Monday, May 29, 2017

Lots of Netflix Comedy!

This semester I watched a lot of Netflix comedy specials. I can post about each one because I don't really remember them all. The list includes Louis CK, Jim Norton, Katherine Ryan, Kathleen Madigan, Ali Wong, Jim Jefferies, David Cross, and Neal Brennan. As well as others I can't remember.

I was not crazy about Ali Wong, who had an aggressive show off way about her. I thought Katherine Ryan was kind of charming and had a solid comedic presence that I appreciated. David Cross and Louis CK were both funny, but this was not Louis CK's best performance, and David Cross always has something a little unpleasant or arrogant in his demeanor.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Kathleen Madigan who has an unexpected Mid-Western thing going on that offered a different perspective and was very funny.

Neal Brennan's 3 Mics alternated between segments of one-liners, general stand up, and emotional monologues. I appreciated his honest about depression in the latter, and his stand up was solid. I didn't think the one-liners were good and he delivered them too slowly, letting each mediocre joke hit and rest for too long.

My absolute favorite was Jim Jefferies. I liked him so much I watched two other earlier specials available on YouTube and HBO. His humor is cutting and fierce. As negative and obnoxious as he can be, I found him incredibly likeable and hilarious.

Wizard of Lies

I am never a fan of biopics and have to learn to lower my expectations with them. That said, Wizard of Lies, about Bernie Madoff, was pretty okay.

It didn't cover new ground or offer new insights from all the intense coverage the story got in 2008-2009, but it was interesting to revisit it. I thought the acting was pretty good. Like in all biopics I felt something of substance was missing, some dramatic core.

At the end he asks if he's a sociopath and I couldn't help feeling that his awful nefarious actions are no worse than the legal actions of the Republicans who are currently trying to pass budgets and bills that will have vast and cruel effects. And I think he was right that during the 2008 financial crisis focusing on one evil-doer was more satisfying to the public than trying to grasp the systemic injustices in the system.

Museum of Art and Design: Judith Leiber

There was also a Judith Leiber show at the Museum of Art and Design, Crafting a New York Story. I thought this was kind of boring. Her bags definitely have sculptural and artistic and craft elements that I appreciate as objects. But as bags I think they were tacky. There were many that were dramatic and interesting, but as a show I didn't feel like it it worked. People always think because of my beading that I will like Judith Leiber, but mostly  I think her bags are tacky. Here are two that stood out for me.

Museum of Art and Design: Fashion after Fashion

The Fashion after Fashion exhibition was more interesting than the Counter Couture. This featured deconstructed and reimagined sculptural pieces breaking away from traditional fashion and using fashion as the foundation for art pieces.

Museum of Art and Design: Counter Couture

The Counter Couture show at Museum of Art and Design was just okay. The handmade clothes from the 60s were dramatically lit and the environment was cool but most of the clothes were kind of boring to me. The exception being these crocheted pieces.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mommy Dead and Dearest

Mommy Dead and Dearest is creepy! An awful, awful story.

It's the story of Gypsy Blanchard, a girl who was raised by a mother with Munchauser by Proxy Syndrome. Since she was an infant, Gypsy's mother made her sick and pretended she was seriously ill. All sorts of diseases and ailments. Drugging her. Not allowing her to walk and putting her in a wheelchair. Lying about her age and dressing her up like silly doll. It is such a disturbing story of very serious, very extensive, very prolonged child abuse.

Then, Gypsy begins an online secret love affair with some weirdo and she has him murder her mother!

The documentary includes many photos and videos, both of Gypsy feigning illness and talking like a developmentally disabled pinhead as well as a perfectly fine Gypsy in bed with her boyfriend. Also included are their text exchanges. The most disappointing parts are the interviews with Gypsy, now in prison. She seems naive and sweet but manipulative and creepy at the same time. The horror of what she went through is unfathomable and she came across as so bland and syrup-y. This documentary raised many more questions than it answered.

Girls Season 6

ARGHH. I have been a stalwart fan of Girls. I enjoyed it and defended it when everyone else was criticizing it for various reasons which never felt important to me. I loved Season 5. But damn, the final season sucked. I was not at all into it.

The pregnancy plot line seemed desperate and grasping. Yes, there were scenes and episodes I liked. But the way they tried to wrap Hannah's story up was very unconvincing and unrealistic and they totally lost me. Parts were utterly preposterous. Very disappointed.

Master of None Season 2

I recently watched al of the second season of Master of None, Aziz Ansari's sweet Netflix series.

The strength of this show is Aziz -- his ebullience, his curiosity, his humor, and his wonderful good nature and seemingly genuine kindness. He throws light on various pervasive forms of racism, gives homage and dignity to the myriad people whose lives are ignored in mainstream storytelling, and performs a running commentary on contemporary upper-middle class urban life.

Both season have an off quality to me. Something awkward in the acting or timing that I can't quite adjust to. Season 2 is cinematically (and to a lesser extent thematically) sophisticated, but there is something amateurish in the execution that I can't quite put my finger on.

The narrative arc of Season 2 is Aziz's budding relationship with a charming woman he met in Italy (those episodes shot in black and white and sending shout outs to Italian movie classics). As this developed I felt myself growing a bit distant. The storylines and scenes with his friends and dates were crisp and fresh to me. But with the love interest it felt a little tired. It dragged a little. I think part of the problem for me is that she was SO charming. A caricature of charming. Hi growing fondness and love for her was understandable and relatable, but her her-ness seemed made up to me.

Fargo: TV Series

I watched the first two seasons of Fargo the TV series recently. It is a stunning, breathtaking, punch you in the gut show. Cinematic, violent, strange. The plot is layered and arresting. Tense. Over the top and beautifully balanced.

The first season distracted my by its similarity to the movie, particularly the character Lester's version of William H Macy's performance, as well as the tempo of the speech and accents. But it really drew me in. The plot kept thickening. Billy Bob Thorton was perfectly himself and the perfect villain.

I had trouble getting into the second season, as it takes place in the 70s and for some reason I just felt like ugh, I don't want to watch a 70s mob thing. But again, it drew me right in and the plot moved and twisted in engaging and surprising ways. I actually cried at the two scenes where you see the overlap between both seasons.

Both season 1 and season 2 of Fargo take place in the same vast and bleak winter landscape and play on similar themes: unwitting, naive nice-seeming people doing horrendous things surrounded by and contrasted with the openly evil and sociopathic. Each has solid, unshaken characters who stand at the moral core balancing the dim-witted and narcissistic bad guys, worse guys, and ill-fated dupes.

The Verdict

I think I saw The Verdict in the 80s when it came out and I remember thinking it was a very good movie. Boy does this shit not hold up. Such a long winded cliche. The legal drama around a medical malpractice suit is tired and unnuanced. The odd romance is sexist and ridiculous. The acting is melodramatic and tiresome.

Shit Town

Shit Town was my first podcast. Through several episodes (7?) the narrator, Brian Reed, recounts the story, using interviews with everyone involved, of an extremely eccentric and unique man in the deep south. He emerges as brilliant. John B was a strange, obsessive, talented and deeply lonely man who lived on many acres and had an intense inexhaustible contempt for the world in general and his town in particular. His rants, in his deep accent, were stupendous screeds against everything that is wrong with this country. Basically everything he said was on target, and it almost makes you wonder how the rest of us are so complacent and unafraid.

Shit Town starts off when Brian Reed is contacted by John B to investigate a murder in his shitty town, but it soon becomes the greatest character study I have ever encountered. We learn about John B's talent as an antique clock restorer, his amazing maze he created on his grounds, his unlikely friendships, particularly one with a disturbing yet engaging young man, the breadth of his knowledge, and the unrelenting psychic demands of his world view. From interviews with family, business associates, old friends, and town officials, and the ever compassionate narration of Brian Reed, a complex, unsettling, and deeply sad portrait of John B is painted. One that broke my heart.

What About Bob?

Another stupid movie. What About Bob? features Bill Murray as an extremely neurotic OCD dysfunctional who goes for one therapy session with a shrink who has a stupid new book out. He immediately thinks the shrink is his savior and proceeds to stalk him on his summer vacation. Maybe a cute moment here or there. You are supposed to dislike the arrogant shrink and enjoy the way Bob inadvertently torments him. But I saw him as a wildly inappropriate stalker who was also very annoying. This may be my least favorite Bill Murray movie.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion

I've always sort of wanted to watch Romy and Michele's High School Reunion but was embarrassed because it looks so stupid. Well -- it is stupid. But it is also a little bit fun, very good natured, and essentially harmless. So whatever, I enjoyed it. Besides, I always love Lisa Kudrow no matter what she's in.


Last month I watched all 6 seasons of Homeland on Hulu (I got a special subscription for it). It was so intense. I just loved it. There were several episodes in a row where I was sitting on the edge of my seat, literally.

The storyline with Brody in the first three seasons began to bore me and I fucking hated him. My favorite seasons were 4, which was set in Pakistan, and 5, in Berlin. So much happens in each episode that it is hard to keep up. I mean I would kind of forget what had happened just an hour previously. But I loved it. All the characters were great, solid performances. The plot is absurd at times, but also incredibly dramatic and entertaining. I was totally sucked in.