Tag: TV/Movies (Page 1 of 11)

Let’s talk about TV

I… don’t think I watch as much TV as this post makes it seem like I do? But maybe I’m in denial. I dunno. What I do know, is that I really enjoy TV — good TV, that is — because at the heart, it’s storytelling, and I am all about stories.

Here’s what I’ve been into (and out of) lately:

SPRING AND SUMMER SHOWS

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Orphan Black is excellent, y’all. It’s character-focused sci-fi (my favorite kind) and features the incredibly talented and beautiful Tatiana Maslany as, like, a dozen different people. She’s so good that you will honestly forget it’s the same actress in every scene. (Hence, her recent Emmy win.) The show’s main themes are personhood, humanity, autonomy, and individuality, with nice streaks of feminism and family mixed in. I will say that Season 3 went darker than I would have preferred, but thankfully Season 4 returned to the direction and quality of Season 1. Part of me is sad that the upcoming Season 5 will be OB’s last… but I always think it’s better to have a planned ending than to just let a series ramble on indefinitely.

Girls is also coming to a close next year. I thought the most recent (5th) season was finally as strong as its first, possibly even stronger. The standout episodes for me were Shosh adjusting to Tokyo, and Marnie reuniting with Charlie.

Tyrant just got the axe after 3 seasons, which is unfortunate because, in spite of its flaws, I think the show was a very unique and significant offering. Basically: a well-to-do American family goes to the Middle East thinking they are superior in every way, and they get humbled — and they get changed — both for better and for worse.

UnREAL‘s 2nd season bit off more than it could chew, in my opinion. But it wasn’t terrible, and Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer are as captivating as ever, so I’m willing to see how Season 3 goes.

Season 6 of Game of Thrones was pretty fantastic (with one exception — that Arya episode, ugh) and I can’t wait to see what happens next, especially now that the show has caught up to the books (more or less), putting readers and viewers on fairly even footing.

NEW FALL SHOWS

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Pitch is practically tailor-made for me. Sports + a woman of color in the lead + social commentary, all with a fairly feel-good vibe. Even Andy likes it! Granted, we’re only 3 episodes in, but so far Pitch is at the top of my must-watch list, along with…

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From the creators of Crazy Stupid Love (a movie that I adored), This Is Us is mostly about the ties that bind us to the people we love — how lovely and how complicated they can be. But the writing is clever enough to make it more than just another family drama, and compelling characters and strong acting elevate it even further.

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Confession: I love Kiefer Sutherland’s glasses in Designated Survivor, and that is 1 out of the 3 reasons I decided to give this show a try. The other 2: an interesting premise, and Maggie Q. So far the show is entertaining but not exceptional.

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Featuring an entirely black writing staff, Atlanta is one of the most interesting, unexpected, and thought-provoking shows I’ve ever seen. It’s a “comedy” in the vein of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, or even Girls, which is to say, it won’t necessarily make you laugh out loud, but it pokes fun at modern life in a subversive way. Atlanta also has a streak of surrealism to it that’s hard to explain but fascinating to watch. And it co-stars Lakeith Stanfield, a brilliant actor who I first saw in the hauntingly wonderful film Short Term 12. All that said, I think I appreciate the show, from an artistic standpoint, more than I actually like the show…? But maybe that’s just a matter of semantics.

RETURNING FALL SHOWS

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Younger is a bit silly and not-that-believable… yet still so totally delightful!

Actually, Jane the Virgin falls into that category too, but with the added benefit of featuring a predominantly Hispanic cast.

On a related note, I must admit, I watch Fresh Off the Boat in large part because of its Asian/Asian-American focus. It’s important to me, for obvious reasons, to support those stories. Don’t get me wrong, FOTB is fun/funny. I just don’t typically prioritize sitcoms on a weekly-watch basis.

The 100 has been a pleasantly nuanced surprise of a CW show. (Based on a YA book series, by the way! Very loosely…) Again, its character-driven sci-fi, but with some of the ruthlessness of Game of Thrones, and set in a much less familiar world than Orphan Black.

Saved by Netflix, Longmire is one of the more unique procedurals out there, thanks to its setting, which lends an Old West vibe and Native American influences. Longmire too has dipped into darkness a bit more than I wanted, but I’m still looking forward to binge-ing Season 5 when I get the chance.

SHOWS I GAVE UP ON

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Season 1 of Empire was truly special, I think, but Season 2 lost the magic, and Season 3 seems to be continuing that trend, so I just let go. Sorry, Taraji. You’re still fabulous, and I will miss you.

Quantico was never great, but it was refreshingly diverse, so I tried to stick with it. Ultimately the melodrama and lack of substance wore me down. And worst of all, the writers seemed to think that misdirecting the audience week after week was the same thing as creating mystery. Um, no.

Grey’s Anatomy still has its moments, but I don’t think it will ever return to peak form (Seasons 1-3). Now I just read episode summaries from time to time to check in with the characters I still care about — namely April and Jackson.

For reasons that had nothing to do with the show, I stopped watching The Night Of shortly after I blogged about it, and I just never felt compelled to pick it up again. Then I heard about how the rest of it played out, and I was glad to have spent that time elsewhere.

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The Night Of — spoiler-free musings on pacing and promises

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Are any of you watching this show? Andy and I have seen 4 episodes — out of the 6 that have aired and the 8 that are planned — and I have thoughts.

First and foremost, there’s no question that the show is well-made. In particular, the acting, cinematography, and music are top-notch. I really love the intro/credit sequence.

In spite of the high quality, I find myself frustrated, and uncertain whether or not to commit to watching the rest. Mostly it’s an issue of pacing and promises.

See, the show is called The Night Of. It’s about a murder. (Sort of.) In the first episode, we see the chain of events surrounding that murder, and we meet our main characters — namely, the suspect and his lawyer. All of this sets the tone, sets our expectations. The title and the pilot episode say, very clearly, “Mystery.” 

However, the show is not actually about whodunnit. It’s just barely a mystery. It’s really about the criminal justice system. In fact, the original UK series was called just that: Criminal Justice. Not as sexy of a title — which is surely why HBO changed it for US viewers — but more straightforward and accurate. The story is a vehicle for exposing the contradictions, flaws, and dirty little secrets within our legal system. That’s all very compelling, but it’s not what I was promised.

Edit to add: Oh, I didn’t even mention my issue with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who captivates our “hero,” lures him to doom, and then dies, leaving us with basically no prominent female characters… #fridged for #manpain #sigh

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Straight Outta Compton

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On Saturday night, Andy and I went to see Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about (primarily) Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy-E, who together founded one of the biggest, most influential, and most iconic rap groups in history. Upon returning home from the theater, I immediately jumped on Twitter to sing the movie’s praises. I had to. The movie energized me in a way that would not be contained. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Those are my thoughts in a nutshell, but I wanted to discuss a few things in more detail:

F-bombs and n-words. I suspect that a lot of people will be turned off by the “vulgar” facade of Straight Outta Compton. The movie showcases a side of American culture that many look down on, and it’s easy to use the profanity as an excuse to dismiss the film, the music, and the many artists who created it all.

But as a writer, as a lover of words, I think it’s important to recognize that profanity is just a mode of expression, as valid as any other. So is “street” speak. So is broken or accented English.

Things do not have to be comfortable or pleasant or polished to have merit. Furthermore, who gets to define comfortable and pleasant and polished anyway?

Hip hop as a voice for the marginalized. Eddie Huang, the celebrity chef whose memoir inspired the TV show Fresh Off the Boat, talks openly about his love for rap music. He has said that as a chubby Chinese kid growing up in the suburbs of Orlando, he stuck out in pretty much every way, and he connected to hip hop because it is all about the hardships of being in the minority. It is angry, empowering, unapologetic social commentary set to music that makes you move.

Growing up, I knew a lot of Asian guys who were into rap. Coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe not.

Not just for black people. “Conventional wisdom” says that only black people will read/watch/pay attention to black stories — and thus, that black stories are “niche” and can’t be blockbusters. But I have never been convinced of that. I certainly don’t want it to be true.

Personally, I have read and admired books like Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Beloved, Things Fall Apart, and Pointe. I have been a fan of shows like Sister Sister, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, black-ish, and Empire. I have watched and loved movies like Bad Boys, Dream Girls, Precious, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Beyond the Lights. And I have never once thought, “This story was not meant for me. I cannot relate. These are not my people.” Just the opposite, in fact.

I know I’m not alone in this.

Straight Outta Compton’s screenwriter was a middle-aged gay Jewish man. Clearly he connected with the story of these young, impoverished black musicians, because he did a fantastic job with their story.

Of course, he didn’t do it alone.

Oscar contention. As I said, I think Straight Outta Compton is worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Probably Best Director and Best Actor (for Jason Mitchell, who plays Easy-E) too. Every aspect of the film was top quality, and the subject matter was a perfect balance of personal and political, historical and timely.

Skepticism and hope keep battling inside me. Last year Selma got nominated, yes, but it lost out to a movie that I couldn’t even finish watching. Plus, Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo were horribly snubbed. A few years earlier, Ray was also nominated and lost, but at least Jamie Foxx won for his amazing performance.

That’s not a lot of precedence to go on, though. And those movies focus on black heroes who are actually accepted and embraced by the mainstream.

Regardless, I have more optimism for Straight Outta Compton right now than I did Saturday night when I was tweeting. I just read about the film’s screening for members of the Academy Awards, which apparently went quite well. Fingers crossed that they prove me wrong. Fingers crossed that we really are progressing. Fingers crossed that we can recognize and reward excellence even when it comes in a less familiar package.

Police brutality. OK, this one doesn’t really segue well, but I need to talk about it. Sunday morning, I woke up with swollen eyelids. I had cried that much during Straight Outta Compton.

Throughout the movie, we see Dre, Easy, and Cube experience multiple conflicts with law enforcement. Not once are they treated with respect, or even basic decency. It’s very hard to watch. Even harder when you remember that it’s real.

The film also includes brief but harrowing footage of the Rodney King beating. In 1991, I was only 5 years old, so I don’t remember much of anything about the incident myself. But 25 years later, I’m very aware of the world around me, and it’s disheartening to see the same thing happening now. So much has changed, and yet so much hasn’t.

Treatment of women. Given the role women tend to play in hip hop culture, I had low expectations for what I would see in Straight Outta Compton. But I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a story about the men, yes, but the women who figure prominently are portrayed with a fair amount of respect. The mothers, the wives, even Dre’s baby momma. We see them as strong, savvy individuals, who play significant roles in the lives of these men.

The background women may not get as much respect, but I felt that they weren’t used gratuitously. There were plenty of bare body parts, but without the unnecessary lingering that I see in so many music videos and cable TV shows. It was more like set dressing, for authenticity.

Note: In real life, a few of these guys have reputations when it comes to misogyny, and even violence against women. I am in no way condoning that. But I do understand the decision to leave that out of the movie given that (A) these guys were producers on the film, and (B) it’s not relevant to the arc of their music careers or friendships, which is the heart of this story.

Update: Dre addressed his past mistakes. Ice Cube made new ones.

Last but not least, here’s a link to the original Straight Outta Compton album, free to stream on Spotify. Several of these songs were familiar to me already, but I definitely have a greater appreciation for them now.

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Beyond the Lights

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My friend Elissa recommended Beyond the Lights several times on Twitter, so when this striking image popped up on Netflix, I immediately took note. (I didn’t realize that the love interest is reflected in her glasses until I was putting the picture into this post, though. Hah!) Beyond the Lights is the story of Noni Jean, a pop starlet who has lost her true self in the swirl of fame. Her depression is dragging her under, and no one sees it — until one night, police officer Kaz Nicol somehow does.

Noni and Kaz not exactly star-crossed, but they do come from very different worlds. Will loving each other help or hurt their respective goals? What happens when what you want isn’t actually good or right for you?

Ambition and over-sexualization, performance and creativity, romance and self-discovery. The movie explores a lot of themes that I have a strong interest in. Also, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is mesmerizingly beautiful, which is eclipsed only by her immense talent. Her eyes could almost tell the story all on their own.

It’s a quiet, sexy, serious but uplifting film.

Baggage Claim

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Baggage Claim is not a great movie… But it’s fun, and it features a wonderful cast that really drew me in. I mostly know Paula Patton from Mission: Impossible 4 and from her former marriage to Robin Thicke, so seeing her in this kind of a light-hearted role was a change of pace. She really embraced the goofiness and the physical comedy, and she’s just a delight to watch. (Random observation: At times she bears a strong resemblance to Jennifer Lopez.)

Adam Brody is a scene-stealer, and Taye Diggs performs with an unexpected and understated hilarity. They are also two of the many, many, many extremely handsome men in this movie.

Then there’s the airline support staff — curbside luggage guy, check-in counter lady, and security checkpoint guy — who subtly ratcheted up the humor of their performances throughout the film until they had me laughing out loud (for real) by the end. They reminded me that even small characters can have a big impact on the success and enjoyment of a story.

The Good Lie

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To be honest, I bawled my eyes out the first time I saw a trailer for The Good Lie. But I was hesitant to actually go see it, because I thought Hollywood would do their usual thing and turn this into a story about Reese Witherspoon’s character. I mean, just look at the poster, right?

But I’m happy to report that Reese is barely in this movie. (Just to be clear, I do like her!) Instead, the story rightfully centers on 3 young men and 1 young woman who survive a terrible war in their home country of Sudan, and eventually find themselves trying to recover and make new lives in America. It’s about children robbed of innocence, families torn apart, sacrifices and choices and powerlessness, and the things we can never forget.

Another thing I loved about this movie is that the main characters are portrayed by Sudanese actors. In fact, several of them lived through the horrors depicted in the film. I cannot imagine how difficult it was — and hopefully empowering too — to tell a story so near to one’s trauma and to one’s heart.

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About Time

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Rachel McAdams in a red dress, holding onto a man and laughing in the rain. Looks like a rom-com, right? It’s not. About Time does deal with love, but also with family, and growing up, and growing old, and getting second chances, and accepting what cannot be changed.

This_is_40Even though the two films have very different tones, About Time reminded me of This Is 40, because both stories revolve around the beauty and humor that can be found in living an ordinary life. That theme has become increasingly important to me over the years, both for myself and for my storytelling.

There are so many great little moments in About Time. These were my favorites:

  • Pretty much every scene between Tim (the protagonist, played by Domhnall Gleeson) and his father (played by Bill Nighy). But especially when they’re playing table tennis and pretending it’s the Olympics.
  • When Mary (McAdams) offers to take off one item of clothing for every decision that Tim makes about a big event they’re planning. It’s sweet and sexy and real — a side of passion that is woefully under-represented by Hollywood.
  • When Tim wants to solve his sister’s problems, and Mary says, “If it’s going to be fixed, I think she probably has to do it herself.” This is a deeply difficult lesson to learn, when you love someone. When you can see the smarter path for them to take, but you can’t make them take it. It’s something that I’ve been struggling with a lot recently.

Even though the movie is about a guy who uses time travel to correct his mistakes, in the end, About Time reminds us that part of what makes life so precious is that we can’t get any do-overs. There’s just the once. Whether you choose right or wrong, you have to move on. That’s how you learn and grow. And hopefully that’s how you come to appreciate and make the most out of every day. Go with time, not against it. That’s the real path to happiness.

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