Master of None (TV Review)

Master of None (TV Review)

This is an excellent show.

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of Aziz Ansari. I find his standup to be loud, and kind of annoying, despite being pretty funny. My views have completely changed after pouring through the first season of the Netflix original series, Master of None.

master3The show stars Ansari as Dev, a commercial actor in New York, who is sort of trying to make the leap to film, and his questions about life and love. The show tackles many different concepts, including the portrayal of Indian actors on TV, the guidelines of texting, the role of women and the sometimes subtle problems they must deal with, the relationships between parents and kids, and the stories that led them to where they are, the desire to make something of one’s life, and the struggles that come with relationships when people enter their 30s. It is all poignant, and there is solid humour that runs through the entire show, so that it is not too depressing, but a fun journey through the life of someone, who like so many people, feels a little lost, and doesn’t understand the world around them.

So much of what Dev comes to understand through his adventures in Master of None is that people simply need to be nicer to one another. If that could happen, the world would be a better place. But we have all of these rules in place, and people can be very selfish. It is interesting to have someone of that age group take a look at the world around them, and wonder where things changed.

master2There are so many very strong episodes in this season. Ones that will speak to viewers on different levels. Whether it is about the need to talk to your parents, and to learn about them, instead of always being focused on yourself. Or the problems with the dating world, and the missed opportunities that lay behind us all due to timing, luck, or situation. Or the problems with careers, and the desire to make ourselves happy, no matter who is around us. They are all interesting, they are witty, well-written, and simply put, good.

There could be definite comparisons between Master of None and Louie C.K.’s opus show, Louie. Both are about funny people who have a serious side, and are simply trying to negotiate the world around them, with the blessing/curse of being too observant and understanding too well the way that things work. And well Louie is a highly-revered and amazing show, I would dare say that Master of None is in the same ballpark as it, in terms of general excellence.

master4One of the focal points of the series is Dev’s relationships. He is a single guy, out dating in the world, before meeting someone who is pretty damn perfect for him. From there, we are able to see the tendencies of a relationship, the highs and the lows, between two people that seem so good together all of the time. It provides a very good, and realistic portrayal of the way that two people are able to, or aren’t able, to exist together. It can be funny, and it can be sad. This is one of the gifts of Master of None: the ability to elicit both feelings, often at the same time. It is a fine line for a show to toy with, but Master does a very good job of it, right from the very start.

There is very little to dislike about this show. Every episode is well-written, and explores something that is interesting to people who exist in this world. whether they are in their 20s looking forward, 30s realizing that it’s go time, or older, looking at the world as it is now, and getting to be thankful that they don’t need to exist in the mess of it that we have made. Dev and his group of friends are interesting and likable, and his interactions with them are always of interest as the show progresses. The advice that he gets, the conversations that they have, the way that they discuss the world around them. It’s a great coming-of-age show.

Master of None comes with my highest recommendation. Truly, a very good show.

Sharknado 2 (Film Review)

Sharknado 2 (Film Review)

Of course, Sharknado is one of the cheesiest, and most ridiculous TV films ever made.

Which, naturally, means that it is quickly becoming a cult phenomenon (one way to tell is the increasing number of cameos in this second film), and is already spawning a trilogy, in which our heroes must fight off multiple tornadoes filled with people-eating sharks.

shark2For the second installment of the series, ingeniously titled, Sharknado 2: The Second One, we get to see our central character, Finn (played by Ian Ziering), as he heads to New York with April (Tara Reid). She has written a book about the events of the first Sharknado that struck Los Angeles, and he is struggling with flashbacks to the events of the first disaster. On their flight, Finn sees sharks outside the plane window, which of course leads him to exclaim that, “It’s happening again.”

Some kind of superstorm is hitting New York City, and it is scooping up sharks along the way, to wreak havoc on the nation’s largest city. Well, something must be done to save the city once again, and Finn steps it up, as he did before in LA.

Sharknado 2 provides us with all the cheese that the first one did, which makes it oddly watchable and fun. Be sure to completely shut your brain off for this one before starting it up, because pretty much everything in the film is unrealistic and ridiculous, right down to the incredibly hammy acting and terrible dialogue. They don’t mess around too much with this one, and right from the beginning, it is pretty much action all the way through to the predictable ending of the film. We get to see some sharks shot, and chainsawed, and blown up. We get to see April have her hand chewed off, wonder if that shark actually remembered who she was, and we get to see Tara Reid at least try to act (we are not convinced by the end that this is accomplished).

shark3And of course, we get to see Finn stand above an expectant crowd, ready for him to step up and be the hero once more, and provide us with a delicious Independence Day-style speech about why New Yorkers are the toughest people on Earth.

It is insanely brilliant.

There is nothing new here compared to the first version of Sharknado, but if you were able to mightily suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy the cheese-fest of the first one, then the sequel is worth checking out as well. It is absolutely terrible, but almost in a good way.

I wish that they would have spent a little bit more money on some special effects, to at least make the sharks look like more than okay cartoons. I get it that cult classics and TV movies aren’t supposed to have good special effects, and I’m not asking for multiple millions of dollars to be spent on it. But with a strange following already set up, it seems like the producers could have dumped a little more money in there, just to ironically provide some kind of realism to the show. Maybe that would take away a bit from the overt cheesiness, but I’d be alright with that.

Regardless, Sharknado 2 is stupid, and a complete waste of time to watch.

So much so, that I can’t wait for Sharknado 3 to come out.

Shame (Film Review)

Shame (Film Review)

I get what Shame is supposed to be: an artsy, independent film by an up-and-coming hot director (Steve McQueen) with not-yet superstar actors in gritty roles (Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan), using little dialogue to tell the story of sexual depravity and its effects on one man, and the people around him.

And it does many of these things perfectly, some not so much.

shame3Shame is beautifully shot and tremendously acted. Fassbender is fantastic as Brandon, the sex addict who manages to hide his problems behind his pretty normal life. He is balanced by Mulligan, who has proven herself time and again to be a wonderful actress. She takes on the role of Brandon’s troubled and needy sister, who comes into town and exposes his sexual weakness, forcing him to deal with things one way or another.

There are some uncomfortable scenes in the movie, ones that are odd or difficult to watch, which helps in bringing us into the strange world of Brandon. An example of this is when Mulligan first shows up, and Brandon finds her in the shower. The proceed to have a conversation for a few minutes, with Mulligan completely naked, chatting with her brother. While the scene is odd, and one would assume people don’t want to be standing in a room with their completely naked sister, we see something in Brandon here that takes him from being a guy who enjoys sex, to one who has some serious issues.

The climactic scene of the film is brilliant, and manages to bring all of the disturbing aspects of the story together: it is a scene filled with depravity, desire, hate, lust, need, and desperation, and one that takes Shame from being pretty good, to borderline brilliant. As a climax should do, it is that watershed moment for Brandon, when things need to change, to see the life that he has created, and the problem with how things have been going for him, and those around him.

shame4Like so many independent films, the pacing and dialogue is purposefully slow. It is not a chatty film, and we are provided with many long shots that help establish the perceived normalcy of Brandon’s life. If you think of the pacing of a film like Lost in Translation, you are on the right track. But it never feels as though it is too slow, because the shots being used are always beautiful, in their own subtle ways.

I can’t say that I know a ton about Michael Fassbender, aside from the fact that he was in a couple of X-Men movies. He truly throws himself into this role, being able to pull off the suave Brandon with his darker side. He is hurt and confused by his needs, and this comes across on the screen. He is not just another handsome actor who decided that he needs to be in a movie where he shows off his full frontal goods, he plays the role to perfection. He is defensive and confused, which helps to make Brandon so realistic.

shameHis counterpart, sister Sissy, demonstrates the same kind of real hurt in her role. Mulligan plays it off perfectly, in a needy, demure way. Her singing scene is quite memorable, and she is able to work the role of the messed up younger sister incredibly well. She is manipulative, yet able to see her brother for who he truly is, and pushes him in the direction to do something about it.

Shame is a strong film, even if it is not an easy one to watch all the time. There are awkward moments, and graphic sexual moments, and tons of nudity. There is very little levity in the film, but it works because the topic is dark, so why not have the film about it be dark as well?

Buoyed by the acting, Shame is taken from a pretty average film to one that is incredibly strong. Worth checking out, to see the great performances by two excellent actors.

The Goldfinch (Book Review)

The Goldfinch (Book Review)

The Goldfinch is a novel I wish I could have taken a weekend, shut myself inside, and read in a couple of sittings. It is that good.

Instead, it ended up being my Everest, a novel that took me months to read, mainly because I was required to read so many other books since the time I initially picked up what would become the Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction for the year. I continually, and regrettably, had to put the book down many times, and get something else read in the interim. This caused my reading of The Goldfinch to be fractured, and epic.

But in the end, it did not disappoint.

Obviously, when a book wins the Pulitzer, it is pretty universally loved. And this one should be no exception. I have no complaints about the novel, but will add another great review to the thousands that are already out there.

goldfinch2For a brief synopsis, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is a novel that spans years in the life of our narrator and protagonist, Theo. As a child, he survived an explosion at a New York art museum, that took the life of his beloved mother. During the following mayhem, he ended up taking a painting from the wall, the famous and mysterious “Goldfinch,” which would become one of the more famous missing paintings in the world as his life developed. Theo was tormented and haunted by the memories of his mother, but always had the painting as a reminder of her, of a better time, before tragedy became the centerpiece to his life.

Being forced to leave New York after the death of his mother and a time spent staying with his best friend and his rich Barbour family, Theo moves to Las Vegas, to stay with his degenerate gambler of a father and his questionable girlfriend Xandra.

It is in Las Vegas where Theo finally seems to find his footing, even though it is in all the wrong ways. Befriending Boris, they delve into a world of alcoholism and drugs that is surprising for kids of such a young age. They both drink to escape, as neither of them wants anything to do with reality. Theo is constantly trying to get away from the pain of his lost mother, and his life becomes more reckless in attempts to do so. He creates a pattern in his life that will lead to heartbreak, and some sort of resolution as to who he is, and where he belongs.

The Goldfinch eventually takes us back to New York, where Theo carves out a life for himself in the antiques business, all the while struggling with the addiction to painkillers, and a secret and occasional love of harder drugs, such as dabbling with heroin. He is a constant mess, but somehow makes his way through the world, all the while hiding the deep secret that he is an art thief, and has in his possession one of the most valuable paintings in the world. But it remains there for his comfort, even if years pass without him even looking at it. Just knowing it is there, stashed away in some storage space, is enough for Theo.

Eventually, Theo is dragged into the criminal underworld, while at the same time becoming more a part of the New York social elite, due to his dealings with rich people and their antiques purchases, and his relations with the Barbour family. He becomes a man split between his real, and not so real life, and Tartt takes us on the incredible journey of his life.

The Goldfinch is a rich, and epic story. It spares no detail, adding to the depth of the 771-pages of large paged hardcover. It is a big book, but one that tells a story that is heartbreaking and suspenseful. Through the whole novel, we are forced to wonder about the painting, and what will eventually happen to it. Will it finally bring Theo peace, or will he die in some tragic way, probably due to his self-destructive ways, leaving the painting unfound forever?

Tartt writes with intricate sentences, and long, sprawling paragraphs. Stylistically, she has created a beautiful and complex story, which spares no detail on anything, truly bringing the reader into the life of Theo, and those around him. The detail really is incredible, and it adds a depth to the story that makes us feel as though it is more than fiction: that his story is something real.

One of the strong suits of this work, is how depressing it truly is. As we truck through the pages, we realize that not all things will end well for our hero; that life really isn’t like that, and that he is going to have to face the music for a laundry list of mistakes he has made in his life.

There are hundreds of more detailed reviews of The Goldfinch out there that can examine the true depth and breadth of this novel, and how it is stylistically and culturally significant. From my end, suffice it to say that this is an exceptional novel, one that truly deserves to be recognized as something masterful at this point in time. It reads like a classic novel of a hundred years ago, yet maintains a modernity that makes it an instant, and modern, classic.

For those willing to undertake the journey of The Goldfinch, to explore the depths in which tragedy can affect all of us, it is absolutely a must-read.

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

John Spano was supposed to save the New York Islanders. A team mired in a ton of poor decisions, from the players on the ice to the management choices at the top, they had quickly turned from legendary dynasty at the start of the 80’s to the laughingstock of the NHL. And rightfully so.

They even messed with tradition, trading out the iconic Islanders logo for the new fisherman jersey in the mid-90’s, leaving fans crying out for changes all the way through the organization.

bigshotSpano, a business man from Dallas, stepped up and was going to buy the team, keep them on Long Island, and return them to the form of their glory days.

But there was a problem.

He had no money.

As always, ESPN manages to tell a really interesting story here in their 30 for 30 series. Big Shot lets us know how a man could possibly buy a professional sports franchise without any capital, and in the meantime, lets us behind the scenes into the minds of the long-suffering Islander fans, and their further dashed hopes of organizational stability.

Directed by Entourage alum and Islander die-hard fan Kevin Connolly, they story in Big Shot is solid. He goes back to tell the tales of the making of the team, and their rapid and sad fall from grace. The buffoonery of the 90’s is brought out with candid interviews with key players, like Mad Mike Millbury, and Spano himself. It weaves an interesting story, of how he actually did manage to gain control of the team, based on lies and promised bank loans, lame excuses, and really, only a $17,000 deposit on the team. It tells us the story about how it really is more important to know rich and important people than it is to be a rich and important person yourself.

This series is so consistent in its level of storytelling. A fan of the New York Islanders myself, the subject area is definitely of interest, even if this is not the best 30 for 30 out there. One of the major flaws is Connolly himself. While he proves adept at putting together a documentary, telling the story, and directing it, his major flaw was using himself as a narrator. Not that he was terrible, and his personal connection to the Isles definitely added to the story, but his voice just doesn’t sound…right for the part. Although this is only a superficial complaint, it really did take a little bit away from the story, hearing him jump in with his stories. It was hard not to picture Eric chiding Vince on screwing up another movie role on Entourage.

30Besides that, you get what you expect here: another great behind-the-scenes look at a strange moment in sports history. The Islanders still have not fully recovered from their disastrous 90’s, and only with their impending move to Brooklyn next year is there a glimmer of hope for the franchise to truly begin turning things around.

For fans of hockey, this one should definitely be high on the list of great stories from the series, if only because there aren’t that many stories about hockey.

Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I should hate Derek Jeter. All Red Sox fans should. He was a great ballplayer, one who tormented the Sox for years and years. During the heyday of the Yankees, he always had his hand in shattering the hopes and dreams of Red Sox Nation time and again, as he led the dreaded Yankees to five World Series titles.

jeter2But looking back now, now that we have won three World Series of our own, broken the Curse, and remained one of baseball’s most well-run organizations, it is possible to look back at the career of The Captain with some respect.

Had the Sox never come back from that 3-0 deficit in 2004, and never emerged as champs again in 2007 and 2013, Jeter would probably remain one of the most hated people among Sox fans. But finally, we overcame him and his team, and are champions ourselves, so now we can give him the respect that he deserves.

I know that he is being lauded as such, but I don’t think that Jeter is a top-5 Yankee of all-time. It is impossible to crack that list, with the truly impressive list of some of the best players of all-time sporting the pinstripes during their careers. Despite his Gold Gloves, he was never really the best defensive shortstop out there, and his bat would never destroy you. But his timing would. When there was an incredible play to be made, or a clutch hit to be had, it always seemed that it was #2 doing it.

Off the field, despite having an impressive list of gorgeous A-list girlfriends, a string of beautiful women leaving his apartment, he was never embroiled in controversy, as so many athletic stars are these days. He kept his nose clean, at least to the best of our knowledge. And this allows us to like him even more, because he never became a true villain in the sense of someone like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

We were only able to hate him because he was good.

I watched his final game at Yankee Stadium the other day, and when he came up in the bottom of the ninth, it was almost guaranteed that he would do something. Hitting a walk-off single to secure a victory for his team was pretty much expected. Sure, they may have tossed him a ball that was easy to hit, but he still got it done. And that is all that matters. It was a perfect sendoff for a magnificent career.

jeterI always liked that he wore #2, now the final single-digit number that a New York Yankee will ever be able to wear, as his will be retired soon. Letting him have that number was a historic move, and he honoured it throughout his career. He does stand with the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle, and that single number on his back was always a symbol of that, of his greatness.

Even as a fan of his most hated rival, it is easy to look at Jeter with respect, and some admiration. He had a great career, and in five years, it is all but guaranteed that we will be seeing him again when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

It is a place that he belongs, among all the other greats of this amazing game, and as much as I don’t want to see another Yankee cap in bronze there, he deserves it, and he belongs there. Even just being the all-time hits leader on such a hallowed team is enough to get him in to Cooperstown, in my opinion.

In a season that served as a year-long sendoff for #2, it has become tiresome reading all of the articles about him. Seeing all of the strange, and somewhat cheesy gifts that teams presented him with over the course of his farewell tour. But now that it is over, with only two games left on his career (being played in Boston, no less), we can really look at him and appreciate what he has done for the game of baseball.

He played, he won, and he did it with class.

Congratulations to Derek Jeter on a great career. I won’t miss seeing you rip the hearts out of Red Sox fans, but I will miss having you be a part of baseball.

Because that’s where a true ballplayer belongs. A part of the game, forever.

The Mindy Project: Season 1 (TV Review)

The Mindy Project: Season 1 (TV Review)

Another new release to the Netflix selection are the first two seasons of The Mindy Project, the brainchild of comedy writer and The Office alum, Mindy Kaling.

The premise of the show is that Mindy is a successful OBGYN in New York, but highly unsuccessful at her love life. Her age is creeping up on her, she drinks too much, is too concerned about her weight, is obsessed with celebrity lives, and bounces from poor relationship to poor relationship.

mindy2The Mindy Project is a show geared towards women, as she embodies so many cliched aspects of the approaching middle-aged single woman, and the majority of the laughs are focused around the calamity that is her love life. She is clumsy and awkward, and manages to choose the wrong person for every one of her relationships. Mindy wants her love life to be like a romantic comedy, but this obsession with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan films causes her unrealistic expectations in what reality will be like.

Although I never watched it, I feel that this show can somewhat slide into the void left behind when Sex and the City went off the air. Mindy provides a beacon for women who struggle in the love department. She is aware of her faults, and struggles with the balance of who she is, and who she feels others want her to be. Mindy struggles with being herself, and she has issues with being too self-centered. But these are issues that normal people face, despite them being dramatically blown up for the purpose of the entertainment.

Mindy herself is a likable character, which is able to make this show as solid as it is. There are laughs that are missing in this show, and it frequently flirts with becoming a drama, but it does create numerous humorous situations that make it worth watching.

The Mindy Project is pretty charming, but might not be as binge-worthy as other new sitcoms like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

The rest of the cast is pretty respectable as well. They don’t garner as many laughs as they could, as is often expected from the supporting characters, but they do provide the occasional comic relief, specifically the male nurse, Morgan. They also provide some obvious plot features that we simply know are going to happen. The story is not entirely original or unpredictable, but it maintains enough freshness to keep us watching.

Overall, The Mindy Project is worth a watch. It is nothing life-changing in the sitcom genre, but it provides enough charm to make it decent viewing.

Wanderlust (Film Review)

Wanderlust (Film Review)

There are so many good ideas presented in the film Wanderlust, but unfortunately, not many of them come to fruition.

Starting off with a good cast, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston make a pretty decent team, they never seem to really get off the ground. Both actors, especially Rudd, have good comedic timing and talent, but it isn’t used as often as it could be here. Rudd definitely gets the best parts, especially as he prepares to engage in a newly opened relationship. This gives him the chance to do what he does best, which is basically just rant off a bunch of lines in increasing silliness and grossness. Which is hilarious. But there isn’t enough of those kind of laughs in this film.

wanderThe story itself has some potential as well. A New York couple, fresh off buying their first studio apartment, come across hard times with the loss of a job and a failed documentary. They are forced to sell quickly and head to Atlanta to stay with Rudd’s brother.

On their way, they stop at a hippy commune named Elysium. Here, they discover things about themselves that they had never known before. They found freedom, and a life away from the city that they had never understood. With no pressure and the ability to do anything, it of course falls apart.

Where Wanderlust fails is that they could be making a large commentary on the rat race that so many of us engage in, and the need that we have to truly be free of the shackles of jobs and relationships. But they don’t really say that. It is very superficial in that sense. There is more to be said here, and it could have been done with more depth, intelligence, and passion. The film lacks all of these things, which is too bad.

The hippies at the commune are nothing special, either. The characters aren’t as eclectic as they could have been, and there were more missed opportunities for laughs with them.

Very much like many of the characters in the film, it all felt a little bit too hollow. Fairly disappointing, to be honest. I had expected so much more from this movie, especially since it was more of an independent feature, giving it more credibility.

I’d keep scrolling through Netflix, and skip Wanderlust.

Throwback TV: Northern Exposure

Over the holidays, I have time to pour through several seasons of whichever television series I desire. I already wrote about my experiences with Homeland Season 2.

Perhaps I was the most excited about delving back into the 90’s, the era of my youth, to get a couple of years under my belt of a show I was too young to care about when it was on TV. My love for 90’s television needs quenching every now and then, and even I realize that it must go beyond my annual re-watching of Twin Peaks, or My So-Called Life.

I wanted to get into Northern Exposure, the fish out of water show about a New York doctor who is basically forced to work in Cicely, Alaska to pay off his student loans.

northern_exposureTwo days and two seasons later, I love the show. There are so many great, quirky things about it, that it goes beyond your typical TV show. It is much smarter than it would originally seem, and this came to a head while watching Season 2, Episode 6 (“War and Peace”). In this episode, the show did something I had never seen before.

They completely, and knowingly, stepped out of a scene to make an important social commentary on the First Gulf War and our nature as a warring society. The actors stopped their acting, discussing the fact that they were being watched by an intelligent audience. With cleverness, they skipped the scene they were in the middle of doing, discussed using one of the possible script revisions, and the actors discussed their characters. It was odd, but it was brilliant, and it really worked. Once their couple of minutes had passed, they moved on to the next scene that they had discussed, since one of the characters told us that “it was a good scene.”

I thought that a show being socially conscious and not only existing within the borders it had created for itself was a bold and interesting move. I really appreciated this as a viewer. It gave the audience credit for being an audience, and gave us credit for knowing that this was not the real world that we were watching, but that, in fact, there was a real world that existed outside of our television sets. Well played.

There are so many other things to enjoy about this show. The best parts, for me, are the highly intellectual radio DJ, Chris, who takes time to read Whitman and Tolstoy over the airwaves, much to the pleasure of his fans in town. For a town under 900, one would not expect them to appreciate this, but they adore Chris and respect his philosophical and literate views on life. There is also Ed, a teenager who knows his way around town, and loves Woody Allen while desiring to become a screenwriter or filmmaker when he gets older. And Maggie, the tough and sassy bush pilot who obviously becomes the love interest for the show, who has a curse where all of her previous boyfriends have died in odd fashion, including freezing to death on a glacier or being hit by a falling satellite.

There are six seasons of this show, and I am excited to see where it goes. There is a certain amount of predictability with the character arcs, things that I know will happen. But there are so many interesting and quirky secondary characters, that I am very much interested to watch the rest and see where they are taken.

This show was originally recommended to me by my tattoo artist, and I pass along the recommendation to those who have a soft spot for 90’s TV.

Oh, and to satisfy my Twin Peaks nerdiness and obsession, there is an episode in Season 2 where they make direct reference to the show, apparently spotting the Log Lady through a viewfinder while the music changed to a somber, Peaks-inspired tune. Brilliant.