Parenthood (2010)

TV Series – After reaching the end of my favorite television series, Parks and Recreation, I was in dire need of finding a new show to fill my void.  Parenthood turned out to be that show.12760510

Parenthood is like Modern Family, in that both shows have a strong focus on family dynamics and relationships.  Parenthood, however, concentrates on more serious content, things that test the bonds that hold a family together.  The show follows the day to day trials and tribulations of the Braverman family.  Zeek and Camille have raised four children, who are now grown with their own families.  Crosby is a carefree guy who lives on a houseboat, enjoying his limitless freedom.  Julia is partner at a prestigious law firm, trying to juggle work while raising a young daughter with her husband.  Sarah wants to make a fresh start, taking her teenage kids and moving back into her childhood home with her parents.  And finally, Adam, the eldest of the  Braverman children, and caretaker to everyone, including his wife and two children.

What makes this series special are the intense bonds shared by the members of the Braverman clan.  Together, this family endures everything that life throws their way.  I would strongly recommend Parenthood to anyone who loves realistic family dramas.  I was completely invested in each of the main characters, and though fictional, their stories often left me tearful.      

10/10 would recommend to friend.

Amy (2015)

51qTjmoHjhL._AC_UL320_SR228,320_MovieAmy Winehouse lived a short life. In the documentary Amy, the director, Asif Kapadia tries to tell a story of someone looking for help but not being able to help herself during good times.

The documentary follows the short life of Amy Winehouse as told through clips of personal home movies, pictures, performances, interviews, and backstage footage at the Grammys. Winehouse was a troubled soul trying to make it through a life that may have been more than she could handle. Her music came from the depths of emotional suffering. Her gift to transfer those emotions into song gave her the break she was looking for into the music scene. It was also the reason she could not continue.

Throughout the film, the director uses interviews with Amy’s parents, husband, and friends to narrate Amy’s story. They paint a picture of someone who was a free spirit, a good singer, and a troubled person looking for some guidance. The director paints her family as people who did not step in when Amy needed them the most. Her parents, mainly her father, did take offense to his portrayal in the film. Her mother did not object to her portrayal.

The film will cause you to analyze Amy’s life and those around her. Questions will arise about the role her loved ones played in her life. Finger pointing will definitely happen. In all the viewer will need to come to their own conclusions on why Amy’s life was cut short. Fans of the singer, and people who enjoy biographies of celebrities will enjoy this film. There is no speculation of who is to blame in the death, only a story being told of someone who was enduring deep sadness and how she coped with it.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

going_clear_blue_poster_285Movie –Going Clear is a documentary about scientology. It is told from the perspective of former members. The director, Alex Gibney gives the viewer a history of the organization, its founder, the current head of scientology, what is expected of its members, and tactics employed to address critics. Two celebrity members are showcased momentarily. But just enough to keep the viewer interested and with enough information to ponder as the film goes on.

The topics mentioned above are weaved into the film as former members reveal their experiences in scientology. They each bring a different perspective due to belonging to different sectors of the organization. The viewer is given a different look at what scientology was for each member, and how and why the members chose to leave. The film flows very well and kept me interested throughout. With much of the narrative being told by former members, I feel the film gives them an avenue to inform people why they should steer clear from the organization.

Scientology is shrouded in controversies due to treatment of members, what it expected of said members, their beliefs, and tactics of attacking it critics, as well as members who have chosen to leave the organization. As a result of this film, the director, HBO, the former members in the films, and critics who have reviewed the film have all been threatened with litigation from the organization. This is one of the tactics mentioned in the film, “Fair Game”. Meaning everyone is fair game when it comes to criticizing the organization.

As a kid I remembering seeing commercials for Dianetics. The erupting volcano, with the title of book coming into the frame. I remember wondering what it was and it must be a good book if it has a commercial. That’s as much thought a ten year old kid raised Catholic put into it. After seeing Going Clear, I’m so glad it never went any further.

Ex Machina (2015)

ex-machina-dvdMovie – Caleb works for Bluebook, the world’s largest search engine, and he’s just won a contest whose prize is to spend a week living with the company’s founder, Nathan. When he arrives at Nathan’s isolated, ultra-modern estate, though, Caleb signs a nondisclosure agreement and learns that he’s been hand-picked to test Nathan’s most audacious new project: an artificial intelligence. Her name is Ava.

Ex Machina starts off as a beautifully realized science fiction story – one of the rare ones that make it all the way to film with all their complex ideas intact underneath the special effects. This is a small movie, resting on the shoulders of the actors and the characters rather than the effects (although the special effects on Ava’s transparent android body are so good you forget they’re special effects). Nathan embodies the modern brogrammer, and Oscar Isaac is note-perfect throughout. Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson (son of award-winning actor Brendan Gleeson), is the more stereotypical computer nerd. But neither of them are as compelling as Alicia Vikander’s Ava. Caleb is supposed to be testing whether or not Ava is really conscious, but as an audience who’s already seen plenty of movies where Robots Are People, Too, we’re waiting to see what he’ll do when he decides that she is.

And that’s where Ex Machina turns into a horror movie – a quiet one, nearly bloodless, but no less bloodcurdling for that. Why, after all, did Nathan put his AI into a female body?

And what are they all going to do with it?

Madam Secretary (2014)

madam-secretary-first-season.31873TV Series – I am hooked on political TV series such as The West Wing, House of Cards, and Scandal.  Therefore, I was thrilled when Madam Secretary came out starring Tea Leoni.  Elizabeth McCord is suddenly asked to serve as Secretary of State, when the current one is killed in a plane crash.  She has a unique relationship with the President of the United States, since he recruited her right out of college for the CIA.  Years later she left the CIA, because she morally disagreed with some of their interrogation tactics. In her new position as Secretary of State she is a fish out of water, since she is not a politician, nor does she have political aspirations and she is very sympathetic. Upon taking Office she inherits most of her own staff and needless to say, there is a big adjustment for all.  The only one she hired on her own is Blake, her office assistant, who is fiercely loyal to Elizabeth. She even butts heads with some of the White House staff, especially the President’s Chief of Staff.

Her former assignments with the CIA have given Elizabeth the national and international experience essential to the Office. Her husband, Henry, a religious scholar is not threatened by her job and power and he is able to offer insight of world politics, since many conflicts have religious roots. She also has 3 children who she involved in the decision making on whether she should take the job.

One of the creators of this show is Morgan Freeman who found it interesting that the 3 former Secretaries of State were all women, though he made it very clear that Elizabeth McCord is no Hillary Clinton. This is a very interesting show that gives viewers insight into the daily life of the Secretary of State and gives us an intelligent character that works hard to balance her job, family, and morals.

The Imposter (2012)

Movie – There are some who feel truth is just as good as fiction and at times better. The Imposter is one of those stories that may be better than fiction. For watchers of Spanish cinema, like something out of a Pedro Almodóvar film. It is a documentary about a missing child, Nicolas Barclay. In 1994 a family in Texas reported their son missing. He turns up three and a half years later in Spain. Or does he? The Barclays do not see their “son” for the first time until he is back in Texas. Their child was a blond hair blue eyed boy. The person they are reunited with is neither blond nor blue eyed, with a profound Spanish accent, and seems to look older than 16, which is the around the age Nicolas should be.

The Imposter will take you on a trip with twists and turns throughout only to leave you with more questions. There are questions about the person claiming to be Nicolas. Who is he, what is he doing, and why is he doing this? In addition, why does the family accept this stranger as their son? Serious criminal accusations will keep the viewer questioning what is going on in this family. All of this will leave you with more questions that may or may not be fully answered by the end of the film.

Whether you like true-crime or enjoy fiction, The Imposter will give you a good story, almost as good as, or even better than most mysteries. This one is for those who enjoy mysteries, thrillers, true-crimes, and love plot twists.

Cinderella (2015)

Movie – And so it begins.  The 2015 film, Cinderellastarts Disney’s new endeavor to take all our favorite childhood films and transform them into live-action remakes.  Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty excited to see a few of them hit the screen, mainly Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Mulan. So, obviously, the premiere of Cinderella was a BIG deal.  Because I love children’s movies, I felt obligated to give the fairy tale remake a try.  With Lily James as our lovely Cinderella, evil stepmother Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter as the quirky fairy godmother, the film has a killer cast.

Unlike many previous Cinderella adaptations, this film gave Cinderella’s mother some screentime before she passes, which I thought was a nice touch.  The story moved a bit slowly for my liking, which I understand was probably due to the in depth storytelling of the film.  It seemed there was a greater focus on each of the characters.  For example, the deeper character development of the wicked stepmother helped to see her in a different light, which was a unique change of pace.

I did get caught up with how much the story dragged (in my opinion), which was rather annoying.  And the CGI was a bit much for my taste.  I also thought the main message of the story,  Have courage and be kind, though a good message, was unnecessarily repetitive throughout the movie.  Still the film managed to retain the fairytale magic that made me fall in love with the original story.

Nothing Like the Holidays (2009)

Movie – I would like to start by confessing: I have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle of 34th Street, or White Christmas. I know many are wondering how this is possible. Sure I’ve caught bits a pieces here and there throughout my life, but I have never sat down to watch any of these three Christmas movies. That being said, I still feel there are great holiday movies other than these three classics. Some of my more recent holiday classic staples include: Elf, Love Actually, The Family Stone, and Nothing Like the Holidays. The first three are more known than the latter.

Nothing Like the Holidays is set in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and tells the story of a normal dysfunctional family going through tough times all around. There are the parents, Anna and Edy who seem to be drifting apart; one son, Jesse who just finished a tour of military service and does not want to take over the family business; a daughter, Roxanna scared to tell her family she is not a Hollywood star; and a another son, Mauricio who is having marital issues. All of them are coming together for the holidays and bringing their problems with them to share.

As I mentioned before, the movie was filmed in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. It does a good job of showcasing some of the neighborhood and some of Chicago’s landmarks. The story is a little cheesy and at times tries too hard to convey emotion. It does a good job of keeping you entertained with the supporting characters and small family issues like the removing of a tree after drinking. Don’t try using power tools while intoxicated kids! Nothing Like the Holidays is a great movie for those looking to change up their holiday movie experience and see another side of Christmas in Chicago.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 1 (2013)

TV Series – The Honorable Miss Fisher is the James Bond of lady private investigators—she’s got the fancy car, the sumptuous home, the gorgeous wardrobe, and the slick pearl-handled pistol.  Based on a series by author Kerry Greenwood and set in 1920s in Melbourne, Australia, this series features lush flapper-era costumes, gorgeous period sets, and intriguing historical details.  Stories in this series cover the gamut of Australian society and straddle social classes, dealing with such disparate topics as clandestine back-alley abortion providers and high-society charity functions.

Despite the historical setting, however, Phryne feels very much like a modern character.  She is the head of her own odd household which includes her butler (named, appropriately, Mr. Butler), her companion Dot, surrogate daughter Jane, and various other lovers and lost souls she collects. Fans of series like Bones and X-Files will appreciate the romantic chemistry between Phryne and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, a dashing and sardonic policeman with whom she often collaborates.  Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries will especially appeal to fans of the wide variety of BBC detective shows, such as Inspector Morse and Murdoch Mysteries.  We also own series 2 and 3 of this one, as well as the novels the series is based on, so feel free to make an afternoon of it!

Unfinished Business (2015)

Movie – The best way to describe Unfinished Business is as a raunchy comedy with family life lessons. Vaughn is a businessman that has just quit his job and ventured out to start his own business to rival his old company. The only way to do that is by landing a big client and beating out his former company.

Throughout the adventure he is joined by the fresh out of water Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) and an old school businessman Timothy McWinters (Tom Wilkinson). Both characters, along with other well-known actors (mainly Nick Frost), lend some laughs and make the movie enjoyable. There is family drama back at home Vaughn is dealing with in his character’s way, which gives the movie that family life lesson feel. This is intermixed with some over the top raunchy comedic scenes not suitable for all ages.

I feel I was taken in two very different directions. On the one hand I found the raunchiness funny. Franco and Wilkinson characters were well played and made the movie funny. But then the family drama put the lead character into perspective and displays him as a family man trying to provide for his family by any means needed. This movie is not for everyone. Fans of Vaughn from Swingers and Made will not enjoy this. However someone looking for those “guy humor” laughs mixed with a warm your heart feeling may want to see this.