Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pilot Thoughts: Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder

Even though it was Premiere Week this past week, I actually only saw two new shows so don't think I'm putting them together now just because they happen to feature people of color as lead characters (though that isn't unimportant in the least). Let's go...

Black-ish is the first sitcom pilot I've seen this season and it looks like I started out on a good note. Dre Johnson, played slightly over-the-top by Anthony Anderson, is a marketing executive who is on the verge of a promotion and is generally high on life until he realizes that his family for all of their success have forgotten their black roots. His identity crisis and paranoia about them being black-ish is compounded by his son wanting to play field hockey and have a Bar Mitzvah and his company asking him to lead the "urban" division. He's put to the paces by his bi-racial doctor wife played by Tracee Ellis Ross and his father played by Laurence Fishburne as well as his other kids and predictably all's well that ends well as things do for sitcoms. The focus on race may have been too sledgehammer-y (or at least too broad) for a few, but it gives this show a solid base for the rest of its life. Plus it was funny (Ross and the young twins provided a lot of the laughs for me). I do hope that the show is more family comedy than work comedy because I generally found all of the latter slightly dull. Now let's all take a black break and get some white yogurt.

Grade: B
Willingness to continue: High. It has tons of potential and the family characters are great. Plus being sandwiched between two shows I already watch helps A LOT.

How to Get Away with Murder was my most anticipated show of the fall season so I'm super happy that it lived up to my already high expectations. First of all, Viola Davis as the brilliant and intimidating law professor Annalise Keating is just superb. Her role feels familiar already in the well-worn TV trope of smart and tough teacher who mentors her students in an unorthodox way (in the first episode she pits her students against one another to come up with the best defense on a case she's currently working on with four of the best to intern at her firm) and yet in Davis' hands she also feels fully fleshed out already in spite of still so many unanswered questions about her. I understand people saying she wasn't in the pilot enough, because from the first time she enters the frame to write the title of the show on the blackboard, you just never wanted her to leave and you definitely miss her when she's not on. The rest of the show though intrigued me if not in equal measure, then enough. It revolves around the young folks she's taken under her wing led by the baby-faced Wes Gibbins, adorably played by Alfred Enoch, a character you can easily root for in this dog-eat-dog world/show. In flash-forwards, we see Gibbins with three of his classmates literally trying to hide the evidence of a murder that's been committed. We get small clues in the pilot about what could've led to this dark moment in their lives (the tenuous relationships between all of the characters, the origin of the murder weapon, the identity of the victim, etc.) and I have to say I'm hooked. There's also so many other things I loved about the show such as having a gay character who is actually shown to have sex and of course seeing Liza Weil (Paris in Gilmore Girls) on my TV again. The week wait for the next new episode is murder.

Grade: A
Willingess to continue:
A murder mystery and a chance to see Viola Davis weekly? HELL TO THE YES.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pilot Thoughts: Mysteries of Laura and Madam Secretary

Yesterday, I talked about a couple of new FOX shows and today I'll go into two shows which highlight that a woman can be a mother AND something else. Whoa, whoa, WHOA talk about suspension of disbelief. Onwards...

The Mysteries of Laura has already been raked through the coals for its pre-premiere marketing campaign hammering the fact that Debra Messing's character is a cop AND a mom with the emphasis on the word and. The pilot doesn't help matters since it really did try to magnify how motherly she has to be in her job and how much of a cop she has to be in her personal life, the latter of which includes two twin boys who are obviously the spawns of Satan. In any case, everything about the show feels formulaic and forced and as delightful as Messing is, she just doesn't have the presence to shoulder this largely by-the-numbers show alone. She'll need help from the ensemble which isn't making much of an impression so far with the exception of her investigative aide/babysitter. With that said, they smartly take advantage of shooting on location in New York City and the case-of-the-week featured in the pilot had a nice twist in the end, but overall it all just feels a little too been-there-who-cares?

Grade: D+
Willingness to continue:
I really shouldn't, but there's nothing else on at the same time so maybe I'll catch an episode or two or just catch up on my reading.

First of all, I misrepresented Madam Secretary earlier since unlike Mysteries of Laura it's not at all underlining the fact that Elizabeth McCord, played by Téa Leoni, is the Secretary of State AND a mother. Her being a mom is not ignored as we see her interact with her husband and kids, but it's just a natural extension of the character rather than a prominent schtick (at least not yet). The President, an old CIA boss, calls her up from her civilian life as a professor to be Secretary after the current one dies in a plane crash. The first part of the pilot had to go on hyper speed to bring us to two months after she has agreed to the job so it felt slightly choppy and rushed, but then the rest of the episode focused on showing how McCord was still adjusting to the job from entertaining foreign dignitaries to handling personnel issues, namely trying to figure out how to leverage her friendship with the President against the antagonizing Chief of Staff (played by none other than Zeljko Ivanek, because of course). From there, the pilot goes on auto drive with McCord deftly handling International Crisis #1 through her connections and brilliance. There's also a possible Big Conspiracy reveal in the end, because of course. Overall, the show is solid if slightly unremarkable for now with a pedigreed cast full of Tony/Oscar/Emmy winners who seem to be overly qualified for what's being asked of them so far. Now, was anyone else distracted by the number of House of Cards actors in the episode? I counted three.

Grade: B-
Willingness to continue:
Yes and no. Yes, based on the show's quality, but no based on its time slot. It would be approximately the 1000th show I watch on Sundays and I'm just not sure if my DVR is up to the task especially since it'll also be surely affected by football overruns.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pilot Thoughts: Red Band Society and Gotham

The only reason I'm putting these two shows together is because they air on FOX and nothing else since they couldn't be further from each other. One is a show about a bunch of really sick kids who band together during their extended stay in a fancy hospital while the other is the story of Batman before Batman became Batman. Onwards...

Red Band Society has been dubbed as Glee meets Grey's Anatomy meets The Fault in Our Stars and that's actually pretty on point so if you're a fan of at least two of those then this show might be for you. Unfortunately, I found the pilot just a tad cloying, over-earnest, and overall hokey. It's not easy doing a show about seriously sick kids since you don't want it to be too depressing, but it can't just be too peppy and at least based on the first episode they're leaning a bit too heavily on the latter. Granted a lot of that could just be the usual expositionary stuff every pilot goes through, but with this show all of that just seemed to magnify the over-sentimentality of it all (cue Coldplay music). And don't get me started on the coma kid who's providing voice-over narration and commentary on the goings on in the hospital and is stuck in some "in-between" world. Not even my love for Octavia "Scary Bitch" Spencer could make me tolerate that.

Grade: C
Willingness to continue: I'll check out one more episode (maybe two), but it just seemed like the show isn't for me.

Why would you do a Batman TV show without Batman? And yet the creators of Gotham did just that with the show taking place when Bruce Wayne is just a wee little boy whose parents are killed in front of him and Jim Gordon is still the boyish rookie in the form of Ben McKenzie all blue-eyed and noble. The thing is... it's not bad. McKenzie is pretty great as Gordon going up against and dealing with the shady figures of Gotham be it his opportunistic partner Bullock (Donal Logue), the  dangerous Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), the intimidating Carmine Falcone (John Doman), or the various young folks he encounters who happen to be the evil supervillains of the future. These various cameos were probably the most distracting parts of the pilot. Of course we had to see Bruce Wayne, but we also got a glimpse of the future Catwoman, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, The Penguin, and maybe even the Joker himself. I guess the show has to do that since without that, it would just be a run-of-the-mill cop show. At least, they got the look of Gotham City just right, feeling lived-in and appropriately dark. All of the actors also seem to be committed and I'm already intrigued by one or two things namely the past relationship between Barbara and Renee. The show does need more shirtless Jim Gordon action. Priorities!

Grade: B
Willingness to continue: Definitely for a few episodes and since I like to support genre shows, if it doesn't completely suck then it's a safe bet for a season's pass.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy September 22nd!

Apparently today is a big pop culture day. It's the 20th anniversary of Friends, the 10th anniversaries of Lost and Veronica Mars, and it's the birthdays of Rose Tyler, Draco Malfoy, and Sarah Manning (and Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, Helena)... well the actors who play them. So...


I would never say that this is the greatest sitcom of all time, but due to its cultural reach, especially to my generation, it's definitely one of the most popular show even two decades remove from its debut. I'm pretty sure an episode of Friends is airing right now somewhere. I still watch re-runs on Nick at Nite whenever I can and recently aced a supposedly super difficult trivia quiz on it. Its series finale is one of my absolute favorites. Though I have yet to visit Central Perk so that's on my to-do list. Now go sing Smelly Cat or tweak your nubbin to celebrate the day.


Even though I've seen every episode of Lost and have love/obsessed over this show (and its cast) all the way to the end, it's pretty funny that I actually didn't start watching the show until the third episode had already aired. Couldn't commit to the 2-hour pilot (incidentally one of my favorite pilots ever) and yet once I did see it, I was all in for the 121 episode journey of madness and brilliance. Too bad there really hasn't been a true replacement for it on network TV.


I mistweeted earlier today saying I saw the pilot of Veronica Mars when it aired, but I just realize that I had disowned UPN (whoa old school!) after Buffy ended so I didn't get to see the show until a friend burned DVDs of the first season to me a year or so later. Of course, I didn't get to finish watching the first season until THIS YEAR with my roommate pushing me to do just that and watch the entire series so we could see the movie which came out in March.


Billie Piper, who turns 32 today, was the first companion of the rebooted Doctor Who and thus was a lot of people's entry to the now 50-year old sci-fi institution (she was part of the celebration last year). I had no previous history with her and didn't even know she was a pop singer, but she was fantastic both with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. All New Who companions are still compared to her. Currently she's starring in Penny Dreadful which I haven't seen, but I thought she was excellent in Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

Turning 29 today, Tatiana Maslany's star continues to rise as the lead of Orphan Black winning two Critics Choice Awards and being nominated for a Golden Globe for playing half a dozen or so characters on the small BBC America show. That show is her breakout role as she mostly appeared on Canadian productions prior to that. She memorably appeared in a couple of episodes of Parks and Recreation last year. Hope she gets more opportunities!

Finally, Tom Felton aka Draco Malfoy of the Harry Potter films is 27 today and he seems to have been typecast in these villainy type roles the past few years such as his roles in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and this year's Belle. He stars in TNT's Murder in the First and has a few films lined up where he hopefully plays not the bad guy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Looking Forward To...

Fall TV Edition

The weather is starting to cool and suddenly everything is pumpkin flavored, which means that the Fall TV season is upon us. Of course, I'm excited for my returning shows, but I'm also eager to dive into whatever new shows TV has to offer. Below are just some of the shows I'm highly anticipating for one reason or another. 

Gotham (FOX)
Premieres: Monday, 9/22 8PM
Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Robin Lord Taylor, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Cory Michael Smith
Time Period Conflict: Big Bang Theory, Mom
Why: A Batman show without Batman is a laughable concept, but so is a TV show about the Headless Horseman plus McKenzie is easy on the eyes.

How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Premieres: Thursday, 9/25 10PM
Starring: Viola Davis, Charlie Weber, Alfred Enoch, Billy Brown, Karen Cabrera, Katie Findlay, Jack Falahee, Matt McGorry, Liza Weil, and Aja Naomi King
Time Period Conflict: N/A
Why: VIOLA DAVIS. VIOLA DAVIS. VIOLA DAVIS. Also Paris from Gilmore Girl and Bennett from Orange is the New Black. But really... Viola Davis.

Selfie (ABC)
Tuesday, 9/30 8PM
Starring: Karen Gillan, John Cho, Allyn Rachel, Joy Randolph, Tim Peper, and David Harewood
Time Period Conflict: N/A
Why: Modern retelling of My Fair Lady is a fun concept and I really like both actors. Plus I have nothing else to watch at that time.

Gracepoint (FOX)
Thursday, 10/2 9PM
Starring: David Tennant, Anna Gunn, Nick Nolte, Michael Pena, Jacki Weaver, and Kevin Rankin
Time Period Conflict: A to Z
Why: As a Broadchurch viewer, this American adaptation is unnecessary and yet to see Tennant and especially Gunn weekly? I won't pass that up.

A to Z (NBC)
Thursday, 10/2 9:30PM
Starring: Ben Feldman, Cristin Milioti, Lenora Crichlow, Henry Zebroski, and Christina Kirk
Time Period Conflict: Gracepoint
Why: The trailer is twee even for me and yet all I can hope for is that the show is as charming and adorable I find the two leads.

The Affair (Showtime)
Sunday, 10/12 10PM
Starring: Joshua Jackson, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, and Dominic West
Time Period Conflict: Revenge
Why: I don't know much about this show except all of the actors are great and it looks to be some excellent soapy drama.

The two new shows actually premiering tonight, Red Band Society and The Mysteries of Laura, aren't on my list, but I'll still check out their pilots. I'm going to do that for a bunch of new shows. The other shows on my radar include Madam Secretary, Black-ish, Manhattan Love Story, Bad Judge, Mulaney, Jane the Virgin, and Marry Me. I might see them all or just half, we'll see.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sports Movie Rankings

With the US Open crowning its new champions, football season starting to bombard us with its inescapable presence, and baseball heading into its month-long play-off race, sports has been on the mind as of late. Kacey over at Pop Culture Crazy was in the same mindset when she decided to poll as many people as she could to come up with a Sports Movie Ranking. She asked people to send in their top/favorite 5 sports films and to rank them. She received over 50 submissions with over 90 different films. Check out her great site for the full results including the Top 25 as well as her methodology.

Below are the five films I submitted for the poll as ranked by me. How they were ranked in the final Sports Movie Ranking is in parenthesis:

1. BRING IT ON (#3)

As soon as I heard about the sports film poll, this was the first and second film I thought of. So many people think cheer-leading is not a sport, but I still remember just being in awe at the level of athleticism displayed in the film. Of course the film is more than just a cheerleading film. It's incredibly fun, addictively quotable, and the trio of Dunst, Dushku, and Union is just the best. A few years ago, I briefly talked about the film during it's 10th year anniversary.

2. WIMBLEDON (#16)

If you know me at all, then you know that tennis is my absolute favorite sport. So putting this on my list was a no-brainer even though its presence is less about its quality and more about how few tennis films there actually are. With that said, I saw this on opening weekend and even got a poster of it. Dunst (she's my sporting muse apparently) and Bettany had fun chemistry with each other. So while this is more a guilty pleasure, I don't really care, especially since this is also the very first film I saw with James McAvoy.

3. SUMMER STORM (Unranked)

This German film about rowing teams preparing for a rowing regatta is a must-see especially if you like to watch good gay films. It's sexy, gorgeously shot, and just an affecting coming-of-age coming-out film.

4. WHIP IT (#7)

The year this film came out I dubbed it "like Juno but not annoying." It was fun and energetic and in the heart of it was Page kicking ass in roller derby with Wiig and Barrymore. How could anyone say no to that? Saw it at a special screening and was rewarded with swag, a shirt that says Whip It: Be Your Own Hero. I still cherish it so.


I was one of the few people rooting for this film during the Oscars over The Aviator and I don't regret it one bit after all of these years. Eastwood's aesthetics matched this particular story and with Swank's Oscar-winning powerhouse performance, it was clear cut for me. Her death scene is still one of the saddest for me.

Wow, my list began quite happily then ended in such a depressing way. That sounds about right. Looking over my list now, it's not really surprising that the majority of them are girl-led and the two that aren't directly speaks to my interests (tennis and pretty gay boys). A few of the other films I considered included A Knight's Tale (jousting fun!), The Cutting Edge (Romeo and Juliet on ice!), and Space Jam (fly you fools!). Then there's the trio of The Mighty Ducks, Angels in the Outfield, and Remember the Titans with young Joshua Jackson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ryan Gosling starring respectively.

Again, don't forget to go to Pop Culture Crazy to see the full list of Top 25 Sports Films (as polled) as well as other cool stuff.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Looking Forward To...

The Skeleton Twins
Release: September 12, 2014
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Director: Craig Johnson
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Joanna Gleason, Boyd Holbrook, and Ty Burrell

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dodge This...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

In honor of Keanu Reeves' 50th birthday, the film chosen today is the sci-fi classic The Matrix. In spite of how disappointing the final film ended up or how many inferior action films afterwards aped its aesthetics, The Matrix is still a great cinematic achievement for its imaginative concept and ground-breaking visual flair. I certainly remember being wowed by it all when it came out in theaters and even upon re-watch for this post, I noticed most of its visual effects have aged quite well.

Neo, played by Reeves, is the main character and he's the Chosen One in every sense of that phrase. Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, is the wise mentor who opens Neo to the realities of the Matrix. Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, is the main antagonist hellbent on capturing Neo and company. They're fine and all, but I want to talk about Trinity played by Carrie-Anne Moss, because even though I remember loving her when I first saw the film, I really couldn't take my eyes off of her during my re-watch. She's the first of the main good characters we meet and she gets to kick ass a number of times even before we meet Neo and Morpheus. These two great shots are from the first six minutes of the film already showing us how ready she is for anything:

She gets a lot more opportunities to show off how awesome she is throughout the film, which is when I realized how fantastic it would've been if instead of Neo being the Chosen One, it was Trinity. Instead she becomes a catalyst for Neo to become the Chosen One, which is fine and all if a bit predictable, but to then frame it all by how much they loved each other was a bit of a stretch for the film as their romantic feelings were barely developed other than a few errant glances and the tacked-on Oracle prophesies to both of them. In any case, my runner-up pick is the shot right after my pick for best shot:

I think it's great how it's Trinity who is in charge of the active situation while Neo is on the floor still barely reacting. Plus if you watch the film, the whole thing is done in the film's trademark slo-mo way which adds to how bad-ass this moment was. My favorite shot is then the literal "shot" right before this one with Trinity giving the bad guy a heads up to the world of hurt she's about to deliver unto him:

Best Shot... literally

The foregrounded gun is made to seem huge, but she's the weapon and if you think differently then you're in trouble. It's a wonderful moment in the film and I'm glad she's the focal point of it since the entire film really should've focused on her.

Top Ten Performers of 2014 (So Far)

With summer movie season coming to a close this past weekend and the fall movie season already ramping up, it's the perfect time to take stock at my top 10 favorite performances of the year (so far). These would only be coming from the 37 theatrical releases that I have seen, which is much less than last year, but more than the year prior so go figure. A few 2014 films still on my to-watch list include Obvious Child, Lucy, Chef, The Immigrant, Maleficent, Frank, What If, etc. I've been known to "cheat" with my numbering in the past, but other than my top pick, I kept it pretty narrow this time around.

1. The cast of Boyhood - And I do mean the entire cast of this 12-year in the making intimate epic of a film from Ellar Coltrane to "No Obama Man." Of course I'd be remiss to not call out the three principal actors along for the ride with Coltrane--Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater--as they all quite literally lived into their roles for more than a decade. Seeing them all age is quite a novelty and yet they all were able to develop all of these characters so organically and genuinely that in the end you realize you've watched something special.

2. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (Winter Soldier) and as Alien (Under the Skin) - Johansson seemed like she was born to play Black Widow and even though it's her third time in the role, it almost feels like she's slowly taking ownership of it in her own kick-ass way. Then of course there's her striking turn in Under the Skin, which I briefly talked about here. She's equal parts seductive, dangerous, alien, and human all at once. As I said above, I didn't get to see Lucy, but she's apparently quite fun in it and its success is making me side-eye Marvel's indecision regarding a stand-alone Black Widow film.

3. Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke (Locke) - The entire film is just Hardy inside a car talking on the phone with a bunch of unseen people. The script does a lot of the heavy lifting, but if Hardy wasn't as good as he was (and with his glorious accent to boot), the movie would've completely missed the mark. It's also refreshing to see him in a more subdued role that still manages to convey the intensity he brings to many of his roles.

4. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle (Belle) - The movie was a breath of fresh air this summer movie season as was Mbatha-Raw's performance. What I love most about what she did with her role was that her main character could've easily been one-note or overplayed, but instead she showed great complexity and tremendous restraint in portraying Dido's fascinating life story.

5. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (Guardians of the Galaxy) and as Emmet Brickowoski (The LEGO Movie) - Sweet, affable Andy Dwyer is now a Hollywood super star and I'm just so happy for him! He's just fine in the voiceover work in The LEGO Movie, but he just absolutely shined as Star Lord in Marvel's latest film which highlighted his penchant to play brodude characters with immense heart and humor. He's obviously buoyed by one of the most fun scripts of the year as well as a fantastic ensemble which includes a talking tree (Vin Diesel) and a gun-toting raccoon (Bradley Cooper) who were also *this* close to making my shortlist.

6. Andy Serkis as Caesar (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) - I've called him out before for the exact same role and if it's possible, he seems to have gotten even better that last time. Certainly the character has much more to do this time around and Serkis is up to the task in delivering such a heartfelt performance in collaboration with the many people involved in bringing Caesar and the other apes to life. Shout out to Toby Kebbell, who played Koba, who really went toe to toe with Serkis' Caesar.

7. Tilda Swinton as Mason (Snowpiercer) and as Eve (Only Lovers Left Alive) - The best quality of being an actor is excelling in many different kinds of roles and Swinton is a master at this especially in offbeat roles as evident by what she has done this year not only in the two films I've cited here, but also in her brief cameo as an old lady in The Grand Budapest Hotel. She was obviously perfectly cast as a vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive and brought just the right amount of anime villain quality in Snowpiercer that made her character so memorable.

8. Emily Blunt as Rita (Edge of Tomorrow) - When I think of a kick-ass heroine, my mind doesn't immediately think Emily Blunt, that is until I saw this film and now I'm a lifetime convert. The film is more fun that it had any right to be and Cruise still has enough star power to headline this sort of movie, but Blunt to me was the film's MVP as she took the title "Full Metal Bitch" and owned it completely.

9. Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel) - It's almost always a treat when Fiennes tries his hands in comedy, especially ones that has a bit of an edge or in this case, whimsical edge that only Wes Anderson can deliver. Even though this is the first time the two have collaborated, Fiennes seemed perfectly at home in Anderson's world delivering an energetic and sometimes even campy performance that's thoroughly entertaining and dare I say one of his best.

10. Chris Evans as Curtis (Snowpiercer) and as Steve Rogers (Winter Soldier) - He beat out James McAvoy for this final spot, but both hit it out of the park this year headlining a superhero film with gusto as well as appearing in indie films that not many may have seen, but showcased their versatility as actors. Like many of his Marvel colleagues, Evans was perfectly cast as Captain America and he has just gotten better in the role with every film. But it's in Snowpiercer, playing the reluctant hero with a very dark burden, where he showed he could also deliver a quiet heart-wrenching performance.

Honorable Mentions: James McAvoy (Filth, X-Men: Days of Future Past), John Lithgow and Alfred Molina (Love is Strange), Shailenne Woodley (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill (22 Jump Street), Pierre Deladonchamps (Strangers by the Lake), Rose Byrne (Neighbors), James Corden (Begin Again), and Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield* (Amazing Spider-Man 2)

*Almost didn't include these two, because the majority of the film that didn't include the two of them together were really not good. But then I keep remembering how fun and full of chemistry they had with each other whenever they shared screen. If the entire movie was just them going on a date, it would be one of my favorite movies of the year probably.