Transparent Season 2 Episode 1: Let the Pfeffermans Begin

Transparent gave Amazon Prime members an early preview with the release of season 2, episode 1 yesterday. The remainer of the season will be available on December 11.

I don’t plan to review or recap each episode individually, but I couldn’t resist commenting on the early release episode 1. I’ll write about the season as a whole after it releases.

Transparent season 2 begins with Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Tammy’s (Melora Hardin) wedding. It’s just as crazy and noisy as the preview you’ve probably seen led you to believe. Continue reading “Transparent Season 2 Episode 1: Let the Pfeffermans Begin”

Review: Twinsters

Twinsters is a documentary about twin sisters. They were born in South Korea and given up for adoption. One grew up in the US and one in France. They knew nothing about each until a chance viewing of a YouTube video brought them together.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Twinsters”

10 Things to Like About Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Marvel’s Jessica Jones is currently streaming on Netflix. This 13 episode season stars Krysten Ritter as the super-powered Jessica Jones. Mike Colter, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor, Carrie-Anne Moss, Eka Darville, Erin Moriarty, and Wil Traval all show up regularly, too.

In no particular order, here are some things I like about Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Beware some mild spoilers.

1. Jessica Jones Forgets It’s a Comic Book

Jessica talks to Will Simpson (Wil Traval), a cop Kilgrave sent to kill Trish.
Jessica talks to Will Simpson (Wil Traval), a cop Kilgrave sent to kill Jessica’s friend Trish (Rachael Taylor).

The opening credits boast a printed-on-cheap-paper quality. The credits are a nice homage to Jessica Jones’ origins. However, once the story starts rolling, it no longer looks so much like iron-on scenes from a comic book. While the noir quality of the series and the occasional framing of the shots suggest comics, overall Marvel’s Jessica Jones stands on its own as a modern thriller. In addition to the opening credits there are early references to “saving the city,” or “the big green guy,” or “the guy with the stars on his shirt” but Marvel touchstones are not an important part of what Jessica Jones is about. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) features large in Marvel’s Jessica Jones. It’s already known that Cage gets his own show, but his part in this series was not mere spin-off publicity. Cage is important to Jessica’s story.

The call-out I most enjoyed was to Dexter, not to anything in the MARVEL universe. Dexter is the former home of series creator Melissa Rosenberg. Jessica gets in the elevator at her apartment and looks up at blood spatter on the ceiling. Hello, Dexter.

2. You Sense Women’s Influence

Rachael Taylor in Jessica Jones
Jessica’s friend/sister Trish AKA Patsy

Melissa Rosenberg is creator and executive producer and writer for the series. You can feel her and all the other women behind the scenes while you look at what’s in front of the camera. @sjmyles said it perfectly.

There are themes of rape, abortion, abuse, consent, equality. All of these issues are dealt with from a female perspective. Matters of concern to women are handled by women.

In an interview at Variety, Melissa Rosenberg was quoted saying,

She was exactly the character I wanted to write my whole career. She was a fully-formed human being, not a one-dimensional character — she was not the wife or the cop partner or whatever. She was beautifully drawn in the comics, in every way — she was just profoundly damaged and deeply flawed and very dry. I love her sense of humor.

But at her core, she’s someone who ultimately wants to do something good in the world, though that is buried under many layers of damage. 

Let’s face it, a room full of only male writers would neither bring this feminist outlook to the table nor get it on the screen.

I want to mention the women directors by name: S.J. Clarkson, Uta Briesewitz, Rosemary Rodriguez.

3. Sex Exists

Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter
Luke Cage doesn’t yet know what Jessica’s past will mean to him

Most superheros appear to be celibate. Not Jessica Jones. She operates with a no apologies attitude toward sex. In that sense, Jessica Jones is more Lost Girl than Supergirl. Like the costumes, the sex scenes are not sexualized – I don’t know if that sentences makes complete sense, but it’s true. Jessica doesn’t use her sexuality to manipulate people or get what she wants. She not “a bitch” in the patriarchial sense of the word. She’s a person who sometimes wants to have sex. Imagine that, patriarchy.

The person she picks for sex is the incredible hunk, Luke Cage. She doesn’t know at first that he’s another special case like she is. What she doesn’t know when it begins will hurt him in a huge way.

Trish has sex scenes as well. The message from her scenes is the lady is in charge.

Same sex couple Jeri (Carrie-Ann Moss) and Pam (Susie Abromeit) do some touching and teasing, but no sex scenes between them are shown.

The sex scenes do not pander. They move the story forward.

4. She’s Smart

Jessica can jump 50 feet in the air with ease.
Jessica can jump 50 feet in the air with ease, but it’s brains not quads that count.

Yes, Jessica Jones has super strength. She can break any lock, toss a man across a room with one hand, or jump 50 feet straight in the air to perch between buildings. But the thing that matters about her isn’t her super power, it’s her brain. She’s brilliant as an investigator. Any bad decisions she makes are meant to serve a greater purpose.

5. The Villain is Relevant

David Tennant
David Tennant as Kilgrave is wonderfully evil.

Jessica’s nemesis is Kilgrave, played with suave and sophistication by David Tennant. His performance is absolutely brilliant. Mind control is his power. He used it on Jessica in the past with horrifying effect. Now she’s trying to gain control over him and his evil doings.

Since he controls minds, Kilgrave’s reach is everywhere. No one can be trusted because they might be doing his bidding. His villainy extends to everyone around Jessica, including Trish.

Kilgrave’s the most culturally relevant villain in a very long time.Kilgrave isn’t the only character of evil intent, but he’s the biggest and baddest in season 1.

I find Kilgrave especially relevant as a villain. We live in an age when our educational system turns out graduates with no reasoning ability and no critical thinking skills. We live in a time when corporate media can convince huge segments of the population science is wrong and greed is good. We support wars based on false assumptions. We allow a secular system of equality to be overtaken by a religious cabal of zealous fanatics. The whole country is under the crazed mind control of a few. Kilgrave is after us all and we’re marching to his drummer.

Kilgrave is charming, convincing. You like him in spite of knowing you shouldn’t. He’s the most culturally relevant villain in a very long time.

6. Her Relationships are Fraught

Carrie-Anne Moss
Carrie-Anne Moss is the lawyer Jeri Hogarth

I like that Jessica is abrupt and socially inept and lives behind thick protective walls. She’s immensely vulnerable yet immensely strong, like many woman living in the modern world.

Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer, sends her work. Jeri is trying to divorce her wife Wendy (Robin Weigert) so she can be with her assistant Pam. The same-sex couple is treated exactly like any other; points for that.

Robin Weigert
Robin Weigert as Wendy looks a bit uncomfortable as Jessica hangs her over the subway tracks – even more so when Jessica lets go.

Not so many points for the way Jessica tries to convince Wendy to sign the divorce papers. Social skills are not Jessica’s forte.

Jeri enlists Jessica’s help as often as Jessica enlists Jeri’s. Through most of the season they work on a murder done by a young woman named Hope (Erin Moriarty) while she was under Kilgrave’s control. In the personal area of her divorce, Jeri insists that Jessica find some dirt on Wendy, who wants to make a killing on the breakup.

Eka Darville as Malcolm.
Malcolm is under Kilgrave’s control until Jessica cleans him up

Jessica’s relationship with her neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville) is similarly troubled. Kilgrave turns him into an addict and uses him to spy on Jessica. Jessica tries in her own less than cuddly way to save Malcolm. He becomes one of her few allies. And he clearly has the best hairdo in the world once he starts looking neat and clean.

Even with her sister/friend Trish, the person Jessica probably loves most, she is often off-putting.

7. She Makes Mistakes

Krysten Ritter and Rachael Taylor
Trish tries to convince Jessica not to do something stupid

Jessica is smart. I mentioned that. But she’s hampered by guilt and shame and past abuse.  Those demons influence her thinking. Her battered psyche rules her emotions. She’s desperate to get rid of Kilgrave. She’s willing to do almost anything, no matter how dangerous, if she thinks it will put an end to Kilgrave’s evil.

8. The Costumes and Settings

Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones
Jessica suffers from PTSD after Kilgrave’s attacks on her. She’s suspicious of everything.

Jessica dresses in battered jeans, a black tank top, and a jacket. She wears hoodies and tee shirts. Sometimes she dons a worse-for-wear grey scarf. There’s no spandex, no push-up bra, no cape, not much makeup. Trish (Rachael Taylor) tries to sell her on the idea of a superhero costume and she laughs at the idea.

Marvel offers us an everywoman in Jessica Jones.She looks like a normal person. She’s as troubled as a regular person. She cries about her failings and cares about the people around her. Marvel offers us an everywoman in Jessica Jones. Her wardrobe convinces.

As for the look of the series and the settings, I thought the cinematography was beautiful. (Manuel Billeter was the cinematographer.) There were a lot of scenes at night and outside with interesting lighting, especially in the night scenes. One scene in particular, when Jessica climbs to the top of a bridge and looks over the city was gorgeously done. Jessica’s ratty apartment, Trish’s luxury apartment, Jeri’s office, morgues, houses in the suburbs, bars – it was all well chosen. The lighting and the color palette worked.

9. The Music

Krysten Ritter
Oh, wow, listen to that fabulous sound track.

Great music characterizes this series. Everything from the light jazz of the opening credits to the music written for each scene is mood enhancing. Sean Callery gets credit for the music.

10. The Performances

Wil Traval
Will Simpson has secrets of his own.

Krysten Ritter’s performance turned out to be exactly the right one.As I explored episode 1 “AKA Ladies Night,” I was not convinced that Krysten Ritter was the woman for this job. She seemed awkward. As the episode wore on, I realized she was meant to be that way. Krysten Ritter’s performance turned out to be exactly the right one. Her self-loathing, her distaste for Kilgore, her nuanced dealings with her PTSD, her rape, her drinking – they felt intensely real. Jessica’s yearning to do good and help people was utterly believable.

Carrie-Anne Moss was brittle yet unbreakable steel with her performance. Her morally compromised character was a work of art. Rachael Taylor was the perfect choice as the beautiful former child star. With absolute love for Jessica, Trish has Jessica’s back. In a story where everyone teems with secrets and lies, Rachel Taylor plays the one straight-arrow.

David Tennant, as I already mentioned, was beyond outstanding.  Mike Colter, Eka Darville, Robin Weigert, Erin Moriarty, Wil Traval, Susie Abromeit – all perfect. Random cops and bodyguards and cooks and doctors and parents – wonderful. Rosario Dawson, who doesn’t show up until episode 13 on a little side trip from Daredevil – well done. Well done, to all the cast.

Has season 2 been announced yet? Because I’m ready.

What did you like about Marvel’s Jessica Jones? Did I forget to mention your favorite thing?

All photos ©Netflix & Marvel

River: A British Mystery Series with Nicola Walker

River originated on BBC One. Immediately after the last episode aired in Britain, it was imported to America on Netflix as a Netflix Original. It stars Stellan Skarsgård as John River, a cop trying to solve the murder of his former partner Stevie Stevenson. Nicola Walker plays the dead partner and appears to River frequently as he tries to understand the who and why in her case.

The series was beautifully written by Abi Morgan. Minor spoilers ahead.

NIcola Walker in River
River frequently talks with Stevie while in his car. She goads him on constantly.

Stevie isn’t the only person who appears to River. He frequently sees dead people. Many of his best clues and leads come from these otherworldly conversations. On the other hand, one of his darkest demons is a dead serial killer played with delicious torment by Eddie Marsan.

His new partner Ira King (Adeel Akhtar) tries to cover for River’s strange behavior as best he can and gradually learns to respect River’s brilliance as an investigator. He even comes to understand and respect River’s madness.

Nicola Walker, Stellan Skarsgård and Georgina Rich in River
Nicola Walker, Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd and Georgina Rich in River. Rich plays River’s shrink Rosa.

River is forced to attend sessions with the police shrink, Rosa Fallows (Georgina Rich). After silent and aborted sessions, he decides to trust her. She then begins the painful work of trying to draw him out.

Lesley Manville plays River’s immediate superior Chrissie Read. River has a long and significant history with Chrissie and her family.

Stellan Skarsgård in River
River is a depressed, unbalanced man with numerous personal demons. The mood is enhanced by the blue tone you see in this image.

The series is dark and moody. Each episode reveals new secrets about River and about Stevie. Learning the truth about her upsets River almost as much as her murder. Twists and surprises enter into every episode as River pieces his case together and the web of people involved grows.

SkarsgÃ¥rd’s performance as the dark and troubled cop is absolute perfection. His stillness, his visions, his fake good nature when he pretends to be normal, his fears and his memories play brilliantly.

She’s not the real Stevie; she’s River’s Stevie.Nicola Walker, too, is fantastic as the slowly revealed Stevie. It’s interesting that she’s playing Stevie as manifested by River. She’s not the real Stevie; she’s River’s Stevie. She’s the light to his dark. She’s the song, the laugh, the reminder to behave like a normal person, to love like a normal person. Walker’s expressive face and her penetrating blue eyes are both used to excellent effect here.

River’s realization that Stevie had a secret purpose is masterfully uncovered. He won’t stop until he unravels the mystery of Stevie’s death. Even when he sees the lives of the people unraveling around him, people he cares about – people Stevie cared about, he keeps looking for the truth.

When River finally faces his truth about Stevie and his grief over losing her we see a beautiful and joyful scene. Not the mournful sobbing of a broken man, but a celebration of wonder and love. It was a lovely finale.

I appreciated the surprises as each episode twists and turns through more and more of the story. I appreciated the parallels between River’s life and Stevie’s life. Part of the storyline deals with immigration. We are living through a world-wise crisis over immigrants and refugees right now, making the plot highly relevant.

If you are a fan of noir mysteries with devilish plot twists I think you’ll enjoy the 6 episodes of River.

Watch the trailer for River.

Watch This: Trailer for The Huntsman Winters War

The Huntsman Winters War has Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain in a feminist fairy tale about the huntsman. Oh, yeah, Chris Hemsworth is in it – he’s the huntsman. In case you weren’t counting, that makes The Huntsman Winters War an action adventure tale with 3 women and 1 man in leading roles.

In a more perfect world, at least one of those faces would be a woman of color, but I’m happy to celebrate this bit of progress.

The wordy plot synopsis of this dark fantasy is,

The fantastical world of Snow White and the Huntsman expands to reveal how the fates of The Huntsman Eric and Queen Ravenna are deeply and dangerously intertwined. Chris Hemsworth and Oscar® winner Charlize Theron return to their roles in The Huntsman Winter’s War, an epic action-adventure in which they are joined by Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, as well as director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Producer Joe Roth (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland) once again leads the team in a breathtaking new tale nested in the legendary saga.

Long before the evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) was thought vanquished by Snow White’s blade, she watched silently as her sister, Freya (Blunt), suffered a heartbreaking betrayal and fled their kingdom. With Freya’s ability to freeze any enemy, the young ice queen has spent decades in a remote wintry palace raising a legion of deadly huntsmen—including Eric (Hemsworth) and warrior Sara (Chastain)—only to find that her prized two defied her one demand: Forever harden your hearts to love.

When Freya learns of her sister’s demise, she summons her remaining soldiers to bring the Magic Mirror home to the only sorceress left who can harness its power. But once she discovers Ravenna can be resurrected from its golden depths, the wicked sisters threaten this enchanted land with twice the darkest force it’s ever seen. Now, their amassing army shall prove undefeatable…unless the banished huntsmen who broke their queen’s cardinal rule can fight their way back to one another.

The film is a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman from 2012, which was an equally feminist turn on a fairy tale starring Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Hemsworth as The Huntsman. In the sequel, as in the first huntsman tale, the director, writer and most of the behind the scenes names are male. But in front of the camera it’s nothing but awesome.

The film is set to open in April of 2016.

Images © 2015 – Universal Pictures

Brilliant Interview with Transparent’s Jill Soloway

Watch this brilliant and wide-ranging discussion between Transparent creator Jill Soloway and HuffPostLive host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani. There is much in the questions and answers that is culturally important. Listening can help even the most slow to change individuals understand what the T in LGBT is about.

The conversation, of course, takes in season 2 of Transparent, but it is bigger than that. There’s talk about secrets and families and feminism and playing and many infrequently discussed transgender issues.

Regarding Transparent, Jill Soloway said, “Now that the bubble wrap is off, it’s time for the whole family to transition.” You get an idea of what that means to Soloway as the child of a transgender parent, and to the people creating and playing in the TV series Transparent.

I thought Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani did an excellent job with her questions. With help from Transparent, Jill Soloway, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and many others, we’ve come a long way in a short time in learning how to talk about transgender issues.

It’s worth your 30 minutes.

Watch This: Trailer for Angie Tribeca

I’m thinking Angie Tribeca is going to be something like a deadpanned Leslie Nielsen brought back to life as Rashida Jones to deliver insane material from the mind of Steve and Nancy Carell.

The series is a spoof of police procedurals. The cast plays it entirely straight. But they investigate crimes like the death of a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Everything about this series exemplifies out-of-the-box thinking. Angie Tribeca debuts on January 17 on TBS with a 25-hour, commercial-free marathon of the first season’s 10 episodes. Season 2, which was approved before season 1 even aired, will begin a regular week-to-week schedule on January 25.

Still of Rashida Jones and Hayes MacArthur in Angie Tribeca
Still of Rashida Jones and Hayes MacArthur in Angie Tribeca

In addition to Rashida Jones, the cast also includes Hayes MacArthur, Jere Burns, Deon Cole and Andree Vermeulen.

The pilot features guest appearances by Lisa Kudrow, Alfred Molina, Nancy Carell, Gary Cole, and Matthew Glave. Going waaayyyy against type, Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton will be in the pilot as Mr. and Mrs. Tribeca who are, oh, I don’t know, who do you think?

Here’s the plot summary on IMBD, which gives you a pretty good idea of how crazed and delirious the series will be:

From the twisted minds of Steve and Nancy Carell, Angie Tribeca is the greatest drama of our generation. Breaking ground and changing the television landscape, this epic series is mind-blowingly raw, gritty and unapologetic.

Yeah. Epic can be seen in the trailer.

 

Review: Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks stars Gena Rowlands. That was all I needed to know about the 2014 film to pick it out of a dismal collection of male-dominated newly added films on Amazon Prime.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks”