13 Reasons Why: a review

 

A number of people have been asking me about this show so I thought I would blog about it. I watched this show with my youngest daughter (13 years old) when she expressed interest in it. Her interest was stimulated by the kids at school buzzing about it. I probably would not have started watching it otherwise, as there is so much else on my viewing radar (an almost complete list of shows can be found below). My eldest had no interest in the show at all.

 

13 Reasons Why is based on a young adult novel of the same title by Jay Asher. It centres around the life of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who has just killed herself. She left behind 13 audio tapes for her friends and acquaintances to listen to, in an attempt to be finally understood by those who failed to help her. There are voice over narratives and flashbacks interwoven with the present day depiction of a community devastated by the loss of this girl. We spend much of the time with Hannah’s friend Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to the tapes and tries to figure out what he could have done differently. This show is a realistic depiction of many aspects of teen angst.  For this I applaud it. This is a far cry from the teen glamour soaps that that flood us (Pretty Little Liars, etc.). It is also quite stark in its depiction of physical and sexual violence as well as suicide.

The acting was convincing by the young cast. The dialogue was pretty realist as well. However, the suspense structure for dramatic effect seemed contrived at times. This show strained to fill 13 episodes (45 min each). I wanted to understand Hannah’s pain in the context of her extreme action but struggled to do so for much of the 1st season. My daughter had a hard time understanding her too. A somewhat better understanding was left to the end. Much of the earlier events seemed like ordinary teen stuff that she was emotionally ill-equipped to handle. That Hannah could not go to her parents for help was very difficult for me to watch. Her parents were depicted as loving and supportive in flashback scenes. Their devastation after her death brought me to tears. This show had little if any discussion about the mental health aspects of Hannah’s troubles. I found that problematic. It also seemed to simplify and externalize much of the responsibility of what is a very complex and very personal problem. Hannah’s isolation was probably realistic. Many kids live inside their own heads and do not know how to clearly ask for help. Their struggles can seem overwhelming in the echo chamber of their minds. Suicide is often described as an impulsive and desperate act, but as depicted in this show, it is usually associated with depression. I hope Season 2 will delve into this a bit more.

This is a Netflix original series that I admire but would have a hard time broadly recommending as must see TV. I think if you are a parent who is interested in pop culture and you want to know what kids are watching, it is worth a look. If your child is watching it, then I think you should definitely watch it too and discuss the themes which include financial struggles, social class, social media shaming, under age drinking, rape culture, friendship, crushes and sexual identity. This show has been renewed for a 2nd season. I will probably only watch it if my daughter wants to. I am grateful for the opportunity to have watched season 1 with her.

Curious about what else I have been watching? The list below is shocking.

The Americans ___ Archer ___ Better Call Saul ___ Black Sails ___ Call the Midwife ___ Catastrophe ___ Crashing (UK) ___ Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ___ The Crown  ___ Dr. Who ___ The Fall ___ Fargo ___ Fleabag ___ Girls ___ Glitch ___ Grantchester ___ Happy Valley ___ Humans ___ iZombie ___ Jane the Virgin ___ Jessica Jones ___ Killjoys ___ Last Tango in Halifax ___ Lovesick ___ The Magicians ___ Master of None ___ Mercy Street ___ Orange is the New Black ___ Orphan Black ___ Please Like Me ___ Poldark ___ Preacher ___ Scott and Bailey ___ Sense8 ___ Silicon Valley ___ Taboo ___ This is Us ___ Veep ___ Victoria

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: a review

My family went to the theatre to see the 2nd Guardians of the Galaxy movie today, on the opening weekend. Both kids brought a friend and all 6 of us had a fabulous time. Mind you, our love for the first instalment of this franchise was documented on this blog here, almost 2 years ago. In a nutshell, if you liked the 1st film, you will enjoy this sequel.

I have recently limited my superhero movie consumption, as my tolerance for space chases and endless explosive destruction has diminished in my dotage. The only other recent superhero movies that I have watched (but didn’t bother to blog about) have been Logan (‘cuz, duh, Hugh Jackman) and Ant-Man (‘cuz it was widely reviewed as funny – and it was, I enjoyed it). This film manages to put a fun spin on action sequences, saving me from tedium. The film has a certain self awareness and doesn’t mess with the formula of its previous success.

 

 

Best of all, it is just as funny as the first film. Watching it with an audience, laughing together in a theatre, made it extra enjoyable. The current plot is not as convoluted as that in the 1st film. It serves as a necessary backdrop to watch a charming group of characters bicker like a typical family. Essentially, our beloved heroes find themselves chased for various reasons and find themselves separated and ultimately reunited. The film shows them struggling to figure out what they mean to each other while they forge a path for the future of this franchise. Along the way they interact with some new characters (friend and foe) whereby they learn about each other and themselves. On many levels this is a dysfunctional family story as much as it is a superhero film. Although the plot is largely secondary to the characters, it is better written than it had to be.

The retro soundtrack is well selected, adding to the joy. There are only hints at romance (thank goodness) that add to the fun. The introduction of Baby Groot adds a new dimension to our group. His adorable toddler-like presence contributes much of the film’s humour . He also serves as a foil, bringing out the best in our bickering band of heroes.

If you are looking for a fun film for the family and you liked the 1st Guardians of the Galaxy movie, you will definitely want to see this film. If you haven’t seen the first film, don’t worry, it isn’t mandatory viewing. You will still have a fun time with this sequel. Be sure to stick around for the credits to enjoy 5 extra scenes.

Anne: Prestige TV meets a Canadian Icon

Anne

 

I just finished watching the last episode of Anne on CBC television and I could not wait to blog about it.

Full disclosure first, as a Canadian and Anne of Green Gables fan, I am very biased. I have reread the entire series of Anne books (all 8 novels) countless times since middle school. Additionally, I have read many of author L.M. Montgomery’s other works of fiction. I loved Megan Follow’s performance in the TV adaptions of the first few novels; so much so, that I haven’t had the desire to watch the most recent Anne of Green Gables TV movie starring Ella Ballentine and Martin Sheen, despite owning a copy. By happenstance, in 2008, my family was visiting Prince Edward Island during the 100th Anniversary celebration of the novel’s publication. We found ourselves immersed in this cultural icon at the Avonlea Village and were delighted with Anne of Green Gables, The Musical at the Charlottetown Festival.

So when I found out there was to be another TV adaptation, a short series of 7 episodes, I feared anticipointment. Then I learned that Moira Walley-Beckett, the Canadian born, Emmy award-winning writer (for Breaking Bad) was in charge; I was intrigued.

So yes, I am very, very biased, and glad to say I loved this new TV series. I was hooked at the opening credit sequence. Poignantly selected Tragically Hip song “Ahead by a Century” accompanies beautiful images of the beloved heroine of this underdog tale. For those unfamiliar with her story, the setting is turn of the previous century. Anne is an 11 year old orphan who is adopted by the Cuthberts, an elderly brother and sister who live on a farm in fictional small town Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. Anne is a spirited, intelligent, imaginative girl who desperately wants to be loved and accepted.

Amybeth McNulty is perfectly cast; she embodies Anne’s earnestness and awkwardness like no other. Anne is an underdog, coming-of-age story that touches on themes of community, love, friendship, bullying, social privilege and financial hardship. In addition to Anne’s casting,  Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson inhabit the roles of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert exquisitely. The period sets and costumes are wonderful.

The original novels were rather innocent with just a hint of darkness. Sadly, I have yet to persuade my daughters to read them. However, I hope that the dark realism that is dialled up (not to 11, rather a 7) in this TV adaptation will appeal to a broad audience. I hope Netflix will continue to support it; especially if it finds new young fans in addition to those of us who are young at heart and fond the previous screen adaptations.

The first season (7, 1 hour episodes) loosely follows the first part of the novel and ends on a cliff-hanger. I watched newly adopted Anne adjust to her role in the Cuthbert family and got flashes of her pitiful life before the Avonlea arrival. Some of the plots are directly from the book; whereas others are what I would like to call “new chapters.” I found these embellishments fresh and compatible with the original spirit. A bit more darkness is not incompatible with Anne’s story; especially now that new biographical information is available about author L.M. Montgomery life’s struggles.

If you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables, the novel, this is TV series is definitely worth a look. I am curious to know what others think of it.

For now i must wait and hope for more new chapters. Perhaps it is time again to dust off my novels for another reread.

For fans of the series who want to know more about the cultural impact of Anne of Green Gables, especially on an international scale, here is a link to an essay by Margaret Atwood. It taught me why the Japanese love this fictional character so much and continue to visit Prince Edward Island because of her.

Detectorists: a review

I just finished binge watching this quiet, funny British TV show and couldn’t wait to share my thoughts. It is available on Netflix; with 2 seasons, a total of 13 1/2hour episodes, the series flew by and came to a really fine conclusion. A recently announced 3rd season is in the works, and I am thrilled. I decided to check it out on the recommendation of Judge John Hodgman, a comedian whose podcast I follow.

This show is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook. He is best known for his role as Gareth in the U.K. version of The Office and for his wandering eye (literally) in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. He and Toby Jones star as a couple of buddies who share a passion for “treasure hunting” in the fields of rural England. This eccentric hobby is handled with kindness, humour and respect. It is quite moving at times; I found myself carried away with the characters’ enthusiasm. With little by way of introduction, this show drops the viewer into the fictional town of Danebury, North Essex. Here we follow Andy (Crook) and Lance (Jones) as they search for gold and navigate their relationships with significant others, rival detectorists and each other.

Detectorists is perhaps not as laugh out loud funny as other comedies I watch. However it didn’t take but a few episodes for these 2 vulnerable nerds to worm their way into my heart. This show might appeal to anyone who enjoys British comedies without laugh tracks. It would be specifically endearing to anyone who has a niche interest or an obsessive hobby. The running gags never get tired. The domestic situations ring true and are very relatable. There is conflict yet kindness and warmth in this gentle comedy. As an added bonus, season 1 episode 3 has a cameo by Johnny Flynn, the star of another Netflix show I recently blogged about, Lovesick. He performs the show’s theme song during open mic night at the local pub.

I was delighted to learn this show won a BAFTA award for best TV comedy writing. It is well deserved. The recently announced 3rd season is due toward the end of the year. This is 2 years after the 2nd season ended. I love that about British TV shows. They are not restricted to a time frame or an episode count. All in good time. If you are looking for a sweet British comedy with a reasonable number of episodes and a tidy conclusion, you may want to check out Detectorists. And if it leaves you wanting more, then you are in luck.

Get Out: A Genius Spooky Thriller and Satire

 

I saw this at the theatre at the behest of my husband and youngest daughter. They saw it last weekend and raved about it. Scheduling conflicts prevented me and my older daughter from joining them. I had seen trailers, read rave reviews and am a huge fan of writer-director Jordan Peele, so I was intrigued by all the buzz surrounding his directorial debut. I was also wary of the possibility of over-hype leaving me disappointed. No need to fret, last night, I took my daughter and her friend (who had no prior knowledge of the film but is a horror fan) to the theatre and had a great time.

As you can see from the trailer, this is a horror film that is a social satire about race relations. It had a marvellous balance of tension, jump scares, creepiness, humour and mild gore. The story revolves around Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time during a weekend getaway.

 

 

This is an intricately crafted screenplay that leaves deliberate clues and many twists along the way that make you go “Holy crap, I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” It is a masterful cinematic cultural experience full of sly symbolism and metaphor. It has been aptly hailed as a cross between The Stepford Wives and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The satire is very well grounded and to say more risks spoiling major plot points, beyond what the trailer gives away. It is fascinating watching Chris code-switch throughout the movie and slowly come to the realization that something is truly off about these people, beyond the usual micro aggressions.

I can’t wait to watch it again. I really love the lead performances by Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams. A special shout out goes to supporting actors Lil Rey Howry as Chris’ buddy and Betty Gabriel as the maid. It is wonderfully directed and not too gory. If you like suspense but eschew horror, I would definitely give this a go.

But if horror is really not your thing, then enjoy the video below in celebration of Jordan Peele’s genius. This is a great example of code-switching humour from his beloved and sorely missed sketch comedy show.

Black Sails: a fond Farewell

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It has been over a year since I blogged about Black Sails HERE, shortly after binging the first 2 seasons. I am now facing the final episodes of the fourth and final season and I am sad to say goodbye. Many of the things I wrote about in my original post have remained solid throughout this underrated series and now that it is wrapping up I just want to give it a boost.

 

This show is beautifully filmed and exquisitely plotted. There is a wonderful balance of action, drama, humour and romance. I am constantly guessing as to which way things are headed. The characters’ development is nuanced and the producers are brutal when it comes to killing them off.

Binge watching this show is the best way to do it. The first 1/2 of season 1 was a bit slow but the payoff is so very much worth it. Waiting week to week for the final 1/2 dozen or so episodes is excruciating, but I will manage. In the meantime, I urge you to give it a try if you like a dark, epic, historical under-dog tale brimming with action and served with sly humour.

Manchester by the Sea: a review

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I am doing my best to watch all the Oscar best picture nominees this year and just finished watching Manchester by the Sea with my husband. We both thought this was an amazing film; a real emotional gut punch. It is not for everyone but if you want a cathartic cry, this character study is the answer. It is full of humour and there is hope but have the tissues handy. Beautifully filmed in the titular New England town, this film takes you on a quiet and painful journey into what is left of the soul of a broken man. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown when his brother dies and learns that he has been named guardian to his 16 year old nephew.

Through skilled direction and deft flashbacks, we seen the man that Lee used to be and are struck by the contrast to his present self. When we learn of the circumstance responsible for his altered state, it is heart wrenching. This is a story about one man’s struggle. This film deals with the messiness of family and small town life. Yet it is a tragedy that hasn’t forgotten the importance of laughter. Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed this original film with such remarkable attention to detail. The idiocies of everyday life are woven into the narrative adding humour to a very sad tale.

This is not a typical Hollywood movie and I am glad for that. If you like character driven stories and don’t mind a good cry, this film will knock the wind out of you. I hope it gets some love at the Oscars. Sometimes sad independent films win big on Oscar night. I won’t be too upset if this wins for best picture (although Arrival is still my favourite, with this film tied with Hell or High Water for 2nd place). Casey Affleck is outstanding in his performance; this is such a multi-faceted role. If he doesn’t win best actor, I will be disappointed (not quite as disappointed as I was about Amy Adams’ snub for Arrival). I would be thrilled if any of my favourite 3 contenders would take home gold for screenplay, but I won’t hold my breath.

 

 

 

 

Hell or High Water: Western-Noir for our times, a review

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Last Saturday was movie night again at our friends’ (Karen and Steve) house. All four of us had fun watching this on a beautiful brand new entertainment system.

 

This film took us along on a suspenseful crime spree through small town Texas. We watched 2 brothers as they robbed banks and we also followed the lawmen, who were hot on their trail. This is such an oversimplification, but to say more would risk too much. The reasons for the robberies were initially unclear but gradually we understood. Boy oh boy, there was great satisfaction in watching a rather genius plan unfold. But would they get away with it? The beauty of this movie lies in the motivation of the crimes. The true heart of this film was subtle, yet it eloquently gave us a glimpse at the lives of simple folk.

The reveal is doled out in alternating moments of quiet contemplation and high stakes tension. This is a story about real lives, set in a real place. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Yes, there is quite a bit of humour in this dark suspenseful tale. I also love the way it sneaks in some scathing social commentary. The cinematography is stunning rendering Texas an important character of the film. The acting is outstanding. Jeff Bridges is nominated for a supporting Oscar in his role as a senior Texas Ranger, determined to bring the culprits to justice. Gil Birmingham is fantastic as his younger colleague  and verbal jousting partner. Ben Foster, a talented chameleon of an actor, plays the ex-con brother with charm, tenderness and unique code of honour. But it is Chris Pine who surprised me. I should preface this by stating that I am not a fan of Pine, primarily because I have seen him in the same role too many times. Mostly cocky young men, of which James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek reboot is quintessential. His acting, until now, has been just too smarmy for my taste. Finally, this film allows him to stretch in a different, more sincere direction. In this film he plays the brother who has always played it straight and for that, he seems beaten down by the world at large. The film is directed with subtle detail by David Mackenzie, who is new to me.

Special credit must be given to Taylor Sheridan, the writer of this original screenplay. Even his bit characters are magnificent. I was so happy to learn that he has been honoured with an Oscar nomination. He is also known for another tense thriller, Sicario, which I reviewed (and thoroughly enjoyed) over a year ago. He has come a long way from a struggling actor in 2010 to a celebrated screenwriter of original stories. I will definitely keep a lookout for his next project to hit the big screen.

If you like tightly plotted western or crime films, great dialogue and a story that you have never seen on screen before, then this film is worth a look.

 

 

 

 

 

Lovesick: a review

lovesick-netflix

I am in the process of watching this show on Netflix for the 3rd time. That is how I measure comedy greatness, primarily in repeat watch appeal. To be fair, the 1st time I watched it while I was doing solo chores around the house, mostly cooking, cleaning, fixing stuff.  Availability on Netflix renders it highly portable. I know I was missing nuanced performances but I thought a 2nd watch with my husband would remedy that. We were looking for something to watch together that would make us laugh. This 3rd time is with my kids, who wondered what their parents thought was so funny! I flit in and out while my daughters are watching but I still find myself swept up in the zany lives of the 3 main characters.

Lovesick (previous title for Season 1 was Scrotal Recall) kept popping up as a recommendation on Netflix. But frankly, the original title put me off because it sounded like bad porn. I know, I know, as someone who will defend TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer until the end of time, I will admit to a bit of judgy irony on my part. When I saw this show recommended by mainstream critics, I thought I would give it a try.

So glad I did, when I did. The 1st season aired 6 episodes (24 min each) back in 2014 and just recently released the 2nd! 14 hilariously sweet episodes to binge watch is a glorious treat. To have waited for season 2 would have been excruciating.

This romantic comedy jumps somewhat randomly through time (in a clever way that is not at all confusing) and deals with 3 best friends (Dylan, Evie and Luke). Dylan’s recent diagnosis of Chlamydia and subsequent need to inform his previous partners serves as a novel conduit into the colourful world of these 20 something characters. This is a show for an older audience, no doubt (language, sexuality). It is kind and yet very incisive. It stars Johnny Flynn as Dylan (frustrated romantic), Daniel Ings as Luke (superficial player) and Antonia Thomas (Alisha from my beloved Misfits) as no-nonsense Evie. Watching them figure out lives, careers and relationships is so much fun. The show’s humour is not only in its dialogue but its physicality as well.

If you like romance, British comedies and do not mind non-linear story-telling, this is a show to check out.

La La Land, a love song to Classic Film and Musicals

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I went with my family to the theatre to watch this movie. It has many critics whispering Oscar and I was super curious. The only musicals in theatres these days are usually cartoons. I was raised on classic Hollywood film and I am a fan of musicals. I did like (not love) this film. So did my family, but I don’t think it will win anyone over who isn’t partial to musicals to begin with. But if you are a fan of either Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling (I am) and are curious about them breaking into song and dance numbers, this is worth a look.

We follow Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they fall in love and support each other through the struggle to make it against all odds in L.A. Mia is an aspiring actor and Sebastian is a jazz pianist. It is a story that honours artistic dreamers. It is a fantasy that flirts with harsh realities. It is beautifully filmed and the acting is top notch, especially Emma Stone. The dancing is pretty good but I can’t say it was as effortless as I had hoped it to be. The songs are good but didn’t exactly wow me. The singing is ok.

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I give the writer/director, Damien Chapelle A+ for effort. It takes guts to tackle a musical without a big studio system supporting you and a dearth of triple-threat talent to choose from. There were numerous overt nods to classic Hollywood films and I really liked the ending. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it. However, this isn’t the film that will convert anyone to embrace musical film. For me, that film is still Singing in the Rain (1952 starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor). I can’t help feel sad as I write this less than a day after Debbie Reynolds has died, on the heels of the tragic loss of her daughter Carrie Fisher. I think I am going to dust that DVD off now, watch it again while my husband goes out to see the new Star Wars: Rogue One movie with my eldest.

 

 

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