Monthly Archive for March, 2015

Comic Book Men, Season 4

Comic Book Men, Season 4 (3/30/15) AMC (2014-15 ***1/2) Created by Kevin Smith, starring Kevin Smith, Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen. 16 episodes, originally aired 10/13/14 – 3/22/15. The manager and staff of The Secret Stash greet customers, potential sellers and guests like Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley, Adam West, Ernie Hudson and Billy Dee Williams. What can I say? Comic Book Men is a reality TV show created with people like me in mind. I very much look forward to “geeking out” with each new episode, and I also love it when the special guests include my childhood comic book heroes, such as the visit by the legendary Neal Adams and Denny O’Neill this season.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (3/30/15) HBO (2015 ***1/4) Directed by Alex Gibney, based on the book by Lawrence Wright, featuring interviews with and/or archive footage of L. Ron Hubbard, Paul Haggis, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and David Miscavige, the head of the Church of Scientology. With the help of a number of high-ranking former members, the history of the Church of Scientology is presented, beginning with founder L. Ron Hubbard and his pulp science fiction beginnings, through the church’s tumultuous history and into the present day. Given its reputation as a brainwashing cult, it’s always been hard for me to understand why anyone would join Scientology. In particular, it’s been odd that its members included a number of well-known celebrities like Cruise and Travolta. This documentary attempts to explain that by revealing the secret rituals and the processes the members go through in elevating their order within the church. Going Clear also describes some examples of why Scientology has a such a reputation for strong-arm tactics. The biggest of these is that once members leave the church, regardless of whether that’s by choice or not, they are cut off from communicating with any church members, even if their family members. There is a definite sense that Scientology’s power is dependent on the fact that its members all exist within a deliberately-created bubble, and once inside they are effectively trapped. Hopefully this documentary will dissuade some people from joining the church.

The Walking Dead, Season 5

The Walking Dead, Season 5 (3/29/15) AMC (2014-15 ****) Series created by Frank Darabont, based on the comics written by Robert Kirkman, starring Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. 16 episodes, originally aired 10/12/14 – 3/29/15. Rick Grimes and his intrepid band of zombie-slaying survivors journey from the frying pan to an apparent safe haven that may not be safe at all. Season 4 ended famously with the group locked in a railroad car and Rick saying: “They’ve fucked with the wrong people.” It was a recognition of the fact that in the course of surviving the zombie apocalypse, they had to become something different than what they were, for better or worse. That feeling of individuals “going past the point of no return” was this season’s major theme, with some individuals dealing with it very differently than others. By the end of the season, Rick, Michonne, Daryl and the others found themselves in a walled-off gated community populated with a well-meaning group that hadn’t experienced life “out there.” To them, Rick’s hardscrabble survivors may as well have been wild animals.

Citizenfour

Citizenfour (3/29/15) HBO (2014 ***1/2) Directed by Laura Poitras, featuring footage of Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney and others. This film provides gripping footage of Edward Snowden and the breaking of one of the biggest government whistle-blowing stories since Watergate. It’s not hard to see why Citizenfour won the award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2015 Oscars. The fact that this footage was shot in the first place is astounding, and demonstrates great foresight on the part of those involved; they clearly knew how historic the event they were dealing with was going to be. For myself, this film changed my impression of Snowden. I have to confess that when the story initially broke, my knee-jerk response was to think of him as a traitor. Growing up with a grandfather in the Air Force, I was raised to believe that the government knows a great many things of which the American public is blissfully unaware and that state secrets were kept for a reason. Through the course of Citizenfour, I found Snowden to be thoughtful and measured and fully aware of the consequences of what he was doing.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West (3/28/15) HBO (2014 ***) Directed and co-written by Seth MacFarlane, starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris. Set in the old West, an sheepherder gets lessons in marksmanship from the wife of the baddest of bad men. What I liked best about this movie was what I like about Family Guy and Seth MacFarlane’s other creative output over the years: The dude can write very funny dialogue. However, I have to give credit where credit is due: The screenplay’s story was perfectly sound structurally. I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the film didn’t do particularly well at the box office, as it had two strikes against it: (1) The audience limitations inherent in the western genre and (2) that MacFarlane chose to cast himself in the lead. While A Million Ways… wasn’t a great film, it was enjoyable enough, and it did have its moments, including a cameo appearance that really made me smile, one so sweet I won’t even hint at it. Also, it featured an extended sequence of Neil Patrick Harris pooping into a hat. So there’s that.

High Anxiety

High Anxiety (3/28/15) Encore (1977 **1/2) Directed and co-written by Mel Brooks, starring Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman. An acrophobic Doctor of Psychiatry takes over an institute for the very, very nervous and winds up embroiled in a murderous case of mistaken identity. I had seen this film at least once before, and my recollection was that it wasn’t great. While I admire Mel Brooks, and appreciate that the films he’s made over his career have primarily been genre-skewing satires, I’m afraid his films don’t speak to me in the same way Woody Allen’s have. In order for High Anxiety to have worked really well, it had to function both as a witty send-up of Hitchcock and also as a stand-alone story. I don’t think it accomplished either of those goals particularly well, and instead spent far too much time focusing on mediocre fear of heights gags.

House of Cards, Season 3

House of Cards, Season 3 (3/27/15) Netflix (2015 ***) Created by Beau Willimon, based on the series of novels by Michael Dobbs, starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly and Mahershala Ali. 13 episodes, originally released online on 2/27/15. President-by-scandal Frank Underwood fights to gain the love of the American public and get elected; meanwhile, his wife Claire wonders if their partnership is a tad one-sided. One of the fundamental (and fascinating) questions built into this show was: How exactly can the most powerful political figure in the world continue to commit murder while under the watchful eye of the Secret Service? The most disappointing thing about Season 3 was that the answer to that question remained unanswered. However, given the way the season ended, I am hopeful that we’ll find out next year.

The Mindy Project, Season 3

The Mindy Project, Season 3 (3/26/15) FOX (2014-15 ***) Created by Mindy Kaling, starring Mindy Kaling, Chris Messina, Ike Barinholtz and Adam Pally. 21 episodes, originally aired – 9/16/14 – 3/24/15. Mindy Lahiri is a modern professional woman of Indian ancestry trying to juggle career and relationships… with varying degrees of success. Season highlights included: Mindy and Danny’s turbulent relationship, Mindy moving to Stanford University and Mindy getting pregnant… not necessarily in that order. It’s not a great sign when you’re unsure if a TV show has aired its season (and possibly series) finale or not. Sadly, this show (which my wife and I have both enjoyed) seemed to be limping a bit this season. (Editor’s Note: As of this writing, the series has been canceled by Fox but has been picked up by Hulu, which means we will not be likely to continue watching.)

Girls, Season 4

Girls, Season 4 (3/23/15) HBO (2015 ***1/4) Series created by Lena Dunham, starring Lena Dunham, Adam Driver, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet. 10 episodes, originally aired 1/11/15 – 3/22/15. Aspiring writer / high-functioning neurotic Hannah Horvath struggles to fit into the prestigious Iowa Writers Program while her equally neurotic friends live out their sometimes soap opera-ish lives back in NYC. This season was a definite up-tick from the previous two, and I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason was that most of the episodes weren’t written by Lena Dunham. I hope that statement doesn’t come across as too mean. I’m a fan of Dunham, but I’m also well past thinking of her as a “Wunderkind.” It’s a little hard for me to believe this series is already through Season 4. It sure doesn’t seem like the show has been on that long. Also, maybe it’s just me, but the seasons seem to come and go like a short-lived breeze. Hell, last year I didn’t even realize the season was over until a few weeks after the last episode had aired. Maybe the effect is related to the time of year the shows are aired. At any rate, I have high hopes for Season 5, though I don’t know how much allegiance I have to Girls.

Horror of Collier County

Horror of Collier County (3/23/15) Graphic Novel (2001 **) Written and illustrated by Rich Tommaso. When a woman named Fran and her young daughter move in with her mother, they come to realize there’s something odd about the residents of the small Florida community. I actually acquired this book when someone left it and some other items out on the “free” table at work. That should have been a sign that it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece. I was very attracted to Tommaso’s illustration style, and so I was hopeful it would be a good, quick read. At least it was quick, and I read it over the course of a lunch hour. Unfortunately, the author wasn’t as accomplished a writer as he was an artist. Horror of Collier County suffered from lots of story problems, all of which could have been caught early and corrected. One of the most glaring issues was the inclusion of a seemingly major character who served no apparent function. However, the worst problem was probably a fundamental story flaw that resulted in a highly unsatisfying ending.