Saturday, November 14, 2015

Two Movie Movies: The Martian and Shanghai

Matt Damon in Ridley Scott's The Martian.

Ridley Scott has a reputation for making engrossing large-scale entertainments, but most of his movies are somber and bloated in almost equal parts. The somberness seems to be a pass at seriousness, but movies like Gladiator, American Gangster and Prometheus are humorless blockbusters that substitute layers of mass for layers of meaning. (At least his last, Exodus: Gods and Kings, had John Turturro camping it up Old Testament drag as Pharoah Seti, but the film killed him off early, Joel Edgerton inherited the throne, and any chance at fun went out the window.) Only occasionally does Scott turn out something I care about. Black Hawk Down is a conventional war picture but visceral and affecting; A Good Year, which got little attention, is a vivifying, sun-drenched comedy about an investment broker who inherits a vineyard in Provence and recalibrates his misdirected life. A Good Year is in the mold of the marvelous early-eighties Bill Forsyth movie Local Hero, where a corporate type sent by his Houston-based company to purchase an island off the Scottish coast falls in love with it, and Russell Crowe, as the main character, is supple and animated (his performance in Gladiator was paralytic); he seems turned on by both the bronzed light and all the beautiful women Scott has surrounded him with. Sensuality isn’t generally Scott’s forte, so you keep pinching yourself – and he’s done nothing remotely like it since. (It sank at the box office.) And I had a terrific time at The Martian, Scott’s latest, based on the Andy Weir bestseller about an astronaut on an exploratory trip to Mars (played by Matt Damon) whose crew abandons him on the mistaken assumption that he’s been killed in the sudden storm that leads NASA to abort the mission and send them back into space.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Southern Charm: Aziz Ansari's Master of None

Aziz Ansari and Noël Wells in Netflix's Masters of None.

There are a long list of reasons why you should check out Aziz Ansari's new Netflix original series, Master of None. In addition to its patient and low-key storytelling, the comedy also offers a host of charming and genuinely human characters, refreshing and pointed takes on race, identity, and gender, not to mention some very funny things to say about texting. But the best reason why Master of None is en route to become the sleeper comedy hit of this fall television is Aziz Ansari himself.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

MTV’s Catfish Might be Fake and I Don’t Care

Machine Gun Kelly, Nev Shulman, and Hundra in a recent episode of MTV's Catfish: The TV Show.

November: the days are shorter, the nights are colder, and, especially for those of us who pay our bills by working retail, life gets a little bit more stressful as the December holiday season rapidly approaches. At the end of the work day, when my brain has inevitably turned to mush, sometimes bad reality TV is the only thing that speaks to me. We all have our vices. On one such occasion this week, I threw caution to the wind and indulged in my pet favourite garbage television show: MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show. I regret nothing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Rock x 3: New Albums from The Sheepdogs, Los Lobos, and Keith Richards

Future Nostalgia (Warner), The Sheepdogs new album, could be considered classic rock for the 21st Century. It’s an album that has borrowed the template of classic Seventies rock music and re-fashioned it for a new audience. All the elements of Seventies music are on Future Nostalgia, minus the dread power-ballads. The Sheepdogs have written an album close to their musical hearts: a hybrid of Southern rock and Canadian mainstream rock once served by groups such as April Wine and The Guess Who.

Future Nostalgia launches with "I'm Gonna Be Myself," a song destined to express the freedom with which this band operates artistically. It's a healthy attitude uninhibited by corporate and critical expectations. Remember when this band appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine? They hit the mainstream rock audience with the five-track EP, Five Easy Pieces, released in 2011. At that time the band made frequent appearances on television (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) and opened for Kings of Leon on their 2011 tour across North America. The following year they made a strong appearance at the South By South West (SXSW) music festival in the spring and released their third full-length album by the end of the summer. In 2012, the band won three Juno Awards including Best New Group and they even played the roof of the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Back To Basics: SPECTRE

Daniel Craig as James Bond in SPECTRE.

This review contains spoilers for SPECTRE.
SPECTRE is not a great Bond film. It’s a decent standalone spy thriller, but that’s too charitable, as no Bond film exists in a vacuum. As the newest and “freshest” installment in Daniel Craig’s run as 007, it’s strangely discordant and slow. It discards nearly all of the audience goodwill and story momentum generated by Craig’s energetic reboot of the character, content to hit all the expected notes and attempt nothing new or challenging with the character or his world. It feels regressive, rather than classic – the most like an Old Bond movie of any of the Craig entries, but in all the worst ways.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dada Woof Papa Hot: Gay Men, Married with Children

John Benjamin Hickey and Patrick Breen in Dada Woof Papa Hot. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

New plays deal so infrequently with the tensions of contemporary American life in any way that might be called complex that Peter Parnell’s Dada Woof Papa Hot, which is being given a fine production under Scott Ellis’ direction at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, makes you sit up a little straighter in your seat. I don’t want to overpraise this play and set up grandiose expectations: it’s small-scale and in a more exciting theatrical scene for new work, its intelligence and sensibility would be laudable but not extraordinary. But nowadays a new play in which the characters are well drawn and clearly differentiated by their dialogue, the themes are not only developed but dramatized, the point of view is fresh and the observation of human behavior is witty as well as precise really does seem extraordinary. I decided to check out the play because the selection committee at LCT seems to do a better job than that of any other theatre in Manhattan (both When the Rain Stops Falling and Blood and Gifts had their American premieres there) and because – having had no previous exposure to Parnell’s plays aside from his unfortunate rewrite of the already unfortunate book of the Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever in 2012 – I was curious. (The play he’s known for, QED, was a one-man piece that starred Alan Alda; LCT produced it following its run at the Mark Taper Forum.)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A ‘Feminist’ Fraud: Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in Trainwreck.

I must confess I hadn’t been familiar with standup comic Amy Schumer’s work before I saw her starring role in the Judd Apatow directed Trainwreck. Having seen this mediocre, forgettable movie, I can now say I don’t think I’ve missed much.