filmmaven's coffee chat

a morning discussion of film and popular culture over coffee

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 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).

Netflix and how I’ve trained myself to have restraint

As you might know from previous confessions, I am a tv junkie and I did dive into the streaming world by binge watching shows and movies galore. Now I can say with practice I have weaned myself from those days of dry eyeballs, yelling at family not to interrupt, ordering in food and those next day brain strain headaches.  Yes, I set a limit and so far ..have kept my word to myself. Taking them 2 episodes per day and allowing family interruptions, pauses for making dinner and the occasional phone call

DAREDEVIL (Season 2, 13 episodes) – The first season was good and worthy of a second – but, with Season 2 I can say …WOW. Well done. Very Very well done. My only solid critique has to be the length of fight scenes. There are a few where I felt it dragged on unnecessarily. However, the quality of the scenes and the intensity has picked up a new level this season. Jon Berenthal and Elodie Yung offer a next level of emotional strength and character building content that allows our 3 main stars to become more than comic book reflections. Elden Henson gives a humorous and relaxed performance, a more welcoming presence to the terse Daredevil played by Charlie Cox and the twitchy Karen Page as portrayed by Deborah Ann Woll. This season played out incredibly well considering the increased amount of characters, subplots and fight scenes. Pacing is everything in a comic book story, when to show, when to speak, when to tell and when to allow the audience to embrace the content.

Continuum (Canadian, creator Simon Barry, 2012-2015)  – So fitting to watch this now as the American Election Cycle heats up around polarizing issues and misunderstandings about corporate control and grass roots campaigning …In 2077 Keira is a compliant Protector, wanting nothing more than to be a good cop and a good mom. Caught up in a time traveling escapade, will she make it back to her own time? and what will she find there? This is good on so many levels – the acting is terrific, the pacing and story-line are exciting, the sci-fi aspects are believable and while into Season 3 get a little convoluted- it doesn’t go so far as to jump the shark (close, but its okay), the fight scenes are plentiful but well placed and not gratuitous.  The concepts of Corporations, good contentions and altering your destiny are, as I said, well timed for me in this phase of primary voting in the USA. Then ADDED BONUS, actors I adored from DaVinci’s Inquest, Ian Tracey is always a delight (you may have spotted him as a truck driver who gets his comeuppance in SUPERMAN 2013).

Copper (BBC America, 2 seasons) – Not that impressed – Thought I would love the time period and the mystery element, the onset of the police force in action…there were a few moments when subplots could have drawn attention and then too many other things happened but not enough happened.

When Weather plays a character on film….

Winter is coming ……Winter has hit Michigan hard in the last few weeks and after a mild fall, a soft smooth few months of winter and a SLAM it in your face January, February and now Marc…

Source: When Weather plays a character on film….

When Weather plays a character on film….

Winter is coming ……Winter has hit Michigan hard in the last few weeks and after a mild fall, a soft smooth few months of winter and a SLAM it in your face January, February and now March …we are so done. Just over it. Ready for windows open, less layers of clothing and walking with out fear of falling …..I’m thinking about movies that bring weather along as a character…with out the mood and setting of outdoor conditions the film would just not be the same ….


BODY HEAT (1981, Dir: Lawrence Kasdan) — Although the city of Miami sets an interesting backdrop for drama, it really could be any city featured in this story – but the heat…the dripping, smothering, body heat, stifling air that helps guide this torturous lust fest. I admit, it was Kim Zimmer that made me take notice of this film – something about her smile and smirk, but ultimately the desperate sweaty heartfelt thumping of William Hurt’s panting that makes it worth watching.

THE ICE HARVEST (2005, Dir: Harold Ramis) — The weather of Wichita, Kansas is relentless….you feel the trapped desperation of the characters based as much on their nemisis the weather as the creepy criminals (who ? not sure which side you should really be on?) As falls Wichita so falls Wichita Falls, is such a tongue twisting line it stays with you well after the film ends and you get warm once again.

KITCHEN STORIES (2003, Dir: Bent Hamer) (Norway) — The appearance of weather in this film is like the second best friend or the super nice barber/bookseller/bartender that you take note of and admire but its not until the story wraps up that you realize it was one of your favorite parts of the film. A sweet, slow, interesting film enhanced by the natural background.

CORALINE (2009, Dir: Henry Selick) — While it is the location combined with the weather that sets the mood for this beautiful story, it is worth noting because so much of the story is set up for the adventures by its use of outdoor space, lighting and weather. A lovely film, too scary for anyone under 10.

Are you watching the Oscars?

My intention was not to watch the OSCAR show……and although I have previously acknowledged that I am not blaming the academy for its all over whiteness…I do think there is a principle involved. Then the universe provided me with the devil of all happy co-inky-dinks– and the Walking Dead is on Sunday nights ….so..the hardship of ignoring the Academy Awards is actually a reward of its own.

If by chance Walkers, biters, lame brains and the occasional squirrel is not your cup of tea, I give you wonderful choices of what to watch instead:

ELIZABETH (1998, dir; Shekhar Kapur) – Nominated for best cinematographer Remi Adefarasin. You don’t have to be a historic buff to love this film; the costume design is only made more magnificent by the cinematography ..its  simply glorious. The performances are wonderful but you will loose your breath to its beauty.

RAY (2004, dir: Taylor Hackford)Nominated for best costume SHAREN DAVIS, who was also nominated for DREAMGIRLS in the same category. This film’s lead, Jamie Fox won the award for Best Actor – his performance is twofold amazing when you don’t see the personality and fame emanate from Fox during the film…he is Ray Charles.

The Last King Of Scotland (2006, dir: Kevin MacDonald) – There are several films I feel warrant Forest Whitaker’s nomination, his performances even in small roles are always outstanding.. …but winning for this portrayal of Adi Amin was all but certain. He moves through the scenes as if on air, but so solid and corporeal as to hold down the very Earth itself. A brilliant performance well deserved of the Academy Award.



Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, its your Brain …

My little brother is having brain surgery….I am having the most surreal week….like…I’ve fallen to the side and the world looks all askew ……BRAIN SURGERY. That is weird. Meanwhile, they think he is answering the questions to the best of his ability ….I think he is joking with them…with John ..its really really hard to tell…..he has the best dry sense of humor …so since they don’t know him ..they are going to operate.

So this is what I’m thinking about today …..


Memento (2000, dir/writer: Christopher Nolan) — Such a great cast! A guy who can’t remember anything tries to put his world back together through a series of notes and investigations. Its film noir for the brain damaged. Some of the story has bumps and bits that you kinda go ..mmmmm……but over all a great must view film. Joey Pants and Mark Boone gotta love it.

Young Frankenstein (1974 dir: Mel Brooks) — One of my brother’s favorite films….and how many times we have relived the Abby Normal gag …lol…I hope they don’t put a normal brain inside my brother…because he needs to be Abby Normal for us …..Now, if you haven’t seen it you must watch with a group of friends and try to learn the songs for next time. If you have seen it, its time to rewatch because its brilliant gag film making.

Gaslight (1944, dir: George Cukor) – Another film with such a myriad of reasons to watch …from the director George Cukor to the brilliant Ingrid Bergman to the touching story of a woman being driven mad..or is she?


Lawrence Block books into movies – Why can’t they get it right?

This is the day when the Papermaven and the Filmmaven gang up on the attempts to take terrific novelization characters onto film. For Lawrence Block its been a truly epic failure. I must say, that is not his fault. Do people who capture novels for film not read? or at least talk to readers? or the author? I admit – I’m baffled. Its so rare that a beloved book can make the transition but I’m going to be especially hard on Frank Scott

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014, dir/writer Frank Scott) — At first I was a little put off by the idea of Liam Neeson playing this iconic hard boiled hard drinking Hell’s Kitchen private eye. I do make a few snide comments in general about the number of UK actors taking all the good hero roles that could/should be better played by Americans (Tom Hiddleston is Hank Sr????) What? we don’t have handsome hero types? Coming so close to his TAKEN films, I thought the character development into Matt Scudder would take a hit.

To my surprise Liam is the best thing about the film. He is perfect as the gruff loner driven to sober life by a tragic mistake. His bitter, empathetic, thinking 3 things at once solitary aura is well suited for Matt Scudder and I can see him developing over time as the more evolved mature private eye that comes through out the many, many, many novels as written by Lawrence Block.

Its the secondary story development that dives right into blah, yuk, why is this even here? I stopped watching Law & Order several years ago for this very reason- the murder, rape and kidnapping of women is not entertainment. Using shock value is one thing, glorifying and sexualizing the terror and torture is not okay. Its just NOT OKAY. As a matter of fact ..its gross, demoralizing for the viewer. Taking a seductive camera gaze over a woman being tortured and raped is not good film-making. Its not even lower level student style film-making -oh I misstepped the attempt to make it horrifying. Mr. Frank Scott, I think you know better- and if you don’t I’m sorry this was a way to a hard learned lesson. I’m offended and disgusted. There is really almost no way to take this from the page and do it right.

For readers of Lawrence Block novels NYC is the second character. Hell’s Kitchen is like family to Scudder. In a scene on the roof top, a suspect cares for his pigeons and talks about his life, giving Scudder vital clues to solve the mystery. This scene comes the closest to being taken directly from the novel to the screen. It has mood, visually and characterization develops Block’s style off the page into life. If only the entire piece could have done as much. Scudder’s reaction and the follow up scenes build on that character and say so much more by really not saying anything.

As papermaven, I highly recommend all things Block….as a film maven – we are not feeling so generous:

BURGLAR (1987, dir; Hugh Wilson) — Making Bernie a woman was a great idea and Whoopi Goldberg is pretty good on film…so why didn’t this click? I can’t say for sure – I enjoyed the film but I didn’t make that connection to Bernie Rhodenbarr and wish for more…and really any film that features Bernie should have done just that ….again, Lawrence Block created a character that is likable, amusing, always getting into trouble and set for a terrific franchise. Yet, this film falls very short of giving Bernie the delightful turn that he deserved. I think that is where this film fell short, it need to develop the character of Bernie and then tell us the story. Maybe there is hope? it would make a great weekly series, sort of the Laura Diamond of crime?



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