Freaks & Geeks
I think I only saw the first three or so episodes of Paul Feig’s 1999 series that’s set in 1980. Judd Apatow served as a producer, so it’s no surprise that all his films from the last few years feature a few of the cast members. The show centres around Lindsay Weir and her younger brother Sam, who are naviagting high school in very different social circles. Linsday is working hard to break free of the studious reputation she’s maintined over the years by hanging out with the burn outs of the school – Nick (Jason Segel), Daniel (James Franco), Kim (Busy Philipps) and Ken (Seth Rogen). Her brother Sam is a complete geek, and his buddies Bill (Martin Starr) and Neal (Samm Levine) are just as shy and nerdy as he is. Lindsay’s relationship with her hilariously out of touch parents is a constant source of stress as they struggle to understand why their daughter wants to hang around with slackers, and Sam often worries about how Lindsay’s behaviour will impact on his life. It sounds like a fairly run of the mill show about high schoolers, but the fact that it’s set in the eighties gives it a lot more character – the storylines are funny and the generational clashes between the generation X kids and their war-era/baby boomer parents provides the opportunity for some really funny interactions. There are a lot of references to the music of the late seventies, and the pop culture references are subtle, but well placed. The cast is great, if a little green, and the Weir parents quickly became my favourite supporting characters. Although it only lasted one season, it’s worth checking out on Netflix.
Jeffrey Tambour plays Mort (then Maura), a transgender man in Los Angeles who has begun living life as a female. The show centres around Maura and her process of coming out to her three adult children, and how they react to their father’s new identity. I’ve only watched the first three episodes of this Amazon show, but it’s interesting and emotionally charged. Jeffrey Tambour has won a bunch of awards already, and the show has as well, and it’s up for more awards when the Emmys roll around in September. The show seems to be really great at portraying how self-centred people are in times of change, with Maura’s kids focusing solely on how things affect them, as well as being completely consumed by their own secrets and desires. There are solid performances all around from the cast (including Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass and Amy Landecker), and there’s a lot of sex and drugs, and cavalier attitudes to both. I suspect the inevitable fall-out from these interactions will be an epic shit storm, but I’m keen to watch a bit more of the show and see how it all plays out.
I saw a couple of people talk about this show online and on a quiet weekend afternoon decided to check it out. Before you know it I had binge watched all six episodes in less than twelve hours. It was GREAT. It’s a British sitcom created by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delany, who also star as the central characters, Rob and Sharon. Boston native Rob is in London on business when he meets Sharon at a bar and they embark on a fast and physical week long fling. A couple of months later, Rob gets a call from Sharon (whose contact info in his phone is “Sharon – London Sex”) and she informs him she’s pregnant – the result of 22 sexual encounters with him and the use of approximately two condoms during that time. He comes back over to the UK to support her and the two decide that they’re all in, they’re going to raise the child and get married and become a family. What makes this show so bitingly funny though, is that they avoid the usual rom-com tropes. They’re both aware and vocal about how bizarre the situation is, how old Sharon is to be having a baby (she’s only 41, though, so relax a bit) and how they’re both flying by the seat of their pants as they try and figure out how to be a couple who barely know each other. There are some hilarious scenes in the obstertrician’s office (played by Outlander’s Tobias Menzies), awkward dinner parties with people they hate and sweet moments of intimacy. This show has been my favourite find of the year, and if you love brilliantly funny British comedy, then you’ll love this. Season 2 is coming in October, so not long to wait!
This is a Netflix show with a stellar cast: Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Ben Mendelsohn and Linda Cardellini. They’re the Rayburn family, who own and run a hotel in the Florida Keys. When Danny Rayburn (Mendolsohn), the black sheep of the family, returns home for his parents’ wedding anniversary, he works to create tension and turmoil amongst his siblings while he tries to maniuplate his mother into including him in the family business again. John (Chandler), Meg (Cardellini) and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) have deep reservations about his involvement in the hotel’s activities, and before long family secrets are bubbling under the surface, Danny’s behaviour is increasingly threatening, and there’s a major death in the family. Everything is unravelling at the seams, and it’s hard to look away. The show is fantastically acted, and the sibling dynamic changes constantly. I loved that the hot and humid holiday setting of the Florida Keys juxtaposed the dark and insidious behaviour that went on right under the hotel guests’ noses, and there were times when I felt like the anxiety of the characters bled off the screen onto me, which was uncomfortable and compelling at the same time. Well worth a look.
Next up in TV land for me:
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
I’ve heard a couple of people rave about this film, particularly the music, and when I realised it was by the same guy who made Once (one of my favourite films), John Carney, I was even keener to see it. Keira Knightley is Gretta, a British songwriter who has recently found herself single in New York after her incredibly famous rock star boyfriend (played by Adam Levine) cheats on her and dumps her. One night her friend convinces her to sing at an open mic night, which happens to be the same night disgraced record producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is drowning his sorrows after being fired from the record company he helped create. He convinces Gretta to let him help her make an album and the two of them embark on a journey through the Summer streets of New York making a record in an unconventional way. Knightley and Ruffalo have great chemistry, and although I don’t really love Knightley (I find her to be a little bland) I thought she did an admirable job. The music in the film was really good, though I have to admit that it didn’t stay with me the way the music from Once did afterwards. It’s just a really nice little film that focuses on the music and the passion it takes to create it, which some gorgeous New York scenery throughout.
Edge of Tomorrow
This was homework set by Kimberley for our last podcast when the theme was kick ass female characters, and I’m pleased to say Emily Blunt was really great. The film is a sci-fi Groundhog Day of sorts, starring Blunt and Tom Cruise, and the plot centres around Major William Cage (Cruise) who is a public affairs office and former advertising executive. Never having actually served in combat in the worldwide war against the alien race known as the Mimics, Cage is ordered to join the troops on the frontline in France. He’s forced to go to the army training base, where he finds himself reliving the same day over and over again – the day before the battle. Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Blunt) realises that Cage is in a time loop and instructs him to come and find her when he wakes up each time. She begins training him so that in each battle attempt he can advance further and further along the path to destroying the Mimics at their source. The film is a great balance between sci-fi and action, spending just the right amount of time in each genre. The action scenes are full of explosive CGI, and the science/techy parts are snappy and well written. Cage never panders to Vrataski’s status as a female soldier, and they work well as a team. I knew I would enjoy this film, because Tom Cruise is, even in his most couch-jumping demented behaviour, a solid performer who chooses roles that are marketable and incredibly watchable. If you want a quick hit of explosiony action mixed with a bit of sci-fi, this is the film for you. Really great!
The Spectacular Now
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley pair up in this novel-to-film adapatation. The internet thinks it’s a romantic comedy, but I disagree. It’s very much a coming of age film – teenagers on the brink of high school graduation in an unremarkable town, unsure of what they’re going to do next. Teller plays Sutter Keely, a borderline alocholic who blacks out one night and wakes up on Aimee Finecky’s (Woodley) front lawn. Aimee is doesn’t run in the popular circles at school, but she knows who Sutter is. Sutter has no idea who she is, but a friendship forms and they begin dating. They’re both struggling with the decision of how and if they can escape their dysfunctional families, and Aimee’s college acceptance in another city forces Sutter to reevaluate the intensity of their relationship under the guise of letting Aimee break free from her dependent mother. Sutter grapples with an estranged father, failing high school and his burgeoning alcohol dependancy, bringing his high school experience to a crashing end. I enjoyed the film, particularly Teller and Woodley’s chemistry, but I think it’s a sleepy film designed to never quite let either character be the clear winner, which in a way is a nice break from the usual high school graduation films about young love and impending adulthood. Supporting actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler help shape the challenging family dynamic Sutter exists in, and while we don’t see much of Aimee’s actual family, the implication of equal dysfunction is an undercurrent that runs through the film. It’s not a film about bright young things embarking on a glittering future at college; rather, it’s a stark look at the reality of leaving high school for the harsh light of the real world when there’s not much waiting out there for you.
This is one of the few Oscar nominated films I didn’t see earlier this year, and only because the film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture (Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern both got nominations for their acting, which was were deserved). It’s the adaptation of the book by Cheryl Strayed, which is about her real life journey across the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which runs through the west coast of the USA. Strayed did the grueling hike in 1995 after the death of her mother led her to adultery, heavy drug use and self-destructive behaviour that ended in a divorce from her husband and alienation from her friends and brother. Strayed was not an experienced hiker, but went on the hike as a way to heal and reflect on the events in her life, including her childhood and memories of her mother and the abusive relationship she was in. This film wasn’t structured the way I thought it would be, which turned out to be a great thing – the past and present are interchanged as Strayed makes her way along the PCT trail, and a little bit of narration from the book help meld the two time periods together. Witherspoon is really great as Cheryl, equal parts angry, sad and hopeful as she reflects on her tumultuous life. As much as the film sounds like it’s just one woman walking through the wilderness, it’s quite a lot more than that, and I was really impressed with the film as a whole, and the sum of its parts.
Next up in movie land for me:
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
What are you watching at the moment?
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