I’m excitedly awaiting the return of some favourite series, and the debuts of some new ones. Here are some of my thoughts and reactions to these shows, as well as a few recommendations from the big screen, streaming and Netflix.
At the Movies
Hello, My name is Doris is a sweet little film I finally caught up with at my local repertory cinema, The Kingsway. Starring Sally Field and Max Greenfield (New Girl), it is about a sixty-something woman who is inspired by a self-help seminar to pursue her younger co-worker. Kind of a Harold and Maude for the millennials. Sally Field is absolutely charming as Doris.
Hail Caesar is an affectionate tribute to 1950’s Biblical epics, Gene Kelly musicals, Esther Williams swimming extravaganzas and every hard boiled noir film ever made. It has an all star cast that includes Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, etc. It features a young actor named Alden Ehrenreich (a Francis Ford Coppola discovery soon to play Han Solo, and he will star in 3 major films in the next year) who is absolutely endearing as a singing cowboy who is forced to star in a drawing room comedy directed hilariously by Ralph Fiennes who is channeling George Cukor. His elocution lessons with the cowboy star are uproarious.
If you love unabashedly patriotic American action/war films, then 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, is the film for you. During an attack on a US compound in Libya, a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos. It stars John Krasinski (The Office), Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black), James Badge Dale (The Pacific, Rubicon), Max Martini (Captain Phillips, Revenge), and David Costabile (a great character actor who has played more than his fair share of failed CIA station chiefs and shady characters). This film is very reminiscent of Black Hawk Down, another film where elite US soldiers fight for their lives in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily armed militia in a part of the world where they don’t belong.
On a much lighter note, I watched 5 episodes of The Indian Doctor (a 2010 daytime British soap opera highly recommended by an Anglophile friend) and found it to be sweet but a little plodding and melodramatic. Exactly how soaps are supposed to be!! (alas, poor Nashville, how I will lament your passing, however, you have apparently been rescued by CMT).
I finished watching Bloodline Season 2. So dark and noir as all the characters descend into a downward spiral as the son of Danny Rayburn (the black sheep of Season 1) comes home to meet the Rayburns. Played by Owen Teague, the casting of Nolan Rayburn is masterful as he appears to be the second coming of his father Danny (played by Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn in several flashbacks). It ends with a cliffhanger, so hang on for Season 3.
London Spy has already aired on BBC Canada, but it is now available on Netflix for those of you who missed it. It’s a very demanding look at espionage and requires absolute concentration, but it rewards with its star turns by Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and the still alluring Charlotte Rampling. John Doyle loved this series:
As I usually leave this category until the end of the blog where it truly is an afterthought, I decided to give it a little more profile today. I watched an episode of The Passionate Eye called President Trump: Can He Really Win? (now available on CBC.ca). This British doc is more terrifying than any horror film. I am desperately sad about the prospect of a Trump presidency, so watch at your own risk. It is impossible to look away from this developing debacle. Vice (on HBO) is worth honourable mention in this category as it deals with incredibly tough topics, e.g. The Heroin Crisis in the US, The Nuclear Arms Arsenal of the US, The Flint water crisis, The Rise of ISIS in Libya, etc. The reporting is fearless as the Vice staff put themselves in incredibly dangerous situations in order to get their stories.
CBS Sunday Morning (which I watch religiously every Sunday morning as I write this blog) is always my moment of Zen. This morning’s show has dealt with the history of shark attacks, Hamilton the Broadway hit, Sean Hayes (Will and Grace), Great Sand Dunes National Park, interracial marriage, James Corden brings “Carpool Karaoke” to Broadway with The Tony Awards, etc. It’s a show that saves my soul and my sanity with its gentle examination of news events, popular culture, history, the arts, etc.
Both networks are showing Season 2 of Unreal, the Peabody award winning dramedy series that takes a behind the scenes look at the making of a fictional reality show loosely based on The Bachelor. Full disclosure: I watch almost no reality programming (OK, I confess to watching So you think you can dance, but only for the final episodes, never for the introductory casting episodes of the show where delusional people audition with very poor dancing skills). Unreal is raw, cynical and boldly sexual. It shows how these shows manipulate everyone involved in their production and how this supposed “reality” is totally written, cast, and produced by an unscrupulous production team that will stop at nothing in its drive for ratings.
13 is a very dark British mystery series which tells the story of Ivy Moxam who escapes her kidnapper after 13 years of being held captive. Piecing back together the version of family life that existed before is no easy task. This series is very similar to The Family (starring Joan Allan) that aired on ABC earlier this year. Both series look at the possibility that the returned child may not be who they say they are.
This network is running two new original series. The Preacher is a wild and crazy look at a preacher with supernatural powers; Feed the Beast is a contemporary hipster look at two old friends’ attempt to open a gourmet restaurant in the Bronx and is starring David Schwimmer and Tom Sturgess. John Doyle was underwhelmed by the debut episode:
Hell on Wheels has returned to AMC on Saturday nights. This thrilling adventure series follows the story of Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier and slaveholder, who follows the track of a band of Union soldiers, the killers of his wife. This brings him to the middle of one of the biggest projects in US history, the building of the transcontinental railroad. This season opens with his confrontation with his series long nemesis, Thor Gundersen, who has decided to wreak revenge on Bohannon’s new homesteading family.
The American West follows Hell on Wheels and is a look at the real history of the American West. I have recorded the first episode, but haven’t had a chance to watch yet.
The Americans drew its last breath of the season this past week and ended on a cliffhanger note. The two Soviet agents posing as a typical American family seem to be backed into a corner as their FBI pursuers are closing in on them. This subtly nuanced show is a very adult show that depicts the lengths this couple is willing to go to to carry out their mission. Elizabeth Jennings is the hardcore Russian agent, whereas Philip is much more conflicted about their mission.
John Doyle has a couple of articles focused on upcoming summer programming:
Outcast is a series that deals with demonic possession. John Doyle was very impressed:
I am still enjoying HBO’s Sunday night lineup of Game of Thrones, Veep, Silicon Valley, Sensitive Skin, Penny Dreadful and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Truly an embarrassment of riches requiring very careful PVR management.
The Tony Awards airs tonight and is hosted by the very lovable James Corden. It looks like Hamilton will get a lot of love, but look for the other musicals and plays that are on Broadway this season. We are spending a mini-holiday in NYC in Sept. and I am looking forward to seeing as many plays as I can that week.
Into this category I put Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Real Time with Bill Maher, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. All these shows are having great fun with the run up to the 2016 election, and god knows, we need to find the humour in this presidential race.
As I was watching my Sunday morning show that always calms me and inspires me, the show was preempted by news of the latest mass shooting in Orlando, Fl. At this point, 50 people have died, making it the worst mass shooting in US history. There are no words to express the sorrow and horror that this incident is causing. Americans will hopefully look at the availability of automatic weapons that can result in this type of carnage. Sadly, this type of incident has become so commonplace, that it may not even cause the public to re-examine the conditions that led to this tragedy. It has already been blamed on terrorism linked to ISIS, and so will cause the media to look outward rather than into the American gun laws that precipitate these mass shootings. Unbearably sad.