!

Creed is a return to the Rocky franchise.  Full disclosure:  I hate boxing and I am not a Sylvester Stallone fan.  Despite my reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  It stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed (illegitimate son of Apollo) who despite his education and relative success in business, is drawn to prove himself as a boxer.  Jordan is mesmerizing in the role and Stallone as his trainer is very appealing.  Again, no CGI in sight.

Steve Jobs stars Michael Fassbender in the title role and Kate Winslet as his long suffering assistant.  Fassbender is magnificent as the thoroughly unlikeable Jobs.  He is also heartbreaking when he reveals the source of Jobs’ incredible dysfunction as a human being.  Full disclosure:  I am not a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing.  I find him incredibly off-putting in his wordy monologues.  However, I was really moved by this film and found it very watchable.  Again, no obvious use of special effects.

Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston as the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.  It’s impossible to take your eyes off Cranston whenever he’s on screen.  Helen Mirren plays the venal Hedda Hopper, a gossip columnist who could destroy careers with the stroke of her pen, and she tears into this role with relish. This movie is an inspiring tale of survival against all odds.  Trumbo’s long suffering wife and family are a big part of this story and their struggles during Trumbo’s long exile from Hollywood are told in an incredibly touching way. No CGI!

Carol is a very delicate tale of an aspiring photographer (played by Rooney Mara) who develops an intimate relationship with an older woman (Cate Blanchett).  Set in the 1950’s, this is a subtle portrayal of relationships with lots of lingering and aching looks between the two characters. Kyle Chandler plays Blanchett’s estranged husband and his attempts to bully Cate into staying in her marriage in order to maintain custody of their daughter are indicative of the lack of understanding of same sex relationships during that period.  Blanchett is transcendent in her performance of a woman struggling to be true to herself.  Mara is delightful as a young woman who is just learning who she is.  Mara really resembles Audrey Hepburn in this film and her vulnerability is sweet and touching.

Carol is my final non-CGI film, although it is likely that special effects were used in recreating all the 1950’s settings for Brooklyn, Trumbo and Carol, one isn’t left wondering how all the amazing settings were achieved.  There has been such a huge trend in Hollywood to create blockbuster franchise films (Avengers. Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Mission Impossible, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men, etc.), that it is a huge relief to celebrate films that tell real stories about real people. These films have a humanity to them that tears at the heartstrings and really engage us on an emotional level.

TV shows available by streaming or On Demand

I caught up with the Lifetime series Unreal this week and binged on all 10 episodes.  This scripted series is a savage satire of the reality show genre.  It shows how scripted and produced shows like The Bachelor are as it creates a world based on a fictional show called Everlasting where a princely British suitor must choose a bride from amongst 10 contestants. It features an unscrupulous show runner, desperate to succeed segment producers, a TV network that demands ratings above all else, etc.  So enjoyable even in its most ludicrous moments. Full disclosure:  I watch almost no reality TV (OK, I love So You Think You Can Dance), but I still enjoyed this show.

Amazon Prime

I also caught up with the Amazon Prime series Red Oaks.  This gentle coming of age comedy is set in the mid-eighties and follows the story of a young assistant tennis pro who tries to navigate his way through country club life in New Jersey.  This is not ground breaking television in the same way that so many other Amazon Prime series have attempted to be (Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, The Man in the High Castle, etc.) but it is a very affectionate look at the coming of age genre.

Network TV

Teen Wolf returned to MTV this week for its 6th season.  I cannot explain my fascination with all things vampire, zombie and werewolf focussed, but I still find this series hugely entertaining in a monster of the week kind of way.  I love the development of the main characters Scott and Stiles, best friends, who strive together to combat all manner of supernatural and human enemies.

The Shannara Chronicles debuted on MTV this week. I was oblivious to the book series that is the source material for this series, but I have to confess that I totally enjoyed this show.  It stars a blue eyed blonde surfer dude as its hero (played by the actor Austin Butler as a half-wit and often referred to by that term) and features all manner of supernatural creatures including elves, trolls, furies, demons, etc. Filmed in New Zealand, it is a combination of the Game of Thrones and Twilight series and features several veterans of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings franchises. I cannot explain my fascination with this type of show, but I did get a kick out of it.

The Expanse continued this week on Syfy in the US (Showcase in Canada). This detective series set in space is reminiscent of Blade Runner and the most recent TV series of Battlestar Galactica.  The themes of this series include climate change and terrorism as it follows the search for a missing heiress by a detective (Thomas Jane) that intersects with the travails of a renegade spaceship officer (Steven Strait) and the machinations of a ruthless Earth politician (Shoreh Aghdashloo).  I have really enjoyed this series so far (I have watched the first 5 episodes) and have found it to be compelling and intriguing viewing.

American Crime Season 2 debuted this week on ABC.  Starring the same all star cast who appeared in last season’s series (Regina King, Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Lily Taylor, etc.), this story begins when shocking photos of a student from an elite private high school are posted on social media; the school’s headmistress tries to maintain the school’s reputation as the victim’s mother reports the rape to the police. Once again, this series deals with issues of race and class, but this year’s setting is within the education system.  It promises to be gritty and confrontational TV, not for the faint of heart.

Shades of Blue (starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta) debuted on NBC this week.  Initially reminiscent of The Shield, which depicted a world of inherent police corruption, Jennifer Lopez is the main character Harlee Santos, a single-mother NYPD officer, who is forced to work in the FBI’s anti-corruption task force, whilst dealing with her own financial problems. I thought the pilot was fairly well done.  It remains to be seen whether this network show can avoid cop show cliches (confession, I am not a fan of shows like Blue Bloods which display a hoary sentimentality when it comes to depicting police stories).

Chicago Fire/Chicago Med are my guilty pleasure shows which I watch for only one reason – their hunky male leads.  I adore Jesse Spencer (Lt. Dawson on CF) as well as Colin Donnell (Dr. Connor Rhodes on CM and formerly on Arrow and The Affair).  I have no other excuse for watching these formulaic and predictable shows.  I am ashamed, truly ashamed. For this same reason (namely watching Ryan Eggold as Tom Keen), I caught up with The Blacklist this week.  So hokey in its depiction of a conspiracy orchestrated by The Cabal!!

I continue to be amused by The Middle and Modern Family (both on ABC on Wednesdays).  I have recorded but not yet watched the latest episode of Supergirl (CBS on Mondays).

Netflix

For those of you still bingeing on Making a Murderer and wondering what to watch next, here’s a list of some other original Netflix shows you might want to catch up on:

https://shar.es/16kzO1

Good luck to those of you who are interested in watching some of this year’s Oscar nominated films. The nominations will be announced at 8:30 am EST on Thursday January 14.  Until then, enjoy the Golden Globes!

 

 

Oscars countdown begins…

I just wanted to get everyone thinking about the Academy Awards show which will air on Sun. Feb. 28.  It is at this time of year that I begin my serious attempt to see all the well reviewed films of the previous year.  We still haven’t watched Brooklyn, Carol, The Danish Girl and many others.  I came across these two wonderful lists on Hitfix.com (one is a video complete with clips from the reviewer’s top ten films and the other is a summary list of his runners-up).  Enjoy the top 10 video and the list of runners-up! (and be prepared to watch a trailer for the new Damian Lewis show that will air on Showtime in the US)

http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/brian-wilson-batkid-and-a-luminous-cate-blanchett-our-runners-up-for-2015

It’s 2016!

January 2016 finds me back in beautiful Naples, Fl. I had the great pleasure of attending a family Bat Mitzvah in lovely Longboat Key last week and then celebrating the New Year watching fireworks on the beach from the vantage point of our favourite French restaurant in Naples (Blue Provence) with our closest friends. The weather here honestly has not been very conducive to watching television (it has been absolutely gorgeous) so we have been busy touring and dining along 5th Avenue in downtown Naples, showing our friends the Naples waterfront homes on a harbour cruise, having sunset cocktails on the Naples beach, and taking a boat tour through some of the mangrove swamps in Everglades National Park and enjoying lunch at the Havana Cafe on Chokoloskie Island. Despite the excitement of entertaining our friends and showing them the area, we managed to sneak in a few TV and Film moments.

Films

Sicario starring Emily Blunt, Benecio del Toro, Josh Brolin; directed by Denis Villeneuve. This action packed thriller is about the attempt by an American war on drugs task force to take down a Mexican cartel leader. It’s suspenseful, dark and gritty, and was not a very Christmassy experience for our family to hunker down and watch but we persevered and would give this film a “meh” rating. Emily Blunt was terrific in it though.

Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro (and Bradley Cooper in a tiny role). Directed by David O. Russell, this true life story of the lady who invented the Miracle Mop is a little peculiar in its frenetic depiction of the chaotic life of Joy Mangano. Jennifer Lawrence seems a little young for her role as a single mom who lives in a bewilderingly mad household encompassing 4 generations who overcomes all obstacles because of her plucky determination. I think there are viewers who either love or hate Russell’s films, and that increasingly, I tend to fit into the hate category. There is something very unconvincing to me in the way this story is told and I was left feeling that it was more of a fable meant to be inspiring than a real story of someone’s life and career.

The Big Short starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt; directed by Adam McKay. Based on the book by Michael Lewis, the film tells the story of the housing credit bubble that led to the financial collapse of 2008. I frankly found the film a little boring. Most of the performances are over the top in their effort to be arch and satirical. I didn’t find this movie much fun to watch (too much sightseeing and alcohol?), but then I was not a big fan of either American Hustle or The Wolf of Wall Street, which attempt to have fun with con men and bad behaviour. Films like this bring out the puritan in me and I hate feeling puritanical and disapproving.

Available for streaming

Amazon Prime

Transparent Season 2 ensemble comedy starring Jeffrey Tambor as the patriarch of the Pfefferman family who is gender transitioning. Season 2 manages to continue both Maura’s transition as well as the story of his family members who are all responding to his journey. In the background to the current story we also see the story of Maura’s German Jewish family from 1934 Berlin to their migration to Los Angeles and Maura’s birth as Mort. The show deals with themes of white male privilege, midlife crisis, sibling relationships, women’s issues, etc. in a sensitive and transcendently funny way. All the characters are seen at their lowest moments, but instead of sarcastic one liners they are all treated with compassion. All three children (and the ex-wife Shelly is played magnificently by Judith Light) are drifting through their lives trying to find happiness. I loved this season even more than Season 1 and found myself shedding a tear in the very last scene. The cast is magnificent and includes Gaby Hoffman as Ali the youngest Pfefferman, Amy Landecker as Sarah the eldest and Jay Duplass as Josh the middle child. Also great performances from Kathryn Hahn as Rabbi Raquel, Carrie Brownstein as Syd, Cherry Jones as Leslie the scary Lesbian gender studies professor, Jenny O’Hara as Maura’s angry sister Bryna, Anjelica Huston as Vicki, Richard Masur as Mendel, and many more. I think this could be the best show on TV!

Mozart in the Jungle Season 2 starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters, Lola Kirke, Jason Schwartzman and many others. This quirky and whimsical ensemble comedy has several far ranging themes:

  • at times it is a magical realist show about a kooky conductor and the musicians who have to put up with him
  • at times it is a goofy comedy about the attempts of the former conductor trying to write his own symphony while scheming to claw his way back into the spotlight
  • sometimes it is a swooning romance about life and love in the big city as it follows the romance of Rodrigo and Hailey
  • sometimes it is a drama about class conflict as the future of the orchestra becomes a struggle between wealthy and powerful board members jockeying for power and the talented but powerless musicians who face a strike which will impoverish them further
  • sometimes it is a dark series about an impending cultural apocalypse where symphonies are not valued and where funding for fine arts may just end as there will be no one left who is interested and the legacy of classical music will not be saved
    Spoiler alert: Season 2 ends on a beautifully hopeful note where the orchestra has a transcendent moment and rises above the day to day struggles of their existence.

Netflix

Making a Murderer is a 10-part documentary that took 10 years to make. It tells the story of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison on a rape conviction before being exonerated by DNA evidence. Avery was released in 2003, only to be sent back to jail two years later for the murder of a young photographer.
There has been a surge of true life crime stories lately including Serial Seasons 1 & 2 on NPR (the current season tells the story of Taliban-captured Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl).

HBO ran The Jinx this past year about the reclusive millionaire Robert Durst and his connection to 3 mysterious deaths.

Making a Murderer deals with the arrest and trials of Steven Avery and his nephew Brandon. Told without a narrator, it relies on interviews and old media reports. It strongly supports the theory that the police fabricated evidence in their investigation and deals with the lack of government accountability as well as the family drama of the Averys. The show is enraging as it deals with many miscarriages of justice and it is deeply sad in its depiction of the tragic lives of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. It will make you mad and very sad, but it is impossible to look away from this story.

For those of you who prefer lists to narrative:

http://decider.com/2016/01/01/new-on-netflix-hulu-amazon-prime-video-hbo-now-january-2016/?_ga=1.87575248.954414554.1382961520

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/the-16-most-intriguing-under-the-radar-films-of2016/article27978645/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/john-doyle-a-peak-at-the-most-intriguing-tv-shows-of-early-2016/article27975080/

http://www.tvfanatic.com/slideshows/12-best-new-shows-of-2015/?utm_campaign=541359148889a7e20800b8c8&utm_source=boomtrain&utm_medium=email&bt_alias=eyJ1c2VySWQiOiIxYmM4MmZiOS1mNGMyLTU2NzItMTAzZS04NWRlNGZlODI3MzgifQ%3D%3D

In my New Years Resolution list, I promise to include a future list of many Netflix options I would recommend. There has been a bit of a lull in programs over the holiday period, but things are starting to speed up. I recorded but haven’t watched the new PBS special Sherlock episode (The Abominable Bride set in Victorian England and which has had abominable reviews) and tonight starts Downton Abbey‘s last season on PBS Masterpiece Theatre. I have seen this last season in its entirety including the Christmas special and found it rather endearing in its tidying up of all narrative loose ends. For those of you who have found the series disintegrating into self parody and repetition, you may enjoy this year’s charity parody:

http://deadline.com/2015/12/downton-abbey-text-santa-charity-video-gordon-ramsay-1201669930/

Until next week, enjoy the winter weather, be it cold or hot, and above all, stay healthy!!