October 4, 2015

Fall TV: Good TV, Bad TV...

The cold weather is creeping up on us, kids are back in school, the summer of sunshine and outdoor exercise is over... it's Fall TV Season!

Despite the reinvention of TV with players like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu (the latter not in Canada, so no Mindy Project here anymore, dammit...) the big networks still do all their big launches in the fall to cash in on increased viewership.

While I am enjoying or awaiting the arrivals of many old favourites like The Big Bang Theory, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and The Good Wife, have also checked out several of the new shows. Here's my first impressions... let me know what you are watching and liking:

The Good

Mysterious woman with amnesia and super spy skills just appears, entire body covered in tattoos each of which is a clue to something.... sure it makes no sense, but its entertaining as hell with strong actors who make me want to watch more.

A soapy spy thriller with a strong female lead --- sure it's a Shonda Rhimes rip off, but still may have legs...

Scream Queens
The bitchy stepdaughter of Glee and American Horror Story... needs a bit more funny, but this next generation Heathers is lots of fun.

John Stamos as John Stamos, with a surprise son and granddaughter... gets the blend of sweet and funny just right. Liked the pilot more than expected to.

The Bad

The Daily Show With Trevor Noah
Sure they are impossible Jon Stewart shoes to fill, but based on the first week Noah needs more funny and less smug, plus better interview skills... Colbert and Seth Myers are doing the same gig way better.

Life In Pieces
All star comedy with the prime perch right after Big Bang... and I literally fell asleep during the first episode. Boring...

Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris
I like the super-talented NPH a lot, but this weird variety show is clunky and unfunny. And has a weird stalking thing going on.

The Really Bad

Minority Report
Bad sci-fi, this next generation spin off to the Tom Cruise movie is predictable, not suspenseful, and the premiere spent more time zooming in on the female lead's boobs than it did ensuring had a decent plot. Garbage.

Another sci-fi movie spin-off, this one to a mediocre Bradley Cooper movie about a pill that enhances your brain power. Based on the pilot, Limitless is just a low budget retread of the movie... so why did they bother?

Still to check out -- Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Blood & Oil, the new Muppets... what are you watching?

April 29, 2015

Candice Bergen's Fine Romance...

I have been a fan of Emmy winner Candice Bergen since her iconic Murphy Brown days, and loved her first autobiography Knock Wood in the 80s, so was all geared up for her new one, A Fine Romance.

This book did not disappoint - I read it cover to cover (okay, screen to screen) in a day on our recent vacation. A Fine Romance, like its author, is smart and funny and brutally honest, and can be dishy and insider-y without being mean or trashy.

A Fine Romance starts with Bergen in her 30s, when she met and married the much older French director Louis Malle, up to the present day, through her unusual international marriage, films like Gandhi, the high profile Murphy Brown years, the birth of her only child, Malle's death, her remarriage, plastic surgery, life in Hollywood, aging, and more, with total candour and great wit.

The book is smart and honest and funny, and despite her WASP queen looks, Hollywood and Swiss boarding school upbringing, money and fame, Bergen comes across like a real live person with typical guilt, embarrassment, loves, hopes, and disappointments.

Bergen, who made headlines recently for admitting she's gained weight because she loves to eat, describes with humour her perpetual surprise at the indignities aging slings at us. She writes of being stranded atop a bike after a spinning class when she couldn't figure out how to unlock from the pedals; of her post-age-60 hair, "which seems to be somebody else's hair: I think Golda Meir's"; and about her mouth "which has grown so thin it cannot be found by the naked eye."

This big will be on lots of year-end "best" lists... catch it before then!

April 26, 2015

Alfred The Havanese Furball Turns 8...

Our fur baby Alfred is actually a senior citizen in doggie years... 
Happy 8th birthday to the cutest dog ever with his many nicknames: Alfie, the little dude, Ewok, Have-Many-Needs the Havanese, furball, Alfredo, eggplant, Alfie-poop!

Alfred is celebrating with a nap. 

And likely some peanut butter...

April 7, 2015

Great Netflix Find: LILTING...

I was excited to find Lilting as a new addition on Netflix Canada last week, and this little indie British film was a great find.

I had heard of Lilting last year when it came out, largely because it stars Ben Whishaw, the out actor who has a supporting role as Q in the Daniel Craig James Bond movies.

This is a cross-cultural bilingual drama about love and loss and family and coming out and homophobia across generations and cultures.

In Lilting, Whishaw is Richard, a young gay man in London whose long-time boyfriend Kai dies suddenly. Kai, who was Chinese, had never introduced Richard to his family, who he had never really come out to. Overwhelmed by loneliness and grief, Richard reaches out to Kai's mother Junn who speaks no English and did not know or at least did not acknowledge that her son was gay.

Richard hires a translator and bulldozes his way into Junn's life. Their respective griefs and slowly negotiating some kind of rapport are touching and heartbreaking.

While not always really plausible -- such as when Richard wants Junn to move in with him --this is a simple quiet elegant movie, always touching and sometimes witty and even sexy. 

This flick more than works due to Whishaw's tender and powerful performance as a man hit so hard by grief he becomes angry and fragile... look for Lilting.

March 25, 2015

An evening with Rosanne Cash...

Crossed one off the bucket list this week...

We saw Rosanne Cash live in concert on Monday, and she did not disappoint.

The singer-songwriter defines music category labels, having started with country in the 70s before going pop in the 90s and more folk/Americana in recent years, winning 3 Grammy awards this February for her most recent album The River & The Thread.

The daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash is known for country hits like Seven Year Ache and Tennessee Flat Top Box, and also delivered lesser known pop albums in the 90s, including one of my all-time favourite albums of any genre, The Wheel; she has had a resurgence lately with The List (country classics inspired by her father) and the southern-themed The River & The Thread.

Cash has also written several books including a terrific autobiography Composed.

Her show Monday was about musicianship not spectacle; the first half of the show was with Cash and her five-man ensemble performing the new album in its entirety, in sequence, which worked beautifully as it ties together as a diary of travels in the south, with musical meditations on family and history and faith and country and blues and the strangeness of the south. 

The second half of the show was a sampling of her hits, plus a sparse beautiful cover of Ode To Billy Joe (she talks about its setting at the Tallahatchie Bridge when introducing her current music).

With her rich voice and playful personality, Cash is a treat to see live as she tells stories and links the songs together into a tapestry of her life. I recommend her tour highly... and if you can't see her, check out her music especially The Wheel or The List.

March 22, 2015

Kerry Washington's Amazing GLAAD speech

At last night's GLAAD media awards in Los Angeles Scandal star Kerry Washington received the Vanguard Award for her support as a powerful LGBT ally and brought the audience to its feet with an inspiring fiery speech; I saw it posted on YouTube this morning and now love her even more....

"We need more LGBT representation in the media. We need more LGBT characters and more LGBT storytelling. We need more diverse LGBT representation. And by that, I mean lots of different kinds of LGBT people living all different kinds of lives. And this is big — we need more employment of LGBT people in front of and behind the camera."
"There are people in this world who have the full rights of citizenship in our communities our countries and around the world, and then there are those of us, who to varying degrees, do not. We don’t have equal access to education, to health care, and some other basic liberties – like marriage, a fair voting process, fair hiring practices. Now you would think that those of us who are kept from our full rights of citizenship would ban together and fight the good fight. But history tells us that, no, often we don’t... Women, poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, intersex people, we have been pitted against each other and made to feel that there are limited seats at the table for those of us who fall into the category of other."
She went on to call out the hypocrisy of marginalized communities turning on one another throughout her speech and encouraged those groups to support one another rather than rejecting "the other other."  
"So when black people today tell me that they don't believe in gay marriage… the first thing that I say is please don't let anybody try to get you to vote against your own best interests by feeding you messages of hate. And then I say, you know people used to say stuff like that about you and your love. And if we let the government start to legislate love in our lifetime, who do you think is next?" 
"We can't say that we believe in each other’s fundamental humanity and then turn a blind eye to the reality of each others existence and the truth of each other’s hearts. We must be allies. And we must be allies in this business because to be represented is to be humanized. And as long as anyone, anywhere is being made to feel less human, our very definition of humanity is at stake and we are all vulnerable."

March 19, 2015

Agatha Christie's Poirot... Born Again!

I grew up on Agatha Christie mysteries, those archetypal proper British whodunit's set in pre-war country estates and upscale houses; shortly after I graduated from Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys, my grandfather introduced me to the Agatha Christie mysteries and they became my favourites. 

Christie, who died in 1976 at age 85, is the world's best selling author having sold more than two billion copies in more than a hundred countries (holy crap, that's a lot).

While we've seen many relaunches of novels and book series, from Sherlock Holmes to James Bond to Gone With The Wind, the heirs of Agatha Christie never allowed anyone to touch her detective Hercule Poirot... until late last year.

The new bestseller The Monogram Mysteries, by Sophie Hannah, is the first new Hercule Poirot book since Christie's finale Curtain was published in 1976. And it was worth the wait.

Monogram begins with a grisly triple murder in 1929 London, where three corpses are found in three different rooms, each with a monogrammed cufflink in their mouth. Hannah's Poirot does all the right Christie-ish things, working with and working around the police to discover what really happened.

The book has the intricacy if maybe not the brevity of vintage Christie. On its own this is a sparkling mystery, and any non-Christie-esque voice is explained by a new narrator as Poirot's new sidekick.

Even if you haven't read earlier Poirot novels, give this one a shot... I'm already looking forward to the next one, and am going to check out other novels by Hannah...

March 10, 2015

Netflix discovery 'Every Day' ...

Sharing a Netflix discovery... Helen Hunt and Live Schreiber in Every Day, a 2010 flick I had never heard of and that should have gotten more attention than it did.

Ned (Schreiber) writes for a sleazy TV medical drama. He sits around with the other writers who make wisecracks like "sex with one's dog is the new sex with one's cat" while dreaming up crazy new plot twists, and Ned feels square and out of place.

Times are changing and Ned is finding it hard to keep up, from money issues to his teenage son coming out as gay to his raging incontinent depressive father-in-law (Brian Dennehy) moving in. He starts up an affair with a younger co-worker, fumbles the relationship with his gay son, and messes up with his wife. 

While this feels like the plot of a TV movie (and granted we watched it on our TV), it is elevated above that by superb writing and acting. 

Oscar winner Hunt is especially terrific -- from worrying about her aging body to being aware of her husband's roving eye to taking care of the father she doesn't really like to trying to be realistic and supportive of her gay teenager, this is a complex performance and she nails it.

While it is not a happy film, it is a touching one; check out Every Day... 

And what are you watching on Netflix?

March 1, 2015

TV: What We're Watching...

I spent much of this winter weekend binge watching season 3 of Netflix's House of Cards, the buzzy award-winning soapy political drama.

Netflix is the crack for binge watchers, as in addition to having full seasons of classic and cult TV shows to stream, they do things like release the full 13 episodes of a season all at once. Bastards.

In addition to Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as the most manipulative first couple ever in House Of Cards, I have already finished the latest season of Downton Abbey, and How To Get Away With Murder is over for the season; on the upside am pretty happy that the best show on TV The Good Wife is finally back this month, and Outlander returns in April.

Here's three other shows I am watching... let me know what you are hooked on!

Looking - Season two of HBO's gay comedy drama (known as the homo Sex And The City) is still slow and not sexy enough, however it is touching and fascinating. Not sure if I love watch it or hate watch it, but I watch it.

Grantchester - This BBC series is Downton Abbey meets Murder She Wrote, with a handsome soldier turned vicar who suffers from PTSD and unrequited love as its lead... gorgeous drama, interesting mysteries and really careful handling of gay topics make this one better than expected. Plus the hot vicar has a cute puppy!

The Mindy Project - Season three of Mindy Kaling's romantic comedy far surpasses its first two years -- faster, funnier, looser, with Mindy and coworker Danny finally together, the witty culture clash of their families, a surprise pregnancy, and great cameos from the likes of Rhea Perlman and Stephen Colbert. This one should get way more attention than it does.

.... What are you watching?

February 20, 2015

Alfie's Oscar Picks...

This Sunday is the Academy Awards, biggest night in Hollywood, the gay Super Bowl, the highest rated non-football TV event of the year... where a whole bunch of movies I haven't bothered to see may win big awards. And some of them may be flicks none of us really want to see.

Best part of the night will likely be host Neil Patrick Harris, fresh off a Tony win and a supporting role in Gone Girl, who has shown to be a fast and fun host of many events before. And the live tweeting is bound to be snarky and hysterical.

Looking past the big and perceived snubs --- haven't seen Selma yet, though it was probably mis-marketed and potentially dismissed as preachy (#OscarsSoWhite), can't believe The Lego Movie didn't even get a nod for best animated feature when it was one of the best films of the year, period -- there are some great things in here. And some stuff I still need to see.

Here are major category picks... how many will be bang on?

Best Picture

Nominated: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel, Imitation Game, Selma, Theory Of Everything, Whiplash.

I've seen: Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel, Imitation Game, Theory Of Everything.

Should & Will Win: I would give it to the amazing Imitation Game or the zany Grand Budapest Hotel, am thinking the critically loved Birdman gets this one.

Best Actor

Nominated: Steve Carrell, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne.

I've seen: Cumberbatch in Imitation Game, Redmayne in Theory Of Everything.

Should & Will Win: I'd give it to Redmayne for his amazing Stephen Hawking, the media seems to be all over Keaton for Birdman as his big comeback story... isn't he playing himself?

Best Actress

Nominated: Marion Cotillard, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon.

I've seen: Jones in Theory Of Everything, Pike in Gone Girl.

Should & Will Win: Neither of the two I've seen rocked me that much, so am going with the world consensus of Moore in Still Alice.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominated: Robert Duvall, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, JK Simmons.

I've seen: Ethan Hawke playing Ethan Hawke in Boyhood.

Should & Will Win: JK Simmons for Whiplash, so maybe he'll stop doing those annoying TV commercials for an insurance company...?

Best Supporting Actress

Nominated: Patricia Arquette, Laura Dern, Keira Knightley, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep.

I've seen: Arquette in Boyhood, Knightley in Imitation Game, Streep in Into The Woods.

Should & Will Win: Arquette for her graceful, honest 12 years of work in Boyhood.

Other Picks

Director - Richard Linklater for the vision behind Boyhood

Costume Design - Into The Woods

Original Song - "Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie

Writing, Adapted - The Imitation Game

Writing, Original - Grand Budapest Hotel

And yes there is a bunch of stuff I haven't seen in the documentary and other categories, hopefully the better ones will come to Netflix soon...

What are your Oscar picks?

February 14, 2015

Who should replace Jon Stewart?

Earlier this week, Jon Stewart, one of my secret TV boyfriends, announced he is leaving his gig as host of The Daily Show after almost 17 years ("16 years and 5 months longer than any other job I've held...").

Damn. Stewart is smart and funny and has become an important part of our political and social conversation.

Though Stewart may call himself the flag bearer of fake news, he reported and impacted the real news, championed fairness and decency, put a spotlight on smallish books and movies, and launched the careers of Steve Carrell, Josh Gad and Stephen Colbert, among others. And he called out insanity and hypocrisy all over the place, especially Washington and Fox News.

So with Stewart thanking people for watching and for hate watching, and then moving on to new adventures later this year, who should replace him?

Assuming top tier names like Amy Poehler (who would be amazing) would not be interested, here are some other good ideas...

Aisha Tyler
The stand up comedian and co-host of The Talk is faster and edgier on her own -- she is smart and political and tremendously entertaining. And yes late night could certainly use a female host.

Craig Ferguson
The actor and comedian who recently departed his late night CBS gabfest is more outspoken and political in his stand-up than he was on that show... and while yes he will be another middle aged white guy on late night, he will be informed and outspoken. A Stewart-ish replacement.

John Oliver
After subbing for Stewart last summer, Oliver left The Daily Show for his own terrific weekly HBO series; that contract has to have an out clause, and he should come back. His temp gig showed he would be great at this.

And some bad ideas...

Larry Wilmore
Host of the new Daily Show spin-off The Nightly Show is now forging his own take on late night news comedy, and he falls somewhere between John Oliver rants and Bill Maher round tables... leave him where he is, the show is starting to cook.

Brian Williams
The suspended NBC anchor is funny and charming and apparently good at making crap up, and yep he has time on his hands, but I would rather see him do a serious mea culpa and comeback... on a show I don't watch.

Amy Shumer
While this one is more of a flier and may work, it is more likely to be a train wreck... she is fast and funny, however we have yet to see her doing anything really political or grounded.

Two other names mentioned in the media are Alec Baldwin or Rosie O'Donnell; while both have the time now, recent history shows are better guests than hosts. Don't go there.

Aside from maybe Patton Oswalt, who else should be a contender?

February 10, 2015

Watch these 3 Netflix Finds...

In addition to obsessively watching the TV series we love -- The Good Wife, Downton Abbey, The Big Bang Theory -- since subscribing last year I have come to love Netflix.

Yes I am talking about Netflix Canada, which granted blows compared to Netflix in the USA, however still has a good menu of new and undiscovered things to see.

And yes Netflix people, if you are reading this, we know, we know, you have all ten seasons of Friends, we've seen them, you can stop telling us over and over. WE KNOW! 

Friends aside (been there, done that...), here are three films we have discovered and enjoyed over the last couple of weeks... check them out, and let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions...

A Long Way Down
A 2014 black comedy with Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, and some skinny blond girl I don't know, who meet when they are all planning suicide at the same time, and become a support group of friends... or as one of them calls it, a gang, who agree to not kill themselves for six weeks as they try to work through their troubles. Yes it's predictable, but it is sweet and touching and funny. And Brosnan is really getting handsomer with age.

Happy Christmas
A 2014 independent film shot on a VERY small budget... looks like was filmed in our basement. Anna Kendrick is an irresponsible wild child 20-something who goes to stay with her brother and ends up shaking up the life of her sister-in-law, played by Melanie Lynskey. Not much happens, however great acting and interesting filmmaking approach.

Cairo Time

This quiet 2009 Canadian film is the tale of a brief, unexpected romance between a Canadian magazine editor and her Egyptian host, while she waits for her delayed husband. The setting is gorgeous, and Patricia Clarkson is terrific in the leading role. They walk and talk as she falls in love with the city and her host, knowing she will soon leave both. Quiet and lovely.

What are you watching?

February 1, 2015

'Boys Kissing' School Controversy...

Interesting news story from here in calm quiet Edmonton...

The student-painted mural above was put up in a local high school, with prior approval by the school principle and art teacher. Then the school got complaints and covered the mural up.

Would there be complaints if it was a boy and girl kissing... would the school have covered the mural up if was a boy and girl... so, homophobic much?

  1. Kaela Wilton, a 16-year-old student at Onoway Jr/Sr High School, said she designed the mural to show support for gay people, including those who are afraid to come out.
  2. The school says it has yet to decide what to do next.  Here's a suggestion... ignore the haters. You are a place of education, now's your chance to teach diversity and tolerance.

January 27, 2015

Killer TV: Women & The Fall...

We have just spent two weekends binge-watching  The Fall, a terrific British miniseries and its sequel starring Gillian Anderson (X Files) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades Of Grey).

Anderson is Stella Gibson, a senior police officer investigating a string of murders in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dornan is the serial killer she is pursuing.

Anderson's Gibson is a smart strong confident sexual career woman, and the actress is amazing in this. Dornan, a model turned sex symbol turned actor, shows he can act.  The first season is the deliberately paced discovery as they learn about each other over five episodes, and we see the crimes and the methodical investigation, and the second is their personal battleground over six episodes. 

This is not a boom/crash action-packed network TV... it is careful; every word and every action by the large cast of supporting characters matters and helps build the psychological profiles of the two leads.

I see a huge difference between The Fall and the shock and awe of weekly explosive violence porn series like Stalker or Criminal Minds

Unlike most police shows, here the cop and the killer are both leads. And at first, it is the ice queen investigator who is the outsider, vs the conventional family man suspect, as the show jumps back and forth between them, a riveting cat and mouse game building until when they will eventually come face to face. Both are compulsive and methodical, both have calm exteriors and seethe below the surface.

This is a show about women, from the victims to the investigator; as I thought about each female character, I thought of them as real people rather than the stock disposable characters we see in less aware TV shows -- the wife of an abusive husband who looks for solace in the arms of a stranger, a young babysitter who falls for her charge's father, the killer’s wife who knows nothing about his secret sex and murder tendencies, an obsessive police officer whose fascination with the psyche of a suspect becomes intertwined with her own sexual desire -- the care and intelligence given to each one of these women is remarkable.

The Fall is quiet and creepy and twisty and suspenseful ... and goes to some very dark places, especially with the killer's relationship with the family's teenage babysitter. Of all the personal journeys here, hers is the darkest as she becomes obsessed with her sexual father figure, who is a serial killer obsessed with pain and suffering.

This is our first contender for best TV of the year... If you have Netflix, or a friend with Netflix, or can make a new friend to get access to Netflix, watch The Fall.

January 23, 2015

See This Movie: Begin Again

Great little movie discovery we watched on demand this weekend... Begin Again, a 2014 charming, joyful movie starring Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, and a sexy scruffy Mark Ruffalo as musicians tackling life, love, and career in New York City.

John Carney, the writer and director of 2006's Oscar-winning Once, which I loved, has again put music at the centre of a 'little' movie. Ruffalo is a down and out music exec, Knightley is a vulnerable songwriter just dumped by her rock star boyfriend (Levine), and they meet in a bar at the end of one terrible day. And they save each other.

This is a gentle, touching flick; when Ruffalo pairs with Knightley and decides to record her album live on the streets of New York, the immediacy and brightness just shine. A colourful cast of characters join them on the streets to create and celebrate music. And the music is lovely.

Supporting players include Catherine Keener and Hailee Stanfield, who are great in small roles as Ruffalo's snarky ex and his rebellious teenage daughter.

The film is deceptively simple but with complex undertones and a big heart. Its joys are endless and Carney's portrayal of the characters, their relationships and the way music carries the narrative all make Begin Again a delight. 

Begin Again is funny and joyous, and the romance is less predicable than you'd think... relationships evolve, hearts are broken and music paves the way to resolutions, fulfilment and salvation.  

See Begin Again... which just got an Oscar nomination for best song for "Lost Stars".