Tag Archive for '2010s'

Living With Lincoln

Living With Lincoln (9/6/15) HBO (2015 ***) Directed by Peter W. Kunhardt and Brian Oakes. Peter Kunhardt tells the story of his family, particularly his grandmother Dorothy, and his family’s very special collection of photographs of America’s 16th president. To be perfectly honest, this documentary was a bit of a bait-and-switch. Much, if not most, of its content focused on Dorothy Kunhardt’s life and career. She was the children’s book author of Pat the Bunny and Junket is Nice. While fascinating in her own right, I was understandably more interested in the Lincoln photographs. The documentary technique was solid, featuring home movies and plenty of motion graphics to break up the otherwise static material.

Dear Mr. Watterson

Dear Mr. Watterson (9/1/15) Netflix (2013 ***) Directed by Joel Allen Schroeder, including interviews with Berkeley Breathed, Seth Green, Stephan Pastis and others. This documentary is an examination of the work of Calvin and Hobbes‘ creator, as well as an unabashed love letter to the reclusive “J.D. Salinger of cartoon artists.” The documentary technique was solid throughout, with an appropriate use of motion graphics to break up the talking heads interviews. However, I found the narration to be a bit sophomoric at times, and had wished it were smarter and coming from a more authoritative position with respect to the history of American cartoons. Having said (written) that, the opposite could easily be argued, that it was in fact the perfect choice for the audience, assuming the audience was made up of grade school kids who had just discovered Calvin & Hobbes for themselves. As I watched the film, I kept wondering whether Bill Watterson himself might make an appearance, but (kinda sorta spoiler alert) sadly he did not. One historical note: Subsequent to the release of Dear Mr. Watterson in 2013, Bill Watterson did come out of his cave briefly, returning to the comics pages in a handful of panels in the strip Pearls Before Swine, created by Stephan Pastis, one of those interviewed for this documentary. One has to wonder what connection there might be, if any.

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas (8/29/15) Netflix (2013 ***) Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, based on the novel by Dean R. Koontz, starring Anton Yelchin, Addison Timlin and Willem Dafoe. A psychic short-order cook knows something really bad is going to happen in his small town, just not quite what. I have no real explanation for it, but I’ve been meaning to read Dean Koontz’ novel of the same name for several years now, but had never gotten around to it. I’m sure that’s based almost entirely on reading the back of the paperback in an airport book store at some time far in the past. Based on that interest, when I saw Odd Thomas listed on Netflix I decided to give it a shot, not knowing much about it. According to Wikipedia, the film got a theatrical release, but everything about it screams: “made-for-TV-movie-intended-as-a-series-pilot.” It is very strange tonally. I know I tend to write in my reviews about tone a great deal, but I was surprised by not only how light its tone was, but also the choices made in its premise. Some examples: The main character is a generally well-adjusted young man who not only has a girlfriend but also a good working relationship with the local police. While I don’t think I can give it a strong recommendation, and I found it predictable at times, it was still a mildly entertaining watch.

Bates Motel, Season 2

Bates Motel, Season 2 (8/29/15) Netflix (2014 **1/2) Created by Anthony Cipriano, Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, starring Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Dylan Massett, Olivia Cooke and Nestor Carbonell. 10 episodes, originally aired between 3/3/14 – 5/5/14. A mother and her troubled son try to make a go of running a motel in a small town where marijuana drives the local economy. It seems wrong somehow that a decade has passed since Freddie Highmore starred in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). He was definitely the best thing about this TV series, and if Netflix ever adds future seasons to their roster, and if I watch them, it’ll be because of Highmore and Norman Bates. I honestly got sick of the season’s major drug war storyline, which I only found mildly interesting when it included Norman, which was rare. I particularly could not have cared less about Norman’s brother Dylan, who somehow goes from drug flunky to drug boss’s right hand for no apparent reason. But back to Norman: Compared to the first season, I found the relationship between him and his mother Norma to be less complex (i.e.: interesting) this time around. Much of the joy to be found there was due to knowing how their relationship turns out, with Norma eventually becoming fodder for Norman’s adventures in the wonderful world of taxidermy.

Happyish, Season 1

Happyish, Season 1 (8/26/15) SHO (2015 ***) Created by Shalom Auslander, starring Kathryn Hahn, Steve Coogan, Carrie Preston and Bradley Whitford. 10 episodes, originally aired 4/26/15- 6/28/15. A 44-year old advertising executive spends much of his commute to and from his Woodstock home contemplating the concept of happiness. The real question this show asks its audience is this: “Even with everything we have to be thankful for, why are we still so chronically unhappy?” That is certainly a question I can relate to more than I wish were the case. There is also no small irony, especially given the show’s theme and some of its content, that the main character was originally supposed to be played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who committed suicide on February 2nd, 2014 at the age of 46. Ultimately, there was much to like about this show, but given its “existential angst” premise, it comes as no surprise to me that it was canceled after one season. And seriously, how fucking hard is it to get canceled on Showtime? This show’s final legacy may be to offer examples of what it “feels like” to use well-known advertising icons like the Geico Gecko, the Keebler elves and Coca Cola in pretty subversive ways. Two final notes: (1) The show addresses the obvious comparison with Mad Men (2007-2015) in its first episode and (2) I was delighted by the Bewitched (1964-1972) reference in the fictional ad agency’s name: “McMann Godsmith & Tate.”


Robocop (8/25/15) Netflix (2014 ***) Directed by José Padilha, starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley and Samuel L. Jackson. When the only honest cop in the corrupt Detroit police department gets blown up in his driveway, a robotics company gives him a second chance to clean up the city. I enjoyed this remake more than I expected, mostly because I expected almost zero from it. The film was cast with always-nice-to-see faces in major roles, but I wish they’d cast a more interesting and/or familiar lead. This attempted franchise reboot also tinkered with the original premise, and in particular with the basics of the main character and his relationship with his family. This very much altered the story dynamics in a way that may have been an attempt at a more relatable central character, but resulted in a weaker story overall. The other major questionable decision was to tone down the original series R-rated content to PG-13 level, in the hopes of producing a series with wider appeal. Not surprisingly, it did not result in a better film. However, ignoring that, the new version of Robocop was still mildly entertaining, with a couple of juicy Easter eggs thrown in as well.

Aquarius, Season 1

Aquarius, Season 1 (8/23/15) NBC (2015 **1/2) Created by John McNamara, starring David Duchovny, Emma Dumont, Grey Damon and Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson. 13 episodes, originally aired 5/28/15 – 8/22/15. A Los Angeles homicide detective’s life runs parallel with and sometimes crosses that of a young Charles Manson. When I watched the final episode, I felt a certain sense of betrayal. This show was presented as a miniseries, and so I had this expectation that over the course of 13 weeks it would tell a self-contained story. Yeah, I felt like a real sap, expecting a resolution which never came. Instead, it ended (and this isn’t really giving anything away) with multiple cliffhangers, none of which it turns out I care enough about to tune in come the fall, assuming the series has been picked up. My favorite part of the show was David Duchovny; I liked his character as a middle-aged WWII veteran cop struggling to be enlightened in spite of his own built-in generational limitations. I hadn’t watched him in Californication (2007-2014), but maybe I should remedy that. BecauseAquarius is a largely fictionalized drama based loosely on a period in Manson’s life, I spent a fair amount of my time wondering how much, if any, resemblance there was between the on-screen events and historical events. There was a shocking scene late in the season that I found particularly egregious: the fictional Manson dopes his mother with LSD, then presents her for “communal enjoyment.” Did anything even close to that really happen?

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything (8/23/15) HBO (2014 ***) Directed by James Marsh, based on the book by Jane Hawking, starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones and David Thewlis. When cosmologist doctoral student Stephen Hawking is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and told he has two years to live, he gets married, then sets about describing the brief history of time. Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his lead performance in this film. He was certainly effective and managed to portray the physically-challenged physicist with compassion and nuance. However, I must admit that the film never reached me on an emotional level. And let’s face it, folks, I am not that hard to make cry. So why wasn’t I moved? What was missing? Much of the film centered on the strained marriage between Hawking and his wife, which wasn’t surprising, considering Jane Hawking wrote the book on which the film is based. Unfortunately, the resolution of that conflict may have been true to real-life events, but it still felt false dramatically. On another note, it’s an interesting coincidence that I watched The Theory of Everything the day after watching Contact (1997), given that the latter was based on a novel by another well-known astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, and both contained themes related to the never-ending conflict between science and religion.

One Day in Auschwitz

One Day in Auschwitz (8/20/15) TMC (2015 ***1/2) Directed by Steve Purcell, narrated by Kelsey Grammer, featuring interviews with and/or footage of Kitty Hart-Moxon, Michael Berenbaum, Walter Feiden and others. Holocaust survivor Kitty Hart-Moxon takes two 17 year olds with her to visit WWII’s most infamous concentration camp. This documentary was aired on TMC immediately following Schindler’s List (1993). The concept was fairly simple: A survivor of Auschwitz taking two girls, who were the same age she was while in the camp, on a guided tour of her horrific experiences, some seventy years prior. Almost immediately I was struck by how surprisingly upbeat Hart-Moxon was. I guess it makes sense: Who’s more likely to be “full of life” than a survivor? Though it doesn’t contain a lot of theatricality, I saw this documentary as something appropriate for showing in schools, though it does contain a couple of PG-rated words. The underlying messages of the film were twofold: (1) Mankind has a terrible capacity for inhumanity — if this happened once, it can happen again; and (2) the secret of surviving was luck combined with being willing to do whatever it took to survive.

True Detective, Season 2

True Detective, Season 2 (8/19/15) HBO (2015 ***) Created by Nic Pizzolatto, starring Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Kelly Reilly. 8 episodes, originally aired 6/21/15 – 8/9/15. Three police officers with several tons of psychological baggage between them team up with a mob boss on the rocks to solve a bizarre murder. In other words: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Vinci, California.” I was generally aware that this season was critically lambasted for various reasons, and so I scrambled to watch the series shortly after it had aired while doing my best to avoid spoilers. When I first heard Vince Vaughn had been cast in the second season I wondered if it indicated a significant tonal shift. But no, the dark tone of the first season carried into the second, unrelated storyline, and I personally found Vaughn’s intense, often bloody, performance to be my favorite part of the show. As for the critics, I still haven’t gone back to see what their main beefs were, though Entertainment Weekly referred to the season as “crappy.” Maybe the ultimate problem was one of variety: All the main characters were tortured souls, and for different reasons, but taken as a whole it seemed like the same repetitive chord being played on the piano.