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