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Archive for the ‘movies and television’ Category

Good Bye, Anthony Bourdain…

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I can’t believe Anthony Bourdain is gone. I realized this right after I finished watching season eleven of Parts Unknown, which was, in hindsight, to be his last.

I’ve been a fan of Anthony Bourdain for a long time ever since he published his bestseller Kitchen Confidential. I also followed his television career very closely: first on A Cook’s Tour, then No Reservations, and finally Parts Unknown.

Bourdain’s shows, like his books, are filled with wit, acerbic comments, and wry humor. But that was just one side of him. There was also a serious side: the listener, opinionated, often political, but always interested in the subject at hand. What made Bourdain standout compared to other shows was that he was not a tourist but a traveler. There’s a distinction. While most tourists like to visit places from a safe distance — often in a travel group nannied like children — Bourdain regularly mixed with the locals and often visited areas that were off the beaten path. Bourdain realized early one that to get a true feel of a place, you had to hit the pavement. The result is a deeper look at places beyond the usual postcard views and marketing brochures. Bourdain gives you the good as well as the bad.

Anthony Bourdain’s gift was his intimate interview style. He asked the right questions and was not afraid to rustle feathers, especially if feathers needed rustling. This was especially true with Parts Unknown. Perhaps it was on CNN, the show didn’t avoid talking about thorny issues. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain completed his evolution from having a show just about interesting cuisine to a show about things that matter the most — people.

Like most people, I was shocked by Bourdain’s sudden death. That it was a suicide was doubly-shocking. I didn’t know he suffered from depression, but like most celebrities, we only know them as acquaintances, our relationship with them is often only skin deep. Though Anthony Bourdain is gone in body, he remains in memory. He left behind one hell of an archive — both his writings and his shows.

He will be missed. Rest in peace, sir!

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Written by niraj

April 25th, 2019 at 10:35 am

Lucifer: A Failure of a Good Idea

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Lucifer has been cancelled by FOX. Tom Ellis, who plays the lead character in the show, writes:

Much as I enjoyed a show about the Devil running loose in modern day Los Angeles, I’m not surprised it was cancelled after only three seasons. Lucifer was boring. It’s no surprise it lost viewers with its shoddy writing, unimaginative story lines, insipid characters, and lame performances. It’s cancellation was an act of mercy.

The first two seasons of Lucifer were fantastic: dark, moody, and hilariously funny. But for some reason the third season became, well, just mundane. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problems are but they were manifold. For one, the character Charlotte Richards, played with such evil relish in season two, was an outright dullard in season three. And I find the characters of Ella, Linda, and Dan not only superfluous but uninteresting. Or was it the fact that a show about the devil became nothing more than a lame police procedural whose script were written by film school rejects? It was just awful.

Nevertheless, watching the final episode was bittersweet. The show had so much potential when it first aired. A show about the devil leaving hell and living among mortals was an intriguing idea the show failed to explore to the fullest, but instead reduced itself to the vast wasteland that is network television. There’s a #savelucifer movement on Twitter, hoping someone will pick the show up. Not a bad idea, but if someone does takeover, it’s going to need a substantial overhaul. Better yet just reboot the whole damn thing.

UPDATE: Netflix has renewed Lucifer for a fourth season with a ten-episode run starting in May 2019.

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Written by niraj

May 18th, 2018 at 4:21 pm

Jessica Jones: Season Two

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Jessica Jones returns for a second season and enters a world that is darker and grittier than the first. Jessica’s ability to alienate friends and foes alike remains fully intact; and  continues to self-medicate through alcohol. Jessica continues her pursuit of getting to the bottom of IGH, what they did to her and others like her. In tow is her friend/sister Trish Taylor, who shares Jessica’s zeal and uses her platform as a prominent radio personality to find victims. Unfortunately, for them, they end up dead, as do the scientists. Who’s killing them leads Jessica to directly confront a ghost from her past.

One thing about the second season I would like to touch on is that it’s more female-centric. Women are front-and-center. Both Trish Taylor and Jeri Hogarth (Jessica’s lawyer and sometimes employer) have bigger roles this time around and it’s well worth it. Both rise to the occasion character-wise: Trish wanting to be the hero while Jeri just wants what she rightly deserves and doing anything to get it. The men, on the other hand, are pushed to the periphery.

Executive producer Melissa Rosenberg took the extra step of having all the episodes directed by women. There is nothing wrong with this approach, in my opinion. Given Hollywood gross maltreatment of female talent, this is a welcome development. Plus, we are at peak television, so having shows that are female-centric will not upset the gender applecart one iota. There will always be plenty of shows for men, with men, and by men.

Jessica Jones might have superpowers and is a total badass, but she’s still human: no wilting wallflower, no weakling, but deeply flawed. This is what makes the show so compelling.

I’ve talk about Jessica Jones in an earlier post.

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Written by niraj

May 14th, 2018 at 3:59 pm

No More X-Files, Please…

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Let’s hope the eleventh season of X-Files will be its last. Send FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully into retirement and forever close their outpost for investigating inexplicable, freakish phenomenon. Personally, I’m just sick and tired of all this conspiracy mongering, especially the idea that the human race is about to be eviscerated by an alien race and their lackeys on Earth.

Just do it already!

When the tenth season was announced two years ago, I was excited at the prospect of one my all-time favorite shows returning, but I was less sanguine about the eleventh season. It’s just too much.

And I’m not surprised Gillian Anderson, who has played Dana Scully with a steady and patient hand, has decided that this was her last season. Don’t know if David Duchovny is willing to go solo, but the idea of skeptical Scully not tagging along Mulder’s endless goose chases doesn’t seem right to me. Therefore, it would be better if the show just ended right here right now. The last episode – though unsatisfying –is a good place to end it.

If both Mulder and Scully can call it quits so can we, the diehard fan base. I’m of a strong belief that a show should end when it’s at its zenith and not wait till it slowly, and painfully, fades from existence. After 200 plus episodes and two movies, it’s time to let this franchise go.

So good-bye, X-Files, and thanks for the memories.

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Written by niraj

April 2nd, 2018 at 10:34 pm

The Punisher and Gun Control

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Is Marvel/Netflix series The Punisher about gun control – should it be about gun control?

From A.V. Club:

But the thing that sets this Marvel Netflix iteration of The Punisher apart from those other gun-filled franchises is that it isn’t aiming to be a heightened, escapist action series. It’s aiming to be a grounded show about real-world issues, including the question of when and if violence is ever justified. If The Punisher wanted to be just a thrilling shoot-em-up, I would happily engage with the show on those terms. But it clearly wants to be more than just mindless action fun, so I think it’s fair to hold The Punisher to the standard it sets for itself.

Even Jon Bernthal, who plays the Punisher, says the series should start a discussion on gun control.

The Punisher is not—and never was—a poster child for gun control. Those that see the Punisher through this distorted lens seem to be missing the point. The Punisher is a gun-toting vigilante, to be sure, but they are mere tools in his trade. And he doesn’t acquire his guns through legal means. The Punisher, the Netflix series at least, seems more grounded than the comic book. It wants to know what made Frank Castle The Punisher. It’s not because he’s a gun nut. What motivates him is revenge rooted in injustice.

But vigilantism is not the core theme of the series. It’s clear to anyone watching with a discerning eye that the series is about soldiers, especially those who have actively served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both Curtis and Lewis — former soldiers —  suffer from PTSD but handle it in vastly different ways

Curtis has come to term with his PTSD and is dealing with it in his own way: working a regular job, starting a support group for veterans, trying to live on an even keel. Lewis, on the other hand, is a completely lost soul, wandering in the wilderness, trying to deal with his PTSD. He tries to enlist as a mercenary but is rejected because he’s considered mentally unsound. This rejection eventually leads him to a self-destructive path.

Not to say gun control is not discussed. The issue is touched upon in later episodes, if only in a ham-fisted way. It’s just that the issue of gun control has little relevance with the Punisher. It’s about something else entirely.

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Written by niraj

December 9th, 2017 at 9:39 am

Tales by Light

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My current love on Netflix is the documentary series Tales by Light.

Originally produced for National Geographic, Tales by Light examines the art of adventure and nature photography through some of its finest craftsmen (and craftswomen!). It’s an arresting piece of work that is visually stunning: the landscapes, the wildlife, the people. All in vivid detail.

Some say photography is a lesser art due to the ubiquity of digital technology which makes almost anyone and everyone an amateur photogprapher, but this is not the case. Just because we live in a world saturated with images, doesn’t mean there is no art in it. And even with the capability to take pictures through our smartphones doesn’t mean we are — or can be — photographers. The difference between a dilettante and a professional is the passion and dedication to the craft; and it’s displayed in spades in this documentary series.

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Written by niraj

December 27th, 2016 at 10:51 am

Stranger Things: An 80’s Flashback…

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Netflix’s sci-fi/horror series Stranger Things is great storytelling that is both visually pleasing and visceral – it literally scares the shit out of you. Synopsis of the story can be found here. But the purpose of this post is not about Stranger Things, but it’s depiction of a decade whose milieu no longer exists but still endures for those that experienced it.

For me, Stranger Things is simply an ode to 80’s goodness.

The Cold War had an overarching presence during the 80’s. It permeated almost every aspect of our lives, from politics to media. Pop culture was not immune and it manifested itself in two major ways: the idea that the Russians, a.k.a. the commies, were out to get us; or, for the more conspiratorial, the U.S. government, through its sinister agent, the CIA. There were often fantastic claims made about the CIA. Experiments from creating super soldiers to developing mind-control techniques. Naturally, such paranoia was fodder for Hollywood: that monster lurking in the dark or that alien from another planet, all out to get you. These same tropes are being used in Stranger Things to great effect.

The Duffer Brothers, creators and executive producers, as well as writers and directors, have created an atmosphere in almost every detail: from clothes to cars, down to hair styles. This was before the internet, cell phones, personal computers, or even cordless phones. There was television, of course, but cable and VCRs were yet to be ubiquitous.

Stranger Things is filled with numerous references to 80’s pop culture. Too many to mention here, of course, but Star Wars – the gold standard — does get a mention as does Dungeons & Dragons, a game whose popularity was always a mystery to me. There is even a nice reference to the 1980s horror movie Poltergeist too. And let’s not forget the soundtrack, which is filled with memorable 80’s tunes. It lends both an authenticity and credibility to the show.

These references made me nostalgic and is reason enough to watch Stranger Things. However, even if you don’t give a hoot about the 80’s, it’s still a damn good show.

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Written by niraj

October 2nd, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Jessica Jones: Dark, Surly, and often Drunk

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If I had to reduce Jessica Jones, a new Netflix series from Marvel Comics, to one word, it is cynicism. Like Daredevil, Jessica Jones is dark– perhaps even darker. Prepare to be brutalized and have fun in the process.

Jessica Jones is a surly alcoholic private detective with superpowers she knows she has but is reluctant to use (hint: she hasn’t totally mastered them). Jessica is fixated on stopping Kilgrave, a man she has a history with, and who has the ability to control minds of people around him. Kilgrave is played brilliantly, with great wit and charm, by British actor David Tennant. The dynamics between the two is the crux of the series, but there are other characters who play vital roles in helping Jessica to take on Kilgrave: Jessica’s childhood friend Patsy; Hogarth, a crooked lawyer; a mysterious cop named Simpson; and a drug-addled neighbor named Malcolm. Luke Cage, another Marvel Comics character, plays Jessica’s love interest.

It’s interesting to note the dynamic between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave and the cat-and-mouse game they play. Kilgrave is a sociopath who uses his power capriciously. He will not hesitate to kill people if it meets his whimsical fancy. Yet he is madly in love with Jessica and wants her to love him, but she repeatedly spurns him. Kilgrave could force Jessica to love him, I suppose, but that wouldn’t be love, now would it? Nevertheless, Kilgrave persists even to the point of disregarding his instincts for self-reservation. He could just kill Jessica, and had many opportunities but doesn’t do so in the vain hope she still has feelings for him. In this futile attempt at love makes Kilgrave come off as a hopeless romantic.

Unlike Daredevil, which is bright and colorful as neon, Jessica Jones is muted: a persistent color of grey. The pacing of the series is almost glacial. Add a jazz-infused score and it makes Jessica Jones an almost a hard-boiled, neo-noir affair. But it works.

Jessica Jones is second in a series of four Marvel Comics-based storylines. There is the aforementioned Daredevil, and upcoming Luke Cage and Iron Fists. All four characters will then reprise their roles in the series The Defenders. In addition, Jessica Jones has been renewed for a second season. Which is good news.

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Written by niraj

April 7th, 2016 at 7:54 pm

Deadwood Movie On the Way…

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There will be a Deadwood movie! TVLine writes:

HBO programming president Michael Lombardo confirmed to TVLine that he personally gave series creator David Milch the green light to resurrect the acclaimed yet painfully short-lived Western.

Not only was it damn short, but it was damn good too. I’m of the opinion Deadwood should’ve been given at least one more season to wrap things up, especially the unresolved father-son issues between Al Swearingen and Seth Bullock. No doubt this will be the focal point in the movie.

I would also like to know how rest of the cast, presuming they all return, will fit into the movie. I’m also guessing the movie will take several years after we last saw them, so it will be interesting to see how this passing of time is taken into account.

Given the complexities of a television drama, with its multitude of characters and story arcs, a movie is totally inadequate, in my opinion. It would be unsatisfying. I believe a proper send-off for Deadwood would be a mini-series.

Regardless, I can’t wait to see it.

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Written by niraj

January 17th, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Rey Looks So Damn Fine…But Why?

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I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens as any rational human should, fan or not, film lover or not. Naturally, it was awesome. It’s a great ode to the past while looking ahead to the future, which is hard to do with any franchise, especially one beloved as Star Wars.

Nevertheless, I have one observation—for now—that is bothering me.

It’s about Rey, the titular character in this latest epic. For a poor scavenger living on the barren, forsaken planet of Jakku, I find it interesting how great she looks. Did you notice how great Rey’s teeth look and her beautiful, unblemished skin?


Compared to other jamokes Rey shares the planet with, she looks fabulous, quite dishy in fact. Her athletic frame, adorned with perfectly fitting clothes, moves smoothly across the screen. Luke Skywalker gave off the same impression when we first meet him, but he worked on a farm, which clearly puts him in a higher income bracket than Rey, hence we are not surprised he has style. He had the cash. Not Rey.

It’s not a big deal and doesn’t take away from the narrative one iota. Hollywood is just strange this way—you can be poor and still be hot!

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Written by niraj

January 8th, 2016 at 8:03 pm