Posts Tagged ‘Game of Thrones’

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The Incredible Jessica James

Jessica Williams stars as the titular Jessica James, an aspiring New York City playwright on the bad end of a breakup. It’s a showcase for the comedian, consisting largely of her character’s whimsical take on life, love and ambition with little by way of plot besides wanting to make it big and maybe meet a nice guy while she’s at it.

It provides enough laughs for the price of admission, and is an encouraging argument in favor of Williams as protagonist. But there’s not a lot of there, there, and not much to say beyond what a million other young-in-New-York films have said before.

Grade: B-

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The Big Sick

Written by and based on the life of Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick functions like an inter-nationality take on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” for the millennial generation.

Before he was an anchor player on TV Comedies like Silicon Valley, Nanjiani was a stand-up comedian slumming it on his way up the food chain and a closeted agnostic in a family of strict adherents to Islam and Pakistani culture, which includes arranged marriages. In the dramatized version, he meets the decided *not* Pakistani Emily (Zoe Kazan) after a gig, kicking off a courtship that is tested first by his reluctance to reveal all to his disapproving parents and second by a mystery ailment that places Emily in a medically-induced coma.

The writing is sharp and funny, with a nice blend of comedy and drama as Kumail deals with the titular “Big Sick” Emily is going through. It also includes knock-out supporting roles by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. That the movie ends on a positive note isn’t spoiling much, and the film easily earns its sentimental finish.

Grade: A

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An Inconvenient Sequel

In a way its frightening that we’ve had 10 years since Al Gore first delivered his power point presentation on climate change in “An Inconvenient Truth” only to still be debating the science of carbon emission.  But at least the ensuing decade has given the once-and-future president plenty of material for a round two.

Yes, the ice has melted, the waters have risen, the storms have worsened and myriad other Gore predictions have manifested, but “Sequel” also goes beyond the doom and gloom to track the real and significant political efforts made, notably the Paris Agreement of last year. Naturally, President Trump’s pledge to tear up that agreement and double down on fossil fuels is a bummer for Gore, and a bit of a thorn in the third act of “Sequel,” the documentary still manages a message of optimism among its impressively researched call to arms.

Grade: B+

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Rememory

The best way to describe “Rememory” is that it is relentlessly serious. Peter Dinklage stars as one of several broken souls in a pseudo-science fiction world in which a machine has been created that can record and display the mind’s memories. When the machine’s inventor dies under suspicious circumstances, Dinklage’s Sam steals the memory machine in order to both probe his own dark past and solve the inventor’s murder. But the final reveal on both points is underwhelming and bogged down by the slog of dull greys and moody glances.

It’s a notable film, largely due being one of the final performances of the late Anton Yelchin, and there are a lot of lofty ideas about how life’s experiences shape us into who we are. But its ambitions our ground into powder by its crushing atmosphere.

Grade: C+

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A favorite trope among the critical elite is the old trick of pointing out how a bad movie is a metaphor for itself. They pick out a particular scene, or line of dialogue, to construct an elaborate meta symmetry between the action onscreen and the actions that led to it literally being on-screen.

Recently, this popped up in reviews for Jurassic World, which told the tale of how corporate greed and a need to invent bigger, faster and scarier monsters went horribly wrong, resulting in the (creative) death of innocent (storytelling narratives) bystanders.

Perhaps no film has been so perfectly tailored for the plot-is-review device as Terminator Genysis, which seeks to recapture the early magic of an enduring cinema franchise by sending characters to the past and making a mess of the original timeline.

In short, it’s a reboot *about* rebooting. It tries to jump back in time to save the franchise from destruction, but fails.

Unlike 2009’s Star Trek, which pulled off a similar stunt by hitting the space-time reset button before setting off on a satisfactory stand-alone story, TG has little more on its mind than borrowing table scraps from the original (far superior) Terminator films and offering little by way of justification for its existence.

For the uninitiated, in the year 2029 mankind has been all but wiped out by an army of sentient machines controlled by the Skynet program. A small resistance force, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) is nearing victory, which prompts Skynet to send a humanoid “Terminator” back in time to kill Connor’s mother Sarah (GoT’s Emilia Clarke) before Connor can be born, thus clearing the chess board of its opposing King. But Connor is able to send back one of his lieutenants, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney of Divergent and Jack Reacher) to find and protect his mother from the machine.

That’s the plot of The Terminator, a great film directed more than two decades ago by James Cameron. For reasons that remain unexplained after the credits roll on Genysis, something is altered in the timeline, resulting in Kyle Reese finding a battle-hardened Sarah Connor and her Terminator sidekick (original star Arnold Shwarzeneggar, returning to the franchise after a one-film absence) in lieu of the damsel he was expecting.

So after a few scenes that recreate (with a twist!) the iconic imagery of T1 and T2, the plot zips ahead to 2017, the new date of the robopacolypse, with our heroes fighting to destroy a nascent Skynet.

Much like Jurassic World, the film offers two hours of satisfactory action-fueled fun the unfortunately falls apart on further reflection. At the end of the day, TG is little more than rehash of the “destroy Skynet” plot established in T2 and repeated in the abysmal T3 and tragically underwhelming T4. Its an improvement over the last two films, but after leaving the theater, and decompressing from the pulse-pounding Hans Zimmer soundtrack and destructo-porn, you realize that you’ve already seen that movie, several times, and you’re not entirely sure why you haven’t stopped yet.

As a standalone film, Genisys is baffling at best, with hordes of unanswered questions (likely saved for the inevitable sequel) and long stretches of chunky exposition that attempt to justify the plot gymnastics of the time-travel shenanigans.

Unfortunately it’s a pale imitation of its predecessors, with a lessor Sarah Connor, a lesser Kyle Reese, and a grey-haired Arnold who insists, on several occasions, that he is old “but not obsolete.” His familiar catch phrase of “I’ll be back” makes it’s appearance, but at this point its a threat directed at the audience.

Grade: C

*’Terminator Genisys’ opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 1.

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John Wick Film 2014

As far as action movies are concerned, quite often less is more. Not less punches or less kicks or less head shots — the audience obviously wants those in spades — but a slim plot, free of unnecessary emotional baggage, can often be just what the doctor ordered when the audience has a fever and the only cure is cracked skulls.

In ‘John Wick‘ Keanu Reeves puts his surly growl to good use as the titular ex-gun for hire, lured back into “business” after a random and unfortunate act of violence. John is mourning the passing of his wife and has found solace in a puppy that arrived on his doorstep as a gift from the grave, but all too soon a run-in with some members of the local crime family leaves the dog dead and John on a path to revenge.

Reeves, who anchored the Matrix trilogy, is no stranger to operatic action. And yet as John Wick, the punishments are wisely doled out in a surprisingly utilitarian fashion, with a minimum amount of fuss, that is often laugh out loud funny in its frank simplicity.

In the spry 90-minute running time Reeves racks up a body count that rivals Liam Neeson in the original taken, but in Wick the slaughter is matched by a beautifully spartan directing style that sees men reduced to mush in steady, drawn-out takes. While watching Reeves’ Wick slowly stab an invader in his home you can almost hear director David Leitch whispering in your ear saying “Did you see that? I don’t want you to miss anything.”

But the most impressive and enjoyable thing about John Wick is the world it creates, one in which contract killers have their own currency and laws existing right under our noses like a Hogwarts for criminals. It invites you to ask “Can this really exist?” and whether it is fantasy or reality you want it to be real.

There’s also a spectacular roster of notable actors filling the supporting cast, sometimes appearing for little more than a glimpse. Game of Throne’s Alfie Allen plays familiar Greyjoy ground as the spoiled son of a mob boss. But there’s also a few alumni of The Wire, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane and Bridget Moynahan as the dearly departed Mrs. Wick, who exists as little more than a memory.

It’s an enjoyable piece of pulpy noir and shows how with the right people involved you can get a lot of of a little.

Grade: B

*John Wick opens nationwide on Friday, Oct. 24.

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Orange is the New Black

As I read through this mornings Emmy nominations list there were two thoughts that immediately popped into my head:

1) Broadcast television is truly dead

2) Emmy voters like what they like and if they do change it will be slowly thank you very much.

For years it’s been accepted that the drama categories are the domain of the flashier pay-cable networks, with traditional broadcasters left to scramble over the comedic offerings. But with this year’s Outstanding Comedy Series noms including Netflix’ Orange is the New Black, HBO’s Silicon Valley and Veep and FX’s Louie, that leaves just perennial nominees Big Bang Theory (CBS) and Modern Family (ABC) representing the big four.

And that OK, since OITNB, Silicon Valley, Veep and Louie are all outstanding comedies well-deserving of the honor. But it’s unfortunate that if broadcast TV only has two slots to fill, the Emmy Voters chose to waste them on the most overrated show on television (BBT) and a once-great sitcom in decline (MF).

In fact, the Modern Family situation is emblematic of the overall Emmy nominations list, which is basically a lukewarm dish of leftovers peppered with a few justified fresh faces. True Detective and Fargo got the love they deserve, but another nomination for Jim Parsons? A repeat for The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels? And why are we still nominating Downton Abbey for best drama when the show is a shadow of its former self?

HBO again reigned supreme in total nominations and Netflix expanded it’s footprint with OITNB, offering a glimpse of what the dystopian hellscape of television’s future will look like. Adapt or die, broadcast, adapt or die.

The Good:

• A lot has been written about the importance of Orange is the New Black – its character diversity, socio-political subject matter, female-centric storylines, etc – and it’s great to see the Emmy voters throw a nod to not only lead actress Taylor Schilling, but also Kate Mulgrew’s as supporting character Red and guest actress nods (more on that later) for Laverne Cox, Natasha Lyonne and “Crazy Eyes” Uzo Aduba.

• I, for one, am glad that True Detective went for the top prize of Outstanding Drama rather than play the miniseries game a la American Horror Story. I love me some AHS but when 75 percent of your cast returns every year the argument that you’re not a series can be kind of sneaky. Ironically, the leads of True Detective will not return next year, meaning it could actually justify it’s existence as a miniseries but why sell yourself short, eh?

• Another nomination for Veep’s Tony Hale, because the world can never have enough Tony Hale.

• [UPDATE] I am absolutely thrilled that Reg E. Cathey scored a guest actor nod for his work as Freddy on House of Cards. It’s weird how much I found myself caring about the fate of Freddy during season 2 considering the show deals with murder and corruption at the highest levels of American government, but I just want him to get his barbeque back.

The Bad:

• I try not to play the snub game because it’s petty and unproductive, but having said that I’m surprised to see James Spader miss out on a nomination for his quasi-performance-art scenery chewing on The Blacklist. The NBC procedural is mostly melodramatic cheese, but Spader is delicious as antihero Red Reddington and the person solely responsible for Blacklist being the success that it was.

• TBBT and Jim Parsons

• The Best Actor in a Comedy category includes Don Cheadle for House of Lies. I don’t watch House of Lies and as a vocal fan of Community I understand that viewership and buzz ≠ quality, but really House of Lies? or Ricky Gervaise in Derek? Basically, what I’m trying to say is Joel McHale deserves a lead actor Emmy.

• [UPDATE] Again, I don’t like the snub game but Hannibal’s second season was incredible. Darren Franich at EW devoted an entire Entertainment Geekly post to how Bryan Fuller’s NBC serial is a better version of both True Detective and Fargo. And particularly considering the decline of broadcast television, what Hannibal manages to pull off every week is nothing short of astounding. I won’t say it was snubbed, but it is some of the finest television I’ve ever seen.

The Interesting:

• I understand the strategy of not having your cast compete with itself, but can we really call Martin Freeman’s Watson a “supporting” character to Cumberbatch’s Sherlock?

• When the Golden Globes decided to name freshman comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its star Andy Sandberg as best comedy and best comedy actor, it was a little bit of a surprise but also in line with the boozy antics of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Funny, then, that the elder statesmen at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave only a supporting actor nod to the very funny (who knew?) Andre Braugher.

• Viewers may be surprised to see three prominent Orange is the New Black characters listed as “guest” roles, but as explained by TIME, that distinction is due is due to wonky contract legalize. BUT since all three actresses were bumped up to series regulars for the show’s second season, it will be even more competitive for them to receive repeat nods next year.

Here’s the list of the major categories. Are you surprised? Shocked? Infuriated? Talk about it in the comments.

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Louie
Modern Family
Orange Is the New Black
Silicon Valley
Veep

Outstanding Miniseries
American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
Fargo
Luther
Treme
The White Queen

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Lizzie Caplan, Masters of Sex
Claire Danes, Homeland
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luthor
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo

Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Louis CK, Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Ricky Gervais, Derek
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Josh Charles, The Good Wife

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife

Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Colin Hanks, Fargo
Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman, Sherlock
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart

Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Frances Conroy, American Horror Story: Coven
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Fred Armisen, Portlandia
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Outstanding Variety Series
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Outstanding Reality Competition Program
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef
The Voice

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