TV Review: Portlandia (2011-2018)

Original Run: January 21st, 2011 – March 22nd, 2018
Directed by: Jonathan Krisel, various
Written by: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Jonathan Krisel, various
Music by: Washed Out (opening theme)
Cast: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein

Broadway Video, IFC, 77 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2016.

I have come to learn that Portlandia is one of those shows you either love or hate. Weirdly, I don’t love it but I certainly don’t hate it. I quite enjoy it most of the time and it is lighthearted and amusing and usually puts a smile on my face. So I figured I would watch through it again, after really enjoying Fred Armisen’s other IFC show Documentary Now!

Portlandia is damn funny when it is on point. However, some skits can run too long and some are just so bizarre that they get lost in the shuffle of better gags going on around them. Regardless, it is cool seeing the duo of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein commit to sketch comedy their way and to see each segment through – giving it 100 percent.

The duo of Armisen and Brownstein is one of the best comedy duos to come around in years. Their execution and the way they play off of each other is pretty flawless. It is their relationship and camaraderie that makes the show special. Where some skits may not work or run over, it is their unrelenting devotion to their roles that makes this more than a typical sketch comedy show.

Also, the fact that Portland, Oregon is the backdrop of the show, makes things pretty unique. It is a beautiful, artistic and interesting city. While the characters that Armisen and Brownstein play aren’t reflective of all of Portland, it does represent some of the oddballs you could run into in a city like Portland. I think we’ve all encountered people similar to most of their characters, at one point or another.

Also, using Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around” as the theme song to Portlandia kicks the show off with such a laid back and chill vibe, you can’t take it too seriously but it sets you up to accept what is coming. Who doesn’t get in a chill mood and feel pretty pleasant after that song?

I wouldn’t call Portlandia one of my favorite shows of all-time but I like it, a lot. Mostly because it is harmless but it is fun and it does challenge some social and political issues. Plus, it is hard to be in a funk while watching it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Armisen’s other IFC show Documentary Now!

TV Review: Documentary Now! (2015- )

Original Run: August 20th, 2015 – current
Directed by: Rhys Thomas, Alex Buono
Written by: Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, John Mulaney, various
Music by: Josh Moshier
Cast: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Helen Mirren (host)

Broadway Video, IFC, 14 Episodes (so far), 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2016.

Probably due to the immense success of Portlandia, IFC allowed Fred Armisen to do a second show on their network, Documentary Now! Like Portlandia it is also produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.

Each episode of the show parodies a well-known documentary film from history. Each one is shot in the same style and presented in the same way as the work it is parodying. This makes each episode feel unique and sort of timeless. They did a pretty outstanding job at recreating the essence of the films they’re emulating.

Armisen is joined by another SNL alum, Bill Hader. They act out the main roles in all of the films and have a great supporting cast full of cameos of a lot of recognizable people.

Each episode of the show is a half hour. On Netflix without commercials, they’re around 23 minutes. I think that this show could easily run for an hour and be just as engaging and entertaining. In the end, it is pretty damn hilarious.

The show is hosted by Helen Mirren who brings a level of class and legitimacy to this series. Seth Myers, also from SNL writes the show alongside Armisen and Hader. Sometimes John Mulaney contributes to the scripts as well.

There is only one season of this show, which has just seven episodes, but so far, I love it. I don’t know if it can maintain its quality level as it rolls on into the future but we have at least two more seasons to find that out, as IFC renewed the show through season three.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Armisen’s other IFC show Portlandia.

TV Review: The Last Man On Earth (2015-2018)

Release Date: March 1st, 2015 – May 6th, 2018 (original run)
Directed by: various
Written by: Will Forte, various
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mel Rodriguez, Cleopatra Coleman, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Sudeikis, Boris Kodjoe, Mark Boone Junior, Kenneth Choi, Kristen Wiig, Keith L. Williams, Chris Elliot, Fred Armisen, Will Ferrell (cameo), Alexandra Daddario (cameo), Jon Hamm (cameo), Laura Dern (cameo), Jack Black (cameo), Martin Short (cameo)

The Si Fi Company, Lord Miller Productions, 20th Television, Fox, 67 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Oh, farts.” – Phil Tandy Miller

*Written in 2015.

Now that the first season is over, I can give a proper review to Fox’s The Last Man On Earth.

In short, I really like this show.

Will Forte is great as the lead character Phil Miller. Kristen Schaal is fantastic as the fairly neurotic yet very lovable Carol Pilbasian. Add in January Jones, Mel Rodriguez and as the show progresses further, Mary Steenburgen, Cleopatra Coleman and Boris Kodjoe, and you’ve got a pretty diverse and enjoyable cast.

The show starts with Phil traveling the country in search of other human beings. He paints “Alive In Tucson” on billboards throughout the United States and as the show progresses, characters start to show up every few episodes.

Due to the title, I was wondering how Fox would make an ongoing show out of a single character but I’m glad it has expanded. While it isn’t a post-apocalyptic world per se, it has similar themes as The Walking Dead. Sure, there aren’t zombies and the feeling of danger around every corner but it shows human beings trying to govern themselves and reestablish their place in the world.

Forte’s Phil Miller is mostly unlikable but there is a quality to him that has you siding with him and pulling for him, even though his dastardly deeds cause him to continually lose favor with other members of his tiny community despite the fact that he is the reason everyone has come to Tucson. Miller’s faults are easy to understand and relate to and even though he gives into them, he ultimately just wants to find his place and has a need to feel useful and loved – understandable for someone who was alone in the world without human contact for so long.

The show is entertaining, the cast is amazing and without spoiling anything, it looks like the show isn’t afraid to reinvent itself along the way. Based off of some things that happened in the finale, it will be interesting to see how things pan out in season two.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Well, it’s pretty unique. If you have any ideas, post them in the comments.

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.

Documentary Review: Salad Days – 1980-1990: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC (2014)

Release Date: December 19th, 2014
Directed by: Scott Crawford
Music by: Michael Hampton, various artists featured in the film

MVD Entertainment Group, 103 Minutes

salad_days_filmReview:

Salad Days is a documentary I found on Amazon Video. If you’re a fan of the DC hardcore punk scene from the early 80s, you should find this pretty interesting.

The film interviews countless people who were either in the scene or who were effected by it in one way or another. You hear from Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana and even some commentary from Fred Armisen. There are actually so many people involved in this picture, it is hard to recollect them all.

Lots of bands and artists talk about the scene and the culture born from the scene. The documentary also covers what it was like for the DC punk kids who frequented the Georgetown area of town and what hardships they faced from those who hated them.

Salad Days features a ton of music and shows some of the most memorable performances of the day. You get an intimate looks at Bad Brains, Black Flag and so many others. You also get to see how the genre evolved as new bands came in to shake things up throughout the 80s.

One cool thing about the film is that it allows for contradictory points-of-view and doesn’t try to push forth its own predetermined agenda. This is most apparent when they get to talking about the history of the scene as well as the birth of straight edge and emo.

There are a lot of rock documentaries out there but from a quality and storytelling standpoint, this is one of the best in recent years.

Rating: 8/10