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".


January 19, 2015

Billy Crystal's Gay Sex Face...

Actor and comedian Billy Crystal, who played America’s first openly gay television character on the ground-breaking 70's sitcom Soap, has had enough of our gay sex.
In comments reported on the TheWrap from this weekend’s TV Critics Conference, he says today’s more frequent LGBT storylines may be going “a little too far” and “sometimes I think ah, that’s too much for me.”

My first question... is this about sex on TV, or about gay sex on TV?  Very different issues... is there too much straight sex on TV? 

If Crystal thinks TV has gone too far with sex scenes overall, I think that is a fair conversation to have; what is the family viewing hour and are we respecting that? There used to be clear lines before and after 9 PM… much as I admire Grey’s Anatomy, is it appropriate 8 PM television? That is the conversation to have, not whether that explicitness is gay or straight.

"I did it (played a gay character) in front of a live audience, and there were times where I would say to [the actor who played his boyfriend], 'Bob, “I love you,' and the audience would laugh nervously, because, you know, it’s a long time ago, that I’d feel this anger. I wanted to stop the tape and go, 'What is your problem?' Because it made you sort of very self-conscious about what we were trying to do then. And now it’s just, I see it and I just hope people don’t abuse it and shove it in our face — well, that sounds terrible — to the point of it just feels like an everyday kind of thing."

Crystal says gay sex on TV should not be an 'everyday thing'.. but why not?  I think yes it should be every day, shouldn’t it? Or at least no different from non-gay romance and sex.

Gay people -- and straight people --- have sex... and hold hands, and talk about their relationships.... and it is all good on TV, as long as it is within appropriate shows and time slots... so yes on How To Get Away With Murder at 10 PM on a weeknight, likely no on NCIS at 8 PM. And it shouldn't matter gay or straight.

And really, shouldn't we all be way more worried about the guns and violence on TV? That is really way more disturbing.

And a note to Mr Crystal, should you be reading this.... bad choice of words, buddy... besides seeming vaguely homophobic, which you clearly aren't, do you really want to create the visual of a gay dude putting his sex in your face?  Well ok, but please, not in the family hour....

January 18, 2015

Ha! SNL Spoofs Bieber...

After what can best be described as a mediocre fall season, Saturday Night Live came back last night with a strong episode, even with the annoying Kevin Hart as host.

The opener was smart, with the ghost of Martin Luther King taking on racism and the #OscarsSoWhite lack of nominations for Selma, and then the highlight was a take on the new Justin Beiber ads for Calvin Klein underwear.

In case you missed it, annoying hack pop tart boy-man Justin Beiber is the new face of Calvin Klein underwear, releasing a series of ads such as these...

So right away, TMZ and other websites published examples of the photoshopping here --- bigger biceps, more abs, more junk, and apparently more pubic hair (I'm afraid to look)... though Beiber's lawyers deny it.

As Beiber is a thoughtless douchey immature dolt, we all spoof him, so the hipsters got involved.....

And the comedians....

And here is SNL's masterstroke, having talented waif Kate McKinnon do a take on a Beiber commercial... she is awesome, and her Beiber is scary good. Enjoy...

January 13, 2015

Brooke Shields' Mommy Issues

Model/actress/80s icon Brooke Shields has released her second book, There Was A Little Girl, this one about the relationship with her late mother, Teri Shields.

Brooke Shields has always seemed kind and likable, from the Blue Lagoon days to her TV career, and as a grown up seemed smart and interesting despite a weird dating history... Michael Jackson? George Michael? John Travolta? Do you even like straight men?

In Brooke's heyday her mother was famous for (allegedly) being an overbearing outspoken stage mother. Her daughter defended her at the time. Now it turns out we didn't know the half of it.

According to There Was A Little Girl, Teri Shields was an insecure, social climbing, partying, alcoholic, angry hoarder who, yes, loved her daughter madly, and cashed in on that gravy train every chance she got.

Teri met and romanced the younger, richer Frank Shields, got pregnant, played hard to get, got married, had Brooke, got divorced, and then made her daughter her career... and her whole life.

I zoomed through this book. It is a fascinating read. Shields writes with an honesty and intimacy that feels like your smart best girlfriend is sharing her life stories with you over many glasses of wine.

While this is not an autobiography, and Shields ignores large chunks of her career, including many movies she refers to as "shitty", Shields certainly dishes here... some juicy bits:

  • being a controversial child star in Pretty Baby, 
  • fired by Calvin Klein after that famous jeans ad
  • losing her virginity to actor Dean Cain at age 22 
  • her failed first marriage to tennis legend Andre Agassi, a drug addict who helped her break free from Teri
  • her relationship with actor Liam Neeson a heavy drinker who proposed and then dumped her
  • the suicide of her Suddenly Susan costar David Strickland
  • and her now healthy marriage to writer Chris Henchy  
Shields would be well into her 20s before even tried to break free. When Brooke seeks new management after her marriage to Agassi, Teri accuses Brooke of “divorcing” her.

So yep she dishes. And yes it is fun. And it is also somewhat troubling how her mother over shadows so many of these relationships. Dysfunction, thy name is Shields.

Shields tells the story of a mother/daughter relationship with huge amounts of devotion and dysfunction, of Sundays at church when on the same day she knew which bars to hit to find her mother. 

At age 13 Shields stages the first intervention. It doesn't work.

Sadly, Teri never finds sobriety and the two never have true closure before Teri drifts into dementia and dies in 2013. Brooke, never able to break free, is at her side....“My mother did not want to die but she spent a lifetime killing herself.”

This is a touching, troubling, honest, and yes weirdly entertaining read. Totally recommend it.

January 11, 2015

Tina Fey & Amy Poehler Rock It

In case you missed the amazing Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting the Golden Globe Awards for the third -- and they say last time -- here is their opening monologue.

While saying they won't do this again --- so who the hell is gonna take that on? --- we can look forward to them co-starring in the big screen comedy Sisters this Christmas...

Lots of great lines in there, including about Bill Cosby and North Korea, but this feminist shot at Hollywood is my favourite:

George Clooney married Amal Alamuddin this year. Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an advisor to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was selected to a three-person UN commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award...