Tag: TV/Movies (Page 1 of 11)

Here’s to the fools who dream

Over Christmas, my parents came to visit, which meant that Andy and I were able to sneak away for a few hours while they watched the baby. First we dined at our friend’s new restaurant, which was amazingly delicious, and then we went to see La La Land, which I really enjoyed.

  • The colors. From the opening scene to the final montage, the film makes really good use of vibrant color. It’s a refreshing choice for a “serious” film, particularly in contrast to the dark tones that seem to dominate current popular media. I especially loved the visual of Emma Stone’s character dancing with her roommates, each in a different brightly hued dress, the four women moving in prismacolor around their apartment and through the street.
  • The chemistry. I was already a big fan of both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and this film really underscored why. Ryan is naturally suave and radiates charm. Emma’s doe eyes captivate. She’s also in that special category of actress whose face can convey a hundred subtle things without her having to speak a single word. In every movie I’ve seen with either of these two in it, they manage to inhabit their roles in a way that somehow makes me forget who they really are, and yet simultaneously feel like no one else could play the part so well.
  • The theme. Most of all, I loved that this movie was about the ups and downs of creative life, and the costs and rewards of pursuing your passion. Obviously that is a topic that hits quite close to home. I found myself in tears, not over the love story, but over the hopes and hurdles that the two characters face throughout their careers.

It wasn’t a perfect film, but it was fresh and ambitious and intentional. I can only hope that people would say the same about my work.

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

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Small protests

Sorry, more politics.

Actually, not that sorry. Politics are personal. Politics impact us all. And lately, politics have been weighing on me heavily.

I’m not normally a march-in-the-streets kind of person. Heck, I’m not even a bumper sticker or yard sign kind of person. But these days, I cannot in good conscience do nothing.

My protests may be small, but they are full of good will, determination, and hope.

  • I am calling my representatives. This is reportedly one of the quickest, easiest, and most effective ways to have an impact. If you’re interested in doing the same, I highly recommend the site 5calls.org. It offers a brief overview of various issues you may care about, as well as the numbers of your representatives, and sample scripts to use when calling.
  • I am donating to causes and organizations that champion my beliefs. For example, tonight I donated to the ACLU in celebration of their success in halting the immigration ban. (There is much more left to go in that particular fight, but the court’s decision offered a swift jolt of hope.) There’s a lot of money going toward things I don’t support; it’s going to take a lot of money to counter them.
  • I am reveling in art that honors my experiences and my values. Because art reminds us of our humanity. Art broadens our humanity. Because art strengthens our empathy.

Tonight, in a stroke of serendipity, I happened to be watching Brooklyn, the quiet, moving story of a young Irish immigrant making her way in America.

I don’t know if this is enough. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as enough, right now. But I think that if we all do whatever we can, it will make a difference. I have to believe that.

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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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