Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

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Louis CK talks about suicide, abortion, religion and his kids.

Talking about abortion and suicide is not the way most comedians would open a comedy show, but Louis CK opens his comedy special talking about precisely those topics.  And guess what, he’s funny talking about suicide and abortion, at least I thought he was funny.  Some people might be incredibly offended,  and that’s your choice, turn it off ten minutes in.  There is material he did that did not work for me, but he is always taking risks with his material, and I respect that.  Most of the material did make me laugh, so the fact that it unique and funny, that makes Louis CK a very talented comedian. It’s also important to note that this routine was filmed in Washington DC, I don’t know that these jokes would go over so well in Texas or Kansas. It’s important to know your audience, and Louis knows his audience.

Now that doesn’t mean this special is for everyone, there is bad language,  and topics discussed that aren’t for everyone.  In fact, he does voices, that might offend some people, but if the viewer has watched to the point where he starts to do the voices, the viewer thinks CK is funny anyway.  And if the viewer doesn’t like the voices, he or she might find something funny later.

There is nothing going on from a director’s point of view, just Louis CK talking to the audience.  I do not know if any of the material was edited, but it didn’t look like it. He just seems to be talking to the audience.

Louis CK:  See it,’K?

dave chappelle

The star of Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s show talks about Bill Cosby, Kevin Hart, the LGBTQ community, and his four meetings with O.J, Simpson.

I like Dave Chapelle, not his stupid movies, like Half Baked, but I loved his show Chappelle’s  Show, precisely because it was edgy and dangerous.  He took what people were thinking and said them, and that’s why I liked his show, and he said things that no one would think of saying and said them anyway.  Some people may not like him because of his controversial humor, but that’s why I like him.

This brings me to this special.  Some of this special is very funny and made me laugh out loud, but some of it is not funny at all.  Here’s my take, when someone is TRYING to be funny, I can tell, it doesn’t sound natural, and Dave Chappelle was trying to be funny in some instances in this special.  The thing is, he doesn’t have to try so hard to be funny, he just is funny.  At times he sounded like he was giving a history lesson, and that is definitely not fun. Maybe age has mellowed him, there’s a big difference between a 40 something comedian and a 30 something comedian.  Maybe my expectations for Chappelle were too high, sometimes expectations are difficult to live up to.  I disagree with Dave Chappelle’s views on Kevin Hart, and Key and Peele, but comedy is subjective, even for comedians.  There’s some good material here, but is it top flight jokes for an hour?  No.

Morgan Freeman narrates the opening, but that’s the only really distinctive aspect of the special from the director’s point of view. Other than that, it’s Chappelle talking to the audience.

Chappelle juices up his new special.

TV Review: Newtown (2016)

Posted: April 10, 2017 in Documentary, TV

newtown

Newtown features interviews with parents, teachers, siblings, and first responders regarding some of the victims of the mass shooting in Newtown Connecticut in 2012.

The first images he viewer sees in this documentary is police speeding to the scene of the mass shooting in Newtown Connecticut, and the first voices viewers hear are that of the desperately frightened faculty talking about the shocking crime.   On December 14th 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 elementary school kids and 6 teachers in Newtown Elementary School.  The pain is seared in the voices of the parents, the siblings, the first responders and everyone else related to this tragedy.  Expressing that pain is somehow cathartic for these people, but I doubt if they will ever have closure for the horrible events.  Closure has become a media term of art, it signifies when the media wants to move on from an issue.  The documentary is an excellent example of television as catharsis, and for showing the difference between catharsis and closure, but Newtown has shortcomings.

For all its earnestness, this documentary is far from perfect.  First, it gets into the political exploits of some of the Newtown parents.  Politics is broken, If we as a nation can’t keep guns out of the hands of the criminally insane, there is no reason to replay the dysfunction of the American political system. Some of us already that know some issues will never be addressed by Congress.  It just adds to the pain of the Newtown massacre to know that Congress is unwilling to do anything to address gun violence.

In addition, the documentary doesn’t mention all the victims.  The crime involved 26 people, yet the documentary only interviews a few relatives of the victims.  OK, maybe all the relatives don’t want to get interviewed, but the filmmakers didn’t even show pictures of all the victims.  It would seem to be the humane thing to do to show the faces and read the names of all the victims.  Also, it would show the enormous scope of the violence that was perpetrated in that school.

The most glaring omission of all was the fact that the filmmakers didn’t mention the names of the killer or his mother.  There is obviously a fear of a copycat crime, but not mentioning the killer or his mother, who gave him access to the guns, is editorializing by the filmmakers.  The job of a documentary filmmaker is to lay out all the facts, not omit facts where they see fit.

Newtown is replete with emotion, but it seemed incomplete to me.

Newton:  Painful catharsis.

 

RachelCarson

From a very young age Rachel Carson liked to write.  At age 10, she became a published writer, her mother sold off the family possessions so Rachel could go to college. After college, she landed a research position in Woodhole Massachusetts.  It was there where she fell in love with biology.    Tragedy in her personal life forced her to get a job in the US Bureau of Fisheries, she sells some articles based on her work to local newspapers, omitting her first name at times to avoid sexism.  Then Simon and Shuster offered her an opportunity to write a book.  The book was Under The Sea Wind.  However, World War II interfered with the sale of the book.  At the same time, science was growing by leaps and bounds, a chemical called DDT was used in large quantities to end the scourge of malaria. Rachel Carson was skeptical of the effects of DDT on wildlife, but no one was interested in her point of view.

Five years after the end of WWII, Carson got the itch to write another book, she did this by synthesizing research papers into from the Fish and Wildlife Department into a book called The Sea Around Us .  The New Yorker Magazine serialized the book.  Three weeks after it went on sale, it landed on the New York Times bestseller list, by September 1951 it as number 1 on the bestseller list, it spent 32 weeks at number one. At the same time, science is exploding, literally. In 1954, America did a hydrogen bomb test, and DDT type pesticides were proliferating.  After a extensive period of writer’s block, In 1955, Carson finished, her third book, The Edge of The Sea , another book about marine biology.

In 1957, the pesticide companies had found a new pest to eradicate, the fire ant.  Planes sprayed insecticides through wide swatches of the Southern portions of America.  Not only ants died, fish and birds also perished. The widespread use of pesticides and the death of wildlife is a call to action for Rachel Carson. In 1958, Carson was already deeply into researching her future book against pesticides.  In 1960, her mother died shortly after having a stroke. Also in 1960, Carson discovered lumps in her body, her doctor told her not to worry, by the time Carson checked her body again, she did indeed have cancer and it had metastasized all over her body.  Now it was a race against the clock, would she finish her new book before she succumbed to cancer?

This is an incredible documentary about an incredible woman.  First of all, I know nothing about Rachel Carson, so it was an educational experience for me.  Just the story of her life, the fact that she was a woman in the 1950’s, writing about the ocean in a knowledgeable way was really intriguing.  The 40’s and 50’s in America are known as an era of conformity, and Carson was anything but a conformist.  The issue of pesticides was always a subject of interest for Carson, but only came to the forefront after the government tried to eradicate the fire ant.  After that point, she became a woman on a mission.

The documentary also delved deeply into Carson’s personal life, her relationship with her mother, her difficulties with other members of her family, her relationship with a neighbor, and most importantly, her struggles with cancer.  The story then becomes a race against time and that adds urgency to the story.

This documentary provides an interesting contrast between the total faith that government, and corporate America had in science in the 1940’s 50’s, and 60’s and the total lack of faith in science in today’s American government.  Rachel Carson was a voice of healthy skepticism, but now our government seems filled to the brim with science deniers.

Rachel Carson, a pest to the insecticide industry.

westworld

Episode 1:  The Original

Westworld is a world where android hosts are built to please human customers.  When one of the androids goes awry, senior programmer Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is called in to find out what the glitch is.  Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babbet Knudson) wants all the defective androids recalled, but the creator of Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford, (Anthony Hopkins) doesn’t want the androids shut down at all.

This is a very interesting episode, the writers are intentionally vague about several things, when this world is built, who the humans are, and if the robots are becoming self-aware.  The last factor is perhaps the most interesting and makes this series worth watching, at least so far.  The writers are Jonathan Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy.  Jonathan Nolan has co-written some of the most interesting sci-fi movies in recent memory, Interstellar, The Dark Knight, and Memento, to name a few.  So. I hope the writing stays this sharp.

Anthony Hopkins is great as the founder, he’s obviously conflicted between making the androids as lifelike as possible, and keeping people safe.  It’s a very subtle performance.  Jeffrey Wright is also very good as the lead programmer, desperately trying to find out what’s going wrong with the androids.  Evan Rachel Wood is interesting as an android just starting to realize that she may not be human.  Sidse Babbet Knudson gives an intense performance as an operations leader, she wants to keep Westworld safe above all.

The cinematography is superb.  There are beautiful exterior shots of mostly Utah, and those shots set the stage for what is essentially a Western drama.

Episode 2:  Chestnut

Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) is having private conversations with Bernard, which Bernard doesn’t want anyone to know about.  Bernard’s relationship with Theresa Cullen extends beyond the boardroom.  Two guests arrive at Westworld, Logan (Ben Barnes) has been there before, William (Jimmi Simpson) has not. Maeve (Thandie Newton) is having flashbacks to an earlier adventure.  The Man in Black (Ed Harris) wants to know what’s going on behind the scenes at Westworld.  Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) creates a new storyline for Westworld, does Ford approve?

What I like about this show is that there are about 5 storylines going on, and all five are interesting.  The androids having memories, and the programmer and the android having private conversations are the most interesting.  Great acting by Hopkins, Ed Harris and Thandie Newton keeps the tension in the script high, and it never lets up.  The least interesting of the storylines are the new guests, hope that gets better, but I am hooked, oh yes I am.

 Episode 3: The Stray

Bernard is still talking to Dolores. He gives her a book, Alice in Wonderland. Dolores learns to shoot from Teddy, after recalling a distant memory.  Bernard learns about an old programmer named Arnold from Ford. Teddy gets a new storyline.  William gets a new adventure. Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) go in search of a stray android.  Dolores finds her way to William and passes out.

There are some interesting bits here, the continuing evolution of Dolores, Bernard’s fascination with Dolores.  Maeve’s continuing recall, but I don’t like William and his friend, and don’t like Ashley and Elsie. It’s funny the human characters are less interesting than the android characters.  I don’t know if Luke Hemsworth is any better an actor than his brothers, Chris and Liam.

Episode 4:   Dissonance Theory

Bernard tells Dolores that she can go search for the maze and that will set her fee, instead she gets caught in a bounty hunt with William and Logan. The Man in Black is getting close to finding the maze himself, but isn’t there yet.  Maeve continues to have visions, and turns to outlaw Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) for help.  Theresa has a disturbing conversation with Ford.

It’s interesting that the androids are becoming self-aware, but I think the most interesting aspect of this episode is Ford.  I also found Maeve to be more and more sympathetic of a character.  I have my theories about the world that Ford has created, but I will keep those to myself, because it’s only speculation. William and Logan are not interesting characters, William is supposed to be sympathetic, Logan is a macho know-it-all creep. Dolores is starting to annoy me as a character, too much Hamlet type indecisiveness.  Get on with it, writers.

Episode 5: Contrapasso

Dolores, William, and Logan reach Pariah, another Western town.   Dolores is hearing voices, who are the voices coming from?  The Man in Black finds Ford, what do they talk about?  Elsie finds something odd inside The Woodcutter.  Felix Lutz (Leonardo Nam) one of the techies, who patch the androids together, is working on building an animatronic hummingbird.  Maeve comes in for more repairs, and then Felix gets quite a surprise.

Westworld is getting really interesting now, Dolores is hearing voices and lying to protect herself and the identity of the voice.  Maeve is getting more self-aware, and her storyline is coming to a head.  I don’t like the William and Logan characters or their involvement in the storyline, or Elsie and the Woodcutter, which sounds like some kind of fractured fairytale.  But I do like Ford’s character because he always keeps me guessing. A great performance by Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton is also superb as Maeve, quick witted, acid tongued, yet vulnerable, it’s a very good performance.

Episode 6:  The Adversary

Maeve begins a regular day and ends up passed out in the lab with Felix. Elsie sends Bernard to find out what made the Woodcutter act strangely, and then she goes out alone to do more digging.  Lee goes on a drunken rage and runs into Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) a new arrival in Westworld.  Teddy and the Man in Black encounter Union soldiers when trying to cross into Mexico.

I really like the Maeve storyline, that’s the best one they’ve got right now. Thandie Newton turns in another great performance in this episode. Elsie’s storyline was a bit creepy in a scary way, but also dumb. Why is Elsie going to these places at night, alone? Where is Ashley Stubbs?  Isn’t he head of security?  Why isn’t he with her?  Not sure what’s going on with Lee and Charlotte, but Lee is a jerk, so I hope it ends badly for him.  Not sure where the Man in Black Teddy storyline is going, but it seems to be going in circles. No Dolores, William or Logan this week, which is fine by me, I was bored with them anyway.

Episode 7:  Trompe L’oeil

Bernard dreams of his dying son. Theresa and Charlotte want a fall guy for the malfunctioning androids, but Ford has other ideas. Elsie is missing, Bernard tries to look for her. William, Dolores and Lawrence encounter a Native American tribe in their quest to find the maze. Maeve has a plan, but will Felix and Sylvester go along?

There is a big reveal in this week’s episode, I can’t say I was shocked by it, I wasn’t.  I don’t like the Dolores William storyline.  William already knows the secret of Westworld and Maeve has already found out, so why have Dolores and the Man in Black trying to find the same thing?  I like the Maeve storyline, her character has grabbed the center of attention in the show, and again, Thandie Newton is very good.  She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in this episode, but it packs a punch.  Anthony Hopkins is at his creepy best, the viewers will grow to loathe him, but that’s just good acting.

Episode 8:  Trace Decay

Maeve wants new skills to advance her plan, will Felix and Sylvester help her?  Bernard tries to forget what has happened to Theresa.  Dolores and William are still looking for the maze, as are the Man In Black and Teddy.

The Maeve storyline continues to be the best one, the writers tried to integrate the Maeve and Man in Black storyline and did not succeed, on my opinion.  The Bernard storyline is pointless after the reveal.  I do not like the Maze storyline, the writers seem to want to shroud this Maze in mystery, but it is not interesting to me.  The writers leave this episode on a cliffhanger, but not a very interesting one.

Episode 9:  The Well-Tempered Clavier

Bernard and Ford have a long discussion about existence in Westworld.  William and Logan reconcile, or do they?  Dolores meets Arnold, or is she simply losing her mind? The Man in Black is still looking for answers, does he find any?

This is a much too philosophical episode, too existential, too metaphysical. The episode reveals more about Bernard, but the viewer already knows about him, so it doesn’t really help. It reveals more about The Man in Black, but I never really cared about him. The lead up to the finale is muddled and raises more questions than it answers.

 

Episode 10:  The Bicameral Mind

Ford unveils his new narrative.  Maeve sets her plan in motion.  The Man in Black reaches his destination.  Dolores realizes what she’s meant to do.  William learns the art of survival in Westworld.

This episode reveals a lot, but there are more questions raised, some of them frustrating.  The viewer and the blogger (me) will supposedly have to wait until 2018 to find answers to these burning questions.

Overall, the storylines were incredibly well-written.   I wasn’t as enamored with the Western storyline as the others, it seemed to drag on and on, neither William Logan, nor Dolores was very interesting.  Dolores started out interestingly, but they made Dolores too much of an enigma for my liking.  The Maeve storyline was the best storyline, so I was bit disappointed in her character’s finale.  Bernard was an intriguing character for a while, but after his reveal, my interest in him waned.  What the writers did best was blur the lines between android and human.  The show did it right off the bat, and kept viewers guessing who was human and who was android. What I didn’t like was the extremely violent finale, and the never ending bullets.  Nobody ever runs out of bullets in Hollywood.  But whatever shortcomings the series has, it asks big philosophical questions like.  If we create self-aware beings is it right for us to keep them as playthings? Sometimes it gets too philosophical, but mostly it’s a great sci-fi adventure.

The acting was superb.  Anthony Hopkins played the role of his life and played it to the hilt.  He has a God complex and he thinks he can control people just like he controls androids.  Hopkins really turns up the creepy factor in this performance. Thandie Newton was amazing as Maeve Millay, this was undoubtedly the best performance of her career.  She mixed excellent comedic timing with a sad irony that showed in her face and her words, just a great performance. Jeffrey Wright was also very good, a very restrained understated performance.  On the other hand I didn’t like Evan Rachel Wood’s performance, it was too much a one note performance, she’s not supposed to be emotional, but she could have been a little more emotional than she was. Jimmi Simpson was just plain dull as William, he had a big role, but he is not very good at playing the complexities he was given. I like James Marsden, but his character was a total non-entity in this season’s episodes, maybe that will change.  I hope so.  I expected more from Ed Harris too, he put in a routine performance as the Man in Black.

The direction was good. Jonathan Nolan directed the pilot and the last episode, and other directors directed the episodes between. The pacing was generally good, the cinematography was excellent, and the performances were mostly good.

Westworld:  It rocked my world!

 

 

the-white-house

Which president planned the building of the White House?  Which invading army burned the White House to the Ground?  Who built The West Wing of the White House?  Who built the Oval Office?  What is the purpose of the East Wing of the White House? Who renovated the White House?  Who redecorated the White House? What is the Resolute Desk? What are the many roles of the White House staff?  What is the relationship of different presidents to the White House press? What role did the various First Ladies play?  How did the president communicate with his cabinet on 9/11? This documentary answers this and many other questions.

There’s a lot of information in this documentary, some of it very touching, and some of it very serious. But some of it is pure fluff.  Moreover, the documentary lacks focus, sometimes it’s focused on the staff, other times it’s focused on the furnishings and renovations, and still other times there is talk of the assassinations.  The result is a documentary without focus, where the viewer is whipsawed emotionally, from elation to grief and every emotion in between.

This documentary has no central theme other than, ‘All these things took place in the White House.’ That is not enough to sustain this documentary.  There is the hint of a theme, the White House as seen through the eyes of the White House staff, but the writers don’t pursue that theme throughout.  Instead the writers and producers opt for interviews with the current and past presidents and first ladies, architecture, decorating, and so it loses any point of view.  If a viewer wants to learn a lot of disjointed factoids about the White House and its occupants, then this is the documentary for you.   This documentary, though entertaining, does not have a reason for being made.

I hope the future President of the country has as much reverence for the White House as this documentary does.  Please Mr. President-Elect, no gold plated walls on the White House, and don’t put your name on the White House.  It’s not your house, it’s the people’s house.

The White House: Inside Story.  A House divided cannot stand.

hamiltons-america

Alexander Hamilton was born in 1755, on the island of Nevis, in the British West Indies.  He was born out of wedlock, and eventually became an orphan when his mother.  He got off the island of St. Croix by writing a letter about how horrible conditions were after a hurricane hit the island.  He started working for a trading company in America, where he got early financial training.  He joined the American militia during the Revolutionary War, and became aide de camp to General Washington.  He wrote 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers, essays promoting the ratification of the Constitution. He became Secretary of the Treasury in 1789, where he developed financial instruments to trade, four of which were treasury bonds one was a National Bank, all created by Hamilton.  He also made a deal with Jefferson, where the Federal government would assume all the debt of the states, in return the capital was moved from New York.

Alexander Hamilton’s life was not free of controversy, however.  In 1791, he had an affair with Maria Reynolds, and paid her husband for a year to keep it secret.  In the end, the affair was exposed and he wrote a pamphlet trying to explain his actions.  He also started a political feud with Aaron Burr in 1800.  Burr ended up in a tie in electors with Jefferson, and Hamilton broke the tie, voting for Jefferson.  Hamilton also blocked Burr’s run for governor of New York in 1804.  The feud came to a head in 1804, with a duel that Hamilton lost, and paid for with his life.

Lin Manuel Miranda was born in 1980, in 2002, he wrote a play called In The Heights, about his life growing up in Washington Heights.  In the Heights won several Tony awards including Best Musical. He travelled with the show until 2010.  But his life changed in July 2008, when he read a biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, and started working on a hip-hop musical of Hamilton’s life. The musical debuted in 2015.  Hamilton won 11 Tony awards.

This documentary does several things well, it shows Miranda in 2014, a year before the play opened, so it captures the writing of the songs, the interplay between , the words, the songs and the choreography of Hamilton.  Miranda interviews Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, who wrote Pacific Overtures and other historical musicals, and the viewer can see that Miranda is awed by meeting this legend of musical theater.  The documentary also features  plenty of songs from Hamilton, and intersperses the songs with the history behind the songs, and there’s a lot of history to cover.

But I think the documentary goes too far in lauding both Miranda, and Hamilton.  Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theater in New York City, compares Miranda to Shakespeare, that is pure hyperbole.  Don’t lionize a guy who’s written three plays in his whole life and compare him to a guy who wrote 37 plays and over 150 sonnets.  Making history accessible to younger people is a great thing, and Miranda should be praised, but t’s too soon for the Shakespeare comparison.

The documentarians do the same for Alexander Hamilton, they seem to gloss over the negative aspects of his life and career and highlight only the positive aspects.  Hamilton created a lot of wealth for others, but he owned slaves, a point glossed over in the documentary and probably not mentioned in the play. Hamilton of all the founding fathers, given the place of his birth, and his destitute upbringing, should have been an abolitionist, but wasn’t.  To be kind, the documentarians say he was an immigrant, but he was an immigrant with French parents, unlike Miranda’s father who emigrated from Puerto Rico.  He fought in not only the Revolutionary War, but the Quasi War against the French, he argued for an imperial presidency with lifetime appointments in the Federalist papers.  He cheated on his wife and dueled with his political opponents, for all his flowery words he couldn’t resolve a political dispute with Burr.

Whether inadvertently or not Miranda takes part in revisionist history.  By using the multi-cultural cast and females in prominence in Hamilton, it is easy to forget that slavery was alive and well in Hamilton’s day, that African-Americans were little more than property, and women were more likely to be seen and not heard.  It’s great the Black, Latino and female voices are represented in the cast in large numbers, but the feel-good casting doesn’t really wrestle with the issues of the day as they were.  Miranda could have chosen a different founding father to honor, but ours is a violent country, and violence unfortunately speaks to young people, so why not pick a hero that went out in a blaze of gunfire.

The guests on the documentary to speak about Hamilton, the play or the man are an eclectic mix to say the least .Jimmy Fallon knows nothing about history, and so what if he saw the play? Stephen Colbert would have been a much better choice. Some of the other guests were ex-President George W. Bush, Speaker Paul Ryan, and Treasury Secretary under Bush Hank Paulson, besides contributing to the financial crisis in 2007, what do these guys know about the economy?  To be fair, the documentary did have President Obama, Michelle Obama Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, but it seemed like they got less time than the Republicans and Fallon. Miranda’s career certainly got a boost from Obama’s invitation to the White House in 2009.

Criticism aside, I would pay to see Hamilton or The Book of Mormon in a movie theater, I’m not big on Broadway or musicals, but these two plays are the exception, I would much rather see these plays turned into movies than see the 3rd reboot of Spider-Man, or a Rambo reboot.

Hamilton’s America, a little ham handed with praise, but good viewing nonetheless.