Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1

March 18, 2018

Released this week on disk, Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood‘s book, The Handmaid’s Tale exceeds all expectations. Why? Well first there’s the obvious: the production value swings off the charts – writing, directing, acting, costumes, set design, cinematography all outstanding. The tenor of the production brought literal chills to my body. By episode three I was curled up in a ball on the sofa. The Handmaid’s Tale might possibly be the first excellent television series I don’t suggest binging on. Let the terror settle in a bit similar to how Hulu released it – one episode per week. But the real reason I felt wrecked to my core was that this 1985 Sci-Fi novel now reads as a warning to our potential future. And not something in the distant future we need to pay heed. Instead it feels very much like the possibility of what might happen to our country if Trump walks away from the Presidency for even more greed and power leaving the executive branch shattered and ripe for Pence and his insane far-right christian cronies to take over the country once and for all declaring martial law on all of our freedoms. And by all I mean every woman, all men who don’t follow strict heteronormative behavior, people of color, the poor and disenfranchised and my own personal group – LGBTQ folk. So the creators at Hulu have done their job well scaring the shit out of me and making The Handmaid’s Tale a call to arms. Each of us is required to do what we can to keep these lunatics not only at bay, but to bury this hatred for diversity and freedom once and for all. Love truly must win in all its beautiful colors and permutations.

Shout out to a crazy great cast including Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella, Amanda Brugel, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, O-T Fagbenle, Ann Dowd (shudder), and Alexis Bledel (shattering her Rory Gilmore curse forever). Words cannot describe how visceral my reaction to The Handmaid’s Tale has been. It deserves all the praise your friends have doled out, it deserves all the awards, it’s deserves attention and it deserves to be an artistic warning to every decent human being to do everything in their power to crush this hatred and darkness in humanity once and for all. 5 out of 5.



March 14, 2018

How do you take a British mystery show starring a group of great actors such as Michael Kitchen, Sophie Okonedo, and Phyllis Logan and make it crappy? By turning it into a B-movie horror show the moment the tension begins. Such is the fate of Alibi, a British series on Acorn TV available through your public library’s hoopla platform. I was hoping for fun, for suspense. Instead I was gifted with schlock. What a waste of talent. 1 out of 5. Next.

Babylon Berlin: Season 1

March 10, 2018

Season 1 of the Netflix imported German historical drama, Babylon Berlin landed this month in the U.S. making it the most expensive television series ever produced outside the United States. Created by Henk Handloegten, Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run, The Princess and the Warrior), and Achim von Borries, is it worth the cost? You bet. The series weaves a complicated and compelling story based on novels by Volker Kutscher. Taking place in 1929 during the Weimar Republic, Babylon Berlin follows police inspector Gereon Rath played by Volker Bruch, who has been transferred from the city of Cologne to Berlin, and aspiring police inspector Charlotte Ritter played by Liv Lisa Fries. Both actors embody their characters seamlessly and carry the show effortlessly. Babylon Berlin explores the intersection of traditional Weimar Germany with the rise of frustrated and dangerous voices including communists and Nazis. The take-away every other country in the world should learn from Germany is that the art coming out of this modern-day European power never downplays their past. Germans own their atrocities and don’t ever want to repeat them. Rath and Ritter finds themselves uncovering corruption within their own police force, probing for poisonous gas and gold in train yards, searching for murdered and missing communists, enjoying moments of bliss in nightclubs, and managing complicated family relations. Gereon Rath fills the role as outsider, unraveling the mystery along with the audience. He suffers silently from PTSD due to World War I trauma. Charlotte Ritter unravels the complicated journey a woman had to go to through in order to free herself from poverty and make a place in the world. Personally, Charlotte’s story ruled the series. Babylon Berlin‘s story and characters span every aspect of 1929 German society. Where it falters stems from too much money which makes one scene in particular way too Hollywood action film for my taste. But I can certainly forgive the transgression. I found the story captivating and confusing in the best of ways. Babylon Berlin made me think as well as enjoy – my favorite way to watch television. 4 out of 5 for this Netflix giant.

Note: Netflix presents the 16 episode arc as Season 1. When originally released in Germany, the 16 episodes were split into two seasons. So right now, we are wondering whether Netflix will produce a third season for Germany which would be our Season 2. Stay tuned.

Rita: Season 4

March 6, 2018

Season 4 of Reel Charlie’s second favorite (Borgen still #1) Danish series, Rita took a sharp right turn. Rita got a job in her old hometown, reacquainted herself with her high school best friend and contemplated setting down roots. With the exception of Hjørdis and Uffe, Season 4 leaves all of Rita’s kids, colleagues and fuck buddies behind.  But the biggest change comes in the form of time. The season travels back and forth between Rita’s teen years and present day. Tessa Hoder does an outstanding job as Rita in 1985. For me, parts of this worked and other parts didn’t. Certainly the change shook up the series. The producers took chances and that’s always to be commended. Personally I missed her kids, her love interests and her life back at her former school. Rita had no sex or love life in Season 4. The 8-episode arc spent most of the time watching her soul search attempting to find her place in the world. The big reveal in the seventh episode wasn’t much of a surprise to me. I guessed as much. It’s hard to imagine a singular event forever catapulting someone in a certain direction, but I have known people who experienced that in real life. Without giving away too much, I wanted more for Rita. A friend of mine who is a Young Adult novel guru often frets over the reality that sex for female characters, especially YA teen girls has to mean something – either love or repent. It frustrates her that YA female characters just can’t have sex as a part of their life experience and move on. I felt that way about Rita. Why couldn’t she just be sexually liberated? Why couldn’t she just be someone who doesn’t need a man. She likes to sleep with men, but she doesn’t need to be in love with one or take care of one. What’s so threatening about that? So I felt a little lost watching Season 4. I’m tempted to give it my odd “more than like it” score of 3.5, but Rita has meant so much to me I’ll leave it at 4 out of 5. I hope they do one more season so she can reconnect with her children and others from her former life. If not, it’s been an amazing ride.

The Deuce: Season 1

February 28, 2018

David Simon‘s (The Wire, Treme) new HBO series, The Deuce released on disk this past week. Simon’s series offers a gritty, heady, intelligent look at NYC’s sex trade during the birth of the porn industry. The Deuce starts out quietly. The huge signature ensemble cast features street hookers, pimps, police, bar owners, college students, journalists, and young gay men all discovering their lives weaving in and around the sex industry of the early 1970’s. Simon takes his time showing us the changing landscape of business and pleasure in one of the world’s most outrageous neighborhoods. Costuming, props, set design, hair and make-up are all so spot-on, you’d swear you were thrust back in time to the post-hippie era when free love could come for anyone at a price and women and queers were beginning to feel their power. The city was still run by criminals, but other voices are beginning to be heard. Stellar acting from Maggie Gyllenhaal, luminous in the pivotal role of Candy. James Franco plays double duty as twins Vincent who’s smart and a hard worker and Frankie who’s proud of being a fuck-up. I hate to say this after all the posing Franco’s done over the years but damn that boy can act. The Deuce features Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Wire), Gary Carr (Downton Abbey), Dominique Fishback (as my heart Darlene), Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (The Wire), Margarita Levieva, Emily Meade, Method Man, Kayla Foster, Don Harvey, Chris Bauer (The Wire, True Blood), Chris Coy (Treme), Natalie Paul, Michael Rispoli, Kim Director, Pernell Walker (Ruby!), Tariq Trotter, and Ralph Macchio (yes, him). Told you it was an ensemble. Chris Coy plays quiet, sexy, out and proud Paul with dignity and mischief. Everyone fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. The Deuce moves slow and steady through the subtle changes which affected the avalanche of what has become a 97 billion dollar industry. David Simon gives due respect to the industry’s beginnings and the characters who made it all happen. 4 out of 5 for The Deuce.

Before Moonlight: 10 films that celebrate the African American LGBT experience (LGBTQ Nation)

February 23, 2018

Great list from LGBTQ Nation featuring ten fantastic films celebrating the African-American LGBT experience. I’ve seen 9 out of 10. The only reason why I haven’t seen them all is I’m waiting for Saturday Church to come out on DVD. I’ve ordered a copy for the library’s collection. Seven are stellar films in their own right and I’d mark them as classics:

The Watermelon Woman – Cheryl Dunye’s indie masterpiece
Moonlight – Oscar finally got something right
PariahMudbound‘s Dee Rees’ debut film
Tongues Untied Marlon Riggs’ late 80’s doc on gay, black men
Brother to Brother – Anthony Mackie’s breakout performance
Looking for Langston – Isaac Julian’s love story to the Harlem Renaissance
Tangerine – Trans women of color in a film shot on an iPhone.

Looking for Langston – Isaac Julian (1989)

Rita: Season 3

February 18, 2018

Season 3 of our beloved Rita continues the journey of play not-by-the-rules, but by breaking them. Danish school teacher Rita knows best for her family, friends, and co-workers. Season 3 focuses more on Rita drifting into unknown waters as her children fly the nest and she’s back to being single. Rasmus might be gone from Rita’s bedroom, but lucky for us not from the series. Helle takes over as Headmaster of the school, Hjørdis and Uffe settle in to their relationship, Jeppe has his first live-in relationship with boyfriend David, and Rita meets a not exactly what she imagined new man named Said. Rita goes on a journey with her students this year which challenges her intimacy with strangers while making the audience wonder why she can’t have similar relationships with those in her personal life. Such a great show which goes darker than normal in this third season. When you get to the end, you realize why. Big changes ahead for our gal. Does that include her finally quitting smoking? Tune in to see. 4 out of 5 for this incredible television series from Denmark.

Tom of Finland (Blu-ray)

February 13, 2018

Splurged on the new film, Tom of Finland from Wolfe Video. The movie is a biopic of Touko Laaksonen, a Finnish artist who survived World War II only to endure 1950’s oppression for being gay. Touko began drawing “dirty pictures” and eventually began selling them internationally since Finland’s obscenity laws were more strict than other countries. He fell in love and lived with Nipa for 28 years until Nipa’s death in 1981. Tom of Finland is a quiet film about a reserved man whose imagination helped shape the aesthetic first of gay men and eventually of all men in popular culture. Tom’s drawings were at one point considered pornographic are now seen as some of the first positive images gay men could find to reflect back on their own lives during pre and post-Stonewall years. An important film, Tom of Finland ends up being a reminder not only of how far we’ve come, but of the positive and healthy role sexual expression plays in society. AIDS certainly came along and decimated the gay community. But through the plague, we found strength, community, and figured out how to survive and thrive. The lessons learned are perhaps best saved for a different post. Focusing on the film, I’d encourage viewers interested in the history of gay male sexuality, those interested in sexuality in general, and anyone interested in the courage to be true to oneself check out Tom of Finland. 4 out of 5.

Rita: Season 1

February 12, 2018

Big hugs and thanks to my dear friends Barbara and Teri for turning me on to Rita. She’s been in my Netflix queue for a while, but I finally watched season 1 with a little nudge from the girls. And now I’m totally addicted to this wonderful Danish series starring Mille Dinesen in the title role as Rita, a 42 year-old divorced mother of three. Rita’s an amazing primary school teacher. She’s raised three children on her own. The kids range in age from 15-22. Rita’s not so good in the romance department. She likes her independence and mostly uses men for great sex. I fell in love with this complicated, nuanced character as well as her family and co-workers. Outstanding supporting cast featuring Nikolaj Groth (Jeppe), Sara Hjort Ditlevsen (Molly), and Morten Vang Simonsen (Ricoo) as Rita’s kids. And Lise Baastrup who has her own spin-off as nerdy teacher Hjørdis, Carsten Bjørnlund as principal Rasmus, Peter Gantzler as Rita’s ex, Carsten Norgaard as Rita’s childhood boyfriend, and Ellen Hillingsø as guidance counselor Helle. But let’s face it. The world revolves around the luminous Rita as it should. Mille Dinesen carries the show effortlessly. Already diving in to Season 2. 5 out of 5. 

Babylon Berlin: Episode 2 – The Dance Sequence

February 2, 2018

I started watching the Netflix German television series, Babylon Berlin created and produced by Tom Tykwer and friends. It’s got a lot of violence, but I’m still enjoying the complicated story and the lush production value – it’s the most expensive television series ever produced outside of the U.S. Last night, I caught episode two from the first season. There’s a dance sequence in the series that’s insanely beautiful, celebratory, and just plain fun. Imagine a flash mob in 1929 headed by a beautiful woman in drag. It’s just plain gorgeous.

Season 1 review coming in a few.
Check the dance sequence out on YouTube.

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