Archive | July, 2011

Nurse Jackie: High and Mighty or Angry and Whiny?

29 Jul

Edie Falco as Nurse Jackie

Why does the Showtime original half-hour dark comedy work so well when it defies American audience genre expectations of how a medical show should work?  Normally, American medical dramas are traditionally hour-long shows , although there is the success of the irreverent Scrubs! but American television usually doesn’t do medical comedy.  However, Nurse Jackie is a Showtime product – and they have proven that they don’t follow traditional genre expectations – The Big C, Weeds and Californication  illustrate that Showtime is willing to move beyond conventional narratives and take their audience to the edge and beyond of what we might deem morally acceptable.  What works so well for these shows and Nurse Jackie is the compelling characters that are at once human and despicable.

Is Jackie (Edie Falco) a flawed character?  She’s a seasoned New York City nurse who ingests any painkiller or speed pill available but it’s hard to blame her when forced to identify with her life in the hospital, the demands from her husband and kids, and yes, even her lover.  She’s tough-talking but she has a soft side just when you least expect it.  This is what makes her human.  And fallible.  Her best friend is a wealthy female British surgeon, Dr. Eleanor O’Hara (Eve Best), in her own way, just as tough and emotionally distant as Jackie.  They’re the Thelma & Louise of All Saints’ Hospital.

What makes this show work is the level of quality coming from this Showtime production.  Yes, there is drug abuse, adultery, theft and assault to name a few transgressions that occur every week but it’s the way in which these transgressions occur, how they are handled and resolved that makes this show such a pleasure to watch.  For Jackie Peyton, it’s simply all in a day’s work.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Season 3 Trailer Promo:

WEEDS is back and surprisingly good. Yes. Good.

28 Jul

Nancy Botwin is back

Ok.  It’s not as great as the first couple of seasons, and it’s not as bad as the last couple of seasons.  But, I would argue, Weeds Season 7 is actually good.  Or maybe enjoyable.  Good and enjoyable.  I’ve hesitated to write about it because I’ve been waiting to be let down and disappointed.  I haven’t been. Spoiler Alert from this point:   I was a bit worried with this week’s episode when Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) returns to California to try and get custody of her youngest son, Stevie, the spawn of a now dead Mexican drug lord.  And this week’s episode, “Fingers Only Meat Banquet,” was probably the weakest so far, mostly because I don’t really care about Nancy as a mother, I only care about her as a drug dealer.  Yes, I know.  That’s part of the reason she became a drug dealer was to take care of her family, but knowing Nancy’s character, I’d be willing to bet that even if she didn’t have a family to support, she would have become a drug dealer anyway.

I’ve always felt Silas (Hunter Parrish) and Shane (Alexander Gould) tended to be secondary characters in terms of Nancy’s motivations and the show became much weaker when she tried to keep the family as a unit.  Nancy is a narcissist.  When she starts to act too maternal or caring, it doesn’t work.  I wish Jenji Kohan and her staff would keep their eyes on the prize.  Because it’s when Nancy acts out of character for plot’s sake that their show falls apart. What I liked about the start of this season is that Nancy is selfish.  Yes, she’s always selfish but she’s really out for herself and she feels like the old Nancy.  She might not be in Agrestic, but plopping her down in Washington Heights (in Queens) at a halfway house is certainly more compelling to Ren Mar and the Winnebago from the last couple of seasons.

We see the aftermath of Nancy going to prison for three years.  Silas, Shane and Andy (Justin Kirk) – even Doug (Kevin Nealon) have managed to survive without her.  Nancy is still Nancy.  Complete with checking into her halfway house, making contact with an obvious outlaw, and retrieving a suitcase full of stolen explosives from a car trunk by the end of the first episode.  No, Nancy does not become a terrorist this season as far as I know.  She wants to go back to dealing.  And if you haven’t watched yet, start watching because at the end of the ‘fingers’ episode, some of the old cast will be reunited with Nancy and Silas (who is now her partner in drug-dealing crime).  It feels like the old Weeds might be back.  I just hope it stays that way.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Weeds Season 7 Promo:

Breaking Bad: Box Cutter Season 4 Premiere Review

28 Jul

Vince Gilligan is on top of his game, again, writing some of the best TV out there.  It’s hard to believe I ever shied away from this show worried that because the main character was dying of cancer that I would find it too depressing.  Instead, what I found (thanks to a friend convincing me to watch the series), was one of the most compelling character dramas I’ve ever watched on TV.  I don’t say that lightly as I am one of the most critical individuals you will ever meet (just ask friends, family, former students, former exes…).  It takes a lot to impress me and even more to make me a rabid fan of any show, but Vince Gilligan has managed this with his brilliantly crafted show, Breaking Bad.

Spoiler Alert from this point forward… If you aren’t familiar with the show, I suggest you go to iTunes and start downloading.  You won’t be sorry.  We follow the tale of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher, stricken with cancer who needs to find a way to provide for his family when he’s gone.  He discovers that cooking crystal meth with his chemical knowledge, allows him to make such a high grade of the drug it becomes the most popular type in New Mexico, earning Walter a new job title.  Or at least part-time job title.  He teams up with a former student, who uses, deals, and essentially desperately needs to get his act together, Jesse Pinkman.  The drama ensues as these two pursue their new career trajectory.

By the time we reach Season 4, Walter and Jesse have been tested in more ways than is imaginable.  And why is Walter still alive?  He went into remission after going through chemotherapy.  So, Walter and Jesse are alive, but they’re constantly having their lives threatened.  I suppose this is completely realistic if one is a meth cooker/dealer on the rise in any place.  We begin in a disoriented state because, Gale, the cook/chemist that Jesse had to kill in order to save their lives at the end of Season 3, is alive.  And we are back in time, on Gale’s first day working for Gus, setting up the specialized cook lab.  Gale’s as excited as any kid on their first day of school (for kids who actually liked school and that sure wasn’t me).  Then suddenly we flash forward to the present and we see Gale dead, and the aftermath of the shooting.  Victor shows up, trying to do some damage control for Gus but it’s too late, the neighbors are there and he can’t do anything so he leaves.

In the meantime, Walter and Jesse are being held at the lab by Mike, the hitman/fixer for Gus.  Once Victor arrives and confirms the death of Gale, arrangements are made and Gus makes arrangements to visit the lab – the event everyone is waiting for.  Victor, cocky and highly self-assured is forced to admit to Mike that the neighbors saw him enter the apartment but they assumed he was just a curious by-stander.  Yeah right.  Victor doesn’t seem to understand the consequences of his actions so he proceeds to show Walter and Jesse they are both still expendable because he knows their recipe.  He starts cooking a batch of meth.  Gus shows up.

Now, we obviously know at least Walter, if not both he and Jesse, have to survive to keep the show going.  What we don’t know, however, is how Gus is going to deal with the situation.  Things don’t look like they’re on the upswing when Gus doesn’t speak.  And here is a bold, effective writing choice from Vince Gilligan.  Gus’ silence is far more effective in this scene than any words that could come from him.  It’s the old saying:  actions speak louder than words.  So we get to watch as Gus silently changes into a cook/hazmat protection suit, grabs a box cutter, moves past Walter and Jesse, then Mike to finally arrive at his victim:  Victor.  We all know what’s coming, and boy does it come… Gus slits Victor’s neck with the box cutter and all of us, characters and audience alike, are forced to watch Victor bleed out until he’s dead.  Then Gus tells them to get to work.  And clean up the mess.  Luckily for Walt and Jesse, there are plastic barrel and gallons of hydrofloric acid.  We won’t be seeing Victor again.

What’s so compelling about this episode happens at the end.  Walt and Jesse must decide how they will proceed.  It’s clear they are expendable.  It’s clear Gus wants them dead.  It’s only a matter of time until he acts again.  How are they going to react?  They ponder this over a Denny’s breakfast.  At least they know where to find some of the best comfort food in Albuquerque.

This season, these two will be pushed to their limits as characters.  I have a feeling Denny’s will get a lot of repeat business.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Breaking Bad Season 4 Premiere Trailer:

True Blood: I’m Alive and On Fire

26 Jul

Eric and Sookie grow closer

If I can say nothing else about this week’s True Blood episode, I can tell you this is a cautionary tale for all vampires who cannot control their intake of faerie blood.  No vampire wants to go off the rails like Eric, ending up in a crocodile infested lake, having to be rescued by a werewolf and a half-faerie that you are in love with.  Poor Eric.  Actually, lucky Eric.  Because all this vulnerable behavior is making Sookie fall for him.  I, for one, am excited.  I’ve been waiting for the Sookie/Eric pairing since we first met him.  He is the ultimate bad boy, but even as the most maladjusted women know, when the bad boys are as bad as Eric, there is just no point getting involved.  Only fang-banger girls bother with him as they realize they are only a distraction and a snack.  Sookie has her standards; however, we are going to watch those standards lower dramatically due the spell Marine indirectly cast on Eric.  There is nothing more appealing than seeing a bad boy vulnerable.  If you don’t believe me, watch Rebel Without A Cause then we can talk.  The most satisfying moments come toward the end of the episode, when two key events happen that alert us where Sookie’s feeling and alliances stand; the almost kiss between Eric and Sookie that gets interrupted by none other than Bill, and Sookie lying to Bill about Eric’s whereabouts and refusing to let him search the house.  I am hoping this relationship will be a million times hotter than the one with Sookie and Bill.  We all know it certainly won’t ever be a healthy one!

Speaking of unhealthy relationships, Jason is having quite a time in HotShot.  He’s tied to a bed, essentially being mounted by every female in the place to get pregnant, he’s used and humiliated.  I don’t know why I’m enjoying watching this so much.  I guess it’s payback for an entire lifetime of seeing women tied up and raped in films and TV.  Finally!!!  I especially enjoy how used he feels.  And the use of the Mexican viagra explains why he can still perform even if he isn’t personally, um, excited, by the situation.  Two perverse and poignant events happen in this scene.  The first is when one of the women is ‘raping’ Jason and after he — makes his deposit — he orders her to get off of him and she begins crying.  This scene contains my favorite line in the episode by Jason:  “I don’t know why you’re cryin’.  I’m the one gettin’ raped.”  I felt sorry for the woman, nobody wants to be mounted by her ‘brother-husband’ and get bitten on the back of her neck while being held down even if they are werepanthers.  I thought Jason could have been a slightly bigger man at that moment and said, “Oh climb on and have another go.”  But nope.  He didn’t.  Then he had to deal with an even bigger problem.  The young girl in HotShot who looks about 13 who was supposed to lose her virginity with him.  Jason manages to stop the situation, telling her that her first time should be with a boy that brings her candy and flowers.  Uh, Jason, you need to wake up.  I’d love to believe there are teenage boys out there like that (ok, I know there are, I’m just highly jaded at this point),  but I’m fairly certain she’s not going to find that in HotShot.  Nothing like feeding a young girl a pack of lies about how her first time should be.  Raising her expectations like that.  I doubt any werepanther girl has a shot at candy and flowers at any point.

Later, after Jason makes his escape, and manages to kill Felton with a makeshift weapon he’s crafted, Crystal appears.  He threatens to kill her as well.  Jason fails to see that he’s technically now second-in-command of the incest-ridden clan in HotShot.  He does seem to do a better job taking care of them than anything else so far on the show.  While Jason melts down with his burgeoning new identity, Crystal embraces the power and title (“I’m Big Mama Kitty now”).  Suddenly Crystal’s sexual choice for both love and breeding has allowed her to ascend into the equivalent of perverted inbred royalty in the backwoods of Louisana.  Congratulations, Crystal.  All sarcasm aside, I’m looking forward to watching Crystal’s character evolve now that she’s attained a new status.  A lack of education with a powerful role can sometimes be dangerous, depending on the individual’s psychological makeup.  I’m not sure how a werepather’s motivations will fit in.

Bill has a little incest drama of his own.  It turns out that Portia, the lawyer he’s been sleeping with, is actually his great-great-great-great granddaughter.  Oops.

Arlene and Terry have their hands full with the devil baby.  It’s newest addition to creepy behavior:  drawing the phrase on the wall in magic marker :  baby not yours.  Now even Terry is freaked out.

Hoyt and Jessica find Jason on the side of the road, presumably dying.  Jessica makes him drink some of her blood to heal.  Hmmm.  We all know what happens once you ingest a vampire’s blood like that.  Looks like Jessica might be getting some wannabe werepanther action sometime in the near future.

Sam goes to the shapeshifter slut’s house and meets her little girl.  They all play Barbies then later shapeshifter slut reveals her daughter’s father is a werewolf and he’s still got a thing for her (the slut, not the daughter – there’s already too much incest in this particular episode!).  I bet Sam will be getting beaten up very soon.  In the meantime, Sam’s brother stupidly goes back to the mom’s trailer and ends up getting kidnapped by his own parents.  Dear HBO creative execs:  Please tell Alan Ball to do something with this storyline.  Please?

Lafayette, Jesus and Tara go to Marnie with Pam’s demand:  to lift the curse/spell off Eric.  Once they finally figure out what spell they must use, Pam joins them.  Instead of her supervising or being able to bring Eric good news, Marnie/her witch spirit ends up putting a curse on Pam and part of Pam’s face rots off.  I kind of felt bad for her.  I like Pam.  She is loads more interesting than the witch crew.  Maybe they will end up burning up in a fire?  I know.  I know.  We are stuck with them until the end of the season.  I’m sure the rest of the show will heat up.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Click here for HBO promo “Inside the Episode”

 

Rubber: this tire should be shredded and burnt

24 Jul

The only reason I actually watched this film, Rubber (2010), was because it was a selection in Phillip DeFranco‘s movie club, Like Totally Awesome.  I figured this was a way for me to watch some films I might not have heard of or never got to.  Well… I’m wishing I never heard of this film and I’ve got to say this was the longest hour and a half that I’ve endured for awhile.  I think my root canals have been less painful to endure.  Maybe even getting my teeth pulled while awake with not enough novocaine.

This movie is about Robert, a psychic tire that goes on the lam (if you can call it that when a tire goes on a killing spree and is on the run from the cops) and kills everything and anything that crosses its path except an attractive girl.  “He” almost kills her but fate intervenes at the last moment.  Their paths cross a bit later at a seedy motel where she conveniently leaves her front door open as well as the bathroom door so she can take a shower and I suppose, let anyone who would like, watch.  Because that is completely logical.  I know that when I stay at a seedy motel in the desert that’s the first thing I do.

The director of this cinematic atrocity, Quentin Dupieux, is actually a French record producer, DJ, composer and songwriter.  Dupieux also likes to go by Mr. Oizo.  Okay.  Whatever.  I’d like to give Dupieux some credit, and if he’d just made the straight horror film with the psychic pathological killing tire, I might have actually enjoyed it.  An inanimate object as a protagonist who kills is a clever idea.  Yes, it has been done before but not with something as mundane as a tire (to the best of my cinematic knowledge).

My issue with this film comes with the other half of it.  Dupieux decided to get fancy.  To try and flaunt his cinematic knowledge of audiences/spectators and how they function in a film.  Hitchcock (Rear Window, 1954 and Vertigo, 1958) and Powell (Peeping Tom, 1960) did it on a level that doesn’t warrant Dupieux worthy enough to exist in the same milieu.  However, he tried to insert himself there by invoking the avant-garde and the French New Wave into the mix by having his character speak to the audience in the film and the audience off-screen.  Now, that could be forgiven on its own.  I’ll chalk it up to an over-zealous love of film theory (I’m sure I’m giving him more credit than he deserves).   What I believe is a giant cinematic faux-pas is that he informs us we will be watching a film that doesn’t happen for any reason then proceeds to justify that his ‘film’ doesn’t need to have any reason, using examples from blockbuster films as if his could ever hope to attain that status.  Here’s a piece of advice to you Dupieux:  audiences don’t need to be told they are watching crap.  They can figure it out for themselves.

I’m sure Dupieux feels he is a highly intellectual and clever filmmaker because this film was shown at Cannes.  I just think that a worthy film that could have been made got the shaft and yet another piece of shlock is out there, taking up space.  I find it a sad commentary on who is financing films and what they are thinking.  Because whoever financed this film must have been high on crack.  And that’s me being kind.  Oh, and if you ever watch this film, you would probably be better off watching it high on crack as I can tell you right now, watching it on sinus medicine isn’t enough.

You can watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Trailer for Rubber:

The trailer is better than the film.

 

Tabloid: Sex scandals, bondage and mormons

23 Jul
Tabloid Movie Poster

Tabloid Movie Poster

I always think I am not a huge fan of documentaries.  Actually, it isn’t the documentaries themselves.  Once you get me to the movie theater, or I am forced to watch one for research, or in the old days (I absolutely refuse to use the phrase ‘back in the day’ – I hate it), a class, I usually like them, but the idea of them bores me.  I blame my father.  I will always associate documentaries with my most hated TV show growing up on Sunday nights before 60 MinutesMutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  I was forced to watch that show for years.  Years.  I hated every second of it.  It’s not that I don’t like animals but I hate watching them kill each other.  I don’t care if that’s how it is.  I can know that’s how it is, I don’t have to watch it every week.  Boy was I happy when that show ended.

So I avoided documentaries like the plague.  I grew to appreciate French documentaries since I saw so many in graduate school but that’s where my appreciation and great knowledge ended.  It was with a bit of trepidation that I went with a friend to go see Errol Morris‘ new film Tabloid last week.  She suggested that or an old Dennis Hopper movie but Tabloid was shorter and I always have to take the train schedule back to Connecticut into account when doing anything past 9pm in New York City.  So… Tabloid it was.  As soon as the film started, I knew we’d made the right choice.  I am very rarely entranced by a film from the beginning but this story was so outrageous that I was hooked in the first minute.

Tabloid recounts the 1980s media frenzy (mostly in the UK) surrounding the ‘manacled Mormon.’  Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary, who went to England was pursued by his girlfriend.  She allegedly ‘kidnapped’ him, tied him up spread-eagled to a bed in a rented cottage and proceeded to seduce him with fried chicken and back rubs then they had sex for three days.  He and the Mormons claimed rape.  Joyce McKinney, the alleged perpetrator, claims she flew to England to rescue Mr. Anderson because he had been brainwashed by the Mormons.  Although she may be a bit of a pathological liar, McKinney is a constant source of entertainment.  She explains a woman raping a man is like someone trying to ‘stuff a marshmallow in a parking meter’.   The narrative of McKinney’s exploits unfolds through several points of view:  her own, tabloid reporters’ at the time including Peter Tory, a gay activist who was once a Mormon, and a number of other individuals who played roles in McKinney’s life or her schemes.  These accounts are edited together with tabloid excerpts, archival news footage, cartoons, drawings – essentially any media which might enhance the story and make the audience member question the narrative unfolding.

Morris uses his signature camera/rig/setup the Interrotron to interview his subjects.  The Interrotron is a device that allows for a direct first person interview, essentially with Morris as the Interviewer AND the camera instead of a traditional 60 Minutes or news style interview where the reporter/interviewer and the subject sit together and don’t necessarily face the camera.  Morris believes his device allows for a more telling interview – the viewer is in the same position as the camera/interviewer, therefore, we are supposed to experience the tale as it unfolds, with our subject looking at us, the audience, in the eye, instead of the old style where they look the interviewer/reporter in the eye and we watch.  Basically, this means we are one step closer to experiencing what the filmmaker experiences, in a sort of dual position, that of director and audience member at once.

Whether you believe Joyce McKinney is guilty of kidnapping and rape or not, this movie is worth seeing.  It was one of the most entertaining stories I’ve ever heard and honestly, I don’t care if she’s nuts, she entertained me.  And if this film and McKinney don’t entertain you, then you should get your head examined.  I might even buy the DVD.  I don’t think I even own a documentary on DVD that I haven’t, ummm, recorded for educational purposes.

Trailer for Tabloid:

My Vlog Review:

Falling Skies: LOL

23 Jul

I made it through 9 minutes and 44 seconds of Falling Skies and was certain I’d been watching for at least an hour.  Am I supposed to care that the aliens have taken the children of Earth and put metal harnesses on them?  Am I supposed to say, Oh!!! It’s Noah Wylie from ER.  I must watch this!  Or am I supposed to just lie back and take one for the team because Steven Spielberg is the executive producer?  I like science fiction if it’s done well.  Not if its so full of cliches I feel like the show would have worked better as some sort of SciFi parody.  Well, at least one good thing came out of this… I get a free hour every week for TV I can enjoy.

You can also go to YouTube and watch my vlog review.

The trailer is a bit more exciting:

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