Marvel’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones Set for Netflix

Marvel’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones is a comic book come to life featuring a female character. Marvel Television in association with ABC Studios for Netflix have stepped up to the heroine based story with this upcoming series.

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Netflix Doc: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Available later this year only on Netflix will be Liz Garbus’ documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? about the life of singer Nina Simone. Here’s the publicity blurb about the film.

Classically trained pianist, black power icon and legendary recording artist, Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. In the upcoming Netflix original documentary, Academy Award® nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage together with Nina’’s most memorable songs, creating an unforgettable portrait of one of the least understood, yet most beloved artists of our time.

There’s another film about Nina Simone in the works – a biopic starring Zoe Saldana. This Netflix documentary will show Nina singing her own songs and shouldn’t be confused with the other film.

The two films will bring the attention of young people who might not be familiar with Nina Simone into her fandom. It seems to be the moment to rediscover the wonderful talents of the singer who died at age 70 in 2003.

Here’s the official trailer for the documentary.

Learn more about the film and about Nina Simone at ninasimone.com.

Lila: Take a Moment to Brighten Your Day

Lila is a short film by Carlos Lascano that will make you smile and will brighten your day. The actress playing Lila is Alma Garcia. The film uses magic and art and reality to tell a brief but charming tale.

Lila is the conclusion of a trilogy beginning with A Short Love Story in Stop Motion and A Shadow of Blue. (The link to A Shadow of Blue is to the trailer. There are several versions  of the film with different music, but this is the only thing I could find with the original music.)

I wish I had Lila’s eyes in my life. I’d be grinning, too.

Fangirling Over Sarah Lancashire

There are many more videos on YouTube featuring Sarah Lancashire than there were only a few months ago. I enjoyed watching a bunch of them, but found these three to be the most interesting.

The first one is scenes from Happy Valley. The thing I loved most about Sarah Lancashire’s performance in Happy Valley was her kickass toughness, her physical strength and bravery. That is captured perfectly in this video from zanzibar. (Love the user name choice.)

Another fan video I found delightful, also from zanzibar, is called Au Naturel. It’s images of Sarah just being herself in interviews and at awards ceremonies.

The third one is fun because Sarah is singing and dancing. She’s performing “Nobody” from Betty Blue Eyes.

Thanks to the talented fans (especially zanzibar) who take the time to create these videos and post them so people like me can get a Sarah Lancashire fix.

Entangled

This is the plot synopsis:

A scientist initiates her brain-dead partner’s secret experiment to find out what happened to him. But what she experiences is a mind-bending reality that threatens both their lives.

Also in the film are Aaron Abrams, Joey Klein, and Tennille Read.

Here’s the entire Entangled.

After watching the film, I think we can agree that Tony Elliott should not propose this solution for the multiplicity of Maslanys on Orphan Black.

Review: Transparent

Transparent was fascinating and compelling. I watched it all the first weekend it was out on Amazon Prime. It’s a coming out story for the character brilliantly played by Jeffrey Tambor.

I’ll try to review it without giving away too many surprises that can’t be gleaned from simply watching the trailer. The review has some mild spoilers.

Maura at her leisure
Maura at her leisure

Late in life, Mort decides to come out and live full time as a woman – Maura. Season 1 was about coming out. If there are hormones or other options in Maura’s future, that will come later. It’s more than Maura’s coming out story. It’s a story about the repercussions for everyone around the transgendered person, particularly the children and the ex-spouse.

Tambor plays Maura with great dignity and sadness. There is occasional joy, but also considerable pain. I’ve seen Tambor in many parts where he is ridiculous, but here he is quiet, vulnerable and stately.

Judith Light as Shelly
Judith Light as Shelly

Judith Light as the ex-wife, Shelly, is absolutely outstanding. In my opinion, it’s the best role she’s ever had in many years as an actor, and she doesn’t waste a second of it. She’s wonderful in the part.

Each of the children has their own particular anguish to deal with in addition to the big news from dad. The 3 children of Mort and Shelley are Sarah (Amy Landecker), Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) and Josh (Jay Duplass). Maura comes out to each child in a different way, and each of them deals with it in a different way. There’s a lot of gender stuff in this story, and not all from Maura.

Sarah with her kids
Sarah with her kids

Sarah leaves her husband Len (Rob Huebel). She takes up with a former lover named Tammy, who is played with verve and charisma by Melora Hardin. Melora Hardin is so good in this part I’m making up a new rule: Melora Hardin should play only butchy parts from now on! As the season progresses, Sarah wobbles a bit between Tammy and Len and the negotiations between her kids and Tammy’s kids. One of Tammy’s ex step children enters the story late in the season and may turn out to be significant in Josh’s life. That isn’t the only child who may turn out to be important in Josh’s life.

Josh and Ali bonding over old vinyl
Josh and Ali bonding over old vinyl

Josh screws just about anything that moves but not for particularly good reasons. He has sexual issues going back to his early teens that still haunt him. Toward the end of season 1 he meets and falls for a rabbi, played by Kathryn Hahn, but this romance is confused by Josh’s past. Here’s wishing Josh and the Rabbi some good luck for season 2!

Ali is the flake. Rootless, jobless, confused, frequently high, self-centered and perhaps the most loyal and loving of the bunch. She’s clueless about who she is or what she should do with her life, but she’s trying really hard to get it figured out. She might have an undiagnosed mental illness. Carrie Brownstein plays Syd, Ali’s best friend.

Jill Soloway

Transparent was created, written, produced, and sometimes directed by Jill Soloway. Soloway has a trans parent and the story has been brewing in her for years. That’s her in the photo at the top during an interview with Jeffrey Tambor.

Soloway’s other credits include Six Feet Under and United States of Tara.

Issues

The girls out shopping
The girls out shopping

Most of the issues in the series revolve around gender identity and sexual orientation, or both at once. I mentioned that a lot of the story was about the kids’ reactions to dad switching gender roles, but there are moments showing what Maura goes through. For instance, Maura, Ali and Sarah go shopping. Where does Maura go to pee without causing a riot?

There are issues with getting the right gendered pronoun, questions about what you call your dad when dad is a woman or when Uncle Mort is now – what – Uncle Maura?

Maura and friend Marcy (Bradley Whitford) have some wonderful scenes in flashbacks to the 80s when they identified as cross dressers. Marcy thinks he’s a man who likes dressing up like a woman. But Maura doesn’t feel like a man and she doesn’t know what to do about it when cross-dressing is as close as she can come to what feels real. The flashbacks add understanding to what Mort had to endure to finally decide to become Maura to the entire world.

Jeffrey Tambor is not a Trans Actor

Before the series came out, there was a considerable amount of criticism because Jeffrey Tambor is not a trans actor. There were, in fact, 12 speaking parts for trans actors in the series. Among them, Alexandra Billings plays Davina, one of Maura’s closest friends in the trans community and the trans support group Maura attends.

Soloway has been quoted as saying that she always had Tambor in mind for the part because he reminds her of her father. Her father came out as transgender several years ago, just as Maura struggles to do in the series.

After seeing all of season 1, I think the criticism over the choice of Tambor will fade away. So much of the story is flashbacks to times when Tambor is seen as Mort. Even as the story begins, Mort is still there, struggling to explain to his 3 adult children that he is actually she.

Soloway was quoted on NPR saying about the criticism,

The world knows so little about being trans, and I know very little about being trans — I just know what it’s like to be the child of a trans person. But there’s so little trans representation [and] so few trans people who are creating content, so we really depend on the trans community to help us get it right.

If you have Amazon Prime you should definitely watch this series. It’s listed as a comedy and has comic moments, but it’s also about real and powerful issues that are much on the national consciousness now. Every performance is masterful, the writing is brilliant. As a bonus, the music choices for every episode were perfect. This show needs a soundtrack album. Watch it if you can.

Update

I just discovered this short video, which I think is relevant to the review and adds to it.

Watch This: Trailer for Transparent

Amazon released a trailer for the Amazon-only Transparent, which will begin on September 26. Right now you can see the 1st episode free, even if you don’t have Prime.

This very complicated tale stars Jeffrey Tambor as a man making a gender transition late in life. There’s a huge and wonderful cast supporting Tambor with plenty of complexity to make up a family of interesting characters.

I don’t know how old Tambor’s character is supposed to be in this show, but in real life he is 70. That puts him in a generation when the opportunity – even the idea – that one could change genders was somewhere in the realm of impossible. Young people today who feel compelled to transition manage to accomplish it at a much earlier age. I think the series title, Transparent, is a clue that the reactions of his grown children to the transition will be important.

poster for Transparent

The series was created by Jill Soloway, who has worked on such great shows as Six Feet Under, Afternoon Delight and United States of Tara.

All 10 episodes of Transparent will be available on Amazon Prime on September 26.

Amazon Tries Something New

Amazon Prime is releasing a bunch of pilot shows and asking viewers to decide if they want to see more of each one. That puts the power for what projects go forward in the hands of the viewers, which is a unique approach Amazon is trying with these new pilots.

August 28 was the release date for Hand of God starring Dana Delany and Ron Perlman.

Somehow I missed all the news reports about this experiment by Amazon Prime until I noticed this tweet from Dana Delany.

Here’s a brief look at what’s offered from Amazon Prime.

I haven’t seen all of these, but I did watch Hand of God. It was brilliant. The first episode showed how humans react to unexplainable loss and to the inexplicable processes of the mind. Some people react by turning to religion, some depend on reason or on escape. Those who believe that they have a direct line to the mind of God, as Ron Perlman does in Hand of God, often do immeasurable harm.

If you are a user of Amazon Prime I urge you to watch Hand of God and the other pilots and leave your ratings behind to influence which shows continue. After a first taste of Hand of God, I sincerely hope it continues.

The other pilots mentioned are the medical thriller Hysteria, starring Mena Suvari; the marriage comedy Really; the 1980s country club romp Red Oaks; and the romantic comedy The Cosmopolitans with Adam Brody.

Orange is the New Black, Soso, and Diversity

Brook Soso. She’s a new inmate on Orange is the New Black. She’s played by Kimiko Glenn, who is at least part Asian. The only other Asian inmate is Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) who was mostly nonverbal in season 1, but does have lines in season 2.

Brook is VERY verbal. Nonstop talking. If she ever shut up she might have to listen to what was going on inside her own head. Not something she’s willing to do.

She’s not good material for a close friendship with Chang. She doesn’t fit in with the black inmates or the Spanish inmates. The white inmates tolerate her badly if at all.

She’s not disruptive like Vee, although she does inspire some good behavior. I’m looking forward to getting to know her as time goes by because she feels like a permanent addition to the cast.

I want to talk about her mostly because she adds another Asian to a cast that is diversity on steroids.

Incessant chatter is her coping mechanism. Because she talks all the time we learn quickly that she’s a flaming liberal, that she is up on all the latest liberal causes, and that she has the liberal agenda down and wants to tell you all about it. She’s in prison for some sort of political protest, but we don’t know what yet. She’s optimistic and bright-eyed and cheerful. I hope it doesn’t get beaten out of her by the system.

You can't make me take a shower.
You can’t make me take a shower.

When she first arrives at Litchfield, Soso’s scared of the showers. To be fair, the shower drains do urp up raw sewage on a regular basis. She goes unshowered for so long that everyone notices and complaints are filed about her stink. Bell (Catherine Curtin) gets the job of making her take a shower.

Passive resistance to cleanliness
Passive resistance to cleanliness

Soso tries passive resistance in protest to the forced shower, but she’s quickly picked up and carried to the showers. When she’s finally forced into the shower, she cries.

Soso, upset with her treatment, decides to go on a hunger strike. Passive resistance didn’t work so well for showers, but it may work better where eating is concerned.

You can't make me eat
You can’t make me eat.

Mendez (Pablo Schreiber) tangles with her in the cafeteria, where she announces loudly that she’s on a hunger strike in protest of the deplorable conditions in Litchfield. She wants others to join her.

As time goes by, she does get some people to join her hunger strike. That has some interesting consequences. Unfortunately, none of the consequences result in a lessening of her verbal diarrhea. One member of the cast does find a way to shut her up, but I don’t want to mention how, just in case you haven’t seen that part yet.

I’m glad they added an Asian character to the mix. When I reviewed August: Osage County, I suggested that the Native American actress Misty Upham be added to the cast of OITNB. I still think a Native American character would be a good idea. In fact, how about more than one Asian addition, and more than one Native American addition? We are, after all, peering into a multiplicity of women on this show.

On Introducing Vee into Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black poster for the character Vee.

Say hello to Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). Notice the dangerous headgear. Notice the deadly serious look in her eyes. Notice the nickname “queen” bestowed on her by the Orange is the New Black team.

Bringing Vee into the prison and into Orange is the New Black was a storytelling decision of brilliance from Jenji Kohan’s and the other writers on this Netflix Original Series.

It was such a juicy part – it gave Lorraine Toussaint a chance to move into Emmy Award territory. Why not give such a juicy part to one of the existing inmates? Someone we already think we know?

Vee and Red
Vee and Red

I have a few ideas about why an outsider, a newcomer, was important to season 2. Vee knew prison. She’d been there before. She knew Red, she knew the power Red used to wield from the kitchen. She knew how to turn prison culture to her advantage, just as she knew how to navigate life outside prison to her advantage.

A strength of season 1, a strength of the writing on this series, is the nuance. The layers revealed about each character in the storytelling, in the flashbacks. Because of that nuance, we thought we knew people.

But we didn’t know people in the way a master manipulator, a psychopathic user of human weakness like Vee knows them.

Vee is pleased with her minions
Vee is pleased with her minions

Vee knows how to spot someone who will be slavishly loyal in return for a glimmer of love, a glimmer of approval. She knows who will respond to family obligations. She knows who will go to the dark side out of a need for power or greed. She knows who will follow without question. She knows who can be tempted by the lure of a longed-for high. She knows who can be bought with bribery, with food, with small gifts.

Just watch Vee manipulate. She takes the sexy foster son she’s always lusted after to bed, then sends him out to be murdered. She comforts Tastee before her foster brother’s funeral by promising to protect her forever. Watch her work Tastee later in the prison when she realizes a piece of cake isn’t enough to win her over. Tastee wants an apology so Vee delivers. Watch her in the bathroom with Gloria where she uses tears to manipulate. Watch her deal with Black Cindy when Black Cindy uses cigarettes to get goodies for herself instead of profits for Vee. Watch her hit Poussey, both literally and figuratively, to keep her from influencing Tastee. Watch her promise friendship to Red and then lock sock her.

Lorraine Toussaint is brilliant in this part. I know I said that already, but damn, it’s worth repeating.

Vee goes into the prison and completely rewrites the culture in a few days. She recruits followers, sets tribes and factions against each other, breaks up friendships, and inflames hatred. She claims power with practiced ease.

She will never love you.
She will never love you.

Vee’s mayhem, Vee’s manipulations, pull back the curtain on all those characters we thought we knew. It gives us new insights. We see flaws, strengths, darkness, beauty in ways that we couldn’t in season 1 when everyone more or less got along. Vee disrupts, she brings an end to everyone just getting along, and personalities are laid bare in the process.

The women in Litchfield are criminals. They did bad things, stupid things, crazy things, violent things. But none of them are evil. Vee is evil. That’s another reason why Vee needed to be someone new to the cast. There was no evil-without-regret character already there.

Vee’s presence moves the story away from Piper. We still have Piper, of course, but her story doesn’t carry season 2 the way it did season 1. Season 2 is about power grabs, and Piper isn’t after power. Because Alex Vause will be back in season 3 in more episodes, Piper may come back into the forefront next season. Or maybe not. This story has taken on a life of its own. The actors, the characters, the chemistry between the actors, the fan response – all of it has carried Orange is the New Black bodily into places Piper Kerman’s original book never went.

So kudos to Jenji Kohan for writing Vee, kudos to Lorraine Toussaint for playing her with such brilliance, and kudos to everyone who got to go deeper and peel away more layers in response to Vee’s presence in the story. Brilliance all around.

A personal note: my nickname is Vee. It’s odd to write about a character named Vee.