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filmmaven's coffee chat

a morning discussion of film and popular culture over coffee

Month

April 2016

Its here and gone — it left us wanting more and less

or should the title be Confessions of a TV Junkie #475,502 ? What joy its been the past few weeks – letting the beginnings and endings of shows wash over us. The drama has been in the fan base even when its not on the screen. Its so nice to have people excited and interested in shows again after several lack luster seasons. We watched 2 1/2 men simply out of fear that if we didn’t something amazing would happen while it got sadder and sadder to view. We lumped along with vast array of Criminal Law with some forensic quality mysteries sort of hoping for David Caruso to glare at us again or please please Grisham whisper to the dominatrix. Alas, a new road of shock and awe has come along….

Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (Netflix 2015-New episodes available) — Not as pithy as the first season but such a great concept and the wonderful Carol Kane. The writing has moved someplace just to the left (hahaha, one inch to the left if you see where I’m going) of its previous cleverness. Perhaps Jude Apatow has been a bad influence as we have some potty jokes and a burp in every episode. Overall I have to give this show its proper due and respect, some very clever use of actors and guests along with social commentary that occasionally knocks you in the head (dead horse wise).

Orphan Black (BBC America 2013-present) — Really, how does she do it? Tatiana Maslany does shine through in some of the characters, but she also has long long scenes where she gets completely lost inside the story and you have to wonder; does she have a twin? is that really her? The premier episode for Season 4 takes a step way back to the story of Beth Childs.  It was easy to pass her by and adore Sarah as Beth – easier to dismiss any attachment to Beth and her suicide because we had Sarah, Allison and the other clone sisters….but now as the story dips back into the origin, we get to know her and Art at a new level…..Its a good way to step into the story as the many roads and characters can twist the audience around …now there is a fresh sense of okay, here we go. Watch on BBC American online ….

Fear The Walking Dead (AMC 2015- present) – As the new season begins it unfortunately carries the weight of an angry fan base. Upset over being forced to lunge into BADLANDS to get inside info on The Walking Dead previews, as well as super pissed about the cliffhanger ending with Negan’s one scene – the audience is ripe for disliking anything to do with FtWD. Sunday’s at 9pm probably was not the best choice either considering the upset and the upcoming premiere at the same time next week of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

While the base story format is terrific, the production values are amazing and yet, the lackluster cast and story framing leave a lot to be desired. Some of the limitations of the cast may be directional, holding back until the real meaty bits of the story begin. However, when you have scenes with Ruben Blades, who’s mere glance gives such depth and meaning, it makes the other actors appear more afternoon soap opera than night time thriller. Given many plus’s and the adoration for Kirkman’s Walking Dead – the fans are going to hang in and carefully critique every moment.

 

Sam Elliot, what are you thinking?

The Ranch (Netflix, 2016) – Sam Elliot, Debra Winger, Danny Masterson and Ashton Kutcher ..you have to watch it right? …..NO…Don’t bother. Its so bad and stiff that even Debra Winger’s few moments of greatness can’t fix it. Sam is decent, Danny is ..well. ..tee hee…so cute. But the acting is apologetic, the laughs are whimpering and the jokes are …not worthy of whimpering laughter. So so sorry Ashton, I know you are trying -but reviving the sitcom isn’t really that easy uh? While Jerrod Carmichael can be forgiven for a stilted uneven sitcom while he attends the learning curve, all of these high hitters should know better…….this one is a big NO. Thank you.

First we have the dreamer son who left home and didn’t quite make it — his dreams are not living up to his hard drinking and screw up potential. Then we have the son who stayed and drank hard to keep the farm going with the super cranky Dad. MMmmmmmm……I’ve seen this format before? A lot?

Why is everyone suddenly an alcoholic? Jessica Jones,hard boiled detective -drunk all the time. Every character in Daredevil, drinking, drunk or hung over. Every couple on House Hunting Reno Rehab makes wine and needs room to entertain while drinking. Do we not know how to be social with out some sort of lubricant? But, forgive me, I digress.

Drunk family, Mom owns a bar. Uh..I think we have a theme going here. Debra Winger is the most relaxed and able to deliver lines that seem natural …her body language and facial expressions are not stiffened or overly harsh like the other actors. And while her acting is refreshing in the scenes, she can’t save the awkward dialogue or lend aid to the stiff wait for the forced laughter to end moments …….

Simply adoring these actors doesn’t help, its not one of those “OH these guys are so great give it a few episodes”. Its just not working.

 

Women, Ladies, Girls, Magic and Power

In the early 1980’s a trend in new wave cinema brought women directors, writers and stars to the forefront of creating a different vision of women in film. I credit Susan Seidleman with my first notice of this in the film “Smithereens” (USA, 1982)…the character of Wren didn’t have a true direction but she wasn’t a housewife type and that fit so well with what happened to girls coming to age after the 1970s fight for women’s rights. The right to be….what?  Whole new thought processes began and there were almost too many choices.

With the onset of the 1990’s the power of girls takes a strange, interesting and somewhat scary turn. Enter “Thelma and Louise” (USA, 1991), “Silence of the Lambs” (USA, 1991), and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (USA, 1992) all women driven action thriller adventures with decent box office returns. Thanks to Joss Whedon girls move from cute accessory to main character bad asses and succeed not only on the big screen but the small with “Buffy” (TV Series, 1997 – 2003). Thankfully Mr. Whedon grew along with his characters to create strong, thoughtful and independent women in leadership roles that didn’t diminish their femininity. Buffy, Willow, Cordelia and Fred (from his other show, Angel) all manage to be a variation of powerful women with complimentary and conflicting elements of real life females. There were definately many more male centrist films and television through the 1990s ..the 2000’s availability of female roles has grown and the type of roles has created something amazing. Although still too often the side note, women’s roles on screen have changed dramatically and television seems to be offering the real dynamic changes.

Welcome now to the 21st century – the balancing of magic, strength and womanhood meets mystery and science fiction.

Veronica Mars (TV Series 2004-2007) — Smart, sharp, sexy – Nancy Drew meets California snarky, dark and determined. Delightful to watch, Kirsten Bell takes teen girl sleuthing to a new level….she is a TV Detective more like a Mannix or a Jim Rockford, using her brains and modern tech rather than brawn to beat out the bad guys.

DOLLHOUSE (TV Series, 2009-10) — Somewhat a precursor to Orphan Black, the characters become what they need to in order to fulfill tasks assigned to them. Meanwhile, they must solve the real mystery of who and what they are supposed to be….

ORPHAN BLACK (TV Series, 2013-present, BBC America) — The science is scary good, the actors are likable and the pacing is riveting. Tatiana Maslany is a great mix of physical and emotionally captivating even while juggling 11+ characterizations. There are tiny moments when she seems exhaustively moving through a scene during close ups to maintain the right facial holds….but she has to be given credit in the extreme for not only being in every scene but creating movement and expressions that make the audience forget its all the same actress.

Happy Valley (TV Series, 2014-2016) — Taking a step back from being a detective to raise her grand son, Catherine Cawood is the middle aged powerhouse street cop that uses her brain, love and strength of character to battle all of life and crimes problems. Brilliantly played by Sarah Lancaster, (Last Tango in Halifax, Rose & Maloney).

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