Monday, April 7, 2014

Tune In or Tune Out: Silicon Valley (HBO)

Silicon Valley (HBO)
Created by: Mike Judge (Office Space, King of the Hill)
Starring: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Zach Woods, Kumil Nanjiani

Silicon Valley

I am dork, but I guess I am not the Silicon Valley type of dork.  Reviewers and critics all but rubber stamped this show to be the second coming of genius comedy for HBO, but I was left scratching my head last evening.

The show follows a group of five friends who fit the stereotypes of coders in the Valley, as pointed out by the CEO of Hooli.  The shows central character is Richard (Middleditch) who has created an algorithm for a website named "Pied Piper." Richard has been approaching numerous people with his Pied Piper program, but people just laugh at him.  When people start to realize the algorithm could revolutionize the way countless things are done like travel or get to links even quicker, the list is endless.  Richard is faced with the dilemma of choice, do you go out on your or take the quick cash.

Silicon Valley is meant to a satire on the startup companies of today, much like the Mike Judge's Office Space was on the simple everyday mundane job.  Judge graduated college, with a degree in physics; he eventually moved to Silicon Valley and worked for Parallax.  Judge is quoted as saying "The people I met were like Stepford Wives.  They were true believers in something, and I don't know what that was."  The show itself hits hard on this subject matter, focusing on the core group and their thought process of breaking away from the structure of things like Google, or Hooli.

What is Hooli?  Who are these men? Beyond their stereotypes presented in the sometimes clunky writing, there doesn't seem to be much depth, except for maybe Richard, who is character I enjoyed a lot.  Judge is a solid writer, and I think he has done good/smart work over the years, I also think there is potential here.  I have only seen one episode while many critics have seen several.  Maybe there is some growth in these characters that may happen.

One of the shows problems is that it is sandwiched between HBO's two best shows on the air Game of Thrones and Veep.  I think this show is a bit messy, contrived and poorly framed, Judge's direction is a bit weak.  There were a few chuckles, but framework outweighs the chuckle.  At the end of the day I will watch one, maybe two more to make sure I am right, but this show feel like miss, and come on Judge geeks get girls these days, and maybe put some female coders in the mix, they do exist, I swear I have seen them first hand, they aren't the Yeti.

Tune Out:  Giving it it one more shot, critics are wrong on this show, and have a hard on for it, because it seems cool and pretentious.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Performer to Watch: Sebastian Stan

In 2012 Sebastian Stan was one of my Performers of the Year in television.  Stan provided two dynamic performances one in the television series Once Upon a Time as the Mad Hatter, and the other as T.J. Hammond in the Mini-Series Political Animals.  Both roles were layered, but showed this guy had the chops to keep up with some names.

In Once Stan's Mad Hatter was no cartoonish manipulation of the character; he was cunning, sly smooth, and on the hunt for his daughter.  Stan has always been able to pull off darker story lines well, but gave humanity to the Hatter's journey.  Stan's Mad Hatter had one of the best story arcs on the series, and I am bummed he has not reprised this role in either Once (the original), or the spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

In May of that year Stan took on the role of the first gay child of a former President, whose mother (Sigourney Weaver) was then running for office, and became Secretary of State.  Stan was ignored by the Emmy Awards, but was the best on the show, his battle with addiction, attention, and the need to feel loved by his parents was the most impactful journey of this limited run series.  Stan had terrific chemistry with Ellen Burstyn, who played his grandmother, and when you can go toe to toe with Burstyn, you have the chops to do anything.

Beyond his role on Gossip Girl, Stan has fantastic taste in television shows; he was part on the incredibly underrated NBC series Kings.  Kings only lasted 12 episodes, but was a fantastic show.  Most of Stan's recognizable work has been on television, but he has made a few splashes in film recently.

Splash may be the understatement, especially this weekend.  Stan played Bucky Barnes in the original Captain America: The First Avenger, and plays the Winter Solider in this weekend's sequel, Captain America: The Winter Solider.  While The Winter Solider is mainly the silent type, there is a lot toward the end which speaks to the way in which the character was manipulated.  No spoilers promise.  Stan has signed a 9 picture deal with Marvel, which means he may be around for quite a long time, and with Chris Evans wanting to take a rest soon, who knows which role he will take on, Marvel fans you do, major wink.

Watch out for this guy because he can do it all comedy (Hot Tub Time Machine) drama (Black Swan, and this TV work), and action (Captain America).  The Marvel franchise will help make this guy a big name, and like Tom Hiddleston, he will soon become a favorite for many.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How I Met Your Mother Series Finale Reaction (Hint I Liked it, and there are Spoilers)

As I attended a work conference this past week, ACPA, where I saw many friends I rarely get to see but twice, maybe once, or maybe every couple of years, I have to say I liked the honesty within the How I Met Your Mother series finale.  In my own life I have grown to realize that there is not always a "happily ever after" but there is an ever after.  Ever after is the reality, or time spent with the people you love and care about, as Robin said in the finale the friendships still exist, but sometimes in life you have to move forward, move away, do something that takes you away.

No ending to things are perfect and like in life there always some questions left unanswered.  Some things work out, and you get the precious time you deserve with the people you love.

Why the end Made Sense

1-Ted met the Mother-Ted met a woman he fell in love with; she was similar to him, gave him two children, and the life they had together was happy.  The moments throughout the final season gave you a great glimpse into their life.  Did you want more, fans?  I understand that, to some extent, but this show was always about Ted, and his journey to how he met his wife, the kids mother, and you see that, and got to meet some fun characters along the way.  I know its hard not to get caught up in the fairytale aspect of it all, especially since Ted was a romantic, but he got two solid experiences with love.  You also got to know the mother's name, Tracey.

2-Barney and Robin's ending make sense-Yes I understand people are frustrated the show spent a season focusing on their wedding weekend, and the creators made the audience root for them as a couple.  I never bought it, I do not think Craig Thomas and Carter Bays did that.  If you read the show Robin and Barney were there for each other, during the rough times, and it started out of devastation, Robin being dumped by her Canadian boyfriend played by James Van der Beek.  Even in the third to last episode you can hear Robin complaining about Barney to Patrice on her radio show.

In the end no woman could tame Barney but a young daughter, that moment was beautiful.  Robin wanted her career to be her baby, and it was she was a successful journalist.  Props to Bays and Carter for creating a show whose characters maintained their sense of self while still growing in the end.

What Questions Remain?

Where did the pineapple come from?-In a night full of drinking there was pineapple left in Ted's room, we never did find out where that came from.

Why did Ted and the Mother take so long to get actually get married?-At wrestlers vs robots in 2019 it was announced the two still were not married, although we did later get to see their wedding.

Who is Ted's soul mate?-Early on in season one Ted goes to a company that has guaranteed match rate, but Ted never gets to meet her.  In the end the brilliant aspect of the show was that it tested the concept of love, and what defined destiny.

Why no Bob Saget voice in the last episode?-My biggest complaint of the finale is the fact that there was no voice over, it could have been cleverly handled with Saget talking, Radnor lip synching (at the end) clearing his throat and talking normally.  I think the narration missing was the one thing I did not like.

How did the mother die?-Simply put, I would have liked to know this, but you don't get to know.  I can give fans the benefit of the doubt on this one.

At the end of the day, every finale has its flaws, you want "your show" to end the way you wanted, but the cut to black and the scene leading up to the end in The Sopranos was epically great, Seinfeld a show about nothing, ended the way it began, these two endings are the most complained about in recent years, and in hindsight they are good.  The only one I will not cut any slack is Dexter.

At the end of the day How I Met Your Mother was true to its nine year history, while its title means one thing, the show was an on and off again story of Robin and Ted.  The show was never a fairy tale, Marshall's dad died, Robin couldn't have kids, Barney searched for his father, Ted's parents had issues. Bays and Carter gave the audience laugh, mixed with some gut punches.  I guess I was prepared because this was the exact ending I predicted.  If you go back, and re-watch, you could probably predict this too.  Audiences wanted their faith restored in the love built up between Ted and Tracey, well they did.  Sure Ted, runs after Robin in the end, his wife has been dead for many years, and while the editing at the end is poor, and the kids seem too happy for their dad to move on from their mom, in the end Ted gets two "happy endings."

Who Should Replace David Letterman? Time for CBS to Challenge the Norm

In the world of late night television (for many years) one man dominated, Johnny Carson.  While many tried to compete, during his time, Joan Rivers, Pat Sajak (yes that happened), and many more, there was a stubborn mentality within American homes to move away from this man's impact.  Carson was King of late night television, cue his retirement in 1992, and one of the greatest rivalries in night time history.

David Letterman was groomed to be the heir apparent to the Tonight Show, but in a similar fashion to Conan losing the show, although more behind the scenes, he lost this show show to painfully unfunny Jay Leno.  Yes that is my bias.  From 1992 until the mid 2000s late night television was dominated by these two men.  At one point early on there was of course the talented Arsenio Hall, who is back on late night television, but his show was cancelled.  To be fair Hall started during the Carson era, and was the answer to this white bread show.  Hall's show last two years past the Letterman/Leno era began.

Of the two men who competed for the crown in a post Carson era, I must share that I always favored Letterman, his Top Ten lists, mixed with his dry humor, and ability to be a much better interviewer, except with Madonna, made him a much better option.  This always seemed to be a CBS vs. NBC battle, of the major broadcast networks ABC had Nightline, with Ted Koppell and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, and while Nightline was well respected it was a different kind of show.

With the rise of cable television, Comedy Central entered the game, first with Craig Kilborn who was on from 1996 until 1998, the with Jon Stewart who started in 1999 and has been on the air ever since.While Kilborn went to the Late Late Show on CBS (we will talk about these shows in a second), Stewart focused his evening show, on news with a satirical spin on politics.  The wit was there, but you were learning. Stewart and his team pushed the genre of television than anyone before.  This made networks nervous.

How do you compete?  Many banked on their traditional audience following them, and sticking with them.  The truth of the matter was that while Letterman and Leno stuck with their same old, same old, the Late Late talk show hosts which followed these two men started to steal their thunder (minus Kilborn). As the 2000s past men like Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert started to be the people everyone talked about.  Their humor matched the quirk of The Daily Show, taking the genre further, maintaining some semblance of the traditional late night routine (minus Colbert), but adding their own personal quirks.  This paid off for their networks, but now it was time for other networks to enter the game.

Comedy Central proved it was possible to compete, so TBS, F/X and the E! network started adding their own personalities to the late game.  TBS gave us George Lopez first, and then when Conan was laid out to waste by NBC he bumped Lopez back an hour.  F/X had Russell Brand, E! has Chelsea Handler.  Lopez's show was cancelled, while I do not find him funny, it was apparent that TBS and E! were doing something most major networks, were not creating an opportunity for diversity in the game.  Most of the late night hosts are straight while middle aged men.  Andy Cohen who hosts Bravo's Watch What Happens Live, is the only person who could be considered part of this club who identifies as a gay male.  Arsenio is also back, but was left off the image above as on of the late night show hosts, this caused some controversy too.  As the game has evolved its time for CBS to evolve.

I could create a great list of people who should replace Letterman.  Craig Ferguson, he hosts the Late Late Show on CBS, but he also fits the norm in the world of Late Night and might be more of Conan situation for CBS.  Jon Stewart, he is already part of the extended family, Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, and is therefore part of the CBS family.  I think Stewart is the obvious choice, his evolution of the genre is the reason Late Night television is great again, is it time to change things up?  What about Chelsea Handler or Chris Rock?  The answer you will get is that they are "too edgy" which might sound like code for one is black, and the other is 'oh my' a woman.  CBS now is the time to push your network, and this show in the right direction, evolve don't turn this into another lazy NCIS spin-off, make waves and step outside the box to find this replacement.

With that said congratulations to David Letterman on over 30 years of great entertainment!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April Movies to See and Skip!

Well March proved stronger than January and February combined.  Who were the stars of March?  I would say the biggest star of the month was The Grand Budapest Hotel.  While Hotel has only made 25 million domestic, the films per theatre earnings are off the charts some of the best, and in the end the film could make as much as 50 million domestic.  The other star of the month is the Bible, Noah did solid work all over the world, and God's Not Dead has also done well.

The losers of the month are 300: Rise of an Empire, the Muppets, and Tyler Perry.  After a 7 year hiatus 300: Rise of an Empire earned half of the the original film.  Empire is a loser in my book, but it did earn over 100 million, and while some will cal that a win, I can't.  The Muppets film had great marketing, great stars, but has barely done good business.  Tyler Perry's brand is on a steep decline, you used to be able to bank on his films doing even 50 million, but not 15 million.

How does April look, well it starts out with a Phase II Marvel film, but the rest of the month is a bit weak.

April 4th 

Captain America: The Winter Solider

Saw it last night, great film, the best in Marvel Phase two, action packed, entertaining.  I will be seeing this in theatres again! My review below:

Under the Skin 

Johansson has two films out this week, and while this one is getting some mixed words, it looks solid, and is a film I am going to check after I see Captain America (again).  The sci-fi nature always brings out some cool story telling, and this has a neat plot about humanity.

Dom Hemingway

Remember when Jude Law had a promising career, those days seem to be gone, this film looks overwrought and bloated.  Time for him to get a better agent.

Alan Partridge

Steve Coogan is hilarious, and Alan the man looks like a loathsome jerk, the typical modern television radio personality.  This movie looks hilarious.

(Winter Solider trailer)

April 11th 

Draft Day

Kevin Costner in a sports movie, is typically a good combination, maybe minus Tin Cup.  I think with Ivan Reitman at the helm this has the possibility to be a good film.

Rio 2

Did not see the first can't say I care to see the second, these generaic animated films fill vacuum for families to go see movies, but is this worth it? No. 


Looks scary, clever, and like a new horror franchise, if marketed well.  The premise is clever, and while horror films are not my thing, I would say this looks like one of the better gimicky horror films.

Only Lovers Left Alive 

Jim Jarmusch is a master story teller; he hits most of his films out of the park, it will be interesting to see his latest entry which blends love and vampires, a little different for him.  This has potential.

The Railway Man

The acting, and thought beyond this film is said to be great, but there is not much else there.  This film was meant to be released last year, and while a delayed release does not always mean bad things, I hate to say that it may be the nail in the coffin for this film.

(Draft Day trailer)

April 18th 


I can't say I have ever seen no buzz for such a big film on  Transcendence is the directorial debut of Wally Pfister the man who does all the cinematography for Christopher Nolan films.  I must say whoever cut the trailer did an awful job because before it was released I was ready to go, now I just do not think it looks good.

A Haunted House Two 

Yes there is a sequel....moving on.

(Transcendence trailer)

April 25th 

The Other Woman

When I first saw the trailer to this movie, which seems to be about sleeping with younger and younger women my thought was aren't Leslie Mann and Cameron Diaz the same age?  They are in fact, while this does not destroy the plot of the movie, this just looks silly.

Must See of the Month: Captain America: Winter Soldier
Runner Up: Under the Skin 
Must Skip of the Month: A Haunted House 2
Runner Up: The Other Woman

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an Engaging Thriller, Filled with Good One-Lines, and Great Action Sequences, that will Keep you on the Edge of your Seat

Captain America: The Winter Solider 
Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo (Arrested Development, Community)
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, and Steven McFeely (Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger) 
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson 

In the last of the individual films in Phase Two of the Marvel/Disney films,  although I guess Guardians of the Galaxy will be part of that (hint watch Thor: The Dark World) we go back to visit "the first Avenger."  Marvel's work with Disney on their phase series leading up to the Avengers have been fun, action packed, and each intricately drop fun truth bombs as to what may come next.  This film is no different, it was easily the best in Phase Two, and may be my favorites of all the films, ranking up there with Iron Man, and The Avengers.

Winter Soldier starts with Cap, Black Widow (Johansson) and a team of S.H.I..E.L.D. agents going to rescue other agents, from a barge.  As Cap impressively takes on a whole fleet, almost single-handedly, to pave the way for the others the mission soon becomes clear, Nicky Fury (Jackson) has ulterior motives. After the mission Cap and Fury talk about the way in which society has changed, and whether you can use force and their spying ways to attain freedom.

The message of the film, is a poignant and resonates on many levels with current situations going on in our society, hint think problems with the birth place of the Black Widow, or even our own wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Markus and McFeely who wrote this film, and the first Captain America, do a much better job here.  Cap is a relate-able hero; he was the every man, and became super human; he was a soldier fighting to defend his country, and still fights for freedom.  The film also speaks to the big brother mentality of government, and the way there is just a general lack of trust in humanity.

The reason the film is great is because it mixes those deep messages, but is also pretty kick-ass.  After the mission a new enemy arises, S.H.I..E.L.D. may have been infiltrated by a organization many thought was dead, and they have a new weapon at their disposal, the Winter Soldier.  As you may have seen from the trailer this guy is no joke, Cap throws his shield; he catches it and throws it back, with even more might.  Without giving any of the plot away, the action sequences are awesome, first time action directors Joe and Anthony Russo who are better known for their work as directors in television sitcoms, like Community, and Arrested Development, lit things on fire, sometimes literally.  They crafted a deft film that does a great job emphasizing the depth of the material, while not creating Michael Bay-like action sequences, which over power. The other great part about the action is that Cap is not the sole badass.

I have to applaud Marvel and the creative team behind this film for creating, and using wisely a diverse array of other character.  The Black Widow is just as tough as Cap; she takes on the Winter Solider on her own, and fights damn hard.  Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) and Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp) are two badass S.H.I..E.L.D. agents they are in there on all the action.  Samuel L. Jackson gets a little more screen time, and Anthony Mackie does a great job as Falcon.  I was the most nervous about Falcon, in the comics the character is a bit cheesy, but they have adapted the character well, and gave his character a decent amount of depth.

This film is not only a home run for Marvel its a Grand Slam, it perfectly elongates the Marvel universe while creating a great story for the central hero, and everyone he works with.  Robert Redford was another welcome aspect, the man can act, and its great to have talent like him in these films.  There are of course name drops for future Marvel characters for films, and two great closing credits scenes.  On all levels this is a well made, fun, action packed film that will excite fans even more, and for me another fanboy hopefully bring more life to the television series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I..E.L.D.. Great intense film.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Grimm Reaper has been busy on Television (Spoilers Included)

Over the past two weeks major characters on three television series were killed off, Will Gardner
played by Josh Charles, Dan Bucatinsky who plays James Novak, and while I do not watch The Walking Dead anymore (too slow moving), I heard there were a couple deaths on those shows too. What's with all the murder?

Television shows are finally learning the way heightened situations, like killing off a main character can both enrage fans, but create an opportunity to bring fans together, gather viral word of mouth, and just enhance and enrich the direction of a television story.  Will Gardner is a great example of every single one of those elements.  Josh Charles contract was set to expire at the end of last season, but Michelle and Robert King, the creative minds behind the show, convinced him to stay, providing him with the opportunity to act, and direct two episodes of the show.  When Charles had extended his contract for this year, I figured they would send Will off, he would make a disgraced decision, and be forced out of his firm, I never thought Will's ultimate ending was death. While fans of Will and Alicia (Julianna Margulies) were left reeling, the King's always have an endgame in mind, and the endgame for them has been solely about Alicia, what a novel idea to have an endgame about a woman.  Yet the death of Will Gardner took literally everyone by surprise.

3 weeks ago Shonda Rhimes left everyone wondering who was Jake Ballard (Scott Folley) going to shoot?  Many people had theories, and there was no easy guess, but James has missed out on the bullet a couple of times; he final could no longer escape his own journalistic curiosity.  Bucatinsky won an Emmy for his role in Scandal, but as Guest Actor in Drama Series.  Dan has never been listed as regular cast member; he was always listed as a guest.  While the Shondaverse has never been afraid to kill off main characters (George O'Malley, Lexie Grey, Chris Lowell) James' death was an inevitable and heart wrenching conclusion.

Even in the last couple of months there have been some other shocking deaths: Zoe Barnes from House of Cards, Brian Griffin from Family Guy (he is alive again), Nicholas Brody from Homeland, Joss Carter from Person of Interest, Tara Kowles Teller from Sons of Anarchy.  That's seven major deaths in the last four or five months, we have not even hit May sweeps, and the season of Game of Thrones, and Mad Men have not aired.  I have never seen a bloodier year, it may have started with the bloodiest wedding.

Game of Thrones was not the beginning of of the "can you believe they killed..." but it certainly upped the ante unlike any other show.  If you the books from George R.R. Martin you knew what was coming, but when I sat down to watch season one, and connected with the Starks, there was no way I thought they would kill Ned Stark (Sean Bean); he was the biggest star on the show (at the time), and essentially the lead character.  Well they did!  Two seasons later his wife and their son joined him in "Holy Crap" death book.  Again if you read the books you knew, but Game of Thrones has made a realistic journey seem so powerful, showing the reality of the situation.

Death is a powerful emotional force, it even made Dexter emotional when Rita was shockingly killed, this was possibly the beginning of the modern, killing off a main character can give fans a big surprise and add to the story.  Be careful what you wish for, this was the tipping point for Dexter.  The show was never the same, many fans will say the show should have ended after this season.  I say they should re-tooled season 5 and made it the last.

Death on television can be an emotional thing for fans, you get attached to a character, and sometime with no warning, boom gone.  Beyond Dexter most shows have handled post-death story writing fantastically, there are ways to enrich characters, to tell different stories, to change things up.  I think death is a part of television dramas more today, to both keep the realistic factor, while signaling a sign of a more intense reality.  The King's from The Good Wife said they wanted to highlight a quick death, where there were no goodbyes, because sometimes people are taken from us without warning.  In this time of gun violence, and other dark realities television dramas are reflecting societal norms.  I admire the work of these shows stepping up and telling these stories.  Television has stepped up their game, on many levels, and I can't help, but feel that the Grimm Reaper is not done with some television characters from this TV season.