Tag Archive for 'Drama'

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.

Men of Boys Town

Men of Boys Town (8/23/15) TCM (1941 ***) Directed by Norman Taurog, starring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and Darryl Hickman as Flip. The dynamic duo of Father Flannegan and Whitey Marsh, along with their diminutive pal Pee Wee, take on the antiquated reform school system. I didn’t expect much from this sequel to the 1938 film, which I watched and reviewed back on 10/31/10, but it delivered emotionally. Of course your mileage may vary. Men of Boys Town falls into that category of films that are so old fashioned and simple in their construction and execution that most modern viewers would likely find them boring and/or quaint. (By the way, isn’t “quaint” one hell of a word?) The story contained a couple of weird logic problems, such as setting its fictional, demonized reform school 1,000 miles away; I lost count of how many times various characters traveled to and from that faraway place. My only guess is that was done so viewers at the time in Nebraska or Iowa wouldn’t think the corrupt institution was set in their home state.


Contact (8/22/15) HBO (1997 ***) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, based on the novel by Carl Sagan, starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, David Morse and William Fichtner. When young astrophysicist isn’t busy boning rugged-looking men of the cloth, she spends every waking minute listening for extra-terrestrial voices. I hadn’t watched this film since it was originally released. I remember being fairly disappointed by it, actually, having expected much more from Robert Zemeckis, the director behind Back to the Future (1985) and Best Picture winner Forrest Gump (1994). My expectations were clearly higher than they should have been. It’s interesting that this film shares something in common with another film I watched lately, one that also stars Matthew McConaughey: Interstellar (2014). Both films begin on fairly grounded reality, then progress into a second act related to the execution of a large-scale space project / mission, before reaching a dramatic climax that is (no spoilers here) somewhat abstract in nature. I gotta say that McConaughey’s acting chops had improved substantially in the interim.

Judgment at Nuremberg

Judgment at Nuremberg (8/22/15) TCM (1961 ***1/2) Directed by Stanley Kramer, written by Abby Mann, starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift and William Shatner. In 1948, A Maine judge is asked to travel to Germany and head a tribunal determining the fate of German judges who, under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, passed judgment on those brought before them. As my wife and her mother tour Germany, my Nazi atrocities film festival series concludes. At a certain point during this courtroom drama, the prosecuting attorney shows film footage taken during the liberation of one of the concentration camps. Unfortunately, I don’t have the historical context to know the impact that footage had on audiences in 1961. Nearly two decades had lapsed since the defeat of the German army, and I know that some of the footage had been seen before. It’s undoubtedly an unfair comparison, but I’m reminded of the Zapruder footage shown during Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991).

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List (8/21/15) TMC (1993 ****) Directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the book by Thomas Keneally, starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz. A German industrialist and profiteer rubs elbows with the director of a concentration camp and manages to save more than a thousand Jews from Hitler’s “final solution.” It’s hard to believe more than twenty years have passed since this film was released, a film that would go on to win Best Picture and Best Director awards. It truly is an amazing film and one that is worthy of the awards it won. At the time, it was seen as somewhat of a departure for Spielberg, one that couldn’t be any more different from the other film he directed that was released in 1993, Jurassic Park. Still, it has many moments that feel absolutely Spielbergian. And yes, even in the most dire circumstances, there were moments of humor. Highly recommended.

Don Jon

Don Jon (8/15/15) Netflix (2013 ***) Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza. When a hot New Jersey stud meets the girl of his dreams, he must choose between his addiction to internet porn and real intimacy. Given the director/writer/star aspect of Don Jon, it’s hard not to think of this film as a vanity project, and an odd one at that. The natural question is just how intimate Gordon-Levitt has with the core subject matter, compulsive masturbation? I’ll be sure to ask him that if I ever have an opportunity. At any rate, I thought the film was fairly well crafted, at least visually, and it managed to remain true to its message. However, not having grown up in New Jersey, it was hard for me to see the characters as anything more than caricatures better suited to sketches on Saturday Night Live than a feature film. Also, the film’s resolution, though a natural one, happened fairly quickly and didn’t seem sufficiently earned.


Bernie (8/12/15) Netflix (2011 ***1/4) Directed by Richard Linklater, based on an article by Skip Hollandsworth, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Based on a true story, a well-liked assistant funeral director reaches out to and befriends the nastiest widow in Carthage, Texas… with tragic consequences. This is a cute movie with a quirky performance by Jack Black, but I honestly didn’t find it anything beyond that. I’d been meaning to watch it for some time, but my interest was piqued by its segment in the “career retrospective” documentary I watched not long ago, 21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014). Berrnie features an interesting pseudo-documentary technique, and as I watched it I thought: “I’ll bet this film had a very short shooting schedule.” Sure enough, according to its Wikipedia page, it was shot in only 22 days and something tells me McConaughey was able to knock out his scenes in about 3 of them. Adding to the project’s uniqueness was the fact that the interviewed folks were a mix of professional actors and actual townspeople. The film’s real claim to fame is undoubtedly that its theatrical release led to a re-opening of the case (with the surprising support of prosecuting D.A. Danny Buck Davidson), which eventually resulted in the release of Bernie Tiede himself in 2014. And not only that, but the judge ordered him to live under the care of the film’s director! It’s like something out of a movie! Believe it or Not!


Whiplash (7/30/15) Starz (2014 ****) Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Melissa Benoist. An insecure young man attempts to become a great jazz drummer under the tutelage of an abusive teacher guilty of caring just a little too much. This film was nominated for Best Picture of 2014 and deservedly so. Quite frankly it is the best film I’ve seen in a long time. I was engrossed from beginning to end and can attest to J.K. Simmons being very deserving of his award for Best Supporting Actor. The conflict between the two main characters was palpable, and each were richly drawn. The story would have suffered considerably had Simmons’ Fletcher character been a pure sadist teacher with a drill sergeant mentality and no motivations or redeeming qualities. Likewise, Miles Teller’s Andrew was a driven but flawed protagonist, one who made decisions I didn’t always agree with, yet I still continued to root for him in spite of myself. Highly recommended.

Penny Dreadful, Season 2

Penny Dreadful, Season 2 (7/30/15) SHO (2015 ***) Created by John Logan, starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Harry Treadaway and Helen McCrory as Madame Kali. A devil-worshiping woman with a collection of really creepy ventriloquist dummies attempts to lure Vanessa Ives to become Satan’s bride. I’m sad to report that I didn’t enjoy the second season of this show nearly as much as I did the first. This was due to several factors: (1) The novelty of the show simply wore off; (2) The main story’s antagonist (Kali) wasn’t sufficiently interesting; (3) The ongoing subplots — with the exception of that of Lily, Dr. Frankenstein’s latest creation — each proceeded at a sluggish pace. Will I continue to watch the show next season? Possibly, depending on my wife’s level of interest.

Big Eyes

Big Eyes (6/29/15) British Airways: LAX -> LHR (2014 ***) Directed by Tim Burton, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz and Danny Huston. Margaret Keane has a talent for painting images of wobegone waifs with exaggeratedly-large eyes; her husband Walter, on the other hand, has an equally impressive talent for claiming credit for his wife’s creations. On the surface, this seems like a surprising project choice for Tim Burton. After all, it’s the first biography he’s directed since Ed Wood (1994), which is quite possibly my favorite of Burton’s films. The logic for the choice becomes a bit clearer when you learn that Big Eyes‘ screenwriters were also behind that earlier movie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite on the same level, and I think that the reason why boils down to the fact that the story and personalities involved aren’t nearly as interesting. The film’s dramatic climax takes the form of a painting demonstration in a Hawaii courtroom. Just not compelling source material.