And now my watch has ended: Game of Thrones

I have 10 years invested in reading the books and watching the TV show so it is with mixed emotions I bid farewell to the Weiss and Benioff  (W&B) version of a Song of Ice and Fire.  My overall assessment is that the show was at its best when it had the source material to rely on.  Once the show surpassed the books, it suffered.  For the most part, I don’t want to lay all the blame on W&B as they were left with a few bullet points to build a show around.  That was never the deal they signed on for.  When they first broached HBO and Martin with the idea to make GOT a series, no one anticipated that the last two books wouldn’t be written well before the corresponding show seasons.

Once it became clear that the books would not be finished, the show runners decided to send it on a more action oriented, less character driven path which culminated in a disappointing final season.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been some brilliant moments along the way.  Battle episodes like Hardhome, and Battle of the Bastards, both directed by Miguel Sapochnik were amazing.  The Long Night might have been if it had’t been too dark to see but there were some wonderful sequences including the Dothraki riding into the White Walkers as their torches are extinguished and the way the most violent periods of action were interspersed with quiet moments.  What suffered the most, however, was the storytelling.  We were shocked by Dany’s personality change and Tyrion’s claim that Bran was the most qualified to be King seemingly coming out of nowhere.  The storytelling (which Tyrion determined to be so important) fell apart in this final season.

I was so disappointed in the show this season (and particularly “The Bells”) that by the finale, I was emotionally enough removed to appreciate what happened as opposed to why it happened.  I had accepted this strange turn of events and waited to see how it played out.  It gave homage to both the Lord of the Rings as well as previous scenes in the HBO series.  I think they pretty much did well with Arya, Brienne, Sam, Yara, and Ghost.  Jon was destined to have an ending like Froto – he was forever damaged and thus had to leave his home, family and friends.  Tyrion was made Hand of the King again despite having screwed up every major decision for a couple of years – why was he rewarded for that?  Then there is Bran.  Nothing that W&B did with this character over the past 8 seasons suggested that he could ever take a position of responsibility in Westeros.  There were any number of other characters who were more deserving.  This decision fell with a thud.

I can only assume that George RR Martin will rectify all of this if he ever finishes his last two 1500 page books.   He will have plenty of time to take all of our characters to their rightful conclusion.  In the meantime, we are left with a good, not great (although there were GREAT individual episodes e.g. Winds of War and a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms along with the aforementioned Battle episodes ) series that engaged millions of viewers, writers, podcasters etc in endless discussions. The show which premiered in a different era of television will likely be the end of this type of viewing experience.  We now have so many shows on so many platforms that it is improbable one will ever garner the audience that this one did.  So now my watch is ended and I await patiently for the books and for HBO’s adaptation of the Golden Compass.

Advertisements

TV: Games of Thrones is back and that is all that matters but a couple of other shows popped up on the watch list as well: Killing Eve, A Discovery of Witches, Fosse/Verdon, Les Mis and Abby’s

I have watched a few other shows but isn’t this the most important one?  As I wait for the big battle episodes (3 and 5) and all the heart wrenching deaths that I assume will come with them, I hoped that the first episode of Season 8 would be happier and full of important reunions as all the characters reunite to fight the Army of the Dead.  I was rewarded.

Game of Thrones (Season 8, HBO) ♦♦♦♦♦

So the first episode was spent getting people situated for the major battles to come as well as giving us some great reunions – Arya and Jon, Arya and Gendry, Arya and the Hound, Tyrion and Sansa and Bran and Jamie.  Sansa delivers some good lines (Joffrey’s marriage to Marjorie “had its moments”) as does Tyrion and Jon rides a dragon.  It was all good.  No one dies (well Lord Umber didn’t have a good end but he was clearly a Red Shirt that we weren’t invested in).  We have one more episode before the big Winterfell battle so I expect the Northerners will figure out that Cersei is not sending troops and won’t be too happy to hear of Jon’s Southern parentage.  Meanwhile, Jon isn’t to happy with the truth about his parents.  Will he embrace the Targaryen history of incest or walk away from Dany?

I really want to see the final result of what I expect is a kick-ass weapon that Gendry is making for Arya.  Is she the one who will kill the Night King?  Will this be the weapon that does the job or might it be for the Ice Dragon.  The Bran/Jamie reunion should be very enlightening and Jamie’s acceptance by Dany after killing her father can’t be without issues.   Little Miss Mormont was a fantastic addition last season but she is getting to be a bit of a whiney pain in the arse that I can do without.   Sansa is justifiably skeptical of Dany and the Lannisters and speaking of Lannisters, is Cersei drinking her way through a pregnancy or is the baby gone?  I loved the Theon/Yara reunion but fear, that it won’t go well for either of them in the episodes coming up.  Clearly we have more questions than answers with only 5 shows remaining.

I was happy with this first episode despite some complaining that it was just setting the chess pieces in place for the game to come.  This was a character driven episode that was in the spirit of the book and harkens to a time before everything was battles and special effects.  It was the calm before the storm, and probably the last time we will see many of these characters alive.  I savored the moment.  I loved the new Opening Credits and all the call-outs to the Episode 1 of Season 1.

Killing Eve (BBC America/AMC)♦♦♦♦♦

Killing Eve is back and if the first two episodes are any indication, the show will not suffer from the 2nd season doldrums that affect so many TV dramas.  We left Eve (Sandra Oh) off last season after she shoves a knife into Villanelle (the fantastic and under rated Jodie Comer) and running away from the scene before we found out what happened.  Eve doesn’t know if she killed her or not as we find out when she finally reaches safety and contacts her former MI6 boss but she certainly realizes that she has slipped closer to the world of an international assassin than that of an MI6 agent.

Whatever Eve’s relationship with Villanelle is, she attempts to go back to a “normal life” with her husband and fails miserably.  Her former boss tries to get her to come back and Eve refuses at first but you know she can’t ultimately resist the calling.  Meanwhile Villanelle is back killing people as she recuperates and sets out on a path (we assume to find Eve).  However their relationship evolves, the cat and mouse game is superb.  Love this show!

A Discovery of Witches (BBC America/AMC) Rating TBD

Premiering after “Killing Eve” on Sunday nights is a new show that has been referred to by many as  “Twilight” meets “Outlander” starring Mathew Goode of Downton Abbey fame.  I’ve seen two episodes but if it plays out like I think it will, there is going to be quite the relationship between Goode’s Vampire character and his mortal enemy, a witch.  The TV show is considered better than the book it is based on by many critics and is rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for what that is worth.  While vampires and witches might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think this has some potential so I’m in it for now.

Fosse/Verdon (FX – rating TBD)

I have just watched one episode of Fosse/Verdon, the FX biopic miniseries covering about 50 years of Bob Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon.  Sam Rockwell plays Fosse and Michelle  Williams is Verdon, perhaps the greatest Broadway dancer of all time.  The reviews are mixed except for the unanimous praise for the two leads.  In the end, this is a show that may only appeal to true theater geeks (I’m sure I am missing the meaning of many of the lines) but Michelle Williams is so impressive that I’ll watch it for a bit longer.

Les Mis (PBS – rating TBD)

PBS’s Masterpiece Theater started a 6 part mini-series adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables starring just about everyone you could possible want to be in this BBC non-musical adaptation.  Dominic West is Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo is Javert, Lily Collins is Fantine, and to top it all off, is a performance by Olivia Coleman (is she in everything these days?).  Episode 1 suggests that this version of the classic will follow the book much more than the musical does.  So far the sets are rich and the cinematography fantastic in  a depressing story that reflects a much more realistic view of this period in French history than the musical.  I’m in for this one.

Abby’s (NBC) ♦♦ 1/2

As readers of this blog know, I’m not a big fan of traditional comedies nor of network TV but I thought I’d try this one as it has one of my favorite TV Actors (Neil Flynn from the Middle and Scrubbs) and reasonably decent reviews.  I got through 2 episodes and bagged it.  Abby has a bar in her back yard which of course has no permit, is not to code etc but does have a group of neighborhood regulars including Flynn’s character who could just as well be named Mike Heck.  I couldn’t get into any of the characters  or anything about this show.  I suppose, as traditional network comedies go, it could be worse but there is nothing new here and I have better ways of spending my time.

 

 

TV This Week: Watching Billions, Better Things, The Case Against Adnan Syed, Jane the Virgin, You’re the Worst, This is Us

The Case Against Adnan Syed (HBO)♦♦♦

This 4 episode documentary just finished airing on HBO.  For anyone who listened to Sarah Koenig’s brilliant 2014 “Serial” podcast which covered the same case, it is impossible not to make a comparison. The question of whether Adnan Syed was given a fair trial in his conviction for murdering his ex-girl friend, Hae Min Lee twenty years ago became very murky after the podcast and remain so after the documentary.  So, if you listened to the podcast, should you still watch the documentary? If you don’t have HBO, don’t bother – you can read the analysis of the documentary to get the salient details.  If you do have a subscription, there are some new and updated facts that are in the documentary that have nothing to do with cell phone towers.  You will also get more insights into the victim and her family as well as those  fighting for a new trial for Syed.

Included in the new information were several revelations in the final episode.   New DNA tests show that Syed’s DNA is nowhere to be found on the samples taken from Lee’s body and car.  In addition, questions were newly raised about the lack of Adnan’s fingerprints, the autopsy results and the location of the car.  Adnan did not agree to a plea deal last fall and the day the documentary aired, he was refused a new trial on an appeal by the State.  What this documentary does, as does the podcast, is raise questions about how this case was prosecuted and Syed’s innocence.  There are no definitive answers but it is clear, from both of these series that there should be a new trial.  If you were a fan of “Serial” and are an HBO subscriber, the series is worth checking out as it takes us to the present day and continues the story.

Better Things (FX S3) ♦♦♦♦

Better Things is back for Season 3.  This “Dramedy” almost collapsed under the co-creater Louis C K’s firing between Season 1 and 2 due to his sexual misconduct accusations  He was also the co-writer which left his partner, Pamela Adlon (also the star of the show) in a difficult situation in terms of how to continue on without such an important influence.  She got through Season 2 and this season while heavy, is also very strong.  In the end, Better Things is about family, aging, mother daughter relationships, and just how someone gets through every day with all the pressures of working and life.

Adlon plays Sam, a single mother of three and daughter of a woman who may be struggling with the early stages of dementia and lives next door.  Sam’s oldest daughter is dropped off at college in the first episode of Season 3, only to drop out and be back by Episode 3.  Her middle daughter appears to have some sexual identity issues along with a difficult relationship with her younger sister.  The youngest wants to be treated like the oldest and all of this happens while Sam, an aging actress, has to fight for roles that are going to younger, prettier women.  In addition, there are the other elements of aging that factor into the day by day struggle to get by.

Life for Sam continually  gets crazier and seemingly heading toward a disaster when just in time something happens that brings this family together in a loving and often very funny series of events.  Sam is an unconventional yet loving mother and you know that even though her life is a constant battle with brinksmanship, somehow things will be ok. In the meantime, there are a lot of very funny lines and situations we can all relate to!

Jane the Virgin (CW) ♦♦♦♦♦

Jane is back for her final season and I’m so going to miss this little ray of sunshine in my life each and every week.  If you haven’t ever seen this “Telenovela” run, don’t walk to Neflix to watch the first few seasons as you won’t find another show on TV with as much heart and soul as this one.  If you are unfamiliar with the Telenovela format (and I certainly was) it is like a soap opera on steroids with totally absurd events mixed with rich characters full of heart and Jane has this in spades.

Jane returns this season having to deal with her dead husband’s return to the life just as she is about to marry her long -term off and on again love who is also her baby daddy.  This is nothing compared to all the other crazy things that initially started with Jane (a virgin) being accidentally impregnated at her annual gynecological exam.  We have been promised that we’ll learn the identity of the narrator telling Jane’s story by the last show although I am pretty sure I know who it is.  This individual is such an integral part of the show and knows the innermost thoughts and emotions of all the main characters and breathes life into them.   In the meantime, I will savor each and every one of these final few episodes.

This is Us (NBC) ♦♦♦

This is Us finished up its third season this week with a twist (of course) that sends us well into the future of the Pearson clan.  I’m not sure why I’m still watching this show which consistently pulls at your emotions through the use of various gimmicks.  I’m so tired of Randall and Beth fighting (I”m totally with you on this one Deja!); I’m tired of Kevin’s substance abuse, I’m tired of nothing good happening to any of these people although in last night’s finale, one happy thing did occur and it was incredulous that it did.  It was just ridiculous and I’m sure it will be controversial as it minimizes a life and death situation that many people experience.   I won’t go into any more detail in case you haven’t seen it.

As I said, I’m not really sure why I still watch this and I may not return to it next season.  It may be just that I didn’t have anything else to watch on Tuesday nights as I continually leave Network TV behind.

Billions (Showtime) ♦♦♦ 1/2

Another show that seems to be running its course with me is Billions.  I thought the first two seasons were absolutely brilliant as Chuck (Paul Giamatti) and Bobby (Damien Lewis) played a complex and riveting cat and mouse game.  4 seasons in, however, this, like so many other Showtime series as slowed down.  Once Bobby and and Chuck made up in Season 3,  much of the tension went away.  The introduction last year of Asia Kate Dillion, TV’s first gender non-conforming lead character,  has helped provide a fresh storyline that has held my interest.  In general, though, there are so many sub- plots that are complex and if you don’t pay attention, you could miss something important – or not.  I’ll finish up this season and make a determination as to whether I go forward with it – if it goes forward.

A Fond Farewell to You’re the Worst (FX)

It ended the only way it could have (Spoiler Alert)  without a wedding.  Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) make up perhaps the most dysfunctional couple on TV and we have spent the entire fifth and final season hurtling toward a wedding between the two of them which seems doomed to disaster.  Helping us prepare for that outcome are a number of flash forwards which not only suggest that Jimmy and Gretchen are not together but that their lives have taken a very dark turn.  Thankfully, the writers of the show left us in a good place with this couple and have given us as sweet of an ending as is possible while remaining true to the characters.  How could any of us ask for more of a finale?  I loved the ending and will miss this show.

 

 

 

The Movies: Apollo 11, STYX, Mary Poppins, Triple Frontier

Playing in Theaters:

Apollo 11 ♦♦♦♦♦

You may think you know all about Apollo 11 and you probably won’t come out of the theater after seeing this movie learning more about what you already know.  Rather, you will come away having experienced one of the most amazing visual extravaganzas of any documentary you are likely to ever see.  The Director/Editor, Todd Douglas Miller has taken hundreds of heretofore unseen, uncataloged and pristine video from numerous views of the mission and put them together with over 11,000 hours of video to provide 90 minutes of extraordinary film documenting the 9 day mission.

Miller does this without narration to let the audience soak in the actual experience of Engineers, Flight Operations, spectators and of course the astronauts.  There is some audio of Walter Cronkite but he isn’t providing historical analysis which is typical in most documentaries.  Miller uses some film of JFK and a nightly newscast to provide a brief insight into the political environment of the time.  Most effectively, he uses a split screen methodology to show what is happening from various points of view.  Miller also provides some crude 1960s type computer animation which simplifies some of the more technical’s aspects of the mission and adds so much to the understanding of what is going on outside the camera’s lens.  The heart rate monitor recordings of the astronauts was a fascinating touch as well.  I can’t complete this review without mentioning the impressive score by Matt Morton using only synthesizers from the period.

First Man gave us the psychological impact on the astronauts (primarily Armstrong) on the pressure of the mission but Apollo 11 extends that to all members of the team.  If you get a chance to see this movie on an IMAX screen, it will be well worth it for you.  For everyone else, see this movie.

STYX     ♦♦♦ 1/2

STYX is a small independent movie that will be hard to find unless your city has multiple screens dedicated to foreign and independent films.  If you are lucky enough to find it, this thriller is worth seeing.  Suzanne Wolffe plays Rieke, a German doctor who takes her 30 ft. sailboat  on a solo trip to Ascension Island (somewhere between Africa and South America) to follow Darwin.  Unfortunately for her, she runs into African refugees along the way creating a moral dilemma that she is forced to deal with.

Rieke is a very independent woman and clearly a competent sailor.  At first the viewer is lulled into the daily routine of a woman alone at sea.  A major storm hits and when she wakes up (after again, doing everything perfectly to save her boat and herself) she finds herself a few hundred feet away from a disabled fishing boat with at least 100 refugees calling and signaling for help.  Obviously she can’t save them as her boat is too small and she contacts the Coast Guard to report the crisis.  They say they will come.  Meanwhile a young boy near death manages to swim to her boat where she (with great difficulty) gets him on board and treats him.

Rieke is torn between her desire to help the refugees and obeying the directives of the Coast Guard to get away from the trawler because her presence endangers both them and her.  Of course, help never comes – either from the Coast Guard or other ships in the area and the plight of the refugees and the West’s response to the crisis is played out in this allegorical film.  Wolffe is mesmerizing as she dominates every frame of  the 95 minutes, 80% of which is non-speaking.  For me, the movie is a cross between the documentary Human Flow and Robert Redford’s All is Lost.  It is far from upbeat but will have you on the edge of your seat for the entire hour and one-half while wondering what you would do in the same situation.

Streaming:

Mary Poppins Returns (available to rent/buy) ♦♦♦

This was a good, not great movie.  Emily Blunt was “perfectly” fine as were the other cast members and certainly Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the Gas Lighter can do no wrong in my mind.  Meryl Streep was a little over the top as Mary’s cousin and was wasted in a below average musical number but Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as grown up Jane and Michael Banks were wonderful.  The highlight of the entire movie was Dick Van Dyke’s musical number on the desk.  Just an amazing actor and a wonderful call-back to the original.  I also loved the costumes and particularly the colors for both the clothes and the backgrounds they were up against.

I did think Blunt’s Mary was closer to the figure in the books – a mysterious and somewhat scary version of the world’s most famous nanny.  I love everything this actress does and she doesn’t disappoint here.  She plays the character with charm yet manages the “distance” that the character needs to really be true to the role.  More importantly, she didn’t try to clone Julie Andrews.  She created her own character.  A sneaky little smile in the right places rounds out the character perfectly.

One can’t write about Mary Poppins Returns without comparing it to Disney’s original with Julie Andrews.  The music in the sequel,  for me,  was the weakest part of the film.  With the exception of “The Place where Lost Things go”, the songs just don’t hold up against the original.  Who can ever forget Feed the Birds?  I’m not a big animation fan but the bathtub scene was well done and overall, the sequences paid homage to its predecessor. In summation, Mary Poppins Returns is perfectly enjoyable but won’t become the iconic film that the original is.

Triple Frontier  (Netflix)♦♦ 1/2

I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of military action movies but I figured I’d give Triple Frontier a shot because I like the cast and also thought my husband would enjoy it (it is virtually impossible to find a movie we can watch together given our differing tastes!).  I made it through to the end – he (lover of action movies) did not.  It is definitely a shoot- em -up, testosterone filled (there was only one woman amongst the cast) flick that is probably a good choice to be in the Netflix stable which has something for everyone.

The basic plot revolves around a group of former special ops buddies getting together to raid a South American drug kingpin’s stash of money which is hidden inside a disco.  Relatively early in the film, they get their hands on the money and then the real action begins as they attempt to get the huge stash out of the country.  Every step of the way, they encounter new obstacles and life and death situations which they clearly weren’t prepared for.  There are moral dilemmas and relationships that develop over the course of the film but it is primarily a military action film.

The cast was all solid.  Ben Affleck does better in this type of role than Batman; Oscar Isaacs never ceases to amaze me as to the range of his acting skills – he can play anyone;  Garrett Hedlund and Charlie Hunnam are always good.  Unfortunately for all of these individuals, the writing lets their characters down.  We never get to really know these guys.  I am sure there is an audience for this type of film although I would have pegged the supporters to be pretty well aligned with the young male Rotten Tomato audience reviewers and they only gave it a 60.  Still, its free for the millions of Netflix subscribers so why not check it out if you like that sort of thing.

 

I’m Back with Some Books

For the past two years, I have been on the Board of a local organization which has taken a great deal of my time.  I’m at the end of my term and ready to get back to doing what I enjoy  best – reading, watching TV, going to the movies and writing about it all!  I’m in a couple of book clubs and a film club so should be able to keep up with what is new.  The last month or so I have been reading some good books so here are a couple of reviews:

Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2017 provides a deep look into the impact of eviction.  The author spent 15 months in Milwaukie, WI spending time with both landlords and tenants to help understand eviction and its relationship to poverty.  He surveyed over 1000 renters, and 1 million 911 calls.  He lived in a trailer park and in a low-income housing area where evictions occurred regularly while studying 8 families in-depth.  His conclusion is that poverty doesn’t cause eviction, eviction causes poverty.

The book made me question basic assumptions I had about poverty and eviction.  For example, I had (as many others do I’m sure) believed that people who are below the poverty line qualify for subsidized housing when in reality, only 30% of those who are eligible actually receive it.  The author describes the descent into a cycle of poverty that comes with an eviction in a personalized way through the struggles of  the victims.    The book almost reads like a novel until the end when there is a discussion of possible solutions to the housing crisis in America.

This book won’t appeal to everyone but if you are looking to understand the cycles of poverty in America, the affordable housing crisis or just a reader of great non-fiction, this should be on your list.

I was Told to Come Alone:  My Journey behind the lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet

One of the best non-fiction books of 2017 describes Souad Mekhennet’s journey behind the lines of radicalized Muslims beginning with Bosnia and moving through the current day caliphates.  The daughter of a Turkish mother and Moroccan father, she has both Sunni and Shia ties to the prophet which gave her access to some of the most dangerous terrorists of the last 30 years as she attempts to understand why young Muslims are being radicalized.  The book provides a lens through which the events of this time period are perceived by many young Muslims and their reaction to it.

Souad travels to terrorist camps and endangers her life on multiple occasions.  She covers Bosnia, 9/11, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and other key events which have such anti-Western hate amongst so many young Muslims.  The author grew up in Germany and along with her heritage gives her a unique perspective into the Muslim immigrant experience in Europe which has defined much of European Muslim youth ‘s reactions to the West.  For those looking for an insight into why the West is hated by the Islamists so much, this book provides insights.  It is well written and a worthwhile read.

 

HIDDEN TREASURES

This is a section I am going to add to reviews when I discover a book, film or TV show that is older and may have been forgotten about but is worth re-discovering.  This month, I have a book.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively Grove

A friend recommended this 1988 book to me and I absolutely love it.  The story revolves around Claudia Hampton, a historian and independent woman (she reminds me a lot to Gertrude Bell) who lies near death in her hospital room.  She tells the nurse that she is “writing the history of the world” and then proceeds to flash back to periods of her life and what they mean to her.  Claudia is not a particularly likable character which may frustrate some readers but the history that the author depicts by layering  flashbacks, flash forwards and viewpoint changes adds depth to the story telling.

Claudia has three men in her life – her brother, the father of her only child and the love of her life, “Tom” who she met in Cairo during WWII and had a brief affair with before he was killed in an air attack.  How the story of these relationships unfolds is fascinating and made the book a page turner for me.  This book has a little of everything.  If you are looking for something different, I recommend you delve into the world of Claudia Hampton.

TV: Summer’s Last Hurrah – Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, You’re the Worst and Top of the Lake China

 

It has been a completely crazy last month or so and I know I am way behind on my blog so while I have a few days before the onslaught of fall TV, I just wanted to make some comments about the shows that I have been watching during the twilight of summer.

Season’s Finales:

Game of Thrones:

The penultimate season of Game of Thrones gave us a scant 7 episodes but several were packed with amazing special effects and some great battles.  I think the show has struggled since it went beyond the books.  The world that George R.R. Martin created is so complex and intricate with deep history and substantive characters/dialogue that it gave the HBO creators a writer’s feast from which to create the show.  Once that was gone and the showrunners had to create the storylines with little guidance, I have found the character development lacking and the focus on huge battles and dragons.  Not that I mind battles and dragons (this season the latter were spectacular) but there is so much more that could have been done.

In my opinion, Season 7 was very rushed.  People moved between far locations with lightning speed.  Key actions happened without the careful construction of the plot leading up to them.  I’m not sure why Weiss and Benioff decided to do only 7 shows this season and 6 in the final season but even with some extended episodes, there was so much missing in terms of background explanations as to why characters acted the way they did.  A prime example of this was in the finale when Sansa and Aria executed Littefinger for no obvious reason.  Apparently in a discarded scene, Bran informed them of the nefarious things Littlefinger did but the finale didn’t explain it at all.  I just feel the showrunners are tired of writing from  George R.R. Martin notes and just want it all to be over.  It doesn’t give me great hope for next season other than I’m sure there will be some great dragon/battle scenes but the long, wonderful dialog sequences will be something we will need to go back to the first few seasons for.

I love Game of Thrones but I wish we had the books finished so that the showrunners could give us the story we deserve.  I hope the novels will someday be completed (although I may not live long enough to see it given Martin’s history) to get the full measure of this amazing world.

Season’s Premiers:

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

Halt and Catch Fire commenced its fourth and final season last month and so far, it is great.  This is a terrific under-the-radar show about the beginnings of Silicon Valley and the computer and internet revolution.  It addresses some of the issues women in technology have faced as well as the exciting world of start-up tech companies.  This season is focused on the development of internet search engines and is fascinating.  The acting is great, the characters terrific and the history pretty accurate from what I can tell.

If you haven’t seen Halt and Catch Fire, the first three seasons are on Netflix.  The second and third are fantastic.  The first season is somewhat inconsistent (as many first seasons are) as the show tries to find its footing.  One critic who I highly respect suggested that if you want to see the show and have limited time, watch the pilot and the last four episodes of Season 1 along with all of Seasons 2&3.  Enjoy!

You’re the Worst (FXX)

In last season’s finale, Jimmy asked Gretchen to marry him, she said “yes” and then he panicked and drove off into the sunset.  This season begins with Jimmy living in a trailer park with no access to the internet or phone and Gretchen trying to move on.  They don’t see each other until the end of the third episode which just aired.  I’m not sure where we are going from there but I’m in for the ride.  I love this show about four of the most dysfunctional and damaged (along with mentally ill) people you will ever come across.  Chris Geere and Aya Cash as Jimmy and Gretchen are so good in their roles and Desmin Borges (Edgar) and Kether Donohue (Lindsay) are equally up to the task as their sidekicks.

The show went to a dark place with Gretchen’s bi-polar disorder and I’m hoping it lightens up a bit this year,  as it is supposed to be a comedy.  The first three episodes seem to be headed back toward its comedic roots and I like that Edgar and Kether are getting more screen time.  The four leads are the soul of the show and Jimmy and Gretchen is just too intense without some comedic relief by other characters.  I’m so glad this show is back!

Top of the Lake China Girl (Sundance)

I watched the first Top of the Lake miniseries in 2013 and thought it to be one of the finest shows of the year so I was excited that Jane Campion has brought it back.  Unfortunately, four years later, I remember very little about the first series and when I launched into this new season, it became clear very quickly that I needed to recall what happened to make Elisabeth Moss’s character (Robin Griffin) so damaged.  I know she was raped but some of the other psychological issues need reading up on.  One thing that is clear from the two episodes I have seen is that the misogyny is non-stop and after the last two years of listening to it spewing from the Republican candidate now President, it is pretty hard to take for my entertainment.

This season adds Nicole Kidman who has had such a banner year in both film and TV and who I think is one of our finest actresses out there.  However, her introduction in Episode 1 resulted in a performance I found to be stiff and unbelievable – it was slightly improved in the second Episode.  Gwendoline Christie  is another new character although I think she is better in Game of Thrones.   I am going to stick with this as I think that any show created by Jane Campion and starring Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Moss deserves my attention but I do have concerns that this may turn out to be more like Season 2 of True Detective than Season 2 of the Americans.

 

 

TV: The Last of the Spring TV Finales: Broadchurch, Orphan Black and Nashville

As the summer winds down the last few shows the I watch ended and as I wait for fall TV to start up later this month, here are some thoughts.

Series Finales:

Broadchurch (BBC America)

Broadchurch had a brilliant first year, a not so great Season 2 and a good third and final season which just finished.  I wasn’t totally thrilled with the finale given that the rapist in this season’s crime turned out not to be one of the several suspects the show had been focused on all season.  After all the red herrings in practically every episode, to introduce basically a new suspect as the perpetrator at the end was cheap even though one of the suspects was involved.  Nonetheless, the finale overall was satisfying and wrapped up many of the plotlines that had developed over all three seasons.

Alec and “Milla” successfully solved their latest case; The Latimer family had some cause for hope although Mark is still very broken.  Alec’s relationship with his daughter got stronger but he passed on a more personal relationship with Ellie.  The Reverend is moving on as is Trish (the rape victim) and her family; The local town newspaper woman who was fired for being ethical is going to be a blogger in a closure that I loved.  I’m going to miss this small town but more than anything, the activing of David Tennant as Alec Hardy, Olivia Colman as Ellie Miller (“Milla”) and this year’s victim Julie Hesmondhalgh who played Trish Winterman so well.  Jodi Whittaker is very good and I was happy the writers found an interesting way to keep her involved in the plot this season.  I may just try Dr. Who to see her as the first female Doctor in that series. The final words of the show (“See you tomorrow Milla”) were perfect as were the fading pictures of the cliffs which so defined the town and its story.

Despite the dip in Season 2, Broadchurch is a very good show which should delight anyone who enjoys British murder mysteries.  It will be missed by many.

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black ended its five-year run with a satisfying finale in which our clone “Sestas” got their happy endings.  I loved the first two years of this show and then I spent the next two having no idea what was going on.  Tatiana Maslany’s acting was so fantastic, however, that I couldn’t stop watching.  Each character she portrayed was as if an entirely different actress was playing the role.  She is just riveting on screen no matter what kind of crazy wig was worn.  In addition, the primary clones (Allison, Sarah, Cosima and Helena) completely engaged the viewer in their respective stories.  The supporting cast while small was quite good including Jordan Gavaris as Felix, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Siobhan, Kristian Bruun as Donnie and Kevin Hanchart as Art.

I never understood the whole male clone storyline nor exactly what the evil “Neolution” organization was.  It was hard to follow the ins and outs of who was in it and who wasn’t but in the end, that didn’t matter as it was all about the “Sestas” and having them finally finding some happiness in life.  So, goodbye Orphan Black.  You brought joy to my heart for at least a couple of years and I’m going to miss Tatiana Maslany playing all of these fascinating characters.

Season Finale

Nashville (CMT)

Nashville is an evening soap opera so why do I keep watching it?  I don’t generally care for country music although the music on this show often draws me in; I don’t care for several the characters, particularly now that Connie Britton has departed and in fact, I actively dislike several of them (Scarlett, Maddie and Daphne); The plotlines are often goofy and predictable so what is left?  There are characters I do generally care about.  Charles Esten as Deacon and the frat boys (Jonathan Jackson as Avery, Sam Palladio as Gunnar and Chris Carmack as Will) are great.  Hayden Panattiere is very good despite suspect writing for her character and her relationship with Avery is compelling (unlike Gunnar and Scarlett).

Nashville completed its spring “half” season – the first without Rayna Jaymes.  With the loss of such a critical character, it struggled to find its footing.  There were new character introductions which didn’t particularly work; The increased importance of Maddie and Daphne was tough to take – particularly the storyline of Daphne and the homeless girl.  These young actors are not good enough to have such plot lines revolve around them.  Gunnar and Scarlett just need to implode so we never have to watch them break up, get together, break-up, and kind of get together again before breaking up.  Enough is enough.  Will’s storyline seemed to just float in the wind and Zach’s storyline never resonated with me.  So, again, I get back to what I liked; Deacon dealing with grief; Juliette and Avery (not Juliette and the gospel singers), Will, Avery and Gunner’s “Three Men and a Baby life” and some pretty good music here and there to keep me going.  I don’t know that when Nashville reappears again next season competing against many more TV shows that I’ll have time to watch it but it is ok summer fare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV: The Keepers, The Last Tycoon, Casual and Diana Our Mother

There isn’t much original programming on TV right now so I have mostly been streaming aside for every Sunday night when I get to watch Game of Thrones!

The Keepers (Netflix)

The Keepers isn’t the “can’t stop watching” sort of true murder mystery that say the “Jinx” is or “Making of a Murder”.  That might have to do with the lack of an arrested suspect to focus on.  It might also have to do with the fact that it is the story of two women (same high school class as myself) who are investing the murder of a beloved nun they had for a high school teacher in the late sixties.  The process of this work is slow and painstaking as is some of the TV show.  I am perfectly happy to watch women who are my peers become more effective investigators then the Baltimore police but that might not work for everyone.  Nevertheless, it is a compelling story that brings a different dimension to the Catholic Church abuse stories that we have been exposed to over the past few decades.

This seven-part series is like watching “Spotlight” only squared.  It is a deeply disturbing trip into the sexual abuse of countless girls by a priest in a Baltimore Catholic High School in the sixties. There is mystery, intrigue and even the Wire can’t compete with this true story of corruption and cover-up encompassing the Church, police, and what seems like the Who’s Who of Baltimore. The most compelling individual in this story is a woman, Jean Hargadon Wehner who suffered abuse and then blocked it from her memory for decades.  She started to recall disturbing elements of her ordeal and filed suit against the Church and the perpetrator priest in the early 90s.  “Jane Doe” as she was known as during the lawsuit is remarkably open about her experiences and every time she is on the screen, she completely owns it.

As the individuals who participated in the murder and cover-up have died, it is unclear if we will ever know for sure who committed the murder of Sister Cathy.  The dogged determination of two wonderful women, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins have opened up the case and brought the story of the abuse and murder to the forefront of many Americans.  The Keepers is a powerful TV series (although I found it dragged in parts) and it is most effective when the camera just lets the survivors tell their stories.  While other similar programs like the aforementioned “Jinx” or “Making of a Murder” might be more riveting, “The Keeper”s is well worth checking out – particularly if you are interested in the subject or just a murder mystery buff.

The Last Tycoon (Amazon)

Yes, Matt Bomer is perhaps the best-looking actor in Hollywood but he can act and he does it well in this new Amazon series based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that was unfinished at his death.  I watched the entire nine-episodes and enjoyed it.  It is a period piece that takes place in 1930s Hollywood amidst a backdrop of Nazi bankers and the Great Depression.  The strong acting and visually appealing sets will remind the viewer of Mad Men which isn’t too surprising as they share the same costume designer.  The pilot wasn’t the greatest but after that, the story of a small movie studio head (Kelsey Grammer) and his creative genius partner (Bomer) trying to keep their heads above water while attempting to make great movies was entertaining.  Bomer plays a Jewish character, Monroe Stahr, who is still in love with the ghost of his movie-star wife who perished in a fire.  Grammer’s character, Pat Brady, has several flaws, including a strong jealousy of his partner, which prove in the end that a completely immoral streak probably is required to become a great success in Hollywood.

Lily Collins plays Brady’s daughter who inexplicably is given a major movie to produce at the age of 19 with absolutely no experience.  I didn’t love this plot line nor Collin’s performance in a role which I thought required more acting ability than Collin’s is currently capable of.  Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) makes a very strong appearance in several episodes and it was great to see her back.  Grammer and Bomer were especially strong and anyone who thinks the latter is just a pretty face should watch what he does in this series.  His reaction to Brady cutting him off at the knees was magnificent as was his performance at the engagement party.  The costumes were fabulous and along with the camera work and scenery take the viewer back to a time forgotten.

It is unclear as to whether the Last Tycoon will be renewed for another season (or more) but it ended on a cliff hanger and I’m sure there is a lot more story to tell.  The novel upon which it is based was apparently only half finished so the writers could go several different directions with it.  My only fear would be that it moves toward the Lily Collin’s character running the studio, the groundwork for which has been laid.  There are several other plotlines that could be explored in more depth including the Nazi impact on the studios and the Jewish establishment in Hollywood.  The first season certainly touched on these themes but the story could get quite fascinating as WWII becomes a reality.  I don’t want to spoil the finale but I’ll just say that I need Bomer to return to the series if it goes another season.

Casual Season 3 (Hulu)

This story revolving around the completely dysfunctional members of the Meyers/Cole family spiraled into even more of a heavy drama in season 3.  The showrunners did well in physically separating the Meyers from Alex this season and it helped with the story telling.  New characters, like Judy Greer as Alex’s boss were brought in and additional plotlines established making for a more engaging season.  After all, one can only take so much of three deeply flawed characters being with each other 24×7.  Each character was strengthened and individualized as they set out on their own journey towards happiness – which of course is not ever in the cards for them.  While these were all positive changes, they created a scenario that resulted in multiple plotlines being very depressing and by the middle of the season I was ready to quit.  I did hang in there and it picked up toward the end with the finale setting the stage for Alex and Val to go back to living together in Season 4 although Laura is parked at her horrific grandmother’s house.

Casual is one of many “Dramedies” (You’re the Worst, Catastrophe etc.) that have focused on dark, topics with less and less comedic undertones.  They are tough to watch despite being excellent.  In the future, I think I may have to decrease the number of these that I follow and Casual might be the one that I ditch.   It’s nothing against Casual, it is just that I can only take so much of dysfunctional people in their 30s/40s with drug abuse, alcoholism, bi-polar disorders and other problems creating chaos in their lives.  I could use just a little more “comedy” in my dramedies.

Documentaries:

Diana Our Mother (HBO)

This documentary put together by William and Harry will appeal to anyone with an interest in Diana or the Royal family.  It is an intimate look into the woman who meant so much to so many people and it shows the deep scars her death left upon her children.  There isn’t much more in this special than has previously been made available but we do see her through her children’s eyes and are shown new family pictures. The boys discuss her sense of humor, their last call with her and the void she has left in their lives. It is worth watching for anyone interested in the Royals and as we mark the twentieth anniversary of Diana’s tragic death.

Movies: Dunkirk and the Lost City of Z

 

Dunkirk

Dunkirk is impressive.  It is a visual masterpiece.  Yet, I have mixed feelings about the film which isn’t surprising given it is a Christopher Nolan movie.  On one hand, its full-out action, brilliant cinematography and moving score make for one of the best movies of the year.  On the other, the lack of character development and overlapping timelines add unnecessary confusion.  Dunkirk is the story of the rescue of over 300,000 mostly British soldiers from a small beach in France where they were cornered by the Germans.  This significant portion of the British army could not be rescued by destroyers due to the location.  The British also did not want to send the bulk of their Air Force to assist with the rescue because they didn’t want to lose their planes with the war just beginning.

The film follows three stories – by land, air and sea.  The first one (by land) is a young soldier who finds himself on the beach with hundreds of thousands of other soldiers trying to get off; the second (by air) is a British RAF pilot trying to hold off the German air force almost single-handedly and the third (by sea) is a pleasure boat captain (Mark Rylance) sailing to Dunkirk to rescue the troops.  Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, the Dark Knight etc.) does not tell these stories on a single timeline.  It took me a few minutes to figure it out – the biggest clue was that there was daylight during the sea plot and night for the land plot although you are led to believe they are happening at the same time.  In reality, the “land” soldier’s story lasted over a week, the air story probably less than 60 minutes and sea story a day or so.  This is not differentiated in the 1 hr. 45-minute film which leads you to believe the story occurs simultaneously.  It isn’t until the end that everything comes together.  I didn’t appreciate it in Inception and I didn’t love it in this film.

Another thing that bothered me was that there was no character development.  All the young soldiers look alike and so it was somewhat difficult to follow their stories.  Harry Styles was the only one I recognized so he became my “constant” for the land story.  By the way, he did a nice job.  I never recognized Tom Hardy because he was covered up with a face mask the entire time he was flying the plane that thwarted much of the German air attack.  He was great, though, as his eyes told it all.

It was nice to see a WWII movie with no blood and gore and never a Nazi in sight.  That isn’t to say we weren’t immersed in the desperate struggles of drowning in a fiery oil slick or a submerged boat under fire or the tens of thousands of soldiers who were sitting ducks on a beach while air fire reigned down upon them.  These horrors were visually epic.  While we were gazing down at planes zig zagging into the ocean depths and docks and hospital ships being blown up, there was a constant clock-ticking score from Hans Zimmer which in my opinion enhanced the film immeasurably.   I found the score to be amazing and never over played.  It was, for me, an effective background tool that didn’t interfere with the action nor deliver over the top crescendos when it could easily have (e.g. when the rescue fleet appeared).  However, there is a lot of love/hate out there amongst the critics for the score.  They either love it or hate it with a passion – no middle ground on this one.

Dunkirk is an important story as it is quite possible that had the rescue not occurred and if the Germans with total command of the area decided to keep moving through the barricades to destroy the British troop,  WWII would have been over then and there.  This film should be seen.  For those individuals who do not know the story, read up on it a bit on Wiki first because the movie plunges you into the action immediately with no explanation or context.  In addition, there is a lack of dialogue so the viewer is immersed in this historical action film with no narrative.  If you want an additional perspective on the battle, be sure to watch this year’s “Their Finest” which should be streaming by now.  It is a film about the British War Office’s propaganda machine at work trying to make the besieged population focus on the upbeat story of the Dunkirk rescue. In the meantime, I suspect I am going to need to see this movie again, preferably in IMAX (everyone who can see it in IMAX 70mm should), to try and follow all the threads.  This is nothing new for me when it comes to Christopher Nolan films.

Streaming:

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z was one of the best reviewed films of 2016 and because I never got a chance to catch it in the theaters, I took advantage of it now being available to watch on demand.  I’m sorry I did.  It was one of the most boring movies ever.  My husband was also watching although his moaning, groaning and swearing about the movie seemed to take precedence over viewing.  I don’t even know where to start but one place is that I broke my rule of not watching a movie where the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is more than 20% less than the critics score.  In this case, there was a 25% difference which is huge and means that it probably wouldn’t be a film most people enjoy.  Alarm bells should have gone off!

Basically, the movie was so boring it was torture to watch. Charlie Hunnam places Perry Fawcett, a British major who is sent to the Amazon to chart the area.  While there, he discovers some pottery and decides there is a sophisticated lost civilization in the area.  His suffering wife played by Sienna Miller must spend years on her own with their children back in England while Fawcett keeps going back to find this civilization.  He isn’t a great person and essentially the viewer is asked to bond with someone who is probably crazy and treats his family badly.  It should have also been telling that Robert Pattinson (an actor I really like and respect) as  Fawcett’s aide-de-camp, was unrecognizable to me for at least the first 45 minutes and that is a face I know very well! Another annoying thing was that for some inexplicable reason, the Director had them all mumbling their lines.  The viewer could have been forgiven for turning on the closed captioning to understand what was being said but why should they have to?  What was the Director thinking when he thought that was a good idea?

The critics find much to love in this film including the cinematography, acting, character depth and messaging around the exploration and conquering of indigenous people.  For the average viewer, wait until it is free to check it out.  It’s not worth the $5.99 rental fee.

TV: Game of Thrones and S1 of Twin Peaks

TV is really slow.  There are only a couple of shows that I watch which are still running and the early fall premiers aren’t here yet so I am doing a bit of streaming.  Thank god for Game of Thrones! 

Season Premier 

Game of Thrones (HBO)

It’s back! Finally!  One would think that in the penultimate season with only 14 episodes remaining that we would start moving quickly towards the battle for Westeros.  “Dragonstone” did not do that but rather followed the traditional 10 minute per character Game of Throne’s structure.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it made me a bit crazy waiting for the Dany to set foot on Dragonstone for 50 minutes.  In the meantime, we got the major players in place:  Arya in a cold- open wipes out the Freys and seems headed to King’s Landing to continue her murderous revenge tour on Cersei; John and Sansa consolidate forces in the North and are not necessarily on the same page – but they have Lyanna Mormont so who cares; Cersei is on the throne and working with Euron Greyjoy (who has had an offseason makeover); Jaime is skeptical of Cersei’s plan; Poor Sam is having a tough time in Old Town but not as bad as Sir Jorah and Dany finally sets up shop in Dragonstone.  We also see Brienne and Little Finger at Winterfell with the latter plotting away.

That leaves Bran who goes through the wall to Castle Black.  This could be (and I think it is) huge.  When Bran was touched by the Night King, the magic that protected the Weirwood and the Children of the Forrest was destroyed.  The same type of magic protects the wall.  By Bran going through, did he break those charms?  I think he did and the White Walkers will now be able to go South from the wall as shown in Bran’s vision.  It will likely be at Eastwatch where Tormund as well as the Hound (due to an intriguing vision by Beric Dondarrion) seem to be headed.  The pieces on the chessboard appear to be positioned for the wars ahead.

I love this show and thought the premier was good (apart from the Ed Sheeran cameo which was just bizarre).  I fully expect things to move much more quickly now with only a handful of stories left to tell.  I am concerned that Arya has gone to the Darkside and won’t be able to come back.  I can’t get Voldermort out of my mind and the horcruxes that contained part of his soul that broke away every time he killed someone.  I am completely and totally Team Stark (I still consider John a Stark as Lyanna Stark is his mother!) and will be devastated if Arya goes to that place.  In the meantime, I’ll be savoring every single minute of the few episodes we’ll get this season and reporting out as appropriate.

Streaming: (I’m watching on Showtime)

Twin Peaks (the original)

The current Showtime revival of Twin Peaks is getting rave reviews so I thought I’d go back and check out the original 90’s show to see what it is all about.  I’ve never seen an episode of Twin Peaks but it has a large cult following so how bad could it be?  I binge-watched Season 1 which was only 7 or 8 episodes.  The show is bizarre.  It takes place in a small logging town in the Pacific Northwest which has several strange inhabitants like the one-armed man, the lady who walks around with a log, crazy eye-patch lady, a very quirky FBI investigator who speaks to spirits as well as lots of people involved in affairs, prostitution and the drug trade.   A lot was going on in this town of around 3,000.  I can see how unusual the show was in its time and why it must have generated a big following.  However, 25+ years later, with all the advances in technology and TV dramas that have occurred, Twin Peaks looks like a cheap soap opera.

Apparently, the showrunners (the key one of course is the brilliant David Lynch) never expected anyone to watch the show let alone get a second season so when it was renewed, they weren’t prepared to do 22 episodes of who killed Laura Palmer and keep it interesting.  The first season primarily held my interest because I knew it was short and I was engaged in who killed Laura Palmer.  So, my big dilemma now is whether I bother with the 2nd season of apparently not very good (yet numerous) episodes or just suck it up, read up on who killed Laura Palmer and skip to the new revival.  I’m kind of leaning toward the latter but will let you know.