TV Series: Agent Carter S01 (2015) – A great take on this awesome female character

standard_fantasticFor once, the female lead gets to be fully fleshed out with no pity and little gravitas. Agent Carter is just 100% badass with no apologies. OK, yes, she is still madly in love with the (for now) lost Cap’n America, but her work as a secret agent is just pure awesome. I liked Stark’s father Howard and the stories with all his inventions. The origins of the Iron Man story and the inclusion of the cast of the Cap’n America movies was really fun. Like Gotham, it is limited by the fact that it is on network TV but I think it was a little more successful. Perhaps this was a result of the frustratingly short 8 episode run, but still I found this to be solid entertainment. Hayley Atwell does an outstanding Peggy Carter and James D’Arcy’d Jarvis was fun and sometimes badass despite his unassuming nature. It was nice to see Shea Whigham here (after his outstanding performance on Boardwalk Empire as Nucky’s brother), I always like a familiar face. Not all the bad guys are incredibly believable but the action is pretty much non-stop and there is enough humor here that the show doesn’t get lost in its own gravity like Gotham sometimes seems too. So if you haven’t yet checked it out, Agent Carter is well-worth the <8h investment to watch it and catch up for season 2.

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Mad Men S07 Part 2 (2015) – The end of an era and Don 2.0

Mad_Men_Season_7,_Promotional_Poster[CAVEAT EMPTOR: SPOILERS AHEAD]

Well, that happened. After 7 seasons over 9 years and 92 episodes, Mad Men took a bow and vanished into TV history on Sunday night. I thought that this last season was very strong and in particular this last episode was outstanding. I have a separate draft waiting for me to complete comparing various series finales so let me focus on Mad Men here. Several blogs and podcasts have mentioned Don’s final transformation as a successful integration of Don Draper and Dick Whitman. I think I agree with that assessment. All the Coke references (cocaine use by Joan and Richard, the call to the office where Peggy asks him to come back for Coke…) and the underlying Mad Men them of reality versus our construction of it which are echoed in the infamous Coke and a smile commercial at the end all convinced me that Don did return to the new office and make the world’s best commercial. Rather than drinking, he was doing yoga and meditating…a healthy change. I found this highly satisfying. Steggy as some have called the mutual love declarations of Stan and Peggy also tugged hard on my heartstrings (yes, I do have a romantic side!). The three women that Don talks to with person to person collect calls (thus the title “Person to Person”) are Sally (wow, has she grown into a responsible adult, who figured?), Betty (“Birdy” killed me) and Peggy were perfectly acted and could not have been better written. Yes, it is a bit sickening to see Pete walk off into the sunset but then his wife certainly deserved a happy ending for herself at least. Marie and Roger’s romance was hilarious and oddly fitting. And then there is Joan. I was so sad the Richard turned out to be an egotistical sap, but then Joan did get what she always wanted: total control over her career and her name on the door…without having to sleep with a creep!

Although it did not have the final punch that the Breaking Bad finale had, I’d rate this really high in my list of final episodes (again, a blog post is forthcoming!). So, how about you Mad Men fans out there, did you like it or were you disappointed?

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Transparent (2014) – Amazon’s Entry into the TV Drama Scene is a Rousting, Mind-bending Success

transparentIt took me a little bit of time to fully dive into Transparent, but Jeffrey Tambour’s performance was so incredible and all the writing was so perfect that I thoroughly enjoyed it end to end. What I especially appreciated is how this film did not overly sympathise with the protagonist as it exposes the multiple issues in all of his childrens’ sexuality and relationships which is not directly due to his gender change but rather the instability they all felt as they were growing up. Each of the children (as adults of course) is portrayed with brutal realism. There are moments of high comedy here but also of great drama. I learned a lot of things that I really did not realise before – particularly the difference between transvestites (men who love men but wish to dress as women) and transgender (men who love women and want to change sex and become lesbians). The show never panders to sentimentality but rather offers us no excuses and no remorse but great acting and a fascinating, original plot. A must see from 2014.

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Rick and Morty S1 (2014) – Deliriously Incredible Must-See Cartoon

rick-and-mortyOK, so perhaps those with strict moral codes and closed minds should avoid Rick and Morty because it tends to draw WAY outside the lines. But if you enjoy to be pushed the the limits of your imagination and moral compass, I have never seen any animated show push the envelope as far as this one. A very bizarre parody of Back to the Future, the ideas in this show – and particularly the last three episodes – will make your head spin (well if you were a Morty, it would probably spin literally while if you were a Rick you would just belch and shrug your shoulders). If you enjoy parody, you are in for a treat because nearly every episode parodies some classic scifi meme or movie. The geeks I have talked to about this show and that went on to watch it were all blown away by the quality and the creativity demonstrated by Community’s Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. So, jump on the Rick and Morty bandwagon and you will be ready for S02 on July 26!

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The Blacklist S02 (2014, 2015) – Fed up with Lizzie

blacklistposter2I really liked The Blacklist S01. I really like James Spader’s Reddington (and the Red aspects of his Ultron), but this second season seemed a bit slipshod. It seemed to go on forever and repeat the tired themes of, Oh no they kidnapped Red! Oh no, they kidnapped Lizzie! over and over again. Plus, since I suppose loads of female fans complained about Tom’s disappearance from the show, well Tom was back and what a sweatheart (despite the SS tattoo that lasted up until E22!). The cabal was finally revealed with a very anticlimactic reveal with the prism thing. So what? That was so, well, anticlimactic for lack of a better term. Is there anyone out there that really gives a hoot about Lizzie and her distrusting of Red and then after 10000000 examples her “oh you were protecting me, I understand now”? It made me feel a little ill and ripped off to be honest. I mean 44 episodes for the payoff that we STILL don’t know whether Red is her dad or just a family friend and how that fire started. Jeez Louise! I think that I may have wasted my time on this one. The writers had Lizzie going in all directions at once. Oh, and let’s see, I am an ingenious bad guy but when the FBI comes to find me, I leave a USB key with ALL the goods plugged into my laptop as I escape out the window. Really? Did anyone else see a jumping shark? Sorry, but suspension of disbelief can only go so far. Is this the fault of network TV? Well, maybe not because Hannibal features a gripping story, gorgeous filmwork and consistent writing so we know it is possible. Maybe James Spader can shake up the writers room with his clout and get a better S03 late this year? If not, I don’t think I am gonna be watching this one when it comes back.

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Montage of Heck (2015) – Fascinating yet terrifying intimate look at icon Kurt Corbain

imagesWow. I was already impressed by the previous Brett Morgen rockumentary Some Kind of Monster, but this one was even more moving and insightful. Kurt Corbain is probably the most enigmatic figure of my formative adult years and of many of my generation and this intimate portrait sheds so much light on the darkness of his personality which I had previously been somewhat unaware. Despite the lack of any interviews of Nirvana drummer and rock demigod Dave Grohl or Pat Smear of the Foo Fighters, the film gets first hand testimony from nearly everyone close to Corbain (his parents, his first girlfriend, Krist, and Courtney among others) and even had Francis, Kurt’s daughter, as an executive producer. The animated sequences over real audio from Kurt are haunting and powerful. The images of his notebooks and writing will also haunt me for some time to come. My lack of sympathy for Courtney Love was deepened by this documentary – she was a much darker Yoko to Kurt’s Paul, dragging him down and enabling his heroin addiction to a large degree. It is heartbreaking to see how this brilliant and happy kid turned into the angry, confused, and self-destructive mess that ended up becoming a somewhat unwilling spokesman for the grunge movement. Without spoiling anything because you really should see it for yourself, suffice it to say that your perspective on the entire Nirvana catalog will come away changed and deepened. One can only try to imagine an alternative reality where his suicidal tendencies (coming from back before Courtney, before Nirvana, before success) were treated rather than ignored.

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Avengers 2 (2015) – Filler before Avengers 3 and 4

Maybe they got spoiled by success? Or maybe the writers were all working on Daredevil or Agent Carter? In any case, Avengers 2 was a relatively disappointing followup to the excellent Avengers of 2012. Too much CG, too many frivolous plotlines, a sappy romance and predictably unsuccessful between Black Widow and Hulk – there is not much here to praise. I felt that the army of Ultrons was too reminiscent of Iron Man 2 and that the jokes felt old and crusty. I felt that Fury’s appearance was useless as was the help-carrier. The world destruction scenario seemed pointless. I guess the only things I appreciated here were Scarlett in black leather and James Spader’s Robotic Reddington-Ultron character. I think that they started looking forward to the two ultimate Avenger movies Infinity War 1 and 2 and needed to get this one under the rug and this undermined the quality of this intermediary product. The characters also were less engaging for me: I felt that they were too sentimental about Hawkeye and tried to tease us into thinking that he would not survive and I thought Thor was nearly useless here. I know that there are probably many moviegoers that probably do not agree, but I would not place this among the great superhero flicks. I guess I need to wait for Deadpool and Infinity Wars now…

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